Welles' Point and Ingersoll's Point
on Keuka Lake
from Country Margins and Rambles of a Journalist, 1855
Let us pass along down on the eastern shore, close along under the hill. The land is rugged here, the hill rising in steep acclivity several hundred feet. It is early morning. See how the sunlight first rests upon the hills on the western side of the lake. Remember it is all woods there; see the shadow retreating in a long line down the side of the hill; see, it has reached the water. It is ten o'clock, and we are still in the shade. We are five miles from the head of the lake, in a beautiful little bay under the lee of "Welles' Point" The clearing that we see, is that of Dr. Welles, the father of the Hon. Henry Welles, one of the Judges of the Supreme Court.
Dr. Welles was one of the pioneers of the region along the lake. He was a man of energy and learning, and of infinite usefulness in the early settlement of the country. This is the only clearing in sight, save that from which we started. (We are speaking of times "long ago.") His log house stands back from the bay in which our canoe is floating. I have, when a child, accompanied my father and mother on a visit to Dr. Welles—not in a carriage, along a pleasant road skirted by green fields, but in a canoe or skiff; my mother seated in the stem with a trolling line in her hand, with a hook a hundred feet or more behind her; myself seated in the bow and my father rowing. I have travelled that way more than once, listening to the songs that my father and mother sang as we sailed along, and have seen her draw in many a trout on the way. Good old times those, when the men in that region "chopped down and chopped up" acres and acres of woods; when they "sheared their own fleece and wore it."
Let us rest in this little bay and talk of the times of old, when everything was wild and natural, before steamboats came ploughing their way through these waters, or the scream of the steam-whistle was heard....
See those stately old elms on the point, how they tower up towards the sky, stretching abroad their leafy arms in dalliance with the summer winds, and casting their morning shadows away out on the water. They grew there from the seed planted by the hand of nature, and where they stand others as gigantic have grown, till weakened by decay or riven by the lightning, the storm hurled them to the ground, to rot where they fell. In the times of old the deer crouched in the heat of noon in their shade. The elk may have browsed upon the tender plants beneath them, or the bear clambered up their great trunks. But they are gone now, and the willow, and smaller shrubbery planted by the hand of man, occupy their place. Strange that those stately old elms should have been removed to give place to trees of a lower dignity, and a meaner growth. Strange that when civilization sweeps away the old forests, it does not leave more of the ancient monarchs of the woods standing where they grew, as memorials of its triumphs over nature, and as witnesses of the achievements of human strength and labor.
Let us pass on down the lake. I must remind you that we have swept away these fields, and houses, and barns. We have restored the forest in its primitive grandeur. We have banished the horses, and cattle, and sheep, and have called back the wild animals that belonged here in the times of old.
Five miles below "Welles' Point" we enter another little bay or cove, formed by a point of land running far out into the lake. I was here more than thirty years ago. It was all wild then, all woods. There was neither farm-house nor clearing in sight. On the voyage round the lake with the two Englishmen, as before mentioned, we rowed silently round this point, and saw a noble deer swimming out from the shore, as if starting across the lake. He had antlers like a stag, and when we came in sight, he wheeled towards the shore with the snort of a war-horse. The Englishmen had a rifle along, and as he was almost at the shore, one of them fired upon and killed him. He was a noble animal. We dined upon venison that day, and a more delicious meal I have never tasted, though it was cooked in a primitive way, by a fire built on the shore of the lake.
From this little bay let us cross over to Bluff Point. We are opposite to it now. See how it looms up towards the sky, covered with a dense forest. The top of that hill is the highest land in sight, by hundreds of feet. It is no mountain peak, piercing, in stately barrenness, the heavens, but a rounded promontory, rising on three sides from the water, and seems to us, as we look upon it, like a great island in the midst of the lake. It seems close by us, and yet to reach its base we must row a mile and a half. See how the "West Branch" winds around, and seems to hide away behind and among the hills. Look away off towards Penn Yan. There, too, the lake seems to steal around behind high promontories, to lose itself in the forest of great trees. It was a beautiful view from this point "long ago," and it is beautiful still. Then it was romantic and wild, as nature made it, with all the old things standing round, as she placed them when she threw this earth finished from her hands. Now it is robbed of its ancient dress, and decorated by the ingenuity, the labor, and the industry of man. Fields are where forests stood, and the things that civilization gathers around it, make up the landscape.
