The Chittenango Landing Canal Boat Museum

The Chittenango Landing Canal Boat Museum

Listed on the NYS and National Register of Historic Places, the Chittenango Landing Canal Boat Museum is an important part of the history of the Erie Canal. The site sits at the intersection of the historic enlarged Erie Canal and the remnants of the circa 1822 Chittenango Canal.

Originally constructed in 1855, the interpreted site preserved and rebuilt a 3-bay dry dock. Craftsman used the site’s three large, independently functioning bays to build and repair canal boats, maintaining and expanding this vital economic artery until the opening of the Barge Canal in 1918. The site includes the original drydocks and sluiceway, a canal side store, a sawmill, boat shop, blacksmith shop, mule stable, a walk on canal boat exhibit, sunken canal boat remains, a nature trail to a full width aqueduct, picnic areas, access to the Erie Canalway trail and a modern visitor center.

The museum was founded in 1985 by a group of local citizens concerned with preserving heritage. The Chittenango Landing Canal Boat Museum is a wonderful source for historians as well as the public. Workshops, events, and archaeological investigations explore the site’s history and contribute to its ongoing evolution. The museum hosts fall and spring school education programs allowing students to get hands on experience of archeological techniques and tools of the canal era

The museum contains a fantastic collection of the history of the Erie Canal including a collection of drawings from Robert E. Hager. Dr. Hager’s drawings were based on his extensive research on boat building techniques. The museum also includes a photographic collection which exceeds 1300 images representing a historical overview of Chittenango Landing and the surrounding areas that had significant importance to the canal boat industry in the middle section of the Erie Canal. Some of the original images in this collection were used during the recreation activities at the Chittenango Dry Dock Complex.

The museum also contains a collection of articles and letters on the Great Steamboat Race. In 1871 facing a decline in canal traffic and revenue to the growth of railways, the New York State Government offered a $100,000 reward to anyone who could find a replacement for animal power on the Erie Canal. Potential solutions needed to be able to move a boat laden with 200 tons of freight at a rate of no less than 3 miles per hour without unduly damaging the canal or its structures. Such a devise or apparatus needed to be simple and durable and be readily adaptable to the same 7,000 vessels then operating on the canal.

Hundreds of letters poured in to the committee created to oversee the contest. From all over the country both professional engineers and amateur inventors submitted their designs for consideration. They ranged from simple modifications of existing steamship technology and designs, to new, radical, and often ill-conceived approaches, all varying degrees of practicality and plausibility.

By 1873 the steam power committee had selected those designs which if felt were viable and from which working boats had been constructed. On October 16th, these craft were brought to Syracuse, from which they would race to Rome, stop for the night and continue onward to Utica, with detailed measurements of speed and coal use take along the way. The Vessels assembled were The William Baxter, The Port Byron, The Charles C. Pope, The Central City and The William Newman. All craft were created closely to either the screw or paddle wheel designs common on the steamships of the age instead of the more fanciful designs which some had proposed. Competition was fierce and although the Baxter ultimately made the trip with the fastest time, no ship in the eyes of the commissioners, adhered to all the criteria set down in 1871 and thus no prize was awarded.

A Portion of the content was taken from the New York Heritage Digital Collection Web Site