1. Webster Park in Midwinter:
A small stream empties into Lake Ontario here, but at this time
of the year it is frozen over. The lake, however, never freezes, resulting
in "lake-effect snow."
2. The Captain Throop
House in Pultneyville: This small town on the shores of Lake Ontario
was once an important stop on the Underground Railroad. Captain Throop sailed
Freedom Seekers across the lake to Canada.
4. Chimney Bluffs near
Sodus Bay are eroded cliffs from a drumlin on the shores of Lake Ontario.
5. Save Haven
Exhibit: This new museum next to Fort Ontario in Oswego is the site
of the only refugee camp for the Holocaust in the United States. Almost 1000
survivors came here, and most became citizens after the war.
6. Cannons at Navy Point: This small historic park in
Sacketts Harbor was the site of two battles in the War of 1812. Today the
village is a tourist haven during the summer months.
7. Tibbits Lighthouse: Located where the lake ends and
the St. Lawrence begins, the Tibbits Light has been a beacon for mariners
for over a century. Canada is just a short ferry ride away.
8. Clear waters of the St. Lawrence River: Thanks to
the filtering action of the zebra mussels, the river is very clear. The impact
of this exotic pest is, however, mostly negative.
9. Frederick Remington's statue of a bucking bronco. Remington
grew up in the Ogdensburg area, which was the inspiration for his western
11. Casino on the Akwesasne Reservation: This territory
of the Mohawk Nation sits on the border of New York, Ontario, and Quebec.
As is the case on most native lands, the casino is a good way to bring in
needed revenue and employment opportunities.
WHAT YOU SHOULD SEE:
1. Let's start the trip just east of Rochester on Route 104. After
you cross Irondequoit Bay, follow the green signs for the Seaway Trail. This will take you on a scenic
drive on Lake Road. Your first stop is Webster
Park, about five miles down the road. There is a parking lot
right next to the lake. Get out and walk!
Look for evidence of the glacial past of this location. Of course,
there is Lake Ontario itself, which is a huge and very deep bathtub, carved
by the glaciers. Then there are the bluffs behind you, made of glacial deposits.
And then there is the cobblestone beach. Pick up some of the rocks. Notice
the variety - a sign that they are not native to New York, but were
carried here by the ice sheets from Canada. If you are here in winter,
you might see the lake effect bands forming as they come inland. If you
are there in summer, you will be sharing the park with cyclists, picnickers,
and boaters, but not swimmers. Why not?
QUESTION: The shoreline of the
park has been changed with a seawall and a pier. Has this had any negative
impacts on the park?
2. Continue driving east into Wayne County. You will soon see
signs of the impact of the Lake Ontario microclimate mentioned
previously. Apple orchards are very common here, mixed in with upscale
vacation homes. You will pass the Ginna Nuclear
Power Plant in the Town of Ontario. Security here has been very
tight since 9-11. And you should notice the siren alarm system as you travel
the road. The threat of a China Syndrome is something people here live
Soon you will arrive in the picturesque hamlet of Pultneyville. If you did not know better,
you might think you were on the New England coast. This once was an important
port on the lake, although now its port is filled only with recreational
boats. Some of the homes even have widow's watches on the top. Look for
the home of Captain Throop, now a bed and breakfast. He was known to be
involved in the Underground Railroad. Many fugitives made their last leg
on the journey to freedom in Canada on his ships.
QUESTION: Why would this be a favored
spot for the Underground Railroad? Think! The answer is location, location,
3. Just a few more miles east lies a more important port, Sodus Point. It lies on the end of one of the
largest bays along the Inland Coast, Great Sodus Bay. Again, you see a glacial
connection. Before the Ice Age, the bay was a river valley that was widened
and deepened by glacial erosion. After the ice melted away, the lake invaded
this valley and flooded it. Notice the islands in the bay. They are partially
drowned drumlins. At the head of the bay lies the historic
Sodus Point Lighthouse (see
photo at top of the page), which has guided ships here for about 150 years.
(The Great Lakes are notorious for their ferocious storms, and many shipwrecks
can be found at the bottom of the lakes). The lighthouse contains a small
museum, which has some interesting exhibits worth seeing.
QUESTION: The port
at Sodus Point is filled with pleasure craft for the most part today. What
evidence do you see around you that it once was more important as a commercial
harbor in the not-too-distant past?
4. To continue on the trail, you must go around most of Sodus Bay.
So follow State Rte. 14 south to the small village of Alton. Turn left onto Old Route 104. Here
you will find one of the finest examples of a cobblestone building still
standing today. Since it is a church, you get out and see the masonry
close-up. (To learn more about cobblestones, visit the Niagara Frontier
section of this website).
Continue east on Old Rte. 104 and you will cross Sodus Bay on a low
bridge, often lined with fishermen (and women). And the end of the bridge
you will go up a hill. At the top of the hill turn left onto Lake Bluff
Road. Follow the signs to Chimney Bluffs State
Park. You can visit a small (and relatively new) visitor center
or you can drive straight to the shoreline. And what a shoreline it is!
