And Willowbank


I am not a fan of Linen Era postcards, but this one interests me because it references Willowbank (far to the right, with its boathouse), and over at the left end, you can just make out Joel Thayer’s boathouse. This is circa 1920, and as you can see, the breakwater still hasn’t been built between Thayer Park and St. James. That would come in the mid-1930s, when Thayer Park was joined by F.C. Austin Park.

No Swimming

Penrhyn Stanlaws

About ten years ago I posted a piece which noted, “In 1921, the City of Syracuse attempted to stop bathing in the lake in order to protect its water supply, deputizing 50 cottagers from Syracuse to keep ‘interlopers’ from swimming in the lake.” This past week an interested reader asked me to produce documentation for such a claim. Given that this is the one-hundredth anniversary of the mass deputization, I thought a longer piece might be helpful.

The controversy was initially fueled by the Syracuse newspapers. On Tuesday, August 21, 1906, the Syracuse Journal printed this:

Filthy Waste HEAD

On November 25, 1907, the City of Syracuse Water Department declared bathing in Skaneateles Lake to be illegal, as a part of their effort to protect the purity of the City’s water supply. The City claimed that New York State’s Public Health Law gave them the authority to enact such regulations. Rule 10 of the new regulation noted, “No person shall be allowed to bathe in the waters of Skaneateles Lake.” The penalty for such an “act of contamination,” noted in Rule 18, was a fine of $100 (the equivalent of $2,800 in 2021).

The reaction was not long in coming.

“The new health rules for safeguarding Skaneateles lake as the source of Syracuse’s water supply are simply ridiculous.” – “Skaneateles Water Rules,” Auburn Citizen, December 5, 1907

“Apparently the time is not far distant when our only privilege in connection with our lake will be to gaze upon it through a glass fence and try to recall the days when we, too, were a free people.” – Skaneateles Press editorial quoted in the Auburn Citizen, December 14, 1907

The battle over bathing was only beginning. In 1910, George H. Beebe, superintendent of the Bureau of Water, said, “Consider for instance the agitation over the bathing question. A great many people believe the city should take steps to stop bathing in Skaneateles lake. Thus far we have been guided by a court decision which says that owners of riparian rights on the lake may use the lake for bathing purposes. The assumption has been that in order to stop bathing the city would have to buy all the land about the lake.”


In 1921, a new superintendent of the Bureau of Water, William J. Apps, took up the baton. Rather than forbid the cottagers to swim, he sought to deputize them as sheriffs, with the authority to stop others from swimming. “It is the casual visitors who are causing all the trouble,” he said. Apps maintained that the city had the right to stop bathing in the lake and he promised to enforce the regulations if possible. “We can’t work the plan out in a minute but we are gradually covering the ground.”

In an interview with the Syracuse Herald he said, “Henceforth there will be no bathing in the lake and we shall prosecute, if possible, those who violate that rule. There are plenty of lakes in Central New York where people can bathe if they want to without using Skaneateles lake. We shall placard the whole lake shore, warning people concerning what they can and what they cannot do.”

The report continued, “The ban on swimming in the lake is likely to prove quite a disadvantage to those who have gone to camp on the lake shore for the summer months. According to Mr. Apps, however, the people who built the camps knew the water must be protected.”

Syracuse Health Commissioner H.A. MacGruer added, “This all gets back to the fact that the city should have absolute control of the Skaneateles water shed, something we haven’t got. I don’t pretend to say that there is any great chance of polluting the water from people bathing in the upper end, but one person does it and the practice becomes general.”

It is not clear if Apps and MacGruer ever received any support or if cottagers stopped doing cannonballs off their docks. I can find no record of arrests, newly empowered deputies, or the placing of placards along 32 miles of shoreline.

The Skaneateles Press wrote, “The health officer of Syracuse has directed the people of Skaneateles that they should not bathe in their lake. He has been careful not to issue an order. The reason probably is that he has not the authority.”

A letter writer to the Syracuse Post-Standard noted, “Bathing is not going to pollute the lake so much as birds flying over – and no one has yet proposed shooting all the birds that dare approach the lake lest they pollute it.”

