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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Finger Lakes are a chain of lakes in the west-central section of Upstate New York that are a popular tourist destination. The lakes mainly are linear in shape, each lake oriented on a north-south axis. The two longest, Cayuga Lake and Seneca Lake, are among the deepest in America. Both are close to 40 miles (64 km) from end to end, but never more than 3.5 miles (5,600 m) wide. Cayuga is the longest (38.1 miles, 61.3 km), but Seneca the largest in total area. Seneca is the deepest (618 feet, 188.4 m), followed by Cayuga (435 feet, 132.6 m), with the bottoms well below sea level. These largest lakes resemble the others in shape, which collectively reminded early map-makers of the fingers of a hand. Oneida Lake is generally not considered one of the Finger Lakes, but it is sometimes called the "thumb".

New York's Finger Lakes. Lake Ontario appears at top, Oneida Lake upper right, Cazenovia Lake directly below.



Vineyard overlooking Canandaigua Lake, from Route 21

The Finger Lakes area is New York's largest wine producing region. Over 100 wineries and vineyards are centered around Seneca, Cayuga, Canandaigua, Keuka, Conesus and Hemlock lakes. Because of the lakes' great depth, they provide a lake effect to the lush vineyards that flank their shores. Retaining residual summer warmth in the winter, and winter's cold in the spring, the grapes are protected from disastrous spring frost during shoot growth, and early frost before the harvest. The main grape varieties grown are: Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Vidal Blanc, Seyval Blanc and many vitis labrusca (native American) varieties or cultivars. With the passage of the Farm Winery Act in 1976, numerous wineries have opened their doors to visitors from all over the world. Wineries are a major growth industry of the region, not merely contributing to the economy through production, but increasingly because they attract large numbers of visitors who support other components of tourism.


The Finger Lakes region contains evidence of pre-Iroquois habitation, such as The Bluff Point Stoneworks, but little is known about who may have constructed these enigmatic works.

The Finger Lakes region is a central part of the Iroquois homeland. The Iroquois tribes include the Seneca and Cayuga tribes, for which the two largest Finger Lakes are named. The Tuscarora tribe lived in the Finger Lakes region as well. The Onondaga and Oneida tribes lived at the eastern edge of the region, closer to their namesake lakes, Lake Oneida and Onondaga Lake. The sixth Iroquois tribe, the Mohawk, lived farther east. During colonial times, many other tribes moved to the Finger Lakes region, seeking the protection of the Iroquois. For example, remnants of several tribes of North Carolina, collectively called the Tutelo, moved to the town of Coreorgonel at the south end of Cayuga Lake near present-day Ithaca. Major Iroquois towns in the Finger Lakes region included the Seneca town of Gen-nis-he-yo (present-day Geneseo), Kanadaseaga (Seneca Castle, near present-day Geneva), Goiogouen (Cayuga Castle, east of Cayuga Lake), Chonodote (Cayuga town, present-day Aurora), and Catherine's Town (near present-day Watkins Glen).

As one of the most powerful Indian nations during colonial times, the Iroquois were able to prevent European colonization of the Finger Lakes region for nearly two centuries after first contact. By the late 18th century Iroquois power had weakened, relative to the European-Americans, and internal strife eroded the political unity of the Iroquois Confederacy. During the American Revolutionary War some of the Iroquois sided with the British and some with the Americans, resulting in civil war among the Iroquois. In the late 1770s, British-allied Iroquois attacked various American frontier settlements, prompting counter-attacks, culminating in the Sullivan Expedition of 1779, which destroyed most of the Iroquois towns and effectively broke Iroquois power.

After the Revolutionary War, the Iroquois and other Indians of the region were assigned reservations. Most of their land, including the Finger Lakes region, was opened up to purchase and settlement.

Roughly the western half of the Finger Lakes region comprised the Phelps and Gorham Purchase of 1790. The region was rapidly settled at the turn of the nineteenth century, largely by a westward migration from New England, but to a lesser degree by northward influx from Pennsylvania. The regional architecture reflects these area traditions of the Federal and Greek Revival periods.

The Finger Lakes region, together with the Genesee Country of Western New York, has been referred to as the Burned-Over District, where, in the 19th century, the Second Great Awakening was a revival of Christianity, and some new religions were also formed. The region was active in reform and utopian movements. Many Underground Railroad sites have been documented. The Harriet Tubman Home at Auburn recalls the life and work of the African-American "Moses of her people."

On the northern end of the Finger Lakes are also Seneca Falls, the birthplace of the Women's suffrage movement; Waterloo, the birthplace of Memorial Day; and Palmyra, the birthplace of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormon Church. An annual outdoor drama, The Hill Cumorah Pageant, produced by the Mormons, draws thousands of visitors each year.

