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Finger Lakes History

About two million years ago, the first of a series of glacial flows began advancing and retreating across what is now New York State. These massive bodies of ice flowed south, carving deep trenches in the earth, grinding across valleys, gouging the land as they inched past existing, north-flowing streams and rivers—massive continental glaciers grinding across valleys, leaving long, narrow, high-walled lakes and deep gorges in their wake.

At least that's the scientific take on the origin of the Finger Lakes.

The Native Americans who lived in this area, and left the first recorded history, believed the Finger Lakes were the fingerprints of the Great Spirit, who reached down and, in touching the earth, transformed this land into sacred ground, blessed by Nature. Depending on your perspective, these origin stories could be two sides of the same coin.

Native Americans lived in the Finger Lakes for thousands of years before European Settlers reached the continent. European settlers knew these people as the Iroquois, or the Five (and later six) Nations. The confederacy of Iroquois tribes called their union the "extended lodge," as the groups of Cayuga, Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Seneca and other tribes viewed themselves as a kinship that enjoyed the fruits of the land, not exercising dominion over it. Many Finger Lakes towns and villages, and all of the lakes themselves bear names derived from Native American languages.

When the New World erupted in revolution, most of the Iroquois tribes sided with the British, and this had tragic repercussions for the Iroquois who were driven from the Finger Lakes by attacks from the Continental Army of the rebellious former colonies. After the Revolutionary War, many veterans were awarded land grants in a two million acre tract of land that stretched across the Finger Lakes and the surrounding area, and these settlers began farming the area, an industry that continues to this day.