Thursday, November 5, 2015

Congressman visits Wellsville

WELLSVILLE:  Congressman Tom Reed met with about a dozen constituents at the Town Hall on October 24. He started with a statement about work in Washington saying that he expects Paul Ryan would soon be Speaker of the House.
                Reed said that both chambers of the legislature passed a defense bill but it was vetoed by the President.  Reed expressed confidence in an override. 
                This is only the 4th veto of the Obama presidency. Reed said that the veto made no sense to him but it might as a bargaining ploy to protect domestic programs from cuts that are directed in the 2011 Budget Control Act.
                Another bit of progress on the way is a 3 year highway bill - fully funded without a gas or other tax increase though he did not mention how the bill would be funded. He also discussed the possibility of a government shut down over the debt ceiling.
                A constituent wanted to address gun control.  He stated, “I don’t like Democrats. They are all communists.”
                This man said that he was concerned about the government taking guns from people. “Some people do stupid things with guns and all gun owners should be trained the way I was and the way I trained my kids.”
                Reed responded that there have been horrific events involving guns and that he attributes many of these to the lack of a good mental health care system in our country. He said that there needs to be a national conversation about mental health. We need to have insurance cover services and medications for people with mental illnesses and to treat mental and physical illnesses in the same manner.
                Fred Sinclair, former county legislator, asked if there is any evidence in Washington regarding an effort to disarm American citizens and Reed said that he has never seen any efforts toward disarmament of any kind and doesn’t expect any to develop.
                Barb Hetzel asked if there is any mental health test that can be used to determine if gun ownership is appropriate for a person and Reed said that Congressman Tim Murphy (R, PA) introduced  the “Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act of 2013” in order to change the national conversation for mental health services.
            Another constituent said that her husband was a police officer who noticed a change in the national attitudes after the film, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” She said that film changed attitudes the way that Uncle Tom’s Cabin had earlier.
            In the past police officers could pick up a mentally ill person and give them a meal and help them clean up and then bring them back to the street but that kind of service is no longer offered by the police.
            Reed said, “Mental Health issues have been driven underground and we all need to work on this.” He was also concerned about the pending release of 6,000 non-violent offenders.
            A great deal of time was spent asking about the Trans Pacific Partnership, which Reed supported in the Fast Track Authority vote. (This means that congress can approve or disapprove but cannot amend or filibuster the bill.)
            Reed supported a bill that removes the “Country of Origin” label for beef as well as the “Dark Act” that forbids labeling genetically engineered animals or plants. Both of these bills were seen as legislation that removes the public’s right to local rule.
            Reed said that these were only procedural votes and that he hasn’t even read the TPP so he can’t be for or against it. He also said that there would be a period of 60-90 days for public comment on the TPP but if members of congress have agreed that there would be no amendments or filibusters, can private citizens have any impact?
            One constituent said that he felt that these trade bills demonstrate that the government values money over human health.
            Two constituents complained that while congress got a cost of living increase that Social Security recipients did not.
            One person said, “Anyone who goes to the store knows that prices go up and prices for medications go up by dollars. We paid into the system so the money would be used for our Social Security benefits and not to have it raided. If you had borrowed it and put it back, that would be okay but it was raided.”
            Reed said that both Democrats and Republicans have raided Social Security and it has to stop. “If everyone had an IRA things would be different but that’s not where we live. Do we as a country want to throw 70 or 80 year olds into the street?”
            Some constituents said, yes, they did, Reed didn’t agree. “I believe in Social Security. “

            Reed spent an hour in lively discussion and invited people to call any of his offices at any time.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Driving Mid County - Scio to Angelica by going East

ALLEGANY COUNTY: While the Tourism Board calls this the Mid-Country Driving Tour, it could be called the Green Fields and Neighbors Tour. That’s how our 6 hours and 61 miles spent driving and walking on the tour felt. We came home with hand screened T-shirts, sausage, Red Curry squash, spinach, bagels, pancake mix, brownies and lots of news from folks we found.

