Aunt Rebecca. Probably taken in the 1930s.

An Erie Canal Mystery: Aunt Rebecca's Death: Suicide, Murder or Accident?

Rebecca C. Whyland of Hamlin (Brockport) went missing on a Sat., Nov. 8, 1941 (just weeks prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor) and was found in her coup the following Wednesday - underwater in the Erie Canal

As yet, I have not seen the 80-year-old coroner's report on my Aunt Rebecca. I woud like to know why the coroner determined she died "by suicide while temporarily insane." How did he know she wasn't murdered and driven into the canal or that she wasn't the victim of a hit-and-run? 

Aunt Rebecca  went missing on a Saturday, Nov. 8, 1941, and was found underwater the following Wednesday. My local librarian helped me find clues, like the Brockport newspaper article headlined, HAMLIN LADY FOUND DEAD IN SUNKEN AUTOMOBILE, stating: "A 37-year-old Hamlin woman, Mrs. Rebecca Whyland, who had been missing from her home in the Chase Road since Saturday was found dead in her automobile, which was located at the bottom of the Barge canal, last night, between the Lake road and Sweden-Walker road, about two miles east of this village. Lester Whyland, her husband, reported to Sheriff Skinner that she left home, Saturday, on a shopping trip and when she did not return, that evening, he reported her missing. Following a "hunch," Mrs. Whyland's brother-in-law, Ray Conley of Hilton searched along the Canal bank until he noticed tire marks going into the Canal. The sheriffs office was notified and for an hour a boat hook was used along the bottom of the canal. Finally, it struck the car in the center and a tow truck was called. When the car was raised, Mrs.  Whyland's  body was found jammed under the steering wheel and the top of the automobile was crashed as  though hit by passing barges. The body was taken to the morgue where an autopsy will be performed to determine the cause of death. In an effort to clear up the case, Sheriff Skinner stated that he would continue his conversations with Mr. Whyland and Mr. Conley today.."

A week later, on November 20, the newspaper reported the following: Coroner Issues Suicide Verdict Funeral Held Saturday Coroner Davide H. Atwater, after a thorough investigation, listed Friday, the death of Mrs. Rebecca Whyland of Chase road, Hamlin, who was found Nov. 12 in her car at the bottom of the Barge canal, as "by suicide while temporarily insane." Besides her husband, Lester, Mrs. Whyland is survived by her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Chamberlain; two sisters, Mrs. Wilbur VanDorn and Mrs Harold Brown; two brothers, Arthur of Rochester and Irving of Hilton;  and several nieces and nephews. Funeral services were conducted from her late home, Saturday, afternoon at 2 o'clock. Internment took place in Parma Union cemetery.

Wouldn't a barge have reported that they hit an object in the canal? My local librarian told me the stretch of road she was reported to have driven in from: “Lake Road is called Main Street in Brockport and Sweden-Walker Road runs parallel to Main (Lake) Street. The road that follows the canal is called East Canal Road. I've driven it and it's very picturesque with no guardrails or anything to stop a car from running off the road. That stretch is about four miles,” said Jacquie Owens, Adult Services Librarian, Baldwinsville Public Library. Owens questions Rebecca's suicide verdict along with me and hopes that as a family member, I may be able to get a copy of the coroner's report (see note below). She says, "In the back of my mind, I did a double take when I saw the suicide by reason of temporary insanity. What was the reason for the insanity? Was there any evidence that she was acting strangely or did the coroner just assume she was because it looked like a suicide? Also, they said that the car was crushed as if a barge passed over it. Didn't the barge, if there was one, think to report the scraping, especially since it damaged the boat? And did a barge even pass by between the time she went in and the time she was pulled out?"

I uploaded the above articles and my photograph of  her on Find a Grave at: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/153574329/rebecca-c.-whyland  


Notes: Monroe County's Office of the Medical Examiner offers the ability to get coroner's reports if you are entitled to it. The hours for record information requests are Monday through Friday (10:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m.). Autopsy Authorization Request: include a $40 check or money order payable to Monroe County, and send to Office of Medical Examiner, 740 East Henrietta Road, Rochester, NY  14623" https://www.monroecounty.gov/health-medicalexaminer#Archival. The New York State Archives may be an easier way to get a hold of the report.

My husband Jim wants to know if she was wearing the "yellow diamond" ring when her body was found. According to my cousin Laura, her family feared there may have been a curse around it as two of our family members who owned it died at age 37. Prior to Aunt Rebecca, my great-grandmother Alice Lee owned the ring and died from leukemia at 37. Prior to her, my uncle Frank owned it and hung himself (he was in his 20s--but I think he shot himself). According to Cousin Laura, Uncle Frank "bought it and proposed to a lady who turned him down. He was so distraught and depressed that he hung himself in the barn." (My Cousin Laura's family sold the "yellow diamond" ring in a Tiffany setting and learned that it was actually a yellow sapphire.)

I'm also looking into the 1826 case of the missing, probably murdered Freemason William Morgan who was trying to publish a book exposing Freemasonry's secrets. The "Morgan Murder" caused division in my 19th century family who lived along the Canal per a letter I recently read from my 4th great-grandfather, banker William Sisson of Lyons (a Freemason), to his brother-in-law, my distant uncle, Justus Gale, of Rochester, who supported the Anti-Mason movement.

If you have any Erie Canal stories or tips on how to solve old "Cold Cases", please let me know as I'm currently working on a new book, “Walking the Erie Canal Trail: Secrets  of the 8th Wonder of the World, CMV and Pandemic Pizza". 


Walking the 360-Mile Erie Canalway Trail -- We are halfway there! Obstacles and how to overcome

Jim and Lisa Saunders on the Erie Canalway Trail in Amsterdam, New York, in November 2022. They are taking the 360-mile Canalway Challenge and after two and half years, are finally over half way there! They leave #Stop CMV rocks along the way to raise awareness of the leading viral cause of birth defects. (Photograph by Lawrence Chester.)

