Use book to explore history of N.Y. through architecture
“Historic New York:?Architectural Journeys in the Empire State” (NY: Landmark Society of Western New York; $49.95) is a visual masterpiece.
With photos by Andy Olenick and text by Richard O.?Reisem, “Historic New York” attempts the near-impossible mission of selecting the best from the state’s vast building treasure trove.
The book reveals the vast variety of architectural styles found in the state, ranging from its beginnings as a Dutch colony in the 1600s to its glory years as the Empire State of a rapidly expanding nation. There is so much to consider that only the very ambitious and equally talented would attempt to make sense of it all.
Olenick and Reisem, however, carry through with success in this publication released in 2006. Hundreds of beautiful images, displayed in 224 pages in a coffee-table style book, with accompanying historical notes will give armchair travelers many enjoyable evenings of imaginary journeys.
But sitting in a chair and turning pages only goes so far. Seeing these magnificent buildings (and the others surrounding them — and, alas, the empty spaces where magnificent companions once stood) can be a rewarding experience.
For the budget-minded traveler, visiting these structures can also provide a meaningful travel experience while staying close to home.
“Historic New York” is divided into 11 chapters that roughly follow the geographic regions promoted by the state’s tourism office, with curious quirks such as listing landmarks in Oswego with the Thousand Islands and Letchworth State Park’s Glen Iris, in the Finger Lakes. Obviously, lines had to be drawn somewhere, but stretching the book to 12 chapters may have ironed out the wrinkles.
The adventurous in search of a vacation that does not require long periods of air travel may want to purchase the book and treat it as an ornithologist would Roger Tory Peterson’s Field Guide, checking off each notable location as it is visited.
Using this method as a guide, for example, let’s tour Chapter 8, featuring the Finger Lakes, and offer suggestions for three other nearby regions featured in chapters 9, 10 and 11, plus some helpful Web sites to aid travelers with their explorations.
Departing the Hornell area first thing in the morning, we should reach Rose Hill Mansion, in Geneva, in time to see the sun light up its notable Greek Revival facade. U.S. President Martin Van Buren was one of owner William Kerley Strong’s first guests in the mansion perched above Seneca Lake.
Geneva is a small, beautiful city full of architectural highlights, but with a portico 51 feet wide fronted by six two-story Ionic columns, it isn’t hard to find Rose Hill Mansion, at State Route 96A just south of State Routes 5&20.
Winding through Geneva we find our way to the Thruway and make the hourlong journey to Syracuse, where the dramatic art deco Niagara Mohawk Building can be found at 33 Erie Blvd. West. Nearby, at 102 North Salina St., is the Syracuse Savings Bank, a High Victorian Gothic sandstone building erected in 1875-76, giving evidence of the wealth derived from the Erie Canal, which once coursed through the city’s center.
Looking east, and near the massive, modern Carrier Dome, is the equally massive Crouse College, at Syracuse University. The story goes that John?Crouse — then the richest man in Syracuse and an SU?trustee — was taking a walk with Chancellor Charles N. Sims when the men approached the highest hill on campus. “Save this hill for me and I will put a building on it such as you will never regret having here.”
The Romanesque Revival structure is still as beautiful today as it was in 1889 when dedicated.
There is more to see in Syracuse, but to stay true to the book we will journey west for a stop in?Cazenovia, where Lorenzo, on the south end of Cazenovia Lake, serves as a tribute to Lorenzo di Medici’s villa in Florence, with the added bonus of being virtually fireproof thanks to exterior and interior brickwork and two-inch thick plaster ceilings.
Back in the car and west again, we find the William H. Seward House, at 33 South St. in Auburn, which the man who purchased the land we now call the State of Alaska (for $7.2 million in 1867) called home. Seward served as Abraham Lincoln’s secretary of state, and had a career befitting a mansion that features both Federal and Tuscan styles of architecture.
We have two options for travel at this point:?south to Cornell University landmarks, in Ithaca, and then to the 1890 House in Cortland; or due west, first to the Granger Homestead and Sonnenberg Mansion and Gardens, in Canandaigua, then on to the Garrett Memorial Chapel, at Keuka Lake, and continuing on to the Glen Iris Inn, at Letchworth State Park. Going in one direction pretty much rules out travel in the other unless you’re willing to observe each for a maximum of 15 minutes.
So let’s say we go south to Ithaca.?Several days could be devoted to Cornell University, but three buildings on campus — McGraw,?Sage and Goldwin Smith halls — stand out, with McGraw offering the bonus of having been constructed with Cayuga bluestone, which trapped primitive fossilized life forms dating back 355 million years. Visit all, and take in the experience of the quintessential college quad.
Cortland is a bit of a hike from Ithaca, but there are a host of dining and lodging options along the way, and there is much to discover in this small city south of Syracuse.
The 1890 House is featured in the book as a prime example of late 19th century Gilded Age architecture. Found at 37 Tompkins St., the 30-room mansion of Chester Franklin?Wickwire is built of limestone and has been described as a “chateauesque castle.”
But an original it is not — Wickwire was traveling through Manhattan one day and selected a house he liked as the model he wanted constructed in Cortland, where he developed a fencing innovation that came to be known as barbed wire. The Manhattan home was that of James A. Bailey of Barnum &?Bailey Circus.
Heading west and back toward Hornell, we travel to Canandaigua, where the resplendent Sonnenberg Mansion offers a Queen Anne masterpiece surrounded by stunning garden complex (a highlight of which is the serene Japanese garden). Now operated by the state park system, Sonnenberg was the dream come true for banker Frederick Ferris Thompson and is located at 151 Charlotte St.
Not far from Sonnenberg is another gem, the Granger Homestead, located along Canandaigua’s impressive Main Street, which reflects the city’s importance in the rise of New York as the Empire State and also its role as a county seat.
Gideon Granger Jr. played a key role in Thomas Jefferson’s election to the presidency, and in return a grateful Jefferson made Granger postmaster general in 1801. On retiring during President James Madison’s term, Granger moved his family to Canandaigua, near his lands to the west. On 10 acres he erected a homestead “unrivaled in all the nation,” a Federal-style building designed by the renowned British architect Robert Adam.
Leaving grandeur aside, the journey continues to Keuka Lake, where at Bluff Point is the Garrett Memorial Chapel. Constructed by grieving parents after the death of their 26-year-old son, the American Neo-Gothic structure is made of Pennsylvania granite walls and a roof and terrace of Vermont slate.
The chapel floor is of Rembrandt slate from Holland. Xanadu onyx from Algeria lines the crypt and the crypt reception room walls are of Crab Orchard marble from Tennessee. The stained glass windows feature lines from Tennyson poems and children’s stories. And the view of Keuka Lake below is spectacular.
So too is the view on the last stop of the Chapter 8 tour, that of the Glen Iris Inn, at Letchworth State Park. Originally a farm house, the building and surrounding acres were developed by William Pryor Letchworth as a natural preserve.
The Glen Iris is perched above the Middle Falls of the Genesee River, and offers rooms and fine dining amidst the now 14,400-acre state park.
Andy Thompson is the managing editor of The Evening Tribune in Hornell.