I’ve been wanting to visit the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York for quite a while, and now that my granddaughter Isabella is a sophomore at Cornell, in Ithaca, NY, I had a great motivation to finally get there. I can definitely see why the town’s slogan is “Ithaca is Gorges!”
Ithaca is complicated to get to by air, so I started my journey with a flight to Boston, where I rented a car with help, hospitality and great directions from my sister Bari. Then I headed west, making a stop in Fitchburg, MA just west of Boston. There my niece Susan gave me a personal tour of the Fitchburg Historical Society, where she is the director. The town has a fascinating history, like many New England towns. It was a hotbed of abolitionists before and during the Civil War, and many Fitchburg residents moved to Kansas so they could vote on whether Kansas would be admitted to the union as a slave or a free state. The small gray house with the flag in this historic neighborhood was once the home of freed slaves.
Fitchburg also has a small but excellent Art Museum, which was enhanced when I was there by the Art in Bloom festival. The festival features a flower-arrangement contest, as you can see from the view above looking through the Egyptian collection. The fast moving rivers in the area made Fitchburg an industrial giant, manufacturing everything from textiles to guns. After touring around the quaint New England town, Susan and my nephew Tim took me to SS Lobster, a great seafood spot, for dinner.
The Historical society is the tall building in the center of Main Street, and bottom right is the Common. The large rock in the upper-right photo is known locally as The Boulder. It was a glacial erratic that sat for centuries at the top of a hill above town, and people wanted to move it for safety reasons, but decided to preserve it in a more secure location instead of destroying it.
From Fitchburg I drove through the historic towns and Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts to Ithaca, in the Finger Lakes Region of Central New York State. If you look at a map of the area you can see where the lakes got their name. Iroquois legend says the Great Spirit put his hand down to bless the earth, though geologists prefer to think glaciers scoured out the lakes, valleys and gorges. Either way it’s a beautiful place. Ithaca sits at the south end of Cayuga Lake, about 40 miles long and a few miles wide. The Cornell campus is on a bluff overlooking the lake and the campus is hilly and dotted with waterfalls! Above is the famous clock tower–despite the blossoming trees, it was snowing the day I was there. On the right, the Ivy League campus contrasts with the new art museum. The building is not for everyone’s taste, but the views of the campus are fantastic!
Isabella recommended several downtown hotels but location is always the most important thing for me, so I splurged on the Statler Hotel, which is right in the middle of the campus and run by students from the School of Hotel Management. She showed me around the historic Ivy League campus and we ate some great meals in local restaurants. Here she is at lunch at the Coalyard Cafe–which really is in a former coal yard. Last year she lived in a dorm but this year she chose this house to share with some of her track teammates. There are lots of houses like this in the cozy, wooded neighborhoods around the campus, and they get to cook their own healthy food instead of eating dorm food!
Being on the track and cross country teams means Isabella only has one speed–all out! Still I managed to keep up with her somehow as we scrambled up and down the slopes and gorges of the Cornell campus. Here you’re looking at Ithaca Falls, one of many on this stretch of Fall Creek. I would definitely like to go to school here! Besides the natural beauty, there is an atmosphere that says, “Exciting stuff is happening here!”
Taughannock Falls State Park is just outside of Ithaca–another example of the gorges and waterfalls of the Finger Lakes region. If anyone’s interested in checking them out, I have a great book called 200 Waterfalls in New York State which I’d be happy to loan you. This one is taller than Niagara!
Driving the scenic route along Cayuga Lake, I came to the town of Seneca Falls. Besides being the home of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the site of the Women’s Rights Convention in 1848, the town is thought to be the model for Bedford Falls, the home of George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” There’s even an It’s a Wonderful Life museum in town, but after checking out all the other amazing attractions here, I didn’t have the strength for that one. You may recognize the bridge, though. After strolling down Main St. and having breakfast at a local cafe, I headed to the main attraction, the Women’s Rights National Historical Park. I really wanted to buy the t-shirt in the shop window, but sadly they were closed on Sunday.
After strolling the historic downtown, I was greeted at the NHP by these bronze statues…mostly representing actual historical figures in the Women’s Rights movement that was centered here. They include Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, who called for the 1848 convention. They came up with the idea after they met at the World Anti-Slavery convention in London, which they attended with their husbands. They were appalled when the male delegates voted to exclude women from the discussions and decisions of the convention.
Next door to the Park Service facility is the remains of the original Wesleyan Chapel where the convention was held. The darker sections of brick on the old chapel indicate all that was left of the chapel after it fell into disrepair. It was finally restored but they tried to retain as much as they could of the original structure. Despite limited advertising, 300 people attended the convention.
Exhibits inside the museum covered almost any aspect of the Women’s Rights and Women’s suffrage movements that you can imagine. Upper left is the story of a Persian woman who fought for women’s rights and was killed for her efforts. The Colored Woman’s Republican club sounds counterintuitive nowadays. And the cartoon refers to the many women who filled “men’s jobs” during WWII and were expected to just go back home when the war was over.
Two of my favorite exhibits, on the left is Sojourner Truth, abolitionist, author, evangelist, and advocate for human rights. On the right is Abigail Scott Duniway, casting her first vote in 1914. Oregonians will recognize Duniway, who has a park, school, road, and many other places named after her.
This interesting display, known as the Rochester Skirt, was created by women’s rights advocates in nearby Rochester, NY to honor some of the important figures in the movement.
There were lots of interactive exhibits for children, and one boy around 8 years old walked around the museum with his mom doing exercises in a workbook that enhanced learning. Before I said goodby to my bronze friends, I read about Frederick Douglass, the tall man in the right hand photo, who was a great supporter of women’s voting rights. This was a controversial stand for him to take at the time, when some people worried that women agitating for their rights would adversely affect the passage of the amendment that gave voting rights to black men.
After enjoying the Women’s Rights Historical Park, it only seemed fitting to walk down the street to its neighbor, the National Women’s Hall of Fame. Right now it’s in a cramped Main St. storefront, but they are fundraising to get it moved to this historic Seneca Falls knitting mill. The Hall of Fame features women who are US citizens and have made enduring contributions to the development of the United States. There are women here from every imaginable walk of life–politics, education, arts, military, and so on.
After a full day enjoying the history and contributions of all these women, I drove a few miles west to Geneva, NY. There I spent a quiet night on the shores of Seneca Lake before heading back into the white-knuckle Boston traffic.
6 thoughts on “Finger Lakes”
You really know how to SEE a place! Very interesting.
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Wonderful as always, Andrea! Thank you for sharing your adventures.
Andrea, thanks for the photos and narrative. Very interesting history. Donna
Wish you could have spent more time with us in the Burg, but glad you got to enjoy a beautiful and relatively unknown part of the country.
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Thank you again for keeping me on your list of “friends”. Although I cannot now take the trips like when you and I met, I can still enjoy knowing that YOU are .
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