Tag Archives: Transportation

The Champlain Memorial Lighthouse Centennial


By on

0 Comments

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

Archaeology Theme For Schoharie Crossing Canal Days


By on

0 Comments

Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site in Fort Hunter (Schoharie County) will be hosting the 28th annual Canal Days Celebration on Saturday, July 14 and on Sunday, July 15, 2012 from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm. Admission and parking are free.

Canal Days is dedicated to the historical significance of the Erie Canal and its impact on New York State. However, due to damaged caused by last fall’s Tropical Storm Irene and the unearthing of the remains of Fort Hunter for its 300th anniversary, there will be an archaeology theme and a focus on Schoharie Crossing’s earlier 18th century history as well as the 19th century canal history. Continue reading

Steuben County: Walking Seasonal Roads


By on

0 Comments

Seasonal roads are defined as one-lane dirt roads not maintained during the winter. They function as connectors linking farmers to their fields, neighbors to neighbors, or two more well-traveled roads to each other. Some access hunting lands and recreational areas. Some pass by or lead to cemeteries. They can be abandoned as people move and towns fade.

Having traveled nearly every seasonal road in Steuben County, NY, Mary A. Hood finds in Walking Seasonal Roads (2012, Syracuse University Press) that they provide the ideal vantage to contemplate the meaning of place, offering intimate contact with plant and wildlife and the beauty of a rural landscape. Each road reveals how our land is used, how our land is protected, and how environmental factors have had their impact. Continue reading

A Small Error Leads to Adirondack Rail Calamity


By on

0 Comments

On May 9, 1903, a seemingly minor error led to a terrible catastrophe near Old Forge in the southwestern Adirondacks. About seven miles south on Route 28 was Nelson Lake siding (a side rail, or pullover) on the Mohawk & Malone Railroad (an Adirondack branch of the New York Central). A little farther down the line from Nelson Lake was the village of McKeever.

That fateful day started like any other. From Malone, New York, about 90 miles northeast of Nelson Lake, train No. 650 (six cars) was heading south on its route that eventually led to Utica. At around 8:00 that morning and some 340 miles south of Malone, train No. 651 of the Adirondack & Montreal Express departed New York City. At 1:05 pm, it passed Utica, beginning the scenic run north towards the mountains.

The original plan called for the northbound 651 to pass through McKeever and pull off on the siding at Nelson Lake, allowing the southbound 650 to continue on its way. It was a routine maneuver. On this particular trip, the 651 northbound (normally a single train) was divided into two parts. The intent was to pull both parts aside simultaneously at Nelson Lake siding.

However, the 2nd unit heading north was traveling much slower than the nine cars of the 1st unit, prompting a change in plans. Because of the distance between the two units, it was ordered that the train from Malone (the 650) would meet the 1st section of 651 at Nelson Lake. Three miles down the line, it would meet the 2nd section at McKeever.

The actual written order said “2nd 651 at McKeever.” An official investigation later determined that the order was read to the engineman and then handed to him. But when later reviewing the note, his thumb had covered the “2nd” on the order. All he saw was “651 at McKeever.” As far as he knew, he would pass both parts of the 651 at the McKeever side rail.

When the southbound 650 train approached Nelson Lake, the engineer believed there was no reason to reduce speed. He passed the Nelson siding at between 50 and 60 miles per hour. Just 1,000 feet past the side rail, the 650 suddenly encountered Unit 1 of the northbound 651. It was traveling at about 10 to 15 miles per hour, slowing for the upcoming turn onto the side rail at Nelson Lake. It didn’t make it.

The 650’s whistle blew and the emergency brake was engaged, slowing the train slightly before the tremendous collision. A newspaper report described “a roaring crash, a rending of iron and wood, a cloud of dust and splinters, and the trains were a shattered mass. The locomotives reared and plunged into the ditch on either side of the track.”

The impact had the least effect on the last occupied car of each train, but even those passengers were thrown from their seats, suffering minor injuries. The two trains had a total of 16 cars, half of which were splintered and piled atop each other.

