Walking around Crescent-Halfmoon Park on the banks of the Mohawk River, you can almost hear the music: “I’ve got a mule and her name is Sal, 15 miles on the Erie Canal.”
At the spot where Route 9 crosses the Mohawk and enters Saratoga County, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that in the early 19th century the little hamlet of Crescent in the town of Halfmoon was a thriving community.
The river, the bridge and remnants of an aqueduct are all good indications that the Erie Canal, called the eighth wonder of the world, shared the local landscape. And then there’s what looks like a dead giveaway to many: Frank Fortin’s house.
Built sometime around 1840, Fortin’s yellow house, made of bluestone and wood, looks a lot like the canal stores and wayside inns that marked the 363-mile stretch of water from Albany to Buffalo. It is on Terminal Road, a short street which dead-ends in the parking area at the water’s edge just off the Crescent Bridge.
Next to Fortin’s home is another historic building, a large brick structure that was originally the Farmer’s Bank and is now broken up into apartments.
“Crescent is an Erie Canal village, and really didn’t exist until after the canal was built in 1825,” said Ellen Kennedy, town of Halfmoon historian.
“The river, the canal and the fact that the crossing was right there made it a stopping place for travelers. Alfred Noxon was a prominent local citizen, and when he opened the Farmer’s Bank around 1850 there were a lot of businesses there, a lot of things going on right in that area.”
Both buildings have been used as commercial businesses and residences over the years. Fortin, a Cohoes native who moved to Halfmoon as a young boy, bought his home in 1964.
“I’ve been here 50 years, and it was a terrible mess when I bought it,” said Fortin, a retired plumber. “It probably should have been demolished. But I did a lot of work when I moved in and I’ve been working on it ever since. And, I have to say, I loved every minute of it.”
Floods have been a problem. In 1996 some water got in the ground floor, and during Hurricane Irene in 2011, Fortin said, the water flooded the parking lot and came right up to his front doorstep.
“They say that back in the canal days the river was little more than a creek at this spot,” he said.
“It wasn’t as wide as it is now, and not nearly as deep. The ice used to jam up something terrible. But it’s a great spot. People can park here and go fishing or walk under the bridge and go fishing. It isn’t a boat launch, but people often stop here and tie up their boats.”
The parking lot’s access to the river isn’t just for recreational purposes.
“When Global Foundries was moving in a couple of years ago there were some huge barges that tied up right here and dropped off some heavy equipment, which was put on trucks and taken up Route 9 to Malta,” said Fortin. “We still get barges and boats loading and unloading. It can be a busy spot at times.”
Most of the time, however, it is perfect for fishermen, history buffs and those looking for a great place to walk and enjoy the outdoors.
From the parking lot, there is a paved path leading to the fishing spot under the bridge, and from there it continues to the west side of the 1,229-foot span. Still in the Crescent-Halfmoon Park, the trail, which changes from paved to crushed stone, runs along the river to a smaller parking area, where interpretive signs have been posted telling the history of the area.
That site can also be reached by driving down Canal Road via Vischer Ferry Road. It’s all part of the Mohawk Towpath Scenic Byway.
“The fishing area underneath the bridge is handicapped access, and that got a lot of national attention because it was done with a partnership between Trout Unlimited and the town of Halfmoon,” said Eric Hamilton, executive director of the Mohawk Towpath Scenic Byway. “It’s a great spot, people love to go fishing there, and it got a lot of publicity because it was so unique.”
Hamilton, who lives in Halfmoon, said the Mohawk Byway includes a series of stops along the old canal route from Waterford to Schenectady, which covers 26 miles. At some of the locations, people can dial a number on their cellphones and listen to a history of the area.
“The trail at Crescent-Halfmoon Park goes out about two miles to the Dunsbach Ferry stop, and beyond that it gets pretty rural and the bike path follows the road,” said Hamilton.
“There’s a stop at Clute’s Dry Dock, the Whipple Bridge and the New York Power Authority site. We’re very proud of our interpretive signs, and the audio tour has been up and running about 14 months.”
Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or [email protected]