Peter Feinman: An Unanswered Email to Ken Adams of ILoveNY And Path through History

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PathThroughHistoryAs reported in my previous post on lobbying in Albany, I had the opportunity to briefly chat with Ken Adams, President and CEO Empire State Development and Commissioner of New York State Department of Economic Development. This includes ILoveNY and the Path through history.

That chat led to an email, written March 5th, which is posted below. He has not responded.

Dear Ken,

It was a pleasure meeting you yesterday at the Tourism Action Day and having a chance to chat about tourism and the history community. You asked me what I would do to rescue the Path through History project if I had the chance and I would like to take this opportunity to list some points for consideration.

1. New York History – You should write a column for The New York History Blog on the role of the Regional Economic Development Councils. It was mentioned that 62 tourist-related applications were accepted in Round Three and surely some of them were history-based. If in your post you could use them as examples of what can be done, that would be useful.

2. Solomon Northup – Following the awards for the movie, I was contacted by the Albany press about what Saratoga would do to capitalize on the event. I gave the reporter some names to contact since there already has been a Solomon Northup Day for about 15 years. In a previous post on the Civil War, I recommended that Governor Cuomo initiate a Civil War Tourist Exchange program with southern states. We would visit the battlefield sites where New Yorkers fought and they would visit the home communities here. I was thinking in particular of Columbia County which fought in Louisiana, the same place where Northup was held. This is a publicity opportunity for upstate New York that should not be missed. The time to act is now.

3. Albany Paths through History – Create two Albany paths, one based on Albany as the state capital and one based on Albany as a 400-year-old settlement. Set an example for other communities on the creation of paths. Attached as an example is a Teacherhostel/Historyhostel I created in the Capital Region.

4. Tourism Jobs and Taxes – Separate the figures for cultural heritage tourism from business travel, conferences, sports events, college visits, shopping at Macy’s and Woodbury Commons, and truck stop layovers. History tourist sites are hurting for attendance so when you bandy about these huge statewide numbers you mock the history sites because they know the people are not coming on vacations to see them. Yes, if you are in Lake George you will at some point visit Fort William Henry but compare its visitors to Fort Ticonderoga. And no matter how many times people from around the world attend the US Open, they don’t visit a single historic site in Queens. Only the parking concession makes any money, all the rest in spent in Manhattan. If you don’t have a breakdown for the cultural heritage tourist figures then don’t mention the totals which are meaningless to the history sites.

5. Stop taking credit in the Path Program for things the Governor didn’t do. He no more is responsible for the events for on the Path weekend than he is for Yankee attendance then. Just because events are listed on a website doesn’t mean the State in any way shape or form caused them to happen. When the Governor takes credit for things he didn’t do, he undermines the credibility of the project. I think it comes more from ignorance than dishonesty. Only someone ignorant of the facts on the ground could think the state was responsible for historic organizations doing what they normally do but on that weekend. Stop taking credit for it. Celebrate the history community but don’t act as if you contributed to it when you didn’t.

6. Path Executive Board – Whatever happened to it? Besides trotting them out for the dog-and-pony show in 2012, what has it done? Based on emails I have received, apparently nothing. How come Tourism has an advisory board and history doesn’t?

7. Path Resources – Even as the project was gearing up, one member of the Executive Board told me that the project didn’t have the resources to work. I am excluding signs and the website and referring to actually making paths happen. Ask the acting deputy director. Why isn’t there a real director? In an earlier post, I recommended that if the Governor was serious he should use the $1,000,000 he pledged to the Path project to hire one person for each of the then-ten regions and have them work to make paths happen.

8. The history community infrastructure – The primary focus of history organizations is to stay alive so they can serve their community. They do not have the staff or time to do the planning and organizing required for the collaborative effort needed to create a path. As one who has created day, weekend, and weeklong Teacherhostels/Historyhostels, I speak from experience on what is involved. Many sites would have a problem if busloads of people showed up – they might not even be open! But that’s not a problem because the Path through History project is not in a position to give bus tour operators path itineraries because they haven’t been created. If a travel writer did want to understand New York assets by visiting the historic sites and contacted you what itinerary would you give the writer for any region on any theme?

The communities of New York have authentic stories to tell and experiences to provide. They do not have the infrastructure or support to tell them jointly. Where is the funding for collaboration and planning? Where are the resources?

