Photography by Catherine Stutt
Down in the Valley
There’s something about Cherry Valley that makes a person want to slow down – and it’s not just the Please Slow Down sign or the swooping curve of the road through ‘downtown.’ It’s just a Sleepy Hollow kind of spot.
One would expect a hamlet with a historic cemetery at its heart to be a fine and quiet place. It’s an old cemetery where, “one’s people, on both sides of the family” can lie companionably forever, 20 paces apart across a grassy lane. Names on old headstones are household words; so many folks are family, after generations in the small county.
County Road 18 descends into town from the tourist lands of the west and rises again on the way to Picton. A dictionary would define a valley as a cleft created by a river’s course; Cherry Valley’s river is a tree-shaded cattail creek meandering out to East Lake. In early days, a dam, millpond, and sawmill made the hollow a livelier place. Over the years, two general stores, a blacksmith, carriage and harness maker, shoemaker and tailor, post office, temperance hotel, cheese factory, and canneries came and went.
Cherry Valley has a cozy old-fashioned feel. It sits on a gentle northwest-facing slope, bisected by the road. Old trees shade tastefully restored circa 19th century homes; new builds respect the scale of the place. There’s an absence of faux vintage subdivisions and wine bars. The 1862 red brick Methodist church and Athol Township hall (1870) form the beating heart of the village.
The Dip is the reason for Cherry Valley’s charm. Just past the hall, a gentle S-curve descends into the valley, and rises again. Buildings in the former commercial core sit companionably close to the road, their board and batten and dark-stained siding evocative of simpler times. Like the vintage Texaco garage under the trees, they are lived in, and loved.
Nostalgia explains the name, like those of many local spots. Cherry Valley was likely christened not for the area’s fruit trees, but because of a resemblance to its counterpart in northern New York state. Credit founder Alva Stephens, who arrived around 1812.
So, do like Alva Stephens. Don’t speed through this summer. Settle for a while. Park at the hall (there’s Scrabble) and stroll through Cherry Valley.