Seaway Trail Journey Magazine
Special places along the Seaway Trail
By Christine A. Smyczynski
It’s about the journey, as well as the destination, for travelers along the Great Lakes Seaway Trail. This 518 mile long scenic byway, which travels through two states, takes voyagers to many special places that they might overlook if they traveled on the superhighways. Take this relaxing scenic route and you’ll be sure to discover something to pique your interest, including wineries, museums, cultural attractions, great food and farm markets, as well as a variety of recreational activities, such as hiking, biking, fishing, and boating.
Here are some of our favorite places chosen from the many special places along the Great Lakes Seaway Trail. I’m sure you’ll discover some favorites of your own as your explore this road less traveled.
Erie County, Pennsylvania–wineries
The region that stretches from Harbor Creek, Pennsylvania to Silver Creek, NY is known as the Concord Grape Belt Region. It is the second largest Concord grape growing area in the United States. With its abundance of grapes, it’s natural that wineries would be prolific in this region.
Twenty-one wineries, organized into the 40 mile long Chautauqua-Lake Erie Wine Trail, can be found here. Over a third of these wineries are located in the town of North East, Pennsylvania. One of the best known wineries in North East is Mazza Vineyards, owned and operated by the Mazza family since 1972.
The family actually operates three separate wineries, two in North East and one in Chautauqua, NY. The original winery (in North East) is a Mediterranean style building, with a large tasting room. Although the family’s roots are in Italy, Joseph Mazza emigrated from Italy in 1954; their wines are made in the Germanic style, since the region’s climate is more suited to this type of wine. Vintages include classic white and red, along with Concord, Pink Catawba and Niagara.
They also began producing icewine commercially in 1984, the first Pennsylvania winery to do so. Known as “the nectar of the gods,” icewine is made from grapes that are harvest and pressed while frozen, producing a very sweet wine. This is a very labor intensive process, as the grapes must be picked by hand. Mazza has won numerous awards for their icewine.
(Mazza Vineyards, 11815 East Lake Rd., North East, PA 800-796-9463 www.mazzawines.com )
Mazza Chautauqua Cellars in Chautauqua, NY, opened in 2005. Located close to the renown Chautauqua Institution, this winery has a distillery where brandy and artisan spirits are made in a hand-crafted copper pot still. During the summer months, an open air café features soups, panini sandwiches and salads, as well as desserts, espresso, and, of course, wine by the glass or bottle.
(Mazz Chautauqua Wine Cellars, 4717 Chautauqua-Stedman Road, Mayville, NY 716-269-3000, www.mcc.mazzawines.com )
The Mazza family has also expanded their operations by re-establishing the South Shore Wine Company in North East. South Shore was the first commercial winery in Erie County Pennsylvania, having been originally established in 1864. (It closed during Prohibition in the 1920’s) One of the most striking features of this winery is the unique stone wine cellar. (South Shore Wine Company, 1120 Freeport Rd., North East, PA 814-725-1585, www.ss.mazzawines.com)
Chautauqua County, New York–Culture
While the name Chautauqua can describe the county, as well as the lake that sits in the middle of the county, most people associate the name Chautauqua with the Chautauqua Institution, which has served as a center for performing arts, education, religion, and recreation for over 130 years. The 750 acre institution attracts over 150,000 visitors from all over the world for its nine week summer season.
Each week focuses on a specific theme. Some of the topics featured in the 2009 season include Kids, Explore our World with National Geographic and State of Mind, which explains the inner workings of the brain. Visitors have many daily options to choose from, including worship services, lectures, workshops, and musical entertainment. In addition, there are numerous recreational activities to choose from, including golf, tennis, shuffleboard, lawn bowling, swimming, sailing, and more.
However, Chautauqua is not merely a vacation resort. “Chautauqua is an experience and a way of life; not a vacation,” said Joan Harf of Erie, PA, who has been summering at Chautauqua with husband, Walt, for nearly 40 years. The Harf’s started coming to Chautauqua when their children were teens; today the Harf’s grandchildren spend part of their summer at Chautauqua.
