Touring Corning, NY – Glassworks, Gaffner’s Galleries, and Great Eats

Corning is one of western New York’s destination gems. Of course, the name, Corning, is known for dishes and glassware. The city of Corning, however, hosts not just one, but two, world-class museums. It’s also the southern gateway to the Finger Lakes Region and nearby Watkins Glen.

The Corning Museum of Glass was founded in 1950 as a testament to the history and versatility of molten silica. Spend at least a half-day browsing the exhibit halls, feasting your eyes on intricate examples of cultural glass. You will learn the history, art and science of glassmaking.

Note the size of the building. This is no small-town museum. In fact, it’s the third most popular tourist destination in the state. Glass facades rise skyward. The 120,000 square foot museum houses 3500 years of glass-making art. This is a destination worthy of your time.

Stroll into the modern art gallery from the airy lobby. Massive shapes of astounding variety resemble free-form stalagmites in an otherworldly cave. The world’s premier glass artisans created these designs: from solid mass to intricate, fragile sculptures – twining vines of glass tubing, discs and plates, odd shapes, swirled or solid colors, and multi-media art.

Explore the fascinating history of glassware from the first primitive shapes to intricate gifts for ancient royalty. See rare artifacts from before King Tut to 20th century Tiffany. Thimble-sized pots, jewelry, perfume and spice jars. Minutely detailed dollhouses, masks, and statuary. Imagine a throne of glass or a bed with a glass headboard. Glass eggs. Glass dolls. Even a Baccarat glass boat! Everything that can be shaped from clay, wood, metal or other materials have been created through the centuries in glass.

Examine the science and wonder of glass through several inter-active exhibits. Stand on a glass floor. Watch master craftsmen at work, demonstrating various ways of working with glass. Allow time to make your own souvenir: an ornament, beads, wind chimes or etched glass. The Corning Museum of Glass is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm (9-8 during the summer). Before you leave, browse the Glass Market for house wares, trinkets and collectibles.

The Corning Museum has free parking, so park for the day. Hop on a (summer) shuttle bus to the Gaffner District. This historic area along Market Street features artsy galleries, specialty shops, and eateries. Create your own pottery at the Earth Paint and Fire Studio. Look for a painting for your living room or den at the West End Gallery or Oil Paintings of Interest, both galleries are nearby. If you love antiques, browse Twin Tiers Antiques Plaza on Market Street or head for Antique Revival, just outside of town.

The Gaffner District is also home to the Rockwell Museum of Western Art, billed as “The Best of the West in the East”. Explore our American West through paintings, artifacts and special exhibits. From Ansel Adams to Indian art, the museum showcases some of the finest western art anywhere. Exhibits change periodically. The museum is not associated with Norman Rockwell, although one of his paintings is on display. Museum hours are the same as the Corning Museum of Glass. A combination Admission Ticket is a good bargain if you plan to tour both places.

When you get hungry, sample the Gaffner Grill and Tap Room for succulent Angus steaks or barbecued ribs. If you’re in the mood for Italian, stop at Sorge’s, a 50-year tradition on Market Street. In addition to mouth-watering Italian specialties, Sorge’s is also a Guinness World Record Holder for the world’s longest noodle (418 feet in 2003!). For five-star fine dining, make a reservation at the Three Birds Restaurant. Menu selections include elegantly named, exquisitely prepared seafood and regional specialties.

If you’ve more than a day to spend in the area, visit the Corning-Painted Post Historical Society’s Benjamin Patterson Inn Museum on Pulteney Street. The Inn, originally known as the Painted Post Tavern, was built in 1796. It has been restored, along with a log cabin, blacksmith’s shop, schoolhouse and other historical structures. The original Painted Post Rail Depot (c. 1881) has also been restored. A combined tour ticket includes lunch at Sorge’s Restaurant and a discount shopping booklet. Contact the Patterson Inn Museum http://www.pattersoninnmuseum.org.

Other notable area attractions include Watkins Glen, the Wings of Eagles Discovery Center, and numerous winery tours. The Discovery Center (near Elmira-Corning Regional Airport) hosts an airpower museum with more than 30 aircraft. With reservations, you can soar the skies in a vintage airplane.

Watkins Glen is known for the road-race track. It hosts several SCCA and other races each year. Watkins Glen State Park boasts some of the most beautiful scenery, hiking trails and camping in America. Cascading waterfalls (19 of them) drop the stream almost 400 feet along the two-mile trail. Bring a swimming suit for the outdoor pool and hiking shoes for exploring the trails or the rim of the canyon. If you love to fish, bring a pole! Seneca Lake and area streams are famous for excellent fishing.

For a leisurely stay, consider a historic Bed and Breakfast. Hillcrest Manor, a restored 1890’s mansion, is within walking distance of downtown. The Rufus Tanner House, located outside of town, is an 1864 Greek Revival farmhouse with in-room fireplaces, beautiful gardens and an outdoor hot tub (always our favorite way to end a day).

Of course, traditional hotels are available as well. The Radisson Hotel Corning is located in the historic district. Settle in, soak your aches away in the Jacuzzi spa, and then snuggle in on a Sleep Number bed while you dream of the bargains you’ll find tomorrow! For ‘suite’ accommodations, try Staybridge Suites – within walking distance of the historic district and Corning Museum of Glass. Staybridge offers a complimentary breakfast. Other hotels include Comfort Inn, Days Inn and Fairfield. Camping sites also abound.

The city of Corning (current pop. 10,478) was settled in 1788. Timber and farming built the community. It was formally incorporated in 1848 as a ‘village’. The canal system (Erie Canal and its tributaries) helped develop the area by providing transport for timber, coal and other goods. Twenty years later, shipments of Pennsylvania coal supplied fuel for a developing glass industry. Corning became a city by 1890. Today the company that has become synonymous with the city, Corning Inc, is one of America’s Fortune 500 companies.

If you’re within driving distance – or even if you’re not – Corning NY is a worthy destination. Located just off I-86, it’s easily accessible and eminently enjoyable. Go for a day trip, a mini-vacation, or an extended stay.