Monday, August 22, 2011

Tonawanda to Spencerport (Aug 10 to Aug 22)

We started our visit with a walk across the bridge to North Tonawanda heading for the Carousel Museum. On the way we stopped at the Riviera Theatre – home of the Mighty Wurlitzer. We managed to get in to admire the 1920’s d├ęcor, but they were doing some construction and soon told us that we had to leave. Beautiful place, though.
Then it was on to the Herschell Carousel Museum. The carousels and the Wurlitzer Band Organs that were used on them were both made in North Tonawanda. The evolution of the carousel was an interesting story. It started out as an adult “thrill ride.” Local officials and clergy often warned that they were dangerous and could corrupt your morals! Not sure about the morals part, but these things used to go 8 to 10 mph. The first time they tried the one at the museum – all loaded for its inaugural spin – one lady was nearly ejected at its 7 mph speed. They’ve since reduced the speed to about 4 mph and it still feels really fast.
While we were looking at the exhibits we were lucky to strike up a conversation with the guy who takes care of the band organ. He invited us into the enclosure to see the guts of the organ and explained all about the paper music rolls and the organs themselves. It’s amazing to see the inventiveness that went into these things and how labor intensive the whole process was.

The next day we picked up a rental car and drove south of Buffalo to Graycliff. This was the Frank Lloyd Wright designed summer home of Darwin Martin who made his fortune with the Larkin soap company. At one point he was considered to be the highest paid CEO in the country. The house sits on a cliff overlooking Lake Erie and, as with many of these historic homes, went through a period of disrepair. 

After that tour we drove into Buffalo for a tour of Mr. Martin’s other home designed by FLW. This is actually a complex including the main house, Martin’s sister’s house, the carriage house with chauffer’s living quarters, the gardener’s house,and a long pergola and conservatory. It was another good tour even though the main house is still mostly under renovation. I’d love to come back once it is completed. As usual, our docent gave us lots of information about the Martin family as well as Wright, who was definitely a character. During the tour of what still appears to be a modern/contemporary style, it hit me that this was constructed during the same time period as the Eastman Colonial Revival house we had toured in Rochester and certainly not far removed from the Queen Anne's. There was nothing in the surrounding neighborhood that even remotely resembled the Martin house.  What the neighbors must have thought when Wright built a house next door!

Friday we decided to drive up to Niagara Falls. First stop was the US side and the Maid of the Mist boat ride. We donned  our blue ponchos and the boat took us right up to the curve of Horseshoe Falls – what an experience. After dropping our ponchos in the recycle bin, we stopped for lunch as the skies opened up and the rain poured down – forecasters had predicted zero chance of rain.  Could've used those blue ponchos back!
After lunch the rain had slowed and we dashed to the Cave of the Winds attraction where we were not only given a yellow poncho, but sandals and a bag for our shoes. In the early days you did actually walk behind the falls, but the cave started collapsing in 1920 and that part was closed. On the Canadian side you can walk through a man-made tunnel that runs behind the falls, but we were told you actually get closer to the falls on the US side. So we took our turns on the Hurricane Deck where the force of the falling water generates an incredible wall of wind and water. We really got a kick out of the no smoking sign up there.
 After a trolley ride and a walk on Three Sisters Islands, we went back to the car and drove to Canada. The view of the falls is definitely better from that side and the park area is much smaller and less commercialized.

As it turns out, there is a lot to see in Buffalo. On Saturday morning we managed to arrive in the Elmwood Village area early enough to catch an open-top tour bus for an architectural tour of the city. We were able to see the exteriors and hear the history of a great mix of buildings. Unfortunately the tour did not include the interiors of any – some of which we’d seen interior pictures of in our book and would have loved to be able to go inside. We had a really good lunch at a place called Blue Monk – wings and a duck blt – and the server assured Joe that his beer choice would pair well with the food. Yes, here they do beer pairings rather than wine pairings and the beer lists dwarf the wine lists!

