Sunday, January 3, 2010

From Hill to Bottom

© 2007 David Minor / Eagles Byte

His stagecoach having crossed the wooden bridge across the northern end of Cayuga Lake, with no loss of life or limb (to passenger or horse), John Fowler continues his journey westward. They did build another bridge three years later, just to the north of the rickety one Fowler crossed, but the old one continued in use. That old bridge itself, collapsed in February of 1858. In our own time it was replaced with a modern steel structure, used for the east-west freight line of the Finger Lakes Scenic Railway and now runs excursion trains periodically from April to December.

Fowler mentions a lake steamer that made the trip downlake to Ithaca (which, by the way, he misspells. I can’t say much; I didn’t know how it was spelled until I was in my early thirties).

But, back to John Fowler and 1830. Three miles to the west his coach enters the settlement of Seneca Falls, which will be incorporated as a village the following year. He mentions only its 2,000 inhabitants (it seems smaller to him), a tannery, a distillery and a few mills and stores. There’s also a canal connecting it with the Erie Canal at Montezuma (today’s Cayuga & Seneca Canal). Four miles further along lies the village of Waterloo. Being English, Fowler remarks, “. . . I am no great admirer of Waterloos, nor can I, in its present state, bestow the inordinate praise upon this place which some have done.” Apart from a courthouse, jail, and several stores, “. . . it is altogether a most irregularly-built and unfinished place, and whatever importance or interest time may add to its character, I have spoken of it as it now is, and without much of either.”

So much for Fowler’s opinion of these two communities; the third made a better impression. It appeared at the end of a “highly interesting” road that traveled along the end of the next finger-like lake, Seneca. He describes his first sight of the village of Geneva, “at a considerable elevation . . . one of the principal streets running immediately down to the lake, and the other along the summit of the bank and parallel to it. Extending beyond which are many elegant private residences.” He takes note of Geneva College, founded five years earlier, which would one day become Hobart and William Smith colleges. The Geneva Female Seminary was even more recent, having been opened just last year. Unlike many such institutions for young ladies, this one stressed logic, languages, sciences and mathematics, rather than the traditional domestic subjects. These schools, like most of the finer homes, were along the upper street in the region, known as The Hill. Situated high above the lake’s northern end, they had the spectacular views. The business district at this time was in the process of moving to The Bottom, the streets down by the lake’s shore.

Fowler explored the village for an hour or so. If he spent any time wandering around The Bottom he might have spied such businesses as Thomas Burrell’s factory for the production of farm machinery, and the Ontario Glass Manufacturing Company.

One other arrival in town this year, a more permanent one, was 12-year-old Charles J. Folger, who moved here from Nantucket with his family. He would go onto study law and go into politics, eventually becoming Chester A. Arthur’s Treasury Secretary.

Meanwhile - John Fowler is moving on toward Canandaigua.

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