Rochester, NY is no stranger to water. The Genesee River starts as a drip somewhere in Pennsylvania and flows north through New York’s southern tier, past Geneseo and Avon (both mentioned in Wixumlee Is My Salvataion). The narrow river drops down three waterfalls stuck smack in the middle of downtown Rochester (also mentioned in the book amid much suspense) and finally dumps into Irondequoit Bay. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of it trickled into Lake Ontario.
Besides the river, bay and lake, Rochester boasts the Erie Canal, pieces of which still meander through the city. Much ado was made about this unique historical resource at this week’s World Canals Conference in Rochester, attended by representatives of 17 countries.
Besides the workshops, seminars and lectures advising on the economic potential of canals (think real estate development and tourism), there were canal boat rides, tours to Buffalo’s Commercial Slip, visits to small towns that continue to build their heritage around the Erie Canal–AND a dinner in Rochester’s 170-year-old cavernous, graffiti-covered aqueduct. Four hundred guests dined on shrimp, quiche, pasta and roast beef in a carpeted spot filled with art, music and lights.
Why would they do this? Until that dinner, only the homeless called the remains of the famous aqueduct home.
At one time, the aqueduct carried the Erie Canal up and over the Genesee River, around a wide bend and through downtown Rochester, offering a bit of excitement on the canal’s long float from Albany to Buffalo. Built in 1840, the aqueduct was abandoned around 1918 and even housed the Rochester Subway from 1929 to 1956. After that the aqueduct was merely a memory.
But, hurray, plans are underway to restore the Rochester aqueduct. All that’s needed is $18 million dollars to fill out the $24 million project.
“Rewatering the original aqueduct is a game-changer for Rochester,” said Tom Hack, a senior structural engineer for the city. “We’ve met with various businesses, advocates within the area, and this is what everyone is telling us they want. They want this excitement. They want this.”
I want it, too! With a restored, revitalized aqueduct, downtown Rochester will become a destination. A lot of Erie Canal nuts are out there looking for a new place to romp and I’m one of them. Rochester needs a shot in the arm and tourism is the inoculation.
Besides tourism, think of the boost in community pride. At one time Kodak, IBM and Bausch & Lomb triggered success for this Great Lakes city but massive layoffs, downsizing and the ultimate Great Recession (I hope it’s ultimate) have dumbed down the downtown into a ghost town.
And then there’s personal pleasure. Wouldn’t it be thrilling to live in a downtown condo close to the Erie Canal aqueduct? Loosen your imagination. Can you see mules pulling cargo boats? Hear the horses’ stomachs grumble as they pull the packets? Hear that gravelly voiced canawler shout, “Low bridge, everybody down!” Better duck!
It will be reliving history. And it’s gonna happen.