Feeder Canal

Historical Society Dedicates NewMarker

          Picture perfect weather and a fly-over by a pair of bald eagles put the finishing touches to the program as the Town ofAlabama Historical Societyunveiled a new historical marker Saturday at theFeederCanalonLewiston Rd.in the Town ofAlabama.

          The marker commemorates the canal’s importance as a vital source of water for the Erie Canal,Shelbymills andVillageofMedinapower from 1824 -1919. Society President Joe Cassidy presented the group of onlookers with a time line history of theFeederCanalknown locally as the “Feeder” before unveiling the new marker.JanetSage, who represented the Town ofAlabama, was on hand to thank Joe and the Society for their work in researching the Feeder’s history and raising the needed money to purchase and erect it .

          After the presentation and unveiling an open house was held at theAlabamaHistoricalMuseumwith a special exhibit of articles and records from the Town’s schools from the 1800’s until they were phased out and replaced by a centralized system with Oakfield. As part of the open house the Society held a baked sale and sold coffee mugs featuring an 1860’s print of the Oak Orchard Spring House at Sour Springs.


Historical Marker Dedication

May 19, 2012


Feeder Canal Timeline


1809 – New York State Engineer and Surveyor reports to the Surveyor General that an Oak Orchard – Tonawanda feeder canal would supply a sufficient amount of water needed to supplement the Erie Canal between Lockport and Rochester.


1811 – Canal Commissioners report to The New York Legislature that it would be easy to divert water from the Tonawanda Creek into Oak Orchard Creek and the Erie Canal.


1816 – James Geddes reports to NYS Legislature that Oak Orchard – Tonawanda Canal could be built at relatively small cost.


1817 – Final determination by Canal Commissioners that feeder will supply adequate flow of water to Erie Canal.

1823 – Bids are let out to contractors for construction of the Tonawanda Feeder, work to be completed during the present year so navigation on the Erie Canal can be extended as far as Lockport.


1824 – The feeder from Tonawanda Creek to the Oak Orchard Creek, and thence into the Erie Canal, about four and one-half miles in length, is completed.


1825 – Canal Commissioners report to Legislature – “best expectations of Canal (feeder) realized.”

1826 – Peak use of feeder canal realized.


1828 – First toll collected on Erie Canal.


1832 – Canal Commissioners report damming of Tonawanda Creek causes water overflow onto private lands and could be injurious to the health of the local inhabitants.


1833 – Residents of Erie and Niagara counties petition state legislature seeking damages as a result of damming Tonawanda Creek


1834 – Petitions are presented to the canal board from land owners claiming damages and from David E. Evans (mill owner) and others relative to the possible abandonment of the feeder canal.

1839/1840 – The feeder canal is deepened by three feet, the old dam across the Tonawanda Creek is removed and a new one is built.


1846 – The town of Alabama petitions canal board praying for relief in the amount of $500.00 for damages caused to local roads as a result of water overflow.

1851 – Bill passes legislature to authorize layout of a highway along the feeder canal.


1862 – Canal Commissioners meet in Medina to discuss discontinuing Tonawanda Feeder Canal.

1863 – Feeder canal deepened for the second time.


1893 – Feeder Canal is deepened for the third time.


1894 – Local farmers “blow up” dam on Tonawanda Creek to alleviate flooding. Little relief was realized from the action.


1897 – New York State Court of Claims finds in favor of local farmers resulting in payment of thousands of dollars to local farmers and the town of Alabama.

1907 – Jay N. Ostrander v. the State of New York. Mr. Ostrander sues the state for damages caused by overflow of the Feeder Canal and is awarded $240.00 in damages.

1900/1920 – Charles Green hired by New York State as gate tender. Gate tenders were responsible for opening and closing gates to control flow in Canal.

1903 – Feeder is dredged for first time, with dirt being used to build up feeder road to help prevent overflow.

1914/1915 – Feeder dredged for second time.


1919 – L. C. Hulburd, senior assistant engineer recommends abandonment of all portions of the feeder from Tonawanda Creek to the Barge canal right-of way, because there is no means of discharge of feeder water into the Barge Canal. This ends the era of the Tonawanda Feeder as a water supply for the Barge Canal.


1919/1925 – The Canal functions in a somewhat diminished capacity do to the need of the Olmsted Mills in Shelby, Medina Union Mills, S. A. Cooke Company and the Western N.Y. Utilities Co., all of Medina. This need for continuing the water supply was weighted against high maintenance costs and claims for damages by land owners along the canal. At this the state deemed it reasonable that the village of Medina should take on responsibility for maintenance costs associated with their need for water supply. This led to the abandonment of the canal.



1928 – The dam on the Tonawanda Creek is permanently removed.


1925/1965 – The Feeder area north of Lewiston Road was pretty much abandoned while the area south of Lewiston Road was actively farmed.


1958 – On May 19, 1958 the federal government established the Oak Orchard National Wildlife Refuge, using funds from the sale of Migratory Bird Conservation Stamps, or “Duck Stamps”. To avoid confusion with the neighboring Oak Orchard State Wildlife Management Area, the Refuge was renamed Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge in 1964. This was the land north of Lewiston Road. Early management of the Refuge saw the construction of impoundments to create four major pools with water levels being controlled by sections of the historic Feeder Canal.


1965 – New York State purchases the entire area south of Lewiston Road for a Wildlife Management Area.  


1824/Present – The canal provided a variety of recreational opportunities including fishing, swimming and ice skating for area residents.


2012 – Historical marker dedicated.












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