The bluffs are best viewed from a trail that leads to the top of the
hill, but they can also be enjoyed from lake level. They are made of exposed
hard-packed dirt, mixed with rocks - a classic glacial till.
What you are seeing is a dissected drumlin, constantly being eroded into
weird shapes by the elements and by the lake itself. Each of the tall
towers are separated by gullies. They might be inviting to climb, but
be very careful! There is very little to grab on to if you slip, and nothing
to stop your fall. I highly recommend staying on the trails.
This is a great place to get a idea of the immense size of Lake Ontario.
You cannot see the Canadian side, even from this height. Perhaps now you
can understand why the Great Lakes are called inland (or freshwater) seas.
Many a "salty" has underestimated these lakes, and they often did not live
to regret it. Even in this modern age of Global Positioning Systems, deadly
accidents occur in these waters.
QUESTION: As you look
out into the lake, you often notice that the water is different colors.
Can you account for this?
5. Drive back to the Seaway Trail (Old Route 104) through the
apple orchards. Turn left, heading east again. You will pass through several
villages impacted largely by the fruit industry: Wolcott, Red Creek,
Fair Haven. Near Fair Haven on the end of Little Sodus Bay is Fair Haven State Park. Unlike Webster Beach,
this is a good swimming park, very popular with the locals and tourists
alike. On a summer day, this is a nice place to cool off.
Your next major stop should be in Oswego,
the "Port of Central New York". And the geographic question is "Why?" It
sits at the mouth of the Oswego River, cutting the city in half. This river
is the outlet of most of the Finger Lakes, and in its present-canalized
form, it connects Lake Ontario to the Erie Canal, north of Syracuse.
So, Oswego has a strategic importance. This fact was recognized by
the earliest European explorers.
This significance is still symbolized today by Fort Ontario, on the east side of the city.
During the summer season, you can tour the fort with a guide and learn about
its long history through many conflicts, starting from the French and Indian
War. In more recent years, the fort has received renewed attention,
since it was the site of the only refugee camp for escapees from the Holocaust.
Nearly 1000 people of all ages were brought here from Italy in 1943. They
were housed in barracks behind fences, which must have had a painful similarity
to the death camps of eastern Europe. Although the intent was to segregate
the refugees from the townspeople, there was mingling nevertheless, especially
among the young people. Today, almost all of those barracks are gone, except
for a couple buildings. One of them has been converted into a museum, called
Save Haven. There
is a happy ending. Almost all the refugees chose to remain in the United
States after the war.
QUESTION: The refugees did not
have official status when first brought to Oswego. In fact, they had to
sign a paper stating they would return to their native lands after World
War II. When the enormous tragedy of the Holocaust was publicly known,
they were allowed to remain in America.
So why were they put here of all places? Was the federal government
trying to discourage them from becoming U.S. citizens? If so, what is
there about this location that would feed into that plan?
6. The Seaway Trail continues to parallel the shoreline of Lake
Ontario, but it starts to swing northwards after Oswego (Routes 104 and
3). The eastern shore of the lake suffers the worst of the Lake Effect
Snow, but during the warmer seasons it is a vacation destination. The
Salmon River that
flows through Pulaski and Port Ontario, is especially attractive
to fishermen. When the Atlantic salmon are running, every available spot
is taken. Of course, this is very important to the local economy. Just
look around at the stores and restaurants. To whom do they cater?
The northward trek on Rte. 3 takes you past dairy farms and more marinas
in villages like Sandy Creek and Henderson Harbor. Shortly
after that you descend down a limestone cliff toward the Black River Bay
and historic Sacketts Harbor. This is
one of the oldest settlements in the North Country when it literally was
the frontier. During the War of 1812 it was attacked twice by the British
Navy. Both were morale-boosting American victories in a time when US Army
was not doing well. This period of history is preserved in Sacketts Harbor State Historic Park.
QUESTION: Sacketts Harbor has done
a good job in preserving its historic buildings. Stroll around the village
and the rehabilitated Madison Barracks. How do you think this preservation
helps the tourist economy of Sacketts Harbor? Compare this to the Thousand
Islands towns farther north.
7. If you stay on Rte. 3, you will end up in the hub of the North Country,
the city of Watertown. It is situated on the Black River about
ten miles east of Lake Ontario. Like many urban areas that trace their
history from the early 19th century, Watertown was founded along "fall
lines", rapids that provided reliable water power for mills. Today much
of the economy of Jefferson County is dependent on the huge military establishment
to its northeast, Fort Drum. The growth
around the fort has been phenomenal in recent years. (This is also a gateway
into the Adirondacks.
Follow Rte. 3 into Tupper Lake and beyond.)
