Clark Reservation

Compiled by Pamela Priest


From information gathered from the Syracuse newspaper archives.


The Syracuse Herald, Sunday Morning, May 12, 1918
Touring Confined to State as Conservation Measure This Season
. . .
Features Near Syracuse.
The last two reservations acquired were in 1915 and 1916, when the daughter of former Gov. Myron H. Clark transferred to the State seventy-five acres of land, called the Clark reservation, located near Green lake, east of this city.  In 1916, Battle Island Park, consisting of about 200 acres of land on the Oswego river, was acquired. . . .



The Syracuse Herald, Sunday Morning, September 28, 1924, Third section, pg. 2
Uniform Policy In Parks Under State Council
. . .
Clark Reservation in Syracuse also will come in for improvements under the direction of the council.  The reservation, a sort of dried up Niagara Falls, a horseshe shaped gorge, the plunge basin of a huge cataract of glacial times, when the drainage of the Great Lakes flowed east into the Mohawk Valley, already is open to campers. 

At present, it is in the custody of the New York State Museum with four other reservations of scientific interest.  It is planned by the Museum to increase the scientific and scenic value of the place by extending it on both sides to include other plunge basins made by the glacial stream. . . .


The Syracuse Herald, Sunday Morning, April 18, 1937, pp. 4-5

Scenic Marvel at Southeastern Door of Syracuse Reveals How Artic Ice Sheets Fought a Losing Battle With the Sun for Possession of New York State and Created the Valleys and Drumlins of Onondaga
Deep in the heart of New York State, nature has written a story as marvelous and as fascinating in its telling as the tales of the tinted terraces of the Yellowstone, the high falls of the Yosemite, the grostequely carved rocks of Colorado, and many other famous regions which attract visitors from all over the world.

Nature uses many kinds of materials to inscribe the history of the earth upon its rocky pages.  Sometimes she uses white-hot lava to mold the lofty cones of volcanic peaks; sometimes she employs wind-blown sands to fantastically etch and carve the rocks of a desert land; again she utilizes the waves of the sea to hammer and chisel a rock-bound coast; or in her quiet and more patient moods she calls upon river or rill, or one slow-moving glacier,  to write chapters in the autobiography of the earth.

In Central New York, a few miles from the city limits of Syracuse, is a thrilling chapter of this autobiography written by ice and water.  Just west of the village of Jamesville is a great stone crescent, gouged in the limestone wall of Butternut Valley.  The huge horseshoe-shaped cliff, with sheet sides dropping 160 feet, partly encircles a round lake of green water.

This unusual and striking natural feature is in the Clark Reservation of 226 acres, one of the many splendid parks under the jurisdiction of the State of New York.  To this recreational area come thounds of people annually.  They come to play, to picnic, and to rest.

There are few of these visitors who, standing on a limestone ledge and viewing the sweeping curve of the depression, do not ask themselves or their companions the  meaning of the scene before them.  Some believe that the rock-hole is a crater of extinct volcano; others argue that it represents the caving in of the roof of an underground cavern; while still others think that it represents some strange convulsion of nature.

Comparatively few of the multitude of visitors are aware that the crescent niche in the hill is an abandoned cataract - a fossil waterfall over which once swept a tremendous flood of icy water or that the spring fed pool at the base of the cataract is the old plunge-basin of the waterfall.  The story of the origin of this deserted cataract, comparable in size to the American Falls at Niagara, is filled with interest and should give to inquisitive minds a greater appreciation of the scientific value and scenic beauty of the park at the Clark Reservation.  As a prologue to the story one should have a mental picture of the region around Jamesville as it was before the great cataract was formed.

Some hundreds of thousands of years ago there were, as now, two parallel _____ running north and south and separated by a ridge about four miles in width ____ to the west was what is now Onondaga Valley and the one to the east was the valley _____ Butternut Creek.

