John Corbett.

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

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rivers were explored by the pioneers in-
tent on finding the mystically-marked
boulders, that were said to bar the en-
trances to caverns rich with deposits of
metal. Indian lore located treasure at
an elbow of a stream of Seneca Lake,
and settlers regarded the tradition
worthy of consideration, as at angles of
ravines rock-fissures most abound; but
all search for mines westward of Oneida
Lake have been unavailing, while to the
eastward veins of ore appear from the
Hudson to the Mohawk, the Delaware
to the St. Lawrence.

The Iroquois in roving bands visited
at intervals their old-time haunts, for
many years after the remnant of their


race had been assigned to reservations.
Silently and unexpectedly to- the pio-
neers they came, as spirits of the past,
and tarried but a brief period along the
waters before departure. No cabin home,
lone in the woodland depths, was mo-
lested on these occasions, and no reason
could be conjectured for such visitations,
save to obtain a portion of the treasure,
forever hidden by forest-craft from the
whites. There are authentic statements
to the effect that settlers who had granted
favors to the Indians were taken to their
rendezvous, but in the dead of night and
by so devious a route they could not find
the way by day.

Long after the last Iroquois had left
his ancestral trails, the quest continued,
and to-day those versed in wood-lore
may trace in many a vale, the thicket-
over-grown excavations or note upon the
shore-skirting cliffs the drill-indentations
of the fortune hunters. Geologists have
pronounced against the probability of
finding lead and silver ores in paying
quantities in the region of the lakes, but
out-croppings are known to exist, and


what the revelations of the future will be
none may say. The secrets of the rocks
are not ascertained by cursory examina-
tions; only exhaustive investigations will
disclose their treasure, which is evi-
denced in as great degree at present as
was the great salt bed beneath the lakes
a score of years ago.


The Salt-springs were found through-
out the State as settlement progressed;
the brine varying in degree of satura-
tion, from the 70° of the outflow at On-
ondaga to the brackish waters known as
"deer licks." The existence of these
springs and others of a mineral nature
nov/ famous for their medicinal qualities,
was known to the Indians, and in most
cases only discovered through chance by
the whites. Their locations were not
willingly revealed by the discomfited
race, and doubtless brine springs yet re-
main unknown. The facts are well
authenticated, that the Iroquois would
borrow kettles of the settlers about the
heads of Seneca and Cayuga Lakes, and
return them filled with salt.


The journal of Father Lallemant, who
visited the region in 1645, niakes the
first mention in history of the salt
springs of Onondaga Lake. Their value
was ascertained during the Colonial
period; in the treaty with the Six Na-
tions they were to be jointly used by
the whites and Indians forever, and the
State reserved for salt purposes the ter-
ritory surrounding. The first salt there
produced by settlers, was made in 1789,
by Asa Danforth and Comfort Tyler in
a kettle suspended from a pole upheld
by crotched sticks. The first caldron
kettle with arch, was used by James Van
Vleck in 1793, and solar works were con-
structed in 1 82 1. The manufacture of
salt was begun to the northward of
Cayuga Lake in 1798, and later at other
points in Western New York.

The boring of wells on the sites of
springs of weak brine in the hopes of
increasing the supply and saturation, was
commenced at an early date, but with
the tools of the time, the depths attained
hardly exceeded two hundred feet, and
the efforts generally ended in disappoint-


ment. After the discovery of the petro-
leum deposits of Pennsylvania in 1859,
drilling was resumed in this State, but
in search of oil. With the improved
appliances it was possible to sink wells
more than one thousand feet within the
earth, and thus the salt field of Central
and Western New York was discovered.
Many of the borings of this period are
either valuable wells of mineral water,
or costly exponents of failure termed
"dry holes."

The Lake Country of which Seneca
is the geographical center, in its limits
is nearly conterminous with the salt
tract of the State. From westward of
the Genesee, eastward to the section
south of Oneida Lake, the drills after
passing through the rocks of shale and
limestone, have penetrated deeply into
rock-salt. This bed is now known to be
the source of the springs of Onondaga;
its northern boundary appearing to be
about on a line with the foot of the lakes,
while its extent to the southward is not
defined. In its central portion it lies
less than fifteen hundred feet below tide.


The works of the Glen Salt Company,
one mile down the west shore of Seneca
Lake, were completed in 1894, the last
of twenty-five blocks of the field estab-
lished since 1880.


