It's 1890. This is "the flats," the industrial center of Seneca Falls. The noise is deafening, as hundreds of highly-skilled workers build pumps and fire engines in factories jammed onto every inch of the islands below you. Hammer blows ring out, files rasp, machinery clatters rhythmically, and workers shout over the din. Black smoke and soot belch at you from factory smokestacks all along the river, steam engines roar, water arcs out over the canal as pumps are tested, and lock gates slam shut as a heavily-loaded freight boat passes through lock #5.
In the neighborhood behind these factories in modest homes on tree-lined streets, bread bakes and the next meal simmers on hot cast-iron wood stoves, laboriously hand-washed laundry flutters on clotheslines, and dirt tracked in from muddy unpaved roads is scrubbed away.
Until 1914, the flats were home both to industry and to many of the Irish and Italian immigrants whose labor helped build Seneca Falls.
That year, construction of the New York State Barge Canal required the demolition or relocation of 116 industrial buildings and 60 homes. The flats were then flooded to create the canal and Van Cleef Lake.Despite its size and complexity, the New York State Barge Canal failed to recapture much of the state's shipping trade. Shippers preferred railroads and the developing trucking industry. But the canal did provide electricity through its water-powered generators and soon attracted recreational boaters. Today the canal is maintained by New York State as a precious historical and natural resource still used by thousands of pleasure boats each season.
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