“-Suddenly, as if a whirlwind had set down roots in the center of the town, the banana company arrived, pursued by the leaf storm. A whirling leaf storm had been stirred up, formed out of the human and material dregs of other towns, the chaff of a civil war that seemed ever more remote and unlikely. The whirlwind was implacable. It contaminated everything with its swirling crowd smell, the smell of skin secretion and hidden death. In less than a year it sowed over the town the rubble of many catastrophes that had come before it, scattering its mixed cargo of rubbish in the streets. And all of a sudden that rubbish, in time to the mad and unpredicted rhythm of the storm, was being sorted out, individualized, until what had been a narrow street with a river at one end and a corral for the dead at the other was changed into a different and more complex
town, created out of the rubbish of other towns.” -Gabriel Garcia Marquez; Leaf Storm, (p. #1)
Hemlock, New York - The fall comes and the leaves slowly begin to fall to the ground in the Western Finger Lakes region of Upstate, New York. Hemlock is one of those little such towns that populate the maps of this often mysterious region. There are many secrets about this old town that only a few people know, just like so many other places throughout the entire world. To say that Hemlock is rural would not be an exaggeration, however at the same time to say that Hemlock is undeveloped and untouched by humans would also be an understatement. At the risk of drawing attention to this sleepy little hamlet, I move forth - in hopes of sparking the passion and desire of those who realize the need for conservation and preservation.
Hemlock is an old town, with a long history of importance dating back before the conquest of what is now known as America and moreover as the United States of America. It is said that a long time ago, a glacier covered most of what is now Western, NY and as this glacier retreated it dug, what much later came to be known as the Finger Lakes. Although, it is believed that even before helicopters and planes started flying, and even before map makers made maps that one could buy and sell in a store, the native inhabitants of Western, NY knew that these lakes resembled the fingers of a hand way before Columbus started a genocide upon them.
Welcome to Hemlock, NY - officially known as the Hamlet of Hemlock, which to my understanding is actually (governmentally) a part of Livonia, NY. This place has had many names over time, but the name Hemlock has been the one history [sic] has favored. Some of the other names have been - Holden, Slab City, and perhaps something like O-Neh-Da Te-Car-Ne-O-Di, which means Up and Down the Hemlock. The name was given to this area from none other than the relation of Hemlock trees and the logging industry that developed along the shores of Hemlock Lake. No, these trees are not to be confused with the famous Hemlock poison of ancient Socrates philosophies. Hemlock trees are conifers, not plants like the one that eventually killed Socrates, but supposedly the tress are named Hemlock because of the resemblance of the smell between the poison and what later came to be known as Hemlock trees.
One of the main reasons why Hemlock, NY is such an important location is because it encompasses Hemlock Lake. If Hemlock Lake were a finger, it would be the second most western Finger Lake with the most western being Conesus. Hemlock Lake is only about a 5-10 minute drive from Conesus Lake, but it in reality they are worlds away. Conesus Lake - is like a human water park, similar to a theme park, i.e. Disney Land. Conesus Lake is a creation and test of a dense population living excessively around an important eco-system, this being the western most Finger Lake (okay, so maybe Disney Land is a little different, I actually don’t know because I’ve never been to Disney Land, nor plan on it). On the other hand, or should I say on the other finger (sorry for the lame pun), Hemlock Lake is almost completely untouched by humans destructive habits, making it one of only two Finger Lakes that are undeveloped. The other being, the neighboring Canadice Lake, which is about a 5 minute drive from Hemlock Lake and shares Hemlock Lakes astounding natural characteristics, with the exception of a couple of human blunders. The history of the area goes a little something like this.
D. Byron Waite, writes in O-Neh-Da Te-Car-Ne-O-Di or Up and Down the Hemlock, published in 1883 (p. #1, ):
“There is no lake in Western New York that has greater demands for our consideration, or is faster gaining notoriety as a summer resort than this. Its cool, refreshing air, its pure waters, its lovely scenes; its beautiful points and picturesque nooks, and these old hills,all unite in one inviting, persuasive voice for man [sic] to occasionally step away from the tiresome routine of life and enjoy more of Nature inher pristine beauty and healthfulness.”Waite is never short of talking up Hemlock Lake, making him seem to my modern eyes, like a property agent or advertiser from the late 1800's. He also goes on to say that Hemlock Lake is the “Most attractive of all the beautiful chain of lakes which adorn Western and Central New York.” In my opinion, he might just be right, but that is probably because I’m a native of Hemlock and take great pride in this area.
