Tag Archives: Maritime History

Thomas Mott Osborne Film Premiere Theater Mack


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Who is Thomas Mott Osborne? And what is The Castle? These questions will be answered at the Auburn, NY premiere of a new documentary about Thomas Mott Osborne on Sunday, October 14 at 2:00 p.m. at Theater Mack at the Cayuga Museum. Filmmaker Neil Novello and Osborne biographer, David Connelly, will discuss the film after the screening. This program is free and open to the public.

Thomas Mott Osborne’s statue stands in front of the Auburn, NY Police and Fire Departments. The Castle refers to the 105 year-old Portsmouth Naval prison that stands empty on a bluff in the Piscataqua River separating Maine and New Hampshire adjacent to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. But what do these two (Osborne & The Castle) have in common?

It is written in the Navy’s history of the Portsmouth Naval Prison aka The Castle that Thomas Mott Osborne “introduced a new era and a new viewpoint to the Naval prison.”  From 1917 to 1921, Auburn prison reformer and resident, Thomas Mott Osborne, was the only civilian commander of the Naval Prison. Osborne hadn’t served in the Navy.

“Osborne is either a nut or a visionary,” says Pulitzer Prize winner and Auburn resident, David Connelly, who worked with Award-winning filmmaker Neil Novello from Maine on what is the only video documentary ever made about the Auburn industrialist turned humanitarian in the early 20th Century. The always-controversial Thomas Mott Osborne brought scandal, prison reform and a movie crew to the Portsmouth Naval Prison aka The Castle. ”Osborne’s command of the Naval Prison just maybe the culmination of Osborne’s prison reform career,” says Mr. Novello who started on this documentary five years ago.

Novello’s filmmaking journey started with his visit to the Syracuse University’s Bird Library to do research on Osborne. He went through box after box of Osborne’s history at the Naval Prison, which provided many great photos, newspaper articles, as well as Osborne’s writings. It was the Bird Library librarian who told Novello about Osborne biographer, David Connelly.

In the course of a year, David Connelly generously gave of his research time and family time to be a part of this documentary. Connelly knew Frederik (Erik) Osborne, TMO’s grandson, who had the remaining two reels of the Osborne-produced propaganda prison silent feature movie. “The Right Way” was filmed at the Naval Prison using prisoners as extras.

The other important person who gave generously of her time to Novello was Eileen McHugh, Director of the Cayuga Museum of Art and History. The Museum had a copy of Osborne in a 1926 experimental sound movie filmed at the Case Laboratories in Auburn where Osborne mentions the Portsmouth Naval Prison and talks about his reform ideas.

McHugh provided Mr. Novello an area in the basement of the museum to videotape David Connelly’s interview and McHugh also secured, via the Cayuga Museum’s archive, photos of early Auburn as well as Osborne and his family.

To understand Commander Osborne’s Naval prison experience, Novello needed to include Osborne’s family and his work at Auburn and Sing Sing state prisons in New York where he disguised himself as a prisoner to find out what life was like inside. When Osborne went to the Naval Prison, he disguised himself as a prisoner for a report to the Secretary of the Navy. While Commander of the Naval Prison, again Osborne disguised himself as a sailor and was a coal shoveler on the USS North Dakota as a way to understand Navy life.

Osborne became known for his Mutual Welfare League system where prisoners manage prisoners. The Mutual Welfare League was used at Auburn State prison and in Sing Sing state prison as well as the Naval prison.

With the additional photos provided by Ossining Historical Society in New York, and movie film (of Naval sea exercises and World War One) provided by the National Archive, Novello had the visual ingredients for his documentary about Osborne’s experience at the Naval Prison which in a way, culminates his prison reform career.

“It’s all about Osborne’s perspective and his thinking”, says Novello. “I did not want to make a run-of- the-mill, academic-type documentary with pros and cons. It’s about Osborne but told through his letters, film and David Connelly’s wonderful interview.”

Novello wanted to première TMO@The Castle in Auburn at the Cayuga Museum of Art and History’s newly restored Theater Mack. “It’s most fitting to show my documentary right here,” says Novello.

Novello has also produced a DVD called, The Castle: Stories of the Portsmouth Naval Prison which includes TMO@The Castle and a commentary to go with the remaining reels of Osborne’s feature movie, The Right Way.

1812: The War That Should Not Have Been


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Bob Wells speaks on “The War That Should Not Have Been” as part of the War of 1812 Lecture Series on Monday, September 17, 7 p.m. at the St. Lawrence County Historical Association at the Silas Wright House, 3 East Main St., Canton.

The United States of America, a young nation with a scattered peacetime army of only 12,000 regulars and a comparatively small navy did not let these facts stand in the way of going to war with England in June of 1812. But did the War of 1812 have to happen?

