A leisurely drive along Ridge Road, Route 104, makes a perfect one tank trip. The route, which runs from Lewiston to past Rochester, was once a Native American footpath and later a stagecoach route used by early pioneers. It is referred to as the “Cobblestone Trail,” since it has the distinction of having the most buildings of cobblestone construction along it than any other highway in America.
What exactly is a cobblestone?
During the Ice Age, this route was the shoreline of glacial Lake Iroquois. As the glaciers retreated, millions of small “cobblestones,” small round stones that can be picked up in one hand, were deposited.
Cobblestone masonry, a construction method using stones laid out in horizontal rows, was developed in the area in the early 1800’s. Two types of stones were used; “lake-washed stones,” found along the shores of Lake Ontario, and “fieldstones,” which were found in the fields.
Often, it was the job of the children in the family to collect the stones off the land so that it could be used for farming. Sometimes it took several years to amass enough stones to build a home. Even though the stones were free, it still was considered a status symbol to be able to have a cobblestone home built. Between 1825-1860 about 1,200 buildings of cobblestone construction were built in North America; about 90% within 75 miles of Rochester. About 900 of these buildings are still in existence.
Let your journey begin
Here are a few things to keep in mind before beginning your journey. Most of these buildings are private residences; it’s okay to pull over on the shoulder to look at them, but please don’t trespass! Also, in many spots Route 104 has a 55 MPH speed limit, so don’t create a road hazard by driving too slow. Fill the gas tank before you go, as there are not many gas stations along the route.
While numerous cobblestone buildings can be found right on Route 104, others are found on other routes a short distance away. A good reference guide to bring along is Cobblestone Quest by Rich and Sue Freeman, which has a wealth of information about cobblestone construction as well as detailed descriptions of the buildings along the way. Seventeen driving tours describing cobblestone structures in Niagara, Orleans, Monroe, Genesee, Livingston, Wayne and Ontario Counties, are included in the book. You may also want to bring along a map.
My family recently followed the route when we took a trip to Rochester and the kids had a good time looking for the cobblestone buildings. While Route 104 begins in Lewiston, you can pick it up anywhere in Niagara County; we started the journey off Route 78, just north of Lockport.
If you begin your journey from Lewiston, you may want to take a side trip north towards Wilson, when you reach Route 425. The first home you’ll spot is the Greek-Revival style Johnson House, 2533 Route 425, a private residence. The Wilson House Inn, now a restaurant and inn, located at the corner of Route 425 and Lake Ave. was built in 1844 by Luther Wilson. There are also about a half-dozen other cobblestone homes located on Maple Road in Wilson, which runs parallel to Route 425.
When you return to Route 104, you won’t see any cobblestone buildings until you get to the town of Hartland. However, there are a number of seasonal farm stands along the way, as well as yard sales, which seem to take place on a regular basis.
You may want to take a detour north to Route 18 and visit the Babcock Cobblestone House Museum in Barker. This 1848 Greek Revival farmhouse was the home of Jeptha Babcock. It is operated as a museum by the town of Somerset Historical Society (Open Saturday-Sunday 1-4, late June-Oct.).
Entering Cobblestone County
Route 104 continues into Orleans County, where you will see an increasing amount of cobblestone structures, with many clustered in the hamlet of Childs, where you will find the world’s only Cobblestone Museum Complex. This is a must see along the trail. It is open Tuesday-Sunday, late June-Labor Day; weekends only in September and October.
There are seven historic buildings in the museum complex; three of the buildings are of cobblestone construction and designated National Historic Landmarks. They include the 1834 Universalist Church, the oldest of the 26 cobblestone churches built in North America. Next door, the Ward House, built in 1840, served as the parsonage for the church. Located a short walk down the road is an 1849 cobblestone schoolhouse, which was used until 1952.
