Autumn in the Finger Lakes
By Karen Osburn, Archivist
I sometimes wonder if the first inhabitants of the Finger Lakes took time to appreciate the beauty of autumn in our region or if they were too busy hunting, growing, gathering and, in general, trying to survive? We are entering a particularly colorful time of year in a particularly beautiful place. The Finger Lakes normally bursts with various shades of red, orange, yellow and burgundy about this time of year and even with the drought our area experienced it should still be very pretty around Seneca Lake and her smaller sisters.
Autumn in the Finger Lakes is spectacular! Vineyards, apple orchards, winter squash and pumpkins are all ready for harvest. Breweries and wineries are in production mode. Farm stands are laden with fresh vegetables and fruits. Leaf peepers arrive in droves to view the brilliant contrast between the blue lakes and colorful leaves. The air of fall feels crisp and refreshing after the record setting temperatures of this summer. Historic towns, cities and villages beg to be explored and farm to table restaurants offer exciting menus and creative dishes. If this sounds like an advertisement for visiting the area, it isn’t. It is, however, this resident’s observations of a place that has captured me and enticed me to stay willingly in spite of the winter weather I dread.
If you had asked me 20 years ago I would have said when I get old enough to retire I am going someplace warm to live, preferably the Southwest. Little did I realize that living near Seneca Lake in Geneva for the last 12 years would completely change my mind. This area of the world with its friendly people, beautiful architecture, cultural amenities and agricultural bounty is hard to duplicate anywhere else.
Is it perfect in the Finger Lakes? No, no place is perfect, but some places are better than others. We have a lot of issues that continue to require work and cooperation including race relations, schools, vandalism, and tax structures. But we acknowledge these issues and try to find ways to fix our problems. Geneva, Seneca Lake and the Finger Lakes, in general, are being discovered daily by visitors, some of whom decide to make this area their home. This is not very different from over 200 years ago when soldiers from the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign returned to the area to farm the land and the Rose, Lawson and Nicholas families arrived on the scene to make their fortunes on opposite sides of Seneca Lake.
In the 1790s Sir William Pulteney hired Charles Williamson to market land in the area at the north end of Seneca Lake. Williamson attracted farmers from New England, Maryland, Virginia and other areas along the east coast and brought them together to form the nucleus of the village of Geneva. Many of the people who came had made money elsewhere and moved here to “semi –retire”, others were trying to scratch a living out of less fertile soil, some were brought enslaved to later be emancipated and make this their home. These people made the nucleus of the diverse and vibrant city we are today.
The Finger Lakes area is indeed diverse in people, industry, education, land use and topography. We have land formations, as the result of the glaciers that make our area unique. Not only do we have the 11 Finger Lakes, we also have moraines, glacial till, eskers, kettle lakes and drumlins.
When the Clinton Sullivan campaign came through this area in 1779 with express purpose of destroying Indian villages and crops so the Iroquois would leave the area they found bountiful orchards and harvests of corn, beans, squash and other vegetables according to the journal of Lieutenant Colonel Adam Hubley. Lieutenant John Jenkins spoke of destroying a field of corn, “which was judged to be upwards of 200 acres, and a vast quantity of beans, squashes, &c.” Jenkins also writes of seeing Canadasago (the Seneca village of Kanadasaga at the north end of Seneca Lake and remarking, “It contained about sixty houses and was surrounded with apple and peach trees.” It takes very little imagination to see why some of the men, who marched through this area, returned later to make this place their home.
So as you drive around our area this autumn, enjoy the many colored trees and the bountiful harvests of the farms and allow your appreciation of the Finger Lakes area to grow.