If you ever find yourself in Wampsville, and run out of things to do, I have a suggestion.
You might think,
as I did,
that living as we do,
or at least,
lives we can photoshop into something presentable,
and not having the faintest idea where it is,
it’s not likely
you’d ever end up
But we never really know what twist of fate is in store, or is perhaps back-ordered, just waiting to unload on us, when we take a wrong turn.
Yesterday, I happened upon Wampsville, about seventy miles east of my hometown, on my way to a nearby state forest.
Turns out, it’s a real place, bustling with 534 residents, right on NY Route 5. I’ve never driven too far on that road, because it’s mostly two-lane, slowing down for lots of little villages, and basically parallels the Thruway, which is a heck of of lot faster way to cross the state.
For a 67 mile stretch, including my village, Route 5 is a fellow traveler with U.S. Route 20, and “5 & 20” is a scenic tour of mostly farmland and small-town America. In the days of the Iroquois Confederacy, the route was a path from the Hudson Valley to Lake Erie, and later, it took settlers and soldiers to what was called “The Niagara Frontier” in the early days of this country.
As a boy, in the 1930’s, one of my grandfathers used to travel along it, going to visit relatives in Detroit.
This road has kind of defined quite a stretch of my life, too. I grew up a few minutes walk from “5 & 20” and one of my grandmothers lived in Avon, at one end of the combined route. My first experience as a museum docent was at the Seward House in Auburn, the other end. Someday, when I’ve got a few weeks, I’d like to drive the length of Rte 20 – – 3,365 miles, from Boston, Mass. to Newport, Oregon.
Despite it’s bantam size, Wampsville is in fact the county seat for Madison County.
(Which has 124 bridges, if that topic comes up.)
(And 143 large-size culverts, if Streep & Eastwood make a sequel)
It’s mostly rural – – the Chobani yogurt company is based there, and although it uses at least 25 million gallons of milk, each week, it’s a myth that cows outnumber people in the county.
People hold a least a 2-to-1 edge.
Like the county I grew up in, the old-time residents couldn’t agree on which town would be honored as the county seat.
The solution in my county, was to have two county seats, and build courthouses in each, which they still maintain. I believe they finally settled on Waterloo as the primary county seat, but I could be wrong, and don’t care to inquire. The one time I asked a local official, during a Memorial Day gathering, he wandered off into an endless legalistic history of the “two-shire system,” etc. and I woke up two days later from a coma-like state, with a headache and no memory of the entire weekend.
Madison County picked the town of Cazenovia as its HQ in 1810, but then five years later pitched camp in Morrisville, and stayed there for over ninety years, even though they had to rebuild after the Loomis Gang burned down the courthouse in 1864. But in 1907, when several towns competed for the honor, John Coe stepped up & offered his apple orchard in Wampsville as a site for a new courthouse, and that settled it.
There are two theories about the name.
The first, was that a large “S” went missing from the original village signboard, and those thrifty 19th c. Dutch and Yankee settlers didn’t want to purchase a new one. They figured it would turn up, by and by, and eventually found they could get along fine without “Swampsville.”
In the second (and real) version, the town was named for Myndert Wemple, descended from an old New Netherlands family, but at some point, people decided Wempleville or Wempsville sounded funny, and wisely opted for Wampsville instead.
It just has more “oomph” to it.
So anyways, to return to the original point, if you’re in Wampsville but if there’s no trial on, I’d recommend driving due south to Buck’s Corners, and Stoney Pond State Forest.
(And that is the way they spell it, “stoney.” I just read that most people spelled it that way, prior to 1850, and it’s still an accepted variant in Webster’s.)
This is a relatively small state forest, less than 1500 acres, but it has a nice 44-acre pond, and a smaller beaver pond, too.
There are miles of pleasant trails, through mixed pine/hemlock/maple woods, and sometimes with views toward distant hills covered with windmills.
Volunteers groom the trails in winter for cross-country skiing.
This was eroded farmland, reforested in the ’40’s and ’50’s. The area began being farmed by settlers of European stock beginning in the 1790’s. This mossy old stone wall, mostly intact, runs for at least a mile through the woods.
This flower was tiny but beautiful. I think it’s Polygalaides Pauciflora (please correct me if that’s wrong!). As formal names go, that’s pretty musical-sounding.
It’s common name, “Bird-On-The-Wing” is also great, and “Flowering Wintergreen” & “Fringed Polygala” are OK too.
