Erie Canal Lock 17

Little Falls, NY 13350

“A lock enables a boat to pass from a section of canal at one water level to another section at a different water level. Locks also separate two sections of canal so that water from the upper level does not flood the lower level. A boat going from a lower level to a higher level enters the lock through the lower gates, which are then closed by a lock tender. The tender then opens a valve in the upper gates, admitting water to the lock and raising the boat. When the water level in the lock equals the level in the higher section of canal, the tender opens the upper gate, and the boat continues its journey. In the opposite direction, a boat enters the lock through the upper gates. The gates are then closed, the water level is lowered to the level of the water in the canal below, and the lower gates are opened to release the boat into the canal.” (

Lock 17 located in Little Falls, NY, of the New York State Erie Canal replaced the 4 locks of the original 1825 Erie Canal and is 40.5 feet (12.3 m) in height, making it the largest lock on the Erie Canal.

"The lock lifts every passing vessel an astounding 40.5 feet, replacing four locks on the old canal by just one. Construction on this lock was challenging. Design elements called for a unique feature, a water saving side pool which would allow about half of water from a locking to be reused on the next locking. Couple this extra feature with its massive size, the need to build it in solid rock, and keep the old Erie Canal open, which this was built directly on top of, required massive engineering. This design included a guillotine style lower gate and a concrete arch of which the boats pass under -- the only implementation of such a design along the canal system.

“The lock was built in stages. First the lock itself would be built, and the old Erie Canal would pass to the south, where a wooden dock was constructed to carry the towpath. A dike was setup to separate the lock from the canal and then the lock was built.

“An extra engineering challenge here in Little Falls is the rock which the lock was built upon. It necessitated that the northern chamber wall could not carry normal filling tunnels and valves. This meant that the largest chamber on the canal would only be filled from the south side.

“Once the lock was constructed, two sets of permanent dams were created to the south of the lock. The fist is the one seen clearly today holding back the river at the western end of the lock. Another dam was also created at the eastern end of the lock, but at a lower elevation. This, combined with digging a large enough "pond", allowed the upper half of the lock to be drained not into the Mohawk River, but rather into this pool. When the lock then needed to be refilled, the first half of the lock would be filled with this recycled water, and not the water from upstream.

“This recycling of water is the only place along the canal system that made use of such a system, primarily because most locks under 25 feet gain little with such a system. But with 40.5' feet of lift and a location near the headwaters of the Mohawk River, this design would allow the lock to operate all day without significantly draining the upstream reservoirs.” (

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