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July 18, 2016 / Jim Fenton

Great Lakes Day 9: Burlington to Montreal

June 27, 2016

Notre Dame Cathedral, Montreal

Notre Dame Cathedral, Montreal

With a short day of driving ahead, we decided to take a more leisurely breakfast. Kenna found a bakery, August First, a few blocks away that was wonderful. It had a comfortable environment, excellent breakfast sandwiches (9 grain roll recommended), and good coffee beverages. Burlington reminded all of us of Boulder, Colorado, both in terms of the “vibe” and of course because they are college towns.


Ben and Jerry’s Flavor Graveyard

When we got on the road, we went first to Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream, about a half hour south. The 30 minute factory tour was enjoyable, especially with the ice cream sample at the end. We took a walk up the hill to the “Flavor Graveyard” where the retired ice cream flavors are memorialized. Celeste reminded us that this is yet another cemetery we’re visiting this trip. I don’t expect this will be in the Find a Grave registry, though.

Traveling north again, we encountered the first significant rain of the trip. Fortunately we were driving for the duration of the storm and stayed dry. We opted to take US 2 through the Lake Champlain islands. This was a scenic alternative to the Interstate, not very crowded and didn’t add much to our trip time. We passed into Canada through the sleepy border crossing at Rouse’s Point, NY/Lacolle, QC, which was fast and pleasant.

NotreDame Interior

Notre Dame Cathedral interior

The drive into Montreal was a little stressful, as it is into any large city, but we found our hotel quickly and set out for the Old Quarter (tourist district). We visited Notre Dame Cathedral, the altar of which is illuminated in blue making it distinctive and attractive. It has a very impressive pipe organ, which unfortunately we did not get to hear.

We walked around the harbor area a bit before stopping at a sidewalk cafe for dinner. The weather was warm and had fortunately cleared since the rain earlier in the day. Our walk back to the hotel took us through a jazz festival being set up nearby.

This article is part of a series about our recent vacation in the Great Lakes area. To see the introductory article in the series, click here.

July 17, 2016 / Jim Fenton

Great Lakes Day 8: Vermont

June 26, 2016

Burlington Harbor

Burlington Harbor

Today has been mostly a driving day. We took a short detour to Albany to see the state capital, and then drove to Burlington, Vermont. It is Celeste’s first visit to Vermont, and the first time that any of us had spent any time in Burlington. Our hotel is located downtown, close to Lake Champlain. We did a quick visit to the downtown shopping mall (which is apparently under redevelopment), and then made arrangements for a dinner cruise on Lake Champlain.

The cruise was quite pleasant; it began with an Italian buffet dinner which was held inside. After dinner, we had plenty of time to enjoy the scenery before the 8:41 pm sunset. There is no narration on this trip, but through the written materials we learned that there is a Loch Ness monster-like legend, known as “Champ“, in Lake Champlain. Unfortunately, we didn’t see him/her.

This article is part of a series about our recent vacation in the Great Lakes area. To see the introductory article in the series, click here.

July 16, 2016 / Jim Fenton

Great Lakes Day 7: The Formerly Fenton Farm

June 25, 2016

High Tower Farmhouse

High Tower Farmhouse

Today’s plan was to explore where my Dad grew up and to see what we can find out about my Fenton ancestors. So we drove to Amsterdam, NY, Dad’s home town, and drove past his old house. It’s still there, but unlike some others on the street, it has been “modernized”. The front porch was made smaller and was enclosed, and there is new siding. It definitely looks different.

We wanted to check on my grandparents’ graves, so we next went to the cemetery. We spent quite a long time walking around, to no avail — it has been over 20 years since we last visited and Dad was there to guide us that time. I decided to double-check the Find a Grave website on my iPhone and discovered we were in the wrong cemetery. We wanted to be in Fairview Cemetery on the other side of town. Once we got there we found the grave fairly quickly and found everything to be in good shape.

Four generations of my ancestors owned what was known as the Fenton Farm just south of the village of Broadalbin, a few miles north of Amsterdam. I recently located and contacted the current owner of what is now called High Tower Farm, Sheila Perry, and asked if we could visit. She enthusiastically encouraged us to do so. When I called today to reconfirm that we would be there after lunch, she told me that she had invited the historian from the Broadalbin Historical Society to join us, and that she had prepared lunch. So we headed right over.


Original house beams in living room

Sheila took us on an extensive tour of their house, the oldest portion of which was built by my great-great-great grandfather Stephen Fenton about 200 years ago. The hand-hewn timbers are prominently visible in the living room, and Sheila had many stories about the construction from their remodeling experience (the farm was in considerable disrepair when the Perrys purchased it in 1981). One interesting aspect was that another house had been moved into place next to the old house to add to its size. This caused the discrepancies in floor levels, etc that one would expect when trying to combine two houses built in different eras and locations.

