RESEARCH BY Richard Palmer

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

Lyons Republican
Oct. 30, 1952

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 area.

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.