If you are looking for the scenic route, however, stay on the Seaway
Trail through Dexter, Chaumont, and Cape
Vincent. (Do you see a French connection here?) You have reached
the end of Lake Ontario, and the beginning of the Thousand Islands Region
of the St. Lawrence River. The precise place where this occurs is a few
miles west of the village of Cape Vincent, Tibbits
Point. Another historic lighthouse marks the place of transition.
You may not realize it immediately, but you are also at an international
boundary. Just across the river lies Wolfe Island, which is part of the
Canadian Province of Ontario. It is one of around 1700 officially recognized
islands in this part of the St. Lawrence River.
What makes an island, you might ask? To qualify, there needs to be
one tree and room to stand without getting wet during the highest river
levels. The tour boats will proudly point out those islands that might
the minimum requirements. (One of those is pictured at the top of this
This, of course, is one of New York State's vacation playgrounds. Many
of the islands were homes to both old money and the nouveau
riche in the Guilded Age. Most of them are still privately owned today.
Although you probably won't be invited in for a visit, you can view the
islands from afar on a boat cruise.
8. The cruises leave both Clayton
and Alexandria Bay. They are both downstream
from (i.e. northeast) Cape Vincent. They are probably the most "touristy" villages in the Seaway Region. During the summer months, the streets are
usually filled with visitors, and the nearby state parks are packed with
campers and swimmers.
QUESTION: An economy built on tourism
has some serious geographic consequences. Look around both villages. Do
they have the same historic charm as Sacketts Harbor, for example? Does it
look like this is an all-season industry, or does the economy hibernate through
the long northern winter? Who is targeted by this tourism, native New Yorkers,
other Americans, or Canadians from across the river? What kinds of clues
are available in the business district of both Clayton and Alex Bay?
If you take a boat cruise, the narrator might mention that the river
is remarkably clear. It is not necessary a good thing, although you can often
see the bottom (as shown in this photograph on the right). The clarity is
the result of an invasion of zebra mussels that have infested the Great
Lakes Basin and many other streams and canals around the state. They are
filter-feeders, and many impurities in the water are removed by them. However,
they have crowded out many of the local shellfish, and this has disrupted
the food chain drastically.
QUESTION: Your guide might
also mention the differences in policy about the islands on both the U.S.
and the Canadian sides of the river. Which one seems better to you? Does
this kind of regulation fly in the face of American individualism?
9. The drive up Routes 12 and 37 along the St. Lawrence is very scenic.
(If you want a more panoramic view of the 1000 Islands, drive across the
T.I. Bridge (I-81 North) into Canada and stop at the observation tower.
Alas, there is no tower on our side of the river). You should notice that
river narrows somewhat along the way, and the islands fade away. Also,
note that the population on the Canadian side seems to be greater than
the New York side. We often think of our neighbor to the north as being
sparsely populated, but it is not true here along the border.
Soon you will arrive in the village of Ogdensburg,
the home of the famous western painter and sculptor, Frederic Remington.
The museum that exhibits many pieces of his artwork is located near downtown
and a couple blocks from the river. You will also learn about Remington's
life, and how his childhood in the North Country influenced him in his artistic
QUESTION: What is there about this
part of upstate New York that would inspire a man like Remington to become
interested in making the western frontier the main focus of his art career?
10. The St. Lawrence River has an elevation around 246 ft. above sea
level as it leaves Lake Ontario near Tibbits Point. Of course, it must
drop that 246 feet before reaching the Atlantic Ocean in Quebec. It makes
two such drops along the New York section of the river, today controlled
by two dams and locks: Iroquois and Eisenhower. The latter,
named for the President and World War II hero, is located near Massena in Robert Moses State Park. The locks
are part of the St. Lawrence Seaway, which makes it possible for ocean-going
vessels to navigate the Great Lakes System. The dams on the river also generate
electricity, another export from the North Country. You can visit the Eisenhower
Locks during the navigating season, but don't be surprised if you don't
see any ships locking through. The Seaway is not as successful today as
11. Not far from Massena is the Akwesasne Reservation
(formerly the St. Regis), the home to the Mohawk Nation, of the Iroquois
(Haudenosaunee) Confederation. Its location where New York, Ontario, and
Quebec meet create some serious problems. By treaty the Mohawk people have
the right to travel freely across the international border. They are fiercely
independent people, who take their sovereignty very seriously. The governments
of both nations are not happy that taxable commodities such as gasoline and
tobacco are tax-free in Akwesasne. And recently, a casino was built which
has deeply divided the Mohawk people, resulting in violence on the reservation.
As you drive through Akwesasne, keep a mental note of the kinds of businesses
you see on the main highway, both inside and outside the reservation. What
are your conclusions? Has this resulted in prosperity for the Mohawk people?
What might be some of the consequences on their traditional way of life?
FINAL QUESTION: What have you learned
about the land and people of the Seaway Region that set them apart from
other parts of New York? How do they benefit by living on an "inland coast"?
What problems do they face in this remote corner of the Empire State?
You have finished your journey on the Seaway Trail.
Visit the Adirondacks or Central New York next.
Click on the links below: