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Time Traveler to New York's Cobblestone Country

By Sue Freeman

I sit in the plush dining area of the Cobblestone Restaurant in the Finger Lakes region of New York State, enjoying a fastidiously prepared meal. But, my mind wanders from the present. My gaze is fixed on the deep window well and recessed windows with wavy patterns in the glass. I'm not a 21st century woman. I'm a pioneer to the wilds of upstate New York.

My husband and I traveled by ox cart over muddy, rutted roads from Connecticut to build a farm in the frontier. Our land, purchased from the Holland Land Company, was covered in dense forest so our first task was to fell the trees and build a log cabin. On the cleared land we planted crops for our sustenance.

As we plowed the fields, we discovered they were full of fist-sized stones (or cobblestones), evidence that glaciers scoured this land before the forests grew. Those pesky rocks had to be moved out of the way, and as we plowed the cobbles seemed to multiply. It was hard work, but the land was productive and we were able to grow enough produce to feed our growing family.

Then the Erie Canal opened in 1825, creating a way to get our produce to larger markets. Our farming business flourished, enough so that we began to think about building a better home for our 10 children. Why not put those pesky cobblestones to use and build a dandy home - they were by golly, lying about free in the fields, just waiting to be gathered. And, my husband, children and I were certainly not strangers to hard labor.

So we began gathering the stones and we held bees with neighboring families to sort them into piles by size and shape. We figured we"d need about 15,000 cobbles. We had to dig and cart sand and buy quicklime from the limekiln a day's cart-ride away, to make our soft lime mortar. And we had to fell more trees and hew them into beams and boards to hand make the frames for our doors and windows.

Erecting the 16-inch thick stone walls was a slow process. It took us 3 years of hard labor to build our home. But, what a fine home - it has stood since 1827, a testament to our loving craftsmanship. (place farmhouse photo here)

Many of our neighbors built their homes of cobblestone - small farmhouses and grand village mansions. Plus they built churches, (place church photo here) stores, barns, taverns and even cemetery markers with the cobblestones. In all, over 700 cobblestone buildings were built within a 65-mile radius of Rochester, New York and nowhere else in the world. They were built between 1825 and 1860, before the Civil War. Each was a work of folk art; each unique. We were all proud of our homes built with many hours of sweat and labor.

I'm jolted back to the present as the waitress brings a coffee refill. I'm lucky to live in the 21st century where I can choose how to exert my labor. Having 10 children and building a cobblestone house from scratch will not be on my job list. But, touring to see the labors of others certainly is. After lunch at the Cobblestone Restaurant, I'm off on a driving tour to see some of the other unique structures built with cobblestones.

Because the cobblestone buildings are clustered in Western New York State, they lend themselves well to driving tours. The guidebook "Cobblestone Quest - Road Tours of New York's Historic Buildings offers 17 self-guided tours for viewing the diversity of cobblestone buildings. You can sleep in a cobblestone bed and breakfast, dine in a cobblestone restaurant and visit a cobblestone museum on your tours. No need to gather cobblestones beforehand though.

Cobblestone Restaurant:

Cobblestone Bed & Breakfast Inns:

(Great photos are available. Contact Sue at

About The Author
Sue Freeman's expertise is fun in the outdoors. She's the author of 11 guidebooks and 1 travel narrative, all aimed at enticing others to explore the outdoors. Sue escaped a corporate executive job in 1997 after 25 years, to follow her passion and has been spreading the word ever since. With a background in Medical Technology and a MBA in Marketing, writing would seem to be an unlikely career change. But, years of business writing combined with a love of the subject matter can be a powerful combination.

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