Oneida Lake: Long-term Dynamics of a Managed Ecosystem and Its Fishery

Chapter 2: The Early Years of the Cornell Biological Field Station and the Evolution of an Ecological Research Program

JoAnne Getchonis and Edward L. Mills

doi: https://doi.org/10.47886/9781934874431.ch2

Oneida Lake is rich in history, bountiful in productivity, and attractive to untold numbers of people for its beauty, pleasure, and repose. This shallow lake is a remnant of Lake Iroquois, impounded by the glacier at the end of the Pleistocene era nearly 12,500 years ago (Karrow et al. 1961). After the Revolutionary War, the area around Oneida Lake was purchased by the United States government and opened for settlement in 1789 (Landgraff 1926). Although the original Erie Canal, built in the early 1800s, did not pass through Oneida Lake, a side cut to the canal was eventually constructed in 1833 opening the lake as a trade route and a vector for goods from the region to New York City markets (Landgraff 1926). Steamboats appeared in 1846 making the lake a popular attraction for steamboat rides and tourists. By 1916, the New York Barge Canal passed through Oneida Lake, making the lake an important trade route link between the Great Lakes and the eastern seaboard (Barber 1963).

Oneida Lake has played an important role in the culture and development of the Central New York region. Because of its uniqueness and its ability to produce so many fish, Oneida Lake has attracted scientists to its shores for study dating back to the early 1900s. In particular, scientists at the Cornell Biological Field Station (“CBFS”) have had a long and prominent research history on Oneida Lake that began in 1956. In this chapter, we focus on the early years of the CBFS including a history of the local region, prominent individuals who played a role in gifting the CBFS, and the evolution of an ecological research program that would gain international prominence.