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Did you Know?: Interesting Facts About the Finger Lakes

¶ the Morse Scout, a World War I airplane built by Thomas-Morse Aviation Co., was built in Ithaca (Tompkins County).


¶ the famous Groton Iron Bridges were made in Groton (Tompkins County) between 1877-1921. This company constructed Pratt, Parker, camelback, bowstring, and Pennsylvania trusses, swing and lift bridges, girders, as well as concrete slab and arch bridges. Some of these bridges crossed the Erie, Oswego, and Champlain canals. In all, it had contracts in 27 states. Very few are still standing, but two can be seen in the Town of Ithaca. Both are just off the Cornell University campus over Fall Creek, which drains in Cayuga Lake. The upper bridge is within a matter of feet of the intersection of Forest Home Dr. and Caldwell Rd. Follow Forest Home Dr. over the bridge. At the second stop sign after the upper bridge, the lower bridge will be on your left.


¶ the Owego Bridge Company (1891-1901) owned by Ellery Colby of Tioga County built the longest single-span highway truss at Mount Morris, New York.


¶ the Moog synthesizer was invented and manufactured by Dr. Robert Moog (1934-2005) in Trumansburg (Tompkins County). Moog, who received at PhD in engineering physics from Cornell University in 1964, was considered by many to be the father of electronic music.


¶ Ithaca Calendar Clocks were made in Ithaca (Tompkins County) between 1866 and 1921. These highly collectible clocks told both the date and the time.


¶ Molly Kazen, writer of many popular cookbooks, got her start at the Moosewood restaurant in Ithaca (Tompkins County). The restaurant is run as a collective. Moosewood is the common name for a particular type of maple tree--Acer pensylvanicum--common to woods in the Finger Lakes.


¶ the half-tone printing process, which made it possible for photographs to be printed in publications, was invented by Frederic Ives at Cornell University in 1891.


¶ Elements of Style, a compact guide to English usage, was written and privately published in 1918 by Cornell University English professor William Strunk, Jr. for his students' use. In 1935 it was revised by author E. B. White, who had been one of Stunk's students.


¶ teasel (Dipsacus sativus), a close relative of the common roadside teasel (Dipsacus fullonum), was cultivated in great quantities in and around Skaneateles (Onondaga County). The stiff heads of the plant, when dried, were attached to spindles called teasel frames to raise or "full" the nap on fabrics, especially wool. Hence, its common name--fuller's teasel. In addition, when Linnaeus was naming plants, he got the two teasels mixed up. Hence, the fuller's teasel is called "sativus" and the roadside teasel is called "fullonum." The rules of botanical nomenclature prohibit name changes for these types of errors of which there are many. That information, by the way, comes from Dr. William J. Dress, professor emeritus of botany, at Cornell University, one of the editors of Hortus Third.


¶ the only mud house in New York State with its exterior intact is located at 1000 Whalen Rd. in Penfield (Monroe County).  

¶ Frederick Law Olmsted and his brother John designed both Seneca and Maplewood parks along the Genesee River in Rochester.


¶ the Dr. John Quincy Howe House at 66 Main St. in Phelps (Ontario County) is thought to be the only house in the state with a 2-story privy (3 holes on each floor) and the only house in the county with a 2-story brick privy. The house is owned by the Phelps Community Historical Society and is open to the public.


¶ in Ovid (Seneca County) there used to be a public whipping post on the village green. In 1811 a fellow named John Andrews was hanged from gallows erected there. It was the only public execution to take place on the site. That begs the question, Were there executions on other sites?


¶ Margaret Woodbury Strong was a collector. She collected bells, books, dolls, doorstops, and daguerreotypes, canes, cameras, shells, samplers, and silver thimbles, among other things. In fact, when Margaret Strong died in 1969, she left behind over 300,000 objects that filled twenty-five rooms of her thirty-room Rochester mansion. These items became the basis for Rochester's Strong Museum.


¶ Taughannock Falls (Tompkins County) at 215 feet is the longest straight-drop waterfalls east of the Mississippi River.