            Generally my husband Rick does the driving and I write but he wasn’t available so my friend, Joanne Allen, came along. It is suggested that the tour start in Scio and head toward Friendship, but we started in Scio and aimed for Alfred to catch the last of their farmer’s market.
            I travel the Vandermark Road twice a week to rehearse with the AU Symphonic Band so that road, for me, means watching for deer and thinking of my destination but this time I made sure to focus on what the road passes.   
Scio Playground
            Just after the turn, I had to note with appreciation that the Scio community came together to provide for their neighbors. They put a charming bronze sculpture in front of the school and, across the street in Fireman’s Park, they built an inviting picnic pavilion that may be reserved at the clerk’s office. There is a playground, a ball diamond, and a tennis court with parking for events on both sides of the road. The school, Lion’s Club and Fire Department blended resources admirably.
            The Vandermark holds cabins, houses, farms, and green fields with white sheep or black cattle. There’s a farm house for sale on Waugh Brook Road where recent rains created mud enough to coat my cars and others. Two favorite named places on the Vandermark are Uncle Cooter’s Farm and Whiskey River Farms (where birds are always on the roof of the tailored barn).
            The Vandermark State Forrest hosts public hiking trails and the Philips Creek State Forest stretches from Vandermark to groomed hiking, skiing and horse trails. Turning right to pass the Vander View Golf Course and enter Alfred, one passes a Palliser house. This is one of many houses built around the country in the 1800s after people checked the Palliser catalog, found a pleasing house, and purchased the plans. Many such houses have a tower, porch and a touch of gingerbread.
Palliser House
            We took this detour to shop at The Rogue Carrot, a store that may forever be Kinfolk to me. It’s the natural grocery store in Alfred where everyone goes for local produce and now more and more locally made art. Several huge ceramic pieces are on hand as well as functional pottery, soaps, cutting boards and jewelry.
            What’s the most popular item at Rogue Carrot? Bananas for smoothies are a hit with students but just now there’s a run on cider and cider-donuts unless it’s Thursday. Thursday is all about fish and bagels delivered by Jessen. Eat well. Get clean. Feel good. It’s all there 7 days a week.
            We stopped at the Alfred Farmer’s Market on Main Street where we heard live music from the Decker and Ruch families making it easier to dance some warmth into one’s damp-chilled extremities.  We tried some of Mascho Homestead Farms’s sausage and heard about the heritage turkeys from Chilson’s in Belmont then admired Robin Kellogg’s work - Kellogg's Alpacas. Near her knit and felted work was a penned in mamma and baby alpaca accepting grass from the fingers of slightly wary college students. Kellogg’s Alpacas will be open on November 14 & 15.
feeding alpaca
            Back on the trail we found the location of the old fire tower on Route 244. It seems to be a communications tower now. In the old days one could climb to look around but now a gate and lock indicate a new attitude.
Canacadea Country Store
            Next we passed the Country Cabin Bed and Breakfast, a business that supports local artisans by using locally made pottery and art work in the rooms and kitchen. And just down the road is the Alfred State Farm. Keep November 17 open because from 4-6:30 students will meet you near the green houses at the Agricultural Building and bus you to the farm for a tour. The organic farm is making news in agricultural education.
            We turned left onto Route 21 and stopped at the Canacadea Country Store in Alfred Station where Laurie Lang was selling candies and coffees and then found the Quest Farm Produce stand open so bought more fall produce there. Quest will be open till Christmas with local pasta, organic meats, whole grains, and produce.
Quest Farm Produce
        If you don't know this, learn it now. Friday is Pieday at the Tinkertown Hardware. Stop by for hardware, breads, pie and cookies.
            We turned left at the signs to Route 86 in Almond but passed by the highway to find cemeteries, farms and huge barns – some standing proudly and some just reminders of the past. Near the western side of Angelica are the remainders of the old county poor house or work house and the home of Major Moses Van Campen, circa 1808.
            If you aren’t in a hurry and haven’t been there lately travel all the way around the town circle and look at the restoration work that has gone into making the buildings there shine with history. We parked on Main Street and spent some time in one of the shops. The Angelica Country Store and Antiques which boasts that they have the state’s largest collection of vintage costume jewelry and it would be hard to imagine any store with more. There are drawers and trays and racks and hangers of every style and color of costume jewelry for fingers or toes, necks or wrists or just to dangle from your ears.
Angelica Sweet Shop
            A visit at the Angelica Sweet Shop for a cup of hot chocolate and a visit with Karen Ash was next. We heard about the ongoing success of the Angelica Community Radio station. They broadcast 7 nights a week and their signal will reach further when they get the rest of the equipment installed. Getting the radio on the air has been a huge project.
            We made a left at the American House and Hotel and passed the homes of the Bromley/Daggets went to the other side of Route 19 to see the charming Episcopal Church. The driving tour continues to Friendship and back but it was getting late. Businesses in Angelica were already closed so we just headed home to cook squash and try on those T-Shirts.

 References: On Facebook:  The Rogue Carrot, The Holly Trail, Tinkertown Hardware, Alfred Farmer’s Market, Angelica Sweet Shop, Mascho Homestead Farms, Kellogg’s Alpacas, Quest Farm Produce, Angelica Country Store and Antiques, Angelica Community Radio

Box: Visit the Allegany County Chamber of Commerce and Office of Tourism at the Crossroads Commerce Center, 6087 State Route 19N in Belmont. Call 800-836-1869 to request brochures.  Publications include Scenic Drives, Festivals and Events, Historic Allegany County and Hunting & Fishing. They also have brochures from local businesses and organizations. Their website is

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Wax and Clay in Whitesville, NY

just behind Ken is near 200 pounds of dripped wax.
WHITESVILLE: The old feed mill in Whitesville has long been the home of the Candle Wizard, Ken Reichman. Ken and his candles, serious or silly in style, are gearing up for the 28th Allegany Artisans Studio Tour set for October 16 & 17, 20015.
                Ken started making candles in his parents’ basement in about 1972 and sold to friends. He also sold candles in shopping malls and, in 1974, started doing shows in Buffalo and other places. Ken didn’t just make candles; he invented a method of creating them and burned them to study how to make them better.
                I asked Ken about trimming the wick on candles and he said that if a candle is well made, it should self trim. That is, the wick should burn at a pace with the wax so that the wick is never too long or short. A short wick sputters out and a long wick gives a smoky flame. Perfect is what people need and what Ken tries to make.
                One thing that makes a candle burn poorly is scent. Scents are oil based substances and can keep the paraffin wax from burning cleanly. He doesn’t add scent to many of his candles.
                Candles can drip too and while that isn’t always wanted, Ken has made about a 150-200 pound sculpture that he started by burning candles at a windy Renaissance Faire he often attended. Ken brought his candle-drip creation to his shop and continued to burn candles and over the decades. You’ll see it as soon as you walk into the shop. It’s very much a case of “you can’t miss it.”
                Ken is a long-time member of the Allegany Artisans but took some time off. He worked at Alstom for a few years and then went back to school. In addition to his Associate’s degree in Electrical Technology he now has a degree in Computer Information Systems and is Wellsville’s Howe Library Information Technologist.
                Two years ago, Ken rejoined the Studio Tour and this year he plans some changes to the characters he creates with his special method. Ken uses pieces of wax almost like pieces of cloth. Heated, the wax becomes pliable enough to bend, fold and drape wizards and cloaks and smiling faces with beards.
                The characters hold things but some of those things need to be updated. The cell-phone-wizard has a phone with an antenna so it might need a Smartphone while the wizard sitting at a huge old desktop computer may also change. “This guy might need a tablet now,” said Ken.
                The guitar playing wizard will always be in style and in tune. In the same way dragons, unicorns and rainbows in wax are as timeless as the hand-dipped candles that Ken carefully creates.
                Ken has some stained glass candle holders and a few stained glass mirrors. He has sun glow candles and decorative tapers in many colors. There are votives and pillars in stern straight lines as well as all the flowing fantasy creatures.
                Ken is always available at and will be at his studio in Whitesville during the Studio Tour. If you suddenly realize a need for a candle dwarf, dragon or a seasonal candle, call him at 607-356-3193
                At the other end of Whitesville is the busy and inspiring studio where Marsha VanVlack puts her constantly changing ideas into clay. Marsha’s been working professionally in clay for over 40 years and she knows it’s the right thing for her to do because it’s still fun and interesting.
Some of the new totem inspired wall pieces
                She started making functional ware because she loves the rhythm of doing a series of pots and loved using and holding pottery – her own pots or pots made by anyone else.  She thinks the love of pottery started when she was a child exploring archeological digs with her Dad. She’d find shards of ancient pots with thumbprints in the clay and she would feel a connection with the ancient potter. 
                Marsha did functional pottery until about 1990 when she began to make realistic sculpture and did that for almost 10 years.  About 15 years ago she focused on tiles as a kindness to her body. She also found it a kindness to her mind because she so enjoyed painting the landscapes around her. Fantastically, people loved the tiles.
                When she started teaching at the Wellsville Creative Arts Center she felt that she could and should stretch in new directions in order to offer variety to her students. A few years ago she focused her personal work on totems with leaping fish and jumping turtles but now she’s making wall pieces with the sense of totem structure.
                She is working with naked raku, raku without glaze. The process uses heat, smoke and time to create cracks and crazes to give the work dimension. She’s built a raku kiln at her studio and is ready to share it with students. Sign up for one of her 3 hour workshops by visiting her studio during the Studio Tour or by calling her at 607i-356-3414.
                On Friday, October 16 some Allegany Artisans will open their studios for a pre-tour reception from 5-8 pm. Ken Reichman has chosen not to participate in this but Marsha will. There’s a full list of the studios to be open on Friday evening on the website
                Friday night participants are also indicated in the brochure. For a copy of the brochure send your mailing address to or call the Allegany County Tourism Office at 800-836-1869.  

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Fred and Susan Beckhorn, Allegany Artisans.

WHITESVILLE: I expected to learn and to be impressed when visiting Allegany Artisans, Susan and Fred Beckhorn, in Whitesville this September. They are, I believe, creative, knowledgeable, dedicated, sprouting with hundreds of ideas and interested in thousands of things.
                First Fred Beckhorn showed me around his studio, previously a sugar shack with an addition for workspace and a showroom. He’s created an exhibit of live edge wood slabs in the shop (Live edge means that the side of the log is the edge of the wood so it follows the bumps, bulges and curves of the tree, as it grew.) so that people can choose wood for commissioned pieces but there are also finished tables, beds, mirrors, lamps and benches.

                I asked Fred what his favorite wood was and he went to a small display on a workbench – an illustration of his answer. Maple is the wood and variation the reason. Maple can be quilted, curly, birds eye, line eye and ingrown bark with variations on all of those. Blocks of each type not only illustrate new words but invite touch. The wood looks textured but feels sleek. Maple deserves a call out.
                Fred remembers a bowl he made at the age of 10 using his father’s gouge as his first wood project. Fred’s father was an electrician who taught at Alfred State College but spent his spare time working with wood and lots of other things.
                Fred’s early jobs included farm hand and carpenter and he gave himself a lot of on the job training building a house with his wife Susan in the 80s. In 1994 he took a wood design and a wood carving class at the School of Art and Design, Alfred University. By 1996 his work was offered under the name Natural Form Furniture and he moved from making the occasional bed and table to a full time dedication to designing furniture and sculpture in the reworked sugar shack.
                Fred doesn’t favor one particular tool or focus on a certain piece of furniture. His work is one of a kind, tailored to a certain piece of wood. He has hand tools, power tools and ideas that transform this organic material into both cozy/ contemporary furniture for decades of use and appreciation.
                Fred finds cedar in New Hampshire around the family’s summer camp and uses it to make mirror frames, lamps, beds and whatever it seems the wood was meant to be. I was also taken with two sculptural pieces made from whole trees sandblasted to expose the hard, flowing, inner wood.
                He finds burls and local hardwoods on the land which is worked sustainably. There’s a permaculture project to grow American Chinese Chestnuts, not to produce wood but for a crop of large chestnuts.  Other trees grow pawpaws, mulberries and persimmons.
                Fred Beckhorn’s work is at He has hours by appointment and will work with people to select the perfect slab for their table or bench or work to design a lamp that will suit a special space. Call 607-356-3700 to arrange to see his work or visit during the Studio Tour.
                At the same location, you’ll find Susan Williams Beckhorn - illustrator, singer, watercolorist, teacher and published children’s author.
                When people say they’ve written a book, what they likely mean is that they had an idea that started in their heads, grew in their hearts and matured in their minds until it was worthy of the vast effort of placing a rough version of it on paper, digital or old-school pads.
                One of Susan’s books started with wondering over a Luna moth on a screen at summer camp. The moth seemed like a magical fairy that chose her for company. As a 7th grader, she labored over the story in a notebook and brought it to school. Over the decades, her story grew, changed and flourished until it became a children’s novel Sarey by Lantern Light.
                Now, when Susan presents workshops for children, she takes her first handwritten version of the story to schools. She feels that it demonstrates the value of a child’s work. Her child’s story became a real book. So can theirs.
                She remembers making up a song about a rooster on the way to Lincoln School. She sang it for Miss Cunningham, the principal who graciously applauded the proud second grader and years later came to celebrate Susan’s first book at a signing party.  
                All of her books are about animals, children and other touches of nature. Susan grew up in a woodsy area north of Boston where friends owned ponies and children got dirty. She spent summers at camp in New Hampshire and still goes there. She loves fantasy, children and nature.
                In the studio are copies of all 6 published books but, on the day I visited, in her excited hand was an uncorrected proof of her 7th book sent to her by Disney-Hyperion and scheduled to be available for your hands in June 2016. She gave me a glimpse of the behind the scenes part of the book, The Wolf’s Boy.
                Susan spent over a year reading and rereading every picture book, chapter book, middle school book and young adult book she could find about dogs. She looked into the theories concerning the domestication of dogs and studies of dog and wolf behavior.
                She went to workshops - Writing for Boys and The Heart of the Novel for example. These workshops were short (expensive) intense sessions, followed by months of writing, rewriting and feedback and then another group session. She has also long attended local critique groups and, of course, spends hours writing, reading her work aloud to herself and rewriting.
                Mark Derr, author of How The Dog Became The Dog, corresponded with her to help choose a setting for The Wolf’s Boy. He felt that China, the Middle East, and parts of Europe were likely places where the first dogs might have joined humans. She chose to place her story in southeastern France and so traveled there with Fred to visit areas with ancient cave paintings and to actually go inside of some of the caves that have been opened to the public. She needed to see the caves and feel the area around them in order to understand what her characters would see in the story.
                On that trip, she and Fred went to the Neanderthal museum in Germany to build awareness of early people. Clearly, The Wolf’s Boy represents years of research and effort to capture and build the story but that’s only one side.
                The other side, the harder part, is marketing. It sounded like the sort of thing that requires one to plaster on a smile and boot one’s self out the door. Some people find making connections with agents, publishers and other writers at conferences helpful. Her website,, has information regarding this side of the effort but she does not offer direct assistance to other writers.
                Some of Susan’s books are now out of print but she has copies of all of them to sell and autograph during the Studio Tour. She is available for workshops and presentations with details at on her website with links from
                Visit Fred and Sue Beckhorn on Irish Hill Road in Rexville. They will be open for a preview on Friday, October 16 from 5-8 pm as well as during the regular 28th Studio Tour hours from 10-5 on Saturday  and Sunday, October 17 & 18. Find directions to all the studios at or call the Allegany County Office of Tourism at 800-836-1869 and ask to have one mailed to you.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Scenic Driving Tour, Lake Country

FRIENDSHIP: We didn’t know what we would find on the Lake Country Tour but in a few miles we started calling it the fall foliage/ winding motorcycle road/ pumpkins and tractors tour. When the leaves fully turn, it will truly be a gorgeous drive with even more pumpkins for sale along the road.
                The Allegany County Scenic Drives brochure proposes that drivers start the Lake Tour in Friendship and head toward Cuba on Route 20 and there are some blue road signs to show the way but we had morning errands to do northward and so started in Friendship but headed toward Belfast on County Road 17. At that intersection is a sign advertising Nightmare Hay Rides in Ellicottville, celebrating 25 years of spookiness. That sign may have put us in the mood for fall.
                As for Route 7, I’m calling it Metal Roof Road. The 14 mile stretch we covered had 31 metal roofs. We acquired a metal roof a few years ago and understand how significant such an investment is. These were dark green, bright blue and functional black roofs. Some old building roofs were past their gleaming prime and closer to rusty charm but those weren’t included in my count.
Round hay bales were in fields and piled in
farmyards. These are for sale and ready to deliver.
                The hills along Route 7 were getting glints of gold and some sparks of red. Rick declared that Route 7 and several other roads were, “good motorcycle roads with turns to lean into.” Many were newly paved and smooth roads with clean yellow lines are always inviting.
                We saw signs for “White Creek Honey” and “Ducks For Sale” near a truckload of round hay bales and Amish children swarming over the swing set in front of their school. Many Amish Buggy signs are posted there.
                Outside of Belfast, we stopped at On The River Farms where we met Steve DeMarte. This farm stand offers cut flowers, corn, pumpkins, squash, beets, potatoes and other produce in addition to processed beef and pork and eggs- chicken or duck. Call 716-560-5594 or check for updated lists.  
               We learned that years ago there were 30+ dairy farms along Route 19 in Allegany County with plenty more elsewhere. Back then, DeMarte said, a person could get along on 70% of the monthly milk check, no worries. Now small farmers are losing money, spending more to produce milk than they can sell it for, and letting their cow herds gradually disappear.
                He also talked about testing soil, spoke about good and bad points on both sides of the GMO (genetically modified organisms) debate and about how he’d like to turn his milk into value added products rather than selling it outright. Cuba, after all, once set cheese prices for the entire US.
                Taking off with what only one of us thinks of kindly (Hubbard squash) we headed toward Belfast. A person might go to the Bare Knuckle Boxing Hall of Fame in Belfast but it is necessary to make prior arrangements with Scott Burt at 585-610-3326 or by going to
                There are some nice antique shops on Main Street in Belfast as well as many places to eat. For plants, there is garden stand north of town. Bob’s Barn is at the intersection of Route 49 where we turned left to continue our tour while on the right was an access point to the Genesee River, part of the Genesee River Wilds project.
                We drove past The Lodge, Joe and Nancy Fusco’s Bed and Breakfast where guests can take hot air balloon rides from the front door. The Lodge is also a great place to stay if one is going to Letchworth State Park, newly named as USA Today’s Reader’s Choice, Best State Park in America.
Rushford Lake
                Route 49 winds past Rushford Lake where hundreds of lucky people have cottages and boats. The picnic area near the lake looked like it was open to the public but we couldn’t be sure. On the roads we passed mowers, tractors, harvesters and things we call manure-cannons. We were at leisure but we passed many working people.
                When we returned from our errands off the trail we had a hard time finding the place to jump back on, perhaps in part because we were going backwards. We turned south on Centerville Road which turned into 7B and passed the Cuba Rushford School and the Allegany Hills Golf Course.
Tractor line up that caught our eye.
                The driving map indicates a County Road 47 but we actually went south on Cattaraugus’ County Road 46.  Just after passing a huge iron pot and a little church and cemetery, we saw a line of bright red Massy Harris tractors on a front lawn.

                Intrigued, we knocked on the door when there was a pause in the vacuum cleaner rumble and we were happily directed to Roger who was mowing out back.
                Roger J Clark stopped his mowing and said that he always had 2 ½ hours to give anyone interested in his tractors. “You’d be surprised,” he said, “how fast time goes when talking tractors.”
                At the age of 9, the young Mr. Clark, drove his first Massy Harris tractor on his uncle’s farm. By the time he was in high school, he was working on the Priday Farm where 2 Massey Harris tractors rumbled over the fields. One was a 4 cylinder that could run all day on a tank of gas but the other was a thirsty 6 cylinder that demanded a refill at lunch time.
What some of the tractors looked like when acquired.
                He told us about his life as an independent wool purveyor working with Mr Priday who changed from farming to wool trading later in his life. In about 1972, Priday sold his farm to Clark lock-stock- and barrel with part of the deal being those tractors.
                Decades later, Roger Clark retired from farming and just 5 years ago started collecting Massey Tractors. Newspaper ads helped him find his first tractors but now people know he is interested and they call him. He’s in local and national tractor clubs, even Massy Harris tractor clubs.
                All the tractors are a little different – equipment, year, design. Clark often knows a tractor’s history and gives a tour of the line of finished tractors in front of his house. Off to the side are some works-in-progress where he clearly sees the gems under the rust.
                Roger Clark lives at 7578 Rawson Road in Cuba and he invites all to stop and visit. He’d rather you stop after 10 am but he is not opposed to coming out earlier than that to talk tractor in his nightshirt.
Fingerprint kit at Antique Mart
Water Street, Cuba
                After leaving those red tractors we came to Cuba Lake. Generally we travel there with our bikes and take a turn around the lake. Today we stopped at Mak’s Meats and then the Antique Mart on Water Street. If there is an amateur detective inside you, you may be interested in the professional fingerprint kit on the second floor.
At the Cheese Museum,
Palmer Opera House
                 Our other stop was the Palmer Opera House. Wow. It’s fantastic. Eat there or shop but be amazed at the detail in the building and check out the cheese museum too (with a copper pot twice the size of the formerly impressive iron pot). This building is a testament to the volunteers who worked so hard to bring it back to life.
Mike, at Mike and Jen's Garden Stand
                On our way back to the starting point in Friendship, we stopped at Mike and Jen’s Garden Stand. Open daily with food that they grew as well as food they get at the Centerville auction. The stand operates on the honor system and Mike and Jen appreciate the honesty of their customers. We bought pumpkins and peppers and wished them luck with the new greenhouse that may keep the stand going into November.
                Because of our detour, we didn’t accurately measure the length of the drive. Near 50 miles is a guess. We spent about 6 hours driving and visiting but a person could stretch it out to days by shopping more, roaming museums, reading stones in cemeteries, visiting the wonderful Libraries in Cuba and Friendship and seeing the Cuba Block Barn.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Scenic Drive, Oil County Tour

BOLIVAR: On a blue-skied September day, my husband Rick and I gathered snacks and took off for “Oil Country,” one of the 6 Allegany County driving tours.
                We chose to start as suggested on Route 417 in Bolivar, traveling clockwise on the route. This meant that we drove from our home in Wellsville through Allentown where we stopped at the Allentown Antique Mart.
                It’s not necessary to name names or admit guilt but someone had the unhappy experience of breaking the lid on Grandma Bonnie’s glass candy dish so we’ve been checking flea markets and the like on the off chance that some unhappy soul broke a similar dish and set the lid out for sale.
                We found a basket full off surviving lids for candy dishes and casseroles but none were right. Rick found a vintage vise that we hope will be an appreciated Christmas gift and I found some odd jewelry pieces that will work into earrings.
                The Allentown Antique Mart is open Monday through Friday, 10-4.  Your company there would be appreciated and you might find a treasure for yourself. The entire second floor is now on sale for 50% off.
Don and Pauline King with their work.
                Then, being in Allentown, we took a second detour to the home of Don and Pauline King. Don, a wood turner, is a member of the Allegany Artisans but we had never seen his studio. When I called from the Antique Mart, they were both home.
                We thought we would find them in minutes but followed the directions from our smart phone so went an extra few miles. Don and Pauline live on White Hill Road #1, an address that baffles navigation systems (Don has stories!) so if you go to see Don’s turnings during the Studio Tour on October 17 & 18, just turn on White Hill Road #1, across from the old school, and go up the hill until you see Don’s signs on the left.   
                We were lucky to find them since they often spend afternoons on a four-wheeler trundling the over 10 miles of dirt roads on their wooded hill. They search for burls and downed trees that Don turns into bowls.
                Don started by chiseling bowls. His first bowl is a sturdy oval on the kitchen counter. The second is a large dough bowl. Both of these were laboriously chiseled one hammer blow at a time. While both are beautiful pieces, Don’s family invested in a lathe for him so his bowls are now round.
                Pauline takes what she calls Don’s wood scraps and paints them, often with roosters or with fruit or flowers.  Pauline is an interior designer who was working with Don’s daughter who worked a little match/making magic between them.  She is also a trombonist and we have played together in summer bands over the years. Music and art often mix.
                We tore ourselves away since we hadn’t yet gotten to our official starting point an hour after leaving home. Our task was to look at Allegany County rather than just speed past it so, in that sense, we were always on track.
                We arrived in Bolivar and turned left to take the tour. Fittingly, the Pioneer Oil Museum on Main Street is at the start of Oil Country. The museum was closed for us but will be open to all on October 3 & 4 (10am to 3 pm) as part of the Allegany County Museum Trail. Eighteen museums and historical societies around Allegany County are scheduled to participate in the event. Many are free.
                We passed a hearing aid shop, a bridal store, the curiously named Horse Run Road and the busy Bolivar Country Club. Directions in the brochure are to turn at the end of the Country Club onto County Route 5 but don’t be tricked. The first right turn is County Route 5C, marked with 2 easy-to-read signs. The second road, with a sign not visible until the turn is made, is County Route 5. Every turn we made revealed locations with fire wood for sale.
Snowmobile Trail at scenic overlook
                After the turn is a small park with swings, charcoal grills and a picnic table in a small pavilion. On the other side of the street is a private home with a gazebo graced with a telephone booth and rail road crossing sign.
Overlook on Daggett Hollow
                The trail map indicates a Scenic Overlook on Daggett Hollow Road. We stopped at a large, mowed parking area with a tall, white wooden cross and hiked down two trails. It might have been an overlook when the trees were small but it isn’t now.
                The trail near the cross is posted as private property but also has round snowmobile trail markers. Snowmobilers also have a blue arrow pointing left where another trail goes into the woods but it seems all woods, not overlook.
A model of Main Street inside
Sloppy Joe's Deli
                We brushed off mud and seeds and got back in the car to get to Sloppy Joe’s Deli, soon to celebrate its 24th birthday.  Sloppy Joe’s hosts live music on Tuesday nights and every morning there are folks who have crossed from customers to friends to family, all drinking coffee and talking.
Barn Sale
                The barn out back is open daily. If you need a pink accordion, this is your place. There is also a beautiful, little English sewing machine from about 1890 and a Larkin desk in addition to the more ordinary glass, china, books, decorations, and what-nots. Again, their candy dish lids weren’t a fit for us.  
                We missed the right turn onto Route 1 but came back to it shortly and then did a detour to Mt. Irenaeus, part of the St. Bonaventure ministry. Mt. Irenaeus is a Contemplative Center not open to the public except for their Sunday morning service.
                Roman Catholic Mass is held in the Chapel at 11 am and followed by a dish to pass brunch. Attendance can be large in spring and summer but sparse in winter though Brother Lewis said that the Town of Wirt is super about keeping the unpaved road plowed for them.
Mt Irenaeus Lodge
                Brother Lewis sat with us on the porch of the main house and we talked about the Pope’s Philadelphia visit, the perils of gardening among voracious deer and the enormous appetites of the St. Bonaventure Women’s Swim Team.
                Back on Route 1, we found “Times Square” and “Fifth Avenue” in the town of Wirt and then returned to our starting point in Bolivar after 3 hours and 42 miles, an extra 20 miles of exploration.

                The Allegany County Office of Tourism and Culture offers the Scenic Drives brochure in addition to those focused on History, Hunting and Fishing, Outdoor Sports, Artisans, and Events. All of these can help you appreciate hidden pockets of Allegany County. Call 1-800-836-1869 or find information at

Our map - 1 is where we walked around a bit, 2 is
the side trip to Mt. Ireneaus and 3 is our wrong

Thursday, August 13, 2015

                                     The Concrete Castle

            He bought a tiny farmhouse on sixty acres of land in his hometown of Doylestown, Pennsylvania, hired ten men and a horse named Lucy and set out to prove that contemporary architects were wrong. 
He encased the original structure in concrete, then added, decorated and furnished another 42 rooms. The resulting mansion, the house/sculpture of Fonthill, now a National Historic Landmark created by Harvard-educated Henry Chapman Mercer, founder of the Moravian Tile Works, has amazed visitors from around the world for over a century.
            Henry Mercer (1856-1930) studied archeology, art, law, architecture and virtually every other topic he happened upon before deciding on a career as a ceramic artist. Lurking at the edge of all his study was the desire to design safer buildings. As a teen he had watched an uncle’s residence, stocked with art treasures from around the world, burn to the ground and vowed that one day he would build a flameproof home.
In his twenties, while touring Europe, he had been impressed with fire resistant, medieval stone castles but found them cold, dark, damp and uninviting abodes. Ever the scholar and artist, he closely studied the old buildings and created hundreds of sketches that he later incorporated into the design of his Doylestown castle.
His approach to concrete broke with convention in 1900 when most builders relegated concrete to sidewalk construction, nothing more. Mercer had a higher opinion of the stuff, considering it to be cheap, strong, flameproof, and a perfect backing for the art of his Moravian Tile Works
Ignoring the warnings and ridicule of other architects, Mercer’s home became one of the first freestanding concrete structures. It was custom molded around such modern conveniences as indoor plumbing, central heating and an early Otis elevator - innovative features for any dwelling in 1908. While critics waited for his home to tumble in on itself, he relaxed on summer nights before a roaring fire on the roof of Fonthill, an eccentric act conducted to demonstrate the strength and safety of his home.  
            Mercer, a man of inherited wealth, lived for learning and discovery and considered all tasks and topics with great interest. His motto was “plus ultra,” more beyond. He believed that there is always more to consider in any design, problem or thought. Placed on the front of a stair or tucked into the corner of a fireplace, ceramic tiles with “plus ultra” chant Mercer’s motto throughout Fonthill.
            His involvement in tile making evolved from his interest in collecting hand tools. The turn of the century was, like today, a period of rapid technological change. Then, machine-made goods were replacing the handcrafted, one-of-a-kind; work was moving from shops and cottages to factories, and both the hand tools and the skills needed to use them were rapidly being lost. Mercer used his archeological training to collect, catalog and preserve every old tool he could find. 
            Driven by curiosity, he studied them all, but became enthralled with clay when he studied potters’ tools. He began to develop artistically, first creating wheel-thrown pottery and then designing and carving ceramic tiles. He would later employ thousands of these on the floors, walls and ceilings of Fonthill. 
            Although concrete was the chief material used in his castle, Mercer softened the overall effect of it by adding wood in an eccentric way. For example, recycled multi-paneled doors were used as forms for concrete walls and then left in place, making elegant wood wainscoting in several rooms. All functional doors were recycled wooden doors rescued from other buildings, framed in concrete, and like the windows, of a variety of sizes and shapes. Mercer found his doors and windows at penny lot sales, the rummage sale of his time. 
            Each room in Fonthill has a different size, shape and theme. Like a sculpture, it invites the eye from every doorway and delights with unexpected contours and colors. Mercer didn’t tear down the original house but built around it. He removed the low kitchen ceiling, opening it to what was the second floor.  When he did this, what had been the second floor fireplace was then located high on the kitchen wall, the practical unit then becoming unexpected whimsy, architectural humor. Mercer coated the tall kitchen walls in concrete, to flameproof them, but left the floating fireplace mantle exposed for its decorative, and curious, effect - an arched eyebrow above the kitchen stove. 
            On the first floor, a special, tiled niche was created to house Mercer’s bicycle, his only mode of transportation around Doylestown. In bedrooms, recycled wood flooring was laid near the bed, but away from the fireplace, and tapestries were hung from the walls, in part for color and coziness, in part to mimic the décor of European castles. 
            In many of the rooms, Mercer cast bookshelves and even window seats in concrete, decorating the material with handmade tiles. Tile also was employed to adorn the walls, along with over 900 framed prints by artists such as Albrecht Durer and William Hogarth – part of a collection Mercer assembled from around the world and across the centuries.  
Beginning in 1908, Mercer spent two years and what was considered a fortune – more than $30,000 - building his castle, and two more years decorating every surface with tiles, prints and recycled architectural items. During the twenty years that he lived in Fonthill, Mercer wrote pamphlets and articles about concrete construction techniques. He also published books including Ancient Carpenter Tools, an illustrated reference book printed in 1929, and November Night Tales, a collection of short stories written in the style of Edgar Allen Poe. 
He worked in his favorite study where he placed four desks, one at each window, so that he could read or write wherever the light was best during the day. He read voraciously – his personal collection included more than 6,000 volumes in English, German, French, Greek, Latin, and Spanish, nearly all with margin notes in his own hand. If a book lacked an index or a glossary, the ever-tidy Mercer created one.
Subjects covered by his library include art, shipwrecks, supernatural events, landscaping, ghost stories, architecture, history, religion, travel and much more. His favorite novel was Dickens’s “The Pickwick Papers” and works like “The Arabian Nights” can be found in many languages, as can the Bible and the Quran.
Innovative designs, quirky furnishings and inspired ornamentation annually bring about 30,000 visitors to Fonthill where enthusiastic guides relate the stories and details that make it a vibrant museum. In 1975, The National Park Service declared Fonthill, the Mercer Museum (housing Mercer’s extensive tool collection) and the Moravian Tile Works (Mercer’s ceramic tile factory) to be National Historic Landmarks. The designation honors Mercer’s work in concrete construction techniques, as an archivist of antique tools and as a leader in the Arts and Crafts Movement in American ceramics. 
Mercer respected common laborers and their ordinary tools and materials saying that both the skill and the product comprised an anonymous history of the country, a people’s history deserving of respect. Faithful to those feelings, Mercer chose to die in The Spring Bedroom, a room decorated with tiles of workers.   
After spending time in his home, listening to knowledgeable guides delineate his accomplishments and looking at his collections, one easily develops admiration for Mercer and his work. Fonthill exists as a unique dwelling; the Mercer Museum is an irreplaceable preserve of tools; and the Moravian Tile works offers inspiration for ceramists. Henry Chapman Mercer was an exceptional individual with a sensibility in command of vast stores of knowledge, awareness, creativity and vision. 

Doylestown, Pa, is approximately 400 miles from Buffalo, with most of the driving on limited access highways.  Take Route I-90 East toward Syracuse.  Exit on I-690 and take the I-81 South exit toward Binghamton.  Take exit 194 toward Allentown and then travel on I-476 South.  Take the Mid-County Interchange exit and go 9 miles.  Take exit 343 towards Doyelstown.  Fonthill and the Moravian Tile Works are at East Court Street and Route 313 and the Mercer Museum is at 84 South Pine Street. Daily hours are subject to change, guides accompany all visitors, reservations suggested. Seasonal theme parties are year round.  For information call the Bucks County Historical Society at 215-348-9461, or visit the website. Lodging suggestions at Bucks County Visitors Bureau, or 215-639-0300. Admission charge. Onsite parking is free.

Moravian Tile Works 
Resembling a Spanish mission, the factory, like Fonthill itself, is constructed of concrete. The building surrounds a courtyard where work can be performed outdoors in good weather. The factory produces Mercer’s original tile designs using tools and techniques developed by him.  Moravian tiles are found throughout the country, including at the Boston Gardner Museum, the Pennsylvania State Capitol Building in Harrisburg, and the John D. Rockefeller Estate in Pocantico Hills, N.Y. 
The Mercer Museum

This museum contains Henry Mercer’s collection of tools and every day objects grouped by trade: for example, woodworking, metalwork, agriculture, and textiles. The constantly growing collection currently contains more than 50,000 tools and artifacts illustrating themes of early American social and economic history.