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?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.
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.
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.
Started in 1963, the shrine is stunning with its glass-domed basilica, topped with a thirteen-foot tall statue of Our Lady of Fatima.
Inside the basilica, mass was being held when I got there.
So I checked out the two small, peaceful chapels, where a few people were quietly praying.
Outside of the basilica, the grounds house over one hundred life-size marble statues of the saints.
There was even a giant rosary made up of lights.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I even got to visit her grave, which is in the local cemetery.
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.
The street is jam-packed with quirky, little, locally-owned mom and pop shops. Or grandpop shops, as the case may be.
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.
And, of course, there was a bakery.
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.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.