¶ there are only two islands among the 11 Finger Lakes. The smallest is Squaw Island in Canandaigua Lake (Ontario County). Here is a description of the island from http://www.townofcanandaigua.org/history.htm. "Squaw Island is an 11,000-year-old island located at the north end of the lake. It is known to be New York State's smallest Fish and Wildlife Management Area and one of the two known islands in the 11 Finger Lakes. Legend states that the island was used to hide the Seneca women and children during the Sullivan Expedition against the Six Nations in 1779. The island is one of the unique and few places on earth that makes water biscuits, an extremely rare form of carbonate of lime deposits on pebble. A feathery light rock calcified from algae, filtered by sand and pond scum are hard in the water but crumble if allowed to dry out. The island has been eroding rapid from the forces of ice, wind, water current and development changing the wave patterns. In 1977, New York State Department of Environmental Conversation installed a cedar log buffer around the island to help preserve it. Its size was approximately two acres in 1853, it shrunk by 75% in 162 years, then to one-quarter acre in 1971. Today only 55 feet by 145 feet of the island remains. A newly formed group called the Squaw Island Preservation Society has raised citizen support to protect the island and its unique place in science after state officials said they would no longer maintain it. Work on the preservation was completed in Summer 2001." Visit the above mentioned site for a photo of Squaw Island.


The other island is Frontenac in Cayuga Lake off the shore of the Village of Union Springs (Cayuga County). The island is owned by the village government. Said to have been a burial place for the Algonquins, it is now "occupied" by stromatoporoids. View a photo of the island and learn about its inhabitants. In archeological digs on the island, a fragment of wolf jaw bone was found and determined to be at least 5000 years old. The Rochester Museum owns North America's oldest bone comb, an Indian relic carved from antlers in 2500 B.C. found on Frontenac Island and thought to have been used as a miniature tiara. Its artistic design shows two birds with interlocking beaks. In some winters, when the water of Cayuga Lake near Union Springs freezes, you can actually walk across the ice to the island.


¶ the Eight Square School (1756 Hanshaw Rd., Town of Dryden, Tompkins County) is the only brick octagon schoolhouse still standing in the state.


¶ the Lady of the Lake was a steam-powered paddle boat on Canandaigua Lake until it caught fire in 1890 and sank. Its remains can been seen through the clear lake water, resting on the lake's bottom.


¶ each spring there is a rigorous ten-week competition at Cornell University for students who hope to be selected one of the ten "chimesmasters," who play the 21-bell chimes in McGraw Tower. The chimesmaster plays the clavier that rings the bells standing on one foot, using both hands and the other foot to play the levers of the clavier. Each chimesmaster joins a long tradition dating back to the first playing of the bells on October 7, 1868.


¶ by 1835 the City of Rochester had 4 millraces and 21 mills.


¶ when there was a fire, churches were responsible for ringing their bells to notify the townsfolk. In some locales, the church sexton (caretaker) could be fined for not doing so.


¶ Sam Patch was born in 1807 in Rhode Island. In order to make money, he became a latter-day daredevil, traveling around, jumping over falls and off high buildings and bridges. In 1829, when he was only 22, he became the first person to jump over Niagara Falls and survive. He then jumped over the 92-ft./28-m. Genesee Falls in Rochester with a pet bear. Both survived. Dared to repeat his performance, he again jumped over the falls, a huge crowd watching, as he leaped from a platform especially constructed for the event. Unfortunately his body never surfaced at the foot of the falls. It was discovered the next spring after a thaw some way down river, both shoulders apparently having been dislocated in the fall, preventing him from swimming. He was buried in a pauper's grave in nearby Charlotte Cemetery (River St., Rochester), where his body now lies. A tourist boat named the Sam Patch now plies the Genesee.


¶ the shore of Owasco Lake is the starting and finishing point of The Great Race, also known as the Capt. Myles Keogh Paddle, Wheel & Run. It is the largest team triathlon event in the United States.


¶ the Finger Lakes Region has more than 60 soil types, including sand, clay (lots of clay!), and muck.


¶ most of the farms in the Finger Lakes are family owned.


¶ during Prohibition (1919-1933), when the sale of alcoholic beverages was illegal in the United States, some wineries stayed in business, making sacramental wines and grape juice.


¶ There are 15 National Historic Landmarks in the Finger Lakes. (For a list of these landmarks, click on Search by Keyword and type in "National Historic Landmark".)


Revised 24 April 2015








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