For the privately owned Lockport Cave and Underground Boat Ride, preserving history is part of a long mission begun in the 1960s. That’s how owner Tom Callahan described it to us by e-mail after our tour last Friday. Our heritage, he wrote, is something they celebrate every day.
It’s easy to forget that in our distant past, the Erie Canal provided the doorway to commerce, industry, invention and innovation. What we now call, “America’s First School of Engineering,” is forever embedded in our landscape and still being used today.
With this in mind, we headed to the Northtowns for a visit to one of the area’s most distinctive landmarks. The tour started outdoors, and at least half your time will be spent walking along the canal.
Outside we learned some history, asked a few questions, and got a chance to watch the process of a boat moving through the locks; something that tour guide Kevin Burkwit said you’re sure to see if you visit in July and August.
After walking down some stairs, then down a few more, we arrived at the entrance to the cave. The first thing you need to know is that this is not a natural cave. This is a man-made cave, blasted by dynamite and carved by hand over 150 years ago.
This becomes obvious when you first enter the eight foot tall pipe leading into the main room. A cool chill ushers you along, and comes as a welcome relief on the hottest of summer days. Though lighted, darkness abounds in the damp shadows and a ghostly silence drips from the walls.
Inside, we saw first-hand the perils of creating a man-made structure that nature takes thousands of years to do on her own. Today, the environment is reclaiming the cave, reminding us that our time is always borrowed.
It would be careless not to mention the ten minute underground boat ride that ends the tour. While it adds a little extra to the experience, it’s hardly the highlight. If you’re bringing the little ones, they’re going to love it. At $12.50 for adults and $7 for the kids, it’s an easy sell.
If you’re looking for a more intimate setting, schedule a tour early in the day, or late in the afternoon. Tours run from 10am-5pm daily until September 1st. We opted for first thing in the morning, and our group included eight adults and four children. At peak times, as many as twenty-five people will head out on a tour together.
Prepare to do some walking. The tour lasts about an hour and a half and ends with more stairs. You can head up and go home, or head down to check out the Erie Canal Museum. You may even want to spend a little more time exploring the canal.
Why? Because our history surrounds us, and our place in America is forever forged in that man-made ditch leading to Lake Erie. Part of the story lies underground in a cave, in a city appropriately named Lockport.
Kevin put it best when we asked him why people should come out, and what he hopes they will remember when they leave. He said, “A lot of people lose sight of what it took to move this country forward. We need to remember all the blood, sweat, and lives lost building our country. I think that this is what the tour is about.”
After visiting the Lockport Cave, we agree and recommend that you see it for yourself.
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