Take a Walking Tour of a Model Village

Clifton Springs has long been identified with healthy living. Early settlers, like the Native Americans before them, drank and bathed in its mineral waters. In 1850, due to the availability of sulphur springs, Dr. Henry Foster (1821-1901) established his “Water Cure” which later became the Clifton Springs Sanitarium Co., which attracted people from great distances. Today the modern Clifton Springs Hospital & Clinic continues Dr. Foster’s approach to treating the whole person – mind, body and spirit.

Although the village first known as Sulphur Springs changed its name early on, and the original sulphur baths were closed in the 1950s, the legacy continues. At The Springs, the hospital’s Integrative Medicine Center and Spa, visitors can again
receive sulphur baths, along with massage therapy and other holistic treatments.

“At one time Clifton Springs was known as ‘the Model Village,’” explained Jim Conners, village historian. With 2009 marking the sesquicentennial of the 1859 incorporation of Clifton Springs, this historical reference seemed a fitting theme for the celebration. Early in the 20th century, a small promotional brochure published by the Clifton Springs Board of Trade extolled the virtues of the village and referred to it as a “model village.” More recently, in 2002 the village was awarded the “Uncommonly Good Award” by the Common Good Planning Center as their choice for the most health-enhancing community environment in the Finger Lakes region.

Conners has designed a portable display board of images and historic data spotlighting the village’s picturesque streets, parks, churches, transportation and schools, among other features that have contributed to a healthy community. “I wanted to show visually through pictures the strengths Clifton Springs had as a foundation which has lasted all these years and why it truly is a Model Village,” Conners said.

As part of the 150th celebration, the Chamber of Commerce launched a new Super Sunday Program on the third Sunday of each month, April through December, to encourage visitors and residents to explore local shops, eateries and unique vendors. Many businesses will have drawings for special gifts. The Clifton Springs YMCA is offering free child care on each Super Sunday. Guided tours of the historic Spa Apartments chapel highlight its stained glass windows and the renowned Tiffany mosaic. The Clifton Springs Historical Society and Foster Cottage Museum will be open to share 150 years of history.

If all this activity makes visitors a tad parched, afternoon tea and a tour of The Clifton Pearl, a bed-and-breakfast on East Main Street are available by appointment. Wine tastings and hors d’oeuvres will be served at the award-winning Warfield Restaurant.

A new walking tour brochure will help visitors get their bearings. It includes the geographical coordinates for all 19 points of interest when using a handheld GPS. Brian Morris, president of Clifton Springs Chamber of Commerce, estimates stopping at all 19 locations would take about an hour. With shopping and viewing the museum along the way, it would no doubt take longer.

This year’s 150th celebration will be a highlight of the annual Sulphur Springs Festival on the first weekend in June. No birthday is complete without a cake, which will be cut at 3 p.m. on Saturday, June 6, on the verandah of the Foster Cottage Museum, followed by hospital bed races on Main Street. At 6 p.m., the much-anticipated parade of floats, marching bands, clowns, old cars and Victorian ladies will begin.

The free walking tour brochure is available at Clifton Springs Chamber of Commerce at 2 E. Main St., Village Hall, and Foster Cottage Museum, as well as visitor locations in the Finger Lakes. To receive a brochure by mail, call the Chamber at 315-462-8200. To see the brochure in its entirety go to our website at www.lifeinthefinger lakes.com.

Here are all the stops and an abbreviated tour:

1. Foster Cottage was built by Dr. Henry Foster in 1854 and is now the home of the Clifton Springs Museum and Historical Society. The building is on the National Registry of Historic Places.

2. The Annex, or Foster Block, was built by William Foster (Dr. Foster’s brother) in 1865 as a hotel, with retail shops at street level. A school for young women was established here by Dr. Foster, which ran from 1876 to 1885. In 1889, the Foster Block was annexed by the sanitarium.

3. The Sanitarium Building, known as the San, was completed in 1896. By the early 20th century it became a full-service hospital. In 1972, with the completion of the Clifton Springs Hospital & Clinic, the San was converted into the Spa Apartments.

4. The Woodbury Building was built in 1927 as a 100-bed hospital and clinic and remains a vital part of Clifton Springs Hospital & Clinic.

5. The Band Stand, reconstructed in 1996 with donations from the Clifton Springs Rotary Club, is a replica of an earlier two-story structure.

6. St. John’s Episcopal Church was built in 1879 with stone that came from Medina to Port Gibson via the Erie Canal.

7. Maxwell Hall, constructed in 1926 as a home and school for nurses who worked at the Sanitarium, is now occupied by a health service organization.

8. The First Baptist Church was built in 1888 on land donated by Dr. Foster.

9. John Brown Park and Peirce Pavilion II were built to recall the 1880 structure built by Andrew Peirce as a thank you to Dr. Foster for his care of Peirce’s wife, Mary. The original pavilion was a place for visitors to taste the famous sulphur spring waters.

10. Clifton Springs Library was first established in the YMCA building by Andrew Peirce. Since 1990 it has been in the renovated New York Central Railroad Passenger Depot.

11. When the YMCA of Clifton Springs was built in 1877, the community had the distinction of being the smallest in the U.S. to have a chapter of the YMCA. In 1879, Dr. Foster had the current two-story brick building erected adjacent to the Foster Block.

12. The Palace Theater offered nightly entertainment. After a fire in 1930, it reopened to feature “talking” movies. The building is now used by the YMCA.

13. The United Methodist Church was built in 1868 and expanded in 1882. A daycare center was added to the property in 2003.

14. The Peirce Block was built in the 1870s as The Warfield House and later called The Clifton House to accommodate travelers and summer overflow of visiting patrons of the water cure. After a fire in 1888, the block was rebuilt, hence the change in name.

15. Village Hall has served as the post office, fire department, library and police station.

16. The Warfield Block was built in 1871 and renovated in 1995, first serving as a carriage and harness shop among other various businesses. Today the Warfield Block features a gourmet restaurant and English garden.

17. The Lindner Block provides valuable commercial and residential space. At one point the building served as the town clerk’s office for the adjacent town of Manchester.

18. Sulphur Brook supplies the Swan Pond adjacent to the hospital, and then flows between the Foster Cottage and the sanitarium. This source of the historic water cure and modern-day sulphur baths flows beneath Main Street and the Foster Block.

19. Clifton Springs Hospital & Clinic was built in 1972 reflecting the vision of Dr. Foster whose belief in holistic healing has grown over the course of 150 years into a modern hospital and clinic.
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For information about the monthly Super Sunday Program, go to the Chamber website: www.cliftonspringschamber.com or call 315-462-8200 for a full schedule of times and activities. For the 2009 Sulphur Springs Festival schedule, check www.sulphurspringsfestival.com.

To read more about Clifton Springs in Life in the Finger Lakes go to www.lifeinthefingerlakes.com and enter “Clifton Springs” in the Article Archive box. Back copies of the magazine featuring these three articles can also be purchased:

• Winter 2007: “Clifton Springs” by Frederick L. Gifford, Historian Emeritus.
• Winter 2004: “Happy Trails to You” by Tina Manzer
• Summer 2002: “That’s History” by Charlotte Wytias, formerly of The Springs.


by Laurel C. Wemett