Watkins Glen Waterfront

Period etching depicts North Central Railroad station (1876), facing Watkins (now Watkins Glen) harbor.

Nineteenth-century visitors came to Watkins (now Watkins Glen) by lake steamer or by rail. Here freethought publisher D. M. Bennett and other delegates to the New York Freethinkers Association convention arrived in 1878 and again in 1882.

In 1878, the New York Freethinkers Association held a famous convention in Watkins. There, atheist publisher D. M. Bennett and two others (W. S. Bell and Josephine Tilton, both of Boston) were arrested for selling a marriage reform tract, Cupid’s Yokes by Ezra Heywood. Rochester abolitionist, woman’s-rights advocate, Quaker, and Spiritualist Amy Post paid bail for Bennett and Bell. The feminist activist Elizabeth Smith Miller paid bail for Tilton -- though she quickly reneged after reading the marriage reform tract, whose arguments she found repellent. The arrest of Bennett eventually led to his imprisonment and to a trial that established the dubious Hicklin standard for obscenity which would prevail in American law until 1959. On August 23 - 27, 1882, the Association convened in Watkins a second time, giving Bennett a hero’s welcome after his release from prison and a world tour.

At the 1878 convention, some 200 delegates departed from this waterfront for lake sightseeing cruises on the morning of Saturday, August 24.

The New York Freethinkers Association convened again in Watkins in 1882. Again, most attendees would have entered the village at this rail and boat terminus.

The waterfront is now home to several sightseeing boats; the train station, built in 1876, now houses a waterfront restaurant.