Tag Archives: Delaware River

1939: Nazi Saboteurs In Sullivan County

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NarrowsburgNazis[1]There have long been stories – most of them unsubstantiated – about the activities of the German American Bund in Sullivan County in the years leading up to World War II.

While the activities of that particular pro-Nazi organization in the region may be debatable, there is no question that a small group of men charged with plotting to overthrow the U.S. government and replacing it with a Nazi style dictatorship spent much of the summer of 1939 in Sullivan County. Continue reading

The Half Moon and The Hermione: A Tale of Two Ships

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Half_Moon_ReplicaIt was the best of times, it was the worst of times. So it goes for two ships and their diametrically contradictory paths through history.

The Half Moon is a full scale replica of the original Dutch ship of exploration sailed by Henry Hudson for the Dutch East India Company in 1609. The original Half Moon was the first European ship to document entry into what we now call the Delaware Bay and River, and to explore the Hudson River to its navigable limits.

The HermioneThe Hermione is a full scale replica of the French ship that brought LaFayette to America in 1780 and which joined Admiral de Grasse’s fleet for the Battle off the Capes on the lower Chesapeake and the siege at Yorktown. The ship then sailed to Philadelphia in 1781 where the Continental Congress visited and paid tribute to it. 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

Delaware River Headwaters History Days, June 7-8

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stone school 1918, b utter 001Fifteen museums, landmark structures and historic sites will be open for tours, exhibits and special programs June 7 and 8 when Headwaters History Days celebrates the heritage, culture, folklife and landscape of the East Branch Delaware River towns of Middletown, Roxbury and Andes.

These eastern Delaware County sites will be open to the public at no charge for one or both days. Visit www.headwatershistorydays.org for the schedule of activities. You can also pick up a brochure and map at the Central Catskills Chamber of Commerce office on Main Street, Margaretville, or at any of the venues before plotting your own tour route.  This collaborative event is part of the statewide Path Through History Weekend. Continue reading

Shad: The Founding Fish Returns

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Lenapeshad[1]There was a time when Lenape fishermen – or women, since they did much of the fishing in that culture— would use nets woven from branches, saplings or wild hemp to catch huge numbers of shad in the Delaware River.  Much of their catch would be preserved by a unique smoking process that would keep them edible through the winter.  The Lenape designated March as the month of the shad and celebrated with a festival that often lasted six weeks or more.

The early European settlers learned the importance of shad from the Natives and quickly picked up the technique of smoking them to provide food for the harsh winters when game was scarce.  Some historians, including William E. Meehan writing in Fish, Fishing and Fisheries of Pennsylvania in 1893, have noted that virtually every Colonial era homestead in a broad area bordering the Delaware River “had its half-barrel of salted shad sitting in the kitchen with some choice pieces of smoked shad hanging by the kitchen chimney.” Continue reading

Battle of Trenton: George Washington’s Surprise Attack

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George Washington Battle of Trenton BookLike many historical events, the American Revolution is often shrouded in romantic myth and stubborn stereotypes. Perhaps no event offers a better example than General George Washington’s famous crossing of icy Delaware River on Christmas night to lead the Continental Army’s defeat of the Hessians at Trenton, New Jersey, an event which revived the flickering morale American revolutionaries.

In George Washington’s Surprise Attack: A New Look at the Battle That Decided the Fate of America (Skyhorse Publishing, 2014), Phillip Thomas Tucker attempts to parse fiction from fact. He provides an in-depth look (more than 600 pages, with notes) at the events of the Battle of Trenton, presenting new insights and analysis about a battle that holds a mythical place in American national history. Continue reading

Environmental History:
The Great Atlantic River Fish Migrations

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Running SilverEver wonder what pristine runs of migratory fish in Atlantic rivers looked like to early colonists? Some saw so many salmon, shad, alewives and other species that they said the waters “ran silver” with fish as they swam upstream to spawn.

