Exploring the Cobblestone Museum

Reed Travel Features

SACKETS HARBOR, N.Y. -- Of all the types of stone construction around the world, some predating written history, the architectural art form of cobblestone masonry is unique to central and western New York state. Today, there are some 900 cobblestone buildings within 65 miles of Rochester, along New York State's Seaway Trail National Scenic Byway.

The development of cobblestone masonry in Orleans County and nearby areas began with construction of the Erie Canal. English stone masons settled in the region when the canal was completed in 1825. Westward expansion to New York's fertile farmland created a need for housing that, along with talented masons and abundant building materials, provided the impetus for unique cobblestone structures.

"A shortage of lumber also contributed to Orleans County becoming a center for cobblestone structures," Wayne Hale, director of Orleans County Tourism, said. "During the early and mid-19th century, lumber was shipped out of the area via the Erie Canal, which led people to use stones taken from local fields as building materials."

An excellent starting point for a cobblestone tour is the world's Cobblestone Museum Complex in Childs, N.Y. (Orleans County), a National Historic Landmark. Three stone buildings here include the oldest cobblestone church in North America (1834), a cobblestone parsonage once owned by Horace Greeley and a one-room schoolhouse built in 1849. Four frame structures; blacksmith's, harness, cobbler's and printer's shops, and Farmers Hall also are here.

"There were nearly 50 Medina sandstone quarries in Orleans County in the late 1800s, and their major output was stones for paving blocks, which traveled by canal and the nearby New York Central Railroad as far west as Cleveland and as far east as Boston," Bill Lanton, director of the complex, said. He said that the cobblestone structures found along the Seaway Trail are similar to the English stone homes built from the 1500s to the early 1900s and known as "flint houses."

The Cobblestone Era in New York lasted from about 1825 to 1860.

The Cobblestone Museum Complex is located at the junction of Routes 104 and 98 in Childs, 30 miles west of Rochester. It is open Sundays from 1 to 5 p.m. through October. Call (716) 589-9013 for more information.

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