October 22, 2021

Exploring Cortland’s nooks & crannies

Photo by Liz Wavle-Brown

Liz Wavle-Brown of Cortland likes the vistas she sees on her Sunday drives with her wife, Mary WavleBrown

You don’t have to go far in Cortland County before you lose the GPS signal, said Liz Wavle-Brown.

But that’s OK.

“We don’t care if we get lost,” said the retired dean of the library at Elmira College.

“I have a great sense of direction,” said Mary Wavle-Brown, her wife, a retired nurse. “I was born here, anyway.”

The couple, of Cortland, are hosts of “Bring Back the Sunday Drive” on Facebook and Instagram, showcasing Cortland County.

Photo by Liz Wavle-Brown

Liz Wavle-Brown always takes a signature selfie every Sunday for Bring Back the Sunday Drive.

The two have spent 18 weeks taking Sunday drives in Cortland County, getting on the road at 8 a.m. and spending three hours on seasonal and country roads, up hills and down, — documenting old barns, panoramic views, historical markers and vintage buildings.

“We were on East and West Keeney Road, Eaton Hill Road and Tripoli Road almost four hours,” said Mary, 63, earlier this month.

That’s a typical morning. Short drives are 2 1/2 hours, said Liz, also 63, and a volunteer librarian at the Cortland County Historical Society, where she is cataloging the society’s 14,000-plus Brockway photos. “I’ve been a librarian 40 years,” she said.

Both use their phones to take photos. Mary does the driving but she also has a Fuji Film T-20 digital camera for shots. Liz will take over 350 photos on a typical jaunt, and post around 70 on Facebook, taking Sunday afternoon to sort and catalog and post.

Bring Back the Sunday Drive is a Facebook page. Liz also puts her posts on her personal Facebook page and at Past and Present Cortlandites and Their Friends Reminisce About Bygone Days, Memories of Cortland, What We Heart (symbol) about Cortland and the Historical Society’s Facebook sites. Lynn Lash, a volunteer, does the historical society Instagram page and will pick a photo or two and post them.

View Cortland County online

Liz and Mary Wavle-Brown of Cortland are featuring Cortland County photographs on:

  • Facebook Page: Bring Back the Sunday Drive
  • Instagram: @bringbackthesundaydrive
  • “Snap of the Day” on Instagram and Facebook.

Email info@historyinyourbackyard.com with any questions.

They get more than 6,000 views to their package, many from homesick expatriates.

“That’s my grandfather’s barn,” “I know exactly where you were,” and “That’s the Cortland I remember,” are typical comments.

They vowed to do Sunday drives through Labor Day and as a result, have quite a fan base. Now people want to see fall foliage and specific destinations.

Ann Homer, a Cortland County legislator, had family off Mt. Roderick in Taylor, so they checked out that area.

“We have a friend, John Alexander, who lives in Hawaii. He wants us to do Cold Brook Road,” Liz said.

They plan to do Sunday drives until the weather keeps them home, Mary said. They’ll also focus on “What’s in Your Back Yard,” doing a snapshot a day on Facebook and Instagram.

COVID-19 was the impetus for the jaunts.

“We were feeling cooped up at home. We don’t go out shopping, we Instacart. We decided we’d take a drive,” Liz said. “Hey, this could be a weekend thing.”

Tabitha Scoville, director of the Cortland County Historical Society, wanted to do Bring Back the Sunday Drive before covid shut down the area in March.

She remembered her Sunday jaunts to her grandmother’s house with her sister and parents. Scoville and her husband, Shawn, did about four. And then the couple got waylaid.

“We got working on that darn chicken house,” she said.

The Wavle-Browns took it over.

Katie Keyser/living and leisure editor

Mary, left, and Liz at the “Baltimore” historical marker at Route 11 and East Homer-Baltimore Road in Preble

“Liz and Mary took it to a whole new level,” Scoville said. “It’s been so good. People just love to see the pictures.”

Out of towners may have been gone for years and years. They may come back for a visit. But then they are on a mission: They are here to see family. They don’t have time to see all these special places.

The Wavle-Browns are fun to be around.

“They are smart and funny,” Scoville said.

The couple had worked on what has become known as “The Book” at the Cortland County Historical Society. They worked with Jean Edwards for its “A Journey Through Time,” edition, 370 pages of history of Cortland County from 1958 to 2018.

Mary helped with photos. Liz was an editor and author with Edwards.

“A lot of this is spin-off because of the book. We saw so much when poking around the county,” Mary. said “We wanted to take a leisurely pace.”

And the couple grew up here and remember taking Sunday drives with the family as children.

Liz’s dad, John Wavle, was an antiques dealer and his four kids would pile into the wood-paneled station wagon, with a rear seat facing the back, and check out antique shops.

“Sometimes they had a purpose or direction,” she said. When Interstate 81 was being built, dad wanted to see completed sections.

Mary would do Sunday drives with her family after church and visit her grandmother in Locke once a month.

They have discovered:

  • “I do killer three point turns,” said Mary.
  • “I do, ‘Uh, uh, I see something!” said Liz.

“That’s Liz Speak for ‘Stop the car!’” laughed Mary.

  • “Mary loves barns,” said Liz.

“If it’s rusty crusty, I’m all over it,” said Mary.

Photo by Mary Wavle-Brown

Mary never tires of photographing barns. The one above is on Crains Mill Road in Truxton.

It’s killing her to see the family farms disappear.

Both have put up hay on those 90-degree days when younger.

“This is wicked cool,” Mary said of an 1790-era barn on East Keeney Road, showing the photo on her cell phone.

The two have stopped and have had lovely conversations, some on seasonal roads: “A lady walking a dog or a man on horseback,” Mary said.

The horseback rider was a fellow on Glen Haven Road who rides his horse every day. He had a carrier next to the saddle for his oxygen tank.

“He was tickled we took his picture,” Mary said.

On seasonal roads, the two imagine what it’s like to be a settler on a wild piece of land, Liz said. “Outside of Homer, if you take Sessions Road … there’s all these off shoot roads.”

“It’s spectacular out there,” said Mary.

“If you don’t get out there, you don’t know about it,” said Liz.

They keep their rides to Cortland County with occasional jaunts outside. “We did look around DeRuyter Lake,” Mary said.

“We had one trip we went to Tully,” said Liz, to explore the Labrador Hollow Unique Area.

They’ve learned to ride both ways down a particular road to see what it offers.

Mary’s favorite find: Taylor Schoolhouse No. 2 on Cheningo-Solon Pond Road.

Photo by Mary Wavle-Brown

“I am in love with that building,” Mary Wavle-Brown says of Taylor School No. 2 above, on Cheningo-Solon Pond Road.

“I am in love with this building,” she said. “I’ve been following it for three years, trying to get all three seasons’ shots. … I visit this thing four, five times a year.”