Author Topic: Perinton's Oxbow Dam: Past Erie Canal Breaches & Current Structural Issues  (Read 244 times)

Doug K

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Found this interesting article about a piece of Perinton called The Oxbow and its history of Erie Canal Embankment Breaches. It's written by a local historian and includes a great image of what The Oxbow looked like 150 years ago.

The Oxbow

Part One: The Early Years

The original Erie Canal was much narrower and not as deep as today. Constructed with hand tools and horsepower from 1817 to 1825, the canal had countless bends and turns as surveyors mapped out a route that best accounted for the elevation of the land, rock formations, and areas with stable soil. About a half mile south of the bridge over the canal at Fairport Road, the original path of the old Erie turned dramatically to the east and looped in a semi-circle, before continuing its southern path toward Bushnell’s Basin.

In a stream or river, an area with this characteristic is called an oxbow, defined in the dictionary as “a U-shaped frame forming a collar around an ox's neck and holding the yoke in place,” or in the case of a waterway, “a bend in a river resembling an oxbow.” When the canal was first enlarged in the 1830’s, and later in the 1860’s, most of the twists and bends were removed, often by building an embankment to carry the canal over lower terrain. Such an embankment, forty feet in height, was constructed when the canal was relocated and straightened to the west of the oxbow. Water was allowed to fill the area from the old canal’s path to the earthen embankment, creating a small lake. Perinton residents took an immediate liking to the pleasant surroundings on the east shore of the oxbow and the new lake, and found it a pleasant place to picnic, camp, fish, and swim.

The canal suffered frequent breaks in the early years, often at the site of these man-made embankments. In 1997 Perinton historian Sue Roberts wrote: “The first Oxbow break occurred November 29th, 1864. A muskrat burrowed a small hole through the berm. The force of the water quickly enlarged the hole – eventually emptying 17 miles of canal, from Montezuma to Rochester.”

Another break adjacent to the oxbow, even larger than the first, occurred seven years later, in late April of 1871, again reportedly caused by a tunneling muskrat. Two hundred feet of the embankment was washed away, to a depth of 20 to 30 feet below the bottom of the canal. All the water in the canal from the locks at Macedon to the east and Pittsford to the west rushed through the breach. A nearby packet boat was flushed through the break, and sent on a wild ride west through farm fields and fences, to land part way up an elm tree. The captain, his wife, child and steersman were reportedly unhurt. According to newspaper reports, the dam at Hayward’s mill on Irondequoit Creek and the bridge at the Rochester Road (Fairport Road) were washed away.

Repairs to the embankment were quickly begun, but trouble soon followed. Approximately 800 workers were hired to repair the break, some local, but many others from out of town. Some of the workers grew increasingly agitated, fueled by poor weather, difficult working conditions, and more than a little drinking. When the rowdies demanded more money for their labor and violence appeared imminent, the New York State Militia was brought in to quell the rioters.

It's imperative that the Erie Canal Embankment in Perinton, that makes up the Oxbow Dam and holds back Oxbow Lake, is brought back into compliance for Earthen Dam Safety according to NYS Dept of Environmental Conservation, and also FEMA standards. Currently there are people actively trying to prevent that, including a social media group in denial about the sad state of Erie Canal Safety.

Even the Perinton Supervisor is trying to ignore the obvious, well documented earthen dam safety issues on the Oxbow Dam, that have been brought up by New York State, with his new plan to create a viewshed zone to keep trees growing where they should not be, along the outboard slope of the Oxbow Dam. That new ECCO zone would possibly mean flood insurance requirements would change, and Erie Canal Neighbors living below the dam would remain in a Flood Inundation Zone, below a high hazard dam.

Is that ECCO idea really a good plan for all Perinton Residents? Go read for yourself...

Better yet, support your Perinton Community Safety by signing this Petition
« Last Edit: December 12, 2023, 05:56:20 pm by Doug K »

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