Exploring Southwestern New York

(This column was first published in the July 22, 2001 Buffalo News.)

    Last week I spent two days biking (by moped) through the lovely countryside of the southwestern corner of New York State.

    I will share some of my pleasant experiences with you but first I digress to point out how geographical designations can be confusing. If the "south" in "southwestern New York State" is stressed, you could be talking about Staten Island. In my case, however, the "west" is more important. I was in the far corner of Chautauqua County beyond Jamestown. Purists, in order to highlight the difference, might prefer to call this westsouth New York. Another example of this directional confusion is offered by the nearby town of North East, Pennsylvania. Clearly the "north" is stressed in the name of that village near Erie. Most of us would think of northeast Pennsylvania as east of Binghamton near Delaware County, New York.

    My peregrinations carried me through the townships of French Creek, Clymer, Harmony and Busti, a sparsely populated region whose acreage is about evenly divided between farm fields and woodlands. I even visited the state corner on a steep downslope along the gravel State Line Road. This is high country, its elevation over a thousand feet greater than that of Buffalo, and I was offered many breathtaking panoramas to the north.

Sparsely populated perhaps, but when I stopped for breakfast at the Dutch Inn in the tiny village of Clymer I immediately understood why I saw so few people outside -- they were all in here. I shoehorned myself into the last vacant table where I was prepared to wait for service -- two waitresses were caring for about sixty people. To my pleasant surprise, however, I was served promptly and enjoyed good food including home-baked bread. My ears were tuned through the meal to the happy chatter of friendly neighbors. Take the word of an admitted non-expert, don't bypass this restaurant if you are within miles of this area. The atmosphere is even better than the food.

    Later I visited Panama Rocks in the village of Panama. (When I called my wife to tell her where I was, she asked if I was consorting with Noriega's henchmen.) I had wanted to see this unusual site since it was first recommended to me by friends years ago. A remarkable geological formation -- huge boulders piled on a steep hillside like tumbled children's blocks -- it is quite unexpected in this rolling countryside.

    I followed the mile-long trail that took me first down below the rocks and then back up along the top of the formation past such features as Devil's Den, Ice Cave Crevice and Castle Rock. Almost as impressive as the boulders are exposed tree roots that explore the rocks seeking the few deposits of nutrient-bearing soil. Some of the roots are longer than the tree trunks they support. Also interesting are many ferns and mosses. This is well worth the drive from Buffalo. (For additional information, browse the excellent Panama Rocks website.)

    As I often do on outings, I stopped in a cemetery -- this one near the village of Boomertown -- to examine grave markers for local history. Some were too old and worn to read but several traced the early history of the rightly-named Wellman family. Homer lived 72 years, 1786-1858; his wife Charlotte 94 years, 1786-1880. Still earlier were Barnabas 91 years, 1726-1817; and his wife Lois 66 years, 1757-1823. Were these parents or grandparents? Even if these elders moved here late in life, they were here during the earliest days of this country. (Note: For an update on the Wellman family, see a 2004 column.)

    My trip reinforced once again my wonder at our rich and varied environment and history.-- Gerry Rising