The Chapman Historical Museum in Glens Falls has opened a new major exhibition, Harnessing the Hudson, which explores the history of how people in the region have harnessed the renewable energy of the Hudson River from early sawmills to hydroelectric generators.
In 1903, the Spier Falls hydroelectric dam, located on the Hudson eight miles upstream from Glens Falls, began to produce electricity. Touted at the time as the largest dam of its type in the United States, the dam supplied electricity not only to surrounding communities but also to the large General Electric plant in Schenectady 50 miles away. The dam quickly became part of a network of power plants and transmission lines that supplied power for factories, transportation and lighting in the Capital region.
The brainchild of Glens Falls attorney, Eugene Ashley, Spier Falls was a project that captivated the interest of people far and wide. They were familiar with water power, but electricity was a very new phenomenon at the beginning of the 20th century, and many people were not convinced of its potential. Little did they suspect how much it would change their lives.
The exhibit features archival materials and artifacts principally from the Chapman’s Spier Falls collection but also from other regional archives. Of particular note are photographs provided by the Schenectady Museum and Science Center, which houses thousands of images that document the history of GE and the development of electricity. For those unfamiliar with the physics of water power, a hand-cranked generator and other interactive elements provide greater understanding of the science involved.
In conjunction with the exhibit, which will run through September, the museum plans to hold a series of public programs relating to the theme of Harnessing the Hudson. These will include talks about the history of hydropower on the upper Hudson, the development of the electric grid, a driving tour of mill sites, and kayak tours that explore the river ecology around Spier Falls.
This project is supported by: Brookfield, The Leo Cox Beach Philanthropic Foundation, the Waldo T. Ross & Ruth S. Ross Charitable Trust Foundation, National Grid, the New York Council for the Humanities and general operating support from the New York State Council on the Arts, a state agency.
The exhibit will be on display at the Chapman Historical Museum through September 25, 2011. The museum is located at 348 Glen Street, Glens Falls, NY. Public Hours are Tuesday – Saturday, 10 am to 4 pm, and Sunday, noon to 4 pm. For more information call (518) 793-2826
Photo: Construction workers installing a 12’ diameter penstock at Spier Falls Hydroelectric Dam, 1901.