Category Archives: History

New York History

Destruction and the American Civil War


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ben_franklins_worldThe American Civil War claimed more than 620,000 American lives. It also cost American forests, landscapes, cities, and institutions.

In this episode of the Ben Franklin’s World podcast, we explore the different types of ruination wrought by the American Civil War with Megan Kate Nelson, author of Ruin Nation: Destruction and the American Civil War (University of Georgia Press, 2012). You can listen to the podcast here: www.benfranklinsworld.com/063

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Boxing History And The Catskills


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Frank_Moran_cropHundreds of fighters, champions and also-rans alike, have come to the verdant Sullivan County countryside over the years to train for upcoming fights, providing the Catskills with a permanent link to the sport.  And that link transcends the fact that heavyweight contender Ed “Gunboat” Smith grew up in Obernberg, heavyweight champ Jimmy Braddock owned a home in North Branch, and featherweight champ Abe Attell, generally regarded as one of the greatest pound-for-pound fighters in history, is buried in Beaverkill.

It has not been recorded when the first professional fighter came to the county to train, but there is lots of information from which to make an educated guess.  While it isn’t clear whether or not he ever actually trained in the county, Robert Prometheus Fitzsimmons, the undersized British fighter who wrested the heavyweight crown from Gentlemen Jim Corbett in 1897, is known to have frequented many of the Silver Age resorts in the region, primarily those favored by New York City’s policemen and firemen. That probably meant Brophy’s Mountain House in Hurleyville, which was so closely associated with New York’s Finest and New York’s Bravest prior to its demise in a fire in 1910 that is was often referred to as Brophy’s Mad House, due to the unrestrained antics of the off-duty officers. Continue reading

A New President For The NY Genealogical and Biographical Society


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Boston, MA - Faneuil HallGenealogist, author, and lecturer D. Joshua Taylor has been appointed President of the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society, effective February 1, 2016. He succeeds McKelden Smith, who is retiring after serving as the organization’s president for the past seven years.

In a statement issued to the pres, Jeanne Sloane, chairman of the board of trustees of the NYG&B, said, “We are thrilled that Josh has accepted this position. He brings to the NYG&B dynamic energy and his well-known passion for the mission of genealogical societies in general. He has broad experience as an advanced researcher and riveting lecturer. Plus he has the expertise we require in the innovative use of technology in our field.” Continue reading

History Resources To Watch In 2016


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New-York-State-Map1As we look forward to the new year ahead, we continue to search for and try out ideas that will strengthen state and local history here in New York.  What follows is a short list of resources that might be of interest:

Of course, the best place to publicize, monitor, and comment on historical programs and issues in our state is this New York History Blog. John Warren continues to provide a unique forum here to keep up with history community news and exchange ideas. Without this blog, we would not have any way to keep in touch. We wouldn’t be able to follow news from historical programs, updates on the work and role of local historians, or discussions of New York History Month, Path Through History, the State Historian’s position, or the proposed Museum Education Act, just to cite a few examples. But keeping the blog going requires support from the state’s history community. Continue reading

The Bill of Rights on the Ben Franklin’s World podcast


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ben_franklins_worldDid you know that when James Madison originally proposed the Bill of Rights, it consisted of 36 amendments and that the House of Representatives did not want to consider or debate Madison’s proposed amendments to the Constitution?

In this episode of the Ben Franklin’s World podcast, we explore the Bill of Rights and its ratification with Carol Berkin, author of The Bill of Rights: The Fight to Secure America’s Liberties (Simon and Schuster, 2015). You can listen to the podcast here: www.benfranklinsworld.com/062

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Caribbean Connections: 6 Printmakers


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Francks Deceus. Jumpsuit, 2002Since colonial times, the port city of New York has sent ships, goods and ideas to the Caribbean which in turn dispatched its own flow of staples, people, symbols and imaginative language North.

