Excerpts from the History of Tioughnioga Lake

Tioughnioga Lake is 1280 feet above the sea, higher than Lake George and nearly as high as Saranac.  Since the Lake is filled with the waters of the Tioughnioga River it becomes Tioughnioga Lake. The construction of the DeRuyter Reservoir was to a great extent contemporaneous with the progress of the Civil War.  The canal authorities found it necessary to increase the supply of water for the long level east of Syracuse and this valley was selected as the site.  Surveys for the reservoir were taken in 1847 and 1856, but the contract for construction was not let until 1861. The reservoir was put into service without its feeder stream in 1862.  The dam at the North end is about one-quarter mile in length and is seventy-five feet deep at its lowest point. Its inclination is two to one on the face side and three to one at the back.  The overall width is about 375 feet.

The dam lies almost entirely in the Town of Cazenovia, Madison County, except the west end, which is the town of Fabius, Onondaga County.  The lake is two miles long with an average width of one-half mile; its greatest depth is 75 feet and its average depth is 18-1/2 feet. Covering an area of 626 acres and containing 504,468,000 cubic feet of water, the Reservoir and its structure cost the State of New York about $100,000.  C. A. Beach was the engineer and DeGraw and Wood were the contractors.

The first camp on the Lake was a wooden frame and roof with canvas sides, built by Dr. E. N. Coon and located on the East shore.  Later he built a substantial cottage, which still stands.  The next permanent camp was the “Gleaner Camp” built by W. W. Ames.

While there had long been a need for an organization of cottage owners, it was not until Sunday, September 10, 1939, that a meeting was called and the Lake Tioughnioga Club was formed with twenty-five charter members.  Mr. Lew Bales was elected to be President.  The Club has at present a large membership, and is still growing, and there has been a development of fellowship among the owners that would have not been possible before.

The above spans the 1939 to 1942 season, which were the developing years of the Club.  Many meetings were held, and social events predominated the activities.  From the lack of meeting minutes, the views of now present members and my own knowledge of the times, there at this time occurred a lapse in the operation of the “Club.”  A period of about 8 years elapsed during which time all the opportunities passed by which the over-all property owners could have benefited—not only in the closer bonding of the social activity but also in the loss of improvements to the Lake as a whole and in the increased valuation of each persons property.

A new lease on life for the “Club” was begun when in September of 1950.  President Frank Darrow called a meeting to be held at the home of Col. C. W. Skeele.  For several seasons prior to this meeting there had been loud and long lament over the lack of New York State interest in the lake level.  Continuous variations of the water level had about ruined the appearance of property owners’ camps and shore installations, along with a definite retarding effect on the one time “good fishing” enjoyed by thousands.  To show the extent of interest in their properties and the determination to bring back to the original natural beauty of the Lake, sixty property owners and thirty interested parties appeared at this meeting. From this meeting came the will to fire hundreds of people into action. Letters in a flood poured into the offices of our Representatives, Congressmen, New York State Department of Canals and Waterways, and many to Governor Dewey.  Many people who had only a passing interest in our Lake wrote in and swelled the tide of complaint.  In truth, it was a crusade by angry citizens to bring their message to the State and demand action.

In the past our goals have been reached.  Let us not miss the moral that these victories have proven. “A working association of citizens can and will be heard by their appointed representatives."”


Compiled by Jim Adsitt—Updated by Sue Orzell

Today the Tioughnioga Lake Association has evolved into a multi-faceted organization with the express purpose of promoting a better quality of life for its members.

The Structure

There are 5 officers ‑‑ President, Vice President, Secretary, Treasurer, and Financial Secretary, each elected to 2-year terms of office.  The Area Captains are the Lake Association’s representatives to the lake community.  The Area Captain keeps the members in the area informed, approaches new owners to explain the function of the Lake Association and the benefits of joining, collects dues, distributes literature and flares, assists in dye testing septic systems, and keeps the officers aware of area problems and concerns.  The officers and area captains form the Lake Association’s executive committee.


The officers address members’ concerns through the use of committees headed by chairpersons with specialized knowledge and abilities.

Social Committee. This committee functions throughout the year, planning and holding various social functions during the summer months. Some of the events include a golf tournament, softball game, day and night boat parades, dances, swimming and skiing competitions, and the “Burning of the Lake.”