The Rocks of Western New York,
with the exception of the saline deposit,
contain mineral wealth neither of great
value nor extensive dissemination. The
rock-formations preclude the existence
of the precious metals as well as the
baser ores. These include all the strata
lying between the primary rocks and the
coal measures of Pennsylvania, which
dip toward the south and overlie each
other on a general level from west to
east, though bent, far in the distance of
the latter direction. The strata are dis-
tinguished mainly by the fossils which
they contain, and vary in thickness from
a few inches to many feet.

The whole country from the shores of
Ontario to the altitude of the Alle-
ghanies, rises in a series of terraces,
bounded at their northern edges by the


out-croppings of the principal rock
groups. Through these terraces the
beds of the lakes have been riven, which
renders the slopes about their outlets of
level aspect, while hills that approach in
elevation the heights of mountains, en-
compass their heads. Lake Ontario in
its whole width from the Genesee River
northward, is excavated in the lower
part of the Medina Sandstone, the
Oneida Conglomerate and Gray Sand-
stone, and the Hudson River Group. Its
waters from a surface of 232 feet above
tide, extend to a depth of 368 feet below

The Hudson River Group that limits
the depth of bed of Ontario, is above the
Uitica Slate; and the Trenton and Black
River Limestones, the Calciferous Sand-
rock and the Potsdam Sandstone, lead
down to the Granite and Gneiss of the
primary rocks. The Medina Sandstone
forms the blufifs of the southern shore
of Lake Ontario, and from this forma-
tion upwards and southward, the rocks
consist principally of a series of lime-
stones, shales and sandstones, each pass-


ing iiiio the other by gradation, or with
the Hne of separation distinctly marked.
The geographical appellations of those
points where the members of a rock-
group display greatest development,
were adopted as their geological desig-

The shores of Seneca from their cen-
tral location and north and south exten-
sion, well present the record of the
rocks. The formations in their order
from Ontario to the foot of the lake are
the Medina Sandstone, the Clinton and
the Niagara Groups, and the Onondaga
Salt Group. The Corniferous Limestone
and Marcellus Shale have out-croppings
of fifty feet each, along the Seneca; and
above, the Hamilton Group extends for
hundreds of feet. Ten feet of Tully
Limestone separates the Hamilton shales
from the Genesee Slate, 150 feet in thick-
ness. Then ensues the Portage Group
for 1,000 feet, and above it, the Che-
mung Group rises in the rock-ribbed
hills, to the Old Red Sandstone and the
Conglomerate of the Carboniferous sys-



The Streams mingle with the currents
of the lakes, either through watercourses
of alluvial banks or ravines that cut deep
into the rock-walls of the shores. The
inlet and the outlet waters generally flow
gently through valley and plain, and
over gravelly beds, but the outflows of
Lakes Keuka and Skaneateles are
through rocky channels; the former in
its descent to Seneca, a distance of seven
miles, falling 270 feet, and the latter de-
scending 250 feet in five miles. Seneca
River is the main drainage stream of the
Lake Country, receiving its waters from
Canandaigua eastward to Oneida Lake,
where it assumes the name of Oswego

The streams coursing from the height
of land, southward to the Chemung and
Susquehanna, invariably rise in upland
vales between the heads of the lakes, and
at an elevation of hundreds of feet above
their surface waters. Lakelets are fre-
quently the feeders of these water-
courses, which in their channels, no-


where show a rocky bed in flow from
source to river. This is in substantia-
tion of the theory, that the lake-beds of
Central New York are in true rock-
fissures of the earth, resulting from some
great convulsion of the past, which not
only rent asunder the vast crevasses of
the valleys, but caused as well the sec-
ondary rifts of the uplands.

The lakes receive many tributaries
from the uplands, which from hill-
environed springs wind through quiet
dales, to foam through rapids and over
cascades in rock-walled courses as they
near the end. Should the stream thread
an old-time rock-fissure in the latter part
of its flow, the wearing action of its
waters during the ages past, has formed
a glen of curve and pool and tranquil
reach. Such are the characteristics of
Watkins and Havana Glens. Streams
which have wrought their own channels,
course through gorges, not deep but
broad and with angles and abrupt turns,
as do Big Stream and Hector Falls
Creek on Seneca, and Fall and Taughan-
nock Creeks on Cayuga.


