Things To Do In Seneca Falls NY: Feel the (Women) Power!

WHY GO: Most of the things to do in Seneca Falls NY center around powerful women, the 19th century Women’s Rights Movement, and, surprisingly, the movie, It’s A Wonderful Life.

In the mid-1800s, America was questioning its ethics and morals vis a vis slavery, women’s rights, and the demon rum.

At the same time, little Seneca Falls, on a branch of the Erie Canal near Lake Ontario, was drawing Abolitionists, Suffragists, proponents of Temperance, and other agitators. A whirlwind of evangelical fervor so hot, this corner of northern New York State, came to be known as, “The burned over District.”

Suffragist Statues Womens Rights NHP Seneca Falls NY

Advocates for Women’s Rights, like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, Anti-Slavery Activists like Frederick Douglas and Harriet Tubman, spurred on movements that gained attention throughout the United States.

Even now, there’s an energy here that more and more visitors tap into. They do this by visiting the Women’s Rights National Historic Park, Stanton’s Seneca Falls Home, the Women’s Hall of Fame, and even It’s A Wonderful Life Museum – based on the uplifting, one-person-can-make-a-difference Frank Capra Movie.

Erie Canal Newark NY

End the day in the small Erie Canal town of Newark, in the former home base of the company that brought the “mail order rose” to mass market USA on this Women Power NY Getaway.

For more couples getaways inspiration, check out these Great Romantic Getaways in NY State.

Things to Do in Seneca Falls NY

Exterior Womens Rights NHP Seneca Falls NY

TOUR: Women’s Rights National Historical Park, Seneca Falls

Seneca Falls NY was the site of the first Women’s Rights Convention on July 19 & 20, 1848. The Women’s Rights National Historical Park tells the story of those brave enough to shake up societal conventions of the time, focusing most on suffragist, Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

Womens Rights Convention Seneca Falls NY

Cady Stanton in Seneca Falls

Stanton swore she’d rectify that with a true Women’s Rights Conference. She had recently attended a 2-day so-called “Women’s Rights Convention” in London, where only men were allowed to speak. In other words, women could be seen, but not heard.

Previously, Stanton lived in Boston with her attorney husband, and apparently, her father considered her a handful. As an attempt to tame his feminist daughter, Stanton’s father had sent her, along with her husband, to Seneca Falls – a Quaker stronghold. Living so far away, her father assumed, she wouldn’t cause trouble in Boston.

But without the distractions of the city, Stanton’s fervor for women’s equality blossomed. At the time, women didn’t have rights to their own children, title to property, or ability to vote. Stanton presented her Declaration of Sentiments – an “alt” Declaration of Independence – at a hastily planned Women’s Rights Convention.

Fashion Womens Rights NHP Seneca Falls NY

The 2-story Historical Park building features a wealth of exhibits about the Women’s Rights movement – then and now all over the world.

Mingle among 20 statues of women and men Suffragists. Most famous were Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott (Abolitionist from Philly), Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglas, Richard Hunt (financial backer who helped pay for the Wesleyan Chapel), and Martha Wright (known to neighbors as “a most dangerous woman”).

Declaration of Sentiments

Water Wall Womens Rights NHP Seneca Falls NY

The tour continues outside. A fountain-like “Water Wall,” etched with the complete Declaration of Sentiments, also features names of the 68 women and 32 men who signed it. Next door step into the restored Wesleyan Chapel, site of the Convention itself.

Over the years, the Chapel had been used as a laundry mat, and even a car mechanic shop. In 1980, the National Park Service purchased the property, and in 1993 opened it as a restored historic site.

Wesleyan Chapel Seneca Falls NY

Though 300 people attended the Women’s Right’s Conference, only 100 signed The Declaration of Sentiments, as it was dangerous to do so.

The First Women’s Rights Convention got the ball rolling on a very public issue. However, it needed a firebrand to turn it into a movement. That’s where Susan B. Anthony, who did not attend this first conference, came into play. Check website for dates and hours open.

Stanton Meets Anthony Statue Seneca Falls NY

PHOTO OP: When Anthony Met Stanton sculpture, Seneca Falls

In May 1851, Susan B. Anthony was in Seneca Falls for a Temperance meeting when a mutual friend, Amelia Bloomer, introduced her to Elizabeth Cady Stanton on a street corner. Connecting Bloomer, the inventor of the women’s lib pantaloons, with this persuasive writer, turned out to be a chance meeting that changed the course of history.