Could one have visited this region in _____ far-off time, the general features would have been the same as today.  The hills are a little higher and a bit more rugged.  The valleys were deeper and narrower at their base.  Some of the lateral ravines of _____ did not exist and none of the many ____ical-shaped hills of sand and gravel nor ____ rounded elevations of clay on which the drumlin golf course is developed were formed.  But the larger physical features have not undergone much change.

The climate was milder and more uniform than at present.  Gradually, however, a change in temperature took place.  Winters were longer and summers were shorter.  The north winds became increasingly more strong.  The vegetation, long accustomed to congenial clime, died out and was replaced by forests and grasses better suited to the ____ cold climate.

Far to the north, in Labrador, a massive ice sheet was forming.  As its depth increased it spread out at its edges in all directions.  To the south it crept majestically and unrelentingly, scraping off the accumulated soils of the ages and incorporating them into its frozen body.  It plucked off huge blocks of rock and engulfed them in its icy maw.  On it came, slow and ponderous, disdainful of any loose obstacles in its path.  Into all of the Northern States marched the conquering glacier.

In New York it buried the Adirondacks and lay 3,000 feet deep over the site of Syracuse.  The Empire State was buried as the rocks of Antartica.  It crossed into what are now the states of New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  In the northern portions of these areas its progress was halted.  The climatic pendulum swung again.  Soft and warm southern winds hurled their battalions of heat against the ice-front.  Slowly the ice melted at its margins.  Little by little it melted and its front retreated northward, acknowledging its surrender by sending vast rivers of ice-water and its prisoners of soil and rocks into the southlands.  But there was no rout.  The glacier yielded its ground reluctantly.  Here and there it made a brief stand.  But in the end it all turned to water and disappeared from the face of the earth.

It was during this stubborn retreat that the great cataract at Jamesville was born.  When the ice had reached the vicinity of Jamesville it made several determined stands.  Though in the end vanquished, the ice has left imperishable monuments of its halting retreat in this area; the huge crescent of limestone being the most imposing.

The accompannying diagrams show various stages where the ice-sheet temporarily stood its ground near the great cataract and in the immediate vicinity.  A brief study of these drawings show how the ice built the memorials of its retreat.

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At the time the local story of the ice's retreat opens, the front of the retiring glacier lay a little less than a mile south of the Clark Reservation, in which the fossil cataract is now located.  The ice-sheet spread across both the Onondaga and Butternut Valleys and capped the intervening ridge with its high wall of ice.  From this ice rampart its melt-waters flowed into the Onondaga and Butternut Valleys.  Since the natural drainage of both these valleys were blocked by the ice wall, the waters of the melting ice were backed up toward Tully in the Onondaga Valley and toward Apulia in the Butternut Valley, forming two deep finger-like lakes.

These lakes rose as the melting flood of the disappearing ice entered them.  At last the waters in the Onondaga Valley rose to such an extent that they overflowed to the east, crossing the ridge between the two valleys at an altitude of about 800 feet, and carved a channel across the hill through which the overflow of the glacial Lake Onondaga entered the glacial lake which occupied the valley of the Butternut.

Then the ice-front retreated to a point on the ridge just north of the point where the cataract is now.  Here the height of the hill was some feet lower, permitting the drainage of the glacial Lake Onondaga at a lower level.  Meanwhile, the level of the glacial lake occupying the Butternut Valley had been greatly reduced because the icedam that lay athwart it north of Jamesville had melted enough to permit the escape of much of its water to the lower lands at the north and east.

Thus the new spillway entered the Butternut Valley at a steep declivity.  The waters of the overflowing glacial Lake Onondaga crossed the hill almost at grade until they began their sharp descent into the partially drained valley of the Butternut.  As they plunged down the hill in great volume and velocity they began the carving of the now extinct cataract which is the striking feature of the region.

