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Changes to Route 20 Since 1884

It is possible to provide a complete survey of roads from 1884 which prefigured modern day Route 20 thanks to Sweet’s Atlases. The changes, additions, and subtractions have been noted here, beginning in Skaneateles. Overlays of 1884 and current Google maps anchor the account.

As shown by Sweet’s, Genesee Street enters Skaneateles on a direct line from the west. It carries straight through the heart of town tangential to the tip of Skaneateles Lake, and then exits just as it came. Further along a fork in the road gives way to two paths. One is today’s Route 175, also visible on the Sweet’s Atlas and which leads to Marcellus. The other is the continuation of Route 20 to the southeast. Up until this point, Route 20 has exactly followed preexisting roads.

Further to the southeast, there is disagreement between the map of 1884 and Google. Just prior to the intersection of Route 20 and Route 80, the map of 1884 shows a jagged move towards the north, which cuts back south and regains the path of the road we see today. Once the 1884 and current maps align, they continue that way until the outskirts of Cardiff.  Today’s Route 20 pulls just short of central Cardiff making a shallower curve than the original roads.  This was just for a moment however for soon after the 19th century roads rejoin modern Route 20. After Route 20 crosses through Lafayette, there is the first major difference. The earlier road carries straight across the valley containing Butternut Creek bisecting the property of Mr. Dodge. This section of the road is today known as Dodge Road. Current day Route 20 does not follow this route straight across the valley, whose slopes can exceed 20% gradients at times. Just past Dodge Road, it makes a generous curve south until it reaches the valley floor. At the bottom of the opposing valley wall it curves back north. This latter section, where the road starts back north, is one which had never existed in any form previously. These changes are now known as “Big Bend”. From the low point of the valley you can see several of the oldest houses in the region, including the Ebenezer Hill House built in 1810 and James Sherman’s house only three years later. It is surprising then that the road was not formed earlier. In the early 19th century roads were mostly private endeavors created by the settlers who wanted simply to make their own lives easier.

All the way through Pompey and Pompey Centre, Route 20 follows roads that had been laid as late as 1884. Of note in Pompey Centre is an original one room school house from 1857, which now houses the Pompey Historical Society. Before the road reaches Cazenovia there is another big bend, perhaps more dramatic than the Big Bend in Lafayette. Roads shown by the map of 1884 shot straight across the valley seemingly without any hesitation. Route 20 crosses Oran-Delphi Road much further to the south than any original road in the area had. The bend is a near repeat of the one in Lafayette. Here Route 20 turns southeast where it carries steadily to the bottom of the valley. Upon its arrival at the bottom it heads across the valley floor.  It turns back north at the bottom of the opposing slope, which is quite considerable. It regains the path of the 1884 Road at the hill’s crest and carries due east into Cazenovia village first passing Lorenzo on the right. To the east of Cazenovia, Route 20 largely followed the route of the late 18th century Cherry Valley Turnpike.

These results point to two things of note. The first is that the automobile necessitated a change in the way deep valleys were handled. Perhaps early cars did not have enough power to make it up the hills, or the breaking ability to get down them safely. The second, that legislation which established modern day Route 20 was merely the capstone on decades of development.