Tag Archives: Environmental History

New York’s War on Animals (Conclusion)


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Vermin02 WhiteList1919After a “Black List” of animals was promulgated by New York State officials and an all-out war against these “vermin” was launched in the early 20th century, a competition grew among fish and game clubs across the state. Some clubs were founded for the specific purpose of complying with the state’s plea for help in eradicating unwanted animals.

Many clubs held contests, applying point systems to each animal on the list and awarding prizes to the winners. “Contest” was in some cases a misnomer: in many cases, it was a year-round process punctuated by periodic awards. Continue reading

A Century Ago: New York’s War on Animals


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Vermin01 BlackList1919Beware! Pictured here are your adversaries – the official enemies of the state. Don’t be distracted by the pretty colors, lovely feathers, or furry critters. These are vermin, and citizens are urged to kill them at every opportunity. The poster, by the way, represents only the top nine targets from a group of notorious killers, presented here alphabetically: bobcat, Cooper’s hawk, crow, English sparrow, goshawk, gray fox, great gray owl, great horned owl, house rat, “hunting” house cat, lynx, porcupine, red fox, red squirrel, sharp-shinned hawk, snowy owl, starling, weasel, and woodchuck. Kingfishers and a number of snakes were later added, and osprey were fair game as well.

While some of the phrases used above – “official enemies … kill them at every opportunity … new job requirement” – might sound like exaggerations, they were, in fact, official conservation policies of New York State a century ago. Continue reading

Greene Smith: Peterboro’s Avid Outdoorsman


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Smith BirdhouseThe important contributions to the field of ornithology of citizen-scientist Greene Smith have been obscured by the Underground Railroad and abolition fame of Smith’s father Gerrit Smith. As important and well-known as are the Underground Railroad sites on the Gerrit Smith Estate National Historic Landmark in Peterboro NY, it is Greene’s Ornithon that most piques visitors’ curiosity about the builder and collector of that bird museum.

This public fascination prompted Norm Dann to turn the focus of his Smith research to Greene Smith and his Birdhouse. Dann’s study of family letters, military records, Greene’s personal Catalogue of Birds, the pursuit of Greene’s hunting apparatus, and the ownership and investigation of the Birdhouse site, have culminated in the March printing of Greene Smith and the WildLife: The Story of Peterboro’s Avid Outdoorsman – the first publication on this absorbing story. Continue reading

A New History Of Trees, Woods and Forests


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Trees Woods and Forests BookForests – and the trees within them – have always been a central resource for the development of technology, culture, and the expansion of humans as a species.

Examining and challenging our historical and modern attitudes toward wooded environments from a European perspective, Charles Watkins’ Trees, Woods and Forest: A Social and Cultural History (Reaktion Books, 2014)  explores how our understanding of forests has transformed in recent years and how it fits in our continuing anxiety about our impact on the natural world. Continue reading

Unseen Hand: An 1869 Fort Hunter Diary


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003 - SXSHS In 1988, a small leather-bound diary was bequeathed to Schoharie Crossing State Historic site by Clarke Blair, who received it from Gertrude Ruck – a descendent of Michael Brown. Brown was one of the brothers that owned and operated the Brown Cash Store located at Lock 30 in Fort Hunter, NY from the mid-19th to early 20th century.

The diarist is unknown – nonetheless, it is obviously a personal journal of a Fort Hunter resident, and references to notable local families, places and events of 1869 fill its yellowed pages. Continue reading

The Woodlands Historic Site of Philadelphia


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ben_franklins_worldWilliam Hamilton built The Woodlands mansion in Philadelphia in the 1760s. The estate stands as a tribute to the significant architectural and botanical contributions Hamilton made to Philadelphia and the young United States, including a part in the Lewis and Clark expedition.

