John Corbett.

The lake country. An annal of olden days in central New York. The land of gold online

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tradition. When white men first began
settlement, a chain of ancient fortifica-
tions appeared to extend from the lower
end of Lake Ontario to the southwest-


ward, all occupying commanding posi-
tions, and oftentimes large areas. They
are supposed to be the work of that
mysterious people, the Mound Builders.
The French probably discovered and
took possession of these constructions,
as their arms are found above weapons
of primitive years.

The site of a fortification near the foot
of Owasco Lake, is now known as Fort
Hill, and occupied by a modern ceme-
tery. Long after its builders had aban-
doned the locality, it was the seat of a
village of the Cayugas, named by them
Osco. This was the birthplace of the
noted Indian chief, Logan, who after the
murder of his family by the whites, be-
came from a friend, an implacable foe,
and was killed in 1780. An ancient work
on the east slope of Cayuga Lake near
Aurora, embraced with its embankments
about twenty acres upon a hill between
two ravines. Traces of occupation in
prehistoric times are observable about
the foot of Seneca and Canandaigua
Lakes, in trench enclosures and similar
structures for defense.


A mound or fortification of an ellipti-
cal form, was found by the pioneers, lo-
cated on the dividing ridge between
Lakes Seneca and Cayuga, near the
south line of the present town of Ovid.
The embankment, broken in its course
by openings probably used for entrances,
was about three feet in height, with a
base several feet in width, and enclosed
nearly three acres of land, on which as
well as the construction itself, great for-
est trees were growing in 1800. A set-
tler soon afterwards built a house within
the space, and in the course of subse-
quent excavations, the teeth and large
bones of several skeletons, pieces of a
coarse kind of pottery, ornamental pipes
and other relics of like character were

Along the Chemung near Elmira,
clothed like the surroundings by a dense
forest growth when discovered by the
whites, the remains of a fortification are
most advantageously located to resist at-
tacks of enemies. On one side is the
river, on the other a deep ravine, and
in the rear extends an embankment two


hundred feet in length, fourteen feet in
width and over three feet in height. An
earth-work on the summit of Bluff Point
embraced several acres in its low ridges,
which were some eight feet in width, and
faced along the sides with flat stones.
Circular mounds appear about Lakes
Lamoka and Waneta, and on the inter-
vale at the entrance to Havana Glen, may
be traced with other artificial formations
of earth, one of triangular form.


The Landmarks of the lakes were tow-
ering trees and other well defined nat-
ural objects, or mystic spots memorial
of the deeds of a departed race, which
left euphonious names upon the waters
and about their shores. The highlands
overlooking Seneca Lake from the
southward, were known as Ta-de-vigh-
ro-no; Bluff Point, the promontory sep-
arating the east and west branches of
Lake Keuka, as O-go-ya-ga; Bare Hill
on Canandaigua Lake, the legendary
place of origin of the Senecas, as Ge-
nun-de-wah. The most distinguishing


feature of the west shore of Cayuga
Lake, retains the full significance of its
fame as "The great waterfall of the
woods," in its Indian appellation of
Taughannock Falls.

The Big Tree under whose boughs the
Indian treaty of 1797 occurred, was an
immense elm that stood on the banks of
the Genesee, visible for miles along the
"pleasant valley," as the name of the
river signifies. The traditionary elm at
the head of Seneca Lake was some four
feet in diameter at base, and bore its crest
proudly above its fellows. It marked
the southwest corner of the Military
Tract, and later the division of Steuben
and Tompkins counties on the north
line of Chemung. In a storm of wind
and rain, July 15th, 1890, this tree was
laid prostrate, when its trunk was found
to be a mere shell through decay of heart
from great age. Gigantic elms and wal-
nuts cast their shade over corn-growths
of the intervales in Indian days.