While all the cars were badly damaged, it was the front of both trains that suffered most. Several of the lead cars were completely destroyed. Others telescoped within each other, causing horrific injuries. Screams of pain drew help from those who were less impaired.

The two trains carried more than 200 passengers. Nearly everyone suffered some type of injury from flying bits of glass and metal. Some victims were pinned within the wreckage, and a few were thrown through windows. Thirty-seven (mostly from the 650) required hospitalization.

Three passengers suffered critical injuries, including at least one amputation. There were dozens of broken bones and dangerous cuts. When some of the damaged cars ignited, passengers and railroad employees joined forces to extinguish the flames. Others performed rescue missions, removing victims and lining them up side-by-side near the tracks for treatment.

Three men were killed in the accident. Frank Foulkes, conductor of the northbound train (651), was later found in a standing position, crushed to death by the baggage that surged forward from the suddenness of the impact. John Glen, Union News Company agent on the southbound train (650), was killed when he was caught between two cars. William Yordon, fireman on the 650, died in his engine, scalded to death by the steam, much like the hero of the song “Wreck of the Old 97.” Another report said that Yordon’s head was crushed.

A surgeon and a few doctors arrived from Old Forge, tending to the wounded. Trains were dispatched from Malone and Utica to haul the injured passengers both north and south. Another train set forth from Utica, carrying several more doctors to the scene.

The northbound 651 wasn’t only carrying human passengers that day. A theatrical company, performing A Texas Steer at various theaters and opera houses, was on board, including a variety of animals. Identified as the Bandit King Company, the troupe had a special horse car for animals belonging to the show.

When the collision forced the door open, a horse leaped out and ran off. Others weren’t so lucky. A passenger reported that the trained donkey, the pigs, and most of the other animals were killed. Amidst the chaos and their own losses, the men and women performers provided first aid for the injured until doctors arrived. They were later praised effusively for their efforts.

It took a 40-man crew four days to clear the wreckage from the massive pileup. The official report to the New York State Senate by the superintendent of the Grade Crossing Bureau in 1904 cited the placement of the engineman’s finger on the note as the probable cause of the accident.

Photos: Top―1912 map of the Nelson Lake area 7 miles southwest of Old Forge. The extra tracks at Nelson Lake indicate the siding. Bottom: Unfortunate thumb placement inadvertently led to tragedy.

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.

Plattsburgh’s Brush with the Titanic


By on

0 Comments

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.

Forest to Fields: Champlain Valley Agriculture History


By on

0 Comments

A short booklet, From Forest to Fields: A History of Agriculture in new York’s Champlain Valley published by Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) of Essex County and the Lake to Locks Passage Scenic Byway highlights the rich history of the Champlain Valley with a focus on the region’s farms and fields.

From Forests to Fields is authored by Anita Deming, who has more than 30 years experience as an agricultural extension agent with CCE, and Andrew Alberti, Program Manager for Lakes to Locks Passage since 2008 (where he focuses on 21st century technology applications and local and regional interpretation and planning) and a contributor here at New York History. Alberti is also editor for the Lakes to Locks Passage and National Geographic Geotourism website.

Chapters cover Native American agriculture, early explorers and settlements, the agricultural revolution, farming in the modern era and a short review of the architecture and use of farm buildings and a list of resources. The authors explain the impact of the 1807 Embargo Act, the influence of the opening of the Champlain Canal in 1823 on local farm trade, the grange movement, and changes in the local sheep and dairy industries, and more.

The booklet is 48 pages and profusely illustrated. You can request a copy by contacting Lakes to Locks Passage. There is a suggested $10 + S&H donation.

Handy Guide to Cycling the Erie Canal Updated


By on

0 Comments

The outstanding bicycling and sightseeing waiting for visitors along the legendary Erie Canal is highlighted in the newly revised edition of Cycling the Erie Canal: A guide to 400 miles of adventure and history along the Erie Canalway Trail. The book, which features new sections of trail and up-to-date listings of lodging, bike shops, and other services, is published by Parks & Trails New York (PTNY), the statewide non-profit parks and trails advocacy organization.