"Us grandparents have walked half way across upstate New York on the Erie Canalway Trail for the Canalway Challenge. How and why we are doing it!" 

by Lisa Saunders

Most 360-mile Erie Canalway Challengers bike or paddle the Trail, which takes about a week if they don't double back to their cars. To walk the Trail straight through, averaging 12 miles a day, would take a month. Jim and I can’t dedicate large chunks of time to the Challenge, and can only walk about six miles in a day. So far, we have averaged six miles a month, but I'm excited to announce we are finally halfway there!

We love analyzing the ruins and ditches along our route as we look for clues to the past. My 3rd great-grandfather Augustus M. Leach of Lyons, an engineer on the Canal, was said to have patented a drop gate--can any of his designs be found in the ruins? Also, will I ever find out why my Aunt Rebecca’s body was found in her coup submerged in the Canal in 1941?  

When putting our feet up at the end of the day, Jim and I discuss what we still consider the “Seven Wonders of the Erie Canal” to be– should they include the crumbling aqueduct arches and overgrown locks of the Old Canal, or the movable dams and dramatically deep locks of the modern Canal? The Canal itself was once considered the "8th Wonder of the World", so it's been fascinating to learn why as we read the signage along the way. (Clicking on the Erie Canal Mapping Project makes it possible to know which version of the three Erie Canals you are walking along - Old Erie Canal (1825), Enlarged Erie Canal (1862), and/or the modern Barge Canal). 

It’s taken us two and half years to walk between Rochester and Herkimer. We began the Challenge at the center of the Trail, Camillus Erie Canal Park, near our home in Baldwinsville on the modern Erie Canal, in April 2020. As of November 2022, have walked 189 miles - 53% across the State of New York. 

Although walking the straight, smooth Erie Canalway Trail sounds easy, it isn’t always--especially if we ignore the weather! We've been chased by swarms of mosquitoes, biting flies, lightning, torrential downpours and blinding snow. We’ve confronted snakes, floods, ice, chafing underwear, aching feet, swollen knees, loud gunshots and a dead possum. And of course there is my constant worry - will I find a bathroom in time?  

In warm weather, we pack sunscreen, bug spray, extra socks and even shoes when we suspect there may be flooding ahead. In the winter, we pack ice cleats, snow shoes and walking sticks to manage snow or sheets of ice. 

This one-minute video about our quest, Erie Canal Trail: Stop Cytomegalovirus (CMV) Birth Defects. Pass "Elizabeth's Law", shows you why we are preserving. But if you want to learn more about what walkers experience across the the Trail, I suggest reading this couple's blog about their 26-day, one way hike: Bellingham Walks. While they walked 15-20 miles a day (with some break days), they did occasionally take auto rides to avoid some busy, on-road stretches. Unlike that couple, however, we are not able to walk more than six miles a day with our undependable knees and feet, and we usually have to trudge back to our car (more aching feet!). I suggest watching this man walk while he shares an honest look at all that can go wrong (including a romantic breakup!) in "The Erie Canal - On Foot". This walker has also biked and kayaked the Trail: Triple End-To-End: Talking about the trip and planning.

If you are like us and can't walk the entire Trail on consecutive days, then read below my signature for tips on parking, food, bathrooms and lodging. If you realize this 360- mile Challenge is not for you, there are smaller Challenges you can set and still get a certificate and other Canalway stuff! My mother, a great-grandma, completed the “one-mile” Challenge by having us push her wheelchair on a paved portion of the Trail. Create a free account with Canalway Challenge, which provides a convenient way to log miles and space for notes (such as where parked, stopped and started). Visit: https://eriecanalway.org/explore/challenge)

One question posed to me included: "Was a lot of your trek on the trail with direct views to the canal or on the road?" So far, we have mostly walked along the modern or old canal, so yes, we see a lot of flowing river or stagnant, Old Erie Canal water with ducks, turtles, blue herons, and an occasional old tire thrown in. Some of the Trail is on the road and not an old tow path, so we also experience trucks whizzing by.

The Empire State Trail map has good descriptions of the Trail broken up into digestible segments, including the recently completed 15-mile portion through Syracuse, near our home. When we learned about the new Trail a few winters ago, we strapped on ice cleats, grabbed our walking sticks, and trekked through the snow and ice from Reed Webster Park, Camillus, through downtown Syracuse, then to Old Erie Canal State Historic Park, DeWitt. Along the way, we found the ruins of Lock 50, known as Gere's Lock; the New York State Fair Grounds and Crucible Steel, where we heard loud mechanical thumping reminiscent of the Morlocks in the “Time Machine”; watched bald eagles feeding at Onondaga Lake; saw the largest shopping mall in the state, Destiny USA; learned Syracuse's salt mining industry from signs lining the connected Onondaga Creekwalk; watched ice skaters at Clinton Square and looked down on carefully preserved Old Erie Canal ruins nearby; headed to the Erie Canal Museum, housed in the only surviving Weighlock building (which I consider an Erie Canal "Wonder"); strolled directly down the center of busy Erie Boulevard, once the Erie Canal itself, trying to imagine barges floating by the dollar stores; then onto Towpath Road alongside the Old Erie Canal, over the highway (481) with its dramatic overhead view of Butternut Creek Aqueduct ruins in DeWitt. From there, the Trail heads to Rome--where construction began on the Erie Canal over 200 years ago on July 4, 1817.

One question not posed to me, but that should have been: “What would make your quest easier?” Answer: Having folks meet us on the Trail so we could shuttle with two cars and not have to double back! I smiled at the article, "A Hiker’s Guide to Car Shuttles," which includes this option: “Sweet-talk your loved ones: Convince your family or friends to drop you off and pick you up. Coerce them with promises of mountain views, good company, and half your post-hike pizza.” This has only worked for us twice so far. Although our post-hike pizza is always good, our company must not be! Eventually, we may just have to get comfortable using the new fangled way of motoring one way- Uber.