Water Level Committee. This committee works year-round with the Thruway Authority to control the water level of the lake, as directed by the membership.  In the fall, the lake is lowered to minimize ice damage and to allow owners to perform shoreline maintenance.  In the spring, the lake level is brought back to its crest elevation.  As if dealing with agencies were not difficult enough, having to deal with nature makes maintaining the water level even more challenging.

Dye Testing Committee. Every 3 years, this committee coordinates the dye testing program.  They obtain the dye, train area captains and volunteers to do the testing, try to see that all systems are tested, and make sure that the proper agencies are informed in the event of a problem.

Weed Control.  This committee was created to attempt to manage and minimize the weed growth in the lake. The Lake Association’s membership, after researching and debating the various methods of weed control available, has adopted a “no chemical use” policy, and uses mechanical weed harvesting to limit nuisance weeds.  This group has evolved from a group of volunteers who operated the Lake Association’s weed harvester throughout the summer to a few members who coordinate the collection and disposal of weeds collected by the weed harvester owned and operated by Madison County and SUNY-Morrisville.

Fish Committee. This committee works with state agencies to insure that the lake is included in annual fish stocking programs.

Water Quality Committee. The Lake Association participates in a water sampling program to monitor the levels of plant nutrients in the lake’s waters.  This involves obtaining water samples throughout the summer, preparing and shipping them to a laboratory for analysis.  Volunteers also monitor the clarity of the water and the water temperature.  This testing program, known as CSLAP (Citizen’s Statewide Lake Assessment Program) is administrated by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.  This program is creating a database to study water quality and to detect any trends over the years.  This data is used to support programs that minimize the amount of plant nutrients supplied to the lake, and increases the general knowledge of the lake ecology. Eventually, the data will be used to develop a lake management strategy.

The Tioughnioga Lake Association is a member of the New York State Federation of Lake Associations. This affiliation has brought us the benefit of learning of solutions that other lakes have used to address their environmental concerns. Membership in the statewide Federation is required to participate in the CSLAP water sampling program.

“Save the Islands” Project

In 1998, the Lake Association started work on its most ambitious project.  The Ward Islands, near the west shore of the lake, were being eroded away by waves, wakes, and ice.  Two teen-aged members of the lake community asked the Lake Association to act to prevent the islands from disappearing.  The membership voted to build seawalls around the two islands to help prevent erosion. Permits were obtained; the Lake Association seeded the project with $4500 from its treasury, and $13,120 in donations poured in from the lake community to help fund the project.  Work started in 1998, moving rocks, building, placing, and filling gabion cages to protect the shoreline of the small island.  Most of the seawall around the large island was built in 1999.  In 2000, the wall on the large island was completed, the inner shores were protected with loose stone, and grass, trees, and shrubs were planted to help retain the soil.

This work has been a real unifying influence on the lake community.  Ninety-four people worked to move stone and build the seawalls; 86 people donated money to fund the project.  Donations more than exceeded the amount needed to complete the project!  With this project and continuing conservation efforts, the islands will be enduring features of our lake for generations to come.

AED Education

    Former Lake Association President John Kennedy spearheaded the effort to obtain automated external defibrillator (AED) devices to place in public locations around the lake, and to train members of the lake community to use these devices.  In 2005, Jim and Kathleen Dwyer and the Lake Association donated funds to train 16 people to operate AEDs. Work is still progressing to build an emergency notification system, so that the need for help is communicated. Former President Mike Curran is coordinating the effort needed to both maintain certification of to these operators and to train additional people.

The Volunteers

The Lake Association would not exist without the volunteers that donate their personal time on behalf of their fellow members.  As we proceed into the future, the problems that confront us will be even more complex and demanding, requiring even greater amounts of time.  The Tioughnioga Lake Association accomplishes more than most of the Lake Associations in the state, and does it with a modest dues rate.  Our accomplishments can only continue if EVERYONE becomes informed and involved. Whether you do it for personal gain‑‑ how much is property worth on a polluted lake‑‑, or you do it for your family’s future‑‑ do you want your grandchildren to swim in a polluted lake‑‑, or you do it for fun‑‑ yes, volunteering can be fun and self‑satisfying‑‑, for whatever reason, you MUST become involved.  Because we all share the water in front of our homes, we cannot say “it's my neighbor’s problem, not mine.”  The problems we have belong to everyone!

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