Gordon Cornell, the historian, arrived soon after our house tour. It was perfect weather, so we had a picnic lunch outside. It was quite an experience to have lunch in the same place tended by many of my ancestors. After lunch, we showed each other documents we had brought — I showed a genealogy document I had curated over several years, and Gordon shared some information that the historical society had collected on a couple of my ancestors.

We then took a field trip, first through the farm, then into Broadalbin. They pointed out where various relatives had lived, and in one case had operated a grocery store. We visited the Methodist Church, and were able to see some memorial stained-glass windows that honored ancestors that were charter members of the church as well as a baptismal font in honor of my great grandfather, George Fenton, who was very active in the church around the turn of the 20th century.


Celeste visits her great-great-great grandfather

We then went to Broadalbin cemetery to visit the graves of quite a few of my ancestors and relatives. I took lots of pictures in hopes of adding them to the Find a Grave registry.

It was a lot to process — both the volume of information I learned and the amount of “Fenton stuff” around Broadalbin. Both Sheila and Gordon were very generous with their time, and amazingly knowledgeable about my family.

Returning to Johnstown where we are staying, we grabbed a quick dinner and caught “Finding Dory” at the local movie theater. After we returned to the hotel, we got to watch their quite impressive town fireworks display from our room.

This article is part of a series about our recent vacation in the Great Lakes area. To see the introductory article in the series, click here.

July 15, 2016 / Jim Fenton

Great Lakes Day 6: New York State

June 24, 2016

Niagara Falls Floral Clock

Niagara Falls Floral Clock

Today was mostly a driving day. After a hearty breakfast at the IHOP next to our hotel, we took a quick side trip to the Floral Clock, which turned out to be about 10km downstream from our hotel. It definitely wasn’t walking distance. The clock is on the grounds of an Ontario Hydro generating station. Seeing it and a bit more of the Niagara Falls vicinity made it worth the trip.

We then made our way across the Rainbow Bridge back into the USA, and drove the New York Thruway east across upstate New York. We took a short detour at Syracuse to see Syracuse University, which was of some interest to Celeste. The campus is beautiful, including both the setting on a hill on the edge of downtown and its many attractive and varied buildings.

We resumed our drive to our destination for the next couple of nights, Johnstown, New York. Johnstown is close to Amsterdam, where Dad grew up, and was also home to my grandmother for a couple of years while she lived with her niece. We plan to do some exploring tomorrow to refresh my memories of the area and show Celeste a bit about one of her grandparents.

This article is part of a series about our recent vacation in the Great Lakes area. To see the introductory article in the series, click here.

July 14, 2016 / Jim Fenton

Great Lakes Day 5: Niagara Falls

June 23, 2016

Hornblower tour boat approaching Falls

Hornblower tour boat approaching Falls

With a more modest, carless day planned, we slept in a bit this morning. Rather than the hotel breakfast buffet, we opted for a sugar-laden pastry breakfast at the Tim Hortons, a Canadian icon.

We looked at some of the attraction admission packages, but decided to go a la carte this time. We walked to the Canadian (Horseshoe) falls and purchased tickets to the tunnels behind the falls, but the tickets were for about an hour and a half later, at 12:40 pm. So we walked downstream to the Hornblower tour boats (the ones that go close to the falls from below), expecting a similar situation. We asked for tickets for around 6 pm, but found that they were good anytime.

While in that vicinity, we explored the gardens. Niagara Falls, Ontario has an extensive array of immaculately tended gardens, and they were worth a visit in their own right. We were actually looking for the well-known floral clock, only to find that it was quite some distance further downstream. We will perhaps visit there with the car tomorrow.


The Falls close up

Walking back to our appointment at Journey Behind the Falls, we stopped for hot dogs to avoid the expected sugar crash from breakfast. For the Journey itself, we were issued rain ponchos to wear and took an elevator down. We visited two galleries behind the falls, from which we could look out and see…mostly the spray of the falls. There was also a terrace out to the side that got us very close. But nevertheless the prevailing winds kept us quite dry; the ponchos were largely superfluous. We got wetter from the spray just walking down the sidewalk than we did behind the Falls.

After the Journey, we stopped for a “real” lunch and did a little shopping. Unfortunately many of the stores seem to have about the same souvenirs. We did find a toy store in the Fallsview Resort, which was fun to browse in. We then walked a different route in the general direction of the Hornblower dock.