John Waldman’s Running Silver: Restoring Atlantic Rivers and their Great Fish Migrations (Lyons Press, 2013) covers the biology, history, and conservation of shad, salmon, striped bass, sturgeon, eels and the others that complete grand migrations between fresh and salt waters. Continue reading

The Social Fabric: To Knit or Not to Knit?

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1885 Delaware River WatershedsThe Delaware Company’s president John Conway (Sullivan County Historian), invited me to speak at the newly formed nonprofit’s inaugural fundraising gala this week at the historic Ardmore Mansion/Mountain View Manor, in Glen Spey, the day after the NYSHA annual conference in Cooperstown ended.

The mission of The Delaware Company is to promote and support the history and historic landmarks of the Upper Delaware River Valley through education, outreach, and fundraising. Also speaking were U.S. Representative Chris Gibson and NYS Legislator Aileen Gunther. The audience consisted of various county and local officials, municipal historians, historic organizations, and at least one teacher, a true sampling of the history community in the region. Continue reading

New ‘Crossing the Delaware’ on Display Amid Debate

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The New-York Historical Society is displaying Mort Künstler’s “Washington’s Crossing at McKonkey’s Ferry” until January 17, 2012. Emanuel Leutze’s 1851 painting “Washington Crossing the Delaware” commemorates General George Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River on December 25 in 1776 during the American Revolutionary War. His original painting is part of the permanent collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Mort Künstler, a New York artist known for his historical paintings, has created what he considers a more historically accurate version of Washington crossing the Delaware River. The painting was unveiled at the New-York Historical Society on Monday, December 26, the date in 1776 that Washington led his troops into battle in Trenton after crossing the Delaware.

David Hackett Fischer, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book Washington’s Crossing, and featured speaker at the unveiling, says Künstler’s version is “quite accurate” and “got more right than any other image.”

The original painting shows the Betsy Ross flag flying, however that flag was not adopted until 1777; Mr. Künstler’s version has no flag. The original painting depicts the action taking place in the middle of the day, though the actual crossing took place during a stormy night. Based on historical research, the new painting shows Washington and company in a flat-bottomed ferry boat rather than on a row boat.

On that last detail however, there has been some debate. Rick Spilman, writing in the Old Salt Blog, noted:

“The problem is that most historians think that the American crossing of the Delaware used Durham boats, large flat-bottomed boats which hauled cargo such as ore, pig-iron, timber, and produce from upcountry mines, forests and farms down the Delaware River to Philadelphia’s thriving markets and port. Robert Durham, an engineer at the Durham Iron Works in Reiglesville, Pennsylvania, reputedly designed a prototype for these large cargo boats as early as 1757. Washington wrote to Governor Livingston of New Jersey, directing him to secure “Boats and Craft, all along the Delaware side…particularly the Durham Boats” for his anticipated crossing.”

In any event, you’ll have just one day to compare the two paintings first hand. The newly restored Luetze painting will be unveiled in a new frame in the New American Wing Galleries for Paintings, Sculpture and Decorative Arts at the Metropolitan Museum on January 16, the day before the new Künstler painting comes down at the New-York Historical Society.

Illustrations: Above, Mort Künstler’s “Washington’s Crossing at McKonkey’s Ferry”; below, Emanuel Leutze’s 1851 “Washington Crossing the Delaware”.

Two New History Sites For Delaware County

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There are two new websites for those with an interest in Delaware County history. Websites for The Historical Society of Middletown and The Hobart Historical Society include links to local projects, news, events and more from the central Catskills communities.

The Hobart Historical Society is headquartered in its restored building on Cornell Avenue, Hobart, NY. The building, formerly the home of the St. Andrews Masonic Lodge, is now used to operate and manage the Hobart Historical Society’s community projects, keep records of village history, and provide the community with a Historical Society Center.

The Historical Society of the Town of Middletown was Formed in 2004, and has grown from 40 founding members to an organization of more than 100. The Margaretville Covered Bridge (above), which spanned the East Branch of the Delaware River on Bridge Street from the 1860s until 1933, serves as the society’s logo, considered symbolic of the ‘bridge’ they hope to make between the past and present.