Members of the Buffalo Maritime Center are about to embark on an unprecedented project for the city — the creation of an Erie Canal packet boat for display at the restored Flight of Five locks.
Those involved are stepping back into the 19th century to get the project done.
There are no ready blueprints for such a craft, which required maritime center founder John Montague to comb through historical data to get a design down. Replication, as far as maritime center Executive Director Roger Allen knows, is unprecedented.
“There have been no attempts at re-creating an Erie Canal packet boat. That’s one of the reasons why we want to do it,” he said, “for the educational value.”
The nonprofit Buffalo Maritime Center, in the Niagara River-side Black Rock section of the city, nurtures interest in the traditional boats of Western New York. The Lockport Locks Heritage District committee that’s supervising restoration last week approved an agreement with the center, which will assist the construction of a historically accurate Erie Canal packet boat developed circa 1840.
Its written proposal for a Flight of Five packet boat suggests “a true ‘recreation’ using appropriate traditional materials and techniques that can be historically documented.” It would use period-accurate building materials including white oak, ash, walnut, white and yellow pine, larch, locust, hemlock, cedar, bronze, copper, iron, steel, pitch and related compounds. Those old woods won’t be hard to acquire, as most of them are still grown in the region, Allen said.
The 65-foot-long vessel will be built by a large volunteer crew, under the supervision of a lead carpenter and Allen, a master boat builder, according to the proposal.
The finished product will be at least as good, or better than, a commercial company’s product, Allen promised.
Skilled volunteers will be drawn to the project for various reasons — interest in wooden boats, Erie Canal history, community building — and past experience tells him they’ll put heart and soul into the construction.