Arriving at the Hornblower boat, there wasn’t much of a wait. We managed to get a place right at the bow of the boat, and got a great view of, initially, the American Falls. It’s really striking to see it so close up, even though I have seen it from a distance many times. As we approached the Horseshoe (Canadian) Falls, the wind and spray picked up considerably. The water around us was churning wildly, but the boat was very stable. We got quite close, although it’s hard to estimate how close because there isn’t much to get a size reference from. We stayed close to the Falls for several minutes before turning back. We agreed that this was the highlight of the day.

We walked up through more gardens to the Crowne Plaza hotel, which is an extensively renovated hotel from the early-mid 20th century (formerly the General Brock Hotel) where my family and I had stayed when I was 10 years old. They have added a water park to the back of the hotel, which would have been fun to try if it hadn’t been such a long walk back and forth to our hotel to get our swimsuits.

Dinner was at the Hard Rock Cafe, no doubt influenced by our recent visit to Cleveland. We enjoyed many of the music videos before walking back to our hotel through yet more attractive parks and gardens.

This article is part of a series about our recent vacation in the Great Lakes area. To see the introductory article in the series, click here.

July 13, 2016 / Jim Fenton

Great Lakes Day 4: Fenton History

June 22, 2016

Fenton Mansion, Jamestown, NY

Fenton Mansion, Jamestown, NY

We didn’t sleep well last night. Between the noise from the revelers arriving for the big Cleveland Cavaliers celebration today, and our own concern about being able to leave in the morning, we were awake a lot. We arose a little earlier than usual, showered, finished packing, and checked out of the hotel, skipping the free breakfast buffet (which was probably overcrowded anyway). We gave our ticket to the valet parking attendant and waited as we watched Cavaliers fans stream past the hotel.

A few minutes later, the car did arrive and the attendant suggested we go east on Superior Street to get out of town. We tried that, and rapidly came up against a wall of fans waiting for the parade. We turned around, navigated west a bit, and found an on-ramp for the Cleveland Shoreway that was unexpectedly clear. We were free. We drove out into suburbia, and found a Panera Bread where we ate our breakfast.

Our first destination of the day was Jamestown, New York, home of the Fenton History Center museum and research center. The facilities are named for Reuben Eaton Fenton, former Governor of New York and U.S. Senator, in whose mansion the History Center is located. Reuben Eaton Fenton is a grandson of my great-great-great-great grandfather Roswell Fenton, and a nephew of my great-great-great grandfather Stephen Fenton.

I introduced myself and was greeted by a couple of staff, none of whom were relatives. The Fenton Mansion in which the museum was located was well preserved and had a number of exhibits, not just about Reuben Fenton and family, but about Jamestown, the Civil War, and some early 20th century history. While not a large and widely visited museum, it was a good use of our time to visit.

We also stopped by the research center for the Fenton History Center, which has a small archive. We spoke at some length with the Collections Manager, Norman Carlson. He was interested in some of the genealogical information I have collected, and I will send that after the trip.

Just before and during our visit, we learned of other notable things in Jamestown. It was the birthplace of Lucille Ball, and the headquarters for Desilu Studios, which she and husband Desi Arnaz operated. It was also the home of Crescent Tool Company, makers of the famous Crescent adjustable wrenches. Ornithologist Roger Tory Peterson also hailed from Jamestown.

We stopped for a delicious lunch at the Havana Café, a local Cuban restaurant (no doubt inspired by Desi Arnaz’s local connection), where Celeste enjoyed her first Cuban sandwich. We then continued on to Buffalo.

In Buffalo, we made a short detour to the Darwin Martin House, designed and built by Frank Lloyd Wright. Although we were too late to take a tour, the exterior was so far ahead of its time, it’s hard to believe it was designed and built before 1910.


Horseshoe (Canadian) Falls

We then crossed the Canadian border to Niagara Falls, Ontario, our base for the next two nights. We took a walk down to look at the falls, which had of course not changed, but it was a first visit for Celeste. What had changed was that while it had always been touristy, it seems much more so today, perhaps because of the presence of a very large and prominent casino. We had dinner overlooking the Falls, making our plan for tomorrow, before retiring to our room and being treated to a fine fireworks show.

This article is part of a series about our recent vacation in the Great Lakes area. To see the introductory article in the series, click here.

July 12, 2016 / Jim Fenton

Great Lakes Day 3: Cleveland

June 21, 2016

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Entering the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

After breakfast this morning, we walked (about 0.7 mile) to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The HoF (as I’ll call it), is close to downtown near the shore of Lake Erie. It’s on about 6 levels, with the top two reserved for temporary exhibits. As directed, we started at the bottom, but since it was the beginning of the day, everyone was doing that so we started somewhere in the middle and returned to the bottom.