The waterfalls of the streams are num-
erous, and form the most picturesque
features of the landscapes of the lakes.
In the course from upland to valley, the
water-ilow encountering rocks of differ-
ent degrees of hardness, has worn them
irregularly, the soft shales forming a
declining surface, while the compact
strata have retained their forms. To this
action is due the fact, that the locations
of the waterfalls are either at the face of
the cliffs or worn deeply into the bluffs.
Hector and Montour Falls on Seneca,
and Fall Creek Falls on Cayuga, are
illustrations of the former condition,
while the latter is evidenced by Lodi and
Glenora Falls on Seneca Lake, and
Taughannock Falls on Cayuga Lake.


The Water-ways were the avenues
along which coursed the tide of civiliza-
tion, and vantage grounds that had been
well-chosen as places of occupancy by
the Iroquois, were appropriated with-
out question by the settlers. The streams
which from their forest shrouded sources


perennially flowed, turned many mills on
sites now silent, or marked by quiet ham-
lets. Where commercial advantages
aided the growth of towns, their upbuild-
ing was gradual in most instances, but
with some the efforts of great land-
owners effected a speedy development,
while others after flourishing for a time,
fell slowly into inevitable decadence.

This waning prosperity was the nat-
ural result of changed conditions, prin-
cipally the exhaustion of forest re-
sources. Great centers of enterprise are
only possible at considerable distances
from each other, and in the settlement of
a country the final supremacy in the case
of rival towns rests on the fact of more
favorable location. On the outlet of
Lakes Lamoka and Waneta, midway be-
tween the heads of Lakes Keuka and
Seneca, in 1793, Frederick Bartles of
New Jersey, laid out a village, which he
named Frederick Town. He built saw
and grist mills, and in May, 1798,
100,000 feet of boards were floated from
this point to Baltimore, an evidence of
the immense volume of business there


transacted while lasted woodland prod-

The idea that the site of Watkins was
to be the location of a place of commer-
cial importance, because at the head of
Seneca Lake, was doubtless entertained
by John W. Watkins, who began im-
provements soon after his great land
purchase, and also an expectation of
Samuel Watkins, as in no other town in
Western New York are the streets lo-
cated with greater regularity or with
more metropolitan features of length
and breadth. The village now includes
what was known as Savoy, founded on
the w^estern slope of Seneca by Isaac O.
Leake, and three miles dovs^n the eastern
shore of the lake, at Hector Falls, John
B. and Samuel S. Seeley once conducted
a thriving business, having grist and full-
ing mills, a still-house and a foundry, an
inn and store, of which foundation stones
alone remain.

It was an era when water carriage
was the only available means of moving
the vast bulk of commodity of a sectioYi
of diversified products, continually ex-


panding in area of cultivation. The
trend of commercial currents, at first ex-
clusively to the southward, was turned
eastward as well, by the improvements
Vv'hich resulted in the connection of the
Mohawk and Oswego River systems by
canal, in 1796. The flow in the latter
direction was augmented by the open-
ing of the Erie Canal in 1825; the Ca-
yuga and Seneca Canal in 1828, and the
Crooked Lake and Chemung Canals in
1833. One scheme was never realized —
the building of a ship canal from the
lakes to Sodus Bay, along the shores of
which a city was platted in the early


The Steamboats first appeared upon
the waters of the Lake Country during
the '20's, but incorporated companies
were concerned in navigation afifairs on
but three of the lakes, Cayuga, Seneca
and Keuka. There were no olden-day
organizations to build steamboats on
Canandaigua, Skaneateles or the smaller
lakes, but vessels propelled by steam


early ploughed their waves. For many
years after settlement, sailing craft were
numerous as freighters. A sloop was
launched on Seneca at Geneva, as early
as 1796, to run as a packet to the head
of the lake, and a schooner began
trading trips on Lake Keuka shortly
after 1800.

The Cayuga Steam Boat Company, of
which David Woodcock was President
and Oliver Phelps, James Pumpelly,
James Benjamin and Lewis Looker,
Directors, built at Ithaca the steamboat
"Enterprise," which made her first trip
on June 7th, 1820. One hundred and
fifty passengers were aboard, and it took
from 10 a. m. till 6 p. m. to reach Ca-
yuga Bridge, where a great concourse of
people, martial music and the roar of
cannon greeted the arrival. Elijah H.
Goodwin was in command. The Ca-
yuga Lake and Inlet Steamboat Com-
pany was incorporated February 25th,
1828, with a capital of $20,000. Head-
quarters were at Ithaca, and the Direc-
tors were Francis A. Bloodgood, Rich-
ard V. DeWitt, Elijah H. Goodwin,


Alvah Beebe and S. DeWitt Bloodgood.

