Where the Lake Turns Aside: Irondequoit Bay at Dusk

Where the Lake Turns Aside: Irondequoit Bay at Dusk

Photography and text by George Cassidy Payne

Because parks have closing hours and even the most dedicated fishermen must go home to their own beds, there are certain times when Irondequoit Bay is rarely seen by the lens of a camera. These hours are lonely and forbidding. The puddles along the trails feel deep and fresh, as if the woods are occupied by lurking mammoths. And in the cold breeze the shadowy presence of ghosts can be felt hovering above the water.

The sign at the bottom of the hill, the one near the Kayak shop, says, “From Irondequoit Bay, Indian trails led southward to Seneca villages and on to the Ohio country. “

At dusk, when the air thins and the sky turns a dark lavender, those footsteps no longer feel so historic after all; they are no longer cultural artifacts left over like molds from the 17th century. They are here. They breath. They move through the Hawthorne trees. They are as absent and as real as the empty bench on the bank of the marsh.

“During the past million years there were four glacial ages that covered the Rochester area with ice and impacted the geography of the area. The most recent glacier that left evidence here was about 100,000 years ago and it caused compression of the earth by as much as 2,500 feet (760 m).About 12,000 years ago, the area underwent massive changes, which included the rerouting of the Genesee River and other water bodies. Since the earth rebounded from the melting glaciers more rapidly in Canada than in New York, water from Lake Ontario was spilled over New York due to its lower elevation. During this time, the original outlet of the Genesee River was flooded out, creating Irondequoit Bay.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irondequoit_Bay

“In the spring of 1687 at his headquarters in Montreal, the Marquis Denonville and his staff poured over maps, even as Dwight Eiesenhower and his staff did in 1944. The Marquis jabbed a forefinger at a place on the map. “there,” he said, “is O-nyui-da-on-da-gwat, the bay of the Senecas, the gateway to their empire. ”

Elevation : 250 feet Area: 1,660 acres Shoreline Length: 17.7 miles Max Depth: 73 feet Town: Irondequoit, Penfield, and Webster

“At Sea Breeze, where Culver Road ends, is a historical marker. It tells the site of Fort Des Sables, “fort of the sands,” that the French built in 1718. In Ellison Park, just off Landing Road and on a hill over-looking Irondequiot Creek is a log “trading post” erected by the Boy Scouts. It is on the site of Fort Schuyler, built by the English in 1721 to offset the menace of the French fortress. It commanded all the trails and the waterway. Ten soldiers under Capt. Peter Schuyler Jr. of Albany manned it for a year. Then it was abandoned.” (http://www.irondequoitbay.com/history/history.htm

“On a French map of the area from 1688 titled “Le Lac Ontario” Irondequoit Bay was referred to as the “swamp of the Senecas“. Prior to the 1840s, the bay was known as “Teoronto Bay.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irondequoit_Bay

“This area was part of the Phelps-Gorham purchase. These two men, veterans of the Revolution, had purchased approximately all of western New York. Irondequoit, then part of Brighton, was section 34. Settlement was slow but intrepid pioneers, like Alexander Hooker, Sylvester Woodman, the Rogers Family, and the Costichs ignored the struggles of the marshy land teeming with wolves, bears, and rattlesnakes. They drained the swamps, cleared the land and planted their crops. Still in 1839, when the town was founded three quarters of the land was still untouched. However, by the end of the century, this step-child of Brighton was known as the garden spot of western New York, famed for its peaches, superb melons, and vineyards on the slopes of Irondequoit Bay, truck farms that produced celery, tomatoes, cucumbers, asparagus and numerous other vegetables. The Rudman family were known as the peach kings of western New York. Produce stands, such as Wambach’s and Aman’s, still satisfy customers today.” (http://www.irondequoit.org/about/history-of-irondequoit

How Could Such a Small River Cut This Huge Bay? 1| The Danville River once flowed through here before glaciers advanced across the area. It was this large river that cut the bay. 2| Danville River dammed by glacial deposits. 3| Flow diverted to Genesee River channel. 4| Rising post-glacial lake floods the ancient valley. 5| Irondequoit Creek drains into remnant valley. Arrivals 1788- American Oliver Phelps acquires title to the bay. 1741- English buy the bay from the Senecas. 1721- English build Fort Schuyler. 1717- Fort de Sables built by French as a trading post. 1687- Denonville’s attack. 1679- Las Salle’s third visit. Father Hennepin builds chapel. 1678- La Salle’s second visit. 1669- La Salle explores the bay the first time. 1612- Bay appears on Champlain’s map. 1610- Etienne Brule first European to see the bay. https://www.hmdb.org/marker.asp?marker=108625

What is lurking in the history books of our nation?

I kinda like the blurriness of this one. It lends the photo an ethereal feeling. The tree is being pulled by two worlds.

George Cassiday Payne

George Cassidy Payne

SEE ALSO Charlotte High’s unparalleled and almost lost murals

One of the Carl Peter's murals depicting Native Americans and early European exporers, in Charlotte High School. The French, 1615-1763: The Explorers of the Genesee and Gov. Denonville’s Army

In Charlotte High School, one of the Carl Peter’s murals depicting Native Americans and early European explorers. The French, 1615-1763: The Explorers of the Genesee and Gov. Denonville’s Army. From Charlotte High’s unparalleled and almost lost murals

About The Author


Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History and a Storyteller in Residence at the SmallMatters Institute. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, the CITY, Lake Affect Magazine and Brighton Connections. My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.


Like what you see on our site? We’d appreciate your support. Please donate today.

Featured Posts


%d bloggers like this: