The first time I traveled through the village of Clifton Springs, my reaction was “Wow, what a neat place!” When you drive into this central Ontario County village, about ninety minutes east of Buffalo, you feel like you’ve been transported back in time to a more genteel era. Clifton Springs, population 2,000, has a downtown business district with several well-preserved 19th Century buildings, along with numerous Victorian-era homes. It is especially festive to visit during the holiday season, when village homes and businesses are decorated for Christmas.
A brief history
While the village, originally known as Sulphur Springs, was first settled around 1800, the area developed rather slowly until the 1850’s, when Dr. Henry Foster arrived to begin a natural water cure facility using the water from the village’s natural sulphur spring.
Dr. Foster believed that a doctor should cure the whole person; body, mind and soul; a practice known as Homoeopathy. Since hydrotherapy was a popular medical practice of the day, he used water from the spring, along with fresh water and electricity, to developed several types of baths to be used by his patients to help treat their physical aliments. Dr. Foster also included a healthy diet and exercise as part of his treatment.
The popularity of the Clifton Springs Water Cure Facility grew, and patients came from all over the country seeking medical treatment. By the 1880’s the facility, then called the Clifton Spring Sanitarium Company outgrew its original wood frame buildings. A five story, red brick facility was built. It was noted for its excellent medical staff and spacious facilities designed to heal the body as well as the mind.
The sanitarium eventually evolved into the Clifton Springs Hospital and Clinic. When a new modern hospital was built in the 1970’s, the former sanitarium was converted to a senior housing facility, known as the Spa Apartments. At this point the sulphur baths were discontinued….but not forever, as doctors recently discovered that sometimes the ways of the past can speed healing when intergraded with modern treatments.
Hydrotherapy and more, alive and well in Clifton Springs
Folks can still come to Clifton Springs to seek healing of the mind, body and soul. In 2000, the hospital looked back to its roots and decided to devote an entire wing, known as “The Springs at Clifton,” to alternative health services, including massage therapy, chiropractic care, acupuncture and hydrotherapy. They also offer holistic spa treatments, including facials, body wraps, aromatherapy, body waxing, manicures and pedicures.
When I spoke with Gladys, an administrative assistant at the spa, she said that the department blends natural medical therapies with a typical spa experience. The spa has an atmosphere that promotes relaxation and healing, including peaceful colors and soothing music, which is just what the doctor ordered to combat pre-holiday stress.
During the warmer months, visitors can walk the labyrinth located next to the suphur brook on the beautifully manicured grounds of the health facility or enjoy the water garden, a peaceful spot to sit and relax while getting away from our hectic world. While some people come to the Springs at Clifton strictly for medical treatments and healing, others come for the relaxation aspect of the spa.
The spa features six hydrotherapy rooms, one that uses fresh water and five that use water from the sulphur brook outside. It costs about $20 for a 20 minute soak in warm sulphur water in one of their private soaking tubs. A massage will set you back $35 for a half hour or $50 for a full hour. It’s recommended you call ahead to book a treatment, especially if you have a specific time and treatment in mind. Some insurance companies may even cover a visit to a chiropractor or acupuncturist; call your insurance company to see if you qualify.
Other attractions in Clifton Springs
Of course you don’t have to be coming to the spa to enjoy Clifton Springs. The Foster Cottage Museum, located right next to the sulphur brook, is a good place to learn about the village’s history, as well as about Dr. Foster’s life work. The museum has several rooms, each devoted to a different aspect of the village’s past. The east room has information about the early settlement of the community, originally called Suphur Springs. Historians speculate that the village was renamed Clifton Springs, because it is located in a hollow between two hills; a “cliff town.”
The Foster Room, located in the center of the museum has artifacts and instruments used by Dr. Foster in his medical practice, as well as information about Dr. and Mrs. Foster. The center front room of the museum is dedicated to the school of nursing that was run here between 1892 and 1930. The museum’s west room has a collection of Native American artifacts. Be sure to check out the museum’s website, as there are several interesting articles outlining the types of bath treatments offered at the facility in the 1800’s.
While there are several cozy cafes and restaurants in town, my personal favorite is Warfield’s Restaurant, which is housed in the 1871 Victorian-era Warfield’s block. As soon as you’re seated, a basket filled with house-made rolls and muffins will appear. The menu can best be described as casual country fare, with Oriental and European twists. Their French Onion Soup is very tasty, as are the salads. Entrees include steak, veal, chicken and seafood dishes.
Signature desserts include Warfield’s Red Grits, made with raspberries, tapioca and Grand Marnier. The next time I’m there I plan to save room for dessert and try their crème brulee, rumored to be the best in upstate New York. Warfield’s Bakery, located in the front of the restaurant, has a selection of specialty breads, pies and cookies.
A great place to shop is Peirce’s Antiques and Gifts, located in the historic Peirce Block. This shop specializes in hand painted furniture, locally handcrafted items, antiques, country collectibles and a year-round Christmas department. Just down the street, the Rose Petal Gift Shop carries cards, gifts and Clifton Springs merchandise.
The annual Clifton Springs Festival of Lights takes place on Friday December 1st from 6-8pm. Buildings along Main Street will be adorned with glowing lights. Activities include a visit from Santa, horse-drawn wagon rides, caroling, musical entertainment, various goodies, a silent auction, a holiday decorating contest and more.
If you’re looking for a place to stay while in the area, the Clifton Pearl Bed and Breakfast is within walking distance from the downtown area. Another bed and breakfast, the Yorkshire Inn, is located a few miles east, in the village of Phelps. Several chain motels are near the Manchester Thruway exit and numerous accommodations can also be found in the cities of Canandaigua and Geneva, not far from Clifton Springs.
From Buffalo, take the New York State Thruway (I-90) to the Manchester exit (#43). After exiting the Thruway, take Route 21 South; get into the left lane and make a left into Route 96 South. Follow Route 96 for about 5 miles until you reach Kendall Street. Turn right and follow Kendall Street into downtown Clifton Springs.
If you go
Village of Clifton Springs (315-462-5151) 1 W. Main St., Clifton Springs.
The Springs at Clifton (315-462-0390) 2 Coulter Rd., Clifton Springs. Open Mon.-Fri. 8-5, by appointment; open until 6 pm on Tues. & Th. And also open the 2nd Saturday of the month.
Foster Cottage Museum (315-462-7394) 9 E. Main St., Clifton Springs. Open Th.-Sat. 10-3.
Warfield’s Restaurant (315-462-7184) 7 W. Main St. Open for lunch and dinner Tues.-Sat. and Sunday for brunch.
Clifton Pearl (315-462-5050) 46 E. Main St., Clifton Springs.
Yorkshire Inn (315-548-YORK) 1135 NY 96, Phelps.