The Painted Post at the confluence of
the Tioga and Conhocton Rivers, was a
noted landmark in the annals of settle-


ment and in the history of Indian affairs
long before. There are various tradi-
tions as to its origin, one stating that it
marked the grave of Captain Montour,
a son of Queen Catharine, and who
there died of wounds received at the
Battle of Newtown; another, that it was
a monument of great antiquity, from
time to time renewed, and originally
erected to commemorate the death of
some celebrated war-chief, whose name
and deeds were long forgotten. The
whites in after years placed an iron rep-
resentation of a warrior on the spot, and
in its stead, in 1894, reared a granite
shaft crowned by the bronze figure of an

The Old Castle, the designation of the
grounds near the site of Kanadaseaga
where the Senecas laid their dead away,
was covered by an Indian orchard, and
the remains were undisturbed by the
whites because of a stipulation to that
efifect made in the treaty of purchase.
For many years at plowing time, war-
riors of the Iroquois came and watched
this orchard to see that its sward re-


mained unturned by the husbandman.
This mystic spot alone of the numerous
burial places of the aborigines about the
lakes, was not subject to despoliation
when found, though amid the leaf-strewn
mounds in many a forest glade, the con-
quering race located the lone and mourn-
ful graves of the early years.


The Travelers through Central New
York at the time of settlement were at-
tracted as are the thousands of tourists
of the present day, by the charms of
scenery, yet unsurpassed, but then in
primeval beauty. Few chronicled their
observations, but of that number all were
favorably impressed. One journal of
travel, written in February, 1792, con-
tains the following entry: "On the even-
ing of the third days' journey from
White stown, we were very agreeably
surprised to find ourselves on the east
side of the Seneca Lake, perfectly open
and free from ice as in the month of
June. This after having passed from
New York over a country completely


frozen, was a sight pleasing and inter-

A visitor to the lakes in the autumn
of 1792, thus records of Cayuga and
Seneca or Canadasega Lake, as it was
then sometimes called: "Thirty-five
miles from Onondaga Lake, I struck the
Cayuga Lake. The road is tolerable for
a new country, with but three houses
upon it; the land excellent, and very
heavy timbered. This lake is from
thirty-five to forty miles long, about two
miles wide, and abounds with fish.
Twelve miles west of the Cayuga, with
no inhabitant upon the road, is the Can-
adasega Lake, the handsomest piece of
water I ever beheld. Upon a pretty
slope stands a town called Geneva, which
consists of about twenty log-houses,
three or four frame buildings, and as
many idle persons as can live in them."

Louis Philippe, King of the FrencJi
from 1830 until his flight to England in
1848, where his death occurred two years
later, during the ascendancy to power of
Napoleon Bonaparte was a wanderer in
America. Li 1797, accompanied by his


two younger brothers, he journeyed from
Buffalo to Canandaigua and thence to
Geneva. SaiHng in the sloop over Sen-
eca to Catharine's Town, the party
walked to Newtown, and after a ten
days' sojourn, proceeded down the Che-
mung and Susquehanna Rivers upon an
ark. The royal visitors passed a night
with Peter Pitts, a land-owner at the
foot of Honeoye Lake; were entertained
at Canandaigua by Thomas Morris; at
Catharine's Town by George Mills, and
at Ne\\i:own by Henry Tower and others.
Alexander Wilson, author of "Amer-
ican Ornithology," in the autumn of
1804, with two companions made a pe-
destrian trip to the lakes. The party
proceeded from Philadelphia overland to
the Susquehanna; thence up its course
and that of the Chemung to Newtown;
down Catharine Valley and the east
shore of Seneca Lake to near Lodi,
where they crossed over to Cayuga
Lake, and taking skiff followed the
waters to Lake Ontario. The author
embodied his experiences in a poem en-
titled 'The Foresters," and in the foot-


notes to that portion devoted to Seneca
Lake scenery, mentioned the waterfalls,
the towering walnuts, the eagles and
snow-white storks, and the many im-
pressions of marine shells in the rocks
of the shore.


The Militia of the State in the early
days included ah able-bodied citizens
between the ages of eighteen and forty-
five years, not exempt by law from mili-
tary duty, and the training consequent
upon the organization rendered it pos-
sil^le at all times for the government to
call effective troops to its support should
the exigency arise. The Constitution of
1777, ordained that a proper magazine
of warlike stores, proportionate to the
number of inhabitants, should be estab-
lished in every county, but this provision never fully carried out, although
arsenals were located for each division
of the militia and armories provided for
each regiment.

The regiments were composed of eight
companies, including one of artillery,


which assembled for drill in their respec-
tive localities some three times a year.
Thus every village was the scene of mar-
tial demonstrations, upon the expanse
of green extending before the portals of
the old-time taverns, and incidents of
training days yet enter largely into their
tales of tradition. Each militia-man was
required to have his accoutrements in
order, and as a general thing all took
pride in possessing muskets which could
be relied upon as exponents of good
marksmanship. The members of a
company of cavalry were invariably
skillful riders, well-mounted on picked
horses of mettle and endurance.

