The Cleveland Plain Dealer indeed dealt with it plainly: “It has been generally agreed that the conduct of the last census was a national scandal, and the president was determined that the present one should not be likewise if he could prevent it. The utter ignorance of many of the employees of the last census is even yet not properly appreciated by the country at large. Literally dozens of men and women carried on the rolls as high-grade clerks were not fit to sweep out an office—clerks who could neither spell, nor calculate, nor even write the English language with any degree of accuracy…. It was a shameful condition of affairs.”
Worse yet, a bureau of 70 clerks had been appointed to deal with the resulting mess, and their work was so incompetent that much of it had to be redone. President McKinley needed a director of the 1900 census who, said the Plain Dealer, “Would not have his work clogged by deadwood. He found just the man he wanted in [William] Merriam.” Continue reading
From humble North Country beginnings in a pioneer settlement, a local man rose to play an important government role on a national level. Work performed at the height of his career still affects every facet of our government today. It is also highly valued by researchers, genealogists, and historians as a great repository of important historical records.
William Rush Merriam was born in 1849 in the small community of Wadham’s Mills in Essex County, just a few miles northwest of Westport. Many members of the Merriam families in that vicinity played important roles in regional history. Continue reading
Starting on May 1st and ending on May 10th, the Essex County Historical Society will auction a variety of local items to raise $8,000 to support the Adirondack History Center Museum’s collections, exhibits, education, and outreach programs.
The catalog of items ranges from golf at the Ausable Club, original art and prints from local artists, camp tuition at Camp Pok-O-MacCready, lodging packages, gift certificates to local stores, concert venues, and restaurants, and more. Continue reading
Whitney Armstrong went to Los Angeles in late 1962. In less than a week, he tested for and won the role of Buck Coulter in a new TV series, The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters, with Kurt Russell among the cast members. After 14 episodes, Whitney was replaced by Charles Bronson.
By this time, his bulky name (Whitney Michael Moore Armstrong) was remade for Hollywood purposes. After jumbling it and dropping the “h” from Whitney, they arrived at Michael Witney. Continue reading
If you’re just a regular Joe or Jane, you’ve probably at some point—say, while lying back in an office chair, or doing the dishes, perhaps mowing the grass—entertained a number of Walter Mitty-like fantasies. You know … stuff like, “What’s it like to be that guy or girl?” For men, that guy could be anything. What’s it like to be the smartest kid in school? The star center on a school basketball team? The ace pitcher on the baseball team? A great running back in football? Better yet, how about doing all that in college? Wow … BMOC, plenty of attention from the girls, the coolest among the guys. Might as well toss in a professional baseball contract … what sports-loving boy doesn’t dream of that? Continue reading
Despite all his accomplishments, Charles Shaw’s career is largely defined by a decade-long battle he fought on behalf of the cable car interests for rail control of New York City’s streets. Cable’s two main rivals: horse-powered rail and underground lines. Both had many powerful backers.
Initially, Charles was hired to perform one task: lobby the state legislature for specific modifications of a bill under consideration in Albany. After earning the modern equivalent of more than a quarter million dollars for his efforts, Shaw was retained by the cable men, who wanted San Francisco-type cars operating on 70 miles of New York City roads. Continue reading
Among those to rise from humble Adirondack roots and pursue life in the big city was Charles P. Shaw, a native of Jay, New York, where he was born in 1836. “Humble,” meaning relative poverty, aptly described most North Country citizens in those early days. Shaw may have had an advantage since there were two doctors in the family: his father, Daniel, and his grandfather, Joshua Bartlett. As schooled professionals, they were more likely to emphasize among their family the importance of education.
For whatever reason, Charles was an excellent and precocious student. There survives in old newspapers an anecdote suggesting he was indeed an unusually bright pupil. Continue reading
Among the folks who played an important role in Northern New York regional history and personified the traditional Christmas spirit was Willis Wells of Lake Placid.
Long before Willis gained attention, his father, Duran, a native of Peru, New York, had become a North Country fixture, operating a peddler’s cart in the post-Civil War years. From the shores of Lake Champlain to the Paul Smith’s area, he supplied homes and farms with the daily needs of life, an important function in those early days when stores visited many of their customers. Continue reading
In late 1935, young Ticonderoga saxophonist Johnny Hayes sat in during a performance by a traveling orchestra from Boston. His performance so impressed the band leader that a permanent position was offered. Hayes had recently completed a summer stint at the Deer’s Head Inn (Elizabethtown), followed by a tour of central and northern New York cities with his own band.
He accepted the offer and began traveling with the orchestra within two weeks. It was the first step in a journey that would link him with many all-time greats of the Big Band Era. Continue reading
Hard history is great, but while conducting research, I’m constantly collecting odd and unlikely stories on a variety of subjects. I like to think of them as the offbeat side of history (stretching the definition of history to include all news items from the past) … of little value to historians, but certainly entertaining. Collecting them helps relieve the (sometimes) tedious job of searching hundreds of pages for a few nuggets of information.
Take, for instance, the subject of North Country linemen, those workers who climb utility poles to make connections or repairs. Their daily routine might be as boring as any other job most of the time, but linemen have a measure of danger built into their profession, beginning with working high above the ground. When something goes wrong, the results can be spectacular. Continue reading
Immerse yourself in the epic history and incredible natural beauty at Fort Ticonderoga with richly informative and entertaining guided specialty tours this summer. Thrill at the power of artillery during Guns by Night tour; discover the History Within the Walls in the 1826 Historic Pavilion house tour; walk in the steps of great generals during the Armchair General tour; and discover the legends of the past while taking part in the Garrison Ghost Tour. All prices are in addition to Fort Ticonderoga admission and advanced purchase is required. Space is limited for tours. To learn more about our specialty tours visit www.fortticonderoga.org or call 518-585-2821. Continue reading
Fort Ticonderoga has announced the appointment of Matthew Keagle to serve as Director of Exhibitions at Fort Ticonderoga. Keagle began work at Fort Ticonderoga on May 27, 2014 and is responsible for the development and implementation of Fort Ticonderoga’s newly established Exhibition Department.
