Miles to Date: 976
May 22, 2015 – Sunny, 60 degrees
The history of the Chemung Valley can be described in four phases: before settlers, after Corning, before the flood, and after the flood. The flood occurred on June 23, 1972, but for many it is fresh as yesterday.
I spent a day as tourist in Corning. After a big breakfast I got a private tour of the Patterson Inn by Events Coordinator Pat Monahan. The Inn was built in 1796, one of three built in this region to accommodate settlers coming north from Philadelphia and New York to tame the land between the New York line and Lake Ontario. It is the centerpiece of Heritage Village of the Southern Finger Lakes, which also includes a restored schoolhouse, blacksmith shop, barn and log cabin. The Inn is beautifully restored with period furnishings and accessories, as well as one of the most intricate looms I’ve seen.
From there I passed Corning headquarters in the center of downtown. The company took the town’s name when it moved from Brooklyn to this rail hub closer to coal sources essential for glass furnaces, and then the company put the city of Corning on the map. The Corning Museum of Glass (CMOG), like so many places in Corning, marks the high water line of the 1972 flood that changed Corning and its sister city Elmira forever. Both cities downtowns were completely underwater, and each has addressed significant reconstruction.
I met with CMOG’s Director of Communication, Yvette Sterbenk, and Chief Scientist, Glen Cook, to talk about tomorrow. Afterward I toured the galleries, which are housed in four interconnected buildings dating from the 1970’s to this year. The span of the collection is tremendous, a balance between demonstrating glass’ technical attributes and artistic possibilities. The new addition by Thomas Phifer is stunning and worth a visit alone, but don’t miss the rest. I met an assortment of people, including a transitioning transgendered person who had incredible ideas about tomorrow.
I didn’t leave Corning until after 4, and had my easiest cycling day in every respect. The weather was perfect, the wind at my back, and the road through the Chemung Valley a gentle slope. Of course, it was only 20 miles, so that made it easy as well!
I had a delicious dinner with my warmshowers hosts Paul Kingsbury and Wanda Tocci, along with Paul’s father, Paul. That made three Paul’s. Paul Jr. owns a local bike shop and gave the Surly Long Haul Trucker a once over – the Crown Victoria of bicycles is holding up like a charm. Wanda and Paul live above the shop, in a cool penthouse with a roof deck that would fetch millions in Manhattan. Paul opened his bike shop in 1981, when he was twenty years. This led him to quip that tomorrow would be just like every other day for the past thirty years, but that’s definitely not true. There was a lively energy to our foursome. Not only because we had good food and wine and companionship, but the other two Paul’s possess a zest many 50+ and 80+ year old guys lack. I figured it had to do with romance. Paul and Wanda have been married less than a year, while Paul’s dad, widowed a few years ago, is “communicating every day” with a woman he met on Match.com. With so much good vibe in the present, we didn’t spend much time talking about tomorrow at all.
I hitchhiked through Elmira, Painted Post and Corning in July 1972 right after the flood and stayed about a month to help with the clean up. The towns looked like the photos of Texas from the last few days, with trees in the street, downed power lines, and everything covered with a thin film of dirt.
If you have a chance, get some soft serve ice cream in Wells, NY– you’re in dairy country and it is the best I ever had.
Jon – It was bizarre to be in Johnstown while the TV’s were full of flood images. I missed the soft serve in Wells, but have been having some very good ice cream along the way. Hope all is well with you.
Just another reason not to live in Texas, in case you needed one. Sounds like you’re making good progress thru the Western Tier. Best of luck across the heartland,
Thanks, Jon. Making good progress and meeting incredible people.