New York State Engineer and Surveyor Maps, Plans, Details, and Drawings of Structures and Locations for Work on the Erie, Genesee Valley, Chemung, and Oswego Canals

Held by the New York State Archives

Overview of the Records


New York State Archives

New York State Education Department

Cultural Education Center

Albany, NY 12230

This series documents the planning and estimating work done to various structures along the state's canals. The records include maps and plans of locations and structures for work done on the Erie (Middle and Western divisions only), Genesee Valley, Chemung, and Oswego canals, and at least one sheet relating to the Cayuga and Seneca Canal. The records date from the first canal enlargement through to the start of the canal improvements that became known as the Barge Canal system.
35 cubic feet (27 volumes containing circa 370 maps and an equal number of plans) :col. ink, pencil, watercolor, blueprints ;60 x 99 cm or smaller within volume sizes 64 x 85 cm or smaller.
Inclusive Dates:
circa 1830-1900
Series Number:


Arranged by volume or portfolio and therein numerically by sheet number.

Scope and Content Note

The series consists of 27 volumes of maps and plans (made up of drawings, details, and sectional diagrams) of locations and structures for work done on the Erie, Genesee Valley, Chemung, and Oswego canals. There is also at least one sheet present relating to the Cayuga and Seneca Canal. Records pertain to the Middle and Western divisions of the Erie Canal only.

The records date from the first canal enlargement through to the start of the canal improvements that became known as the Barge Canal system. The Laws of 1825 (Chapter 236) provided for examinations, surveys, and estimates to be made of several canal routes. Lateral canal construction also started (after authorization) during this time, especially on the Chemung Canal (Laws of 1829, Chapter 135) and the Genesee Valley Canal (Laws of 1836, Chapter 257). The records document the planning and estimating work done at different points and to various structures among the several canals. Volumes of plans and maps are intermixed in the series. Volume sizes vary and range from approximately 26 x 39 cm to 64 x 85 cm.

Most of the plans in the series depict locks, gates, and related mechanical structures. Chief among canal projects at this time was lock lengthening. Double locks increased the length between gates, enabling two boats lashed together end to end (called "double headers") to pass at one lockage. This practice reduced the cost of carriage by saving time involved in uncoupling. Into the early 1900s over half of the locks on the Erie and Oswego canals were lengthened.

Another focus of the records is the problem of resource management, and control of land and water resources that were the basis of the design and operation of the structures shown in the plans. Much of the engineering work on what became the Barge Canal system was to ensure and control an adequate water supply. The lateral canals were particularly plagued by problems of lock and dam design, the choice of building materials, and maintenance (influenced by environmental factors and flood damage) as well as arguments over both the potential and actual impact of diverting water used in nearby industries and municipalities, or damage incurred by land appropriation or canal leakage and/or breakdown. On the Genesee Valley Canal, for example, a change to wood locks instead of masonry was made because stone could not withstand the action of the atmosphere and frosts.

There are plans for the following types of structures: various gates, mitre sills, and quoins; various locks and lifts, including related mechanisms such as levers, braces for handrails, anchors, and valve details; culverts and dams; aqueducts, spillways, and waste weirs; and bridges.

Most of the maps in the series depict land ownership, measurements of distances along the canal lines, and general topography. They reflect a process of incremental construction, progressing by successive small appropriations and developing circumstances. This was especially true as routes were decided, feeders were introduced, water supply and damage problems were encountered, and as enlargement decisions were made based on popular appeals for extension of the canals so localities could participate in the associated economic benefits. Maps in the series include: the line of the Chemung Canal and feeder; the Genesee Valley Canal and feeders showing various junctions and particular construction sections; extensive sections of the Western Division of the Erie Canal; and a commercially printed volume of plats in Rochester, showing the canal and feeders, including the Genesee River, as well as weigh locks and mill races.

The maps were apparently made to establish working boundaries and to survey lands along the canal lines for purposes of improvement, and sometimes to show areas damaged by the canal. Maps typically include some or all of the following: city, county, and town boundaries; names of property owners or heirs; red lines and offset lines measuring distances along the length of the canal; blue lines delineating state owned land and rights of way; lakes, creeks, ponds, inlets, marshes, and other bodies of water; occasionally outlines of buildings and sites of business structures (e.g., mills; furnaces); roads and railroad lines; sometimes acreage of land appropriated, sometimes penciled in along with calculations and remarks (e.g., "appropriated for ditch"; "new road"); and in a few instances a profile is included on a map, usually of land claimed to be damaged by water from a canal feeder.

The plans in the series are drawn with black, red and blue colored inks and include separate titles designating lock number and name, and sometimes that of the canal. Sometimes these titles have been annotated in pencil on the inked drawing. Plans are drawn on paper or on architect's linen; some tracings have a duplicate blueprint copy. Most, but not all, plans are undated; a few have penciled dates but the time of such annotation is unknown. In rare instances a location where the plan was made is given (with date). Many plans have pencil annotations of dimensions and calculations written on them. There is often a scale given, usually as a relation of inches to feet. Usually the length of the lift is given on lock plans, in feet.

Many sheets also contain a separate block labeled "Bill of Timber" for the particular plan structure. These are estimates of materials. They list a description of items (e.g., "main sill"; "mitre posts"); number of pieces; kind of wood; dimensions; feet of broad measure; and total broad measure. A note found on one blueprint states that sizes are neat measurements and that allowance should be made for planing and squaring timber.

Sheet sizes of the plans vary; the smallest measures 33 x 41 cm. Plans are numbered consecutively, but there is apparently no other arrangement scheme among plans within a volume or portfolio. They are loose, not bound. Most plans are drawn within neat line borders. Most portfolios have a unique binder's title (usually a letter or specific description of the contents).

Maps in the series are hand drawn in color inks on paper or architect's linen. One volume of the Erie Canal through Buffalo is highlighted by multi-color washes. One volume (vol. 25 - Canastota to Utica) contains photostatic copies (apparently corresponding to vol. 7 of series A0848, Canal System Survey Maps) from an 1834 survey of one section of the Erie Canal by Holmes Hutchinson.

Map scales vary and are sporadically given. Sometimes horizontal and vertical scales are present. Scale for the published plats is 150/200 feet to 1 inch. Map sizes range from 22 x 33 cm to 60 x 99 cm. Sheets are numbered and arrangement within each volume is by that number. They are loosely placed in the volumes, each of which has a unique binder's title.

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Scanned images of a small sample of canal drawings are available at the New York State Archives.

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