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Erie Canal Ports

Some say there's a mystic presence in the air around Palmyra. In the early 1800s, the tiny village became the birthplace of the Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormons), and the internationally famous Hill Cumorah Pageant is held each July to commemorate those events is one of many attractions along the path of the old Erie. Palmyra celebrates Canal Town Days in September. At any time of year, visitors can walk Canalway Trail along the towpath, and, if they choose, extend their trek across the state. Just west of Palmyra is Aqueduct Park boasting a stone-arched aqueduct that originally carried the canal over Ganarqua Creek. Picnic shelters, bike trails and a boat launch welcome visitors.

The Erie Canal changed Fairport from a fever-ridden swamp into a wild little boom town that traded in everything from silk to snake oil. Today, the village is still a "pretty fair port" to visit. The towpath has been converted to a walkway, punctuated by historic parks and museums. Canal Days, drawing around 75,000 people, are celebrated every June with boat parades, church suppers, arts and crafts demonstrations, sidewalk sales and open houses.

Unlike Fairport, Pittsford was already a thriving village when the Erie blazed through. As in the early 19th century, canal life continues to settle around Schoen Place, a winding strip of century-old mercantilism, and an interesting mix of the old and new. At Schoen Place Ted Zornow's bean mill still operates amid tony shops and restaurants like the one built into the side of a coal tower. Old Lock 62, behind the Spring Hill Restaurant, is awaiting restoration. Shrouded in weeds, it sits in sharp contrast to the modern Lock 32, which makes navigating the new Erie Canal a breeze.As in the days when packet boats brought the sick and weary to bathe in nearby mineral springs, Pittsford still welcomes travelers warmly.

Rochester, America's first boom town known as the "Young Lion of the West," catapulted from a sleepy little hamlet of less than 300 in 1817 to a bustling city of over 8,000 a decade later. Progress was due, in large part, to the Erie Canal, which supplied a convenient and inexpensive route to populous markets on the East Coast. Rochester continued to grow, eventually becoming the World's Image Centre, birthplace of high-tech giants like Eastman Kodak, Xerox and Bausch and Lomb. Rochester continues to be one of the largest exporting communities in the country.

The Erie Canal was once Spencerport's Main Street. Footsore mule drivers liked Spencerport because it was a perfect spot to change mules for the last 12-mile pull to Rochester. The village has installed a dock near the canal bridge; pump holding tanks for boats; 40 feet of boardwalk to be linked to a gazebo and entertainment area. The village also built a handicap-accessible fishing pier and improved its hiking trail. Spencerport celebrates Canal Days in late July with parades, pony rides, a fishing contest, classic car show, live entertainment and its famous 1-mile tubecraft race.

The first 100 McCormick reapers were built in Brockport, known as "the Red Village" for its prominent brick homes. The old factory site, now McCormick Park, is located on the Erie Canal near the Park Avenue bridge. Visitors can view both the Main Street and Park Avenue lift bridges from the park. Brockport is also home to a large State University of New York campus. In July visitors enjoy a Main Street Canal Festival that includes sidewalk sales, live entertainment and cruises on the packet boat Sam Patch.

Albion and its westerly neighbor Medina, fought bitterly over quarries and sandstone for decades. Albion's silver domed county court house presides over seven churches and other fine 19th century structures that surround the village square. The village's newly developed canal park can be enjoyed by boat or car. The park features canal-period street lamps, benches and docks. Albion's Strawberry Festival is held in June.

Two miles east of Medina, Culvert Road offers the only opportunity for motorists to drive under the Erie Canal. In the village, Church Street splits down the middle to accommodate St. John's Church. Both landmarks were featured in Ripley's Believe It or Not. Medina has improved its canal docks, adding electric and water hookups, wood buffers and ladders.

Approaching Locks 34 and 35 in Lockport, the vertical rock walls rise abruptly on either side, revealing the jagged bone and torn sinew of the canal's final challenge-the Niagara Escarpment. The "Famous Five" stair locks, regarded as an engineering marvel when built, are now used only for overflow. The old hydraulic power house that once operated the city's locks and two lift bridges, is now a canal museum. Today, dual locks lift boats 50 feet on their way to Lake Erie and points west.

The Erie Canal terminates at Tonawanda Creek, ultimately dumping into Lake Erie, its long journey ended. Check out the Canal Fest of the Tonawandas: July 13-20, 2008, Eight days of family fun alongside the banks of the historic Erie Canal. Midway, music, waterskiing and jet ski demonstrations, model boat races, handcrafted canoe contests. 716-692-3292. www.canalfest.org

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