Skip to content

Finger Lakes Region Facts

The Finger Lakes Region is quickly becoming one of the largest tourist destinations in New York State. It has a long history beginning with the Haudenosaunee people, whose heritage is still reflected in many of the lake and town names here.

With countless vineyards in the area, the Finger Lakes wine scene is considered one of the top in the country. Award winning chefs have found it to be a perfect place to explore culinary innovations without the annoyances of a big city market. Between the endless list of wineries, breweries, distillers, and cider houses, the Finger Lakes Region is a premiere destination for foodies.

Finger Lakes Region Defined

Defining the borders of the Finger Lakes can be tricky because of their economic impact on the immediate surrounding region. For Exploring Upstate and this fact sheet, the Finger Lakes Region is defined by using fourteen counties. Represented here, you’ll find Monroe, Livingston, Steuben, Wayne, Ontario, Yates, Schuyler, Chemung, Seneca, Cayuga, Tompkins, Tioga, Onondaga, and Cortland Counties.

Cayuga County Facts

– Auburn, NY born Theodore Case is credited with the invention of the Movietone, a sound-on-film system. The patents for his sound-on-film process were sold to William Fox of Fox Film Corporation in 1926 (known today as 20th Century Fox).

– The use of striped uniforms for prisoners was a tradition started by Auburn Correctional Facility in Cayuga County around 1820. The stripes, which were purposefully intended to be a reminder of cell bars, intended to strip inmates of their unique personalities. The stripes also made them immediately identifiable outside of prison walls. [source]

Chemung County Facts

– Horseheads is the first and only village in the United States dedicated to the service of the American military horse. [source]

– John Jones was born a slave in 1817 in Virginia, but later fled and settled in Elmira. It was here that Jones became involved in the Underground Railroad. It’s believed that he helped well over 800 slaves escape to Canada, none of which would ever be caught. His primary job was to bury Confederate soldiers in Woodlawn Cemetery in Elmira, where Mr. Jones also now rests. [source]

Cortland County Facts

– There is a short, one block street in Cortland named Dio Way. It’s named for Ronnie James Dio, who lived in Cortland as a child with his family. Later, Dio replaced Ozzy Osbourne in the heavy metal band Black Sabbath, where he popularized the use of the “sign of the horns” hand symbol on stage.

Livingston County Facts

– Ross Barnes was born in Mt. Morris, New York. On May 2, 1876 he became the very first professional baseballer to hit a homerun in the National League. [source]

Monroe County Facts

– The creator of Google’s Gmail, Paul Buchheit, is from Webster (a suburb of Rochester). He also coined Google’s motto: “Don’t be evil.”

Comparison of ceiling in Rochester Lyric Opera House and Eastman Theatre in Rochester, NY

– When the First Church of Christ, Scientist was built on East Ave and Prince in Rochester, a famous photograph tycoon walked up the street from his house to check it out. He saw the ceiling and decided to replicate the same idea in his Eastman Theatre on Main and Gibbs.

– Obadiah Newcomb Bush was a businessman born in Penfield, NY (a suburb near Rochester) in 1797. He is both an ancestor and the founder of the Bush Political Family.

– The year where the death rate was the highest in New York’s history was 1918. It is estimated that upwards of 40,000 people died that year due to the influenza epidemic. In Rochester alone, 213 people died in just one week.[source]

– There are about 1,200 cobblestone structures in the U.S. and 90% of them lie within an 75 mile radius of Rochester. [source]

– Rochester set the Guinness World Record on May 9, 2014 when 2,797 people wore either a purple or green poncho to create the world’s Largest Human Flower. [source]

– The first statue to be erected in the United States commemorating an African American is located in Rochester. The Frederick Douglass statue in Highland Park was placed there in 1941, but it was first erected on June 8, 1899 near the downtown train station. The station was chosen so it would immediately be seen by the thousands who entered the city via the railroad. It has since been relocated back nearer to its original location. [source]

– The first known photograph of someone “flipping the bird” with their middle finger is of a Rochesterian named Charles “Old Hoss” Radbourn. The photo was taken with his Major League Baseball teammates, the Boston Beaneaters, in 1886. It’s believed that he managed to also become the second person photographed making the obscene gesture one year later. [source]

