by Bob Abell
Seneca Falls is located midway between Cayuga Lake and Seneca Lake on the Cayuga-Seneca Canal. Historically, the village of Seneca Falls was first settled in 1789, largely because of the potential to harness the falls for water power on the Seneca River. In 1818, a canal was constructed to allow boats to navigate around the falls, forming what is now the Cayuga-Seneca Canal in the Erie Barge Canal system. The village grew on the banks of the Seneca River, with the lower or “flats” and “islands” areas being developed by mills and foundries to take advantage of the water power. Eventually there were successful pump manufacturers (such as Gould) and fire fighting equipment manufacturers (such as American La France). By 1915, the Cayuga-Seneca Canal was being upgraded to meet the new Erie Barge Canal standards. This meant replacing four small locks with two larger locks and creating a lake which would end up flooding out all the manufacturing buildings and residential homes in the lower “flats” areas. Most of these factories and homes relocated to the “high” side of the river, and the village of Seneca Falls continued to flourish. The Gould Pump Company still has a major presence in Seneca Falls and has become world renown. American La France company eventually moved out of town but is still very successful.
Over the years, there were a wide variety of manufacturing companies that did business in Seneca Falls, including flour mills, paper mills, cotton mills, machine shops, clock makers, block ice from Seneca Lake, wooden rulers, irons (for ironing), pottery, yeast, buttons for clothing, masonry bricks, knitting (Seneca Knitting Mills that made socks and hats).
The village of Seneca Falls today is a pleasant town with many interesting places to visit, including the Seneca Falls Heritage Area and Visitors Center, Seneca Museum of Waterways and Industry, National Women’s Hall of Fame, as well as beautiful churches and elegant homes.
It was pleasant to meet and get to know the many village residents that came to the Lois McClure Canal Schooner. I also appreciated hearing about the history of Seneca Falls from the nice folks at the local historical groups. I hope that the future of Seneca Falls is as prosperous and colorful as its past.
As a side note, on our way from Seneca Falls to the town of Clyde, we were pleased to have Russell Andrews and Linda Healey accompany us. Russell is the vice-chair of the Erie Canal National Heritage Corridor and is very interested in promoting the recreation and tourism in the area.
Born and raised in Burlington, VT, Bob is a graduate of University of Vermont. After working for IBM for over 30 years, he came across the Lois as she was being built, and ended up putting in hundreds of hours during her construction. He has been a regular interpreter aboard since the inaugural tour in 2004.