The Erie Canal Museum (ECM) is a private, nonprofit corporation founded in 1962. It is housed in the 1850 Weighlock Building, where canal boats were weighed during the days when they traveled through the center of Syracuse on the Erie Canal. A gallery full of participatory exhibits gives visitors a look at canal life and promotes hands-on- learning. The Museum has three special exhibits each year that draw on its nationally renowned artifact collection and historical research. Museum tours and specialty programs for all age groups are developed to entertain as well as educate. A variety of school programs are also offered by the Museum.
The Erie Canal Museum serves the general public from broad geographic areas. It maintains and enhances the scope and appeal of its canal-related educational programs, exhibits and collections. In 1986, Syracuse was selected as one of New York State Parks Department's 14 Heritage Area communities because the city captures a unique facet of state history. ECM's one-of-a-kind historic Weighlock Building and our Mission Statement led to ECM being invited to serve as the official Syracuse Heritage Area Visitor Center. As such, the ECM has since been acknowledged and promoted by the City of Syracuse as the place to learn local and state history. ECM also provides reference maps and brochures to Syracuse's other cultural resources.
When the Erie Canal Museum opened its doors on October 25, 1962, it celebrated and preserved the life of the last remaining Weighlock Building in America. This Greek revival building stands as a monument to the importance of the Erie Canal to the history of the United States.
The Weighlock Building was occupied by the New York State Department of Public Works until 1954. In 1956, two members of the NYS Canal Society, both state legislators, sponsored legislation to give the building to the NYS Department of Education. In a surprise move, Governor Harriman vetoed the legislation over the almost unanimous vote of the legislature saying that a future highway interchange might claim the building.
At this point, the Junior League of Syracuse took notice and was shocked to find drawings at the DPW showing Interstate 81 going right over the Weighlock Building and Syracuse City Hall! The Junior League, and others went into high lobbying gear, with intense letter writing and phone calls to Albany legislators and the Chairman of the Onondaga County Board of Supervisors. The Junior League persuaded the Board of Supervisors to accept the Weighlock Building on behalf of Onondaga County. The transfer from the State was authorized by the legislature and signed into law by Governor Rockefeller.
The instrument of conveyance from New York State provided that the property must be used for a "public canal museum." Consequently, at the request of the County, the original Board of Trustees started out to create such a museum. Work began in earnest, mostly with volunteers, to clean, paint and revitalize the interior of the building, while County employees made a significant contribution to the renovation of the building. In September, 1962, the Board of Regents granted a "provisional charter" and the formal opening in October was greeted by large, enthusiastic crowds. The "absolute charter" of the was issued by the Board of Regents on March 29, 1968.
The present professional Museum and the attached Syracuse Heritage Area Visitor Center stands as testimony to the work of many dedicated people. Today, the Museum, which is accredited by the American Association of Museums, is visited annually by many thousands of visitors from all 50 states and many foreign countries.
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