June 1991

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Camping on Keuka Lake


From the Diary of Will S. Gerity

edited by

Herbert A. Wisbey, Jr.

Introduction, Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV


On July 19, 1870, Will S. Gerity of Elmira and a group of friends went on a camping and fishing trip to Keuka Lake, the details of which he carefully recorded in his diary. At the time, Gerity was twenty-three years old and junior partner in Robinson and Gerity, a wholesale and retail drug business in his native Elmira. He began to keep a diary, which he quite innocently entitled "Sketches of my Drug Life," in May 1868. It is a richly detailed, day-by-day account of the life of a small-town boy who worked in a drug store and whose social life revolved around church activities and such simple events as candy pulls, sleigh rides, community lectures and concerts, and especially an annual two-week vacation camping with the Minisink Magnolia Fishing Club. This impressively entitled organization consisted of a small group of young men from Waverly and Elmira who began spending their vacations camping and fishing together in 1861. Each summer they selected a different location in the southern tier of New York State or northern Pennsylvania. In 1870, their choice was Keuka Lake.

The story of the trip from Elmira is presented in the words of Will Gerity transcribed from Book E, one of three of his diary notebooks that have survived. In the transcription, Gerity's unorthodox spelling has been modernized and his continuous flow of words has been broken into sentences and paragraphs by the addition of punctuation and capitalization. His choice of words and word order are untouched, however. Some parts of the diary considered to be of little significance or repetitious have been omitted; the omissions being indicated by ellipses.

Part I

Tuesday, July 19th, 1870

This is a lovely morning, I am up at 3 o'clock a.m. as this is the morning so long looked for "for Fish." After dressing myself I went down to the store to write up my diary for the day before. While there and alone, my thoughts run to my Business in general. After writing up I went back home. Found Morris and Van up, so I went to work to fix up my trap which are as follows: in my Box I have a Hair Brush, Comb, Tooth Brush & powder, medicine, and Fishing Tackle, spoons, &c. Hand Glass, Letter Paper, Pen & Ink as per memorandum annexed.1 At 5:15 we were on our way to the Depot as the cars leave at 5:38. Was there on time and bought our tickets for the round trip. The cost was $2.70. After reaching the Depot we found there was a smash up near Corning and the train would be late but how much was hard to tell. So our time was taken up talking &c. I weighed myself which was only 113 lb. This is very light for me. At 7:30 we had not left Elmira yet so I took my Box and went one side of the Car and commenced this, my new Diary, writing as far as this.

We remained in Elmira until 10 min. to 10, so Morris and myself took a tramp around to see what there was in Haythorn's Store. This [occupied] us until we made our last grand start. The cars were close and dirty but we all joined in and had a good time. Were not long in reaching Corning, passing the wreck which was rather a bad one. We reached Corning all right but not in time for the Bath train. So this gives us from about 10 until 1 1/2 to see this place. So we went into the Baggage room and left our traps. From there we went over to the Corning Glass Works, and, as it's my first visit to the work, is quite a treat. They were at most all kinds of work making mim measures, tumblers &c. in fact, enough so we could see through the whole thing. There [were] about as many Boys at work as men. Corning is quite a Business place. Went through Terbill's Drug Store but was somewhat disappointed as he has not got things up in much shape. We were all over the place and see what there was of it. At 12 1/2 we went up to the Dickinson house, all of us, to Dinner. This all went well and did me good, after which we went to the Depot. There we talked until after 2 as the train was late here but we made a good thing by running down to get on the car first as they were well taken up.

We arrived at Bath all safe, passing through a fine piece of Country and having a good time. We arrived at Bath 3:15. There we found the stage but he had a load. Our trunks and traps are all here, so we had them put on an express wagon and carried to Hammondsport. Will and myself took our seat with the driver which was nice as its quite warm. We had a nice ride and chance to see the Country as we pass through the grape section, Pleasant Valley, &c. We reached Hammondsport 2 hours late but they had telegraphed for the Boat so this made it just grand…Our traps, having left Bath at 3 3/4 arriving at Hammondsport at 5, soon were on the Boat.