In his program “The War That Should Not Have Been,” Bob Wells will discuss reasons why the war was not inevitable or even particularly popular in New England and Northern New York, including St. Lawrence County. U.S. Justifications for the war, such as the annexation of Canada, the need to quell the hostile Native American tribes supposedly armed by the British, and the need to end the English naval practice of impressments of U.S. sailors could have all been handled differently. Another reason cited for war with England was the U.S. desire to be free to trade with France without the English blockading harbors or seizing merchant ships coming from French ports. This issue was actually settled in favor of the United States just prior to the beginning of the war.

The program will be presented by Bob Wells, who serves on the SLCHA’s War of 1812 Bicentennial Committee and Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission. He is an active member of the association’s Civil War Roundtable. Wells is a former Mayor of the Village of Canton and was a professor for over 34 years at St. Lawrence University. He retired from full-time teaching in 1999 as the emeritus Munsil Professor of Government.

This War of 1812 program is part of the St. Lawrence County Historical Association’s Commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, which was fought from 1812-1815. St. Lawrence County was one of the battlefields of the War of 1812. 

The SLCHA Gift Shop is a great way to learn about the War of 1812. Books include Major Battles of the War of 1812 and Famous People of the War of 1812. SLCHA members receive a 10% discount on these books and most other items in the gift shop.

The St. Lawrence County Historical Association at the Silas Wright House is open Tuesday through Saturday noon to 4 p.m., Friday noon to 8 p.m. Admission to the museum is free; admission to the archives is free for members and children, $2.50 for college students, and $5 for the general public. The St. Lawrence County Historical Association is located at 3 E. Main St., Canton. Parking is available in back of the SLCHA, next to the museum’s main entrance.

The St. Lawrence County Historical Association is a membership organization open to anyone interested in St. Lawrence County history. For more information, or to become a member, call the SLCHA at 315-386-8133 or e-mail info@slcha.org. Exhibits and programs are made possible in part with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, a state agency. Visit the SLCHA’s website, www.slcha.org, for more information on St. Lawrence County history

Illustration: Columbia Teaching John Bull his New Lesson from the Library of Congress by William Charles, 1813, a caricature presenting a U.S. view of the War of 1812. On the left, Columbia (the personification of the United States, holding a pole with a liberty cap on it, and with a stars-and-stripes shield behind her) says: ‘I tell you Johnny, you must learn to read Respect — Free Trade — Seaman’s Rights &c. — As for you, Mounseer Beau Napperty, when John gets his lesson by heart, I’ll teach you Respect, Retribution, &c &c.’ In the middle, a short-statured Napoleon says: ‘Ha Ha — Begar, me be glad to see Madam Columbia angry with dat dere John Bull — But me no learn respect — me no learn retribution — Me be de grand Emperor.’ On the right, John Bull says: ‘I don’t like that lesson, I’ll read this pretty lesson’ (holding a book with ‘Power constitutes Right’, i.e. ‘might makes right’).”
 

Battle of Plattsburgh: Countdown to Invasion (Sept 11)


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On September 11, 1814, the American and British naval squadrons on Lake Champlain engage in a long awaited duel to the death, culminating in a decisive American victory.

Owing to the masterful strategic planning of Commodore Thomas Macdonough, the American fleet is able to defend Plattsburgh Bay and defeat the Royal Navy following a fierce 2 1/2 hour battle, the largest of the entire War.

On land, the British commander, General Sir George Prevost makes a monumental blunder when he allows his troops to wait for an hour before commencing the land attack while they finish breakfast. What should have been a simultaneous naval and land assault became delayed and although Prevost’s ground forces succeed in crossing the Saranac River at Pike’s Cantonment, a mile and a half above Plattsburgh, by this time, the naval battle had been decided.

Believing his forces could not hold Plattsburgh without naval superiority on the Lake, Prevost quickly issued orders to his commanders to withdraw. This order was met with shock and frustration by his veteran Generals, who clearly knew a land victory over the meager American Army and Militia was easily within their grasp…The grand British master plan of invasion from the north had been halted at Plattsburgh.

This Battle of Plattsburgh Countdown to Invasion fact is brought to you by the Greater Adirondack Ghost and Tour Company. If you enjoyed this fascinating snippet of North Country history, find them on Facebook

Waterford Tugboat Roundup This Weekend


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More than two dozen boats are expected to participate in this year’s Tugboat Roundup in Waterford. The Roundup, cancelled last year due to damage caused by the storms Irene and Lee, is organized by the town of Waterford and runs from Friday, September 7 through Sunday, September 9.

Working tug boats from along the Hudson River including Kingston, Albany and Troy, from the Canal System, the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River are expected to converge in Waterford in time for Friday afternoon’s parade. The parade starts at the Port of Albany at 2:45 on Friday with boats arriving in Waterford as early as 5pm.

Live music will be performed throughout the event with at least nine different groups booked to play on board one of the tugs, the Grand Erie, docked in front of the Visitor’s Center along the canal at the foot of Tugboat Alley in the village.

Boat tours will be offered on both the Hudson River and the Waterford locks and kids activities will include face-painting, clown performances, puppet theaters, a bouncy-bounce, pony rides. and more throughout the weekend.

On Sunday, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) will be dedicating the Waterford flight of locks as a significant engineering achievement in America. This dedication will take place on Sunday.

