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
The Rensselaer County Historical Society (RCHS) will debut a new, rotating exhibit, Prospect of America: Selections from the Edgar Holloway Art Collection, on Monday, September 8th at 7pm at the 87th Annual Meeting. The exhibit series runs through December 20, 2014. The exhibit is sponsored in part by the McCarthy Charities.
In the early 1970s, Rev. Thomas Phelan was inspired to raise awareness of Troy and the surrounding area’s amazing architectural and industrial heritage. Valuing the power art has to move people to action, Rev. Phelan commissioned English artist Edgar Holloway to spend three summers, from 1973 to 1975, in Troy to document the historic buildings and street scenes. His three years in New York resulted in over 80 watercolors and 15 etchings that have become a historical record themselves of the way Troy, Cohoes, and other outlying areas looked in the mid-1970s. Through Holloway’s art, people began to see the inherent beauty in these often neglected buildings. Advocacy groups formed and several buildings were preserved through the actions of individuals inspired by art. Continue reading
Winegrower and journalist Richard Figiel, who established Silver Thread Vineyard on the eastern shore of Seneca Lake in 1982, offers a short history of New York wine in Circle of Vines: The Story of New York Wine (SUNY Press, 2014).
Figiel follows the state’s wine industry from its turbulent evolution in various regions as it emerged as a dynamic player in the world of fine wine. He begins by examining New York’s distinctive viticultural roots and the geologic forces that shaped the state’s terrain for winegrowing. Starting with early efforts to grow grapes for wine in the Hudson Valley, the story moves west to the Finger Lakes and Lake Erie, circles around the state from Long Island to the North Country, and, finally, to contemporary New York City. Continue reading
Remember the hit song, “Sixteen Tons,” taken to #1 by Tennessee Ernie Ford many decades ago? Most people are familiar with the famous line, “St. Peter don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go, I owe my soul to the Company Store,” meaning, “Hey, I can’t die … I’ve got debt to pay.”
The line referred to Company Towns of the coal-mining industry, where the company owned everything: coal, land, and houses. Workers were paid with scrip―coupons redeemable only at the Company Store, where prices were artificially inflated. Continue reading
The nation’s first bona-fide all-female union was formed in Troy 150 years ago under the leadership of a young Irish immigrant, Kate Mullany, and her colleague, Esther Keegan, in reaction to low wages, 12- to 14-hour workdays and unsafe conditions in the collar factories.
Local writer and director Ruth Henry dramatizes the story in a new musical, “Don’t Iron While the Strike is Hot.” Continue reading
Steam meets iron when the Lakeville (CT) Steam Automobile Association stops for lunch at the Copake Iron Works on July 9th at noon during the club’s week long tour of the Berkshires and Hudson Valley.
Approximately 30 antique steam automobiles dating from 1900 to 1920 will be on display beginning approximately at noon (hard to say with old cars!). Stanley Steamers, manufactured in Newton, Massachusetts, are the stalwarts, but White Steamers from Cleveland, Ohio will steam in too! Continue reading
Sunday, June 22nd, marks the opening of a new exhibit by the Historical Society of Newburgh Bay and the Highlands entitled “Made in Newburgh”.
The exhibit, which shares its title with the theme of this year’s Newburgh Illuminated Festival, aims to highlight the manufacturing history of Newburgh. Between 1:00 P.M. and 4:00 P.M. visitors can expect to be welcomed by the Society’s members as they glimpse into the history of the city’s industries and how they shaped Newburgh. Continue reading
John Augustus Roebling celebrated two milestones in June of 1849, his 43rd birthday and the beginning of construction of the Neversink Aqueduct on the Delaware & Hudson Canal. It was the third of the four aqueducts he would design and build for the canal company, and followed the completion of the Delaware and Lackawaxen Aqueducts the previous year.
Roebling (his given name was actually Johann August) was born in Muhlhausen, in Prussia, on June 12, 1806, the youngest son of Christoph Polycarpa Roebling and Fredericke Dorothea Mueller Roebling. He grew up in a world of private tutors, learned the music of Bach and the poetry of Goethe, and according to some sources, built a model of a suspension bridge when he was nine years old that bore a striking resemblance to what would be his most famous work, the Brooklyn Bridge. He gained admission to the prestigious engineering program at the Royal Polytechnic Institute in Berlin, where he studied languages and philosophy as well as architecture, bridge construction and hydraulics. He graduated in 1826, and went to work for the state, as was the requirement at that time, serving three years building roads in Westphalia. Continue reading
What happens when a giant high-tech corporation opens a massive new plant on the outskirts of a small, rural, historic city? And what happens when it just as suddenly leaves?
In Kingston: The IBM Years (Friends of Historic Kingston, 2014), three prominent college professors, an award-winning novelist, a longtime Ulster County journalist, and two former IBM Kingston employees examine the history of the IBM complex and the work that was conducted there, the impact the facility had on Kingston and its surroundings, what life was like as an “IBMer,” how it influenced regional architecture and thrust a colonial city into the modern age, and the effect of a “boom and bust” cycle on a rural, traditional community. Continue reading
Historian Jim Mackin will present “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About the Copake Iron Works But Were Afraid to Ask” at a lecture and slide show on Saturday, June 21st at 2pm at the Roeliff Jansen Community Library, 9091 Route 22 in Copake, Columbia County, NY, followed by a reception and tour of the Iron Works.
