There’s a new nautical face at the Inner Harbor, now berthed at Canalside’s Commercial Slip. It’s the tugboat C.L. Churchill, which recently made its trek from Vermont to Buffalo. The reason for this auspicious journey to Buffalo is in anticipation of its heralded role as guide ship for the replica Seneca Chief packet boat, which will embark upon its inaugural voyage down the Erie Canal in 2025. The event will commemorate the bicentennial of Governor DeWitt Clinton’s own voyage on the original Seneca Chief to mark the opening of the Erie Canal, on October 26, 1825.
To learn more about the tug’s recent trek and its future duties, as well as the timeline of the launch of the Seneca Chief, Brian Trzeciak, Executive Director Buffalo Maritime Center, had this to say:
She’s [the tug] a beauty of a boat, and we’re excited to see her here in Buffalo ready to assist the Seneca Chief.
History and Context
The Buffalo Maritime Center (BMC) is currently constructing a replica of an Erie Canal Boat Seneca Chief to commemorate the Bicentennial of the Erie Canal (learn more). The Seneca Chief is an unpowered 73’ Erie Canal line boat that will recreate Gov. DeWitt Clinton’s voyage to New York City back in 1825 which marked the official opening the Erie Canal.
Thanks to a grant from the NYS Canal Corporation and the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor, BMC has purchased the C.L. Churchill from the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum to serve as a yawl boat that will accompany and move the Erie Canal Boat Seneca Chief.
The Seneca Chief will be taken out of the Longshed and launched in May of 2024.
The C.L. Churchill is a 33’ wooden tugboat built in 1964. The Churchill served as a yawl boat for the Lois McClure, a 90’, 50-ton canal boat (the Churchill and the McClure last paid a visit to Buffalo in 2017). Both vessels provided programming and education for thousands of visitors, safely traveling throughout the inland navigation system from 2004 – 2019. After their long and successful service, the Churchill and the McClure were taken out of service in 2019. The Canal Society of New York State (CSNYS) worked to transfer the replica Lois McClure to its Erie Canal Heritage Park in Port Byron where it will host the public in proximity to the authentic 19th century canal, locks and buildings. But the McClure had to be moved one more time to get her there. So for about two weeks in October, the CSNYS and BMC teamed up to have the C.L.Churchill take the Lois McClure to over-winter in Beacon Bay, NY before she starts her new life as an exhibit on land.
This voyage was led by Captain Art Cohn, the Director Emeritus of the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum and nautical archeologist, who had made countless trips with the Churchill and the McClure throughout their life together. Art assembled a seasoned crew to help with this voyage including captains Erick Tichonuk and Tom Beardsley. Members of BMC staff (Roger Allen, Greg Dudley, and me) and a board member (Joe Koessler) were able to join this voyage and spend a few days aboard to gain some experience and a sense of what the upcoming Bicentennial Voyage with the Seneca Chief is going to be like when we travel the Erie Canal and the Hudson River to arrive in NYC on the 200th anniversary of the opening of the Erie Canal on October 26th, 2025.
Once the McClure made it to her destination in Beacon Bay, the Churchill continued on to Buffalo piloted by Roger Allen and his crew of BMC volunteers including his wife, Tina, and Kent Iggulden. The Churchill pulled into the Commercial Slip on October 30th. The BNMC will be installing a new engine in the tug in the fall of 2024, thanks to the NYS Canal Corp. Additional touch-ups will also be made, so that the tug is in tip-top shape for its big adventure in 2025.
For further reflections on this historic undertaking, with additional information on the importance of the BNMC and its programming, click here. Also, click here for a full photo album of the Churchill‘s and McClure‘s fantastic voyage, with images from Dave Kinyon, Chair of the Lockport Locks Heritage District.