Milt and Carol Peters of Findley, Ohio, are also long-time Chautauqua visitors. They cited the many things to do and advised that visitors should pace themselves. “First time visitors can get exhausted because there is so much to do.”
While there are many lovely places to stay on the grounds of the institution, including cottages, hotels and B&B inns, one of the most memorable places to stay is the Athenaeum Hotel. This “Grand Dame” hotel, built in 1881, is one of the few Victorian-era wooden hotels still in existence. According to Milt Peters, the Athenaeum is the center of things at Chautauqua, with easy access to the grounds and the institutions bus route. The Institution’s summer season runs from late June to late August.
A gate fee is charged to enter the village during the summer season, except for Sunday, when admission is free.
(Chautauqua Institution, NY 394, Chautauqua, NY, 716-357-6200, www.ciweb.org )
Erie County, New York–Eating
There are hundreds of restaurants in Buffalo and Erie County, from casual eateries to fine dining establishments. One could probably eat out every night of the year and not eat in the same place twice. However, Buffalo’s culinary claim to fame is the chicken wing, a deep-fried, hot sauced covered delicacy better known as “Buffalo Wings,” which were created by the late Theresa Bellissimo over 40 years ago. This is a must-taste when visiting the Buffalo area.
The best place to sample this delicious treat is the place where it all began–The Anchor Bar on Main Street in downtown Buffalo. One Friday night back in 1964, Dom Bellissimo, the son of Anchor Bar founders, Frank and Theresa, arrived at the bar with a bunch of hungry friends. He asked his mom to fix them something to eat; Theresa deep fried a batch of chicken wings, poured some hot sauce over them and the rest is history.
While wings are the most popular thing on the menu, about 1,000 pounds a day are dished up; they actually do serve other food, including, pasta, burgers and other dishes. (Anchor Bar, 1047 Main Street, Buffalo 716-883-1134, www.anchorbar.com)
If you’re looking for more upscale dining, head down to Buffalo’s waterfront to Shanghai Red’s, which overlooks the Erie Basin Marina and Buffalo’s waterfront. Open for lunch and dinner, the menu focuses on fresh seafood, steaks, pasta, and stir-fry. During the warmer months, enjoy dining on the patio that overlooks the marina. The restaurant, which has several banquet rooms, is a popular place for weddings and other receptions.
(Shanghai Red’s, 2 Templeton Terrace, Buffalo, 716-852-7337, www.shanghairedsrestaurant.com)
While in the Buffalo area you may want to sample other regional favorites. Many restaurants and pubs are noted for their Friday night fish fry–a tradition that dates back to the days prior to 1962, when the region’s largely Catholic population was required to abstain from meat on Fridays. Local eateries serve up about 100,000 pounds of fish each week.
Another favorite food is “beef on weck,” thinly sliced beef piled high on a salty kimmelweck roll. Several locally owned restaurants are noted for this sandwich, which is traditionally served topped with horseradish and a pickle on the side.
Niagara County, New York–Niagara Falls
In addition to being a favorite place along the Great Lakes Seaway Trail, Niagara Falls is probably one of the most well-known destinations in the world; attracting close to 14 million visitors annually on both sides of the border.
One of the best ways to view the falls is to take a journey on the Maid of the Mist boat tour. One of the oldest tourist attractions in North America, the boat ride has been in operation since 1846. President Theodore Roosevelt once commented, “The ride was the only way to fully realize the grandeur of the great falls of Niagara.” Visitors don plastic rain ponchos and take a 30 minute journey along the lower Niagara River into the mist of the falls. One feels like they could almost reach out and touch the falls.
(Maid of the Mist tours, 151 Buffalo Avenue, Niagara Falls, NY 716-284-8897, www.maidofthemist.com )
Of course there are many other attractions of note in the falls area too, including the Cave of the Winds, which offers an up close and personal look at the falls. After descending an elevator into the cave, you’ll take a soaking walk along a catwalk near the base of the Bridal Veil Falls.
