When you enter the Village of Angelica around this time of year, you get the feeling that you've just stepped into a nostalgic holiday video.
This quaint town of 1,000, located about 80 miles southeast of Buffalo, has buildings of Classic Revival and Victorian architecture virtually unchanged since the early 1900s.
In fact, this town has such charm it was recommended by the Rochester Film Board to Reader's Digest to be the picturesque location used for its 1997 video, "An Old Fashioned Christmas."
The holiday season in Angelica actually kicked off the first weekend in November with Heritage Christmas Days, featuring open houses, narrated history tours and Christmas caroling. As in many towns nationwide, the holiday shopping season kicked into high gear the day after Thanksgiving.
Although Angelica is tiny, it has a large variety of antique and craft stores, including the Old Garage Antiques, Heritage Antiques, Angelica Country Store and Annex and the Doll House. What's nice about shopping in Angelica is that you can park your car in one spot and take a leisurely stroll to all the shops.
The tree-lined historic shopping district centers around Park Circle, which is the geographic center of Allegany County. Angelica, the oldest town in Allegany County and a carefully planned community, was incorporated in 1805. It was named after Angelica Church, mother of Philip Church, who chose this site for the town in 1802.
One of Angelica's most well-known holiday traditions is its annual "Angel Station" postage cancellation, which takes place this year from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Dec. 10 in the Angelica Post Office, 1 Main St. This event was conceived eight years ago by the Angelica Boosters, a local civic group, to help promote the town.
"They approached us with the idea of a commemorative angel postage cancellation and we were glad to help out," said Angelica postmaster Jim Ruschak.
While many local folks bring in their cards and letters to be hand-canceled with the Angel Station postmark, stamp collectors from all over the world mail in their cards and envelopes to have them postmarked. Last year the post office hand-canceled more than 7,000 pieces of mail. The cancellation features a different angel design each year, with artwork done by Angelica Boosters vice president Pat Kaake.
"People from all over the country, even from Texas and California, send in SASE and boxes full of Christmas cards with a note asking us to put an Angel Station cancellation on them," Ruschak said. "We've even had collectors from the Island of Malta, along with Germany and other European countries send envelopes to us."
Ruschak said it's a treat to visit the post office to get your envelopes stamped since it hasn't changed since it was built in the 1900s. "In addition to all the antique shops in town, we have an antique post office, too."
Another popular holiday tradition is Luminaries in the Park, which takes place annually the Sunday before Christmas, starting at 5:30 pm. (This year Dec. 19).
Hundreds of luminaries are placed around the Park Circle, which is surrounded by four churches. Participants move from church to church, singing Christmas carols at each. A living nativity is on the lawn of the Methodist Church. The evening's festivities end with refreshments served at one of the churches.
Numerous people in Angelica credit Fleurette Pelletier, who moved to Angelica from Long Island in 1988, as the person who got the ball rolling on the town's economic development in the last dozen or so years. Pelletier and her husband were looking for a new career direction and thought it might be nice to run a bed and breakfast in upstate New York.
"We mentioned this to one of our pastors, who happened to be from Belmont, a town not far from Angelica," she said. "He commented about the gorgeous Victorian mansion that was being operated as an inn in Angelica. Although the inn wasn't on the market, we contacted the owner, made an offer and she decided to sell."
She admits that some people laughed at her at first. " 'Who's going to come to Angelica?,' people would ask me," she said.
After the Pelletier's acquired the Angelica Inn and opened an antique shop, tourists began to discover the small village, which has an exit on the I-86 expressway. They later sold the inn so they could concentrate on their antique business.
"I have always encouraged others to come in and open new businesses. When people saw that tourists were arriving, they decided to start antique and craft stores, as well as other businesses," she said, adding about 90 percent of the town's retail customers come from out of town.
Visitors can spend the night in one of two beautiful bed and breakfast inns: the Park Circle Bed & Breakfast, which overlooks the Park Circle, or the Victorian Angelica Inn.
There are also several places to dine in the village, including the upscale Heritage Antiques Coffee Shop (operated by Fleurette Pelletier), which serves coffee, pastries, lunches, homemade soups and more; the American House Restaurant, which has a wonderful Sunday brunch; and the newly opened Ginny's Creamery, which serves comfort foods and ice cream during the summer.
The coming year will be an exciting on for Angelica, as the village celebrates its bicentennial in 2005. The celebration kicks off with a community picnic on June 19.
Other events in Angelica include the Allegany County Fair in July and the annual Angelica Heritage Days, which started in 1966, and takes place the first full weekend in August. Heritage Days features many activities, including a large craft and antique show, horse-drawn wagon rides, architectural tours, special exhibits, chicken barbecues and much more.
"The town hasn't had much development, so it's poised to celebrate its past," said Pat Kaake, vice president of the Angelica Boosters. "Historic preservationists love Angelica, as the town has kept its spirit. It is a refreshing place to come and a lovely place for people who like history, beautiful scenery and old towns."
To learn more
Angelica has several web sites for visitor information:
www.Angelica-ny.com: The official village Web site has a wealth of information about businesses, events, history and nearby attractions.
www.Angelica-ny.net: This site is maintained by Angelica resident Patty Stalker and contains information about the town and businesses, as well as a virtual walking tour.
www.Angelica14709.com: This site is maintained by Pat and Don Kaake and has information about events and issues in Angelica and vicinity.
You can also call Fleurette Pelletier's shop, Heritage Antiques (585-466-3712) for more information about the village.
Most of the shops are open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday.
For information on the Angel Station postage cancellation, call (585) 466-7689.
Where to stay
Angelica Inn Bed & Breakfast (585-466-3063; www.angelica-inn.com) 64 W. Main St.
This large Victorian mansion features three spacious antique furnished guest rooms and one two-room suite, all with private baths. Two larger suites are also available next door in the 1825 Country House.
Park Circle Bed & Breakfast (585-466-3999, 800-350-5778 www.parkcirclebedandbreakfast.com) 2 E. Main St.
This elegantly decorated 1884 Queen Ann Gothic style home features three large guest rooms with private baths. Two of the rooms overlook the park.
(from downtown Buffalo)
Take the I-90 to Route 400, which turns into Route 16.
Turn left onto Route 39 and right onto Route 243 in Arcade
Follow Route 243 to Route 19 in Caneadea
Turn right on Route 19 and proceed about 10 miles south and look for the signs pointing toward Angelica
Turn left on County Road 16
If you miss that turn off and end up by the I-86, get on that highway heading east to the Angelica Exit 31 and follow the signs.