Supplying water to millions is not simply an engineering and logistical challenge. As David Soll shows in his history of the nation’s largest municipal water system, Empire of Water: An Environmental and Political History of The New York City Water Supply (Cornell Univ. Press, 2013), the task of providing water to New Yorkers transformed the natural and built environment of the city, its suburbs, and distant rural watersheds.
Almost as soon as New York City completed its first municipal water system in 1842, it began to expand the network, eventually reaching far into the Catskill Mountains, more than one hundred miles from the city. Empire of Water explores the history of New York City’s water system from the late nineteenth century to the early twenty-first century, focusing on the geographical, environmental, and political repercussions of the city’s search for more water. Continue reading
A coalition of 10 New York environmental and historic preservation organizations yesterday urged the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) not to take away the rights of state and local governments to regulate the size, shape and visibility of communications towers – especially in scenic and historically significant areas.
The groups sent a joint letter to the FCC, urging federal officials to recognize that scenic beauty and historic significance are the backbone of local tourism. They asked the FCC to reject the notion that expansions of 10 percent or more in the height or width of cell towers would have no impact on the environment or historic preservation. Continue reading
Spinner was known for his long-range predictions, but when he nailed the latest one―the mild winter he predicted came true, and six inches of snow fell in central New York in March 1937―he gained many new admirers.
On the heels of that success, Billy predicted that July would be hot and dry, and no rain would fall until the second Friday of the month. When a light rain fell early Saturday morning, he commented, “I was off just a couple of hours.” The summer played out as predicted, and his star continued to rise. Continue reading
The award winning book, Heartbeats in the Muck: The History, Sea Life, and Environment of New York Harbor has been updated and reissued in paperback. In Heartbeats, author John Waldman covers the arc of history of New York Harbor from its pristine origins through the ravages of the industrial era to its remarkable comeback today.
First published in 1999, the volume won a New York Society Library Award. The revision includes an epilogue that brings the story of the Harbor to 2012, the 40th Anniversary of the critically important Clean Water Act, and includes the ambitious ongoing oyster restorations; alien species such as Asian shore crabs, zebra mussels, and snakehead fish; the effects of climate change; rehabilitation of the legendarily polluted Gowanus Canal, and even a return of bald eagles to Manhattan. Waldman’s work on New York Harbor also resulted in a Norcross Wildlife Conservation Award and, in 2012, the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Conservation Award. Continue reading
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC), Adirondack Architectural Heritage (AARCH), the Town of Newcomb, and the Adirondack Ecological Center have announced that historic Camp Santanoni, located off Route 28N in Newcomb, will be open for three special weekends this winter. Continue reading
Climate change; global warming; superstorms; extended droughts; the hottest year ever; December tornadoes; on and on it goes. Changes are happening everywhere. Below-zero temps four times before Christmas 2013. Now, a chill factor of 35 below—and 48 hours later, temps in the mid-30s and rain is expected. With all the usual craziness, we do benefit from modern forecasters using the most advanced technology to predict the weather, helping us to avoid any big surprises, or to at least prepare.
The same was true of weathermen seventy-five years ago: they did their best to predict what the weather would bring―days, weeks, and even months in advance. But they weren’t alone in doing so. Competing against them were country prognosticators who sometimes did better than the latest technology. Continue reading
The ease and affordability of digital photography has won over almost everyone on the planet. Kodak went bankrupt in 2012, darkrooms have disappeared, and film is an extirpated species. Reacting to the ethereal impermanence and pervasive newness of digital photography, some photographers have gone back in time to reawaken antique photography processes.
Whether it’s love for a printed-on-real-paper tangible object, a longing for the time when saying you were a photographer meant you had arcane training and chemistry skills, or a lust to accumulate gear, the movement to recreate daguerreotypes, tintypes, ambrotypes and other obscure 19th century processes is well underway. The popularity of the contemporary photographic antiquarians who embrace the old methods is documented in a 2011 film aptly called, “Artists and Alchemists.” Continue reading
From snowmobiles to Iroquois culture, from North Creek to Old Forge, the Adirondack Museum’s “Cabin Fever Sundays” series will present a wide-ranging look at life in the Adirondacks – yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
The series kicks off with “Lost Ski Areas of the Southern Adirondacks,” featuring speaker Jeremy Davis, at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, January 5, at View, on Route 28 in Old Forge, NY. Admission is free for museum members, students, and children; $5 for non-members. Continue reading
In Spring 2014, the New-York Historical Society will present a range of exhibitions that will examine New York City architecture, fashion and photography through the lens of the legendary Bill Cunningham; the early history of African American basketball before the dawn of the National Basketball Association; the second installment of Audubon’s Aviary, showcasing New-York Historical’s collection of Audubon watercolors; and an exhibition of quilts and textiles created during the Civil War. Continue reading
News in 1878 that Vice President William Almon Wheeler of Malone, a recent widower, would be taking First Lady Lucy Hayes fishing in the Adirondacks without her husband, gave New Yorkers something else to talk about besides President Rutherford B. Hayes’s latest feud with New York’s U.S. Senator Roscoe Conkling.
