Historic Lockport NY on the Erie Canal
Elockport.com Home Elockport Sitemap Contact Lockport, NY Government
City and Town of Lockport New York Historic Erie Canal in Niagara County NY

History of Lockport, NY

1816-1840 | 1840-Present

The New York State Legislature passed an act in 1816 which convinced land speculators that the proposed Erie Canal would pass through the area now known as Lockport. The Holland Land Company began selling land to speculators, the first being a group of men from the Town of Farmington in Ontario County, New York. These men were members of The Society of Friends, more commonly known as Quakers.

The Comstock family, from Farmington, was among the early settlers. Nathan Comstock built his cabin at north Lockport and John Comstock settled "near the mouth of the cave." Zeno Comstock, the first miller, built his cabin on what we today call Saxton Street, above LaGrange. One year later Nathan purchased the site of the Odd Fellows Home and planted an orchard with 700 trees. These original settlers overcame many hardships to establish their homesteads, removing massive trees and underbrush, clearing the land and avoiding the dangers provided by huge numbers of rattlesnakes.

In 1818, another Quaker, Jesse Haines arrived and settled south of the present High Street. His important contribution was mapping the future City of Lockport. Other Quakers came to the area and built a meeting house church, a school and established a cemetery on the triangle of land which encompassed Main, Market, Chestnut and Elm Street in 1819. The first wedding and burial involved The Society of Friends. The first school teacher was a Quaker woman named Pamela Aldrich.

Historic Schoolhouse in Niagara County

During 1819, Main Street, originally called Mountain Road, was laid out to connect the Lewiston Road at Cold Springs with the Upper Mountain Road in Cambria. Nathan Rogers worked on the Batavia Road east section from Transit Road to Locust Street. The first eating and drinking establishment, a log tavern, was built on the site of the Farmers & Mechanic Bank.

In 1820, David Thomas, a Quaker, was appointed the principal engineer of canal construction west of the Genesee River. As State Surveyor, Thomas chose the area of the future Lockport as the site of the Locks. Addison Comstock, also a member of The Friends, received the contract for rock excavation. At this time there was no frame house or barn within five miles of Lockport.

(top of page)

In January of 1821, advertisements appeared in New York City. Contractors were seeking men to work on the canal in Niagara County. The workers could expect wages, and keep, which meant food and whiskey. The laborers cleared the woods and excavated rocks in preparation of building the locks. Deacon Luther Crocker came to the area at this time. He was a blacksmith and later would do much of the ironwork on the lock gates, valves, railings and bridges for the canal. It was in this year that Erie County was taken from Niagara County.

Dr. Isaac Smith and his wife Ednah, also members of the Society of Friends, arrived in Lockport in April of 1821. He was the first doctor to settle in Lockport. He built a cabin of peeled logs which he then white washed. It was located at about 69 Main Street, the site of the present Bewley Building.

Several prominent Quakers met at a log tavern kept by Esek Brown between West Genesee and West Avenue. At this meeting, Jesse Haines proposed the name Lockborough for the area. Dr. Smith wanted the name Lockport and the majority at the meeting voted for his suggestion.

Canal construction began at the escarpment. The population swelled to 2,000 many of whom were the Irish who came to work on the canal.

Niagara County's Flight of Five

Morris Tucker came to Lockport and opened the first general store to provide goods to the growing population. John Johnson, the first baker, settled in town. It was at this time that Colonel William Bond, a land speculator, also appeared in Lockport. Law and order was to be provided by Almon H. Millard, the first sheriff of Niagara County.

In 1822, Lyman Spalding, a member of the Society of Friends, opened a store at the location of 60 Main Street today. He would later be involved in building a flour mill and developing other industries. John Pound and his brother Samuel started a butcher shop on the triangle between Main and Canal Street. John Birdsal and Elias Ransom Jr. were the first lawyers to settle in Lockport and formed a partnership.

On August 1, 1822 a local advertisement was placed by Culver and Maynard, two canal contractors, seeking to buy pork, flour, whiskey, oats and hay for canal workers.

(top of page)

Hiram Gardner, another lawyer took up residence and Gideon Hershey opened the Exchange Coffee House. To make access to the growing village easier, a narrow road was cut through the forest from Wrights Corners to Lockport.

When Niagara County was separated from Erie, it became necessary to choose a county seat. A rivalry existed between Lewiston and Lockport for this honor. Lewiston seemed to have the advantage because it had its own newspaper and could lobby for county seat. Daniel Washburn and Dr. Isaac Smith traveled to Lewiston and convinced Bartimus Ferguson, the owner of the printing press to relocate to Lockport. They traveled through the night with the printer, his family, household goods and the press. In the morning the first edition of the Lockport Observatory appeared in the village of Lockport before Lewiston was aware of what had happened. The paper helped Lockport become the county seat of Niagara County. Colonel Bond deeded two acres for the county buildings. The first post office opened and Mr. Boughton was the postmaster. Another log school building was constructed on the west side of the village by R. L. Wilson. A riot of canal workers in December of 1822 resulted in Lockport's first murder, that of a man named Jennings.