Furthermore - while, the idea of beauty is in the beholder, Waite’s idea of Hemlock has seemed to stand the test of time, unlike many of the other Finger Lakes. As stated earlier, Hemlock Lake and Canadice Lake are two of the only undeveloped Finger Lakes, making them the diamonds in the rough of the Finger Lakes. However, they are not without their faults inflicted upon them by human beings: for instance, in the middle 1900's, Canadice Lake was heavily polluted by the smelting of batteries (basically, melting the battery in order to obtain the metal, while dumping the remains). The fish and surrounding environment have always been known to carry small doses of pollutant, perhaps due to this smelting process (notice: this is not to be confused with smelting; as in netting smelt [fish] from a creek or body of water). Hemlock Lake was also known to once house over 200 cottages on its lake front, however this all changed when the City of Rochester forced the removal of cottages along the lakeshore in the 1920's. Now a days, no one lives there - and you’re not allowed to swim in the lake, take a boat over 16 feet or so, an engine over 10 horsepower, and even access the property without a permit from the City of Rochester, among some of the few regulations pertaining to this area. On the other hand, the permits are free and easy to obtain and serve more as an informational resource to strangers than seeming like an unwelcome letter.
Why is Hemlock Lake undeveloped? Well, the City of Rochester has the rights to the land and water that make up Canadice and Hemlock Lake, owning more than 7,000 acres in the surrounding area. Since 1876 the two lakes have been a steady source of drinking water for the City of Rochester, with a January 24th, 1876 newspaper headline reading "Glory! Hemlock Water at Last!" Thus, one can realize the sheer importance of protecting these vital sources of water from our often dangerous hands, for not only do the organisms who currently surround Hemlock Lake depend on its strength, but almost an entire city also depends on it for clean drinking water, among other things.
Not only is the water a symbol Hemlock Lake, but there is also a somewhat recently discovered old growth forest along the south-western shores of the lake. According to research, this is possibly one of the oldest and largest remaining old growth forests in all of North Eastern America, with some of the trees dating to more than 400 years old! As with all good news, there is the negative and this old growth forest is worth a lot of money in the eyes of capitalist loggers; after all how else did Hemlock receive its name. I have heard that around the year 2000, this forest could be logged for up to $8 million - but should one really put a price tag on something like this? In my opinion, the answer is clearly no. What will be the future of this old growth forest? Well, unfortunately I’m currently unable to tell you, because it seems that in my ever present attempts to dig up information, no one is responding to what is actually happening to the trees at Hemlock Lake. When, the old growths came to public knowledge in 2001 - logging was being planned and implemented in the area, but the City of Rochester did agree to a two-year moratorium on logging 212 acres of trees along Hemlock Lake, but this was back in 2002. So, what is happening now? Good question, I wish I knew - when this all started, if I remember correctly, I wrote to the president of the USA, and multiple government representatives urging them to protect Hemlock Lake, but as usual I only received a form letter in return, in some instances I received nothing at all. While this is sad, it is even more shocking to find out that when I wrote to local groups this past summer, who have worked on preserving Hemlock Lake, I didn’t even receive a form response letter of concern, but rather nothing! Meaning, that they either don’t know what is going on, don’t care to respond to my letter, didn’t receive it, or are just taking their sweet old time (being about 3 months now, perhaps more).
Hemlock will always hold a dear spot in my heart for I have spent the majority of my life searching, adventuring, and finding the hidden joy of life within the wilderness of Hemlock. There are many things to hold dear - some of the few I’ve found about this small town have been: 1. the fact that 15 years ago one of, if not the only place to find a nesting Bald Eagle in New York State was at the south end of Hemlock Lake, now there are a couple more and they are moving to places outside of Hemlock 2. The series of three large waterfalls that run into Hemlock Lake 3. The black bears that lurk through the night and are said to inhabit the area surrounding Hemlock 4. The coyotes that howl in the night, unfortunately folks in Hemlock have been known to shoot them 5. The old ghost town that is behind the town of Hemlock, known as Jacksonville 6. The buried treasure of 1777, General Sullivan’s March Through Hemlock (George Washington ordered this march, resulting in the genocide of the natives) and the buried treasure remains, or does it? 7. The Catacombs that are hidden within the hills of Hemlock 8. More secrets than I wish to share
I’d like to spend the rest of my life living in Hemlock, New York - but we shall see what happens - writing from the hidden barn of desire amongst the burned out district of Hemlock, New York, I - Phaedo of the Land of Whiskey and Pumpkin Pie extend our greetings to you.
Some Hemlock Links
Hemlock Lake on Roch Wiki
Hemlock Lake on Wikipedia
Hemlock Lake NYS DEC GOV’T
Nature Conservancy on Hemlock Lake
Rochester Environment on Hemlock Lake
Hemlock Lake South End Photo
Some More Hemlock Lake Photos
Old Growth Forest at Hemlock Lake, Sierra Club