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Glenn H. Curtiss Museum a highlight near New York’s Finger LakesGlenn H. Curtiss Museum a highlight near New York’s Finger Lakes

Wings and Wheels in Hammondsport beckons to seaplane pilots in SeptemberWings and Wheels in Hammondsport beckons to seaplane pilots in September

Penn Yan, at the northern tip of Keuka Lake, can be your gateway to explore New York’s Finger Lakes Region, an area rich in history, culture, and beauty. Keuka Lake is the center-most lake in this unique chain of 11 long, thin lakes formed as glaciers carved their way through the area over 100 million years ago. Nowadays, the lakes provide endless recreation for boaters and fishermen. The region is also known for its numerous vineyards and apple orchards, from which excellent wines and ciders are crafted. Enjoy a day on the golf links and visit the Glenn H. Curtiss Museum, which honors one of aviation’s most important pioneers. Each September, the museum throws a big seaplane party on the lake to honor Curtiss, the inventor of the seaplane.

  • The Glenn H. Curtiss Museum’s 2007 reproduction of the 1914 Curtiss flying boat “America” flies over Keuka Lake near Hammondsport, New York. Photo courtesy Glenn H. Curtiss Museum.
  • The original 1914 Curtiss “America” takes off from Keuka Lake. Note the man standing on the bottom wing, in addition to the pilot inside the cockpit. The two 100-hp Curtiss OXX6 engines counter-rotate to eliminate engine torque and “P” factor and the horizontal stabilizer is a positive airfoil, unlike modern aircraft which utilize a negative airfoil for dynamic stability. Photo courtesy Glenn H. Curtiss Museum.
  • The 2007 Curtiss “America” reproduction in the water at Keuka Lake. The aircraft, engines, fuel, oil, and crew weighed in at 4,100 pounds. With its 72-foot upper and 46-foot lower wing spans, sporting a 7-foot chord, the “America” has about the same wing area to weight ratio as a Piper J-3 Cub. Photo courtesy Glenn H. Curtiss Museum.
  • The first multiengine flying boat, the “America” was built to be the first airplane to cross the Atlantic Ocean. The original flight was canceled because of World War I, but a Curtiss NC-4 flying boat crossed the Atlantic in 1919. Photo courtesy Glenn H. Curtiss Museum.
  • The original 1914 Curtiss “America.” Conventional controls were just coming into use at that time. The America’s flight controls were huge: 17-foot ailerons, with rudder and elevators proportionately just as large. Trim tabs had not yet been invented. Photo courtesy Glenn H. Curtiss Museum.
  • The original 1911 Curtiss A-1 “Triad” takes off from a glassy Keuka Lake. This early seaplane was the first successful amphibious airplane and the first U.S. Navy aircraft, which is why Glenn Curtiss is called “the father of naval aviation.” It had a retractable landing gear. Photo courtesy Glenn H. Curtiss Museum.
  • The Glenn H. Curtiss Museum’s reproduction Curtiss A-1 “Triad” lifts off from Keuka Lake. The original A-1 participated in the U.S. Navy’s early catapult trials and was the first aircraft U.S. Navy aviators learned to fly. Photo courtesy Glenn H. Curtiss Museum.
  • The Glenn H. Curtiss Museum’s reproduction Curtiss A-1 “Triad” flies over Keuka Lake. The A-1’s nickname derived from the fact that the aircraft could be operated in the air, on land, and in the water. Photo courtesy Glenn H. Curtiss Museum.
  • Each year, the Glenn H. Curtiss Museum holds a car and airplane show, seaplane splash-in, and “parade of planes” to honor Glenn H. Curtiss, who invented the seaplane. Here, a seaplane step-taxis on Keuka Lake during the parade of planes. Photo courtesy Glenn H. Curtiss Museum.
  • Friends and family goof around on two sailboats by splashing water at each other on Keuka Lake. Photo by Chris Brooks via Flickr.
  • Keuka Lake’s clean waters are popular for boating and swimming. Photo by Chris Brooks via Flickr.
  • In Penn Yan, you can walk a historic path on the seven-mile Keuka Outlet Trail, which begins behind Birkett Mills. You’ll see old canal locks, abandoned railroad tracks, historical markers, and wetlands that attract wildlife, especially birds. Two scenic stops along the way are Seneca Mills Falls (shown here) and Cascade Mills Falls. Photo by Ted Sakshaug via Flickr.
  • Keuka Lake, viewed from Bully Hills Vineyards. The 1976 passage of the Farm Winery Act allowed small New York wineries to sell directly to restaurants and the public. Dozens of wineries opened, igniting a vibrant tourist industry around the Finger Lakes. Photo by Vinetastic via Flickr.
  • In Penn Yan, the Trimmer House is rich with history and Victorian charm, coupled with modern comforts. Next door, a lovely Art & Crafts-style guest house offers three bedrooms and two baths plus a hot tub in over 2,000 square feet. Photo courtesy Trimmer House.
  • A giant griddle, used to make a world-record pancake in 1987, is displayed on the side of the Birkett Mills building. At the Trimmer House B&B, your breakfast will include pancakes or waffles made from Birkett Mills buckwheat, as well as fresh fruits and egg dishes. Photo by J. Stephen Conn via Flickr.

