Burning Springs

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4350-4364 Case Rd
Canandaigua, NY
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Burning Springs
Charted on the earliest maps of North America after La Salle’s visit August 1669
Caused by escaping natural gas. Once mystery to visitors


By the New York State Education Department — 1937

What was there

Natural gas springs. The gas was formed when organic material was caught in-between layers of mud millions of years ago when this region was covered by a shallow ocean. The organic material decayed and was subject to intense pressure, forming natural gas, which became trapped within layers of shale rock. The ravine in the region cuts through the gas-rich layers of shale and the gas leaks out.

French explorer Robert de La Salle, was brought by the Seneca of the village of Ganagaro in August of 1669 to inspect the spring.

What is there now

The marker stands near a private residence and adjacent to the stream into which the spring empties.  The stream is on private property. The gas springs are up the ravine from the road.

More information

An excerpt from “The natural, statistical, and civil history of the state of New-York, Volume 1″ by James Macauley (1829) reads:

There are several burning springs in the county of Ontario. That in the town of Bristol, about eight miles southeasterly of the village of Canandaigua, is in a ravine at the base of a small eminence. The water is pure and emits so much inflammable gas, that it ignites on the application of a lighted candle. The flame is unsteady. Combustion is more easily communicated and is more active and of longer continuance in drouths, than when the spring is raised. The stone in the vicinity is shale. A small brook flows through the ravine 

An excerpt from “The northern traveller: and Northern tour; with the routes to the Springs…” by Theodore Dwight and Henry Dilworth Gilpin (1831) reads:

Springs of water charged with inflammable gas are quite common in Bristol Middlesex and Canandaigua.  The gas from the former rises through fissures of the slate from both the margin and the bed of a brook. They form little hillocks of a few feet in diameter and a few inches high of a dark bituminous mould. The gas will burn with a steady flame. In winter they form openings through the snow, and being set on fire, exhibit a steady and lively flame in contact with nothing but snow. In very cold weather it is said tubes of ice are formed round these currents of gas (probably from the freezing of the water contained in it,) to the height of two or three feet, and when lighted in a still evening presenting an appearance even more beautiful than the former.

From a pit which was sunk in one of the hillocks the gas was once conducted through bored logs to the kitchen of a dwelling.

An excerpt from “A history of Ontario County, New York and its people, Volume 1” by Charles F. Milliken (1911 ) reads:

…in the month of August, 1669, La Salle, accompanied by DeCasson and Galinee, visited the Senecas. While the negotiations with the Indians were pending, the following event is recorded by Galinee : “In order to pass away the time, I went with M. de la Salle under, the escort of two Indians about, four leagues ten miles south of the village (Victor) where we were staying, to see a very extraordinary spring. Issuing from a moderately high rock, it forms a small brook. The water is very clear, but it has a bad odor, like that of the mineral marshes of Paris ,when the mud on the bottom is stirred with the foot. I applied a torch and the water immediately took fire and burned like brandy and was not extinguished until it rained. The flame is among the Indians a sign of abundance or fertility, according as it exhibits the contrary qualities There is no appearance of sulphur, saltpeter, or any other combustible material. The water has not even any taste and I can neither offer or imagine any better explanation than that it acquires this combustible property by passing over some aluminous land”

The Earl of Belmont, Governor of the province of New York, gave these instructions to Col. Romer, whom he sent on a journey through the country of the Iroquois in 1700 : “You are to go and view a well, or a spring, which is eight miles beyond the Snecks furthest castle, which they have told me blazes up in a flame when a light coale or fire brand is put into it. You will do well to taste the said water and give me your opinion thereof, and bring with you some of it.”

This “burning spring,” as another writer has said, “is located near Bristol Center, about eight miles from the foot of Canandaigua lake, in a direct line south of Boughton hill. The spring is on the south side of a small brook which empties through a ravine into the west side of Ganargua or Mud creek. The banks opposite the spring are from eight to twenty feet high, the spring being on a level with the bed of the brook. By applying a match the water appears to burn and is not easily extinguished except by a heavy rain or high wind.”

About this naturally occurring gas

It is important to note that this is naturally occurring flammable gas (mostly made up of methane). It is relatively odorless and invisible. It is the same gas that can be harvested via the controversial Hydrolic Fracturing or “Fracking” process. It is important to note that occurrences of this gas stem from the rock bed, not the water itself. Instances at this site stem from the rock and do not saturate the water (it is not typical for naturally occurring gas springs to saturate water to make water flammable). Natural cracks in the rock at this site seep pressurized natural gas, which then bubbles up through the mud and water. In some locations, or if funneled through holes in snow or ice, these seepages can be ignited. The water itself can not. There is a fundamental difference.*

Submitted by

We would like to thank the following for helping us with this entry:
Matthew Conheady – (*author has a degree in environmental sciences and has been studying stream ecology, and hydraulic fracturing controversy for over a decade).


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