Tug DeWitt Passes over the Culvert

IMG_3067   Is that Tug DeWitt Clinton traveling OVER a road?  Why yes it is.  The DeWitt is crossing over the Medina Culvert.  This is the only place along the Erie Canal where you can drive under the canal – or cross over a road, as our favorite Tug is doing in this awesome photo.

When the Medina Culvert was built in 1823, it was mortarless. A series of keystones held it all in place.  The brown sign to the right states it is listed in Ripley’s Believe it or Not as the only road under the Erie Canal.

Take care when passing under this low clearance single lane roadway.  It’s a little dark, a little damp, and well worth the trip just to say you did it!

Even after all these years the Medina Culvert is still in great shape, just like Tug DeWitt Clinton.  #KeepCanalBoatsAfloat.


Connecting with our Canal

Many children living in canal towns are naturally intrigued by the canal.  They see it and cross over it every single day, sometimes multiple times a day.  In a school bus, car, truck, bicycle, and by foot.  They enjoy learning about its history, especially as it pertains to their own community.

Through the years, several school service-learning projects have been created by Albion students with the Erie Canal as the main attraction.

Just this year a group of Albion Middle School students worked with the Orleans County historian on an interpretive panel that told the story of the Erie Canal’s impact on our community.  The panel was completed and installed in early July.

The amount of information students learned about Albion and the Erie Canal helped them make connections with Albion’s prosperity in the early years due to the growth of the Erie Canal.  The community sprang up all around the canal as a result of the “express waterway” and our farmers thrived; we became the “breadbasket of the United States.”

Erie Canal Interpretive Panel
Mayor Eileen Banker and Albion students look at the newly created panel located near Albion’s canal park.

Additional projects include the creation of local services maps for canal visitors as well as a larger downtown map located on the canal park gazebo.  These maps help visitors to seek locations of services in our village.  Students planted trees, flowers, added umbrellas to picnic tables for shade, helped with canal counts of boaters, bicyclists and pedestrians, participated in canal clean sweep events, created and placed “Welcome to Albion” signs at the entrances to Albion along the canal, painted a packet boat mural, and painted the canal gazebo.  All of these projects help create a sense of community pride and place.

The new Erie Canal panel is seen on the left.  The village services map is located on the gazebo. Both are located where boaters dock.

In September students heard about the Tug Urger and possible plans to place it at a New York State Thruway stop.  These students signed a petition to #SaveTheUrger.  They sent the petition to New York Power Authority and the New York State Canal Corporation.

Yes, even young people can participate in their community and express their concerns about things they care about. Citizenship starts in our own backyard.

Tug Urger Meeting – September 18

2017 NYS Fair display. 

Read a September 9th Time Union article titled “State reconsidering fate of historic canal tugboat, other vessels,”  to learn more about a meeting scheduled on September 18th between the New York Power Authority and representatives from Preservation League of New York State, Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor and Canal Society of New York State.

The meeting will examine “options” for the Tug Urger.

In addition to Tug Urger, this writer hopes attendees also express concerns for the ongoing care, upkeep and preservation of other worthy NYS Canal Corp vessels, especially Tug DeWitt Clinton.

If a Tugboat had fingers, they would be crossed for a positive outcome from this meeting.

Save, Preserve and Honor our Maritime Heritage: Remembering 9/11


In May of 1940 Prime Minister Winston Churchill authorized Operation Dynamo; the historic “miraculous intervention” that rescued over 338,000 English, French, Polish and Belgian soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk. Over a period of nine days from May 27 – June 4, 1940 over 860 vessels, of which more than 400 were privately owned small craft, voluntarily and compassionately carried out a courageous mission of hope that has always been, and continues to be, a hallowed trademark of the civilian maritime community. This act of desperation resulted in the heroic Miracle of Dunkirk, but only due to the selfless efforts and determination of British seamen and their crews.

