News Column

Thruway Authority and Canal Corporation Announce the Port Byron Old Erie Canal Heritage Park

May 28, 2014



ALBANY, N.Y., May 28 -- The New York State Thruway Authority issued the following news release:

The New York State Thruway Authority and Canal Corporation today announced a project to create the Port Byron Old Erie Canal Heritage Park, an attraction for Erie Canal enthusiasts and upstate tourists curious about the history of the canal and its impact on the development of both New York State and the United States.

Part of Governor Cuomo's popular 'Path Through History' initiative and developed in conjunction with the Canal Society of New York State, the park will be the first facility of its kind to offer access directly from the New York State Thruway to a historic site. Visitors will be able to access the park directly from the eastbound Thruway (I-90) and also from N.Y. Route 31 in the Village of Port Byron, as part of a later project in 2016.

"This project is a perfect example of the cooperation we have cultivated between the Thruway Authority and Canal Corporation," said Thruway Authority and Canal Corporation Chairman Howard P. Milstein. "The Thruway and Erie Canal have been economic engines for New York, both commercially and recreationally, and this site will tell Port Byron's story to thousands of tourists each year."

The park will give visitors an authentic glimpse into life on the Erie Canal in the mid-19th century to the early 20th century. Key historical elements include the Enlarged Erie Canal Lock 52 from the 1850's and the Erie House Complex, which dates back to 1895 and includes the Erie House Tavern and Hotel, a mule barn, and blacksmith shop. Additionally, a new Visitor's Center will be constructed, as part of a future phase, which will offer interpretive displays, and educational materials.

"The Thruway provides motorists access to historic communities throughout upstate New York, and this project gives visitors a chance to experience some of that history without making a detour from their trip," said Thruway Executive Director Thomas J. Madison. "Moving forward, we will continue to utilize our partnership with the Canal Corporation to find additional ways we can bring our state's rich history directly to our customers."

"It's amazing to think that 150 years ago, mules were pulling barges in the very spot where today, vehicles are cruising the Thruway at sixty five miles per hour," said Canal Corporation Director Brian U. Stratton. "The Port Byron Old Erie Canal Heritage Park will showcase this deep historical connection in helping countless people travel between the Hudson River and Great Lakes to ship goods and experience all that upstate communities have to offer. With the Canal system supporting nearly $380 million in tourism based economic activity, it's clear people want to experience this history and this park is the perfect way tell these stories."

"The Erie Canal is part of our state and national legacy and a monumental and colorful chapter in American history," said Canal Society of New York state President Thomas X. Grasso. "Thanks to the leadership and vision of Governor Cuomo and the Thruway and Canal Corporation this project will come to fruition and provide an opportunity for thousands of school children and the general public to not only learn but literally touch a part of history they too have heard so much about. What a marvelous example of what can be achieved when we all work together."

The contract to build phase 1 was bid on April 30 and the low bidder was Cold Spring Construction of Akron, NY.

"We at Cold Spring Construction are looking forward to being a part of a project of this significance," said President Stephen Forrestel. "It's been a privilege to work for the Thruway Authority over the years, and we are proud to team again to show upstate visitors this important part of our local history."

Phase 1 will include ramps to and from the eastbound Thruway, a parking area, paved trails connecting the parking lot with the historic lock, and interpretive signing. This work is expected to be completed this year. Future phases will include the rehabilitation of the historic Erie house and other on-site buildings, construction of a parking lot accessible from Route 31, the Visitor's Center with historical information, and additional trails connecting the entire site.

Originally conceived by the Canal Society of New York State, the project has come to fruition with the support and leadership of Governor Cuomo and the New York State Thruway Authority and Canal Corporation. In fact, a recent survey at the Thruway's Port Byron Travel Plaza found that 61 percent of summer travelers would visit this type of historical site.

The entire project is expected to be completed by the summer 2016.

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