Clark Reservation

New York

Central NY Map

Geography is not an indoor sport! Get out and explore New York State!


Physical Geography

Human Geography

Economic Geography

Regions of NYS

Chittenango Falls

 Chittenango Falls is located around twenty miles east of Syracuse between Cazenovia and Chittenango Village in Madison County. (see #8)

Salt Museum

1. Salt Museum has displays on the first major industry in the Syracuse area. It is located on the shores of Onondaga Lake near Liverpool.

Camillus Park

2. Camillus Canal Park sits on the banks of the Old Erie Canal, just north of the village of Camillus on Syracuse's west side. The Geer Lock is on display there, although it was originally located in nearby Solvay.

Mule Boy

 3. The Mule Boy: This statue across the street from the Erie Canal Museum in downtown Syracuse honors the hard work of these canal boys. Sadly, without child labor, the canal would not have functioned.

Jerry Rescue

4. Jerry Rescue Monument: Angry citizens of Syracuse defied the Fugitive Slave Law in 1851 and forcibly free William McHenry, who later made his way to Canada and freedom.

Tipperary Hill Light

5. Tipparary Hill boasts the only upside down traffic light in existence. This old Irish neighbor- hood on the west side of Syracuse is now a mixed community, but the Love of the Green is still very strong.

Tully Moraine

9. Tully Moraine: In the middle of a deep glacial trough lies a wall of dirt, a moraine near Tully. It is part of the Valley Heads moraine responsible for the formation of the Finger Lakes.

Seward Mansion

 10, Seward Mansion (Auburn): This was the home to Lincoln's Secretary of State, who was one of the founders of the Republican Party. His home was also a station of the Underground Railroad.

Harriet Tubman Home

11. Harriet Tubman Home: Located about a mile from the Seward Estate is the more modest home of the great Harriet Tubman (a.k.a. "Moses.") She is certainly one of the great heroes of the anti-slavery movement. See the Freedom Trail section for more information about the Underground Railroad in New York State.


Central New York State:

Geography at the Crossroads

It is often difficult to decide on the boundaries of a region. It is often very arbitrary. For example, everyone agrees that New York is a Northeastern state. But why not a Great Lakes state? We have more coastline on the lakes than Indiana or Illinois.
The smaller the region, the harder it is to classify. What do we include in the Central New York Region? Certainly, Syracuse and her environs belong there. How about nearby towns and cities: Auburn, Rome, Oswego, Binghamton, or Oneida? Well, they could fit elsewhere, such as the Finger Lakes or the Mohawk/Capital regions. Since I am the author of this web page (and a native of Syracuse), I guess I get to decide. I'm keeping Auburn and Binghamton here. The others are being discussed elsewhere. Please try not to be offended. And if you think that is controversial…

QUESTION: How do you define Upstate and Downstate New York? If you think the Catskills are upstate, then you probably live in New York City or the suburbs. If you consider it downstate, then you are from Buffalo or Watertown.
Let us start with Syracuse, the Salt City. How did it get its nickname? Lying just below the surface is a layer of salty brine. The salt was deposited there around 400 million years ago, when an ancient sea (similar to the Dead Sea) evaporated. The Onondaga People (one of the Six Nations of the Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois) used this resource for centuries. Salt has deep significance for the Onondagas, and they still receive salt as a yearly payment from a treaty signed in the 18th century.
After the Revolution, Yankee settlers moved into Central New York. At first, they did not move into what is now Syracuse, since it was swampy. That changed with the building of the Erie Canal. Due to the alignment of valleys (more about that later), the canal's route went just south of Onondaga Lake, very close to the salt springs. A new industry was born, and they had very cheap transportation to bring the salt to market. So, we begin the tour in the Salt City.


1.  Just north of Syracuse along the Onondaga Lake Parkway, is the small Salt Museum. It has a very interesting exhibits about the history of saltmaking in the 19th century, and it's free! One display shows how they boiled the brine in huge vats. It was very dangerous and dirty work, and was a place of employment for the first waves of immigrants who came west on the Erie Canal.
And speaking of the Grand Canal, it originally went right through downtown Syracuse. (The modern canal uses the rivers north of the city, Oneida and Seneca.)  There are many reminders of the old canal days in the Salt City. First is Old Erie Canal State Park. It begins near East Syracuse and continues in ribbon-like course almost to Rome. This remnant of Clinton's Ditch is still filled with water, and it is navigable by small boats, i.e. canoes. The towpath is used as a bike and hiking path. This section of the canal is referred to as "The Long Level" since there are no locks in this flat section. It is also the oldest section of the canal, since it was the easiest to construct.

