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Signs of history and signs of spring awakening

In late March I drove to Boston to spend an evening with my daughter. Susan lives in El Paso but she was attending a program at Harvard that weekend. It was a long drive but it went quickly as my route was almost entirely by major expressways. I had been surprised when information I downloaded from the Web suggested an average speed of over 60 miles per hour, but my drive east proved that estimate accurate.

Although the weather was excellent, however, I didn't see much. Even the lovely Berkshires seemed to fly by as I was forced to concentrate on the traffic around me.

Halfway home I reached a point when I had enough of this monotonous and inhumane regimen. I started from my motel in Sturbridge early enough to get to Buffalo by late morning but, when I reached Albany, I decided that I would instead take a side trip. I would drive along country roads instead of continuing on the toll road.

At Canajoharie, I headed south along twisting Route 10 to take old, Thruway-displaced Route 20 west toward the Finger Lakes.

Of course, everything immediately slowed down. I could still drive fast on this highway but at reduced speeds it was just warm enough to open the car windows. I chose to enjoy the delicious spring air.

I had taken this route before so I knew what to expect, and those expectations were soon fulfilled. Just west of Sharon Springs, there was a wonderful view of the Mohawk River valley and I could even see the gray Adirondack foothills in the background. This was only the first of many such views.

There were also the widely separated, attractive villages with interesting names: Leesville, Richfield Springs, Bridgewater, Sangerfield, Pleasant Valley, Morrisville, Cazenovia at the foot of the frozen lake with that name and Skaneateles at the head of another.

In these villages and occasionally in the countryside are old homes, some with cupolas, a few cobblestoned and many close to the road, indicating that they were built long before the road was widened. One had majestic old maples in its front yard, all being tapped for syrup, not by the plastic pipes of so many in today's sugarbush but with individual pails.

On our family trips when I was a youngster, my dad often stopped to read educational signs along the road. Only irritated then by the delays but much older and a bit wiser now, I decided to emulate him.

Some of the signs seemed simply mundane: "First church in Springfield built here;" "John Tunnicliff Jr., a revolutionary soldier, settled here," "Site of 2nd match factory in United States;" "Birthplace of William Watts Folwell, 1833-1929, a pioneer of culture, first president of University of Minnesota;" "Green's house built of logs in 1796" and "Hall's Corners renamed Navarino in 1828."

But most I found more interesting. One pointed to Otsego Lake, the Glimmerglass of James Fenimore Cooper's "Leatherstocking Tales." Another at the Cardiff crossroads told of the Cardiff Giant, "disinterred near this village on Oct. 16, 1869. Represented as a petrified prehistoric man, it was subsequently proved a hoax."

And, of course, many spoke of our early heritage, some of it unhappy. One, labeled "Sullivan-Clinton Campaign 1779" went on: "Portage route of Gen. James Clinton's army Canajoharie to Otsego Lake, 2000 men, 300 wagons, 200 batteaux and supplies moved overland." This was the invasion of the Iroquois lands, all but the Oneidas unfortunately choosing to side with the British in the Revolutionary War.

Gen. George Washington had ordered these armies "not merely to overrun but to destroy" the Indian villages and a half dozen signs attested to this. One was typical: "Ken-dai-a, Indian village destroyed by Sullivan's army, Sept. 17, 1779."

But there were positive actions as well. One sign near Skaneateles told of abolitionist James Cannings Fuller's home, "site of an Underground Railroad Station, 1834-1861."

The trip wasn't all focused on road signs, however. I saw a few early bird migrants, my first killdeer among them, and at the now-deserted Sampson naval base three albino deer.

In today's too-fast-moving world many of us would consider that day wasted. Not I; I returned home refreshed.


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