This week on the “Ben Franklin’s World” podcast we speak with Jessica Baumert, the Executive Director of The Woodlands Historic Site in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.You can listen to the podcast here: www.benfranklinsworld.com/011 Continue reading

An Update On The Finger Lakes Museum


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Finger Lakes MuseumIn December, The Finger Lakes Museum was awarded two New York State agency grants through Round IV of the Regional Economic Development Council Initiative. The awards totaled $254,500.

In two separate letters to museum board President John Adamski, Empire State Development President and CEO Kenneth Adams wrote that the Finger Lakes Regional Council had recommended a $200,000 grant award for capital construction work at the museum’s campus in Branchport and an additional $54,500 through its Division of Tourism for marketing and promotion through the state’s I Love New York program. Continue reading

Designate Adirondack Park A National Heritage Area


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Entering-Adirondack-ParkI’ve been to the Rockies, and clearly, a visitor can’t help but be awestruck by their height and views. Yet the Adirondack Park is where I prefer to go.

I’ve had decades of pleasurable visits to the Adirondack Park to hike, climb, ski, canoe, enjoy the scenery and go to the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake. Whether my visit is to recreate or debate park management policy, I’m drawn to the region’s history and ongoing politics as well as its lakes, ponds and rivers. Continue reading

The Fracking Report In Historical Perspective


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George Bellows - Up the Hudson (1908)Governor Andrew Cuomo’s decision in December to ban the use of hydrofracking in New York State was politically astute. The governor asserted he is merely following the recommendations in a new report from the State Health Department, A Public Review of High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing for Shale Gas Development.

That report, based on four years of research, is also politically judicious. It avoids condemning hydrofracking or sensationalizing its potential health risks. Instead, it concludes that “the overall weight of the evidence from the cumulative body of information” studied for the report demonstrates that there are “significant uncertainties about the kinds of adverse health outcomes that may be associated with HVHF [High Volume Hydraulic Fracking], the likelihood of the occurrence of adverse health outcomes, and the effectiveness of some of the mitigation measures in reducing or preventing environmental impact which could adversely affect public health.” The 184-page report is buttressed by 74 references, mostly well-documented studies and reports from the past few years. Continue reading

Areial Photos: New York Rural History From Above


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aerial photograph centered in Syracuse Onondaga County New York 1938Aerial photos can be helpful research tools for historians. Google Earth, which provides access to a vast collection of aerial photography stretching back 20 years, is just a sampling of the many aerial photos that have been made since French balloonist Gaspard-Félix Tournachon, known as “Nadar”, took a photo over Paris, France in 1858.

Much of New York Sate was photographed with the camera pointing straight down, an oblique presentation that is less useful to some historians. An effort to capture all of New York in an orthophotographic perspective (corrected to a uniform scale) started in 1936 with a contract to C.S. Robinson of Ithaca, NY. These images are particularly valuable resources for historians of all stripes. Continue reading

NYC: Original Central Park Plan On Exhibit


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central park map 1863The Museum of the City of New York has put on public display the rarely seen Greensward Plan for Central Park – the original 1858 design by Central Park superintendent and future leading landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted and English-born architect Calvert Vaux that won a public design competition to improve and expand the park.

This four-by-twelve-foot map depicting Central Park’s framework in pen and ink has permanently left its imprint on the park and the visitor experience. On loan from the New York City Parks Department, the Greensward Plan for Central Park is now on view at the City Museum through January 2015. Continue reading

Antebellum NYC Envrionmental Battles


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Taming ManhattanTaming Manhattan: Environmental Battles in the Antebellum City (Harvard Univ. Press, 2014) details the environmental history of the city of New York in the years before and during the Civil War, when pigs roamed the streets and cows foraged in the Battery.

On Tuesday, November 25th, at an event at NYU, author Catherine McNeur will discuss nineteenth-century New York City’s long forgotten shantytowns, the people living in the communities, and how outsiders viewed the architecture and communities developing on the metropolitan periphery. Continue reading

Campuses Celebrate NYS Wilderness Act Connection


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image0035Through the efforts of a statewide grassroots committee, public and private colleges and universities throughout upstate New York have been spending this fall commemorating the Empire State’s role in inspiring federal wilderness preservation.

