LOCKPORT — Greater Lockport Development Corporation will work with a local business that’s aiming to preserve historic industrial ruins downtown.
The GLDC board of directors this week approved a memorandum of agreement with Hydraulic Race Corporation, owner of the Lockport Cave and Underground Boat Ride tour, stating the agency will act as a “pass through” entity in the event HRC lands state grants to stabilize the Holly and Richmond Manufacturing ruins.
The ruins are the foundations/remnants of the Holly and Richmond manufacturing companies that were operated just north of the Erie Canal, roughly between the Pine Street bridge and the upside-down railroad bridge, in the mid 19th century into the 20th century. They were powered by canal water raced downhill by the Lockport Hydraulic Company. The Lockport Cave is a portion of that raceway.
Hydraulic Race Corporation recently received title to the industrial ruins from the state Thruway Authority, and in the process settled a 17-year-old legal battle between the two.
The Thruway Authority, which “owns” the state canal system, once asserted it was entitled to 30 percent of HRC’s revenues from operating the cave tour because it’s partly on canal system property. HRC sued, citing state law from 1858 that codified the old Lockport Hydraulic Company’s property rights as it operated within the so-called “blue line.”
The suit was finally settled out of court last year with HRC owing the Thruway Authority none of its revenues. Instead, under legislative pressure, the authority sold two parcels involved with the tour, the Holly and Richmond ruins, to HRC.
HRC co-owner Thomas Callahan said the company will apply for state grants this year to advance stabilization/preservation of the ruins. Along with the Flight of Five canal locks and the hydraulic tunnel, the ancient factories are part of the Lockport Industrial District, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.
Callahan believes it may be possible to restore a water wheel at one of the ruins and get it generating mechanical energy again. A demonstration project showing Birdsill Holly’s genius — using canal and locks operation to power local industries — is his vision.
“They talk about recreating the Erie Canal Harbor. We don’t need to recreate, we’ve got it right here,” he said.
Stabilizing the ruins is HRC’s top priority, according to Callahan. What the state Canal Corporation started in 2008, when it commissioned studies and work to shore up a portion of the Holly ruins west of the cave-tour area, should be continued, he said.
“It’s all about maintaining what we have — some of the most representative industrial ruins in the country, in Americana,” Callahan said. “There are very few ruins in the country that you could do this to, that’s what makes it exciting.”
GLDC agreeing to act as a pass-through means it will accept and administer any state funds that HRC receives toward preservation of the ruins. The state will only give money to a non-profit entity, according to GLDC Executive Director R. Charles Bell.
The company will complete a “consolidated” state grant application, meaning one application describing the ruins-preservation project that will be read by various agencies that might contribute funding, from Canal Corporation and the Department of Transportation to the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. HRC is in the hunt for private charitable support too, Callahan said.
HRC doesn’t have a solid estimate of the cost to preserve both ruins. Canal Corp. reported its stabilization project cost almost $800,000.