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WHY GO: When Thomas Edison required a “glass envelope” for his electric light, he asked the geniuses at Corning Glass to engineer something that would withstand the high temperature of the fragile filaments. The scientists came up with the design we still use today – the light bulb. Established in 1851, Corning Glass Works moved from Brooklyn NY in 1868 to this midwest NY locale to be closer to coal (heating) sources, and it has been here ever since. To say that Corning is a company town would be an understatement. Most residents here work for the lab that gave the world the 2-cup Pyrex Measuring Cup, Corelle tableware, and lately, Gorilla Glass for cellphones. (In 1998, Corning Glass spun off its consumer lines and focuses on science, technology, and fiber-optic communications products). It has grown into a $10 Billion company with 46,000 employees around the world. Many live here.
Unless you are doing business with Corning, or interviewing for a job, most travelers visit for one main reason: the fantastically engaging Corning Museum of Glass. But, this is not the only reason to plan a couple of days here. Corning is also home to the Smithsonian Affiliate Rockwell Museum, a bright and cheery feminist bookstore, a downtown full of fun shops and restaurants, and a bevy of chain hotels to choose from.
Things to Do in Corning NY
TOUR/MAKE: Corning Museum of Glass, Corning. This intriguing museum brings you closer to the best of contemporary studio glass and glass throughout the ages than any other institution in the world. In 2015, a new 100,000 sq. ft. wing was built for the museum’s highly admired collection of Contemporary Glass, with weird and creative exhibits, installed in 26,000 sq ft of bright white galleries, that make you think and smile, and often stare in wonder. Be prepared to Instagram the hell out of each piece.
Plan to spend an hour perusing the History of Glass section, which begins with “The Origins of Glassmaking” in 2,000 BCE. Naturally, there’s lots of pearlescent Roman Glass: those ancient Italians invented glassblowing, which up until then had been made in molds. You’ll see a good amount of dainty, colorful Islamic glass, which introduced relief or cameo-style elements, Venetian Glass, gilded Russian Glass, deeply colored chandeliers popular with Indian Royalty, and fantastical glass furniture. One, an ornamental glass table topped by a frenetic, Rococo-ish punch bowl is said to have a twin once owned by Liberace. Naturally, you’ll find American glass from Jamestown to Corning – aka “Crystal City” – the Waterford of America with concentration on cut glass from the 1850’s to early 1900’s and the “largest collection of glass paperweights in the world” including “Megaplanet” – the “World’s Largest Paperweight by Josh Simpson (available for $80,000 in the gift shop).
Before seeing a “Hot Glass Demo” where a bowl is made on the spot, take some time to explore three floating pavilions of the interactive Innovation Center. For the ultimate in interactive, book a Make Your Own glass from $22 for a glass bead to $32 for glass flower or ornament. I can attest to the thrill of working with molten glass as it emerges from a 2,000-degree furnace. There’s nothing like it. RSVP is necessary – and slots fill up quickly. Museum open daily 9-5pm (until 8pm in summer). $19.50 adults, under 17, free.
VISIT: The Rockwell Museum (Smithsonian Affiliate). What a Museum of American Art, with a focus on Western Art, is doing in this Northeastern US town is somewhat of a puzzle, but one that should be contemplated from inside its grand halls. Intimate and approachable, with welcoming staff that are very happy to see you there, The Rockwell Museum showcases Audubon to Warhol, and everything in between – with a deep dive into Frederic Remington and Charles Russell.
The building itself – formerly the 19th century Corning Old City Hall – is exceptionally beautiful, and should be seen from both inside and out. After scoping out the art, be sure to spend some time in the terrific gift shop – you’ll be sure to find a functional work of art (or book, or jewelry) for yourself or friend at a reasonable price. Open daily 9-5, 9-8 in summertime, $11 adults, under 17 free.
SHOP: Card Carrying Books and Gifts. Do you have a little feminist at home? And by “little,” I mean a young pre-pre-teen daughter you’d like to see grow up with the self-confidence to take on the world? This cool bookstore is so much more than just books. It’s mission – to create a feminist future by providing great books, exclusive gifts, and quirky cards for socially progressive folks of all ages – is just the start. Card Carrying Books activism agenda includes a monthly Girl Gang Youth Group for locals. But fear not; you can sign up for a monthly packet of books, activism material and “delightful merch” delivered right to your door.
Where to Eat and Stay in Corning NY
EAT: Locals seem to love almost everything in town. Try Hand and Foot – the newest sensation – for contemporary bites, The Cellar for great tapas, and Slammin Jammin BBQ, which has been given the thumbs up by bbq-savy Southerners.
STAY: You have your pick of chain hotels, and generally the Radisson Corning gets the best reviews. But I stayed at the Corning Comfort Inn – a 10 minute walk from the Corning Museum of Glass – and was pleasantly surprised. Though not much to look at from the outside, guest rooms have been updated, and service is excellent. In the afternoon, you’ll find warm cookies, a cheese tray and other bites in the lobby – all complimentary. In the morning, there’s a nice hot breakfast buffet with eggs, bacon, and more, again comp with room. As said room room rate hovers in the low $100’s (starting at $119 when this was written), I’d say that’s a terrifically good deal.