The Question (DC 8/17/1997):
One subject that has always intrigued me is the source of Chittenango Creek. Surely there must be some point at which Chittenango Creek "begins." Does Chittenango Creek feed Cazenovia Lake? I know that the Creek exits Cazenovia Lake, but is it defined "above" the lake, or does Chittenango Creek start at Cazenovia?
 

Dan Weiskotten's Answer (10/30/1997):

Links to detailed topographic maps can be found on my map web page.

Chittenango Creek drains only part of the Town of Cazenovia, but has its origins deep within the towns of Fenner and Nelson. From the swamp on Moraine Road in Fenner and the watershed of Tuscarora Reservoir in Nelson Chittenango Creek flows into the Nelson Swamp which acts as a buffer against the seasonal floods that would otherwise devastate much of the downstream area (imagine what the January thaw of 2 years ago would have done without the swamp).

After snaking through Nelson Swamp Chittenango Creek flows through "Constine Bridge" (near the Landfill Transfer Station on Stone Quarry Road), and from there winds its way westward toward NY 13, first running just north of Judd Road, under East Road at "Belmont" and turns northward skipping past Thompson Road from whence it crosses under Ballina Road just east of the intersection Ballina and NY 13. From there it meanders through "Mechanics Flats" (opposite Cobb Hill Road) and along NY 13 through "Rippleton", under Rippleton Road, then through the former Meadows Farm and along the old mansion grounds where it unites with the Outlet of Cazenovia Lake.

The Outlet, which drains Cazenovia lake, sometimes acts as part of the creek when the lower dam on Mill Street is closed. The difference of about three inches forces water back over the upper dam on the dyke and into the lake (remnant of the days when the lake was used as a dry-season reservoir for the Erie and Barge Canals). Otherwise the lake is not part of the course of Chittenango Creek. The lake has a relatively small watershed and much of the water within rises from natural springs found throughout the bottom (a wonderful one is off the village pier and can be found [with scuba gear] by following the reserve pipe out to the end).

The Outlet itself has been severely modified from its natural form. From the lake to Mill Street the State Dyke has entirely changed the once swampy lowlands, with marshes, islands, and meandering water courses, into the straight channel we see today. This was done in 1855 when the State built the dams to impound water. There are detailed maps of 1808 (in Cazenovia, The Story of An Upland Idyll) and 1852 (at the Cazenovia Public Library). The large dam on Mill Street was originally built for the saw and grist mill that were built there in 1794 and 1795 but the present dam was built in the 1870s by the State. After picking up water from the Outlet of the lake Chittenango Creek flows northward through the village. Again, it is much straighter than in the early 19th century. Various islands, meandering braids, and small tributaries have been filled, recut, or otherwise obliterated so that the original character of the creek has been lost.

These changes accommodated the developing village, and were made either by small industries that harnessed the waterpowers or by landowners who wanted to improve the low, wet, and swampy grounds along the creek (the spot where Albany Street crosses the creek, from the firehouse to the fountain at Fenner and Nelson Streets) was a cedar swamp that has been filled with upwards of 15 ft of soil). From the northern edge of the village Chittenango Creek runs swiftly through a deep gorge. This section of the creek, from the village line to the top of the falls was very desirable for mill sites, but the difficulty of access to the creek allowed only a few small scattered mills to find a home there. When the Cazenovia and Chittenango Plank Road was built in 1848 it changed the access from a few points above the gorge to all along the length of the gorge. The ruins of several saw mill, a woolen factory, grist mill, and sash factory could be seen until recently (uncaring changes have obliterated most of these fragile remains in just the last few years).

From the top of Chittenango Falls the creek waters plunge 136 feet over the hard Onondaga limestones into a beautiful gorge, the northern portion of which had been carved out in some period between glacial episodes - the last glacial encroachment pushed masses of gravels and sediments back into the ancient gorge and these deposits can still be seen in the clayey hardscrabble that forms the sloping side of the lower valley.

Chittenango Creek again meanders across the low flat lands just north of the Cazenovia/Fenner line and through the Town of Sullivan. After the American revolution and before the State took the lands away from the Indians (for their benefit) the Tuscarora Indian village of Chuttenunga was located near where NY 13, 5, and 173 join. Just south of the Village of Chittenango, on the Dyke Road, was where Jacob Schuyler, one of the men captured in 1780 with Walter Vrooman, made a settlement with other squatters. Lincklaen passed through this place in 1793 on his journey to begin the settlement at the Outlet of Cazenovia Lake.

Through the Village of Chittenango the Creek winds its way north and west, and then north again. (The spot so proclaimed as the location of the "Turtle Tree" is on the creek along the border of Madison and Onondaga Counties, but this story is a bunch of crap - the events are real but the location is wrong! [some personal commentary!]).

The creek eventually flows into Oneida lake, and the waters eventually make it to the Atlantic via the Oneida River, Oswego River, Lake Ontario, and then the St. Lawrence.

Much of the water in the southern part of the town of Nelson flows southward into the Tioughnioga and Chenango drainages, which through the mighty Susquehanna, make it to the Chesapeake and then the Atlantic.

Limestone Creek, which drains much of the southern part of the township of Cazenovia begins in the high ground of southwestern Nelson, in the Tioughnioga game lands, from there it runs through New Woodstock, westward over Delphi Falls, up Pompey Hollow, Manlius, Fayetteville, and Minoa, and falls into Butternut creek just before it falls into Chittenango Creek.

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