The Portville Historical and Preservation Society
17 Maple Avenue
Portville, NY 14770

www.portvillehistory.org
Portville, New York
Credits

The lovely watercolor
in our toolbar above is
a depiction of the office
at 17 Maple Avenue.  
The artist is Portville's
very own talent,
Marilyn Reynolds.

If you have a fascination with the canal and hope to see it for yourself, you can visit several locations
where there is still some evidence of the canal's existence.  Several of the closest to Portville are Lock
98, Lock 102, and the Bulkhead Reservoir in Ischua.  They are located just off the Hinsdale Highway
(Route 16) and Route 446 in Maplehurst.  These sites are depicted on hand-drawn maps in
"Genesee
Valley Canal - 100 Years Gone By.  Lock locations in the Southern Tier" by Jonathan J. Woodworth.  
He also describes, in detail, the canal sites at Lock 37 in Nunda and Lock 90 near Belfast.  Local
Historians present a canal history lesson, every so often, as shown in a
newspaper article from 1992
on Belfast.

As for Portville, the Millgrove extension was abandoned with the rest of the canal by an Act of
Legislation on September 30, 1878.  To recoup some of the loss, the State eventually sold the
right-of-way to the Lackawanna and Pittsburgh Railroad, a narrow gauge that eventually became the
Pittsburg, Shawmut, and Northern Railroad.  You can still drive down Pine Street and around
Mersereau Place and see some of the depressions where the old canal had been filled in and forms the
ponding areas for the village.  However, much of that area was covered by the dikes when they were
installed for flood protection in 1950.  For more information, visit our office at 17 Maple Avenue in
Portville.

Every so often, we get an inquiry about the Genesee Valley Canal and its location in Portville.  
Many people may not even know that there was a canal in Portville, but it seems appropriate that
we revisit the history of the Genesee Valley Canal since 2011 marks the 150th anniversary of the
opening of the canal's extension from Olean to Millgrove, way back in 1861.  This is not
something that is taught in our local schools, however, we think it is pretty interesting that
something as important as a canal was brought to Portville and many articles have been written
over the years that tell of its unique role in our history.

Initially, the State of New York had decided that the canal would end in Olean at a pond near
Bradner Stadium.  But some very influential Portville men, namely
John G. Mersereau, pursued the
extension of the canal to Millgrove, in order to provide a means of transporting the lumber and
other goods shipped from Portville.  At that time, there were lumber interests near the River Road
in Millgrove, Mersereau Mills at Pine Street, Wheeler Dusenbury Mills at Dodge Creek/Mayville,
Gordon's Mills at Steam Valley, and Weston's Mills at Westons, not to mention several smaller
mills along the Haskell Creek.  The Dusenburys ran a well-stocked general store and Smith Parish
also had a large shingle business that could benefit greatly from the upstate markets.  

Before the canal was opened in 1861, merchants only had the Allegheny River to reach the markets
down river, to Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and points even further south to the Mississippi, if they
wanted to go that far.  They usually stopped in Pittsburgh because it was a long
walk home!  The
heyday of the canal would not last though.  Also at this time, railroads were fast becoming the
popular means of transport and were connecting all places that could not be reached by the
waterways.  The popularity of the railroad would eventually lead to the canal's demise in 1878.

A few years before the 100th anniversary of the Millgrove extension, Maud D. Brooks, Olean City
Historian, wrote several interesting articles about the canal for the Olean Times Herald.  They
appeared in the paper in January 1952 and another in 1956 and tell of the early days of the canal
and how it came to Olean and later, Portville.  On October 6, 1856, the canal opened in Olean, the
terminal depot being located at the present site of the Olean Center Mall parking lot, across from
the old PRR depot near JCC.  We have collected three of her articles and present them for you at
the link below.
Genesee Valley Canal in Portville ~ 1861 - 1878
This page was last updated on 5-20-11
Today on the Erie Canal

Back in 2006, a friend of PHPS' Cindy Keeley from Fairport, Norm Schillaci, rented a packet boat to
take his family on a vacation on the Erie Canal.  He had an interesting time and the kids really enjoyed
it too.

Click on the link here to read his story about "riding the locks"!

          
Link to Packet Boat Travel Story