The Seneca Lake Steamboat Company
was formed by legislative enactment,
April 6th, 1825. Its incorporators were
Samuel Watkins, Henry Dwight, Sam-
uel Colt, Joseph Fellows, James Rees,
Nicholas Ayrault and associates. Head-
quarters were at Geneva, and the capital
stock $20,000. The first steamboat on
Seneca Lake, the "Seneca Chief," began
running three years after this event, but
its proprietors were J. B. and R. Rum-
ney. The boat first landed at the head
of the lake, July 4th, 1828, amid the
shouts of a multitude, volleys of mus-
ketry and the boom of cannon. Captain
E. Miner was in command, and it had
required over five hours' time to make
the distance from Geneva.

The Crooked Lake Steamboat Com-
pany with a capital stock of $5,000, and
headquarters at Bath, was organized
April i8th, 1826, by Dugald Cameron,
John Magee, WiUiam Hastings, Samuel
S. Ellsworth and Abraham Wagener. It
is not known however, that through this
organization was built the first steam-


boat of Lake Keuka, which was known
as the "Keuka," and in the year 1837
pUed between Hammondsport and Penn
Yan, with Joseph Lewis as Captain. The
first steamboat of Canandaigua Lake
was launched at its foot in 1827. It was
in command of Isaac Parrish, and called
the *'Lady of the Lake." Skaneateles
Lake was first sailed by a steamboat in
1831; the ''Independence," commanded
by Captain Wells.


The Ferries of the lakes were estab-
lished some score of years after the in-
itiatory enterprises of the kind, at Ca-
yuga Lake Outlet and at the Genesee
River. The former was the first ferry
in Central New York, and run under the
proprietorship of John Harris, the pio-
neer of that locality, while the latter was
located soon afterwards, yet in 1789, by
Gilbert R. Berry, an early settler on the
river to the west of the site of Avon.
After the finding of the low-water fords
and before the construction of bridges,
ferries came into general use upon the


streams, many of which were navigable
to the hght craft of the times, and in con-
sequence declared by legislative enact-
ment to be public highways.

The valley lakes of Owasco, Skane-
ateles, Canandaigua and Crooked or
Keuka, as it is known at present, are
narrow in their courses like Seneca and
Cayuga, but of less than half as great
lengths, and to this configuration is
doubtless due the fact that but one of
them, Lake Keuka, was ever crossed by
a ferry chartered by the State. The route
connected the eastern and western
shores, and touched at the southern ex-
tremity of Blufif Point, at one time the
site of quite a village. April 2ist, 1818,
Isaac Kingsbury was authorized to
maintain the ferry; March 22nd, 1828,
Hiram Gleason secured the charter for
ten years, and April 12th, 1838, Francis
Correll was granted a continuance for a
similar term, the limit of the legal life
of the privilege.

The first ferry of Seneca Lake was
maintained by John Goodwin, where the
North Hector ferry ran till 1897. His


charter extended for ten years from
April 4th, 1820, but on April 17th, 1826,
John Starkey was granted the route for
fifteen years. May 2nd, 1845, ^^^ Fow-
ler and Alfred Goodwin were authorized
to continue this ferry for a similar term.
April 15th, 1825, John Maynard, Ethan
Watrous and William Howard were em-
powered to conduct a ferry for twenty
years, from ''Lancaster village in the
county of Seneca to Dresden village in
the county of Yates." April 3rd, 1829,
Terah Carter acquired the right to keep
a ferry for fifteen years, from Big Stream
to Peach Orchard Point. At an early day,
Miles Raplee and Charles Goff ran an
unchartered ferry across the lake at Lodi

The ferries of Cayuga Lake, other
than those over outlet waters, date from
April 17th, 1816, when was established
the ferry, which for fourteen years from
April 15th, 1825, was continued by
James Kidder, Amos Goodwin, Mat-
thew N. Tillotson and David Ogden, and
for the same length of time from April
5th, 1844, by Ira Almy and Horace C.