The Glenn H. Curtiss Museum is in Hammondsport, about 20 miles from Penn Yan, at the south end of Keuka Lake. If you have the short/soft-field skills and the right type of airplane, you don’t even have to drive: You can land at Ray Kolo’s private, 1,800-foot grass strip, just 1.5 miles west of the museum, at 42° 23.53’ N, 77° 15.07’ W. Ray mows it but reminds you that use is at your own risk; please call him prior to landing there (607/569-3587). Call the museum after landing for free pickup.

Anyone with an interest in the early history of aviation should make a point to visit the Curtiss museum. Although the Wright brothers were in the air first, the achievements of Glenn Curtiss rank right up there with the Wrights, and this museum boasts a particularly rich and detailed array of exhibits. Curtiss broke speed and long-distance records with his airplanes, innovated constantly, and generously shared his innovations with others (unlike the Wrights). Curtiss invented seaplanes and is known as the “father of naval aviation.” The museum’s incredibly accurate reproductions have been produced in-house. The all-red reproduction of the twin-engine Curtiss America, with a 72-foot wingspan and 34-foot fuselage, is breathtaking. Museum pilots Jim Poel and Lee Sackett reported that the aircraft went from displacement to flight at 38 mph, without ever getting on the step, and that it was the softest-landing seaplane they had ever flown.

Unlike the other Finger Lakes, which are long and narrow, Keuka Lake is shaped like a Y. Photo by Carl Mueller via Flickr.

Each September, generally the third weekend of the month, the museum holds the Wings and Wheels in Hammondsport and Seaplane Homecoming events. No activities are planned Friday, but the town docks and amphibian ramp are available, as is a beach on the southeastern shore—and Kolo’s field. Those who arrive Friday enjoy the local bars and restaurants. In addition to the exotic cars, Saturday brings STOL and bomb-dropping contests, a “seaplane parade” (taxiing on Keuka Lake) to honor Curtiss, and a dinner banquet. Local flights off the lake and flybys take place both Saturday and Sunday. The unicom frequency is 123.45 MHz. The event is free to all; register online.

In Hammondsport, the Village Tavern offers a huge selection of beers and wines; the menu goes from seafood to steaks to their famous fish fry. They also have a four-room inn.

  Numerous historic homes can be found in Penn Yan. Photo by Doug Kerr via Flickr.

There’s plenty of fun to be had around Penn Yan, as well. The unusual name dates to 1807 and acknowledges the equal numbers of Pennsylvanians and New England “Yankees” who settled here. The most isolated of the Finger Lakes, Keuka Lake is very clean and excellent for swimming and fishing. Rent a powerboat or sailboat, canoe, kayak, SUP, or paddleboat. Hikers can take the Keuka Outlet Trail to see historic locks, tracks, and other landmarks, as well as two waterfalls and a wetland loaded with birds. You also can rent a bike and ride a 26-mile loop around part of the lake. If golf is more your style, Lakeside Country Club offers a challenging 18-hole golf course with great lake views.

Numerous wineries dot the area, which is known for its Cabernet Francs and Rieslings. Some wineries have restaurants and even art galleries in addition to wine tasting. A few standouts include Ravines Wine Cellars, Bully Hills Vineyards, and McGregor Vineyard and Winery. Stay at the historic Trimmer House in the village of Penn Yan, built in 1891 and beautifully restored, complete with furniture crafted by local Mennonites. Enjoy a breakfast of buckwheat pancakes or waffles made with locally milled buckwheat. Aviation, history, recreation, and good food and wine—it’s all here at Keuka Lake.

McGregor’s signature Black Russian Red is made from Saperavi and Sereksiya Charni grapes. Photo courtesy McGregor Vineyard and Winery.
Crista Worthy

Crista V. Worthy

Crista V. Worthy has been flying around the United States with her pilot-husband Fred and their children since 1995, and writing about fun places to fly since 2006. She has single-engine land and sea ratings. Her favorite places to explore are the backcountry strips of Idaho and Utah's red rock country. She currently lives in Idaho and serves as editor of The Flyline, the monthly publication of the Idaho Aviation Association.
Topics: US Travel

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