Cycling the Erie Canal is a resource for cyclists planning to bike the entire route as well as for riders looking to enjoy an afternoon on the trail. It is also useful for walkers, hikers, in-line skaters, boaters, and auto travelers who want to enjoy the trail and some of the historic and cultural sights along the route.

The 144-page guidebook includes 42 full-color maps and more than 100 color photos that detail the trail route, as well as the things to see and do along the way. In addition to parks, museums, historic sites, and visitor centers, the maps indicate lodging and bike shops. Services such as restaurants, convenience stores, ATMs, pharmacies, post offices, hardware stores, and parking areas are also shown.

Cycling the Erie Canal includes interpretive information about the history of the canal, plus tips on cycling, travel, and trip preparation. A spiral binding, and 5” by 9” size make the guide convenient to carry.

The Erie Canalway Trail route runs east-west between Buffalo and Albany and follows both active and historic sections of the Erie Canal.

The guidebook is the outgrowth of Parks & Trails New York’s many years of involvement with the Canalway Trail. PTNY runs an annual cross-state bicycle ride along the Erie Canal which draws 500 participants from across New York, the U.S. and the world.

“Over the years, more and more requests have come in from cyclists who want to ride the route on their own and are looking for a resource to show them what to see and do along the way, where to find a B&B, and how to locate a bike shop, pharmacy, or ATM. Cycling the Erie Canal provides this critical information,” says Robin Dropkin, Executive Director of Parks & Trails New York and co-author of the guidebook.

Cycling the Erie Canal retails for $23.95. Parks & Trails New York members enjoy a special discount price. It is available from Parks & Trails New York by visiting the Parks & Trails New York website at www.ptny.org or calling 518-434-1583. The guide is also available at bookstores, bike shops and museum and gift shops.

Note: Books noticed on this site have been provided by the publishers.

Amtrak and Fort Ticonderoga Partner in 2012


By on

2 Comments

For the first time, Fort Ticonderoga and America’s National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak) have partnered to connect people traveling between New York City and Montreal to one of the nation’s oldest and most significant historic sites, Fort Ticonderoga. Amtrak will offer one free companion rail fare with the purchase of one regular adult rail fare, on the state-supported Adirondack line to and from Fort Ticonderoga, New York, beginning April 1, 2012 through October 31, 2012.

“The partnership with Amtrak will enable Fort Ticonderoga to reach a broader destination market from New York City to Montreal,” according to Beth Hill, Fort Ticonderoga Executive Director. “Fort Ticonderoga is very fortunate to have an Amtrak stop on our property. Our epic story combined with the Fort’s immersive programs and beautiful landscape makes Fort Ticonderoga an exciting destination experience.”

Customers simply need to purchase tickets a minimum of 3 days in advance and enter discount code V430. The Northbound Adirondack operates daily between New York City and Montreal, departing New York Penn Station at 8:15 am arriving in Ticonderoga at 1:17 pm. The Southbound Adirondack departs Montreal at 9:30 am, arriving in Ticonderoga at 2:33 pm.

Fort Ticonderoga opens for the 103rd season on Friday, May 18 and will offer new programs, events, exhibits, gardens and a six-acre corn maze designed in the shape of the Fort. Fort Ticonderoga is open daily from May 18 through October 18, 2012 from 9:30 am until 5 pm.

Teresa Mitchell Posthumously Recognized Nationally


By on

0 Comments

On Saturday, March 17, at 10:30am, National Scenic Byway Foundation will name the late Teresa Mitchell as the first recipient of the National Scenic Byway Foundation’s first Lifetime Achievement Award. The presentation will be made in the third floor ballroom exhibit area of the Great Lakes Seaway Trail Discovery Center at 401 W. Main Street in Sackets Harbor, NY.

