Oneida Lake

Oneida Lake in the evening on a fall day.  From Sylvan Beach picnic area.
Oneida Lake in the evening on a fall day. From Sylvan Beach picnic area.

Located in Central New York, Oneida Lake is New York's largest body of water completely within New York's boundary at 79.8 square miles. It hosts to numerous types of recreational activities including boating, sailing, fishing, swimming, beaching and more. Many boaters are aware that the lake's shallow depth provide warm summer waters, produces full live-wells of fish and recently has hosted Bassmaster Tournaments. These same shallow depths have frustrated boaters unaware of the numerous shoals and produces steep waves that prevent crossing the lakes during a heavy wind. Along its length there are numerous parks, beaches and other attractions for the boater and non-boater alike.

Oneida Lake has been a critical part of the route from the eastern seaboard to the Great Lakes and Canada for thousands of years; that was until 1825 when the Erie Canal opened. The original Erie Canal bypassed the lake to the south, and for almost 100 years Oneida Lake played a secondary role in westward navigation. During this time Oneida Lake was intermittently connected to the east and west through the Oneida Lake Canal, Oneida Lake Enlarged Canal, and Oneida River Improvement. These connections allowed the lake's economy to flourish as a raw materials and canal boats were exported. The lake also served as a vacation spot for those from the area looking to get away for a weekend or week-long vacation. The modern barge canal changed this again and Oneida Lake is once again the lake as a passageway to the west, but Oneida Lake is much more than a link to the west, its a destination in and of itself.

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Oneida Lake Towns

Sylvan Beach
Sylvan Beach is the most well known place on Oneida Lake and it is the local summer resort town at the corner of the beach and the canal as they say. As a small resort town, there is numerous things to do nearly every day of the week. There is the beach, amusement park, many restaurants, campgrounds, stores, marinas, car nights (Thursdays), bike nights (Tuesdays), music nights (Wednesdays) and much much more.
On the south side of the canal is Verona Beach State Park which offers another beach with waterfront camping and a day-use park on eastern shore.
Brewerton
Brewerton is a large town at western end of lake where the canal and Oneida River leaves the lake. This is a busy town with two public docks and numerous marinas, restaurants, stores and other things to do. There is a replica fort in town as well as one of the three lighthouses on the lake. Oneida Shores County Park is also a local favorite with swimming, camping, pavilions and four hard surface ramps (fee applies).
Constantia
Constantia is a small village on the northern shore of the lake. It is home to a state fish hatchery and Taft Bay Park. The park offers numerous activities including swimming, but there are no docks so on must either travel by car or swim/dingy ashore. Also at the park near the road is a war memorial which is worth a visit.
Cleveland
Cleveland is another small village on the northern shore. Most notably the village is the home to the free state boat launch at Godfrey Point and Cleveland Dock which is a semi-protected canal terminal wall. For those traveling by road, Cleveland Memorial Park is a nice place to stop for lunch overlooking the water.

Oneida Lake Parks and Attractions

The children's playground at Chapman Park.
The children's playground at Chapman Park.
Chapman Park in the town of Sullivan is a large park with many different attractions. This well maintained park is open and enjoyable year round. The park is located on the southern shore of Oneida Lake. Park closes at 8:00 PM. Lifeguards are on duty from Late-June to Mid-August, Noon - 7:00PM. Things to do: swim (in season), play soccer, softball/baseball, tennis, basketball, use the playgrounds, pavilions, geocache and more.
Chapman Park Sign
Chapman Park Sign
Directions from west: Take State Route 31 towards and through Bridgeport, once the speed picks up to 55 MPH, after about 2 miles, Chapman Park will be on your left. If you enter Lakeport, you have gone too far. If the gates are closed, feel free to use the park, park in the available parking lots, and walk. Please do not block the gates.
Directions from east: Take State Route 31 towards and through Lakeport. After about 1 mile Chapman Park will be on your right. If you enter Bridgeport you went too far. If the gates are closed, feel free to use the park, park in the available parking lots, and walk. Please do not block the gates.
  • Toad Harbor -- Fishing spot on northern shore.
  • William Park -- Small park on southern shore for swimming and relaxing.
  • Three Mile Bay -- A off the beaten path park with beach and car top boat launch.

