Communities of every size and sort spread across the Finger Lakes terrain, many snuggled into a lakeside nook or lodged on a sloping hillside overlooking vineyards and sparkling water. Still, the majority of area towns carry on just fine without a glimpse of the region’s uniquely slender lakes.
Almost forty miles separate Waverly, Tioga County’s largest village, from the tips of the two closest Finger Lakes, Cayuga and Seneca, while Pennsylvania is just a stone’s throw away – literally! At spots along Broad Street, Waverly’s main thoroughfare, a person with a good arm could fling a stone across the railroad tracks into the Keystone State.
Waverly blends so completely with the Pennsylvania towns of Sayre and Athens, area folks often regard the three as a single community, considering themselves residents of “The Valley.” Issues vary from state to state, and each burg has its own identity and government, but there is certainly a hometown feel to life in The Valley.
“Rotating Memorial Day celebrations and close cooperation among the fire companies are just two of many areas where the three villages find common ground,” said Waverly mayor Kyle McDuffee.
Waverly has a rich history. Initially thought to be in Pennsylvania, resurveying found the early 18th century milling settlement just over the New York line. In the early 1900s, railroads and prosperity came to The Valley. Hotels, restaurants and factories flourished as 40 trains stopped in the village each day. Broad Street buzzed with activity.
Along with furniture, gloves and many other items, the Manoil Manufacturing Company was widely known in the toy industry of the 1930s and ’40s for the products made here in The Valley. Besides toy airplanes and cars, their popular hollow-cast toy soldiers were treasured by many a youngster of that earlier generation (this writer included).
Business remains lively. Encouraged by former longtime mayor Dan Leary, the Leprino Food Company came to Waverly in 1979 and employs more than 200 people, and a new CVS Distribution center employing hundreds more will open soon.
Don and Carol Merrill afford visitors an exceptional opportunity to learn about the history of Waverly – and more. Over a lifetime, they have built a private collection that puts many museums to shame. The Merrills’ collection contains more than 1,300 framed photographs, tens of thousands of items relating to Waverly, 15 classic automobiles, special interest license plates, antique toys and scores of curious items. Their array of exhibits, arranged in two immaculate buildings and in parts of their 1896 Victorian home, is open to groups by appointment at no charge.
“Waverly was dubbed ‘The rodeo capital of the East’ in the days when Jim Eskew’s Rodeo Ranch and all its Wild West trappings called the village home,” Don recalled. “The show traveled widely, always including a thrilling Fourth of July performance in Waverly, often drawing famous guests such as Tom Mix, Gene Autry or Roy Rogers and Dale Evans.”
Another Merrill display touts the 1940s exploits of Elmer “Dare Devil” Bruffy, an intriguing local character who traveled widely performing his act. Bruffy walked on nail beds and razor-sharp sword blades, and was renowned for performing his “self-hanging” stunt from a 60-foot tower. That feat ended his career in 1945 when a miscue led to his death.
The Waverly Little League, established in 1948, traditionally opens each baseball season with a large parade, one of the few communities in the country to do so on such a grand scale. Without fail, the procession of teams, coaches, fire trucks, marching bands and service organizations draws huge crowds and newspaper coverage, but no parade ever quite matches the Old Home Week parade of 1910 when flag and bunting-draped buildings stretched the length of Broad Street.
Photographs show people stacked ten-deep watching the four-hour-long spectacle.
Muldoon Park with its quaint Victorian gazebo is the community’s focal point for summer band concerts, the weekly farmers’ market, and a Waverly tradition, the Tinsel-n-Lights festival held annually in mid-December. “With holiday music, live prancing reindeer, cozy wagon rides, an ice sculpting competition, warming bonfires, a live Nativity, loads of food – even a visit from Santa and fireworks, it’s a family event with something for everyone.” explained committee member Kim Depew.
Summer in the village brings more events, among them the Waverly Car and Truck Show in July. Free to participants and the public alike, natty vehicles from the Southern Tier and northern Pennsylvania are displayed in a lively atmosphere of music, food and good will.
For decades, O’Brien’s Inn at its lofty perch along the old Route 17 was a “must” stop for hungry travelers. One magazine called its panoramic view of the Chemung Valley “heaven on a hilltop.” Over the years notable visitors savored the food and the view, among them Jackie Gleason, Evel Knievel, and Hollywood legend, Pat O’Brien. Closed in 1997, the inn has since reopened for banquets and bar service, and currently offers a tavern menu.
Sample what Waverly has to offer – fine downtown shops, good eateries, special events, the Merrill Collection and two splendid golf courses. Include in your visit a stop at Soprano’s. The family-operated market on Cayuta Street is an Italian oasis of great sandwiches, homemade specialties and mouth-watering baked goods – a worthy topper to a successful outing.
To learn more, visit the Village of Waverly/Town of Barton website at www.waverlybarton.com. To schedule a visit to the Merrill collection, contact Don and Carol at 607-565-7365 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
by James P. Hughes