In the new show at Harlem’s Wintner-Tikhonova Fine Art Gallery open till Jan. 17, Caribbean artists show varieties of imagination rooted in that history of exchange. Francks Deceus from Haiti offers an abstracted photographic image of a dapper suited man in derby hat imprinted on an outlined version of a worker’s jumpsuit, evoking the urban and rural amalgam that haunts the identity of so many New Yorkers hailing from the Caribbean. Continue reading

Margaret Fuller Marker Planned For Fishkill Landing


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Margaret FullerThe Pomeroy Foundation has awarded the city of Beacon, New York, a marker grant for the Margaret Fuller marker to be installed and dedicated in the spring of 2016.

Rev. Michael Barnett, representing women’s rights activist Margaret Fuller for the New York Cultural Heritage Tourism Network’s 100th Anniversary of Women’s Right to Vote in NYS 2017 Committee, collaborated with Elizabeth Evans, Assistant to the Mayor, and Robert Murphy, President of the Beacon Historical Society, to provide the primary source documentation. Continue reading

George Washington in Retirement


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ben_franklins_worldIf you had only six years to enjoy retirement what would you do?

Would you improve your plantation? Build canals? Or work behind-the-scenes to unite your country by framing a new central government?

In this episode of the Ben Franklin’s World podcast, we explore George Washington’s brief retirement from public service with Edward Larson, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in History and author of The Return of George Washington, 1783-1789 (William Morrow, 2014). You can listen to the podcast here: www.benfranklinsworld.com/061

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How The McEntees Spent Christmas


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McEntee- Christmas in the Catskills,1867“I went out after a Christmas tree and some laurel, through seas of mud,” wrote Jervis McEntee on Christmas eve, 1881, “to the place where I always go on the cross road between the Flat-bush and Pine bush roads. It rained a part of the time and turned into a snow storm on our return.”

Another year, McEntee’s usual places for a tree were so wet that he settled for a small hemlock on the side of the hill where he lived. It was a hill that offered a panoramic view of the entire village as well as the Rondout Creek and the Hudson River. His father James, an engineer who had helped build the nearby Delaware and Hudson Canal, had built the first house on the hill and the family still lived there. Continue reading

Help Keep The NY History Blog Going: Contribute


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NY HIstory Blog Logo 2015 CampaignIt’s that time of year again, when I’m on the stump asking for your help to finish funding the New York History Blog for 2015.

Over the past seven years this site has published over 5,000 stories about New York State history, we’ve promoted hundreds of history initiatives in an effort to foster a sense of shared mission and purpose among New York historians of every stripe – all because readers like you provided the little operating funds we need to keep going.

We’re now just $705 from our 2015 goal. Please help us with this final amount before the end of the year.

You can contribute to our Rally.org campaign here – https://rally.org/f/hmP6uuhdXnT – it’s easy and secure.

If you’ve already given this year, please consider a gift in the name of your favorite organization – or purchasing an advertisement for your next big event – it all goes toward the goal. If you have questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me at jnwarrenjr@gmail.com.

A NY Woman Who Belongs On The $20 Bill


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800px-Frances_Perkins_cph.3a04983Recently the Treasury Department has announced its intent to place a prominent woman of historical importance on the U.S. currency. There is no one who is more deserving of this honor than Frances Perkins, a New York woman, who was probably the most significant and important female government official of the 20th century.

As Secretary of Labor throughout President Franklin Roosevelt’s four terms and the first woman ever to hold a cabinet position, Frances Perkins designed most of the New Deal Social Welfare and Labor Policies, such as social security, the minimum wage, the Fair Labor Standards Act, and protections for unions, and reshaped America. Continue reading

Braddock’s Defeat: The Battle of the Monongahela


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ben_franklins_worldDid George Washington start the French and Indian War?

Why should we remember a battle that took place over 260 years ago?

