Categories

Travelogue, St. Catharines to Albany, June 2012

Happy 4th!  To appreciate a bit of our country, here is a Travelogue, St .Catharines to Albany, June 2012.  I was searching for my dad through his childhood homes in Wayne County, east of Rochester, NY;  I found him.

  1. I got my grades in on Wednesday, June 20 – only one day late!  There are 160 current grades to give, plus a few back ones, so that is a feat. [1]
  2. Weather is cool, as it has been all spring.  Haven’t even been in the pool yet even as of this writing, July 4, 2012.  Global warming is focusing, we read, on the mid-Atlantic states and southern Rockies
  3. Tish drives me to Ontario Airport on CA #91.  We rose early to catch flight, but it’s never too early to beat the morning crush.  She times lane changes well: we take HOV lane past where Pierce St. onramp joins and crowds #91, then she skillfully shifts right, lane by lane, as center and left lanes back up and right lane speeds by them, because it debouches into I-15 to Airport, which is clear all the way.
  4. We are the only ones in car line at ONT; check bags through from curb, no hassle from cops. Inside ONT is nearly empty.  They say LAX, which owns ONT, is hogging more traffic to get the money:  bad for ONT, good for us, the users.  Extreme contrast to first stop, Vegas, jampacked with combo of suckers playing the machines and travelers – not clear which predominate.  Otherwise, window seats and clear weather all the way east to Buffalo.
  5. Buffalo, of course, was the last train station before Niagara Falls, where L.  Erie pours n. into L. Ontario.  It was once the destination of choice for honeymooners from NYC.  “You go home and get your panties, I’ll go home and get my scanties, and away we’ll go; Oh-oh-oh, Off we’ll go-in a shuffle, shuffle off to Buffalo.”  (Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell, ca. 1933. Just before the Hays Office moved in to censor such lewd lines.)
  6. But my destination is St. Catharines, N.W. from Buffalo, in the other Ontario (the one in Canada).  Our meeting there is at Brock University, named for Canadian General Isaac Brock who once even captured Detroit, allied with Tecumseh, and successfully engaged the Yanks during the War of 1812 until he died in battle.
  7. Wikipedia and other histories  say little about Daniel D. Tompkins, Gov. of NY during the War of 1812.  Founding Father James Madison had tweaked the Constitution (Art. I, §2) so that President James Madison, years later, had few revenues to support U.S. forces.  It fell to NY State under Tompkins to pay for and even lead some of the fighting.  For a sympathetic bio see Gaffney, Matthew Watson, 1941, “The Political and Military History of Daniel D. Tompkins, 1774-1825”, M.A. Thesis, Dept. of History, U. of Rochester.  This 374-page thesis Is longer than many Ph.D. dissertations of today. Tompkins went on to become 6th V.P. of the U.S.A. under James Monroe, our 5th President (quick!  Which predecessor had two v.p.s?  Try T.J., and review the treacheries of Aaron Burr, the precocious pride of Princeton).
  8. Seeking St. Catharines on the map, I was confused to learn it is on the SOUTH shore of L. Ontario – I had thought that was ours!  The map, however, shows that some 20% of the south shore is in Ontario, along with Toronto on the north, and the waters in between.  The Niagara R. flows s.-n. thru a thick isthmus between Lakes Erie and Ontario, but all in the Province of Ontario.  Its n. shore shares the benign climate of the n. shore of western NY (this being the s. shore of L. Ontario).  The lacustrine climate fits both sides of the border for viticulture.  Canadian wines from this region are, or can be, of high quality, but we bar theirs and they bar ours.
  9. We hardly teach Geography in the U.S. any more, but Canadians are not so hot at it, either, for they refer to their part of this isthmus as “The Niagara Peninsula”, as though there were no land east of the Niagara River, the international boundary.  Actually, the Erie Canal of NY State reaches the Niagara River at Tonawanda, just north of Buffalo, linking the Hudson and Mohawk Valleys with Lake Erie and points west.
  10. The Buffalo Airport, like so many, is under construction, so after a long hike to Baggage Claim one has to cross a busy road to reach the rental cars, where I picked up a Ford at Alamo.  Learning Ford controls was an unexpected challenge: it is like a foreign make, after years driving Hondas and Toyotas.  I circled south of Buffalo to The Peace Bridge entering Canada.  The line was short and the Canadian Customs officer accepted my new passport promptly.  She seemed friendly enough, but when I asked her if the road ahead, The Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW) leads to St. Catharines she gave me the first of many “I don’t know” answers I found are standard up there.  That was odd, since the QEW is the main drag and it does go straight to St. Catharines.  A kind of stolid provinciality prevails among lower middle class personnel one meets on duty, that seems to say either that they really don’t know anything, or “You should know, I don’t care, go home.”
  11. The QEW is substandard for a main drag, but uncrowded, and if anyone lives nearby they are well hidden behind a wilderness of rowan.  Considering the benign climate and the great winery  we later visited this is hard to understand, unless there is a plague of land speculation by timber companies even worse than what afflicts us.  There is a noticeably lower density of small towns on the map on the Canadian than on the NY side of the Niagara R.  The Winery where our hosts dined us in great style is “The Peller Estate”, the word “Estate” and other trappings of an ancient class society hinting at the absence of anything like the famous “Northwest Ordinance”, the NY State property tax, and associated democratic attitudes that triggered subdivision of lands south of the border.  Canada was, of course, filled by Tories fleeing from revolutionary terrorists (whom we have relabeled as Minutemen and Patriots).
  12. There was no place to pull over to ask directions until the seat of my pants, my pilot, said we were nearing St. Catharines, and by timely magic there appeared a large, attractive, official building offering advice for tourists.  Inside were two actually friendly persons being helpful.  Not only that, they gave me insider dope:  “Don’t pull back onto QEW”, says the girl, “but pull carefully around the corner of our building and push a blue button there.  When the gate opens complete the U-Turn and in about a mile you’ll see a Hilton Hotel on the left, where you turn right on Glendale.  Continue on GlenDALE across a r.r. and the Welland Canal to GlenRIDGE, through the city (what city?), and turn left to Brock U.”   It all worked for a while: Hooray, I had arrived and been accepted!

