Erie Canal Lock 23
The stonework surrounding you is the remains of lock 23 of the Enlarged Erie Canal. Canal boats, drawn by mules and horses, passed through the chambers on either side of you on their way toward revolutionizing transportation in the mid-nineteenth century.
This structure, built in 1842, took the place of Lock 26 of the original Erie Canal, which was located nearby. The original canal featured locks with only one chamber for canal boats: the Enlarged Canal replaced these with double-chambered locks, allowing boats to pass in either direction at the same time. When the doors to the chamber closed, water could be added or released to raise or lower canal boats by eight feet.
Lock 23 was especially significant in the Canal's history. It often was either the first or last lock used by canalers as they chose to either load or unload in Schenectady and use an overland route to and from Albany in order to avoid the time-consuming process of traveling through the 22 locks between here and the Hudson River.
As popular as the Canal was, it was soon displaced by the rapidly expanding railway system after the Civil War. A last effort to expand the Canal's capacity was made in the 1880s by extending one of the chambers of most of the locks in the system (including the chamber of Lock 23 to your right, behind this structure) to accommodate "double-headers," two canal boats lashed together.
However, the State Legislature voted in 1903 to replace the Enlarged Canal with a new Barge Canal, that in this area utilized a system of dams and locks on the Mohawk River; when the Barge Canal was completed in 1918, Lock 23 was abandoned. In the mid-1950s, the Town of Rotterdam used the Lock to help support a new water main, which runs through the lock chamber under the cement bridge behind you. Volunteers working with the Town have recreated this locktender's hut and the wooden pier behind you, and the site was recognized by its listing on the New York State and National Historic Registers in 2008.
For more information on the restoration of the Lock, or to volunteer or donate to the project, email Lock23@union.edu