The Cave of the Winds is located in Niagara Falls State Park, America’s oldest state park, which was established in 1885 and designed by noted landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. If something a bit dryer is to your liking, check out the Niagara Gorge Discovery center, which has exhibits that explore the geology and history of the Niagara Gorge.
The nearby Aquarium of Niagara has over 1,500 species of aquatic animals, from sharks to penguins. A sea lion show takes place in a two-story tank, which allows viewing of the sea lions from both above and below the surface of the water.
Orleans County, New York–Apple Picking
Agriculture is the number one industry in rural Orleans County. Visitors can stop at numerous roadside stands and farm markets to get fresh, in-season produce, including apples which are one of the more prolific crops in this area, as well as in the entire state.
New York State produces about 25 million bushels of apples a year and more commercial varieties than any other regions in the country. One of the most popular places in Orleans County to get apples and other fresh produce is Brown’s Berry Patch in Waterport. Browns was established in 1804 when Elijah Brown bought a 100 acre farm along the Oak Orchard River. His son, Elijah, Jr., planted the first apple trees.
Today, the eighth generation of the Brown family grows 200 acres of apples and operates a farm stand, which is a popular agri-tourism destination. “We are trying to get folks to have a little simple fun at our farm, without video games or TV” said Bob Brown. “Parents can pull their kids in a wagon to the apple orchard.” Brown’s Berry Patch has a nine acre dwarf apple orchard where visitors can pick their favorite variety of apple with no ladders required.
They grow over a dozen varieties of apples, which ripen between late August and mid October. Last year, Brown’s was voted the favorite pick-your-own fruit farm by Genesee Valley Parent Magazine. “It’s a family adventure to pick your own apples,” said Brown, who added that you can pick a few of each variety, rather than all the same, when filling up your container.
In addition to apples, they also grow strawberries, sweet cherries, raspberries, blueberries, peaches, pumpkins and even quinces, an old-fashioned fruit, popular for jelly making years ago. Folks can either pick fruit themselves or buy it already picked at the farm market Inside Brown’s, their Lake Country Marketplace has country gifts and gourmet food items.
You can even enjoy ice cream served in their homemade waffle cones while relaxing on old-fashioned rockers on the porch. Their bakery features pies, muffins and donuts and the deli serves sandwiches, salads and wraps. On weekends burgers and hot dogs are served from their outdoor grill.
Kids of all ages will enjoy the Barnyard Adventure area, which has mazes, a giant slide, farm animals, jumping pillows and more. “It’s designed for the whole family to have fun together,” said Brown. “Even mom and dad can slide down the slide.” With all there is to do, one could easily spend the whole day discovering Brown’s Berry Patch.
(Brown’s Berry Patch, 14264 Roosevelt Highway, Waterport, 585-682-5569, www.brownsberrypatch.com. Open April-November)
Monroe County, New York–Museums
Monroe County has many attractions for visitors and residents alike, including numerous museums that have exhibits which appeal to young and old alike. The most well-known museum is the Strong National Museum of Play. Located in downtown Rochester, it is one of the top children’s museums in the country.
The 282,000 square foot museum is home to the largest collection of toys and play-related artifacts in the world and, according to their website, the only museum that focuses on the importance of play in relation to learning and child development. One could easily spend an entire day, or even two days, exploring the numerous exhibits.
In addition to being home to the National Toy Hall of Fame; a new classic toy is inducted each year, the museum also has a butterfly garden that is built to look like the world’s largest butterfly. The glass enclosed Dancing Wings Butterfly Garden has a tropical climate year-round and features about 800 free flying butterflies. Wear something bight or pastel–butterflies are attracted to those colors–and one of them might land on your clothing.
Some of the museums other exhibits include Field of Play, where kids can walk through a giant kaleidoscope, get behind the wheel of a drag racer, or play with a gigantic ball machine. In addition to all the hands-on activities for kids, the museum houses the collection of museum founder, the late Margaret Woodbury Strong. Mrs. Strong was an avid collector of Americana, dolls, dollhouses, toys and other household items. This collection formed the basis for the Strong Museum, which she established in 1968.