Jim, a retired Pfizer scientist, and I have a super good reason for pressing forward despite the obstacles on the Trail: We are trying to raise awareness of another “C-virus” plaguing the country, hoping to educate pregnant women on how to prevent congenital cytomegalovirus (CMV). Congenital CMV, the leading viral cause of birth defects, impacted our daughter Elizabeth's brain until her death at age 16 in 2006 during a seizure. According to the CDC, "About one out of every 200 babies is born with congenital CMV infection. About one in five babies with congenital CMV infection will have long-term health problems". Pregnant women who have or care for toddlers are at greater risk for contracting the virus. As we walk along the Trail, we are placing #Stop CMV rocks painted by Tabitha Rodenhaus of Buffalo, the mother of Kaia born with congenital CMV in 2016. On November, 28, 2022, the New York governor signed into law a CMV bill named in memory of our daughter's - "Elizabeth's Law" (A7560B/S6287C). It requires information be given to child care providers and women at their first prenatal visit. Next we will work on a law to get all newborns (not just those who fail their hearing screen) tested for CMV so they can receive early intervention ( to get involved, contact Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal's office at: 518.455.5802 or  Nick Guile, Legislative Director at guilen@nyassembly.gov). 

To help us decide on the 7 Wonders of the Erie Canalway Trail (and vote on an 8th Wonder), send me an email. Some of our images and insights into the Trail are at: authorlisasaunders.blogspot.com.

See you on the Trail--wheelchairs are welcome!

Walk the straight path!


Lisa Saunders


As a clumsy kid, I was the last picked for school sports, and throughout my adult life, have dropped out of numerous exercise and dance classes - but I can put one foot in front of the other! A benefit of taking on the Canalway Challenge in segments is that we never have to guess what to do when stealing away from family responsibilities. And, because we always have a car, we see the local sites before or after a walk. Before each trek, we have to decide whether or not to drive two cars, to get a hotel, or to brace ourselves for a long day of walking and driving. The Challenge is getting more "challenging" as the drive east or west to our next starting point is getting further away. As of today, we are having to drive almost an hour and a half one way to get to our next starting point.

I use the following online maps to plan each segment of our walk as each provides valuable information on parking, restaurants and lodging (warning: they are not always up to date):
  • Empire State Trail: empiretrail.ny.gov/ (click on maps then on the portion, "Erie Canalway Trail")
  • Cycle the Erie Canal: www.ptny.org/cycle-the-erie-canal/trail-map
  • Google Maps (it shows the Erie Canalway Trail - though not up to date - with a green line): www.google.com/maps. If you are looking for walking directions, plug in that you are a biker, rather than a walker, and it will usually suggest/show you the Trail. Click on this Google Map bike route between Buffalo Harbor State Park and Jennings Landing, Albany.
  • The Erie Canal Bike Trail of New York (useful info about each town along the way): bikeeriecanal.com/
  • Canal Corporation (more useful to paddlers who need to follow the modern Erie Canal, but the eastern and western portions of the Trail often follow the modern Canal): www.canals.ny.gov/maps/

Finding parking places between manageable walking distances has been a real challenge since we only want to walk about six miles. The Erie Canalway Trail offers a lot of parking along the way, but there aren’t enough for us. We carefully analyze Google maps for off-road spaces large enough for a car. Sometimes we are lucky and see a circled P on the online maps, but we often have to ask business owners if we can park in their lot (I've given some a #Stop CMV rocks as a thank you). We put a sign on our dashboard stating our quest and include our phone numbers in case we've irritated a property owner or highway department.

Bench availability
Jim and I like to sit every couple of miles and have found it's best if we carry our own seats since we can't always depend on finding one. Jim wears a backpack that turns into a stool (from Dick's Sporting Goods) and I bought a light folding stool at a garage sale that clips to my knapsack.

How long to complete each section of your trek?
It takes us about 20 minutes to walk one mile, then another 20 minutes to walk back to the car--it takes longer the more weary we are. We seem to average 2,000-2,500 steps per mile.

What cities/towns did you start and stop in?
We start and stop in any town with a bathroom, restaurant or brewery. This map provides very helpful information on the towns along the way: bikeeriecanal.com

How to find the next bathroom
Learn to use the woods. I carry special, forest-friendly toilet paper sold to hunters (in fact, a hunter bought it for me!). For a time, I even resorted to wearing women's diapers (just in case), but the elastic chaffs on long walks.

I check Google maps and Maps on my iPhone for food nearby.

Although I recommend walking the Trail in fair weather, we walk in whatever weather comes our way. That hasn't always been wise! Walking in a recent rain meant we were chased by swarms of mosquitoes. We've also been chased by lightning, torrential downpours, flooding and a blinding snow. 

Where exactly does the Trail begin/end in Albany and Buffalo?
I haven't seen the end/start points, and some have said the exact spots are hard to find. But, this is what I believe to be true after asking around:
According to the Empire state Trail, the Trail starts at "Buffalo Harbor State Park on the shore of Lake Erie, where there is ample free parking, visitor services, and a formal “Gateway” marking the beginning/end of the Empire State Trail." Someone on Facebook posted: "Buffalo has mile 0 mile marker on the fence on Marine Drive between Commercial and Lloyd streets at the foot of the naval and military park."
Buffalo Harbor State Park: 1111 Fuhrmann Boulevard, Buffalo, NY 14203

Jennings Landing, 1 Quay St, Albany, NY 12207

Join the Erie Canal Community
I get a lot of my questions answered from folks on the following Facebook sites:

Folks we've met along the way

We have met several interesting Erie Canal fans through our quest including doctors interested in our #Stop CMV rocks. Jim and I were intrigued by the murals of historic Canal life along the way so I contacted the president of Mural Mania, Mark De Cracker, who then included the images of my Erie Canal engineer ancestors in the next mural in Lyons and even let me help paint it! You can watch us paint and learn more about the Trail and the murals on the Travels with Darley Show at: 
https://journy.tv/watch/travels-with-darley/new-yorks-empire-state-trail/. To learn more about the murals specifically, go to about 11:45 minutes into the video. 

