The Crooked Lake Review

Spring 2006

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Early Transportation Trivia

contributed by Richard F. Palmer
Other articles by Richard Palmer about early transportation.

Water Navigation Before the Canals

The following newspaper article is interesting in the fact that it reveals the Genesee River was being navigated generations years prior toexistence of the Genesee Valley Canal. If, indeed, the river was navagible for 80 or 90 miles, it explains the purpose of the existence and name of Portageville where Durham boats and/or batteaux would have necessarily been carried around the Genesee Falls.

The Genesee River was but one of many natural streams used with but few artificial improvements. There was considerable forwarding of flour by long, shallow draft Durham boats. The primitive land and water systems of the day were slow, rough going, dangerous and expensive, especially in the low water times of summer.

In most cases rivers and tributaries in upstate New York were only navigable during periods of high water resulting from spring run off. Other rivers besides the Genesee used as trade routes pre-dating the advent of canals included the Canisteo, Cohocton, Delaware, Mohawk, Oneida, Oswego, Seneca, Susquehanna, Tioughnioga, and some tributaries such as Tonawanda, Tuscarora and Wood Creeks. There are also many references to batteaux and similar small boats (later, steamboats) being employed on the Finger Lakes.

Later, there were efforts to improve the natural waterways, but with few tangible results. As the country became thickly settled, dams were built which destroyed the use of them as water highways. In some cases, however, sluiceways were built to allow the passage of boats. Subsequent canals utilized some of these old water trade routes.

Rochester Telegraph, Dec. 29, 1818

We are indebted to J. Hawley, Esq., collector of the port of Genesee, for the following statement of exports from this river since the opening of the navigation last spring.

Flour, - 25,996 Bbls.
Pot and pearl Ashes, - 3,613 do
Pork, - 1,173 do
Whiskey, - 191 do
Double butt Staves, - 214 M.

The whole number of arrivals since last spring at this port have been 235, the vessels average about 25 to 30 tons burthen.

The above statement, while it presents a most flattering account of the rapid growth and increasing prosperity of the surrounding country, shows at the same time that at no distant period, the commerce of the Genesee must be respectable.

The time has but just passed away when the country where these products were raised was a wilderness—when the Genesee River was only known as the dividing line between Ontario and Genesee counties—and even now, we believe that the knowledge of the advantages which those who live on its banks possess for commerce, manufacturing and agriculture is limited still to a very small portion of the country.

Perhaps in no part of the world are finer lands for farming purposes than lie on this river—and for manufacturing, it is hazarding but little to say that its advantages are unrivaled. It ought not to be omitted in this place, that the Genesee River is boatable for 80 or 90 miles above the falls. Salt to a considerable amount has been transported in boats up the river, which have bought down in return, flour, potash, lumber, brick, &c.

Boats of 25 tons burthen, well built and covered, ply during the summer season between this and Gardou, between which and the Allegheny River is a portage of only 30 miles. This route when the waters of the Allegheny are high, is perhaps on account of the saving in distance, &c. preferable to any other for families moving from the eastern to the south western states, and will doubtless be used for this purpose.

Cayuga Republican, Auburn, Jan 1, 1819

Horse Boat Ferry.

The subscribers having, during the last summer, finished and put in operation a HORSE BOAT, on Cayuga Lake—now give notice, that the said Boat will constantly ply, for the purpose of ferrying across the said Lake, from the termination of the Fifth Great Western Turnpike Road in Genoa, to Kidder's old Landing in Ovid. The Boat will be kept in good order, and at all times will be furnished, with good horses and experienced hands. The distance across the said Lake is nearly three miles, which the Boat will perform in from twenty to forty minutes, in all reasonable times.

The Boat is sufficiently large and convenient for ferrying eight wagons and twenty horses at a load. The distance from Albany via Cherry Valley, Sherburne and Homer, is 160 miles, and from Albany to Cayuga Bridge via Utica, is 178 miles—and it is presumed that the turnpike to this ferry is even better than any other great road leading into the western country. Persons traveling from the east to Bath, Angelica, Lake Erie, New Connecticut, &c &c. will find it for their interest to cross at this ferry. The rates of toll are the same as have been established and taken for eighteen years past, with said Boats.


Cayuga Lake, Jan. 1st, 1819, 32tf

© 2006, Richard Palmer
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