Auburn: Celebrating the Past, Forging the Future

Reg Clarke was a florist in Auburn from the early 1900s until the 1960s. He shared tales with his grandchildren of how he and a buddy would hop the trolley to Owasco Lake to spend the day at the amusement park. The two stretched the dimes their mothers gave them by lazing on park benches until courting couples paid them a nickel to leave, or by catching the brass ring on the carousel until its operator chased them off.

Emerson Park and the Merry-Go-Round Playhouse
Although Mr. Clarke, the trolley and Auburn’s amusement parks are gone, Emerson Park remains a popular family destination, enjoyed for its picnic area, beach, playground, fishing and boating. Gardened walkways and a 1920s-era pavilion that once hosted legendary Big Band performers lend a flavor of yesteryear. When summer rolls around, it’s time for opening night at the Merry-Go-Round Playhouse, located in the park’s former carousel pavilion.

The playhouse opened in 1976 with a talented cast of local performers. Today, it offers Broadway-quality summer stock theater featuring the finest regional and Broadway talents. This year “The Full Monty” (May 27-June 17) opens the season, followed by “Disney’s High School Musical” (June 24-July 18) and “No, No Nanette” (July 22-August 12). Next, audiences will cheer for “A Chorus Line” (August 19-September 5), “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story” (September 9-30) and “I Left My Heart” (October 7-25). Visit the Playhouse at 6877 East Lake Road in Auburn. Tickets ranging from $26 to $39 may be ordered online at

The Ward O’Hara Agricultural Museum
The Ward W. O’Hara Agricultural Museum is located across from the park on East Lake Road.

O’Hara authored 15 books and was a local newspaper columnist who loved collecting antique farm equipment. Inspired by a deserted 4-H pavilion, he requested permission from the Cayuga County Legislature to turn it into a museum. Today, the museum pays tribute to 19th-century farm life with a blacksmith shop, a general store and a creamery.

The Seward House
The Federal-styled building located at 33 South Street in Auburn is the former home of William H. Seward, Secretary of State to President Abraham Lincoln and the man responsible for the purchase of Alaska. The building was the scene of an attempted murder plot against Seward, part of the same conspiracy in which Lincoln was assassinated.

Until 1951, four generations of Sewards lived in the home, safeguarding its contents. As a result of ongoing research on well-maintained documents, the knowledgeable and entertaining staff brings to life the politics and customs of the day, as well as the Seward family’s habits and traditions.

The Sewards were staunch abolitionists, and visitors can view the cellar-level kitchen that played a role in the Underground Railroad. The upstairs hallway is a fascinating “Who’s Who” photo gallery of the 19th Century.

The Seward House is open all year, Tuesday through Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.  From July 1 through October 11, the museum is also open Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m. Admission: adults $7, AAA/seniors $6, students with I.D. $2, children under 10 free.

Auburn Public Theater
Who would imagine that a long-vacant department store would become home to Auburn’s newest cultural attraction? Angela Daddabbo and Carey Eidel are lovingly renovating the building at 108 Genesee Street to accommodate a cinema, a cabaret stage and a plush theatrical venue – all part of the Auburn Public Theater. Audiences are treated to a variety of entertainment including comedy, music, poetry, dance, films and plays, as well as special events, seminars and workshops. For schedule and tickets, visit


Bistro One – Auburn’s newest restaurant features a relaxed atmosphere where the chefs serve up contemporary American cuisine that includes meat, poultry and seafood entrees as well as Tapas. Sample an exotic martini. Dinner served Tuesday through Saturday 5 to 9 p.m., at One Genesee Street, Auburn.

Elderberry Pond Country Food – This certified organic farm and food store is also a delightful restaurant with excellent chefs and a lively menu made from local organic produce, grass-fed livestock and fresh seafood. Wine, beer, coffee and tea come from around the world. Lunch and dinner served April through December, Wednesday through Sunday at 3728 Center Street, Auburn.

Mo’s Pit Barbecue & Cowboy Cuisine – Authentic roadhouse barbecue seasoned with spice rubs or sauces and smoked over a wood fire. All “vittles” are homemade, and wine, beer and cowboy coffee are served. Lunch and dinner at 1570 Clark Street Road in the Fingerlakes Mall Foodcourt, Auburn.

Dining and Accommodations

Springside Inn – Once a boarding school and a stop on the Underground Railroad, this inn features seven charming rooms ranging from $100 to $250 a night. The restaurant is known for its classic cuisine such as shrimp Newburg, Long Island duckling, hearty steaks and soufflés; full bar. Serving dinner Wednesday through Thursday, 5 to 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday 5 to 9 p.m., Sunday brunch from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Located at 6141 West Lake Road, Auburn. Visit www.spring


10 Fitch – This luxurious and romantic inn offers three unique deluxe suites, warm hospitality and rich amenities at $199 to $320. Located at 10 Fitch
Avenue, Auburn.

Skaneateles Suites & Boutique Hotel – Just outside of Auburn is a collection of unique lodging properties including bungalows, a treetop suite, a boutique hotel with bridal suite, and
extended stay accommodations. $125 to $399. Located at 12 Fennel Street, Skaneateles.

Additional Attractions

Harriet Tubman Home – Former home of Underground Railroad leader. 180 South Street.
Willard Memorial Chapel – Sole unaltered Tiffany-created chapel in existence. 17 Nelson Street.
Schweinfurth Memorial Arts Center – Museum and multi-arts facility.  205 Genesee Street.
Bass Pro Shop – Outdoor sporting retail store. 1579 Clark Street Road.

by Carol White Llewellyn
All photos courtesy of Kristian Reynolds and Cayuga County Office of Tourism

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