By Jack Henke

Our lake area's visitors, one century ago, would journey through a far different world than we know today.  Getting to Oneida was a slow, often painstaking, process.  Railroads provided the most expeditious method of travel.  The Ontario and Western Railroad served the lake's eastern and northern shores.  It connected with the New York Central at Oneida Castle and ran north from that depot to Flsh Creek, Sylvan Beach, Jewell (West Vienna), Cleveland, Bernhard's Bay, and Constantia.  This line carried more tourists than any other road.  The Lehigh Valley Railroad joined the Central at Canastota and traveled north to Upper South Bay and Verona Beach.  On the lake's western extremity the Rome, Watertown, and Ogdensburg Railroad (which was controlled by the Central) served Brewerton's passenger traffic.

South shore communities like Bridgeport and Lakeport, both of which lacked a rail line, depended in part on the area's turnpikes and country roads for outside connections.  These highways were seasonal affairs, dusty and grimy during summer's hot spells and muddied often beyond passage during spring and fall rains.  Resilient residents, however, learned to adapt.  Produce, logs, and passengers traveled from the south shore via steamboat to rail connections along the lake.  Sleighing was an effective means of winter transportation and, when safe ice formed, the lake itself became a sleighers' course.

Steamboats were grand vessels that plied Oneida's waters throughout the navigation season.  Larger boats like the Manhattan could carry in excess of 200 passengers.  Some hotels operated their own private steamboats.  Sylvan Beach's Forest Home, for example, owned the Fred B. Randall.  Smaller vessels also cruised Oneida and, while most carried cargo, passenger traffic provided additional income.  In 1897, there were 35 licensed steamboats that frequented Oneida's ports.  This was a major transportation industry for that era.

Reprinted (with minor modifications) from The Oneida Lake Bulletin:  Spring, 1996.