Entering the Post Civil War Sesquicentennial Era


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lithograph of the Battle of Gettysburg from the Library of CongressA recent article “Made in New York: The Empire State at War,” in the Albany Times Union by Civil War historian Bill Howard reminded readers of New York’s central importance in the Civil War.

Howard noted, among other things, that New York governor Edwin Morgan began mobilizing troops for the war even before the surrender of Fort Sumter, enlisted about 450,000 soldiers during the war (more than half of the state’s population under 30), was a major supplier of arms and other war materials. Howard analyzes several other New York contributions and concludes that “the war could not have been won without New York’s contributions.” Continue reading

1861: Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth in Albany


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The Delavan House on BRoadway in AlbanyFollowing his election as President in 1860, Abraham Lincoln undertook a train ride to Washington that took him through Albany. He arrived in the city on February 18, 1861 with his wife and three sons.

As their train passed the West Albany railroad shops, an electrical switch was turned off at the nearby Dudley Observatory, causing an electromagnet mounted on the roof of the Capitol in downtown Albany to release a metal ball that slid down a pole, signaling to military officials to start a 21-gun salute in Capitol Park. Continue reading

Plane Crash Wreckage Hike Recalls Mount Beacon 6


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Dixie Kiefer on the USS TiconderogaOn Sunday, November 11, 1945, a Navy Beechcraft twin engine transport plane traveling from Curtis Wright Airport in New Jersey to the Quonset Air Naval Air Station in Rhode Island, crashed near the northwest ridge of Beacon Mountain in the Town of Fishkill, New York.

Among the six men who lost their lives that day was Navy legend Dixie Kiefer, Commander of the Quonset Point Naval Air Station, and one of the World War II Navy’s best known figures. On Saturday June 20, 2015 there will be a hike to the site of the crash on Mt. Beacon, were some wreckage remains. Continue reading

Aaron Burr Revised: Conspiracy, Treason and Justice


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Aaron Burr by John Vanderlyn in 1809. Courtesy of New-York Historical SocietyWho remembers Aaron Burr as anything more than Quick Draw McGraw shooting down the near-sighted Alexander Hamilton at dawn in 1804? But there is much more to the man, as Gore Vidal revealed in his intriguing 1973 historical novel, and other subsequent scholarship.

Two aspects of Burr’s varied career stand out in today’s world. First, his treason trial that closely examined issues of what counts as an act of war against one’s own government. And second, his relationships with a series of highly intelligent and accomplished women, reflecting his high opinion of the female sex and its potential. Continue reading

The Mirror Girl of Saranac Lake


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NYH01AColonel Walter ScottMirror Girl. What an intriguing term. In the past it has been applied to the prettiest coeds in sororities, cute girls in general, and particularly vain women. But in this case, it addresses one of my favorite historical stories linked to the Northern New York’s years as a tuberculosis treatment center. The patient was a young woman, Jessica “Jessie” Ferguson, born in 1895 in Mount Pleasant, New York, north of Tarrytown on the Hudson River. Her parents, James and Anna, were both natives of Scotland, a fact that becomes key to the story.

The young girl’s difficulties began in her early twenties when her father died, and Jessica was diagnosed with tuberculosis of the bone, affecting her spine. In 1918, she lost the ability to walk. Doctors placed her in a cast that forced Jessica into a permanent reclining position. Continue reading

Gilded Age Scandals, World War I at Staatsburgh


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Tea-Talk--6-9-15 (139)Two special theme tours this summer at Staatsburgh State Historic Site will explore very different aspects of the Gilded Age. “World War I and the End of the Gilded Age” will focus on the impact of the war on the social elite and their way of life. “Gilded Age Scandals” will share historic gossip about turn-of-the-century celebrity scandals.

Staatsburgh was the home of prominent social hostess Ruth Livingston Mills and her husband, financer Ogden Mills. The 79-room mansion showcases the opulent lifestyle enjoyed by the wealthy elite of the early 20th century. Continue reading

The Oneida Nation Supported American Rebels


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Oneidas  at the Battle of Oriskany in 2009James Kirby Martin, a history professor at the University of Houston, traces his interest in the Mohawk Valley to his birthplace in northern Ohio.

Joseph Brant of the Mohawk Nation was born in what is now Ohio in 1743 and Martin was fascinated by Brant’s life. The younger brother of Sir William Johnson’s longtime consort Molly Brant, Joseph Brant and Sir William’s son John led devastating raids in the Mohawk Valley during the American Revolution.

Sir William, Britain’s Indian agent in our region, died in 1774 before the war. However, his good relations with the Iroquois Confederacy kept most of them on the side of the British during the Revolution. Continue reading

Artillery Day At Knox’s Headquarters


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American Revolution ArtilleryThe long barrel artillery piece or gun was a dominating presence on most of the battlefields of the American Revolution.  Firing solid iron balls out to distances of 1,000 yards and deadly shotgun blasts of caseshot, small iron balls, in a tin canister, up to 300 yards, the gun devastated enemy formations.  The larger versions battered down walls and smashed holes in great warships.

