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About Cato & Its History

Town Formation

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.

Location & Geography

 The town is located between Lake Ontario and the Finger Lakes. 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.

River Transportation

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 & Parker Pond

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 fairweather 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.

Early Settlers

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:

  • Cerow
  • Dudley
  • Elwell
  • Hollister
  • Knapp
  • Loveless
  • Northrup
  • Pasko
  • Root

Rural Schoolhouses

Many children attended the rural schoolhouses 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.

Military History

Catonians 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 February 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 winemaking 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 1960s.

Golf Club

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.

Profile & Activities

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.

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