Which is the more beautiful, I leave others to determine. For myself, I love nature in her old primitive garments, and I love civilization with her smiling, though painted face. I love the old woods, and I love the fields. I love the wild things, and I love the tame things too. All I bargain for is to leave me the birds, the happy, the free, the sweet-voiced birds. You may sweep away the forests. It is best that they should be removed. It is necessary for the progress, and to meet the necessities of humanity. Launch your steamboats upon the lake and river, and send forth your iron horse, thundering along the valleys, spread out your farms, push back the woods with the fields, build your cities and towns, destroy the deer and the wild animals that must perish with the forests, but leave me the birds, the happy singing-birds, and I am content.
We will now row westward, around the base of Bluff Point, six miles to the head of the West Branch. On both sides of the branch the hills rise with greater or less acclivity, but nowhere so steep as to prevent cultivation. At the head of the branch is a beautiful valley stretching away to the northwest, through the centre of which winds a small stream alive with the speckled trout. Pines, and elms, and oaks, with the wild cherry, butternut and maple trees, constitute the principal growth of timber. Remember we are speaking still of "long, long ago." There is a neat village here now surrounded by rich farms. It was all forest when I passed a night on the banks here on my first voyage round the lake. We will pass along south again on our return to the head of the lake. The hill on the west side of the lake and the rising grounds for miles were covered with a forest of pines. High-growing stately trees, like the masts of a tall ship. No axe had as yet marred their beauty, and they stood here clothed in fadeless green, and murmuring softly and solemnly as the breeze stirred in their foliage. This forest of pines has been swept away, and you see fields of grain and pastures, and meadows where they stood.
We pass along to Ingersoll's Point, three miles from the head of the lake. We will land here, and see how this point of land was formed. We go a few rods on the main land, and we enter a ravine or gulf as it is called. The hill-side is steep, but we walk on a level straight into the hill. A little stream goes laughing along over the smooth stones. It is tranquil and pleasant now, good-humored and gay; but when the snows are melting and the spring freshets come, it is a mad and a mighty torrent, roaring and foaming down the gorge, vast in volume and resistless in power. The rocks begin to rise on either hand higher and higher, and as we advance a perpendicular wall of slate rock rises on either side to the height of a hundred feet Before us now the little stream trickles with a gentle voice down the shelving rocks, from away up towards the top of the hill, leaping from ledge to ledge. Our progress is stayed here, unless we choose to climb where a false step or a slip on the smooth rock would send us skiving in the gulf below. It is a good sight when the "stream is up," to see how it cascades down from the plain above into the gorge below, rushing and tumbling, and roaring in white foam over the beetling rocks. "Ingersoll's Point," and the acre of flat land stretching out into the lake, were made by the earth excavated from the hillside by the stream when its back was up.
Captain GREIG is in his element to-day. He has a pic-nic party on board from Penn Yan, and they dine here on "Ingersoll's Point" He has a company of a hundred "fair women and brave men," married and single, all cheerful and happy. They have a band on board, and quadrilles, and waltzes, and polkas occupy the young people, while the elders look on, and like myself, think of the times when they were young, when the "went out a gypsying," and were merry in the dance. The dinner was spread on "the point," under the shadows of the brave old elms and on the green grass beneath their spreading branches. Towards evening all were on board again, and the steamer started out on her return voyage. As the sun went down we swept across the head of the lake, in view of the pleasant village of Hammondsport, and then headed away for Penn Yan. The darkness came down calmly and stilly. The winds were hushed, not a ripple was on the water save the long wake to the rear of the boat. It was a pleasant thing to hear the echoes that came back from the hills, returning with a mellow harmony the-music of the band; and it was pleasanter still to look upon the happy faces of the young people as they glided about in the mazes of the dance, or chatted in the fullness of their glee. That was an evening to be remembered, the return of that party from their pic-nic on "Ingersoll's Point"
I bid good-bye to the Crooked Lake with regret. I could linger here for months, busy with old memories and scenes of the "long, long ago"—scenes that like our youth belong to the returnless past, to be recalled only in fancy, that can come back to us only in dreams of the night