By Sandra Scott
Nestled in the Black River Valley between the Adirondack Mountains and Tug Hill is a county where nature rules. Lewis County may not be on the travel radar for most people but, besides unspoiled woodlands, lakes, and rivers, there are many “gems” waiting to be discovered. Explore the wonderful surprises in this quiet corner of New York state. Lewis County is an all-season destination, a great place to get off the rat race and renew the mind and spirit.
1. Nature: Commune with nature in Whetstone Gulf State Park. The park is built in and around a three-mile gorge cut into the eastern edge of the Tug Hill Plateau. There are campsites, a man-made swimming area and trails, one of which circles the gorge. It is great for hiking and cross-country skiing. Rent a cabin on Lake Bonaparte named for Joseph Bonaparte, former King of Spain and brother of Napoleon, who purchased the land in 1818. Today this quiet lake is the perfect summer getaway with a marina, campground and rental cottages.
2. History: Constable Hall is an historic time capsule. The limestone mansion, built in 1810, was the family home for five generations. Fortunately, Constable Hall has much of its original furniture. The hall itself has remained unchanged in plan and architectural detail through the passing years. The beautifully restored 1896 Pine Grove Church with a unique interior is a non-denominational facility accessible to the general public. The General Walter Martin Mansion, also known as Greystone Manor, is being restored by the local historical society. Martin was an officer in the War of 1812, a mill owner, a politician, and the founder and promoter of Martinsburg. The Martinsburg Historical Society is restoring a one-room schoolhouse.
3. Museums: There are several small museums. In Lyons Falls visit the Pharmacy Museum located in the back of a working pharmacy and then the Storms-Bailey House Museum. Learn all about maple syrup production at the Maple Museum in Croghan; also in Croghan is the Railroad Museum. In the quiet Tug Hill town of Osceola is the North American Fiddlers Hall of Fame and Museum where visitors can enjoy free concerts on Sundays from the end of May until the end of September. The Mennonite Heritage Farm in Kirschnerville was home to three generations of the Moser family. The farm preserves the religious heritage of the Mennonite community. The historical society on Main Street in Lowville sometimes has displays and is the place for historical research.
4. For foodies: No visit to Lewis County is complete without enjoying Croghan Bologna which has been made since 1888 by the Croghan Meat Market using a secret recipe. It is uniquely Lewis County. All manner of cheese is made locally and can be purchased at the Lowville Producers Cheese Store along with locally produced maple syrup. You can’t miss it. Next to it visitors will find a statue of a giant cow donning sunglasses. Don’t miss the county’s only winery, Tug Hill Winery, where they also have seasonal u-pick berries.
5. Sports: The county is perfect for those who wish to commune with nature regardless of the season. Lewis County gets 200-300 feet of snow annually making a winter paradise. Winter is the time for downhill skiing at Snow Ridge where there are 21 runs. Cross-country skiers may use Snow Ridge’s lifts to access the cross-country trails located on the state land behind the resort. Cross-country ski or snowmobile through the woods on hundreds of miles of groomed trails. There are over 600 miles of free-access snowmobile trails. The Otter Creek Horse Trail near Glenfield has 65 miles of interlocking trails. The fishing is great and so is the boating.
6. Shopping: Several shops on Main Street in Lowville — including Yellowjack Custom Designs — offer products that are locally made. They have everything from signs to tables. They also custom make items. Nearby are Cozy Country Corner, Marguerite’s Cranberry Emporium and Entwined Treasures. The Old Meat Market Gallery has items from 75 local artists. Nolt’s Country Store has an eclectic connection of items for sale including food and handicrafts made by the local Mennonite community. In Copenhagen, check out the Amish Connection for furniture, gifts and home decorations.
7. Events: The first fair in Lewis County was held in 1821. In 1871 the Lewis County Fair made its permanent home in Lowville. It claims to be the oldest continuously operating agricultural fair in the United States. The fair offers all the traditional fair activities including a parade, fireworks, and demolition derby. Not to miss is Freeman’s Old Style Taffy — in 22 flavors. It has been in business for 121 years, in the same location, and run by the same family. There are many seasonal events such as the Cream Cheese Festival in the fall.
8. Fun: In Croghan stop at Good Ol’ Wishy’s old-fashioned soda fountain for an “Adirondack Sized Cone” or for a root beer float. Go picking at Denmark Gardens Apple Orchard or Tug Hill Winery for seasonal fruits. The BarkEater Craft Brewery in Lowville brews small batches of artisanal ales and other brews. The owner, an artist, used his skill to make the brewery an interesting place to visit. Maple Ridge Center offers tubing also with seasonal events like a Blue Grass Festival. Kaleidoscope Studio in Lowville offers fun art and craft classes.
9. Unique: You can’t miss them; the skyline is dotted with windmills. The constant lake-effect winds and the wide open farmland of Lewis County make the Tug Hill region an ideal place for New York’s largest wind energy farm. The Maple Ridge Wind Farm with 195 wind turbines supplies enough clean energy to meet the annual electrical needs of 140,000 New York homes.
10. Driving about: Each spring the Cooperative Extension creates a maple tour with stops at sugar shanties. Lewis County is in the center of The Black River Scenic Byway. The 111-mile scenic byway extends from Rome to Ogdensburg past beautiful scenery and historical places. In the fall the chamber of commerce organizes a Fall Foliage do-it-yourself driving tour. Create your own driving or walking tour through the shaded streets of Lowville where there are historic houses, buildings and churches in a variety of architectural styles.