Story and photos by Jim Hughes
More than a few terms describe the essence of Trumansburg – quaint, distinctive, historical, and cultured among them. One out-of-stater visiting the Finger Lakes for the first time opined online that “T-Burg village is a gem of a place, a traditional small town but with an urbane touch.”
Perhaps the “urbane touch” rubs off from nearby Ithaca, home to Cornell University and Ithaca College. Visitors pour in and out of Ithaca for everything from Parents’ Weekend and graduation to business conferences and athletic events. In increasing numbers they’ve discovered that just 10 miles away, tranquil Trumansburg and the surrounding Town of Ulysses offer the perfect respite during their busy trips. The village is a lively, scenic community offering multiple lodging and dining options, as well as distinctive shopping up and down its gently curving Main Street.
A Walking Village
Tree-shaded thoroughfares lined with tidy homes in vintage styles – Gothic, Greek Revival, Federal, Italianate and more – make Trumansburg a great “walking village.” Its Victorian gingerbread, picket fences and cozy porches catch the eye. “Our neighborhood is like a forest sprinkled with houses,” says one longtime resident.
The historic Camp House mansion on a woodsy village lane is a classic case in point. Completed in 1847, it was the home of Hermon Camp, a distinguished officer in the War of 1812, a village stalwart, and as a young man a purveyor of good whiskey.
Downtown, brick buildings are enhanced with decorative cast iron, most of it produced many years ago at a local iron works. Flags, banners and flowers brighten the landscape. A Main Street stroll passes by Sundrees (“a mix of old and new, elegant and unexpected” as expressed on website reviews), Life’s So Sweet (“hand-crafted artisan chocolates and confections”), and One Green Horse (“an uncommon used bookstore “) to name a few. There’s dining for all tastes – The Hazelnut Kitchen (“a charming, contemporary American bistro”), Gimme Coffee (“a perfect coffee and pastry place”), the New York Pizzeria (“worth the trip – a touch of the city”) and more.
The Rongo is Back
The Rongovian Embassy to the USA burst on the Finger Lakes scene in 1973. More than just a local tavern, the reputation of this iconic spirits, food and entertainment venue (with its bar created from a huge local tree) drew folks to Trumansburg for decades. On any given day beer flowed and music pulsated within its oddly decorated walls – rock, folk, country, blues. Loyal fans grieved when the tavern closed in 2012, but as of 2015 “The Rongo” has reopened in its familiar Main Street spot. The eclectic flavor of this much loved “public house” remains.
Beyond The Rongo, Trumansburg has a more traditional cultural bent as well. The Trumansburg Conservatory of Fine Arts is housed in a pillared Greek Revival structure, hinting at the variety of instructional music, dance and art offered within. Public presentations, from dance and drama readings to film and art exhibits, enrich the community.
The Ulysses Philomathic Library on Main Street celebrates “love of learning,” a legacy dating back to the village’s first library in 1811. Along with serving in traditional ways, the Philomathic keeps things lively with events like its summer reading program, an annual candlelight dinner, and a mini-golf event on its carpeted floors. The Philomathic even held a Birdhouse Build on its front lawn.
“History can be found around every corner in the town of Ulysses,” states the website of the Ulysses Historical Society, which chronicles happenings over the years in Trumansburg village, the town countryside, and its hamlets of Halseyville, Jacksonville, Waterburg, and Podunk. Yes, Podunk. It’s all on display in the society’s fine museum on South Street, where Silver Dan (“the horse in the window”) greets visitors to a wide range of colorful exhibits. Dan, a proud model horse, oversaw Main Street for many years from his perch in the second floor window of the old Biggs Department Store.
A number of local artisans have shops and galleries with work on display in and around Trumansburg. The Salmon Pottery Studio and Gallery in its bright yellow house on Main Street stands out, not only for its distinctively decorated front lawn but for the wide range of textured pottery, hand-blown glass, metal sculpture, and wall art.
Moog synthesizers, a staple of the music industry, were first developed and produced by Dr. Robert Moog in his storefront factory on Trumansburg’s main street. His revolutionary work in electronic music enhancement made music history.
Never a Dull Moment
“In addition to shopping, dining or a pleasant walk through our neighborhood streets, there’s almost always something percolating in town,” says village clerk Tammy Morse.
The annual Winter Fest rings in the holiday season with horse-drawn carriage rides, ice sculpting, seasonal music and a Christmas tree lighting ceremony. Every Wednesday from mid-May until late October, the Trumansburg Farmers’ Market takes over the village park. Besides providing the best in local products – meat, cheese, bread and produce – the market draws the community together for on-site music, various programs and summer movies under the stars. August brings The Trumansburg Fair, a colorful American agricultural exposition with a legacy dating back 165 years.
The Finger Lakes GrassRoots Festival, a rousing event, takes place at those same fairgrounds every July. Thousands attend its spirited four-day run, campers are spread out across the landscape, and a mosaic of music fills the air from mid-morning until late evening at four venues: infield, dance tent, grandstand and cabaret. One regular attendee calls it “a premier area event – a wonderful festival where people mingle and become immersed in the fun and music.”
The Best of the Finger Lakes
Scenic hills or crystalline lakes, boating or hiking, quaint shops or boutique wineries – Trumansburg is an ideal spot to sample the best of the region’s offerings. Both in state parks and scattered about the countryside, the Finger Lakes is home to scores of gorges and glens. Cascades and waterfalls abound and Trumansburg boasts one of its crown jewels.
Just a couple of miles from the center of town is Taughannock Falls. At 215 feet it’s hailed as the highest single-drop waterfall east of the Rockies (or east of the Mississippi depending on your travel folder). Over 30 feet taller than Niagara, the plunging cataract is an impressive sight in its granite-walled amphitheater. Taughannock may lack the thunder of Niagara but makes up for it with its seasonal beauty – a torrential flume in the early spring, flowing with a veil-like grace during the summer and fall, and sculpted with ice in the winter. The surrounding state park offers views of the falls from above at a panoramic overlook, or by hiking along the rim trails. A 3/4-mile walk along the gorge trail leads to a view of the towering drop from its base.
“I love Trumansburg and its area for so many reasons,” says village historian Michele Mitrani. “It’s such a neighborly place … I always leave extra time when doing errands around town knowing I will run into friends.”