Capt. Thayer—found him to be one nice man ready to help us to anything we may ask for. Boat Keuga [Keuka]2 is small but large enough for the lake. There is one much larger name[d] "Young"3 so that the 2 Boats pass in all 4 times a day. Our ride down the Lake was grand. On all sides we could see grapes. The farms were all looking fine. On the east side of the lake there were what is called Lodges. These are small houses built by private parties and are nice, but not for our party. At 6 1/2 we landed on the east side of lake about 10 miles from Hammondsport in a place called Grove Lodge. Here we found a party just ready to leave and with what traps they had and ours, the landing was full.

Our first move was to put our tent up at "stoop" in front of the "Lodge." This done, come running around to look at the place, but we were not pleased with it as there isn't any spring or any place near by so we can get milk, Butter &c. So we were all in. Then come a good cup of Tea of which all lent a hand as it went good, and by the time we got through it was dark. So each man made for his bed and at 10 we had prayers by Morris, then took our place. Our Bed was the floor with nothing soft to put under us, but we made out to sleep some. I happened to be the unlucky one having the poorest rest. So here I will bid the first day of our camping life Good Night.

Wednesday, 20th.

Is another fine morning and it finds me awake about 5 o'clock on the Banks of the Keuka Lake with a party of seven as follows: from Waverly—Morris Bennett, Geo. B. Van Velsor; from Elmira—Will E. Pickering, Pete Davis, Clayton R. Gerity and myself; while there is only one from Philadelphia, Gus Wilson. As I have said before we were all in our Bunk or rather a stoop without any way to get milk &c. I was up, and after starting a fire, some tea and a light meal was served up, each man looking out for himself. After Breakfast some of the Party took a row across the Lake to see if any arrangements could be made for our eating. This was near 10.

While they were gone, I commenced to write in my Diary, but some strangers come in, and Will & I washed up the dishes so the time was all taken up until about 3 when the Boys come back with some milk, Eggs and good news as we are to move our traps over on the opposite side of the Lake in a nice pine grove owned by a Mr. McDowell. This gent told us we might borrow his boat as the man had it on our side of the Lake, so Will & I took a tramp up on the hill top in the Vineyard to speak to the man about the Boat. He was willing for us to take it. He only wanted it a 5 1/2, so we soon had our traps in and the first load over, when a good cup of tea was served up for all. This made me feel better.

By sundown we were all on our Camp ground, but before reaching it we had some rain which made a division in the party as Van, Clate & myself were on one side while the others were across. Our evening was well put in as we got our tent up and all bunkered in with us but as my head-ached I did not do much, and as I have not had a chance to write am 2 days behind with this book. At 9 o'clock all gathered in our tent and the 5th Psalm was read by Van and Prayer. When the lights were soon put out, and as all were tired, it was not long before I was asleep, and this was the case with all the boys.

Thursday, 21st.

Is another one of our fine spring like morning[s], as it's just grand where we are camped, as there is a nice Breeze all the time. I was one of the first to awake as our sleeping was rather poor. It was about 6 when I got up, went at work, and soon had the Breakfast on the way as one of the Asst. Cooks. By the way, I will give each one's part of the work: Morris, Chief Cook; W. E. P. & W. S. G., ass't cooks; Geo. Van V., Dish Wash & P. T. D., ass't; Clate, Milk Boy; Gus, Wood Boy. Then Pete has as extra, fish to clean.