A full schedule of performances and activities can be found on the Roundup’s website, www.tugboatroundup.com or on their Facebook page, www.facebook.com/tugboatroundup.com

Photo: The 2008 Tugboat Round-Up, Courtesy Duncan Hayes, NPS  (Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor).

Annual Waterford Tugboat Roundup Returns


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Tugboats will Roundup the weekend after Labor Day in Waterford after taking last year off due the effects of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee.

The Tugboat Roundup is an annual event in Waterford, celebrating the maritime heritage of upstate and interior New York at the confluence of the Hudson River and New York State Canal system. The Roundup begins on Friday, September 7 and concludes on Sunday afternoon, September 9.

More than 30 tugboats, workboats, barges and other craft are expected along the Waterford wall at the entrance to the Erie Canal. The festival takes place in front of the Visitor’s Center at the foot of Tugboat Alley and kicks off with the Tugboat Parade on Friday afternoon which starts at the Port of Albany, coming into Waterford in late afternoon.

The Mohawk-Hudson chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers will be recognizing the Waterford Flight of Locks as a significant American Engineering achievement on Sunday at noon during the Roundup. The flight is a two-mile long series of five locks, critical to the success of the “modern” Erie Canal when it was built in the Nineteen Teens (it opened in 1917).  Boats are raised from Hudson River level more than 180 feet into the Mohawk River above Cohoes.

Additional land displays include local crafters, artists, food tents, historical displays and local organizations. The American Red Cross, continuing in their efforts to help the region recover from last year’s storms, will have a tent at the festival for more information and donations. Local fire departments, always at the ready, will also have information areas.

Live music with local musicians will take place throughout the weekend, kicked off on Friday afternoon with canal and river balladeer George Ward and including other local bands such as “All Nite Long,” “Yesterday’s News,” “Flood Road,” Nixie Dixie Cats,” “Captain Squeeze and the Zydeco Moshers,” “Lawson,” “Scott Stockman with Big Blue Sun,” and wrapping up with the “Boys of Wexford” on Sunday afternoon.

Fireworks will take place on Saturday evening at 8:00.

More information on the event, and the complete schedule can be found online. Check out video just released by the Saratoga Chamber of Commerce: http://youtu.be/69rO-PkJwfA

The Tugboat Roundup is organized by the Town of Waterford with the support of sponsors.

Photo: The 2008 Tugboat Round-Up, Courtesy Duncan Hayes, NPS  (Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor).

Great Lakes Underwater Presents Historic Program


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On Saturday, September 8, the Great Lakes Seaway Trail and New York Sea Grant will present Great Lakes Underwater at the Clayton Opera House, Clayton, NY. The 12pm-5pm program, co-sponsored by the NOAA National Weather Service, features four distinct speakers focused on history, shipwrecks and innovative technology for boaters.
 

 The event will run 12pm-5pm at the Clayton Opera House, 405 Riverside Drive, Clayton, NY, with vendors, information exhibits and networking time. The September 8 program includes the following presentations:
 
· “Historic Weather Patterns Impact on Lake Ontario Shipwrecks” with National Weather Service Forecaster Robert Hamilton

· “Between Two Nations: The British on Carleton Island (Fort Haldimand) from the American Revolution to the War of 1812” with Douglas J. Pippin, Ph.D., historical archaeology professor at SUNY Oswego

· Underwater explorer Jim Kennard on his “Discovery of the HMS Ontario” using deepwater sonar scanning to find the 80-foot-long, 22-gun sloop-of-war that sunk in 1780 in Lake Ontario on her way to Fort Haldimand

· “The Great Lakes Seaway Trail Blueway Water Trail & Innovations in Technology for Boaters, Canoeists and Kayakers” with New York Sea Grant Coastal Recreation and Tourism Specialist Dave White. Learn how new and future tools and apps based on the Great Lakes Observing System will benefit water trail users.

This Great Lakes Underwater theme program makes the start of a new Great Lakes Seaway Trail Byway-Blueway Seminar Series. Pre-registration is requested by September 3. Tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for seniors age 62 or older and retired military with ID, $5 for children under 14, and free Blue Star admission for active military with ID. Day of the event seating is $15 for any remaining seats. This is a Yellow Ribbon event. For more information and to register, visit www.seawaytrail.com/dive or call 315-646-1000 x203.
Robert “Bob” Hamilton
is a meteorologist with the National Weather Service at Buffalo, NY. He is noted for presenting his research of the meteorological conditions that have impacted historic events, including shipwrecks. He presented his study of the weather influencing the time of the foundering of the HMS Ontario at the spring 2012 Great Lakes Meteorological Operational Workshop in Chicago.

Douglas J. Pippin is an historical archaeologist who has studied the provisioning and frontier economy of the British military and displaced Loyalists during the American Revolution. He had conducted fieldwork at Fort Haldimand and at Loyalist settlements in the Exuma Islands in the Bahamas. He received his doctoral degree at Syracuse University.

