Oneida Lake Lore

Fascinating and true stories about Oneida Lake, compiled by Jack Henke:

Books About Oneida Lake History

Oneida Lake's past has been chronicled in many forms, but two books, Oneida Lake--Place Names and History and Tales of Oneida Lake, both authored by O.L.A. Director Jack Henke and published by North Country Books, 311 Turner Street, Utica, New York, 13501, contain the most complete documentation of the lake's heritage. Both of these volumes reveal the wealth of lore and data that adorns the lake's long saga.

Oneida Lake--Place Names and History presents an accounting of Oneida's past through a discussion of the origin of the names of communities, bays, points, and even underwater reefs that are found throughout the lake's basin. This book discusses, among other topics, the Yankee origins of Bridgeport, the naming of Brewerton for a British major who served in the French and Indian War, and the story of Deswatines, the mysterious Frenchman whose legend highlights Frenchman's Island's past.

A few unusual place names add color to the Oneida story. Wantry Island was once called "One Tree Island" until ice wiped out its lone tree, prompting New York State, in its concern for navigational clarity, to rename the isle. Poddygut Shoals and Bay, both relatively rotund formations, got their titles from an old fish pirate name for a "beer belly." Nannyberry Point, located west of Constantia, acquired its name from the herd of goats kept there by the chef of the Sylvan House, a hotel on Frenchman's Island. A large blueberry patch thrived on the point and the cook kept his "nannies" pastured there because of his belief that the berries would enhance the tastes of the goat's milk and the cheese produced from it.

Tales of Oneida Lake portrays important episodes in the lake's history in an anthology of over fifty stories. The tales scan a kaleidoscope of topics in Oneida's past. Stories like "Missionary in the Tempest," "Whiteout on Oneida's Icecap," and "Pioneer Reminiscences" describe the lake area in its developmental infancy, in days when panthers and bears roamed the woods around every cabin and the rule of law often favored the strong over the just. The lake's communities blossomed in the 19th century and stories such as "Tales of Steamboat Times," "The History of Glass Making at Cleveland," and "A Day In Paradise" capture the spirit of that era. Local color and folklore appear in sagas like "Hank Emmons Discount 'Licker'," "Coon Rogers and His Trained Dogfish," and "Fish Pirate Tales." There are topics appealing to all readers' tastes in Tales of Oneida Lake.

The recording of Oneida Lake history is an ongoing task. The Oneida Lake Association recognizes the importance of this and regularly includes historical articles in its newsletter, the Oneida Lake Bulletin.  In 1997 the Association co-sponsored, with Cornell University, the publication of the Oneida Lake Profile, a pamphlet that includes a synopsis of the lake's ecology and history.

Jack Henke continues to research and write about Oneida Lake history. Currently, he is collecting stories for another book of lake tales. If readers of this web page have information that they think could help with this research, they are welcome to contact Jack at Box 175, Brookfield, New York, 13314. Assistance in this project is greatly appreciated.