Including the building and control of the canal by Jonas C. Baldwin and his sons, the improvement of the towing-path and the appropriation of the canal by the State, and their maintenance to the present time.

When the Western Inland Lock Navigation Company was incorporated in 1792, its officials intended to continue their work of improvement westward through the Oneida and Seneca rivers, along the line of existing natural water communications, until they reached Cayuga and Seneca lakes. At the place which we now know as Baldwinsville the Seneca river was interrupted by a fall, to overcome which necessitated an independent canal, but the company never performed any work beyond Oneida lake, and a settler, named Jonas C. Baldwin, undertook and accomplished privately what the company had planned at this point.

In 1809, after the company had formally relinquished all of its rights west of Oneida lake, a petition was sent to the Legislature by Dr. Baldwin, * in which he stated that, at much expense, he had constructed a canal and lock to permit navigation around the falls and, therefore, he asked from the Legislature authority to enable him to collect tolls for boats passing through the canal. The Legislature listened to the appeal and enacted a law (chapter 54), which granted the desire of the petitioner, also giving him authority to build a dam, seven and a half feet high, at McHarry’s reef (located by the falls), for improving navigation in the river above, provided that he erected and maintained "a canal and lock for the passage of the largest boats usually employed in said river from above said dam, to the still water, two feet deep, below the same, said canal and lock to be at least twelve feet wide, and said lock to be at least seventy-seven and a half feet long within the gates, and with a sufficient depth of water to pass boats, drawing two feet water, when loaded." The privileges granted by the law were to continue for a term of twenty years.

In 1817 complaints were made to the Legislature that the dam, canal and locks, authorized by the act of 1809, had not been built in accordance with the provisions of that law and that navigation in the Seneca river was more difficult than ever. As remedial action, an act (chapter 252) appointed James Geddes (an engineer employed in making surveys and plans for the Erie canal) as a commissioner to examine the works and to report to the Legislature of 1818 whether the allegations were true and what alterations, if any, were necessary to make possible the passage of loaded boats through the canal and locks. In compliance with the statute, Mr. Geddes did his work of inspection and reported to the Legislature that portions of the apron of the dam, which was supposed to be so built as to afford passage for rafts, had not been constructed as ordered, and that the locks leaked badly, but he stated that Dr. Baldwin purposed to remedy these defects by building new structures. The complaints had charged that there were numerous apertures in the dam, through which flowed so much water that it was impossible to feed the canal properly. Mr. Geddes reported that this condition had existed for about two months during the dry season of 1816, at which time, even after being unloaded, boats were taken through the canal with difficulty. Mr. Geddes stated that to insure successful navigation a tight dam was necessary, and that at the point where the boats were passed into the river below the falls excavations should be made so as to afford the requisite depth of water, navigation having been impeded at this place also.

In 1819 Dr. Baldwin conveyed his interests in the dam and canal, and all of the privileges secured from the Legislature in 1809 to his sons, Stephen W. Baldwin and Harvey Baldwin, who, by an act (chapter 192) of 1827, were accorded, for a term of twenty-one years after 1829, the same rights as had been granted to their father in 1809. By the new act, however, the owners were not required to maintain the canal and lock for the passage of boats around the dam unless the canal board decided that they were necessary for the accommodation of commerce on the Seneca river. In March, 1831, the canal board passed a resolution to the effect that commerce on the river made it imperative that the canal and locks should be kept in operation in order to connect navigation above the dam with that below, in such manner that boats traversing the Erie and Oswego canals should encounter no difficulty in passing through the canal and locks. The resolution required the work to be finished on or before December 1, 1831. The work was completed within the time limit and at the finish the canal was about three-fourths of a mile in length, having a guard-lock, which had been built at the dam, and a lock with a ten-foot lift at the lower end of the channel, the dimensions of the locks being ninety by fifteen feet.

In 1836 steps were taken to properly join this canal with the main branches of the system. By an act of that year (chapter 303) the canal commissioners were authorized to build a towing-path from Mud lock, at the junction of the independent Oswego canal with the canalized Seneca river, westerly along this river to such place in the village of Baldwinsville as they might deem proper. They were given the right to construct the towing-path on either side of the river and to fix the tolls so that the canal would pay five percent on the original investment in addition to the necessary repairs. The amount at their disposal was limited to $4,000. In 1838 (chapter 306) this amount was raised to $15,000. This towing-path was completed in 1839 at an expense of $14,864.26. It was 5.36 miles long, beginning at Mud lock "by a bridge across the Oswego canal, at the foot of the lock, and [was] continued by a floating bridge across the Seneca river, 367 feet long and 19 feet wide, with an elevation on the northerly side of the river, of the requisite width and height for the passage of boats; and thence by a towing path on the northerly side of the river, extending up to the lock at Baldwinsville." 1

