The strip of land you will be riding from Seneca Lake to Keuka Lake is steeped in history. You'll see evidence of places and events from several bygone eras as you ride westward.
In the middle of the nineteenth century, two fingers of water connected the 274-foot drop between Keuka and Seneca Lakes, the outlet to power mills, and the Crooked Lake Canal for boat traffic. A dam and guardhouse in Penn Yan controlled the water flow to both. The outlet, which still carries water from one lake to the next, was formed by a ground fault in the Tully limestone allowing water to run between the two lakes. Along its banks, you'll see remnants of the many mills which once harnessed the water power.
The first white settlers arrived in this area around 1788, attracted by the reliable water source at the outlet. In 1789 Seneca Mill was built along the raging waters of Keuka Lake Outlet to grind flour with a 26-foot, overshot flywheel. From then until 1827, a small religious group called the Society of Universal Friends built 12 dams and many mills that helped make the area a thriving community. The mills and shops produced flour (gristmills), lumber (sawmills), tool handles, linseed oil, plaster, and liquor (distilleries). There were two triphammer forges, eight fulling and carding mills, tanneries, and weavers making cotton and wool cloth. By 1835, 30 to 40 mills were in operation. But, by 1900, only five mills remained, mainly making paper from straw. The last water-turbine mill ceased operation in 1968.
In 1833 New York State opened the Crooked Lake Canal to span the six miles between the two lakes and move farm products to eastern markets. The canal was four feet deep and had 28 wooden locks. It took a vessel six hours to journey through the canal. As business boomed in the mills, the state widened and deepened the canal and replaced the wooden locks with stone. But the canal lost money every year of its 44-year history, so in 1877 the state auctioned off all the machinery and stone. Only the towpath remained. In 1844 a railroad was built on the towpath. Initially operated by the Penn Yan and New York Railway Company, it eventually became part of the New York Central System. Railway men called it the “Corkscrew Railway” because of its countless twists and turns. The line operated until 1972 when the tracks were washed out by the flood from Hurricane Agnes.
A local group interested in recreational use of the ravine convinced the town of Penn Yan to buy the property in 1981. Since then, it has been developed and maintained by a volunteer group called the Friends of the Outlet. Trail signs and outhouses were added along the route.
Reference Guides: Purchase an illustrated guide to the Keuka Lake Outlet for $1.00 from the Yates County Historian, 110 Court Street, Penn Yan, NY 14527. A packet of information on the history of the mill sites, canal, and railroad of the Keuka Lake Outlet is available for $3.00 at stores in Penn Yan.
•The trail leads downhill from the back-right corner of the Dresden parking lot, heading west.
•Cross under the Route 14 bridge. The land you're on used to be the Dresden Mill Pond.
•The wetland to your right (north of the trail) is the old Crooked Lake Canal.
•Cross two wooden bridges.
•Notice the steep cliffs on both sides. Where the canal and outlet are close together was the location of Lock 3. Watch for the cement and rebar millstone.
•Cross a dirt road. This was Hopeton Road, which in the 1790s connected Geneva to Bath through the town of Hopeton. To your left you can still see remnants of the iron-pony, truss bridge over the outlet. The bridge was built in 1840 and rests on stone abutments. This area was once a community of mills. Hopeton Grist Mill was located just beyond the dirt road on the left. Nothing remains of it today.
•On your left is a pleasant rest area with large rocks where you can sit along the water.
•Across the outlet, Bruces Gully cascades water over three waterfalls to join the outlet. Eventually the Friends of the Outlet plan to build a hiking trail through the gully. The dark gray rock, which peels in thin layers, is Genesee shale.
•Pass a cement pillar on your right. The big “W” on the pillar signaled the train conductor to blow his whistle.
•At the two-mile point are the remains of the J.T. Baker Chemical Company, manufacturers of the pesticide carbine bisulfide until 1968. At one time, this was also the site of a gristmill and several paper mills.
•Here you'll see your first waterfall. The top step of the falls was the old dam, constructed in 1827 and the last of the 12 dams built along the outlet. Both Cascade Mill and Mallory's Mill used the water that was held back by this dam.
•Follow the wide gravel path through the building area.
•Pass old Kelly Tire buildings. The Friends of the Outlet renovated these buildings into the Alfred Jensen Memorial Visitor Center. It's a good place to stop if you need a restroom.
