The Crooked Lake Review

Spring 2000

Home Index Museums Blog Authors Site Map About


Remembering the

Genesee Valley Canal


Richard Palmer

Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV Part V, Part VI

Part III

The Genesee Valley Canal was opened from Shaker Settlement, near Groveland, to Oramel, 36 miles, on Saturday, June 14th, 1851. The Oswego Daily Times of June 30, 1851, stated: "The people of Nunda, Portage, and the Northern towns of Allegany County are to be largely benefitted by this new thoroughfare. Large amounts of lumber, shingles and staves, which had been deposited upon the banks of the Canal in the town of Caneadea and Belfast, in anticipating of the opening of this section, are now being crowded to market.

"We hope the day is not far distant when the Packet's bugle will be heard reverberating through the valleys of the Cattaraugus. Already we see in the Allegany papers, an advertisement of the 'New York and Olean Line' of canal boats."

Prior to construction of the canal, as mentioned earlier, the Genesee River was navigated by steamboats and other craft between Rochester and Mount Morris. A vivid description and background information is given by Franz Anton Ritter von Gerstner in his "Die In Communicationen" (1842 - 1843):

"The Genesee Valley Canal, the longest and most expensive of the branch canals, was likewise begun in 1837, pursuant to an act passed on May 6, 1836. This canal begins in Rochester and runs through the valley of the Genesee River, from which it derives its name. It then crosses the watershed between the Genesee and Allegheny Rivers and ends on the latter at Olean. An arm of this canal, 11 miles in length, goes to Dansville. Including this, the length of the entire canal is 120½ miles, of which 30 miles were contracted in 1837; 50 miles in 1838; and the remaining 20 miles in October 1839, so that at present the canal is under construction its entire length. For construction purposes it is divided into 5 sections, namely: 1. Rochester to Mount Morris: length, 35¾ mi.; fall, 70½ feet; locks, 8. 2 .Mount Morris to Dansville: length, 16¼ mi.; fall, 106 ft.; locks, 10. 3. Shaker Settlement to Wiscoy: length, 25 mi.; fall, 550ft.; locks, 52. 4. Wiscoy to Genesee feeder arm: length, 135/8 mi.; fall, 91¾ ft.; locks, 10. 5. Latter point to Olean: length 30 mi.; fall, 330 ft.; locks, 34. The totals are: length, 1205/8 mi.; fall, 1,148¼ ft.; locks, 114.

"Of the 1,148 feet, 83 feet are on the side canal to Dansville, the remaining 1,065 feet on the main canal. The rise between Rochester and the watershed amounts to 979 feet, and the fall from there to the Allegheny River is 86 feet. The most difficult projects are found in the second section, where a 5-mile stretch near Portageville includes a cutting 73 feet deep, a tunnel 1,082 feet long, and an aqueduct 50 feet high and 440 feet long. Construction expenses for this section are estimated at $644,690 but may rise much higher. In April, 1839, the cost of the entire canal was calculated at $4,900,000, $3 million of which was estimated to be for locks and other man-made structures and the remainder for the canal itself. Since then, however, changes in the construction of locks, aqueducts, bridges, and the like have been decided upon, which will reduce construction costs by more than $600,000, and the most recent estimate gives the total as $4,289,250. Expenditures already stood at $1,474,274 as of the end of 1839.

"Nearby rivers will be used to feed this canal, except for some 3½ miles. This particular stretch will be supplied with the necessary water from reservoirs built for the purpose. The estimate water demand is 106 cubic feet of water per minute for each mile: 66 cubic feet for evaporation and filtration and 40 cubic feet for lockage and losses from aqueducts and overflows. Since the navigation season lasts 244 days, the inflow of water needed each year = 1,625 million cubic feet. Of this, 414 million will come from four small lakes in the vicinity of the canal. The remainder will be supplied by three reservoirs; a small one on Black Creek, holding 18 million cubic feet; a second on the Ischua, created by a dam 1,600 feet long, 70 feet high, and 360 feet wide at the base, which will cover an area of 575 acres and contain 588 million cubic feet of water; and finally a third, on Oil Creek, created by a dam 1,000 feet long, 55 feet high, and 285 feet wide at the base, covering an area of 490 acres and containing 390 million cubic feet. The cost of constructing these three reservoirs will amount to an estimated $356,240. The entire canal is expected to be completed by the end of 1842. For the most part, the branch canals and their locks have about the same dimensions as the main canal, although the feeder canals generally have somewhat smaller dimensions.

"Upstream from Rochester, the Genesee is navigable by smaller boats as far as Mount Morris, some 35 miles, and even light steamers are able to use it for 10 miles, as far as Avon."

Von Gerstner based his account on personal observations and what he could gather from official sources. At the time, no one could have imagined it would be another 14 years before the Genesee Valley Canal was completed and opened through to Olean, on Friday, Nov. 21, 1856. A diligent search was made to find a contemporary account of the opening of this last section, since Olean newspaper files for that date cannot be located. Such an account was finally found in the Rochester Daily Union of Nov. 24, 1856. It states that the event was "celebrated at that village with considerable spirit." It then went on to quote the Olean Advertiser which stated many prominent Allegany County men were aboard the first boat, including Judge Martin, an early friend of the enterprise: "The Judge began a reply to the congratulations of his townsmen and friend by saying: 'I thank Heaven, that after thirty three years of anxiety and labor, I stand upon the deck of a canal boat in the village of Olean!' Casting his eye to the bow of the boat, solitary and alone, his form bent with the weight of years, and his hair silvered with the frosts of many winters, stood David Bockes, Esq., apparently absorbed in meditation. He could speak no further. His utterance was choked, the tears came unbidden to his eyes. His friend Bockes was the only living representative then in view who began the agitation of a canal from this village to Rochester, with him, all the rest, or most of them, having gone to their last account. One can imagine the feelings of these two representatives of other days, upon the occasion referred to, but none can interpret or transcribe them."

The Rochester paper then continued: "The enterprise now consummated was projected more than thirty years ago, and the bill for the construction of a canal from Rochester to Olean was passed in 1835, and approved by Governor Marcy. Had the policy of that eminent statesman and his Democratic associates been pursued, twenty years would not have been consumed in the construction of this canal.

"The enterprise found much favor and many warm friends in this city. It was never expected that the canal would afford a revenue to the State directly, as it never has, but, as a tributary of the Erie Canal, it has done much to swell the public revenue."

2000, Richard Palmer
Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV Part V, Part VI
Note: Some of the figures in Von Gerstner's account do not add to the totals he gives, for instance: 30, 20, and 50 miles don't equal the total distance of 120 miles. Adding the capacities of the 4 lakes and 3 reservoirs equals 1410 million cubic feet, not 1625 million stated as the total. These discrepancies could have happened in the conversion from English units he would have received here to Continental units when published in German or when his published account was converted back to English units.
CLR Blog | Site Map | Contact CLR