Town of Cato History
The town of Cato was formed March 30th 1802 and was comprised,
at that time, of all land north of the Seneca River within the county
borders. The town of Sterling was removed in 1812 and Conquest, Ira and
Victory were removed in 1821. To compensate for the large areas of swamp
lands in Cato, the southeast corner of Ira was re-annexed to Cato in 1824.
Since that time, the Cato town borders have remained the same.
The town consists of scenic, rolling drumlins separated by
tranquil lakes, ponds and streams. Cross Lake, which forms the eastern
boundary is approximately 4 miles long and is intersected by the Seneca
River which forms the town’s southern boundary. On the northwestern shore of
Cross lake is the Cross Lake Restaurant and Marina. Started as the
Bloomfield Hotel in 1897, the site has been the location of numerous
weddings and special events and is still open to the public today.
The Seneca River, before the existence of the three bridges, was
traversed by ferry. At the present day Route 34 crossing were two ferrymen
John St. John and David Follett. At the present day Bonta Bridge was a
ferryman by the name of Henry Abrams. His farm was located on the corner of
Bonta Bridge and Blumer Road. Solomon Woodworth ran a ferry at the present
Quimby bridge. The Seneca River, also known as the Barge Canal during its
heyday as a major water transportation route, is now a tourist mecca drawing
thousands of boating enthusiasts every year.
Otter Lake is a little known gem with a scattering of seasonal
homes on the eastern shore and state owned land along the remaining low
shores. Otter Lake was the site of many fair weather Sunday school picnics.
Parker Pond, formerly known as Forest Lake, is situated just
south of Cato Village and was used for ice harvesting before the advent of
refrigeration. Today the pond, accessed via Parker Pond Gun Shop on Short
Cut Road, provides duck hunting, fishing and a kayak / canoe access point.
The earliest settlers were Samson Lawrence who settled at the
present intersection of Jorolomon and Bonta Bridge Roads and Andrew
Stockwell who settled on Jordan Road. Other early names were Dudley, Root,
Knapp, Loveless, Pasko, Northrup, Hollister, Elwell and Cerow.
Many children attended the rural school houses that dotted the
landscape. Brick Church School House is used today as a museum with
interpretive tours for school children as well as for summer programming.
Catonian’s fought in all the major wars after the Revolution in
fact Samuel Woodford was awarded land on lot 33 due to his service in the
Revolutionary War. The 111th regiment, company H, was made up of Cato area
boys who fought heroically at Gettysburg. To this day a monument exists at
Gettysburg in their honor.
The Southern Central Railroad saw its first train roar up the
tracks in 1872. This line was bought out by the Lehigh Valley Railroad
Company which discontinued service in 1953. There were two train depots in
the town, one at Brick Church (where the line intersects Shortcut Road) and
the other in the village of Cato. On Feb. 14, 1884 a tragic accident
resulted in the loss of three lives at the railroad bridge over the Seneca
River. The engine, the Owasco, fell into the Seneca River upon failure of
the bridge. The railroad bridge abutments can still be seen today just east
of the Route 34 river bridge.
Agriculture has been the primary industry for each of the last
200 years with tobacco being a former crop grown throughout the town. The
majority of farms today tend to specialize in dairy, fruits, beef or
alpacas. In fact, the Giancarelli family, who have been farming here since
1937, have added wine making to their fruit growing establishment under the
name Giancarelli Brothers Winery LLC. The winery, operating since 2000, is
located on Short Cut Road.
Whitford Airport, founded in 1950 by Joe Whitford, offers flight
instruction and hangars for private aircraft. Pilots love to fly in for the
Sunday pancake breakfasts that have been open to the public since the early
Cato Golf Club opened for business in 1931 under the ownership
of Frank Rich. The nine hole regulation course is operated by Frank Rich III
and is perhaps the oldest family run golf club in the northeast.
Cato remains today as a bedroom community with a majority of
town residents commuting to employment in the Syracuse and Auburn area. With
scenic drumlins and picturesque waterways, the town remains a favorite for
hunting, fishing, snowmobiling, boating and hiking. Our early forefathers
did well to recognize the natural beauty of Cato.