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New Community Boat Building Project

Buffalo Maritime Center and the Lockport Locks Heritage District Board are planning to build a replica canal boat for use in the restored Lockport Flight of Five Locks in Lockport, New York. The boat will be a 42-foot replica of an authentic Durham Boat of the type that was in use on the Mohawk River corridor prior to the opening of the Erie Canal and were the first boats in use on the canal when it opened in 1825.

Durham Boats were river boats commonly in use on New York State waterways including the Mohawk, Genesee and Niagara Rivers primarily during the pre-canal era, about 1795 to 1825. They were human-powered freight boats that were poled or rowed and occasionally sailed, carrying cargo and passengers across New York State at a time when the road system was primitive or non-existent. When the first section of the Erie Canal was opened to traffic in 1819, the Durham Boats were first on the canal, abandoning oars and setting poles for towline and mule team.

This will be a community boat building project. Construction will take place at the BMC boat shop at 90 Arthur Street in the Black Rock section of Buffalo beginning this Fall, and hopefully completed in time for the July 4th, 2017 anniversary of the start of construction of the Erie Canal. Anyone interested in participating in the project can contact BMC at 881-0111, info@BuffaloMaritimeCenter.org or stop in the shop during regular business hours.

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  1. The image above is of the Canadian Durham Boat replica, Endurance. Built in 1983 and scrapped in 2006 after 33 years of service. It was said to be the only replica Durham Boat in the world at the time.

  2. Fantastic project! My grandfather’s great grandfather brought his entire family from Herefordshire up the NY canal system in 1849 and settled in Jasper, NY. He and his sons and brother worked building canals as well as farming. The cash work building the infrastructure and the markets that the canal system connected were both critical to the success of the family. I would love to see as much of the old canal system as possible restored to function and fleets of canal boats built. We may need it again in the not too distant future!

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  4. I’d be interested in knowing what sources you used to determine the measurements and details of the design of the boat. I’ve not found a lot of reliable information of that sort and I’ve come to suspect that the names for the boats used on the shallow, rocky Appalachian rivers like the Mohawk, upper Potomac, and upper James, etc. (i.e. the rivers above tidewater), were more regional variants than indications of what the boats were actually like–although there probably were some characteristics that were common. But none of that is anything I have any good evidence for–my expertise is largely relative to the C&O Canal and, to a lesser extent, to its predecessor, the Potomac Company (which primarily improved navigation in the river). But there are references to boats making only one downstream trip after which they would be broken up and their wood sold due to the difficulty of getting the boat upstream. It seems unlikely to me that a one-trip boat would have been as complex as yours with its substantial decks. Also what size are you imagining those 100 barrels would be?

    1. You are correct that not many details are available regarding the construction of Durham boats. Also, they likely varied considerably from place to place and from builder to builder, probably no two exactly alike.

      I had originally done extensive research into earlier boats, primarily bateaux, and also later canal boats, and we have interpolated some of their characteristics somewhat to come up with an intermediate boat.

      Have you seen “Navigation of the Upper Delaware,” J. A. Anderson, 1913? It contains a good description of the Delaware River Durham boats and states that “the Mohawk River boats were similar except flat-bottomed.”

      Also, Arndt, John Wallace, Pioneers and Durham Boats on Fox River, Chapters in Fox River Valley History, Wisconsin State Historical Society Proceedings, 1913, contains a good description of Durhams by a builder who migrated from the Delaware River.

      Also, we have obtained a copy of an extensive unpublished study of Durham boats in Canada that was done when the Canadian replica was built in 1983.

      I can list other sources if you are interested.

      1. Thank you for the recommendations. I’ll track down Arndt and Anderson. Are you familiar with William Trout with the Virginia Canals and Navigation Society? Bill especially has done considerable research on the river navigation in Virginia especially and they have built some replica boats..

      2. Chris:

        I read about the Canal Boat project in the Buffalo News. What an interesting pursuit!
        I commend you on your initiative and congratulate you for your accomplishment.
        Best wishes to you and the Buffalo Maritime Center for continued success.