It's a wonderful time of year for a ride through the country. And is there a better drive than one along Routes 5 and 20, a 135-mile route that offers sightseers a slice of American life as it meanders through many quaint small towns and villages, from Batavia to Skaneateles?
The route actually began thousands of years ago as a Native American foot trail. Later, the early settlers and pioneers used it as the main east-west route across the state.
With the building of expressways, such as the New York State Thruway, thoroughfares like Routes 5 and 20 became the road less traveled, although it remains a popular route.
This article presents a brief overview of some of the sights you'll find along this "Authentic American Road." While this route could be traveled back and forth from Buffalo in a day, you may want to plan on staying overnight a day or two along the way to really experience all the road has to offer.
From the Buffalo area, take Main Street (Route 5) to Batavia, which is considered the birthplace of Western New York. It was from here that Joseph Ellicott oversaw land purchases in all of Western New York from the Holland Land Company. The building that the land company was headquartered in at 131 W. Main St., Batavia, is now a museum and designated National Historic Landmark (585-343-4727, www.hollandlandoffice.com).
In Batavia, check out the area's largest selection of homemade candies and confections at Oliver's Candies, 211 W. Main St. (585-343-588, www.oliverscandies.com).
Driving east, you will pass through the village of Stafford, home of the Red Osier Landmark Restaurant, 6492 Main Road, noted for its prime ribs of beef carved tableside (585-343-6972, www.redosier.com).
Your next destination is the picturesque village of LeRoy, situated on the banks of Oatka Creek. LeRoy was the birthplace of Jell-O, so be sure to stop by the Jell-O Museum, 23 E. Main St., to learn about America's favorite dessert (585-768-7433, www.jellomuseum.com).
For a unique dining experience, take a detour off Route 5 and head north on Route 19 for about half a mile to the D & R Deport Restaurant, 63 Lake St., where you can enjoy home-cooked meals in a former B & O train depot (585-768-6270, www.dandrdepot.com).
Continuing the journey, you'll come to the town of Caledonia, which translates to mean "New Scotland," reflecting the heritage of the early settlers. There are several antique and specialty shops in town, including the Gigglin Pig, 3090 Main St. (800-649-2930, www.gigglinpig.com), which has the area's largest selection of country wares and Amish hand-crafted furniture.
You may want to take a side trip north on Route 36 to see the New York State Fish Hatchery, which raises fish to restock local streams and lakes. Founded in 1870 by Seth Green, it was the first fish hatchery opened in the Western Hemisphere. Also located in nearby Mumford is Genesee Country Village (585-538-6822, www.gcv.org), a collection of 57 restored buildings in a recreated 1800s community.
As Route 20 merges into Route 5, you will enter the town of Avon. In the 1800s, Avon was known for its sulphur spring and had many spas that attracted tourists from all over the state. Today, the town's main employer, Kraft Foods, is the only place in the world where Cool Whip is manufactured.
The Avon Inn, 55 E. Main St., was originally built in 1829 as a private residence and later operated as a water cure health center in the late 1800s. Today, it has 14 spacious guest rooms and serves dinner to the public Wednesday through Sunday (585-226-8181, www.avoninn.com).
Avon is also the birthplace of Tom Whal, who founded the burger restaurants that bear his name. Stop by the Avon location at 282 E. Main St. for a bite to eat (585-226-2420). Its special root beer, served in a frosted glass mug, is worth the trip from Buffalo.
Lima, located about eight miles east of Avon, is considered "the Crossroads of Western New York." It was founded in 1788 at the crossing of two main Indian trails. The circa 1860 American Hotel, 7304 Main St. (585-624-9464), has been owned and operated by the same family since the 1920s. The hotel's dining room is noted for more than 60 varieties of homemade soups, with usually six to choose from each day.
Just down the street, the Crossroads Country Mall, a large 7,000 square foot antique co-op, is located in a former church at 7348 E. Main St. (585-624-1993).
Continue along Routes 5 & 20 to the Bloomfield area, which is noted for its many antique shops found along a three-mile stretch of road known as the Bloomfield Antique Country Mile. The historic Bloomfield Academy building, 8 South Ave., houses the Antique Wireless Communications Museum (585-657-6260), as well as the East Bloomfield Historical Society (585-657-7244).
While in Bloomfield, enjoy a bite to eat at the Holloway House restaurant, corner of Routes 5 and 20 and South Avenue (585-657-7120, www.thehollowayhouse.com).
As you continue your journey east, you'll arrive in the city of Canandaigua. Located on the northern end of Canandaigua Lake, the city has a variety of attractions including several museums, bed & breakfast inns and the widest main street in the country, which is lined with numerous specialty shops and restaurants.
Be sure to detour off Routes 5 and 20 at Lakeshore Drive to enjoy the scenic beauty of the lake, which is popular for recreational activities, such as swimming, boating and fishing. Continue about 10 more miles east to Geneva, on the northern tip of Seneca Lake, the most culturally and racially diverse community in Ontario County. Geneva's South Main Historic District, located just off Routes 5 and 20, has many nicely restored homes and row houses.
If you want to spend more time in this area, accommodations include the lakefront Ramada Inn Geneva, 41 Lakefront Drive (315-789-0400), along with two elegant resorts located on Route 14A, Belhurst Castle (315-781-0201, www.belhurst.com) and Geneva 0n the Lake Country Villa & Resort (315-789-7190, www.genevaonthelake.com). There are also several bed & breakfast inns nearby.
As you continue eastward, you will pass through three historically significant communities, the first being Waterloo, which is known as the birthplace of Memorial Day. The idea of a day to remember the war dead was first conceived by Waterloo druggist, Henry Welles, back in 1865. The first Memorial Day celebration took place the following year, and it has been celebrated every year since then. The Memorial Day Museum, 35 E. Main St., houses artifacts pertaining to Memorial Day and the Civil War era.
The next community on your journey is Seneca Falls, which is nationally recognized as the birthplace of Women's Rights. The Woman's Rights National Historical Park, operated by the National Park Service, has a visitor's center and four major historical properties associated with the Woman's Rights Movement. (315-568-2991, www.nps.gov/wori, 136 Fall St.)
As you travel east from Seneca Falls you will pass by the Montezuma Winery, 2981 Routes 5 and 20 (315-568-8190, www.montezumawinery.com), which produces 20 award-winning wines, including a rhubarb dessert wine.
Also in this area is the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, 3395 Routes 5 and 20 (315-568-5987), which is a major resting area for migratory waterfowl.
The third historically significant community is Auburn, which has the National Historic Landmark Seward House, 33 South St. (315-252-1283, www.sewardhouse.org), the home of William H. Seward, who served as Secretary of State under President Abraham Lincoln. Seward was an abolitionist and his home was a shelter for escaping slaves on the Underground Railroad.
The Harriet Tubman Home, 180 South St. (315-252-2081, 180 South St.), is also open to the public. Tubman, known as the "Moses of her People," for her work on the Underground Railroad, settled in Auburn after the Civil War.
Buffalonians may also want to take note of the Bass Pro store that is located in the Finger Lakes Mall on Routes 5 and 20 in Auburn.
While Routes 5 and 20 part company in the center of Auburn, continue your drive a few more miles on Route 20 to Skaneateles, often referred to as the Eastern Gateway to the Finger Lakes. This community of lovely older homes, situated on the northern shores of Skaneateles Lake, has a restored historic downtown district with unique shops, restaurants and bed & breakfast inns. There are also many recreational activities to choose from by the lake, including a sightseeing cruise.
> For information
Genesee County Chamber of Commerce, (800) 622-2688, www.geneseeny.com
Town of Caledonia, (585) 538-4927, www.cal-mum.com
Town of Avon, (585) 226-2425, www.avon-ny.org
Village of Avon, (585) 226-8118;
Town of Lima, (585) 624-7911, www.townoflima.org; and Village of Lima, (585) 624-2210, www.crossroadscouncil.org
Village of Bloomfield, (585) 657-7554, www.bloomfieldny.org
Town of East Bloomfield, (585) 657-6515
Canandaigua Chamber of Commerce, (585) 394-4400, www.canandaigua.com
Geneva Chamber of Commerce, (315) 789-1776, (877) 5-GENEVA
Seneca County Tourism, (800) 732-1848, www.visitseneca.net
Seneca County Chamber of Commerce, (315) 568-2906, www.senecachamber.org
Cayuga County Tourism, (800) 499-9615, www.tourcayuga.com
urn (877-343-0002, www.tourauburnny.com)
Skaneateles Chamber of Commerce, (315) 685-0552, www.skaneateles.com.