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Ceremony to honor five Waterford locks

Canal structures called engineering marvel

Tuesday, September 4, 2012
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— Nearly a century after their construction started, the five enormous canal locks at Waterford will be recognized as a historic engineering landmark.

The Flight Locks, which are the beginning of the Erie Canal, will be recognized a National Historic Civic Engineering Landmark in a ceremony at noon Sunday at Lock 2.

The recognition, which includes dedication of a historic marker, was scheduled for early September last year, but was canceled because of damage done elsewhere in the canal system by flooding from Tropical Storm Irene.

The rescheduled recognition ceremony will take place during Waterford’s annual Tugboat Roundup weekend, when hundreds of people are expected in town to see and visit the kinds of old tugboats that used to regularly ply the canal system. Last year’s Tugboat Roundup was also canceled because of storm damage.

Construction of the flight locks started in 1905, as part of a canal modernization project, and continued until 1915. It was the reason many Italian immigrant laborers came to Waterford, starting an ethnic legacy that continues to this day.

Here’s why they are an engineering landmark: The five locks that take boat traffic from the Hudson and Mohawk rivers around Cohoes Falls have an elevation change of 169 feet in only 1.5 miles, the biggest elevation change over such a short distance of any canal locks in the world.

The Panama Canal locks were being built around the same time, and while those locks were big enough for oceangoing vessels, their elevation change is only 85 feet — half the change at Waterford.

The Welland Canal in Ontario rises 326 feet to let boats pass Niagara Falls, but does it over 27 miles.

The historic landmark recognition is coming from the American Society of Civil Engineers, which has also recognized such historic landmark engineering feats as the Brooklyn Bridge, Hoosac Tunnel in western Massachusetts, and the Blenheim covered bridge in Schoharie County, which was destroyed last year by Irene’s flooding.

The Flight Locks came through last year’s flooding without damage and in fact sheltered some vessels from the deluge, because flood gates could be lowered at either end of the lock system.

The Flight Locks came about after engineers designing statewide improvements for the 1842-era canal system realized a land depression in Waterford created a potential new canal route around the Cohoes Falls.

The route was surveyed in 1903-04. In 1903, state voters approved $101 million for major modernization of the canal, including construction of the new Waterford locks.

Among those expected to attend or speak at the dedication ceremony are Andrew Hermann, president of the American Society of Civil Engineers; Brian Stratton, director of the state Canal Corporation; and members of the Mohawk-Hudson Section of the Society of Civil Engineers.

The Tugboat Roundup will run Friday through Sunday at Waterford Harbor.

 
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