Lewiston, NY: Small Town, Big History

March 25, 2013

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This may sound strange coming from a girl who’s spent most of the past decade living overseas, but I’ve always dreamed of moving to some small town in America.

You know, the kind of town with a quaint little Main Street that’s lined with family-owned businesses, cute cafes and that one bar where everyone hangs out after work.

The kind of town where everyone smiles and greets you when you walk down the sidewalk.

The kind of town where everyone in the local bakery knows your name and what kind of pie you want and doesn’t make a big deal about it if you happen to replace all your meals with pie for a week because it’s just this thing you’re doing right now, okay?

Breakfast, lunch, & dinner. COVERED.

Breakfast, lunch, & dinner. COVERED.

In this dream, the locals would be a loveable, ragtag bunch – a mix of down-to-Earth good people and offbeat, quirky folks.

Of course, at first they would be wary of me and my big city ways. (What? I’m from Buffalo. It’s a big city. Kind of.)

But slowly they would come to embrace me as one of their own. Especially after I save the local bowling alley. And cure the high school football star from a nasty mystery illness. And, then, there would be an on-again, off-again romance with a certain, feisty airplane pilot.

If this all sounds a bit familiar it’s probably because I was more than a little bit obsessed with Northern Exposure when I was in high school. And then Ed. Do we all remember Ed? Omigod, I had such a crush on Ed. And, yes, it’s possible I’ve watched more than a few episodes of Hart of Dixie lately. Why do you ask?

I’ve obviously yet to fulfill my TV-dramedy-induced dreams of moving to Small Town, USA. Probably, because, well, I’ve been a bit too busy moving to Big Huge Massive City of Four Million People That No One Has Ever Heard Of, China.

Yeah, not quite small-town America.

Yeah, not quite small-town America.

But I do so enjoy visiting small towns in the States and imagining what my life might be like if I lived there.

On my recent visit to Lewiston, NY, I got to do just that.

Located a mere fifteen minutes away from Niagara Falls, Lewiston is pretty much the perfect American small town.

And it has been for some time.

Established in 1822, after hundreds of years of Native American and European settlement, Lewiston has a whole lot of history jam-packed into its tiny circumference.

In fact, it seemed like half of the buildings in the town had plaques outside of them boasting exactly how historic they were.

Ooo, historical.

Ooo, historical.

And the other half of the buildings had signs on them telling people that they were private residences. You know you’re living in a historic town when you have to put a sign on your house that says, “Sorry, guys, this is not a museum. It’s just my house. And you can’t come in. Move along now.”

Before hitting up the town’s downtown area, I stopped by one of Lewiston’s main attractions — the Our Lady of Fatima Shrine.
 
Our Lady of Fatima Shrine

Our Lady of Fatima Shrine

Started in 1963, the shrine is stunning with its glass-domed basilica, topped with a thirteen-foot tall statue of Our Lady of Fatima.

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Statue on top of the shrine

Inside the basilica, mass was being held when I got there.

Inside the shrine

Inside the shrine

So I checked out the two small, peaceful chapels, where a few people were quietly praying.

One of the chapels

One of the chapels

Outside of the basilica, the grounds house over one hundred life-size marble statues of the saints.

One of the many statues on the grounds

One of the many statues on the grounds

There was even a giant rosary made up of lights.

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As cool as the building and all the statues were, definitely my favorite part about visiting the shrine was meeting Father Julio.

As it was Friday, the Father was in the kitchen preparing for the afternoon’s fish fry when I arrived. You see, as well as being one of the priests at the basilica, Father Julio also happens to be the Chief Fish Fryer.

In addition to giving me a brief overview of the basilica’s history and a quick tour, the Father informed me that the secret to a successful fish fry is all in the coleslaw (who knew?) and then he blessed me.

I’m telling you guys, if I ever fulfill my dream of moving to small-town America, there had better be a fish-frying Father there.

I mean, I think that should be some kind of requirement in every small town in America, right? Everyone who lives there has to have some secret, unexpected skill. Like, the town mayor is also the museum’s tour guide. The local librarian is a weekend chili-eating champion. And all the priests should be able to fry fish and dispense coleslaw tips.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to stick around long enough to try the shrine’s famed coleslaw, as the next stop on my tour was lunch at The Brickyard Pub & BBQ in downtown Lewiston.

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I could smell the barbecue fumes coming from the restaurant before I could even see it.

And then I spotted a huge pile of firewood behind the restaurant, which was stacked up ready to be used in the pit smoker.

Oh, yeah.

Oh, yeah.

That, my friends, is always a good sign.

Jam-packed with locals on their Friday lunch breaks, The Brickyard is totally the place to hang out. It’s the kind of place where you know everyone and everyone knows you and you don’t have to be all embarrassed about having food all over your face because you’re with friends, you know?

We're all friends, here, right, guys?

We’re all friends, here, right, guys?

Which is a good thing because I’m pretty sure I had food all over my face the entire time I was there.

On the waitress’ suggestion, I ordered something called a Po’ Boy, which was a big, delicious mess of a sandwich piled high with pulled pork and coleslaw.

My meal. Before it ended up all over my face.

My meal. Before it ended up all over my face.

It sounded like a strange combination at first, but the coleslaw really added a nice tanginess and crunch to the sweet, smokiness of the pulled pork.

Which just goes to show you that it’s possible the secret to EVERYTHING good in life is coleslaw.

Seriously, who knew?

After I managed to scrub all my lunch off my face, I then stopped by the very swanky Barton Hill Hotel and Spa, where I was scheduled to meet up with local historian, Tim Henderson.
Barton Hill Hotel & Spa

Barton Hill Hotel & Spa

Even though the family-owned boutique hotel has only been around for about seven years, it totally fits into the town’s quirky, historic feel.

There were even cannonballs in the lobby.

The lobby. And its cannonballs.

The lobby. And its cannonballs.

Cannonballs, you guys!

The next time I stay in a hotel there’d better be cannonballs in the lobby. That’s all I have to say.

Tim Henderson gave me a low-down on Lewiston’s extensive history, including its involvement in the Underground Railroad. As Lewiston is just across the river from Canada, it was the final stop for many escaped slaves before they reached freedom.

He showed me the Freedom Crossing Monument, which was built to commemorate the Underground Railroad. And, which he just so happened to be one of the models for.

Freedom Crossing Monument & Tim

Freedom Crossing Monument & Tim Henderson — historian/sculpture model

See?

I told you everyone in small-town America needs a secret, unexpected skill – like, say, sculpture model.

He also informed me that Lewiston was the birthplace of the first cocktail. You see, back in the 1800’s a tavern-keeper named Catherine Hustler started mixing up gin drinks with rooster feathers, and, hence, the name “cocktail” was born.

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I even got to visit her grave, which is in the local cemetery.

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That was pretty cool. I mean, this woman is like my HERO. Cocktails are only one of my most favoritest alcoholic drinks EVER.

Although I wish I would have known I was going to visit her grave, so I could have properly prepared to pay my respects. Like, with a bouquet of swizzle sticks or something.

Before leaving Lewiston, I took one last walk down the town’s main road, Center Street, where, as to be expected, people smiled and greeted me as I went by.

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The street is jam-packed with quirky, little, locally-owned mom and pop shops. Or grandpop shops, as the case may be.

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There was even a local travel agent. Like, a place that you could actually walk in and talk to a real-live human being about booking a trip. And not have to deal with some creepy, heartless Expedia robot. I had no idea this kind of place still existed.

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And, of course, there was a bakery.

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Which, of course, I went in.

And, of course, I stared at all the pie.

But then I opted for a maple-apple donut instead. Because you know us big city types — we can’t be trusted.

We’re always talking about pie, and then we just go ahead and order donuts.

Maple-apple donut. Kind of like pie. But more donuty.

Maple-apple donut. Kind of like pie. But more donuty.

 
Do you like to visit small towns? What’s your favoritest small town that you’ve ever visited?
 
P.S. I’d like to thank the Niagara Tourism & Convention Corporation for arranging my tour of Lewiston. I’d also like to thank Father Julio at Our Lady of Fatima Shrine, Cheryl Suitor of Barton Hill Hotel and Spa and Tim Henderson of Historic Lewiston for taking the time to talk to me. And I’d like to thank Catherine Hustler. You know, for all the cocktails.
 
P.P.S. And, OMIGOD, super huge THANK YOU to all of you who voted for me for the Bloggie for Best Travel Weblog. We did it, guys! I won! And now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go find you all some ponies.
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I've blathered on long enough! Now it's your turn!

  1. On March 25, 2013 at 12:04 pm Kerry said:

    Oh my god, pulled pork and coleslaw is where it’s AT. Why aren’t I eating that RIGHT NOW.

