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Voices Spring-Summer, 2001:
Click on the cover for the Table of Contents. Read an excerpt of “The Tale of a Trail: Material Culture along Ridge Road,” by Allen Noble here.
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Volume 27

The Tale of a Trail: Material Culture along Ridge Road

An ancient east-west route across western New York State acquired commercial importance in the westward expansion of the early nineteenth century. A combination of physiogeographic features and early immigrant life created a strip of material culture whose remnants can be seen today. A drive along Highway 104, Ridge Road’s latest incarnation, reveals early burial grounds, old orchards, cobblestone houses, one-and-a-half cottages in the Greek Revival style, and rectangular barn doors painted to look like arches—but no log homes survive.

Ridge Road trail now Highway 104

What is today Highway 104 began as a trail on high ground through swampy land and became a well-traveled route in the nineteenth century, as settlers followed the pioneers into the Midwest and beyond.

Cemeteries on Ridge RoadMany cemeteries can be found along Ridge Road, or close to it. The sandy soil was easy to dig, and the number of travelers and canal workers created local demand. Cemetery records from Gaines indicate that most early settlers came from the east, especially New England.
Cemetaries on Ridge Road

Orchards on Ridge Road Trail

Apple orchardists took advantage of the good drainage on the ridge; many of the old trees are still standing.

Cobblestone HouseCobblestone structures were popular along Ridge Road, at least among those who could afford to build them. Erie Canal stone masons supplied the skilled labor. The map plots their incidence along Ridge Road.
Cobblestone houses on Ridge Road Trail

One-and-one-half cottageThe "one-and-a-half" cottage was a New England house type built mostly in the Greek Revival style, with half-windows just above the floor on the second level. As settlers came west in the 1830s, they brought this style of farmhouse with them and built many such structures along Ridge Road.
Greek revival houses on Ridge Road

Wood-frame barnWood-frame barns with painted-arch doors are fairly common on Ridge Road, as shown in the map below. The decorative idea apparently began in New York’s central valleys and spread west into Ohio.
Barns along Ridge Road Trail


Allen G. Noble is distinguished professor emeritus at the University of Akron in Ohio. He is the author or editor of several books on cultural landscapes, including Wood, Brick and Stone: The North American Settlement Landscape; An Ethnic Geography of Early Utica, New York: Time, Space and Community; To Build in a New Land; and The Old Barn Book. A native of New York City, he spent his boyhood in the Mohawk Valley.

For more information about preserving Ridge Road:
Contact the Cobblestone Society Museum, Routes 98 and 104 at Childs, P.O. Box 363, Albion, NY 14411; 716 589-9013 or 589-9510. The society maintains a fine group of six cobblestone structures, the earliest dating from the 1830s.


Breth, Deborah, Cornell Cooperative Extension, fruit specialist. October 2000. Telephone communication.

Historical Album of Orleans County, New York. 1879. New York: Sanford and Co.

Noble, Allen G. 1984. Wood, Brick and Stone: The North American Settlement Landscape, vol. 1. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.

______. 1993. Barn Entry Porches, Pent Roofs and Decorated Doors of the Eastern Midwest. Journal of Cultural Geography,14(1): 21-34.

Noble, Allen G., and Brian Coffey. 1986. The Use of Cobblestones as a Folk Building Material. P.A.S.T.Pioneer American Society Transactions 9: 45-51.

Pool, William. 1897. Landmarks of Niagara County, New York. Syracuse: D. Mason.

Schmidt, Carl F. 1944. Cobblestone Architecture. Rochester (?): Carl F. Schmidt.

_______. 1958. The Cobblestone Houses of Central New York State. Journal of the American Institute of Architects 29: 229-35.

_______. 1966. Cobblestone Masonry. Scottsville, NY: Carl F. Schmidt.

Shelgren, Olaf William, Jr., Cary Lattin, and Robert W. Frasch. 1978. Cobblestone Landmarks of New York State. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press.

Signor, Isaac S., ed. 1894. Landmarks of Orleans County, New York. Syracuse: D. Mason.

Thomas, Arad. 1870. Pioneer History of Orleans County, New York. Albion, NY: H.A. Bruner.

The full article, that we have excerpted here, appeared in Voices Vol. 27, Spring-Summer 2001. Voices is the membership magazine of the New York Folklore Society. To become a subscriber, join the New York Folklore Society today.

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