Tag Archives: Clinton County

A Short History of the ‘Rooftop Highway’


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Rooftop highway CR BDThe Rooftop Highway, conceived as a thruway extending from Champlain in northeastern New York to Watertown in northwestern New York, is considered by some as the last major link missing from the state system of highways. It has been in the news again in recent years, particularly with the availability of federal stimulus dollars to enhance our infrastructure. As always, plenty of pros and cons are presented, and a whole lot hangs in the balance.

At times, the concept has been described as 20 to 30 years old, but it actually goes back much further. I’m old enough to recall the intense discussions during the 1970s, which takes us back 40 years. But even that is still well short of the idea’s birth. Continue reading

The Prince of Wales at Rouses Point


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Prince of Wales 1919, CanadaBritish royalty were the most famous of foreign visitors to the village of Rouses Point, located in New York State’s extreme northeast corner.

In 1919, the Prince of Wales toured Canada and accepted an invitation to visit President Woodrow Wilson at the White House. Wilson was bedridden with illness at the time, so a “bemedalled staff of admirals and generals” was dispatched to greet the Prince when he first stepped onto American soil at Rouses Point.

On November 10, Edward, Prince of Wales, arrived at the train station. Awaiting him were Secretary of State Lansing, Major General John Biddle of the US Army, Rear Admiral Albert T. Niblick of the US Navy, and Major General Charleston of the British army. Continue reading

Rouses Point: Northern NY Crossroads


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Gene Tunney in Rouses Point 3WFew villages in New York State can lay claim to as rich a heritage as Rouses Point, and like the oft-used real-estate axiom says, there are three primary reasons—location, location, location.

As New York’s northeasternmost village, Rouses Point can be found at the north end of Lake Champlain. Bordering on Canada to the north and Vermont to the east, for decades it was a shipping and transportation crossroads, serving both water and rail traffic. Continue reading

The Churubusco Live-In: Clinton County’s ‘Woodstock’


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The Churubusco Live-In, planned as the 1970 sequel to the historic Woodstock concert of 1969, was in deep trouble. The town of Clinton, which included Churubusco, sought legal help to shut the event down. J. Byron O’Connell, an outstanding trial attorney, was bombastic at times, and his aggressive quotes [if long-haired people came to the village, “they’re just liable to get shot”] appeared in major newspapers in Boston, New York, and elsewhere. As Churubusco’s representative, he sought to derail the concert and preserve the hamlet’s quiet, rural life, while the promoters, Hal Abramson and Raymond Filiberti, fought back. Continue reading

The Churubusco Live-In: Clinton County’s ‘Woodstock’


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We’ve all heard of Woodstock at one time or another—that famous (or infamous) concert held in August 1969. It was scheduled at different venues, but the final location was actually in Bethel, New York, about 60 miles from Woodstock. For many who lived through three major homeland assassinations, the Vietnam War, and the racial riots of the turbulent 1960s, Woodstock was an event representing peace, love, and freedom. It’s considered a defining moment of that generation, and a great memory for those who attended (estimated at 400,000). Continue reading

Ulster County Desperado: Big Bad Bill Monroe


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Americans are captivated with outlaws. Our history is filled with those colorful characters who bent the law to fit their own ends, from Jesse James to Al Capone.

Newspapers fed this fascination by following every move of many of these individuals. They were given curious names such as “The Kid,” “Gyp the Blood,” or in the case of Capone, “Scarface.” Many people do not know that a small hamlet in Ulster County had its own outlaw, known as “Big Bad” Bill Monroe. He was also identified as the “Gardiner Desperado.” Continue reading

Lyon Mountain Mines: George Davies of Clinton County


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George Davies of Standish in Clinton County was about as tough an Adirondacker as you’ll find anywhere. Standish was the sister community to Lyon Mountain during its century-long run of producing the world’s best iron ore. Davies (1892–1983) was among the many old-timers I interviewed around 1980 for my second book, Lyon Mountain: The Tragedy of a Mining Town. He was kind, welcoming, and honest in describing events of long ago.

George was a good man. The stories he told me seemed far-fetched at first, but follow-up research in microfilm archives left me amazed at his accuracy recounting events of the early 1900s. His truthfulness was confirmed in articles on items like strikes, riots, injuries, and deaths.

