Our History


History of the Lake and of the Lake Association

Excerpts from the History of Tioughnioga Lake 

Tioughnioga Lake is 1280 feet above the sea, higher than Lake George and nearly as high as Saranac. Since the Lake is filled with the waters of the Tioughnioga River it becomes Tioughnioga Lake. The construction of the DeRuyter Reservoir was to a great extent contemporaneous with the progress of the Civil War. The canal authorities found it necessary to increase the supply of water for the long level east of Syracuse and this valley was selected as the site. Surveys for the reservoir were taken in 1847 and 1856, but the contract for construction was not let until 1861.The reservoir was put into service without its feeder stream in 1862. The dam at the North end is about one-quarter mile in length and is seventy-five feet deep at its lowest point. Its inclination is two to one on the face side and three to one at the back. The overall width is about 375 feet.

The dam lies almost entirely in the Town of Cazenovia, Madison County, except the west end, which is the town of Fabius, Onondaga County. The lake is two miles long with an average width of one-half mile; its greatest depth is 75 feet and its average depth is 18-1/2 feet. Covering an area of 557 acres and containing 504,468,000 cubic feet of water, the Reservoir and its structure cost the State of New York about $100,000. C. A. Beach was the engineer and DeGraw and Wood were the contractors.

The first camp on the Lake was a wooden frame and roof with canvas sides, built by Dr. E. N. Coon and located on the East shore. Later he built a substantial cottage, which still stands. The next permanent camp was the “Gleaner Camp” built by W. W. Ames.

While there had long been a need for an organization of cottage owners, it was not until Sunday, September 10, 1939, that a meeting was called and the Lake Tioughnioga Club was formed with twenty-five charter members. Mr. Lew Bales was elected to be President. 

The above spans the 1939 to 1942 seasons, which were the developing years of the Club. Many meetings were held, and social events predominated the activities. From the lack of meeting minutes, the views of now present members and my own knowledge of the times, there at this time occurred a lapse in the operation of the “Club.” A period of about 8 years elapsed during which time all the opportunities passed by which the over-all property owners could have benefited—not only in the closer bonding of the social activity but also in the loss of improvements to the Lake as a whole and in the increased valuation of each person’s property.

A new lease on life for the “Club” was begun when in September of 1950. President Frank Darrow called a meeting to be held at the home of Col. C. W. Skeele. For several seasons prior to this meeting, there had been loud and long lament over the lack of New York State interest in the lake level. Continuous variations of the water level had about ruined the appearance of property owners’ camps and shore installations, along with a definite retarding effect on the one time good fishing enjoyed by thousands. To show the extent of interest in their properties and the determination to bring back to the original natural beauty of the Lake, sixty property owners and thirty interested parties appeared at this meeting. From this meeting came the will to fire hundreds of people into action. Letters in a flood poured into the offices of our Representatives, Congressmen, New York State Department of Canals and Waterways, and many to Governor Dewey. Many people who had only a passing interest in our Lake wrote in and swelled the tide of complaint. In truth, it was a crusade by angry citizens to bring their message to the State and demand action.

In the past our goals have been reached. Let us not miss the moral that these victories have proven. “A working association of citizens can and will be heard by their appointed representatives."”


Compiled by Jim Adsitt—Updated by Sue Orzell

The Tioughnioga Lake Association has evolved into a multi-faceted organization with the express purpose of maintaining the quality of lake life for the benefit of its members.

The Structure

There are 5 officers ‑‑ President, Vice President, Secretary, Treasurer, and Financial Secretary, each elected to 2-year terms of office. The Area Captains are the Lake Association’s representatives to the lake community, who keep the members in the area informed, collect dues, distribute literature and flares, assist in dye testing septic systems, and keep the officers aware of area problems and concerns. The officers and area captains form the Lake Association’s executive committee. The Lake Association is entirely volunteer.


The officers address members’ concerns through the use of committees headed by chairpersons with specialized knowledge and abilities.

Summer Events. This committee, most recently headed by the President,  plans and holds various social functions during the summer months. Some of the events are a golf tournament, softball game, day and night boat parades, dances, and skiing competitions, and the “Burning of the Lake.”

