Watercolors: The Art of Waterscapes in Cayuga County


Cayuga County contains eight lakes, countless rivers and streams, and the Erie Canal, giving it more freshwater coastline than any other county in New York. Our water resources have helped grow and sustain industries, supported a largely agricultural landscape, provided drinking water to residents, and sustained a culture of water recreation. From boating to swimming to fishing, residents continue to enjoy leisure activities centered around water. 

Because of the prominence of water in Cayuga County, we hold quite a few landscape paintings featuring lakes in our collection. While we’ve shown many forest streams and wooded landscapes so far, the great landscape artists of the county could hardly escape painting a good lake scene!

Owasco Lake


View of Ensenore, Unknown artist

This painting by an unknown artist depicts Ensenore Point on Owasco Lake, one of the most popular recreational locations in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  

In the mid 1840s, Aaron Kellogg of Moravia began building the first steamboat on Owasco Lake, which he named Ensenore, to bring tourists from various points along the lake to Moravia. Unfortunately, a disastrous launch attempt ended with the new boat sunk in the mud in the inlet. Despite the fate of the Ensenore, other enterprising individuals realized that Kellogg was right to invest in steamboats. Besides providing faster transportation up and down the lake, wealthy tourists were drawn to the lake and the recreational offerings along its shore, which included casinos, dance pavilions, and amusement parks. 

Local residents were also drawn to the water for recreation. The mid 1800s saw a rise in the popularity of picnics as a way to escape the confines of an increasingly industrialized, urban landscape and the steamboat made the pastime of picnicking an attainable one for middle class city dwellers. 


By the late 1870s, the Ensenore had been rebuilt and was owned and operated by Captain George Clark, who used the boat to take passengers to his hotel on Ensenore Point on the west side of the lake. Clark was a young veteran of the Civil War living near Ensenore in Scipio. He proved to be a savvy businessman, and had begun purchasing land in the late 1860s on Ensenore Point to build a hall for picnickers. Eventually he was able to build the Ensenore Glen House which opened in 1875. The hotel was set in a landscape of waterfalls, gorges, and of course, lakeshore and had many other amenities for day trippers and overnight guests. Clark had a thriving business transporting guests to his hotel and was soon able to purchase more boats, including the double decker Lady of the Lake.

Lady of the Lake Postcard


Ensenore Point used to be called Culver’s Point but was changed by George Clark when he served as postmaster there in 1874. The name Ensenore comes from the title of an 1840 poem by Auburn attorney Peter Myers. The epic poem is set on the lakeshore and follows the hero, Ensenore, as he sets out to rescue his sweetheart who was captured by a group of Native Americans.  It was quite popular in Auburn and in 1870 William H. Seward sponsored a reprinting, which Myers then dedicated to Seward.


Other Cayuga County Waterscapes


Lakeshore & Hills, George Clough



George Clough was one of Cayuga County’s noted landscape painters. Born in Auburn in 1824, he opened his own studio by 1844. He began his career as a self-taught artist but soon drew attention from accomplished artists such as Charles Loring Elliott who took him under his wing. Clough spent time at Elliott’s New York City studio in the late 1840s and returned to Auburn to work as a portraitist. His turn to landscapes came after studying in Europe in the 1850s. Clough maintained studios in New York City from the 1860s to 1890s but returned to Auburn in 1897.





Untitled Stream Landscape, William B. Gifford





William B. Gifford was born near Aurora NY and studied painting in Philadelphia and at the Academy of Fine Arts in NYC. His wife was also an accomplished painter. Both the Giffords focused on portrait painting, but a trip to Europe inspired a turn to landscapes.