Deborah Divine, Co-Executive Director of the National Scenic Byway Foundation (NSBF), will visit Sackets Harbor from Salina, Kansas, to present the inaugural award to Teresa’s family: her husband Joel, daughter Marcy, and son Michael.

Future recipients of the award will receive the National Scenic Byway Foundation Teresa Mitchell Lifetime Achievement Award.

Teresa earned this honor with a lifetime of service to New York state’s tourism industry and promoting the concept of byways as an American touring tradition and as a vital economic engine for local, state and national economies.

As President and CEO of Seaway Trail, Teresa guided the Great Lakes Seaway Trail to become America’s leading model of byway development. She served from 2005-2010 as the inaugural Chairperson of the NSBF that she helped form in 2005 on behalf of all of America’s Byways nationwide.

In addition to Deborah Divine, speakers at the award ceremony will include Seaway Trail Foundation Chair Alexander “Pope” Vickers, a hospitality and tourism professor at Jefferson Community College, Watertown, NY; Seaway Trail, Inc. Chair John Hall of Cannon Design, Grand Island, NY; and Teresa’s longtime colleague Greg Marshall, Senior Vice-President of VisitRochester, Rochester, NY.

The presentation is part of the Great Lakes Seaway Trail War of 1812 Bicentennial Quilt Show, developed by Teresa Mitchell as a cultural heritage tourism event promoting travel the length of the 518-mile National Scenic Byway in NY and PA. A collection of Teresa’s own quilts will provide a speakers’ backdrop.

The annual event has expanded this year to include three early 19th-century historic venues in the village of Sackets Harbor and costumed living history interpreters. Along with 1812 period-correct quilts from 18 U.S. states and across Canada, there will be a vintage reproduction sewing implement exhibit, demonstrations and vendors. The event is co-sponsored by Orleans County Tourism and the Country Barn Quilt Trail loop off the Seaway Trail starting at Kendall, NY. Learn more about the Great Lakes Seaway Trail at www.seawaytrail.com.

Irish American Museum Presents Erie Canal Exhibit


By on

1 Comment

The Irish American Heritage Museum presents its newest exhibit “The Irish and the Erie Canal” at its new galleries at 370 Broadway in Albany. The new exhibit, wholly developed by its staff and volunteers, is open to the public from Wednesdays through Fridays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and on Saturdays and Sundays from 12 noon to 4 p.m.

“In keeping with our mission of education, ‘The Irish and the Erie Canal’ reveals the historical contributions of the Irish to the planning, designing, engineering, funding and construction of the famed achievement that transformed early America, and in particular New York City, into a world economic power, linking the Great Lakes and the interior of the young nation to the Atlantic Ocean,” stated Ed Collins, Chair of the Museum’s Board Of Trustees.

“Our exhibit expands the common perception that the Irish were limited to only the actual construction of the canal,” Mr. Collins further stated. “The Irish were involved from start to finish, from originally proposing the concept a hundred years before a shovel was even put into the ground, to the routing, to its design, to securing support from elected officials, to the elected officials themselves, to its construction and finally to its navigation and transportation services once it opened.”

“The Irish and the Erie Canal” was researched, written and composed by James Zibro, a Cohoes, NY, resident of Irish descent who is completing his PhD at Catholic University in Washington D.C. after earning Masters degrees in both American History and Irish Studies at the same university and a dual Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degree at Union College, Schenectady, NY. Museum Director Krisy O’Connor produced the exhibit and Museum volunteer Adele O’Connell served as the exhibit’s editor.

The suggested donations for admission are: $3 adults, $2 seniors and free for children 14 years of age and younger. Museum Memberships are also available upon entry. Donations and memberships help fund the Museum’s educational programs.

The Museum is unique in the United States, where almost 40 million people claim Irish ancestry. The Museum is committed to the tenet that preserving one’s heritage is vital to providing a cultural and historical foundation to future generations of Americans.

