In 1903, New York State decided it was necessary to enlarge the Erie, Champlain, Oswego, and Cayuga-Seneca Canals, in order to compete against evolving modes of transportation and the growth of railroads. This enlarged system of canals, known as the Barge Canal, was completed in 1918. The enlarged Barge Canal was 12-14 feet deep, 120-200 feet wide, and was able to accommodate larger, self-propelled vessels carrying up to 3,000 tons of cargo.
In the early 1970s the New York State Department of Transportation was cleaning out its Rochester office, preparing to move to a new building. There were several thousand glass and film negatives (along with some original prints) created by the State, documenting the construction and early years of the Barge Canal in the Western Division. These photographs were given to the Erie Canal Museum, and in the 1980s there was a dedicated effort by the museum to rehouse and make archival contact prints of the film negatives. The set of glass negatives were transferred to the State Archives in 1985. This digital collection includes the set of contact prints that remained at the Erie Canal Museum.