Sodus Lighthouse

Seaway Region 2

Seaway Map

Geography is not an indoor sport! Get out and explore New York State!


Physical Geography

Human Geography

Economic Geography

Regions of NYS

Winter scene

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."

Capt. Throop House

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.

Safe Haven Museum

 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.

Navy Point

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.

Tibbits LH

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.

Thousand Islands

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 art.


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.

The Seaway Region:


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 with.

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, 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 page).

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 endeavors.

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 once hoped.

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:

 Central NY
Central New York

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