Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Exploring history and nature (way) off the beaten path…

The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation recently opened a new state park – Frenchman’s Island in Oneida Lake. With a little help from our friends, Bob and Tom, we had an opportunity to visit the park and explore its primitive environs.

To be sure, Frenchman’s Island is one of the most spectacular resources that Oswego County has to offer. The unspoiled woodlands bring to mind images of a wild rain forest. Thick foliage creates a draping canopy over the newly cut trail which circles the island and winds its way back to the beginning.

The trail offers an easy hike through 28 acres of serene beauty. Keeping with tradition, we learned to identify the beech tree as we traversed the footpath. We also came upon the historic 85-foot lighthouse built by the state in 1917.

Here are some images from our excursion:

The romanticism of Frenchman’s Island can be gathered from its namesake. By most accounts, the first inhabitants of the island were a Frenchman by the name of Desvatines and his young bride. The tale varies a bit as to how they made their way to Oneida Lake; some have said that the couple fled France during the Reign of Terror, while others have speculated that they left due to (his or her) father’s disapproval of their union.

The tale continues that Desvatines sold all of his possessions, save for a “fine library and a little silver for the table” in order to make a life in the wilderness for himself and his family. Alone, he cleared a lot near six acres, built a cabin and planted a garden on the island. It is here that his wife bore his daughter, Camille in the spring of 1792. It is supposed that she was the first white child born in Oswego County.

The following year, the family moved to Rotterdam (Constantia) and later disappeared into history. According to some, the family was once visited by Chancellor Livingston, who recognized the gentility of the couple and spirited them to his manor on the Hudson River. Others have posited that (his or her) father came to the couple seeking forgiveness and, upon reconciliation, the family returned to their beloved France.

In more recent history, Frenchman’s Island was known locally as the second Coney Island. The picturesque island was a favorite resort for day-excursions in the early 20th century. Home to a dancing pavilion, bowling alley and children’s playground, the island was ideal for picnics and parties.

Located at the west end of Oneida Lake, Frenchman’s Island is accessible by watercraft only. It is a carry-in, carry-out park and there are no picnic tables or restrooms. Camping and fires are not permitted and visitors are encouraged to report vandalism by calling 315-762-4463.

For more information about Oneida Lake and its histories, visit your local library and check out: “Oneida Lake ‘The Only Happiness’ Place Names and History” by Jack Henke.


Francis Adrian Vanderkemp, a distinguished citizen of Holland, once wrote of the island:

“This island might in ancient days have been the happy seat of a goddess, in the middle age that of a magician, or a fairy’s residence in the times of chivalry. All that the poets did sing of the gardens of Alcinous, all the scenery of those of Armida, so highly decorated by Virgil and Ariosto, could scarce have made upon me, who was captivated unawares and bewildered, a more deep impression than this spectacle of nature. We did see here a luxuriant soil in its virgin bloom… It seemed a paradise which happiness had chosen for her residence.”


TimsHead said...

Looks really neat! Especially that lighthouse. Maybe a good kayak trip.

Mick said...

I had no idea of all this history at Frenchman's Island ... and, I never knew there was a lighthouse there!

Kevin said...

Nice write up ! Haven't been to Frenchmans since the 70's when the lighthouse was all covered in graffiti. Maybe I'll head out there this spring.

Andrew said...

wow... thanks for posting! I grew up miles from there and never knew about the lighthouse. guess I was not close enough in a boat or going by too fast on a sled.

about how long is the path/trail on the island? is it a loop around the island or just an out and back type? is it runnable?


Kelly Jordal said...

Hi Andrew, thank you for your inquiry about Frenchman's Island. Roughly a mile long, the trail is runnable and loops around the island. Enjoy your visit!

Anonymous said...

I was wondering how long it might take to canoe to the island from shore?

Kelly Jordal said...

Hi Samantha,
Yes, Frenchman's Island is a great destination for a canoe or kayak! The length of the trip depends on the weather and water as much as it does the paddler's experience. It could take as little as 30 minutes to an hour - or more considering those variables. Enjoy your paddle!