Historic Towns of Upstate New York

I miss museums. I miss the tiny voice of possibility that my daily travel daydream could become reality — that I could, theoretically, book a ticket today and be in a new city tomorrow. And I have really missed writing. It’s a creative outlet that I’ve come to love over the past few years just as much as the actual gallery visits and trips I experience. As the summer grew longer, racing toward September, I watched as so many of my museum friends in Europe returned to their beloved museums and began taking small trips. Safely testing these pandemic-ridden waters we now live in.

Whether it was seeing their museum visits or feeling restless at having not written for so long, something made me realize that I just had to be more creative about how I would find art. I’ve long believed that you can find beauty and art in just about anything, and it seemed well past time to take my own advice!

With just a few weeks left at the lake before moving back to Boston, we decided to drive further north and see what lay beyond northern Lake George. Places we could walk around and enjoy just as much as a museum.

Besides, driving around the northeastern US in the fall is stunning. Fall is my favorite season and everything feels extra alive and vibrant to me.

Our route took us up to Westport, winding our way along lake Champlain, catching glimpses of the water between fall colored branches.

For a sunny Saturday morning, the center of town was fairly quiet, except for one window that every person we did see made a point of stopping at.

I happened to look past the art gallery and noticed this intricately designed church bell tower down the street.


Just look at those details! Even the weathervane was over the top with flourishes.

Westport Heritage House

It was easy to see that we'd lucked out with Westport, where every building sported a different architectural style. Victorian, Adirondack, colonial, even revitalized warehouses.

The lovely couple who now own this home explained how it used to be one of the 'cottage' houses that were once available to rent for summer weeks. Only two of the original structures remain from the Westport Inn, which had tennis courts, pools, and other cottages dotted around several acres of lakefront property that now acts as the main town park.

After wandering through the parks, pointing out the old Victorian homes and quaint cottages, it seemed well worth checking out what everyone else had bee-lined for — JAMBS on Main. I only wish they'd been offering more food options because with coffee that good, I can only imagine what their baked goods are like!

The next stop was Essex—the sort of charming historic town that is created for movie and TV sets. I didn’t know they were so easy to find in real life!

I don't think we found any new construction in the town. Every building had been lovingly taken care of for decades or centuries, each retaining its unique history. Front porches, beautiful red brick, stonework from another time, original wooden double doors, something interesting to see at every corner.

Essex was a bit busier than Westport, buzzing with others who seemed to have the same idea we had of walking along the side streets solely to take in the charm of the town.

The historic Hickory Hill House, or the "Ross Mansion" was built in 1822 in the Federal style with the portico and subtle show of wealth.

Essex was our main stop of the day since I'd found out there are historic home landmarks on "Merchant Row", a stretch of the road just past the ferry and Old Dock that displays the old 19th century mansions of Essex's elite.

Harmon Noble House was built in 1835 and blends Federal and Greek styles of architecture.

On the other side of the driveway, an octagonal gazebo matches the house. This structure was actually a one-room school house.

Built in 1853, Greystone House is a perfect example of the Greek Revival style seen elsewhere in Essex. It wasn't clear if the house has been restored as a museum or as a private residence, but a single lamp on the entry table was visible through the open door.

Walking back into the main part of town, I looked to my left and noticed the words above this otherwise nondescript building.

"Iroquois Masonic Lodge" — another marker of Essex's rich history.

My advice in this uncertain time? Look into a few nearby towns that seem like they'll be nice to walk around for an afternoon. Find one with a coffee (or cookie) shop, and wander the streets enjoying the charm of the town.

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