Just walking around Northville, you get the sense that there’s some history here.
The streets of the village at the very southern edge of the Adirondacks are lined with many well-maintained Victorian homes, offering an atmosphere that makes simply walking around a pleasure.
The Fulton County village, which also serves as the southern start of the celebrated 133-mile Northville-Lake Placid hiking trail, sits at the northern end of Great Sacandaga Lake, just about where the 29-mile-long reservoir gives way to its source stream, the Sacandaga River. It’s the largest community on the lake, which has a highly seasonal recreational economy.
But everyone should know that the village of 1,100 people was already there before the Sacandaga River was dammed in 1930, and already well-established. The flood-control project flooded the Sacandaga Valley and created today’s resort economy, but before that Northville occupied the high ground above the valley, and was the commercial center for surrounding farms and lumbering operations, going back to the early 19th century.
If you come, rest assured you’ll be welcomed, because village officials realize that attracting visitors will be vital to the future.
“Back in 2014, we put together an economic development plan, and a lot of what we do is that exactly,” said Mayor John Spaeth. “It was taking advantage of our history, and it identified key sites that could be developed or redeveloped. It’s all part of a bigger picture of trying to develop ourselves a little more economically.”
(Photo By Eric Jenks: Haze coats the mountains surrounding the Great Sacandaga Reservoir Thursday, June 29th, 2017.)
The central business district was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2014.
On Main Street is the oldest continuously operating “5&10” department store in America (started in 1907), stuffed with two floors of everything from hardware to fishing supplies to fresh fudge. The hardwood floor is original, and so is the stamped tin ceiling.
“We’ve had people come from Pennsylvania and New Hampshire who just want to walk on the floor,” said store manager Elayne Wade.
Wade said some of the downtown’s change can be traced back to three years ago, when Stewart’s Shops bought the underused corner of Bridge and Main streets and built a spacious new store with gas pumps, replacing a small Stewart’s that didn’t sell gas (there’s parking now on the old Stewart’s lot.) The three-story “5&10” is right across the street.
“Since they came, people stop over there for gas, and then they come right over here,” she said in early June, while fielding requests from customers wondering where to find specific items. “Come July and August, you’ll see nothing but heads in here.”
The store’s owners have purchased the building next door, and are planning a bakery and tea room they hope to open by fall. Next to that, The Village Scoop Shop manages to thrive despite being so close to Stewarts, offering more than 30 kinds of Perry’s Premium Ice Cream as well as soft-serve.
(Photo By Eric Jenks: The Red Barn in Northville NY specializes in antiques, ephemera and local artwork Thursday, June 29th, 2017.)
Carl Sedon, who co-owns the Red Barn antiques store off Main Street with his wife and sits on the village Planning Board, said Northville has been working in recent years to plant trees, expand sidewalks, and otherwise make the community a nicer place for visitors.
“We’re trying to keep the small-town bucolic atmosphere while also bringing in the area’s biggest industry, which is tourism,” Sedon said. “We’d like people to come and stay more than an hour.”
A state grant a few years ago helped pay for building history signs found on many commercial buildings, saying when they were built and the specific uses they’ve seen over the years. You might learn, for instance, that a real estate office was once a blacksmith shop, or the insurance office began life as a law office.
The Red Barn — astute readers will guess what kind of building it is — was built in 1860, and was the livery stable for the Winney House hotel, which burned in 1907. It’s been an antique store under the ownership of Sedon and his wife since 1991, but the axe-hewn beams of the barn are still there, with the wide open interior you’d expect once the horse stalls are gone.
“We’ve been here a long time. We now have second and third generations coming up, people from camps. We try to have something for everyone.”
Sedon isn’t kidding. There are books, face jugs derived from African-American folk art, T-shirts and jewelry. “We have everything from butter dishes to Bob Marley posters,” he said.
This summer, local Adirondack wood furniture maker Patrick Fitzgerald will be in residence, Sedon said.
Northville once had a handful of factories and tanneries, some along Hunter’s Creek, which is now dammed to form Northville Lake. The lake — really a big pond dammed in 1930 to eliminate swampy land — giving the village a second body of water, on its opposite side from Great Sacandaga Lake.
The economic development plan identified the little lake as a potential visitor attraction, but Spaeth said it really needs to be dredged of sediment so fishing habitat can be redeveloped and have public access increased before the village can market it.
Even before the big lake was formed, the area around Northville was a recreation destination. Sacandaga Park, on the western side of the river, offered amusement rides and entertainment, and was so popular that the Fonda, Johnstown and Gloversville Railroad was extended there. Most of the former amusement park is now underwater, though the old train station survives in an area of homes and seasonal camps still called Sacandaga Park.
That’s where the Sport Island Pub is found, right on the waterfront. The pub sitting on the lakeshore is owned by the restauranteuring Lanzi family, and is among several eatery options in and around Northville.
Downtown Northville has a tavern, pizzeria, deli and Chinese restaurant, as well as the Stewart’s and a Tops Friendly supermarket, as well as the scoop shop. Nobody need starve in Northville.
There are a couple of ways to get to Northville. People who drive north from Amsterdam can get there quickly by sticking to Route 30 and going north through Broadalbin and Mayfield. Or the more adventurous to carve out a scenic route through rural Saratoga County that takes them across the scenic Batchellerville Bridge on roads that sometimes hug the shoulder of Great Sacandaga Lake, which itself is dotted with rural souvenir shops and taverns.
Either way, Northville is just over 40 miles from Schenectady — less than an hour away.