Thursday, September 23, 2010

Musings on Cuba Lake

Since we will be leaving here on Saturday, this will likely be the last of the posts about my interest in the Genesee Valley Canal. Those of you who are tired of it can skip this one.

As noted in some of the old documents related to the canal, Cuba Lake was one of the most important structures on the canal, as it provided water at the highest level the canal reached. When it was built it was the largest man made lake in the US and perhaps in the world. It was originally called Oil Creek Reservoir because it dammed Oil Creek.

In my wanderings around, I realized that the only exit from the lake today is over the spillway which is located near the site of the Oil Spring in the southwest corner. The dam where the creek used to flow is located along the eastern side of the lake. The spillway is located is about 2 to 3 miles from the natural exit of Oil Creek. Prior to building the lake, the stream where the spillway was built contained only a very small amount of water that drained minor springs in the hilsides. It was no where near as big as it is now. Oil creek used to drain not only the small valleys around where the lake is today, but also the entire Rawson Valley and all its streams. When driving around the lake today it is apparent that the majority of the water flowing into the lake is from the Rawson Valley, and that the other tributaries were quite small in comparison. Apparently when the small creeks merged with Rawson Creek in the area where the lake now sits, they renamed the stream Oil Creek.

The spillway is located just a mile or so up the valley from the Cuba/Maplehurst road. By building the dam and locating the spillway here they eliminated water from Oil Creek from joining with Black Creek north of Cuba, and flowing south through the town. Only Black Creek and the creeks from the Friendship and Clarksville Hill areas continued to flow into town. There they all met and flowed west out of town toward Maplehurst, where they met the water flowing over the Cuba Lake spillway before making their way west to join with Olean Creek. I find it fascinating how much engineering and planning went into designing and building the lake, and also surprised as how much it changed the geography of the area.

As many know, the Maple Summit Farm was located at the highest point in the Rawson Valley. Water flows both north and south at that point. The small stream on the east side of the valley in the area flowed north toward Hardy's Corners and Rushford, eventually reaching the Genesee River, but the streams on the west side of the valley flowed south toward Cuba Lake, eventually reaching the Allegheny River. The small stream behind the hemlocks on the farm flowed toward north, but the stream behind Norman's barn flowed south. Dale says they used to say that water landing on the north side of the barn roof ended up in the North Atlantic, but the water landing on the south side ended up in the Caribbean. Probably so.

Enough geography and history of the Cuba area. It has been fun. Saturday we leave for points south. Our first major destination is TN to visit Darin, but there will be stops along the way. Stay tuned.


  1. It's been a great time. Donna wonders why I am so interested in the NY canals, and not in the Phoenix ones. It's just nostalgia, and old age reminiscing on my long ago childhood. Since I shall never be able to return to that area, I have lived vicariously through your ramblings around the area, and I thank you.

  2. You have learned so much history about the early canal and Cuba lake, you are probably more of an authority on the subject than 99.9% of the people who have lived there. Good job - I have enjoyed it!

  3. Every time you talk about Cuba and Rawson, I get nostalgic.

  4. On your next trip to NY, why don't you get into some geology? You can study the glacier and see how it re-formed the State. and made the Finger Lakes, stuff like that. All kids are crazy over fossil animals, and the rock formation is fascinating, from Limestone to whatever. Just a thought!