Monday, October 14, 2013

Auburn, New York: William Seward's Grave

It seems very appropriate that William Seward's final resting place is located only a couple of hundred yards from the burial spot of Harriet Tubman.

Seward, the Secretary of State under Lincoln, was a strong abolitionist. His house in Auburn was indeed a stop on the Underground Railroad, which Tubman used to guide slaves to freedom. Considering that Seward was a well-known politician (once the Governor of New York), it's impressive that he'd take such a strong stand on this issue.

Seward is buried in Fort Hill Cemetary, located just west of South Street where Seward lived for much of his life. He is surrounded by his relatives.

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Auburn, New York: Harriet Tubman's Grave

When it comes to distinguished women of the 19th century, it's tough to top Harriet Tubman. No wonder Auburn is proud to claim her.

Tubman was a slave as a child in Maryland but eventually escaped. She returned to free other members of her family, one at a time. From there it was an easy jump to helping others via the "Underground Railroad." When Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850, Tubman helped get the slaves all the way to Canada to find freedom.

From there, she later worked for the Union Army - eventually serving as a spy. After the war, she retired to the family home. Eventually, Tubman became involved in the woman's suffrage movement, which was more or less formally born down the street in Seneca Falls.

Tubman is buried in Fort Hill Cemetery in Auburn. Head south from the middle of the city on South Street, take a right on to Fitch Ave., and look for an entrance. Harriet is in West Lawn C on the far western edge of the grounds.

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Auburn, New York: Seward House

If history had bounced in a different direction, William Seward might have been President of the United States. He was a top contender for the Republican nomination in 1860 after serving as Governor of New York. But he couldn't get a majority of the delegates' votes, and eventually lost to someone named Abraham Lincoln.

Seward, not being a sore loser, joined Lincoln's cabinet as Secretary of State. Doris Kearns Goodwin is very appreciative of that. He helped the Union win the Civil War in a variety of ways; later he came up with the idea of buying Alaska from Russia. That worked out well for the American side.

But Seward always liked returning to his home in Auburn. He kept it throughout his political career, and it stayed in the family for a couple of generations after he died. However, the building eventually was donated to a non-profit agency for display, thus making the Seward House a nice stop in the middle of Central New York.

Pictures aren't allowed inside, but the structure still has plenty of items that Seward actually used when he was alive. Particularly impressive is the upstairs hallway, filled with pictures (some autographed) of diplomats and royalty from that era. The Seward House also has a flag with 49 stars in it. The State of Alaska gave it to the collection when it joined the United States in 1959. Sort of a thank-you gift.

Tours are available frequently; check the website for hours of operation. Our tour was given by the official county historian; she really knew her stuff.

Just think how close we came to seeing a movie called "Seward." By the way, in the 2012 "Lincoln" movie, David Strathairn prepared for his role by coming to Auburn and looking at the house. Good idea.

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Oneida, New York: World's Smallest Church

It seems as if every town in America, or at least every state, has the world's, or country's, smallest church. Here's a contender from Oneida, New York.

The sign adds some helpful information. This was built in 1989, and seats two. Yes, visitors are welcome, but you'd better talk to the owners first. The church is in the middle of a lake. And swimming doesn't look like such a great idea at this time of the year. It's not on an island but rather built on a platform.

Be sure to notice the cross, also on its own platform, next to the church.

To get there, head south toward Oneida from Thruway Exit 33 (Verona). Take a right on Sconondoa Road, which is not quite in town. Go for maybe a mile until Sconondoa Road bends to the left. Don't go left, go straight on to Mason Road, and immediately slow down. You'll see the church on the north (right) side. We're talking a three-mile detour one way at most from the Thruway.

Feel free to do a computer search for other small churches.You'll find other contenders.

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Oneida, New York: Oneida Community Mansion House

It's easier than you think to stay in a National Historic Landmark. It's not too expensive either.

The landmark in question is the Oneida Community Mansion House, located between Syracuse and Utica. It's just down the street from Turning Stone Casino in Verona, if that helps.

Back in 1848, John Noyes founded the Oneida Community. A few hundred people lived together in this mansion as Noyes hopes to point Christianity in a new direction. There was a lot of this stuff in upstate New York in the 1800s, including the Mormons and the Shakers. Obviously, the Mormons are the ones that survived.

