The Erie Canal was built to connect Lake Erie with the Hudson River, providing inexpensive water transportation for commodities from the American heartland and helping to make New York City the financial capital of the United States. The Niagara Canal Company was incorportated in 1798, construction began in 1817 and the initial canal was completed in 1825. A major enlargement and rerouting of some sections was completed in 1862 with minor improvements in succeeding years. The final major improvement of the system was undertaken in 1918 to create the New York Barge Canal, although this did not prevent obsolescence of the canal system by railroads in the 20th century. Freight traffic on the canal had all but ceased by the 1990s with the canal subsequently being used almost exclusively for recreational purposes.
Lockport, NY is about 30 miles northeast of Buffalo, NY, where the canal connects with Lake Erie. Lockport largely grew up around canal locks that were built when the canal reached the area in 1825. The canal path through downtown is on the original path, although the original primitive 5-step locks now serve only as a drainage channel beside the newer, larger locks.
I visited Lockport in December of 2001 while on a children's theatre tour and got a few photos of some of the canal works before the evening show.