Lockport’s Flight of Five – An Engineering Marvel

flight of five

ca 1825 – This colorized version of a famous woodcut shows the approach to the original locks at Lockport from the east. The people standing on the roof of this packet boat had nowhere else to stand, as the boats of the original Erie were a mere seven feet wide; and that left little room for walkways outside the already cramped cabins. Still, for those used to the horrible conditions of the roads of that day, gliding along at four miles per hour through the countryside on the smooth waters of the canal must have been a memorable thrill.

 

flight of five

This drawing, done by Bartlett in or around 1839, hints at the amount of development that the locks at Lockport attracted in just the first fourteen years of their operation. Keep in mind though, that drawings aren’t photographs. The details you see may not always be completely accurate.

 

flight of five

This view looking northwest across the locks at Lockport appears to show a packet boat after having been “locked down” from the west. Note the team of horses or mules at the end of the long towrope in the lower-right corner of the picture.

 

flight of five

By the time the “Enlarged Erie” was completed, the scene at Lockport had changed dramatically. A boat can just be seen locking down on the left (see larger view). The photograph below – which was taken years after this one – shows just how long each of those ten locks really is. The locks on the right in this picture are still there today (see the last picture in this series below), but the gates have been missing for the past hundred years. There’s presently a proposal to restore those gates to their original design, but one of the problems is that the balance beams would protrude into the paved area on the right, which is easy to see in the photo above.

 

flight of five

These are the same locks as above, but the bridge above the locks here is newer, and the two pictures were probably taken several years apart.

 

flight of five

Our guess is about 1910 or so for this pic – not long before work would begin on the two mammoth locks (see the second pic below) that would replace the south flight here (just out of view to the right). There’s a low bridge in the distance that would have had to be removed for the higher clearance requirement of the Barge Canal. The coloration on this card is a great example of the lithography process mastered by the Germans then (most of the color postcards from the early 1900s were produced there). The process involved multiple passes under printers that each applied a different color to the card. Interestingly, the Germans had to guess at the colors, and they sometimes got them wrong. Consider the two-tone stone wall on the left here. The dolomite stone at this site is consistently light gray (see the last color photograph below).

 

flight of five

Canal traffic continues through the north flight of locks while work begins on the modern Barge Canal. In the background there’s what appears to be a diesel locomotive on tracks laid to handle heavy materials for the project. It’ll be tight quarters for the workers; and all materials will have to be transported on that one set of tracks to and from the locks throughout their construction (see picture below that shows the reverse view when the project is much further along).

 

flight of five

This photograph is of exactly the same location as the picture above, but is taken from the opposite direction. Two mammoth new locks would replace the south half of Lockport’s famous dual structure, but they alone would do the work of all ten of the old Flight of Five. The north series would be left in place with its mitre gates removed, and can be seen today serving as a spillway for the site (see below).

 

flight of five

Two mammoth new locks would replace the south half of Lockport’s famous dual structure, but they alone would do the work of all ten of the old Flight of Five. The north series would be left in place with its mitre gates removed, and can be seen today serving as a spillway for the site.

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