The Legislature in 1836 also authorized the canal commissioners to examine the Oneida and Seneca rivers and to report on the practicability of steamboat channels four and one-half feet deep with a base of sixty feet, but, as the law contained no provision to pay for the work, the examinations were not made. At this time the Baldwins were still operating their canal, and in 1848 and 1849 they petitioned the Legislature to renew the act of 1827, which granted them rights for twenty-one years. However, they were denied a further extension, and in 1850 a bill was passed, by which the State assumed possession of the works. Doubtless this was due to remonstrances signed by more than four hundred residents of Baldwinsville, who united in a request that the State should take the works into its own hands, making to the owners a fair compensation. The bill became chapter 153 of that year, and besides authorizing the canal commissioners to take possession and appropriating $15,000 for the purchase price, it directed that the canal and locks should be made of such size as to admit the boats at that time navigating the Oswego canal.

The act also appropriated $3000 for making improvements in the canal and river. As it was found necessary to take down and rebuild the lift-lock, sinking the foundation from two to two and one-half feet lower than the former foundation in order at all times to obtain four feet of water on the lower miter-sill, the sum appropriated was deemed altogether inadequate for the work in hand. It was finally decided to rebuild this lock of wood, which could be done without exceeding the appropriation of $3,000. This was completed in the spring of 1853. Under this act also, navigation was opened for eleven and three-quarters miles in the Seneca river to Jack’s reef, being the distance that water was set back by the Baldwinsville dam. In 1854 an act (chapter 333) placed the Baldwinsville canal and the Seneca river improvement under the control of the canal board and under the same regulations in regard to tolls, superintendence and repairs as the other canals of the state. In 1862, however, the board said that the Baldwinsville canal "formed no part of our canal system when the Constitution pledged the revenues to the repairs of the canals and the payment of the Canal Debt. It is not supposed that the repairs of this canal, for lock and dam, at Baldwinsville, can be paid for out of the canal tolls collected on other canals recognized by the Constitution." 2 Consequently the canal was repaired by monies from the general fund.

In 1863 $26,000 was appropriated for changing the location of the locks at Baldwinsville and for rebuilding them of stone. The construction of a guard-gate to take the place of the old guard-lock, which was a timber structure and had decayed to such an extent as to render it entirely worthless, was completed in 1866 at a total cost of $10,985.70. Chapter 677, Laws of 1869, provided that whenever it became necessary to rebuild the dam at Baldwinsville it should be constructed of stone. In 1870 the Legislature appropriated $6,000 for rebuilding this dam, but when the structure was examined it was found to be in good condition and the appropriation was not used.

This canal was not under repair contract and the result was that the channel was blocked in many places by stone and other material.

In 1871 the floating bridge in the Seneca river, situated at the junction of this river with the Oswego canal, which had been maintained at a large annual expense to the State, was dispensed with and in its place a new towing-path about half a mile long was constructed on the west bank of the Seneca river. This improvement, besides vastly improving navigation, lessened the cost of the maintenance of the canal.

The towing-path from Baldwinsville to Jack’s reef was abandoned in 1888 on account of disuse, and in 1891 the lock at the lower end of the Baldwinsville canal was thoroughly repaired. The sides of the lock were taken down to the water-line, new approaches to the lock were built and four new gates inserted.

Under chapter 113, Laws of 1893, $35,000 was appropriated for rebuilding the Baldwinsville dam. Plans were prepared for a stone dam fourteen feet in height, twenty-one feet in width at bottom and six feet at the top, with a curved spillway, resting on a rock foundation. This dam was completed in the fall of 1894.

In general the route of the Barge canal follows the course of the Seneca river from its mouth to its junction with Crusoe creek. Thus the Baldwinsville canal and the Seneca River Towing-path will be on the line of the main Erie canal across the state, but it is planned to pass the dam at Baldwinsville (which will be raised about fifteen inches) by an independent channel on the south side of the river, probably leaving the existing canal nearly in its present condition, to serve as a head-race for the various water-powers along its banks.


* Dr. Baldwin had received the appointment of physician and surgeon to the Inland Lock Navigation Company, residing at Little Falls during the work of construction there, until 1797. In 1807 he had begun a dam across the Seneca river at Baldwinsville, and in 1808 had built a canal and lock for the passage of boats around the dam.

1. Assembly Documents, 1840, No. 60, p. 42.

2. Assembly Documents, 1862, No. 92, p. 3.

Previous Chapter   |   NEXT CHAPTER   |   Contents
Erie Canal home page   |   Historical Documents page