On Saturday, June 20th, from 11 am to 3 pm, Revolutionary War cannon firings every half-hour will highlight a program about the 1780-81 artillery encampment at Knox’s Headquarters in New Windsor, Orange County, NY. Continue reading

Mabee Farm’s Civil War Living History Day June 27th


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Mabee Farm Civil War DayOn June 27th the Mabee Farm Historic Site will present Civil War Living History Day from 10 am to 4 pm. Living history educators, historians, and musicians from across New York and beyond will be on hand to recall one of the tumultuous moments in American history.

The event will feature education and family entertainment including living history demonstrations of military life, a children’s military muster, the exhibit “Witness to Assassination: President Lincoln’s Death and the Schenectady Connection,” and a  musical performance by the 77th New York Regimental Balladeers. Continue reading

Bourbon Empire: America’s Whiskey Past, and Future


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Boubon EmpireBorn of necessity in the colonies, fine-tuned and perfected over the centuries – witnessing civil war, Prohibition, and the marketing genius of Madison Avenue – bourbon continues to this day to be one of the most popular and iconic spirits of America.

In Bourbon Empire: The Past and Future of America’s Whiskey (Viking, 2015), Reid Mitenbuler provides a popularly accessible history of this unique industry and a personal commentary on how to taste and choose your bourbon. Continue reading

Grain Dust Dreams: A Short History Of Grain Elevators


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Grain Elevator HistoryGrain Dust Dreams (SUNY Press, 2015) tells the story of terminal grain elevators – concrete colossi that stand in the middle of a deep river of grain that they lift, sort, and send on.

From their invention in Buffalo through a present-day operation in Thunder Bay, Ontario, David W. Tarbet examines the difficulties and dangers of working in a grain elevator – showing how they operate and describing the effects that the grain trade has on the lives of individuals and cities. Continue reading

Folk Singer Dave Ruch On “The Historians” Podcast


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The Historians LogoThis week “The Historians” podcast features an interview with performer and teaching artist Dave Ruch from Buffalo. Ruch will perform traditional and historical songs of New York State at 7 p.m. on Saturday June 13 at the Mabee Farm Historic Site on Route 5-S in Rotterdam Junction, N.Y. The Radio Rounders will entertain as well. The event features beer, wine and snacks and is sponsored by the Schenectady County Historical Society. Listen online here.
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This Week’s Top New York History News


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Hamilton’s Mistress; My Historic Namesake


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StaatsburghDowntonTour6-2014 (153)In the study of history, a personal connection is often what draws us in to begin to explore a subject, place, or era.  We might be interested in World War II after hearing grandpa’s war stories.  We might begin to read about the Underground Railroad after discovering stations in our hometown.

Making a personal connection with the people we read about and study is a common impulse for history lovers.  It helps make history come alive. This story isn’t about an ancestor, or a history connection to my home town, it’s about a woman with a more unique connection to me, one who shares my name. Continue reading

James Reynolds Day Salutes Revolutionary War Veteran


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IMG_0193More than a decade ago, Anne Hutchinson-Bronxville Chapter National Society Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) member Virginia Reynolds Hefti was credited with helping to save the historic Mt. Zion Burial Ground – part of a historic corridor in Somers, NY – from the threat of commercial development.

Situated on both sides of Primrose Street, the historic corridor also includes the 1794 Mt. Zion Methodist Church (the second oldest surviving Methodist chapel in Westchester County), The Reynolds Homestead, and the Angle Fly Preserve, a 654 acre tract of open space. The historic church and burial ground are listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places. Continue reading

Heritage Hops Benefit Madison Co Historical Society


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Madison County HopsPotted hop plants are available to benefit the Madison County Historical Society in Oneida, NY for at least a five dollar donation. Hop plants are ready to be planted now.

Available hop varieties include Cascade and “Hedgerow Hops” from the wild stock of the old hop yards near Bouckville, NY where commercial hop growing was introduced to Central New York in 1808. These hedgerow hops are a hardy plant, having survived over 150 winters. Continue reading

Funding A History Passport Program


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Adirondack Coast History PassportPassports are an underutilized resource for promoting tourism and community identity. While I have been a strong advocate for the creation and use of passports at the local, county, and regional basis for schools and tourism, I only now have realized the potential funding opportunity with the latest round of funding through the Regional Economic Development Councils (REDC).

This epiphany began at the annual conference of the Association of Public Historians in New York State in Corning in April. On the display table there was a pile of Adirondack Coast Cultural Alliance passports. Continue reading