At the height of this flooded cross-hill river millions of tons of ice-water swept across the ridge in a channel whose south walls were the rocks of the hills and whose north bank was the firm ice-front of the glacier, making one of its stubborn stands.  With a roar like Niagara it plunged into the Butternut Valley and wore a crescent-shaped gouge in the hillside.  In this plunge the cataract was born and grew to a height higher than Niagara Falls.

Before we describe the cataract in more detail let us follow the retreating ice-front.  At last the icy wall forming the north bank of the high drainage channel of the glacial Lake Onondaga moved a mile or so to the north, where it made its last stand in this vicinity.  Here its battle-front rested just north of what is now the depression or "rock-cut" through which run the tracks of the D. L. and W. Railroad, and its forward mass lay where the rolling hills of the Drumling golf course now lie.

The waters of the impounded glacial Lake Onondaga had shrunk and the Butternut Valley contained but a small, shallow lake.  Across this low ridge the overflow of the much reduced Onondaga Valley lake flowed into the expiring remnant of the glacial lake that had once filled the Butternut Valley.  This new spillway carved the narrow rock-sided cut through which the Lackawanna railroad now passes from Onondaga Valley to Butternut Valley.

At last there came a day when the ice was entirely vanished, permitting the waters of Onondaga and Butternut Valleys again to follow their natural course to the north.  But the scars of that stubborn ice retreat are still visible.  The high abandoned channel south of the Clark Reservation;  the fossil cataract with its magnificent scenery, and the new dry river course in the "rock-cut" valley all represent the determined but unavailing stands of the icesheet in its retreat.  The diagrams accompanying this story will serve as visual references to this unusual geological event.

The writer and his associate, Dr. O. T. Brown, chairman of the Division of Geography in Colgate University, have directed the making of models of the Clark Reservation and its environs, showing the origin of the fossil cataract and its associated channels.  These models are now on exhibition at the park.

While a written account with diagrams and models gives an understandable picture of the remarkable events that took place in this area, one who is really interested should spend a few hours in this region and see with his own eyes the records that Nature has written.

One should first take the high road on the east side of Onondaga Valley, drive past the LaFayette Country Club and stop in the depression just before the road forks at the south.  Here one may see the deserted channel through which the waters of the glacial Lake Onondaga escaped in the first cross-country cut over the hill.

At the Clark Reservation, one should walk leisurely around the crest of the cataract and note the typical horsehoe curve made by the plunge of the waters.  Then he should walk westward from the cataract rim and view the scoured limestone which was teh bed of the glacial stream before it roared over its self-made crescent of rock.

It would likewise be of interest to drive through the now dry and streamless "rock-cut" channel, noting its precipitous southern rock wall, indicative of rapid water erosion, probably helped by icebergs as they bumped along the glacial waterway.

All in all, the Clark Reservation affords a singular beauty and imparts a thrilling tale to those who wish to understand the past history of the earth.

Syracuse Hub of Tours Through Woods and Rolling Country
The tourist season, put in full swing by the uniformly clear, warm weather during the last three weeks, brings to public attention the rapid development of the Central New York State parks system.  The Central New York State Park Commission was the last of the big State park commissions to be organized, coming into existence in 1925.  The commission is composed of former Lieut. Gov. Harry C. Walker, Binghamton, chairman; former Senator William H. Hill, Binghamton; former Congressman John R. Clancey, Syracuse; Edward N. Trump, Syracuse; Charles Smith, Oneonta, former member of the State Legislature, and James F. Evans, secretary.

The first year $10,000 was allotted to the commission by the State Park Council, which was spent toward making a survey of the section of the State over which the commission had jurisdiction.  It was not until 1926 that a substantial allocation of funds was given for the development of the Central New York State parks.  Land acquirement was next in order which covered the period to 1928 and is still in progress.  During the last year development work has fairly gotten under way with excellent results.