    Also, I had no idea that’s why cocktails are called cocktails – that’s hilarious! It’s such a distance from the stylish image but I’ve always liked my cocktails a little dirty and intense. I can totally picture the “gin mixture”, too (in my head it’s “gin stirred in with some more gin”. And it’s FABULOUS).
    Kerry recently posted..Four Shakespeare plays that deserve teen comedy remakes

    • On March 25, 2013 at 6:15 pm Sally said:

      Isn’t that a fun story? I totally want to start stirring all my drinks with rooster feathers and telling everyone I’m being “authentic.” But then I’d probably get salmonella or something.

  2. On March 25, 2013 at 1:44 pm Priya said:

    Firstly, congrats on winning the Bloggie for Best Travel Weblog award! Secondly, did you carry a notepad while you were here? This seems like a lot of facts and things to remember. I wouldn’t been like Catherine who? And, thirdly, move to Chicago if you want to live in a small town. Duh. :)
    Priya recently posted..Your Handbag Does Not Define You

  3. On March 25, 2013 at 4:13 pm Carmel said:

    I always think when I watch Gilmore Girls that I would like to live in a small town. But one that’s quirky and open-minded…and then I think I probably just want to live in TV world. That’s not going to happen unless Toby Maguire finds some magic remote. And even that didn’t turn out so well.

    Anyway, congrats on the Bloggie! First time my vote has ever counted for something.

  4. On March 25, 2013 at 4:50 pm Sarah P | Travelling Is My Passion said:

    @Carmel – I was just going to say that I’ve ALWAYS wanted to live in a town like the Gilmore Girls one!

    Apparently Amy Sherman Palladino (the writer, but if you’re a Gilmore fan you already knew that!) was inspired to create the series after passing through a real-life town of Washington, Connecticut!

    But you’re right – I probably just like the idea of living in a small town. Not sure I’d actually enjoy having everyone know what I’m up to every second of everyday since I’m a pretty private person!

    @Sally – congrats on the blog award! You have a lovely blog (bookmarked!) so its easy to see why you won! :D
    Sarah P | Travelling Is My Passion recently posted..Signature Food Around the World: Egg Tarts from Portugal

    • On March 25, 2013 at 6:13 pm Sally said:

      I wonder if any of these television writers have actually lived in small towns? They always make it look so appealing and quirky and fun.
      And, thanks, for the congrats & for following my blog!

  5. On March 25, 2013 at 5:09 pm kathy said:

    Congrats on winning but could I ask for a horse instead of a pony?
    And I am waiting for the reality show, someone has to replace the Kardashian’s!

    • On March 25, 2013 at 6:10 pm Sally said:

      Ooo, I have always wanted my own reality TV show. Although I fear my life lacks the necessary excitement and/or excessive arguing that is required of most reality TV shows.

  6. On March 25, 2013 at 6:46 pm the life pursuit said:

    So basically you need to move to Stars Hollow? With added coleslaw? That’s an ambition I can totally get on board with.
    the life pursuit recently posted..Pimms O’Clock

  7. On March 25, 2013 at 8:54 pm Penguinlady said:

    I grew up in a small town (technically a “village”, because towns are bigger) and… They ain’t all Stars Hollow. Oh yeah, we had the kooky people who dressed up for Founders Day, and the silly parades at in opportune times, but that is putting a happy spin on it. I went to school with the same 100 kids from kindergarten to senior year. My best friend knew me from preschool and held over my head the time when I spilled my milk on him, when I was 4! Your teachers remembered siblings, cousins, aunts and sometimes parents! If your cousin was a hellion, that’s it; you are getting away with nothing. It’s quaint and all, but give me a city with decent ethnic food any day of the week!

    • On March 26, 2013 at 7:34 pm Sally said:

      Yeah, I think I’m much more in love with the TV version of the small town. Especially the TV version that includes lots of hot, nice guys doing quirky stuff — like buying bowling alleys.

  8. On March 25, 2013 at 9:02 pm Jacquie said:

    Great post–I love the small-town feel! And I love the background history on cocktails! Very interesting!

    I was fortunate enough to travel to a number of cities around the state of Wyoming last summer–and “cities” in Wyoming are more like “small towns” for the rest of the world. :) One of my favorites is Cody, which is located just outside the entrance to Yellowstone National Park. Also, you can’t forget Buford, WY, which has–I kid you not–a population of 1!

