ERIE CANAL BOAT SENECA CHIEF
The Buffalo Maritime Center is constructing a traditionally-built, full-sized replica of the Erie Canal Boat Seneca Chief that opened the Erie Canal in 1825. From its inception, the Erie Canal Boat Project was intended to engage the community on a variety of levels, from direct hands-on experiences to the research and exploration of history. This is a community boatbuilding project that is made possible with the help of hundreds of volunteers and is taking place in the Longshed at Canalside. The Seneca Chief will take its Bicentennial Voyage to New York City in 2025, providing Buffalo and communities across New York State with an opportunity to explore the past and plan for the future.
Timeline of Events
In 2025, the Seneca Chief will depart on the voyage from Buffalo to New York Harbor to commemorate the Bicentennial of Gov. DeWitt Clinton’s 1825 Inaugural Voyage. The Erie Canal Boat is central to the story of the Erie Canal and the history of our state. We aim to tell that story in a rich and inclusive way, opening up the conversation about history and community. The BMC will invite communities and organizations along the Erie Canal and the Hudson River to educate their communities and to learn about the Erie Canal’s past, its present, and to create a shared vision of its future. The Seneca Chief will remain as an educational exhibit that considers the ecological, cultural, and economical impacts that the Erie Canal had on our country.
For more information stay updated on our Events page.
One objective of the Erie Canal Boat Project is to work with the community to teach and preserve traditional boatbuilding skills. Another objective is to inspire awareness and conversations about how the Erie Canal has impacted the people and places of the state and the rest of the country. Inspired by the name of the boat, the Seneca Chief, the Buffalo Maritime Center aims to offer a more holistic telling of the history of the Erie Canal, one that includes cultural, environmental, and economic impacts. This project is only one step toward expanding the Erie Canal narrative and building connections throughout the community.
For more information about the Haudenosaunee and the Erie Canal, please visit our exhibit at the Longshed or on our Museum & Exhibits page.
Building the Boat
This project is one of the largest community boatbuilding projects taking place anywhere in the world right now and one of the very few being built on public display. From its beginning, the public has been encouraged to become a part of the project by volunteering to help build and act as public greeters. Many students and partner organizations have had the chance to work on the boat and contribute to this enormous community build. Over 200 volunteers are actively engaged working on the project, and with only two professional shipwrights leading the build, it is truly 99% volunteer built.
Building the Seneca Chief allows us to practice, teach, and preserve traditional boatbuilding skills. The boat’s keel, frames, and other structural timbers are of white oak. The keelson is a single 60’ long piece of reclaimed Douglas Fir. This donated timber was previously used in the early 1900s as a gin pole crane.
Planking is two layers of 1” thick cypress with a waterproof dynel cloth set in epoxy between the layers. The outer layer of planking is caulked with cotton in the traditional manner. This combination of modern and traditional planking methods should help the boat stay watertight even if it spends winters out of the water.
Another unique aspect of the project is that almost all of the bolts used in the backbone structure were forged in the BMC’s own machine shop by a crew of volunteers. This crew has also produced a number of specialized tools and hardware needed to build the boat.
The interior of the cabin will be outfitted with cabinet-grade hardwood and finished in a style consistent with the 1820’s. When finished, the boat will be 73’ long, 12’6” wide, and it will weigh over 40 tons!
While under construction, the Seneca Chief will remain in the Longshed visible to the public until September 16th, 2023. Stop by the Longshed to see the construction up-close and talk with BMC volunteers about the project and process to build this 73’ vessel. You may even have the opportunity to try your hand at some traditional boatbuilding!
The Buffalo Maritime Center is grateful for our major supporters of the Erie Canal Boat Project:
Cutting the Keelson