My friend tells me, as we walk down the main street in Skaneateles, that she thinks we're in the prettiest town in the Finger Lakes. I agree with her.
One of the reasons the town is so pretty is that it is right up against the lake while leaving plenty of open views of the water.
William H. Seward, Abraham Lincoln's secretary of state during the Civil War, called the lake that the village borders on and shares a name with "the most beautiful body of water in the world."
All 11 of the Finger Lakes are pretty, precisely because they are shaped like fingers, long and narrow, and bordered by hills, trees, grasslands and rock formations. It's the land that makes the water so pretty. (Unlike the Great Lakes, which are just lots and lots and lots of water, at times awesome, but rarely "pretty.")
And Skaneateles, the second most eastern of the 11 lakes, is unusually clear. The water is so clean that the city of Syracuse takes its drinking water from it unfiltered. It is, unsurprisingly, appropriately named. Skaneateles is Iroquois for "long lake."
The village of Skaneateles, at least downtown, has retained much of its late 19th and early 20th century architecture.
West and East Genesee Street, the main street in the village, is, as my friend Eileen Mance says, "Eye candy for anyone with an appetite for 19th and early 20th century architecture."
Unlike many other Finger Lakes villages, Skaneateles has successfully resisted most efforts to modernize the fronts of downtown buildings. So, at least for a two- or three-block area, you could feel you were walking in a town a century ago.
Except for the parking meters. Skaneateles is the smallest town I've ever been in with parking meters. They are the least appealing sights in an otherwise visually appealing locale. You can find a little bit of free parking behind some buildings along side streets -- Jordan and Fennell streets -- but in the summer, when Skaneateles attracts crowds, the free parking disappears quickly.
In addition to being pretty, Skaneateles has a reputation for being expensive. Restaurants and boutique shops tend to be upscale. Some of the housing fits in that category, too. East of downtown on East Genesee Street are century-plus-old mansions that look like they could fit into an opening shot in a movie when you want the audience to know the story is about rich people.
"I could live here, if I had a lot more money," Eileen says. Looking at one particular behemoth of a home, she says, "How do you suppose they heat that monster." (I don't put a question mark on the end of the sentence because I recognize it as a declaration).
Bill and Hillary Clinton once vacationed here. Members of the Roosevelt family used to live here and their cousin Franklin, when he was governor of New York, visited them here. So did, locals say, actor Alec Baldwin. Probably a lot of other names we would recognize, if only somebody told us. Pretty and pretty expensive, the ideal combination for attracting the rich and famous.
And me and Eileen. We bypass the places with $20-plus lunches and go to Johnny Angel's Restaurant, on Jordan Street, a half-block north of Genesee. I get chili and a root beer float and Eileen orders a sandwich and fries, and drinks free water (it comes out of the soda dispensing machine, but I don't know if the machine gets it from the lake). In what we think of as one of the few cheap places to eat in town, we stay a few pennies under $20, but that is for two people.
There's no such thing as a McDonald's or other restaurant with a drive-through window in the village.
Later in the day, when we're caught in a heavy downpour, we go to Doug's Fish Fry in an effort to stay dry. We don't quite succeed. We're wet, but the nice folks in Doug's don't complain that we're dripping all over their floor.
Doug's, a few doors south of Johnny Angel's, is where, Eileen says, she heard that Baldwin once visited. He wasn't too happy that he had to wait in line, according to the story she heard. But long lines in Doug's in the summer are standard.
This time we opt for ice cream. Chill our insides while we dry our outsides.
We visit a bunch of the boutique shops downtown. In one antique shop, there's a roll-top desk for more than $2,000. In a gift shop, there are knickknacks that fall into the category of "what would you use that for?" Probably, though, they would fit someplace in one of those mansions that would cost most of us a year's income to keep warm.
On the corner of Fennell and Kelly streets is Creekside Books and Coffee, a member of a dying species that needs to be saved, the small-town bookstore. It's neat and orderly and pleasant to walk around in.
On East Genesee Street, across from a cluster of boutique stops, is Barrow Gallery Library. It's a pleasant small-town library where I find and flip through a booklet that relates the story of the Skaneateles Roosevelts and their famous cousin.
The library is also, as the name suggests, an art gallery, with more than 250 paintings, both landscapes and portraits, many of them with Skaneateles ties, by John Dodgson Barrow, who lived from 1824 to 1906. He was a member of what is known as the second-generation Hudson Valley School.
Admission to the gallery is free (although donations are accepted). Free in Skaneateles? I like that about this town.
> If you go:
Take the Thruway (I-90) to Exit 40; go south on Route 34 into Auburn, turn left on Route 20, go seven miles east until you come to the center of the village.
The village hosts the Antique and Classic Boat Show from July 29-31, with exhibits on land and water, including dozens of restored and preserved wooden boats.
Also, according to the local Chamber of Commerce, on Fridays in July and August, the Skaneateles Community Band performs at the Gazebo in Clift Park. The family event is also free.
In August, the Skaneateles Festival presents a concert series of chamber music.