I've interviewed Mark of Mural Mania and others about the Canal for Baldwinsville's public access channel, PAC-B TV:

Where we camped/lodged
No camping for us, though I do hear that people do it right along the Trail. I've found hotels by analyzing Google maps for lodging nearest the Trail, though sometimes we will go a few miles for someplace more special like the Sunset Cottage at Sylvan Beach (Near Oneida Lake, its beautifully built and decorated by friends). It would be more interesting if we stayed in more B&B's, but so far, I haven't researched them. If you know of a place for us to stay, please let me know! Here is where we have stayed so far (or in the case of Little Falls, plan to stay):

  • Niagara Falls: Red Coach Inn
  • Lockport Inn and Suites
  • Rochester: Quality Inn and Suites
  • Newark Garden Hotel
  • Sylvan Beach: Sunset Cottage (Twin cottages if you have two families)
  • Oneida Community Mansion House
  • Canastota/Verona: Days Inn by Wyndham
  • Rome: Quality Inn
  • Utica: Holiday Inn Express & Suites
  • Little Falls: The Inn at Stone Mill (we plan to stay there as we liked our tour of this unique lodging)
  • Amsterdam: Microtel Inn & Suites

In 2000, Congress established the “Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor” because it was “instrumental in the establishment of strong political and cultural ties between New England, upstate New York and the old Northwest and facilitated the movement of ideas and people ensuring that social reforms like...the women’s rights movement spread across upstate New York to the rest of the country...” I believe by walking the Erie Canalway Trail, Jim and I can share our belief that women have the right to know how to protect their unborn babies from CMV. As I blog about our progress toward raising CMV awareness, I'm hoping our walk will become a movement, like the women’s rights movement, that will "spread across upstate New York to the rest of the country" to help prevent birth defects caused by congenital CMV.

Jim and Lisa Saunders pushing Lisa's mom, Mary Ann Avazian, on the Erie Canalway Trail in DeWitt, New York, for a 
photo shoot for Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor. Photographs by Call of the Loon Productions.


April 23, 2022: Dedication of New Erie Canal Murals at Lyons Dry Dock, NY

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New Erie Canal Murals Unveiled at Lyons Dry Dock in Wayne County 

Where: Lyons Dry Dock, 7665 Dry Dock Road, Lyons, NY 14489 

Contact: Mark De Cracker, Mural Mania, 315-573-8170 or videomark@gmail.com 

Mural Mania dedicated two murals, the "Poorhouse Lock 56" and “Honoring those who worked on the Erie/Barge Canal" in Lyons, New York, on Saturday, April 23, 2022, in celebration of the 17th annual Canal Clean Sweep hosted on Earth Day weekend. The iconic murals span two historic eras of the Erie Canal. Mark De Cracker of Mural Mania said the murals honors "those that built and maintain the Erie Canal.  These murals, located along the Empire State Trail at the Lyons Dry Dock, give a viewer a glimpse back in time to honor those who built, maintained, and transported on the Erie Canal.

"The first mural Honoring those who worked on the Erie/Barge Canal was completed in April of 2021 and features the Dipper Dredge No.3, the tugboat DeWitt Clinton and a barge used for the canal spill.  Dipper Dredge No. 3 is in the Lyons Dry Dock but has not been operated since 1985.  It was built in 1929 but has some “recycled” components from 1909.  As a steam powered vessel, it is unlikely that Dipper Dredge No. 3 will ever return to functioning condition.  Across the top of the mural are the words 'Honoring those who worked on the Erie/Barge Canal.'  We used a sepia background overlayed with color to bring the focus to the workers.

"The second mural, completed in November 2021, depicts old Erie Canal Lock 56, often referred to as the Poor House Lock because of its proximity to the former Wayne County Poorhouse. Also depicted in this mural is the Poorhouse Grocery store.  A store on the Erie Canal where boaters bought goods as they traveled back and forth. This mural pays tribute to those that were instrumental in the success of the Erie Canal these include father and son Canal engineers, Jacob Leach and Augustus M. Leach of Lyons, portrayed chatting on the bulkhead of Lock 56. The mural also honors two boyhood friends Richard Garrity and Glen Salisbury who were hoagies on the Erie Canal. Richard Garrity wrote the book Canal Boatman. In 1990 these two friends were united after 70 years and shared their stories of traveling through this lock and on their way to NYC.  In special tribute to Allyn Perry who has lived in the Poorhouse grocery store all her life, we painted the Allyn Perry boat going through the lock carrying local Hotchkiss peppermint oil going west."--Mark De Cracker , Mural Mania.

Write-up of the event: https://www.fingerlakesdailynews.com/2022/04/22/1412469/#:~:text=A%20store%20on%20the%20Erie,the%20bulkhead%20of%20Lock%2056.


  • Welcome: Mark De Cracker, Mural Mania/Trail Works, Inc.
  • Jim Brady, Lyons Town Supervisor
  • Brian Stratton, Canal Director 
  • Cory Reynolds, Mural Mania 
  • Allyn Perry, Lives in the Poorhouse 
  • Christin Worth, Tourism Director 
  • Brian Manktelow, NYS Assembly
  • Lisa Saunders, New York Stop CMV Project
  • Wayne County Bi-Centennial representative
  • Summary of the murals- Mark De Cracker
  • Medley- Towpath Friends/15 Miles on the Erie Canal
  • Cutting the ribbon
  • Refreshments


Travel show on Empire State Trail and mural paintings along the Erie Canalway Trail

Image caption: Volunteer painters stand in front of the incomplete mural, Poorhouse Lock 56, on the day PBS personality Darely Newman of Travels with Darley came to help paint the mural on July 29, 2021. From left to right: Mark De Cracker, Cory Reynolds, Christina Lauber, Darely Newman, Lisa Saunders, Betty Rose Chardeen and daughter, Natalie Rose Chardeen. (Photograph by Christine Worth and supplied by Mark De Cracker.)

