Tag Archives: Rensselaer County

Halloween History: New York’s Anti-Mask Law

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murray249The approach of Halloween together with recent news that the last scheduled criminal case stemming from the arrests of hundreds of Occupy Wall Street protestors had been dismissed, has swung the spotlight of history back on New York’s anti-mask law.

It was one of the first tools used by New York City police to break up the Occupy Wall Street protest when it began in September, two years ago. Within days of donning Guy Fawkes masks, demonstrators were charged by police for violating the anti-mask law, section 240.35(4) of the New York Penal Law. Its origins go back to a statute passed in 1845 to suppress armed uprisings by tenant farmers in the Hudson Valley who were using disguises to attack law enforcement officers. Continue reading

New Board Members at Rensselaer County Historical Society

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image001(3)The Rensselaer County Historical Society (RCHS) announces the appointment of Douglas Bucher, Phyllis Conroy, Christina Kelly and Robert Matthews to the Board of Trustees. They were elected to their terms at the 86th Annual Meeting held on September 9, 2013.

The Rensselaer County Historical Society and Museum, located at 57 Second Street in Troy, is a not-for-profit educational organization established in 1927 to connect local history and heritage with contemporary life. Continue reading

The Troy Draft Riot and Father Peter Havermans

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havermanWhen what has been described as “the second most destructive draft riot in the nation” broke out in Troy on July 15, 1863, worried city residents, especially African-Americans, wondered if the Dean of the Roman Catholic churches in Troy, Father Peter Havermans, would, or could, do anything to calm the rioters and curb anticipated violence.

The bulk of the two to three thousand angry protestors in the streets were Catholics who worked in the city’s mills, factories and iron works. Continue reading

Hidden History: Knickerbocker Mansion, Crailo Events

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The Rensselaer County Historical Society (RCHS) announces their September and October Hidden History programs. Which will focus on the Knickerbocker Mansion, Schaghticoke, NY (on Tuesday, Sept 5) and Crailo, the Museum of the Colonial Dutch, in Rensselaer, NY (Tuesday, October 30).

The Rensselaer County Historical Society and Museum is a dynamic not-for-profit educational organization established in 1927 to connect local history and heritage with contemporary life. We strive to enrich the present and advocate for the future by bringing the region’s past to life, recognizing every face and every story.  RCHS is located at 57 Second Street, in Troy.

Reservations can be made by calling 518-272-7232 x12 or email ilenefrank@rchsonline.org

Knickerbocker Mansion, Schaghticoke, NY
Tuesday, September 25, 2012
$15 per person, $12 for RCHS members
The Knickerbocker Mansion located in Schaghticoke was built by Johannes Knickerbaacker III around 1780. The house was lived in by generations of the Knickerbocker family but fell into disrepair in the 20th century. A dedicated group of volunteers began restoration and after decades of work the building has been almost completely restored. Join Rensselaer County Historian, Kathryn Sheehan, on this special tour of one of Rensselaer County’s oldest buildings.

Crailo, Museum of the Colonial Dutch, Rensselaer, NY
Tuesday, October 30, 2012
$15 per person, $12 for RCHS members
Rensselaer County Historian, Kathryn Sheehan, will lead our visit to Crailo, a State Historic, which tells the story of the early Dutch inhabitants of the upper Hudson Valley through exhibits highlighting archeological finds from the Albany Fort Orange excavation and guided tours of the museum. Originally part of the vast landholding called the Manor or Patroonship of Rensselaerswyck, the Crailo farm was named after the Van Rensselaer’s estate in the Netherlands, variously spelled Crayloo or Cralo in the 17th century, and meaning “crows’ wood” in Dutch. Tour includes viewing the award winning short-film, Keeping Order: A Fort Orange Court Record.

Rensselaer County Historical Society History Walks

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The Rensselaer County Historical Society (RCHS) offers walking tours of historic downtown Troy on Saturday mornings this September and October. Tours depart from and return to the Market Table at the Troy Farmer’s Market at 10:30 am. Each week brings a different theme for the tours, which are led by RCHS staff and frequently incorporate historic photographs and readings from letters and diaries.