However, the city’s exhortations had a lingering effect, at least until 1939. That July, the Auburn Citizen-Advertiser noted, “Questions sometimes asked by visitors to this locality regarding the legality of swimming in Skaneateles Lake, source of the Syracuse public water supply, are apparently answered by the announcement that a permit to operate a public bathing beach has been granted to the Village of Skaneateles by the State Department of Health. Swimming privileges off Clift and Shotwell Parks have been sanctioned by the state health authorities.”

And so to bathe, freely.


“Bathing to Be Prohibited?” Skaneateles Press, April 12, 1910

“Legal Notices,” Auburn Citizen, August 22, 1914

“Bathing at Skaneateles Lake Stopped,” Syracuse Herald, July 7, 1921

“Will Deputize Cottagers in Bathing Fight,” The Auburn Citizen, July 11, 1921

“Bathing in Skaneateles Lake,” Skaneateles Press, July 22, 1921

“O.K. for Public Bathing Beach on Skaneateles Lake,” Auburn Citizen-Advertiser, July 7, 1939

Art by Penrhyn Stanlaws

Remembering Ceylon

Ceylon Postmark 2

In the 1890s, the south end of Skaneateles Lake, east side, was known as Glenville, “a small lively village” across the lake from Glen Haven. News of the cottagers and farmers appeared regularly in the Homer Republican. To get the news, however, residents had to travel to Homer for their newspaper. Getting and sending mail was no easier. Letter writers had to walk down to Scott Road and wave their letters at the post rider as he traveled from Glen Haven to Homer.

Viola Lyon had a better idea. During the winter of 1900-1901, she invited her neighbors to drop their letters off at the home she shared with her mother, Harriet “Hattie” Lyon. Then Viola, 26 years of age and apparently fit as a fiddle, carried the mail through the snow to a barn where Adelbert Edwards, the post rider, kept his sleigh. She did this every day for the time necessary to make her home an official post office.

As there was already a Glenville post office in Schenectady County, Viola Lyon became the Postmaster of Ceylon, N.Y., on August 28, 1901. And the Homer Republican began carrying the news from Ceylon. The new post office soon became an official stop on the Rural Free Delivery route that included Glen Haven, Scott and Homer.

In August of 1903, George Nelson Westcott was appointed as a Fourth-Class Postmaster at Ceylon, and in October he moved the post office to his small general store, 100 yards above his cottage on the lake shore. The Homer Republican reported, “G.N. Westcott is fitting up his post office with new boxes, etc., and we expect it will look fine when finished.” Earl Woodruff of Spafford was appointed as postal clerk. Charles Fox was the mail carrier; he arrived in Ceylon at 12:30 p.m. and left as soon as the mail was ready.

PO Ceylon NY

The post office at George Westcott’s store, with George and his daughter Ida standing on the platform.

George Westcott

George and Julia Westcott

George Westcott served as postmaster until the post office closed. In August of 1914, the Homer Republican reported, “The Ceylon post office will soon be no more as Saturday is the last day. Then we will all have to have letter boxes. Mr. Westcott has been postmaster for eleven years… he is very glad to be relieved of it, as it did not pay for the trouble it was to him. It will be missed by the campers, greatly however.”

But from whence cometh “Fair Haven”?

We need to go back to 1848. The Glen Haven Spa and Water Cure had recently opened at the southwest end of the lake. Two men, Thomas Harrop of the Scott Centre Hotel and Augustus Fowler, a tailor from Skaneateles, saw an opportunity. They built an inn, a “neat and commodious House,” across the lake from the spa and called it “Fair Haven Cottage.” In 1849, it was open with “Refreshments always in readiness.”

Fair Haven Cottage Ad

The focus of Glen Haven was wellness through a diet of fruits, vegetables and grains, with lots and lots of water. I imagine that Fair Haven Cottage offered heartier fare, and it was just a short row or a walk away from Glen Haven.

1855 Cortland County

Glen Haven and Fair Haven Cottage on an 1855 map of Cortland County

By 1859, the temptations of Fair Haven Cottage had been removed; Glen Haven solved the problem by renting it for the exclusive use of its staff and patients. The bowling alley was especially popular. Fair Haven Cottage was thus short-lived, but “Fair Haven” became a place name.