The travel show is now airing on TV and on the JOURNY website:

New York’s Empire State Trail - "Travel along New York’s Empire State Trail, which stretches from New York City to the Canadian Border with host Darley Newman. Hike and bike the trail, stopping in small towns and big cities for craft beer, local arts and culture." Watch: https://journy.tv/watch/travels-with-darley/new-yorks-empire-state-trail/

About 10.35 minutes into the show, host Darley Newman and Mark De Cracker of Mural Mania are seen walking the Erie Canalway Trail in Newark, New York, where Mark tells Darley how the murals seen along the Trail preserve the history of the Canal. Then Darley visits a studio in nearby Lyons where the Poorhouse Lock 56 mural, seen above, is being painted by artist and Iraq war veteran, Cory Reynolds, along with several other volunteers in July 2021. Cory gives Darley some paint and a brush and the chance to paint a little spot on it, though she does worry about messing it up. Cory explains how he finds painting murals therapeutic. He says, "I really enjoy doing it because I have PTSD. I come in here when my mind starts to wander and it just kind of relaxes me....If you got a lot going on in the real world, you can come in here and you can paint - put yourself in a little spot and that's your little spot that you have to worry about, nothing else. I'm glad to have you putting a little spot on there because that's one spot I don't have to worry about and I can move on..." 


Mural of Erie Canal's Poorhouse Lock 56 by Iraq War Veteran and Volunteers Installed in Lyons, New York

"Poorhouse Lock 56: Take a walk with us through time" mural installed on  November 20, 2021. Photograph by Mark De Cracker of Mural Mania.

Mural of Erie Canal's Abandoned Poorhouse Lock (Lock 56) by Iraq War Veteran and Volunteers Installed in Lyons, New York

PBS to air volunteers painting the mural as Reynolds explains how art helps him cope with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Lyons, New York--The award-winning photograph of Poorhouse Lock (Lock 56) by Cory Reynolds, artist and Iraq War Army veteran, inspired his view of the lock portrayed in the latest mural installed by Mural Mania in Lyons on November 20, 2021. In addition to Reynolds, volunteer painters include: Betty Rose Chardeen and daughter Natalie Rose Chardeen, Mark De Cracker, Christina Lauber, Darely Newman, and Lisa Saunders. 

Reynolds was interviewed while painting his vision of the lock by PBS personality Darely Newman of Travels with Darley (His photograph of Lock 56 was honored by the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor

Several past and former Erie Canal history makers are represented on the mural including father and son Canal engineers, Jacob Leach and Augustus M. Leach, portrayed chatting on the bulkhead of Lock 56, also called Poorhouse Lock, on the Enlarged Erie Canal. Jacob Leach, a miller and distillery operator, was one of the first merchants in Lyons and instrumental in the construction of the first Erie Canal (Clinton’s Ditch) and the Enlarged Erie Canal. His son, Augustus, was educated at Geneva Academy (now Hobart College), and in the 1850s was hired by the corps of civil engineers and oversaw the enlarged section from Buffalo to Syracuse. Augustus "also invented and drafted plans for the drop gate for locks that were accepted by the state and have continued in use to the present time." (Democrat and Chronicle,1901).  

Other faces on the mural include a self-portrait of Cory Reynolds in addition to Erie Canal Historian, Cori Wilson, portrayed fishing on the Allyn Perry named after Allyn Perry who lives in the historic Poorhouse “Canal Store” beside the lock.

Mark De Cracker of Mural Mania said, “The mural is especially meaningful to me as former president of E.R.I.E. (Erie’s Restoration Interest Everyone). The Poorhouse Lock or Lock 56 was a center piece of this 501-c-3 restoration efforts during the 90’s. The mural honors those who helped our efforts for many years in this restoration. It also features mule drivers Richard Garrity and Glen Salisbury who traveled through this lock on many occasions with their families. I had the opportunity to reunite these childhood friends in 1990 after 70 years. Glen sent me a card in 1991 and wrote, “To dedicate a painting to Mr. Garrity and myself is a great honor and it will be cherished forever.”

Painting sponsors include great-grandmother Mary Ann (McDowell) Avazian, a descendant of the Leach engineers and former Lyon's resident. Avazian was recently featured completing a one mile Canalway Challenge in her wheelchair. Her daughter, Lisa Saunders, one of several volunteer mural painters, is currently walking the 360-mile Canalway Challenge with husband Jim Saunders to raise awareness of how to prevent the leading viral cause of birth defects, congenital cytomegalovirus (CMV). A bill named "Elizabeth's Law" in memory of their daughter, was passed by the NY Senate in 2021.

Construction of Lock 56 began in 1842 and was completed in 1849. The ruins of Lock 56 can be found off Dry Dock Road behind the old red brick building that once served as a grocery store for canallers. This is about a ½ mile west of present-day Lock 28-A in Lyons.

For more information, contact Mark De Cracker of Mural Mania, at videomark@gmail.com , 315-573-8170 (cell), for visit: www.muralmania.org

Image caption: Volunteer painters stand in front of the incomplete mural on the day PBS personality Darely Newman of Travels with Darley came to help paint the mural on July 29, 2021. From left to right: Mark De Cracker, Cory Reynolds, Christina Lauber, Darely Newman, Lisa Saunders, Betty Rose Chardeen and daughter, Natalie Rose Chardeen. (Photograph by Christine Worth and supplied by Mark De Cracker.)


Additional information:

Patricia Alena (known as “Peppermint Patty”), founder of the Lyons Heritage Society and Director/ Curator of The H. G. Hotchkiss Essential Oil Museum (“Peppermint Museum”), stated,, "Jacob Leach, a local businessman and canal contractor, was instrumental in the selection of Lyons as the county seat. Leach was a charter member of the first Bank of Lyons and a member of the Ontario County Assembly. The latter helped in the formation of present day Wayne County" ("LOOKING BACK: Lyons, Wayne's county seat" by Patricia Alena, Jul 11, 2021). 

Jacob Leach's first distillery was on the same property as the Museum but on the banks of Ganargua Creek before it was moved because of canal construction. 