As for the Oneida Community, the people are famous for a couple of things. First, they believed in "complex marriage" among all believers. You'll have to ask the people there how they managed to avoid a population explosion during the 32 years or so they were all together.

Noyes fled the mansion, and the country, in 1880 when there were reports that he was going to arrested on statutory rape charges. While the residents stayed in the mansion for the most part after that, they changed their ways a bit. They also went into the silverware business shortly after that, and Oneida Silverware became a popular dinner table accessory for more than a century.

The rooms are big and old and beautiful, with high ceilings and noisy radiators. Each stay includes a free tour of the building, which has some areas that are set aside for museum-like purposes. The mansion also has some apartments.

I could show you a picture of the beautiful exterior, but the library seems like a better choice. It's open to all, and books go around the walls of the room in cases - thousands and thousands of books. It's particularly nice in the daytime with the room's skylight windows. There's no better place to read a book or magazine.

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Forestport, New York: Wigwam Tavern

Ever have someone visit, and you say to them, "Just crash anywhere"?

Apparently someone took it literally.

This is a special from the good folks of Roadside America. Someone must have been coming down Route 28 to or from the Adirondacks, and saw this sight - and spread the word.

The Wigwam Tavern has its own Facebook page - naturally - but there's no explanation for the airplane. You have to go to a newspaper article for that.

It seems a plane crashed at the airstrip that's out back, and some local residents took the back of it and attached it to the tavern when the owner wasn't around. It became a landmark. The tail got replaced in 2005 by one of the patrons.

What's more, the food is said to be good too.

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Blue Mountain Lake, New York: Adirondack Museum

Care for a course on the Adirondacks? This is your place. The Adirondack Museum bills itself as a place for an epic visit, and it isn't kidding. We stopped for about three hours to see it, and then had a leisurely lunch overlooking Blue Mountain Lake, which is spectacular.

This has buildings big and small spread over a large campus. Sample subjects are boating, logging, recreation, and transportation. You can climb a fire tower and see a luxury railroad car.

It's all very well done, telling the story of the region in relatively complete fashion. I'm not sure if kids will have the patience to spend three hours here, but they will certain learn some things if they do.

The picture here is of the Marion River Carry Pavilion, which looks pretty nice in the fall. Or any other time.

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Saranac Lake, New York: Lake Flower

Plenty of people come to the Adirondack Mountains in the summer, when everything is open and the warm days and cool nights are refreshing. They come in the winter to enjoy winter sports such as skiing.

And they come in the fall, because of the trees. Like these.

This is Lake Flower, which is located in Saranac Lake. This was the view along the lake one frosty October morning, when steam was coming off the lake on a 25-degree start to a day. Click on it for a larger view.

By the way, springs are a little less attractive. There are some nasty bugs up there for a few weeks in May or June. Outside of that, it's a very good spot for a vacation.

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Saranac Lake, New York: Robert Louis Stevenson Memorial Cottage

Saranac Lake is a charming location, just down the road from Lake Placid but with a bit more quiet. Tourist attractions aren't exactly common within the village limits.

One that qualifies, though, is the Robert Louis Stevenson Memorial Cottage. You've probably read some of his work - "Kidnapped" and "Treasure Island" qualify.

He spent the winter of 1887-88 in Saranac Lake at this cottage. Stevenson must have made an impression. They kept his place as is as a tourist attraction, and named the street after him.

Imagine what would have been done if he stayed a while longer!

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Lake Placid, New York: Speedskating rink

Some sports history was made here, believe it or not.

The title of the post gives it away. This was the setting for speedskating during the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid. It's where Eric Heiden became a legend.

Heiden went five for five in gold medals. He won in sprints, and he won over long distances. It might just be the greatest single performance in Winter Olympic history.

There's a large sign just to the right of this picture against a hill that has a tribute to the legends of this oval. As you'd guess, Heiden is one of them. (The sun was in the way of a picture of it, so you'll have to take my word for it. This is more impressive.)

The nice building up the hill is actually Lake Placid High School. It is across the street from the Olympic Center. So if the teens need inspiration to succeed, they don't have to go too far.

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