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SUBMITTED by John R. Groves, Erie's Restoration Interests Everyone, Inc. (18-Aug-2009)

During the Mural Mania Dedication of the Lincoln Train Stop Mural, I overheard Wayne Morrison talking about an early 1804 canal near Clyde. Naturally this caught my attention, so I asked Wayne for more details.

In his excellent monograph “The 1804 Canal” he describes this short canal, which was actually an oxbow cut, similar to those found in the Mohawk River valley, dating from the late 1700s.

Following are two illustrations taken from his monograph.

The J.H. French Map (1856) showing the “oxbow cut” of 1804. The Clyde River passage through wet lands certainly was problematic for navigation. Note the convergence of the “New Canal” and what appears to be the Clinton’s Ditch Canal, at the Village of Lock Berlin. One wonders what period this map actually depicts. The confluence of the two canals indicates they are at the same level at that point.

Two roadways also appear, indicating a need for a canal crossing bridge. On the (north/south)road leading into today’s Lock Berlin appears a strange stone arch, about 200 yards from Route 31. What is the purpose of this arch and when was it built?

A detail of the oxbow cut. Digging this short cut must have been difficult for the wet lands through which the Clyde River passes are much like those of the Great Montezuma Swamp.

This discovery or re-discovery, by Wayne adds a new perspective to the historic heritage of Wayne County. Like the earliest canals in the Mohawk Valley, Wayne County can be in many ways the beginnings of navigation improvements that “started it all”.

Sometimes I wonder about the “portages” on the Seneca River, possibly earlier than 1804 a being qualified at canals. That is, a small dam crossing the Seneca River to facilitate portages…?

In any case Wayne County certainly has a bountiful array of early canal infrastructure. The concern for us all is the identification of this infrastructure and its protection leading to preservation, restoration and interpretation for our generations to come.

The following is the text of Wayne Morrison's "The 1804 Canal".
A canal had existed in the Town of Galen for almost two decades prior to the construction and completion of the Erie Canal. In 1804 a channel was cut across the ox-bow in the Clyde River (then known as the Canandaigua Outlet and previous to that as the Canadaque Creek). According to the account given to Capt. Joseph Watson by Miss Betsy King, an early inhabitant, soon after the arrival of her family, when navigation in the Outlet was obstructed by flood-wood and the area flooded. "A little below us," she said, "the river was completely blocked and Capt. [John] Sherman and Mr. Payne caused a channel to be cut across the bend.”When I saw it in 1812," she concluded, "it was twelve feet wide and long after known as the canal."
The cut was made in the northern portion of adjoining Galen Military Lots No. 56 and No. 57, then situated in the Town of Junius. It was made to allow for the passage of flat bottom boats above the Big Wood Reef, this stream being then the only passage for heavy carriage from Oneida Lake and Schenectady to Palmyra, formerly known as Swift's Landing, Tolland, &c. In like manner, Clyde was at first known as Block House and then as Lauraville. The Town of Galen was formed from the Town of Junius in 1812.
With great care the 1804 remedy is delineated as the "Old Canal" upon the cadestral wall-map of the Town of Galen and Village of Clyde, issued by J. H. French in 1856. By way of the Clyde River, from a point opposite the rail road baggage house in Clyde, the Old Canal was found to be exactly five and five-eights miles to the west by actual measurement made in 1876. Further particulars have been obscured in the passage of time.
Posterity is indebted to Miss King 1782-1855, Capt. Watson 1800-1881,and The Clyde Times for preservation of what little is yet available. W. M.


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