The exhibits were well done, and covered what you would expect: costumes, instruments, and other artifacts from the HoF inductees. There were also varied exhibits covering many other facets of rock and roll music; such as the impact of local DJs in different parts of the country. Of the several theaters, my favorite (and Celeste’s as well) was one showing short performances of the HoF inductees; as you might expect, the sound system was excellent. A special exhibit, “Louder than Words”, done in cooperation with the Newseum and covering the impact of music on political events, was particularly impactful for us.

Cuyahoga River

Cuyahoga River from the Goodtime III

After lunch at the HoF cafe (decent, for packaged food), we walked over to a tour cruise ship, the Goodtime III, which was docked nearby. We took a 2-hour cruise on the Cuyahoga River and nearby Lake Erie. The early part of the cruise, on the river, was extensively narrated and quite informative. I was happy to see how far Cleveland had come since I lived there as a young child. It paints the picture of being an up-and-coming medium sized city, with attractive apartments, trendy places to eat, and so forth. Happily, the Cuyahoga River doesn’t burn any more.

We made a quick return to the HoF gift shop, and then went back to the hotel to relax. We remembered the evening reception provided by the hotel, and made that our dinner, then set out to see more of the downtown. We noticed that a stage was being set up in the square next to the hotel, and wondered what that was about.

Our walking tour took us near Public Square (closed for renovation), to the Rockefeller Building where Dad had worked (for US Steel) when we lived in the area. After that we explored Tower Center, an indoor mall tied to Terminal Tower, the former tallest building in town.

On the way back, we realized that the stage being set up was probably a celebration for the Cleveland Cavaliers, who had won the NBA championship against our hometown Golden State Warriors a few days ago. The hotel was also getting very busy. Sure enough, about 500,000 are expected tomorrow and many streets will be closed, including the way we had planned to leave. Looks like we will have an “interesting” time getting out of town.

This article is part of a series about our recent vacation in the Great Lakes area. To see the introductory article in the series, click here.

July 11, 2016 / Jim Fenton

Great Lakes Day 2: Greenfield Village to Cleveland

June 20, 2016

The Wright Brothers' bicycle shop

The Wright Brothers’ bicycle shop

We started out today by returning to the Henry Ford Museum site, but this time visiting Greenfield Village, an outdoor museum started by Henry Ford in 1929. Upon entering, our first impression was that it seemed a lot like Main Street in Disneyland. This was with good reason: Ford and Walt Disney were good friends, and Disney got a lot of his ideas from what he saw at Greenfield Village.

The village featured a number of notable houses, schools, and other buildings that had in most cases been relocated to the site or replicated there. These included Henry Ford’s childhood home, the schoolhouse he attended as a child, the Wright brothers’ home and bicycle shop, and several of Thomas Edison’s labs, shops, and related buildings.


Bread Bowl with Beef

We ate there for lunch, and I learned that I need to recalibrate what I order to eat in this part of the country. I ordered a “bread bowl with beef” expecting a bread bowl with some beef stew in it, but instead got a bread bowl bottom piled high with shredded beef, a scoop of mashed potato, and at least two ladles of gravy. Much, much more than I can eat. The combination of lower-than-California prices and larger-than-California portions was a lesson for me.

After lunch, we toured some crafts (glass blowing, weaving, pottery, etc.) and then opted to pay a little extra for a ride in a 1914 Model T. The driver was friendly and informative; I learned about not just the Model T but also about the Model A that Dad had while in college.

We then headed for our next destination, Cleveland, and took a slight detour to Ann Arbor to see the University of Michigan. I know many U of M alumni but none of us had been to Ann Arbor before. We were quite impressed.

Just before arriving in Cleveland, we stopped at the suburb of Rocky River to see where I had lived from ages 3-7. The house looked different but very good, as did the whole neighborhood. We decided to get dinner in the Rocky River business district, which had changed a lot but there were still a couple of landmarks I remember: the Norge cleaners and Mr. Dugan’s barber shop were still where I remember them. We had dinner on the patio at the Burntwood Tavern, a brewpub


Drury Plaza hallway

that had probably been a movie theatre when I lived there, and then we continued to our hotel in downtown Cleveland.

We then continued to our hotel in downtown Cleveland.The Drury Plaza Hotel where we stayed had previously been the headquarters for the Cleveland School Department, and had the very official look of a Government building all the way to the marble floors and walls in the hallways. It was newly renovated, and they did an excellent job of marrying the comforts of a hotel with the hard exterior of a government building.

This article is part of a series about our recent vacation in the Great Lakes area. To see the introductory article in the series, click here.

