Buffalo’s legacy as a ship building city is impressive. During its shipbuilding heyday, one of the boats that became a staple of the waterfront was a Durham Boat, first built in 1809. The boat was constructed at the Black Rock Shipyard, which was located approximately where the Scajaquada Creek meets the Black Rock Channel. In order to pay tribute to the shipyard, and the regions’s nautical/industrial legacy, the Buffalo Maritime Center (BMC) will be recreating one of these boats, not far from where they were first churned out.
The Durham Boat was originally called a “salt boat” due to its exclusive use as a salt carrying vessel. The boat made voyages from Fort Schlosser (Niagara County) to Black Rock, carrying salt that was mined from the Syracuse region to Pittsburgh. It wasn’t until the Erie Canal was built that the man-powered river boat was made obsolete. From that point on, barges were pulled by mules down the Erie Canal. Before that time, the Durham Boat was a regular sight on our waterfront. Now, two centuries later, a 42-foot replica will be making an appearance once again.
According the the BMC, in 1810, one of these salt boats was upset and lost when it went over the Falls with the loss of three lives. In that same year, De Witt Clinton had an opportunity to travel in one of these boats while on a survey trip for the Erie Canal. He wrote:
“August 4th,  Saturday. After breakfast we set out from Fort Schlosser, in a Durham salt boat, drawing two feet water, twenty-five tons burthen, and able to carry 150 bushels of salt, between seventy and eighty feet long, and seven and eight feet wide. She had six men, who pushed her up against the stream. But notwithstanding she had been lightened for our accommodation, our situation was unpleasant. The weather was uncommonly warm, and the captain being absent, the hands were very noisy, intemperate, and disorganizing. The current was sometimes three miles an hour – on average, two and a half. Despairing of reaching Black Rock with our disorderly fellows, we landed at a tavern about a mile above Tonawanda Creek, and took to our carriages. The disorderly spirit of our boatmen had extended itself to the driver, and I had to silence his importance.”
Once complete, the boat will be used to travel the restored Lockport Flight of Five Locks in Lockport.
The Buffalo Maritime Center and the Lockport Locks Heritage District Board will be heading up the project, with the help of community members. The boat will be built at BMC headquarters at 90 Arthur Street in the Black Rock. The boat building committee is hoping to have the boat finished in time for the July 4th, 2017 anniversary of the start of construction of the Erie Canal. Anyone looking to help with this project can contact BMC at 881-0111, info@BuffaloMaritimeCenter.org or stop in the shop during regular business hours.
Photos: Endurance, a replica Durham Boat built in Ottawa in 1983 by Parks Canada and the National Capital Commission in Ottawa. It was said to be the only replica Durham boat in the world at the time. It was scrapped in 2006 except for the bow section which is still on display in the Rideau Canal Museum in Smiths Falls, Ontario.