    And finally, for all you Gilmore Girls lovers, you might be interested in this blog post!
    Jacquie recently posted..March Madness, Masters Mayhem, and Opening Day

    • On March 26, 2013 at 7:32 pm Sally said:

      Ooo, I would love to go to Yellowstone and see all the cool small towns around there. How awesome!
      And, thanks for the link. Yes, Gilmore Girls totally kicks Eat, Pray, Love butt!

  9. On March 25, 2013 at 9:11 pm Maria said:

    Congrats Sally oh and about those rooster feathers, just rinse ‘em off first!
    Maria recently posted..Medic Humor

  10. On March 25, 2013 at 10:15 pm Ross said:

    Congratulations Sally!
    I stopped eating donuts a long time ago (exceptions made for Mister Donut) but after seeing the maple-apple donut I may have to visit some small town bakeries.
    Ross recently posted..Western Australian Plants

  11. On March 25, 2013 at 11:50 pm mzuri said:

    When you mentioned Hart of Dixie after Ed, I thought I was going to find Ed there. No, hopes dashed. How cruel. .. and then you blithely go on to talk about cole slaw.
    mzuri recently posted..Alamogordo: The Disappearing Mountains

  12. On March 26, 2013 at 6:52 am Brian said:

    I used to watch Northern Exposure and loved it! Ever since that show, I have wanted to live in a place where moose walk down main street.

    Congrats on the bloggie!
    Brian recently posted..The Legend of Boggy Creek

  13. On March 26, 2013 at 8:19 am coolnewz said:

    Um … I’m not so convinced you’d love to live in a small town, in America or elsewhere! :) What about the city life? I guess this kind of homey feeling with small shops on the streets and knowing everyone’s name you can also find in a neighborhood in Paris (for instance).
    coolnewz recently posted..Traditional Romanian restaurants in Bucharest

    • On March 26, 2013 at 7:25 pm Sally said:

      Yeah, I probably much more enjoy visiting small towns than living in them. I’d go a bit bananas if I didn’t have access to lots of different ethnic restaurants.

  14. On March 26, 2013 at 1:10 pm cosmoHallitan said:

    I LOVED Ed! My friend and I used to dream about moving to a town like that and meeting a man like that. Of course, she and I also used to talk about moving to London and meeting a man like Colin Firth. Basically we just wanted to move somewhere new and meet charming men :)
    cosmoHallitan recently posted..Palaces of Seoul: Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung

    • On March 26, 2013 at 7:23 pm Sally said:

      Omigod. Yes. I have had the exact same dreams about Colin Firth myself. It’s nice to know I’m not alone in my if-I-move-there-he-will-magically-appear fantasies!

  15. On April 5, 2013 at 5:10 pm Ed said:

    Great writeup of Lewiston.
    I had the wonderful experience of growing up there (not far from the Brickyard and DiCamillo’s) and I can tell you it pretty much is the perfect small town.
    You missed a couple of the best old houses…there are some that pre-date 1812 (because most of the village was burned to the ground by the British in that war). But, there are whole books written about the area and its history.
    Your blog makes me want to visit home…I hope they still know my name :)

  16. On April 5, 2013 at 5:15 pm Lisa said:

    So you found my hometown and loved it!? Yah!! I miss it quite often and can never get back enough. I’m in Texas now and there is nothing like Lewiston. Head back in the summer for the Art Fest or the Jazz Fest! You won’t be disappointed!

    • On April 6, 2013 at 11:58 am Sally said:

      Yes! I definitely need to go back in the summertime. It sounds like they have so much fun stuff going on. And the historian I met said they have performances in the cemetery. I thought that sounded so cool.

  17. On April 10, 2013 at 10:41 am Natalia | Always Trekking said:

    My only interaction with Lewiston was making a wrong turn on my way back to Canada. It was nice to learn more about it.
    Natalia | Always Trekking recently posted..Icy Weekend Skiing in Jay Peak – Vermont, US

  18. On April 11, 2013 at 12:22 pm Elin said:

    You definitely have to go to New Paltz – a wonderful, small hippie town upstate NY. I actually think that the term “a mix between down-to-Earth good people and offbeat, quirky folks” was stated here. It must have been.

    And the hikers, don’t forget the hikers! This is the place where you can find amazing hiking tracks with this kind of unreal view: http://bit.ly/ZpfSZ5

  19. On June 14, 2013 at 1:11 pm Ceri said:

    Small towns are fab but I don’t know if I could ever live in one … probably because I grew up in one! :P … I really want to take a road trip around the states and visit all the small towns but I’m pretty sure that’s where most horror films and Stephen King novels take place.

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