The Seneca River—the Cayuga Indians called it "Sha-Se-On-Se" or "Swift Waters". In Seneca Falls the Seneca River was a winding, rapid-filled waterway that became an important carrying place on the route from Albany to Geneva and on to the western territories. Early white settlers first built crude shelters in the area known as the "Flats", a low-lying spot now submerged beneath the waters of Van Cleef Lake.
Soon, as entrepreneurs recognized the waterpower potential of the falls of the Seneca River, thriving milling industries began. In the early 1800's a small canal was built next to the river, bypassing the falls. Beginning in 1825 this channel, known as the Cayuga-Seneca Canal, was expanded and connected to the much larger Erie Canal. This link opened national markets to products made in Seneca Falls.
In 1915, much of Seneca Falls' industrial landscape was altered forever by the merging of the canal and the river as part of a project to rebuild the Erie and Barge canal system. The original falls were submerged beneath the new waterway, leaving only the name, Seneca Falls, as a reminder of the power of the Seneca River.
Today, the Cayuga-Seneca Canal is an important recreational resource, linking Cayuga Lake, Seneca Lake, and the Erie Canal as part of the New York State Canal System. Locks 2 & 3 have a combined
lift of 49 feet, and are one of just two combination locks within the entire system.