Just west of the hamlet of Canoga is the rather famous and unique Canoga Spring.
Canoga Spring is one of perhaps only two extensively nitrogen water springs in the entire world. The area Indians used the word “Canoga,” which means “sweet water,” to refer to this spring — a spring they used as a major supply for their drinking water. There is a legend that Chief Red Jacket (Sagoyewatha) always took with him on his war and hunting expeditions great bottles made from deer skins, filled with his own Canoga water.
Today, people still come to Canoga Spring to fill their containers with water that’s cold even on a hot summer day.
In his 1850 “Agricultural Survey of the County of Seneca,” John Delafield wrote, “The spring bed covers a space about fourteen feet in diameter, is shallow and covered with loose pebbles; the water which rises with great rapidity is clear, tasteless and inodorous, and leaves no deposit on the bottom or sides of its basin. The bubbles of gas which rise with velocity and in large quantity are pure nitrogen. On examination they do not afford any trace of oxygen. No ready means were applicable for ascertaining the quantity of gas given off, but it is incredibly great; as the surface presents the appearance of ebullition and on stirring the bottom with a stick, the supply is so much increased that a large test bottle may be filled in a few seconds. The temperature of the water in June was 45 degrees, that of the air surrounding at the time was 82 degrees.”
Over the decades, why have so many people gone to Canoga Spring to get drinking water? The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle in a June 9, 1931 article stated, “Authorities say that all waters soon become stale after taken from their original source, and even distilled water becomes distasteful, unless treated in a laboratory, and even then deterioration will eventually follow. Mineral properties of Canoga Springs keep the water clear, palatable and healthful for many weeks, it is said, and at no time has it any bad odors or tastes. Thus it is true to its Indian name, Canoga, meaning sweet water.” The Syracuse Journal in 1941 reported that the “remarkable keeping quality of the water is due to its freedom from all organic matter. This water does not get stale, but remains ‘sweet.’”
Historical sources vary as to just how much water is emitted from this spring. Reports range from 225 gallons per minute to more than 600 gallons per minute. Suffice it to say that enough water flows out from the spring to power the machinery of several flouring mills, saw mills and other works powered by the Canoga Creek between Canoga Spring and Cayuga Lake. My great-grandfather, John L. Hoster, and his sons operated both a saw mill and a cider mill for many years very close to the Canoga Spring.
Many senior citizens who grew up in the area recall fondly those times when as country school students they were rewarded by all going down to Canoga Spring and having a drink of the cold water. Can’t we all imagine how enjoyable it must have been for people of Auburn or Ithaca, etc. to take a leisurely drive in their car on a nice afternoon and stop at Canoga Spring? Those were the good old days!
Gable is the Seneca County historian.