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Seneca Lake Ice-Sheets

The Freezing of its Waters in 1855, the first Event of the Kind Known to White Men

(This article was taken from a newspaper clipping with no date or name, but probably came from the Chronicle Express, printed in Penn Yan, - possibly printed in1906-7).

Lake Country newspapers annually during the winter season, used to make more or less mention of the dates of the entire freezing over of its waters, and especially of the formation of ice upon the surface of Seneca Lake. The editor of the Schuyler County Chronicle made an exhaustive research of this subject in 1885, during association with the Watkins Express, and the facts then gathered and also in 1904, when again for a brief period in that paper are set forth in the following statements, which are authentic in all details. Seneca Lake was frozen over in 1855, partially in 1856, in 1868, in 1875, in 1885, and partially in 1904. Any one who will take the pains to preserve this article will thereby have at hand the true history of these rare occurrences.

The Town Clerk's Record of Reading contains the following entry of the freezing over of Seneca Lake in 1855, made by Isaac Conklin: "Feb 26, 1855, a company of men crossed over Seneca Lake on the ice to the Hector Mills. On the first day of March 1855, Roswell Holden, Henry Roberts, John Roberts and others crossed over on the ice, and measured the width of the Lake from Corbett's Point, on the west shore to Broad Point (Glen Eldridge), on the east shore, which was one and a quarter miles. Lev Shepherd Octavius Roberts and others crossed over the same day, from the Roberts farm, on the west shore to the Woodward farm on the east." This was the first time in the knowledge of white men, that the phenomenon of ice-covered waters for any length of time, had occurred on Seneca Lake, and the chronicles of this sketch will be confined to other mentions of this remarkable event.

David C. Hillerman, is quoted as noting as follows: "I find on looking over my diary kept at the time that Seneca Lake was frozen over as far down as Big Stream on Saturday night, February 24, 1855. The ice was about five inches thick: splendid for skating. The Lake was not clear of ice until the 15th of March, 1855." Mr. Hillerman then resided in Reading on the farm just north of the homestead of Hon. Adrian Tuttle, and on March 1, 1855, they together skated across Seneca Lake from Tuttle's Point to Hector Falls, pushing before them in going and returning a cutter in which were Mrs. Hillerman and the lady who became Mrs. Washington Wilmot. In regard to the following year Mr. Hillerman made this entry: "March 10, 1856, the Lake was frozen all over from its foot up to Starkey, and the east half up to its head."

Otis R. Corbett, of Reading, always a resident of the west shore of Seneca Lake, in a diary kept in 1855, made entries by which the following facts may be substantiated: Sunday, Feb. 25, 1855, Seneca Lake was frozen over as far as Peach Orchard. Tuesday, Feb. 27, 1855, the first court ever held in Watkins commenced with Judge Rood presiding. Wednesday, February 28, 1855, he spent the day at court, and also recorded that the ice on the lake was six inches thick. March 4, 1855, he and his eldest son returned home from Watkins, walking on the ice of the lake from the steamboat landing to the Glen Salt Works site, then known as Big Point, and forming a portion of his farm. In regard to 1856 Mr. Corbett recorded: "Sunday, May 4, 1856, a skim of ice covers half of the surface of Seneca Lake which was never known to freeze till this and last year.

Hon. William C. Coon, late of the Town of Hector, in a communication to the Watkins Express, stated of the first known freezing of Seneca Lake, as follows: "In 1855, I was teaching school at Burdett, and left that village with some twenty others on the morning of Feb 28th. We skated across Seneca Lake from Board Point, (Glen Eldridge) and to Watkins and back. The ice at that time was five inches thick in the middle of the lake, and perfectly clear and solid." This record and those given above, fix beyond question the fact that the waters of Seneca Lake were first fully ice-covered in the year 1855, and the diary of Otis R. Corbett in its mention of Court at Watkins in connection with the phenomenon, brings to mind the remark of Hon. Charles Cook, of Havana, who had been the master-spirit in the formation of Schuyler County, that "Seneca Lake would freeze over before the courts would ever be held in Watkins". Both these co-incident events at the time he made the assertion, were regarded among the impossibilities. - Watkins Chronicle.

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