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Travel Through Time and Take in History Across Upstate New York
Whoever said time travel isn’t possible hasn’t visited New York State. We are surrounded by architecture, memorabilia, and artifacts from the past that it’s all too easy to get lost in the amazing stories these places have to tell. So buckle up, and take a ride back in time with my top picks for historical places to visit in NYS.
Genesee Country Village & Museum (Mumford, NY)
Let’s start with the GCVM – a 700-acre complex consisting of 68 historic structures containing over 15,000 artifacts to see and explore. This 19th century village will truly take you back to a time when a one-room schoolhouse was commonplace, and tending the livestock was a daily chore. Work your way from building to building, as costumed interpreters give live demonstrations at the pottery, cooper shop, tinsmith, and blacksmith. Play 19th century games in the square or take in the aroma of a fresh baked pie.
The village actually takes you through three separate time periods – the Pioneer Settlement (1790-1820), Center Village (1830-1860), and the Gas Light District (1860-1900) – getting more progressive as you work your way through.
George Eastman Museum (Rochester, NY)
A direct tie in with the Genesee Country Village & Museum, George Eastman’s childhood home is still preserved there – while the home of his adult life stands just a few miles away in Rochester, NY.
George Eastman is known as the pioneer of popular photography – and the George Eastman Museum pays tribute to that title. Housed in his colonial revival mansion located on East Ave, the museum is the world’s oldest photography museum and one of the oldest film archives. Visit and hear the story of the man who founded Kodak, and the impact that he made on the film/photography industry and local community.
The Strong National Museum of Play (Rochester, NY)
While in Rochester, you’d be remiss not to stop at the Strong National Museum of Play. Yes, it is every child’s dream as an indoor playground and interactive educational museum – but it is also home to over 72,000 artifacts in its Toy, Doll, Game, and Related Collections. Everything from alphabet blocks to teddy bears to trains, it’s sure to make you nostalgic as you wander through the playthings of old.
Heritage Village of the Southern Finger Lakes (Corning, NY)
Step into a bygone era at the Heritage Village of the Southern Finger Lakes in Corning. Watch blacksmith's ply their trade, shop in the country store, and visit the farm animals (chickens!) after exploring the village's buildings, including the Painted Post Tavern, which was constructed in 1796.
Sodus Bay Lighthouse Museum (Rochester, NY)
In Sodus Point, NY (on the other side of Lake Ontario), stands an 1870 lighthouse complete with museum and gardens. The museum opened on July 4th of 1985, marking 33 years of history in 2017. It is the most visited attraction in Wayne County – where you can experience exhibits covering lighthouse, maritime, and bay area histories. A spiral tower staircase, library, gift shop, picnics, and free concerts are all enjoyed by visiting guests.
Abbey of the Genesee (Piffard, NY)
History is even better when it comes with snacks. In Piffard, NY, you will find a community of contemplative monks living according to the Rule of St. Benedict and the Constitutions of the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (more commonly known as Trappists). Three days a week, the monks bake delicious bread (known as Monk’s Bread) in addition to brownies, fruitcakes, biscotti, and other baked goods.
Visitors can purchase the bread, join the monks for liturgical prayer in the Abbey Church, or to spend time in quiet solitary prayer while visiting the abbey. A porter is also available to aid guests and answer questions on monastic life.
The Cobblestone Society & Museum (Orleans County, NY)
Between 1825 and the Civil War era, cobblestone masonry originated as a form of construction in Upstate New York. Today, the art of cobblestone masonry is both studied and celebrated in Orleans County. At the Cobblestone Museum, the “central headquarters” of it all, you can check out displays of artifacts relating to local history, special exhibits, pictures and information on the architecture, and more. You can also do a “drive-by” of 100 cobblestone structures around the county – most of which are privately owned homes.
Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Museum (Jamestown, NY)
Need a laugh? Lucille Ball’s hometown of Jamestown, NY honors the legacy of “The First Couple of Comedy” with the Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum. It has replica sets, Lucille Ball’s Emmy awards, costumes, rare memorabilia, photos of the Lucy and Desi’s personal life, and stories about the impact they had on the world. There are always new exhibits opening up, so every time you visit is like your first time.
Howe Caverns (Howes Cave, NY)
This attraction starting forming over 6 million years ago – before the woolly mammoth even appeared on earth. On May 22, 1842, the cave now known as Howe Caverns was explored by Lester Howe and his companion, who opened it as a commercial cave venture in 1843. And his legacy lives on with a walking tour, boat ride, and exploration of the underground cave – it’s probably the coolest trip to the past you will take, so bring your jacket!
Fort Stanwix National Monument (Rome, NY)
Established in 1935 and opened in 1976, Fort Stanwix National Monument commemorates the original fort which protected the Oneida Carry as European nations fought for control of this portage, the homelands of the Six Nations Confederacy, and the rich resources of North America. Now it’s a National Park Service site, and open for exploration by visitors interested in learning about the bravery and endurance of U.S. soldiers who paved the way for American freedom. Guests can view artifacts unearthed on site and interpretive exhibits.
Arcade & Attica Railroad (Arcade, NY)
For my last pick of the day, I’m telling you to board a train – the last operating steam train excursion in New York State. On the Arcade and Attica Railroad, you start by entering a historic station where you will be surrounded by the history of railroading in America. When the “all aboard” whistle blows, you will take a 90-minute ride through the countryside and farmlands that have remained largely unchanged since the line was first laid in the 1880s. The Curriers Depot is your halfway point where the locomotive uncouples from the train and prepares for the return journey – giving you time to look at the engine, take pictures, and talk with the crew before making your way home.