Then things go downhill a bit, with “Fringed Milkwort” which is a bit odd-sounding, like a disease, but apparently in the old days, they’d feed this plant to cows, to increase milk production.
It would make a nice picture, to see a farmer offering a bouquet of these to the herd.
Leaving the forest, and taking a more direct route back to the highway, you’ll pass through Peterboro, and the remnants of the 19th c. Gerrit Smith estate.
I’ll leave Gerrit for another day, but he was a fascinating guy, who ran for President three times, and used his fortune to support abolition, temperance, women’s suffrage, integrated colleges, non-sectarian religion, John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry, and probably a dozen other causes I can’t bring to mind.
The ocher-colored building above (1830) was the laundry for the estate.
Well, lots of interesting stuff, it turns out, I hope to poke around this area again some time.
41 thoughts on “Walks Around Upstate New York. May. Stoney Pond State Forest”
This is a lovely part of the world. That tiny flower is exquisite! The color and the tiny white whiskers on it. I also like that old building.We used to have something similar at the south end of our road. It had been an inn back in the day.Sadly it was torn down a few years ago. The land is now owned by the government and I don’t think they wanted to restore it.
Thank you, Anne. I’m surprised the gov’t didn’t want to restore that building, it sounds like it would’ve been really interesting. this laundry building looks like it was in pretty bad shape, they had pictures of it, unpainted and covered with vines.
The main house, the mansion, burned down in the 1930s I think, but there’s a little brick land office building in excellent shape.
this is the first time I’ve ever seen that tiny flower!
Don’t believe I’ve ever even heard of Wampsville. After looking at a map, I see that I passed within a mile of the place one or twice on the Thruway—and I’ve eaten Chobani yogurt.
I think Cazenovia should hold a yearly festival in honor of Casanova. Along those lines, whatever happens in Cazenovia stays in Cazenovia. And once a year Wampsville can temporarily change its name to Swampsville for a festival promoting what are now called wetlands but used to be called swamps.
These are good promotional ideas, Steve. Wampsville might actually go for that! But Cazenovia is kind of the upscale neighborhood, probably a little snooty. I read the Wikipedia entry on Theophilus Cazenove, a Dutch speculator. One of his buddies, Gerrit Boon, was also interested in NY, and came to start a sugar refinery, which wouldn’t need slaves or sugarcane plantations, on the theory he could get the maple syrup year-round. I don’t know how long it took to figure out that wasn’t going to work.
I didn’t know about Cazenove. One website confirms that that family name of French origin really does correspond to Casanova. And how about this ringing endorsement from the Wikipedia article: “Cazenove is a sad dirty fellow and does all the mischief he can.” Hmm. Now I’m not so sure a Sad Dirty Fellow’s Mischief Festival would draw many attendees. On the other hand, a title like that might attract throngs of people.
Sounds like a real draw! 😎
Stoney Pond looks really lovely. So does pauciflora. All told, what kind of walk did you make out of the trails? Did you get your mom, dad or sister to go with you? I could really use a longer stroll someplace like this. Wampsville sounds like it’s in the Dagobah System. I went to school with a couple Wemple boys. They lived right by the train tracks next to the refrigerator shack where I used to unload fifty pound bags of carrots off the train cars, it’d take hours and hours but it felt wonderful in there on a humid Michigan summer’s day.
Yep, my sister and I hike, and then periodically go back to find out where our folks have wandered off the trail. Mostly because mom always brings granola bars and fruit, etc. That’s cool you knew some kids named Wemple, I wonder if they’re related. I hadn’t ever heard of Myndert Wemple, but it looks like the family used that name for many generations. One of them got killed during the French/Mohawk attack on Schenectady, one was in the Revolution, etc. I think this one was a farmer.
Did you really unload carrots off train cars by hand? No forklifts, etc?
We unloaded them by hand…….onto pallets. Then the forklifts came and took them away. Wholesalers sent a lot of stuff (whether by train or tractor trailer) that they didn’t bother putting on pallets.
Schenectady sounds really familiar, like a minor league baseball town.
Wow, that’s a long day w/50 lb sacks.
I can’t think of any teams, Troy has a team next door. But if you say it fast, Schenectady sounds exactly like a sneeze, maybe that’s it?
It used to a huge G.E. town, something like 30,000 workers or more, making huge generators, helicopter engines, jet engines I think, all kinds of stuff, 100’s of acres, with its own fire department, etc. Probably 1/10th that working there now.
