LITTLE FALLS — The City of Little Falls received a print of an 1825 print of a Little Falls lock on the Erie Canal Friday night and residents who stopped in at Rotary Park for the presentation also learned some canal history.
Arthur Cohn, co-founder, director emeritus and senior consultant of the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum in Vergennes, Vermont, was on hand Friday afternoon to make the presentation and explain how the artwork had been discovered.
He was spending three months doing research on the Revolutionary War at the Clements Library at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor when a staff member asked what other topics he might like to research. Steamboats and New York state canals, Cohn told him.
The staff member found him some information about steamboats and told him he had a manuscript and artwork by a man who had traveled on the Erie Canal in the 1820s.
"The last week I was there I started working on this material," said Cohn.
He explained John Henry Hopkins, a 32-year-old clergyman from Pittsburgh, was traveling to New York City to petition the diocese for support for his congregation.
"He traveled on the brand new Erie Canal," said Cohn.
Hopkins boarded a packet boat in Lockport and headed east on the canal. And he sketched and painted scenes along the canal.
"He was a Renaissance man. He had real skill," said Cohn. "At Montezuma, he painted the elevated towpath. At Little Falls, there were five locks and it took a long time to go through, so he got out and painted."
The framed print he presented to Mayor Mark Blask shows a lock and the aqueduct across the Mohawk River at Little Falls. Cohn also was able, during his visit, to identify the sketch of an aqueduct as the one in Little Falls, and he included a print of that sketch along with the other work.
"It’s your aqueduct," he said, adding he had found a description of the railing in an 1841 gazetteer.
Hopkins created 37 watercolor and pencil sketches of canal scenes during his trip and Cohn also presented the city with several other prints of Hopkins’ work.
He told those gathered the name Little Falls was in contrast to the big falls at Cohoes and said people here are fortunate to have physical evidence of four canals here — the 1792 Inland Lock and Navigation Company, the 1825 original Erie Canal, the enlarged Erie and the Barge Canal, now marking its centennial, as is Lock 17 at Little Falls, which was once the highest lift lock in the world.
Cohn praised longtime lockmaster Tom Marrone for his work to maintain the lock.
Cohn arrived on the tugboat C.L. Churchill, which is owned by the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, and is passing through on a tour of several dozen upstate communities, in commemoration of the Erie Canal's upcoming bicentennial in 2017.
He pointed out the first shovelful of dirt was turned over July 4, 1817, and the original Erie Canal was completed in 1825, so there will be a bicentennial period of several years. The original Erie was more successful by far than anyone had expected, changing the way people traveled and did business and shipped their goods. It was only when the railroads became the preferred method of travel and shipping that traffic on the canal slowed.