The locks were the idea of Nathan Roberts. A sixty foot drop existed at Lockport and a way had to be devised to raise and lower the packet boats to complete the journey to Buffalo. Roberts's idea was a twin flight of locks with five locks each. In 1823, work began on the lock construction. These locks were crucial to the completion of the canal. While work on the locks was under way, the first tunnel for carrying surplus canal water around the locks was bored by the contractors. It was soon realized that this raceway could be harnessed for power.

To assist in the construction of the canal, a young man named Orange Dibble invented a horse operated crane that could lower a wooden bucket to the bottom of the cut and when it was filled with rock it could be lifted to the bank above.

In the summer of 1823, the canal east of the locks opened for navigation and goods were then portaged around the locks.

A tavern called The Mansion was where the first Niagara County Court was held by Judge William B. Rochester. The Eagle Hotel opened on the corner of Niagara and Prospect. The Washington House also opened. This would be the future site of the reception held for General Lafayette when he visited Lockport.

The first Presbyterian Church opened on Court House Square. The Methodist Church was built on Genesee between Pine and Cottage.

(top of page)

It was in 1823 that two slave hunters from Kentucky arrived and attempted to arrest Joseph Pickard, a black barber. A crowd of Irish canal workers thwarted them. Lockport became a stronghold of anti-slavery. The Quakers, who held powerful positions in the Village of Lockport, were against slavery and became Abolitionists.

On July 25, 1823, Lockport recorded its first earthquake, jarring furniture and crockery.

The year 1824 marked the opening of the canal from the Hudson River to the foot of the locks. Western freight was portaged to Pendleton and reloaded on boats. Passengers from packet boats were taken to Pendleton in "Dearborn carriages" and then re-embarked for Buffalo.

A floating museum and library called the "Encyclopedia of Albany" were seen at the foot of the locks. Lottery tickets were sold on the boat.

The first fire company was organized in Lockport under the name Protection Fire Company.

Orsamus Turner, who first came to Lockport in 1822 became the first editor of the Lockport Observatory newspaper. He eventually purchased the paper and an important event occurred in this printing office. It was the first time a composition roller was ever used in printing.

Bucket brigades were organized to help fight fires. Each member was to report to a fire with his bucket or face a fine of 25 cents.

Eli Bruce was elected sheriff and was the first to occupy the combined jail, courthouse and sheriff's quarters.

On February 10, 1824 a dispensation was granted to Lockport Masons for a Lodge to be named the Lockport Lodge.

June of 1825 was a very busy month for the people of Lockport. On June 6, General Lafayette paid a four hour visit to Lockport and received a hero's welcome. On June 17, 1825, many citizens of Lockport attended the hanging of the Thayer Brothers in Buffalo.

(top of page)

On June 24, the capstone of the locks was laid. During this year, the locks and Pendleton Cut were completed. The first locks were 90 ft. long by 15 ft. deep. Boats could carry 75 ton loads. The average canal tows were single, one boat to one horse or mule.

The Court House and Jail were completed. They were located in the same building. Spalding began building his flour mill. The Baptist congregation was formed but for a while used other churches.

Industrial Erie Canal in Lockport, NY

On April 20,1825 the Canal Commission empowered by the Legislature advertised the sale of available surplus water (the raceway) to the highest bidder. Kennedy-Hatch won the water rights bid. This was the beginning of controversy for many years to come.

In 1826 Lyman Spalding dug a ditch from the lower end of the state by-pass raceway to carry surplus water to the lower level and started grinding flour. He also built a sawmill.

A law was passed establishing Market Street as a state road from Rochester to Lockport along the canal.

It was during this year that William Morgan was kidnapped for threatening to reveal the secrets of Masonry. The Masons of the Lockport Lodge were involved in his disappearance. Although they claimed that he had been released after being held in Fort Niagara, he was never seen again. It remains one of our country's greatest unsolved mysteries. Trials were held in Lockport and Orsamus Turner, the editor of the paper, served some time in jail for refusing to cooperate. The stiffest sentence was given to Sheriff Eli Bruce for his participation in the disappearance. There was a backlash against Masonry and the Anti-Masonry Political Party was formed.

On October 26, 1825 the full length of the Erie Canal was opened. On that day Governor DeWitt Clinton came through Lockport aboard the Seneca Chief and passed successfully through the twin flight of locks.

The first boat from the East the Captain Swan passed through the locks on October 29, 1825.

Asa W. Douglas was appointed the local canal commissioner and established an office on the northeast corner of Main and Pine where the M&T Bank is located today.

(top of page)

A group of Albany land speculators bought 100,000 acres of land from the Holland Land Company in 1827. They also purchased a controlling interest of 300 acres below the escarpment for Joel McCollum in what is now known as Lowertown. They realized the importance of using the surplus water from the top of the locks to develop power below the escarpment in Lowertown.

The first County Clerk's office opened on the present site of the Civil Defense Building in 1828. Lot Clark also arrived to represent the Albany Land Company interests. Washington Hunt, the future governor of New York State, came to Lockport.

