Growing Up Near the Canal

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Growing Up Near the Canal

...the lazy hot days of summer and watching the barges go by, hearing their chugs and warning horns, wondering what load they carried, and hearing lively voices echoing up to us from the river on a still dark night.

– by Isabel Prescott

View of the Mohawk River from Riverview Orchards during Farm Fest 2008.

View of the Mohawk River from Riverview Orchards during Farm Fest 2008.

When my family moved to our farm on Riverview Road in 1944, one of the first things my parents noticed was the beautiful view of the Mohawk River. Our house and barns sat atop a hill overlooking the sloping pasture where our cows were put to graze, with the river just beyond.

As I was growing up, I found that the river provided my sisters and me with a lot of entertainment. My whole family would look on with wonder at huge yachts and pleasure boats heading down toward the lock two miles away, tug boats pushing long barges full of cargo, and blue and yellow work boats maintaining the buoys and the shoreline.

An avid journal keeper, Grandma kept track of many happenings on the farm, including activity on the river, noting how many boats had been seen going by in one day, when the buoys were placed in the water in the spring to guide the tugboats, and when they were removed for winter. She noted in the summer of 1956, “Helen [my mother] took the girls to the lock to see the boats. They had a good time,” and yes we would have. On a summer day my family would be busy on the farm, and we would hear the tugboats blowing their horns to warn the lock tender that they’d be going through. We’d excitedly tell our mom that we could see three or more barges lined up on the Mohawk waiting to go through the lock. If we were lucky, she would say, “OK, girls, get in the car. We’re going,” and what a fun time it would be. She’d drive us over the Rexford Bridge, up Balltown Road to River Road and eventually to the winding dirt path which would take us to Lock 7 on the other side of the river from our farm. We’d rush out of the car, climb the steep steps up to the sidewalk where we could see the huge lock doors open and close slowly, oh so slowly, in order to let in or out the rushing water to raise or lower the boats. We’d dream that night about what adventures might befall us if we ever had the opportunity to live on a tugboat and travel down the river.

Some years in the springtime the Mohawk would flood and overflow its banks (Grandma noted that it happened in 1949 and 1955), or huge blocks of ice might get pushed up on the shore (1964). In still other years, a barge could be stranded in shallow water or even capsize.

But most of all, memories come flooding back for me of the lazy hot days of summer and watching the barges go by, hearing their chugs and warning horns, wondering what load they carried, and hearing lively voices echoing up to us from the river on a still dark night. Childhood life along the Mohawk River was good, and even today, as I continue to live on the same farm along its banks, I am captivated by its peace and its beauty.
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Isabel Prescott owns Riverview Orchards, Riverview Road in Clifton Park and is an avid supporter of the Mohawk Towpath Byway.

2 Comments

  1. The Mohawk Towpath Byway would like to collect stories of life on or near the Mohawk River, the waterway west, and the Erie Canal. If you have a story like this or have a parent or grandparent with one locked up inside, please let us know. You may not want us to publish it here and we certainly would respect your wishes, but we don’t want to loose these stories. They are a part of our heritage. Contact the Mohawk Towpath Byway at admin@mohawktowpath.org.

  2. kristina teneyck says:

    My father in law grew up on one of the barges that made their way up and down the canal. His grandmother owned several and his father captained several barges. I am putting together a video history of his life growing up on these boats up until the state required the kids to go to school at age 7 and they had to live on land. Do you have anyone else who has responded to you with having lived on the barges? I know he would be interested in speaking with others. I would be willing to give you a written history copy of his life during this time period once I’m done compiling all the info. Kind regards, Kristina

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