The Irish American Heritage Museum was created by New York State Legislation in 1986 and permanently chartered by the New York State Education Department in 1992 as a 501c3 non-profit educational institution. The Museum’s mission is to preserve and tell the story of the contributions of the Irish people and their culture in America, inspiring individuals to examine the importance of their own heritage as part of the American cultural mosaic.

Governor Plans New Roadside Signage Project


By on

5 Comments

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced the launched of a “Path Through History” initiative designed to highlight New York State’s history and bolster tourism and economic development. The initiative is hoped to raise the profile of the state’s network of museums, historic sites, and other cultural institutions.

“The first step in the initiative will be to establish uniform road signs in different locations across the state that promote local historic sites from New York’s history,” a press statement said.


In addition to the new sign system on the Thruway, the initiative includes:

· Installation of new “Path to History” information kiosks at Thruway rest stops

· Customized “Path to History” tours on such topics including Industry and Technology; Women’s Rights and Civil Rights, New York and Independence; Civil War, and Scenic Wonders.

· Improved signs on local roads to encourage visitors to visit local historic and tourism sites

· A web-based interface that allows Thruway travelers to learn more about key historic sites in the Thruway corridor and to follow “Path to History” routes

“This initiative will use New York’s rich history to encourage tourism, local economic development and serve as an educational tool for all New Yorkers,” the Governor said in a prepared statement. “The exhibits that we have set up in the Capitol have turned the building into a tribute to New York and now it is time to expand that to include the wealth of history that our state has to offer.”

“The initiative will foster cooperation and coordination among institutions and regions and focus on the entire state, highlighting that critical events, historic buildings, and important movements have added significance when they are interpreted within the entire state and nation’s history as a whole,” the state asserted, adding that “the initiative is designed to drive heritage tourism in New York, boosting local economies across the state, and supporting the state’s many communities with historic sites and cultural exhibits.”

The Governor also announced the creation of a Historic Corridor Task Force to advise the Thruway and the state on the creation of the initiative. The Task force will be co-chaired by Mark Schaming, Director of the State Museum and Vice President of the Metropolitan Museum of Art Harold Holzer and include Robert Harris of Cornell University, Kenneth T. Jackson, Professor in History and the Social Sciences at Columbia University, and Lisa Keller, Professor of History, Urban and Women Studies at SUNY Purchase.

Thruway Chairman Howard P. Milstein said in the statement to the press that “Governor Cuomo’s historic sign initiative will greatly assist in fostering increased economic development and tourism in the Thruway and Canal Corridor. I’ve instructed our staff to consider several additional specific ways to be innovative and energetic in making all we can of opportunities to enrich our customer’s experience, and increase traveler’s awareness of New York’s many historical and recreational assets.”

Harold Holzer, Senior Vice President of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, said, “It was not, after all, an accident that New York became, as George Washington had predicted, the ‘Empire State,’ or that the tiny settlement in lower Manhattan became the ‘Empire City’ and the capital of the world. No other place – not Massachusetts, not Virginia, and not Pennsylvania – even comes close to the Empire State when all things are considered. New York State was the leading contributor of men, manpower, and funds to save the Union and end slavery during the Civil War. With the Governor’s leadership, sustained effort, determination, and hard facts, we can convince our fellow citizens that today’s America took shape in yesterday’s
New York.”

Mark Schaming, Director of the State Museum, said, “When Americans think of history they do not think of New York. And when they think of New York they do not think of history. New York is known to most Americans as a destination not to study the past but to experience the present, whether the bright lights of Broadway, the racetrack at Saratoga, or a river cruise
up the Hudson. The Governor’s Historic Tourism Initiative is designed to change this perception of New York among both residents and visitors to show that events in New York have dominated and defined the larger American experience.”

The Historic New York Initiative follows the recent renovation of the New York State Capitol, which includes hundreds of newly installed displays relating to New York State’s social, technological, and political history. The Hall of Governors now includes identifications of each past Chief Executive, together with the dates of their service. A timeline of state history has been etched on the walls of the Second Floor, where the
Governor’s office is located.

