Thomas X Grasso, Canal Society of New York State

Thomas X Grasso, President Emeritus, Canal Society of New York State

Thomas X. Grasso is one of 6 children born in Lackawanna, New York to Italian immigrant parents. He received his Bachelor of Arts Degree in Geology from the University of Buffalo and a Masters Degree in Palaeontology from Cornell University in 1966.  He Chaired the Geology Department at Monroe Community College in Rochester from its formation in 1970 until retirement in 1999.

Since April 2016 Tom is President Emeritus of the Canal Society of New York State after serving as President for 40 years. He was past President of Inland Waterways International. He has authored numerous publications and articles on New York State, French, British, German, and Belgian canals, as well as New York State geology for both the professional and general audience press.

In 2003 Tom was presented the Medaille d’Honeur from the Mayor of Villeneuve-sur-Lot in France. In 2012 a new park lodge was named and dedicated in his honour by Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks and Monroe County Parks Director Lawrence Staub: Thomas X. Grasso Erie Canal Lodge.

Tom is the author of the plan to remove Broad Street and restore the old Erie Canal to its original location in downtown Rochester, New York united with today’s Erie Canal through a round lock. He has and still is spearheading America’s one-of-a-kind, canal restoration project: Old Erie Canal Heritage Park at Port Byron.

Tom was Co-Chair of the World Canals Conference held in Rochester, New York in September 2000 and Chaired the World Canals Conference 2010 in Rochester.

An American first and 22 years in the making: Old Erie Canal Heritage Park at Port Byron, NYS

Authentic 19th century Erie Canal structures: abandoned lock, canal-side saloon, blacksmith shop, and mule barn exist at Port Byron. A Visitors Center, uniquely accessible from an interstate highway, is the portal to trails through the lock and restored 1895 buildings. Interpretation is presently minimalistic but plans exist for new elements.

In central New York State, Interstate 90 – New York State Thruway Authority (NYSTA), NY31, and the 19 century, second generation Erie Canal converge at the village of Port Byron. The canal was abandoned in1918, when the 4th generation Erie opened in the canalized Seneca River 3 miles north.

Authentic canal structures include the 1853 Enlarged Erie Lock, lengthened for double-long tows in 1887, and immediately east the c.1895 Erie House Saloon, Blacksmith Shop, and Mule Barn built by Italian immigrants Pietro and Salvatore Van Detto.

A Visitors Center controls the unique access from NY31 and the Thruway. Paved trails lead through the lock chambers to the Erie House complex of buildings now completely restored. The park is fully accessible by wheel chair and existing, modest, interpretation needs to be enhanced.

The Canal Society of New York State kept alive a 13 million dollar project for 20 years by making matches on grants, stabilizing and preserving the 1895 resource, and completing the design phase of the project. NYSTA became a full partner in 2011 and construction began in 2014 with the proviso that NYSTA will built but the CSNYS will maintain and operate, currently estimated at 500,000 dollars annually. Potential income? 7.5 million people drive past annually eastbound on the Thruway alone.

Although many hurdles yet remain, the Old Erie Canal Heritage Park at Port Byron is a testimony to steadfast perseverance, and the wonders that can happen when the public and volunteer sector work together for the public good.


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