Old Oneida Lake Canals

An early postcard of the outlet of Wood Creek into Oneida Lake.
An early postcard of the outlet of Wood Creek into Oneida Lake.

Oneida Lake played an important part of the canal network of New York long before the current Erie Canal used the lake as part of its course. There were two canals constructed at different times on the eastern end of the lake and another canal that used the Oneida River from Brewerton to Three Rivers which was then the Oswego Canal.

1835 Canal: Sylvan Beach to Higginsville

The first Oneida Lake Canal was competed in 1835, ten years after the completion of the Erie Canal, and connected Sylvan Beach to the old Erie Canal that ran south of the lake by a few miles. The Oneida Lake Canal connected to the Erie Canal in Higginsville at the present day location of Sidecut Road. The canal remains are still visible along the length of the road. The canal continued until it joined Wood Creek and then it turned west and used the creek to the opening of Oneida Lake. Unfortunately this canal fell into disarray; the locks leaked terribly, the junction between the canal and lake was always being filled in with shifting sand bars and the towpath was in poor shape. It was deemed better to abandon the canal than enlarge it when the Erie Canal was enlarged. 1863 was the last year for navigation on this route.

1877 Canal: South Bay to Durhamville

The new enlarged canal, completed in 1877 after many years of governmental issues, would be south-west of the former Oneida Lake Canal and connect to the Old Erie Canal in Durhamville. The new canal ran nearly straight to Oneida Lake which would shorten the distance by about 2 miles. The new canal was located about 100 feet west of Lake Road and the canal street junction in Durhamville. There it was a nearly straight shot to what is now Oneida Lake Marina. Unfortunately this route was plagued with problems due to poor craftsmanship and quicksand which created many breaches in the canal walls. There were very few boats that used this route as it was closed on and off in 1877 and 1878, and never opened again. The canal was eventually abandoned with the property returning to the previous owners. This is perhaps one of the worst canal failures both financially and in design in New York's history.

The remains of the newer Oneida Lake Canal can be found at Oneida Lake Marina where there are two locks remaining, one of which is the foundation to the club house.

Oneida River Improvement: Brewerton to Three Rivers

The Oneida River Canal (also referred to as the Oneida River Improvement) was completed in 1850 after about 15 years of the local people petitioning the State Government to build it. It was used by steamboats to facilitate trade on Oneida Lake, especially when the Oneida Lake Canal was not in use. 1874 saw an enlarging of the canal to that of the enlarged Erie Canal and the waterway was used until the new barge Canal, using this canal, made this old canal obsolete.

Modern Barge Canal

In the late 1800s it was evident that the Erie Canal, already enlarged once from its original condition, would need another enlargement. Three options were seriously considered. First was to enlarge the existing canal by digging it deeper, but not wider. This was the cheap solution, but most thought it would only be a temporary solution.

The other two options were far more radical, and they included Oneida Lake. Two larger canals, a ship canal for ocean going ships and a smaller barge canal. The barge canal was chosen and it would utilize the rivers and lakes of the state. This route would once again put Oneida Lake on the water highway to the west, on nearly the same route used for hundreds of years before the Erie Canal.

The barge canal enters Oneida Lake in through the Wood Creek valley from Rome. The creek was straightened and dredged to a 14 feet depth. The Wood Creek outlet at Sylvan Beach that once plagued the original Oneida Lake Canal with shifting sand bars was protected by a pair of break walls. These break walls protected the canal entrance from both waves and sand from filling the channel. When constructed, the northern pier extended into the lake and allowed one to walk out on the pier. Unfortunately ice damage overs the year has eroded this pier and while it still functions as a break wall, it no longer is able to be walked on. The southern pier was eventually removed, and there is no surface evidence of this pier today. Boating entering the canal here at night cannot miss the Lighthouse. It is set perfectly so that boaters crossing the lake head straight for it.

The course across the the lake was obvious, the shallow lake had a straight deep line to Brewerton. To facilitate the lumber and other resources on the northern shore of the lake, a terminal was constructed on Cleveland. There is also a small lighthouse and break wall located here.

Passing the islands to the north, once sees the second lighthouse on the lake. Located on Frenchman's island, an unimproved state park, this lighthouse provides boaters a beacon for finding right course through this shallow area.