Wheeler had been disappearing into the Adirondacks to fish since he was a poor boy growing up in Malone, the county seat for Franklin County, located on the Canadian border. By the time he became a lawyer, state legislator, bank executive and railroad president, his annual fishing trips became newsworthy. As early as 1864, newspapers reported that Wheeler was heading into “the South Woods” or “the great Southern Wilderness” with a group of his political and business friends for a week of fishing. Continue reading
In the early morning hours of September 5, 1944, an Associated Press agent in Albany received information about an earthquake in northern New York. “Anybody killed?” he asked. When informed no one had been hurt, he showed little interest. Likewise, when the state geologist in Albany was notified that a whole lotta shakin’ was goin’ on, he said, “There is no need to be alarmed. It is improbable they [the quakes] will be anything but quite small.”
You win some, you lose some. In this case, both the reporter and geologist lost―big-time. They missed the call on what still stands as the most destructive earthquake in New York State history. Continue reading
Tectonic forces and global cooling and warming set the stage for the dawn of New York State history. The stage was not a barren one and long before King Kong climbed the Empire State Building that scrapped the sky, giants walked the ground that would become the Empire State. These giants would be called “mastodons” and they became important in religion and nationalism in ways that before their discovery no one could have imagined.
The story of mastodons and New York begins in 1705 in Claverack, Columbia County. A Dutch tenant farmer picked up a five-pound tooth that had rolled down a hill and landed at his feet. Being a sensible sort of person, he naturally traded the tooth to a politician for a glass of rum. The tooth thereupon made its way up the political food chain until it arrived in London. Continue reading
With my 100th post to The New York History Blog, I embark on a new venture. I have been asked to write a 4,000-word history of New York. That is a lot of history to cover in very few words. I am not sure if it is even possible…at least for me. I have decided to divide the subject into a series of topics and to post these shorter pieces to New York History.
Unfortunately the number of topics seems to mushroom so it is not quite as simple as writing seven 500-word posts. I expect when all is done is to have vastly exceeded my assigned allotment and to require substantial pruning if not outright dismemberment. Continue reading
SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry’s Northern Forest Institute is inviting submissions for its third annual symposium of interdisciplinary scholarship in land use and ethics to be held in Newcomb June 6 – 8, 2014.
Submissions from a range of disciplines and professional fields are encouraged. Topics include a variety of approaches to land use, the moral implications of these approaches, and their impacts on social and environmental justice. See the 2013 program on their website. Submission deadline is December 16, 2013. More information can be found on their website.
Here’s a quick look at some of the latest New York history resources to hit the web:
The Bronx Zoo is digitizing three dozen scrapbooks of its first director, William Temple Hornaday (from 1896 to 1926). The work is being done with a grant from the Leon Levy Foundation. The zoo director promoted habitat preservation worldwide, and the scrapbooks include letters, postcards, legal briefs, newspaper clippings and pamphlets. His involvement in the infamous Ota Benga scandal in 1906 is not recorded. Hornaday died in 1937. The collection can be found at the Wildlife Conservation Society Library and Archives website. Continue reading
Catamount Mountain, the one rising from the shores of Taylor Pond north of Whiteface, has always been one of my favorite climbs.
Exposed rock can be so alluring, just one of the many elements that draws in people who love the outdoors. And Catamount has it all for the average hiker/climber―beautiful woods, a conical peak with great views, a dike to climb through, and lots of open, rocky expanses. Continue reading
Drifting: Two Weeks on the Hudson (SUNY Press, 2011) is a candid account of the author Mike Freeman’s two-week canoe trip down the Hudson River which offers an introspective and humorous look at both the river and recession-era America.
New to fatherhood and fresh from ten years in an Alaskan village, Freeman sets out to relearn his country, and realizes it’s in a far greater midlife crisis than he could ever be. With an eye on the Hudson’s past, he addresses America’s present anxieties—from race, gender, and marriage to energy, labor, and warfare—with empathy and honesty, acknowledging the difficulties surrounding each issue without succumbing to pessimism or ideology. Continue reading
Robert Sayre, a retired English professor at the University of Iowa, has spent nearly every summer on Fire Island since 1934. Drawing on his deep interest in Fire Island environmental history Sayre has written Fire Island, Past, Present, and Future: The Environmental History of a Barrier Beach (Oystercatcher Books, 2013).
Syre’s book, which began as an exhibit at the Point O’ Woods Historical Society in 2007 is a concise and readable environmental history of Fire Island from its post-glacial origins to its human uses and its prospects in the age of global warming. Continue reading
A new exhibit opening at the New York State Museum in Albany on Saturday, “Weather Event,” focuses on Charles E. Burchfield’s depictions of the weather south of Lake Erie, where the artist lived for most of his life. Individual weather events are examined through both an artistic, historic, and scientific lens.
Burchfield’s representations of weather, wind, skies and sounds are unique historical records of the environment near Lake Erie. In 1915, Burchfield made a series of sketches that show the changing weather and position of the sun over the course of several hours, which he called all-day sketches. Decades later, a 1950 journal entry recounts “The Day the Sun Disappeared over Western New York.” Continue reading
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has released the draft unit management plans (UMPs) for the Hurricane Mountain Fire Tower Historic Area and the Saint Regis Mountain Fire Tower Historic Area. The UMPs contain management proposals for the fire observation towers located on the summit of Hurricane Mountain in the Town of Keene, Essex County, and the summit of Saint Regis Mountain in the Town of Santa Clara, Franklin County. Continue reading