Mackin will also host guided tours of the Copake Iron Works Historic District throughout the summer, beginning on June 8th as part of New York State’s Path Through History Weekend. Continue reading
For a century, the world’s best iron ore was produced by a small Clinton County village in upstate New York. That remarkable legacy is shared in the Lyon Mountain Mining and Railroad Museum, housed in the town’s former railroad depot building. The cost to visitors “can’t be beat,” as they say—admission is free.
This community project developed into a remarkable facility dedicated to regional and town history. The focus is on iron mining, once a dominant force in the region’s economy. Continue reading
Red Hook’s historic Lehigh Barge #79 will play host to the exhibit From Shore to Shore, which explores the worlds of craftsmen and the places where boats and ships are still being worked on today. Thirteen exhibition panels, accompanying audio video interviews and a timeline highlight profiles of master craftsmen, their tools and the historic boat yards where they work.
On May 3rd from 2 to 4 pm there will be a reception featuring curators Nancy Solomon and Tom Van Buren along with invited boat builders, boatyard owners, and waterfront preservation specialists. Continue reading
John Gabriel and Rick Kelly, two cousins who grew up together listening to radio in the Capital Region, have written one of Arcadia Publishing’s popular Images of America series books entitled Capital Region Radio 1920-2011. The book tells the history of Albany region radio programs and personalities from its early days to recent years through more than 200 vintage images.
The General Electric Company, with one of its main plants in Schenectady, began experimental broadcasts in conjunction with Union College in the early 1900s. Using many culled from the miSci Museum in Schenectady, and others, this new pictorial history shares the story of when WGY officially began broadcasting in February 1922 and General Electric started a long and storied history of pioneering radio technology and programming, which ultimately set the pace for worldwide broadcast development. Capital Region Radio pioneer WGY provided entertainment and news nationally during World War II, WTRY kept listeners updated during the blackout of 1965 and WOKO introduced rock and roll to the area. Continue reading
Utilizing oral history excerpts, union and corporate archival documents, state police files, and newspapers, Dr. Gerald Zahavi will explore the beginning of aggressive communist organizing in Schenectady during the Great Depression and afterward.
Zahavi will focus on the men and women in the party as well as those who actively fought it — opponents in state and local government, unions and corporations (especially General Electric), religious organizations, and civil rights groups. Continue reading
Thomas Alva Edison, one of the leading innovators of all time comes alive like never before in Edison and the Rise of Innovation (Sterling, 2013) by Leonard DeGraaf. Perhaps America’s first business celebrity, Edison was more than history’s most prolific inventor.
Edison pursued more than a thousand patents by combining scientific knowledge, well-equipped laboratories, talented collaborators, investment capital and a bit of showmanship, according to DeGraaf, who argues that in the process Edison changed the way we innovate new technologies. Continue reading
The hill that separates the outlet of Lake George from the creek that opens into Lake Champlain is among the oldest portages in continuous use in North America.
The Native Americans gave it a name: Ticonderoga, “the place between waters.”
Up and down its slope have passed explorers and naturalists such as Isaac Jogues and Peter Kalm, travelers such as Thomas Jefferson and, of course, the armies of the French, the British and the Americans as supremacy over North America and its strategic waterways shifted from one nation to another. Continue reading
Artisans, water power, local farms, grist milling, lumberjack skills, and horse-drawn wagon rides will all be featured at the Miller’s Harvest Festival and Folkways Fair at Hanford Mills Museum (Delaware County) on Sunday, October 13.
The Museum will be operating machinery in its 1869 Gristmill, which area farmers relied on for generations. The Munson Brothers Millstone, which the Museum connected to its horizontal water turbine in August, will be featured. Guided tours of the gristmill, sawmill and woodworking shop will be offered throughout the day. Continue reading
What you see here is one of the most recognizable trademarks ever, a logo that has been used by many companies around the world. The dog in the image is not fictional. His name was Nipper, and a few years after his death, Nipper’s owner sold a modified painting of his dog to a recording company. The rest is history, and part of that history includes a heretofore unknown North Country native.
From humble beginnings, he became famous for his wide-ranging knowledge of recording and his ability to invent. Perhaps most important of all, he traveled the world and was the first person to record the music of a number of countries, saving it for posterity. Continue reading
Hanford Mills Museum will offer two themed-weekends as part of the statewide Path Through History initiative, which seeks to connect people with New York’s rich cultural heritage. Hanford Mills operates a historic sawmill, gristmill and woodworking factory that grew in many stages between 1846 and 1902.
On June 1-2, Hanford Mills Museum will hold a History at Work Weekend, giving visitors a firsthand view of the work it took to run a mill. A century ago, mills were a mainstay of rural communities. They provided lumber for homes and farms, animal feed, and other needed supplies. On June 8-9, in addition to the 1926 Fitz Overshot Waterwheel and a water turbine, the Museum will be running its steam boiler and steam engine as well as its gas-powered dynamo, which provided the village of East Meredith with its first electricity. Continue reading