While there are eleven Finger Lakes, two of the region’s largest are located within the borders of Seneca County. Together with the Cayuga-Seneca Canal, Seneca Lake and Cayuga Lake contain over 6.6 trillion gallons of fresh water and provide the basis for many recreational opportunities in Seneca County, from boating to fishing to swimming.
History Happened Here
In the course of constructing a new barge canal and two Locks in summer 1915, another man-made lake was created in Seneca Falls that is known today as Van Cleef Lake. It has become one of the most photographed sights in all of New York State. The most typical picture incorporates a view of the lake with the Trinity Episcopal Church in the background.
Cayuga Lake is the longest of all the Finger Lakes – stretching nearly 40 miles and measuring approximately three and a half miles wide at its peak. It ranks as the second deepest lake in the region at approximately 435 feet and contains Frontenac Point Island (one of only two islands in the Finger Lakes). The northern end of Cayuga Lake features shallow marsh and mudflats — perfect for aquatic vegetation and migratory birds
The deepest of all the Finger Lakes, Seneca Lake has a maximum depth of just over 618 feet – making it the second deepest (wholly contained) body of water in the country. It is also the region’s second-longest lake – measuring an impressive 38 miles from north to south. Fish species include: salmon, bass, yellow perch, and northern pike – but Seneca Lake is billed as the ‘Lake Trout Capital of the World’ for its diversity of Lake, Rainbow and Brown trout.
Much of the early economic development of Seneca “In any case, nature provided 11 fingers (lakes), perhaps because it would take more than two hands to count all the region's charms.” - New York Times Falls was based on making use of mile-long rapids that led to a 42-foot drop in the Seneca River. To further develop industry, these rapids were dammed to form the upper, middle and lower falls from which a number of mill sites and races were developed. The falls were permanently removed with the construction of the canal locks and Van Cleef Lake in 1915.
Part of the Erie Canal system, connects Cayuga Lake to Seneca Lake and provides indirect access to the Atlantic Ocean and St. Lawrence Seaway. The canal’s four Locks are used to bring vessels from one water level to another (Lock 4 in Waterloo lifts boats 14.5 feet to match the Seneca Lake water level). The canal is also home to the rowing teams of Hobart & William Smith Colleges.