January 1991

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Seneca Lake Freezes


Betty Smalley

On Friday the 9th of February 1912, Fred Dean of Dresden, Del Beard of Himrod, and Clyde Jones and Lon Pridmore also of Dresden made a daring and history making journey across Seneca Lake on ice skates. They tied themselves together with 50 feet of clothesline as a safety measure.

It took them 27 minutes to make the trip to Willard, because they checked the thickness of the ice occasionally; it was 3 inches thick in the middle of the lake. They walked into the village and Fred called his wife who didn't know where he was. She said, "If you see a policeman over there, you'd better have him lock you up!" The trip home took only 15 minutes.

Fred had been watching the lake from an upstairs bedroom window all that week. On Wednesday there was only a small strip of open water in the middle of the lake. This strip was filled with thousands of wild ducks. Many were frozen in the ice. On that day, he skated as near to the ducks as he dared, to look the situation over. He returned home, went to the store to tell other fellows that the lake was going to freeze over and to interest them in skating across. One came back to the lake with him and they both went out to see the ducks. They then skated to Geneva and back, checking the streak of open water.

Thursday there was a dark streak in the lake which he believed was open water. It was Friday that he skated out and found the ice would hold him. He rushed back, collected his friends, and they went across. He skated across again on Saturday, and often throughout the next week.

According to early records, this freezing of the lake followed the coldest January on record with ten days of temperatures below zero. The lake was also completely frozen in 1855, 1875, 1885.

Ceylon Randall of Himrod and Miles Rapalee rode across the lake to Lodi on February 15, 1875, in a cutter drawn by Miners Rapalee and Nelson Moore on skates. It took them 18 minutes to go across and 35 minutes to return against a stiff wind.

The ice began to break up on Seneca Lake on March 17, 1912. At 9:00 am on that day, Earl Shannon sailed his ice boat on the lake, then at 2:00 pm on the same day, he piloted his motor boat over the same course over which he had ice boated in the morning.

1991, Betty Smalley
This article is from Torrey Truth and Trivia, a collection of historical selections gleaned from scrapbooks by Betty F. Smalley who is Historian for the Town of Torrey.
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