•Follow the green and white trail signs as the trail branches to the left.
•At 2.6 miles, cross the paved Ridge Road. In 1805 May's Mills stood at this site. It had a gristmill, a sawmill, and a post office. In the 1820s this area was home to a cotton factory, then a distillery.
•Continue along the outlet. Outlet Road parallels close to the trail.
•Just over a culvert is another cement post displaying a “W,” then another cement marker with “D3” which told the conductor that Dresden was three miles away. This means that you're almost halfway to Penn
•Pass a parking lot off Outlet Road. The brick remnants on the right were once a factory that turned rags into paper.
•Look for the large rock between the trail and the outlet. A plaque on the side facing the outlet commemorates John Sheridan, a lawyer who negotiated the purchase of land for the Keuka Lake Outlet Preservation Area. The stone remnants across the outlet were once a forge. At one time a road crossed over the dam at this spot. Seneca Mill, the first mill site, was located at this falls, the largest falls on the outlet.
•On your right (away from the outlet) is a stone wall with a large round opening. This used to house a pipe to vent train smoke out of the valley.
•The machinery that remains at the top of the dam controlled water flow through a sluiceway. The original Friends Mill, a complex of paper and gristmills, was here. There’s now a nice picnic pavilion here.
•The trail bears right through Lock 17, which was the downstream end of a series of four locks needed to maneuver the elevation drop.
•You're now biking in a ravine of the old canal bed. In May this segment of trail is lined with trillium. It's also an active beaver area.
•Pass another cement whistle sign on the right.
•The cement wall in the water is the end of a race from Milo Mills. The stagnant water on the left is the raceway. From here to Penn Yan was the most industrialized section of the outlet.
•A large brick chimney towers over the remains of a paper mill, built in 1890, burned in 1910, and then rebuilt. You can still see the 17-foot flywheel which used two miles of hemp cable and was run by a steam engine. The machinery was manufactured at the Rochester foundry at Brown's Race.
•At 4.4 miles, cross Milo Mill Road.
•Cross a bridge over a wood-lined sluice. This used to carry water to Shutt's Mill, which dates back to about 1850.
•A small side path immediately to the left leads to the ruins of Shutt's Mill. You can still see the stone vats from this paper mill which manufactured wallboard. Shutt's Mill burned in 1933. The first mill at this site was a sawmill built in 1812. It was followed by a wool mill, a gristmill, and a fulling mill. Beware of the poison ivy in the area.
•The waterfall on the far side of the outlet, just before a road and bridge, is outflow from the municipal sewage plant.
•Cross a road. Dibbles Mill used to make wooden wheels in this area.
•The green shed across the road on the right was a blacksmith shop from canal times (around 1838). The blacksmith specialized in shoeing mules.
•At 5.5 miles, cross paved Fox Mill Road. If you take a left on Fox Mill Road, then a quick right toward the outlet, you'll find remains from the Fox Mill, which manufactured straw paper. The stone for the walls was moved here from the dismantled locks of Crooked Lake Canal around 1865.
•Pass a sign for St. John's Mill. Other than the sign, there's nothing to see. The mill used to be across the outlet.
•Cross paved Cherry Street. The trail becomes paved.
•Pass under a railroad trestle called “High Bridge.” It was originally built of wood in 1850 and was rebuilt in 1890.
•The large circular hollow just after the trestle was once a turntable for the train.
•Pass signs for an exercise trail. After the chin-up bars on the right, a small path leads left to another cement railroad marker “D6,” indicating six miles from Dresden.
•Reach the wooden bridge which served as a railroad trestle to Birkett Mills in 1824. Birkett Mills took their water turbines out in 1947.
•At 6.5 miles, pass under the Main Street (Penn Yan) bridge which was built in 1884 from canal stone. This area used to have the guardhouse for the canal. The dam on the right is used to control water level in Keuka Lake. The brown building you can see was a grain warehouse. At one time this section of trail was home to several woodworking factories, a cooperage, and a sash-and-blind factory.
•Pass through a park, then cross the pedestrian bridge over the outlet.
•Continue through Penn Yan Recreation Complex on the paved path. You pass restrooms, a boat launch, tennis courts, and a small playground.
•Cross another wooden bridge over Sucker Brook.
•Pass through the athletic fields to the parking lot in Marsh Development Project on Route 54A.
Date Enjoyed: ___________