What Places To Visit In Upstate NY Would Be Our Notre Dame?
A discussion about iconic places to visit in Upstate NY before they’re gone
by Chris Clemens
Last week, the world mourned with Paris as crews attempted to save Notre Dame from a catastrophic fire. For years, the minor basilica in Paris has been a national symbol of pride for France. Regardless of one’s religious beliefs, it’s easy to recognize that the history, art, national pride, and culture within Notre Dame is of utmost importance not only to France, but to the world.
One of the reasons for this blog is that even after living here my whole life, I kept discovering things that weren’t technically hidden, but also weren’t widely known. It wasn’t just my ignorance, I’d learn about something and share it with a friend, and they were just as surprised.
I’ve never been to Notre Dame, and even if I make it someday, I’ll obviously be stepping into a different version than existed pre-fire. That realization has only solidified the fear that has driven me to explore our own region.
Someday, all this stuff will be gone.
Maybe it will fall victim to a fire, or maybe they’ll tear it down to build a Dollar General. A storm could cause irreparable damage.
Regardless of the cause, what cultural icon of Upstate would be an unthinkable loss?
The Notre Dame Of Upstate
Now, obviously, nothing man-made in New York can match the history of Notre Dame. So don’t start blasting me with, “Nothing here is even close to what Notre Dame is dummy!” I get it.
But, we do have incredible architecture. We have churches that hold rare art and relic collections, and buildings that are iconic to upper Empire State. Watching the live stream of Notre Dame burning while crowds mourned in the streets got me thinking.
Where is a place in Upstate that would collectively shock us if it were suddenly destroyed? Which places are so iconic that it would be a shame you didn’t experience them in person? What man-made place in Upstate houses art, history, and culture, and even the building itself possesses those characteristics?
Admittedly, I never intended to write this. I just wanted it to be a mental exercise. Because, really, it’s an impossible thing to answer. Just for fun I posed the question on Facebook and the responses really moved me. People were answering with places I hadn’t considered.
Some were man-made and some were natural. A couple people answered with silly replies though, yes, losing Mighty Taco would totally suck. A few answers included things that we had already lost, and even one was for a place that was being rebuilt. To see the list or add your own answer, you can find that Facebook post here.
So, here’s my answers. These are the places to visit in Upstate NY that are so iconic, I believe they could be our Notre Dame.
Buffalo City Hall
The towering facade over Niagara Square in downtown Buffalo is easily one of the most recognizable buildings in the city. Even though it’s a house of politics, it has some of the best kept artwork in Western New York.
From the carvings that loom over the entrance steps, to the murals in the hallways and the room where City Council meets, I would argue that Buffalo’s City Hall houses an invaluable collection of cultural artifacts.
If you’ve never been, you owe it to yourself to ride the elevators all the way up. You can take a view of the city from the outside observation deck on the 28th floor!
For a full tour, checkout this post from 2016.
George Eastman Museum
Here where I live in Rochester, the name Kodak practically is in our water. Some might argue that Rochester couldn’t exist without the Genesee River and Erie Canal and they’d be right. But the modern version of this city wouldn’t exist without George Eastman. He actually built neighborhoods and infrastructure that we still use today.
Eastman’s second home in Rochester is now a museum, and you’ve probably seen it even if you don’t realize it. The parlor with an elephants head might be one of the most photographed living rooms in the city. The house itself is iconic, but it’s home to one of the greatest collections of film history and culture in the country.
The museum has rotating exhibits, concerts, and even flower displays during winter months. With its history, familiarity, and world class collection of art and artifacts, I’d argue it belongs on this list.
Checkout the George Eastman Museum website for more info and to plan a visit.
Lake Placid Olympic Center
I was really on the fence about including this one, but hear me out.
The Adirondack attraction is home not only to local history, but to history that the world was watching. Lake Placid is one of only three places in the world to have hosted the Olympic games twice. It’s almost embarrassing for me to propose that a downhill ski jump could be categorized as a tremendous loss. But, the more I try to imagine some catastrophe event wiping it out, the more realize how bummed I’d be.
And, that’s coming from a guy who has never watched the Olympics and wouldn’t really care if they stopped hosting them.
Lake Placid isn’t just a spot where they had a bunch of sporting events. It’s a place where countless people have formed a personal connection and private memories that are some of their most cherished.
Checkout this post from my friend Meredith on her VidProMom website from her family’s visit to the Olympic Center. She shows tons of videos and photos and talks more about visiting.
New York State Capitol
I’m not proud of the fact that my top choice is a house of politics, but this one keeps rising to the top of my brain. The building itself was designed by various architects and the timeline for completion could even be estimated in generations. As a result, each section of the New York State Capitol building has unique architectural characteristics. You could spend years studying and still not catch it all.
The Capitol houses not only state history, but works of art that depict it–there’s even an entire room of historical flags! So, like Notre Dame, the building itself is iconic but it also houses artifacts that are priceless for New Yorkers. Maybe it’s because you’ll see it in news all over, but exterior of the Capitol building is probably one of the most recognizable buildings in the state.
Your tax dollars are paying for it already, so if you’ve never visited the building, you owe it to yourself to go and take a free tour.
For more info on planning a visit, checkout the Empire State Plaza website which has everything you’ll need to know.
It’s not fun to think about what we could possibly lose. But, this discussion isn’t meant to be doom and gloom about the temporary nature of things.
Instead, I hope it will help inspire you to realize that instead of waiting, it’s time to get out there and experience the gems that are in our own backyard. It’s important to go stand in our iconic places and form a connection to them.
Another quick note: there’s just about 10 million places in Upstate that I’d hate to lose. This list is by no means a comment that anything not listed wouldn’t still be a huge loss. That tiny little bakery up the street from you is important. The obscure museum in your town that no one has ever heard of before holds a special place for a lot of people. It’s all important.
Feel free to jump in the discussion and leave a comment about which places you feel might be Upstate’s Notre Dame. I’d love to hear them!
Chris Clemens is the Founder/Publisher of Exploring Upstate. From his hometown in Rochester, he spends as much time as possible connecting with the history, culture, and places that make Upstate New York a land of discovery. Follow him on Twitter at @cpclemens
April 20, 2019 @ 8:50 am
First that comes to mind is the court house in Canandaigua. So much history, including the Susan B. Anthony trial. The jail that was behind it, where the Masons kidnapped (allegedly!) William Morgan is, unfortunately, long gone, although the local Masonic lodge still has the jail cell door! That event had major national significance it but, not unlike Notre Dame, the history is gone forever.
April 20, 2019 @ 8:54 am
Man, there’s so much National history that can be tied back to that William Morgan story. It doesn’t nearly get enough local attention as it should!
April 20, 2019 @ 2:16 pm
Buffalo central terminal. Almost lost, hopefully on it’s way to a full recovery, it is an incredible space.