The Crooked Lake Review

May 2008

Home Index Museums Blog Authors Site Map About


Book Review

Cascade Falls

A Scrapbook of Cascade Mills on the Keuka Outlet Trail
by Leona Jensen, 2008

reviewed by

Bill Treichler

Leona Jensen has read through many old records, histories, newspapers and letters and collected reports, maps, and pictures of the mills along the outlet of Keuka Lake into Seneca Lake. She has assembled these accounts plus background material into a scrapbook of the stories of the people who built and ran the mills, the canal, the railroad, the chemical plant, and those who recently completed the Keuka Outlet Trail.

The title focuses on Cascade Falls and the mills built there but the book includes the history of the whole outlet. The first settlers built grist mills and sawmills. Soon water-powered forging hammers were set up to shape metal. Mills were built and run to finish woolen fabric and others to press linseed oil from flaxseed and to make paper from rags and straw. Eventually most of the mills were run for paper manufacture. The mill dams were occasionally washed out and the buildings were frequently destroyed by fire.

The Cascade Falls site was the last to be developed because it was so inaccessible. Meredith Mallory acquired the site in 1825 and cleared access roads to it, completed a dam and built a grist mill and sawmill.

On November 10, 1833, the Crooked Lake Canal opened. New York State spent $156,766.90 for construction of the canal. It was 8 miles long and had 27 locks. The canal was 42 feet wide at the waterline and 4 feet deep. Canal barges delivered supplies to the 12 mills along the canal, transported their products to the lakes at either end, and carried cargoes going from lake to lake and beyond.

The original wooden locks were replaced with stone-walled locks. Torrents of water overflowing the outlet channel frequently damaged the canal and towpath. The state stopped funding the canal in 1873. It was used a few more years. The Legislature approved the transfer of the canal and towpath to railroad builders and tracks were laid along the towpath. The first trains of the Fall Brook Railroad began running through the outlet on August 3, 1885; the tracks were extended to Penn Yan in 1888.

A paper mill built at Cascade Falls in 1866 burnt out in 1869. Paper continued to be manufactured at the site until 1900 when Edward R. Taylor acquired the Cascade mill site and installed several turbines to drive generators that would provide electricity for an improved electro-chemical process to produce carbon-bi-sulfide. The chemical was used as an insecticide then later as a solvent in different chemical processes and finally to produce rayon for tire reinforcement. The plant was expanded and repeatedly repaired after flood damage. The company came under the control of large chemical corporations and later was known as Baker Chemical Company, It closed in 1966 when there was little demand for carbon-bi-sulfide. For a few years the buildings were utilized by a tire recapping business.

Floods damaged the railroad in 1972, and the tracks between Penn Yan and Dresden were removed in 1974. By this time the mills and dams were abandoned and the outlet gorge had returned to a nearly natural state. In 1981 and 1983 the Yates County Legislature purchased nearly 6 miles of railroad right-of-way. Volunteers cleared and improved a trail along the stream. The Friends of the Outlet Trail group was organized in April 1984. They became responsible for the trail, and on July 4, 1984, the Keuka Outlet Trail officially opened. The Friends acquired more property from the electric company and from Outlet Tire Sales. They established a visitor center with a building for meetings and displays. Occasionally tours of the Cascade Mills Site are scheduled.

Leona Jensenís 147-page, 8Ĺ-by-11, spiral-bound book begins with an Introduction and Overview and continues with 100 pages of chronological entries. There are many maps and diagrams included in this section as well as inserts on Charles Williamson, Abraham Dox, Meredith Mallory, illustrations of early crafts, plus lengthy interviews of former workers at the carbon-bi-sulfide plant. All recent photographs were taken by Mrs. Jensen. Following the time-line are newspaper accounts of the outlet.

The book is available from Leona Jensen, P.O. Box 181, Dresden, NY, 14441, for $36 which includes shipping and tax. It is not in bookstores. The extra earnings from direct sales are contributed to the Friends of the Outlet.

Mrs. Jensen has also written and published a new book for children titled Benís Adventure on the Crooked Lake Canal. It is about a boy who lives with his parents on a Crooked Lake Canal barge. The 19 page book has nine lively illustrations by Martha Gibbs. Inquire about the price from Leona Jensen at the above address.

CLR Blog | Site Map | Contact CLR