Skaneateles Lake is the Eastern Gateway to the Finger Lakes in central New York in the United States. The name Skaneateles means long lake in one of the local Iroquoian languages. The lake is sometimes referred to as “The Roof Garden of the Lakes” because its altitude (863.27 ft/263.12 m) is higher than the other Finger Lakes. It is 16 mi (26 km) long (17 mi/27 km long including the bogs at the south end of the lake) and on average 0.75 mi (1.21 km) wide, with a surface area of 13.6 sq mi (35 km2), and a maximum depth of 315 ft (96 m). The cleanest of the Finger Lakes, its water is so pure that the city of Syracuse and other municipalities use it unfiltered. The City of Syracuse spends about 2.3 million dollars a year to protect lake quality, sixteen people inspecting (usually twice a year) each of the 2600 properties in the watershed, which is relatively small, compared to other Finger Lakes. William Henry Seward called it “The most beautiful body of water in the world.”
The shores of Skaneateles Lake are in three counties: Onondaga, Cayuga, and Cortland. The village of Skaneateles (population about 2500) is at the northern end of the lake. Summer cottages appeared in 1881, increasing to more than 2000 residences around the lake in 2002. Generally new homes now are built for year-round occupancy rather than summer use and many summer cottages are replaced. The transient and seasonal population of this tourist destination and summer resort surges during the warmer months. Skaneateles is noted for its performing arts and amenities.
The lake has long been popular for recreational sailing. Regattas with yachts from other lakes as well as Skaneateles began in 1847. The Skaneateles Country Club now has a boating center. The Lightning, a racing dinghy, was designed and produced in Skaneateles, as was the Comet. There are few marinas or other commercial facilities on the lake shore. Controls are stringent, because the lake is a source of water for the City of Syracuse. There is a New York state public boat launch site located on the west side of the lake just south of the Skaneateles Country Club marina. The town of Spafford has a public boat launch near Borodino on the east side of the lake about four miles south of the Skaneateles Sailing Club. Glen Haven, at the head of the lake (The Finger Lakes flow South to North), offers a marina and docking. Cruises are available from the village. A mailboat serving cottages along the lake also carries passengers.
Landmarks and scenic features appear around the lake. Many historic buildings enhance the village of Skaneateles. Carpenter’s Falls are in a nature preserve accessible to the public near New Hope on the west side of the lake, where the New Hope Mill likewise may be visited. Opposite Carpenter Point is Ten Mile Point, a favorite picnic destination. The southern end of the lake, bounded by high hills (below, right) differs in character from the north. Glen Haven, a hamlet located there, once featured a large resort hotel but now offers smaller visitor accommodations and seasonal dining. On the west side, the high Town of Niles, New York provides scenic prospects. On the east side, the high Town of Spafford, New York offers panoramic views (above, right, and link below). Between these towns lies deep Glen Haven valley in the Town of Scott, New York, in the third county. A splendid framed vista from Glen Haven northward up Skaneateles Lake appears in the Scott, New York article, with views of other towns appearing their respective articles. The hamlet of Borodino in Spafford retains an 1830 church, little altered, in the Federal style and noted as a center of the abolitionist movement where Frederick Douglas spoke.
Skaneateles Lake is separated from two other nearby Finger Lakes, Otisco and Owasco, by ridges some 600 feet above the waters, affording magnificent prospects on both sides. Much of the highland terrain is forested, with several large public preserves. Once more cultivated, this region was known for the teasel industry until 1930. Teasels were employed commercially by woolen mills to raise the nap on the material. Although some dairy farms remain in the highlands, occasionally remaining in the same family after many generations, much of the land no longer serves agriculture. There is some experimention with introduction of vineyards, which have proved so successful on the more western Finger Lakes.
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