When I last interviewed George in 1981 (he was 88), he proudly showed me a photograph of himself as Machine Shop Supervisor in the iron mines, accepting a prestigious award for safety. I laughed so hard I almost cried as he described the scene. George, you see, had to hold the award just so, hiding the fact that he had far fewer than his originally allotted ten fingers. He figured it wouldn’t look right to reveal his stubs while cradling a safety plaque.
In matter-of-fact fashion, he proceeded to tell me what happened. Taken from the book, here are snippets from our conversation as recorded in 1981: “I lost one full finger and half of another in a machine, but I still took my early March trapping run to the Springs. I had a camp six miles up the Owl’s Head Road. While I was out there, I slipped in the water and nearly froze the hand. I had to remove the bandages to thaw out my hand, and I was all alone, of course. It was just something I had to do to survive.

“When I lost the end of my second finger in an accident at work, I was back on the job in forty-five minutes. Another time I was hit on the head by a lever on a crane. It knocked me senseless for ten minutes. When I woke up, I went back to work within a few minutes. [George also pointed out that, in those days, there was no sick time, no vacation time, and no holidays. Unionization was still three decades away, and the furnace’s schedule ran around the clock.]

“When I started working down here, the work day was twelve hours per day, seven days a week, and the pay was $1.80 per day for twelve hours [fifteen cents per hour] around the year 1910. That was poor money back then. When they gave you a raise, it was only one or two cents an hour, and they didn’t give them very often.

“In one month of January I had thirty-nine of the twelve-hour shifts. You had to work thirty-six hours to put an extra shift in, and you still got the fourteen or fifteen cents per hour. It was pretty rough going, but everybody lived through it. Some people did all right back then. Of course, it wasn’t a dollar and a half for cigarettes back then [remember, this was recorded in 1981].

“Two fellows took sick at the same time, two engineers that ran the switches. They sent me out to work, and I worked sixty hours without coming home. Then the boss came out to run it and I went and slept for twelve hours. Then I returned for a thirty-six hour shift. No overtime pay, just the rate of twenty-five cents per hour.” Now THAT’s Lyon Mountain toughness.

The tough man had also been a tough kid. “When I was thirteen years old, I worked cleaning bricks from the kilns at one dollar for one thousand. On July 3rd, 1907, when I was fifteen, I accidentally shot myself in the leg. I stayed in Standish that night, and on the next day I walked to Lyon Mountain, about three miles of rough walking.”

His father was in charge of repairing the trains, and young George climbed aboard as often as he could. “I was running those engines when I was sixteen years old, all alone, and I didn’t even have a fireman. I always wanted to be on the railroad, but I had the pleasure of losing an eye when I was nine years old. I was chopping wood and a stick flew up and hit me in the eye.

“I pulled it out, and I could see all right for a while. Not long after, I lost sight in it. The stick had cut the eyeball and the pupil, and a cataract or something ruined my eye. The doctor wanted to take the eye out, but I’ve still got it. And that’s what kept me off of the railroad. That was  seventy-nine years ago, in 1901.”

Next week: A few of George Davies’ remarkable acquaintances.

Photo: George Davies.

Lawrence Gooley has authored 11 books and more than 100 articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 32 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing

St. Lawrence Co Historical Society Annual Meeting


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Lisbon, New York encompassed all of the land that became St. Lawrence County when the town was created in 1801. At that time the Town of Lisbon was part of Clinton County, and the county of St. Lawrence was not created until the following year, 1802.

Lisbon’s history is the focus of the St. Lawrence County Historical Association’s 65th Annual Meeting at the Lisbon Wesleyan Church Fellowship Hall, 48 Church St., Lisbon on Saturday, November 3rd from 11 a.m. -2 p.m. The public is invited and you do not have to be a member of the SLCHA to attend. Continue reading

Bryan O’Byrne: From Plattsburgh to Hollywood


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In late July, 1941, a young Plattsburgh boy received permission from his parents to visit the movie house just a few blocks away. Hours later, he had not returned home, and Mom and Dad hit the streets in search of their missing son. Soon they were at the Plattsburgh Police Station, anxiously seeking help. Two patrolmen were immediately put on the case, which, unlike so many stories today, had a happy ending.

