Exploring and celebrating Buffalo’s Maritime Heritage has been one of the BMC’s central missions from the beginning. From the first Buffalo Harbor Ferry through to last spring’s launch of the Durham boat, “Erie Traveler,” for the city of Lockport and the Lockport Locks Heritage District Corp., we have done much to fulfill our promise. Now with the 200th Anniversary of the Erie Canal upon us we are presented with exciting new opportunities to carry out our maritime heritage mission.
For several years now, in anticipation of this moment, the Buffalo Maritime Center has been laying groundwork for the construction of an historically authentic “Erie Canal Packet Boat” for the Buffalo harbor – a vessel which could serve as a center piece for the Canalside redevelopment and, even while under construction, provide a focus for interpreting Buffalo’s harbor and historic Erie Canal terminus.
In 2017, the 4th of July marked the 200th Anniversary of the “ground breaking” for the Erie Canal near Rome, NY. The official ground breaking for the Erie Canal commenced July 4th, 1817 two hundred years ago. It had been only 41 years since the Declaration of Independence and just 2 years after Buffalo village had been burned to the ground during the War of 1812. The great canal project reflected a daunting challenge and an enormous optimism which would be mightily rewarded as the country grew.
The significance and impact of the canal on American history and culture cannot be overstated. When the Erie Canal finally opened just eight years later in 1825, the project was hailed as a marvel of modern engineering as it proceeded to dramatically shape what young America was to become. The Erie Canal broke through the Appalachian barrier to open up the American west to settlement and commerce, establishing New York City as the world’s commercial hub. Thus, the Canal effectively connected the seaboard states in a “Bond of Union” to the vast western territories which were, at that critical time, in serious danger of emerging as separate nation states. For Buffalonians, it was the Erie Canal, with its western terminus on Buffalo Creek, that literally created our metropolis, fueled its prosperity and spurred its growth into one of America great cities!
In the spirit of celebrating this eight year long bicentennial commemoration, the Buffalo Maritime Center in collaboration with the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation (ECHDC), is proposing to build a replica of Gov. DeWitt Clinton’s 1825 Packet Boat, “The Seneca Chief.” It was aboard this original packet boat that Governor DeWitt Clinton led a flotilla across the state from Buffalo to New York City, transporting a barrel of fresh Lake Erie water to pour into New York’s salty harbor to mark the “Wedding of the Waters” and the official opening of the Erie Canal.
The Buffalo Maritime Center is well positioned to take on the challenge of replicating this packet boat. We now have in had completed construction documents produced by naval architects Steve Dalzell and Scott Lambert. In partnership with the Lockport Locks Heritage District Corp., we are confident we have come up with a packet boat plan that sets a new standard for historical accuracy.
In cooperation with ECHDC, BMC is proposing to build the packet boat “in public view” at Canalside in the “Longshed,” a secure building on the commercial wharf across from Liberty Hound and the Naval Park. It is our hope and understanding that the finished building will support year-round occupancy to allow maximum visitation and educational programming in both winter and summer.
Finally, in an appeal to local patriotism, Buffalo has the opportunity to take ownership of the Erie Canal Bicentennial! Getting to Buffalo was, after all, what all those folks were digging for!
On August 14th of 2018, Governor Cuomo announced a $24 million investment to support three new projects as part of Buffalo’s Waterfront Transformation and our Packet Boat was part of this. The state has committed $4 million to construct a new facility on Canalside to build a replica of Gov. DeWitt Clinton’s 1825 Erie Canal Packet Boat. We are grateful to enjoy the generous support, and partnership of Governor Cuomo and ESD.
Private donors and BMC supporters, David and Joan Rogers launched this longstanding idea forward to become a real boat with a wonderfully generous gift of $325,000.
BMC’s project to build a replica of DeWitt Clinton’s 73′ packet boat at Canalside provides Buffalo, and the whole State of New York, with an opportunity to celebrate the Bicentennial of the Erie Canal, one of America’s greatest and most transformative achievements. We look forward to continuing these partnerships and expanding to include the broader public as we call for volunteers, like you, to get this boat built!
If you’re interested in volunteering on this or any of our other projects please take a moment to fill out the form on our volunteer page.
And check out some recent press on our work to Build the Boat!