September’s History Walks are part of the Hudson River Ramble. The Hudson River Valley Ramble celebrates the trails, the river and the historic and cultural resources of the Hudson River Valley Greenway and National Heritage Area. For more information about the Ramble visit www.hudsonrivervalleyramble.com
Cost: $5 per person/ RCHS members free. Reservations can be made by calling 518-272-7232 x12 or email ilenefrank@rchsonline.org . For more information, visit www.rchsonline.org

Saturday, September 8 Green Island Bridge
Discover this historic Hudson River crossing point and the various bridges that have been built at this site.

Saturday, September 15 Uncle Sam’s Life in Troy
This tour takes you to sites associated with Samuel Wilson, the “real” Uncle Sam. You’ll also visit the RCHS museum, which includes artifacts from Samuel Wilson’s life and images of our national symbol.

Saturday, September 22 Amazing Architecture
Stroll the streets of downtown Troy and find a rich built environment. Tour showcases Troy’s architectural gems as you explore the range of styles found in Troy.

Saturday, September 29 The Marquis de Lafayette Visits Troy
For much of 1824 & 1825, Lafayette, the hero of the American Revolution, made a triumphal visit to the US, including visiting Troy twice. Follow in his footsteps as he was shown the bustling city that Troy had become.

Saturday, October 2 Underground Railroad
Troy was a hotbed of abolitionism. Walk to where history was made including the site of the rescue of Charles Nalle.

Saturday, October 13 Amazing Architecture
Stroll downtown Troy and you’ll find a rich built environment. This tour showcases Troy’s architectural gems and range of styles.

Saturday October 20 Monumental Troy
Join us as we look at the many monuments that remind us of wartime sacrifice, famous events and the people who left their mark on Troy.

Saturday, October 27 Murder and Mayhem
Who knows what ghosts might haunt the streets of Troy? You will, after taking part in this walk through the more colorful stories of Troy’s past

RCHS is located at 57 Second Street, Troy NY 12180.

Daughter of Troy: Lily, Duchess of Marlborough

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When Sally Svenson, an summer resident of Lake Luzerne and occasional contributor to Adirondack Life magazine, was writing Adirondack Churches: A History of Design and Building (2006, North Country Books) , she stumbled upon the life of Eliza Warren Price, known as Lily, Duchess of Marlborough.

Lily, who was born in Troy, NY in 1854, was reported in an old history to have provided the funds for a chapel at st. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Lake Luzerne. That turned out to be a questionable assertion, but Svenson found Lily’s obituary in the New York Times and was hooked on her incredible life story which is told in Lily, Duchess of Marlborough (1854-1909): A Portrait with Husbands (2011, Dog Ear Publishing). Continue reading

New Exhibit on the Great Fire of Troy

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On May 10, 1862, as the nation was consumed by the ravages of the Civil War, Troy NY faced a devastating fire. As a train crossed the Hudson River on the Troy-Green Island Bridge, a spark from the engine ignited the wooden bridge. The fire spread rapidly, ultimately destroying over 600 buildings in the heart of the city in only six hours. Newspaper accounts, personal letters and even artist renderings depict a city in chaos as people struggled to save their homes and businesses. The Rensselaer County Historical Society (RCHS) has opened a new exhibit commemorating the 150th anniversary of Troy’s Great Fire. The exhibit runs through August 18, 2012.

Stacy Pomeroy Draper, RCHS Curator, said, “The Great Fire is one of Troy’s most significant events as it dynamically altered the look of the city. As many local towns learned after the hurricane and tropical storms of last year, natural disaster can dramatically change a location in the blink of an eye. The story of Troy’s rise after the fire is one that can inspire us today to rebuild after a tragedy.”

Advances in fire fighting technology, such as the use of steam-powered fire engines were applauded for their role in saving the city, and citizens joined together to re-emerge from the catastrophe. Well known architects designed new buildings in the latest styles and new building codes were introduced mandating the use of fire resistant building materials.

The exhibit focuses on four main themes; Troy in the 1860s, Mid-19th Century fire fighting techniques, the event itself known as The Great Fire of May 10, 1862 and the aftermath, including personal impacts, changes to city code and fire safety. A number of early photographic images, several recently discovered, show the city just before the fire and document the devastation.

Artifacts on display include firefighting equipment such as fire buckets, a rare fireman’s jacket and helmets. Accounts of the event from local newspapers and eyewitness descriptions found in personal letters, several of which came to light as research was undertaken, tell the story firsthand. A number of fire related artifacts from public institutions and private lenders will also be on display for the first time, including a toy steam fire engine from the FASNY Museum of Firefighting in Hudson, New York.