Tracy. January 21st, 1826, James and
Jacob Carr were authorized to keep a
ferry at Union Springs; May i8th, 1836,
Stephen Mosher for twelve years; De-
cember 14th, 1847, Johi^ Carr for ten
years; April 5th, 1853, Thomas Patten
for ten years. February 25th, 1828,
Samuel Griggs, Asa Foote and Ebenezer
Goff were granted a ferry charter at
Griggsport. April 24th, 1829, John
McLallen acquired ferry privileges at
Frog Point, but May 20th, 1836, Wil-
liam Carman was accorded the rights,
which by renewals were extended to


The Canals, which in after years linked
the lakes with the waters of adjacent
rivers, were projected soon after settle-
ment was well advanced, and until com-
pletion their establishment was ably ad-
vocated. The Western Inland Naviga-
tion Company was incorporated March
30th, 1792, with power to improve the
channel of the Mohawk River and build
canals to Lake Ontario and Seneca


Lake. The work was begun at Little
Falls in 1793, and three years later boats
passed through to Oneida Lake. The
company gave up its rights west of that
point in 1808, and in 1820, sold out to
the State for $152,718.52.

The Erie Canal was commenced at
Rome July 4th, 181 7, and finished in
October, 1825, at a cost of $7,143,789.86.
As then constructed, it was 363 miles
long, forty feet wide at top, twenty-eight
at bottom, and four feet deep. The com-
pletion of the work w^as celebrated by
civic and military demonstrations from
the lakes to the sea, and at New York
City the ceremonies were especially im-
posing, the day of the arrival of the first
boat over its course, bearing Governor
Clinton and other officials of the State.
As this craft entered the canal at Buffalo,
October 26th, the event was heralded by
cannon arranged along the line, and in
an hour and twenty minutes the signal
passed to New York.

The Cayuga and Seneca Canal for
about half its course is formed by slack-
water navigation upon the Seneca River.


The descent from Geneva, its western,
to Montezuma, its eastern terminus, is
seventy-four feet. The Seneca Lock
Navigation Company was incorporated
April 6th, 1813, for the purpose of im-
proving the outlet of Seneca and Cayuga
Lakes, and the Cayuga and Seneca Canal
Company was chartered April 20th,
181 5. Its capital was increased to
$60,000 in 1816, and again augmented
the following year. The proposition for
assuming the work by the State was ap-
proved in 1825, and the interest of the
company purchased for $33,867.18. The
canal was completed in 1828, at a cost
of $214,000.

The Crooked Lake Canal and the Che-
mung Canal were abandoned by the
State in 1877 and '78. The former was
begun in 1830, and finished in 1833. It
had a descent of 269 feet from Lake
Keuka to Seneca Lake, by twenty-seven
locks. The construction of the Chemung
Canal was commenced in 1829, and it
was completed in 1833, at a cost of
$344,000. It connected Seneca Lake
with the Chemung River at Elmira, and


its feeder was navigable from Horse-
heads to Corning. On both canal and
feeder were fifty-three locks with an ag-
gregate rise of 516 feet. By the junc-
tion Canal, a private enterprise, it was
connected with the Pennsylvania Canal.
The Chenango Canal and the Genesee
Valley Canal were also abandoned in


The Land-routes at the commence-
ment of pioneer undertakings fol-
lowed the trails of the Iroquois, who
so well had chosen their pathways
along the waters and over the di-
vides, that many of the thoroughfares
of to-day yet follow their winding
courses. They were invariably of easy
grade, and in the patches of primeval
Vv^oods that remain along the lake-shores,
these ancient ways, worn by the noise-
less tread of feet encased in moccasins,
may still be traced. The troops in com-
mand of General Sullivan were led by
guides of the Oneida Nation over Indian
trails, made by the axe-men, of sufficient


width for the passage of the artillery.

Two public highways to the lakes were
commenced in 1791, which became im-
portant routes for immigration. One
was built from Oxford on the Chenango
River, to the head of Cayuga Lake, and
the other from Whitestown on the Mo-
hawk River, to the foot of Seneca Lake.
This was known as the Geneva Road,
and the old army track continued it as a
thoroughfare to the Genesee River, from
which point only an Indian trail ex-
tended to Niagara. The water-courses
encountered in the opening of these lines
of travel were crossed at fording places,
with the exception of ferriage at the foot
of Cayuga Lake, while over the marshy
places stretched the log track-ways
known as corduroy roads.

The Cayuga Bridge, the most exten-
sive work connected with the land-
routes, was considered one of the great-
est public improvements in the State,
and for a time regarded as the dividing
line between the East and the West. The
company for its construction was incor-
porated in 1797, and consisted of John


Harris, Thomas Morris, Wilhelmus
Mynderse, Charles WilHamson and
Joseph Annin. The structure spanned

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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 5 of 7)