A project of Zach van Schouwen.


Richfield Springs, New York

Several months ago, I drove to Toronto on a whim. Just hopped in the car and did it, without the convenient excuse of a blog to make such a thing acceptable. I didn't have much of a purpose in mind; I just wanted to be on the road for awhile. The weather was nice and I had a couple days when nobody really needed me to be at work.

From Albany, I drove west on Route 20 for a few hundred miles, rather than taking the Thruway. The Thruway always inspires me to rage, and is full of police officers besides. Route 20, on the other hand, is one of the oldest roads across the state, and looks it; it's littered with abandoned shacks, beautiful old houses, and decaying street signs and towns.

Upstate New York used to be America's heartland. The Erie Canal was one of the first major routes inland in America, and the previously unnavigable route that it opened up caused a massive boom of settlement from New York City to Rochester. Settlers poured into the upstate region from Ireland, Germany, and the East Coast. My own family came to Fulton this way, driven by promises of industry.

The region is now agglomerated into the Rust Belt, and the old canal is mostly decommissioned; pieces of it line the sides of Route 12 and the thruway, and you can walk in abandoned canal locks, now facing dilapidated trailers and ranch houses. But Richfield Springs is an oasis of former prosperity. Every house looks like Edward Hopper painted it, and the four block stretch of the main drag is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful places where you could set foot in America. An ambitious town built in ambitious times, it's one of the high points of Upstate's Victorian-era splendor.

Get there: From Albany, drive west on Route 20 for 68 miles.

No comments: