Little Falls

Little Falls Facts

Benton's Landing in Little Falls just west of Lock E17.
Location: Erie Canal
Website: littlefallsny.com
NYS guide: Page E-51 / E-52
Town east: St Johnsville (10 miles)
Town west: Ilion (10 miles)
Lock east: Lock E17 (0.5 miles)
Lock west: Lock E18 (2.5 miles)

Little Falls is located about halfway between Waterford and Three Rivers, this canal town has been an important part of the canal system since its creation. Little Falls, a small city, has all the things that a boater would desire: mooring, restaurants, groceries, parks, walkways, museums, gyms, library, post office, movie theater and many more.

Little Falls offers three places to stop for the transient boater. First is at Lock E17, located at the eastern side of the city. There ample parking on the eastern side of the lock along the cement canal wall. Lock E17 is the largest lock on the canal system, and has a nearby walking path as well as a lock still visible from the original Erie Canal (Old Erie Canal Lock 36).

Also in town on the western side of the lock is Benton's Landing. Benton's Landing offers a daytime tie up (no overnight mooring) to easily access all that the town has to offer. Lastly, for overnight mooring on the western side of the lock is the is Town Canal Harbor. Here you can tie up for the night for a modest fee.

While in Little Falls there are numerous informational boards to guide you where you need to go within town; this is a good place to stop for supplies.

Contents

Amenities

  • Dock ($$)
  • Water/Power
  • Free dock for short term to walk into town.

Little Falls Canal

A print of the Little Falls Aqueduct.
A print of the Little Falls Aqueduct.

Long before the Erie Canal was dug through Little Falls, there was a need for a canal around the little falls rapids so that loaded boats could easily pass to the west. The route around the falls was a treacherous one, it required improvement in the mid 1700s to allow wheeled carts to pass, and even these paths had difficulty with the ever increasing large boats.

The route was surveyed for a canal and there was determined to be a rise of 39 feet and a route of three-fourths of a mile in length. The survey recommended that five locks be built to overcome the falls and projected the cost to be about £10,500.

Construction

A photo in the early 1900s of the locks at Little Falls.
A photo in the early 1900s of the locks at Little Falls.

With surveys completed, the Western Inland Lock Navigation Company, a private company incorporated to create canals to the west of the Hudson River for profit, went ahead and commenced construction in 1793, without the assistance of an engineer.

Under law, the specified width of locks must be at least ten feet wide by seventy feet long and allow boats requiring two feet of draft to pass. An added bonus of constructing canals is that the law allowed the Western Inland Lock Navigation Company to use surplus water from the canals for manufacturing. The granting of this privilege inaugurated a policy which proved very disastrous to the interests of the State in later years.

Work on the canal began in April 1793, with nearly three hundred laborers and number of skilled men. Unfortuantely, as was common for this and other early canal companies, they ran out of money and in September work had stopped. In the following year the state would bail the company out by buying shares of the company and on November 17th, 1794 the canal would allow boats to pass.

The finished canal was 4752 feet long (just short of a mile) and would raise boats 44 feet 7 inches. Five locks, all located on the eastern end, were constructed, and lifted boats approximately 9 feet each. The locks exceeded minimum requirements and were 74 feet long by 12 feet wide and allowed boats of three feet of draft to pass. In addition to the five lift locks, a guard lock was build on the western end to protect the canal from flooding or damage during high waters. The canal required 2550 feet of difficult and costly excavation from solid rock.

Little Falls Canal in use

The view of the Little Falls Aqueduct in the early 1900s.
The view of the Little Falls Aqueduct in the early 1900s.

Officially completed in 1795, a few years before the Rome Canal and 30 years before the Erie Canal. This was the first major canal in New York and marked further progress towards a continuous navigational channel between the Hudson River and the Great Lakes. The original wooden locks rotted rapidly and in 1802 they were replace by stone locks.

Unlike all canals in Little Falls to follow, this canal followed the north side of the river, rather than the southern side; for this reason, when the Erie Canal was built an aqueduct was built in order to feed water to the Erie Canal and allow boats to access the northern side of the canal. On October 2, 1820, the Western Inland Locks Navigation Company was granted $91,616 for compensation for the state taking control of the canal. This ended the Western Inland Lock Navigation Company.

Little Falls Canal today

Most of the remains of the 5 lift locks are gone. The remains of the aqueduct are visible near Benton's Landing. Interestingly though, the though remains of the guard lock are still evident and in 1883, along with the adjacent stone bridge, were the first know canal feature that was protected by the state of New York for the strict reason of historic value for future generations. Unfortunately the lock and bridge has suffered greatly over the years.

Work by the New York State Museum has uncovered that the lock wall seen today has undergone significant reconstruction around 1940. The both walls and the stone bridge have been torn down and replaced. The bridge by a modern bridge, the northern wall by a concrete wall, and the southern wall taken down and rebuilt without the canal artifacts. Unfortunately that this means that all actual traces of the canal are now gone and or buried.

Canal Celebration

A week-long citywide celebration revolving around the Erie Canal. See here for more details.

Little Falls Photos

View of the Little Falls Terminal Wall.
View of the Little Falls Terminal Wall.  
Fountain at Terminal Wall.
Fountain at Terminal Wall.  
The remains of the Enlarged Erie Canal Lock 36 in Little Falls.
The remains of the Enlarged Erie Canal Lock 36 in Little Falls.  
Lock E17 from the downstream side.
Lock E17 from the downstream side.  
View from deep inside Lock E17.
View from deep inside Lock E17.  
Boat launch at the end of the Terminal Wall.
Boat launch at the end of the Terminal Wall.  
Another View of the Marina.
Another View of the Marina.  
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