Many people may know the Finger Lakes as a choice vacation spot. But, did you know that it also is home to a remarkable amount of U.S. history? Read on to learn about some of the important history that took place in the Finger Lakes, and how to visit representations of these bygone eras today.
Women’s Rights Movement
The women’s rights movement had some of its earliest roots in Seneca Falls, a now-historic village located in the central part of the Finger Lakes. In 1848, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and other local women organized the Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention. Stanton drafted a Declaration of Sentiments to guide the meeting, which included the radical notion that women ought to fight for the right to vote. There are many places to experience this proud heritage, including the National Women’s Hall of Fame, the Seneca Falls Historical Society, and Seneca Falls Heritage Area Visitor Center. After the Women’s Rights Convention, Stanton began working extensively with Susan B. Anthony to campaign for women’s suffrage. Anthony lived in Rochester, and today the Susan B. Anthony House, her former residence, is restored and open for visitors to explore.
Harriet Tubman, known as the “Moses of her People,” was responsible for helping hundreds of slaves to freedom via the Underground Railroad. Born into slavery in Maryland, she moved to Auburn, NY in 1857, where she lived until her death in 1913. Travelers interested in paying tribute to this great leader can visit the Harriet Tubman Home, or visit her gravesite in Auburn’s Fort Hill Cemetery. Frederick Douglass, an abolitionist who later also supported women’s suffrage, spent many of his active years in Rochester. Today he is buried in Mount Hope Cemetery in Rochester. Those interested in learning more about Douglass’s remarkable life can visit the Frederick Douglass Resource Center.
William H. Seward was a New York State Governor, U.S. Senator, and Secretary of State under Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson. He was also instrumental in the purchase of Alaska, which at the time was known as “Seward’s folly” because of Alaska’s barren terrain. His restored home is now the Seward House Museum, located in Auburn. Travelers will enjoy guided tours, the beautiful gardens, and special exhibitions throughout the historic house.
Native American History
To understand the depth of Native American influence in the Finger Lakes, look no further than the unusual names of lakes and many towns throughout the region. Even the name “Finger Lakes” comes from an old Native American legend. Although Native Americans today live mainly on reservations, their rich heritage can be enjoyed at several sites around the Finger Lakes. Rockwell Museum of Western Art, located in Corning, features early portraits of Native Americans by explorer artists as well as historic Native American art. The Rochester Museum and Science Center has an extensive Iroquois archeological collection (1550-1840). It houses over 5,000 objects from the Cattaraugus and Tonawanda reservations (1935-1941) including painting, jewelry, and other traditional objects. Or, explore Ganondagan State Historic Site, which was the site of a flourishing Seneca village over 300 years ago. Visitors can tour a full-size replica of a bark longhouse and walk miles of self-guided trails.
Photography and Film
George Eastman, the founder of film company Eastman Kodak, lived in Rochester. Today, his mansion is converted into the George Eastman House, a museum dedicated to this history of photography, film, and the life of Eastman. In addition to changing exhibitions and one of the world’s most extensive motion picture collections, the museum also hosts film screenings and a variety of events throughout the year. The sound side of movies made important strides on the other side of the Finger Lakes- Auburn native Theodore Case was responsible for developing sound in films, originally known as "talkies." History buffs can visit the Case Research Lab Museum to learn more about his legacy.