A walking tour of The Rondout-West Strand National Historic District in Kingston, sponsored monthly by Friends of Historic Kingston, contrasts the results of a heartbreaking 1960’s urban renewal project with the gentrification that followed in an area that escaped the wrecking ball.
After the entire east side of Lower Broadway was demolished in 1967 vintage 19th century buildings on the opposite side stood empty, awaiting what seemed their inevitable fate. Luckily, federal funding ran out and what is today the Rondout – West Strand National Historic District was spared. New structures were built part-way up the east side of the hill. The restored neighborhood brings to my mind the painful image of a one-winged bird. Continue reading
The Wolfert’s Roost Country Club in Albany maintains a small dam, pond, and pump house to provide water for their golf course. In the 1980s workers excavating the pond, which is fed by the Maezlandtkill, discovered several sections of ancient wooden and very early cast iron pipe along with iron bands. The pipe and other artifacts were placed in the woods near the club’s tennis courts and forgotten.
Benjamin Prescott, engineer of Albany’s first municipal water system and the man responsible for those pipes, is all but equally forgotten, despite an illustrious career in engineering. Prescott served as an Engineer in the American Revolution, Superintendent of the Springfield Armory, and was the designer of several notable projects, including one of this nation’s first inclined planes (on the Connecticut River). He also conducted a 1790s survey of Niagara Falls, consulted on the Erie Canal, designed the Troy Sloop Lock (the Federal Dam) and more. Continue reading
Born of necessity in the colonies, fine-tuned and perfected over the centuries – witnessing civil war, Prohibition, and the marketing genius of Madison Avenue – bourbon continues to this day to be one of the most popular and iconic spirits of America.
In Bourbon Empire: The Past and Future of America’s Whiskey (Viking, 2015), Reid Mitenbuler provides a popularly accessible history of this unique industry and a personal commentary on how to taste and choose your bourbon. Continue reading
Grain Dust Dreams (SUNY Press, 2015) tells the story of terminal grain elevators – concrete colossi that stand in the middle of a deep river of grain that they lift, sort, and send on.
From their invention in Buffalo through a present-day operation in Thunder Bay, Ontario, David W. Tarbet examines the difficulties and dangers of working in a grain elevator – showing how they operate and describing the effects that the grain trade has on the lives of individuals and cities. Continue reading
A foundation named for a Fort Plain inventor and his wife, both born in the 19th century, continues to support local charitable organizations. William Yerdon was born in the town of Minden, NY in 1843. He married Sylvina “Vina” Barker in 1881.
Born in Canada, Vina Barker had studied telegraphy and came to Fort Plain in 1876 as a telegraph operator for the New York Central Railroad. She kept her job for about a year after marrying Yerdon, a businessman and Fort Plain postmaster who patented the Yerdon Double Hose Band in 1890. Continue reading
After he and Amos Whitney formed Pratt & Whitney in 1869, Francis Pratt served as president until 1898, while Whitney was the general superintendent.
Their personal and joint histories prior to forming the company are well documented in many sources. Comparison with other records suggests only one discrepancy, but to historians it’s a whopper. The issue: where was Francis Pratt born and who can claim him as their own? Continue reading
In the year 2000, five years after Plattsburgh Air Force Base closed, Pratt & Whitney signed a lease, moved in, and set up shop on the former base property. Many jobs and residents had been lost in the air-base shutdown, making Pratt & Whitney a valued anchor business in the recovery effort.
Their arrival might have been a homecoming of sorts with historical significance, but persistent misinformation carried forward for more than a century appears to have robbed the region of an important link to the past. Continue reading
Hanford Mills Museum, in Delaware County, NY, will be open Wednesdays-Sundays, plus holiday Mondays, 10 am – 5 pm through October 15th. Guided tours are offered of the Mill complex, where visitors can watch the 1926 Fitz overshot waterwheel start up and provide the power for the sawmill and woodworking shop. Historic water-powered machines are operated each day, just as they were a century ago. Continue reading
Every two years I gather together some friends to make hard cider. None of us have apple orchards. From the time the buds break throughout the summer, until after the first couple hard frosts, we scan the roads and fields of the Adirondacks. We look for abandoned orchards and clumps of neglected trees in yards and inquire with their owners.
Right up until the last gallon goes into the fermenter we have endless debates about the best way to pick our finds. We prattle on about the best timing, their sugar content, texture, and flavors. Inevitably the question is raised: “well, what do you think it is?” Now, a new book has been published that we can turn to in trying to figure that out. Continue reading
A “little short of madness.” That is how Thomas Jefferson responded when two delegates from New York approached him with the idea to build the Erie Canal in January 1809.
