The Eldridge Lake Legend

by Dr. Robert Lyon, EPCPS President

truly believe that the things we do not choose in life make us who we are. Our birthplace, our family, our neighborhood, the traditions and the legends of our past all help to make us unique members of our community.

The stories of Eldridge Lake, also known as Lake Minnetonka, and by certain Native American tribes as Ouela, cannot be forgotten by those of us who grew up in the Southern Tier before the decline of Eldridge Park. We must continue to keep these legends alive so that future generations can also be shaped and so that we may share this common bond, this icon of our past, this beacon for our future we call Eldridge Park.

Why is it that we grew up knowing that Eldridge Lake is bottomless, with channels guarded by serpents connecting it to Seneca Lake and that pockets of quicksand along the shoreline kept us from venturing too close to its dark, mysterious waters? That bodies of certain unfortunate individuals and animals consumed by Eldridge Lake have been recovered at Seneca Lake, some with unexplainable bite marks? (As a forensic dentist, this is of particular interest to me.) Why did Bob Long, the man who brought the carousel to Eldridge Park in 1924, carve a dragon head to be mounted prominently on the bow of the original Jasper boat in the 1930s?

To begin to understand the answers to the above questions, one must first know that the lake has always been there. It was formed by glaciers many thousands of years ago. It was only enlarged by Dr. Edwin Eldridge in the 1860s. Eldridge landscaped the 200 or more acres around the lake and created one of the finest Victorian walking parks that ever existed. The picnic mounds, leveled to make way for the athletic fields, were another glacial phenomenon known as drumlins.

This relatively small lake has impacted the lives of those who have grown up in the region surrounding it largely because of one legend. The legend originated centuries ago when the lake was known as Minnetonka or Ouela. Throughout the 19th century, the story was printed once a year or so in the local newspaper. Children would gather around the fireplace and pay undivided attention to the storyteller much the same as I remember sitting before the television set with great excitement and anticipation to watch "The Wizard of Oz" each time it was on.

The legend of the Native Americans called Owenah and Newamee is the story that answers our questions. It originated before the first white settler came to this region in the late 1780s. My own great-great-great-great-great-grandfather settled here with Col. John B. Hendy in 1789 and passed the legend on to his own son Silus B. Lyon, born in 1803. Silus' diary reveals that his descendants, my family, have enjoyed this great legend and that it has helped to make us who we are -- proud residents of the Finger Lakes region.

The legend of Eldridge Lake and its alluring dangers spelled out in Native American lore -- it was guarded by a serpent named Gaspara later named Jasper -- only enhance our appreciation today to the park and the need to preserve it for generations. By creating a connection between the generations, we create a bridge to the future. By rebuilding Eldridge Park, we re-create the place where we can reminisce about the past, embrace the present and plan for the future.

Note: For previous monthly updates by Bob Lyon along with news
and stories about EPCPS, please check our archives.