Our Limpid Waters

Millard Fillmore, the 13th President of the United States, writes of his childhood and the remarkable clarity of Skaneateles Lake, circa 1810:

“My father then left the town, and removed into what was then Sempronius (now Niles), in the same county. Here he took a perpetual lease of a small farm of about one hundred and thirty acres, wholly uncultivated, and covered with heavy timber. He built a small log house and commenced clearing the land; and it was at this place and in these pursuits that I first knew anything of life.

“That farm is about one mile west of Skaneateles Lake, ten miles from its outlet, and about one mile east of a little hamlet called Newhope.

“I had, like most boys, a great passion for hunting and fishing, but my father was very unwilling to indulge it. He used to tell me that no man ever prospered who spent much of his time in hunting and fishing; and that those employments were only fit for Indians, or white men no better than they. Consequently, I had no gun, and could only enjoy the sport of shooting when I could borrow of a neighbor.

“Nevertheless, when I had any spare time I used to go down to the lake, and fish and bathe in its limpid waters. It was indeed one of the clearest and most beautiful lakes which I have ever seen. The canoe seemed suspended in mid-air, and the fish could be seen at great depths.”

* * *

Written at the request of the Buffalo Historical Society in 1871, these memories were published as “Millard Fillmore’s Youth: Narrative of His Early Years” in Publications of the Buffalo Historical Society, Millard Fillmore Papers, in 1907. Fillmore served as U.S. President from 1850 until 1853, assuming the office upon the death of Zachary Taylor.

This photo of Fillmore is by Mathew B. Brady, circa 1855-1865, from the collection of the Library of Congress; the postcard of New Hope and Carpenter’s Point shown above is by an unknown photographer.

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