Corning, NY and the Finger Lakes: August 17-24, 2012

Reminders: 1. Posts are in chronological order with most recent on top. 2. Pictures can be enlarged by clicking on them and then using the back button (not close) to return to the text.

From Chautauqua, we opted for a route due east rather than following the Lake Erie/Ontario coast. Next stop was the town of Addison, about ten miles south of Corning, NY. It was a hilly, grassy, rustic campground with mostly seasonals — people who leave their units there from May 15 – Oct. 15 and either stay with them or, more likely, commute back and forth from their homes and businesses. It had one of the largest and most beautiful outdoor pools we’ve encountered – and reasonable prices.

We had two adventures of interest. The first was a visit to the Corning Museum of Glass. Corning is a company town; you can’t go down many roads in the area without seeing one or more of their plants. The Museum is an ultra-modern structure in a modular format.

The Hot Glass Exhibition features half-hour demonstrations of glass shaping in two studios.

A series of Galleries with over 40,000 glass creations, from simply artistic to very practical, and from today back as far as the Romans.

The Innovations section explores the voluminous uses of glass and includes three demonstration stages, including fiber optics.

Multiple Workshops teaching visitors how to make their own creations to take home (for a fee).

A dedicated exhibit highlights the work of Frederick Carder, co-founder of Steuben Glass. Carder worked with Peter Fabergé in his early career in England, and he came to America at the beginning of the 19th century. He established Steuben in 1903, and after it was purchased by Corning Glass Works in 1918, Carder continued to work at Corning until retiring in 1959. He died in 1963 at the age of 100. The infamous Steuben Gallery in Manhattan closed in 2011.

Historical Snippets, including a photograph of an old glass etching factory, where many grindstones are belt-driven from a continuous driveshaft, and a model of a glass blowing factory, where each creator has his own work area around a large furnace. A Tiffany church window is there in all its glory. The biggest artifact in the place was a Palomar telescope mirror, 200 inches in diameter, that was miscast and useless. A teaser question asks how the gigantic failure was moved into the museum building. Answer: the building was built around it!

Our other adventure found us about 20 miles north of Corning in Watkins Glen. The village anchors the south end of Seneca Lake, the largest of eleven that make up the Finger Lakes. Seneca, Canandaigua and Keuka are dominant and have tourist attractions. All have cruises, but Seneca presents two Capt. Bill’s motorized excursions — the dinner boat Seneca Legacy and the hour-long tour boat Stroller IV — plus sailing excursions on the 54 foot schooner True Love. Originally Malabar VII, the full-rigged vessel is one of a series of John Alden racing schooners. She won the Bermuda Race in 1926, the year she was commissioned, and she also appeared in the 1956 Crosby-Kelly-Sinatra movie, High Society.

We toured around the village, clearly a vacation destination, and lunched at Capt. Bill’s shoreside restaurant, Seneca Harbor Station (yum yum). Along Main Street, we found four sidewalk plaques three of which are shown below. You should recognize all the names.

Watkins Glen’s heritage includes its position as one of the premiere racing circuits in the United States. It all started in 1948, when a local man organized the first post-WW II sports car race over a six mile street course right through the heart of town. The downtown Grand Prix became an annual affair until 1952, when a spectator was killed. A new course, outside of town but still on existing roads, was created and used until 1956, when the first permanent course was established. Over the years, Watkins Glen International has had highs and lows and has been redesigned many times. Today, it boasts two courses , a Grand Prix course that’s 3.4 miles long with 11 turns, and a 2.45 mile short course with 8 turns — with about 7 huge grandstands. It’s in frequent use by cars of every description from Indy cars through NASCAR; the latter ran its 2012 Sprint Cup race at the track over the weekend prior to our visit. Sports cars dominate, of course, with race days of all types, including vintage races and club races. The day we were there, Audi was racing, with BMW scheduled for the next day. The only time you could tour the facility was at 5:30 each day, when, I understand, you actually circle the track in your own car. But we couldn’t stay; the dogs were already crossing their legs back home and waiting for dinner.

One other fun fact: The track was the site of the 1973 Summer Jam concert, featuring the Allman Brothers, The Band and the Grateful Dead. Attended by 600,000 of their closest fans, it was far and away bigger than Woodstock and is the Guinness record holder. Were you there????

Between lunch and the track, we took in the village’s singular sensation: Watkins Glen State Park. History-in-a-minute: The whole area was first purchased in 1794 by John Watkins and a partner, but it was John and his brother Charles who built the original town, then called Big Gully. The brothers Watkins abandoned the area, but younger brother Sam took interest and continued significant progress. His wife, Cynthia – half his age – married George Freer after his death and when Cynthia died, George teamed up with newspaper man Morvalden Ells to open the gorge to tourists. It was eventually sold to the State of NY, and the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society continued it as a tourist attraction. The Great Flood of 1935 wreaked terrible havoc, but the CCC was brought in and made it better than ever. The end.

So for the uninitiated, here’s what it is. The fissure in the sandstone and shale that dominates the region had been worked and reworked for millions of years. Passage through the gorge is about two miles long and 400 feet top-to-bottom; some views are 200 feet up/down. There are three trails; the primary one, Gorge Trail, descends (or rises) via comfortable man-made paths and bridges — and over 800 steps. Fortunately for us oldies, a bus will take you to the top for a nominal fee and permit descent. (We passed no one our age heading up!). Below are fewer than 20% of the pictures I shot of its pools, crags, tunnels and 19 waterfalls, two of which you walk behind. I hope you’ll open a lot of them.

So that was a week’s worth of exploration. You may be noticing a trend toward fewer adventures as we continue to roll toward the end of this journey. You may also notice that I’m completing chapters in shorter order. There’s a reason for all this, and I promise an eventual explanation. It’s certainly not that there’s less out there to see!

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