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Willa Cather North by Northeast

Cather Related Site-Seeing North of New York City and East of Ohio

Cherry Valley, New York: Isabelle McClung's Retreat

Tour written by Sherrill Harbison

The Five Colleges, Amherst, Massachusetts

Willa Cather spent three happy and productive months—October-December 1911—in Cherry Valley, N.Y., working on what would later become O Pioneers!. Isabelle McClung, who loved her mother's native town, rented a house here for them both, and Cather reported to her boss S.S. McClure that the place made her feel better than she had in years—she was sleeping well, enjoying even rainy weather, and not thinking at all about magazine work. (It must have been a quiet place--Cather wrote her sister Jessica Auld that she could find nothing there to buy for Christmas gifts for her nieces.) To my knowledge, the particular cottage they rented—if it still exists—has not been identified.

Long before Cather's time, the town had been the site of a famous Revolutionary War massacre in November 1778, when Mohawk leader Joseph Brant, along with Tory rangers, killed 47 residents, mostly by tomahawk. The Cherry Valley Museum includes a diorama illustrating the attack. Today the town is a New York Landscape District and HistoricVillage, and unlike in Cather's time, there are plenty of places to buy gifts, as well as restaurants and bed-and-breakfasts geared to tourist trade.

Getting to Cherry Valley

Cherry Valley is situated in Leatherstocking country twelve miles northeast of Cooperstown and Otsego Lake on county route 166. (map) Drivers approaching from the N.Y. Thruway, I-90, should take Fultonville Exit 27. (Just off the Fultonville exit, and visible from the Thruway, is the Auriesville Shrine; see tour titled "On the Martyrs' Trail: Indians and Missionaries in the Champlain and Mohawk Valleys.") The Cherry Valley Museum at 49 Main St. (map) houses a large collection of artifacts related to the history of the town and surrounding areas, open daily 10-5 between Memorial Day and October 15. Visit: one hour.

Hostelries tend to be bed-and breakfasts in historic houses, from Federal to farmhouse to Victorian. There are other choices in nearby Cooperstown, catering to Baseball Hall of Fame and Glimmerglass Opera clientele. A few suggestions follow; for more about lodging, eateries, and tourist information see or

Pleasant View Breakfast House and Cottages. The Carsons, 1524 County Highway 54, Cherry Valley, N.Y. 13320. (607) 264-3980. Boasts 75-mile view of the Mohawk Valley, Adirondacks, and the Green Mountains of Vermont. Dining.

Coats House. 1835 farmhouse on 75 acres, turned B & B. On Rt. 166, in walking distance to country store and café. (607) 264-3630. Email:

Limestone Mansion. Victorian B & B, 33 Main St., P.O. Box 381, Cherry Valley, N.Y. 13320. German and continental dining. (607) 264-3741.

Tour written by Sherrill Harbison, The Five Colleges, Amherst, Massachusetts - 2003

Sponsored by the Cather Project, 2003