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National Register of Historic Places Program

The National Register of Historic Places is the official list of the Nation's historic places worthy of preservation. Authorized by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Park Service's National Register of Historic Places is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect America's historic and archeological resources.


Property Name New York State Barge Canal
Reference Number 14000860
State New York
County multiple
Town multiple
Street Address NYS Barge Canal, Waterford to Tonawanda , Whitehall, Oswego & Waterloo
Multiple Property Submission Name N/A
Status Listed 10/15/2014
Areas of Significance engineering, transportation, maritime history, commerce
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The New York State Barge Canal is a nationally significant work of early twentieth century engineering and construction that affected transportation and maritime commerce across the eastern third of the continent for nearly half a century. It was also an embodiment of Progressive Era beliefs that public works and public control of transportation infrastructure could counterbalance the growing monopoly power of railroads and other corporations. The Barge Canal system's four main branches, the Erie, Champlain, Oswego, and Cayuga-Seneca canals, are much enlarged versions of waterways that were initially constructed during the 1820s. The Erie Canal, first opened in 1825, was America's most successful and influential manmade waterway, facilitating and shaping the course of settlement in the Northeast, Midwest, and Great Plains; connecting the Atlantic seaboard with territories west of the Appalachian Mountains, and establishing New York City as the nation's premiere seaport and commercial center. Built to take advantage of the only natural lowlands between Georgia and Labrador, New York's canals were enormously successful and had to be enlarged repeatedly during the nineteenth century to accommodate larger boats and increased traffic. The Barge Canal, constructed 1905-18, is the latest and most ambitious enlargement. When completed, it featured 57 concrete locks with electrically operated gates and valves (not the first examples, but certainly the most extensive application of a still new technology); dedicated power plants at each lock; the highest single lift lock in the world (Lock E17, Little Falls); a group of five closely spaced locks that collectively formed the highest lift in the shortest distance in the world (Locks E2 through E6 of the Waterford Flight); eight movable dams on the Mohawk River that were based on creative adaptation and combination of new European designs and were unlike any others in North America; fifteen lift bridges of unusual design; dozens of highway bridges designed with standardized features that allowed rapid and comparatively inexpensive construction; and a number of innovative water control structures. Collectively these features establish the character of a five-hundred-mile system of navigable waterways that remains in service today, passing commercial and pleasure vessels between the Atlantic Ocean and the Great Lakes. Compared with the Panama Canal, which was under construction under federal direction at the same time (1904-14), New York's Barge Canal system was more than ten times longer, required nearly ten times as many locks and many more bridges and ancillary structures, involved about 60 percent of the excavation and concrete, and had about a third of the overall budget, all paid by the State of New York with no federal assistance. In an era when most of the country's canals had been abandoned and railroads dominated inland transportation, New Yorkers voted to rebuild their canals on a massive scale, both to protect the maritime commerce of New York and Buffalo and as a check on the growing stranglehold that railroad trusts exerted over the American economy. The period of significance is defined as beginning with the initiation of canal construction in 1905 and extending through its last large scale improvements in 1963.

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Properties are listed in the National Register of Historic Places under four criteria: A, B, C, and D. For information on what these criterion are and how they are applied, please see our Bulletin on How to Apply the National Register Criteria