What a wonderful countryside – so lush and green. 🙂
Thank you, Pit, yes it’s great to see all this green! We had quite a wait this year, but it’s lush right now, and summer temperatures.
After a few rainy days it’s nice and green here, too. Plus absolutely “un-Texan” temperatures. 🙂
I love finding the remains of human endeavour slowing being reclaimed by nature. That mossy old wall looking every bit an organic part of the Forest is beautiful.
Wampsville is a wonderful name, and the fact it became county town after Joe Coe offered up his apple orchard for a courthouse after a gang burned the last one down sounds like a Springsteen lyric from one of his downbeat acoustic albums.
A place to wander the woods with the ghosts of old ways.
That’s pretty good, the Springsteen idea, does sound like Nebraska, or maybe “Darlington County.”
I like seeing nature reassert itself, too, but every time I see these walls, I think about the incredible amount of labor those oldtime farmers put into this. And it must have been hard for their descendants in the ’30’s -‘ 40’s to walk away from all that. But on a happier note, the erosion has ended, and the land has recovered quite a bit by now, lots of deer, turkeys, toads, etc..
Oh, I totally agree. It’s important we do let nature recover, but it seems rather arbitrary, unfair even in how we choose where and where not to do that.
It does seem like a random and arbitrary process in some ways. As far as I know, and I haven’t read much about the gov’t programs, the land purchases for these forests were voluntary, unless they were creating a reservoir for drinking water or flood control. In the ’50’s, the Army Corps of Engineers built a big flood/hydroelectric dam on the Allegheny, that flooded 10,000 acres of the Seneca Indian Reservation in NY and Pennsylvania. They moved the Seneca out, and burned their houses. To be fair, Pittsburgh was going under twenty feet sometimes, before the dam.
I like these areas better now, that they’re allowing a more natural mix of trees & scrub, very careful patchwork logging in some places, and even rough pasture. NY has tree cover on something approaching 2/3 of it’s acreage now.
I’m not sure if I ever was aware of route 20. It goes completely across the USA? Driving its length would be an amazing road trip.
It sounds fun, doesn’t it?
This looks really beautiful. Love the photos! Thanks for sharing. Greetings from London.
Thank you, cheers, glad to hear from a fellow history buff, I took a quick look at your travel-on-a-budget pieces and see lots of interesting stuff, I’ll plan on reading some of the travel posts this evening.
Thank you good sir! That would be great. You’re welcome any time my friend.
I don’t think I’ve ever driven 20, even just a section, but I did make a trip across the US on Highway 2: from North Dakota to Washington State. Two of the longest north/south highways in the country (US83 and US87) cut through Texas, and they’re great fun.
If the marketers had been in charge, they might have called it ‘Whompsville.’ Now, that has clout. I especially like your photos of the trails, and the mossy wall. Yes, of course I thought of Robert Frost, although I didn’t have a sense that his walls, mended or not, were mossy. Ihopehe had flowers as pretty as that Bird on the Wing. If Leonard Cohen had seen that, “Bird on the Wire” might have had a different set of lyrics.
Yes! I like “Whompsville” even better, or we could go with “Whoompsville”
Once in a while I hear a song from a ’90’s hiphop/rap group from Atlanta, Tag Team, “Whoomp There It Is” which is pretty silly but will probably be played on sports programs for all eternity.
I’ve seen, but haven’t read yet, a book “Blue Highways” about a driving trip in a huge loop around the country, in 1978 (I just looked it up, I hadn’t realized it was that long ago) so he crossed the continent twice, on 2ndary roads, taking pictures with a Kodak Instamatic (so I’m guessing they’re a little fuzzy!) Man, I have so many books to read!
Blue Highways is marvelous! It was the first of Least Heat-Moon’s books that I read. Then, he went on to write Prairy Erth, which is a deep, deep dive into Chase County, Kansas: home of the Tallgrass Prairie. Much of my roaming around that territory was with his book in hand — or at least in the back seat, and in my lodgings at night.
One of my friends took the most wonderful photo of him when he and Q were back in Chase County for an event. Tom’s post and our conversation was great fun to read again, and the photo’s a gem. I think you’ll enjoy it.
Thank you, I did enjoy it, what a thrill to look at your photos and find you’ve got an image like that one. I enjoyed reading your comments, too.
Thank you for the tour through the Stoney Pond State Park! It is definitely a place to which one would like to return not just for more beautiful pictures but to relax and take in its serene atmosphere.
