2016 Trip Seven, The Berkshires, Sept. 14-15

Hancock, MA Friday Sept. 16

Generally when traveling, I try to write this post daily at the end of each day. Sometimes, when too tired or when maybe there has not been much to write about, the post is done every other day. Every now and then though, the mood just does not strike me, usually because the activities were not all that interesting. The last two days were more in that vein,and if you pass on this post, I will understand.

Not to say that the ride was unpleasant. In fact, we commented frequently on the beauty of green. The mountains and deserts of the western U.S.have a majesty and grandeur but after a while, the rocks get boring. It is pleasant to see lush green land on a regular basis. As we moved into central and eastern Ohio, the land has more depth as hills and low mountains start to predominate. The flat prairies give way to smaller fields and huge vistas of forests. A recent, pleasant addition is the planting of wild flowers along highways which provides even more color and interest.

And the houses are colorful. New suburban developments back home have such a sameness with the earth-tone, neutral colors of beige, sand, gray, etc. seemingly the new standard. Here the homes, particularly in the cities, often are rich and vibrant hues representing the spectrum of the rainbow. Towns have a history; some of them have re-made themselves after their first, or second, economic purpose died out. Other towns are struggling, with downtowns lacking economic purpose and sidewalks devoid of any activity.

One of the lodging options for summer Chautauqua

One of the lodging options for summer Chautauqua

On Wednesday, we left Dayton (after a sumptuous breakfast at the Inn at Brandywine Falls) around 10:30 and drove to Chautauqua, New York. Chautauqua is home to the Chautauqua Institution, a “community that comes alive on the shores of Chautauqua Lake in southwestern New York State each summer with a mix of lectures, fine and performing arts, interfaith worship and recreational activities.” Chautauqua started in 1874 as a means to educate Sunday School teachers and has been in almost continuous operation since then. In its early years, it spawned related programs around the country. Today similar functions are run by schools, libraries, public television, TED talks, etc. but without the concentrated effort and social gathering that occur during the weekly summer programs at Chautauqua.

At one point in her career, Chris had run a short summer program at the University of St. Catherine in St. Paul that mimicked Chautauqua and she wanted to observe the original site. There were no programs in operation as we toured the grounds. Chris reviewed the literature; there seemed to be one low-cost option but, in general, attending a week of Chautauqua seems to be a pricey option. For instance, Road Scholar offers a week package for $2,085 per person for six nights and all meals, with additional cost for attendance at Opera or Theater performances.

One of the numerous vineyards in the Finger Lakes region

One of the numerous vineyards in the Finger Lakes region

The drive ended Tuesday night in Seneca Falls. The journey between Chautauqua and Seneca Falls traverses hills and valleys and then enters into the Finger Lakes region. The Finger Lakes area is home to numerous vineyards and wineries, with tasting rooms a continual presence along the back roads. We did not stop at any but did enjoy the views. The whole Finger Lakes region and central New York may be a place we return to in the future. In has been decades since we were last traveling through the area.

We spent the night at the Barrister Bed and Breakfast in Seneca Falls. It is located in the downtown area and we were able to walk to a nice local pub for dinner. Breakfast Wednesday was another three course breakfast. The inn was full so there were ten of us enjoying the meal and sharing travel tips.

Seneca Falls was the model town for Bedford Falls in the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life”, now a classic Christmas movie. Seneca Falls is on a connecting canal to the Erie Canal. The Erie Canal was an engineering marvel built in 1817-1825 for 363 miles connecting the Great Lakes with the Atlantic Seaboard. The canal was a major impetus for development of the Mid-West and made New York a prime seaport. The connecting canal to Seneca Falls via Cayuga and Seneca Lakes brought prosperity to Seneca Falls.

The reconstructed church where the First Women's RIghts Conference was held in Senca Falls, New York

The reconstructed church where the First Women’s RIghts Conference was held in Senca Falls, New York

It is also home to the Women’s Rights National Historical Park run by the National Park Service. Several of the homes of the women responsible for the First Women’s Rights Conference in 1848 were not open but the visitor center was open. The church where the first meeting was held has been re-constructed. It was never preserved and only two of the original walls were still standing when reconstruction began.

This NPS site was just so-so. Clean and new and bright but still just so-so. A lot of display boards but not a lot seemed new to us. They tried to make the introductory film relevant to children and, for us, it made the film less interesting. All in all, not the best NPS site we have been to.

Harriet Tubman house in Auburn, New York. Pictures not allowed inside but most furnishings are from Tubman family

Harriet Tubman house in Auburn, New York. Pictures not allowed inside but most furnishings are from Tubman family

After Women’s Rights, we drove twenty miles to Auburn NY, the site of the Harriet Tubman National Park. Technically, while President Obama signed this legislation in December of 2014, not all of the paperwork has been signed yet. When the paperwork is completed, her home, the home for the aging she established here, and the AME Zion church where she worshipped and which supported her efforts will become part of the park. Pictures are not allowed inside the home but many of the furnishings are from the Tubman family.

In case you are out of touch, Harriet Tubman was born a slave in 1822 in Maryland. She gained her freedom in 1849 by escaping to the North. Over the next ten years, she helped numerous other slaves escape to the North through use of the Underground Railroad and her sense of direction. She assisted the Union Army during the Civil War through roles as nurse, spy, scout, and hospital cook. Just before the Civil War, former Secretary of State William Seward, who lived in Auburn, sold her a home and property for a nominal sum-which was illegal at the time. After the war, she gained additional land and ran a home for the poor aged of the community. She died in 1913 and was buried with full military rites in a local cemetery.

Fort Stanwix, Rome New York

Fort Stanwix, Rome New York

We were not done with the day yet. We continued our drive to the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts through Rome NY. In Rome is the site of Fort Stanwix, another National Park Service site. The fort was declared a national monument in the 1930s, but it wasn’t really until the 1970s that the reconstruction was completed. Part of downtown Rome had to be razed to conduct architectural studies to find the exact location. Frankly, from the “before” pictures, Rome was probably quite happy to have those buildings knocked down. We are not covering the history of Rome itself since that was not a focus of this stop. It probably deserves more attention on a future trip.

Interior of Fort Stanwix

Interior of Fort Stanwix

Fort Stanwix began as a British fort against the French and their Indian allies. When the French and Indian War ended in 1863 with the defeat of the French, the fort fell into disrepair. It was rebuilt by the U.S.rebels to act as a protective outpost in the Mohawk Valley during the Revolutionary War. The unsuccessful siege of Fort Stanwix by the British in 1777, along with the British surrender at Saratoga, protected the middle of the U.S.and led to France and the Netherlands joining the U.S.against the British.

But the fort represents more than a moment in the Revolutionary War. This location served as a trade route for the Native Americans in the area. It was a “carrying point” or portage, from the Mohawk River to Wood Creek. The tribes in this area had resolved their own differences and created a long-lived peace among the tribes (the Six Nation Confederacy), although not necessarily with their Indian neighbors. However, the battles between the French and the British, then the Revolutionary War, and finally the American’s desire for more land drove the various tribes into competing factions and worthless treaties with the new settlers. Their desire for neutrality in these wars was unable to be sustained.

The reconstructed fort is quite well-done and the exhibits substantial. However, I found the timeline and story difficult to keep straight. Possibly being the third NPS stop of the day made us less sharp than usual.

We drove the remaining miles to Hancock, through the Berkshire Mountains, a mountainous highlands with small towns and curvy two lane roads. Our lodging for the next five nights will be the Wyndham Bentley Brook, butting up next to a small ski resort.

Ed and Chris

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