At 9 o'clock, Breakfast, which was Tea, Coffee, Potatoes, Eggs &c., were on the table but as we have not got to running nicely shall not try to give the Bill of Fare until dinner. I asked the Blessing. Here everything went well and all are doing their part of the work, but as I am behind in my writing will not try to enlarge in any way. After Breakfast Will & I went to work to fix up our tent, so Gus went with us in the Boat up the lake somewhere near a mile. There we got some Hemlock Bows for our Bed and sticks for [our] eating tent. Was gone some time. Found some of the odd-shaped stone. Returned to camp and went at our work in good earnest and by 3 o'clock we had our Bed of Hemlocks all made while the rest of the party worked on the eating tent.

At 3 we commenced on our Dinner and so had a chance to try our new table. At 4 all were at the table. The Blessisng was asked by Clate. When we commenced on our Bill of Fare: Jam [mashed] Potatoes, Butter, Bread, Berries, Tea, Coffee, Milk, Sugar &c. such as are always found on any table. At 5 I went after some Straw for our Beds. With this we have one of the nicest Beds in the Country. Next come a table to put our small traps on. This completed, our work was over and as the other tent is up I will try to describe the place.

We are on the east side of the lake about 10 miles from Hammondsport and 3/4 of a mile from the landing called Kauka [Keuka], camped on Mr. McDowell's Land so we call our Camp "McDowell."4 Just above us is the road. Below us is the Lake. South of us a fine creek comes to the lake. We are in a fine grove of Pine trees near to a farmhouse where we can get Milk, Butter, Eggs and such things as we may want. Near the creek is our fireplace, the nicest we ever had and so handy for water. Then comes close to this our eating tent with a fine wide table and a good cover, shady and convenient looking out on the lake.

Then the eye sees our American flag as she floats out over the lake to the Breeze. Just in front of us comes, or rather by our side is, a tent for 3 of our party. Then comes ours, facing to the lake and in the best place so we can see all that is going on. We have a Rochester make 9 x 12, very high and lots of room in it, our Bed taking up about 1/2. At the peak we have two sticks across so this makes a clothes press. We also have a nice seat so all can use our tent as the Parlor as we try to keep it in good order. Our table is very convenient to lay our traps on. You see a Bible at all times and in most any place in camp.

Our work kept us at something until all were tired out. Our evening was spent in various ways. Morris got out his violin and music was in order. At 9 all were in our tent. I read the 29 Psalm and made a prayer, then went to Bed. After this I shall try and keep my writing up in good shape, but it was hard to try and do anything until all were settled.

Thanks to Jill Middleton of Horseheads, who owns the three volumes of the Will S. Gerity diary, for permission to print these excerpts. A portion of this material was published in York State Tradition in the Fall, 1973, and Winter, 1974, issues.
©1991, Herbert A. Wisbey, Jr.
Introduction, Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV


Thanks to Jill Middleton of Horseheads, who owns the three volumes of the Will S. Gerrity diary, for permission to print these excerpts. A portion of this material was published in York State Tradition in the Fall 1973 and Winter 1974 issues.


1. Gerity's inventory for his 1869 camping outfit included a large tent, a flag, and a trunk packed with: rubber blanket, wool blanket, linen suit, wool suit, shirts in number, box of paper collars, cuffs in number, socks—4 pairs in number, handkerchiefs in number, fishing tackle, box to carry same in. Also note paper, cup, saucer, tooth brush, pen & ink, envelopes, blotting paper, diary, brandy, lobelia, camphor, laudanum, glass, pins, tooth powder, spoon towels, boots, slippers, whisk broom, soft hat, straw hat, Panama hat, money $20 extra, singing books, pills Opie et Camph [?], postage stamps, gloves and mosquito netting.

2. The ship Keuka, a 65 foot, screw propelled steamboat, was built in 1867-68 in Geneva, New York, and brought to Keuka Lake through the Crooked Lake Canal. It was taken out of service on Keuka Lake after 1872.

3. The 130 food sidewheeler steamboat, George R. Youngs, was built in Penn Yan, New York, in 1865. It was renamed the Steuben in 1872 and continued in service on Keuka Lake until 1879.

4. George H. McDowell owned extensive property on the east side of Keuka Lake near Keuka Landing.

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