Guide to Canal Records
- Surveyor General/State Engineer and Surveyor
- Special Deputy State Engineer
- Board of Consulting Engineers
- Superintendent of Public Works
- Auditor of the Canal Department
- Canal Commissioners
- Commissioners of the Canal Fund
- Canal Board
- Canal Appraisers
- Superintendents of Repairs
- Canal Contracting Board
The Dutch colonial office of Surveyor General, established in 1642, was continued under the British colonial and State governments, with its principal function being the surveying and mapping of public lands. These duties extended to the State's canals. The Surveyor General was appointed a member of the Commissioners of the Canal Fund when that body was established in 1817 to manage the funds and debts of the canals. The Canal Fund Commissioners, including the Surveyor General, were in turn appointed to the Canal Board when that body was established in 1826.
The 1846 State Constitution, taking effect during the period of the first canal enlargement, replaced the Surveyor General with an elected State Engineer and Surveyor who would assume the Surveyor General's duties and be responsible for canal surveys and engineering. For the next eighty years, this office was responsible for planning, construction, maintenance, and monitoring of the State's canals and other transportation infrastructure. The State Engineer and Surveyor coordinated and supervised canal construction, repair, and maintenance work, developed and work plans and contract specifications for canal work, assisted in letting and administration of canal contracts, appointed division and resident engineers, and carried out other duties relating to overall supervision of the State's canal system.
The 1925-1926 constitutional reorganization of State government abolished the office of State Engineer and Surveyor and placed its functions within the new Department of Public Works.
Under the 1903 Barge Canal Law (Chapter 147), a Special Deputy State Engineer was charged to directly supervise the entire Barge Canal project. The Special Deputy State Engineer was appointed by and responsible to the State Engineer and Surveyor and carried out these duties until 1922.
The Advisory Board of Consulting Engineers was established by the Barge Canal Law of 1903 (Chapter 147) to advise the State Engineer and Surveyor on technical matters relating to the location and construction of the Barge Canal. This board wielded considerable influence because important questions regarding canal construction and engineering were referred to this Board, and its recommendations were almost always followed. The Board was abolished in 1911 (Chapter 736, Section 6) and replaced by the Board of Consulting Engineers (Chapter 736, Section 3).
The office of Superintendent of Public Works was established by Article V, Section 3 of the State Constitution of 1876 (effective February 8, 1878). The Superintendent of Public Works, appointed by the Governor, was authorized to execute all laws relating to repair, navigation, construction, and improvement of the State's canals. The Superintendent was appointed a member of the Canal Board and assumed all duties of the Canal Commissioners, who were abolished by the new Constitution. He appointed all those involved in the care and management of the Canals (except for the State Engineer and Surveyor). In addition, legislation of 1881, Chapter 569, conferred upon the Superintendent powers relating to contracting for work on the canals.
The Dutch colonial office of schout-fiscal, established in 1625, was succeeded by a Board of Audit and, after 1664, the British colonial office of auditor general. The State Legislature appointed an auditor in 1782 (Chapter 21, Fifth Session) to settle the State's accounts. The office of Comptroller was established in 1797 (Chapter 21), combining the auditor's power to audit and the treasurer's power to pay into one chief fiscal officer. As such, the Comptroller was designated a member of the Commissioners of the Canal Fund when that body was established in 1817 to manage the funds and debts of the canals. The Canal Fund Commissioners, including the Comptroller, were in turn appointed to the Canal Board when that body was established in 1826. The Comptroller remained a member of both boards until they were abolished in the 1925- 1926 constitutional reorganization of State government.
Some of the fiscal duties of the Comptroller relating to canals were assumed by a succession of other officers established by legislation of 1833, 1840, and 1848. The last of these officers, the Auditor of the Canal Department, was abolished in 1883, and the Comptroller resumed all such duties.
Laws of 1833, Chapter 56 established a Second Deputy Comptroller to perform the duties of the Comptroller relating to canals, except for the Comptroller's duties as a Commissioner of the Canal Fund. Legislation of 1840 (Chapter 288, Section 12) abolished the Second Deputy Comptroller and directed the Commissioners of the Canal Fund to appoint a chief clerk to perform those duties and to act as clerk of the Canal Board. This office was in turn abolished by Laws of 1848, Chapter 162, which established the Auditor of the Canal Department as chief fiscal officer of the canals.
The Canal Auditor was to issue warrants for payment from the Canal Fund; report annually to the Commissioners of the Canal Fund on receipts and payments relating to canals and the canal debt; and act as clerk of the Commissioners of the Canal Fund, clerk of the Canal Board; and a member of the Canal Contracting Board.
The office of Auditor of the Canal Department was abolished by Laws of 1883, Chapter 69, which transferred its responsibilities for auditing canal accounts back to the Comptroller.
By a joint resolution of the legislature on March 13 and 15, 1810, commissioners were appointed to investigate and recommend improvements for New York's inland navigation. The following year (Chapter 188), commissioners were appointed "for the consideration of all matters relating to . . . inland navigation." These commissioners were authorized to acquire lands, procure loans, and employ engineers and surveyors. However, the legislature provided the commissioners with no funding for this work from 1814 on. The commissioners made their final report to the legislature on March 8, 1816, recommending the construction of canals.
