West Winfield, New York is not a really big happening town the way New York City is. It doesn’t even have a college in it like Cazenovia or Plattsburgh does. It’s one of those places that you say rhetorically, if you blink, you’ll miss it. There isn’t a conglomeration of interstates meeting up in its belly. But it does have a pretty good convenience store, and its own town park. I think they have a couple of their own restaurants as well. Now, that’s more than some places I’ve seen.
West Winfield is one of those places that seem like a quaint, cozy town where everyone knows each other, at least, to those who come from bigger places. I don’t have any idea if this stereotype has any truth to it in this little town. Maybe all the kids have taken off for college and the whole place is populated with recent transplants; you never know with these things. The idea of staying in one place for a lifetime adds to the romanticism to those who want a quieter lifestyle, but this isn’t always the case in a small town. Sometimes people stay, sometimes they just can’t; the necessity of economics precipitates a move to bigger and better places. So while it’s easy to be lulled into charm when you come upon a small town, reality could be a whole lot different.
You can’t tell from just looking, which is pretty much what I did when I went there. I’m skeptical about accounts of roaming travelers gleaning tidbits from the natives in places they go to; for all you know, the friendly waitress you question gives you a whole load of bull. You, the innocent traveler leave, thinking you have the inside scoop from the wisest eyes possible, the town waitress at the neighborhood diner. But in reality, the whole diner laughs at the greenhorn who actually thinks he got The Real Deal about how the town was formed out of some adulterous relationship, or really thinks that UFOs have been seen wearing hockey masks at night.
Probably the best way to get to know a town is to live in it, and even then, the newer you are in the game, the less you are in on its machinations. So looking around for a couple of minutes is the most superficial way you can ingratiate yourself in a place. You can come up with all kinds of ideas, and it could be no better than thinking up an imaginary place. Sometimes it’s wiser just to watch, and not come up with any conclusions.
I’ve only been to West Winfield twice, once on my own, and once with my spouse. This small town is located in Herkimer County, about halfway between Oneonta and Utica. Parts of Herkimer County are in the Adirondack Park, but West Winfield is too far south to be counted in that locale. There are two main roads that go through the town. Heading on a north/south direction is NY 51, which begins by the Chenango/Otsego County borderline.
It then joins up with the east/west route, US 20, for the length of several villages, including that of West Winfield, before winding its way up to a larger town called Ilion, which is still in Herkimer County. West Winfield feels like when you are there, you’re going somewhere else. The convenience store at the US 20/NY 51 intersection only adds to this; get your coffee, and continue on your way to Boston. Or maybe the mall in Albany. But while you’re here, we do have Lotto.
The second of the two times I was in West Winfield, the intention had been to drive right through it, as my spouse and I had been heading west on US 20, coming from further east to a destination further west. But there was a small park located on the main route through West Winfield, and one of those spontaneous moods compelled us to take a look there. Actually, it more accurately went, hey, hon, we just passed a park; you want to turn around and go to it? Sure why not, and then we proceeded to figure out how to turn around without using someone’s driveway on a state road. We found the convenience store, which hadn’t changed in the year last I saw it, turned around, and headed for the park.
I don’t even know for sure what the name of the park is. I didn’t catch it on the way in or the way out, but seeing it is the only park there in West Winfield, it would be hard to miss it. It’s a day use park, just the way a lot of town parks are, so there aren’t any campgrounds there or anything exotic. Not even much of a trail, so far as I could see. There were places to pull over, which we did. A guy in a maintenance vehicle appeared from the distance and headed towards us.
It looked like he was going to say something to us, what, I didn’t know. Maybe dogs weren’t allowed on this side of the park, or we couldn’t stop our vehicle there. Who knows with these things. But he approached us and drove by without saying anything to us, though he did give us a hard look. Maybe he was curious to see who showed up at the park in the middle of a weekday afternoon, or maybe seeing us broke up monotony. We were the only vehicle in the park besides his. Seeing us might have constituted a happening event in the day for him.
We didn’t stay long at the park, seeing that we had somewhere else to go and there wasn’t much in the way of outdoor adventure. We stopped long enough to briefly walk around, stretch our legs, and let our dog use the facilities. It was a nice, warm late summer day, mild enough to be outdoors but not over powering, the perfect day to just take a breather at a park. There was a fairly large stream that ran through the park; from later on looking at a map, I think it was a tributary leading to Unadilla River, because if it was the river itself, it was probably its most narrow section.
You barely could get a toy boar across it, let alone a canoe or other type of small boat. But it was enough to create a diversion, give you something to do or hang out when school got out. There were some trees in the distance, which could have hidden some recreational activities such as a trails or playing fields, but there were no signs to indicate that they were there.
The break being over, we packed ourselves back into the vehicle, and drove off before the maintenance man showed up again. We never saw anyone else but him in the park. When we got back on US 20 and headed west, we drove through the town of West Winfield. There was hardly anyone on the sidewalks walking, and few cars in the streets. Everyone was busy with their life somewhere else. Just as we were getting ready to do. We continued on our way, and West Winfield disappeared with it, having served us as a way station in the path to somewhere else.