Cherry Valley — Where birds and happiness spring eternal

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CHERRY VALLEY — Along the wooded glacial ridges of central New York, water burbles from the earth in trickles, in torrents, tumbling north to the Mohawk River, or south to the Susquehanna. The impression these forest fountains made on English settlers lingers in place names like Richfield Springs, Springfield and Sharon Springs.

Somehow, Cherry Valley, 12 miles northeast of Cooperstown, missed out, named instead for the black cherry trees that grew wild in the
hollows.

Yet this village of 520 people stakes a claim that is the very envy of its neighbors. For well over a century, local lore has held that the water in Cherry Valley somehow lightens life’s burdens, lifts the spirits and even, it is said, adds a little ‘snap’ to village passions. An unusually cheery town, you really can’t help but believe there’s something to it. I recently bought a house in this erstwhile artists’ colony of neat clapboard houses. Hanging with my neighbors, I witness little to dispute the claim. Small wonder a 1965 published history of the area is titled, ‘’The Happy Valley.’’

Referred to as ‘’liquid Viagra’’ by our villagers, this odd boast may contain more than a glimmer of truth. The local springs contain lithium, an element that is a standard treatment for manic-depressive illness, or bipolar disorder. The legend of Cherry Valley’s water long predates scientific discovery of lithium’s psychiatric uses, and the advent of its widespread use in the late 1960’s.

Whatever the truth behind the lore, of late the people of Cherry Valley are determined to recapture its source, to reclaim a piece of their history and to forge an ever fabulous future.

In 1893, one and a half miles of pipe was laid to carry water from a hillside to the east, where it bubbled up from the black shale, to an iron fountain in the center of the village. For generations, people here got all the water they needed by trudging to the fountain with pails. Even in the early days of its use, the spring was known for its lithium content; it was even dubbed the ‘lithia’ spring. While other local springs and the wells that now supply much of Cherry Valley’s water also contain lithium, tests have shown it is the lithia spring that’s the richest source.

As the feeder pipes fell into disrepair, the fountain once so central to village life went dry. Now, Cherry Valley residents are plotting to replace the pipes and get the water flowing again, bringing renewed health and wealth to this secluded bucolic backwater. As hope springs eternal, there is a palpable energy bubbling to the surface here.  

A onetime stop along the old turnpike from Albany to Buffalo, Cherry Valley lost most of its through traffic and visitors when Route 20 was built in the 1950s a few miles to the north. Construction of the New York State Thruway a few years later moved the village even farther from the mainstream. A beacon for beatniks, in the 1960’s, Allen Ginsberg and his crew spent summers in a smallholding he bought just outside the village. A stalwart bunch of villagers might have rejected this subversive element but, instead, Cherry Valley embraced it, and other artists began spending time here. Candy Darling - muse to Andy Warhol - is buried here. Over the years, Cherry Valley has established a boarding school community vibe for people who work the summer season at the Glimmerglass Opera. The village harbors potters and ceramicists, poets and photographers, painters, sculptors and woodworkers. There are plans afoot to bring a healing and performance arts center to the village. 

And this spring an inspirational art project of Rebirth Cherry Valley and Cherry Valley Artworks sees the village’s fading shopfronts brimming with a flock of fanciful birds, each more bonkers than the last, each handmade by the villagers. With artist locals Wendy Reich and Angelica Palmer at the helm, the aim is to foster an unfailing sense of community collaboration by encouraging everyone to join, regardless of their artistic ability. “Anybody can be an artist,” they stress, “we’re making revitalization possible by ensuring everyone in the community feels included and like they have an important role to play.” The “It’s For The Birds” installations run through Labor Day.

Being a part of Cherry Valley’s creative core brings with it an unbridled sense of ownership, of visibility and community pride. As Reich says, “It’s warm and accepting here. I have high hopes for Cherry Valley. I feel inspired and excited. There’s new energy. We just need to make things happen.”

What is been more hushed - til now - is the lore behind its liquid viagra. .. Just wait til a little bird lets on about the water. 

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