Saturday, September 29, 2007

Lockport Cave Tour

Although we've stayed in the general vicinity of Lockport, New York several times now, we've never taken the time to take the Lockport Cave Tour. Since yesterday was a blustery, rainy day Denny and I figured it was a good day to be underground. Fortunately, it was not raining when we arrived at Lockport, because the tour was not all underground. And we discovered the cave is not a cave at all, but a water tunnel.

The Lockport Cave Tour starts in the former City Hall building, a lovely old building made of local limestone. Unfortunately, it has not been restored yet, so you are only inside long enough to purchase tour tickets. Your tour starts outside at the Lockport locks.

The original canal locks were built between 1817 and 1825. There were two sets of locks, one for eastbound and one for westbound water traffic. Each lock was 90 feet long by 15 feet wide and had a lift 12 feet. There were five locks on each side, since the limestone cliffs of the Niagara escarpment created a 60 difference in height between the Hudson River to the east and Lake Erie to the west. This worked for a time, but canal travel proved so popular for moving goods that the locks had to be enlarged. In 1836 work was started to enlarge the "Flight of Five" as the locks were called. However, ever increasing barge traffic meant that the locks had to be enlarge once again, so this time the locks on the south side of the canal were removed and much larger concrete locks with electronic gates were installed in 1909. This is what is in use today, albeit only for tourists and pleasure boats.

This limestone slab still shows the grooves etched into the stone by the ropes used to pull the barges along the tow path.

The entrance to the Lockport Cave tour is actually the water pipe of the former Lockport Pulp Company. As I mentioned earlier, the area we toured isn't really a cave, but the water tunnel designed by Birdsill Holly in the 1850s to provide a source of water energy to three separate factories along the Erie Canal.

The entrance is a sloping walk up the water pipe of the Lockport Pulp Company.

Your tour guide will explain how the water tunnels were built, using blasting powder inserted into small holes drilled by hand using star bits and a sledge hammer. This method blasted out 16 inch wide areas of stone at a time. The water tunnel is 1700 feet long, several feet wide and about 15 feet tall. It's no wonder it took several years to complete. The workers were paid 12 cents an hour and worked 12 hour days. At the end of each hour they were given 2 shots of whiskey. I would think by the eleventh hour, I wouldn't want to have been the man holding the star bit while a drunken co-worker swung a sledge hammer at me!

There is a short boat ride on the waters that remain in the tunnel while the tour guide explains the history of the tunnel. After you leave the tunnel you are free to wander the area of the locks or explore the Erie Canal Museum.

The Lockport Locks tour is located at 2 Pine Street near Main St. in Lockport. The cost is $9 for adults, although you can get a $1 off coupon online at their web site. If you happen to be in the area next month, they will also be conducting "Haunted Cave" tours, which sounds fun.

1 comment:

No_Newz said...

I love when you take us along on your journeys!!!

Have a great weekend!

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