Reflections on Geneva

lcmm Museum

A map of Geneva in the 1800s

A map of Geneva in the 1800s (from Geneva's Changing Waterfront)

by Art Cohn

While in Geneva I had an opportunity to talk with a number of people about the community’s maritime heritage and Charles Bauder, a Geneva historian gave me a wonderful gift of the out-of-print book, Geneva’s Changing Waterfront 1778-1989, by Kathryn Grover. Published by the Geneva Historical Society in 1989 to support an exhibition by the same name, I examined this well illustrated gift and felt that in this one publication I had been provided a window into Geneva’s maritime past.

A map of Burlington in the 1800s

A map of Burlington in the 1800s (photo from Lake Champlain Sailing Canal Boats)

What I was most struck with as I explored the illustrations of early sailboats, steamboats, canal boats, railroads and breakwaters that led to the ongoing recreational transition of the Geneva waterfront was how similar it was to the images and evolution of our Burlington waterfront story.

The Burlington Waterfront in the mid 1800s

The Burlington Waterfront in the mid 1800s (photo from Lake Champlain Sailing Canal Boats)

One of our overarching themes for these Lois McClure journeys is to reflect the amount of common history we share with communities all along the region’s interconnected waterways. In Geneva’s Changing Waterfront the presentation in this wonderful book illustrates this point so well. While of course there are many unique features to the history of Geneva and Burlington’s particular history, each lake-port has much in common with the other. As I pondered the similarities and differences between each communities rise from a sleepy harbor to bustling 19th century commercial center and the influence of canals, railroads and maritime technology, a question about another point of connection could not be avoided.

Geneva waterfront in the mid 1800s

Geneva waterfront in the mid 1800s (photo from Geneva's Changing Waterfront)

If Burlington and Lake Champlain contains a collection of intact wooden shipwrecks on its cold, deep (430-foot) freshwater bottom, shouldn’t Seneca Lake? Seneca is about 1/6th the size of Champlain, but in its cold, fresh, deep (600+feet) waters, the model suggests, should also contain a collection of shipwrecks that reflect on Seneca Lake and Geneva’s maritime past.

Canal boats on the Burlington waterfront

Canal boats on the Burlington waterfront (photo from Lake Champlain Sailing Canal Boats)

What about Cayuga Lake and the other bodies of water that make up the Finger Lakes? If our experience holds true then all these waterways should contain a representative sample of the large and small watercraft that once plied their waters. It’s an exciting prospect for the Finger Lakes, important for the study and preservation of the collection and I am excited about learning more.

Canal boats on the Geneva Waterfront

Canal boats on the Geneva Waterfront (photo from Geneva's Changing Waterfront)

Art Cohn
Executive Director