The Historic Genesee

 

The Beginnings
The earliest stories of the Genesee gorge were written millions of years ago in layers of sedimentary rock. There, fossils of prehistoric sea creatures tell us that a warm sea once covered this land. During the ice age 20,000 years ago, the land lay under a mile-thick blanket of ice. After thousands of years, the ice melted and the glacier receded. During this time, the Genesee River carved out its present route to Lake Ontario; it had originally emptied into Irondequoit Bay.

Native Americans
Native Americans took advantage of the bounty of the Genesee for thousands of years before the first white settlers arrived. Archeological evidence verifies that they hunted, fished, camped and farmed along the shores of the river. The Senecas, the greatest of the seven Iroquois nations and known as the “keepers of the Western door,” traded furs with both the French and British throughout much of the 18th century. They sided with England in the American Revolution. Not long after the war, land developers bought up much of the Senecas’ land in Western New York for less than a dollar per hundred acres.

The Settlers on the Lower Genesee
In 1792, the Hincher family became the first permanent settlers in Charlotte. Other hardy souls would later join them there as well as up the river at the ports of King's Landing and Carthage and the milling community of McCrackenvllie. A thriving trade developed from the docks at Charlotte and Kings Landing, where potash, lumber and whiskey were loaded for shipment to Canada.

The Port of Genesee
In 1805, Thomas Jefferson established the Port of Genesee as an official port of entry. The lighthouse, constructed in 1822, is now the second-oldest lighthouse on the Great Lakes. Until the piers were built in 1929, the entrance to the port was a marshy bay. When the railroads arrived in mid-century, Charlotte eclipsed the upriver landings as the major port.


Steamboats
In 1817, the first American-built steamboat on the Great Lakes, the Ontario. chugged through the lower gorge on her maiden voyage. Around 1840, steamboat passengers could travel directly to Detroit, embarking from Kelsey’s landing on the west side of the river, opposite Carthage. Several steamboat lines also crossed the lake in addition to serving the south shore of Lake Ontario.

Railroads
By the 1850's, trains became direct competitors with ships for freight and passenger service. The Ontario Car Ferries, however, combined the two by carrying 24 coal cars and up to 1000 passengers on daily excursions across the lake to Coburg, Canada. In 1876, the Rome, Watertown and Ogdensbnrg Railroad-known locally as the Hojack Line-built the worlds largest swing bridge across the Genesee.

Waterfront
Recreation Toward the turn of the century, the lower gorge and the adjoining waterfront developed into a popular recreation center. Ontario Beach Park was served by three railroads, two trolleys, a bicycle rat and numerous steamers. Rowing clubs on the river were organized and Maplewood and Seneca Parks were created. In the late 1800's, the Glen House Hotel at the Lower Falls and Brewer’s Dock at Carthage were popular establishments.

The River Today
Continuing, concerted efforts to improve and upgrade the lower gorge of the Genesee have paid off. Cleaner water, riverfront development, and a restored Ontario Beach Park all are new chapters in the story of the river... the gateway to the Genesee Country.


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