It’s been said that “Elizabeth forged the thunderbolts, and Susan hurled them.” Until then, Susan B. Anthony’s focus was temperance and anti-slavery. Stanton turned it towards women’s rights.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton Home Seneca Falls NY

VISIT: Elizabeth Cady Stanton House, Seneca Falls

Elizabeth Stanton raised 7 high-spirited children in this modest house. The Elizabeth Cady Stanton House is now about half the size it was originally, in 1847, when she moved in. In those days, referring to pregnancy or birth was scandalous. But that didn’t stop Stanton from flying a pink or blue flag outside her home each time she had a baby: shocking the neighbors.

Stanton’s Unruly Kids

The home has a multitude of windows. Stanton loved natural light, and felt fresh air was healthier than dark Victorian norms. Stanton’s mother was “super strict.” So, Elizabeth raised her own children with few rules. They learned “bad language” in local taverns, which they’d spout as they served food to guests. (Some visitors, like Lucrecia Mott, didn’t care. She also swore like a sailor).

Stanton’s husband called his children “miserable underdeveloped vandals.” (One would imagine, and hope, with tongue-in-cheek).

Susan B. Anthony visited often to watch the kids so Stanton could write, mostly while Stanton’s husband was off doing his Abolitionist work.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton was born in 1815, died in 1902 at age 87, and left diaries and letters. One was a missive to Teddy Roosevelt, informing the then President that he could be the “next Lincoln” if he emancipated women. That letter was never sent. Grounds open most days dawn to dusk, and tours leave from the Visitor’s Center in town. Check NPS website for dates and times.

National Women's Hall of Fame Seneca Falls NY

VISIT: National Women’s Hall of Fame, Seneca Falls

The National Women’s Hall of Fame, celebrating the outstanding accomplishments of American Women, was long in coming. Just 10% of historical figures represented in textbooks are female, even now. Established in 1969, in the town where the first Women’s Rights Convention was held in 1848, the NWHF’s has been fulfilling its mission – “Showcasing great women… Inspiring all!” – since 1973, when twenty women were first inducted. There are now over 300 honorees – in politics, science, business, sports, arts, and entertainment – and visitors can learn about each one through exhibits and information panels.

These, of course, include Abigail Adams, Maya Angelou, Susan B. Anthony, Hillary Clinton, Emily Dickinson, Ella Fitzgerald, Amelia Earhart, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Helen Keller, Annie Oakley, Georgia O’Keefe, Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, and Oprah Winfrey.

In the summer of 2020, the Women’s Hall of Fame moved from downtown into a new/old space across the canal – the 1844 Seneca Knitting Mill. So, if you haven’t been there lately, now is hte time to return. Open Seasonally. Check website for hours and dates open.

VISIT: It’s A Wonderful Life Museum, Seneca Falls

It’s A Wonderful Life Museum opened in 2010 inside Seneca Falls first movie house, built in 1913. One of only a handful of museums in the country devoted to a single movie, it’s a bit strange that this particular one is in Seneca Falls NY, as this beloved film was made entirely in California.

Frank Capra’s Inspiration

But, here’s the thinking. Director Frank Capra did visit this small town. At the time, he would have read the plaque on what’s come to be known as “Bailey’s Bridge,” honoring Antonio Varacalli, who “gave his life to save another” on April 12, 1917.

Varacalii, an Italian national like Capra, jumped from the bridge into the water to save a drowning man and died in the process. It’s assumed that the Director used Seneca Falls as inspiration for the fictional town of Bedford Falls in his movie.

Angel Bell Its A Wonderful Life Museum Seneca Falls NY

It’s A Wonderful Life was not originally slated for a Christmas release in 1947.  But, because Sinbad the Sailor was not ready, it was sent to theaters ahead of schedule, proving to be the movie’s downfall in popularity at the time.

Although marketed as a romcom, the story of a man contemplating suicide was quite the holiday downer. Especially since Americans were just returning from war. Consequently, It’s A Wonderful Life tanked at the box office, only finding a new and growing audience decades later on television.

