The History of the Finger Lakes

The Finger Lakes is an area rich in history and a very popular tourist destination.  A visit to the Finger Lakes can have you excited to come back year after year as there is so much to see and learn.  Finger Lakes Vacation Rentals invites you to check out our private rentals when you are looking for places to stay in the Finger Lakes.

The Finger Lakes

The Finger Lakes are comprised of 11 long, narrow, roughly north-south lakes in a region called the Finger Lakes region in Central New York, in the United States.

Finger Lakes historyThe lakes’ shapes reminded early map-makers of human fingers, and the name stuck. Lakes Cayuga (435 feet, 133 m) and Seneca (618 feet, 188 m) are among the deepest in the United States, with bottoms well below sea level. They are also the longest Finger Lakes, though neither width exceeds 3.5 miles (5.6 km); Lake Cayuga is 38.1 miles long, and Seneca 66.9 square miles (173 km2), and the largest in total area. (1)

Oneida Lake is generally not considered one of the Finger Lakes, but it is sometimes called the “thumb”.

Formation of the Finger Lakes

The lakes originated as a series of northward-flowing streams. Around two million years ago, the first of many continental glaciers of the Laurentide Ice Sheet moved southward from the Hudson Bay area, initiating the Pleistocene glaciation. These scouring glaciers widened, deepened, and accentuated the existing river valleys. Glacial debris, possibly terminal moraine left behind by the receding ice, acted as dams, allowing lakes to form. Despite the deep erosion of the valleys, the surrounding uplands show little evidence of glaciation, suggesting that the ice was thin, or at least unable to cause much erosion at these higher altitudes. The deep cutting by the ice left some tributaries hanging high above the lakes—both Seneca and Cayuga have tributaries hanging as much as 120 m above the valley floors (2)

History of The Finger Lakes Region

The Finger Lakes region contains evidence of pre-Iroquois habitation, such as The Bluff Point Stoneworks, but no one really knows who actually constructed them.

Finger Lakes historyThe Finger Lakes region is a central part of the Iroquois homeland. The Iroquois tribes include the Seneca and Cayuga nations, for which the two largest Finger Lakes are named. The Tuscarora tribe lived in the Finger Lakes region as well, from ca. 1720. The Onondaga and Oneida tribes lived at the eastern edge of the region, closer to their namesake lakes, Oneida Lake and Onondaga Lake. The easternmost Iroquois tribe was the Mohawk who spread out into Western Massachusetts and developed the Mohawk Trail.

During colonial times, many other tribes moved to the Finger Lakes region, seeking the protection of the Iroquois. For example, in 1753 remnants of several Virginia Siouan tribes, collectively called the Tutelo-Saponi, moved to the town of Coreorgonel at the south end of Cayuga Lake near present-day Ithaca, until 1779 when their village was destroyed.

Major Iroquois towns in the Finger Lakes region included the Seneca town of Gen-nis-he-yo (present-day Geneseo), Kanadaseaga (Seneca Castle, near present-day Geneva), Goiogouen (Cayuga Castle, east of Cayuga Lake), Chonodote (Cayuga town, present-day Aurora), and Catherine’s Town (near present-day Watkins Glen).

As one of the most powerful Indian nations during colonial times, the Iroquois were able to prevent European colonization of the Finger Lakes region for nearly two centuries after first contact. By the late 18th century Iroquois power had weakened, relative to the European-Americans’, and internal strife eroded the political unity of the Iroquois Confederacy. During the American Revolutionary War, some Iroquois sided with the British and some with the Americans, resulting in civil war among the Iroquois. In the late 1770s, British-allied Iroquois attacked various American frontier settlements, prompting counter-attacks, culminating in the Sullivan Expedition of 1779, which destroyed most of the Iroquois towns and effectively broke Iroquois power. After the Revolutionary War, the Iroquois and other Indians of the region were assigned reservations. Most of their land, including the Finger Lakes region, was opened up to purchase and settlement.

Roughly the western half of the Finger Lakes region comprised the Phelps and Gorham Purchase of 1790. The region was rapidly settled at the turn of the 19th century, largely by a westward migration from New England, and to a lesser degree by northward influx from Pennsylvania. The regional architecture reflects these area traditions of the Federal and Greek Revival periods. (3)

Finger Lakes Vacation Rentals

Skaneateles luxury rentals are private, well-maintained, and beautifully furnished private homes that are available for your vacation needs.  Why stay in a cramped and stuffy motel room when you can live in a lovely house with plenty of privacy and all the amenities of home.

Our properties are located within the Village of Skaneateles, all within walking distance to local points of interest and the lake.  The village, itself, offers fine dining, art galleries and plenty of shops to browse and enjoy.

When you’re ready for your vacation in the Finger Lakes, visit us first and make your reservations early.  Fall is soon upon us, and we love sharing the beautiful Autumn colors with you.



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