But Canadians are casual about posting street signs.  I passed several unlabeled streets, and it turned out that one of them was GlenRIDGE, so I continued a mile or so too far before realizing I should double back, and so on by trial and error I finally found the secret  GlenRIDGE.  Then it was climb through deep shrubbery on a narrow winding signless road.  Was I lost again?

  1. Canadians also post University names parallel to the road, so it takes some slow driving and hazardous sideways glances to find Brock.  Then when you get inside the campus there is more of the same, until FINALLY … well, by now you get the picture.  No wonder General Brock gave the Yanks so much trouble: how could they ever find him?
  2. In the U.S. we rarely name colleges for great generals. Amherst is an exception, but that was done by Brits, along with 8 other colleges, before 1776.  I find no evidence that Wellesley was named for Wellington.  Bradley in Peoria was not named for General Omar.  Oh, a long search would turn up a few others:  Lafayette, maybe, but it’s a barren quest.  Otherwise we favor robber barons with lands and monies to give, and reputations to salvage or burnish, and/or missions to rationalize their way of life: Vanderbilt, Washington,[2] Washington and Lee, Stanford, Duke, Carnegie-Mellon, Rockefeller, Sloan, Vassar, Hopkins, Hoover, Reed, Wharton, Brown, Cornell, Rensselaer, Guggenheim, Rhodes, Drew,  Irvine,  Clark,  Hamilton, Bowdoin, Colby, Fletcher, Pepperdine, Carleton, Eastman, Hobart and William Smith, Chapman, Mills [3], Sarah Lawrence, Colgate, Williams, Smith, Davidson, Lawrence (Wisconsin), Milwaukee-Downer, McKenna, et al.  Many began by proclaiming a religious mission, but never one that much resembled the Sermon on the Mount.  Brandeis, the Jew, had more of that spirit than any “Christian” college donor or namesake.  Ever since Trustees of Dartmouth College v. Woodward, 1819,, College Boards have been self-perpetuating, so the twig remains as ’twas bent.