New York disrespects its own history. At the state level it has had little to no interest in the 250th anniversary of the French and Indian War, the bi-centennial of the war of 1812, or the sesquicentennial of the Civil War. And once the quadricentennial of the Hudson passed you would think the Hudson River no longer had any historic importance or tourist potential except maybe to walk over. And speaking of New York, this is the 350th anniversary of when it became New York and not New Amsterdam.

Many states celebrate their own history. We do not.

Where is the place for local and state history in the Common Core?
Where are the field trips to historical places in the K12 curriculum?
What do you need to know about New York State history to become certified as a history teacher?
Where is the Teaching New York History for professional development like the Teaching American History grants on the federal level?

While these are matters for the Education Department which also charters historic museums, they reflect an atmosphere that diminishes the standing of the history of the state and contributes to poor attendance at many sites.

So in response to your question about what I think needs to be done, here are the agenda items to fulfill the potential of the Path through History project..

Thank you for your time.


Note: Ken Adams did not use the word “rescue.” I do not recall his exact words beyond “What would you do?”


23 thoughts on “Peter Feinman: An Unanswered Email to Ken Adams of ILoveNY And Path through History

  1. James S. KaplanJames S. Kaplan

    Keep fighting Peter. Tourism is New York City’s largest industry, and the history of the City and the state and many critical sites are woefully misunderstood, This summer we hope to have a July 4 festival in Lower Manhattan that will highlight certain unknown facts and sites. Your example of Solomon Northrop is just the tip of the iceberg of what could and should be done. Historical tourism is the wave of the future and should be an integral part of New York’s economic development.

    1. Peter FeinmanPeter Feinman Post author

      Yes, but let’s remember that tourism includes business travel, diplomats, college visits, and Macy’s/Times Square/Broadway as well. So yes, your are right and we should do more so tourists just don’t go to the Statue of Liberty and 9/11 memorial museum. If just the residents of the city visited the historic sites in the five boroughs, that would be overwhelming and wonderful.

  2. Sandra WeberSandra Weber

    Peter, keep fighting. Your ideas are right on target……I contacted Path Through History by phone and chatted with a person (name not important) about nominating Adirondack sites for the Women’s Rights theme and the Civil Rights theme. The person was unable to tell me who I should talk to or where I should send my content. She took my name and info and said someone would return my call. That was more than two months ago. Needless to say, I am not sitting by the phone. I gave up on the New York State system and started grass-roots efforts. Sad.

    1. Peter FeinmanPeter Feinman Post author

      Thanks, Sandra, for sharing your experience. But the problem with the Path through History goes far beyond the anecdotal problem you had. Suppose your sites had been listed, so what? Suppose someone wanted to tour New York’s Adirondack sites, Women’s sites, or Civil War sites, there are no paths on the website on doing that in a weekend or week, you have to figure it out yourself. There are no tours New York State can promote to a tour operator, just a website with a lot of sites.

  3. Leigh C. Eckmair

    Do we get the message that NO ONE IS LISTENING ?

    Question for you? Do you have a list of the names and qualifications of those who were initially appointed to the PTH Executive Board? Was there even one ‘hands on” historian appointed? Any one who is supposed to know anything about NYS [let alone US] history? Anyone who knows enough about NYS history to be able to identify logical “paths” of the events that created those?

    It does look like you have identified the NYS conundrum that there is no one in any position of authority whose job description includes enthusiastic promotion of NYS history. Everyone dances around that. By default, you are doing a fine job.

    Keep up the good work.

    Leigh C. Eckmair, Historian/Archivist
    The Village of Gilbertsville and Town of Butternuts

    1. Peter FeinmanPeter Feinman Post author

      To be fair, one of the reasons no one is listening is because the history community is not speaking up.

      I will be writing more about Path in response to the notices about the Path weekends in June and will mention the Board members then. The Board actually does have people who are historians and who know New York History, they just have no power or say about the project. The powers that be are from the tourist side and they have no interest in your little village or town. But remember the primary purposes of the local historical organizations are to serve the needs of their communities as schools and libraries do, which also are charted by NYSED, and not to be tourist destinations. I have written on this subject before and will return to it since it is essential for the health of our communities.

  4. Carolyn Suffern

    Last Sunday evening, I watched the premier of AMC’s program “TURN,” which is about the Revolutionary War NY-based Culper Spy Ring. Amazingly, it was the State of Virginia that advertised its heritage tourism, not NY.

    1. Peter FeinmanPeter Feinman Post author

      At the kickoff meeting for the Path through History project, Ken Jackson, the plenary speaker, spoke on how much better other states are about celebrating their American Revolution heritage than New York is. Apparently nothing has changed.

  5. Fran Dumas, Yates County Historian

    We county historians got word of the program literally just a few days before the press conference. We were never asked for input, and of course other municipal historians weren’t asked either. Yates County is the site for the first permanent white settlement west of Fort Schuyler and the Proclamation Line; this settlement was that of Jemima Wilkinson, the Public Universal Friend, who was the first American woman to form a religious society. Robert Ingersoll was born here. A local group has been attempting to put together driving and walking tours featuring local history, an uphill battle without funding. Tourism is the leading or second-leading (the other is agriculture) “industry” in the county, yet the tourism promotion agency is very unwilling to focus any publicity on heritage tourism; so of course nobody expects anything from the state. Yes, I know, we’re upstate and 2 to 1 Republican, but even from a political viewpoint it would be nice if *somebody* were to notice us and the work we’re doing.

    1. Peter FeinmanPeter Feinman Post author

      Unfortunately it is not as simple as being in a Republican area, the powers that be are equally disrespectful to Queens which is Democratic as to Yates, or to the Bronx and so on. As for your local group, it may wish to contact the county and to participate in the REDC funding program but if the county doesn’t support the effort, the Regional Council is not likely to either. This is one of the issues to lobby about if the history community ever gets its act together.

  6. Bob Ulrich

    Don’t know of Northrop and the Civil War, but there’s an interesting hook between the Rev War and the Civil War : At the Saratoga battlefield is the famous statue of a boot, just a boot, and a nameless description of a very brave officer that day. It was for Benedict Arnold, but did NOT have his name mentioned. The monument was purchased and dedicated by Civil War General James Watts Depeister (sp ?) of Tivoli , NY, a lover of all Saratoga Rev War history. His old home in Tivoli is now the town hall. His son was also serving in the Civil War. He himself was too old to see any real action.

  7. Peter Evans

    Peter – It was good to talk with you in Saratoga Springs. The venue at the Gideon Putman was interesting and fun. The Conference of Public Historians was well attended and many excellent presentations were delivered. It illustrates that many people are engaged in many cutting edge ideas throughout the history and cultural heritage community in New York State. Still, with all that said, your comments are right on the money. Here in the Finger Lakes Region our Path Through History Workgroup has been working dilligently on some cutting edge technology in partnership with people at RIT. They are planning on rolling out this technology for “iphones” (not all smart phones) early in May with a targeted roll out at a huge tourist industry function at Grand Central Station later in the month. The phone app will be tested over the coming year at 12 sites around the Finger Lakes Region. That is one site in each county plus a couple others. At this point, there is no funding to carry the idea further or even work out the glitches that may become apparent after program launch. Aside from providing some local site hype fueling a PR event around each site, I can not imagine this having any significant impact at all. This is not a criticism of all the hard work that has been expended. It simply isn’t large or complete enough to have a true impact. You really don’t get very much for $100,000. A phase two of this project will require at least another $2 to $300,000. No one knows where that level of funding will come from…not likely from our FL RDC…so where? It will probably end up set on the shelf somewhere waiting for the next bright idea to come along. Peter, please keep up the communication and pressure on all those in various seats of influence and power at the NY State level. Eventually, the right person will get the message.

    Thanks again, Peter

    1. Peter FeinmanPeter Feinman Post author

      Thanks, Peter. I remember you mentioning this last year. It certainly sounds like a wonderful one. As I recall, it was generated from an MBA program at RIT. Now imagine if instead of giving tens of millions of dollars to advertising agencies, Cuomo put that money into developing the tourist infrastructe including the new technologies instead. If the history community ever did organize and lobby in Albany, I think this would be one of the topics.

      PS Since I am not far from Grand Central, I will try to make that event. Please keep me advised.

  8. Tisha Dolton, Town of Greenwich Historian

    I concur. With any luck (& lots of hard work) the history/museum community will come together as APHNYS works toward building more relationships with other professional organizations. I wish the state was more receptive to NY State History, instead of just paying lip service, & handing down these grand ideas with no money to back it up.

    In 3 years, NY will celebrate the 100th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote in our state. What is being done with that? Nothing. It will be up to individual history organizations, historians, & the public. If we get the ball rolling, NY can be well poised for the national centennial in 2020.

    1. Peter FeinmanPeter Feinman Post author

      I join you in wishing APHNYS success in working with other statewide organizations that represent the history community.

      Remember, New York is ignoring the 350th anniversary of when it became New York. We can’t even celebrate our own anniversaries yet alone national ones.

      The problem is the state does think it I receptive to NYS history. When Cuomo and company tout the success of the number of events listed for June 7-8, they really think of it as an accomplishment; they think they are doing a wonderful job on behalf of New York State history. Amazing isn’t it?

  9. Thomas McGlinchey

    I think that your ideas are very good ones. Certainly, the concept of tourism and I Love NY can not simply be about how to draw in dollars (although this is, of course, crucial).
    There needs to be an equal push to assist visitors, tourists and locals alike, to learn about their local history and the remaining sites that help to interpret that history.
    In making this easier, I would like to suggest that those sites that charge fees form a partnership to permit visitors to buy a week or two-week pass, good for entrance in multiple sites.
    I suggest that the Empire Passport be reduced in cost where historic sites are concerned. Would this mean having two passports, one for recreational sites and another for historic sites? Perhaps.
    I’d also like to further suggest that the Empire Passport costs be reduced for seniors, or, that senior privileges be extended to weekends for historic sites. What better group to use to attract interest to such sites? With their concentrated wisdom and expressed interests in history, grandparents are great teachers of the younger ones.
    Finally, I was somewhat taken aback by the tone of your e-mail. I determined that there was likely a good reason that you didn’t get a reply. Some softening and application of diplomatic skills might go a longer distance. I’ve had to figure that out myself, part of my concentrated wisdom now …

    1. Peter FeinmanPeter Feinman Post author

      You are absolutely right about the tone of the email. I was a little taken aback myself when I read it when I submitted it as a post. I thought I was starting with some neutral even positive suggestions but did shift into very critical ones. Adams is not the bad guy and while he is ignorant of the facts on the ground he did show a willingness to learn about how historical organizations really operate. He also was invited to contribute to New York History so even if he is pissed at me, he still could have taken advantage of the opportunity to speak to the history community at large.

      Passports are an excellent idea. I certainly advocate them. There could be passports by the themes identified in Path Project and by region. But here’s the part which Adams and Levi of Empire State Development who spoke at the MANY conference genuinely don’t understand. They talk constantly about collaboration and cooperation which are great talking points without realizing that there is no funding or people to do that. Remember, they think they are doing a wonderful job.

  10. Chris Philippo

    I’d recommend making FOIL requests regarding Path through History for some of the things you asked about, and some other things (costs relating to the rebranding of existing roadsigns as Path through History signs, for example). Share the FOIL request here, or make the FOIL request a public one from the very start through muckrock

    1. Peter FeinmanPeter Feinman Post author

      I confess that although I know of FOIL, I am not familiar with how it works. I am not familiar with muckrock either. You seem to have some experience in these areas so perhaps you could do for one or two straightforward items as you suggest. It would be interesting to say the least to know the dollars involved.

  11. Jolanda G. Jansen

    Hi Peter,

    Thank you for sending your posts. I appreciate them, and sometimes have time to read them.

    Just wanted to inform you that Nancy Cozean, myself and Peter van Aken met yesterday to plan a path through history tour of Poughkeepsie for June 14.

    We plan to start the event at Upper Landing Park which has wonderful informational signage about the early days of Poughkeepsie when all goods were transported via the Hudson River and contains the original Reynold’s House and Hoffman House.

    We plan to let people spend some time there, get some refreshments, have some welcoming remarks by the Dyson Foundation that funded the work creating the Park and by the City of Poughkeepsie. We are planning to ask George Lukacz, City Poughkeepsie historian, to do a presentation on the migration of people up from New York City as a result of Yellow Fever (or some other topic he would rather speak on).

    We will conduct a walking tour via the remaining industrial buildings on Water Street, past the converted Reynolds Wharehouse facing the Train Tracks that is now Dooley Square, up Main street and left on Davies Place and visit the Church of the Holy Comforter an 1860 building in design of 13th Century French Gothic, then up the hill to the 1860’s Peltan Mansion for a presentation by Holly Wahlberg, local historical building researcher, (beverages available) on the Peltan Family and their factories and the industrial power of the Fallkill Creek.