2.   On the other side of town, just north of Camillus (10 miles west of Syracuse) is another canal park. Here the canal is still holding water, and it has a feeder canal leading into it, bringing in water from Otisco Lake via Nine Mile Creek. On display here is the Geer Lock gate, originally located near Solvay (see picture on the right). There are many abandoned locks throughout the state you can visit, but this is one of the few places showing the original gate.  While observing the displays, think what an incredible work of engineering the construction of the canal was for early-19th century America.

3. In Syracuse itself, the canal was filled in nearly one hundred years ago. It is now Erie Boulevard. As you drive down this main thoroughfare, try to imagine yourself on a packet boat instead, where five mph was speeding! And if you are having trouble doing that, make sure you visit the Erie Canal Museum, at the intersection of Erie Blvd. and Oswego Street. This was a major crossroad in the 1800's. This is where the Oswego Canal met the main line of the Erie. The smaller lateral canal was a connection to Lake Ontario (at Oswego). At this meeting place of the waterways, they constructed the Weighlock Building, a place where they weighed the packets and determined their fare. The building now houses the museum. Make sure that you see the short video about the history of the Erie Canal. Step on to the packet boat and learn what it was like living on these watercrafts during the canal's golden age. Across the street is a statue of a canal boy with his mule. Behind the statue is the elevated I-690, a strange interplay between old and new methods of transportation.

QUESTION: This statue might make you nostalgic for simpler days. But remember that being a mule-driver (a hoggee)  was not an afternoon paper route. These young men worked long hours, and they were often homeless and destitute during the winter months. Child labor was one of several negative consequences of the canal. Can you think of any others?

4. Right in downtown Syracuse at the intersection of Erie Blvd. and Salina Street (where did that name come from?) is Clinton Square. This was a canal basin during the 1800's. Today it is an urban park. Make sure you stop to visit the Jerry Rescue Monument. William McHenry (a.k.a "Jerry"), an escaped slave living in Syracuse, was captured by marshals under the Fugitive Slave Law. Abolitionists forcibly freed McHenry from his cell and helped him escape to Canada. This brazen and illegal act of defiance is celebrated by the statue in Clinton Square (shown on the right). To find out more about this proud moment in Central New York history, visit the Onondaga Historical Museum on Montgomery Street, a few blocks from Clinton Square. There is a great exhibit there on the antislavery movement, and a homegrown movie about the Jerry Rescue.

QUESTION: Upstate New York is considered to be a conservative and Republican stronghold. Do you think that this statue contradicts this assumption, or has Republicanism changed since the days of Abraham Lincoln?

While you are in the downtown area, it might be worth a short trip to nearby Armory Square. This is an example of an urban renewal project, an attempt to bring people back to the city center. Check out the traffic of people. How effective is this project?

5. As you move away from downtown, you enter some of Syracuse's ethnic neighborhoods. One of the most unique is Tipperary Hill on the west side of town. It is the old Irish section, and the focal point is on Burnet Park Drive, with its upside-down traffic light. Tradition has it that the sons and daughters of Eire couldn't accept any color on top other than green. The city just gave up after many lights were ruined. Recently a monument recognizing this important immigrant group is on the corner, with the "father" pointing toward the politically-correct traffic light.

QUESTION: Walk around the neighborhood. Are there any other signs indicating that this is a traditional Irish community? Or has the neighborhood changed? Hint: Churches are a good indicator.


6. Central New York is not
just a crossroads because it is located at the midpoint between Albany and Buffalo. It sits on the boundary of two physical regions of the state: the Lake Ontario Lowlands and the Appalachian Plateau. The landscape here, as is the case throughout New York, was greatly modified by glacial erosion during the last Ice Age. The glaciers carved out a series of deep troughs, U-shaped valleys, running north to south. Five outstanding examples can be seen as you drive US Route 20 from Cazenovia to Auburn. You go up and down a series of steep hills and wide, flat valleys. One of those valleys is the home of the Onondaga Nation, the keepers of the council fire of the Haudenosaunee (or Iroquois) people. Even before Columbus, highways east-west and north-south came through this region.


Make it a point to drive to and to visit the Onondaga Nation Territory (or reservation, as we outsiders might call it). If you are lucky, you might see a lacrosse game, the official game of Native Americans in the Northeast, and gaining in popularity among the entire population. (Syracuse University is a perenniel contender for the NCAA championship in lacrosse). Remember that you are a visitor in Onondaga territory, and you should always be respectful of their customs and traditions.

