Erie Canal Bankwatch – Searching For Leaks Since 1825

muskrat erie canal

Muskrats were notorious for digging their homes into the banks of the Original Erie Canal, but the banks of the modern Barge Canal are so large that animal activity isn’t the threat it used to be.


hurry up boat

Leaks were common in especially the original canal, and “hurry-up” boats like this were expected to get to the site as quickly as they could before the falling water level made it impossible for them to get there at all. We speculate that the straight sides of these vessels might have been used to temporarily dam a rushing leak while rocks, logs and tight soils could be placed for a permanent fix.



erie canal bankwalkerNew York State has maintained a “bankwatch” program from the earliest days of the canal – wherever there were sections of the canal that were above the surrounding grade. In the central and eastern sections, the Seneca and Mohawk Rivers and Oneida Lake were canalized by 1918, making the bankwatch program there obsolete, because rivers don’t leak.

Tom “Sneakers” Ashbery was an 84-year-old bank walker when this picture was taken in 2005. His job was to patrol a five-mile section in the countryside west of Rochester, looking for leaks in the canal while they were still small enough to be repaired easily.


erie canal bankwatch

The 1974 bottom leak at Bushnell’s Basin (southeast of Rochester). A crew was excavating under the canal to install a new sewer line. This section near the culvert over the Irondequoit Creek was built with a concrete liner – partly because the stretch is so prone to leaks, and partly because it runs through a highly populated area. Photograph courtesy Town of Perinton historian.

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