Black River Canal

The Black River Canal was a canal built as a navigable feeder to the Erie Canal. The southern end of the canal connected with the Erie Canal in Rome. The Black River Canal traveled north from Rome along the Mohawk River and Boonville Gorge to Boonville. From this summit level the canal follows the Black River to Lyons Falls. From here the flat-water of the Black River allowed boats to travel as far north as Carthage. This canal was only 35 miles long, but it had 109 locks.

In addition to the Navigable Canal, a feeder canal connecting the canal at Boonville to the dammed Forestport Reservoir. Further upstream from Forestport, additional reservoirs were built to ensure that the Erie Canal, not the Black River Canal, had enough water in the event of an extended drought. The canal was completed in 1850, 25 years after the original Erie Canal opened. The canal north of Boonville remained in service until 1900 when it was abandoned, the section from Rome to Boonville remained navigable until 1925. This was the last surviving canal of all the feeder canals not enlarged in the Barge Canal Improvement.


Canal route

In 1828, a survey for the Black River Canal Company proposed 34 miles of traffic canal, 11 miles of feeder canal, and 40 miles of navigable river from Rome to Carthage to allow the communities of Northern New York access to an inexpensive mode of transportation for commerce. Originally the Canal Commission's intent was to complete a route that would terminate at the St. Lawrence river in Ogdensburg. The canal when finished only went to Carthage and yet still possessed all of the traits proposed in 1828 and rose a modest 693 feet. 109 locks were required to raise and lower the barges in this relatively short distance. Some of the locks were in consecutive series of four and five due to steep grades. The summit of the Black River Canal passed through Boonville, where it met with a feeder canal that originated in Forestport. The northern end of the canal proper terminated at Lyons Falls while canal boat traffic continued through to Carthage by way of improvements to the navigability of the Black River itself and the assistance of steamboats. 2 additional locks and 4 dams on the river were needed to accomplish this feat.


Work commenced, after many years of planning and obtaining legislative support in 1837. Testing began in 1848 with the influx of a reduced quantity of water into the system to test for leakage and structural faults. By 1850, part of the canal north of Rome was in service, and the extension to Port Leyden was completed by the end of the year. In 1855, the entire planned length was finished. Damage from a burst dam in 1869 delayed the canal's opening for that year. By 1887 a repair program was instituted to correct damaged locks, worn by years of use. In 1900, the canal north of Boonville was determined to be uneconomic and was subsequently abandoned.

Abandonment and its current state

This canal was the longest-surviving of the Erie Canal's feeder canal system, remaining in use in some segments until the early 1920s. By 1925, the canal was declared an abandoned waterway. Parts of the canal are still visible, and part of the course was along the current NY Route 12.

Even thought the canal was abandoned, it still serves an active part of the modern Erie Canal. The Forestport Feeder still exists and diverts water destined for the north flowing Black River south to the Mohawk River in Rome. While the amount of water diverted is not staggering, the reservoir system still exists and is called upon during times of drought. Further, these reservoirs are used recreational purposes today on what would otherwise would be simple wetlands. Most people even living on the reservoirs do not realize they are part of the active canal system.

The name "headwaters" is still in current use in the Boonville area, mark the source of the water and the reservoir to feed the canal with water. The Black River Canal Warehouse at Boonville was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2003.

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