(Strong National Museum of Play, 1 Manhattan Square, Rochester, 585-263-2700, www.museumofplay.org)
Some of the other museums you may want to check out in Rochester include the Rochester Museum and Science Center, which features three floors of exhibits focusing on science and regional history. History buffs will enjoy visiting the Susan B. Anthony house, which is now a National Historic Landmark Museum. Anthony was an advocate for the women’s right to vote.
Another museum of note in downtown Rochester is the George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography. Millions of photographs in the museum’s collection chronicle the 150 year history of photography.
A distance from the Great Lakes Seaway Trail, but well worth the trip, is the Genesee Country Village Museum, located in Mumford in southern Monroe County. This recreated 19th Century village features over 60 fully furnished restored buildings that have been moved to the museum from various sites in central and western New York.
Wayne County, New York–Chimney Bluffs
One of the most unique places to visit along Lake Ontario’s shore is Chimney Bluffs State Park. This 597 acre undeveloped state park, considered by many to be a photographer’s paradise, is named after the large clay drumlin formations along the lake which were glacially formed six to ten thousand years ago. These formations are continuously changing in shape due to constant erosion.
Many people enjoy hiking the bluffs, but be warned, the hiking trail to the bluffs is uneven and rough. The bluffs can be a dangerous place and caution must be used at all times. Visitors are warned to stay away from the edges of the cliffs, as they can break away easily, since there is no support under these cliffs.
It’s really not suitable to hike the cliffs if you have small children in tow. However, you can safely view the bluffs from the shoreline below. If you visit Chimney Bluffs in the spring or summer, a variety of wildflowers can be seen along the trail. The park also has an inland hiking trail, which runs through the woods parallel to the road. From this trail you can see glimpses of the East Bay estuary.
(Chimney Bluffs State Park, 7700 Garner Road, Wolcott, 315-947-5205)
Another point of interest in Wayne County is the Sodus Bay Lighthouse Museum, which is housed in a three story stone 1870’s lighthouse. The first floor of the structure has four display rooms along with a gift shop. The lighthouses 50 foot tower can be accessed by climbing 52 circular steps to the lens room, which has a great view of the area. The museum is surrounded by a 4 acre public park; compete with picnic tables and grills. A 4th of July celebration on the grounds is planned, as well as a free summer concert series.
(Sodus Bay Lighthouse Museum, 7606 North Ontario Street, Sodus Point, NY, 315-483-4936, www.soduspointlighthouse.org )
Cayuga County, New York–Biking and B&B’s
The Great Lakes Seaway Trail crosses just a tiny portion of Cayuga County, which is noted for the beautiful scenery and spectacular sunsets which can be seen from the Lake Ontario shore. The Cayuga County towns of Fair Haven and Sterling are probably one of the best kept secrets along the trail.
One of the special places in Cayuga County is the Pleasant Beach Hotel in Fair Haven, a circa 1910 Victorian hotel that offers six newly renovated rooms with private baths, wireless internet, and sleep number beds, along with views of Little Sodus Bay and Lake Ontario. According to innkeeper Bonnie Scoville, it is the only remaining resort hotel of the many that were once located along Lake Ontario. The hotel’s waterfront dining room and deck overlooks Little Sodus Bay and they have docking facilities, with overnight docking available.
(Pleasant Beach Hotel, 14477 Fancher Avenue, Fair Haven, 315-947-5399, www.pleasantbeach.com )
“Fair Haven is a popular destination for people bicycling along the Seaway Trail,” said Scoville. “We get several groups each season.” She added that Fair Haven is really easy to get to by bike (or by boat) and the hotel is close to the shops in town, the state park and the Fly By Night Cookie Company, a really unique place with homemade goodies that has been operating about 20 years.
There are actually 65 miles of multi-use trails in Cayuga County. The closest one to the Great Lakes Seaway Trail is the 14.5 mile Cato-Fair Haven Trail, an easy, shaded ride which traverses woods, swamps and Christmas tree farms. Another nearby trail is the 8 mile long Hannibal-Ho Jack Trail in Sterling.
