If you’re seeking to understand more about the Erie Canal and what life working on the canal was like, then plan a visit to this informative little museum. At this museum, you’ll learn about industries that depended on the canal or helped support the canal, such as canal general stores and, as the name of the museum suggests, boat building facilities.
The museum is on what was once an extensive canal dry dock complex at the conjunction of the Erie Canal and the Chittenango Canal, a short, mile-long canal that ran to the southern end of modern day Chittenango. Feeder canals such as the Chittenango Canal allowed towns and businesses direct access to the Erie Canal.
New boats were built on the ground next to the dry docks, constantly needed because the life expectancy of a canal boat was only 12 years. But when a canal boat needed repairs, the captain would bring it to the nearest dry dock. Along the canal, more than 40 dry docks operated over the 100 years the canal was most active.
The complex eventually grew to contain businesses such as dry goods and supply store, a blacksmith shop, a sawmill, a woodworking shop, stables and a boarding house for boatyard workers. The three bays (deep, middle, and shallow) are still there. In addition, a general store, a boat shop and a mule stable have been reconstructed. As you walk through the various buildings of the site, you learn about the different and important roles the various shops had, from the sawmill that cut or milled wood for use in the construction of the canal boats to the blacksmith shop that repaired or forged shoes for working animals as well as produced iron hardware for the canal boats.
The village of Chittenango itself was impacted by the arrival of the Erie Canal, as with many other towns along the canal. The construction of the Chittenango Canal Boat Landing brought prosperity, growth and expansion to the village by creating more jobs as well as the need for boarding houses and inns and places to feed the canal workers and passengers. Area farms and factories found the canal useful as an inexpensive and easy way to ship goods further along the canal or beyond, adding to the region’s prosperity.
On the site as well are the ruins of the former Merrell-Soule Cannery, an important employer for the region where workers canned vegetables and fruits from nearby farms and made vegetable powder for soups and pies. Opposite Lakeport Road, there was a pottery factory, the ruins of which still remain. It’s not an accident that these industries chose the Chittenango Landing site.
On the museum side of the canal, you can take a short walk down to the aquaduct carrying the canal over the Chittenango Creek to get a different view of the canal.
Ironically, until the mid 1980s, the site wasn’t very noteworthy at all — it was just an abandoned plot of land, overgrown and strewn with rubbish. Then along came a small group of folks who recognized the important of the land as the old Erie Canal at Chittenango Landing. With the help of an 1895 map, a photo, and archaeology surveys, they decided it was possible to tell the story of the site’s history, and more importantly, preserve, restore and reconstruct that history. Today, this site is the only recovered and reconstructed three-bay dry dock on the Erie Canal.
Know before you go: During the warmer months, you may rent bikes and kayaks from the museum.
Getting there: 717 Lakeport Rd, Chittenango, NY
Hours: The museum opens up for the warmer season in May; please check the website below for specific details about operating hours.
Website: Chittenango Landing Canal Boat Museum