History lurks below the surface: New York is home to six of nation’s 36 meromictic lakes


Deadman’s Point at Green Lake in Green Lakes State Park, Fayetteville, is home to one of New York’s six meromictic lakes, of which there are only 36 nationwide. Chalky shoreline formations created by bacteria are visible in the foreground. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Deadman’s Point at Green Lake in Green Lakes State Park, Fayetteville, is home to one of New York’s six meromictic lakes, of which there are only 36 nationwide. Chalky shoreline formations created by bacteria are visible in the foreground. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

From the rugged majesty of the Adirondacks to the labyrinthine depths of the subterranean cave system, the serenity of Lake Ontario’s shores to the quiet whispering of the St. Lawrence River, chances are good that no matter where you stand in Northern New York, breathtaking views or interesting natural formations are just a stone’s throw away. While much of the beauty here is obvious, there are some formations that are not exactly what they seem.

Surface and bottom waters mix seasonally in traditional lakes, delivering oxygen to the bottom, which in turn allows fish and plant life to survive. A meromictic lake is one whose waters do not mix. They are rare, especially in temperate climates like that of New York state. There are only 36 known meromictic lakes in the world. New York state is home to six of them, and three of the six are located just outside of Syracuse in the towns of Fayetteville and DeWitt: Green Lake, Round Lake and Glacier Lake.

Meromictic lakes are Mother Nature’s time capsules. Because their waters do not mix, the sediment along the lake bottom is not disturbed. This undisturbed sediment forms a natural record of environmental and aquatic conditions that often predates recorded history. Not surprisingly, this sediment is of particular interest to geologists and environmental scientists. [Read more...]

A shrine with healing power: North country priest built famed shrine at LaFargeville church

St. John the Evangelist Church in the Village of LaFargeville has an open air Shrine to Our Lady of Lourdes. North country priest Arthur J. Viau, once a pastor at the church, is said to have been cured of tuberculosis of the bone in 1912 by praying to Our Lady of Lourdes for 18 days; the Shrine once drew thousands hoping for similar cures. Mass is still held inside the church weekly. Photo courtesy Watertown Daily Times Archives

In 1858 a young peasant girl in Lourdes, France named Bernadette Soubirous claimed to have received visions of the Virgin Mary. Near the bank of the Gave de Pau River stood a naturally occurring shallow cave, or grotto, in which the apparitions took place. As word of the apparitions spread, the grotto, which was transformed into a shrine that would eventually be called Our Lady of Lourdes, began to receive pilgrims from surrounding villages.

The number of visitors grew steadily over the years to become what is now one of the most important pilgrimage sites for the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics. Millions of people visit the site every year in search of physical healing and spiritual renewal that is said to be imparted by drinking or bathing in the water of the Lourdes Spring.

An interesting piece of religious history to be sure but what does a pilgrimage site in France have to do with the north country? [Read more...]

Celebrating a hometown hero (with four legs)

Varick Chittenden

It was 10 years ago this summer when the world heard about Funny Cide, the previously unknown and undistinguished three-year-old colt who rushed from behind to win the Kentucky Derby in May 2003. Two weeks later, he pulled out all the stops and won the Preakness Stakes. Then he was 2/3 of the way to the pinnacle of racing, the Triple Crown. This was world-class stuff in “the sport of kings,” something I knew little about.

I usually don’t pay much attention to horse racing, especially the thoroughbreds at the flat tracks. It’s a bias I have from my boyhood, when my favorite uncle, Lyndon Miller of Hopkinton, raised, trained and drove harness horses at local county fairs for a hobby. These trotters and pacers and their drivers—not jockeys—would ride two-wheeled “bikes,” or sulkies, behind them for Sunday entertainment. Harness races were small town sport; the thoroughbreds were for millionaires and swells.

Uncle Lyndon was great with animals; dairy farming was his living, but horses were his passion. He would keep one or two in his “stable” at a time, mostly has-beens or also-rans to the truly serious competitors, but that didn’t occur to me at the time. I was fascinated with Billy Song and Kay Ensign and how Uncle Lyndon cared for them. [Read more...]

The nation’s oldest fair: 196th annual event set for July at Coffeen Street grounds

An aerial view of the Jefferson County Fair, ca. 1950s, at the present-day Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds on Coffeen Street, Watertown. Photo from Watertown Daily Times Archives

After the long, grueling north country winters there are few Northern New Yorkers who don’t look forward to summer. Warmer months bring barbecues, days on the river and, perhaps, the most famous harbinger of summer: the Jefferson County Fair. Lauded as the longest continually operating fair in the country, the fairgrounds along Coffeen Street in Watertown is transformed each July into a teeming gathering of people, young and old, who come to enjoy food, rides, crafts, exhibits and farm animals.