The parks that comprise the Central New York State system could not have been arranged more conveniently for the tourist had man planned them instead of the sometimes careless but lavish hand of nature.  This group forms the hub of the various State parks systems and offers a wide variety of concentrated recreational values.  The three main automobile routes east and west traverse the region connecting these scenic, historic, forest-clad, lake-studded playgrounds, a universe of inspiring scenery made more enjoyable by carefully planned facilities.

Along the various routes to the parks are to be found exquisite landscapes, woods, winding rivers and rolling country attractive to camera fans, hunters and the disciples of Issak Walton.  The region embraced in this park system is redolent with the stirring events of early history.  It reaches from the territory raided by General Sullivan in the south and central sections in his memorable campaign that broke the power of the Iroquois to the grounds made famous by Montcalm, Pontiac, Brant, Sir William Johnson and others in the north and western sections.  Numerous landmarks have been left of these tragic struggles.  Several of these historic shrines may be visited en route to the six central parks.  THe accompanying map indicates the highways which the motorist may follow.

Beginning at any point along the route, this tour can be made in two days or in separate trips from Syracuse, Binghamton and intermediate places.  The tourist will find accomodations in several of the parks practically complete.  Road construction, grading, reforestation, building of dams, parking areas, installation of water supplies, sanitary systems and trails, as well as the erection of structures for shelter where refreshments and knicknacks are sold.  Many of these buildings are as artistic as they are practical.  In other words, the commission is bringing to the very doorstep of the people the scenic frontier of Central New York.

Selkirk shores bordering Lake Ontario will be the first park to formally open, although it is now well inaugurated to the use to which it has been dedicated.  Visitors are already taxing the capacity of the . . .

. . . and pass through Syracuse to the Clark Reservation, three miles south of the city on the Jamesville Road.  The Clark Reservation constitutes one of the amazing products of glacial action.  The lake at the bottom of the highest escarpment, the perpendicular walls of the precipice 250 feet high, the cave that extends into the wall, which is being improved, make this product of a great glacial waterfall one of the most interesting bits of natural scenery in the State.

From the Clark Reservation, the route to the Green Lakes, known as Kirkville Lakes to old Syracusans northeast of Fayetteville, is a 15-mile ride.  These lakes are the progeny of the glaciers.  The larger lake is 275 feet deep and the water has an exceedingly green color.  Bathing, fishing and boating already are available at this resort.  Green Lake is the latest addition to the park areas, but by 1930 will offer to the public an improved bathing beach, bathhouse and headquarters building.  Another project being considered at this location is an 18-hole golf course which seems to be in great demand. . . .


Syracuse Herald-American, Sunday, August 15, 1954, pg. 28
Clark Reservation Geologist's Paradise
In a deep, quiet lake near Jamesville, and on the cliffs which loom above it is written the story of an age of ice, and a huge, turbulent waterfall which was greater than Niagara Falls.

It all happened untold thousands of years ago.  But the saga of the retreat of a glacier is still there for modern man to see.

The story is etched in the tall boulders and the overgrown valleys of Clark Reservation - in the fossils of an ancient sea and in the jagged channels chiseled out of rock by raging waters.

Today Clark Reservation is a geologist's paradise.  Scientists flock to the picturesque state park to study everything from rock formations to the rare hartstongue fern found there.  But the amateur as well as the expert can enjoy the wonders of Clark Reservation.

To the right of the part entrance, down 179 feet of jagged cliff, one can see Green Lake, a cold, calm body of water which once was deluged under torrential falls.  It is 469 feet from the top of the cliff to bed rock at the bottom of the water-filled crater.

As if a dim memory of its glacial origin remained, the lake maintains a cold, constant temperature of 43 degrees all year round.  No swimming is alloed in its icy depths.

In an earlier day Green Lake was known as Kai-Yah-Koo Lake.  In Mohawk language, it means "tobacco satisfies."  According to an old legend, a young Indian woman's first child drowned in the lake.  After that the Indians made an annual pilgrimage to the site and threw tobacco into the waters to appease the angry gods.

