There are many recreational resources at the 4,507-acre James Kennedy State Forest, including snowmobile trails, a portion of the Finger Lakes Trail, and a cross-country ski trail. The Forest, named in memory of the District Forester James D. Kennedy, is located in Harford, Lapeer and Virgil, in Cortland County, NY.
The towns of Virgil, Lapeer, and Harford, in which the James Kennedy State Forest is located, were developed under the Military Tract that was established in 1789. The Governor of New York, DeWitt Clinton, plotted land from Oswego to the southern border of present day Cortland County. This land was dedicated for the payment of New York’s Revolutionary War soldiers.
The land was then divided into smaller sections of about ten square miles called townships. These townships were then divided into sections of land approximately 600 acres each to be allotted to individual soldiers. Unfortunately, the majority of the soldiers did not utilize such payments, preferring instead to take their chances elsewhere. In those instances, the soldier sold his land warrant to a speculator who would commonly divide the lots into smaller pieces and then sell them for a large profit.
As part of the Military Tract, the town of Virgil was named after the Roman poet, Virgil. Originally the town of Virgil was connected to Homer, New York. Virgil separated from Homer in 1804. The first settler of the Virgil area, Joseph Chaplin, arrived in 1792.
Chaplin was commissioned by New York State to cut a road through the dense forest from Oxford to Ithaca in order to open Central New York to settlement and development. Chaplin strove to cut a road as straight as possible and eventually ended up coming out near Ludlowville.
This road was referred to as “The First Road.” However, the state was not satisfied with “The First Road,” and refused to pay Chaplin until he made another road from Virgil to Ithaca which was named “Bridle Road.” After two years of breaking the road, Chaplin’s work ended in 1794.
Shortly thereafter, John M. Frank and his family used the road to settle in the town of Virgil. John Gee and his family followed the Frank family in 1795. They were later followed by John Roe and his family in 1797. These were the first three families to settle in Virgil.
Daniel C. Squires named the town of Lapeer, and he was responsible for its split from Virgil. Squires is reported to have commented after the split, “Although among the youngest of all the towns of Cortland County [it is] the peer of them all.” Squires combined the French article La, which is commonly used like “the” in English, with the English word Peer.
“Lapeer,” the town’s name, is a direct reference to Squires’ statement meaning “The Peer.” Although not organized as a town until 1845, Lapeer’s first settler was Primus Grant, a native of Guinea, who came to the area in 1799.
Unlike Virgil or Lapeer, the town of Harford has no solid information as to the origin of its name. However, there is a hypothesis regarding its origin. It is assumed that Harford followed the example of the neighboring town of Richford in determining its name.
Richford received its name from the first owner of Richford’s general store, Ezekial Rich, around the year of 1821. Theodore Hart ran Harford’s first general store around 1824. It is also interesting to note that Harford was and is often spelled “Hartford.” Therefore, it is feasible that Harford did receive its name from Theodore Hart, although it cannot be proven.
Between 1931 and 1976, approximately 2,280,500 pine, spruce, cedar, larch and red oak were planted to aid in reforestation of the area. The trees were planted by members of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) Camp S-125 based in Slaterville Springs, in Tompkins County, NY, Conservation Department staff (now DEC), Camp Pharsalia crews, and social service crews.
Today there are three public forest access roads within the Kennedy Forest: Scutt Road (2.1 miles in length), Courtney Hill Road (0.8 miles long), and Cotton Hanlon Road (0.9 miles long). These are permanent unpaved roads that are open to public for various recreational uses unless gated or otherwise noted.
One of Kennedy State Forest’s most beautiful hikes is the Spanish Loop Trail. Built by DEC volunteers, the trail is 6.1 miles long and has several outstanding water featuresincluding Mercedes Springs, a mossy area whose main attraction is a large semi-vertical spring covered in moss. Hikers can also find Enrique Creek, Cristina Springs, and Cristina Creek Falls along this trail.
Trails are well marked, but with so many loops and options, it is advisable to buy the multipage set of maps dedicated to the area from the Finger Lakes Trail Conference. Visit the Finger Lakes Land Trust website and DEC’s Kennedy Forest website for more information about visiting the State Forest.
Pictured: Mercedes Springs in Kennedy State Forest