7. Several miles northeast of Onondaga, along Rte. 173, is one of the gems of the Ice Age, Clark Reservation State Park. When the glaciers were melting, the flood waters flowed eastward toward the Mohawk Valley and down the Hudson to the sea. When the meltwaters came through here, they tumbled over a limestone cliff, creating a Niagara-like waterfall. A small but deep plunge pool was dug out at the base of the falls. When the glaciers receded further north, the flood waters took new paths (one of them goes through Syracuse, and the valley is visible from Erie Blvd., East and I-690). So, the waterfall in Clark Reservation is dry, but the bedrock is still there, and the plunge pool remains in the form of Green Lake. (see photo at the top of this page.) You can walk all around the lake, on the cliff face above it or at lake level. Visit the Nature Center and talk to the volunteers. They are very informative and friendly!

QUESTION: Why are the cliffs around the lake horseshoe-shaped? Why is the east end of the lake open?

8. Cazenovia is a quiet and picturesque village on the south end of a lake of the same name. If you travel north of Cazenovia along Rte. 13, you will be following the outlet of Cazenovia Lake, Chittenango Creek. Watch for the entrance to Chittenango Falls State Park. This is one of the most scenic waterfalls in Upstate New York. You can observe the falls from both above and below.

West of Syracuse…

9. We strongly recommend that you cross the Central New York Region on US Rte. 20, as mentioned above. It is one of the more scenic drives in the state. Along the way you should take a short detour into the Tully Valley. This, of course, is a trough, with steep sides and a flat bottom. If you drive south on Tully Farms Road, you will enter the Valley Heads Moraine (here called the Tully Moraine). It is basically a wall of dirt and unsorted rock, left here by the glaciers around 10,000 years ago. It appears throughout the Finger Lakes Region as well, and it separates the watersheds flowing north to Lake Ontario from those flowing south into Pennsylvania via the Susquehanna River. Just beyond the moraine are a series of small ponds, the Tully Lakes. They are kettles, formed when blocks of ice broke off the main glaciers and produced depressions in the ground that are now spring-fed.
Back on Route 20 you will see apple orchards mixed in with golf courses.

QUESTION: The valley was dominated until recently by the orchards. Why the change?

As you drive west, you technically enter the Finger Lakes Region (see the opening paragraph above). However, many of the people living here see themselves as Central New Yorkers. You will pass through Skaneateles, on the north end of the Finger Lake of the same name. It is certainly worth the stop, maybe for lunch at one of the restaurants in the village.

QUESTION: Skaneateles has an open and public waterfront, unlike many other towns in the area. Why do you think that this decision was made, and what does it tell you about the economic base of the village?

10. About seven miles west of Skaneateles, you arrive in Auburn, a small city on the north end of Oswago Lake. This is the home town of William Seward who is best known as the man responsible for buying Alaska from Russia. (Remember Seward's Folly?) He was much more than that. He was one of the founding members of the Republican Party, and one of the champions of the anti-slavery wing. He ran for president in 1860, but the nomination went to Abraham Lincoln. Seward served as Secretary of State under Lincoln and Andrew Johnson. He was almost murdered by one of John Wilkes Booth's accomplises on the night of Lincoln's assassination. Seward's beautiful home is open for tours, just south of downtown Auburn.
Seward also befriended one of the great women of the 19th century and gave her property about a mile south of his mansion.

11.  Her name was Harriet Tubman, the celebrated "conductor" of the Underground Railroad. She was an escaped slave herself (from Maryland's Eastern Shore), and she returned south many times to help fugitives on the long road to freedom. During the Civil War she served as a spy and a nurse, and she even led a Union Army into battle. She lived at this home outside Auburn until her death in 1913. Make sure you visit the Harriet Tubman Home and find out why New York just recently declared March 10th as Harriet Tubman Day.

QUESTION: Why was Auburn a good location for Harriet Tubman during her days on the Underground Railroad?

End of the journey? Not by a long shot. There is much more to see in Central New York, but we don't have space to include much more. In future updates we will try to include interesting and important sites in south-central part of the state, Binghamton and Cortland areas.

FINAL QUESTION: What makes a region a "crossroads?" Is it just geographic position, or does the landscape itself determine the position? Does Central New York qualify for this badge of distinction?

You have finished your journey through Central New York.
Visit the Seaway or the Finger Lakes regions next.
Click on the links below:


 Finger Lakes
Finger Lakes

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