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Avon Five Arch Bridge  

A TRAVELLER'S TALE




By Marjory Allen Perez

The story you are about to hear may or may not be true. I'm just telling it as it was told to me. Who was the teller? Well, I was sitting … Oh never mind. Let me relate his tale.

It starts in Skaneateles, New York at the Sherwood Inn. Isaac Sherwood, proprietor of a successful stagecoach business built a tavern on this site in 1807. Mr. Sherwood obviously knew that the key to success is "location, location, location". His stagecoach stop was on the "main drag" of the tiny village, which in turn was on the main east-west route that crossed New York State. It also sits across from one of the most beautiful lakes in the world – Skaneateles Lake. It is doubtful that Mr. Sherwood would recognize his inn today, but he could take pride in the fact that the facility is one of the oldest hotels in New York State and that it has been a respite for weary travelers the last 195 years.

According to my source, "John Traveler", he had spent a lovely night at the Sherwood Inn. In the morning, as he walked out the front door, he saw a stagecoach with its door open. He couldn't resist the opportunity to experience a ride in a real stagecoach so he stepped into the cab and closed the door behind him. When he turned to look out, the scene around him had changed. The Sherwood Inn was still there, but it was a small simple building. He saw wagons and horses instead of cars. Before he could say a word the stagecoach began to move. His fellow passenger said, "Next stop is Auburn." Mr. Traveler said that he could only describe the trip west along the Seneca Turnpike as "strange, but exhilarating".

The stagecoach entered Auburn on Genesee Street and stopped in front of the Willard Mansion. The driver called down to his passengers that they could stretch their legs, but to be ready to leave in one hour. Mr. Traveler was the only one who got off. Bingo! The dirt road was now paved. The sign in front of the mansion read "Cayuga Museum of History and Art and Case Research Lab". This was indeed an intriguing situation so Traveler decided to just "go with the flow". On his tour of the Case Research Lab he learned that Auburn was the birthplace of talking films! Theodore Case, a graduate of Yale, had set up a research facility in a converted greenhouse on his family’s property in 1916, known then as the Willard Mansion. His invention of a very sensitive light bulb that reacted to sound waves led the way to development of a film sound system known as Movietone.

Traveler left the Case Research Lab and sure enough the stagecoach was waiting for him. On board once more he started to tell the other passengers that they had really missed a great chance to learn about the origin of talking pictures. The blank stares and mutterings about "this crazy" made Traveler realize that he should probably keep quiet. It seemed only a short time later that the stagecoach came to a stop in the middle of nowhere. Traveler looked out, but only saw marshland and swamp. "We’ll stop here for a few minutes", called the driver.

As Traveler stepped off the last step he saw a sign for Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge and headed up the road to the Visitor Center. The Montezuma Refuge was established in 1938 at the north end of Cayuga Lake to provide resting, feeding and nesting habitat for waterfowl and other migratory birds on the Atlantic Flyway. The Montezuma Refuge is a giant outdoor classroom, providing opportunities to observe wildlife in its natural habitat. As Traveler looked out over the Refuge from the Main Pool Observation Tower he spotted a bald eagle and was thankful that the marshes and swamps continued to be part of the landscape of New York State.

Traveler heard the driver call, "Hurry up, I don’t want to spend any more time in this mosquito-infested place." He reclaimed his seat on the stagecoach and settled in to listen to the conversation of his new friends. There were a lot of complaints about the condition of the road and the slowness of getting mail once one settled "out west". Traveler thinks that he must have slept during this stretch of the trip.

The next thing he knew the coach was stopped in front of the East Bloomfield Academy. He was told they were in Bloomfield, New York, which was about 60 miles west of Auburn. Still groggy, Traveler disembarked from the coach, forgetting what would happen. Once inside the academy he was jolted back into the 21st century. He had walked into the Antique Wireless Association Communication Museum. It is devoted to the research, preservation and documentation of the inventions that made wireless communications possible. The museum is a treasure trove of artifacts and information about the early telegraph, telephone, radio and television. Traveler had a chuckle imagining trying to explain to his fellow passengers that in the future, mail would be delivered electronically within an instant. No more waiting weeks for a letter from "back east".

Traveler was really enjoying this trip! He learned that this stretch of the roadway was called the Genesee Turnpike and that it went all the way to the new western settlement at Buffalo, New York. When the stagecoach reached Caledonia, the driver headed north toward the village of Mumford. The stagecoach came to an abrupt stop in front of a prosperous looking tavern. Traveler did not want to get out of the coach – the village was so beautiful. He knew that once he left the stagecoach that it would all disappear and he wished he could just walk into the place and that it would stay the same.

Traveler was surprised that the other passengers were all making preparations to leave the coach. None had gotten off at the earlier stops. Traveler was the only passenger still on board, when the driver called to him that he had to get off because he had to take the coach to the blacksmith shop for some repairs. "I’ll be back to pick you all up later this afternoon," the driver promised. Traveler finally got off and stood in the street. Nothing happened! It all stayed the same. Well, almost.

Traveler found himself in the Genesee Country Village and Museum, located just outside the village of Mumford, New York. It is living museum – the largest in New York State and one of the largest in the nation. A total of 58 authentic 19th-century buildings have been moved to the site, restored to their original condition and furnished with period antiques. As if that were not enough, "villagers" in period dress share with visitors what it was like to live in western New York in the 1800s. Traveler had to admit that this was probably the strangest stop so far. He knew it was 2003, but everything around him made it feel like 1852. After about two hours of strolling through the village, Traveler found himself in front of the tavern once again. Assembled there were his fellow passengers, all talking about what a wonderful lunch they had had at the tavern. No one asked Traveler where he had eaten lunch.

The driver arrived and helped the ladies to climb aboard. As they pulled out of the Genesee Country Village and Museum, Traveler caught a glimpse of a baseball game being played. Was that now or then he asked himself?

He did not have much time to ponder the question as the stagecoach was stopping again. They were in LeRoy, New York, just a few miles west of Caledonia and Mumford. They had stopped in front of the home of Jacob LeRoy, land agent and founder of the village. Once again the other passengers prepared to disembark. The driver opened the door and said, "Mrs. LeRoy, I told you we’d get you home safe and sound". Traveler was the last one to exit the coach and when he looked around everyone had disappeared. At the side of the LeRoy House, now a Museum according to the sign, Traveler noticed a brick walkway. He went down the path, up some steps and entered the Jell-O Gallery. Traveler said that at this point he was feeling a bit confused. What did Jell-O have to do with LeRoy, New York?

Come to find out, LeRoy, New York is the home of Jell-O. It was here in 1897, that a carpenter by the name of Pearle E. Waite concocted the formula that would become "America’s Most Famous Dessert". The LeRoy Historical Society opened the Jell-O Gallery in 1997 to mark the 100th anniversary of this event. The Gallery’s exhibits trace the history of the invention, production and promotion of Jell-O. A display of original oil paintings used in early advertising of Jell-O is a highlight of the exhibit. Traveler left the Gallery and headed out to Main Street, expecting that the stagecoach would be waiting for him. He stood in front of the LeRoy House looking east and west. The stagecoach did not appear.

And that’s where I come into the story. I was having a cup of tea at the D & R Depot Restaurant in LeRoy. John Traveler came in, sat at my table and began to tell me this incredible tale. I love a good story so I listened and not once did I interrupt him. When he finished he got up and went outside. I paid for my tea, wondering if I should offer to take Mr. Traveler back to Skaneateles. When I went out, Mr. Traveler was no where in sight, but I could have sworn I heard a sound of a train pulling away from the station. No way, I thought. No passenger train had stopped at this depot in years.

I have been giving John Traveler’s Tale a lot of thought. The trip from Skaneateles to LeRoy, New York is less than 100 miles. In that short distance Mr. Traveler visited six unique sites, all located within the corridor of Routes 5 and 20. He visited the birthplace of Jell-O and talking films; he strolled the streets of one of the nation’s largest living museums; he stayed in an inn that was first opened in 1807; he had a chance to learn about the development of wireless communication; and he was thrilled by the sight of a bald eagle soaring above the Montezuma marshland. I would have to conclude that New York State’s Routes 5 & 20 corridor is indeed a very special place. To plan your adventure along Routes 5 & 20, an authentic American road, visit www.routes5and20.com.


RESOURCES:
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GENERAL:

Sherwood Inn :::: 26 West Genesee St., Skaneateles, NY 13152 :::: 1-800-3SHERWOOD :::: www.shewoodinn.com

Skaneateles Chamber of Commerce :::: 315-685-0552 :::: www.skaneateles.com

Cayuga Museum and Case Research Lab :::: 203 Genesee St., Auburn, NY 13021, 315-253-8051 :::: www.cayuganet.org/cayugamuseum

Cayuga County Tourism :::: 1-800-499-9615 :::: www.TourCayuga.com

Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge :::: 3395 Routes 5 & 20 East, Seneca Falls, NY 13148 :::: www.fws.gov/r5mnwr

Seneca County Tourism :::: 1-800-732-1848 :::: www.visitsenecany.net

Antique Wireless Association Communications Museum :::: 8 South Ave., Bloomfield, NY 14443, 585-657-6260 :::: www.antiquewireless.org

Finger Lakes Visitors Connection :::: 1-877-FUN-IN-NY :::: www.VisitFingerLakes.com

Genesee Country Village and Museum :::: Flint Hill Rd., Mumford, NY 14511 :::: 585-538-6822 :::: www.gcv.org

Livingston County Chamber of Commerce :::: 1-800-538-7365 :::: www.FingerLakesWest.com

Jell-O Gallery & Historic LeRoy House :::: 23 East Main St., LeRoy, NY 14482 :::: 585-768-7433 :::: www.jellomuseum.com

Genesee County Chamber of Commerce :::: 1-800-622-2686 :::: www.geneseeny.com