In no particular order, the Ten Biggest Stories in New York State History in 2009.
150th Anniversary of John Brown’s Death
2009 marked the 150th anniversary of abolitionist John Brown’s anti-slavery raid on Harpers Ferry, Virginia, his subsequent execution and the return of his body to North Elba, Essex County. To commemorate Brown’s struggle to end slavery in America, activities included lectures, a symposium, and a reenactment of the return of Brown’s body to North Elba including an overnight stay in Elizabethtown.
It was a big year for archeological discoveries in Essex County where work on the pre-civil African American community progressed, in Lake Ontario where an 1850s Schooner was discovered, in Albany where an early 19th century cemetery was uncovered, and in Fishkill where a number of Revolutionary War era graves were found. Also, a Civil War soldier was finally returned to Saratoga National Cemetery to be reburied.
Rogers Island, Fort Edward
While dredging PCBs from the Hudson River in Fort Edward a dredge struck the remains of Old Fort Edward damaging one of the most important and historic military sites in New York State. Archaeologist scrambled to asses and mitigate the damage. Another tragic event happened in November when Jeffrey Harbison, part of a 5-person archaeological crew hired by General Electric to begin research for Phase 2 of the Hudson River dredging project next summer, was drowned after going over a dam. The bad news at Rogers Island was capped with later that month when a development plan for the southern end of the island was presented.
400th Anniversary of Henry Hudson
New Year’s Day 2009 marked the start of New York’s Quadricentennial celebration commemorating 400 years of history on the Hudson River, New York Harbor and Lake Champlain. Throughout the year, New York honored the 400th anniversaries of the voyage of Captain Henry Hudson, who led (for the Dutch) the first European expedition to sail up the river that now bears his name, as well as the voyage of Samuel de Champlain, the first to discover the namesake lake. Communities from the Big Apple to the Canadian border held events to highlight New York’s rich history of exploration and discovery.
Lake Champlain Bridge Demolition
The Lake Champlain Bridge, built in 1929 to span between Crown Point, New York and Chimney Point, Vermont, was undergoing study to deal with it’s historic preservation when on October 16, 2009 it was closed indefinitely. In November an engineering report suggested the bridge be demolished and in late December it was unceremoniously destroyed by demolished with explosives. A several hour detour now replaces the old bridge.
Historic Preservation Tax Credit
In July Governor David Paterson signed legislation that greatly improves the New York State Rehabilitation Tax Credit program. The new law provides incentives and program features for developers and municipalities seeking to rehabilitate historic buildings, and is hoped to advance redevelopment and economic stimulus goals throughout New York State. An economic impact study predicts that the enhanced rehabilitation tax credit will spur over $500 million dollars of economic activity in New York State and create some 2,000 jobs over its initial five-year lifespan.
Rensselaer County Historical Society Threatened
The Rensselaer County Historical Society announced in March that they may be forced to close due to economic hardship. “RCHS is currently experiencing severe financial difficulty,” officials at the Society told their supporters, “The organization been running annual deficits for several years, and despite special efforts, the situation has now become critical. In a matter of weeks RCHS will no longer have funds available to meet its basic operating needs.” RCHS is still holding on, but the economic crisis appears far from over.
Coney Island’s Demise Hastened
A major debate raged this year about the future of Coney Island. Thor Equities (a development company) has purchased large tracts of land in the reknown seaside resort of yore, and the City Planning Commission passed a radical rezoning to encourage economic redevelopment – a plan vehemently opposed by preservation interests. This year Coney lost landmarks like Astroland and Major Meats on Mermaid Avenue. Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park may be next as the park has sold it’s popular Thunderbolt ride late last year. In December the grassroots activist group Save Coney Island, along with several Coney Island residents and amusement district workers and performers filed a lawsuit challenging the Bloomberg administration’s rezoning of Coney Island’s amusement area. It may be the only hope of saving an American landmark.
New York Writers Institute’s 25th Anniversary
2009 marked the 25th Anniversary of one of New York State’s most important literary institutions. Since 1984, more than 1,000 novelists, poets, biographers, filmmakers, historians, essayists and creative artists have presented a wide ranging variety of performance, readings, workshops, seminars, and other public events. Since the Institute was started by writer and historian William Kennedy (using some of his MacArthur award prize money) more then a quarter million people have attended its events.
War of 1812 Bill Vetoed
Governor David Paterson vetoed a bill that would have created a commission to organize and promote bi-national events related to the War of 1812’s 200th anniversary. Paterson said the expense, which he put at about $2.25 million by 2016, was “not absolutely necessary” in light of a then-looming state. Supporters however, pointed out that the bill did not require a budget appropriation, but would provide a structure of volunteers to coordinate commemorative events.