City of Locks (WT)

In Development

City of Locks (WT)
Credit: Robert Dunn

In each generation, a particular section of America becomes the nation’s center of gravity as a unique convergence of social, economic and technological forces put it at the forefront of human endeavor and make it the focus of the world’s attention. It is a place where the very ideals and struggles that define an era are played out in full. In the first half of the nineteenth century, New York was such a place and in particular - Lockport, New York and the Flight of Five on the Erie Canal, the manifestation of those ideals.

Originally completed in 1825, the double set of five locks - one for westbound and one for eastbound traffic - was an engineering marvel of the day and considered a triumph of “Art over Nature.” The Flight of Five conquered a 60-foot rise in elevation allowing people, goods, and ideas to flow west to the Erie Canal's terminus in Buffalo, into the Ohio Valley, and beyond. In his book Stairway to Empire, historian Patrick McGreevy writes “To the extent that [early travelers on the Erie Canal] saw Lockport as representing the entire canal, it therefore also represented America, its energies and its prospects.”

Lockport, New York was, and is, a true American place where our nation’s history takes on a tangible immediacy and relevance. The extant westbound Flight of Five, currently under an ambitious, multi-year rehabilitation effort, is a profound reminder that great moments in the American story can be found in small places.


"What I most love about Lockport is its timelessness. Beyond the newer facades of Main Street—just behind the block of buildings on the northern side—is the Erie Canal...For residents of the area who have gone to live elsewhere, it’s the canal—so deep-set in what appears to be solid rock, you can barely see it...that resurfaces in dreams."

~ Joyce Carol Oates                                                                                                                                                                                  Author


I seated myself on a large gray stone, on the high ground above the canal basin, on the morning of the first of December, 1825, and surveyed the scene around me; the canal—the locks—stone and frame houses...grist-mills…taverns—churches. Kings build pyramids; but it was reserved for a popular government to produce a scene like this. Such is Lockport, on the Canal, in 1825.

~ William Lyons McKenzie -                                                                                                                                                                   British Traveler