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History of Honeoye Lake

Honeoye Lake and the Honeoye Lake Watershed are a beautiful backdrop for the residents, anglers and boaters who enjoy the local waters. The Honeoye Lake Watershed Task Force was formed in 1998 by the Honeoye Valley Association, the Towns of Canadice, Richmond, Bristol, South Bristol and Naples to protect and improve the water quality of Honeoye Lake. Honeoye Lake is a naturally nutrient-rich―or ”eutrophic” ―system due to its shallow depths. Here you can read about the history of Honeoye Lake and see historic photos of the landscape.

Aerial image of Honeoye Lake south end

Sewer system installed around Honeoye Lake

Organizational meeting to form Honeoye Valley Association.

Mechanical harvesting of weed beds starts in Honeoye Lake.

Formation of Honeoye Lake Watershed Task Force (HLWTF)

Zebra mussels discovered in Honeoye Lake.  Shell size suggests an introduction 1 year prior.

HLWTF publishes The Honeoye Lake Book: a Guide for protecting the Life of Our Lake.

HLWTF did an Alum treatment of deep-water sediment in Honeoye Lake to reduce legacy phosphorus release from lake bottom sediments. Project completed in 2007.

HLWTF publishes Honeoye Lake Watershed Management Plan.

HLWTF publishes Honeoye Lake Macrophyte Management Plan.

Princeton Hydro publishes Hydrologic and Nutrient Budgets for Honeoye Lake Inlet and Honeoye Lake.

HLWTF, Ontario County Soil & Water Conservation District, and other partners begin the Honeoye Lake Inlet Restoration Project.


NYS DEC publishes Honeoye Lake Harmful Algal Bloom (HABs) Action Plan.

Town of Richmond completes public water project.

NYS DEC publishes Total Maximum Daily Load for Phosphorus.

Town of Canadice completes public water project.

HLWTF and Ontario County Planning Department receive a NYS DEC WQIP Grant award for hiring a lake management consultant to evaluate and perform the necessary engineering work for an Aeration Destratification System as recommended in DEC HABS Action Plan and TMDL Report


















How has the landscape in the Honeoye Lake Watershed changed over the years?

aerial image of Honeoye Lake

Looking North on Honeoye Lake in the 1940's

Looking at Honeoye Lake from Harriett Hollister Recreational Area

Looking North on Honeoye Lake in 2018

The Honeoye Lake Book: Honeoye Lake Story

Honeoye Lake is situated in the Finger Lakes region of New York State approximately 30 miles south of Rochester. Contributing to the water in the lake is a watershed area that covers 36.7 square miles. This area includes parts of six towns in two counties: Bristol, Canadice, Naples, Richmond, and South Bristol in Ontario County; Springwater in Livingston County. Canadice and Richmond have frontage on the lake. Of the approximately 1500 homes in the watershed, 970 are located on Honeoye Lake. The watershed does not include any state highways, but does have numerous county and town roads. The Honeoye Inlet, flowing year round, is the largest tributary feeding the Lake. Other major tributaries, flowing seasonally, include Briggs Gully Creek, Bray Gully Creek and Affolter Gully Creek. Honeoye Lake waters flow out through Honeoye Creek to the Genesee River, which then empties into Lake Ontario.

The Human History of Honeoye Lake

The first inhabitants of the Honeoye Lake watershed (circa 1000 BC) were the nomadic Point Peninsula people who buried their dead at the northeast end of the lake, called the Morrow Site by archaeologists. This burial ground proved to be a favorite residence also. The remains of several small villages of later cultures have been found on the west side. The Owascos, descendants of the Point Peninsulas,resided in this area 1500 years ago. They, like their predecessors, were dependent on hunting and fishing for food. 

The Senecas, "Keepers of the Western Door" of the Iroquois Confederacy, followed the Owascos and introduced agriculture to the region. They cleared the flat land north of the lake and planted fruit trees, corn, squash and beans. It was the Senecas who gave the lake its name, Hannayaye, meaning "finger laying there". Their domain lasted until 1779 when Sullivan's Army, intent on destroying the power of the Iroquois, burned their village and crops.

Sullivan's soldiers, returning to their New England homes, had high praise for the beautiful land and fertile soil they had seen. After the end of the Revolutionary War, the Phelps and Gorham purchase of two million acres in western New York created much interest in acquiring land in the area. The subsequent Deighton Purchase led to settlement in the Bristol and South Bristol area. The Town of Bristol, name after Bristol County, Massachusetts, was formed in 1789. South Bristol divided from Bristol in 1838.