Water Level Committee. This committee works year-round with the Canal Corporation to control the water level of the lake, as directed by the membership. In the fall, the lake is lowered to minimize ice damage and to allow owners to perform shoreline maintenance. The lake rises naturally through the winter after the fall drawdown. In the spring, the lake level is brought back to its crest elevation. If dealing with agencies were not difficult enough, dealing with nature makes maintaining the water level even more challenging.

Water Quality Committee. The water quality committee collects data on water quality through the state Citizens Statewide Lake Assessment Program (CSLAP). Lake volunteers have taken water samples during the summer season since 1988 to provide data on water quality, measuring weed nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrate; chlorophyll levels to correlate with weed and algae growth in the lake; pH, oxygen, water clarity and temperature readings to assess general conditions of the lake. This data is used to support programs to reduce the plant nutrients supplied to the lake, and to raise awareness of the impact lakeside owners have on the lake’s water quality. 

Membership in the statewide New York State Federation of Lake Associations is required for participation in the CSLAP water sampling program. This affiliation has allowed us to learn of solutions that other lakes have used to address their environmental concerns. See our website  for CSLAP annual reports.

Ecological and Planned Development Committee: The committee addresses all aspects of lake quality issues: watershed use, pollution, land owner use, our fishery, biomass issues as well as other natural and human created issues involving the lake watershed. This committee is charged with finding immediate actions and long term plans to deal with our present & future lake quality control issues, and providing a recommended course of action to the membership. It has absorbed the duties of the Fish and the Weed Control Committees, scheduling weed harvesting through the Madison County weed harvesting program, and arranges for private harvesting when necessary. It coordinates annual stocking of walleye fry and larger fish through the New York State Department of Conservation (DEC) and other sources.

Present Projects

Experimenting with Ecological Control of Milfoil 

The Lake Association has been participating in a multi-year study that centers on increasing the population of a natural predator to Eurasian water milfoil. Our lake is blessed with the presence of a water weevil that feeds on milfoil. This weevil is a tasty snack for sunfish and bluegill fish, common members of the lake fishery. The experiment administered by SUNY Oneonta professor Paul Lord provides predators of the bluegill and sunnies in the form of fingerling walleye fish, thereby sparing the water weevil. The Tioughnioga Lake Foundation and the Lake Association purchased 50,000 walleye fingerlings, 2-3” in length in 2013, at a cost of $20,000, shared by the Foundation, the Lake Association and Madison County. The fingerlings are the right size to feed on young sunfish and bluegill.

The study evaluates the effect on the milfoil infestation and the fish population. Electroshock fishing sessions sample the fish population in the lake to determine if the bluegill and sunny population are declining while the walleye population is rising. Near the end of summer each year, weed surveys are conducted to determine the types of weeds and density of growth, and the general health of the water milfoil. The electroshock fishing, weed collection, and the data analysis present an additional cost to the project.  Twice since the start of the project, Mr. Lord has presented preliminary results for the study. Initially, the density of milfoil around the lake was decreasing, although in 2017 the weed density was perceived to be increasing. Nearly all of the samples of milfoil collected showed signs of damage from the aquatic weevil. The population of very small sunnies and bluegills is down, although there are still many larger sizes of these fish. The walleye population is slowly growing.

The Lake Association voted to continue the walleye stocking program into 2019, based on the encouraging results of the study.

The use of walleye to perform natural weed harvesting does provide added work to the shoreside residents of the lake. Weakened stems of milfoil break easily with wave action and floating weeds must be removed from the lake to prevent them from re-rooting in new areas, and providing added nutrients for new weed growth when they decompose. Through continued weed removal, lake residents can contribute to improved water quality across the entire lake.

