Dwyer Park History

Location & Origins

Dwyer Park is situated on Little York Lake, one of a series of kettle bail lakes around Cortland County. The earliest information about Little York Lake is found on a map of the Onondaga Trail accompanying an article by Paul A.W. Wallace entitled "Conrad Weiser and His New York Contacts" published in the New York State's Historical Association's quarterly magazine "New York History", April 1947.

This map was based on a map of the New York Province in 1776 with detail from a map made in 1749. It shows the Tioughnioga River emptying into the Susquehanna at the upper end of the river is a tiny lake marked "canoes may come from this lake with a freshet from Pennsylvania".

Mount Toppin

Next to the lake on the west is a mountain labeled "Onogarechny Mountain", or Mount Toppin, with the notation "where Indian corn, tobacco, squash and pompions were first found by the natives". Other, wilder legends about the lake include a well-hidden medicinal spring which gave the drinker everlasting youth; a submerged city with temples, mills and streets, and a macabre reference to redheads burning up if they so much as took a sip of the lake's water.

Hidden Treasure

Legends notwithstanding, Little York Lake was a hidden treasure, with the low visibility granted to rural locations before widespread use of the automobile. It caught the eye of the Cortland Traction Company, which sought to boost its profits by installing a park with the goal of luring a large number of county residents to recreational opportunities in this peaceful and remote country setting. The company already operated Salisbury Park off of Elm Street in the city, but wanted to extend their opportunities outside city boundaries, thereby increasing their fares.


The company purchased farmland at the quieter northern end of the lake, the southern end being used at the turn of the twentieth century for summer resorts. A striking pavilion was built by Cephas B. Barker of Newark Valley, and probably designed by him also. It was patterned in stick-style architecture with a tall, angular form, and steep, intersecting gables with visible roof rafters. Much of the wood used in the construction was sawn on site, with some being salvaged from the old structure at Salisbury Park. The latter was torn down and brought on flat car to the Little York site. The large porches with their diagonal bracing and second level with stick work railing were later added.

Public Entertainment

The park entertained the public through picnics, dances, band concerts, and water activities. It remained a popular destination until the 1930's, when competition with the automobile simply drove the Cortland Traction Company out of business. The park lay dormant until the 1950's, when Cortland County purchased it with remaining funds from the Post-War Planning account for use as a county park.

Renaming of Park

The park was renamed "Dwyer Park" in 1959, to honor longstanding county superintendent of highways William Dwyer, "…as a memorial to the vision, loyalty and devotion to public service of this great public servant." Today there are nature trails, boating, softball, horseshoes, picnic and play areas to entertain the public, along with yearly fireworks on July 3rd. The pavilion is still busy with catering and fine theater in the summer.