Programming during the exhibit will include a trip to see the extensive fire collections at the FASNY Museum of Firefighting. RCHS will lead a walking tour of the district impacted by the fire on Saturday, May 12 at 10:30am. The tour departs from the Market Table at the Troy Waterfront Farmers’ Market. Tour is $5 per person, free for RCHS members.

Stacy Pomeroy Draper, RCHS curator, is available to give illustrated lectures about the fire.

The exhibit is sponsored in part by B-Lann Equipment Co., John G Waite Associates and the Troy Uniformed Firefighters Association.

Illustration: Grandma Moses, “The Burning of Troy in 1862” (1943)

Underground Railroad Conference This Weekend

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The 11th Anniversary Conference on the Underground Railroad Movement, sponsored by the Underground Railroad History Project of the Capital Region Conference, will be held at Russell Sage College in Troy, April 13-15th. This year’s conference, “The Underground Railroad Turned On Its Head – Old Themes, New Directions,” focuses on new research on the Underground Railroad, slavery, abolition and the 19th century. Old assumptions such as “There is little documentation of the Underground Railroad”, “The UGRR was a string of safe houses to Canada” and numerous other ideas are challenged by new research and interpretations.

The conference will feature:

Friday, April 13, 2012

An Educators’ Workshop

Opening Address – Manisha Sinha, PhD
“Fleeing for Freedom: Fugitive Slaves and the Making of American Abolitionism”

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Keynote Address – Barbara McCaskill, PhD
“A Thousand Miles for Freedom: A New Take on the Old Story of William and Ellen Craft, the Georgia Fugitives”

Artists in Residence – Miles Ahead Jazz Quartet

Spectres of Liberty
Experience history – step into the recreated Liberty Street Presbyterian Church of Henry Highland Garnet

Over 20 Workshops, plus Vendors & Displays

Sunday, April 15, 2012

A bus tour of UGR Sites in Rensselaer County by Kathryn Sheehan, Rensselaer County Historian.

The Underground Railroad History Project of the Capital Region researches, preserves, and retells New York’s regional history of the Underground Railroad, highlighting the role of African-American freedom seekers and local abolitionists.

More information can be found online.

Tour Troy’s Mt. Ida Cemetery, Poestenkill Gorge

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Rensselaer County Historian Kathryn Sheehan will lead a tour of Mt. Ida Cemetery, which features some of the oldest headstones in the city of Troy, and the Poestenkill Gorge, a favorite destination for picnickers, photographers, and nature enthusiasts for centuries.

The waters of the Poestenkill collect in Dyken Pond, then make a dash for the Hudson River below. The Mt. Ida falls drop roughly 85′ into a gorge of crumbly black shale, make a right angle turn, dropping a further 75′ into a massive pool. This source of water power fueled several industries along the Poestenkill’s banks in the 19th century.

Hidden History – Mt. Ida Cemetery and the Poestenkill Gorge will be held on Tuesday, March 27, 2012 at 4:30 pm. The cost is $15 per person and $12 for RCHS members.

The Rensselaer County Historical Society and Museum (RCHS) is a not-for-profit educational organization established in 1927 to connect local history and heritage with contemporary life. RCHS is located at 57 Second Street, Troy NY 12180.

Photo: Mills along the lower Poestenkill Gorge at the foot of Cypress Street including the Griswold Wire Works, Tompkins Brothers machine works, and above Manning Paper, which occupied earlier Marshall textile mill buildings. Courtesy Troy Public Library.

Barrage Balloons in the Adirondacks

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It’s the 1940s, and a world war is raging overseas. The fear of a homeland invasion is constant, and in communities across the nation, air wardens monitor the sky daily for enemy planes. The Adirondack Park seems like a safe haven, but just a few miles from its northwest corner, a military installation is suddenly called to action. A large aircraft has penetrated US air space, and ground damage is reported. Sheriff’s deputies, New York State police, military MPs, and foot troops spring into action.

It’s a great show of force, but it’s not enough. After several unsuccessful encounters with the vessel, reinforcements are needed. Corporal Boyd Montgomery of the 34th Armored Regiment is dispatched, speeding across the countryside in an army tank.

Power lines are downed by the aircraft, but Montgomery continues his pursuit. Two miles into the chase, he employs a bit of ingenuity to bring the craft down. It is soon nothing more than a flattened heap.