Columbia was firmly bent later by Trustee Abram Hewitt (who had ended Reconstruction by throwing the 1876 election to Hayes over Tilden), then Presidents Seth Low and Nicholas Murray Butler, during and emerging from the Progressive Movement:  the first two ran for Mayor of New York specifically to block Henry George from winning, while Butler, the 3rd, was a political kingmaker who not only made Harding president, but more permanently turned the Republican Party from the Progressivism of T.R. to its present views.  One could double that list.  So higher Education in the U.S.A. has long been patronized and therefore led by the “uppah clahsses”, except for State-supported institutions –  and they take most of their cues from the Ivies now, anyway.

  1. Another finding is that St. Catharines is surrounded by miles of scatter and sprawl.  I found out because I was late for dinner, and asked one of those helpful Canadian clerks for directions to a restaurant.  “Oh, it’s just a few minutes down the road, you can’t miss it”.  NEVER believe “You can’t miss it”, it’s a copout!  Brock U on its south straddles or touches Thorold, a mnemonic because Thorold Rogers was a favorite (to me) economic historian. So I drove my 5 minutes, then 10, then 15, and FINALLY found the restaurant – closed.  In between was nearly nothing.   I could believe this is a depressed area left behind a bout of premature subdivision.
  2. Back to Brock, it was the annual meeting of the History of Economics Society.  My paper is “Europe’s Fatal Affair with the Value-Added Tax”.  Some day, if you play your cards right, I may send you a copy – when it’s finished, which it will soon be after I finish this travelogue, which is high priority because it is À la recherche du temps perdu, in search of dad, plus some travel findings I must record before I forget them. Oh, yes, our genial hosts took us on a bus trip by The Falls.  With great self-restraint I never mentioned that Yosemite is higher, but I admit that Niagara is mightier, and I love it.  They used to harness the power drop to make Shredded Wheat, but it is surely cut out for greater things.
  3. Leaving Brock for the U.S.A. I took the northern crossing, below the Falls.  It leads through Tonawanda, NY, a bit scruffy and run down.  Working my way through its maze, seeking some unchained diner, I spotted one, The Hideaway Grille, 399 Division St. , N. Tonawanda 14120.  It is 2.5 miles n. of the I-290 Colvin Exit.  I can’t find it on the map, and it would be a few miles south of where I thought I was, but if you are ever lost in Tonawanda, which is unlikely, The Hideaway is a port in a storm.  The menu is distinctive, lacking pink slime, but including a baked sweet potato – unusual, and very filling.   I was puzzled by the many waiters padding among few customers in the dining room, when I sought the back room and went by a busy blue-collar bar, explaining a lot.  Reminded me of Howie Kalt’s Tavern in Milwaukee, full of German jollity, i.e. cheap Blatz cum Gemütlichkeit.
  4. Somewhere in Tonawanda, I pulled into a side street in a dead-end for a prudential snooze to clear my head – a good habit on a long drive.  I puzzled to see a U.S. flag on every front porch, well before July 4.  I know these upstaters are suckers for flagwaving pols, but wasn’t June a mite early?  Slowly I learned that the flag density declines to the east, so my hypothesis now is that the great display is a reaction to the menace of Canadian hordes across the border.
  5. Next fate steers you right into a main E-W Highway, NY #104, aka Center Ridge Rd., alternately just Ridge Rd. as you go east.   It runs parallel to Lake Ontario, ca. 20 miles inland from the shoreline, clear east through Rochester and on to N. of Oneida Lake in Oswego Cnty,  as far as I can trace it on the AAA map.   As I vaguely recall from freshman Geology, the ridge in question is a geologic shore of L. Ontario, from when the St. Lawrence Valley was clogged with ice that kept the Lake from draining down to its current level.  I surmise that in the 19th Century it was a logical place to route a highway, being well-drained.
  6. That is scientifically enlightening and gratifying to know, but in 2012 traffic is heavy with trucks and the lanes narrow.  After a few miles I said “Whoa!  I came to enjoy the countryside.”  So first chance, I turned north to the coast of L. Ontario, where we used to buy June cherries @5¢ a quart!  I took local route #425 to the hamlet of Wilson and the long Roosevelt Highway along the Lake going east.  Nature is gorgeous as ever, but where are the homes of indigenous farmers who used to tend the orchards, “darkened by shadows of earth but reflecting an image of Heaven”?  As day was dying and shadows fell it was striking to note how few of the visible houses had lights on inside, and how few were the eager vendors who used to crowd the roadside to refresh the weary traveler and earn a mite of spare change. For this is the terroir of the nutritive cherry, thanks to refreshing breezes off Lake Ontario. This same benign climate also makes rich folks covet the land for living and, as Adam Smith wrote, for “display of riches”.  Smith, much misrepresented today as a spokesman for the 1%, actually favored sur-taxing mansions for that reason – their owners were just showing off.  Veblen (whom so proudly I hail as a shirttail cousin) later had a lot to say on the same lines, and in our wonderful Progressive Era, the times that shaped my parents’ character and attitudes, had a big following.
  7. Going n. towards the shore along Rte. #425 the milieu changes quickly from scruffy to luxurious and gorgeous.  I suppose ’twas ever thus, but with the growing rich/poor divide the change is now abrupt from the hovels of workers to the lawns and estates of the 1%.  It reminds me of the Santa Ynez district around Solvang, California, and also of the Good Ship Titanic, where “the rich refused to associate with the poor”.  How better to keep the poor at bay than to buy up all the choicest land?  As society splits in two, will we, too, all go down together?
  8. ‘Twas summer solstice so I drove late as the sun hung low and long in the northwestern sky, but prudence told me to look for a night’s sleep.  Not only were the cherry stands lacking, so were the “Tourists Welcome” signs that used to dot every block or so.

Then suddenly there was an open fruit stand (the very few others all closed at or before 7PM).  The clerks (two engaging teen-age girls) told me there was an “Inn” half a mile down the road, down the dip and halfway up the other side on the left.  The access road was closed (naturally!), but I came to an old house on the left with a crude sign reading MOTEL.  Under the sign it reads “Do not disturb occupant; this is a private residence”.  Foiled again!

Curious, I walked around back, and there was a young man whom I asked about a room for the night.  He said he would have to call the owner, and she asked to speak to me, and took down my data and assigned me a room.  I asked about a key, and she said the room is open with keys on the table.  I wasn’t expecting much,  just a place to nap and clear my head, but it turned out to be a new and first class room with all the amenities – talk about pleasant surprises, and how timely!  Mine was the only car there.

Next morning early I left a big tip (in leftover Canadian coins) and sped on, leaving many unanswered questions! Arriving home, some days later, here was a neatly done invoice for $65, and a glossy professional card from “Captain’s Cove Resort, Inc., 14339 Roosevelt Hwy., Waterport, NY 14571, Orleans County. It’s at the corner of #98, north from Albion.  Look for it If you’re ever back that way.  info@fishcaptainscove.com.

  1. Soon there is a bridge out and a detour – this is getting to be routine, I wonder if NY State is going broke, like all the others.  I head south to good old Ridge Rd – #104 again.  At the corner is another family restaurant, in (I think) Clarkson.  Slavering for maple I ask the waitress what kind of syrup comes with the pancakes, and she must have been raised right, for she wrinkles her nose and says “ordinary”.  So I have eggs and leave an extra tip.  It’s a nice little place, with local rurals in suspenders:  good country folks.   Too bad they vote wrong, but you can like them for what they are.  Remind me of Great Aunt Lou Chapin: poor as a church mouse, right of Rush, good as gold, and so humane that she and Gt. Uncle Ed saved pie plates to put out water for the snakes.
  2. On to Rochester through Greece, where those bad boys made the news last month by bullying that poor old matron on the schoolbus.  Not all country folks are saints!  Must be suburban vibes from Rochester.
  3. Traversing Rochester is a breeze!  #104 by passes downtown (if there still is one).
  4. East of Rochester comes Webster, where Uncle Tom and Aunt Bess and Cousin Matt Watson used to live on Ridge Rd., as I recall from WAY back when.  We called him “Matt-Wat” to help keep all the Matt Gaffneys straight.  He went into H.S. administration, like dad, and rose quickly from little LeRoy, NY, to toney Cold Spring Harbor on the n. Shore of L.I., near T.R.’s old mansion and “summer White House”,  Sagamore Hill, in Cove Neck.   This is about the top rung, and just across the Sound from Greenwich, the top rung up there in Fairfield Cnty, CT.  A big climb up from Ridge Rd. in Webster!  MattWat and Doris raised 4 beamish and frabtious  children, including yet ANOTHER Matt Gaffney , in style amid rich neighbors.
  5. A few miles s. from Webster up #250 lies Fairport (the suffix “port” tells us it is on the Erie). Uncle Mason, Aunt Elma and my darling cousin Patsy (R.I.P.) and playmate Jimmy Fairchild lived there once.  Weighing the options, long I stood, … Oh, I kept #250 for another day; yet, knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back.
  6. Next came Williamson, dad’s old home town (the last of several, for his dad was a minister with a sharp tongue for hypocrites, even big donors and those on the Church Board).  I sought out the old Presbyterian Church, for I wanted to see the early environs that had launched dad on his long climb upwards.  One thing clear: old grandfather Matt (he died just about 101 years ago) had been a big frog in a little pond, for that old brick church still dominates.  Glad to see it is still kept up, too, with a new south wall with new stained glass windows that Cousin MattWat had written about, and lively community programs advertised (but no one there to show me around on a Monday).

