by James P. Hughes
A spread of poetry written by the Great Author of the universe.
~ William Jennings Bryan
(1860 – 1925)
describing Naples and its surrounding countryside.
It’s uncertain when Bryan, the fiery lawyer, politician, and orator, visited the Naples area just to the south of Canandaigua Lake’s crystal waters. Yet clearly, like so many before him and since, he was struck by the fertile valley and its surrounding hills described by one observer as “so majestic they seem almost to shut off the sunlight.”
By 1789, the first pioneers had arrived in the area and quickly dubbed their tiny settlement Watkinstown, named for one of its early families. The name was changed to Middletown in 1796, eventually becoming Naples in 1808. Like many early towns, survival depended on farming and the output of several mills driven by water that gushed from hillside glens into creeks throughout the village. Small shops, trades, taverns, and a post office followed, but by the late 1800s the identity of Naples forever changed with the introduction of a simple object…the grape.
Grapes and More Grapes
The grape is evident everywhere in the Naples area from the wide-ranging vineyards to the village’s brightly-painted purple fire hydrants. Naples proudly proclaims itself “The Grape Pie Capital of the World,” a paean to that deep purple, crusty regional treat that is a bit tricky to create, but is available from any number of home bakeries, roadside stands, and eateries in and around Naples. The grape pie is a rarity elsewhere, but in Naples it’s estimated that grape pie sales each year often reach 60,000 or more.
Swiss winemaker John Jacob Widmer was among the early arrivals to the fertile countryside. In the 1880s, Widmer cultivated his grapes and established a landmark family winery which lasted well over a century until its sale a decade ago to Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards. Hazlitt’s popular Red Cat, the best-selling sweet wine in the Finger Lakes region, is now made in Naples at the original Widmer site.
Among other wineries scattered about the area, Arbor Hill features fine wines and unique products from fruit preserves to salad dressings. Inspire Moore, a boutique winery, is tucked in a historic building that once housed a tavern, then a carriage house. It has a beautiful deck view and is painted, aptly, a dashing Concord grape purple!
The village hosts a number of yearly celebrations, but its premier event may be the Naples Grape Festival, since 1961 an annual salute to the region’s autumn grape harvest. The 2019 event will take place September 21st and 22nd. Crowds swarm over festival grounds to enjoy the artistry of Finger Lakes craftsmen, abundant food, regional musicians, and of course “everything grape,” including multiple wine tastings and the “World’s Greatest Grape Pie Contest,” a prestigious competition.
Visit for a Day … or More
While scenery alone is worth a drive through the Naples area, deciding where, when, and why to stop can be more challenging because there are so many options. For outdoor activities, wine tasting, special events, or just shopping up and down Main Street, there’s something for everyone.
Any leisurely trip might include checking out a local eatery or two, and for a village of just over 1,000 residents, Naples offers a dozen or more choices. Bob’s ‘N’ Ruth’s and the Redwood, on opposite ends of town, have been landmark stops since the early 1950s. The venerable Naples Hotel has occupied a site in the center of town since 1895. Its dining rooms, tap room, and overnight facilities offer modern comfort mixed with a sense of history and a few ghost stories to boot. Many more restaurants fit every taste and budget, several with outdoor porch or deck dining
Famous for its seasonal trout fishing, anxious anglers line Naples Creek and its tributaries each April 1st to compete at the Naples Creek Rainbow Trout Derby, an event now over a half-century old. No fishing trip is complete without a stop at the Sutton Company, it’s interior a true step back in time. The family business, dating back to 1867, carries a wide variety of outdoor gear and tackle, including their own legendary fishing lures, the “Sutton Spoons.”
Shops, markets, and boutiques are scattered along Main Street and throughout town. Antiquers can seek that perfect item at several locations. The Flint Creek Soap Co. carries its own line of unique soaps and personal care products. Artizann’s is one of the largest gift galleries in the Finger Lakes, an exceptional and colorful array of items – “everything imaginable (and unimaginable)!” – all fashioned by over 200 regional artisans. For quality summer stock, the Bristol Valley Theater presents vibrant music, humor, and drama in its cozy venue, as it has for over 40 years.
Joseph’s Wayside Market has provided seasonal flowers, plants, and produce for over six decades. Fresh daily baked goods are always available along with jams, maple syrup, cheeses, and other regional New York products. For those who enjoy outdoor activity and scenery, Jerome’s U-Pick Farm has for generations offered personal picking of everything from grapes to peas to pumpkins.
Is the valley rich in tradition? Certainly. Still, occasionally another gem is added to the Naples treasure chest. New and fresh, Hollerhorn Distilling is quickly building a reputation for quality spirits, a unique menu, and lively entertainment.
Take a Hike!
The Finger Lakes area should be explored, and the Naples Valley has no shortage of family-friendly hiking opportunities. In spots like Grimes Glen Park and the High Tor Wildlife Management Area there are trails to follow, glens to be roamed, and waterfalls to be discovered, but bring along a good pair of water shoes. Grimes Glen is just short distance from the village center. A 3/4 mile walk, partly along a wooded trail, partly in the creek bed, will lead to a pair of stunning 60-foot waterfalls, even a rocky “swimmin’ hole” to cool off on a hot day. To access a third waterfall further up the creek requires more climbing skill and risk. A lesser known village adventure follows Tannery Creek, leading hikers to another series of rushing cascades.
A few miles northeast of Naples along Route 245, The High Tor area awaits with over 5,000 recreational acres, a mixture of hilly, wooded terrain and lower expansive grasslands. There are abundant hiking trails, and still more waterfalls while meandering the creek beds of Conklin’s Gully and Clark’s Gully.
The community is currently prepping “The Naples 9,” a checklist of family trails to hike, possibly with a medallion reward for completing the challenge. For those who would rather enjoy area scenery while hitting a golf ball, the highly-rated and groomed Reservoir Creek Golf Course offers exceptional views and a challenging layout.
In short, Naples provides a taste of why folks and families are drawn to the Finger Lakes region – a place to visit for any number of reasons and for any length of time.