Waterways of Cazenovia, New York
From: Cazenovia Past & Present
A Descriptive and Historical Record of the Village
By Christine O. Atwell, Cazenovia, NY 1928


The location of the village must be regarded as a fortunate one, being 1,250 feet above sea level and almost surrounded by water; the lake on the west, the outlet of the lake on the south, while to the east and north flows Chittenango Creek.*

Cazenovia Lake is the principal inland body of water in Madison County, and is one of the most beautiful minor sheets of water in the state. Viewing the country about the village from the high ground at the head of Sullivan Street, one sees on every side, except the south, that the hills have a gentle descent, forming somewhat the make of a valley, and yet the lake is four and a half miles long, from a half mile to a mile wide and about sixty feet deep. It discharges its waters into Chittenango Creek which was a feeder for the Erie canal. It occupies an elevated basin 900 feet above tidewater and is fed apparently by springs as there is no inlet to supply the water wider than one can step over and the outlet is large except in very dry seasons. When a traveler arrives, he is greeted, as it were, with the smiles of a beautiful sheet of water, seemingly basking in the sun on the summit of the land—the fish in their element and the inhabitants of the village basking in the sunshine of prosperity on the earth.

The lake is well stocked with fish; perch, trout, sunfish and bullheads are native. At one time 43 small pickerel measuring about four to nine inches long were brought from Leland’s Pond in Eaton, and put in the lake. An agreement was made by the inhabitants that no person would take any within three years. At the expiration of that time they had multiplied beyond all expectations and were in abundance, but they destroyed the smaller fry, except the horny bullheads. The lake, formerly called Lincklaen Lake, also bears the Indian name "Owahgena” meaning "The lake of the yellow perch.”

Cazenovia, like many other towns in the county, is rich in incidents suggestive of the occupancy of this region of country by a race of people anterior to those from whom the present inhabitants are descended. In various localities, and notably so at the head and upon the outlet of the lake, the plow has disclosed evidences that the aborigines camped with more or less permanency and at places in considerable numbers, and pursued their domestic avocations, hunted, fished, trapped, tilled and buried their dead; while to the west of the foot of the lake is a locality of no little interest to antiquarians, known as Indian Fort**. It is situated on the west line of the town, partly in Cazenovia and partly in Pompey, upon a slight eminence, nearly surrounded by a deep ravine.

Previous to the treaties of 1788, the lake was the especial property of the Oneida Indians, who had established themselves near the head of it. They were undoubtedly one of the six families of the great Confederacy which may have been driven from here at last by some invading foe or pert haps they abandoned their fortifications for some more congenial spot. At any rate, in September, 1861, a sunken canoe or “dug out,” filled with stones, was discovered in the lake by a party of three gentlemen fishing. They succeeded in getting the canoe to the surface and towing it ashore. Its antique appearance excited much interest among the Cazenovians, and thereupon was kindled a flame of enthusiasm for the departed nobility of the race once the unquestioned lords of Lake Owahgena, who had sunk’ their canoes that the invading foe might not possess them. It was decided to return the relic to its bed of aquatic weeds, where it had evidently long’ rested, with ceremoriials befitting the occasion. Accordingly, on the 12th day of the succeeding October, all Cazenovia gathered at the lake to witness the unique proceedings, in which thirty-one persons from among the most prominent citizens, dressed in aboriginal costume, took part. The Indians who were dwellers of these localities had mostly disappeared before the advent of the white settlers in 1792.

There was a thrill of pride and pleasure among the early inhabitants of i the village when the first little steamboat was built and launched in 1808. Other and larger boats came later, and so for many years the lake was not without steam craft. There was a $2,500 steamer on the lake in 1870. Two years later, a small steamboat named “Lottie,” which was about thirty feet long and would carry thirty or forty passengers, was launched. Lake, fetes, or regattas, were held often. As many as forty sail and oar boats: filled with “beaux and beauties” glided over its surface to music on the water. The steamer was trimmed in colors; the boats, decorated with Chinese and colored lanterns and flags, moving about, reminded one of the Venetian gondolas with their beautiful reflections in the water. Fire works were sent up from the middle of the lake.

The beauties of Owahgena Lake are portrayed in the following verses by Rev. Dwight Williams:

Owahgena, I have seen
All thy moods from storm to sheen
Parked about with avenues
Leading to thy charming views,
Nook, and cove, and lawns of green,
Villas, which a reigning queen
Far from courts or royal mien
Might for rest and beauty choose, Owahgena.
Here old forests’ monarchs lean
O’er thy crystal depths serene,
Where thy spray-like crystal dews
Bathes their feet, or sparkling, woos
Summer birds that come to preen,

Nearly the entire shore line of the lake is owned now by private interests. Summer homes, with expansive green lawns, have been built; a few camps on either side, a club-house at the outlet, a public pier where the village has a pumping station to force the spring water from the lake to the reservoir some distance away. The village also owns a small park space on the east shore where picnics are held, auto campers may rest, and bathers have the freedom of the water. Before the extensive use of manufactured ice, the lake supplied a large part of Syracuse as well as Cazenovia with ice.

Chittenango Creek rises in the highlands of Penner and Nelson, eventually emptying into Oneida Lake. It presents in its course some rare scenes of romantic beauty, and is altogether the most important stream in the county for hydraulic purposes. Between Cazenovia and Chittenango it possesses as convenient and uniform a water power as exists in the State. Every portion of this eight miles may be conveniently used for hydraulic purposes. The descent is somewhat more than 740 feet, with one perpendicular fall of 134 feet at Chittenango Falls, where the water plunges in a beautiful cascade, over a ledge of limestone rock.

Under Governor Smith, the property around the Falls, which had been held for some time by private interests, presumably to prevent the water power from being commercialized, became a state park. It is intended to include in this park land between the Falls and Sulphur Springs.

A stranger, coming to Cazenovia on the stage coach in 1865 said, “The road from Chittenango to Cazenovia is charmingly picturesque and wild. It conducts one to a village of white cottages and green blinds, among avenues of maple and elm and perfect bowers of shrubbery.”

S. S. Forman, in a letter to the village trustees in 1851 said, “The outlet of the lake, uniting in the mill-pond with Chittenango Creek furnishing a never-failing head of water, forms line sites for hydraulic purposes, the whole distance capable of propelling machinery at every few rods, which it seems your enterprising citizens have already to a considerable extent improved for years past, and all the distance made of easy access by a plank road through a valley which was formerly considered wholly waste land. The prospect now is that you will become a large manufacturing city that will vie with Lowell. Also your reputed valuable medicinal springs lately brought into public notice and already in high estimation. Those Springs and the hydraulic establishments will mutually aid each other.”

A Syracuse physician started a hotel at Sulphur Springs. There were four or five cottages connected with it with full accommodations for families. Many invalids enjoyed the comforts of the place, as well as the medicinal properties of the water.

* “Chittenango” means "waters divide and run north.” It is a corruption of the Oneida Indian name meaning, "Where the sun shineth out.”

** Also know as Atwell fort. Joseph Atwell was the first white settler on Adjoining land.

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