Finally the canal enters the Oneida River at Brewerton. The entrance here is a bit different today than when it was constructed. Today one enters the canal section at the Interstate 81, but before the 1960s, there was no Interstate 81. This is the reason why the Brewerton Lighthouse is set at its current location.

Once past the bridge, there are two terminals. One pier with floating dock and a second traditional type, the former on the northern shore, the latter on the southern shore. Once past here one passes a cottages until the junction between the artificial canal to Lock E23 and the main river. The river section is partially navigable, at the end is a dam which controls the level of Oneida Lake.

Of interest at this dam is the old Caughdenoy Lock. Located on the southern side of the dam, this lock once allowed steamboats to bring people, boats and barges from Oneida Lake down to Three Rivers where it connected to the Oswego Canal. From there, boats could connect to the Erie Canal or Lake Ontario.

Boat launches, docking, anchorages and marinas on Oneida Lake

Godfrey Point DEC boat launch in Cleveland.
Godfrey Point DEC boat launch in Cleveland.

Public boat launches

Free public walls

  • Sylvan Beach - North and south side of canal, no services.
  • Brewerton - North (west of route 11 bridge--closed due to collapse) and south (east of route 11 brige) of canal, no services.
  • Cleveland - Old terminal wall, no services.

Anchorages

  • Sylvan Beach - Any warm sunny day is not complete without anchoring in front of Sylvan Beach and enjoy the good life.
  • Three Mile Bay - One of the last undeveloped parts of the lake and home to a wildlife preserve.
  • Frenchman's Island - A natural state park and one of only a handful of reasonably sized islands on the lake. There is a dock on the south side of the island and it's worth a walk around the island to see a lighthouse up close. Watch depths carefully.

Marinas

  • The River Rat Marina, 9688 Theisen Road, Brewerton, NY 13029, (315) 668-5041
  • Snug Harbor, Route 13, Verona Beach, NY 13162, (315) 762-5104
  • Lone Pine Marina & Campground, 600 16th Ave., PO Box 501, Sylvan Beach, NY 13157, (315) 762-5544
  • Hughes Harbor, RD 4 Box 293 Route 31, Canastota, NY 13032, (315) 697-9484
  • Skinner's Harbor, PO Box 504, Pioneer Ave, Sylvan Beach, NY 13157, (315) 762-0112
  • Holmes Marina, PO Box 174, Verona Beach, NY 13403, (315) 762-4232
  • Callahan's Marina, Route 31 RR 4 Box 298, Canastota, NY 13032, (315) 697-7470
  • Oneida Lake Marina, RD 4, Box 265, Rt. 31, Canastota, NY 13032, (315) 762-4865
  • Johnny's Pier 31, RD 4, Box 286, Canastota, NY 13032, (315) 697-7007
  • Lakeport Marina Inc., 2025 State Route 31, Chittenango, NY 13037, (315) 633-8153
  • Marion Manor, RD 4, Box 230, Canastota, NY 13032, (315) 762-4810
  • Fisher Bay Marina, PO Box 537, Bridgeport, NY 13030, (315) 633-9657
  • Trade-A-Yacht, 613 County Rt. 37, Brewerton, NY 13029, (315) 676-3531
  • Anchorage Marina, PO Box 8, Bridgeport, NY 13030, (315) 699-2978
  • Aero Marina, 9080 Beach Rd., Brewerton, NY 13029, (315) 699-7736
  • Johnson Bay Marina, 150 McLoud Rd., West Monroe, NY 13167, (315) 668-3453
  • Tri-Bridge Marina, 32 Weber Road, Central Square, NY 13036, (315) 676-2171
  • Brewerton Boat Yards, PO Box 583, Brewerton, NY 13029, (315) 676-3762
  • Ess-Kay Yardd Inc., PO Box 68, Brewerton, NY 13029, (315) 676-2711
Oneida Lake Region
Pages Oneida Lake HomepageSylvan BeachBrewertonClevelandConstantia
Parks Verona Beach State ParkSylvan Beach Picnic AreaChapman Park, Sullivan Toad Harbor William Park Three Mile BayOneida Shores
Public boat ramps Oneida Lake South Shore Boat LaunchGodfrey PointOneida Shores Three Mile Bay
Erie Canal
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