Uncovering the mill race, no. 17 1901 and the world’s fair lifestyles lockportjournal.com electricity generation by source


As the world headed into the 20th century, so also did the wants and needs of citizens all across the United States. New, modern conveniences were now available due to the creative minds of inventors everywhere, and the contributions being made by our own residents of Lockport were far from over. The hard work of setting up transmission poles, and stringing high voltage lines for sending electricity to Buffalo, would soon be appreciated.

The 1901 Pan-American Exposition was a World’s Fair that took place in Buffalo. The fair occupied 350 acres on the western edge of what is now Delaware Park, and because it was an exposition, many of the world’s technological advancements were being showcased. Buffalo was chosen to hold this particular fair for a number of reasons, but the six-month long event was “highlighted” by the fact that the fairgrounds would be illuminated by Thomas Edison’s new incandescent bulbs.

Tragically, on Sept. 6, 1901, the day after a very hopeful address was given at the exposition, demented Leon Czolgosz shot President William McKinley. The newly developed X-ray machine was being displayed at the fair, and even though it may have been enough to save McKinley’s life, doctors were reluctant to use it for fear that the C-rays would have damaging side effects. McKinley died eight days later from gangrene as a result of the lodged bullet, and his post was taken over by his vice president, Theodore Roosevelt.

At the turn of the century, heavy traffic continued to move back and forth along the Erie Canal. In Lockport, every available building was being utilized for whatever was needed, from cold storage for the fruit industry to machine shops and wood and grain mills. The industries in our area were just plain booming.

The Benjamin Moore Grist Mill was purchased by the City of Lockport in 1893 and became the city Water Works and the new municipal building. With Birdsill Holly’s death in 1894, the city was now in control of the fantastic machinery that was pumping water throughout its heart.

Within the basement of the Moore building were two of Holly’s pumps, one pushing 3 million gallons of water and the other pushing 5 million, each utilizing the waterpower from the Mill Race. To feed these massive pumps, city officials decided to build another tunnel on the south side of the canal, siphoning waters from above the locks and feeding the pumps underground. A gate system and a new turbine were installed within City Hall, and those artifacts still remain in place today. A new Pine Street Bridge was about to be built, and this new tunnel bypass created an additional source of waters for the Mill Race, providing the industries within the basin a steady flow of water.

The Lockport Gas & Electric Light Company, Station B on Race Street, received water through an arched door on the north side of the building. The water was used to turn an electrical generating turbine, producing 250 horsepower for the city’s use. The excess waters passed through and out the south side of the building and into the Griggs Brothers Flour Mill, and from there, continued on to power other businesses along the race.

An article put together by Charles T. Raymond listed the most prominent businesses in Lockport at the end of the 19th century and, in particular, noted those that were closely associated with the waters of the Mill Race. Raymond had organized the Lockport Manufacturers Association in 1888, for the benefit of these industries, and together they were able to keep the water flowing their way.