Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Roman Arches Over River

Lyons Republican, Oct. 30, 1952

Submitted by Richard Palmer

Dr. Ennis Writes History
Of 'Roman Arches Over River'
By David Ennis

"Roman arches over Indian River" is what herman Melville called
them - he was writing about the original Erie Canal. The gray stone
arches that the traveler sees occasionally while crossing our State
on the highways were built somewhat later, about a century ago, just
before the Civil War, when the "Improved" Erie Canal was constructed.

Some of these "water bridges" were enormous structures, and
very famous in their day such as the Lower and Upper Mohawk
aqueducts; the Genesee aqueduct at Rochester, which you can still
cross in a trolley car or automobile, over the swift river waters;
and the Montezuma or Richmond aqueduct, over the Seneca River in the
heart of the great marshes, resting on 90-foot spliced piles,
designed and built by one of Lyons' distinguished citizens,
VanRenesselaer Richmond, the father of Mrs. Katherine Sweet.

The first aqueduct at Lyons crossed the Ganargua River west of
the present structure, between the Mindel and DeGroat farms out
Layton Street way, in the days of the original water way - the grand
Erie Canal of its proponents, or the "Clinton's Ditch: of those who
couldn't understand how boats could be made to go up hill. All that
remains of this aqueduct today are a few stones, visible only at low
water, and the earthen embankment on each side just above the "Ox
Bow" bend.

In these days the canal ran between the Ganargua River and
Layton Street as it approached the village from the west, passed
through Lyons in an S-curve, and went east back of the entire length
of Canal Street through Pilgrimport to Lock Berlin and Clyde

Our aqueduct that you can see from the bridge on the old Newark
Road wasn't famous, but it functioned for over a century, and after
its abandonment when the Clyde River was canalized, became a sort of
monument to the canal builders and engineers of the past. With its
five perfect arches, piers, and rounded abutments, it was a pleasing
sight, representing a rare combination of grace, utility, and
historical significance.

Now that it has been partly torn down, many doubtless feel that
our village has been deprived of a landmark of singular historical
and architectural significance. This is true, of course, but the
structure was doomed before this and the Village Fathers cannot be
accused of official vandalism here.

The real beginning of the end came not this month, but about
five years ago when the State Department of Public Works removed the
coping from the towpath on the side toward the Clyde River, allowing
earth and vegetation to come between the great stones of the arches,
which in time will cause them to fail.

This step was taken to obtain the stones for shoring up the
bank between the Canandaigua outlet dam and the Leach Road, just
south of the bridge over the present Lock 27, the needs of the moment
having evidently obscured the greater, if less tangible,
responsibility tot he future. This action occurred before the present
writer was aware of it - otherwise a vigorous and possibly successful
protest would have made to the highest quarters.

Last spring the Village Board received an official notice from
the Department of Public Works that two of the abutments were in poor
condition, their bases having become undermined. It was all too
obvious that before long this part of the aqueduct would topple over,
thus blocking part of Ganargua's channel and by obstructing its
normal flow into the Clyde River, creating a very real hazard of
increased high water at the time of the usual spring floods in this

There as no alternative, then, but for the local authorities to
carry out this directive, and certainly they cannot be blamed for
initiating the present work of partial demolition.

It is to be regretted, of course. that years ago steps were not
taken to preserve this priceless landmark. With a little care it
would have lasted for hundreds of years, each year becoming of
greater interest and value. Let us hope that other old canal
structures in the vicinity can be preserved with care.

They are splendid monuments to the efforts our forefathers made
to bring about the present greatness of our State and our Country,
and their contemplation and study cannot help but make us better
Americans They built the longest canal in the world, in the shortest
time, for the least money, and to the greatest public benefit.

(caption with photo published in the paper) Mayor Clark R. Gardner
inspects the wall put up by village employees headed by Frederick
Schlierman, foreman, in Maple Street, of immense stones taken from
two piers on the old Erie Canal.

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