Erie Basin Canal Boats, c. 1900

Historical Context
A lock is a water-filled chamber with huge gates or doors at both ends.  Locks were usually built in a series up the sides of a hill or mountain. The construction of the original five-step locks in Lockport presented a major engineering challenge.  The canal had to rise up a cliff of solid rock that was sixty-six feet high.  The locks were blasted out of the cliff by the canal workers.  The double set of five combined locks was the design of Nathan S. Roberts.  One set of locks was for ascending traffic that was headed west, and the other set was for descending traffic heading east.  The town that grew up around this set of locks became known as Lockport.
Essential Question
How does technology affect a community?
Check for Understanding
Describe the scene in the photograph and explain how development of the canal impacted local communities.
[click to enlarge]
Erie Basin canal boats, New York State Archives, NYSA_A3045-78_D47_BuA62
Document Description
Tightly packed canal boats in the Erie Basin, circa 1900.
  1. What form of transportation is in the photograph?  
  2. What are the parts or features of the locks? 
  3. What conclusions can be made about the importance of the five-step lock design to the success of the Erie Canal?
Historical Challenge
Compare today’s lock to the five-step lock.
Interdisciplinary Connections
Science: Create a diagram displaying the lock mechanism and how it works.
English Language Arts: Write a first-hand account of being a passenger on a canal boat while progressing through the five-step locks.
  1. Lane, Bruce. Along the Erie Canal. Rochester, NY: Ethnoscope, 1997.
  2. Hurst, Carol Otis. Through the Lock. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2001. ISBN: 0618030360.
  3. Stein, R. Conrad. The Erie Canal. New York: Children's Press, 2004. ISBN: 0516242431.
  4. Weingardt, Richard. Engineering Legends: Great American Civil Engineers. Reston, VA: American Society of Civil Engineers, 2005. ISBN: 0784408017.
  8. Chatham Hill Press. Erie Canal Cut and Fold Game.