Thank you Peter, I’m looking forward to getting back there.
It must be really beautiful there. Excellent landscapes and scenery.
Thank you, there are a lot of beautiful areas in this state. And are you in the Balkans? I’ve never been there, but it has a reputation of beauty. My grandparents visited Split on a cruise, years ago, and it was very picturesque. I’ve seen pictures of Durmitor Nat’l Park, and it looks wonderful, too.
You got the flower’s ID correct. I think I posted one a little earlier this month. Most of the Quabbin watershed is cleared of human evidence but there are also a few spots where there are remnants. One was a very large link chain that may have been from the clearing equipment when all the houses and business were being dismantled before the flooding.
The town’s name is remindful of course of Hooterville for its rustic flavor but also, more locally, of Pudding Hollow, a “suburb” of Hawley, Ma…also not a burgeoning metropolis.. Surprisingly it isn’t the only one with Minerva, NY, near Lake George, also having a community with that name. Sounds like it should be in Middle Earth.
That looks like pleasant countryside for a meander, both on-road and on-path.
I have been on the Oregon side of US 20, between Bend in central OR and Newport on the coast. It’s nice, mostly mountain roads except a section in the Willamette Valley. I may have been on other sections as well in the dim and distant past.
I like your version for the name of the town. With all the revisionist history being attempted these days maybe you should propose it. 😉
Dave, if you started in Newport and drove east at 61 MPH, and I started in Boston and drove west at the same speed, we would meet up in Grand Island, Nebraska.
That’s where the first sugar beet processing plant in the U.S. was built!!!
There’s probably other exciting stuff, but as soon as I got that far in the Wikipedia entry, I was sold! What do you say?
Well, first step, I’d have to borrow a car, but since it’s Boston, I guess it’s traditional to just boost one. I’ll give you a call when that part is accomplished.
Wait a minute, that’s not route 20. I’ll work on this plan a little more when I have a map.
That’d be one way to see the country. But then, if you boosted a car you might have to go faster than 61…
I think I first encountered the notion of sugar beets from that part of the country in the book “Centennial”, by James Michener. (It’s been years, odd how that factoid stuck.)
I haven’t read that one, I like his books, even if they tend to be pretty long, and even if they’re fictional, they always have good history and details. It’s funny to have sugar beets lodged in your head, I carry around his recipes for “she-oyster” and “he-oyster” stew from “Chesapeake.” Man, now I’m hungry, I could go for some chowder right now.
Oh, the Fringed polygala, I’ve heard of that but I’ve never seen one – great find, beautiful photo. (I saw Steve’s photo of one recently, too). The last photo is a gem. Love that building, and the angle you used for the photo. That kind of thing makes me miss living back east. There’s not much that old around here, other than the trees and rocks.
But I’m confused…Wampsville on “my” google map is up on Rt. 5. Straight south of it, I see Morrisville is on Rt. 20. I had close friends there. I visited them a number of times back in the ’80s & ’90s. She worked in “Caz.” It’s beautiful country. I get your dream of following that road as far as you could…my brother, who lives in northern VT, threatens to follow Rt. 2 all the way out here. We have a Rt. 20 too, a state route, and we’re just off it. I use it almost daily.
A culvert sequel – I’ll put you in charge of that project.
🙂 Always enjoyable, Robert!!
Oh my gosh, I have to fix that, this is why I’m always driving an extra hundred miles. 5 & 20 are the same highway to me, they run together for 67 miles, from Auburn to Avon. I forgot which one was which, I was on both that day. I came back through Caz, it’s a beautiful place, a couple of years ago I went through the Lorenzo mansion, where the land agent lived, who sold off 135,000 acres of NY for a Dutch company.
That old laundry building was a great color, wasn’t it? The main house burned down in the ’30’s, and the aviary fell down, etc. but still a few buildings on the site.
Robert, thanks for sharing your pointed observations. Reference to Stoney Pond caught my attention––Friends of Stoney Pond (FROSTY) volunteers have transformed the trail network into year-round use for non-motorized recreation, notably groomed trails for xc-skiing. Your photography is captivating. Thank you for capturing, and in a way, preserving, the beauty of CNY. – Peter Radosta, FROSTY President
Thank you Peter, and I’m glad you took my tongue-in-cheek commentary in stride. That’s wonderful that you and your group have created an opportunity to experience such a beautiful area in the wintertime!