Some of the special events happening this year include the Paddle the Bay Day on June 6; all kayaks, canoes and rowboats are welcome. Fair Haven will begin their three day Independence Day celebration on July 2 with a parade, carnival, arts and crafts, antique car show and culminate with fireworks on July 4.
On September 12th the 2nd annual Wooden Boat Festival will take place right at the Pleasant Peach Hotel. “It’s like a really big block party and a lot of fun,” added Scoville. She noted that September is an especially nice time to visit the area, as the pace is more relaxed than it is during the summer months.
Of course the best known festival in the area is the Sterling Renaissance Festival, where the 16th Century comes alive as 100 stage and street performances take you back to the Elizabethan era. The oldest Renaissance Faire in the country, it takes place weekends July 4-Aug. 16. (www.sterlingfestival.com 1-800-879-4446) The Pleasant Beach Hotel offers a free shuttle to the festival for guests who have come to the hotel via bike or boat.
Oswego County, New York–fishing/kayaking
Oswego County is considered one of the fishing capitals of the northeast. With its abundance of water; including Lake Ontario, the Oswego River, and the Salmon River, anglers and kayakers have many options to choose from.
The Oswego River is the second largest river that flows into Lake Ontario and one of the few rivers in the United States that flows north. A concrete walkway along the waterfront in the city of Oswego has public access for fishing, with parking, restrooms, and a fish cleaning station.
The Salmon River is filled with thousands of Chinook and Coho salmon, as well as steelhead, and brown and rainbow trout. The DEC stocks about 30,000 salmon into the river each year. World record fish have been caught in the Salmon River, including a whopping 35 pound 8 ounce hybrid Chinook-Coho salmon caught in 2001. The Salmon River is one of the top fly fishing destinations in the world. Two sections of the river are designated catch and release areas.
The rivers in the county are also very popular with kayakers. With 50 million kayakers in the United States alone, it is one of the fastest growing outdoor recreational activities in the country. There are a variety of places to kayak and canoe in Oswego County, no matter what your skill level is.
The Salmon River is considered one of the best white water kayaking rivers in upstate New York. However, only experts should attempt to ride the rapids, as they are subject to sudden changes in water levels, due to water releases from the Reliant Energy plant. The Oswego River is also another waterway recommended for experienced kayakers only, as currents can be swift. Novices will enjoy both the Salmon River reservoir and the Lower Salmon River Reservoir, as well as Lake Neatahwanta in Fulton.
Jefferson County, New York–Boating
With its location on both Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River, it’s natural that boating is a very popular pastime in Jefferson County. However for many people in this county, boating is not merely a pastime. There are many summer homes located on the islands that dot the St. Lawrence. These people consider their boat as their “car” to the mainland; necessary for getting supplies out to the island. Boats are pretty much used in this area whenever the river is not frozen.
One special place to learn more about the county’s rich boating heritage is the Antique Boat Museum, located in Clayton, NY. This museum is located on 4 ½ acres along the waterfront. It consists of ten buildings with 29,000 square feet of exhibit space. The Haxall building houses exhibits as well as a library, education center and administrative offices, while the small craft building houses a collection of smaller vessels.
One can even take a short ride in a traditional wooden rowing or sailing craft or take sailing lessons. The Gold Cup building features wooden powerboats in the Quest for Speed exhibit and the Launch building has powered pleasure boats. Boat builders can be found working in the Stone Building, either restoring vintage boats or constructing new vessels.
One of the more interesting exhibits in not located in any of the buildings. The La Duchesse, built in 1903 by millionaire hotelier, George Boldt, is a houseboat that served as a summer residence for Boldt. Since 2005, it has been docked at the Antique Boat Museum and open to the public for tours.
The 45th annual Antique Boat Show and Auction takes place July 31-August 2, 2009. The theme, Built in the 1000 Islands, will feature locally built antique and classic boats. It is the oldest continuous antique boat show in the world. The museum is open 9-5 daily, mid May to mid-October.
(The Antique Boat Museum, 750 Mary Street, Clayton, 315-686-4104, www.abm.org )
When traveling through Jefferson County you may want to stop at the quaint village of Sackets Harbor, which is a great place for boating and fishing. Here you’ll also find the Seaway Trail Discovery Center, which has interactive exhibits on the history, culture, and maritime heritage of the Seaway Trail region.
