Erie Canal Museum Collections

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The Erie Canal Museum was established in 1962, at the time known simply as the Canal Museum. It was initially founded to save the Syracuse Weighlock Building from demolition. At the time the Museum was founded, it held no collections. Since then the collections have grown primarily through gifts.

Due to limitations of space and finances for collections care, the Museum strives to develop the collections through careful and judicious additions of artifacts and archival material. The collections of the Erie Canal Museum consist of a wide variety of items reflecting the material culture of the 19th and early 20th centuries in upstate New York.

These collections include, objects (costumes, furnishings, tools, commemorative and documentary items, canal boat equipment, models, and household items); prints; sketches and drawings; paintings; photographs and negatives; glass plate negatives; rare books; and, miscellaneous maps, plans, receipts, and other manuscript and archival material. 

With funding from the William G. Pomeroy Foundation, we recently completed a wall-to-wall inventory of our collection. We are working to digitize our collection and make it more accessible to the public. You can find what we’ve done so far by visiting our page at New York Heritage here. New York Heritage Digital Collections includes over 275,000 digitized books, manuscripts, maps, letters, photographs, and memorabilia. New York Heritage is your access to big stories and small affairs spanning the history of New York. Discover your history with contributions from over 350 libraries, museums, archives, and other community organizations.

The cataloging and digitizing project has been funded by grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the William G. Pomeroy Foundation, and the Delmas Foundation and with support from the Canal Society of New York State.

If you are interested in using our collection for research, please fill out our Research/Image Request form.

Collection Spotlight: Diving Helmet and Suit

Diving helmets, such as this one, were an important part of the upkeep of the Erie Canal. They were used by engineering work crews to provide air to those who were working underwater. The helmets were bolted to the rest of the suit to prevent water from getting into the suit. This is a standard diving helmet, also known as a “copper hat.” This style of helmet was also used by the U.S. Navy
The Museum also has a corresponding diving suit that would have been worn with this helmet. The suit is made of rubberized canvas. The helmet is brass and copper and is extremely heavy, weighing around 50 pounds. Divers preparing to go into the Canal would have needed help from their colleagues to get in and out of the suit and helmet, and in and out of the water.
This helmet is special because it was used at the Syracuse Weighlock, which is now the home of the Erie Canal Museum.
– AnnaRae Martin, Collections Intern

Diving team in workboat completing canal repairs near Durhamville, NY

If you are interested in helping us care for and display our collection, you can donate to our Curatorial Fund.