Hammondsport was the home of aviation pioneer Glenn Curtiss, and the favorable air currents make the area a popular spot for glider pilots. Elmira, just to the south, was the home of Mark Twain in his later life, and the site of an infamous Civil War prison. Corning is most noted as the home of Corning Glass Works and the Corning Museum of Glass. Hornell, just southwest of the Finger Lakes was a major railroad center. Locomotives were repaired there until recently. Conesus, New York remains the home of the oldest producer of pure grape sacramental wine in the Western hemisphere.

Granger Homestead, 1816, Canandaigua

Notable among the historic buildings of the region (most linked below) is the Granger Homestead (1816), a large village house in Federal Style at Canandaigua, New York. Another example of the Federal Style is the Prouty-Chew House (1829) at Geneva, portions of which were altered at various times in new fashions. Three Greek Revival mansions are situated near three lakes: The Richard DeZeng House, Skaneateles (1839), Rose Hill, Geneva (1839), and Esperanza, Penn Yan (1838). The latter two are open to the public. The Seward House in Auburn, a National Historic Landmark, is a mansion more characteristic of the Civil War era, virtually unchanged from the nineteenth century. Belhurst Castle, Geneva, a stone mansion in the Romanesque Revival style, now serves as an inn. Sonnenberg mansion at Canandaigua is later nineteenth-century residence in the Queen Anne style, known for its restored period gardens. Geneva on the Lake is a villa (1910-14) that recalls those on Italian lakes. Now an inn, it has exceptional gardens in the European manner. Many buildings and historic districts of the Finger Lakes region are notable, other than these historic houses.

Educational institutions

The area is also known for education, with the largest institution being Cornell University in Ithaca, the state land grant institution. Its alma mater begins "Far Above Cayuga's Waters", because it is on the hills overlooking the city of Ithaca and the southern end of Cayuga Lake. Elmira College, founded in 1855 in Elmira, has the distinction of being the first exclusively women's college to grant degrees equal to men in the country and is the final home of Mark Twain's study where he created his most famous characters: Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. There are several other private colleges in the area. They include Ithaca College in Ithaca, Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, Wells College in Aurora, also on Cayuga Lake, Keuka College in Penn Yan, and New York Chiropractic College in Seneca Falls. There are also the State Universities of New York at Geneseo and Cortland, and four community colleges: Finger Lakes Community College in Canandaigua; Cayuga Community College in Auburn; Corning Community College in Corning; and Tompkins Cortland Community College in Dryden. There are also four statutory colleges at Cornell. These include: New York State College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (which includes the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station at Geneva), the New York State College of Human Ecology, the New York State College of Veterinary Medicine, and the New York State School of Industrial and Labor Relations.


The Finger Lakes region is also home to a number of museums. These include the Corning Museum of Glass, the Strong National Museum of Play, Glenn H. Curtiss Museum, Wings of Eagles Discovery Center, Museum of the Earth, National Soaring Museum the Rockwell Museum of Western Art, the Genesee Country Museum in Mumford and the Samuel Warren Homestead of the York Historical Society, birthplace of NYS' first successful commercial winery. The Women's Rights National Historic Park [1] is located in Seneca Falls. The park includes the home of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Wesleyan Chapel where she held the first convention on women's rights in 1848.


  • Thompson, John H., ed. Geography of New York State (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1977)
  • Engeln, O. D., von. The Finger Lakes Region: Its Origin and Nature (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1961, 1988)
  • Finger Lakes Tourism Statistics [2]

External links

Coordinates: 42°45′35″N 76°56′43″W / 42.75967°N 76.94514°W / 42.75967; -76.94514


Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

The Finger Lakes [1] is a region of New York state south of Lake Ontario. One of the major viticultural areas of the United States, this is the east coast answer to the Napa Valley region of California. Waterfront attractions are also popular; in addition to the eleven Finger Lakes themselves and Ontario to the north, the Erie Canal and the Genesee River run through this region. The city of Rochester, New York's third largest, offers urban attractions and amenities.

  • Cayuga County
  • Cortland County (northwest corner)
  • Livingston County
  • Monroe County
  • Onondaga County (southwest portion)
  • Ontario County
  • Seneca County
  • Schuyler County
  • Steuben County (northern portion)
  • Tompkins County
  • Yates County
  • Wayne County


Most of Upstate New York and certainly the Finger Lakes Region is historically rooted in American Indian heritage. Watch for the common Indian names, like Skaneateles Skan-e-at-las which means Long Beautiful Lake in Iroquois.


English is universal in this region, with the dialect resembling that of the Midwest more than New York City or New England. Small pockets of German-speakers, mostly the older generation, can still be found. Place names are heavily influenced by Iroquois languages; some are veritable tongue-twisters. Give pronunciation your best shot and you'll get a friendly correction if needed.

Get in

Fly, take a bus, or take a train into Syracuse or Rochester and explore. The Finger Lakes region is only a few hours from New York City by car or bus, or only an hour by plane.

By plane

The region has only one international airport, in Rochester, but Syracuse is close by and easily accessible. Flights to both cities are primarily from hubs such as Chicago, Atlanta, Washington, Philadelphia, and New York; actual international flights are now rare. Ithaca has a regional airport, as does the Elmira-Corning area (just south of the region).

