Amsterdam to Albany: An Address by Russell Shorto


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800px-Russell_ShortoRussell Shorto, the 2013 New Netherland Research Center Senior Scholar and author of The Island at the Center of the World and Amsterdam: A History of the World’s Most Liberal City, as well as other acclaimed works, will talk about Dutch cultural heritage from Amsterdam and its influence on Albany, New York.

The talk will be followed by a signing of his most recent book Amsterdam: A History of the World’s Most Liberal City, named one of Publisher’s Weekly Best Books of 2013 and described as “an expertly told history of a city of new, shocking freedoms and the tough-minded people that developed them.” Copies of the book will be available for sale. Continue reading

Roebling’s Wire Rope Modernized The D & H Canal


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John A. RoeblingJohn Augustus Roebling celebrated two milestones in June of 1849, his 43rd birthday and the beginning of construction of the Neversink Aqueduct on the Delaware & Hudson Canal. It was the third of the four aqueducts he would design and build for the canal company, and followed the completion of the Delaware and Lackawaxen Aqueducts the previous year.

Roebling (his given name was actually Johann August) was born in Muhlhausen, in Prussia, on June 12, 1806, the youngest son of Christoph Polycarpa Roebling and Fredericke Dorothea Mueller Roebling. He grew up in a world of private tutors, learned the music of Bach and the poetry of Goethe, and according to some sources, built a model of a suspension bridge when he was nine years old that bore a striking resemblance to what would be his most famous work, the Brooklyn Bridge. He gained admission to the prestigious engineering program at the Royal Polytechnic Institute in Berlin, where he studied languages and philosophy as well as architecture, bridge construction and hydraulics. He graduated in 1826, and went to work for the state, as was the requirement at that time, serving three years building roads in Westphalia. Continue reading

45 Years After Stonewall: Gay Pride Rockland


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Gay Pride Rockland CountyOver 1,000 people gathered for the first Gay Pride event in Nyack in 1999. As if to prove the positive force that this public affirmation of sexual identity can have, a Village of Nyack Trustee named John Shields, who would later serve four terms as Mayor, publicly came out of the closet that day.

In the late 1990s, if you lived in Nyack and wanted to attend one of the major Gay Pride celebrations that are held around the country each June, you had to travel to Manhattan. Phyllis B. Frank, Associate Executive Director of VCS, Inc. enjoyed the annual pride pilgrimage to the city, but thought aloud to others that “even if we had just a group walking behind one sign, we needed to do something for Gay Pride here in Rockland.” Continue reading

Heritage Tourism and Immigration in New York State


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220px-Statue_of_Liberty_1917_posterImmigration has always been an important part of New York history. If one considers the story of the state from the Ice Age to Global Warming, then we and/or our ancestors all arrived here from somewhere else. Even if we were born an American and reside here now we may not have been born in New York. And if we were born in New York, we may not now live in the community where we were born or grew up. People move around a lot. How often do you hear the story of someone who has only been a resident of the community for 10, 20, 30 years and is still considered a newcomer?

Telling the story of immigration in New York provides an opportunity for us to connect with the world. What country doesn’t have residents in this state? So here is an opportunity for New York to tell the story about what it means to be a New Yorker by examining the lives of people who became New Yorkers. Continue reading

Rensselaer Co. Historical Society’s 2014 Phelan Lecture


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RCHSThe Rensselaer County Historical Society (RCHS) has announced the 2014 Thomas Phelan Endowed Lecture Series to be held on Saturday, June 21. This year’s theme is Controversial Objects, Controversial History. The day consists of a morning lecture, an afternoon workshop and a fundraising dinner in the evening.