On April 17, 1816, the legislature passed an act (Chapter 237) authorizing the appointment of five commissioners to adopt measures to construct canals from the Hudson River to Lakes Erie and Champlain. The commissioners were to procure maps, plans, and cost estimates for constructing the canals; procure loans to fund construction; and secure land or funds from the federal government, other states, businesses, and individuals to facilitate construction. The following year, the commissioners were officially designated "Canal Commissioners" (Laws of 1817, Chapter 262) with the responsibility of directing the construction and repair of the State's canals.
Legislation of 1819 (Chapter 105) required the Canal Commissioners to settle accounts with the Comptroller. Legislation of 1821 (Chapter 26) required them to take duplicate receipts for all expenditures. The 1826 law establishing the Canal Board (Chapter 314) required the Canal Commissioners to keep accounts of expenditures to present to the Comptroller, who was designated a member of the new Canal Board.
The Canal Commissioners were abolished by the Constitution of 1876, Article V, Section 3 (effective February 8, 1878), which assigned their functions to the new Superintendent of Public Works.
Chapter 262 of the Laws of 1817 appointed the Lieutenant Governor, Comptroller, Attorney General, Surveyor General, Secretary of State, and Treasurer as Commissioners of the Canal Fund. The commissioners were authorized to borrow money on the credit of New York State and to manage canal funds derived from: duties on manufactured salt; taxes on steamboat passengers; lotteries and auction sales duties; canal tolls; and taxes on lands within 25 miles of the canals. The commissioners were to manage these funds in such a way as to limit the annual interest on canal construction loans to the sum of the Canal Fund revenues. The Commissioners of the Canal Fund were abolished in the 1925-1926 constitutional reorganization of State government and their duties absorbed by the new Department of Audit and Control.
Legislation of 1826 (Chapter 314) established the Canal Board, comprised of the Canal Commissioners and the Commissioners of the Canal Fund. Initially responsible for regulating canal tolls, the Canal Board also acquired responsibility for appointing various canal officers, directing special repairs, enforcing canal regulations, and hearing appeals from decisions of the Canal Appraisers (Laws of 1829, Chapter 368) regarding damage claims and related matters. The 1925-1926 constitutional reorganization of State government abolished the Canal Board and placed its functions in the new Department of Public Works (Laws of 1926, Chapter 348).
Appraisal of damages resulting from canal construction was first carried out by a Canal Commissioner and two Canal Appraisers pursuant to Laws of 1817, Chapter 262. Legislation of 1821 (Chapter 240) empowered the Canal Commissioners to act as Canal Appraisers; it also authorized the legislature to appoint Canal Appraisers, but no appointments were made under this law. In 1825 (Chapter 275), the Governor and Senate were directed to appoint two persons to act with any one of the Canal Commissioners as Appraisers. Revised Statutes of 1829, Part I, Chapter 9, Title 9, Article 3 defined the powers and duties of Canal Appraisers.
Legislation of 1836 (Chapter 287) authorized the Governor, with the consent of the Senate, to appoint three Appraisers to appraise damages to individuals resulting from canal construction. The permanent Board of Canal Appraisers was established by Laws of 1857, Chapter 538, and its procedure was clarified by Laws of 1870, Chapter 321. The Board of Canal Appraisers was abolished in 1883 (Chapter 205) and replaced by the Board of Claims, which was given responsibility to hear all pending claims. The Board of Claims was succeeded by the Court of Claims in 1897 (Chapter 36). Legislation of 1911 (Chapter 856) again named this body the Board of Claims. Legislation of 1915 (Chapter 1) restored the Court of Claims.
Legislation of 1826 (Chapter 314) established the office of Superintendent of Repairs. One Superintendent was appointed for each canal section with responsibility for maintenance and repair of that section. The Superintendents were empowered to contract for labor and materials and to expend money for repairs, and they submitted abstracts, check rolls, and vouchers documenting these transactions to the Canal Commissioners. Laws of 1827, Chapter 224, required Superintendents of Repairs to submit annual accounts to the Comptroller.
During the height of the power of the Canal Contracting Board, the office of Superintendent of Repairs was abolished (Laws of 1867, Chapter 577, Section 12). The Superintendent of Repairs system was restored when the Canal Contracting Board was abolished in 1870 (Chapter 55).
Chapter 327 of the Laws of 1854 directed that canal repairs be let by contract. Further legislation (Chapter 329) established the Canal Contracting Board, comprised of the Canal Commissioners, the State Engineer and Surveyor, and the Auditor of the Canal Department, to assume the duties of the Canal Commissioners relating to contracting for work on the State's canals. To facilitate management of canal repairs, legislation of 1857 (Chapter 105) directed the Contracting Board to divide the canals into subdivisions and residencies; this and subsequent legislation (Laws of 1860, Chapter 86; Laws of 1867, Chapter 577) further expanded the powers of the board. Following charges of fraud and corruption in contracting practices, the Contracting Board was abolished (Laws of 1870, Chapter 55) and the Canal Board was assigned responsibility for determining how repairs were to be made in the future.