Friday, October 28, 2011

Scenic Drive: Oil Country

      If you like to ride on a twisty, curvy road or if you’re the sort who gets to the top of a hill and drinks in the gorgeous view, Allegany County is for you. The Allegany County Office of Tourism worked with motorists who trundled on back roads just for fun, bicyclists with strong thighs and lots of gears and leather-clad motorcyclist who enjoyed leaning into a curve then put together maps of 6 suggested tours.                   Enter the tour at any point from either direction though the brochure gives written directions for the favored route.  While you can jump on anywhere or turn 2 loops into a custom drive, we aimed to stay close to the trail with the occasional detour.
                We drove through Friendship to start South on Route 34 on “Oil Country.”  Before we got to cruising speed, we stopped at an old cemetery.  We didn’t see a sign for the cemetery but found it freshly mowed, clad with a flag surrounded by flowers. We searched out Babcocks, Coons, Wrights and Steenrods buried as long ago as 1822.

                We tried to read through the faded letters on stories for Anne and Tolcut. Anne’s stone read, “In Memory of Anne, consort of Tolcut Gold who departed this life February 15, 1827 aged 63 years four months.”
                It was the word “consort” that attracted attention. Was Anne his wife or his companion? Did the word favor one meaning over another in 1827? Anne didn’t have a last name on the stone.
                Then there was Tolcut Gold’s stone.  Tolcut died in September 1836 but his stone also gives details. “Tolcot lived 77 years. He served his country during the revolution. He was a good citizen and an honest man and departed this life…” The rest of it was buried in dirt and lichen. 
(NOTE: Tolcott's great, great, great, great grandson called me to say that his family was pleased to read that I'd found their stones and that they were, very surely, married. Consort meant wife.)
                Continuing south on Route 34 through Wirt, we passed a stone railroad support, fields, houses, cabins, fences, wildflowers, sheds, barns, an old wooden cistern, logging roads and then a pond. I asked Rick to go back to the pond so he stopped and turned around and parked about 2 feet from a very surprised blue heron.

                The bird accepted the car, the engine noise and our faces but when the camera came up for a shot that was over the line. The heron took a leap forward for a second and then pushed hard with huge wings.
                We also detoured onto Route 5B to the Hilltop Lodge. In the early 1800s William A. Dusenbury built Hilltop as his private retreat using part of the fortune he accrued by establishing the First National Bank of Olean and by investing, like many others in the area, in lumber and oil.
                Hilltop Lodge now offers glamping – glamorous camping. The owner/chef is Richard Fontana who retired from law enforcement in Erie County and bought the Hilltop Lodge in the 1980s. Driving the long, narrow private road into the area prepares glampers for the wooded quiet of the cabins and lodge.
                Glampers can find all meals at the Lodge but the restaurant is open to the public Wednesday through Saturday nights with private parties any time. Richard calls the menu "upscale with my home cooked Italian meals." 
                Leaving Hilltop Lodge we turned right and passed variety - elegant houses and rudimentary cabins, polished and proud homes and abandoned dwellings, boats and trucks, small bridges and miles of open fields alternating with extensive mowed lawns.

                Main Street in Bolivar hosts the Pioneer Oil Museum, closed when we passed. We found a variety of cemeteries and million dollar views. The overlook at the top of the hill on Route 5 between Little Genesee and Obi had a chain across the path so we respected that.
                Sloppy Joe’s Deli in West Clarksville caught our eye. Well, more honestly the barn sale next to Sloppy Joe’s caught my eye but since we were in the parking lot, we went into Sloppy Joe’s. It’s a take-off-your-coat-and-put-on-your-slippers sort of place. The sign inside invites people to “Sit Long, Talk Much, Laugh Often.
                Joree Tavano, who runs Sloppy Joe’s with her husband Joe, said that their lives changed the day they hung that sign. The café is comfy with plastic tablecloths and filled chairs. That’s where we learned that the overlook on Route 5 is on private property mostly open by chance but always open on Easter Sunday for prayer services around the cross on the hill.
                Sloppy Joe’s (open from 7 am till 8 pm) serves pizza, subs, wings and friendship. Fridays are for fish fries but Tuesdays are reserved for spaghetti, wings and - for the last 14 years - an open mic so head over with your guitar.
                It’s such a special place that after one of the regulars, Jim Holcomb, died his wife Debbie brought his farm boots in and put them among the collectibles on display.
                Ray Baker studied his coffee mug and said he’d been in the place so many times he couldn’t count that high. He said they all missed Jim and then said, “I buried my wife yesterday but I’m right back here again. It’s a big family here, you know. You get attached. You feel camaraderie and solace.”
                That makes Sloppy Joe’s an Allegany County gem. 

                By this time, Rick and I were near the end of Oil Country but we detoured again when we saw some odd signs labeled Mt. Irenaeus. Following the arrows up some dirt "roads" we discovered a retreat and home to Franciscan Monks, loosely tied to St. Bonaventure. Mt. Irenaeus occasionally welcomes guests for Sunday Eucharist (followed by a dish to pass meal). The area is not handicapped accessible and it’s best to call 716-375-2096 before venturing up the mountain.

The website for local tourism is Call 1-800-836-1869 or 585-268-5500 to request brochures or look for them in local Libraries and banks. Brochure choices are Scenic Drives, Spring Summer Fall, Artisans & Galleries, Historic Trails, Hunting & Fishing, Fall Winter Spring and Festivals & Events. This driving tour is listed in Scenic Drives.

Elaine Hardman is a member of the Allegany County Office of Tourism Advisory 

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