1795 Guard Lock



The resettlement of the village after the American Revolution began when a Scottish immigrant, John Porteous, came to Little Falls in 1785. Porteous built the first house in 1788, known as the “Yellow House” near the Petrie Grist Mill on Furnace Creek. Porteous had the mill rebuilt in 1790 (which had been burned by the Loyalist during the 1782 Petrie Mill Massacre), with it becoming known as the “Red Mill.” The Yellow House served as a trading house, with a tavern, lodging and post office. Porteous was a land agent for a wealthy British fur trader, Alexander Ellice. Ellice invested his wealth in land and gained title to 1,200 acres of the Burnetsfield Patent, with the land lots having been abandoned by the fleeing German Palatines during the war. These land lots encompassed the north side of the Mohawk River at Little Falls.

DID YOU KNOW… Ellice refused to sell any land lots to the incoming settlers to the village, for he was receiving high rents for their use, making all who settled here his tenants.

As the village expanded, the need for better water transportation became greater.
Many reports and surveys were made from 1724 through 1791 on the building of a continuous navigable water route connecting the Atlantic seaboard of North America to its western interior via the Hudson River at Albany to the Great Lakes at Lake Ontario, with the use of natural bodies of water and to eliminate the portages with the use of short canals.


The water route to the west at this time, was that of a 16-mile portage on the Kings Highway from the Hudson River at Albany to the mouth of the Mohawk River at Schenectady, bypassing the great falls at Cohoes. Then traveling west up the Mohawk River to the Little Carrying Place at Little Falls. After the portage here, the route then continued west up the Mohawk River to a portage of the curves and rapids at German Flatts and then navigated on to a 2-mile portage from the Mohawk River to Wood Creek at Rome, NY, being the Great Carrying Place, also called the Oneida Carry. The navigation continued west down to cross over Oneida Lake, to enter the Oswego River. From there, it continued down to the harbor at Lake Ontario, which is the gateway west into the Finger Lakes, with the trip taking 10 days to complete.


The Western Inland Lock Navigation Company was incorporated on March 30, 1792, with General Phillip Schuyler serving as company president and project engineer. The WILNC went through a natural break in the Appalachian Mountains between the Adirondack and Catskill Mountains. The waterway would expand communications into western New York, with an increase in trade, travel and the continued growth of the settlements to follow. This ran parallel with George Washington’s words from his 1783 Mohawk Valley visit at Little Falls.
In 1792, the Petrie family sold land to the WILNC Company, which at the time, the Petrie family operated the mile long portage at the Little Carrying Place, on the north side of the Mohawk River.

Work on the Little Falls section of the WILNC began in April of 1793, with nearly 300 laborers receiving 6 shillings a day for pay, without board. They worked from sunup until sundown, with time off for meals that were provided by the company.
This short canal was 4,752 feet in length, with 2,550 feet of it cut through solid rock. It had an aggregate fall of 44 feet 7 inches. The WILNC prism was cut 35 feet in surface width, tapering down to a bottom width of 26 feet and a depth of 3 feet. It included 5 wooden lifting locks that had been excavated from solid rock, with each having a lift of nearly 9 feet. Each lock chamber was 74 feet in length and had a width of 12 feet. A guard lock, a non-lifting lock, was built on the upper end of the canal to prevent the redundancy of water.

The route of the WILNC at Little Falls, ran on the same path as the portage for the Little Carrying Place, on the north side of the Mohawk River. The canal: started at the guard lock, which is still present today on Riverside Industrial Parkway; it then continued down West Mill Street; a lifting lock was located at the intersection of Second and East Mill Street; another lifting lock was located at the old Cherry-Burrell’s plant; three lifting locks were located at the end of East Mill Street, in the raceway of the old Burrow’s Paper Mill which is known today as Twin Rivers; and it then exited into the Mohawk River.

The short canal at Little Falls was completed on November 17, 1795, with a cost of $22,500. A short canal was built at Rome, NY, being 1.7 miles and was completed in October of 1797. It contained 2 wooden locks, a feeder canal and 2 dams made from bricks.

Another short canal was built, with this one being at German Flatts, NY, which was 1.1 miles in length and was completed in 1798. It was built with a low dam, a guard lock and a 12 foot lift lock. They used Little Falls stone to build the locks here, with them being the oldest unmodified locks on the canal system. The rapids named “Wolf Rift” and “Orendorf’s Rift” were eliminated by the straightening of the canal.
From 1802 through 1803, four locks were built at Wood Creek (is a 20 mile river that flows westward from Rome) which turned the low water areas in Wood Creek into a series of pools that could be easily traveled over by boat, eliminating the Oneida Carry, at the Great Carrying Place.

The wooden locks along the canal were replaced with stone locks in 1803. The WILNC Canal was met with many repairs as it was being constructed and was completed in 1803 at a total cost of $367,743. John Porteous was the first collector of tolls for the WILNC at Little Falls, with a toll of $25 per ton to start with, eventually being reduced to $1. per ton.

Once the canal was up and running, a much bigger boat replaced the Bateaux Boats, the Durham Boat, which could easily navigate the canal, which was propelled forward by sails, oars and poles. The Durham boat could carry up to 15 tons and was up to 60 feet in length, 20 feet in width and could cover up to 25 miles a day in water travel.

The canal of the Western Inland Lock Navigation Company was not a profitable venture. In 1821, with the company just breaking even financially, they sold the canal to the State of New York. New York State gifted the WILNC to Little Falls in 1833, with it then being used as a feeder waterway to the Erie Canal. By 1840, the canal was used as a raceway for industries along Mill Street. In 1940, the old lock, which is located on Elizabeth Street, caved in and it was rebuilt using the original stone.

From 1990 through 1993, lock remnants along the WILNC were excavated by the NY State Museum of Albany, which was led by Senior Scientist of Archeology, Phillip Lord, Jr. The 1795 Guard Lock at Little Falls was excavated in 1992, by the NY State Museum.

*Digitizing of Historical Photo by Gail & Mike Potter, Article written by Darlene Smith

1834 Western Inland Lock Navigation Blue Line Map