2009 Finger Lakes Tour
On Monday, October 12, fourteen seniors (and friends!) left Falls Church in three vans for a tour of the Finger Lakes, organized by Bobbie Stone and Kris Packard. Our drivers were Kris Iverson (filling in for KaJe Mc Clinch at the last minute), Bob Stone and Betsy Robson.
Our first stop for the night was Corning, New York, in the southern tier of Upstate New York, about 300 miles from Falls Church. After checking into the Radisson Hotel, some of us took a brisk walk along the Historic Main Street, checking out restaurants for the evening meal. Most ate in the hotel as it had started to drizzle, but six of us braved the weather and enjoyed a meal at the Market Street Brewery.
Corning is most famous for its Museum of Glass, which contains the world's best collection of art and historical glass. More than 45,000 objects trace 3,500 years of glassmaking history. In June 1972, disaster struck as Hurricane Agnes emptied a week's worth of rain into the surrounding Chemung River Valley. On June 23rd, the Chemung River overflowed its banks and poured 5’4” of floodwater into the Museum (as well as numerous stores and homes in the area). When the waters receded, staff members found glass objects tumbled in their cases and crusted with mud, the library's books swollen with water. 528 of the museum's 13,000 objects had sustained damage. The flood was described as "possibly the greatest single catastrophe borne by an American museum." Museum staff members were faced with the tremendous task of restoration: every glass object had to be meticulously cleaned and restored, while the library's contents had to be cleaned and dried page by page, slide by slide, even before being assessed for rebinding, restoration, or replacement. On August 1, 1972, the Museum reopened with restoration work still underway.
We visited the Museum on Tuesday morning, and had a tour led by a lovely lady who was excited to learn that we are from The Falls Church! One of the most impressive parts of the tour was the collection of contemporary studio glass donated by Ben and Natalie Heineman of Chicago. We also enjoyed the glass blowing demonstration where glassblowers (called gaffers) turn plain glass rods into fanciful shapes; in our case, a lovely orange pumpkin with a green stem. We also enjoyed the historical exhibits. After a visit to the extensive gift shop that includes items from the famous Steuben line (named after the county in which Corning lies) and lunch, we headed to Keuka Lake for a tour of The Pleasant Valley Winery.
The winery, also known as the Great Western Winery, is the oldest winery in the Finger Lakes region. By the 1830’s and 1840’s, European settlers found that the Finger Lakes region provided such favorable growing conditions that grapes had outgrown home production capacities. On March 15, 1860, Charles Davenport Champlin and 12 local businessmen consolidated their holdings under “Articles of Association for the Manufacture of Native Wine” and, with $10,000 capitalization, built the first winery in this region, The Hammondsport and Pleasant Valley Wine Company, which was designated as Bonded Winery No.1 in its State and Federal districts. Our tour of the historic buildings was led by a great grandson of Mr. Champlin. The winery has changed ownership many times but has continued to stay in business all these years. It produces many varieties of wine and is the largest producer of bottle-fermented champagnes in the eastern United States. We were amused to learn that during prohibition, the winery stayed in business by producing grape juice with directions on the back of the bottle stating that it was illegal to add a specific amount of sugar as well as yeast or else the grape juice would ferment…Our tour was followed by a tasting of several of the wines. Chocolate Lab, a mix of sherry and chocolate, was a favorite!
We got back in the vans and headed north along the west side of Keuka Lake, known by the Indians as Crooked Lake, one of the seven Finger Lakes. Keuka Lake is unique as it is in the shape of a Y. We traveled to our destination for the next three nights, the Esperanza Mansion Inn, located at the tip of the west fork of the lake. Esperanza was built in 1838 by John Nichols Rose, the son of a wealthy Virginia family who had migrated from Virginia to nearby Geneva in the early 1800’s. Built in classic Greek Revival style, Esperanza was the home to the Roses for over 30 years. It history since then has included housing a grape juice company, the Yates County Poorhouse, an art gallery, a winery, and being vacant and in disrepair for quite a while. In 2002 it was purchased by the Wegman family and restored as an inn, restaurant and wedding and reception site.
That evening we were joined for dinner by Tom and Carol Carlin, former members of TFC, who moved to the area eight years ago. It was wonderful to reconnect with old friends!
Wednesday morning, led by the Carlins, we traveled west to Canandaigua Lake. We enjoyed touring the Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion, built in the 1800’s by a wealthy banker from New York and his wife. It was one of their five homes and Mary Clark Thompson’s favorite. That afternoon we visited a Mennonite owned and run Country Store, where we had the opportunity to purchase quilts, fabric, canned goods, and other hand made items.
On Thursday we traveled east to Seneca Lake, at 618, the deepest of the Finger Lakes as well as one of the deepest in America. We drove to the gorge at Watkins Glen State Park, formed some 12,000 years ago at the end of the most recent Ice Age. Glaciers helped gouge out the Finger Lakes; Glen Creek pours down the glacially steepened valley sides, a slow erosion process of the weakened sedimentary rock which continues today. Thirteen of us hiked all or part of the gorge trail, marveling at the sculptured chasm and 19 waterfalls. Stunning!
After hearing of the snow forecasted for the next day we decided to eliminate our trip to Ithaca and head back to Keuka Lake to tour the Glenn Curtiss Museum. A mechanical genius from Hammondsport, at the southern tip of the lake, Curtiss began in 1900 to put engines on bicycles. He progressed to motorcycles, planes and “flying boats.” In 1908 he flew the “June Bug” at Hammondsport in the first pre-announced public flight.
Friday morning we awoke to a blanket of snow on the ground! We had done all that we set out to see this trip and headed for home. A good time was had by all!