Historical and Tourism information for the village of Port Byron and the town of Mentz, New York
Things to see in Port Byron
In 1817 work on a 4 foot deep canal began at Rome, NY. By 1820, a person could get on the canal and travel between Montezuma and Rome, a ninety mile section of what was then called the “Grand Western Canal”. In the years between 1820 and 1825, construction continued to the east and west and by 1825, a person could take the 363 mile long canal all the way between Albany and Buffalo.
In 1834, workers began to enlarge the canal to 7 feet deep, and during the re-construction, some spots of the canal were straightened. In many areas in central New York we can still find the remains of the first and enlarged canals, often side by side. In the end, this straightening resulted in a canal that was 13 miles shorter. Port Byron is kind of unique as it is one of a few places where the canal route was moved in side a village during the 7 foot enlargement project.
In and around the village, you can find remains of both Erie Canals. The streets of the village still reflect the route of the first canal. On the east side of the village at Schasel Park on Utica Street, you can walk along two miles of canal on the Erie Canalway Trail. Stone remains from both the first and enlarged aqueducts can be found on the banks of the Outlet. On the west side, you will find the Old Erie Canal Heritage Park on the NYS Thruway. This park has access from Rt 31 at Rooker Drive. Look for other remains along Green Street.
The blog, Cayuga County Canal Tours will help you find your way.
The Erie Canal
Cemeteries are a great place to walk about and connect with the past. There are five cemeteries in the village and town and the Town government is the principle custodian. The oldest is the King which is located on Maiden Lane. Mount Pleasant is the largest and currently the active cemetery. It is located at the top of the hill, off of Pine Street.
The Wilson-Dixon is located on Nauvoo Road, out near Centerport. The Stevens and the Wethey are both small family cemeteries, and are not maintained. In the early 1960’s, volunteer groups did a headstone census of the cemeteries and came up with a list that is still used today.
The Outlet or “river” as it is now called, is the drain for Owasco Lake. Auburn is 7 miles south of Port Byron near Auburn. Owasco Lake and Auburn are about 300 hundred feet higher in elevation than Port Byron. This created nice areas of faster moving water around which to build mills. Mill seats could be found in Auburn, Throopsville, and Port Byron. Once the Outlet passes through Port Byron, it enters the flood plain of the Seneca River, which is two miles to the north. In those two miles, there is only 20 feet of fall. Dams at Auburn control the flow of the river, resulting in periods of high and low flows.
Fishing- To the south in the higher area, it is said that trout can be found, but most fish caught are small mouth bass, perch, and other small stream fish. It is a great place to wade and fish with light tackle.
Paddlers- The Outlet offers faster water between Throopsville and Port Byron and a more leisurely trip between the village and the river. Access points can be found at Throopsville on Turnpike Road, just off Route 38 on Hayden Road, the Town Park in the middle of Port Byron, and at the Seneca River boat launch on Route 38.
Before he was a leader of the Mormon Church, Brigham lived in Port Byron, we guess between 1825 and 1829. He married his first wife here at the Eagle Tavern, which was located at the northeast corner of Pine and Main Streets. Brigham and his wife, Miriam Works gave birth to their first daughter, Elizabeth, in Port Byron in 1825.
A number of homes have been associated with Brigham Young. He is said to have lived and worked in Haydenville, milling settlement about two miles south of the village. We know by his letters that he lived in the James Pine house at the corner of South and Pine. Today this house is owned by the descendants of Brigham. And if you stand at the small park located at the intersection of Route 31 and Main Street, you can read the two historical markers that point to one of the Brigham Young homes. The house that the sign leads you to is the yellow house on the hillside. It is said that he built this house on the bank of the Erie Canal, and it was later moved to this place on the hillside.
Brigham worked as a painter in a local boatyard, which was located just west of the intersection of Rochester and River Streets. This boatyard was located on the first version of the Erie Canal and nothing remains of it today.
The “downtown” is the business area of the village, and its layout of streets is a direct result of the Erie Canal. In the streets, we can see the shadow of the long gone Grand Western Canal in the village and the shape of the downtown. The street names still reflect where one might end up if they traveled far enough in 1825. From the red light, NYS Route 31 is known as both Utica Street (going east) and Rochester Street (going west). Herbst Pharmacy is in one of the oldest buildings in the downtown, going back to the 1830’s. Although reconstructed in the early 2000’s, it looks much as it did in 1850.
Back in the days when a trip to Auburn or Syracuse was a all day event, the village had to be self sufficient, with downtown stores and shops that sold everything a person would need; groceries, clothes, dry goods, and in the later days, even cars. The downtown was built by 1870, and early photos show that the buildings we see today were here in the middle to late 1800’s.
Although the business section was built around the canal, early settlers took to the hills around the Owasco Outlet. Halsey, King, and Pine Streets were some of the first streets. Main Street came later. Early industry was centered on milling which was powered by the flowing waters of the creek.
Downtown Port Byron
Although the trolley lines stopped running in 1931, buildings and other small structures can still be found and seen along the route between Rochester and Syracuse. If you are following the Erie Canal way Trail, you will be seeing much of the old RS&E and you might be wondering what it was.
In the years from 1908 to 1931, Port Byron was on the line of the RS&E, a fast interurban trolley line that ran between Rochester and Syracuse. You could travel between the two cities in about 3 hours on the express. At Port Byron, another line, the Auburn and Northern, offered a connection to Auburn.
It is said that the RS&E was called the most expensive and well built trolley line ever made. No expense was spared in the design and building of the powerhouses and depots. The depots can still be found in many of the cities and villages between the two main cities, and the brick power houses were located every 10 miles. In Port Byron, the American Legion Post makes use of the depot and a pallet manufacturer uses the old power house.
Rochester, Syracuse and Eastern Interurban (RS&E)
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Lock 52 Historical Society
of Port Byron, NY
73 Pine Street
Port Byron, New York 13140
Open hours are limited to Thursday 10-1 and Friday 6-8 during the warmer months. It is best to call or email ahead to schedule an appointment.
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Lock 52 Historical Society of Port Byron, NY
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