July 10, 2016 / Jim Fenton

Great Lakes Day 1: Detroit

June 19, 2016

Detroit as seen from the Ambassador Bridge

Detroit as seen from the Ambassador Bridge

Detroit??”, you may be saying, “What a depressing place to go on vacation.” I guess we’ll find out…

We got a good start from Kitchener, and took a quick drive through the campus of University of Waterloo. The campus was much as I remembered it from when I visited in high school: very attractive. I was surprised that it didn’t seem to have aged much.

We were making good time down Highway 401 toward Detroit when we saw a lot of black smoke in the distance. A few kilometers down the road things came to a stop for half an hour or so, while we saw a fire truck and ambulance pass on the shoulder. It turned out that a semi truck had caught fire. When we eventually passed, the fire fighters were dousing it. It looked like the fire was confined to the trailer, so the driver was probably safe.

When we reached Windsor and the US border, we opted to take the Ambassador bridge. Our unusual itinerary seemed to amuse the US Customs inspector. “You’re touring the Great Lakes? What lakes are you going to see? What about Lake Superior and Michigan? You’re not going to see Lake Huron, even though it’s only a few miles up the road?” Although he may not have fully approved of our plans, he let us through.


Trying a classic car on for size

We headed straight to Dearborn to check in at our hotel, and then to the Henry Ford Museum a couple of miles away to make a quick afternoon visit. The museum was excellent, highlighting (of course) automotive history, with many notable vehicles (several Presidential limousines, prototypes, and one of the very few surviving EV1 electric cars), but also iconic examples of cars many of us have owned or driven. The museum wasn’t limited to cars (there were also some airplanes and agricultural vehicles) or even to vehicles (lots of exhibits on 20th century lifestyle). We unfortunately had only a couple of hours to tour the museum, and could have spent much more time. Even so, we enjoyed it greatly.

It was only about 5:30 and we had barely seen Detroit, so we planned a drive through the city and up to Grosse Pointe, one of the nicer suburbs, on the other side. We briefly considered visiting Lake Huron as suggested by the Customs inspector, but decided we had done enough driving for the day. Our drive took us through some of the depressed sections of Detroit (but fortunately, not too much) and the downtown area. When we reached the various Grosse Pointes (G.P. Woods, G.P Shores, etc.) the homes immediately looked much more prosperous. The drive took us along the shore of Lake St. Clair, which was beautiful. We decided to have dinner in the area, and found an excellent sports bar, Bogart’z, and had a pleasant dinner there before returning to the hotel.

This article is part of a series about our recent vacation in the Great Lakes area. To see the introductory article in the series, click here.

July 9, 2016 / Jim Fenton

Great Lakes Day 0: To Toronto

Yet again (this is the seventh year!), I kept a journal on our summer vacation for publication on this blog following our return. This year the publication of the journal is delayed by 3 weeks from real time, and I intend to post one installment every day or so over the next 2 weeks or so. The recurring characters in our story are myself (Jim), my wife Kenna, and our daughter Celeste. We hope you enjoy it!

June 18, 2016

Navigation Map

Navigation Map, SFO to YYZ

Like many of our summer vacations, this year’s is the evolution of an idea. As always, we had too many ideas to begin with; we had such a great trip to Europe last year, should we go back? We had also been thinking about going up to the Canadian Maritime provinces (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, etc.), but also had been thinking about nearby areas that we wanted to return to — my cousin’s cottage outside Toronto, upstate New York where my father grew up, and a bit of the Midwest. Soon the Maritimes dropped out entirely, and we are embarking on a circumnavigation of the eastern Great Lakes: Lake Ontario and Lake Erie.

We got a very “civilized” start this time, a 11:35 AM departure from San Francisco that let us have a normal night’s sleep and time to finish packing and close the house. At the airport, we checked our bags with Air Canada and encountered one of the long TSA security lines we have been hearing about this year. Fortunately, our boarding passes were marked for TSA pre-check and we were led to the front of the long line to go through the less onerous pre-check security process. We felt like real VIPs. It was totally worth the $85 fee and even the drive to Oakland last year to get enrolled in the Trusted Traveler Program.

I have heard some less than complimentary things about Air Canada in recent years, and that did cause me to pause and consider alternatives. But convenience and cost won out, and the service on Air Canada was actually quite good. Having an AC power outlet at nearly every seat was a nice touch, and allowed me to finish the flight with a full phone battery.

We decided to drive an hour or so west, to Kitchener, to stay for the night. Even though it was late, our jet lag and the late sunset made it seem less so. We’re well positioned for our drive to Detroit tomorrow.