Jim Kennard, known as “the Jacques Cousteau of the Great Lakes Seaway Trail,” has been featured in such publications National Geographic and Sea Technology magazines for the 200-plus rare and historic shipwrecks he has discovered in numerous waters in his 40-year career. The HMS Ontario is considered an “underwater Holy Grail.”

Dave White, a New York Sea Grant recreation and tourism specialist, has created several educational initiatives, including the “Dive the Seaway Trail” project. His Discover Clean & Safe Boating campaign earned White a BoatUS Foundation Environmental Leadership Commendation. This spring, he was among the invitation-only guests at the White House Community Leaders Briefing on the Great Lakes Region.

Photo courtesy Great Lakes Underwater.

Peter Feinman: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (2012)


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Once upon a time, as all good stories begin, in the fair village of North Tarrytown (later to be renamed Sleepy Hollow), there was a beacon of light in the river that ran two ways.

Located a quarter mile from the shore of village on the river, this lighthouse had been built in 1882-1883 by strong and sturdy men back in the day when strong and sturdy men built and made things along the Hudson River and before it became a valley of ruins with a book of a similar name. Continue reading

The Champlain Memorial Lighthouse Centennial


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What follows is a guest essay by Thomas Hughes, Director of the Crown Point State Historic Site on Lake Champlain in Essex County, NY. The site includes two National Historic Landmarks: the ruins of French-built Fort St. Frédéric (1734-59) and the ruins of Crown Point’s British fort (1759-73).

Dedicated 100 years ago this month on July 5, 1912, and located at a prominent site that is steeped in history, the Champlain Memorial Lighthouse serves as a monument to the 1609 voyage on Lake Champlain by French explorer Samuel Champlain. Continue reading

New Concise History of the Battles of Plattsburgh


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Battle of PlattsburghLake Champlain was a corridor for warfare beginning with Samuel de Champlain’s exploration, but perhaps no moment in the Champlain Valley was as important as the Battle of Plattsburgh, something recognized by both Roosevelt and Churchill.

Although other, more famous, engagements of the War of 1812 were ruses meant to divert U.S. troops away from the prize – Plattsburgh. The Chesapeake Campaign for example, which included the British capture of Washington, DC, the bombardment of Fort McHenry captured in the National Anthem, was intended, as Donald Graves notes, “as a large raid to draw off American troops from the northern theatre of the war.” Continue reading

Replica Ship Half Moon Opportunities Announced


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William T. (Chip) Reynolds, Director, New Netherland Museum and Captain, Replica Ship Half Moon has announced that work is proceeding on fall programming and regular ship-board projects, and the ship will be holding an upcoming sail training opportunity.

On July 21-22 crew old and new alike will come together on the Half Moon to train in sail handling and ship operations. The two day program will depart from and return to Peckham Wharf in Athens, NY while anchoring out on the evening of the 21st. Crew will board 8am Saturday and depart late afternoon on Sunday.  No prior experience necessary; all training will be provided. Preference will be given to those who have volunteered with the Half Moon this season.

If you would like to participate in the sail training weekend, send an email with your name, phone number, location and the information for an emergency contact to: hmvolunteer@gmail.com

Dockside work continues on the Half Moon as they prepare for sail training and other programming through the summer and Fall of 2012. Crew have been working around the ship on various projects. Doug Lyke has been working on rewiring bilge pumps and radio wires; Gene Tozzi repaired the decorative anchor on the front of the ship; Woody Woodworth and Bob Hansen have installed new water pumps and other elements for the ship’s generator.

In addition to work around the ship, they’ve also said goodbye to bo’sun Wesley Jasper who spent three months living and working aboard the Half Moon, and who is headed to the Rotterdam Maritime Academy in the fall.

Work will continue weekdays throughout the summer. If you are interested in joining in and assisting with maintenance work around the ship, contact them at 518.443.1609 or by email at: hmvolunteer@gmail.com

This season, the Half Moon will be open for school and public tours in Albany NY Sept 22 & 23 and Sept 29 & 30 and public viewing in Connecticut.

Half Moon also offers school class tours. Educators looking to sign-up their class Sept 21, Sept 24-28 and Oct 1-4, should contact Carol Ann Margolis at the Albany Convention and Visitor’s Bureau: 518.434.0405

The 85-foot replica of the ship Henry Hudson sailed while exploring the Hudson River in 1609 has a volunteer crew of 15 and was built in Albany, N.Y. in 1989 to commemorate the Dutch role in exploring and colonizing America. The Half Moon replica has six sails on three masts, sporting 2,757 square feet of canvas. It’s equipped with six cannons and four anchors.

The original ship, called the Halve Maen, was commissioned on March 25, 1609 for the Dutch East India Company. The company hired Hudson, an Englishman, to search for a passageway between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. He thought he had found that passage when he sailed up the river that now bears his name. In making his trip up the river, Hudson claimed the area for the Dutch and opened the land for settlers who followed. His voyage came 10 years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. 

For general information about the replica Half Moon check their website.

Photo provided.

50th Willard Hanmer Guideboat Race:Largest Gathering of Adirondack Guideboats Ever?


