Tag Archives: Environmental History

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

Famous Log Cabin Headed to Adirondack Museum


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AdirondackMuseum-AnneLaBastilleCabinThe Adirondack Museum has announced that the institution will receive into the museum’s collection the wilderness cabin Anne LaBastille, famous worldwide from her Woodswoman series of books, built and lived in, along with many of her personal effects.

An accompanying gift of $300,000 will support the costs of moving the cabin to the museum and incorporating it into a new exhibition, The Adirondack Experience, expected to open in 2017. The gifts were made by the Estate of LaBastille, an author, ecologist, environmental advocate, and former Adirondack Park Agency Commissioner, who passed away in 2011. Continue reading

The Shadow of Kinzua: The Seneca Since World War II


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Shadow of KinzuaKinzua Dam has cast a long shadow on Seneca life since World War II. The project, formally dedicated in 1966, broke the Treaty of Canandaigua of 1794, flooded approximately 10,000 acres of Seneca lands in New York and Pennsylvania, and forced the relocation of hundreds of tribal members.

In Laurence M. Hauptman’s In The Shadow of Kinzua: The Seneca Nation of Indians Since World War II (Syracuse Univ. Press, 2013), he presents presents both a policy study, namely how and why Washington, Harrisburg, and Albany came up with the idea to build the dam, as well as a community study of the Seneca Nation of Indians in the postwar era. Sold to the Senecas as a flood control project, the author argues that major reasons for the dam were the push for private hydroelectric development in Pennsylvania and state transportation and park development in New York. Continue reading

Sullivan County: Doctors Say ‘Go to the Mountains!’


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adWhile Sullivan County was not officially formed until 1809, the region’s history as a popular healing environment dates back considerably before that.

From the earliest visits of the Lenape, who constructed their sweat lodges among the willow trees on the banks of the Delaware to the tuberculosis sufferers who searched for a cure in the cool mountain climate, hundreds of thousands of people have visited the area because of its clean air and pure water.

From about 1890 to 1915, the county enjoyed a prosperous period of tourism—today called the Silver Age— based almost entirely on those concepts of fresh air and pure water. In fact, for decades the Ontario & Western Railway’s promotional campaign for the area was based on the slogan, “Doctors Say ‘Go to the Mountains!’” This was often followed by the trident reminder ‘pure air, pure water, pure milk.” Continue reading

Enhanced Auto-Camping Nearly A Century Ago


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Airdmore headlineCamping in the Adirondacks, popular now for well beyond a century, has evolved with the changing times. Roughing it in open lean-tos and makeshift shelters was largely supplanted by tent camping. Then, with the advent of the automobile, the mountains would never be the same. Auto-camping became hugely popular in a very short time. As the price of cars dropped to where the average worker could afford one, thousands of families took to the road to get away from it all, strapping tents, blankets, fishing equipment, and other gear to their vehicles. 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

Fighting Westway:
The Regulatory War That Transformed NYC


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Fighting Westway NYC DevelopmentFrom 1971 to 1985, battles raged over Westway, a multibillion-dollar highway, development, and park project slated for construction New York City. It would have projected far into the Hudson River, including massive new landfill extending several miles along Manhattan’s Lower West Side.

The most expensive highway project ever proposed, Westway also provoked one of the highest stakes legal battles of its day, the subject of Fighting Westway: Environmental Law, Citizen Activism, and the Regulatory War that Transformed New York City (Cornell University Press, 2014), by William W. Buzbee. Continue reading

Kelly Adirondack Center:
Adirondack Environmental History Going Online


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Kelly Adirondack CenterGovernor Al Smith helped block the construction of a highway along the shore of Tongue Mountain, but it was Franklin D. Roosevelt who was instrumental in protecting the east shore of Lake George, documents in the Apperson-Schaefer collection at the Kelly Adirondack Center at Union College in Schenectady suggest.

With funding from the bond acts of 1916 and 1926, much of Tongue Mountain and many of the islands in the Narrows were now protected, permanently, as parts of the Adirondack Forest Preserve.

But by 1926, John Apperson, the General Electric engineer who dedicated much of his life to the protection of Lake George, had become concerned about the future of the east side. Continue reading

Kate Field: “A Babe in the Woods” of the Adirondacks


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kate profileAt the height of her career in mid-1873, Kate Field was said to be “a more prominent journalist than Clemens [Mark Twain].” The Washington Post said she was “one of the foremost women of America,” and the Chicago Tribune called her the “most unique woman the present century has produced.” Yet in her tales of adventure in the Adirondacks, she called herself “a babe in the woods.”

She wrote, “To be a babe in the woods watched over by a human robin redbreast, is as near an approach to Eden before the fall as comes within the ken of woman.” Continue reading

NY Women Helped Frame 1930s Preservation Debate


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Women on Lake GeorgeDuring the first decades of the twentieth century, as women first agitated for and then began exercising the right to vote, many became intrigued by the political process and the possibilities for influencing public opinion. One of the topics of great interest and debate concerned the best use of forest lands in the Adirondack Park, and whether to uphold the protections of Article VII, Section 7, the forever wild clause of the New York Constitution. Although little has been written on this subject, I am convinced that women contributed significantly to this debate.

My source of information is a collection of letters saved by John S. Apperson, Jr., an engineer at the General Electric Company in Schenectady. By 1920, he had earned a reputation as a leading preservationist, and was fighting a vigorous campaign to protect the islands at Lake George. His connection to women’s organizations apparently got its start there, as he became friends with Mary Loines, from Brooklyn, New York, who owned land in Northwest Bay. Continue reading

Gotham Unbound:
The Ecological History of Greater New York


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Gotham Unbound Ecological HistoryGotham Unbound: The Ecological History of Greater New York (Simon & Schuster, June 2014) is Ted Steinberg’s sweeping ecological history of one of the most man-made spots on earth, from Mannahatta to Hurricane Sandy.

This is a heavily researched and well-written book that recounts the four-century history of how hundreds of square miles of open marshlands became home to six percent of the nation’s population – that’s 64,464 people per square mile.

Steinberg brings a unique view of the metropolitan area, not just one of a dense urban goliath but as an estuary once home to miles of oyster reefs, wolves, whales and blueberry thickets. That world gave way to an onslaught of humanity managed by thousands of ecological actors from Governor John Montgomerie, who turned water into land, and John Randel, who imposed a grid on Manhattan, to Robert Moses, Charles Urstadt, Donald Trump, and Michael Bloomberg. Continue reading