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Linda Kellett - Edward Stock and Louise Trottier, of Ottawa, Ontario, members of the North American Society for Industrial Archeology, stroll past the picnic area of Erie (Barge) Canal Lock 15 in Fort Plain on Saturday during the organization’s four-day tour of the upper Mohawk Valley Region.

Linda Kellett - Clockwise from the center: Diana and Jim Bouchard of Montreal and Ohio residents Stephen and Deborah Titchenal, members of the Society for Industrial Archeology, eat lunch at the picnic area of canal Lock 15 in Fort Plain on Saturday.

Linda Kellett - Members of the Society for Industrial Archeology, of North America who were in Fort Plain on Saturday to visit Erie (Barge) Canal Lock 15, check out the movable dams.

Linda Kellett - A member of the Society for Industrial Archeology enters the power house at Lock 15 in Fort Plain in order to view and photograph the 1920s General Electric gasoline-fueled, direct-current generator that at one time provided all of the energy required to operate the lock and movable dams at that site.

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Industrial, tech sites generate tour interest

Thursday, October 25, 2012 - Updated: 8:46 AM

By LINDA KELLETT

C-S-E News Staff

FORT PLAIN — They weren’t your typical tourists.

Several busloads of visitors from across North America converged on the upper Mohawk Valley Region late last week — not to tour the area’s Revolutionary War sites but to view, study, document and learn about the region’s industrial and technological past.

They were members of the nonprofit Society for Industrial Archeology; and they were at Erie (Barge) Canal Lock 15 in Fort Plain on Saturday to visit and photograph the site as part of the organization’s annual four-day Fall Tour.

Among points of interest were the lock’s movable dams, which are used to control the flow of water during boating season, and the 1920s General Electric generator in the power house at the lock.

Cynthia McFay, chief lock operator for the state Canal Corporation, was on hand to answer any questions that society members might have had about the direct-current generating equipment, which is original to the site.

At one time, the gasoline-fueled GE generator provided enough power to run the lock and movable dams, she said, noting that canal workers still fire the equipment up once a week or so to keep it operational.

A military generator located behind the building serves as the primary source of emergency/backup power, she added.

Made up of architects, archeologists, historians, engineers, teachers, students, preservationists and others, the SIA is focussed on the history, documentation, and preservation of the historically significant sites and structures of North America’s industrial and technological past.

That’s according to Diana Bouchard, of Montreal, Quebec, a past member of the SIA Board, who was among those picnicking at Lock 15 mid-day Saturday.

Other morning stops for the group included a visit to the 19th century Erie Canal “Crouse” double locks in the town of Minden; Lock 18 between Herkimer and Little Falls, where members viewed a circa-1900 water-powered electric generating plant; and the waterfront area of North Utica — the site of a former manufactured gas plant where National Grid’s Harbor Point super-fund remediation is taking place.

An afternoon tour-boat ride on the canal was to cap off the afternoon’s events, which were billed as “the four generations of the Erie Canal and industries along its banks.”

Jim Bouchard noted four buses transported tourists to industrial sites like the Hardscrabble Wind Farm and Feldmeier Equipment in Little Falls on Friday. In addition to the Herkimer County locations, participants were also bused to locations in Utica, Rome, or Sharon Springs’ areas.

Thursday — the first-day of the fall event —  featured “pre-tours” to the Trenton Falls hydroelectric plant constructed in 1900 as well as the FX Matt/Saranac Brewery.

Highlights of the final day of the fall tour (on Sunday) included a ride through the southern Adirondacks on the Adirondack Scenic Railroad, a walk or bike ride along the Erie Canalway Trail bike path, or a special tour of AMT Castings in Sharon Springs.

As noted in information about the tour on the organization’s website, www.siahq.org, the event “explore[d] historic manufacturing and engineering sites in New York’s upper Mohawk Valley. Process tours include[d] many of the region’s signature industries: metalworking, textiles, wire and cable, and forest products, along with some of the unusual factories that make SIA events special. It ... also include[d] a detailed examination of the Erie Canal ñ the working waterway that opened the American interior and made New York the Empire State.”

SIA employee Ron Petrie said 150 people took part in the fall tour.

He said, “We have two main events a year. Last June, we were in the Cincinnati, Ohio, and northern Kentucky area. Next spring, we’ll be in St. Paul, Minn., and a year from now we’ll be in Rockford, Ill.”

He said the organization has quite a few volunteers from the Mohawk Valley who helped to plan last weekend’s events and lead people around.

Among local SIA members playing key roles in the fall event included organizers Tolga Morawski, of Historic Fort Plain, who has been pushing for a local tour since 2002; and retired En Con representative Simon Litten, of Altamont.

Other local group members included Rachel Bliven, formerly of the Mohawk Valley Heritage Corridor Commission, who put together a history of the region for the opening reception; Cooperstown preservationists Jessie Ravage and Martha Frey, who served on the committee; and Duncan Hay.

Morawski said Hay, who formerly worked for the New York State Museum at Albany, was a member of the team that salvaged the 1800s canal store on State Street in Fort Plain some years back.

The incoming SIA president, Hay is currently employed by the National Park Service and is working with the Canal Corporation to secure National Historic Registry designation for the Barge/Erie Canal, said Morawski.

For more information or to join the Society for Industrial Archeology, visit their website at www.siahq.org.

Linda Kellett - Cynthia McFay, chief lock operator for the state Canal Corporation, said canal workers still fire the equipment up once a week or so to keep it operational.

     

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