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On Sunday July 1, 2012 will mark the 50th annual Willard Hanmer Guideboat Race commemorating Willard Hanmer the preeminent Guide Boat builder of his era. The race has been celebrated every year since 1962 on the Sunday closest to the 4th of July.

This year, to celebrate the craftsmanship of this uniquely Adirondack craft, the organizers are planning a display of over 50 guideboats in a guideboat parade on Lake Flower prior to the race. Following the parade will be guideboat, canoe and kayak races.

This year the one-person guideboat race will follow the traditional route on Lake Flower, carry around the dam and down the Saranac River to the Fish and Game Club where there will be food, refreshments ands festivities for the whole family. Canoes and kayaks will be following the one person guideboat course, also going down the river. For those wishing to race in either the guideboat, recreational canoe or kayak classes contact: 50thhanmer@gmail.com.

According to the Historic Saranac Lake Wiki (a great local online history source) Willard J. Hanmer, the son of Thoedore J. Hanmer “began working in his father’s boat shop as a child in about 1910, sticking tacks, caning seats and sanding hulls. He built his own shop in the 1920s.” The guideboat parade will be open to anyone wishing to display their guideboat. Natalie Bombard Corl Leduc, a participant in the inaugural race invites all past participants of the race to row in the parade. For those wishing to display their guideboats or participate in the guideboat parade contact: 50thhanmer@gmail.com.

Finger Lakes Boating Museum Gets $2.4 Million


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The City of Geneva and the Finger Lakes Boating Museum have announced that grant agreements totaling $2,450,000 in state funds for the development of the Boating Museum and Visitor Center have been received and are being executed.

The funds will be used for the design and construction of a museum showcasing boating and boat building in the Finger Lakes region, as well as an enhanced visitor center. The project will be developed on the north shore of Seneca Lake on the site of the existing visitor center.

The State of New York announced two separate grant awards, the first a $2,000,000 grant from the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York, secured through the efforts of State Sen. Michael Nozzolio. The second grant of $450,000 from New York’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Program was announced as part of the 2011 Consolidated Funding Application process.

“After many months of planning, we are very pleased to be getting under way soon in providing Geneva and the entire Finger Lakes with a beautiful museum that will bring to life the history of boating and its influence on life in the Finger Lakes” said Vince Scalise, President of the Finger Lakes Boating Museum Board of Trustees. “We look forward to cooperating with the City in bringing this educational facility to the lakefront for all to enjoy and to learn.”

The City has selected Pittsford-based Hanlon Architects for design and engineering, which will begin immediately, and Chrisanntha Construction for construction of the project, which is slated to begin this fall.

Interested persons can see some of the Museum’s collection of boats on display at the 2012 Boating Festival in the Geneva Lakeshore Park Saturday (10-5) and Sunday (10-4), July 14 and 15. The Show will be held the same days as the Musselman Triathlon 2012 races and events.

The boat show will be from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, July 14, and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, July 15. Admission is free.

Many of the Museum’s wooden rowboats, power boats, and canoes built in the Finger Lakes will be on display. Activities will include workshops and demonstrations on boat building and restoration, interactive nautical displays and a sailing regatta. For more information, check the Boating Museum’s website at www.flbm.org.

The Boating Museum reached agreement with the City of Geneva in the fall of 2009 to establish a permanent home on the Geneva waterfront in association with a Visitor Center.

The Boating Museum has assembled a collection of more than 115 wooden boats built in the Finger Lakes over the past 100 years, as well as numerous related artifacts and extensive reference material. Portions of the collection will be displayed on a rotating basis within the new facility, but President Scalise emphasized that there will be a lot more to the museum than viewing boats because education, restoration and preservation are the key elements of the museum’s mission.

Also featured will be boat rides on Seneca Lake, active on-water programs including sailing and small boat handling, interactive workshops and displays to engage visitors in the design and construction of boats and boating history materials and programs.

The boating museum is a 501c3 not-for-profit corporation and was chartered by the New York State Department of Education in 1997 to “research, document, preserve and share the boating history of the Finger Lakes region.”

Photo: Construction of the Finger Lakes Boating Museum and Visitor Center will begin this fall on the north shore of Seneca Lake in Geneva.

Lake George’s Sunken Fleet of 1758 Event


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On Tuesday, June 5, 7 p.m. at Thurman town hall underwater archaeologist  Joseph W. Zarzynski will present a talk on Bateaux Below’s study of “The Sunken Fleet of 1758,” a notable event at Lake George during the French & Indian War (1755-1763).

In the autumn of 1758, the British sank over 260 warships in Lake George to protect the vessels over the winter of 1758-1759 from their enemy, the French and their Native American allies. Many of the sunken warships were recovered in 1759 and reused by the British.  However, over 40 sunken warships were never retrieved by the British forces in 1759 and they offer underwater archaeologists an excellent opportunity to study these shipwrecks to find out about the colonial soldiers that used them.

