A visit to the coolest small town in America

Updated Thu, May 05, 2016 10:03 AM EDT (from buffalonews.com)

AR-160509545.jpg&MaxW=600&MaxH=400 In March, when my college-age daughter was on spring break, we took a day trip to Owego, a small but charming village on the Susquehanna River, located about 3½ hours from Buffalo and about 20 miles west of Binghamton. In 2009, Owego was named “The Coolest Small Town in America,” by Budget Travel Magazine. I can understand why, given the quaint, walkable downtown shopping district filled with boutiques, antique shops, art galleries, and cafes.

Founded in 1800, the village was originally called Ahwaga, “where the village widens,” by the Iroquois Nation. The most prominent building you’ll notice when you cross the bridge over the Susquehanna River to get to Owego is the Tioga County Courthouse. Built in 1872, it is the oldest functioning courthouse in New York.

The area adjacent to the courthouse, along Front and Lake streets, is referred to as the Historic Owego Marketplace. Many of the restored buildings, which house the various shops and cafes, date back to the 19th century. Parking in the area is at a premium, so don’t be surprised if you have to drive around a bit to find a place to park. We were lucky; we found a place on the street right by the courthouse.

We started by browsing though some of the shops on Front Street. Described here is just a sampling of what can be found. The Goat Boy has a variety of items, including Vera Bradley, Polish pottery, jewelry, gift items, and items for babies.

Across the street, there are several shops in the block of buildings known as Riverow on Front Street. Ruscak Stained Glass Studio has a gift shop with glass items made by local artisans, such as sun catchers, vases, and jewelry. It also carries the materials to craft stained glass items, as well as do stained glass repair work. East of the Sun, West of the Moon, specializes in handcrafted items, especially jewelry and pottery. They even have handcrafted kaleidoscopes.

A few doors down, The Left Bank, features French shabby chic décor, with a selection of jewelry, antiques, and laces. The Black Cat, has artwork, as well as handcrafted items, while next door, Katies Kreations has a large selection of jewelry, including Wind & Fire jewelry, which is made in the USA from recycled brass.

The Hand of Man shop has thousands of items, including Christmas ornaments, nut crackers, matryoshka nesting dolls, Santas, antique dolls, glassware, gourmet foods, candles, lotions and so much more. I personally felt almost claustrophobic in here are there were so many things to look at; my daughter, on the other hand, loved it.

We had lunch in the River Rose Café, located in the back of the Hand of Man, which is open daily for lunch. You can eat indoors or on a nice day, eat outside on the deck which overlooks the bridge and river. We happened to be there that March day when temperatures were in the 70s, so we enjoyed our lunch on the deck. The menu consists of salads, sandwiches and paninis, some named after people from Owego’s past.

After lunch we still had another street of shops to explore. Here is just a sampling what can be found along Lake Street. The Riverow Bookshop at the corner of Front and Lake streets has new books, as well as used books at discounted prices. We enjoyed sampling (and buying) fudge at Fuddy Duddy Candy. A few doors down, The Petal Pusher Gift Shop features locally made items, including soaps, lotions, greeting cards, jewelry, antiques and more. They also have several adorable little dogs that run up to greet you when you enter the shop.

If you like antiques, be sure to stop at the Early Owego Antique Center. This 21,000-square-foot antique center, located in the former J.J. Newberry Department Store, has more than 90 dealers. You could easily spend hours here.

If we had more time we would have strolled along the new Owego Riverwalk, which runs along the river from Draper Park, goes underneath the Susquehanna River Bridge, passes behind the Riverow on Front Street, and ends in Ahwaga Park. If we had another hour we might have also done the Owego Walking Tour, a free, self-guided cellphone walking tour of Owego’s historic homes along Front Street. The tour is broken down into two sections, with each section taking about a half hour.

We did have a chance to look at some of the murals that are part of the Tioga County Historic Mural Collection. Thirteen murals, depicting historic structures in each of Tioga County’s towns and villages can be found on the Tioga County office building. There are also murals depicting life in the early 1900s painted on the windows of the Parkview Restaurant.

The next time we visit, we will plan on staying overnight so we can visit at a more leisurely pace. The Pumpelly House Estate B&B looked nice and was within walking distance of the downtown shopping area. There are also several chain hotels; Hampton Inn, Holiday Inn and Treadway Inn a short drive away.

June is a popular time to visit Owego, especially if you like strawberries. The 36th annual Owego Strawberry Festival will take place June 17-18. The event, one of the largest festivals in central New York, features a parade, live entertainment, arts and craft vendors, a 5K race, and of course, lots of strawberry treats.

On the first Friday of every month the 1st Friday Art Walk takes place from 5 to 8 p.m. in participating shops in the Historic Owego Marketplace. This event showcases artists, musicians, writers, and performers.

If you go
Historic Owego Marketplace: owegolovesshoppers.com

Tioga County Tourism: 80 North Ave., Owego (800) 671-7772, visittioga.com. Open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday.

Owego Walking Tour (free cellphone tour): Dial (607) 354-4080 and follow the prompts.

Directions: From Buffalo, take the New York State Thruway (I-90) east to exit 46 (I-390) and head south toward Corning. The I-390 ends at the I-86. Take I-86/Route 17 east toward Binghamton. Owego is exit 64.