Growing up Minerva

by Leigh Hornbeck | August 2020

An insider’s guide

Photograph Courtesy of the Author

In a land of small towns,
my hometown is one of the smallest. A map dot so tiny, it’s often left off the map entirely; its presence is as rare as finding my name on a rack of tiny license plates in a Lake George T-shirt store when I was a kid.

Growing up, Lake George was the reference point I used for people who never heard of Minerva (everyone) because Lake George was a destination. A place with sidewalks and parking meters. A place people knew.

“Minerva? It’s about 25 minutes north of Lake George. Do you ski? If you’ve been to Gore, it’s about seven miles northeast of there. Yeah. Exit 26.”

The population is just over 800, the most it’s been since 1900. The high point was in 1820, when loggers and farmers of Irish descent swelled the population to more than a thousand. The boundary lines have changed a bit over the years, but the town is now 160.27 square miles, running along the Hudson River to the west.

My parents were refugees from suburbia. They settled on Trout Brook Road (in a hamlet with an even lesser-known name, Olmstedville) in 1971. The house was a wreck. The kitchen floor was caved in and there were chickens living in the dining room—or maybe it’s the other way around, depending on the telling. But according to family lore, my mother definitely cried when she saw it. My parents renovated the circa-1848 farmhouse little by little over the years, while my father built a boat business next door.

For a long time, Minerva was all I knew—Sullivan’s Store at the corner of County Routes 29 and 30, where I bought 10-cent root-beer popsicles; Minerva Beach, where I learned to swim and bought candy cigarettes at “the Stand”; the yellow-brick school where I went to kindergarten. I was six years old and in first grade when I told my mother the steeple on the church-turned-history-museum on Route 29 must be the tallest in the world. Mom quickly planned a trip to Albany so I could see a city.

Minerva hasn’t changed much in the decades since. I am not sorry it hasn’t become a tourist destination. Everything I knew as a child is still there (although the popsicles cost more, and the Stand no longer sells candy cigarettes), plus now we have Lil’ Nony’s Bakery in Olmstedville (Route 29—don’t leave without a homemade donut), and today there’s a trail up Moxham Mountain, visible from Route 28N. You can take the Northwoods Club Road (where Winslow Homer used to visit) to access the Boreas River. If you can handle getting out of your boat to drag it over beaver dams, Minerva Stream is a great little meander. Only I can tell you where my friends and I used to drink beer underage near the shoreline.

The best day of the year is Minerva Day in summer. There’s a parade—the area businesses build floats and one of the locals rounds up past members of the school band to play instruments—and a town-wide potluck. When night falls, there’s a fireworks show over Minerva Lake. One last piece of advice: Park past the Beach Road so you don’t have to fight the traffic when the show is over. It’s the long way, along Irishtown Road. It’s worth it. Careful on the turns.

Leigh Hornbeck is a staff writer for the Albany Times Union.

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