Zarzynski’s talk will give details on Bateaux Below’s 24-year-long study (1987-2011) of “The Sunken Fleet of 1758.”Zarzynski is co-founder of Bateaux Below, co-author (with Bob Benway) of the book Lake George Shipwrecks and Sunken History, and co-authored the documentary Search for the Jefferson Davis: Trader, Slaver, Raider.  The documentary, written with Dr. Samuel Turner, was a 2012 Peabody Awards nominee, and an “Official Selection” in the Orlando Film Festival (2011),  Amelia Island Film Festival (2012), and the Buffalo Niagara Film Festival (2012). The documentary was named one of three finalists for “Best Documentary” in the 6th Buffalo Niagara Film Festival.

Zarzynski’s June 5th program, hosted by the John Thurman Historical Society, is free and open to the public, and refreshments will be served. Thurman town hall is located at 311 Athol Road, Athol, NY, about 6 miles from the Warrensburg Health Center via route 418 and Athol Road. For more information, call 518-623-9305.

Photo: Joseph W. Zarzynski holds a model of the type of 18th century radeau that plied the waters of Lake George during the French and Indian War (Photo courtesy Peter Pepe).

War of 1812 Naval Bases at Sackets Harbor and Kingston


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The Annual Meeting of the Sackets Harbor Battlefield Alliance, Sackets Harbor Historical Society, and the Sackets Harbor Area Cultural Preservation Foundation will feature a talk by John R. Grodzinski entitled “A Tale of Two Dockyards: The Naval Bases at Sackets Harbor and Kingston in the War of 1812.”

The War of 1812 witnessed the unprecedented employment of naval power on Lake Ontario. From their humble pre-war beginnings, the dockyards at Sackets Harbor and Kingston grew in scale and by the end of the conflict, were producing ships of a scale intended more for the open ocean than inland seas. This presentation will examine the naval commitment made by Great Britain and the United States on Lake Ontario during the War of 1812 and the legacy of those efforts.

This free event will be held on Tuesday, May 29th, 2012 at the Sackets Harbor Battlefield State Historic Site’s Barn on Hill Street, off Washington Street in Sackets Harbor. The annual meeting begins at 6 pm; the program at 7 pm. Light refreshments will be served.

John R. Grodzinski teaches military history at the Royal Military College of Canada at Kingston, Ontario. He is author of  Sir George Prevost: Defender of Canada in the War of 1812 (forthcoming, University of Oklahoma Press) and several articles examining various topics related to the War of 1812. Grodzinski is also the editor of the on-line War of 1812 Magazine and conducts staff rides and battlefield tours that consider the Seven Years’ War, the American War of Independence, the War of 1812 and the development of fortifications in Canada from 1608 to 1871.

Illustration: The Kingston (now Ontario) naval yard at Point Fredrick in 1815 by E. E. Vidal (watercolor)  now hanging in the Massey Library at the Royal Military College of Canada.

Ulster County Architecture Focus of May 14th Event


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Monday, May 14th the Gardiner Historical Society will host their annual meeting with the Historical Society of Shawangunk and Gardiner at 7 pm at the Gardiner Town Hall. The event is open to the public and is free of charge, refreshments will be served.

Author William B. Rhoads will share his book Ulster County, New York, The Architectural History & Guide, A Historical guide to 325 sites in all 20 Ulster County townships and the city of Kingston. The sites explored in the book show the variety and changing architectural styles that have appeared over nearly 300 years in the Hudson River Valley and Catskill Mountains, from 17th century Dutch limestone houses of the colonial era, through the Federal and Victorian periods, up to the Modernist architecture of the mid-1950’s.


The architecture reflects the history, tracing the evolution of one of the first regions in today’s New York State to be settled by Europeans. Dutch and French Huguenot villages and homesteads of the 1600s form the core of today’s Kingston, New Paltz, and Hurley, surrounded by the structures built by their descendants and later immigrants – the English, Irish, Italians and scores of other ethnic and national groups – as Ulster county rose from the American Revolution and became an important commercial center, with bustling ports on the Hudson River, the booming 19th century “Empire State’s” first superhighway. Everywhere one looks in Ulster County there are vestiges of the past – abandoned cement mines, locks of the old D&H Canal, idle railroad depots, the ghostly shell of a grand old hotel that never opened to the public. And there is the “living history” as well, the structures built by previous generations that are still vital today, like the Mohonk Mountain House and the hundreds of other historic buildings representing nearly every American architectural style from 1660 to 1950 that remain private homes, libraries, schools, houses of worship or have been converted into museums.

William B. Rhoads is a professor emeritus of art history at SUNY New Paltz, where he taught from 1970 to 2005. His publications include studies of Colonial Revival architecture and Franklin Roosevelt’s sponsorship of architecture and art. Rhoads’s Kingston, New York: The Architectural History & Guide was published by Black Dome Press in 2003.

