Welcome to the next episode in our 11-part account of Muddy Paddle's narrowboat trip through the Erie Canal and the Cayuga & Seneca Canal in western New York. The New York State Barge Canal system is in many ways a tributary of the Hudson River. It still connects the Great Lakes, the Finger Lakes, and Lake Champlain with the Atlantic Ocean by way of the Hudson River. Our contributing writer, Muddy Paddle, shares his experiences aboard the "Belle Mule." All the included illustrations are from his trip journal and sketchbooks.
Day 4 - Tuesday
Last night I paid our bill at the marina and told Captain Terry that I was planning to depart early in the morning by making a tricky three-point turn with the Belle. He didn’t like that plan at all, and later confided to the first mate that the Belle’s captain was “loco.” Brent tried to calm him down but It bothered him enough that when we woke up Tuesday morning, we found that the captain had relocated the big cruiser at our stern giving the Belle a clear exit to the gap in the breakwater. We shoved off under the good captain’s wary eye at 8:15 and shaped our course north along the east shore of the lake. We were hoping to get a nice view of Hector Falls, but we were in too close to the shore, and the falls were completely screened by topography and vegetation.
We had a pleasant cruise down the lake with a gentle breeze at our back. As we reached Lodi Point, Brent fired up the gas grill and prepared barbecue pork chops for lunch. Brent loves to cook! The view from the helm consisted of the American flag at our mast, clouds of smoke rising from the bow, and intermittent appearances of our broadly grinning first mate, Brent. There were no boats out on the lake at all. It occurred to me that if we had mechanical trouble or worse, no help was readily available and that there were few access points given the steep banks rising up from the lake.
It also occurred to someone on shore that our boat was on fire. A call was apparently made to one of the fine local fire departments. A couple of trucks appeared on the ridge to our east but returned to the station after apparently using binoculars or smelling our pork chops.
We reached Geneva after lunch and it grew overcast as we re-entered the C&S Canal. Here we encountered kayakers and a replica of the steam launch African Queen.
Brent radioed Lock 4 when we saw the Waterloo water tower. The lock came up abruptly around a sharp bend in the canal. There was a heavy outflowing current bent on carrying us to the adjacent spillway where a rental company canalboat was stuck with emergency lines holding her in place. A breeze from the west didn’t help. We bumped our way into the lock chamber, crooked but safe. We were very grateful to have missed the rendezvous with the other boat and the spillway and even more grateful when the lock doors closed, blocking the breeze. Once again I was unable to keep the engine in neutral. The transmission would creep forward and then backward requiring constant adjustments. I tried using a boat hook to handle the hand line nearest the stern without leaving the pedestal, but once the boat gained any momentum, it was impossible. Brent held tight to his line in the bow, so the stern was always the first to go rogue.
Once through the lock, we had a routine return to Seneca Falls and tied the boat up to the wall near the Heritage Area Center. The stranded canal boat was recovered from the edge of the spillway later in the afternoon and towed with her frightened occupants to the wall next to us. The renters were sputtering about the boat, the rental company and their “near death” experience at the spillway. They ended their trip in a rented Escalade after abandoning all of their provisions and all of their pride at our gangway.
After cleaning, putting away the new food and making the Belle shipshape, we took ourselves on a walking tour of Seneca Falls. At Seneca Falls, a series of waterfalls and rapids created a barrier for west-bound travelers on the Seneca River. A portage was established in 1787 and mills took advantage of water power early in the 19th century. The Seneca & Cayuga Canal established locks here in 1818 and the connection between the two lakes and the Erie Canal was completed in 1825. Using abundant water power and the ability to ship materials by canal, Seneca Falls became a thriving mill town of four and five story mill buildings, foundries, housing, churches and stores employing thousands of laborers.
It was against this background that Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Mary Ann McClintock and others organized the Women’s Rights Convention in 1848 at the Wesleyan Chapel on Fall Street. Central New York and the “burned over district” were primed for reform and advocates for abolition, women’s rights and Native Peoples’ rights had been recruiting in the area, especially among a branch of the local Quaker community.
The convention, housed within a plain brick church, attracted both women and men and luminaries including Lucretia Mott and Frederick Douglass. It resulted in the publication of the Declaration of Sentiments, now recognized as a seminal moment in the history of human rights. The chapel building became many things after the Convention including, ironically, its final degradation as a decrepit laundromat. To interpret the building’s history after acquisition, the National Park Service initially deconstructed it to reveal only those materials that were original to it in 1848, leaving large sections of the top and sides open to the elements and accelerated deterioration. In 2010, the building was sensibly enclosed with new material where necessary in order to preserve the original walls and the surviving roof timbers.
We toured Fall Street, looked at the stores and restaurants, walked over to Elizabeth Candy Stanton’s house and finally sat to rest at a canal-side pavilion near Trinity Church. Lou, the boat owner’s representative, found us and gave us the unexpected but good news that the that the entire canal system would reopen tomorrow morning at 7:00 AM. We picked up a few supplies and had dinner at a pub on Fall St. It was dark when we returned to the boat. Lou staggered by for a visit after apparently spending a good part of the day at the American Legion. He stumbled on his way down the companionway steps and crashed flat on his face in the galley, blood trickling from his nose and mouth. We got him cleaned up and made him a cup of coffee before sending him home. We took power showers at the visitor center, checked our lines, and then called it a night. We will be entering the Erie Canal tomorrow!
Muddy Paddle grew up near the junction of the Hudson River and the Erie Canal. His deep interest in the canal goes back to childhood when a very elderly babysitter regaled him with stories about her childhood on the canal in the 1890s. Muddy spent his college years on the canal and spent many of his working years in a factory building overlooking the canal. Over the years he has traveled much of the canal system by boat and by bicycle.
Muddy Paddle's Erie Canal adventure will return next Friday! To read other adventures by Muddy Paddle, see: Muddy Paddle: Able Seaman, about Muddy Paddle's adventures on the replica Half Moon, and Muddy Paddle's Excellent Adventure on the Hudson, about his canoe trip down the Hudson River.
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This blog is written by Hudson River Maritime Museum staff, volunteers and guest contributors.
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