Another special place in Jefferson County is Boldt Castle, located on Heart Island near Alexandria Bay. This castle was built by millionaire George Boldt, proprietor of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City. It was built as a symbol of his love for his wife Louise.
However, in 1904, before the castle was competed, Louise died suddenly and all work on the castle stopped. It was left abandoned until 1977, when the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority acquired the property and preservation efforts began. “This is the 32nd year that the Thousand Island Bridge Authority has had ownership of the castle and yacht house,” said Shane Sanford, Director of Boldt Castle. “We have completed many improvements to Boldt Castle.” Some of the recently completed interior projects include restoration of the ballroom, library, reception room, and dining room. Other improvements include putting elevators in the castle, a stained glass dome, grand staircase, and grand lobby.
Currently, they are working on restoring the second floor bedrooms. Outdoors, the verandas have been replaced, the gazebo rebuilt and the yacht house has had improvements. The tower house, destroyed by fire in 1939, has also been replaced. “Boldt Castle is a terrific and wonderful place to visit,” added Sanford. “We do over 90 weddings there a year.” The castle is open to the public for tours, early May to early October. Visitors can access the island by tour boat or private pleasure craft.
(Boldt Castle, 315-482-2501, www.boldtcastle.com)
St. Lawrence County, New York–Castles
Many of us may dream about owning a castle on our very own island. For two millionaires at the turn of the 20th century, that dream turned into reality in the Thousand Islands. Besides the previously mentioned Boldt Castle, Singer Castle on Dark Island was the only one that was actually completely furnished and resided in by the owner.
The castle, designed by Ernest Flagg, a leading architect of the time, was built between 1902-1904 by Mr. Frederick Gilbert Bourne, a self-made millionaire from New York City. He bought Dark Island and had the castle built as a surprise for his wife Emma and nine children. The four-story, 28 room castle, originally called “The Towers,” cost $500,000 to build. Italian stonecutters used tons of granite to construct the castle.
Mr. Bourne, who was director and president of the Singer Sewing Machine Company, did a lot of entertaining at the castle; guests included well-known businessmen like Cornelius Vanderbilt and Vincent Astor.
Visitors today, who arrive by tour boats or private vessels, take a 45 minute docent led tour of the castle, which is open weekends starting in May and daily, late June to early September. For a really special treat, overnight accommodations are available in the castle’s Royal Suite. Packages include a private tour, dinner and breakfast.
(Singer Castle, 1-877-327-5475, www.singercastle.com )
One of Bourne’s summer neighbors was artist Frederic Remington, who had a home on Ingleneuk Island. Remington’s life and work are chronicled at the Frederic Remington Art Museum in Ogdensburg, which has one of the largest collections of bronze sculptures done by Remington.
(Frederic Remington Art Museum, 303 Washington Street, Ogdensburg, 315-393-2425, www.fredericremington.org )
Another point of interest in St. Lawrence County is located in Massena. The Eisenhower Locks have an observation deck, where visitors can watch freighters as they move through the St. Lawrence Seaway.
The Seaway is actually celebrating its 50th year in 2009; a celebration of that event is planned for July 10-12 in Massena. Follow Route 131 and take the tunnel under the locks to get to Robert Moses State Park and the Frank S. McCullough Jr.-Hawkins Point Visitor’s Center, which is run by the New York State Power Authority. This facility has hands-on exhibits on how the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Hawkins Point Power Plant work.
(NYPA Visitor’s Center and Eisenhower Locks, Barnhardt Road, Massena, 315-764-0226, 315-769-2049 (locks). Call 315-769-2422 for schedule of ships in the seaway).
As you can see, there’s a lot to see and do along the Great Lakes Seaway Trail no matter where your interests lie. This issue of Journey Magazine has contact information for all the attractions mentioned here, as well as information on many other unique attractions along this scenic byway. Remember that half the fun of any journey is getting there, so pack the maps and camera and get ready to hit the trail.