Plattsburgh’s Brush with the Titanic


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In the past 200 years, a few ships have borne the name Plattsburg. In the War of 1812, there was the unfinished vessel at Sackets Harbor, a project abandoned when the war ended. There was the rechristened troop transport that hauled thousands of troops home from the battlefields of World War I. There was the oil tanker that saw service in the Pacific theater during World War II. And there was the cruise boat that plied the waters of Lake Champlain in 2003–4. One of them played a role in the most famous maritime disaster of all time.

The unfinished ship at Sacket’s Harbor had been designated the USS Plattsburg. The oil tanker was the Plattsburg Socony, which survived a horrific fire in 1944. Thirty-three years later, after two more renamings, it split in two beneath 30-foot waves and sank off Gloucester. The cruise ship was the short-lived Spirit of Plattsburgh. But it is the USS Plattsburg from the First World War that holds a remarkable place among the best “what if” stories ever.

In early April 1917, just three days after the United States entered World War I, a merchant marine ship, the New York, struck a German mine near Liverpool, England. The damage required extensive repairs. A year later, the ship was chartered by the US Navy, converted into a troop transport, and newly christened the USS Plattsburg.

By the time the armistice was signed, ending the war in November 1918, the Plattsburg had made four trips to Europe within six months, carrying nearly 9,000 troops of the AEF (American Expeditionary Forces) to battle.

The transport assignment continued, and in the next nine months, the Plattsburg made seven additional trips, bringing more than 24,000 American troops home. A few months later, the ship was returned to her owners, reassuming the name SS New York. After performing commercial work for a few years, the ship was scrapped in 1923.

When the end came, the New York had been in service for 35 years. At its launch in 1888 in Glasgow, Scotland, it was named S.S. City of New York. The SS indicated it was a “screw steamer,” a steamship propelled by rotating screw propellers (City of New York was one of the first to feature twin screws). After service under the British merchant flag, the ship was placed under the US registry as the New York, where it served in like manner for five more years.

In 1898, the US Navy chartered the New York, renaming it Harvard for service during the Spanish-American War. It served as a transport in the Caribbean, and once plucked more than 600 Spanish sailors from ships that were destroyed off Santiago, Cuba. When the war ended, the Harvard transported US troops back to the mainland, after which it was decommissioned and returned to her owners as the New York.

A few years later, the ship was rebuilt, and from 1903–1917, it was used for routine commercial activities around the world. In April 1912, the New York was at the crowded inland port of Southampton, England. It wasn’t the largest ship docked there, but at 585 feet long and 63 feet wide, it was substantial.

Towering above it at noon on the 10th of April was the Titanic. At 883 feet long, it was the largest man-made vessel ever built. This was launch day for the great ship, and thousands were on hand to observe history. The show nearly ended before it started.

No one could predict what would happen. After all, nobody on earth was familiar with operating a vessel of that size. Just ahead lay the Oceanic and the New York, and as the Titanic slowly passed them, an unexpected reaction occurred.

The Titanic’s more than 50,000-ton displacement of water caused a suction effect, and the New York, solidly moored, resisted. It rose on the Titanic’s wave, and as it dropped suddenly, the heavy mooring ropes began to snap, one by one, with a sound likened to gunshots. The New York was adrift, inexorably drawn towards the Titanic. A collision seemed inevitable.

Huge ships passing within 50 to 100 feet of each other might be considered a close call. In this case, desperate maneuvers by bridge personnel and tug operators saved the day (unfortunately). The gap between the two ships closed to only a few feet (some said it was two feet, and others said four). Had they collided, the Titanic’s maiden voyage would have been postponed.

No one can say for sure what else might have happened, but a launch delay would have prevented the calamity that occurred a few days later, when the Titanic struck an iceberg and sank within hours, claiming more than 1500 lives.

Photos: USS Plattsburg at Brest France 1918; L to R: The Oceanic, New York, and Titanic in Southampton harbor; the tug Vulcan struggles with the New York to avoid a collision; the New York (right) is drawn ever closer to the Titanic.

Lawrence Gooley has authored ten books and dozens of articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 20 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.

Poughkeepsie’s Soldiers and Sailors Monument


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One of our contentions at the Hudson River Valley Institute has always been that you can go anywhere by starting exactly where you are. The closest I ever came to losing this argument was at a Teaching American History conference with a gentleman from New Mexico. “It’s easy for you – the Hudson Valley has nearly 400 years of colonial history and documented prehistory before that,” he said “all we have are aliens (Roswell) and those German POW scientists from WWII.” (He had just finished a presentation about the latter). But he went on to explain that even in that state’s most isolated towns, there was at least one war memorial with the names of local soldiers who served their country, and when they shipped out, they charted a course around the nation and the world leaving a path for students today to trace through history. Continue reading

Canal Life: Near Tragedy on the George W. Lee


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In November 1886, Captain John Frawley of the canal boat George W. Lee reached the eastern terminus of the Mohawk River at Cohoes. Before him was the Hudson River intersection: south led to Albany and New York City, and north was the path of the Champlain Canal, which ran from Waterford to Whitehall, at Lake Champlain’s southern tip. Access to the Champlain Canal was on the north bank at the Mohawk’s mouth, opposite Peeble’s Island.

