The Erie Canal, sometimes called the Barge Canal, is a well known feature crossing New York in an east-west direction and then linking to the Mohawk and Hudson Rivers, thus providing a water connection from the Atlantic to the Great Lakes. The success of the Erie started a rush of canal building fever in the east.
Land that is now Letchworth Park was served by the Genesee Valley Canal that began near downtown Rochester where it joined the Erie and ended at the Allegany River near Olean at the hamlet of MillGrove. According to Mildred Anderson's book "The Genesee Valley Canal" construction began in 1836 and the 53 mile section from Rochester to Mt Morris was finished in 1841. Financial problems and difficult terrain resulted in a delay from 1842 until 1848 and the next portion not being completed until 1862, bringing the length up to 124 miles. The total rise in elevation to be overcome by this hand--dug ditch was over 900 feet and eventually had to cross the Genesee River on an aqueduct 40 feet high. The canal was officially abandoned in 1878 and the right-of-way sold in 1880. Mrs. Anderson's book contains many facts and tales of life along the canal.
Most of the canal route evolved into the Genesee Valley Canal Railroad which became a branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad that went out of service in the early 60's and was purchased by Rochester Gas and Electric Corporation which has conveyed that right of way to NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation for development of a trail system called the Greenway.
The ledge that supported the canal can be seen when looking across the river from Inspiration Point. Trail 7 is the designation for the route through the park . Trail 7 is on the east side of the river and can be traced from the Genesee Valley Canal Historic Site at the intersection of Oakland road and NY Route 436 in the Town of Nunda in Livingston County, westward through the remains of the old locks and the deep cut along the edge of the gorge past the remnant of the excavation that was to be a tunnel for the canal, passing under the Erie Railroad Highbridge, to end at a stone abutment where the aqueduct was constructed to carry the canal across the Genesee River into Portageville. These parts that are part of the Park are the five most complex and noteworthy engineering feats in the construction of the canal.
Anderson, Genesee Echoes
Anderson, Genesee Valley Canal
For more images of the Genesee Valley Canal, see our Historic Photo Album. There is also a information in our Pieces of the Past pages.