Tri-Counties Genealogy & History by Joyce M. Tice
The Canals
Chemung County NY

Remains of Canal on Kahler Road, Town of Horseheads

Article: The Canals
Township: Town of Elmira 
Article by Helen M. Samson 1976
Sent in by Walt Samson
Retyped by Debbie Hansen
Photo by Joyce M. Tice 05 APR 2001
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By Helen M. Samson

The creation of canal systems in New York State has a long and illustrious history. In the early 1790’s General Sullivan, recognized the opportunity a canal would offer in opening up this area for commerce. Area citizens endorsed the idea, and a recommendation to construct a canal between Seneca Lake and the Chemung River was forwarded to President Washington.

For forty years, area residents continued to advocate a local system that would connect those two potential trade centers. The project materialized when Albany approved funds – not to exceed $300,00 – to cover building costs. In 1833, after four years of labor, the waterway was completed and open to traffic, with a gala celebration christening the first barge leaving Elmira.

The Chemung Canal was a major engineering accomplishment. From Seneca Lake to Elmira, 49 locks were needed to transport the boats from one elevation to another. The summit level was at Pine Valley, where it required an hour to raise or lower the lock gates before resuming travel.

The main canal ditch began at the foot of State Street at the river. From there it led directly to a point north of Washington Avenue, where it turned to the east, just west of Lake Road. Turning north again towards Horseheads, the canal maintained a northerly course, just to the east of the present road. Finally it wound its way up through the swamp to Watkins.

A short stretch of the old waterway can still be seen south of the Hickory House. The towpath is overgrown with brush, but remains identifiable. Heavy harnessed horse and mules towed barges along the path.

With the arrival of winter, local children rejoiced, as the waterway became an ideal skating rink.

The Junction Canal, which was completed in 1854, connected the Chemung River with Pennsylvania. This final link established a continuous network connecting the Susquehanna River and canal system with the Chemung Canal, on into the Finger Lakes and the Erie Canal.

At last a consolidated route became accessible to the people, providing goods, commerce, industry and regional development.

The growth of railroads was the death kneel to the canal systems. But from 1833 until 1878 the Chemung Canal system added its own colorful chapter to the history of New York.

First Added to the Site on 16 DEC 2002
By Joyce M. Tice

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