Erie Canal Locks

Stairways of Water

The story of The Erie Canal becomes more interesting the more it's told.  Enjoy each of our Classroom Collection video clips, and don't forget to scroll down this page for more images and information!

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Kevin Lynch at Lock 32 in Rochester, NY
The locks in the modern Erie Barge Canal are all built to standard specifications for length and width. Only the height of the locks vary. Each lock holds 100,000 gallons of water per foot of height. That means that this lock in Rochester that has a lift of 25 feet needs 2-1/2 million gallons of water for every fill cycle.
A swingbridge crossed the Erie Canal at Albion before the Modern Barge Canal enlargement
Water flows into and out of locks through underground plumbing by the force of gravity alone. There are no pumps involved in the process anywhere. That means that in order climb hills with locks like the one above, there has to be a natural supply of water from either a lake or a river that is ABOVE the lock. Not only so, but the supply has to be enough during dry summers AND during periods of high traffic when the lock is cycled more frequently. Finding these sources was one of the key challenges of the early surveyors of the Erie's route across New York State.
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