At the mouth of the river was a dam, maintaining calm water so the boats could cross the river, and about 500 feet upstream from the dam was a bridge. Canal boats were pulled by tow ropes linked to teams of mules or horses. To cross from the south bank of the Mohawk to the north, towing teams used the bridge, which is what Frawley did.

Sounds simple, and usually, it was. But the Mohawk was badly swollen from several days of rain. Traveling at night, Frawley was perhaps unaware that the normally strong current had intensified. Water was fairly leaping over the nine-foot-high dam.

Accompanying the captain were his mother, around 60 years old; his ten-year-old son; and the boat’s steersman, Dennis Clancy. To help ensure that things went okay, Frawley left the boat to assist the team driver during the crossing of the 700-foot-long bridge. They moved slowly—the rope extended sideways from the bridge downstream towards the boat, an angle much more difficult than pulling a load forward along the canal.

Below them, the George W. Lee lay heavy in the current, straining against the rope. All went well until the bridge’s midpoint was reached, when, with a sound like a gunshot, the rope snapped. Horrified, they watched as the boat swung around, slammed sideways into the dam, and plunged over the edge. Nothing was left but darkness.

Shock and grief enveloped them at such a sudden, terrible loss. Within minutes, though, a light appeared on the boat’s deck. It had held together! At least one person had survived, but no one knew how many, or if any were injured. The roar of the river drowned out any attempt at yelling back and forth. With the boat aground, there was nothing to do but sit and wait until morning.

With daylight came great news. All were okay! But, as had happened the previous evening, great elation was followed by great uncertainty. How could they be saved? The river remained high and dangerous. The boat, resting on the rocks below the dam, could not be reached. And the November chill, heightened by cold water pouring over the dam all around them, threatened the stranded passengers with hypothermia.

A rescue plan was devised, and by late afternoon, the effort began. The state scow (a large, flat-bottomed boat), manned by a volunteer crew of seven brave men, set out on a dangerous mission. Connected to the bridge by a winch system using two ropes, the scow was slowly guided to the dam, just above the stranded boat.

The men began talking with the passengers to discuss their evacuation. Then, without warning, disaster struck. Something within the winch mechanism failed, and again, with a loud cracking sound, the rope snapped. Over the dam went the scow, fortunately missing the canal boat. Had they hit, the results would have been catastrophic.

Briefly submerged, the scow burst to the surface. A safe passage lay ahead, but the drifting scow was instead driven towards nearby Buttermilk Falls by the swift current. Two men leaped overboard and swam for shore in the icy water. The rest decided to ride it out.

In one reporter’s words, “The scow sped like an arrow toward Buttermilk Falls. It seemed to hang an instant at the brink, and then shot over the falls. It landed right side up and soon drifted ashore.” Incredibly, everyone survived intact. Chilled, wet, and shaken, but intact.

Meanwhile, still stuck at the base of the dam was a canal boat with cold, hungry, and frightened passengers. A new plan was needed, but darkness was descending. The stranded victims would have to spend another night on the rocks.

On the following day, Plan B was tried. According to reports, “A stout rope was stretched from the Waterford bridge, over the dam, to a small row boat at Peeble’s Island [a distance of about 1800 feet.] Two men stood on the bridge and pulled the skiff upstream until it came alongside the canal boat Lee. The party embarked and the boat was allowed to drift back to the island.”

What an amazing, fortuitous outcome. Two boats (one at night) over a dam; three people trapped for more than 36 hours in a raging river; two men swimming for their lives in icy water; and five men and a boat over a waterfall. All that potential for tragedy, and yet all survived unscathed.

Photos: The dam at Cohoes, looking west from Peeble’s Island; A canal boat scene at Cohoes.

Lawrence Gooley has authored ten books and dozens of articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 19 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.

A New Titanic Book for Young Readers


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In her new book for young adults, Titanic: Voices from the Disaster (Scholastic Press, 2012), Deborah Hopkinson, noted author of historical fiction and nonfiction for young readers, resurfaces a hundred-year-old tragedy through the stories and voices of those who survived the sinking of the RMS Titanic in April 1912.

Voices from the Disaster includes letters and narrative accounts from Titanic’s passengers to prompt readers to think of those whose journey ended along with what Hopkinson calls “a masterpiece of human engineering:”

. In a letter to their parents, Harvey, Lot, and Madge wrote, “Well dears so far we are having a delightful trip the weather is beautiful and the ship magnificent. Lots of love and don’t worry about us. Ever your loving children.”

. “You have to try to imagine it – the last moment I saw my dear sister stand there with little Thelma tightly in her arms.” Ernst Persson, third class passenger.

. “I almost thought, as I saw her sink beneath the water, that I could see Jacques, standing where I had left him and waving at me.” May Futrelle, first class passenger remembering her husband

“This book is an introduction to the disaster and to just a few of the people who survived,” says Hopkinson, “I hope their stories and voices remind you, as they do me, that our lives are fragile and precious. And I hope they make you wonder, as I do, what it would have been like to be on the Titanic that night so long ago.”

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