By lottery, Captain Peter Pitts drew 3,000 acres at the north end of the lake on May 31, 1789, his sons, Gideo and William, became the first pioneers to settle the area. The remainder of the Pitts family arrived later and, for three years, were the only inhabitants. By 1795, others from New England and New Jersey had begun to migrate into the region. Among them were Aaron Hunt, after whom Hunt's Hollow is named, and Jacob Holdren, the first settler of Canadice. 

Initially called Pittstown, then Honeoye, and finally Richmond in 1815, the town originally encompassed present-day Richmond, Canadice, Livonia and part of Consesus. Livonia became a separate township in 1808 and Canadice in 1829. From the earliest days, the main occupation of the inhabitants was farming. Pioneers hewed timber, cleared land and planted crops. The dense, virgin forest gradually disappeared, replaced by cultivated fields and pastureland.

A primary requisite in meeting the needs of an agricultural region was mills to grind grain and saw lumber. The first mill was constructed on Mill Creek. In 1812, a millrace was dug from the north end of the lake to the hamlet of Honeoye, which soon became the center of commercial trade. Hunt's Hollow and Canadice Corners were the only other concentrated residential areas in the watershed, but neither ever showed significant growth. 

The population peaked in 1840 and declined thereafter. Early pioneers, who stayed, added to their acreage, became substantial landowners and passed their properties on to descendants. Several attempts were made in Richmond and Canadice to entice railroads through their towns to boost the economy and promote growth. Because of the steep countryside, however, efforts were futile. For nearly a century, residents remained relatively self-sufficient and primarily native-born.

A few spots on the lake, particularly Bray's Point on the east side, were popular for picnics, boating and fishing. By the early 1900's, a scattering of summer cottages dotted the water's edge, but most of the lands bordering the shoreline were still mainly agricultural.

In 1924, a syndicate known as the C.L.B. Corporation, which owned the Times Union Newspaper, purchased extensive property on the East Lake Road. A subdivision, comprising hundreds of 20 by 50-foot lots with beach privileges, was established. The cost to a buyer, having a six-month subscription to the Times Union, was $15.00 or $17.50 for the more choice lots. (For this reason, locals to this day call the area the "Times Union Tract".) The next year, Dr. Claude Burdette developed the first restricted subdivision, known as the California Ranch Subdivision. 

On July 17, 1926, all interest in Honeoye Lake as a recreational area came to a halt when the City of Rochester announced its intention to acquire the lake as a source of its water supply. The hamlet of Honeoye and lands to the north were to be submerged, creating a sixteen-mile reservoir. In litigation for years, Rochester eventually gained approval from the State of New York to begin the project, but in 1935, decided to obtain water from Lake Ontario instead. Almost immediately, there was an upsurge in demand for Honeoye Lake property. This trend continued until World War II erupted. 

The era after the war's end marked the beginning of lakeside development. Improved roads and means of transportation contributed to this trend. By the mid-1950's, undeveloped frontage had nearly disappeared and summer cottages filled the shoreline. In the higher elevations of Canadice overlooking the lake, impressive homes and lodges appeared.

The years after WWII also signaled the end of agriculture as a principal occupation of the watershed. A booming economy and industrial expansion lured residents away from farms to higher paying hobs in Rochester. Mortgaged farms were abandoned. Descendants of longtime landowners commenced selling ancestral holdings. Buyers were mainly from urban or suburban communities. Houses rose behind lake frontage and on the slopes.

In 1962, the Chamber of Commerce organized  winter carnival to "put Honeoye on the map". The event became so popular that in 1971 over 50,000 visitors participated, tying up traffic for miles. Some cars never reached Honeoye. This was the last year the event was held, since it had become too large for the small community to support. 

Harriet Hollister Spencer State Recreation Area, a 678-acre expanse in Canadice, opened in 1966. A state boat launch at the southeast end and town-owned Sandy Bottom Park at the north end provided public access to the lake. The completion of a perimeter sewer system in 1978 reduced water pollution that had plagued the area for nearly a century. In the 1980's, conversion of summer cottages to year-round homes, demolition and rebuilding of structures, and construction of hillside residences escalated - a trend that has continued through the present decade.

Some second-growth timber has been thinned, yet much remains. On the east side, at the southern end of lake and on higher elevations in Canadice and Hunt's Hollow, forests conserve water and protect against soil erosion.

Book cover of "Life on the Working Man's Lake"

If you want to learn more about the history of Honeoye Lake, go to the Honeoye Public Library and check out Life on a Working Man’s Lake compiled by Marcia Young and edited by Emily McFaul.

aerial image of Honeoye Lake looking north
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