LOCKPORT - The Buffalo Maritime Center, which is already building a reproduction of a War of 1812 naval craft, has been chosen to construct a replica of a mid-19th century Erie Canal packet boat for Lockport’s Flight of Five locks.
One problem: There is no money at the moment to pay for building the boat.
The $27,000 needed for the design and research can be covered with grant money left over from Lockport’s Grigg-Lewis Foundation, according to Peter Welsby, a member of the Lockport Locks Heritage District Committee.
But as for the $170,000 cost of actually building the boat, the committee in charge of the restoration of Lockport’s 19th century Erie Canal locks doesn’t have it, said David R. Kinyon, chairman of the committee.
And don’t count on the city paying.
“I don’t anticipate us spending any money on that,” Mayor Michael W. Tucker said.
Tucker is proposing that the city borrow $360,000 to provide a local match for $2.2 million in federal funds the Flight of Five project received more than a decade ago. That money is needed to pay for the restoration of two of the five stair-step locks, which have been idle for a century.
Bids are to be awarded later this year, and construction on the two locks is supposed to be completed in 2014.
Even if money is rounded up soon to build the replica boat, Welsby said that may not be soon enough.
“It’s very unlikely it will be ready," he said, referring to when the locks are scheduled to open.
The Maritime Center, though, said it can be patient.
“We’re going to take as much time as we need to do, and we’re going to do it right,” vowed Roger Allen, executive director of the Maritime Center.
Having a boat to demonstrate how the original locks worked is a crucial part of the project, Welsby and Tucker agreed.
“It’s not enough of a story to tell if there isn’t a boat in the locks,” Welsby said.
“We want to have a boat that’s authentic,” Tucker said.
Kinyon called it a “docent vessel. … It’s not going to be a passenger vessel.”
Allen said a packet boat was a freight vessel, towed by mules walking on the towpath.
“As far as we know, there are no existing packet boats from that period, which is about 1840 to the Civil War,” Allen said.
The boats, sometimes called “Durham boats” after their designer, were about 65 feet long and 12 feet wide. Allen said the boats drew about 2½ feet of water when fully loaded and were no more than 6 feet high above the waterline.
They were built of white or yellow pine, white oak, larch or cedar, depending on what lumber was available, Allen said.
“We’re actually primarily concerned with education at the Buffalo Maritime Center,” Allen said. “This project for us would actually be built by volunteers. … Our price is substantially less than a commercial yard might charge.”
Tucker said it’s hoped the boat can be built in Lockport.
“We want to do it in an open spot where people can watch and help,” the mayor said.