“One of the most motley fleets of history – ships, transports, merchantmen, fishing boats, pleasure craft – took men off from the very few ports left and from the open beaches themselves . . .” ~George Fielding Eliot, U.S. Army Officer

On September 11, 2001 our world was changed forever. The attack upon New York City’s World Trade Center Twin Towers delivered to American soil the brutality and inhumanity of an evil not known since the horrors that fascism brought to Europe in the late 1930’s.

Like Dunkirk, one of the most remarkable yet mostly untold stories of the events surrounding 9/11 is one of the brave and fearless efforts of the civilian maritime community of New York City. Collectively they rescued more than 500,000 New Yorkers from the tragic and perilous environment left by the aftermath at Ground Zero. When the United States Coast Guard Pilot Boat #1 put out an alert to “All available boats!” hundreds responded including 50 Tugs, 33 Ferries, sightseeing and dinner cruise boats and small personal pleasure craft. These maritime heroes, much like their seafaring brothers and sisters sixty-one years earlier, delivered over one half million frightened, confused and in some cases injured people to safety in just nine hours.

John J. Harvey’s new dazzle paint job was on display during the Tugboat Roundup in Waterford,NY. Artist Tauba Auerbach and the Public Art Fund created this amazing sight!

One of these crafts, which was recently honored at the 2018 Waterford Tug Boat Roundup as “TUG OF THE YEAR”, was the NYFD Fireboat John J. Harvey. She launched in 1931 and was active in the NYFD marine fleet until she was retired in 1995. In her day she was the fastest fire-fighting vessel of her generation and her pumps could spray 18,000 gallons of water per minute from three locations on deck; fore, mid and aft.

Having been retired four years earlier, in 1999 she was rescued from the scrap yard by a group of maritime preservationists who believed that she should be preserved and honored for her dedication to the city and her numerous missions that saved both lives and property for 64 years. The efforts of her new owners and the volunteers that restored her were rewarded in June 2000 when the John J. Harvey was honored by being enrolled in the prestigious National Park Service National Registry of Historic Preservation.

But her shining moment was when she responded to the “All available boats” call on the morning of September 11, 2001. At first she joined the fleet that was rescuing survivors from lower Manhattan; but early on she was contacted by the NYFD and informed that they needed water because the damage caused by the collapse of the Twin Towers had destroyed the water delivery system of Manhattan. Others could rescue survivors; the John J. Harvey was needed to return to active duty as the proud Fireboat she had always been.

Once the crew determined that her pumps were fully operational the Department ordered her return to active fleet duty as Marine Company 2. It took a bit of maritime ingenuity, but the crew was able to adapt her “plumbing” to the new generation of firefighting hardware. Within an hour she was providing water to the struggling forces of the NYFD, and for the next 80 hours the John J. Harvey pumped 38 million gallons of water and helped firefighters throughout New York City fight the lingering devastation of the terrorists attack at Ground Zero. She simply had become a massive and proud floating fire hydrant.

John J. Harvey during the Tugboat Roundup showing off her firefighting capabilities.

“We teach tens of thousands of citizens about the rich maritime heritage of New York . . . and awe them with John J. Harvey’s complex, enduring and elegant engineering.

John J. Harvey’s work for her community and her on-going restoration as a vessel underway have been recognized in the Congressional Record and by awards from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Preservation League of New York and the Steamship Historical Society of America and the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance.”                        ~Fireboat.Org, January 2013

These two historic events serve as monumental examples of what a community of people is capable of when faced with the epic challenges too often caused by the evil intentions of a demented few.  Especially significant here is the link that mariners have always shared; a bond that when “All available boats” is called out, the multitudes will respond. It happened in 1940, again in 2001 – and hopefully never needs to be repeated.

In the case of the John J. Harvey, she is the standard–bearer of why the preservation of these historic vessels is so important. Through the incredibly dedicated efforts of many, she responded at a time when America was most in need; and she continues to be a part of the living history of New York’s famed maritime tradition. Whether it is the vessels that travel our beloved canal, or the infrastructure itself, we must honor vessels like the John J. Harvey and dedicate ourselves to SAVE, PRESERVE AND HONOR OUR MARITIME HERITAGE. Their history must always be seen not just as our past, but who we are as New Yorkers now and into the future.


Actor Tom Hanks and producer/director Eddie Rosenstein (Eye Pop Productions) created an 11 minute video that will lift you up and make you proud of how civilian mariners came together in response to this catastrophic event. Watch the Youtube video here – “Boatlift – An Untold Tale of 9/11 Resilience”

                                        #SaveTheUrger AND #KeepCanalBoatsAfloat

Bringing Tug Buffalo Back to Buffalo

You know how sometimes you begin searching for something on the internet and then you just kind of stumble upon something else that is kind of related to what you are looking for but totally unexpected and very intriguing? You just have to abandon your original search and dig deeper.

That is exactly what happened to me the other day.  As I was searching for information about the Tugboat Roundup in Waterford (September 7-9) I stumbled upon a story about Tug Buffalo, a steam engined tug built in 1923.

The story caught my eye for a number of reasons:

  • I think Tug Buffalo’s shape resembles Tug DeWitt Clinton
  • Tug Buffalo was a working tug along the Erie Canal for more than two decades
  • In 2005 it was donated to the Town of Waterford
  • Its engine is “direct reversing”
  • The steam engine was repaired and it took part in the Tugboat Roundup
  • This tug has historic value
  • This tug is not being reefed, sunk, or dry docked… it is being restored!

In late 2017 it was sold to the Palmer brothers.  In July it was towed back to Buffalo.  The new owners hope to restore it and have it cruise along the booming Buffalo Harbor.

I live in Western New York and often visit Buffalo.  I look forward to seeing Tug Buffalo, under its own power, once again grace the Buffalo waters.  It will be in good company with the Edward M. Cotter, the oldest active fire boat in the world. The Cotter has been fighting fires since 1900.

Click on this link to a WIVB.com video titled Historic Tug Buffalo returns to Buffalo for repairs.

Kudos to the Palmer brothers for their efforts to save this Tug.  Here is the link “Bringing the Buffalo Back to Buffalo” on the Palmer brothers’ Lardon Group website.

You can also follow this link to the website Tug44.org to view photos of Tug Buffalo at the 2008 Tugboat Roundup. Tug44.org is a very good site that highlights many vessels along the Erie Canal, Champlain Canal and the Hudson River.  Check it out sometime.


A Barge Journey

Lockmaster canal boats pass by Tug DeWitt Clinton.

If you spend any length of time along the Erie Canal you will see the majestic blue and gold Canal Corporation tugs, tenders, scows, and derrick boats going about the business of keeping the historic Erie Canal in top shape.  You will also see canal boats passing east and west throughout the summer months.  These are reproductions that people can rent for a week or longer.  We see more and more of these boats along the Erie Canal and we also see very happy boaters enjoying their experience as they slowly work their way along the canal, stopping at many of the wonderful canal communities to learn more about the towns and Canal.

We had a Tug DeWitt Clinton sighting on a recent blog about traveling a week along the Erie Canal in a Lockmaster Canal Boat by Mid-Lakes Navigation. Click here to read Sharon Roth’s blog about her experience and to see a photo of Tug DeWitt in the background.

For more information regarding canal boat rentals, you can click on this link for Mid-Lakes Navigation, located in Skaneateles, NY.

Here Comes the Calvary

Photo: Tug DeWitt Clinton’s captain is pushing dredgers and scows in Seneca Lake.

Heavy rains fell in mid-August and it caused massive flooding in many areas of the Finger Lakes.  Roads, homes, vehicles, and waterfront properties were severely damaged.  Large areas of debris could be seen floating in Seneca Lake.

Several organizations are currently helping clear the debris from Seneca Lake and assist residents with assessing the damage.

A group of NYS Canal Corporation workers, including tug captains and crew members, have been on the scene for almost a week and through the weekend helping clear debris around the Ovid area of Seneca Lake.

Take a look at this 15 second Facebook video from TrojanYacht.com showing Tug Seneca pushing a scow on its way to help with the Seneca Lake clean up efforts.  A welcome sight for the lakefront residents who are trying to recover from the rains.  (Video link attached here).