Skaneateles, 1818

“Between Auburn and the outlet of Skaneateles Lake, the country continued to present no very striking changes of scenery, from that between Geneva and Auburn. At the village of Skaneateles, the outlet leaves the lake, and continues to flow northward about fifteen miles, then falls into Seneca river. After crossing the outlet I turned southward up the lake. The Skaneateles is in form similar to those of Seneca and Cayuga, but of much less extent than either of the latter, being fifteen miles in length, with a medial width of less than one mile.

“The space between Owasco and Skaneateles rises rapidly from each lake, to a ridge of at least 400 feet high, mostly covered with an enormous forest; some farms are seen, but the greatest part of the surface is yet in woods. East of the Skaneateles the country is more improved, but also presents an immense and very much inclined plane, rising gradually from the water. The road winds along this slope. About half way from the lake to the apex of the hills; the farms have a curious aspect when viewed either from above or below the road. The soil is good, but very stony, and in many places must be inconvenient to cultivate, from the very steepness of its surface. The timber is composed of hemlock, sugar tree, elm, several species of hickory, and oak. The whole country is well supplied with excellent spring water.

“I remained the night of the 11th near the head of Skaneateles, in Spafford, and on the morning of the 12th set out, crossing the country towards Otisco Lake. No roads are yet formed in this part of Onondaga except the common country roads. I traversed the ridge between the lakes, and found it elevated to an astonishing height. Farms chequer the hill sides in their steepest parts, and spread along the bottoms, in every direction. The settlements are less frequent and have the appearance of being much more recently established, than those to the northward near the great western turnpike. After clambering the Skaneateles and another very high and steep ridge, I found myself upon the Skaneateles turnpike road about two miles above Otisco lake… I got to my lodgings, near the church of Cazenovia a little before sun-set, having travelled on foot over a very rough country more than thirty miles.”

— From A Tour from the City of New York to Detroit in the Michigan Territory, Made Between 2d of May and 22d of September 1818 (1819) by William Darby (Letter XVIL, Albany, September 18, 1818)

William Darby (1775-1854) was a surveyor establishing the boundary line between the United States and Canada after the War of 1812. Darby was one of the leading geographers of his day. My thanks to Alan Stamm for this one.

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