Living large on Silver Lake
Is it or is it not a Finger Lake? If it is, it’s most definitely the pinky. Regardless, it offers just as much as its longer, better-known counter fingers, if on a somewhat more modest scale.
Silver Lake sits on the eastern side of Wyoming County next to Castile and Perry and just a stone’s throw from Letchworth State Park. Like the lakes to the east, it offers accommodations, recreation, food and drink, art, and activities all about an hour’s drive from Rochester. But for some reason, it seems to be forgotten by residents in Monroe County, who will travel to Canandaigua, Keuka, or Geneva with no problem. “It’s kind of funny that people head farther away from the thing that’s right close to them,” says Scott Gardner, president of the Wyoming County Chamber of Commerce and Tourism.
It’s not as if Silver Lake doesn’t already have an extensive history in tourism, though. Driving around the lake, you can find artifacts of the tale of a fake sea creature that, during the late 1800s, people traveled far and wide to see. In a brilliant marketing scheme attributed to a hotellier named Artemus B. Walker, a giant “serpent” would float out into the lake when conditions were foggy enough that people could claim they saw something while leaving the mystery very much at large. (There are even rumors that someone visiting Silver Lake decided to bring this scheme back to his home of Loch Ness, Scotland.)
Though you won’t find any serpents on the lake now—real or fake—it does offer a worthy day trip or even a week away for Rochestarians.
Right along the lake is a slew of food and drink options. Hole in the Wall restaurant—which is much nicer than its name implies—offers an upscale dining experience, sourcing many ingredients and products in its immediate agricultural community.
You can’t miss the Charcoal Corral with its wide variety of menu options, eighteen-hole mini-golf course, and twin-screen drive-in theater. You can grab an ice cream, pizza, or barbecue chicken; golf; and catch a flick, all without leaving the same piece of property.
After a day on the links at Silver Lake Country Club, relax on the deck at the attached Club on Silver Lake or stop by the Lumber Yard in the Village of Perry for downhome American fare. When dinner is over, make your way over to Sweet Sarah’s for a treat and then to the Silver Lake Brewing Project (where you can also find fresh-baked Hole in the Wall bread!) for a nightcap.
Sitting in the heart of New York’s number one-agricultural community, Silver Lake offers access to amazing ingredients, and folks are taking advantage of that.
At East Hill Creamery, for instance, Gary and Betty Burley have expanded their dairy operation to create an artisan cheese business that you can not only taste but will soon be able to experience. The factory where the cheese is made sits right along Route 39 with a shop where you can buy the cheese and, come August, a museum for customers to peruse and tours to see how everything is made.
Silver Lake and its surrounding communities boast a vibrant arts scene that goes back to the nineteenth century. The Silver Lake Institute, which hosts and organizes many of the lake’s artistic endeavors, is a product of the Chautauquan movement of adult education in art, religion, and culture.
The Institute “was built for the purpose of having summer cultural and spiritual and educational opportunities,” says Loren Penman, a Silver Lake Institute program committee member. “And I think the entire region—like Warsaw and Perry—has really gotten a reputation for being devoted to the arts.” The institute brings in artists of all kinds, from metal workers to painters to photographers, and offers weekly free concerts from July to September.
Then there’s Shake on the Lake, an annual Shakespearian performance on the public beach that has expanded into seven other counties. The community, in fact, is so supportive of the arts that there is a special tax imposed on residents that allows these events to happen free of charge, Penman says.
This year is a big one in particular because the Silver Lake Experience is returning. This four-day event begins at 8 a.m. on Thursday, August 10, and offers workshops in art, music, painting, theater, literature, and history, among many other topics. Registration is required for the event and can be found at silverlakeexperience.org.
Leaving the Lake
There is plenty to do on the lake and in its immediate vicinity, but there are also many other attractions nearby. Letchworth State Park, “the Grand Canyon of the East,” is only minutes away and offers hiking, white water rafting, and dining.
Head into Perry on Saturday mornings for the weekly farmers market, and if you’re there July 8, visit the Chalk Art Festival, which brings in people from as far as Toronto, or grab your bike for the Tour de Perry.
Heading west in the county, there’s the Hidden Valley Animal Adventure, a safari-like tour where you drive through the habitats of animals from other continents. Keep heading east, and you’ll be at the Arcade and Attica Railroad where you can ride a nineteenth-century-era steam engine.
“The good thing about Wyoming County is that everything is about twenty-five minutes away,” Gardner says. “You can fill your days enough to keep busy but still have time to recreate and relax on the lake.”
The Lake Itself
Like any Finger Lake, Silver Lake offers many recreation opportunities. From boating, skiing, tubing, and wakeboarding to kayaking, canoeing, and fishing, you can do it all, just on a smaller body of water.
There’s public access to the lake at the south end to launch boats and canoes and the like. Anglers can find pan fish, northern pike, walleye, and large mouth bass in the lake.
There are many opportunities for accommodations—a quick Google search brings up myriad campgrounds and motels nearby. Also, check Airbnb for cottages along the lake.
Joe Leathersich is a city of Rochester resident who works in the rural communities of the (585). He enjoys craft beer, his dogs, and the Buffalo Bills.