As for cultural amenities, such as dad loved so well, there was no sign of a library[4], or a theatre, which he patronized so heavily later as Superintendent at New Trier Twsp H.S. in Winnetka, IL.  No civic orchestra; no grand opera, or light, either.  This helped dad develop into a great story-teller, that’s when people hungered for good stories, that was their TV, their Hollywood, their theatre, their adventure.  He also learned from his dad, for the old boy had kissed the Blarney and had a hundred grand adventures to relate, and perhaps embroider a bit in the telling.  Presbyterians are bookish, so dad must have read, and he starred once in a quiz show by identifying her whom Saul consulted before his second battle with the Philistines (can you?).

  1. Dad worked his way through Colgate, staying up as night watchman at a power plant.  His first job was back in Williamson as PRINCIPAL of the local high school, since he was the only one there with a college degree!  Was this the milieu that shaped a man who was later to get an honorary Doctorate from Colgate, and then from Yale? Who, after retiring, was made a Professor at Harvard in its new College of Education?  Who was to go with Conant in 1960 to the Carnegie Institution in NYC to publish a study of American public schools? A man whom the grateful citizens of New Trier Twsp were to honor by naming their grand new auditorium for him, and call “Their own Mr. Chips”?  No, my recherche du temps perdu was not to end in Williamson.
  2. Soon again two roads diverged.  #21 goes far south to Canandaigua, where mother’s grandfather, Noah Turner Clarke, had headed the Canandaigua Academy before the Civil War.  In all the times that mother and dad had driven us through this area, en route from SD or IL to VT, we never stopped at Canandaigua – I know not why, for every Finger Lake is beautiful.  I suppose the old Academy, like its people, was long gone.  Just short of Canandaigua the map shows a little dot, “Chapin”.  Dad’s mother was née  Ella Chapin, with six brothers. I longed to stop by and find a long-lost 3rd cousin, but once again, I kept that road for another day.
  3. No, my prime goal was the east shore of Sodus Bay where dad’s folks had a summer cottage at a place called “Bonnie Castle”, on a bluff overlooking the Bay to the west.  I remembered that our car got stuck in the mud every (literally) time we ever went there.  The map shows a #414, now paved[5], running all the way north to Lake Bluff, which, I said, must be the place renamed, for Bonnie Castle was on a bluff overlooking the water.  It didn’t look quite right, though – too much lake, not enough of Sodus Bay.  Heading back, I asked a young mother with child for directions (sometimes a guy must swallow his pride), and luckily she was the one I had slowed down for on the way north.  She sent me a mile back to “Sloop Landing” Road,[6] which led west around an arm of the Bay, mirabile dictu, right over to BONNIE CASTLE ROAD!!, to climb a different bluff, and there, before my very eyes, was the old place.  ALL the old places, in fact, and more besides.
  4. Did I say “cottage”? The old cottage was and is a big rambling house, 3 stories high, with a screened wraparound porch.  It sits sideways on a grassy slope, in a semicircle with 5 other “cottages”, around a central green where we used to play kid games.  Barn swallows swish around the central green, presumably catching bugs, although I do not see or feel any.
  5. The lawn slopes down to a bluff, with a long wooden stairway to the shore.  Beware the poison ivy by the stairs, it is still there!  By a little beach at the bottom is a short wooden wharf, where Uncle Mason used to keep a putt-putt –we thought that was way cool!
