Canal Corp. & Arts Council grants helped fund project; building of vessel will move to Canalside with backing from Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp.
The construction of a replica of the packet boat used by Gov. DeWitt Clinton to travel from Buffalo to New York City to open the Erie Canal in 1825 took a major step forward on Thursday, with the start of a painstaking, age-old process that will create the template for reimagining this historic wooden vessel.
The Buffalo Maritime Center, in conjunction with the New York State Canal Corp., unveiled a middle section of the boat, as part of a process called lofting, a critical first step in building a wooden boat.
“In the last decade, we have seen incredible growth along Buffalo’s waterfront and at Canalside thanks to a sustained commitment and infusion of state resources,” said Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, who attended the event at the Maritime Center. “Recreating the historic 1825 packet boat is a way to highlight Buffalo’s pivotal role in the history of the Erie Canal. The interactive construction of the replica boat will be a new driver for tourism over the next several years and an important part of our efforts to celebrate the bicentennial of the canal and our amazing history.”
The bulk of the construction of the packet boat – a medium-sized vessel popular on the canals in the 19th century, because it was able to travel in shallow drafts – will eventually be done in the “Longshed,” a 4,000-square-foot, year-round facility, to be constructed at Canalside by Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. (ECHDC), a subsidiary of Empire State Development. The Longshed will appear as a wooden barn structure, emulating what was there when the Erie Canal was being built.
Visitors will be able to watch the building of the vessel as it happens and learn more about the canal through interactive exhibits.
The construction of the replica boat is expected to take about three years.
“ECHDC continues to foster our community’s awareness and celebration of Buffalo’s unique history,” ECHDC President Steve Ranalli said. “With ECHDC’s collaboration with Buffalo Maritime Center to build the Longshed and create a replica of Gov. Clinton’s 1825 replica packet boat, history will come alive at Canalside.”
The project is a major component of Buffalo’s celebration of the Erie Canal bicentennial, which began two years ago to mark the start of construction in 1817. It will culminate in 2025 with the commemoration of Clinton’s historic ride on the Erie Canal, when he traveled down to New York Harbor and emptied a barrel of Lake Erie water into the Atlantic Ocean.
Known as the “wedding of the waters,” it marked the symbolic completion of the Erie Canal and ushered in a new wave of prosperity that turned the U.S. from a largely agrarian economy to an industrial superpower by opening up the west to expansion and dramatically cutting the cost of shipping goods.
The beginning of the announced construction involves lofting, which helps builders estimate the volume of wood for the packet boat and assess how accurate the drawings for the boat construction are. From that process, a template will be created from which wood will be cut to begin constructing the Seneca Chief.
Brian Trzeciak, executive director of Buffalo Maritime Center, said, “Starting the lofting of the packet boat is exciting for us, because it is the first step toward the reality of the packet boat being built and in service to Buffalo, Western New York, and New York state as a whole. Lofting gets us one step closer to actual construction that will begin at Canalside when the Longshed building is complete.”
“There was no greater champion of the Erie Canal than DeWitt Clinton, so it’s fitting that he be honored in this way,” said Brian U. Stratton, Canal Corp. director. “With the passion and attention to detail for this project exhibited by the Maritime Center staff and volunteers, this will be one of the premier Canal attractions.”
The project received $150,000 in funding from the Canalway Development Grant program along with $49,500 from the New York State Council on the Arts. In addition, the Maritime Center received $325,000 from David Rogers, the CEO and co-founder of Life Storage, to fund construction. ECHDC has committed $4 million toward the construction of the Longshed building.
New York’s canal system includes four historic canals: the Erie, Champlain, Oswego and Cayuga-Seneca. Spanning 524 miles, the waterway links the Hudson River with the Great Lakes, the Finger Lakes and Lake Champlain. The canals form the backbone of the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor and connect hundreds of unique and historic communities.