    Then along Davies Street, across the Fallkill Creek past Mt. Carmel Church, up Dutchess Avenue to Mt. Carmel Place, beverages on the side walk by the local Honduran Family Restaurant and then to Dongan Park. Somebody Nancy knows will meet the group there and will talk about Little Italy in front of the huge Little Italy wall mural.

    We are trying to get a trolley to pick people up at that point and take them up Main Street, with a Loop around Vassar Street, Mill Street and North Bridge Street, then left up Main again and left on Market Street to Mill Street and the Italian Center, the former Reynolds Family Mansion.

    The plan is to see if we can get George Ecounomou to be the speaker on that portion of the Trolly ride.

    Then a light lunch at the Italian Center and a presentation by Harvey Flad, Professor of Geography, Vassar College and author of the book “Main Street to Main Frames” on the impact of Urban Renewal on the City of Poughkeepsie.

    Walk from Italian Center via the Post Office built by the Works Progress Administration and murals painted by WPA artists, up Market Street to Main Street, a brief presentation on the Constitutional Convention on the Court House Steps, up Main Street to the Poughkeepsie Heritage Center with time to look around at the then current exhibit, then 2 more blocks, passing buildings old and new to the parking lot at Melancton Smith Court to get back on the Trolley.

    Nancy will be the guide on this section talking about the restoration of Middle Main until we get to the Clinton House, 1765 and then The Glebe House, also 1765, home to two rivaling families, one loyalist and one patriot. We’ll find someone from the Dutchess County Historical Society to tell the story of those two families as the final activity of the tour.

    On the way back to the River and the Train Station Peter van Aken and myself will tell people how the future plans for the arterial (which we will be driving on) is to convert them to two way streets with the third lane dedicated to bicycles in accordance with Complete Streets concepts to pay equal attention to cyclists and pedestrians in our “beyond the automobile” world.

    The posts on the Path Through History inspired us to take the next step and connect Upper Landing our original primary interest to the history of the rest of downtown Poughkeepsie.


    1. Peter FeinmanPeter Feinman Post author

      Thanks Jolanda. You may not realize that once I had a Poughkeepsie Teacherhostel/Elderhostel at Locust Grove, Maple Grove, Springside, and the Poughkeepsie Rural Cemetery with a talk by George, dinner with Nancy overlooking the river, and use of the trolley at the cemetery. We had dinner with Harvey the following night. Ever since I have been talking to Nancy about creating a weekend program both for teachers and tourists. Looks like the pieces are coming together. That’s great.

  12. Bob Hest


    I have read your blog for many months. Until this AM it never occurred to me to write and share an experience that may help to overcome the failing of the Path through History initiative.

    In 7th and 8th grade my bride and I had a history teacher who was passionate about NYS history. In both years we learned much about the state, events and the contributions made by residents to the betterment of the state and the nation. She was active in an association the correct name I do not recall, but I do remember is as the Yorkers. Mrs. Cox was the teacher’s name and she organized “Yorker” field trips that over the period of several days by school bus traveled to historic sites and venues around NYS.

    To this day (more than 50 years later) I can associate different communities with the manufactured products they made famous in markets around the world — and many other facts as well. That learning yearning has stayed with both of us all our lives — it made history relevant and left me with a skill that I use to help my grandchildren learn.

    I attended the first Path through History event in Albany. It was there I learned that the NYS Board of Regents had just relaxed the history requirement for matriculation. It still seems incongruous when I hear Ken Adams and so many others talk about the importance of our history and yet it is no longer a requirement to learn in high school. Tough to make a lasting dent in creating tourism interest in our history when we no longer make it a necessary part of growing up and learning in our own state.

    Thanks for listening. Keep up your good work.

    1. Peter FeinmanPeter Feinman Post author

      Bob, thanks for sharing this educational experience and for your kind words. I have mentioned on several occasions that historic sites like libraries and schools are community resources. Each is chartered by the NYSED but somehow the only historic sites are expected to pay their way. The idea that a teacher and a visit to an historic site can provide a lasting memory is alien to the Path through History project although it should be central. You are absolutely right to call attention to the shortcomings of the curriculum when it comes to local and state history and the state pays a price for that absence.


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