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Seneca Lake is the largest of the glacial Finger Lakesmarker of the U.S. state of New Yorkmarker. It is promoted as being the lake trout capital of the world, and is host of the National Lake Trout Derby. Because of its depth, Seneca Lake has been a testing site for submarines.The lake takes its name from the Seneca nation of Native Americans. At the north end of Seneca Lake is the city of Geneva, New Yorkmarker, home of Hobart and William Smith Colleges and the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station, a division of Cornell Universitymarker. At the south end of the lake is the village of Watkins Glen, New Yorkmarker, famed for auto racingmarker and waterfalls.

Due to Seneca Lake's unique macroclimate it is home to over 40 wineries, many of them farm wineries and is the location of the Seneca Lake AVA. (See Seneca Lake wine trail).

Physical conditions

At long, It is the second longest of the Finger Lakes and has the largest volume, estimated at 4.2 trillion US gallons (16 km³), roughly half of the water in all the Finger Lakes. It has a maximum depth of , and a mean depth of . It has a surface area of .

The two main inlets are Catharine Creek at the southern end and the Keuka Lakemarker Outlet. Seneca Lake outlets into the Cayuga-Seneca Canal, which joins Seneca and Cayuga Lakesmarker at their northern ends.

It is fed by underground springs and replenished at a rate of 328,000 gallons (29,520 m³) per minute. These springs keep the water moving in a constant circular motion, giving it little chance to freeze over. Because of Seneca Lake's great depth, it remains a constant . During the summer months however, the top does warm up to a pleasant .


Seneca lake is haven to some of the most prized Lake trout in the world because of its great depths and low boating traffic. However, in recent years, populations of shallow water fish such as bass have dwindled considerably due to infestations of Carp and Zebra mussels.


Over 200 years ago, there were Iroquois villages on Seneca Lake’s surrounding hillsides. During the Revolutionary War, their villages, including Kanadaseagamarker ("Seneca Castle") were wiped out during the Sullivan Expedition by troops that invaded their homeland to punish them for assisting the British. Today roadside signs trace Sullivan and Clinton’s route along the east side of Seneca Lake where the burning of villages and crops occurred.

After the war, the land of the Iroquois was parceled out to veterans of the army in payment for their military service. A slow stream of white settlers began to arrive circa 1790. Initially the settlers were without a market nearby or a way to get their crops to market. The settlers’ isolation abruptly ended, though, in the 1820s with the opening of the Erie Canal.

The Canal linked the Finger Lakes Region to the outside world. Steamships, barges and ferries quickly became Seneca Lake’s ambassadors of commerce and trade. The former, short Crooked Lake Canal linked Seneca Lake to Keuka Lakemarker.

There are numerous canal barges resting on the bottom of the lake. A collection of barges on the southwest end of the lake, near the village of Watkins Glenmarker, is being preserved and made accessible for scuba diving by the Finger Lakes Underwater Preserve Association.

Painted rocks

The painted rocks, located at the southern end of the lake on the eastern cliff face, depict an American Flag, Tee-pee, and several Native Americans. As the story goes, back in the late 1700s when General John Sullivan was avenging the Wyoming and Cherry-Valley Massacres, he chased a group of renegade Native Americans, up from present day Athens, Pennsylvaniamarker (then known as Tioga Point) through the valley, to a point somewhere along the cliffs. The Indians escaped down a narrow footpath to canoes that they had hidden earlier in the underbrush. They used these canoes to paddle across the lake to safety. Later they came back and painted these paintings in commemoration of their escape. The paintings found along the bottom of the cliff are the originals, the American Flag and the Tee-pee were added in 1929 during the Sullivan Sesquicentennial.

The painted rocks may not be authentic Native-American paintings as the Seneca Indians lived in longhouses not the Tipi used by Western Native-American tribes. Historian Barbara Bell suggests that the paintings may have been made for tourists on Seneca Lake boat tours


Seneca Lake is also the site of a strange and as-yet-unexplained phenomenon known as the Guns of the Seneca, mysterious cannon-like booms heard in the surrounding area. Some might speculate that they come from the north eastern museum, Rose Hill Mansion.

This phenomenon has also, and more often than not, been called the Drums Along the Seneca, and they are usually heard on the evenings of hot summer nights. Many believe that these are giant air bubbles from deep in the lake bursting on the surface, while others equate it with Indian folklore. They have been heard coming from both the north and south ends and the "drums" reverberate throughout the "valley" of the lake.

There have been reports of a creature at least long creating unexplained waves. These waves have been spotted when no boats are present, therefore proving that it is not a wake. This creature has been nicknamed, "Charlie".

Toxic waste was dumped in the lake in the 1950s by the U.S. Government. The Government now refuses to clean the waste.

Sampson Navy and Air Force bases

The east side of Seneca Lake was once home to a military training ground called Sampson Naval Base, primarily used during World War II. It became Sampson Air Force Base during the Korean War and was used for basic training. After Sampson AFB closed, the airfield remained as Seneca Army Airfield but was closed in 2000. The training grounds of Sampson have since been converted to a civilian picnic area called Sampson State Parkmarker.

There is still a Naval facility at Seneca Lake, the Naval Undersea Warfare Center Sonar test facility. Where a scale model of the sonar section of the nuclear submarine USS Seawolf was tested during the development of this ship.

Water quality buoy

There is a Youth Services International EMM-2500 Buoy Platform located in the north end of Seneca Lake roughly in the center. Its coordinates are: latitude: 42°49.13', longitude: 76°57.61'. The buoy has cellular modem communications and measures wind speed and direction, relative humidity, air temperature, barometric pressure, light intensity, and the water's depth and temperature, conductivity, turbidity, and chlorophyll-a levels.

The buoy was initially deployed in June 2006. The water depth where it is located is about .


  1. Bell, Barbara. "Painted Rocks." Schuyler County New York: History and Families. Turner Publishing Co., 2005: 30-31.
  2. Abandoned & Little-Known Airfields: New York State: Rochester area
  3. (old site).

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