In August 2009, a canal boat crossed over the 1842 Nine Mile Creek Aqueduct at the Town of Camillus Erie Canal Park for the first time in 89 years. This simple act marked the culmination of a 40-year effort to save and showcase canal history in central New York.
If daring to dream big is the cornerstone of the restoration effort, countless hours of dedication, sweat equity, collaboration, and fund raising are what make the aqueduct hold water. More than 160 volunteers, led by dynamic duo David and Liz Beebe, worked in partnership with the Town of Camillus to develop the 420-acre Camillus Erie Canal Park. The park’s location at the midpoint between Albany and Buffalo on the Erie Canalway Trail offers numerous educational and recreational opportunities while preserving history for all to enjoy.
Magnitude & Audacity
The volunteer effort to restore the aqueduct was nothing short of audacious. Volunteers scoured Nine Mile Creek to find long lost capstones, repaired crumbling mortar, raised $2.2 million, and worked with contractors and the state’s historic preservation office to meet strict standards and get the job done.
Of 32 aqueducts constructed on the first enlargement of the Erie Canal in the mid-1800s, Nine Mile Creek Aqueduct is the only one that is restored and navigable. Using original construction methods and materials, the aqueduct restoration recaptured not only a piece of history, but long lost engineering knowledge.
Preservation, Education, Recreation
It can be hard to grasp just how an aqueduct works until you see a functioning “water bridge” like the Nine Mile Creek Aqueduct. More than 2,000 school children visit Camillus Erie Canal Park each year; a boat ride over the aqueduct is a highlight of their trip. In addition, an estimated 237,000 trail users walk, jog, and cycle over the aqueduct on the Erie Canalway Trail each year, and several thousand people take advantage of the park’s cruises, which lead right over the aqueduct.
A love of history and an unbridled enthusiasm for the canal is the glue that holds together 160 volunteers who run Camillus Erie Canal Park. Since 1972, volunteers have worked in partnership with the Town of Camillus, which owns the park. Together, they saved the 1800s canal from being filled in and then developed a museum, built boats, and established education programs and recreational amenities. Restoring the aqueduct is their latest achievement, though undoubtedly it will not be their last.