I must have passed through Clyde, New York hundreds of times without ever stopping. So, when I spotted an article in the Finger Lakes Times about a “Memories of Clyde” celebration, I didn’t think much of it. Until I saw the all-encompassing program a planning committee had put together. Then, feeling a sudden urge to learn more about how this Erie Canal village still manages to find things its residents find important enough to commemorate, I convinced my husband this would be a great way to spend a sunny Saturday.
Once the chores were done, we saddled up his BMW motorcycle and took a scenic ride to Clyde! Our late start meant we had missed some of the talks, but we arrived just in time to grab folding chairs in Central Park and hear about memorable moments in Clyde’s sports heritage. Sporting events and athletes are revered in upstate NY and games, tournaments, and local Sports Halls of Fame are often the social center of the small town. The speaker was enthusiastic and it seemed like anyone who had ever been involved in local sports got some sort of mention. And frequently a nickname, like “Downtown Terry Brown)! Though there were several valiant attempts to dislodge him from the stage, he laughingly clung to his notes and microphone until the last person on his list had received public acknowledgement of their contribution to Clyde athletics.
Next up was the Saxon Band, formed in 1877. This lively marching band has been playing continuously since then, both for Clydites (really a word!) and other Finger Lakes residents. I have to say, it was quite stirring to see the American flag waving proudly in the breeze behind the uniformed, prize-winning group as they performed “America the Beautiful”, Sousa marches, and other rousing tunes.
Our last stop was the Brick Church Museum, initially constructed in 1833 as a Baptist Church (www.galenhistoricalsociety.org). This, along with friendly volunteer Nicole, turned out to be a veritable goldmine of Clyde lore and history. First off-I never knew Clyde was home to the Clyde Glass Works, which started out as a window glass factory and was in business for 85 years. Clyde Glass expanded their product line, eventually creating the beautiful glass canes displayed here in the museum. Transportation (train, trolley, and towpath!) was key to Clyde’s development and there were plenty of artifacts from those days as well. I particularly enjoyed seeing the unwieldy printing press on display which was responsible for capturing and preserving all the area history in the early years.
The village’s character was also shaped by outside influences, including the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, the Industrial Revolution, the Women’s Rights Movement, and the Underground Railroad. Another Clyde claim to fame was that two radically different American presidents-Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan-visited there while in office
Since 1897, the name Clyde has been synonymous with fireworks and the Barnaba Fireworks Company had strong roots here. A townsperson told us the annual August Fireman’s Parade and fireworks show-always one of the largest in the area-is looked forward to by locals and visitors every year. As with many smaller municipalities first responders continue to be an essential part of the local fabric.
Nicole handed out a stack of free Clyde memorabilia including, much to my delight, some original copies of my old hometown newspapers The Democrat and Chronicle (morning edition) and The Times Union (evening edition). The issues were from the days following each of the Kennedy brothers’ assassinations and I’m looking forward to a rainy day where I can settle in my armchair with a cup of coffee and browse through them. Hearing her take on what it was like to share this rich history with locals and visitors of all ages was fascinating.
As we meandered around the balcony level, the planning committee for the “Memories of Clyde” program filed into the Museum and took seats around the big table there. As a cameraman filmed, they shared what they’d found most meaningful about volunteering for this project. The common sentiment among these friends, neighbors, and business associates seemed to be how much they treasured having had the chance to get to know each other better, sometimes in a different way. Being a silent observer to this small preservation of an intimate community moment in Clyde’s 21st century history was surprisingly moving. I don’t know what I was expecting when I finally made the time to explore this small junction at the intersection of Rt. 31 and 414, but it wasn’t this.
On the Clyde website is a poem, composed by resident Jim Darnell for Clyde’s Sesquicentennial in 1985. It ends with this sentiment,
“Long may she prosper-Our Home, Sweet Clyde.”
For me, that sums up why these villages, burgs, and hamlets continue to proudly serve as America’s backbone. Fall, with cooler temperatures, foliage, and festivals, is a perfect time to explore some of the smaller towns around you. I’d love to hear what you discover there!