Donna Reed Owen War Is Not Healthy Seneca Falls NY

The museum is full of artifacts from the movie, and items representing Capra’s unifying values. Among them, a ceramic bell inscribed with the famous quote, “Every time a bell rings, another angel gets his wings.” 

There’s an exhibit about Donna Reed’s organization, “Another Mother For Peace” and its associate poster, “War is Not Healthy for Children and Other Living Things.”

Karolyn Grimes: “Zuzu”

And, you can look through the portfolio that 6 year old Karolyn Grimes showed Capra when auditioning for the movie.

Karolyn Grimes Its A Wonderful Life Museum Seneca Falls NY

If you visit the 2nd weekend in December, you can meet and greet Grimes, (along with other Bailey children actors), who played 6 year old Zuzu in It’s A Wonderful Life.

Now, still beautiful in her 80’s, Grimes had the kind of life rife for a Capra film. She grew up in Hollywood, and worked with Buster Keeton, Bing Crosby, Jimmy Stewart, and Cary Grant (her favorite). When Grimes was 14, her mother died of cancer. The following year, her father was killed in a car accident.

So, Grimes was shipped off to her Uncle and “mean Aunt” in Missouri. There, she was forbidden to act – or even go to the movies. Subsequently, Grimes “learned about real people,” – merchants, teachers and others who “gave her the opportunity to see there are good people in the world.”

She became a Medical technician, married three times (her first husband was killed while deer hunting), and had seven children. In 1980, “a reporter called to  ask if I played ZuZu in It’s A Wonderful Life.”

This led to fan mail, interviews, and her very first viewing of the movie. Ever. At age 40.

In 1993, Target used It’s A Wonderful Life in its ads. Hence, Grimes, with the other Bailey-kid actors, was hired to represent the film where it was supposedly set. In Seneca Falls NY.

Fifteen years ago, the It’s A Wonderful Life Festival drew a few hundred people. Now, 10,000 to 20,000 people attend. The Museum, however, is open year round, and is now fundraising for a larger space – and expanded programming. Check website for opportunities to donate, and for dates and times open.

Seneca Museum of Waterways Industry NY

VISIT: Seneca Museum of Waterways and Industry, Seneca Falls

The story of Seneca Falls industry is told throughout the Seneca Museum of Waterways and Industry exhibits on three floors. Seneca Falls was considered “The Fire Engine Capital of the World” as base for Silsby Engines, and manufacturing center of Sylvania Color TV’s and Westcott Rulers.

Erie Canal Spur Bailey Bridge Seneca Falls NY

Best of all, the museum sits right on a spur of Erie Canal overlooking the Bailey Bridge. There are four canal locks (two double), in town, so plenty of boats tie up right outside. Besides exhibits, this museum offers toilets and other amenities for boaters on its ground floor. Check website for hours and dates open.

Lincoln Tea Set Seneca Falls Historical Society Museum NY

TOUR: Seneca Falls Historical Society

This stately 1855 Victorian home, home to the Seneca Falls Historical Society, is stuffed with Victoriana, of course. But it also contains artifacts specific to the town. Check out the tea set in the Drawing Room. First purchased by President James Monroe, and used by Abraham Lincoln, it was disposed of, in a way, by Mary Todd Lincoln.

Mary gifted the complete set to her friend William Seward (of Seward’s Folly fame), who lived nearby. The White House has since asked for the return of “Lincoln Tea Set,” but the Historical Society plans to keep it.

Grace Woodworth Camera Seneca Falls Historical Society Museum NY

If you are into exceptional women of the 1800s, you’ve hit pay-dirt. The SFHS displays the writing desk that belonged to Elizabeth Cady Stanton (one she left here when she moved to Brooklyn).

Most noteworthy is the camera owned and used by Grace Woodworth, the photographer best known for her portraits of her friend, Susan B. Anthony. Quite possibly taken with this very camera. Check website for dates, hours, and admission fees.

Erie Canal Boats

CYCLE/BOAT: Erie Canal – now the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor 

The Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor stretches 365 Miles from Albany to Buffalo. Since local road trips are becoming all the rage, travelers are now discovering small towns along the way. “End to Enders” as they’re called, are growing in numbers.

Seneca Falls is within the Finger Lakes Region near the north end of Cayuga Lake. A fun day’s outing would be to drive the 87-mile, or 3-hour, Cayuga Lake Scenic Byway loop. But for an even more intimate perspective, you can kayak trip along the Cayuga Seneca Canal and onto the Cayuga Lake Blueway Trail. (For more details, see our Cayuga Lake Travel Guide.)

