The Erie Canal is one of the most important historic sites in New York, and there are many places to learn about its history along its 363 miles, including the Erie Canal Museum in Syracuse. However, if you are visiting western New York, one of the best options is the Erie Canal Discovery Center in Lockport.
Lockport is a small city in northwestern New York and is the seat of Niagara County. It is probably most well known for its Flight of Five locks along the Erie Canal (which can be seen on a Lockport Locks boat tour).
However, just a block away from the canal and locks, you’ll find the Erie Canal Discovery Center in a refurbished stone church made from canal stones (stones dug up when building the nearby canal).
The Erie Canal Discovery Center opened to the public in 2005 to help tell the story of the nearby Flight of Five locks and the entire Erie Canal.
The museum features a variety of displays throughout the space, including many that are fun and interactive for kids.
The highlight of the space is the “Gateways East & West” film. This is a 15-minute presentation that goes through the building of the canal and the Flight of Five locks.
For the second half of the show, guests are invited to come up and get aboard a recreated packet boat for a ride through the locks circa 1820. Given that this is entirely an automated experience, it’s incredibly well done, and it really offers a fantastic look into the history and importance of the Erie Canal.
Another highlight of the Erie Canal Discovery Center is the interactive display that teaches visitors how locks work. This is also really neat, and the buttons are simple enough that even young kids can figure out how to make it work.
The museum also features a variety of other fun displays including period clothing for kids to dress up in, eye-catching displays that tell about different aspects of life on the canal, and a fantastic replica of the nearby Flight of Five Locks.
Whether you’ve already walked the short distance to see the locks or are planning to go after visiting the center, this display really does a great job helping visitors get an overview of the locks and their importance to the Erie Canal and the Greater Niagara region.
In addition to these hands-on activities, the museum also features an area of static displays called the Penney Gallery.
This gallery features a collection of items both related to the Erie Canal and to the history of Niagara County. In fact, in many ways, this space feels a bit like a historical society museum as it chronicles the history of the region.
While more signage would have made this space even better, if you want to learn about the impact of the canal on the northwestern corner of New York, the displays here are quite interesting to check out.
Before you leave, make sure to take a few moments to check out the ground floor of the center, which features a fantastic gift shop, for those looking for Erie Canal and western New York souvenirs, as well as the local visitor center in case you need help planning the rest of your time in the area.
Overall, the Erie Canal Discovery Center really does a nice job telling the story of the Erie Canal and the Flight of Five Locks.
This isn’t a large museum, and you are unlikely to need a ton of time here, but the interactive elements and displays for kids make this a neat spot to visit if you find yourself in or around Lockport, New York.
Erie Canal Discovery Center
Hours: Daily: 9am-5pm
Cost: Adults: $6, Children: Free
Address: 24 Church Street