The two policemen obtained keys to the theater building and began searching the interior. There, curled up in his seat near the front row, little Bryan Jay O’Byrne was fast asleep. He later explained that he enjoyed the movie so much, he decided to stay for the second showing and must have drifted off into dreamland. When the theater closed for the night, no one had seen the young boy lying low in his seat.

Perhaps no one knew it then, but that amusing incident was a harbinger of things to come. Bryan O’Byrne was born to Elmer and Bessie (Ducatte) O’Byrne of Plattsburgh on February 6, 1931. Life in the O’Byrne home may have been difficult at times. Six years earlier, Bryan’s older sister was born at the very moment Elmer was being arraigned in Plattsburgh City Court on burglary and larceny charges.

Still, the family managed to stay together, and after attending St. Peter’s Elementary School and Plattsburgh High, Bryan went on to graduate from the State University Teacher’s College at Plattsburgh. After stints in the army and as an elementary school teacher, he pursued acting, studying at the Stella Adler Studio.

He appeared on Broadway with Vivian Leigh in “Duel of Angels” (the run was cut short after five weeks due to the first actors’ strike in forty years). Other jobs followed, but he soon surfaced in a new, increasingly popular medium: television.

In the early 1960s, Bryan began appearing in television series, becoming one of the best-known character actors in show business. Most people recognized his face from numerous bit parts he played in television and in movies, but few knew his name. That is true of many character actors, but ironically, in O’Byrne’s case, it was that very anonymity which brought him fame.

It all took place in the 1966–67 television season with the launch of a show called Occasional Wife. The plot line followed the story of an unmarried junior executive employed by a baby food company. The junior executive’s boss felt that, since they were selling baby food, it would be wise to favor married men for promotions within the company.

So, the junior executive concocted a plan with a female who agreed to serve as his “occasional wife.” He put her on salary and got her an apartment two floors above his own. Hilarity ensued as a variety of situations in each episode had them running up and down the fire escape to act as husband and wife. This all happened to the obvious surprise and bemusement of a man residing on the floor between the two main players. That man was played by Bryan O’Byrne.


O’Byrne’s character had no name and no speaking lines, but he became the hit of the show. Usually he was engaged in some type of activity that ended up in shambles as he watched the shenanigans. The audience loved it. The show’s writers had such fun with the schtick that O’Byrne became somewhat of a sensation. His expert acting skills made the small part into something much bigger.

Eventually, in early 1967, a nationwide contest was held to give the “Man in the Middle” an actual name. Much attention was heaped on O’Byrne, but the high didn’t last for long. Occasional Wife went the way of many other promising comedies that were built on a certain premise, but were not allowed to develop. It survived only one season.

O’Byrne’s career continued to flourish. Among his repeating roles was that of CONTROL Agent Hodgkins in the hit comedy series Get Smart, starring Don Adams and Barbara Feldon. Over the years, O’Byrne remained one of Plattsburgh’s best-kept secrets, appearing in 45 television series, 22 movies, and several Disney productions.

Among those television series were some high-profile shows and many of the all-time greats: Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Batman, Ben Casey, Get Smart, Gunsmoke, I Dream of Jeannie, Maude, Happy Days, Maverick, Murder She Wrote, My Three Sons, Perry Mason, Rawhide, Sanford and Son, The Big Valley, The Bill Cosby Show, The Bob Newhart Show, The Lucy Show, The Munsters, The Partridge Family, The Untouchables, and Welcome Back Kotter.

Advertisers discovered the appeal of Bryan’s friendly face, and he was cast in more than two hundred television commercials. His experience in multiple fields and his love and understanding of the intricacies of performing led to further opportunities. He became an excellent acting coach. Among those he worked with, guided, or mentored were Bonnie Bedelia, Pam Dawber, Nick Nolte, Lou Diamond Phillips, Jimmy Smits, and Forest Whittaker.

Writer Janet Walsh, a friend of O’Byrne’s since the early 1980s, noted that, early on, he recognized the talent of young Nick Nolte. According to Walsh, “Nick slept on Bryan’s couch for a year. Bryan cast him in his production of The Last Pad, and that launched Nick’s career.”

