on each of the images to enlarge it)
may realize that the Erie canal is of major importance to our
community, but sometimes the conduit itself and its beauty
are taken for granted and thought of just as a placid place
for recreation. But you should also consider it as a major feat
of engineering that
took place in the form of the Great Embankment
The Irondequoit Valley was one of five major obstacles that had to be surmounted
and rendered navigable by the canal. The original earthen structure was
completed in 1822 and was heralded far and wide as one of the engineering
marvels of the Erie Canal. It carried the canal 70 feet above the road
and the creek. The Great Embankment, the area which we can see from Route
96 and spanned the Irondequoit Creek, was a work of great wonder since
it was first conceived in 1808 by James Geddes.
A young entrepreneur, names
Sylvanus Lathrop suggested that a trough made of wood could span
the chasm. That idea did not work for obvious reasons, but Lathrop
made a good deal
of money on the eventual completion of the project. Though plagued
with problems, breaks and other disasters, it stands proudly to this
a testimony to the foresight of the "engineers" who planned it
and the hard work of the laborers who built it.
Speaking of breaks, did you know (or
for those of you long time residents), that the canal has broken
three times in or around the location between the village of
Pittsford and Bushnell’s Basin?
The first time was in 1911. (top 4 images) That break was caused when the water
was put in the enlarged canal. The bank was new and composed of soil.
Once the water stared to flow, the earth and bank gave way quickly
and washed out
Marsh Road. It just missed hitting a trolley and water tore up the
The next break occurred in 1912 (bottom 4 images) and there was no damage to
homes because most of the water flooded farmlands downstream. The
break happened right over a culvert of Irondequoit Creek. That old culvert
and when they put the new canal over it, they did not change it.
It began leaking and the canal just went to pieces. Concrete pieces
8 to 10 feet
think were pushed all around and there was an enormous amount of
water on both sides.
But the break that many of remember and the one which caused the most
damage, happened on a lovely October day in 1974. The whole street of Brook
Hollow was affected with one home completely washed away and many others
suffering tremendous damage. Other homes on neighboring streets also suffered
damage with many basements covered with water, mud and debris.
Miraculously no one was killed that afternoon, but one woman was caught
in the rush of water as it washed away her basement wall and carried her
right out of the side wall and into her yard. She was able to grab onto
a tree and call for help but not before her jeans and shoes were torn off
and she was bleeding and bruised from the ordeal.
The break was caused by a contractor tunneling under the canal as part
of a pure waters sewer line development. It was not until seven years
later that the suit finally was settled against the Greenfield Construction
The canal has caused disruption in the village at other times such as
1973 when the State Street bridge was replaced and closed for two years.
The North Main Street bridge was closed and rebuilt in 1983. It opened
a year later, almost one year prior to the schedule.
But get ready again for the canal and its bridges to cause disruption - the
Route 31 bridge is on the list for reconstruction and traffic will
again be re-routed. What a traffic jam that will create! But our
Erie Canal is
a jewel of which we should all be proud and tout it for what it was
- an engineering marvel and completely paid for by New York State
residents without one penny of federal funds!
Within six years the canal had
paid for itself and it was declared "forever free". However, a user fee was instituted a few years ago and is being re-considered
at this time. Perhaps the words "forever" and "never" should not be used in connection with public or political issues.