Weed Harvesting

The Lake Association has been actively weed harvesting since the 1980s, as an attempt to control heavy growth of native and invasive weeds such as Eurasian water milfoil. Mechanical weed harvesting pulls or shears the emergent weed growth in the shallow waters of the lake, and removes the biological nutrient load from the lake, reducing the overall amount of nitrates in the lake that can feed further weed growth. In the early years, the Lake Association owned a small barge weed harvester, and volunteers spent weekends pulling weeds from the lake bottom and removing them from the lake. In the 1990s, State Senator Nancy Larraine Hoffmann provided state funding to purchase a large weed harvester that is shared by Madison County lakes. Over the years, the county weed harvesting program has provided two to three weeks of harvesting on DeRuyter Lake in the late summer, initially at no added cost to the Lake Association. In 2010 the cost of operating and maintaining the county weed harvester had risen so much that the county was forced to charge for harvesting time. The Lake Association now spends nearly $4000 annually for the weed harvesting service.

In 2013, a heavy infestation of curly leaf pondweed (another invasive weed species) appeared in late spring. Unlike most aquatic weeds, curly leaf pondweed grows under the ice during the winter months, and becomes emergent in May and June. By July 4, the weed dies back, setting new seeds for the next year’s growth. In 2014, the density and spread of the weed had increased alarmingly. The county weed harvester does not operate at this time of the year, and it was necessary to hire a private contractor to remove as much curly leaf pondweed in the heaviest infested area near the south end of the lake. Curly leaf pondweed has been harvested each year since in June. So far, most of the cost of private weed harvesting for curly leaf pondweed has been paid by the Lake Preservation Foundation, with the Lake Association contributing around 15% of the cost.

Weed harvesting costs associated with milfoil continue to grow. Funding the nearly $10,000 annual cost of the weed harvesting and the walleye stocking for the ecological experiment forced the Lake Association to institute a dues increase to support the expenditures. The new dues rate is $40 for land owners and $30 for associate members. The $10 increase is dedicated to fund weed harvesting and walleye stocking. 

AED Education

Former Lake Association President John Kennedy spearheaded the effort to obtain two automated external defibrillator (AED) devices to place in public locations around the lake, and to train members of the lake community to use these devices. In 2005, Jim and Kathleen Dwyer and the Lake Association donated funds to train 16 people to operate AEDs. Ten people were recertified in 2017. We encourage residents to become CPR and AED certified—the life you save may be one you cherish! 

Past Projects

“Save the Islands” Project

In 1998, the Lake Association started work on its most ambitious project. The Ward Islands, near the west shore of the lake, were being eroded away by waves, wakes, and ice. Two teen-aged members of the lake community asked the Lake Association to act to prevent the islands from disappearing. The membership voted to build seawalls around the two islands to help prevent erosion. Permits were obtained; the Lake Association seeded the project with $4500 from its treasury, and $13,120 in donations poured in from the lake community to help fund the project. Work started in 1998, moving rocks, building, placing, and filling gabion cages to protect the shoreline of the small island. Most of the seawall around the large island was built in 1999. In 2000, the wall on the large island was completed, the inner shores were protected with loose stone. Grass, trees, and shrubs were planted to help retain the soil.

This work was a real unifying influence on the lake community. Ninety-four people worked to move stone and build the seawalls; 86 people donated money to fund the project. Donations more than exceeded the amount needed to complete the project! With continuing conservation efforts, the islands will be enduring features of our lake for generations to come.

Mother Nature and her wave action have been slowly continuing the erosion action. If you have extra stones, bricks or blocks, bring them to the big island and drop them behind the gabion wall to help fill some of the gaps caused by erosion. If you visit the islands, please be aware of their fragile nature and enjoy them gently.

The Volunteers

The Lake Association would not exist without the volunteers that donate their personal time on behalf of their fellow members. As we proceed into the future, the problems that confront us will be even more complex and demanding, requiring even greater amounts of time. The Tioughnioga Lake Association accomplishes more than most of the Lake Associations in the state, and does it with a modest dues assessment. Our accomplishments can only continue if EVERYONE becomes informed and involved. Whether you do it for personal gain‑‑ how much is property worth on a polluted lake‑‑, or you do it for your family’s future‑‑ do you want your grandchildren to swim in a polluted lake‑‑, or you do it for fun‑‑ yes, volunteering can be fun and satisfying‑‑, for whatever reason, you MUST become involved. Because we all share the water in front of our homes, we cannot say “it's my neighbor’s problem, not mine.” The problems we have belong to everyone! 

View the 1856 Map Before We Were A Lake - Click Button below for a copy provided by the Canal Corporation