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.