In 1997, the Rensselaer County Historical Society established the Thomas Phelan Endowed Lecture Series in recognition of Rev. Phelan’s longtime preservation efforts and support of the educational and cultural vitality of Rensselaer County. Prominent speakers are invited to lecture of topics relating to Phelan’s area of study as Institute Dean and Institute Historian at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, especially as it pertains to 19th century American material culture and industrialization. Continue reading

Paul Stewart: Albany’s Underground Railroad History


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NY UNderground Railroad RoutesAlbany was a busy port city throughout the nineteenth century. During its most active Underground Railroad days, the city was occupied by lumber and other businesses at the riverfront and numerous retail establishments along Market Street (our current Broadway), Pearl Street, and corresponding cross streets. Although it was the state capital (since 1797) Albany truly began to expand only after the completion in 1825 of the Erie Canal, which enhanced the city as a destination for riverboat shipping and traffic.

Commerce along the Hudson and Erie Canal system, and new forms of transportation such as the steamboat and the railroad, greatly increased the opportunities for people, including fugitives from slavery, to travel from port to port, and city to city. The new transportation systems, as well as burgeoning social movements of the antebellum period, such as Sunday School, temperance and women’s rights movements, provided abundant opportunities for the sort of networking that facilitated Underground Railroad efforts. Continue reading

New Book On Kingston’s IBM Years


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9781883789763What happens when a giant high-tech corporation opens a massive new plant on the outskirts of a small, rural, historic city? And what happens when it just as suddenly leaves?

In Kingston: The IBM Years (Friends of Historic Kingston, 2014), three prominent college professors, an award-winning novelist, a longtime Ulster County journalist, and two former IBM Kingston employees examine the history of the IBM complex and the work that was conducted there, the impact the facility had on Kingston and its surroundings, what life was like as an “IBMer,” how it influenced regional architecture and thrust a colonial city into the modern age, and the effect of a “boom and bust” cycle on a rural, traditional community. Continue reading

This Week’s New York History Web Highlights


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Fort Ticonderoga Author Series: Battle of Valcour Island


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Fort Ticonderoga From Mount DefianceFort Ticonderoga’s 2014 Author Series continues on Sunday, June 8, with Stephen Darley, author of The Battle of Valcour Island: The Participants and Vessels of Benedict Arnold’s 1776 Defense of Lake Champlain.

In his new book about the Battle of Valcour Island on Lake Champlain, Steve Darley includes a roster of 448 officers and men who participated, the names and personal history of 16 captains of the American vessels on the lake in 1776, as well as first hand accounts in letters, journals, memoirs, and pension applications that tell this amazing story of a Lake Champlain battle. No such comprehensive information has been published before. It contains a description of all of the American vessels in the battle as well as the story of how the first vessels of the American fleet were obtained and how the last group of vessels were destroyed or captured in 1777. Continue reading

New Beer Celebrates ‘Hessians’ At Battle of Bennington


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browns1Brown’s Brewing Company in Hoosick Falls and Troy, NY, has brewed a special beer in tribute to the Germans that served at the Battle of Bennington which took place in the Town of Hoosick in 1777 during the American Revolutionary War.

The historic Braunschweigers Mumme Ale is a dark, spicy beer created in the late 1400s in the German province of Braunschweig in what is now Lower Saxony, home of Lieutenant Colonel Friedrich Baum and his elite regiment of mounted infantrymen called Dragoons. Continue reading

This Week’s Top New York History News


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Latest New York History News

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Bruce Dearstyne: The Proposed NYS History Commission


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nycapitolLast week, Assemblyman Steve Englebright held a “roundtable” on his bill to create a Commission on New York State History (Assembly 6226-A) at the Legislative Office Building in Albany.

I was unaware of the bill before being invited to attend and speak at the meeting, but was very encouraged after reading the bill, and even more encouraged after hearing from Assemblyman Englebright. The proposed Commission is the most promising development in state and local history policy in several years.