This sketch is in Morrison’s book on early Lyons. He dates the building at 1812. J. Leach distillery was for sour mash whiskey and located across the street from the Leach Mills according to Patricia Alena. The building in the foreground is what the Peppermint Museum once looked like before the third floor burned. Between those two buildings was the Clyde River and the Erie Canal. 

Lisa Saunders stands at the grave marker of Jacob Leach (and Augustus Leach and others) at the Lyons Rural Cemetery on October 15, 2021. Photograph by Patricia Alena (known as “Peppermint Patty”), founder of the Lyons Heritage Society.
Leach Road signs in Lyons, NY, on Feb 21, 2021. Photograph by Mark DeCracker, Co-Founder of Mural Mania.

Clinton's Ditch and Expanded Erie Canal: Leach Engineers of Lyons, Father and Son, Jacob and Augustus M. Leach

by Lisa Saunders (descendant)

Lock 27, Lyons, New York, in Oct. 2020.

In Lyons, New York, home of all three stages of the Erie Canal, is modern Lock E27, off Leach Road. Leach Road and Bridge, which crosses over the active Erie Canal, may have been named in honor of father and son, Jacob and Augustus M. Leach of Lyons, contractors on the Erie Canal. Jacob Leach (1777-1853) is my 4th great-grandfather and his son, Augustus Mortimer Leach (1825-1901), my 3rd great-grandfather. They are  buried at the Lyons Rural Cemetery. 

Jacob Leach (1777-1853) contribution to Clinton's Ditch (completed in 1825):

Jacob Leach worked as an engineer on the first and second Erie Canals. The first Erie Canal was completed in 1825 (the same year his son Augustus was born--Augustus grew up to become an engineer on the Enlarged Erie Canal).

The first Erie Canal is now referred to “Clinton’s Ditch” (see above sign in Lyons) after DeWitt Clinton, the New York Governor who fought for its construction. 

On October 17, 1825, Jacob Leach attended a meeting at T. Hawley's in Lyons with other appointed committee members responsible for making celebration arrangements for the opening of the Erie Canal. The opening occurred on "Oct.26, 1825, at the time the two ends of the canal were united in Lockport, and the 'waters were let over the mountain range.' The unique celebration throughout the state was the transmission of the exact time by firing of cannon--24 and 32 pounders--distributed along the canal eight miles apart, a total distance 365 miles from Lake Erie to the Hudson River." 

Two days later, Governor Clinton's boat parade came through Lyons on October 28, arriving "at the lock at the foot of Broad street greeted by a fire of artillery. They were met by committees from Geneva and Lyons and escorted under a triumphal arch to the Joppa House, where dinner was served and toasts exchanged."  ("Grip's" historical souvenir of Lyons, N. Y, p. 13,1904). (Clinton had begun his boat parade from Lake Erie, where he filled a keg with water and when he reached the southern end of the New York Harbor (Sandy Hook, NJ), he poured the Erie water into the Atlantic Ocean. He declared to his companions, "...may the God of Heavens and the Earth smile most propitiously on the work, and render it subservient to the best interests of the human race." (Bernstein, Wedding of the Waters: The Erie Canal and the Making of a Great Nation, 2006, p. 319.)

Background on Jacob Leach
Jacob Leach was one of the first merchants in Lyons. "Jacob Leach built a frame building on Water street in 1812 and opened a larger general store. Joseph M. Demmon was first his clerk and then his partner. In 1814 Leach & Co. erected a new store. "  ("Grip's" p. 48).

"Jacob Leach came to Lyons from Litchfield, Conn., in 1809, and operated a distillery on the north side of Ganargwa Creek until the site was wanted for the Erie Canal in 1824. He then became a merchant with Joseph M. Demmon on Water street. He was a canal contractor, and erected a mill on the Ganargwa that was burned and rebuilt in 1837. He was a justice of the peace several years, member of Assembly in 1823, and at one time president of the old Lyons Bank with Thaddeus W. Patchen as cashier. He had ten children, and died in 1853, aged seventy-five years." (History of the Town of Lyons, 1895).  

"...Jacob Leach, one of the most prominent and progressive of the pioneer settlers of Lyons. Jacob Leach went to Lyons in 1809 from Litchfield Conn. and in the course of an active career devoted to the development of the section, constructed and operated the first grist mill in Lyons, the first brewery and in 1812 one of the first general stores." (Democrat and Chronicle, Rochester, August 12, 1901, Page 4)

Jacob Leach contribution to the Enlarged Canal:

Beginning in 1835, the Erie Canal was enlarged. Jacob worked on the Enlarged Erie Canal but died before the entire enlargement was completed in 1862. This Canal is now referred to as the Enlarged Erie Canal or the Old Erie Canal.

"Jacob Leach took and completed several contacts for work and after he had passed the allotted age of three score years and ten he built (with Robert Ennis) the section extending west from Perrine's hill to the poorhouse lock [Lock 56]."(The Sisson Family of Lyons, New York, 2005, p. 233). (Also mentioned on page from a church book found at Find a Grave.)

Lock 56 (or Poorhouse Lock) as it appears in recent years. The red brick building, now a private residence, "served as a grocery for the canallers" (eriecanal.org). Photograph by Mark DeCracker.

Jacob was also the resident engineer for the Canal portion in Jordan. From Onondaga Standard Extra (10/24/1840).  "At a meeting of the contractors for the enlargement of the Erie Canal on the Jordan Level held at the house of Seba Bonta in the village of Jordan on the 26th of October 1840...Jacob Leach [and several others] were appointed to said committee. Since now there were sufficient funds, work which had much slowed down could be resumed on section 10, no longer ago than the 10 day of this month, the contractor, Mr. Jacob Leach, was the resident engineer and in the presence of the chief engineer, strongly urged to press his work forwards faster than he was going on with it. He was directed to excavate 10,000 yards monthly and had increase the number of laborers and had erected 20 shanties" (Sisson, p. 234).