The ordnance furnished by the State
to the artillery companies consisted gen-
erally of guns throwing a six-pound ball,
and to-day these cannons may be found
at the principal centers of population,
mute reminders of by-gone evolutions of
the field, save when their voices awaken
the echoes on occasions of special or
national celebration. In modern war-
fare these reHcs of the past would be of
little avail, and probably will never again


be required for use in army ranks. Sev-
eral kegs of ammunition were furnished
yearly by the government to each com-
pany for practice purposes, and in after
ages, from many a clayey bank, once
behind a target, rusty projectiles may be
dug greatly to the interest of anti-

General training was a gala day to the
community, causing an assemblage of all
from far and near, and awakening a feel-
ing of fraternity by extending the gen-
eral acquaintance of individuals. The
companies of a regiment gathered on the
occasion, each vying with the other in
the completeness of equipment and the
proficiency of drill. The of^cers in full
regimentals presided over the military
maneuvers, v/hile the strains of martial
music sounded and the cannon boomed,
reminding the aged present, of Revolu-
tionary days, and arousing in the youth
in attendance, resolves to conserve the
liberties then won. These events of pa-
triotic import occurred annually in the
autumn months, and continued until the
close of 1845.



The Schools of the settlements were
early established and advanced with the
development of the general system of
the commonwealth. At the first meet-
ing of the State Legislature in 1787, a
law was passed providing for the ap-
pointment of the Regents of the Univer-
sity, and in 1789, certain portions of the
public lands were appropriated for school
and gospel purposes. In 1793, the Re-
gents recommended the establishment of
common schools, and two years later
the first of the many laws for their en-
couragement went into effect. Prominent
among the advocates of education at that
time was Ezra L'Hommedieu of the
State Senate, owner of a tract of land at
the head of Seneca Lake.

The educational institutions of the
county-seats of the lakes, Vvcre first estab-
lished as follows: Canandaigua Acad-
emy, March 4th, 1795; Auburn Acad-
emy, February 14th, 181 5; Ithaca Acad-
emy, March 24th, 1823; Ovid Academy,
April 13th, 1826; Geneseo Academy,
March loth, 1827; Owego Academy,


April i6th, 1828; Penn Yan Academy,
April 17th, 1828; Lyons Academy,
March 29th, 1837; Elmira Academy,
March 31st, 1840; Waterloo Academy,
April nth, 1842; Bath Union School,
July 8th, 1846; Corning Union School,
April 13th, 1859; Watkins Union School,
April 3rd, 1863. Other early incorpora-
tions were: Cayuga Academy at Au-
rora, March 23rd, 1801 ; Geneva Acad-
emy, March 29th, 181 3; Prattsburgh
Academy, February 23rd, 1824; Skan-
eateles Academy, April 14th, 1829; Avon
Academy, April 13th, 1836; Seneca Falls
Academy, April 27th, 1837.

The denominational schools date from
April 14th, 1820, when the Auburn Theo-
logical Seminary, a Presbyterian insti-
tution, was chartered. The Genesee
Wesleyan Seminary at Lima, was estab-
lished by the Methodists, April 30th,
1833, and merged in Genesee Col-
lege February 27th, 1849. Hobart Col-
lege at Geneva, in control of the Episco-
pals, on April loth, 1852, succeeded Gen-
eva College, chartered April 5th, 1824,
in which was merged Geneva Academy.


Starkey Seminary on the west shore of
Seneca Lake, was incorporated by the
Christians, February 25th, 1848. The
Elmira Female College was founded by
the Presbyterians, April 13th, 1855. The
charter of Cook Academy at Havana,
was secured by the Baptists in August,
1872. The Free Baptists laid the corner-
stone of Lake Keuka College, August
2 1 St, 1888.

One Normal School is included in the
seats of learning along the route of the
Military Expedition вАФ at Geneseo, char-
tered March 29th, 1867. Two colleges
were incorporated, and extensive struc-
tures erected, which are now occupied
by other institutions. The People's Col-
lege was authorized, April I2tli, 1853,
and the New York State Agricultural
College at Ovid, April 15th, 1853. The
Cook Academy succeeded to the site of
the former, and the Willard Asylum to
the latter. Through the enterprise of
Charles Cook, the People's College was
located on a farm of two hundred acres
at Havana, January 8th, 1857, but sub-
sequent failure to fulfill statutory require-


ments resulted in a loss of the land-
grant, which made possible the great-
ness of Cornell University.


