Concrete Barges on the Erie Canal – A Wartime Expedience

concrete barge

Steel was in tight supply because of the war when the Barge Canal was finished in 1918. Alternative materials were sought to create a fleet for use in the war effort. Wood was used of course, but the government also authorized the construction of 21 reinforced concrete barges like those seen here.


concrete barge erie canal

Unfortunately, not even steel reinforcing could prevent these brittle hulls from being damaged by frequent contact with solid objects.  Once damaged, repairs were never permanent. Concrete was tried in the construction of ships elsewhere, but on the Erie wood and steel were more practical choices.


concrete barge lineup

The concrete barges lasted for about five years, on average. Some sank and had to be broken up in place to clear the channel for other traffic. Those that didn’t sink were towed and sunk alongside the approaches to locks in the now canalized Mohawk River to serve as erosion-control structures. The ones you see above are at Rotterdam Junction between Amsterdam and Schenectady.


concrete barges

These submerged barges are located at the lock just east of The Noses near Canajoharie in the Adirondack region. The site isn’t accessible to the public, and in 2012 crushed stone was bulldozed over the boats to provide a parking lot for construction crews.

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