Huge party Saturday to celebrate Erie Canal bicentennial

Rome has proven time and again it knows how to throw a party. But the celebration being planned for Saturday at Bellamy Harbor Park will truly be one for the ages.


ERIE FLOWS THROUGH ROME — A steam launch passes a docked canal boat on the Erie in Rome, the South Washington Street bridge in the background. This section of the canal, now filled at the location of the Erie Boulevard arterial highway. Note the towpath on the right. City, county and state agencies and organizations have come together to celebrate the 200th birthday of the historic waterway with a huge event on Saturday. (Photo from the Daily sentinel archives)

That’s when the city, joined by Oneida County, the New York State Canal Corporation, New York Power Authority and the Rome Main Streets Alliance will mark the bicentennial of the Erie Canal with a full day of activities, including music, a food truck rodeo, an art show, strolling puppets, and a massive fireworks display to cap off the festivities. 

They’ll also be the opportunity to kiss (or maybe just take a selfie) with a mule — not unlike the ones that towed boats along the canal for a century — a visit from the Utica Zoo’s mobile exhibit, magic shows and tours of boats, including the Canal Corporation’s Tug Roosevelt and the replica schooner Lois McClure from 

the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum.

Rome event has special significance

While there have been bicentennial celebrations across the state, the one in Rome has a special meaning.

The city was the site of the “First Dig,” on July 4, 1817, when ground was broken for the canal that would stretch from Albany to Buffalo and transform the United States from a largely agrarian nation to an economic superpower after it was completed in 1825.

Reenactment highlights historic First Dig

The actual First Dig was on property now owned by Worthington Industries, so re-enactors from the Rome Historical Society will re-create that seminal moment at Bellamy Harbor, reading the words uttered by dignitaries then before the shovel hit the ground.

“Rome should justifiably take pride in its vital role in not only New York State, but American history,” said Brian U. Stratton, director of the New York State Canal Corporation. “We’re proud that we will be on hand to share this special occasion with the city.”

A “First Dig” ceremony at noon will recreate the groundbreaking of the canal, which took place in Rome on July 4, 1817. The ceremony will feature re-enactors, cannon volleys and a commemorative groundbreaking.

Arts on the Erie to start at 10 a.m.

Arts on the Erie will start at 10 a.m. and run all day. Set up will start at 8 a.m. for participants.

There will be a Yoga on the Canal demonstration at 9 a.m. by Just Breathe Yoga Studio of Rome. The food truck rodeo will feature eight to 10 trucks and a beer-and-wine tent will also be on site. There will be other tents set up for shade and in case of rain.

The arts show will feature local artists of all varieties, including a chainsaw wood carver. There will be muralists and plenty of interactive art. There will also be exhibitions by canal-themed museums inside the state’s terminal building, and local historical entities such as the Rome Historical Society and Fort Stanwix National Monument.

The Zoomobile, Utica Zoo’s traveling exhibit, will be on site 3-6 p.m., and there will also be mules on site to showcase their involvement in the canal’s history.

There will be tours of the replica schooner Lois McClure and the Canal Corp.’s tug Roosevelt.

As always, the city’s free weekend kayak program will be taking place at the park as well. The program runs Saturdays and Sundays 10 a.m.-3 p.m. The city provides a variety of kayak styles for use for up to an hour for those who sign a waiver.

Classified in concert

There will be three musical performances. Classified will play around 1 p.m. The Salt City Jazz Collective will play around 4. Alex Torres and his Latin Orchestra will perform around 7:30. There will also be magic shows at 3 and 6 p.m. Rome Community Theatre’s youth group, The Talent Team, will perform around 6:30 p.m. The event will conclude with fireworks at 9:30 p.m.

Those attending are encouraged to bring their own lawn chairs if needed.

Where it all began

“Rome is where it all began two hundred years ago. As home to the First Dig of the Erie Canal, we hope that you will join us on July 22 to celebrate with music, food, art, museum exhibits, a traveling zoo, and a fireworks show,” said Gil C. Quiniones, president of the New York Power Authority, which runs the Canal Corp. “Every New Yorker can take pride in the Erie Canal, which was a monumental feat that made New York the Empire State.”

“Who would’ve imagined that a divot in a field in Rome would turn into the Erie Canal?” Stratton said. “Stretching from the Hudson River to Lake Erie, the Erie Canal accelerated the growth of cities like Buffalo, Albany, Syracuse and Rochester, positioned New York as the commercial center of the United States and opened a critical gateway for America’s westward expansion. There is still plenty to celebrate even after two centuries.”

Local exhibits

The event will also feature exhibits from local governments, agencies and non-profits, including Oneida County, which will promote its health initiatives and anti-DWI efforts. County Executive Anthony Picente, who will be among the speakers Saturday, is also a Canal Corporation board member and trustee of the New York Power Authority, which runs the canal system as a subsidiary.

“From Utica to Rome to Sylvan Beach, Oneida County is not only a hub for people who want to learn more about the history of the Erie Canal, but to get on the water and find out what makes the canal special,” Picente said. “There’s a lot to be proud of, and we’re eager to show it off.”

More information also available

For more information on the Rome event, go to

For information about canal attractions in the region, visit

Water tower lighting delayed

What people will not see is the nearby water tower lit up as was originally planned. The city initially intended to debut the former General Cable water tower lighting at the event, then it would be lit the rest of the year for the bicentennial.

The project ended up being more expensive than the $97,000 state grant could cover, so the city sought more funding and delayed.

The county is kicking in $25,000 and the Rome Community Foundation is adding $5,000, according to Mayor Jacqueline M. Izzo.

That will cover the estimated $125,000 project contracted to National Electrical Systems of Rome, the lone company to submit a proposal to do the work.

“We could have had white lights quicker,” said the mayor, but the city and the chamber of commerce chose to delay and get color lights rather than do basic lights then go back later and put in color lights, a two-step process that she said would have meant adding $18,000 to the cost down the road.

The project also expanded to add a new fence around the tower, she noted.

“This is going to be a permanent fixture of the bicentennial, which lasts all of 2017. To take another month and make a permanent beacon” is a better option, she said.

“Sometimes the timing doesn’t work out but it will work out in the long term.”

She said she hopes to have the lighted tower operational by late August.

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