Niagara Gazette

February 25, 2013

Historic watercraft school/museum offers to build full-size packet boat for Lockport

By Joyce Miles
Niagara Gazette

LOCKPORT — 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.

“We have a bunch of very knowledgeable volunteers who are dying to get in on this,” Allen said. “We’ll end up with a product that’s higher-quality ... because people are interested not in the product, but in the project.”
The bulk of boat construction is proposed to take place in Lockport, outdoors where the public can view the process.

There are no timelines spelled out in the offer, but Allen anticipates the packet boat would be ready for launching into the canal by the summer of 2015. Restoration of locks 69 and 70 to working order is scheduled to be complete in late 2014.

Of the two-locks project, Welsby reported that design engineering work by Bergmann Associates is complete and the plans have been submitted to the state Canal Corporation for bid specification writing. Requests for proposals are to be advertised in April and contractors hired in time for a June start. 

Welsby said Canal Corporation intends to bid three projects at once — the two-locks restoration project as commissioned by the committee, and two variations of progressively reduced scope — in order to get contracts that stay within the roughly $2 million project budget. The City of Lockport is funding restoration alone, mostly from the balance of an old federal grant; although the locks are state property, the state is not contributing financially.

By Bergmann Associates’ latest current-dollar estimate, restoring the remainder of the Flight series, locks 67, 68 and 71, will cost another $8 million. The city will look to regional charitable foundations to underwrite restoration-part two, according to Mayor Michael Tucker.