Carpenter Falls Waterfall Wednesday blog cover
Waterfall Wednesday

Waterfall Wednesday: Carpenter Falls

Carpenter Falls by Laura Jaen Smith. Acrylic landscape painting of Moravia waterfall from 50 NY Waterfalls Project.
Carpenter Falls, 6x6 acrylic on wood panel, 2018

Carpenter Falls may have been one of the most mentally challenging waterfalls that I visited for the project of 50 New York Waterfalls.  

Carpenter Falls is a 90 foot drop waterfall located in Moravia, New York on the west side of Skaneateles Lake.  Located on Bear Swamp Creek Gorge, Carpenter Falls is part of the Unique Area maintained by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation and adjoined with the Bahar Nature Preserve maintained by the Finger Lakes Land Trust.  Between the two entities are 87 total acres of protected land.

The waterfall drops from a 10 foot thick caprock of Tully Limestone straight down into the gorge below.  Tully Limestone is a type of rock that is specific to this region (I’ll let you look up more information on your own if you’re into geology).  It’s interesting that you can see visual similarities with several other waterfalls in the area that have a Tully Limestone cap.  For example if you look through my Instagram feed (here) back to where I was sharing the completed pieces for this project, you can see that Tinker Falls, Ludlowville Falls, and Cowshed Falls also have this feature. 

The Bear Swamp Creek Gorge is said to have four waterfalls total, 2 that are accessible by the 1.6 mile trail.  During my trip I only visited the main one that is the easier to access because my itinerary that day included stopping by six different waterfall sites before ending at a picnic at the lake.   (The waterfall sites visited that day were Fillmore Glen State Park, Carpenter Falls, Bucktail Falls, Tinker Falls, Stockbridge Falls, and Pratt’s Falls – all towards the eastern side of the Finger Lakes into Central New York.)

Photo of Carpenter Falls Moravia NY by Laura Jaen Smith
Carpenter Falls, photograph, 2018

The walk to Carpenter Falls is really short compared to many of the other hikes that I took while completing this project, only a 10th of a mile from the parking area to the falls and about 10 to 15 minutes of a walk.  However, the trail is a little less friendly for the casual new hiker.  The trail is right at the top of the ravine with steep walls to your right side.  There are many tree roots to step (trip) over and several areas where the dirt is loose and it’s easy to lose footing.  Reading others’ experiences, there seems to be a trail down to the base but it is steep and essentially climbs down the side of the ravine.

I’m not sure if this picture portrays just how high up you are when you stand at the top where this trail ends.  For reference, there’s a person sitting down on that first rock (and remember the water drops 90 feet).  It’s definitely a beautiful view, but it was also very much a challenge for someone who is not a fan of heights (and there’s not really anything to hold onto).  The entire walk to the falls was challenging (I recommend keep looking left), but somehow seeing a waterfall at the end makes it worth it.    

Photo of Carpenter Falls Moravia NY by Laura Jaen Smith
Carpenter Falls, photograph, 2018

History of Carpenter Falls

I was a little surprised what I found when I did some digging about this location.  At first, it was about how I expected with being a preserved land trading ownership between government entities, but then I kept seeing reference to a still that used to be on the site.  

After a lot of research, I found out that Carpenter Falls was named for John H. Carpenter who owned the land in the 1800’s.  From 1834-1875 the Carpenter’s Distillery in New Hope was powered from the water of Bear Swamp Creek.  Multiple online sources mentioned that in 1855 the distillery used 12,000 bushels of grain, produced 550 barrels of whiskey, and fattened 85 hogs with the spent mash.  In 1855 John Carpenter bought out his partner and added a gristmill and sawmill to the location.  

In more recent history (late 1990’s), the land was owned by Hu Bahar.  When he passed away his wife Dawn Bahar sold the original 25 acres of the preserve to the Finger Lakes Land Trust (hence the name Bahar Nature Preserve).  The Land Trust later acquired the acres adjacent to the preserve and later conveyed a portion of the land to New York State for the creation of the Carpenter Falls State Unique Area in 2008 (only 10 years ago).

Painting It

Carpenter Falls by Laura Jaen Smith. Acrylic landscape painting of Moravia waterfall from 50 NY Waterfalls Project.
Carpenter Falls, 6x6 acrylic on wood panel, 2018

The challenge for painting this waterfall was more in capturing the reference photos than in the painting piece itself.  I realized that I really did not have a lot of photos of the waterfall to work from.  Most sites I took several (probably 50-100) photos at different angles throughout the hike.  This hike, I took 12 total shots.  Almost all of the waterfall shots being from the exact same angle – which didn’t give me a lot of variety to work with.


I’m not sure if any other artists out there experience this, but sometimes painting green can be tricky in nature.  Being able to portray the bright vibrant greens of early summer with the sun streaming through while trying to keep it in a way that the mind will perceive as real can be hard.  I’m not quite sure I fully captured the feeling to the extent that I was hoping in this piece, but I do like the overall look of it and like how it stands as kind of souvenir of visiting this location and pushing past some of my fears.

Have you visited this waterfall?

Tell me more about it if you have!

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For more about Carpenter Falls or on the history of this location you can visit (each link to source): History of Cayuga CountySpirits & Cocktails of Upstate New Yorkarticle on Skaneateles WhiskeyWalk in the Park, or Finger Lakes Land Trust.