  • Greater Rochester International Airport (IATA: ROC), 1200 Brooks Av. Rochester, Phone: +1 585 464-6000, [2].
  • Syracuse Hancock International Airport (IATA: SYR), Colonel Eileen Collins Blvd. Syracuse, Phone: +1 315 454-4330, [3].
  • Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport (IATA: ITH), 72 Brown Rd. Ithaca, Phone: +1 607 257-0456, [4].
  • Elmira-Corning Regional Airport (IATA: ELM), 276 Sing-Sing Rd. Horseheads, Phone: +1 607 795-0402, [5].

Get around

Most travel in this area will be by car. Unless you are traveling on an organized trip and transportation is already arranged, you will want to drive or rent a car. Limousines are popular for small groups looking to do a lot of wine tasting.


Stop in and see the National Women's Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls.

Cornell University is in Ithaca.

In the summer, the Finger Lakes are home to many great music and arts festivals, including the Finger Lakes GrassRoots Festival of Music and Dance.

Also, check out the Rochester Folk Art Guild, a local community of craftspeople who have been creating fine art for over 35 years.

Skaneateles Village is a must. It's a "cute-as-a-button" StoryBook Village perched on the edge of the lake. The Creamery local historical society can tell you all about the "teasel" and the Lightning Class Sailboat. Watch for their Wooden Boat Show, Chamber Music Festival and Charles Dickens Christmas.

Numerous waterfalls and gorges dot the area. Some are visible directly from main roads, but impressive ones can also be viewed at Watkins Glen State Park, Taughannock Falls State Park, Robert H. Treman State Park and other locales, particularly between Cayuga and Seneca Lakes.


Nestled among the glacial valleys of the Finger Lakes, only a few miles from Canandaigua lake, is a thriving regional hand crafts community: the Rochester Folk Art Guild. The guild has been producing fine art for over 35 years. It hosts a small crafts gallery; as well as the ceramics, woodworking, sewing and weaving workshops located there. 1445 Upper Hill Rd, Middlesex (New York), +1 585 554-5317, [6].

  • Belhurst,4069 State Route 14, Geneva, This is a fabulous dining experience, in a castle, overlooking Seneca Lake. A great selection of wine is available.

Grape Geography

The heat-trapping properties of the Finger Lakes and their valleys make for relatively stable temperatures and an extended growing season. Most of the area's wineries are perched on the valley slopes above the lakes, where fertile soil and favorable air movement produce some of the best grapes in the United States.

There are almost one hundred wineries dotting the hills surrounding the Finger Lakes [7]. Their reputation grows each year, as travel writers and wine connoisseurs alike discover the area in ever-expanding numbers. Finger Lakes wineries utilize a wide variety of grapes, but the area's Rieslings turn out especially well; they can compete with the best of Germany's products.

Also not to be missed are the region's many ice wines. Made from grapes harvested while frozen, the local ice wines benefit from upstate New York's harsh winter weather.

If you're just starting out exploring the Finger Lakes wine area, an excellent first stop is the New York Wine & Culinary Center [8] in Canandaigua. The Center has an array of wine tastings and instructional programs, and also features other gastronomic delights from throughout Western New York.

The Cayuga Wine Trail has a flavorful and educational tour every spring featuring herbs and food at each wine tasting stop. The Seneca Wine Trail is the most active of the wine trails, boasting the biggest lake, most reputable wineries, and most activities.

Individual wineries vary in the number of amenities available. Most have tastings, of course, but many go beyond that; you'll find tours of the fields and bottling areas, gift shops, and sometimes cafes or restaurants.

One of the most award-winning of the individual wineries is Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars [9] in Hammondsport. Other popular wineries are Bully Hill Winery [10] in Hammondsport and Fox Run Vineyards [11] in Penn Yan.

Of course, if you can't get to the wineries themselves, countless restaurants throughout Western New York have local wines on their wine lists.

Stay safe

If traveling in this area during the winter months, be aware that heavy snowfalls are possible. Lake effect snow has been known to drop four feet of snow in a weekend, or more. It is not unusual during heavy storms for it to come down at a rate of one inch per hour.

Watch out for slow-moving Amish/Mennonite horsedrawn vehicles on rural roads.

When visiting state parks with trails to waterfalls or gorges, obey all posted signs. Do not swim or wade in creeks or plunge pools. Be aware that some trails require lengthy stair climbs that small children, elderly people or pets may not be able to handle (signs at parks will not always warn you of this).

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Simple English

The Finger Lakes are a series of lakes in the central section of Upstate New York. They are a popular tourist destination. The lakes are long and thin and go from north to south. They are also very deep; the deepest one, Lake Seneca, is 618 feet (188.4 m) deep.

Other reading

  • Thompson, John H., ed. Geography of New York State (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1977)
  • Engeln, O. D., von. The Finger Lakes Region: Its Origin and Nature (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1961, 1988)


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