That’s how it happened in July 1943. It’s all true, but with a few details omitted. The craft that was spotted actually was huge (75 feet long) and it did come from a foreign land (Kingston, Ontario, Canada). The damage was no less real―a dangling cable tore down power lines between Evans Mills and Philadelphia in Jefferson County. Lawmen from several agencies did pursue the craft, but three times it slipped from their grasp.

The military installation was Pine Camp, later expanded and renamed Fort Drum. And it was an Army tank that provided the solution, driving atop the 1800-foot-long cable after a two-mile chase, forcing the vessel to the ground until nothing was left but a flattened balloon.

That’s right … a balloon. But this wasn’t just any balloon. A staple of defense systems around the world, this was a Barrage Balloon. If you’ve never heard of them, you’ve probably seen them in photographs but didn’t realize what you were seeing at the time. Though they weren’t ever deployed in the Adirondacks, they did pay the area a few surprise visits during the war.

The primary use of Barrage Balloons was to prevent attacks by low-flying aircraft, and it was in WW II that they became ubiquitous. A heavy cable was used to tether the gas-filled balloons, and when hovering from a few hundred to 4,000 feet high, the effect was often deadly. Any dive-bombing aircraft had to avoid the cable tether, which could easily tear a wing off and cause the plane to crash. Besides negating low-level attacks, the balloons forced other planes to fly higher than intended on bombing runs, thus affecting their accuracy.

Many tethered balloons were flown simultaneously, and the result was multiplied when several additional cables were suspended from each balloon, providing a veritable curtain of protection from strafing aircraft. The Germans countered by equipping their planes with wing-mounted cable-cutting devices, and the British responded with explosive charges attached to many of the tethers, set to detonate on contact.

The balloons caught on in a big way in England and were often used effectively. During one of the two major German onslaughts on London during the war, 278 Flying Bombs were intercepted by the balloons, surely saving many lives.

In summer 1941, British officers warned America that Nazi planes could fly at 20,000 feet and reach the US mainland within 12 hours, with no defense system to greet them. Months before the United States entered WW II, the Navy established two Barrage Balloon squadrons with more than 150 balloons.

Intended to protect American fleet bases from air attacks, the balloon strategy was very popular for another reason: cost. Building a large coastal hangar for planes involved an expenditure of $600,000; a more secure underground facility carried a price tag of $3 million; but each barrage balloon cost only $9,500.

After the assault on Pearl Harbor, America employed an extensive balloon defense capability. Attacks were feared by the Germans on the East Coast and by the Japanese on the West Coast. San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles, and Seattle were among the cities protected in part by Barrage Balloons, along with Norfolk, Pensacola, and New York City in the east. Vital facilities in the Great Lakes were also shielded.

Many North Country men were assigned to Barrage Balloon outfits, and it was anything but a cushy job. Since troops as well as installations needed protection, balloon men were often among the first ashore, as was the case in several beach landings in Italy and North Africa. And on D-Day, Barrage Balloons dotted the sky above the invasion fleet.

Back home in America, balloons occasionally broke free and floated towards the North Country, causing a bit of excitement. Sometimes rogue balloons escaped capture for extended periods (the Fort Drum balloon was loose for more than a week).

In March 1943, a hulking Barrage Balloon 65 feet long and 30 feet in diameter toured the Central Adirondacks, damaging power lines before snagging in a balsam tree a few miles south of Indian Lake, where a crew of men managed to deflate it.

To raise public awareness of the war effort and relieve anxiety about the occasional balloon escapee, the military dispatched a road crew in an army jeep with a smaller, 35-foot balloon strapped to the roof. In summer 1944, they visited Troy, New York. The craft was inflated and floated at 300 feet for an entire day while the men fielded questions. It was the same model as those used to defend the city of London and the beaches of Normandy.

Towards the end of the war, German capabilities of long-range attacks drastically reduced the effectiveness of the balloons, and in 1945, Britain ended their Barrage Balloon program, which at one time had upwards of 3,000 in use. The same was done with the US system, which once featured more than 400 balloons at home besides those deployed overseas.

Photos―Top: Barrage Balloon on the cover of LIFE magazine. Middle Right: The training facility on Parris Island, South Carolina (1943). Middle Left: Barrage Balloons above the Normandy shore (1944). Bottom: German plane equipped with a cable-cutting device.

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.