Jacob died in 1853 at the age of 75. His wife Sarah outlived him by nine years. "He was a quite man, honest with his fellow men. He worked with the Democratic party. He held the office of Justice of Peace for a number of years. He was a member of Humanity Masonic Lodge." (Sisson, p. 234). The descendent of Robert Ennis, Jacob's fellow engineer on the Enlarged Erie Canal section, extending west from Perrine's hill to the poorhouse lock, showed me Jacob Leach's 1820 certificate as "Master Mason" with the Humanity Masonic Lodge.

From anonymous: "These are bank notes from Lyons Bank, which Jacob Leach was instrumental in establishing the very first bank in Lyons in 1836. The $5 note has his signature as President of the Bank, which at the date of note shows that the Bank was just 5 months old. The other 1862 note shows draft to be drawn on the business account of his sons, H.J.Leach and M.S.Leach. ( Heman and Miles)
Just before the start of the Civil War, the Lyons Bank had a contract with the State of New York to collect canal tolls." 

Augustus Mortimer Leach (1825-1901): contribution to the Enlarged Canal (completed 1862):

Augustus Mortimer Leach was educated at Geneva Academy, now Hobart College. Born the year the first Erie Canal opened (in 1825), Augustus died in 1901, four years before construction began on the modern Erie Canal (once referred to as New York State Barge Canal).  

In the 1850s, Augustus, was employed by the corps of civil engineers and was promoted to overseeing the section from Syracuse to Buffalo. According to his 1901 obituary, Augustus "also invented and drafted plans for the drop gate for locks that were accepted by the state and have continued in use to the present time." (Democrat and Chronicle, Rochester, August 12, 1901, Page 4).

As of this writing, 11/21/21, I haven't found proof of the drop gate invention in State of New York documents, but found the following in Google books: August M. Leach is listed among four "First Assistant" Engineers on the Western Division in "Manual for the Use of the Legislature of the State of New York",1853, p.440, and as 1st Engineer under "Eastern subdivision in the western division of the Erie Canal Enlargement "AND 1st Engineer under "Genesee Valley Canal" in "Documents of the Senate of the State of New York, Volume 1," 1854, p.142.

Augustus Leach's obituary tells of his career and states that Augustus "secured an early business training under his father Jacob in the milling business. In his college course he showed a natural talent for drafting and drawing, and after his graduation he worked as a draughtman for the corps of civil engineers engaged in plotting a new route for the Erie canal through [the Lyons] section. From them he acquired knowledge of civil engineering and he soon rose to a position of prominence in the department of state engineer and surveyor. In the early [18] fifties he was placed in charge of the engineering work on the western section of the Erie canal, having under his supervision the section extending from Syracuse to Buffalo. On the completion of this work he surveyed the Genesee Valley canal from Rochester to Olean [south and a little west of Rochester] and built a big storage dam at Cuba [near Olean]. During this period he also invented and drafted plans for the drop gate for locks that were accepted by the state and have continued in use to the present time [1901]. According to an obit: "From 1855 to 1857 [Augustus] was assistant state engineer under Van Rensselear Richmond of Lyons who was then state engineer and surveyor. During the latter part of that period, Mr. Leach lived in Rochester and Cuba, Allegany County. Later he became engaged in the milling business in Brooklyn together with his father-in-law and a Brooklyn miller under the firm name of Smith, Leach and Jewell. In a few years Mr. Leach, whose early training in the milling business under his father had adapted him for the work, bought out his partners and for ten years conducted the business alone. During the Civil War he had many contracts for furnishing supplies to the government, and both then and at its close his business was remarkably successful so that in 1870 he had amassed a fortune on which he was well able to retire... "("The Sisson Family of Lyons, New York",  Sisson, David Arne, 2005, p. 234-243)

Augustus built a large house on a hill in Lyons when he returned from Brooklyn. Calling it Terrace Lawn, it still stands today at 27 Cherry Street. After his death, his son Francis (Frank) Leach lost the family fortune in a bad investment. The dwindling funds could no longer support Augustus's widow and Frank committed suicide in 1912.

I descend from his daughter, Emma (Leach) Sisson, seen at the bottom left. (Images from "The Sisson Family of Lyons, New York",  Sisson, David Arne, 2005, page 262.)


(1) NOTES ABOUT AUGUSTUS M. LEACH: One of several Augustus M. Leach obituaries, the following appeared August 12, 1901, Democrat and Chronicle, Rochester, New York, Page 4: https://www.newspapers.com/clip/50741272/democrat-and-chronicle/ Transcribed:

Lyons Has lost an Honored and Influential Resident.
Retirement in 1875
Youngest Son of Lyon's Prominent Pioneers Did Valuable Work as Civil Engineer and Surveyor--Wayne.

Augustus M. Leach, a prominent retired business man of Lyons, died unexpectedly Saturday morning at the advanced age of 75 years. He had been in impaired health for a long time, the result of old age and affection of the heart, but his condition last week had shown nothing to differentiate it from his general health for some months. Friday he took his usual drive and retired at his customary hour with no sign of the approaching end. He passed away between midnight and 7 o'clock so quietly that knowledge of the fact did not come to the members of the family until they entered his room to awaken him for breakfast Saturday morning.
Mr. Leach was the youngest of 10 children born to the late Jacob Leach, one of the most prominent and progressive of the pioneer settlers of Lyons. Jacob Leach went to Lyons in 1809 from Litchfield Conn. and in the course of an active career devoted to the development of the section, constructed and operated the first grist mill in Lyons, the first brewery and in 1812 one of the first general stores.

Augustus M. Leach was born November 1, 1825. He attended a preliminary education in the Lyons union school and a collegiate education at Hobart college from which he graduated with the class of '48. He selected as his profession that of a civil engineer for which the enlargement of the canals and railroad construction offered abundant opportunity. Soon after his graduation from college he obtained a position under the state engineer and surveyor and he showed so much adaptability for the work that in the early [18] fifties he was placed in charge of the engineering work on the western section of the canal, having under his supervision a section extending from Syracuse to Buffalo. During this period he invented and drafted plans for a drop gate for locks that were accepted by the state and have continued in use to the present time. At the conclusion of his work on the Erie he surveyed the route for the Genesee Valley canal from Rochester to Olean under the direction of Van Rensselaer Richmond, of Lyons, who was then state engineer and surveyor.

Just before the outbreak of the Civil war Mr. Leach secured an opportunity to engage in the milling business, a pursuit which his father had been the first to follow in Lyons and in which he himself had training under his father. The business was located in Brooklyn and was conducted under the firm name of Leach, Smith and Jewell. In a few years Mr. Leach bought out his partners and then for fifteen years conducted it alone under the name of Williamsburg Mills. It was the largest establishment of its kind in the city and amassed for its owner a fortune on which he was well able to retire from business in 1875.

He then returned to Lyons on the spacious Leach grounds on Cherry Street, erected a residence that is one of the costliest, the most attractive and the finest fit in the county. There he had since resided, enjoying a well earned leisure among the comforts of home life and the pleasures he always took from literary study and reading. He was a man of refined mind and brought culture and his library and art collection was one of the largest and best selected in the vicinity. He never embarked in business after his retirement in 1875 and never cared to enter public life.

Apart from his literary study he took no active interest in matters away from his home village, but in affairs of concern to the community he was always ready to give the advantages of the experience of his successful business career and of his literary accomplishments. In this way he served as president of the village and for several years as school trustee. He was also deeply interested in the affairs of the Presbyterian Church of which he was an elder for many years.

In June, 1855, Mr. Leach married Mary Jane Smith, of Lima. She died in 1868, and in 1874 Mr. Leach was married to Miss Emma Jerome Richards, of Norwich, Connecticut, who survives. Other surviving relatives are four sons: Frank Leach, a lawyer of Kansas City, Albert Leach, a physician at Mt. Morris, and Frederick and Arthur Leach, of Lyons, and two daughters, Miss Minnie Leach and Mrs. [Emma Louise Leach ]Sisson, of Lyons.



1) "Jacob Leach (parents, Richard and Mary Strong) married Sarah "Sally" Bradley in Litchfield Village [Connecticut] on 21 March 1804. Three years later they came to the village of Phelps, a few miles south of Lyons, where they lived for one or two years before settling in Lyons...In 1812 Jacob started one of the first general stores in Lyons, and he was the one who distilled the first peppermint oil in Lyons according to the obituary of his son Augustus Mortimer Leach in 1901...Jacob constructed his distillery on the north bank of Mud Creek in Lyons, near its junction with the Canandaigua Outlet. He kept the distillery in operation until was necessary about 1820 to remove it to make way for the Erie Canal..."(Sisson, p. 230-231). Jacob and Sarah Leach's 10th and last child:
2) Augustus M. Leach, born in Lyons on 11/1/1825. Married Mary Jane Smith, 6/7/1853, in Lima, NY.
3) Emma Louise Leach, born 11/21/1860. Married Frank Munro Sisson on 6/23/1881, at her home on 27 Cherry Street, Lyons, NY
4) Mary Arne Sisson, born 4/5/1882, married Gilbert "Bert" McDowell on 9/11/1905 at Grace Church, Lyons.
5) Russell Gale McDowell, born 6/28/1911. Married Ida Lee 6/3/1937 in St. Luke's Episcopal Church Sodus Center.  
6) Mary Ann McDowell, born 10/21/1938 in Town of Sodus at home. Married Richard W. Avazian, 1/10/1960 in Freeport, NY. Living in Baldwinsville, NY.
7) Lisa Marie Avazian, born 3/31/1961 in Charlottesville, VA. Married James P. Saunders of Auburn on 5/29/1983 in Airmont, NY. They now live in Baldwinsville, NY. Lisa and Jim had two daughters. The surviving one has two children. 


"They call me Sal" mural, part of Mural Mania. Mark DeCracker, co-founder of Mural Mania, said of its dedication:
One of the features of the 2016 Global Mural Conference was the 12 x 16 mosaic mural painted on Evolon.  “They Call me Sal”.  This mural has 728 six-inch squares painted by art students from elementary to students in college across NY State.   This mosaic mural was organized by art teacher Lisa Petrosina. They Call me Sal features the history of New York State, and the flora and fauna.  If you look closely you will find roses, blue birds, Harriet Tubman, and the World Trade Center featured.  This mural is the tenth mural in Lyons, and is a gateway mural on the abutment greeting the bikers or others on the Empire Trail. This mural is mounted on the Rochester-Syracuse Trolley abutment.  This mural was made possible from a grant from the Erie Canalway, Canal Corporation and donations from Greystone Paper (Evolon) and paint from Golden Artist Colors.  Mural Mania would also like to thank F.S. Short & Son Contractors “For all your excavating needs.” for the donation to seal the mural.  Mural Mania would like to thank the Lyons Heritage Society for this plaque.

Winston's Dream (2007) in Lyons, NY. Part of Mural Mania. Mark DeCracker, co-founder of Mural Mania, wrote:
Mounted on the old trolley bed abutment in the newly dedicated G. Winston Dobbins Memorial Park, at Lock 27, this duplicates a scene from an actual postcard from 1910. It’s complete with packet boat, mules, hogies, a trolley, and the famous Hotchkiss Peppermint building. The mural was created by James Zeger. This mural and park was completed with the help of over 200 volunteers.

Jim Saunders beside the mules in "Winston's Dream" in Lyons, New York. The massive painting, inspired by a 1910 postcard of the Erie Canal in Lyons, is part of Mural Mania. With its mission, “Preservation of History through Community Art,” Mural Mania creates time travel focal points in canal towns along the Erie Canalway Trail.

Jim and Lisa Saunders (descendent of Leach) in Lyons on October 30, 2020. Jim and Lisa Saunders are tracking their walking miles as registrants with the 360-mile "Erie Canalway Challenge". The couple live in Baldwinsville, NY, near modern Lock 24.