In this episode of the Ben Franklin’s World podcast, we investigate the answers to those questions as we explore the Battle of the Monongahela with David Preston, author of Braddock’s Defeat: The Battle of the Monongahela and the Road to Revolution (Oxford University Press, 2015). You can listen to the podcast here: www.benfranklinsworld.com/060

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First Christmas Card On Exhibit In Albany


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First Christmas Card in HistoryThis Christmas season the Albany Institute of History & Art will be exhibiting America’s first commercially printed Christmas card. Printed in Albany around 1850, the card is on loan to the Albany Institute from the Manchester Metropolitan University Special Collections in England as part of The Capital Region in 50 Objects exhibition. This is the only known copy of the card to survive and this is the first time the card has been on view in the United States. Continue reading

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and NYC’s Minority Plumbers


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01Minority PlumbersShifting alliances can make strange bedfellows and surprising adversaries. The push to integrate the New York City Plumbers Union as the Civil Rights Act was cobbled together 50 years ago shows how our perceptions and expectations can change with time.

Not long before the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, construction began on what is now the Hunt’s Point Food Distribution Center, the largest food distribution complex in the world. Full integration of the union workers at Hunts Point, supported by many, might have derailed or undermined this important legislation. Continue reading

My First Year As A Local History Librarian


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2015-12-12-ScannersIn mid-October, I marked my first anniversary as the “local history librarian” at the White Plains Public Library. Four years earlier, I was a library clerk at an urban public library trying to figure out how to make a job out of my seemingly varied interests. I liked direct service, helping people, but I also valued more solitary, research driven work. I knew Intellectual freedom and a progressive, supportive community were a necessary part of any job I might hold, but I did not want to obtain a PhD or set out on my own for the wilds of self-employment. I knew I loved education, but I didn’t want to be a teacher. So the world has another librarian.

Through a friend, I began working at Albany Public Library as a Library Clerk and found the public library united my passions for working with people and knowledge in a democratic, autonomous space. Librarians can be educators without being constricted by the bureaucracy that comes with teaching. Librarians can also be historians, but don’t have to work within the traditional academic or museum systems, where publishing requirements or institutional obligations can take up lots of time. Attracted as I am to intellectual autonomy and the propagation of alternative historical voices, working as a local history librarian looked like a perfect opportunity to see if I could manifest some of these values. Continue reading

Regents Makes Museum Education Act A Priority


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CapitolThe New York State Board of Regents has made the Museum Education Act (MEA) a Legislative Priority for 2016. The Act would provide museums and other eligible institutions access to grant funding to conduct curriculum-based educational programs for students and teachers in grades pre-kindergarten through grade twelve and adults enrolled in continuing education programs.

The grants are expected to be competitive in nature and could be used for a variety of curriculum-based educational programming, including funding for the transportation of students to museums or museum staff to classrooms. Continue reading

Sullivan County’s ‘White Christmas’ Connection


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WhiteRoeAerialThe Columbia Inn in Pine Tree, Vermont did not bear much of a resemblance to a Catskills’ hotel of that era, and Dean Jagger’s General Tom Waverly was definitely not much like a Sullivan County hotel owner, but the movie “White Christmas” has a strong local flavor nonetheless.

The titular tune of the top grossing film of 1954, of course, was conceived and written right here in Lew Beach, and the movie’s thin plot line was really little more than a vehicle for county resident Irving Berlin’s music. And then there is Danny Kaye, sharing the lead with the inimitable Bing Crosby –  who sings Berlin’s most memorable song for the third time on screen– as well as Rosemary Clooney, and Vera Ellen.

But except for two separate twists of fate, Kaye may not have been part of “White Christmas” at all.  Continue reading

The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad


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ben_franklins_worldBetween the 1830s and 1860s, a clandestine communications and transportation network called the “Underground Railroad” helped thousands of slaves escape to freedom.

In this episode of the Ben Franklin’s World podcast, we investigate this secret network with Eric Foner, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and author of Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad (W.W. Norton & Co., 2015). You can listen to the podcast here: www.benfranklinsworld.com/059

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Recent Lower Hudson Valley History Meeting Highlights


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hudson valleyIn recent weeks I have had the opportunity to attend and participate in three regional and county history community meetings. These included the annual meeting of the Greater Hudson Heritage Network; a meeting of Region 3 (mainly the Hudson Valley) of the Association of Public Historians in New York State (APHNYS); and the Sullivan County History Conference

These three meetings provided opportunities to meet with colleagues, discuss important issues, and learn what’s happening. What follows are some highlights from those meetings. Continue reading