While it’s unlikely to be mistaken for the timeless landscapes of Tuscany, or even the nearby Finger Lakes, the rolling hills of westernmost New York have more than a few moments of picturesque perfection. Rows of craggy vines surround an endless parade of 150-year-old farmhouses, all topped by delightful bell tower-like cupolas, and all in varying stages of repair and oblivion. Signs for “Indian Cigarettes” interrupt the idyll, but the shaggy vineyards are still productive and profitable, especially around Westfield (pop. 3,006), known locally as Vine City because of its large Italian American grape-growing community.
The tangy Concord grape was introduced to the region in 1859, but it wasn’t until 1896 that Charles Welch and his father moved to Westfield and founded the factory that led to Westfield’s long-standing nickname, the “Grape Juice Capital of the World.” Westfield is also in the history books thanks to a local 11-year-old girl who, during the presidential campaign of 1860, urged candidate Abraham Lincoln to grow a beard, which he did to iconic effect. A statue on Main Street commemorates the scene.
Only a mile (1.6 km) south of the I-90 Thruway, Westfield offers a quick but satisfying taste of what old road travel is all about: a spacious central park surrounded by church spires, and a compact Main Street lined by brick buildings housing antiques shops and thrift shops. Best of all, the no-frills Main Diner (40 E. Main St., 716/326-4351, 6am-2:30pm daily, plus Fri. evening), right in the heart of downtown, is a pleasant place to grab a cup of coffee and sandwich while watching the pickup trucks cruise past. (For all you diner mavens, the building is a 1929 Ward & Dickinson, originally fabricated in neighboring Silver Creek.)
Across I-90 from Westfield along waterfront Hwy-5, Lake Erie’s Barcelona Harbor is home to the landmark Barcelona Lighthouse, which was constructed in 1829 and two years later was the first lighthouse in the world to be lit by natural gas. There are a couple of nice cafés nearby, and though the lighthouse itself is prominent even from the road, it stands on private property and is not accessible to visitors.