In this episode of the Ben Franklin’s World podcast, Janice Fontanella, site manager of Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site in Fort Hunter, New York, joins us to discuss the Erie Canal, its construction, and the impact that this waterway made on New York and the United States. You can listen to the podcast here: www.benfranklinsworld.com/028
Modestly but eloquently, Sue Fraczek described her life as an Amsterdam mill worker, “When I went to work, I was scared to death. It was my first time in a carpet mill. It was hot. It was noisy.”
Fraczek was surprised to see herself as a young mill worker in a still picture prominently featured in “Historic Views of the Carpet City,” the WMHT-TV documentary on Amsterdam first shown in 2000. Co-producer Steve Dunn chose the picture of the young woman at a yarn twisting machine to symbolize the documentary that he and I produced. Continue reading
“Something’s Brewing: A Historical Look at Albany Brews & Spirits” is the theme of the 16th Annual Albany History Fair to be held at Historic Cherry Hill on Sunday, May 3, from 1 to 4 pm.
This free event will include an 18th century brewing demonstration by Harvey Alexander, music by Friends Union, house tours, exhibits, and a brewing and agricultural scavenger hunt for families, throughout the afternoon. Continue reading
“Breathtaking”, “awe inspiring”, “feel the power!” These are just a few of the comments on Trip- Advisor’s entry for the New Croton Dam, yet many who live nearby have never visited one of the Hudson Valley’s signature engineering feats.
Friends of the Old Croton Aqueduct and Teaching the Hudson Valley want to change that and invite the public to visit the dam for special walking tours Thursday, April 23, at 4 pm and Saturday, April 25, at 11 am. Laura Compagni-Sabella will lead both tours, highlighting the stories of the hundreds of immigrant workers who risked life and limb to build the dam between 1892-1905. Continue reading
Mark Thomann, who has spent much of his working life on restorations of classic carpets, is skeptical of the idea that paper cards used to control carpet weaving in Amsterdam and other places directly foreshadowed development of the computer.
Thomann said, “I have heard that but always thought it a stretch. There is the similarity of the use of punch cards, with a binary system, no hole or hole which would determine position of a strand of yarn. But I have never seen evidence that someone familiar with that industrial technology was at all involved in making computers.” Continue reading
The 44th Annual Conference of the Society for Industrial Archaeology will be held at the Hilton Hotel in downtown Albany May 28th through May 30th, 2015.
Established as a Dutch fur trading post in 1614, and chartered in 1688, Albany is the oldest continuously chartered city in the county and capital of New York State since 1879. Transportation – river navigation, canals, railroads and highways – has always been one of its defining characteristics. Continue reading
Drawing on archival research as well as interviews with many of the principal players, Thomas Pellechia’s Over a Barrel: The Rise and Fall of New York’s Taylor Wine Company (SUNY Press, 2015) traces the economic dynamism of the Finger Lakes wine region, the passion and ingenuity of the Taylor family, and the shortsighted corporate takeover scenario that took down a once-proud American family company.
In addition to providing important lessons for business innovators, Over a Barrel is a cautionary tale for a wine region that is repeating its formative history. Continue reading
Samuel L. Kupferberg’s ancestors were in the fabric trade so it was only logical that he pursued that line of work. Born in Romania in 1893, Sam had 17 siblings. Two of his older brothers had started fabric businesses in New York City. Getting to America from Codaesti, Romania was an issue for Sam. During World War I Romanian Jews were confined to their villages. After the war Sam left the old country in 1920 for New York City where he worked with his oldest brother, Jacob.
In 1926 Amsterdam’s People’s Silk Store, which sold fabrics and draperies, was for sale. Sam took the train upstate, bought the business and kept the name. Continue reading
In the fourth installment of the Adirondack Museum’s Cabin Fever Sundays series, New York Council for the Humanities speaker Robert Arnold III will explore the legacy of Robert Fulton, the creator of the first commercially successful steamboat.
Arnold will address the ways Fulton’s steamboat helped to catalyze the expansion of steam power into the energy source that propelled America’s Industrial Revolution. Fulton was a talented artist and inventor who also devised canal locks used in Britain, and the first workable submarine (for Napoleon Bonaparte). Continue reading
The Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities (SPLIA) has taken a thematic approach to its 2015 List of Endangered Historic Places, focusing on Long Island’s endangered industrial heritage. The loss of industrial heritage erases the regional connection to Long Island as a center for maritime, aeronautical, and communications industries. Continue reading
This week “The Historians” podcast features an interview with Jim Bachorz, publisher of the Bridge Line Historical Society Bulletin, an extensive monthly newsletter that focuses on Delaware & Hudson Railroad (D&H) history and other rail topics. The D&H called itself the Bridge Line linking New York, New England and Canada. Today the railroad is a subsidiary of Canadian Pacific Railway. Listen at “The Historians” online archive at http://www.bobcudmore.com/thehistorians/