Besides working as an acting coach for the prestigious Stella Adler Academy, O’Byrne also served on the Emmy Nominating Committee in Los Angeles. He spent nearly forty years in the entertainment business, working with many legendary stars, including Lucille Ball, Clint Eastwood, Alfred Hitchcock, and John Wayne. His television resume covers many of the best-known, most-watched series ever. And through it all, he remained a nice, unpretentious man.

Quite the journey for a ten-year-old movie fan from Plattsburgh.

Photos: Bryan Jay O’Byrne; Bryan O’Byrne and Vivian Leigh; Michael Callan, Bryan O’Byrne, and Patricia Hart from Occasional Wife.

Lawrence Gooley has authored 11 books and more than 100 articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 24 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.

Battle of Plattsburgh: Countdown to Invasion (Sept 11)


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On September 11, 1814, the American and British naval squadrons on Lake Champlain engage in a long awaited duel to the death, culminating in a decisive American victory.

Owing to the masterful strategic planning of Commodore Thomas Macdonough, the American fleet is able to defend Plattsburgh Bay and defeat the Royal Navy following a fierce 2 1/2 hour battle, the largest of the entire War.

On land, the British commander, General Sir George Prevost makes a monumental blunder when he allows his troops to wait for an hour before commencing the land attack while they finish breakfast. What should have been a simultaneous naval and land assault became delayed and although Prevost’s ground forces succeed in crossing the Saranac River at Pike’s Cantonment, a mile and a half above Plattsburgh, by this time, the naval battle had been decided.

Believing his forces could not hold Plattsburgh without naval superiority on the Lake, Prevost quickly issued orders to his commanders to withdraw. This order was met with shock and frustration by his veteran Generals, who clearly knew a land victory over the meager American Army and Militia was easily within their grasp…The grand British master plan of invasion from the north had been halted at Plattsburgh.

This Battle of Plattsburgh Countdown to Invasion fact is brought to you by the Greater Adirondack Ghost and Tour Company. If you enjoyed this fascinating snippet of North Country history, find them on Facebook

Battle of Plattsburgh: Countdown to Invasion (Sept 6)


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On September 6, 1814, British and American forces finally collided with deadly effect just north of Plattsburgh, New York.

First contact between a party of New York State Militia and the advance of the British right wing took place in Beekmantown with the Militia withdrawing in great disarray towards Culver Hill.

At the Hill, U.S. Regulars under Major John E. Wool were able to rally some of these men and made a short but heated fight before retiring in the face of the steadily advancing column.

Another stand was made at Halsey’s Corners with the aid of two six pound field guns brought up by Captain Leonard, but after firing only three rounds at the head of the British line, again the Americans were pushed back. On the “State Road” (Route 9 North) the left wing of the British advance had been hampered by obstructions and swampy terrain, but in short order they gained the crossing at the Dead Creek Bridge (Scomotion Creek) and were on their way into town.

Greatly outnumbered, the American units retreated across the Saranac River while the British took up positions in buildings throughout the town. The American Commander, General Alexander Macomb ordered hot shot to be fired into many of these structures and by nightfall, 15 buildings were burning brightly, including the Clinton County courthouse. It was the deadliest day of the entire siege, with 45 American and between 200 and 300 British killed or wounded…

This Battle of Plattsburgh Countdown to Invasion fact is brought to you by the Greater Adirondack Ghost and Tour Company. If you enjoyed this fascinating snippet of North Country history, find them on Facebook

Battle of Plattsburgh: Countdown to Invasion (Sept 5)


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On September 5, 1814, the massive British Army advancing on Plattsbugh again continued its march south after strategically splitting into two large groups, known as the left and right wing. The right wing of the British Army marched on a route through West Chazy before encamping about two miles north of Beekmantown Corners.

