Welcome to the History Corner!
Celebrating the rich history of Port Byron, New York, an old Erie Canal village in the Town of Mentz. This site is dedicated to the legacy and heritage of our community as well as a variety of regional historical tidbits. I hope you enjoy your visit and will stop by again.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Erie Canal Boatman

In my previous post I mentioned having some mutual interest in the Erie Canal. I thought it might be beneficial to readers who may not be familiar with Port Byron to share more of the details.

Aaron Wilson and his brother Caleb both had long careers as coopers or barrel makers. This was a specialty field related to transport of cargo on the canal. Many products could be stored and transported with the use of these barrels. However, this alone does not indicate that one traveled the canal system. However, Aaron’s son Aaron Eugene, who went by the name of Gene, was employed as a boatman early in his marriage to Frances Traver. She was the daughter of James Nicholas Traver and Elizabeth Spears.

James N. Traver would also work for a time as a boatman per the 1875 census. Living in his household was a man named Stewart Kendrick who was a silversmith. At this time James and his family lived at the intersection of First Street and Harnden Street, one of the side streets off of King Street. By 1880, his daughter Frances had married Gene Wilson and was residing with the Travers, both employed as boatman. Even his wife worked for a short time as a cook on the scow, so this may indicate that they worked on passenger boats on the canal. Gene and his family would later own and occupy the home where Henry Wells once lived (Henry Wells was a founder of the Wells Fargo Express, American Express and Wells College).

James would later leave the canal and become a respected painter in the area. He was awarded many large contracts for painting area schools and churches. His son in law Gene Wilson would eventually work for Richard Warren & Sons, the local coal dealer. However, the Traver’s service to the Erie does not stop there.

James had a brother John A Traver who would settle at Weedsport. His family had long careers on the canal. John was a Captain on the Erie, spending much of his time on the Hudson, the canal and inland lakes of New York State. He purchased what was known as "Poor Jake's Crocery " from Joshua Ketchum and would later purchase Ketchum’s farm.

John’s daughter Sarah Frances Traver married into another canal family, having married John Rosa. They traveled the canal for 10 years after their marriage at Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY. He operated a fleet of grain barges and was captain of the "Lizzy Petrie" and the "Alice A. Savage”. John’s son John Traver Jr., better known as Jack Traver, worked as an Engineer on the Erie. He would later take up farming at Weedsport. Many people will recall Jack Traver as one of the leading members of the Weedsport Cornet Band.

The Traver brothers did not become employed on the canal by chance. Their father John Joshua Traver was also employed on the canal. The family lived in various places including Hurley, Ulster Co., Lyons, Wayne County, as well as the Albany area.

It is not known what boats James N Traver and his son in law Gene Wilson traveled during their time on the canal. I'm not aware of any oral history passed down of them having their own boats. They were likely employed for other local canalers or perhaps even worked on his brother’s boat from Weedsport.

This is only one of the families that worked on the canal. Soon I will add the Kilmer’s involvement with the Erie Canal, so stay tuned….