Upon interviewing Elizabeth Licata on her new book, Secret Buffalo – A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure, we agreed that it would be fun to post three articles from the book. Together, we chose the articles, which was not an easy task considering that there are so many that spoke to both of us. In the end, we whittled down the list. The 2nd article that we opted to run is titled:
Life Underground (Author: Elizabeth Licata)
In 1858, a tunnel was blasted out of solid rock by Birdsill Holly, the mechanical genius who channeled the Erie Canal to provide water power for Lockport, 20 miles north of Buffalo. Much of this water was used for fire protection, as part of a system Holly created. His Holly System of Water Supply and Fire Protection was being used in more than 100 US cities by 1881 and eventually was brought to 2,000 cities in the US and Canada. This also was the first tunnel to be used for hydraulic power.
In addition to powering Holly’s operations, the Hydraulic Race Company also powered various local manufacturing companies. The last factory relying on this power closed in 1941, and the tunnel was inaccessible until it was rediscovered in the 1970s.
Visitors now can tour it from May through October. The guided tour is mainly on foot, with a short boat ride, takes about 70 minutes, and includes the Erie Canal Flight of Five Locks and locks 34 and 35. Expect close-up views of underground rock formations, stalactites, and historic artifacts, with everything explained by the knowledgeable guides. There are also haunted tours at Halloween and lantern-lit evening tours. For those looking for aboveground excitement, the tour company offers a zip line trip across the Erie Canal and back.
WHAT: A spooky and historic tour
WHERE: 5 Gooding St., Lockport, NY
COST: $17.50 (adults)
PRO TIP: This is not handicapped-accessible, and sturdy walking shoes are recommended
The book is available at Talking Leaves, Thin Ice. For those living out of town, Talking Leaves will ship the book directly to you – order online here.