The Oldest Extant Canal Relics in America
After the Revolutionary War, politicians and businessmen alike recognized the need to make the Mohawk River more navigable, both as a route of commerce and to secure the military supply lines to the forts on the Great Lakes. New York State took action to end the need to portage boats around the rapids of Little Falls in 1792 with the award of a charter to the Western Inland Lock Navigation Company for the construction of a canal at Little Falls. After four years of construction, plagued by financial difficulties, several bad engineering decisions and a certain measure of political cronyism, a short canal of three-quarters of a mile long and twelve feet wide, and consisting of five locks that together hoisted boats nearly 45 vertical feet, managed to circumvent the rapids at Little Falls.
The Western Inland Canal continued in use for nearly thirty years, until it was rendered obsolete by the construction of the original Erie Canal. When the original locks, which were made of wooden timbers, rotted away, they were replaced by stone structures in 1802 and 1803. Today a fragment of a guard lock, built of Little Falls stone, and its iron mechanisms are all that remains of this ancient canal, making it the oldest extant bit of canal lock in the United States.
When the Erie Canal was opened, an aqueduct was constructed to carry boat traffic from the canal across the Mohawk River and into the Little Falls harbor, which connected to the Western Inland Canal. Remains of the aqueduct, which finally collapsed in the flood of 1993, may still be seen near Benton's Landing at Canal Place.