- The Byway runs along the Mohawk valley from Watertown to Schenectady
- 27.7 miles (44 km)
- 40 minutes to drive the Byway, or a day or two to experience the history
Following along the old Erie Canal where barges used to run in the mid-19th Century, Mohawk Towpath Byway scoots past Cohoes and Schenectady, the worn out remnants of towns that were once industrial giants. Harmony Mills in Cohoes, once the biggest cotton factory on the planet, offers self-guided tours through its venerable brick buildings at the head of the Mohawk River.
The town of Waterford makes an interesting stop on the way. Here, at the head of the Erie Canal, tours are given of the working locks. Cohoes Falls, Grooms Tavern in Clifton Park, and the Squire Ripple Bridge at the Vischer Ferry Nature and Historic Preserve add to the flavor of the surroundings.
Schenectady, too, sits along the pathway with its Historic Stockade, the oldest residential area in the United States, poised for visitors to examine. Homes dating back to the pre-1690 era still stand, having survived both the French and Indian War as well as the American Revolution. Self-guided tours are offered . Informative signs are posted along the way, giving excellent instruction in what this early Dutch settlement was like back when.
In its hey day, the canal was filled with barges pulled by horses and mules along the tow path. Today, little pleasure boats swim downstream enjoying the gentle waters of the canal and the rustic scenery en route while bikers and hikers take to the towpath for a day out in the sun. In the winter, cross country skiing on the path is an all-time favorite.
The Byway follows a somewhat tattered path beginning at the intersection of Routes 4 and 32 in Waterford. Entering onto Route 32, it travels south to Route 787, then left onto Van Cortland Street. Shortly after taking Route 9 from Van Cortland, it meanders onto Crescent/Vischer Ferry Road, then to Canal Road, Klamstead Road, and Riverview Road (which becomes Route 91). It follows Route 91 before turning onto Aqueduct Road (which turns into Van Vranken Avenue). Veering right at the intersection with Maxon Road, the Byway continue onward to Erie Boulevard, Union Street, Church Street and ends at the intersection of Route 5 and State Street in Schenectady.
Points of Interest
Points of Interest Along The Way
Church Hill Historic Overlay District (NY)
The Town of Halfmoon designated this "historic overlay district" just east of Route 9. This district includes collection of canal era structures, a couple with widow walks or cupola on a hill overlooking the Mohawk River and Erie Canal. These are a part of the Hamlet of Crescent, a busy stopping place for canallers, barges and travelers. A state dock is currently located along the river frontage.
Cohoes Music Hall and Visitor Center (NY)
Built in 1874, this is the fourth oldest functioning music hall in the country. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It also houses the Riverspark Visitor's Center, which has labor and industry period displays from the mid to late nineteenth century, particularly as seen from the working person's perspective.
From New Courtland Street turn south on Mohawk Street; then right on Cayuga Street; and left on Remsen Street. The Visitor Center is on the left.
This is a series of sixteen locks brought the original Erie Canal up around the Cohoes Falls on the south side of the Mohawk River. It was a day-long trip through these multiple locks that became known as the "Terrible Sixteens".
Grooms Tavern (NY)
Built about 1825, this Tavern catered to Erie Canal traffic and was the site of Clifton Park's first Town Board meeting in 1828. Successive meetings were held here through the 1860s. The building served as a tavern, hotel, and later a general store and post office for the hamlet of Grooms Corners. It is currently being restored, as funds become available, as a historical and cultural center for the Town of Clifton Park.
To reach Grooms Tavern from the Byway turn north from Riverview Road on Sugar Hill Road 1.7 miles. The Tavern is located on the left at the intersection with County Route 91 (Grooms Road).
Harmony Mills Historic District (NY)
The first mill was erected in 1837 between the Erie Canal and the Mohawk River. Construction of other mill buildings followed. When completed in 1872, Harmony Mill #3 was the largest individual cotton factory in the world. Locals know the mill as "Mastodon Mill" because of the complete skeleton of a prehistoric mastodon discovered during construction of the building.
Historic Schenectady Stockade District (NY)
A 17th century Dutch settlement located at the junction of the Binnekill and Mohawk River. Burned in 1690 by the French and allied Native Americans, the area was rebuilt with help from Albany settlers and Mohawks. The Erie Canal made this area an island between the canal (now Erie Blvd.) and the Mohawk River. The Stockade became New York State's first National Register Historic District in 1965 and retains the ambiance of an early colonial village.
Lock 2 Park (NY)
From Route 32 in Waterford take Fourth Street south over the bridge and park in the gravel lot on the left on the south side of the bridge.
Lower Aqueduct (NY)
The Town of Colonie maintains a pocket park, locally called "Freddie's Park", on the south side of the Mohawk River just east of the abutment for the Route 9 bridge. Part of this park includes an information kiosk describing the original Erie Canal aqueduct (1825), the enlarged Erie Canal aqueduct (1842), and a sequence of three bridges at the site.
Peeble's Island State Park (NY)
This is one of the five named islands in the delta-like configuration at the confluence of the Mohawk and Hudson Rivers. The island was the site of a Revolutionary War battle and an industrial site during the 18th and entire 19th centuries. An extensive nature trail network is open yearround; the NY State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, with its collection of historic materials; and Erie Canalway Heritage Corridor Visitors Center are located here.
From the eastern terminus of the Mohawk Towpath Byway (intersection of State Routes 4 and 32) go east on Broadway one block and turn right (south) on Second Street and follow it south across the bridge.
Vischer Ferry Nature and Historic Preserve (NY)
This 600 acre preserve includes the area between Riverview Road and the Mohawk River in the Town of Clifton Park. A segment of the original 1825 Erie Canal and Towpath; a segment and a number of structures of the 1842 Enlarged Erie Canal; and the current N Y State Barge Canal are accessible within the preserve. The entrance to the preserve includes a restored 1862 Whipple Truss Bridge, a design used widely to bridge the canal during the later half of the 19th century.