Camillus Erie Canal Park
Preserves Waterborne Heritage
Nearly 35 years ago, the Camillus Town Board asked local resident Dr.
David Beebe to look into the feasibility of the town purchasing a seven-mile
strip of the abandoned Erie Canal, consisting of 164 acres stretching
from Warners Road to Newport Road. It had been abandoned since 1917.
At the time, Beebe, now a retired dentist, was president of the local
chapter of the Audubon Society. "I volunteered and they appointed a committee
to work with me. At the time I didn't even know where the canal was,"
he said "The town board couldn't have picked a better group for me to
work with. Many of them are still on our board," Beebe said.
When Beebe and his group found there indeed was an old canal almost totally
hidden in the brush, "we discovered it was an opportunity of a lifetime,"
he said. As a result of the committee's recommendation, the town board
unanimously voted to purchase the property. Beebe and his committee, later
joined by a small army of volunteers, set about the task of creating a
Even local Boy Scouts joined in the effort that included the removal
of abandoned cars and other junk from the canal bed. A local contractor
volunteered his services to excavate a channel with a drag line so water
could flow in from the west. Eventually the old Nine Mile Creek Feeder
was also cleared of debris so water could flow in. Tons of underbrush
and trees were also removed and the old towpath on the north side of the
canal and the berm path on the opposite were cleared and walking trails
Picturesque scene along Camillus Erie Canal Park.
The next project was construction of replica of the Sims Canal Store,
originally located where Warners Road crossed over the canal. The original
structure, built about 1856, burned in 1958. It was decided to build the
replica at Devoe Road where there was more room. Such stores were located
every few miles along the canal, and essentially were general stores geared
to canal traffic.
Sims Store is a recreation of a typical canal store where boatmen purchased
It houses a gift shop and museum. The original Sims Store was located
two miles to the east.
The store was largely built by volunteers an opened in 1977. It now houses
the park's gift shop, museum, snack bar and meeting room. Subsequent additions
have included a replica of the the tender's shanty at Lock 52 in Jordan,
and an oldtime rural privy.
To the west of Devoe Road, a nature and historic site area has been established
around the foundation of the old Dill mansion. A steam engine museum is
located on the south side of the canal near Devoe Road. It houses a large
soon-to-be-operational Corliss steam engine once used to generate electricity
at the old Smith Corona plant in Syracuse. This building, on East Water
Street, was later Midtown Plaza. When it was demolished several years
ago, the engine was donated to the canal park.
From the beginning, Beebe and his volunteers have worked toward having
the 1841-vintage Nine Mile Creek Aqueduct restored to operational condition.
This primarily would consist of reconstruction of the wooden trunk that
carried the canal over the stream. Beebe said the stonework is in perfect
Centerpiece of the Camillus Erie Canal Park is the aqueduct over Nine
Started in 1838 and completed in 1841, it replaced the original aqueduct
built in the 1820s
on a slightly different alignment, off Thompson Road. Plans are underway
the trough that rested on the lower stone walls and carried the canal
over the creek.
The arches on the far side carry the towpath.
The original intent was to replace the original woodwork with steel,
with a wood veneer, but this was rejected by the state Office of Historic
Preservation. The canal park has the promise of a $31,000 federal Intermodal
Transportation fund grant, and plans to have the rest of the required
funds soon, Beebe said. Instead of steel, 88 wooden or pressure treated
"Gluam" timbers 34 feet long and 18 inches thick will be used to fashion
the trunk of the aqueduct. "The wood structure should last at least 50
years," Beebe said, as compared to the normal 10-year life span of traditional
oak and hemlock.
"We will then have the only operational aqueduct on the old Erie Canal,"
Beebe said enthusiastically.
In the public view, the park is best known for its popular and highly
successful dinner boat that operates during the summer between Devoe Road
and Newport Road. It just completed its 14th year of operation. The park
has hosted many special events throughout the years, including being a
stop on the path of the Olympic Torch run in 1996. The highlight of this
year's season was the creation of an Erie Canal trail across the state
by the New York State Canal Corp. The towpath along abandoned sections
of the canal was widened to 10 feet, laid with 10 inches of run of crush
stone, and covered with stone dust. Now one can walk the entire distance
from Route 173 (Warners Road) to Route 31 in Jordan.
The Camillus Erie Canal Park has an enthusiastic cadre of more than 100
volunteers who show up in all kinds of weather to do their part in preserving
a piece of America's heritage.
Beebe said the eventual plan is also to do additional archaeological
work to detect the remains of various portions of the original Erie Canal
or "Clinton's Ditch," including the original aqueduct off Thompson Road,
and the site of a boat yard just west of Sims Store around Stevenson's
Photographs and captions supplied by Richard Palmer.