The left wing took the “State Road” (present day Route 9 North) and advanced as far as Sampson’s Tavern (Ingraham) where they made camp. The American forces awaiting the enemy’s arrival on the Beekmantown Road was steadily being increased by the arrival of New York State Militia, streaming in from Clinton and Essex Counties, and 250 U.S. Regulars under Major John E. Wool

The photograph shows Major Wool in 1850, by which time he was a Brigadier General. He went on to serve in the American Civil War and at 77 years of age, was the oldest active duty General on either side. He died in 1869 and is buried in Troy, New York.

This Battle of Plattsburgh Countdown to Invasion fact is brought to you by the Greater Adirondack Ghost and Tour Company. If you enjoyed this fascinating snippet of North Country history, find them on Facebook

Battle of Plattsburgh: Countdown to Invasion (Sept 1)


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On September 1, 1814, with an invading force of 11 – 15,000 British troops massing just south of the Canadian frontier at tiny Champlain, New York, the residents of Plattsburgh, just 21 miles away, begin to flee for their lives. Many of the 3000 residents seek safety to the south, some removing themselves as far away as Albany, leaving much of the town deserted.

The owner of this house, Plattsburgh businessman Henri Delord, sought refuge at the Quaker Union in Peru after sending his wife Betsey and baby daughter south toward the State Capital. Before leaving the house, however, legend has it that Betsey buried the family’s silver tea service out in the garden.

Today’s Battle of Plattsburgh – “Countdown to Invasion” fact is brought to you by the Greater Adirondack Ghost & Tour Company. If you enjoyed this fascinating snippet of North Country history, find them on: Facebook

Battle of Plattsburgh: Countdown to Invasion (Aug 31)


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On this date in 1814, invading British troops, numbering some 11 – 15,000 men, began their march in earnest across the Canadian frontier and into the United States, massing at the small village of Champlain, New York. Under the overall command of Sir George Prevost, the Governor General of Canada, the ranks of this massive army had been recently swelled by the British victory over Napoleon in Europe.

This fact had allowed battle hardened veterans of Wellington’s Army to be shipped directly to North America to bolster Prevost’s forces and these forces were now just 21 miles from Plattsburgh. The British quickly set to work commandeering any local teams of horses and wagons they could find, pressing them into service hauling the massive quantities of heavy baggage and supplies needed by the advancing Army…

Today’s Battle of Plattsburgh – “Countdown to Invasion” fact is brought to you by the Greater Adirondack Ghost & Tour Company. If you enjoyed this fascinating snippet of North Country history, find them on Facebook.

Historic Local Recordings Now Available in Plattsburgh


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Access to hundreds of audio recordings that reveal the rich histories of Clinton, Essex, and Franklin Counties are now available at SUNY Plattsburgh’s Feinberg Library’s Special Collections.

Recordings include Adirondack Folk Music; Clinton, Essex, and Franklin County oral histories, including those by local residents born prior to the American Civil War; SUNY Plattsburgh concerts; a 1963 recording of Edward “Doc” Redcay on piano and Junior Barber on dobro; and four-time Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Frost reading his works.

The collection of recordings is the result of a collaborative effort by SUNY Plattsburgh Communications Professor Timothy Clukey and Feinberg Library’s Special Collections staff. According to a statement released to the press “copyright restrictions require that researchers visit Special Collections during open hours to listen to any of these recordings.” The recordings are available as mp3 files on a new Audio Station computer kiosk.

A Soundscriber Recorder was used in the mid-20th century by Marjorie Lansing Porter, historian for Clinton and Essex counties. Porter recorded 456 interviews with elderly local residents telling stories and singing traditional Adirondack folk music.

Among the folk music examples, Granma Delorme sang more than one hundred folk songs for Porter, including a Battle of Plattsburgh ballad composed by General Alexander Macomb’s wife. Included also is “Yankee” John Galusha singing “The Three Hunters,” “A Lumbering We Shall Go,” and “Adirondack Eagle.” Francis Delong sings “My Adirondack Home,” and “Peddler Jack.”

Many of the recorded songs deal with mining, lumbering, Adirondack folk tales, and other subjects, as well as traditional Irish and French folk music handed down through generations. The Porter Oral History Interviews cover many topics of historical interest in Clinton and Essex Counties, such as ferry boats, Redford glass, mining, and lumbering.

The Audio Station also includes 96 interviews conducted by William Langlois and Robert McGowan with elder Franklin County residents in the 1970s.