These activities are occurring in celebration of the anniversary of the signing by President Lyndon Johnson of the National Wilderness Preservation System Act of 1964, legislation that created the legal definition of “wilderness” in the United States and now makes provisions for wilderness management on more than 109 million acres of federal land. Continue reading

Finger Lakes Museum Receives Gift of Land


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Townsend-Grady Wildlife PresserveThe Finger Lakes Museum has more than doubled the size of its campus in Branchport.

Thanks to a generous gift of land donated by sisters Anne Salisbury and Molly Sujan and to a cash contribution from their neighbors Rolf Zerges and his wife Lynda Rummel, the museum now owns the 16-acre wetland adjacent to Crescent Beach at the north end of the west branch of Keuka Lake. The parcel comes with more than 1,400 feet of water frontage on Sugar Creek, which is a navigable inlet to the lake. Continue reading

Working the Waters: Maritime Culture of Long Island


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Joey ScavoneLong Island Traditions will present “Working the Waters: Maritime Culture of Long Island” in collaboration with the NY Marine Trades Association “Tobay Boat Show” in Massapequa, New York on September 26 through September 28, 2014. “Working the Waters: Maritime Culture of Long Island” will present to the public first-hand accounts about the contemporary and historic traditions of commercial and recreational fishermen, the factors affecting these traditions and their future on Long Island in the wake of Superstorm Sandy and the decline of the bays.

The program is the culminating event of ongoing documentation by Long Island Traditions folklorist and executive director Nancy Solomon. Since 1987 Solomon has been documenting the culture and traditions of Long Island maritime tradition bearers, ranging from decoy carvers and driftwood painters to trap builders, boat model makers and net menders. Continue reading

ADK 46er History Doc Being Shown In Elizabethtown


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Grace HudowalskiThe Adirondack History Center will conclude its summer lecture series with a showing of the documentary The Mountains Will Wait for You at 7 pm on Tuesday evening, August 26 at the museum in Elizabethtown, NY.

The film tells the story of the first woman to climb the 46 High Peaks and a founder of the Adirondack 46ers hiking club. Grace Hudowalski was born in Ticonderoga and recently East Dix, one of the 46 High Peaks, was renamed Grace Peak in her honor.  Continue reading

Dump Day: A Little Garbage History


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CasellaO-SortMachNYHHere’s an unusual item that’s part of just about everyone’s personal history if you’re 50 or older. Remember that long-ago weekly ritual, the trip to the dump with Dad? I’m talking about the 1960s, and maybe in some cases the 1970s. If you’re not old enough to look back that far, you’ll be amazed (appalled) at how trash, garbage, and another-man’s-treasures were disposed of by most folks. It was a part of small-town life that we can now be thankful has largely vanished. From a child’s perspective, the dump was a mysterious and somewhat scary place that you couldn’t wait to visit, and soon enough couldn’t wait to leave. Continue reading

Environmental History:
Prestonia Mann’s Polluted Stream


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The Willey house - Keene NyIn 1896, New York City resident Prestonia Mann purchased an Adirondack estate in Keene and set about to create a summer community based on the 1840s Massachusetts Transcendentalist utopian experiment, Brook Farm. She sent an invitation to her circle of acquaintances – mostly progressive social reformers and educators – describing the place she named Summer Brook in homage to the earlier colony:

It includes a large common hall, a cottage, and about twenty acres of land traversed by a fine trout brook. The region—at the northern end of Keene Valley—is in the noblest part of the great wilderness. The land lies 2,000 feet above the sea, upon a small plateau jutting out from among the foot-hills of Mount Hurricane, in the midst of wild and rugged scenery, commanding a splendid mountain range from Whiteface on the north to Tahawus on the south.

Unfortunately, a hotel upstream, The Willey House, was dumping all of their raw sewage into the same “fine trout brook”, known as Gulf Brook. Continue reading