A govenment reserve since colonial times, the site obtained its present name in 1856, when the State Legislature gave the land to retiring Gov. Myron H. Clark.  It was first opened as a park on July 4, 1879, after Clark's daughter, Mary, leased the land to I. G. MacFarlane.

But the most fascinating part of the park's history lies long before men were there to record it.  it dates back to the time when a great glacier paused in its retreat northward, and changed the nature of the land where it rested.

In that era a cataract higher than the American falls at Niagara plunged over the cliffs, hurling water and boulders down into what is now Green Lake, and  off eastward in a turbulent river.

Long before recorded history, a great ice sheet from Labrador formed and slowly pushed its way south, covering Syracuse with 3,000 feet of ice and extending down into Northern New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Then came a period of gradual warming which started the slow, reluctant retreat of the ice mass.  Inch by inch, it melted, backing its way northward through New York State.

As the ice melted the glacier sent out huge rivers and it was this process which formed the cataract at Jamesville, a natural monument to the last stand of a gigantic wall of ice.

The glacier, spreading across the Onondaga and Butternut Valleys, blocked their natural drainage routes to the north.  The rising waters melting from the glacier backed up to form two deep lakes.

Finally the glacial Onondaga Valley lake overflowed to the east cutting a channel across the hill into Butternut Valley.  Meanwhile the glacier continued to recede until it reached a point just north of where what is called "the Jamesville cataract" is now.

At this more northerly point the hill was lower, permitting the drainage of Onondaga Valley's glacial water into Butternut Valley.  In the latter valley, the lake level was far lower than it had been earlier, because further retreat of the glacier had enabled drainage to the north and east.

And so it was that the icy waters from Onondaga Valley plunged into the lower-level Butternut Valley lake.  For uncounted years, tons and tons of water roared down into the valley, slowly cutting a crescent-shaped gouge in the side of the hill - the famous Jamesville cataract.

Later the glacier moved still further northward and a new drainage channel was cut - the "rock-cut" where the D. L. & W. Railroad now runs.  Slowly the retreat continued, and the levels of the two lakes dwindled.

The ice has long gone from the green hills of upper New York State.  But the marks of its passing are still there.

The most impressive of the glacier's vestiges, the Jamesville "cataract" is well worth a visit to Clark Reservation.

One can stand at the shelter near the brink of what were the falls, and visualize the scene which would have confronted him had he stood there at the time of the glacier.  In front and to the left towers the brink of the falls, over which the waterfall poured.  Far below lies the plunge basin of the cataract, now a quiet lake.

At the time of the glacier, everything north of the cataract was icy whiteness.  From the melting ice came rivulets of water, which dug gullies in the rock at the brink of the cataract.

A trail which winds along the brink allows close observation.  One can see the fossilized coral in the limestone over which water once poured.  Huge boulders, set on end, stand as precarious evidence of thousands more which were hurled over the falls by the power of tons of rushing water.

Superintendent Jerry Ryan has built steps down the side of the cliff for ambitious hikers who want a closer view of Green Lake, dug by water which forced its way through limestone and then through the softer rock underneath it to form the huge hole.

Elsewhere in the park one can find other shallower plunge  basins, now overgrown valleys, into which the retreating glacier spilled melting ice.  And along the cliff trail the visitor, armed with a map, can find many points of interest.  On the east side of the cataract flint beds have yielded many Indian arrowheads.

Every spring the wooded land turns bright with wild flowers, and the boulders dropped there by the glacier become what Ryan calls "natural rock gardens."  For the young and starry-eyed, there is a Lovers' Glen near the brink of the falls.  It's had that name since the late 19th Century.

Botanist, butterfly catcher, hiker, and just plain picknicker can _________ much pleasure at Clark Reservation.  it can accomodate 1,000 in a busy day, has a softball diamond, picnic facilities, including charcoal grills, and fireplaces, and even swings and slides for children.

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Submitted 24 June 2005