Matthew Keagle is originally from Vermont and has been involved in curation, exhibitions, research, historical interpretation, and program development for historic sites and museums in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, Delaware, Virginia, North and South Carolina. Continue reading
Last week’s coverage here of Airdmore, that unusual camping colony at Elizabethtown in 1922, prompted a number of questions for me, particularly about the unusual surname of the main player, Henry Aird. The name was familiar in only one regard―from the locally well-known plumbing supply company, Aird Dorrance, based in Morrisonville, near Plattsburgh, and with facilities in Ballston Lake and Clifton Park. I wanted to know: could there be a connection between the modern company and the business founded more than a century ago by Henry Aird?
If so, then he left a remarkable and lasting impact on North Country history in an economic sense, creating jobs for more than a hundred years, all of them resulting from choices he made in his business career long ago. Continue reading
Late spring of 1845 found , a leader of the Liberty Party, touring the North Country in search of disaffected “Whigs and Democrats, whose intelligence and Christian integrity will not permit them to remain longer in their pro-slavery connections.”
Smith, from Peterboro, in Madison County, traveled from Saratoga Springs, through Glens Falls and then into Essex and Clinton counties on his quest to build a credible third party, a devoted anti-slavery party. His report, printed in the Albany Patriot in late June, details the villages his visited, the people he met, and the difficulties he faced. Continue reading
Last week in this space, I addressed the subject of cross-burnings in the North Country, which became common in the 1920s during a resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan. Throughout the region, meetings were conducted by Klan leaders, and thousands of followers were added to their ranks. For many of us, it’s an uncomfortable part of Adirondack history, but there is another side to the story. Despite widespread intimidation spawned by secret meetings, robed figures, and fiery crosses, New York’s citizenry rose in opposition to the Klan policies of bigotry and exclusion.
Speaking out against the KKK carried inherent risks for average folks, and for politicians as well. Between 1915 and 1922, more than a dozen senators and government officials in Washington were acknowledged members of the Klan, and the organization played a role in the national elections of 1924 and 1928. But in spite of their rise to power behind claims of patriotism and “Americanism,” the KKK was judged by many as a blight on society and distinctly un-American. Continue reading
Ticonderoga resident Diane O’Connor has joined The Essex County Historical Society as director. She replaces Margaret Gibb, who led the organization for more than 14 years and recently joined Lakes to Locks Passage as program director.
O’Connor brings to her new position more than 20 years of experience in non-profit management for diverse organizations, including The National Genealogical Society, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites (now the Civil War Preservation Trust). Most recently, she worked at Fort Ticonderoga. Continue reading
Following the success of last year’s open house ski weekends at historic Great Camp Santanoni, located off Route 28N in Newcomb (Essex County) in the Central Adirondacks, they are being offered again this year. Over two more weekends, visitors can arrive at their leisure and enjoy a self-guided trip from the Gate Lodge, past the Farm and on to the Main Lodge.
On the far side of the Lodge is the Artist’s Studio, where cross-country skiers and snowshoers will be able to warm up before the return trip. Staff will be on hand to answer questions, discuss the ongoing restoration and offer impromptu tours of the Main Lodge. Continue reading
Up on a Hill and Thereabouts: An Adirondack Childhood (SUNY Press, 2013) by Gloria Stubing Rist is a memoir of growing up in Chilson near Ticonderoga, during the Great Depression. In the 1930s, life for kids tucked away in the quiet woodlands of the Adirondacks was rich with nature and filled with human characters.
This memoir contains the recollections of one woman who spent her childhood on the hillsides and in the woods near Ticonderoga. Rist served as Newcomb Central School’s school nurse for five years. Her father-in-law was Ernest Rist, a Newcomb politician in the 1920s through the 1950s. Following his death, New York State honored him by naming a previously unnamed peak after him, Rist Mountain in the southeast corner of the Marcy quadrangle. Continue reading
Among the finest Christmas seasons in America’s long history took place in 1945. We’re constantly bombarded with how special the holidays are, so it’s tough for any one year to stand out as extra special, but 1945 makes the list.
Events across the Adirondacks that year epitomized the nation’s attitude. Surprisingly, it wasn’t all about celebrating, even though the most destructive war in history had just ended a few months earlier. We often mumble mindlessly that we’re proud to be Americans. But the first post-World War II Christmas was the real deal, worthy of the word “pride.”
To set the scene, consider the events that had transpired at that time. After being mired for a decade in the worst financial collapse in our history (the Great Depression), Americans had begun preparing for what seemed inevitable: joining the war in Europe. And then, between the Pearl Harbor attack and the war’s end four years later, hundreds of North Country boys and men were killed in action. Thousands more were injured or missing. Continue reading
Questions about the authenticity and authorship of Solomon Northup’s Twelve Years a Slave have been raised in the past, and have resurfaced following the release of the recent film version of his book.
Though an expert on Solomon Northup, his book, the contemporary reactions to his book in the 1850s, and his later life (which included several years spent traveling to talk about his experiences), I am not a scholar of slave narratives. I have consulted some of them in connection with my work on Northup, as necessary. I leave it for others to draw detailed comparisons between Northup’s narrative and the others. Continue reading