– The longest game in professional baseball history was played April 18 and 19th in 1981. The Pawtucket Red Sox and the Rochester Red Wings played 32 innings and still were tied. On June 23, 1981 the final 33rd inning was played and Pawtucket ultimately won 3-2. [source]

Onondaga County Facts

– The Great New York State Fair began in Syracuse In 1841 and is the oldest state fair in the country. [source]

– In 1992, Jean Armour Polly, a librarian from Syracuse, wanted words that included both the experience of a fun activity and one that required skill to describe the experience of using the internet to others. She looked down at her Apple mouse pad featuring a surfer on a wave and became inspired to use the analogy–which caught on quick. “Surfing the web” has been used ever since. [source]

– On March 30, 1992 the Syracuse City Council voted unanimously to outlaw snow in the city until Christmas Eve of that same year. They declared, “Be it resolved, on behalf of the snow-weary citizens of the city of Syracuse, any further snowfall is expressly outlawed in the city of Syracuse until December 24, 1992.” It snowed two days later. No arrests were made. [source]

– The victory celebrated by the North after the Civil War is often credited to the salt industry that boomed in Syracuse during the 1800’s. As the Union controlled the salt mines in Virginia and Pennsylvania, the Confederate Army had little access to salt. While the Union could preserve food rations with easy access to salt, the Confederate soldiers found it nearly impossible.

Ontario County Facts

– The world’s largest collection of apple species lays on a 50 acre plot of land right in Geneva. [source]

– William Robert Brooks is considered to be one of the most prolific discoverers of comets in history, second only to Jean-Louis Pons. Brooks discovered over twenty comets, his first of which was from the town of Phelps, New York. [source]

Seneca County Facts

Though the tradition hails back prior to even the Civil War, the practice of decorating a soldier’s grave is often believed to have begun with Decoration Day in 1868 somewhere around Decatur, Illinois. Afterward, at least five other town/cities claimed the practice of memorializing a soldier who died while serving started with them. Despite these claims and a controversial discussion among historians, on May 26, 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the presidential proclamation naming Waterloo, New York, as the official Birthplace of Memorial Day. [source]

– When building the Seneca Army Depot between Cayuga and Seneca Lakes in 1941, the U.S. Military broke two world records during construction. In late October they constructed 78 igloos in under seven days time, and overall they constructed 500 of the igloos between August 21 and November 13. [source]

Though there were about 100 signatures on the Declaration of Sentiments following the first Woman’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, the media covering the event printed harsh criticism of those who signed. One editorial read, “the most shocking and unnatural incident ever recorded in the history of womanity.” Unfortunately, the shaming tactics from the press worked so well that a number of women withdrew their name from the document. [source]

Steuben County Facts

The Steuben County Fair started in 1819 and hasn’t stopped since, making it the oldest continuously running county fair in the United States! [source]

Tompkins County Facts

– The red and white color scheme on the Campbell’s soup can was the idea of then Campbell’s Comptroller Herberton Williams. He attended a football game at Cornell University on Thanksgiving Day in 1897 and loved their red and white color scheme so much that he convinced Campbell’s to adopt it. [source]

– In 2009, the Southworth Library in Dryden, New York auctioned off an original manuscript of a speech made at the White House by Abraham Lincoln which the library had owned since 1926. The $3.44 million selling price was a record for an American historical document. [source]

– On May 8, 1977 the Grateful Dead played a concert in Barton Hall at Cornell University in Ithaca. Of all their 2000+ concerts, this show is regarded by Deadheads to be one of their greatest ever performed.

– In June 1972, the ‘Ithaca Statement on Bisexualty’ was made in strong support for those who identify as bisexual and in opposition to biphobia. It was published by a Quaker group and was the very first statement by any religious body specifically to address bisexuality. [source]

– While most municipalities underwrite the cost of their public fireworks displays, Ithaca’s is entirely funded by donations. Contributions collected from attendees at the previous year’s display are saved and used the following year. [Source: book “Surrounded by Reality: 100 Things You Didn’t Know About Ithaca”

– The ‘Ithaca Is Gorges’ catchphrase was coined by Howard Cogan. He graduated from Cornell University in the same class as his son Michael. To date, it is the only simultaneous parent-child graduation from the college. [source]

Wayne County Facts

– 60% of the people who entered the Shaker society in Sodus in its first 12 years decided that the life was not for them and left the community. Currently, there are two Shakers left in the entire world.