Many local fairs are, or were at some point, connected with an agricultural society. Agricultural societies were initially developed in Europe during the Enlightenment, a period during the 18th century of intense scientific discovery and intellectual growth in the Western world. The expressed common goal of agricultural societies was the promotion and development of agricultural techniques. With the scientific spirit of the age, early society members conducted experiments in soil rejuvenation, crop rotation and breeding, animal husbandry and the study of weather patterns. The results of these experiments were then disseminated among local farmers in the hopes of improving farming techniques, technology and crop yields. As a forerunner to the agricultural fair, early agricultural societies offered premiums for new research on field topics, such as innovative methods for eradicating pests that threatened crops. [Read more...]

A scandalous past: Oneida flatware began as necessity for utopian community

A postcard dated June 26, 1907, shows the Oneida Community Home Building in Kenwood, N.Y., near Oneida. Photo courtesy Wikipedia.

There are few people today who have not used or at least heard of Oneida cutlery. The flatware is ubiquitous in restaurants, hotels and kitchen drawers worldwide. Since its founding in the 19th century, Oneida Limited flatware has become something of an American tradition, although its roots are anything but traditional.

The flatware was originally manufactured by the Oneida Community, a religious utopian commune based in Oneida between 1848 and 1880.

A man named John Humphrey Noyes led the group. He was born in Battleboro, Vt., in 1811 to John and Polly Noyes. His father was a businessman and United States Congressman. His mother was an ardently religious woman who had hopes that her son would one day pursue a religious vocation. [Read more...]

A life-saving discovery

Sackets’ Dr. Samuel Guthrie credited with chloroform application

The Dr. Samuel Guthrie home on County Route 75, Sackets Harbor. Photo courtesy of Johnson Newspaper Archives.

Maybe it’s something in the water? That’s one possible explanation for the long list of entrepreneurs and inventors who have called Jefferson County home. Safety pins, bed springs, tile drains, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (better known as the S.P.C.A.), and the concept of the five and dime were all invented or created within Jefferson County’s borders. Tyler Coverlets are native to the county as are percussion caps and a mechanism for their ignition that made flintlock muskets obsolete. But perhaps one of the best known inventions is that of chloroform. [Read more...]

Jefferson County Historical Society model train exhibit on display through February

A vintage train set and scenery are on display at the Jefferson County Historical Society, along with other sets, through February. Photo by Justin Sorensen/Watertown Daily Times

North country residents have until the end of February to visit the Jefferson County Historical Society before the model trains on exhibit leave the station.

Executive Director William G. Wood said the agency has been getting assistance from the Watertown Model Train Club to perfect the model train exhibit in the basement of the Paddock mansion, 228 Washington St.

“They’re adding scenery; it’s a long, manual process,” he said.

The exhibit features three scenes: Public Square in winter, Black River in fall and farm life in summer.

Mr. Wood said the exhibit is a repeat from last December to February, but it has grown as final pieces come together.

[Read more...]

Shining some light underground

North country’s vast network of caverns mysterious, intriguing 

In this 1988 photo, Denny Ellingsworth discusses his decision to live in one of the Black River caves in Watertown. Last year, a group of spelunkers sought permission to explore and map the caves. The north country’s many caves have been a part of local lore for almost as long as some of its cities have existed. Photo courtesy Johnson Newspaper archives.

The north country is renowned for its natural beauty and geographical features. Tug Hill, the St. Lawrence River, the shores of Lake Ontario, and the Thousand Islands themselves have been attracting generations of tourists to the area since the 19th century.

Sadly, what is perhaps Northern New York’s most intriguing geographical feature hasn’t been visited by tourists or locals since the 1990s: the underground caves. Watertown and a number of surrounding areas, including Dexter, Limerick, Rodman, Adams, Lyme, and Brownville have been built on top of an immense sheet of limestone. Limestone is a soft type of sedimentary rock so called because it originated as sediment- or in limestone’s particular case, the skeletons of small underwater creatures that have collected over vast amounts of time.

[Read more...]

New York’s other ‘Central Park’

Park-goers enjoy the wading pool at Thompson Park, ca. 1910. The pool was reputed to only be 14 inches deep. Photo courtesy of Jefferson County Historical Society.

By the 1850s, many American cities were undergoing significant changes. Hundreds of thousands of people across the nation had left their homes in outlying rural areas and moved into urban centers looking to fill jobs created by the Industrial Revolution.

[Read more...]

Swami’s retreat: India’s first spiritual, cultural leader to the West had ties to NNY

Swami Vivekanada was one of the first cultural ambassadors to the West, representing India and Hinduism in his teachings. Photo courtesy of Ramakrisha-Vivekanada Center of New York.

By Lenka Walldroff

“Brothers and Sisters of America!”

Thus began Swami Vivekananda’s speech to the Parliament of the World’s Religions on Sept. 11, 1893. As part of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, the Parliament of the World’s Religions met in Chicago to foster inter faith understanding and tolerance. Swami Vivekananda, then a still unknown monk-philosopher to the Western world, came to represent India and Hinduism.

[Read more...]