FORT HUNTER — The Enlarged Schoharie Aqueduct, which once carried the Erie Canal across the Schoharie Creek, is a marvel of 19th-century civic architecture. However, of its original 11 archways, only six remain, for now.
"You used to have this aqueduct that spanned the entire creek. There are all these stone masonry arches, and what happened was, when some of them were demolished, all of a sudden one side of the arches didn't have anything for support, so they kept on kind of toppling, and there's really nothing preventing any further collapse," said Ryan Weitz, former Fultonville Village historian.
The aqueduct, built in 1845 as part of the enlarged Erie Canal System, was shut down in 1915. Several of its arches were demolished when improvements to lock technology enabled the canal to be rerouted directly into the Mohawk River, creating the modern Barge Canal.
Weitz said over time the aqueduct continued to fall apart. While he said small-scale stabilization projects were tried in both the 1970s and 1980s, they failed to keep two arches from collapsing in the 1990s.
The remains of the aqueduct, located at the Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site in Fort Hunter, were named as one of the Preservation League of New York State’s 2018-19 "Seven to Save Endangered Properties List" in April of 2018.
In July, Montgomery County applied for $750,000 worth of state grants — $600,000 from the New York state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Environmental Protection Fund and $150,000 from New York state Canal Corporation’s Canalway Grant Program — for a project to stabilize and rehabilitate the historic aqueduct. The County Legislature has pledged a $50,000 match if the grants are awarded.
Weitz, who formerly served as Montgomery County District 4 Legislator and briefly as Fultonville mayor, helped lead an advocacy committee that met with county officials including Montgomery County Executive Matt Ossenfort to help secure grant applications for funding to stabilize the aqueduct.
Ossenfort said supporting a restoration of the aqueduct will help boost tourism to the historic site, as well as help preserve the canal's heritage.
"I think this is something that anyone who is familiar with the aqueduct knows needs to happen," Ossenfort said. "The second part of this would be investing in the aqueduct so we can develop it potentially into part of the Erie Canalway Trail, and give people a pathway over it."
Weitz, who works as a civil engineer for Barton & Loguidice, an engineering, planning, environmental and landscape architecture firm with offices throughout New York state, said the purpose of the grant funding would be to help pay for an estimated $920,000 project to rebuild a seventh archway, this one with a facade made out of the original stone from the aqueduct salvaged from the creek bed with a reinforced concrete core. He said the plan was actually designed in 2004 by the New York state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, but was never implemented because of a lack of funding.
"If you go out there now there's six arches, and then the fifth pier is kind of leaning toward the creek side, and it has a partial arch, so what would happen is that we would actually reconstruct a seventh archway and a seventh pier that would attach to the existing fifth arch, so it would kind of provide the end tab that is not there right now," he said.
Weitz said the Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site has created an informal group called the Aqueduct Alliance to help raise funds for the approximately $220,000 that grant funding will not cover to rebuild the seventh archway. He said the alliance includes the state Preservation League, the New York state Canal Society, the Friends of Schoharie Crossing, and Montgomery County. He said the Friends of Schoharie Crossing is a 501c3 corporation that can accept donations.
Weitz said a phase two for the project will include a pedestrian bridge across the aqueduct.
"When complete, the newly stabilized aqueduct will provide a spur route off of the Empire State Trail that will allow users to appreciate the significance of the Schoharie Crossing Aqueduct and access the Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site with its nearly four miles of other trails," he said.