The Sunken Canoecanoe_edit final

One of the more popular questions the Library Archives receives concerns the sunken canoe in Cazenovia Lake.

It’s documented history begins in 1861 when local fishermen John Fairchild , Ebenezer Knowlton, and Richard Parsons spied it under the waters in Beckwith Bay and brought it to the surface. The roughly hewn dugout canoe sparked mass interest and intrigue throughout the village as many speculated about its origins and how it ended up at the bottom of the lake. Popular theories claimed the canoe was made by the Natives who once lived on the lake shore. One story included the escape of star-crossed lovers from the Oneida and Onondaga tribes in which the canoe was used in an ill-fated chase to stop them. Another story explained that the canoe was used by the Oneidas and purposely sunk after an attack by the Onondagas. Then there are others who believe the canoe has no connections to the Haudenosaunee, but made by earlier white settlers.

Regardless of its origins, the Onondaga objected to its rise and requested it be returned to the floor of the lake. A month after its discovery, the people of Cazenovia did just that with a ceremony complete with costumes and reenactments.

Click to read February 13, 1913 article

Click to read February 13, 1913 article

The postcard depicts the canoe’s second rise to the surface in 1913 when it was fished out for the local Odd Fellows Fair held in the village at the local theater (the current site of the Catherine Cummings theater.) Pictured from left to right are Lodge members, Edwin Havens, Robert Hughes, Floyd Winchell, Thomas Cleveland, and Charles Miller. It was retrieved from its icy waters in February 1913 and placed on exhibit for a week before returning to the depths of Beckwith Bay where it remains to this day.

The existence of the canoe highlights the role the lake has played throughout history; some even say it was the dividing line between the Onondaga and Oneida Tribes. Although the Native people no longer resided here at the time of Lincklaen’s arrival, archaeological findings and research reveal their presence. To learn more about pre-contact Cazenovia visit Dan Weiskotten’s essay found here.

Additional Resources:

Smith, Walter W. “Sunken Canoe is a Vestige of Love Plot”. Cazenovia Republican, 5 April 1967.

Bogardus, Frank. “Sunken Canoe Photographed” Cazenovia Republican, 17 September 1969.



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