Category Archives: Natural History

Sprucelets: An Original Adirondack Medicine


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Cold and flu season once again has sufferers scrambling for any kind of relief from all sorts of medicines. A little over a century ago, right here on Northern New York store shelves, next to cough drops by national companies like Smith Brothers and Luden’s, was a local product made in Malone.

Sprucelets were created mainly from a raw material harvested in the Adirondacks: spruce gum. Like hops, blueberries, and maple syrup, the seasonal gathering and sale of spruce gum boosted the incomes of thousands of North Country folks seeking to make a dollar any way they could. Much of what they picked was sold to national gum companies, but some was used locally by entrepreneurs who established small factories and created many jobs.

Among these was the Symonds & Allison Company of Malone, founded there in 1897 by Charles Symonds and Aaron Allison when the latter purchased half-interest in Symonds Brothers, a convenience-store operation offering food, coffee, candy, and tobacco products. Continue reading

In Climbing Mt Washington, Darby Field May Have Sought Lake Champlain


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Samuel de Champlain 1632 mapIn the history of mountain climbing in New England, the first ascent of Mt. Washington happened in 1642 with Darby Field as the climber.

Over the years, however, there has been great speculation as to the route that Field took to the summit. Most early speculation assumed that his main goal was to climb the mountain, and that he then took the most direct route as he came in from the Maine coast.

That route would have taken him up the Cutler River and then up the southeast side of Mt. Washington, the Northeast’s tallest mountain. This is the side with Pinkham Notch and Tuckermans Ravine. For many years, this was the “conventional wisdom” regarding this ascent. Then, as referenced in the article below, an ancient letter surfaced that indicated Field had taken an entirely different route to the summit. This different route, as described in the Watermans’ Forest and Crag (1989), included going over several other summits and passing by what are now known as “Lakes of the Clouds.” With this new evidence, the Watermans could clear up much of the earlier speculation regarding Field’s route, but they still admitted that they did not know why Field climbed Mt. Washington. Continue reading

New Whaling Exhibit at the Southampton Historical Museum


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sperm-whale-in-a-flurry-by-louis-ambroise-garneray-c-1840An interactive and inclusive exhibit, Hunting the Whale: The Rise and Fall of a Southampton Industry adds new discoveries to the accumulation of documentation and artifacts collected over more than 100 years to illuminate Southampton Village’s prominent role in the whaling industry at its mid-19th century height.

Whaling tools, maps, illustrations, archival images and text will be displayed with an eye toward making the exhibit accessible to audiences of varied interests and all ages. Among those whose roles will be highlighted are local indigenous people, slaves, servants, whaling captains, and the families that were sustained by the whaling industry.

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Stony Brook Harbor: A New Natural History


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between-stony-brook-harbor-tides-bookStony Brook Harbor, or Three Sisters Harbor as it was known historically, is a pristine Long Island north shore pocket bay.

Untouched by major commercialization, it has been designated a Significant Coastal Fish and Wildlife Habitat by the New York State Department of State and a Significant Coastal Habitat by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Despite these designations however, there is constant pressure to increase development in and around the harbor. Continue reading

Sunday Rock: A Historic Adirondack Landmark (Conclusion)


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p2a1941inripleysIn January 1936, Dr. Charles Leete, a chief proponent of local history and a strong voice for protecting South Colton’s Sunday Rock from destruction, died. It was more than appropriate that he had been deeply involved in preserving the rock. Leete’s ancestors built much of the machinery used in area sawmills that processed the timber provided by the lumberjacks who were famously linked to Sunday Rock’s legend.

As famous as the big rock was regionally, it attained immortality of a sort in 1941 when Robert Ripley included it in his world-famous newspaper feature, “Ripley’s Believe It or Not!” A drawing of the landmark was accompanied by a full paragraph relating the legend of Sunday Rock. Continue reading

Sunday Rock: A Historic Adirondack Landmark


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p1a1926headlineAmong the unusual landmarks in the Adirondacks is a massive roadside boulder in central St. Lawrence County, just three tenths of a mile west of the South Colton post office. Widely known as Sunday Rock, it is part of the legend and lore of the northwestern Adirondacks. My first visit to South Colton came several decades ago during a long road trip aimed at scouting out new places to hike and canoe. I was led there by a passage in a book titled, “Rocks and Routes of the North Country, New York,” by Dr. Bradford B. VanDiver, Professor of Geology at SUNY Potsdam when the book was released in 1976. (His story was featured in this space a few weeks ago.) Continue reading

Winnakee Launches Northern Dutchess Trail Project


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marist-college-students-clearing-trailsWinnakee Land Trust has announced the Northern Dutchess Trail Project and receipt of a grant in the amount of $14,800 from the 2016 Greenway Conservancy Trail Grant Program.

The grant was one of 22 received in the Mid-Hudson Valley and Capital Region. The Greenway Conservancy Trail Grant Program, funded by NYS Environmental Protection Fund, supports the Greenway’s goal to establish the Hudson River Valley Greenway Trail, a contiguous trail linking cultural and historic sites, parks, open spaces, and community centers from New York City to the Adirondacks. Continue reading

Connect Kids to Parks Transportation Grant Program


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connect-kids-to-parksThe Connect Kids to Parks Transportation Grant Program is available to K-12 classrooms in Title 1 schools across the state to connect New York public school children with nature and New York State history by providing reimbursement grants to public schools for visits to a New York State park, nature center or historic site, a Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Environmental Education Center or Fish Hatchery, or the SUNY ESF Adirondack Ecological Center in Newcomb. Continue reading

Nutting Season: An Old-Time Ritual


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blackwalnutwikipdThanksgiving, with food a major holiday component, calls to mind a time of year that was once the subject of great anticipation: nutting season. I’m not old enough to have experienced it first-hand, although back in the 1980s I did explore many natural edibles. Among my favorites was beechnuts, which we harvested and used in chocolate-chip cookies. Outstanding!

But in days long ago, when many folks earned a subsistence living that utilized home-grown vegetables and wild foods, nutting season was an important time. Continue reading