Chautauqua Institution, where I’ve spent a number of my summer vacations over the past two decades, is, in the best sense, a throwback, a link to Victorian America. But two weeks ago, when I was up there yet again, I found yet another throwback, a few miles south of it.
My friend Leslie told me about Stow Ferry, which operates from Bemus Point. It has transported passengers at the narrowest point on Chautauqua Lake since 1811, making it not only older than Chautauqua by six decades but older than the Erie Canal, the great waterway that opened up the interior of New York State, by more than a dozen.
Different forms of power have been used at the ferry over the years: oars, poles, steel cables, steam, gasoline, and diesel. The ferry endures now largely because of The Chautauqua Lake Historic Vessels Co., a non-profit corporation devoted to preserving historic vessels on this body of water to which visitors still feel an almost mystic connection.