The bill has the potential to lead and coordinate activities and programs that now operate mostly in isolation from each other, provide support and advice for historical programs, strengthen the role of officially designated local historians, foster more extensive and creative use of public history, encourage the use of technology, help with heritage tourism, and overall strengthen the state’s historical enterprise. Continue reading

AMC’s ‘Turn’:
Lively Fiction, But Tenuous Connections to Fact


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TURN-Official-Teaser-TrailerOh, dear. What a disappointment. Many who were thrilled by the news that the AMC Channel was creating “Turn”, a television series to tell the true story of George Washington’s Long Island spy ring were startled to see glaring inaccuracies depicted, from the opening scene on April 6th.

Had the writers not pinned the names of historic figures onto their characters, and instead developed a script of pure fiction about spying, adultery, gratuitous violence and traitorous generals during the American Revolution, one could sit back with feet up and relax with escapist fantasy. No problem. But – when a producer and a network advertise a program as “a true story,” and then proceed not only to bend the truth but, on occasion, to break it across their knees, and when “real” characters bear no resemblance to their flesh and blood namesakes, it is time to protest. Continue reading

Unique Winslow Homer Exhibit At Farmers Museum, Arkell Museum


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Winslow_Homer_-_MoonlightTomorrow, June 6th, the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown will present the opening of Winslow Homer: The Nature and Rhythm of Life, from the Arkell Museum at Canajoharie, featuring over 23 original works including oil paintings and delicate watercolors collected by Bartlett Arkell, the founder and first President of the Beech-Nut Packing Company.

This marks the first time these exceptional Homer paintings will be displayed as a complete collection. The exhibition contains two works now in other collections, including a painting owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The exhibition was organized by the Arkell Museum at Canajoharie and is on view at the Fenimore Art Museum from through August 24, 2014, and at the Arkell Museum at Canajoharie from September 2, 2014 to January 4, 2015. Continue reading

New York’s History Community to Convene


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New-York-State-Map1When the Conference on New York State History meets at Marist College in Poughkeepsie on June 12-14, 2014, it will—as always—bring together scholars to present and discuss their latest work in New York State history.

Sessions will include a New York Academy of History panel led by Columbia University’s Kenneth T. Jackson on the past, present, and future of New York’s urban and suburban history; a panel sponsored by the New York Council for the Humanities featuring leading scholars of public history, historical memory, and architecture addressing “September 11 and the Battle for American Memory;” a Hudson River Valley Institute-sponsored panel on the Hudson River School aesthetic and the formation of a national identity; and a lot more.

It will include more in the way of scholarship, to be sure—but also much more than that. Continue reading

Women in Science: Gazing at the Stars Through History


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Debra Elmegreen and Professor Maria Mitchell by Suzanne Schnittman2014’s season of college graduations is winding down, but the questions to students persist: “What are you going to do now?” While some grads provide a satisfying answer to this bothersome query, many avoid a direct response.

Frequently, they are heading down a road that is not their first choice. In 1878 a well-known graduate from Vassar Female College in Poughkeepsie, New York, found herself in a similar situation. Continue reading

Copake Iron Works Tours And Talk Planned


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Copake Iron Works cart and horseHistorian Jim Mackin will present “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About the Copake Iron Works But Were Afraid to Ask” at a lecture and slide show on Saturday, June 21st at 2pm at the Roeliff Jansen Community Library, 9091 Route 22 in Copake, Columbia County, NY, followed by a reception and tour of the Iron Works.

Mackin will also host guided tours of the Copake Iron Works Historic District throughout the summer, beginning on June 8th as part of New York State’s Path Through History Weekend. Continue reading

Battle of Bennington Talk, Tour On Saturday


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Bennington1777MapDr. Michael P. Gabriel, author of The Battle of Bennington: Soldiers & Civilians, will be giving a short presentation as part of the Road to the Battle of Bennington Inaugural Event to be held at Bennington Battlefield State Historic Site on Saturday June 7 from 2- 4 p.m.

The Path Through History Weekend event celebrates the inauguration of an interpretive driving route that follows the ill-fated excursion of German Lieutenant Colonel Friedrich Baum to Bennington Battlefield in 1777, during the American Revolutionary War. Continue reading