The first home for the poor opened near the west end of Niagara Street. The High Bridge was constructed over the canal.

During the year 1829, land was cleared, streets were laid out and a building program commenced in Lowertown. The First Niagara County Bank opened on the corner of Chapel and Market Streets. A frame hotel called The Lockport House was built on the corner of Exchange and Market. The Albany Land Company purchased the rights to the surplus water from the canal. They established an office on the east corner of Market and North Adam Street.

Jesse P. Haines made the first map of Lockport. He also donated 1 acre of land for the Quaker Cemetery which had to be moved from the Main Street. Paupers from all over Niagara County were moved to the poor house. However, probably the most important event was that in 1829 the village of Lockport was incorporated.

Edward Chase came to Lockport as a solicitor. He was the brother of Solomon P. Chase, who became a member of Lincoln's Cabinet. Judge Nathan Dayton and Dr. Josiah Skinner built mansions on Market Street in Lowertown. Flour mill owner Edward Bissell had built his mansion on Market Street the year before.

June of 1830 saw the beginning of the Morgan trials with Judge Marcy presiding.

A huge ridge of sandy soil 10 feet high across Main Street was finally graded. This improvement would promote the growth of the area.

In 1831 the building of the Judd Block began.

(top of page)

Asiatic cholera epidemic swept across Lockport in 1832. Christ Church, the first Episcopal Church was built on the corner of Vine and Market Street. Lyman Spalding built a stone hotel where the Farmers & Merchant Bank Building now stands. The hotel replaced several taverns located there. Originally called the Central House, it was later renamed The American. This occurred in the year 1833. The Lockport Manufacturing Company, a large 4 story stone cotton mill was built at the junction of Spring, Garden and Exchange Streets.

Dr. George W. Merchant started the Merchant Gargling Oil Company. Also in 1833 the Baptists built a stone church on the southwest corner of Pine and Center Alley. A three story school was built to accommodate children who were paupers. The first hook and ladder company was organized. It was originally located on lower Main Street and was known as Protection Hook and Ladder #1. Later it was moved to Locust Street.

In 1834 Washington Hunt was admitted to the Bar after studying with Lot Clark. St. John's Catholic Church was built. The first fire engine was purchased for the fire company and held approximately a barrel and a half of water.

Plans were drawn up in 1834 to increase the canal and lock dimensions from 40ft. by 28ft. up to 70 ft. by 56 ft. by 7 ft. Locks were to be rebuilt from 70 ft. in length to 110 ft. The preliminary work on the canal was begun. Washington Hunt built his law office on Market Street in 1835. Today this building stands on the grounds of the Niagara County Historical Society on Niagara Street. It was in this year that the first lithograph sketch of the "Locks" was done by an English amateur artist William Wilson. The public was eager for the enlargement of the canal to begin.

The construction of the Lockport and Niagara Falls Strap Railroad Deport on the canal bank near the end of Chapel Street was accomplished in 1836. The ticket office was located in the Lockport House and cars stopped in front of the hotel. Opposite the Lockport House were the docks where packet boats stopped. Among other events, Thomas Flagler moved to Lockport and a large fire engine was purchased for Lower Lockport. An ad was placed that year offering a reward of one cent for the return of an indentured servant. Washington Hunt was appointed the first judge of Niagara County at the age of 24.

Railroad to Niagara Falls, NY

Messrs. Stickney and Yerrington were producing a planning machine which could tongue and groove boards for flooring. The inventor was a Mr. Woodworth of Lockport.

Many lost their savings to Benjamin Rathburn in the Panic of 1837. A woman named Papworth was crossing the Gooding Bridge when a plank tipped and she fell through. She was killed. One child was thrown free and another sustained injuries.

The first hospital was built on Canal Street. The English Lutheran Church was established on West Avenue Park. The Patriot War occurred from 1837-1838.

William Hunt was born in Lockport and later became known as Signor Farini, a tight-rope walker, who duplicated all the feats of Blondini over Niagara Falls.

On April 18, 1838 the New York State Legislature authorized the Canal Commissioners to borrow 4 million dollars at 5% interest for enlarging the canal.

Thomas Flagler purchased the Niagara Courier and published it for 6 years. Steam engines replaced horses that had been used the first year on the Lockport Niagara Falls Railroad. A plan of Cold Springs Cemetery was developed. The First Congregational Church was built on the northwest corner of Niagara and Church.

President Martin Van Buren visited Lockport on September 1, 1839. The workers on the first enlargement struck because their wages were cut. They eventually accepted the cut. Senator Henry Clay visited Lockport in July of 1839.

Joshua Wilbur, a pharmacist and future historian of Lockport came in June of that year.

(top of page)

 
Lockport, NY on the Erie Barge Canal



About Lockport, NY | City of Lockport | Town of Lockport | Contact Us | eLockport Home
Live Lockport, NY Web Cam| Community Calendar | Lockport on the Erie Canal Tourism

© Essentials Design Group ~ WebEssentials website design & hosting
Creative Design for the Web and Print ~ Established 1998


Photographs of the Erie Canal Locks and Historic Lockport NY by Dennis Stierer