The Benjamin Patterson Tavern, built in 1796 as part of America's expansion to the west is the heart of a small but significant museum in Corning, New York, with the top-heavy title of Heritage Village of the Southern Finger Lakes.
It seems hard to imagine, but in the years just after the American Revolution, the Finger Lakes district in central New York State was part of the western frontier. Large tracts of land were acquired by wealthy landowners who sold off tracts to Revolutionary War veterans and others; building taverns and other facilities was a necessity to allow travel and trade in the region.
In its earliest days, the tavern provided meals and lodging for travelers and new arrivals and served as a community center
Up until then, the Iroquois Confederacy, which included most of the tribes living in the area, including the Seneca, Cayuga, Onandaga, Oneida and Tuscarora nations, had managed to hold back European colonization, largely by maintaining a close unity, and playing English and French interests against each other.
But by the time of the Revolution, France was no longer a player in North America, and the Iroquois were divided on which was the better option: support the British or support the Revolution. The split was so sharp that it led to a war among the tribes; in the end, their power was diminished and when the Revolution ended, the winners were hungry for land.
George G was able to solve our One-Clue Mystery from this cobbler's bench
On the upper floor, where sleeping quarters would have been, the museum displays equipment for trades such as weaving, spinning, shoemaking
In 1779, even before the Revolution ended, George Washington sent Gen. John Sullivan on an expedition into the area with the two goals of breaking Indian support for Britain and depopulating the area to open it for settlement. Sullivan's troops destroyed villages, burned crops and forced the Iroquois to flee to Canada.
The tavern, named after its first innkeeper, has had several different names over the years, but took back its original name when the Corning-Painted Post Historical Society acquired it as a Bicentennial project in 1976 and renovated it as a museum.
Sleeping quarters for early tavern guests were a lot less luxe than these, which show the quarters of the innkeeper's family in the 1800s
Since then, it's been joined on the site by an 1850s log cabin, an 1870s blacksmith shop and an 1878 one-room schoolhouse which operated until 1955.
Out in the garden, we were greeted by a not-too-scary scarecrow...
The 1850s log cabin, moved to the site from elsewhere in the region, shows a more frugal lifestyle that would have been familiar to many small farmers in the area, with not a lot of space and most activity in one large room.
Other buildings are connected to typical rural activities of the time, especially including chopping and storing firewood to get through the winter.
Running water wasn't common until into the late 19th century, and even later in really rural areas. Water came either from a nearby stream if one was available or was pumped from a well.
Sadly, during our visit strict Covid protocols were in force and the blacksmith shop was not giving demonstrations. Some of the museum's programming has resumed, but check ahead to see what's open!
Heritage Village of the Southern Finger Lakes is at 59 West Pulteney Street inn Corning. It's still only mainly for guided tours most days.