Old canal lock near Port Byron being converted to visitors' center
By Danny Linsner
The future of the Erie Canal, including projects to be finished there in the near future, were discussed at a session of the Irish Studies Conference at St. John Fisher.
Most of the session was taken by Thomas Grasso, president of the Canal Society of New York, who described a major project for a new Erie Canal heritage center in Port Byron.
In the session, Grasso spoke about many different projects that the society was heading up, and he spent most of his time talking about a major project that is taking place in Port Byron.
“The Erie Canal is one of the most popular tourist spots in New York,” Grasso said. “People go here, so that’s why this project needs to happen.”
The project is the start of the new Erie Canal Heritage Park in Port Byron. The park, which is expected to open in the summer of 2016, will be at the site of the old Lock 52 of the Erie Canal.
Another aspect of the project is the renovation of the Erie House tavern, which in its heyday was a saloon and local hangout. Grasso said the tavern is starting to fall apart, and is in desperate need of repair.
Other aspects of the Port Byron heritage park include a blacksmith shop and a mule barn, which were also part of the Erie House.
The center will also feature a new visitors’ center, a walking trail, and a refreshment stand. The park will also have easy access off of the New York State Thruway, which Grasso said will help attract more tourists to the center.
Grasso said that the location of the site was important because Port Byron is the crossroads of road, canal, and railroad. “This is why we put it there,” Grasso said. “We want to put a port back in Port Byron.”
“I was impressed with the passion that Grasso spoke with,” said Sharon Miller, one of the people who attended the session. “He made the session interesting, and it’s good to see someone who wants to bring the Canal back.”
Grasso also mentioned other small projects the society is working on, including bringing back the Rochester Aqueduct and restoring the old Erie Canal motorship the “Day Peckinpaugh,” among others.
The session also included a reading of a letter from James Walsh, former congressman and head of the Congressional Friends of Ireland, expressing his hope for the future of the Erie Canal.