Central Cascade Waterfall Wednesday blog cover
Adventures,  Painting Series,  Waterfall Wednesday

Waterfall Wednesday: Central Cascade

Did you know that Watkins Glen State Park used to have a resident artist?  That’s something that I found out from one of the displays in the beautiful new entrance when I visited the park this past summer of my 50 New York Waterfalls project.  I found it really intriguing so I made note to look into it more and share what I found out.   

If you’re just now discovering my current blog series, each week I’ve been sharing about my 50 New York Waterfalls painting series where I hiked to and then painted 50 waterfalls within the Finger Lakes region of New York in a 60 day time period.  This week is the 30th week of the series (can you believe that?? 3/5 done!) so definitely take a look back if you’ve missed any (you can go herethere’s also a search bar on the right if you have favorites you’re looking for)!  

Photo of Central Cascade waterfall Watkins Glen State Park gorge trail by Laura Jaen Smith
Central Cascade, photograph, 2018
Photo of Central Cascade waterfall Watkins Glen State Park gorge trail by Laura Jaen Smith
Central Cascade, photograph, 2018

This week we’re going to Central Cascade within Watkins Glen State Park.  Watkins Glen State Park is located along Route 14 in Watkins Glen on the southern tip of Seneca Lake in the Finger Lakes Region of New York.  

The park features 19 different waterfalls along a mile and a half long trail that travels through the gorge.  Previously I’ve shared about Triple CascadeCavern Cascadeand Sentry Cascade (look forward to a couple more stories from this beautiful park still to come.)  

Central Cascade is the tallest of the waterfalls in Watkins Glen State Park at 60 feet and is located halfway through the gorge trail at approximately 3/4 of a mile in the Glen Cathedral section underneath Folly Bridge.

A Resident Artist in the Park?

One of my favorite things that I discovered during my last visit to Watkins Glen State Park was that there used to be a resident artist who lived in the park (or what would become Watkins Glen State Park).  

Sepia tone photo of James Hope in military uniform
Captain James Hope, photograph; care of National Park Service

James Hope was born in Scotland in 1818 and immigrated to Canada with his father after the death of his mother.  He later left Canada to apprentice as a wagon-maker in Fairhaven, Vermont after his father died in 1831.  He married his wife Julia Marietta Smith in 1841.  Hope had a talent for portraiture (and later landscapes) and supported his family by teaching painting and drawing at Castleton Seminary in Vermont.  In the early 1850’s he took a studio in New York City where he worked during the winters and returned to his home in Castleton during summers.  He was considered to be part of the Hudson River School of landscape painting.

Captain James Hope enlisted in the Civil War (1861-1865) at age 43 and witnessed many battles.  While in the 2nd Vermont Infantry he was a scout and mapmaker.  He created sketches and later documented battles through his paintings.  He is probably best known for his depictions of Civil War scenes such as The Army of the Potomac below.  

The Army of the Potomac by James Hope, 1862 painting of war camp
The Army of the Potomac, James Hope, 1862; care of Museum of Fine Arts Boston

In 1871 James Hope was commissioned to paint Rainbow Falls in Watkins Glen, New York (now part of Watkins Glen State Park).  The commission paid $10,000 and the piece measured 5 ft by 6.5 ft.  At the time this was a HUGE commission and he didn’t pass up the opportunity.  I played around with some quick inflation calculators and it looks like with inflation it would be somewhere around $200,000 to $250,000 in today’s money.  (As a side note, I would be completely open to this type of awesome commission.)

James Hope fell in love with the gorge during his visit.  The next year he built a studio and art gallery in the park.  The gallery was located overlooking the gorge on Lovers Lane near where the suspension bridge is (if I looked at the map correctly, it would be somewhere near Central Cascade).  I can’t wait until the weather warms up so I can check out where this used to be and see the views that he saw!


Hope's Art Gallery Watkins Glen NY. Photographer J.D. Hope Watkins N.Y.
Hope's Art Gallery, photograph; care of Maine Arts Journal
Frowning Cliff by James Hope. 1872 painting of Watkins Glen Gorge
Frowning Cliff, James Hope, 1872; care of Museum of Fine Arts Boston

James Hope lived in this location with his family until his death in 1892.  After his death the gallery was operated by his family for a short time before it closed.  James Hope’s work was moved down to the souvenir shop at the main entrance.  Sudden rains in 1935 flooded Watkins Glen gorge, filling the gorge with water and taking out the iron and concrete infrastructure that existed.  Homes and businesses along Glen Creek were badly damaged, including the gift shops that housed much of Hope’s artwork.  

Locally, remaining James Hope paintings can be found in the Schuyler County Historical Museum, Watkins Glen Public Library, and Arnot Art Museum.  Other paintings can also be found in Boston and New York City.

Painting Central Cascade

Speaking of waterfall paintings of Watkins Glen State Park…  (It’s always awkward trying to find a way to gracefully transition topics.  So today I’ll just embrace the awkwardness instead.)  

Central Cascade is one of the seven waterfalls that I painted from Watkins Glen State Park during my waterfalls project this past year.  This painting posed a lot of different challenges. 

Central Cascade by Laura Jaen Smith. Square acrylic landscape painting of waterfall in Watkin Glen State Park from 50 NY Waterfalls project
Central Cascade, 6x6 acrylic on wood panel, 2018

Like many other waterfalls in the area, the first challenge was finding the best angle for the reference photo.  Ideally I would have positioned the painting a few feet to the left, however there’s a large ravine there off the trail.  The painting has a lot of different textures and changes in lighting that were challenging.  I spent a lot of time perfecting the ledge on the left getting the textures and shadows just right.  My favorite part of the painting is the top of the waterfall where it starts out in shadow and comes into the bright light. 

The painting of Central Cascade is available to own as part of the Watkins Glen State Park collection of six paintings (view via button above).

Have you visited Watkins Glen State Park before?  Did you know there used to be a resident artist?

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