Dan Weiskotten's Answer (10/2/1997):
I'm not the expert on the legal ownership of the lake, but I am somewhat up on the matter. There are many others who are "up" on this subject (Cazenovia Lake Association, sportsmen, legals, property owners, NY State) and you should contact them for more information.
When New York State acquired the region from the Oneidas (for their benefit!) they also acquired the lake. The matters of ownership end there. The Holland Land Company was not the original purchaser of the tract from the State, but had to acquire it from two investors (John W. Watkins and Royal Flint) who had acquired it from the State in 1791. I don't recall a specific mention of the lake in their letters patent (as a restriction from sale) but the lake is shown on the survey of 1789 (in the State Archives - shows no details so its not very interesting). When John Lincklaen spied out the tract in October of 1792 he was impressed with the situation near the lake, but the transaction through which the Holland Land Company acquired the land did not include the 76 acres of the lake within the Gore or Road Township. Likewise, Peter Smith's title (leased) which surrounded the north part of the lake, did not include the lake as he only sought the land. Thus the State remained in possession of the lake.
All of this remained a moot point until 1861 (if I remember correctly) when Henry Ten Eyck sought to improve the grounds around his estate at what is now Lakeland Park. Ten Eyck built a wall and extended the lakeshore out about 50 feet (to about the east [park-side] edge the present bandstand and lagoon). This bothered Jonathan D. Ledyard who carried on the remaining business of the Holland Land Company and John Lincklaen as he thought that he was the possessor of the lake. A lawsuit followed in which it was found that the State never relinquished title to the lake bottom and that Ten Eyck needed only the permission of the Canal Commissioners to "improve" his grounds. This was granted without much difficulty and the suit was dropped. The Ten Eycks again extended the walls and built the property out into the lake in the 1890s and thus the park reached its present proportions.
A few years ago the matter again came to a head when DOT blocked access to the south end of the lake by placing boulders along the shore. This pressed not only the State's wish to not operate an unofficial boat launch, but also set in motion quite some uproar over who really owned the lake. A check of the records showed beyond a doubt (legally) that the State had never transferred ownership of the lake. Since the State did not want to operate a boat launch site at the location (or any other on the lake) the matter ended there. Many feel that Cazenovia Lake is "private" and only for the local snobs (and many there are) but the fact seems to be that unless a lake property owner wants to open their property (surely to be found detrimental to local interests and voted down by the Lead Agencies) there will not be a public launch site and Cazenovia Lake will remain "private" to those that do own lake front. Residents of the Town or Village of Cazenovia do have rights to access the lake through the relatively undeveloped access point off of North Lake Road and Lakeside Park but otherwise launching on someone else's property is tresspassing.
The story of lakefront property owners obtaining rights to the center of the lake is a new one to me. In the late 19th century there was some plan to close off the Public Square (unfortunately now referred to as Cannon Park and Telephone Park) and give rights to those that had property fronting. Since general sentiment was against losing the open space which had been improved with public money in 1848 (when they graded the surface and planted the maple trees that still stand today) this never came about.
So, as you can see (unless someone did it while I was out of town) there
has been no private ownership of Cazenovia Lake although permits can be
obtained to make filling, etc.. Any work like this is possible but big
landfill projects are likely impossible. For your last question regarding
residents of the lake shore, most of the people that live around the lake
are new in town and I know only a handful. I'm sure the Town of Caz or
the Lake Association could help you out with people who own property or
live on the lake.