Here’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
In 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
The 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
Kinzua 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
While 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
Camping 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
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
From 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
Governor 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
At 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
During 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 (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
Ever 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
Supplying water to millions is not simply an engineering and logistical challenge. As David Soll shows in his history of the nation’s largest municipal water system, Empire of Water: An Environmental and Political History of The New York City Water Supply (Cornell Univ. Press, 2013), the task of providing water to New Yorkers transformed the natural and built environment of the city, its suburbs, and distant rural watersheds.
Almost as soon as New York City completed its first municipal water system in 1842, it began to expand the network, eventually reaching far into the Catskill Mountains, more than one hundred miles from the city. Empire of Water explores the history of New York City’s water system from the late nineteenth century to the early twenty-first century, focusing on the geographical, environmental, and political repercussions of the city’s search for more water. Continue reading
The award winning book, Heartbeats in the Muck: The History, Sea Life, and Environment of New York Harbor has been updated and reissued in paperback. In Heartbeats, author John Waldman covers the arc of history of New York Harbor from its pristine origins through the ravages of the industrial era to its remarkable comeback today.
First published in 1999, the volume won a New York Society Library Award. The revision includes an epilogue that brings the story of the Harbor to 2012, the 40th Anniversary of the critically important Clean Water Act, and includes the ambitious ongoing oyster restorations; alien species such as Asian shore crabs, zebra mussels, and snakehead fish; the effects of climate change; rehabilitation of the legendarily polluted Gowanus Canal, and even a return of bald eagles to Manhattan. Waldman’s work on New York Harbor also resulted in a Norcross Wildlife Conservation Award and, in 2012, the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Conservation Award. Continue reading
Climate change; global warming; superstorms; extended droughts; the hottest year ever; December tornadoes; on and on it goes. Changes are happening everywhere. Below-zero temps four times before Christmas 2013. Now, a chill factor of 35 below—and 48 hours later, temps in the mid-30s and rain is expected. With all the usual craziness, we do benefit from modern forecasters using the most advanced technology to predict the weather, helping us to avoid any big surprises, or to at least prepare.
The same was true of weathermen seventy-five years ago: they did their best to predict what the weather would bring―days, weeks, and even months in advance. But they weren’t alone in doing so. Competing against them were country prognosticators who sometimes did better than the latest technology. Continue reading
The ease and affordability of digital photography has won over almost everyone on the planet. Kodak went bankrupt in 2012, darkrooms have disappeared, and film is an extirpated species. Reacting to the ethereal impermanence and pervasive newness of digital photography, some photographers have gone back in time to reawaken antique photography processes.
Whether it’s love for a printed-on-real-paper tangible object, a longing for the time when saying you were a photographer meant you had arcane training and chemistry skills, or a lust to accumulate gear, the movement to recreate daguerreotypes, tintypes, ambrotypes and other obscure 19th century processes is well underway. The popularity of the contemporary photographic antiquarians who embrace the old methods is documented in a 2011 film aptly called, “Artists and Alchemists.” Continue reading
News in 1878 that Vice President William Almon Wheeler of Malone, a recent widower, would be taking First Lady Lucy Hayes fishing in the Adirondacks without her husband, gave New Yorkers something else to talk about besides President Rutherford B. Hayes’s latest feud with New York’s U.S. Senator Roscoe Conkling.
Wheeler had been disappearing into the Adirondacks to fish since he was a poor boy growing up in Malone, the county seat for Franklin County, located on the Canadian border. By the time he became a lawyer, state legislator, bank executive and railroad president, his annual fishing trips became newsworthy. As early as 1864, newspapers reported that Wheeler was heading into “the South Woods” or “the great Southern Wilderness” with a group of his political and business friends for a week of fishing. Continue reading
Glenn Pearsall’s first book, Echoes in These Mountains: Historic Sites and Stories Disappearing in Johnsburg, an Adirondack Community (Pyramid Publishing, 2008), was well received for including the first documentary evidence that famed Civil War photographer Mathew Brady was indeed born in Johnsburg. Now Pearsall has brought forth When Men and Mountains Meet (Pyramid Publishing, 2008), subtitled “Stories of Hope and Despair in the Adirondack Wilderness after the American Revolution.”
“The story of the Adirondacks is more than the history of great camps, guide boats and environmental protectionism. It is, ultimately, the story of a people and their relationship to the land,” Pearsall begins the book. He calls this a book of cultural history, and it is, but it also draws much from environmental history, although more in the vein of “on the ground historians” like William Cronon and Alfred Crosby than the political approaches of Roderick Nash or Frank Graham. Continue reading
With my 100th post to The New York History Blog, I embark on a new venture. I have been asked to write a 4,000-word history of New York. That is a lot of history to cover in very few words. I am not sure if it is even possible…at least for me. I have decided to divide the subject into a series of topics and to post these shorter pieces to New York History.
Unfortunately the number of topics seems to mushroom so it is not quite as simple as writing seven 500-word posts. I expect when all is done is to have vastly exceeded my assigned allotment and to require substantial pruning if not outright dismemberment. Continue reading