The Waste Weir
A waste weir provides a means of removing excess water from the canal and provides a means of draining a section of the canal for repairs, for winter, or in anticipation of flooding. Because rising canal waters could overflow the banks, eroding them and causing a break in the canal, water weirs were and important safety feature. Also, high water in the canal could prevent canal boats from passing underneath the low bridges. (There were over 300 bridges over the canal.) Waste weirs were often located near feeder streams that might carry flood waters into the canal, and they often emptied extra (waste) water into existing streams.
Our waste weir was built in 1842. It replaced a wooden aquaduct on the original canal, (1817) which was 40 feet wide and 4 feet deep. This aquaduct crossed Wood Creek, approximately 1/4 mile west. One function of an aquaduct is to cross a stream. Another is the allow excess (waste) water to empty from the canal. Eliminating the aquaduct meant there was a need to prevent potential high waters. When the canal was enlarged to 70 feet wide and 7 feet deep (1836) it was decided to build a stone arch culvert over Wood Creek and build an 80 foot long waste weir on somewhat dryer land. Most of this spillway structure is fitted and mortared limestone. These limestones were cut into blocks, using hand tools, and some weigh as much as 500 pounds. The spillway is on the north side of the towpath. The waste water goes underneath the towpath through to stone arch culverts approximately 6 feet high by 8 feet wide. This brings excess canal water to the spillway. The center portion of the spillway is 1 foot by 1 foot wooden beams and 4 sluice gates, 2 feet wide by 3 feet tall. The gates are opened or closed manually by turning 2 foot diameter cast iron handles that are threaded into 1-1/4 inch iron rods, which are attached to the wooden portion of the gates. When all four gates are open, there is still approximately 6 inches of water flowing over the bottom sill of the gate structure. This effectively drains the canal for repairs and/or winter weather. When all four gates are closed the impounded water (in this case, Wood Creek is the feeder for this section of canal) rises up to the top of the spillway, spills over, thus giving the canal its 7 foot depth. The water water then flows down a man made channel and rejoins the original course of Wood Creek approximately 1/4 mile west.
In its original condition, the waste weir set the canal at an elevation of 426 feed above sea level. When the waste weir was restored in 1969, in preparation for the opening of Erie Canal Village, the canal inadvertently flooded portions of the west side of the city of Rome (which did not exist in the mid 19th century). It was decided by the city of Rome engineering department to lower portions of the stone spillway some 26 inches to alleviate the possible flooding of portions of Rome. This is why you see two cut out sections in the stone work on either side of the wooden gate structure. This modification does not effect the operation of the structure as it was originally intended.