New York State is in fact incomparable. Start with the world's greatest city. Travel east, if you like, on Long Island, following one of the world's great beaches to Montauk Point--half way to Nantucket. Or north along the Hudson, one of the world's truly magnificent rivers to the exquisite chain of lakes alongside the Adirondacks that takes you on to Quebec. Or west to Buffalo, to the great inland sea of Lake Erie, passing mile on mile of wheatland that would remind you of Kansas. (Those who study such matters tend to agree that the Midwestern accent begins somewhere between Syracuse and Rome.)
Save for the farm where we live, up from Pindars Corners in Delaware County, it would be hopeless to try to choose a "favorite" place. Visitors who would like to make their own choice will find that the best possible source is still that of the American Guide Series, compiled by the Writers' Program of the WPA in the 1930s and sponsored by the New York State Historical Association.
Come to think of it, let that be the solution to my embarras de richesses. I choose Cooperstown, home of the Historical Association, and one of the loveliest places on earth. It has the further advantage of being just 20 miles up the Susquehanna from the farm, and we get there all the time.
It is, first of all, a place of maple-shaded streets lined with splendid homes, ranging from the most chaste early Federal (Judge Cooper arrived in 1785) to the most exuberant Victorian Gothic. Green and See FAVORITES, E12, Col. 1 Favorites FAVORITES, From E1 white in summer, triumphantly yellow and red in fall, all white in winter, and thence back to the pale soft green of spring.
Then, of course, it is the setting for the James Fenimore Cooper novels, and one can look up Glimmerglass to the haunts of Natty Bumppo and his Leatherstocking friends and foes. (The Susquehanna flows out from Otsego Lake, passing through town, much as the Rhone flows out from Lake Leman through Geneva.) And, of course, it is the scene of Abner Doubleday's backyard, where baseball was first played, and still is. (Each of the major leagues sends a team to play there in August, on which occasion members are inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, which has its famous museum in Cooperstown.)
The Historical Association has a wonderful museum of its own (care to see a life mask of six of the first eight presidents?) and not long ago, had the inspired notion of assembling an early 19th-century New York village by picking up especially fine buildings from around the state and transporting them to the shores of the lake.
There are any number of fine restaurants and hotels in and about the main street and one great hotel, the O-Te-Sa-Ga, on the lake shore.
Something to do all the year long. Ice fishers may consult the Cooperstown Freeman's Journal that, since 1808, has faithfully kept track of the days when the lake freezes over and the ice breaks up.
Now that I've got going, I will admit to one particular favorite. At the north end of the lake, which is to say about 10 miles away, sits Hyde Hall, one of the most remarkable buildings of America. But not really of America.
It was built of red sandstone by Philip Hooker, our first distinctive American architect, but built to be an English country seat. For there was a time when it just might have happened that New York would take on the appearances and the economy of 18th-century rural Britain, with its vast estates and splendid country homes. Huge land grants were made under the Georges, and any number of younger sons set out to create, in the midst of the Iroquois, the splendors of Buckinghamshire. Hyde Hall was one of the few successes, and was indeed the setting of a worldwide early industrial empire--ranging from coal mines in the English midlands to sugar plantations in the Caribbean, all run from this hilltop.
The Hyde family was still in residence in the 1930s and the WPA guide does not intrude on their privacy. The State of New York has now rescued the Hall--it was going a bit seedy, as old families and old houses will do. Two stars by any Michelin standard.