The 112 acre Hiawatha Island rests in the Susquehanna River between Owego and Apalachin. Waterman Center also owns 15 acres of riparian woodlands on the mainland. These two parcels comprise the Hiawatha Island Riverfront Park Complex. The island is home to hundreds of flora and fauna species, including several listed on the state endangered species listing. Remnants of a hotel and farm buildings are visible on the island. Access to the island is from the western end of Marshland Road in Apalachin. A pontoon boat provides access from the mainland to the island for special tours and events.
Hiawatha Island itself is a special preserve in that it is the largest island in the Susquehanna River within New York State. Most of its 112 acres is within the 100 year floodplain, and yet for most of the year it is above water. It provides a diverse mix of wet woods, open fields, overgrown meadows and forests. Wildlife abounds on the island. Several large trees can be found on the island including specimen trees of sugar maple, black walnut, and white ash.
The mainland properties, although not as diverse in flora and fauna resources, are quite important. The open fields on each of these sites serve as prime habitat for large and small herbivores. Hawks and owls may nest in the trees that surround these properties. The foundation of a farmhouse still remains on the Marshland Road-Route 17 parcel.
Hiawatha Island was shaped by the Susquehanna River as it changed its course. The island was used by native people as a resting area and for agricultural purposes. Apparently, there were never any permanent habitations built by Native Americans on the island.
In the 1870's a hotel was built on the island and operated there for about twenty years. At that time, the island was almost entirely cleared. The hotel was built as a two-story structure, a third and fourth story were added later. In keeping with the style of the Victorian era, there was a ballroom for dining and dancing. The registration book can be viewed at the Tioga County Historical Society in Owego.
River day trips from Owego to Binghamton and back were popular in the late nineteenth century. Hiawatha Island was a popular stopping point on these trips. Guests rode a Lyman-Truman river boat, like the one pictured here, which were manufactured in Owego.
The hotel closed around 1895, the structure became home to the Goodrich family until 1930. At that time, the hotel and outbuildings were dismantled. Other buildings on the island either burned down or fell into disrepair. Today, only two structures remain intact on the island, one stores maintenance equipment, the other is an open structure.
In 1988 local citizens purchased the preserves to save them for future generations. After several years of fundraising, the group turned the properties over to the Waterman Center to be managed as a wildlife refuge and education center.
For additional information on the history of the island, read Emma Sedore's Hiawatha Island, Jewel of the Susquehanna, published by Tioga County Historical Society, 1994.
A special trip presented by the Waterman Conservation Education Center, Tioga County Historical Society, Newark Valley Historical Society and the Tioga County Office of Tourism called "A Walk Thru Time", is a living history of Tioga County. You begin your journey aboard Waterman's Center's boat, "The Susquehanna Shuttle" which carries you back to the past. Once you land on historic Hiawatha Island, also known as Big Island, you will be met by a number of interpreters who will guide you on your journey. You may encounter explorers and adventurers who have come to the island to trade with native people. You see trade goods, like cloth, beads and silver, they have with them. They are looking for beaver and other pelts and perhaps food. You may also encounter some of the first settlers who raise crops and log the forests.
Also present on the island are Civil War veterans who recount the battles and tell their campfire stories. People from the Hiawatha House Hotel are there to describe Tioga County Victorian life and the fun shared by the visitors to the hotel. "The Susquehanna Shuttle" awaits to return you to the 21st century.
In 2006, the New York State DEC verified that there was a family of bald eagles living on Hiawatha Island. The family was that of a mom, dad and two young hatchlings, one a boy and one a girl.
Click on the trail system map (above) to view the brochure for The Hiawatha Island Trails, which includes a printable version of this map.
From Waterman Center take Route 434 west 2.2 miles from Hilton Road. Turn right on west end of Marshland Road. Take third driveway on the left.