Personal Stories of the Backbone Ridge

Collection Owner:
Cover Image:
Transcript of Interview With Mary Louise Stilwell, 2010
Interview With Mary Louise Stilwell, 2010 - Image Source

Collection Facts


Historical Context

The area between Seneca Lake and Cayuga Lake now a part of the Finger Lakes National Forest, New York State's only national forest, was once a bustling farmland in the 19th century.  It was known as Backbone Ridge and included parts of Schuyler County, Seneca County, and Tompkins County.

Decades of intensive agriculture depleted the soil and made the farms untenable.  In the 1930s during the Great Depression, the United States federal government bought out the farms in this region and helped interested residents move, all part of a New Deal program called the Resettlement Administration.  

Walt Gable, Seneca County Historian, noted that because the program was voluntary, "the resulting Federal ownership resembled a patchwork 
quilt," especially in Seneca County where the soil was still productive. The federal land was named the Hector Land Use Area [source].

Scope of Collection

These oral histories were performed in 2010 to 2013 with people who remember the 1930s and 1940s, when these changes were occurring.  Many were also asked to reminisce about their school years, the 1935 flood, and their involvement in wars.