About The Museum
Committed to preserving the only existing weighlock building in the United States, the Erie Canal Museum collects and conserves Canal material, champions an appreciation and understanding of Erie Canal history through educational programming and promotes an awareness of the Canal’s transforming effects on the past, present and future.
As the world’s leading interpreter of Erie Canal history, our vision is to advance the understanding of the profound influence of the Erie Canal on the history of Central New York, the United States and the world. We will collect, interpret and make available the world’s most important and comprehensive collection of Erie Canal related documents, photographs, prints and rare books.
We will share the rich history of the Erie Canal with visitors, both in person and on line, by providing the highest quality exhibits, programs, scholarly publications and educational tools for children and adults. Our research will be of the highest caliber in terms of accuracy, objectivity and inclusiveness.
When the Erie Canal Museum opened its doors on October 25, 1962, it celebrated and preserved the life of the last remaining weighlock building in America. This Greek revival building stands as a monument to the Erie Canal’s transformative role in the history of the United States.
The Weighlock Building
The Weighlock Building was occupied by the New York State Department of Public Works until 1954. In 1956, two members of the New York State Canal Society, both state legislators, sponsored legislation to give the building to the New York State Department of Education. In a surprise move, Governor Harriman vetoed the legislation over the almost unanimous vote of the legislature saying that a future highway interchange might claim the building.
At this point, the Junior League of Syracuse took notice and was shocked to find drawings at the DPW showing Interstate 81 going right over the Weighlock Building and Syracuse City Hall. The Junior League and others went into high lobbying gear, with intense letter writing and phone calls to Albany legislators and the Chairman of the Onondaga County Board of Supervisors. The Junior League persuaded the Board of Supervisors to accept the Weighlock Building on behalf of Onondaga County. The transfer from the State was authorized by the legislature and signed into law by Governor Rockefeller.
The instrument of conveyance from New York State provided that the property must be used for a “public canal museum.” Consequently, at the request of the County, the original Board of Trustees started out to create such a museum. Work began in earnest, mostly with volunteers, to clean, paint and revitalize the interior of the building, while County employees made a significant contribution to the renovation of the building. In September 1962, the Board of Regents granted a “provisional charter” and the formal opening in October was greeted by large, enthusiastic crowds. The “absolute charter” of the Museum was issued by the Board of Regents on March 29, 1968.
The Erie Canal Museum Today
The present professional Museum and the attached Syracuse Heritage Area Visitor Center stand as testimony to the work of many dedicated people. The Museum, which is accredited by the American Association of Museums, is visited annually by more than 20,000 visitors from all 50 states and many foreign countries.
The Erie Canal Made New York, a permanent exhibit that opened in 2015, uses interactive displays, narrative audio tracks and original artifacts to explain why and by whom the Erie Canal was conceived, the technology used in its construction, Canal-inspired inventions and the waterway’s role in our country’s social and economic development. A display of the 1825 Wedding of the Waters ceremonial Canal opening, complete with fireworks sound effects, leads visitors to the 1850 National Register Weighlock Building, the Museum’s most important artifact.