Vernacular architectual creativity in Upstate New York certainly does not end with a half forgotten pagoda in the heart of a rubble field. One of the more distinctive vernacular forms characteristic of our state are the cobblestone buildings of Western NY. On this site from the town of Phelps, the buildings are described:
"In fact, of the 1000+ cobblestone structures erected from Western NY into Wisconsin and Canada, 90% of them are within 75 miles of Rochester, NY (a mere 30 minute drive from Phelps). This was due in large part to the detritus left over from the glaciers, clearing of land for farming, the development of lime-based mortars, and the building of the Erie Canal from 1817 - 1825."While I was living in the village of Geneseo, south of Rochester, I would ocassionally note the cobblestone buildings in the surrounding countryside. Inside the village itself was an old school, now the local historical museum, entirely made from cobblestone. To think of the incredible effort it took to transport the thousands of cobbles into their place and fit them into a level wall (could you do it?) is humbling.
To me though, the real lesson the buildings teach is not one of humility, but instead one of inspiration. These pioneers were working with the materials at hand to solve their problems. They took what appeared to be a major problem (too many stones in their fields) and not only solved the problem of stones, but also that of a need for good housing. In their work, they created aesthetically pleasing and incredibly durable structures. Can we take inspiration from their work and turn the problems and supposed draw-backs of our communities into assets? Can we create a new local idiom that expresses our creative and artistic sides while at the same time providing for generations of our descendents?
Recently, the Landmark Society of Western New York has released a book entitled Cobblestone Quest which details some of these fascinating buildings and bike/car tours in the Rochester region to visit them. For those who want to get into one of these buildings, you can visit the Cobblestone Restaurant (c. 1800s) in Geneva , the Maxwell Creek Inn (1846) in Sodus or the Jackson School B & B (1829) in Lyons. All of these are Upstate owned businesses that could use support. For those of you who want to get involved in building, restoring and protecting cobblestone buildings, you can find no better friend and resource than the Cobblestone Society, good people working hard to protect their traditions and reinvigorate their communities.
Posted by Jesse