The success and prominence of the Erie Canal during the 19th century spurred the growth of many businesses in Niagara County. Boat building was one such industry that owed its success to the flourishing traffic on the old Erie. Lockport was no exception to this trend and several boat building businesses started, grew, thrived, and then disappeared. The area below the Flight of Five and around the railroad bridge saw several very successful boat building enterprises.
Probably one of the most well-known boat builders was the Morgan family. Alfred Morgan was a partner with his brother George H.(II) in the Morgan Brothers’ boat yard. Their lower Market Street location gave them a commercial advantage in a region that thrived on the availability of water, power, and access to easy transportation. Alfred and George were born in Wales in 1843 where the two gained some boat building apprenticeship experience. The men set out to leave their mark on America in 1862. They joined forces to form Morgan Brothers in Lockport in 1887 adding to a growing list of Lockport boat builders, such as: Cady, H. Benedict & Co., Skinner & Tovell, and VanValkenburgh & Carrier.
Morgan Brothers built canal boats, steam propellers and yachts, as well as a large number of boats and dredges that were ordered by the Canadian government. During the heyday of their business, the company employed upward of 50 men and purchased a large amount of machinery to ply their trade. By 1895, Morgan Brothers were the only remaining boat building business left in Lockport.
Morgan Brothers’ boats were built at their shipyard located on Market Street, east of the canal. The boat yard consisted of a woodworking building, a carpenter’s paint shop, a canal boat building, a storage building, three dry docks and an office. The average employment was 35 men. The Lockport boat builders were well known for their boat-building prowess. The businesses used the latest saws and equipment of that time, which allowed for planks to be hewn from trees that would run the full length of canal boats. Once launched, a boat would be towed up the canal to Hall Iron Works for installation of steam boilers. Because of these steam boilers, Morgan boats were among the first boats that could be used on the Great Lakes as well as the Erie Canal.
Morgan Brothers continued building boats until 1910. At that time, the canal enlargement had begun for the NYS Barge Canal. The enlarged canal ran through the Morgan property and the business was forced to close. Today, the only known evidence of the business is an indent in the canal bank between the new Market St. Bridge and the Widewater.
Douglas Farley, Director
Ann Marie Linnabery
Erie Canal Discover Center
24 Church St.
Lockport NY 14094