The Institutions established by the
State in Central New York, are of the
classes, educational, charitable and cor-
rective, which evidence the cosmopolitan
character and diversity of interests, to
which the old domain of the Iroquois
has attained. They were foundeJl on lib-
eral lines, and date from 1816, when the
building of Auburn Prison was com-
menced. It was completed in 1819, at a
cost of $300,000, exclusive of the labor
of convicts. The last located about the
lakes, was through act of June 26th,
1880, which was the initial event in the
establishment of the Agricultural Ex-
periment Station at Geneva.

Cornell University which overlooks
Cayuga Lake at Ithaca, was chartered
April 27th, 1865, through the enterprise
of Ezra Cornell, but is more a monu-
ment of public than private liberality.
In 1862, Congress passed an act grant-


ing to the States which should pro-
vide schools for the promotion of Agri-
culture and the mechanic arts, thirty-
thousand acres of public lands for each
senator and representative. This fund
was evidently intended to aid many es-
tabhshments of New York, but the entire
proceeds of the State's share, amount-
ing to nine hundred and ninety thousand
acres, became of benefit to the Univer-
sity, upon compliance with the conditions
of the legislative enactment of incor-

The State Hospital for the Insane,
located on the eastern shore of Seneca
Lake at the site of the old New York
State agricultural college and farm,
ranks as the leading institution of its
kind. It had its inception in an act
passed April 8th, 1865, authorizing the
establishment of the Willard Asylum for
the Insane. An act to establish and
maintain an institution for the relief of
indigent and disabled soldiers and sailors
of the State of New York, was passed
June 3rd, 1872. Bath was chosen as the
place of location of the Home; the build-


ings were commenced in 1878, and
opened for the reception of inmates on
Christmas day, 1879.

The New York State Reformatory
at Elmira, commands from its wall-
environed heights, a beautiful view of
the valley-ways up which the troops of
the Military Expedition marched in pur-
suit of the Iroquois. To the northward
extends the vale down which the defeated
warriors trailed, and to the southward,
almost within the shadow of the build-
ings, rest the dead from the ranks of the
Confederate prisoners, confined along
the Chemung during the Civil War. The
site was selected in pursuance of an act
authorizing the appointment of commis-
sioners to locate a State Penitentiary or
Industrial Reformatory, passed April
29th, 1869.


The Religion of the Iroquois taught
the return of thanks for all bounties re-
ceived from the Great Spirit, who in
their worship was addressed by particu-
lar speakers, followed by feasting, and


closing with dancing and other recrea-
tions. While prayer was offered, the
dust of tobacco sprinkled on live coals
of fire, arose as incense with the sup-
plications. Their great religious festivals
were held semi-annually, when the con-
vocations were general, and the cele-
brations of thanksgiving continued from
three to six days. With them, "The
groves were God's first temples,'' and
the budding leaf, the sprouting plant,
the ripening grain had deepest signifi-
cance of immortality.

The Jesuits at an early day founded
missions in the villages of the Five Na-
tions, having attained so extended a
knowledge of the territory of the lakes
as to map its main features in 1664, but
the constant aggressions and unceasing
wars of the whites, rendered of little avail
the efforts of the missionaries to incul-
cate the doctrines of peace. Father Isaac
Jogues, in 1642, was the pioneer priest
in the Onondaga country, but he and
many of the sixty as devoted souls, who
in the succeeding hundred years labored
to uphold the cross in the wilderness,


met death at the hands of the Iroquois,
who denominated members of the clergy
as "black coats," when they came to re-
gard them with distrust as agents of a
rapacious race.

The preachers of the Protestant de-
nominations in later years too often but
prepared the way for the machinations of
the speculators, who were known as.
''gamblers" among the despoiled deni-
zens of the forest. In 1765, the Rev.
Samuel Kirkland came on a mission to
the Indians at Kanadaseaga, and was
revered by them for his good works, yet
as commissioner of the State of Massa-
chusetts, he conducted the treaty of 1788,
which was the beginning of the end of
the land-titles of the Six Nations. It was
not long after this event, that all the
sects of civilization had representative
congregations in the settlements, endeav-
oring to promote the welfare of commu-
nity, and the societies then organized are
still flourishing.

