The big water system and the big organ are now national historic landmarks.
The New York Barge Canal and Round Lake’s Davis-Ferris Organ were among 24 new national historic landmarks announced Wednesday by the U.S. Department of the Interior.
For the Barge, the 20th century sequel to the celebrated Erie Canal, it was the second national recognition in less than three years. In October 2014, the Barge was first listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
It was built between 1905 and 1918 and includes the four branches of the state’s canal system — the Erie (which includes parts of the original canal), Champlain, Oswego and Cayuga-Seneca canals.
The whole system runs 450 miles and extends through Albany, Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo. It links the Hudson River, Lake Champlain, Lake Ontario, the Finger Lakes, Niagara River, Lake Erie and 230 communities.
Officials who work in the canal system were all smiles on Wednesday.
“As we approach the Barge Canal’s centennial year in 2018, as well as the observance of the Erie Canal’s bicentennial period between 2017 and 2025, National Historic Landmark designation of the Barge Canal will be a most deserving step in appropriately honoring the prominent role New York’s canals have played — and continue to play — in the development of the nation’s economic and cultural heritage,” said Brian U. Stratton, director of the New York State Canal Corp. and a former Schenectady mayor, in a press statement.
Bob Radliff, executive director of the Waterford-based Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor, said the recognition is important for New York.
“This designation recognizes the canals’ significance, raises community pride, invites new investments and enhances their status for residents and visitors,” Radliff said in a statement.
“We hope to use this designation to further increase the visibility and marketing potential of the canal system, both as local-regional but also a national and international tourism destination,” Radliff said later, during a telephone interview from his office. “It’s really a great day to be able to celebrate this designation and have this system recognized, but also knowing it will be a useful tool to attract visitors and help stimulate economies in communities all along the canal system.”
Radliff said one of the Corridor’s goals is to promote the canal system as a world-class destination.
“Having this kind of recognition at the national level and by people who put a high level of scrutiny on these things, it definitely allows us to attract more visitors,” he said. “And not just us, but tours and promotion agencies and chambers and communities and businesses all along the canal system.”
The designation is significant because, according to canal officials, less than 3 percent of the thousands of places currently listed on the National Register of Historic Places are designated National Historic Landmarks.
The Corridor and Canal Corpo. spearheaded the nomination, but also received political help. Business owners were also behind the effort.
Historians enjoy the canal system, Radliff said. But he added that so many other people use the Barge.
“It’s bicyclists, it’s people who walk, people who run, certainly recreational boats and vessels but we’re also seeing more commercial activity,” Radliff said.
“That’s one of the things that makes the whole system and corridor very unique in that there are many different people who can drive, walk, run, paddle, bike, be in a boat to experience the system and visit the historic and cultural resources all along the way.”
The Davis-Ferris Organ was built for a New York City Episcopal Church in 1846-1847. The gigantic instrument was sold to the Round Lake Camp Meeting during the late 1800s, where it provided music to popular Methodist summer gatherings.
The organ is now a prime attraction at the Round Lake auditorium. Now — like then — the sounds are produced by zinc and wooden pipes. The pipes are designed to duplicate other musical instruments and to substitute for a symphony orchestra.