In 1829 the Reverend William Botswick planted the very first grapevine in Hammondsport, NY and the boom of wine making in in the Finger Lakes Region was born. Just a few years later in 1835 the Garrett & Company winery would begin its long and successful career in North Carolina. After the Finger Lakes region of Upstate NY became known for its ideal growing conditions, in 1903 Paul Garrett would bring his North Carolina wine making company to New York State. His company’s Virginia Dare Wine would become one of the most popular wines in American culture, though it was based on a Southern grape the ‘Scuppernog’ that he brought with him from his home state. Garrett & Company would go on to be one of the larger and more successful wine making companies of the Eastern United States and Paul Garrett’s wealth would continue to grow as fast as his grapes. In 1919, Prohibition would prove to slow the company’s progress, but Garrett’s ingenuity defeated the hiccup in America’s alcohol history. In his Brooklyn plant, he created the process to remove the alcohol content from his wine, allowing the wine to be sold as non-alcoholic, and also allowing him to create a process for manufacturing flavoring extracts with the alcohol. With both processes up and running, Garrett’s wealth and stature continued to make a splash in the wine culture of the East. Though Garrett & Company owned operations and property all over, it was on the green rolling hills overlooking Keuka Lake that much of his grape supply grew. Though neither Luke nor I drink wine, there was a very specific reason we drove all the way to Bluff Point to visit the property, and it was entirely worth the trip.
Many of Paul and Evelyn Garrett’s children died at a young age, but when Charles, the only Garrett son who would live to be an adult, contracted tuberculosis and passed away in 1929, the last chance at a namesake heir died with him. The Garretts and the three remaining children, all daughters, made the decision to erect a most prestigious of memories for Charles on the land he loved the most and the Garrett Memorial Chapel plans were underway.
The Garrett’s chose a 6th Century Norman Gothic style of architecture to construct their memorial. Unfortunately, what I know of Gothic architecture is that it began in the 12th century in France, so it’s tough for me to understand what’s meant by this type of architecture and to share it with you. The chapel was consecrated on July 12, 1931, and not long after it was deeded to the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester who continues to oversee it today in partnership with a separate non-profit managing the property. On March 30, 2001 the chapel was placed on the National List of Historic Places, a most distinguished honor for any historical landmark.
Luke and I had been in Penn Yan all day researching and visiting places relevant to the Publick Universal Friend, but we took a break from the day-long project to stop and visit Garrett. It was a perfect Upstate NY summer day in the Finger Lakes with bright blue skies and fluffy white clouds. Normally I tend not to notice that stuff, and certainly tend not to share it even when I do notice, but it seemed so pronounced as we drove through the winding roads of the green hill tops that the majesty of the region couldn’t go unnoticed. As we drove down a seasonal roadway under canopied trees, we realized we had arrived. The wrought iron gates along the road coupled with trees and greenery surrounding the few story stone chapel made me instantly feel like I was looking at a postcard from an old-worlde country. I let Luke out at the gate and drove on to find a somewhat precarious stone driveway that double-backed on the hillside and brought me to a little grass covered parking area that would fit maybe six cars uncomfortably. I walked up the path marveling at the commanding stature of a seemingly small chapel. Though its overall size isn’t noteworthy, its position on the hillside and the surrounding landscaping with the bright blue lake in the distance really was quite a sight. It was the perfect vision of a grieving father’s memorial to a son.
Luke and I met back up and began taking all of our photos. There were a couple other people mingling about quietly and a maintenance truck parked nearby that seemed to have someone in it, but that person never made themselves known or anymore present than to be parked on the premises. With nearly no one around and perfect silence blanketing the entire hillside, the chapel had a peaceful beauty that made it obvious why it’s chosen so often as a wedding destination. We entered the sanctuary and looked around at the stained glass, though somewhat quizzically. We knew from our research ahead of time that there was Tiffany stained glass at the chapel, but we were fairly certain that what we were looking at couldn’t have been Tiffany–much of the detail on the glass had been painted on. With no one anywhere to be seen or heard, we felt somewhat at ease to explore and look a bit more closely in areas that we might not normally feel comfortable approaching (like, an altar) without consent.
We exited back out of the sanctuary and descended an outside spiral stone staircase that led to a grotto of sorts underneath the sanctuary. As we walked in, we realized we now were face to face with the crypt where the Garrett family is forever resting. Furthermore, they are resting with the glow of reds and blues and golds and greens that shine through what we immediately recognized to be Tiffany glass windows above each of the stone coffins. There is a gate preventing visitors from entering into the burial vault, but it’s easy to feel as though just peering in is as good as standing next to a coffin. The eerie energy of standing in a perfectly silent burial vault and peering in to the final resting place of the family of the man who made this very hillside in to wine-making history was one that made each of us want to be just as perfectly silent. So, it was even more startling than it normally would’ve been when a door behind us creaked open and a man emerged from a dark stairwell.
After I allowed my heart rate to go back to normal and I moved passed wanting to shout expletives, Luke and I realized this guy was just taking photos like we were, and he explained that he was really digging the eerie light of the dark stairwell with just a small splinter of light coming in, and that’s how we didn’t know he was there before. As usual, Luke and I made fast friends with this photographer and we started sharing stories of what we’d seen already, and what we needed to check out before we left. The three of us explored a bit more of the chapel and finding fun new angles and sharing stories of things in the area we needed to check out while we were down there. Our new friend, Gary Boggio is a local photographer and explorer and had been at Garrett that day to find some new shots, and apparently a couple new friends. We exchanged contact info and decided to meet up next time we were in Penn Yan and doing some exploring. Before we parted ways though, Gary took a few shots of Luke and I around the chapel, which was super cool since we don’t have many of the two of us together doing what we do on this blog.
While we chatted about local legends and folklore Gary’s friends who had been wandering around rejoined and convinced him that it was time to go. The timing worked well though, cause Luke and I were getting our second wind and prepping to hunt down every piece of the geographical legacy that the Universal Publick Friend had left in her passing around the Penn Yan area. Many thanks to Gary for sending us the photos, and if you’re in that area and looking for a photographer, check out his Facebook page and give him a call!
If you’re looking to visit the Garrett Memorial Chapel yourself, you’ll have to find time in the limited hours they make it available. The chapel is open to visitors on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1p to 4p, and for about a half hour after the 9a Sunday morning mass ends. It’s a seasonal schedule, so plan your visit before they lock up for the Winter just after Labor Day!