The vagaries of religious belief have
had striking illustrations in Central New
York, not however to prosper long at


the places of inception. The Friends
Avhose deeds about Lake Keuka Outlet
are now ancient annals, had faith that
Jemima Wilkinson was controlled by the
Divine Spirit in propagating the tenet
that celibacy was indispensable to a pure
life. Mormon Hill near the north line
of Ontario county, is the pretended place
of discovery by Joseph Smith in 1827, of
the golden plates of the Book of Mor-
mon, and Brigham Young, after living
for a time west of the head of Seneca
Lake, resided long at Canandaigua. The
Oneida Community, established by John
H. Noyes in 1847, held all things in com-
mon up to 1879, when their peculiar
family relations were abandoned.


The Folk-lore of the forest-environed
homes was a natural result of lives,
isolated and under the weird spell of the
vv'ilderness. Though the country of the
lakes was new to the settlers, it was old
in its traditions of a mysterious past. The
lace which had departed left no monu-
ments to mark the period of its power,


but the influence of its occupancy was
over all, and thus under conducive con-
ditions the superstitions of an older time,
throve even more vigorously than in the
lands from w^hich they had been trans-
planted. Upon the border-land of bar-
barism and civilization, the characteris-
tics of the past and present came in con-
tact and commingled.

Mystic spots v^ere many in the lore of
the Iroquois, who would desert village
sites if believing that evil influences were
there dominant, and the localities thus
under a ban were often regarded as
eerie places by the whites. The Indians'
observance of the phases of the moon;
their forest signs governing seed-time of
maize; their note of natural phenomena,
and rare wood-craft, became lines of
guidance with many of the pioneers.
Thus survive still on the farmsteads, say-
ings that rain will fall when the dip of
the crescent moon is such that the
powder-horn of the hunter may be hung
thereon while he rests from the chase,
and corn-planting time is at hand when
white-oak leaves resemble feet of squir-
rels in size of growth.


Witchcraft extended its enchantments
over the dreamers of both races, and the
silver bullet, like the charmed arrow, was
prepared in secret for the were-wolfs
heart. The spectres of the dead appeared
alike to the Iroquois and the credulous
settlers, and many a hill and hollow bore
the prefix of ''ghost," to its appellation
in the olden days. Then also, in accord-
ance with the folk-lore of the whites, oc-
casionally occurred the curious custom
of "Telling the bees," on the death of a
member of the household. Those who
observed the usage, tapped gently on
each hive and whispered of the dead, in
order that the little honeymakers might
not forsake their abode, because of hav-
ing to ascertain the fact themselves.

The superstition of the vampire, that
horror of the grave which was supposed
to harbor with the dead yet derive its
sustenance from the living, had one illus-
tration at least about Seneca Lake.
Down the western shore not many miles
from its head, in the early years the
corpse of a young woman was exhumed,
and the heart and other vital parts com-


mitted to the flames. The grewsome tale
comports in a remarkable manner with
the general sayings in regard to vam-
pires. Of several sisters, all in succes-
sion had wasted away, until but one re-
mained and she was ill. Though in the
grave for many months, the burned por-
tions of the body were fresh in appear-
ance. The living sister, undoubtedly
from mental relief, recovered her health
after the event.


The Treasure of the earth was an ob-
ject of unceasing quest by many settlers
of more adventurous spirit than their fel-
lows, for few of the localities of the lakes
were devoid of legends of lead and sil-
ver mines known to the Indians but un-
discovered by the whites. This idea of
unearthed ore of value was not confined
to individuals, but engaged the thoughts
of entire communities, and even ex-
tended its influence to the halls of legis-
lation, for in many of the early sales of
land the gold and silver mines were re-
served by the State. This provision in-


dicative of wide-spread belief in mining
possibilities, dated from Colonial days,
and was a feature of all patents then

The lead-mine mystery appears to
have been given greater credence than
other tales of treasure-trove, for from
the shores of Ontario to the banks of the
Chemung and Susquehanna, the rock-
walled tributaries of the lakes and

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Online LibraryJohn CorbettThe lake country. An annal of olden days in central New York. The land of gold → online text (page 4 of 7)