The four remaining buildings are located diagonally across the street from the church. They are wood-frame structures of the same vintage, including a blacksmith shop, print shop, harness shop and a farmer’s hall, which has hundreds of 19th and early 20th century farming implements on display. Upcoming museum events include an antique fair on August 5th and an “Old Timers Day” in September.
While in Childs, dine at Tillman’s Historic Village Inn, just a stones throw from the museum. This restaurant, known for steaks, seafood and home-style comfort food, began operating as a stage coach stop in 1824. Overnight accommodations are also available.
Elsewhere near and along Route 104
You may want to take a side trip south on Route 98 to Watt Farms Country Market. In addition to in-season produce, they have an ice cream parlor and a gift shop featuring 25 flavors of homemade fudge. On weekends, they operate a train ride through their orchards.
Alternately, you may want to head north on Route 98 to Route 18 to visit Brown’s Berry Patch, another farm market with an ice cream parlor and gift shop. They also have a sandwich deli.
If you continue along Route 104 towards Rochester, you’ll see a few more cobblestone structures along the way, along with other points of interest. Ridge Road Station in Holley is the largest independent toy store in New York State. Their massive four-level train layout will delight kids of all ages. The store carries all scales of trains, along with Brio, Playmobile, Lego, hobby models, educational toys and a year-round Christmas shop.
Hurd Orchards, also in Holley, open daily May-December, offers a large selection of in-season produce, along with flowers, herbs, jams, gift baskets, and really good baked goods. Special tastings and teas take place by reservation.
Once you enter Monroe County, you’ll spot several more cobblestone homes in the Brockport area. You may want to take a side trip south, down Route 19 to the village of Brockport, which is located along the Erie Canal. There are numerous boutique shops and restaurants located in the downtown historic district.
In Spencerport you’ll find several antique and country décor shops located along Route 104, along with Choo Choo’s Express, a unique casual eatery and ice cream parlor. While you wait for your order, you can take a ride on their quarter-mile train ride which has 29 realistic life size dinosaurs along the tracks.
Once past Spencerport the scenery changes rapidly from rural countryside to a busy retail area. There is also a major road reconstruction project. However, before turning back, you may want to check out the Craft Antique Co-op in Greece, the largest craft and antique co-op in the state, with over 200 shops on two levels.
If you still wish continue on Route 104, you won’t spot many cobblestone structures until you get to Wayne County, well east of Rochester. Cobblestone buildings can also be found scattered throughout the entire Finger Lakes region, including some in Canandaigua, Geneva, Phelps, Clifton Springs, Geneseo and several other communities.
Besides the two museums mentioned earlier, there are other museums located in cobblestone structures, including the Alexander Town Museum (Alexander, Genesee County), Livingston County Historical Society (Geneseo, Livingston County) and the Tinker Homestead Museum (Henrietta, Monroe County).
If you go
Cobblestone Quest by Rich & Sue Freeman (Footprint Press, 2005) Available in bookstores and online.
Wilson House Inn and Restaurant (716-751-9888) 300 Lake St., Wilson.
Babcock Cobblestone House Museum (716-795-9948) 7449 Lake Rd., Barker.
Cobblestone Museum Complex (585-589-9013) Rt. 104 & 98, Childs.
Tillman’s Historic Village Inn (585-589-9151) 14369 Ridge Rd., Childs.
Watt Farms Country Market (585-589-8000, 1-800-274-5897) 3121 Oak Orchard Rd., Albion
Browns Berry Patch (585-682-5569) 14264 Roosevelt Highway (NY 18) Waterport.
Ridge Road Station (585-638-6000, 877-447-2253) 16131 Ridge Rd., Holley.
Hurd Orchards (585-638-8838) Rt. 104 at Monroe County Line, Holley.
Choo Choos Express (585-352-4422) 5138 Ridge Rd., Spencerport.
Craft Antique Co-op (585-368-0670) 3200 Ridge Rd., Greece.
Route 104 begins in Lewiston in northern Niagara County and runs towards Rochester and beyond, parallel to the lake Ontario shoreline.