Buffalo Along the Erie Canal

Restoring the Flight of Five

Lockport’s staircase of five locks, ascending a height of 60 feet within a distance of only 550 feet, is one of the best-preserved structures remaining from the Enlarged Erie era. On location of the original northern portion of the Erie Canal Flight of Five Locks, Lockport’s Flight of Five is one of the top visitor destinations on the entire New York State Canal System.

When surveyors laid out the route for the construction of the original Erie Canal, they selected the site of present-day Lockport as the location where the canal would traverse the sheer rock cliff of the Niagara Escarpment. The Escarpment continues east to Watertown and continues west to the vicinity of Chicago. Taking advantage of a natural basin at the base of the geological feature, Erie Canal Engineer Nathan Roberts designed a set of double locks, five locks lifting boats west to Buffalo and five locks returning boats east to Albany. Because of the need to maintain the canal at a level lower than that of Lake Erie, Roberts oversaw the excavation of millions of tons of dolomite stone and the construction of stone locks with wooden gates from 1822 -25. From Lockport, the excavation continued west for another 1 mile (The Deep Cut), in order to tap the headwaters of Lake Erie.

When Canal Commissioners commenced the 20th Century Erie Canal Enlargement Project in 1836, both sets of Lockport’s Flight of Five Locks underwent extensive widening and deepening. Numbered Locks 67-71, the enlargement of the Lockport Locks was overseen by Canal Engineer Thomas Evershed, and was completed in 1842. It is this period to which that local preservationists and canal enthusiasts are restoring the Flight of Five.

The construction of the Erie Barge Canal resulted in the demolition and removal of the southern portion of the Flight of Five, to be replaced by two mechanized locks in 1918, Locks 34 and 35. The upgrade to handle motorized barges resulted in Locks being enlarged from 110’ to 328’ long and from 18’ to 45’ wide, with a combined vertical life of approximately 50’.

Today, the City of Lockport, seeking to revitalize its Central Business District around its historic waterfront, is championing the restoration of the northern flight of the Enlarged Erie Canal Locks 67-71. In 2014, with the support of the NYS Thruway Authority and the NYS Canal Corporation, Lockport utilized $2.6 million in SAFETEALU funding to restore Locks 69 and 70, and install one set of wooden lock gates and balance beams, enabling the demonstration of the manual operation of weir gates. Designated as a Regional Priority by the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council, the Flight of Five is in line to receive approximately $1 million for a Phase II restoration project.

The vision of local and state officials is a fully restored and operating Enlarged Erie-era Flight of Five Locks operating alongside the “modern” Barge Canal Locks 34 and 35, fully interpreted and attracting hundreds of thousands of heritage tourists yearly. Canalside shops, restaurants and lodging facilities in the Locks District will enable motorists, group travelers, boaters, bikers and local residents to enjoy narrated canal cruises and a growing number of canal-based attractions and tours to provide visitors to Lockport with the premier Erie Canal experience.