Map 1902

Cottage map of 1902

By the turn of the 19th century, there were two hotels at Fair Haven, owned by George S. Cady and Jefferson J. Brown, both leased by John Sweeney. The Cady hotel was popularly known as Sweeney’s Hotel, and offered billiards. While the Syracuse newspapers referred to everywhere in the southeast corner of the lake as “Fair Haven,” the Cortland and Homer newspapers still made a distinction between the cottages, school and post office of Ceylon and the hotels at Fair Haven.

In 1901, however, a cloud began to form over Fair Haven. Syracuse had begun using Skaneateles Lake water in 1894, and now suddenly became concerned that Skaneateles people were pooping in their drinking water. As they were. And the largest number of these poopers were at the Fair Haven and Glen Haven hotels.

Worse yet, in 1906 the Syracuse Journal opined, “…during the summer season men and women, and boys and girls bathe in the lake, on both the eastern and western shores, along almost its entire length, from Skaneateles village to Fair Haven.” And in 1907, the Syracuse Journal noted, “The conditions at Fair Haven are said to be worse than at any point on the lake.”

In 1909, the City purchased the Cady and Brown hotels, and the Syracuse Journal noted, “Fair Haven is practically wiped out. The city bought the two hotels and demolished them.”  (In 1912, the Glen Haven hotel was bought and demolished as well.)

Mayor Edward Schoeneck of Syracuse also proposed that the City purchase the steamboats to “eliminate the last of the great nuisances on the lake.” He predicted that once the lake’s cottages were without boat service, they would be abandoned, thus cleaning up the watershed. The steamboats eventually ended service, but the cottages remained.

As for Ceylon, its post office closed in 1914, but the name “Ceylon” hung on for years; as late as 1951, when Ellsworth “Chubby” Greenough was attempting to swim the length of the lake, it was said that he began his swim at the “Ceylon (Fairhaven) dock.”

Postcards from Ceylon

Ceylon PM 1T

Ceylon PM 3T

Ceylon PM 2T



“New and expeditious route to Homer and Cortland,” The Syracuse Daily Star, July 17, 1848

“Gaities at the Glen,” Cortland Evening Standard, June 29, 1893

“Sudden Death at Fair Haven,” Homer Republican, July 14, 1898

“Water Supply in Danger of Pollution,” Syracuse Telegram, August 16, 1902

“Fourth Class Postmasters,” Waterville Times, August 21, 1903

“Ceylon Items,” Homer Republican, October 10, 1903

“Syracuse Water Supply Befouled by Filthy Waste,” Syracuse Journal, August 21, 1906

“City Offers to Purchase Four Fair Haven Buildings,” Syracuse Journal, July 29, 1907

“Scarlet Fever in Scott,” Homer Republican, July 15, 1909

“City May Also Buy the Boats Plying on Lake,” Syracuse Journal, May 5, 1911

“Ceylon,” Homer Republican, August 13, 1914

“Wedded 62 Years, They’re Delightfully Reminiscent of Long Days of Happiness,” Syracuse Herald, August 15, 1920

“Scott Road Mail Service Described by Mrs. Ina H. Bird,” Cortland Standard, November 16, 1937

And many, many thanks to Bill Hecht who discovered and shared the Ceylon postcard that prompted this piece.

The Escott House

Escott 1

The son of Thomas and Elizabeth Kibby Escott, Edward Escott was born in 1863 on his family’s farm on East Street. He went to school in the village, and in 1890 he married Harriet “Hattie” Hembury, who had come here from Somerset, England, two years before. He ran a meat market for 40 years. And once, in his youth, he drove a herd of cattle from here to Kentucky.

But what caught my attention was that he moved a house.

Helen Ionta (1909-2000) noted that the “Escott House” originally stood just south of 8 Onondaga Street, dated from about 1803, and was the first home of Daniel and Laura Kellogg.

In 1914, Edward Escott purchased the house for his family farm on East Street.

Eva Loyster (1892-1987), a longtime fount of Skaneateles history, recalled the house being moved up Onondaga Street to the corner of East Street and then north to its present position across from the school.

Skaneateles is home to many buildings that were moved from one place to another, in an era before “tear downs” became common. “The house that crossed the ice” on Leitch Avenue, the Austin House on East Street, and the First Baptist Church on State Street are prominent examples. To which we can add the Escott House, where it stands today.


“The Escott House” (1984) by Helen Ionta

“Edward Escott, 80, Prominent Native, Dies at Home Here,” Skaneateles Press, February 26, 1943