Our last day with the car was Sunday so we drove to the south side of Buffalo to the Our Lady of Victory Basilica. After the noon mass, they offer a tour. The Basilica is very ornate, with forty-six types of marble, Italian sculptures, ceiling paintings and a couple thousand angels. There were no funds in place for the construction when the process started, but by the end of the five year construction period in 1925, there was no debt. Father Baker made appeals through other priests saying that he would say a prayer for anyone who donated to the construction fund. He kept small log books of names of the donors which he checked off once he’d prayed for them. Father Baker was well known for his boys home and also an orphanage where there was always an empty bassinet on a porch for anyone who needed to safely abandon a baby. Before we started our tour we were talking with a woman there for the tour who had been one of those infants adopted out of the orphanage when she was six-weeks old.
We had a beautiful day to start the trip back east on the canal. As we started down the first lock Joe looked over to where we had docked in Lockport and saw that the electrician had come and relocated the 30a outlets. When we were there he had pointed out that they were so close together that it was hard to have plugs in both at the same time. Talk about a quick response to suggestions!  Once through the two locks, we stopped for lunch and a quick visit at the Artisan Center.  While we were eating lunch, Joe picked up a picture book and discovered Letchworth State Park.  We'd never heard of it, but the pictures were beautiful - research required!

One of the few towns we had skipped on the way west was Holley.  We were forced to skip it because the walls were full.  As we passed this time there was room, so we stopped and walked to the famous Holley Falls.  Nice walk, nice falls!

We'd had a great dinner at Grandpa Sam's in Spencerport so we decided to make it our mail stop and also rent a car for the weekend.  The mail was there on time and Eric - the Mirage sales guy - and his wife Cynda, who happened to be at their lake house nearby, were free for dinner.  Great dinner - great company - thanks, Eric!

After we'd done our research, Letchworth Park became a must see.  After the website claimed it was the Grand Canyon of the East, we were a little skeptical since we - and some locals we'd met - had never heard of it.  We were not disappointed, however!  The Genesee River has carved a deep gorge, with many waterfalls as it flows north to Lake Ontario.
In the park there are cabins to rent, camping areas, numerous trails to hike, bike, snowmobile or ski, kayak trips - even hot air balloon rides.  We were blown away by the summer scenery, but fall is their real claim to fame.  Must be incredible.

The following day we drove to LeRoy - birthplace of Jell-O.  A local had mentioned the Jell-O Museum to illustrate the ridiculous places that try to draw tourists.  We thought it sounded like something we'd like to visit!  The docent that greeted us was a short, older woman with a great sense of humor who loved relating the history of Jell-O, which is quite interesting.  After not being able to market it, the inventor sold his recipe for $450 - the price of a new house.  The new owner, after producing a warehouse full that he couldn't sell, offered it to his employees for $35.  They refused so he came up with a new strategy.  He hired well dressed salesmen to visit houses and give it away.  Then the salesmen went to the local grocers and told them they'd better stock it because there was going to be a demand - and there was.  Within a few years annual sales were over a million.  The museum contained some memorabilia -  mostly old advertising.  There was a video with old TV commercials that were fun to see.  Bill Cosby has even visited the museum to celebrate 30 years of Jell-O ads.
The transportation exhibit in the basement was also interesting with ox-carts, sleighs and a 1907 Cadillac.  Instead of just the historical facts, most displays included quotes from the time period and  associated stories, usually humorous.  One was about Henry Ford getting a speeding ticket in LeRoy and then having a sign put up at the edge of town warning that it was a speed trap!
Remember the cobblestone buildings we've seen?
There is a museum for them; so of course that was our next trip in the car.  Joe had been eager for details about the construction of the buildings.  In most cases a rubble wall and the cobblestone facing were built at the same time so the cobblestone section would adhere to the structural rubble wall.  This means that the walls were 18 to 24 inches thick.  Only about four courses a day could be laid.  In addition to the cobblestones, the interiors of the church and the house are as they would have been in the 1870's and the one room school was left as it was in 1952 when the students left.

It had rained off and on most of the day and when we returned to Carolyn Ann in Spencerport, the band was setting up in the gazebo for a Sunday evening concert.  And a big black cloud was bearing down fast.  Joe helped them cover everything for what was expected to be a short storm.  Once the brunt of it passed, the light rain continued.  Finally, with an extra cover, the concert began with the audience sitting in cars nearby.  The band was loud and not always on key, but the audience showed their appreciation with honking horns after each number!

So, rental car returned, Carolyn Ann started off heading east again.  We're looking forward to a stop in Ithaca   for tours of wineries, the Corning museum - and who knows what else!

There are more pictures on the picasa site:

1 comment:

Capt Andy said...

Love your Blog! I'm also a big FLR fan. Thanks for the photos of his projects in the Buffalo area.