A long-term, community-wide effort to make the Village of Brockport a more attractive home, workplace, and destination for travelers has strengthened Brockport’s economy, while preserving the integrity of this Victorian village on the Erie Canal. Brockport’s emphasis on living its history, rather than simply preserving it, led to innovative approaches to heritage development, benefiting residents and visitors alike.
Against the backdrop of a crumbling manufacturing and industrial economic base facing many upstate New York communities in the 1980s and 90s, Brockporters sought a way forward that would capitalize on the village’s strengths. Brockport’s multifaceted plan included four major components: revitalizing its canalfront, preserving historic structures, making Main Street vibrant, and building community pride.
Working through a number of volunteer organizations and with the assistance of the College of Brockport faculty and students, Brockport citizens identified, preserved, and built upon the best elements of the village: its historic architecture and Victorian streetscapes, its access to and from the canal, its walkable neighborhoods, and the spirit of volunteerism of its residents.
Brockport’s 1998 Canalfront Master Plan and enrollment in the NYS Certified Local Government program provided guidance and access to financial resources. Strategic pursuit of a number of grants and community-wide fundraising efforts enabled the village to rehabilitate its canal wall, institute a historic home improvement program and, in 2005, open its Welcome Center along the canal.
Canalfront Welcome Center
The Welcome Center, staffed by 100 volunteers, now serves 600 boaters annually and has enabled Brockport to become a destination for canal travelers. Simple but clever amenities, such as free bicycles and wagons for groceries, facilitate access to shops and other community attractions for canal travelers, pumping more than $100,000 each year into Brockport’s economy.
Museum Without Walls
Brockporters developed a museum without walls so that residents and visitors would experience Brockport’s heritage as part of the fabric of its present village life. This approach reaches a wide audience, fostering a sense of place and instilling a preservation ethic. Brockport’s living museum includes interpretive signs throughout the village, self-guided walking tours, public art, rotating displays in public venues, such as the library, supermarket, and senior center, and more than 50 buildings on the State and National Register and 37 Historic Landmarks.
By living its history, the Village of Brockport honors its past and provides an outstanding model for canal communities seeking to build a strong local economy and community for present residents and future generations.