For the privately owned Lockport Cave and Underground Boat Ride, preserving history is part of a long mission which began in the 1960s. That’s how owner Tom Callahan described it to us by e-mail after our tour last Friday. “Our heritage, 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 where we listened intently to enriching historical insight, asked a few questions, and had the 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.
When you first enter the eight foot tall pipe leading into the main room a cool chill ushers you along, and comes as a welcoming relief on the hottest of summer days. Darkness abounds in the damp shadows of the cave 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.
The underground boat ride is the cherry on top of this unique experience. If you’re bringing the little ones, they’re going to love it. This captivating 15 minute experience will activate all of your senses as you explore the confines of the underground cave in emphatic fashion.
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-4pm daily. 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.
This post was originally published in 2014 and has been updated.