NATURE: Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge

From downtown Seneca Falls, it’s just a 10 minute drive to the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge. Designated as an Audubon Important Bird Area, it’s an important stop on the Atlantic Flyway, and thus crowded with birders during the migratory seasons. But, it’s a perfect place to visit, even if you just want a leg stretcher, or to see wildlife. The 3-mile drive route and Visitor’s Center is open April-November, but you can walk the trails any time.

Restaurants In Seneca Falls NY

19 Cafe Seneca Falls NY

EAT: Café 19, Seneca Falls

The cute Cafe 19 references the 19th Amendment. It’s a cool breakfast and lunch spot, offering fresh-fresh soups, salads and sandwiches. Totally funky and modern with lots of Suffragist Pop Art.

EAT: Locals Love

El Bajio for Mexican; Sackett’s Table for the meats; 84 Fall for seafood and cocktails in a cozy space.

Seneca Falls NY Area Hotels

STAY: Vintage Gardens Bed and Breakfast

The Vintage Gardens Bed and Breakfast, an exquisite 5-room inn, has a special pedigree. It was the home of Charles Perkins and headquarters of the Jackson Perkins Rose Co. – the floral brokers who brought roses to America.

So, you can just imagine how beautiful the grounds are. (Prior to the Jackson-Perkins Mail Order Rose introduction at the 1939 World’s Fair, only the very wealthy could afford these flowing plants).

Just 30 minutes from Seneca Falls in the small, walkable Erie Canal town of Newark, Vintage Gardens is a pure escape from crowded cities and suburbs.

Vintage Gardens BnB Newark NY

In 2006, Kimberlee and Michael Meeks moved from California to Newark. According to Meeks, Newark is a “Mayberry picturesque community on the Canal.” They purchased this fine Tudor mansion – first built in 1838, renovated in the 1920’s – and have been “restoring it ever since.”

Many guests are through bicyclists on the Erie Canal Bike Trail looking for a splurge, TLC and a luxury overnight. They find it all here.

First Impressions of Vintage Gardens B&B

Garden Vintage Garden BnB Newark NY

The inn stands in a residential neighborhood, a couple of blocks from both a commercial highway and the Erie Canal. Both its location and ambiance was a delightful surprise, with naturally stunning gardens, a striking interior, and genuinely nice owners.

Solarium Vintage Gardens BnB Newark NY

Kimberlee greets guests in a sun-flooded solarium room. She offers fresh baked goodies and lots of information about the town and home.

Vintage Gardens BnB Stickley Floor

To get to your room, you must walk on unusual burnished wood floors. These feature bowtie and round peg inlay in fumed oak – the hallmarks of original Stickley. In the 1920’s, when the home was renovated, the Stickley factory just happened to be located nearby. Kimberlee is understandably protective of these floors, so asks that you carry your rolling luggage off the ground.

Rooms at Vintage Gardens B&B

Vintage Garden BnB Bedroom Newark NY

Each themed room is distinct, pristine, cozy and charming. Towels and welcome Hershey’s Kisses await on each bed.

Vintage Gardens BnB Bathroom

The Asian Lily Suite brings you to the Orient. It features Japanese prints, polished wood floor in the bathroom, stand alone soaking clawfoot tub, and crisp linens on a pillow-top iron canopy bed.

Breakfast

Vintage Garden BnB Breakfast

Kimberlee’s Stuffed Peach French Toast is the star of the A.M. – and hearty enough to get you through most of the day. Check website for room rates and availability.

More Romantic Getaways In The Finger Lakes Region

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  • Malerie Yolen-Cohen

    Malerie Yolen-Cohen is the Author of the cross-country travel guide, Stay On Route 6; Your Guide to All 3562 Miles of Transcontinental Route 6. She contributes frequently to Newsday, with credits in National Geographic Traveler, Ladies Home Journal, Yankee Magazine, Shape.com, Sierra Magazine, Porthole, Paddler, New England Boating, Huffington Post, and dozens of other publications. Malerie’s focus and specialty is Northeastern US, and she is constantly amazed by the caliber of restaurants and lodging in the unlikeliest places.

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