Trinity Church

The magnificent Trinity Episcopal Church is reflected in a calm artificial lake in Seneca Falls, part of the Cayuga-Seneca Canal.

Looking for the 

Lateral Canals

The Journey Concludes

Oswego Lighthouse

A small lighthouse guards the entrance to the Port of Oswego on Lake Ontario. Nearby, the Oswego Canal meets this Great Lake.

Geography is NOT an indoor sport! Get out on the Canal!


Physical Geography

Human Geography

Regions of NYS

BONUS Sections!


Genesee Canal

Above is an old photograph of the Genesee Valley Canal high above the gorge in what is now Letchworth State Park. The view must have been spectacular, but landslides were a major problem.

Oswego Lock

The Oswego Canal goes through eight locks between Three Rivers and Lake Ontario. Today the canal is mostly in the bed of the Oswego River, but the original canal was a separate ditch.

Champlain Canal

In Waterford, there is a short section of the old Champlain Canal that is used as a feeder for locks on the Erie Canal nearby. The modern Champlain uses the Hudson River up to Fort Edward, and then on to Whitehall and Lake Champlain.

Lock 2CS

Lock 2 on the Cayuga-Seneca Canal helps lower boats down to the level of Cayuga Lake. This short waterway connects the two largest Finger Lakes to the NYS Canal System.

Black River Locks

Near Port Leyden, along Rte. 26, there are the remains of five combine locks from the abandoned Black River Canal. The waterway closed down in 1924.

Birkett Mills

In the Village of Penn Yan, Keuka Lake Outlet flows toward Seneca Lake. The was the pathway of the Crooked Lake Canal. The many falls along the way powered gristmills. Birkett Mills still produces buckwheat flour today.

Delaware Hudson Canal
The privately-owned Delaware and Hudson Canal once brought Pennsylvania coal to Kingston and then down to New York City. A small remnant of this waterway is still visible in High Falls.

The Branch Canals…

Past and Present


Even before the Erie Canal was completed, citizens in other parts of the state wanted a piece of the action. They saw the prosperity that the waterway was bringing to New York, and they wanted to be connected to it. So the state soon became "canal crazy," constructing lateral canals in all directions possible.

Most of them did not make much geographic sense. For example, the Crooked Lake Canal connected Keuka (Crooked) Lake with Seneca Lake. It was only six miles long, but the elevation drop was over 200 feet. It was never very profitable. Other laterals that lasted only a few decades were the Genesee Valley (connecting Rochester to the Allegheny River at Olean), the Chemung (a link between Seneca Lake and Elmira), the Chenango (connecting Binghamton to Utica), and the Black River (a link between Rome and Watertown). The problems all these canals had was the struggle against topography. The Erie Canal lies in a pathway created during the Ice Age. These five laterals had to cross high divides and negotiate dangerous gorges. They could not compete against the railroads, and therefore they disappeared from the scene in the late-1800s. (The Black River Canal survived until 1924).

There are four branch canals that have been modernized and are still important pieces of the New York State Canal System. They are the Cayuga-Seneca, the Champlain, the Oswego, and short canals in Watkins Glen and Ithaca on the southern ends of Seneca and Cayuga Lakes, respectively. The origins of these canals go back to the 1820s. The Champlain Canal, in fact, was completed before the western section of the Erie Canal itself. It followed the Hudson River from Waterford to Fort Edward. It then crossed over to the eastern side of the river and on to Whitehall on the southern tip of Lake Champlain. From there, of course, boats can travel up to the St. Lawrence River in Quebec. The modern canal uses the Hudson River itself, with a series of locks and dams until Fort Edward. The old ditch is still watered however in Waterford, complete with a towpath.

The Cayuga-Seneca Canal has been discussed in a previous section. It uses the Seneca River from Geneva (on Seneca Lake) through the villages of Waterloo and Seneca Falls and down to Cayuga Lake. Here, in Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, it connects to the Erie Canal. Originally, there were 12 locks, but now there are only four. The most impressive lock (#2) is found in Seneca Falls, not far from the home of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the celebrated feminist who started the Women's Rights Movement.

The Oswego Canal originally began in Syracuse, next to Weighlock Building (now the Erie Canal Musuem). It passed through Liverpool and Onondaga Lake, and then it followed the Oswego River through Phoenix, Fulton, and down to Oswego on Lake Ontario. It required 28 locks to bring it down to the level of that Great Lake. When modernized around a century ago, the new canal used slack water in the Oswego River, created by dams, mostly in Fulton and Oswego. The canal now begin at Three Rivers, where the Seneca and Oneida Rivers meet to form the Oswego River, not far from Phoenix. (There is a connection to Onondaga Lake, off of the modern Erie Canal, but the section in the city of Syracuse is now paved over.)

The final two branches of the New York Canal System are actually wided and deepened inlets at the southern ends of Seneca and Cayuga Lakes. The first goes along Catherine's Creek from Watkins Glen to Montour Falls. The second is in Ithaca allowing pleasure craft navigation almost to the downtown business district. Although neither waterway is very long, they are a boom for tourism in one of the most scenic areas in the Finger Lakes. For example, Shequaga Falls is just a short distance away from the marina in Montour Falls.

One more canal requires mentioning - the Delaware and Hudson. It stretched from the coal country of Pennsylvania to Port Jervis (on the Delaware River) and up the Neversink and Roundout Valleys to the Hudson River at Kingston. It was a corporate canal, privately owned and operated. It was used for many decades to haul coal, cement, and other building products, making Kingston a thriving river/canal port until the early 20th century. When the corporation required the rights to the railroad, the canal was abandoned.

Places to visit on these lateral canals…

Seneca Falls: Locks 2-3; Women's Rights National Historic Park
Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge
Whitehall: Home of the United States Navy
Fort Ann: Sites on the Underground Railroad
Waterford: Waterford Historical Museum, Old Champlain Canal Trail
Fulton: Falls and locks
Oswego: Locks, Port of Oswego, Fort Ontario, Safe Haven Museum
Watkins Glen/ Ithaca
• Waterfalls! Shequaga, Havana Glen, Watkins Glen, Buttermilk Falls, Ithaca Falls, Cascadilla Gorge
• Cornell University
Genesee Valley
Nunda-Oakland: Five locks along Rte. 436
Letchworth State Park: Genesee Canal Trail
• Drive along Rte. 14 between Horseheads and Watkins Glen
• Harbor at Utica
Chenango State Park (near Binghamton)
• Canal ruins at Solsville (Madison County)
Crooked Lake
• Take a walk on the Keuka Outlet Trail between Penn Yan and Dresden (around 6 miles)
Black River
Delta Lake State Park (north of Rome)
• Lansing Kill gorge (south of Boonville)
• Lock remains near Port Leyden

1858 Canal Map of New York State

Canal Map

Click here to back to the Main Erie Canal Page!

To learn more about New York Geography visit these three
sections of this website....

Ellis Island
Taughannock Falls

Human Geography
Physical Geography
Economic Geography

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