Otsego Lake is a 9-mile long, 1.5-mile wide (at its widest, near Hyde Bay) spring-fed clear body of water, 160 feet at its deepest -- the largest lake the closest to New York City -- that was formed by the glaciers, as were the similar but larger Finger Lakes in western New York, in the beginning of time. The buildup of silt at the southern end created a base for the Village of Cooperstown, founded in 1766 by Judge William Cooper, the father of the writer James Fenimore Cooper. The novelist grew up on these shores and formed his ideas about the wilderness here 200 years ago, pounding them home in his epic novels. Much of the geographic features Cooper wrote about in two of his Leatherstocking Tales -- The Pioneers and The Deerslayer -- remain intact and visible from the Lake, their fictional names as well as their descriptions unchanged through the years: Natty Bumppo's Cave; The Dugway; Sunken Island; Leatherstocking Falls; and above all The Glimmerglass itself.
The Lake, known early as the headwaters of the Susquehanna River, which flows to the Chesapeake Bay, was a major transportation route for early settlers of upstate New York. It was here, at Council Rock, still visible near the beginning of the Susquehanna, that the Mohawk Indians, part of the Iroquois Nation, met with the various River tribes of the Susquehannock to confirm their fishing rights. Otsego also played a major role in the Sullivan-Clinton campaign during the American Revolution, enabling the Americans to clear the frontier of enemy combatants -- British loyalists and Indians -- who were living along the Susquehanna River. In the 19th century there were a number of steamships that carried passengers and mail from the Village at the south end to Springfield Center at the north, stopping along the way to pick up and discharge their cargoes.
Otsego Lake was given its name by the Iroquois Indians. It means "a meeting place by the water."
The west side of the Lake, less mountainous, has always been farmland, where wheat, barley and rye shared pasturage for sheep, cows, and hogs until the 1850s, at which time hops were introduced, creating a major industry until the early 20th century. Camps and a few larger summer houses were built in the 19th century along the shores. At the north end, Hyde Hall, a majestic neoclassical country seat of immense proportions, built between 1817 and 1835, occupies a place of honor just under Mt. Wellington (known locally as Sleeping Lion), commanding a strategic view all the way down the Lake to Cooperstown. The steeper east side, always wooded, is a serene backdrop for Kingfisher Tower, a miniature medieval tower built in 1876 and inspired by the European architecture along the River Rhine.
Otsego has an abundance of fish. Bass, a native species thought now to be extinct but once described by James Fenimore Cooper as a unique uniting of "the richness of the shad to the firmness of the salmon, of which there is no better example on earth," has given way to pickerel, large- and small-mouthed bass, walleyes, and salmon. There are also many carp and snapping and box turtles hiding in the reeds.
Birds today include Mergansers, Mallards, Loons, Canada Geese, Kingfishers, Killdeer, Hawks, Bald Eagles and the inevitable swan or two that strays off-course and often spends the winters here.
Otsego Lake has survived to this day largely unchanged from Cooper's time. Recently it has been heralded as the center of the newly formed Glimmerglass Historic District, the first such designated landscape district in New York State.
Please take care of our Lake.