  6. Then it came to me like an epiphany, a flash of light: THIS is where dad formed his character! He told me once his favorite time was summers on the lawn, reading most of the day. Back in Williamson, he had to go to church 4 times every Sunday, but out here his time was his own, and with a big houseful of books, and no easy way back to Williamson and the church.  I’m beginning to understand dad better.  “And the stately ships go on to their haven under the hill; but O! for the touch of a vanished hand, and the sound of a voice that is still!”.
  7. Another telling fragment sheds some light.  Dad’s dad, Matt Gaffney the first, had been a member of the Fenians, a secret society of Irish rebels with designs on Canada.  This did not sit well with Canadians, or the U.S. Dept of State, or the Presbyterian Church, so Old Matt had to keep that in the closet.  Dad and mother both became socialists in college (or what they took to be socialist), which they also had to keep in the closet, and certainly not disclose to babbling children who could leak the word among Boards of Education.  So that, I suppose, kept a certain distance between us in my childhood.
  8. The house on the highest point of our semicircle is now a B&B, run by Georgia Pendleton, 6603 Bonnie Castle Rd, Wolcott NY 14590, 315-587-2273.  Should you want to visit, it’s gpendleton3@rochester.rr.com.  She was out, but the gentleman across the road was very helpful.
  9. Patience, my tale is nearly told. It was time to hit the NY Thruway and make Albany on time, since Matt Page, Jr., and Eleanor were expecting me.  I went via the Montezuma Marshes, since dad spoke of them so often, and they are now a State Wildlife Preserve.  In the process I somehow drove under the Throughway to the south side, which was a good thing because there was Jordan, NY, where dad was born, just west of Syracuse, where mother was born. A sign there claims that Jordan was where they starting digging the Canal. Some day we must research that one – some other day, as Art is long but time is fleeting.
  10. New York State is full of beauty, but  wherever you are today, America’s birthday, appreciate all of it:

“O beautiful, for spacious skies,

For amber waves of grain;

For purple mountain majesties,

Across the fruited plain.

America, America, God shed his grace on thee

And crown thy good with brotherhood

From sea to shining sea!”

Mason Gaffney, July 4, 2012


[1] [1] The bad news turned up later. We submit our final grades electronically, and the roster has two pages. Through some glitch, p.2 did not register, and no one noticed until students from p.2 complained. Karen Ward from the office called Tish, who managed to find my original and send it to Karen.  What would we do without the women to pick up after us?!  Thank you both!

[2] Washington lost most of his battles except the last, which the French mostly won for him, so he is less famous as a general than as a politician and land speculator, a pattern followed by most later college namesakes.

[3] Cyrus T. Mills, co-founder of Mills College, was a missionary from Hawaii.  Not clear if he was one of “those” missionaries, but he married a Holyoke girl and they moved to California with enough money to buy a going college in Benicia and move it to Oakland.

[4] Fairport did have a library, where Aunt Elma was Librarian.  Aunt Sally was a Librarian for a time, too, in Dorset, VT – so books did run in the family. After Patsy died, and then Uncle Mason, Elma even moved to San Francisco during the War, where she was Librarian at Treasure Island before returning to Fairport.  As I was headed overseas we somehow made contact and she showed me a grand old time in The City.  Then MattWat, by then a naval officer, hove in, and we did the town again.  Those Wayne County Gaffneys knew how to party!

[5] Not only are the roads all paved, there is a fire hydrant every  200′ or so: more hydrants than houses over wide areas. I sense the unseen presence of a State program to subsidize land speculators.

[6] There is also Lummisville Rd. entering from the east at about this point.

Comments are closed.