Sharon Springs is situated at the intersection of U.S. Route 20, east-west, and State Route 10, north-south. The roads of upstate New York all have their histories, reflecting the growth of the state itself. Many of course started as Indian trails, then became wagon and carriage roads, and eventually carried motorized vehicles along hills, plateaus, and valleys. Route 20 is the longest numbered highway in the United States, extending east-west some 3,365 miles from Boston, Massachusetts, to Newport, Oregon. Its 372 miles in New York make it the longest surface road in New York State. It has special significance historically since it was rebuilt from a series of toll roads making up what was known as the Great Western Turnpike.
In 1799, almost two decades after the frontier towns of New York were embroiled in the Revolutionary War, the First Great Western Turnpike Corporation received a charter to build a road from Albany, the capital of New York, to the outlying town of Cherry Valley. The Second Great Western Turnpike Corporation extended the road from Cherry Valley to Sherburne by way of Cooperstown in 1801, part of that stretch later becoming State Route 80. In 1803, the Third Great Western Turnpike Corporation received the charter to extend the road from Cherry Valley west to Cazenovia, completing the new road by 1811.
The first and the third Great Western Turnpikes came to be known collectively as the Cherry Valley Turnpike. The name also came to refer to an untolled extension of the road west to Skaneateles.
Along the tolled sections, gate-keepers collected tolls at toll-gates. The mostly dirt road, with some planking, was organized into divisions. Each division was managed by a superintendent who had two men under him maintaining the road daily with a cart, plough, scraper, and two horses.
The Cherry Valley Turnpike provided a direct route westward to pioneers seeking new lives on the frontier. New towns came to be established along the route. Regular freight transportation lines were also established, allowing for growing commerce. The traffic became so great that by 1815 along the 52-mile stretch between Albany and Cherry Valley, some 62 taverns served customers; 15 of them, along with 10 retail liquor stores, four distilleries, and one brewery were located in and around Cherry Valley. Moreover, Cherry Valley had eight blacksmith shops. The Cherry Valley Turnpike became a stagecoach route in 1816, and more than 100 stage horses were kept on hand in Cherry Valley for the line.
After the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, the importance of the Cherry Valley Turnpike as a commercial thoroughfare waned. The advent of the New York Central Railroad lines – the first line opening in 1831 – also diminished traffic along the route. After 1857, the Cherry Valley Turnpike was no longer a toll road.
In the meantime, the town of Sharon, formed from New Dorlach in 1797, had developed its own special commerce. After the first boardinghouse was built near the mineral springs in 1825, the town became a major destination as a resort area. Sharon Springs was incorporated as a village in 1871. By then, thousands of visitors were using the Turnpike to come to the resort town, and luxury carriages had become a regular sight along the country road.
In the early 20th century, with the growing automobile traffic, New York State began to pave and maintain roads. It designated the Cherry Valley Turnpike as Route 20 in 1926. The road remained a major east-west thoroughfare until the completion of the New York Thruway in the 1950s, after which most traffic became local.
Like the roads crisscrossing the state, the Erie Canal and the New York Central Railroad have fascinating histories, and we’ll be writing about them. But when driving along Route 20, the old Cherry Valley Turnpike, try to envision what passed that way in the course of the 19th century – covered wagons with pioneers; freight wagons with materials, supplies, and the latest household products; and stagecoaches and carriages with passengers from all walks of life. And, remember, some of the historic houses you pass by once were taverns hosting weary and thirsty travelers.
The History Boys are
Chris Campbell has made his permanent home in Cherry Valley, NY. The Campbell family dates back to 1739 in this town, situated about eight miles from Sharon Springs. Some family members were captured by Tories and Iroquois allies in the Cherry Valley Massacre of 1778 during the American Revolution and taken to Canada, released two years later in Albany as part of a prisoner exchange. Chris is a rare book and map collector and has had a lifelong interest in history, especially relating to upstate New York and colonial land patents. He was the founder and first chairman of the Cherry Valley Planning Board and has worked as a surveyor and realtor as well as a researcher for the Otsego County map department. His hobbies include Ham radio.
Carl Waldman, also living in Cherry Valley, is a former archivist for the New York State Historical Association in Cooperstown. He is he author of a number of reference books published by Facts On File, including Atlas of the North American Indian and Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes, both originally published in the 1980s and both in their third editions. He is the co-author of Encyclopedia of Exploration (2005) and Encyclopedia of European Peoples (2006). Carl has also done screenwriting about Native Americans, including an episode of Miami Vice entitled “Indian Wars” and the Legend of Two-Path, a drama about the Native American side of Raleigh’s Lost Colony, shown at Festival Park on Roanoke Island in North Carolina. His hobbies include music and he works with young people in the Performance and Production Workshops at the Cherry Valley Old School.