New York’s Route 20

“Life is what happens when you’re making other plans”

I’ve always loved that quote. While it could be interpreted a number of ways, to me it’s a reminder to slow the pace, enjoy today, and be ready for spontaneity. Too often, in a rush to stick to the best laid plans, we miss the best the day has to offer – the unexpected.

On a recent Saturday at 4 a.m., Hubby and I were packed up and ready to head out for a trip to visit friends in Brooklyn. Sadly, an illness in their family cancelled the original trip last minute, and left us with no destination. It was early. Really early. But we were ready to go somewhere, and eager for a small adventure. We hit the road an hour later.

Map in hand, we made our plans as we drove. The sun came up and presented a beautiful blue sky and warm day waiting to be enjoyed. Hubby suggested we take a road trip down New York State’s Route 20 – great idea.

a friendly face in the village of Cazenovia
A friendly face in the village of Cazenovia

This historic route began as a toll road at the end of the 18th century, eventually growing to a major thoroughfare extending across New York State from Albany to the Erie.  Before the construction of the Thruway, it was a major tourist route, adding to the growth of small towns along the way including Cazenovia and Sharon Springs.  It’s well worth leaving the major highways for a trip down motor memory lane to explore some of these areas.

By mid-morning we rolled into the village of Cazenovia. What a pleasant surprise! We enjoyed a morning strolling though the main street of this charming town, peeking in shop windows and meeting friendly locals. We bought some flowers at a weekend public market and chatted with a young farmer about his new chicken rearing endeavor. We could have spent a whole weekend here, including ample time to admire the beautiful lake and relax at the town park and pier. A number of homes and businesses are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and offer an architectural glimpse into 19th century life.

Pewter Spoon Café, Cazenovia
Pewter Spoon Café, Cazenovia

Luckily for us, it was time for brunch, and we found just the perfect spot – the Pewter Spoon Café. Their breakfast burrito might have been one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. And, I was happy to learn that the eggs came from friendly farmer we’d met that morning at the market! Perfectly scrambled up with salsa, black beans and green chilies – oh my! Yummy.

We chatted with the owner of a local antique store who suggested we visit Chittenango Falls State Park. To reach the park, we headed out of town about five miles north on Route 13, through a winding beautiful mix of farm houses and glimpses of a roadside stream.

To see the falls, wander from the parking area just a few hundred yards for a view from the top. For the best view, you’ll need to hike a short ways down to the base of the falls. During our visit a group of Amish families were gathered for what looked like a wedding – although unlikely as Amish weddings are typically held in November and early December, after the harvest.  This is a place everyone, and all ages, can enjoy.

Chittenango Falls
Chittenango Falls

The sounds of the waterfall lulled us into a relaxing trance for a short time.  Then we were back to Route 20  – heading to our next stop.

A short diversion off of route 20, north on route 10, the hamlet of Sharon Springs beckons to be explored.

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Former destination spa structures sit idle in the village

Originally settled in 1780, the town came into its own in the 19th century, thanks to a rush of visitors seeking the benefits from the plentiful mineral springs found around the village. Rail lines connected Sharon Springs to New York City, Boston and Albany – collecting upwards of 10,000 visitors annually to numerous hotels and spa resorts found throughout the village. During the 20th century, the visitor demographic changed and, eventually, dried up.  Today, thanks to some devoted residents and history aficionados, progress is being made to re-create a viable visitor destination.

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A once bustling, now vacant destination resort just outside the village

I had a strong urge to revisit this sleepy village with a very busy past. About five years ago, on the way to a wedding, friends and I drove through Sharon Springs, NY. We passed through quickly – much like all of the other small towns on the way to the remote venue – but Sharon Springs caught my attention. The remnants of a booming heyday spa town sat idle,  grown over with vines and graffiti. This mix of rotten gilded age architecture and nature intrigued me then, and still does today. The decrepit scene maintains a charming quality and evokes in me a sense of potential, rather than rot. The remaining spa structures in town patiently wait for their next incarnation. I find the history here fascinating, and strolling the streets I think of ways to continue to bring life back here, to little Sharon Springs.

Hubby and I parked the car at one end of the village, and slowly made our way through on foot, taking time to glimpse at the closed hotels tucked back it the trees. We wove our way down the sidewalk, through a group of local kids preparing for a dance class, stopping to read the historic markers along the way. “Here stood the Pavillion Hotel…” read one sign, “destroyed by fire in…” read another. I could feel the presence of the history here. It’s thick with influence.

We found the locals to be very friendly and willing to chat with us about the village’s history and future plans. There was a buzz in town, and shops prepared for the large annual Garden Party the following weekend – an artisan, garden and social event. Deb McGillycuddy, of McGillycuddy’s Soaps, was a friendly face eager to share with us all about her soap making, and explained the numerous varieties and designs. The shop is beautiful and the handcrafted quality of the products shines.

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McGillycuddy’s Soaps

After admiring the newly refurbished American Hotel, and browsing some antiques, we found Beekman 1802. I have to admit I was not familiar with The Beekman Boys or their lifestyle brand prior to our visit, but am happy to have experienced their mercantile. I can understand why these “boys” have gained a fan following. Dr. Brent Ridge and Josh Kilmer-Purcell moved to Sharon Springs following successful careers in NYC. In 2008, the duo won the grand prize on the TV series “The Amazing Race,” providing the capital to expand their upstate farm into a lifestyle brand. Their shop in town sells food products, home décor, goats milk soap and more.  The displays are beautiful, the staff friendly and knowledgeable, and the renovations to the space itself are impressive.

The Beekman Boys and others are coming together to give this village new life. Bed and Breakfast and Hotel renovations continue. Plans for redevelopment of the expansive spas are murky but in the works. Again this village creates an intrigue that draws visitors and residents.

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Inside the Beekman 1802 mercantile

We walked back out to the bright sunlight bathing the sidewalk. This tiny town, sunken down into a mineral-rich creek bed, is glowing.

For more information on New York State Route 20, visit http://www.routes5and20.com/

 

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