Plans in the works for additions to the Audio Station include:

Rockwell Kent audio recordings (now on reel-to-reel tapes in Special Collections’ Rockwell Kent Collection);

SUNY Plattsburgh Past President Dr. George Angell speaking on antiwar action in 1967—“Protest is Not Enough”;
The 1965 SUNY Plattsburgh Students for a Democratic Society and S.E.A.N.Y.S. teach-in, “The Vietnam Question,” with introduction by Dr. Angell; 
A1964 speech by Senator-Elect Robert Kennedy on the Plattsburgh campus; and a 1964 meeting between Senator-Elect Kennedy and Dr. Angell, discussing various local and county concerns and other topics.
For more information, contact Debra Kimok, Special Collections Librarian (email: debra.kimok@plattsburgh.edu; telephone: 518-564-5206).

During the summer, the Feinberg Special Collections will be open on Mondays and Tuesdays, from 1 pm – 4 pm, and on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, from 10 am – noon and 1 pm – 4 pm. Saturday appointments can be arranged with the Special Collections Librarian.

New Book: 50+ Adirondack North Country Stories


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New Larry Gooley BookRegular Adirondack Almanack and New York History contributor Lawrence P. Gooley has published a new collection of his stories in Adirondack & North Country Gold: 50+ New & True Stories You’re Sure to Love (2012, Bloated Toe Publishing).

Gooley, whose diligence in local publishing is only matched by his research and storytelling acumen, has collected 343 pages worth of his finest short historical essays, some of which have never been published. “This could well have been two books, and possibly three (it’s well over 100,000 words), but I wanted to do a big collection,” Gooley said.

Chapters 5, 15, 25, and 35 are the book’s anchor pieces: they’re longer stories of some truly amazing North Country natives. Chapter 15, the story of local cluster -balloonist and daredevil Garrett Cashman, earned Gooley a mention in Smithsonian Air & Space Magazine. Those familiar with Gooley’s Oliver’s War: An Adirondack Rebel Battles the Rockefeller Fortune (which won the Adirondack Literary Award for Best Book of Nonfiction in 2008), or his regional best seller Terror in the Adirondacks: The True Story of Serial Killer Robert F. Garrow, will be at home with Gooley’s folksy and comfortable storytelling style, his deep appreciation for in-depth research, and his uncanny ability to know a great story when he sees one.

Gooley will be on the road this summer promoting the new book, and is finishing work on a collection of 25 regional murder stories (all with at least one remarkable twist). In the meantime with his partner, Jill McKee, Gooley runs Bloated Toe Enterprises, which has recently expanded to include web design services.

Bloated Toe’s unusual business model was featured in Publisher’s Weekly in April 2011. The company also operates an online store to support the work of other regional folks. The North Country Store features more than 100 book titles and 60 CDs and DVDs, along with a variety of other area products. That’s also where you can find Adirondack & North Country Gold and all of Gooley’s books.  

Note: Books noticed on this site have been provided by the publishers.

Forest to Fields: Champlain Valley Agriculture History


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A short booklet, From Forest to Fields: A History of Agriculture in new York’s Champlain Valley published by Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) of Essex County and the Lake to Locks Passage Scenic Byway highlights the rich history of the Champlain Valley with a focus on the region’s farms and fields.

From Forests to Fields is authored by Anita Deming, who has more than 30 years experience as an agricultural extension agent with CCE, and Andrew Alberti, Program Manager for Lakes to Locks Passage since 2008 (where he focuses on 21st century technology applications and local and regional interpretation and planning) and a contributor here at New York History. Alberti is also editor for the Lakes to Locks Passage and National Geographic Geotourism website.

Chapters cover Native American agriculture, early explorers and settlements, the agricultural revolution, farming in the modern era and a short review of the architecture and use of farm buildings and a list of resources. The authors explain the impact of the 1807 Embargo Act, the influence of the opening of the Champlain Canal in 1823 on local farm trade, the grange movement, and changes in the local sheep and dairy industries, and more.

The booklet is 48 pages and profusely illustrated. You can request a copy by contacting Lakes to Locks Passage. There is a suggested $10 + S&H donation.