Editor’s Note: This is the second installment in our ongoing series chronicling the rich history of Cortland County.
Many thanks to the Cortland County Historical Society, who provided us with access to photos and old texts. Click here to read our first installment: “Throwback Thursday: 12 old photos of life in downtown Cortland“
CORTLAND, N.Y. – Before the advent of canals and railroads, the Tioughnioga River served as a useful shipping route for Central New York that flowed towards larger markets.
A 34-mile long tributary of the Chenango River that flows through Cortland and Broome counties, permanent settlers began arriving at the waterway in the late 1700s. The name “Tioughnioga” derives from the native word for “forks of the river” or “meeting of waters”.
At the head of the river, just northwest of the center of Cortland County, was the village of Port Watson, which served as a primary shipping route in the region. It was eventually incorporated into the city of Cortland.
Today, the river is mainly used for fishing but also serves as a reminder of the rich history that exists in the county.
In “The History and Romance of the Tioughnioga River,” a short essay published in 1942, Eleanor Blanchard writes that the growth of a people depends largely upon its geography:
The marvelous chain of waterways, the Tioughnioga the mother stream…was bound to bring swift growth to the section which it drains. In other words the history of this ‘beautiful river with the Indian name,’ as some one calls it, is the history of the country through which it flows.
In her research, Blanchard found an old poem, published in Peterson’s Magazines in 1864, that offers a romantic picture of the river:
By Pliny Earl Hardy
Beautiful river, gentle stream
On whose banks I was wont to dream,
Watching the clouds of fleecy hue
Sailing so white o’er skies so blue
As, out at sea, the snow sails
Are safely borne by fragrant gales
Years have vanished away since then.
Still through woodland and glade and glen
Kissed by sunshine, the waters glide
From dewey morn to even tide
But I have learned that Eden lies
Beyond the gates of Paradise.
Through the valley with footsteps slow
Far from the shining hills I go.
Hope has folded her rosy hands.
Looking away to golden strands
Weary and sad I dream no more
Beautiful river, on thy green shore.
1 – Pine Street Bridge over Tioughnioga River, Homer
2 – Atkinson’s Gorge, East Homer Road
3 – Clinton Avenue dam
4 – The Tioughnioga River
5 – Cattle crossing, location unknown
6 – Old dam at old stone bridge rear of feed mill, Clinton Avenue, 1937
7 – “Shady Rest,” north of Cooper’s Foundry
8 – The C. W. Strait family, 1905
9 – “On the Tioughnioga”