Route 20, and its various past incarnations, makes up one of the oldest existing roads in upstate New York. All along its much-traversed length, 18th, 19th, and 20th century architecture stand in mute testimony to the history that has played out over the several hundred miles from the Massachusetts to the Pennsylvania borders. Old inns, many with the typical half oval window on the uppermost floor, look back to the days when stagecoaches were common on 20 and other roads that have since become major highways.
Driving down Route 20 today, on a section such as Skaneateles to LaFayette or Cazenovia to Morrisville, where there are few houses and fewer stores or other public buildings, one thinks how long such a trip would have seemed in the days before the automobile changed the face of our roads forever. How lonesome the few houses must have felt on a stormy winter night. How excited these isolated homesteads must have been, early in the state’s history, when a postal rider came through, bringing them news of the rest of the world and letters from family far away.
One wonders, as well, if the inhabitants of Route 20’s farms, villages, and towns were disappointed or relieved when first the Erie Canal, then the railroads, and finally the NYS Thruway all bypassed them about 20 miles north in most parts of the state. Were they sorry that they would miss out on the commerce and traffic these upstate corridors brought in, or were they thankful that their small towns would not be transformed into bigger cities the way Rochester and Syracuse have been? Certainly many of the small towns on Route 20 have managed to retain their 19th century charm every bit as much as the canal towns farther to the north.
A discerning traveler who has driven 20 for any great distance might be struck by the disparities along the course of the road. So many different things may be seen without ever turning off this well-beaten path. The great expanse of Lake Erie all along the western section. The flat, well-farmed lands from Buffalo to Rochester. The Finger Lakes, many of which touch 20 on their northern ends. The hills and valleys of central New York, left by the great glaciers. The Catskill Mountains, which are visible to the south in the Capitol Region. To the east, the great bridges spanning the Hudson River. And all along the way, the factories and traffic of the cities and the authentic early storefronts of the small towns such as Cazenovia that, were you to replace the tarmac and cars with horses and buggies, would look much as they did 100 years ago.
It seems somehow appropriate that this early American roadway now be known in some places as a haven for the antique hunter. The annual Madison-Bouckville Antique Show draws more traffic in a few days than that particular stretch of 20 sees in the rest of the year combined. Seneca Falls, Geneva, Canandaigua, Cazenovia, Skaneateles – drive through any of them on Route 20 and find a combination of charming older storefronts and magnificent 19th century architecture. Drive from Skaneateles to LaFayette in autumn and take your pick of apple orchards with fresh cider and pastries as well as gifts and more antiques.
As one of the first byways to cut through the center of NYS all the way from the east to the west border, Route 20 has been an important part of the state’s history. Were it able to tell us the tales of the travelers and changes it has seen, what fascinating stories they would beÃ¢Â?Â¦.