Photo: The historic marker at the edge of the Forest Preserve near Ticonderoga, installed in 1935.

Canal Life: Near Tragedy on the George W. Lee


By on

0 Comments

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.

Lawrence Gooley: History and Rising Gas Prices


By on

0 Comments

On a gas pump near Plattsburgh a few days ago, the price for Regular Grade was just under $4.00 per gallon. As a follow-up, check this out: “The American Petroleum Institute’s weekly report says that despite a sharp increase in crude oil output … there have been extensive gasoline price advances.” And, regarding local prices, “… there has been a long agitation against what northern New York motorists have considered discrimination against the North Country.

“The committee appointed last Tuesday by the New York Development Association will investigate the reason for the difference in the price of gasoline in northern New York as compared with prices charged in Utica and Syracuse.” Here’s why you shouldn’t be encouraged by those quotes: though they sound current, they’re taken from the 1920s.

History can be fun, entertaining, and educational, but it can also provide guidelines to the future. And that’s where society tends to fail so often, a fault alluded to in the old proverb suggesting that those forgetting the past are doomed to repeat it. This price-of-gas situation has happened often in the past, and here we go again. Same problems, same rhetoric, same lack of results.

Average Americans have been sold the big lie over and over, and we keep coming back for more. If you recall: the fuel crises from now back through the 1980s; gas rationing in the 1970s (remember odd-and-even days, long lines at the pumps, and limited purchases?); and other similar periods, then tell me if this sounds familiar: “FTC hearings will be held on the unexplained rising price of gasoline, in compliance with a senate resolution.”

That quote is from 1916, and the price increase wasn’t “unexplained.” It was gouging by the oil companies during World War I. It was okay to screw the public, but not the feds. Within a year of when the US finally joined the war, Federal Fuel Administrator H. A. Garfield announced he was studying plans “to fix the price of gasoline for domestic customers, as well as for the government and Allies, at a lower figure than the present market price.”

In the years immediately following the war, gas prices doubled, and for good reason: the sales of cars skyrocket in the 1920s, and what better way for oil companies to take advantage than raise the price of fuel for those millions of new vehicles?

Of course, the same arguments you hear today were applied then: it’s not greed, it’s capitalism, and thus the market’s natural response to supply and demand forces. Greater demand supposedly drove prices higher, and the poor oil companies were “forced” to reap historic profits. Why, oh why, does that sound so familiar?

It continues nearly a century later … just look at Exxon and Chevron’s recent quarterly statements. Fighting back against these behemoths hasn’t been successful. The rising prices of the early 1920s prompted another federal investigation led by Senator LaFollette, who said, “Unless there is government intervention, the price of gasoline will be pushed beyond the reach of the ordinary automobile owner.” Again, of course, the findings were ignored.

There may be a good reason why nothing concrete resulted from all of the investigations. In 1919, Oregon became the first state to institute a gasoline tax intended to provide funding for the repair and maintenance of roadways. It looked like a great system, and the idea spread across the country. Governments soon corrupted the process, simply taxing gasoline as a revenue source.

It’s almost impossible to believe, but New York was one of the last two states to follow suit. (Here’s one thing to be proud of, though—New York has managed to regroup and pass every state in the tax category). In 1929, Governor Franklin Roosevelt signed a large farm-aid legislative package that included the Hewitt-Pratt bill, a clause that led him to threaten a veto.

Hewitt-Pratt contained this order: “Moneys paid into the state treasury pursuant to this subdivision [the gas tax] shall be appropriated and used for the maintenance and repair of the improved roads of the state, under the direction of the superintendent of public works.”

Well, sort of. The state imposed a two-cent gas tax, returning a percentage of the take to the individual counties based on road mileage, but depositing the remainder in the state treasury.

Raising the price of gas posed a concern in the 1930s, but not to worry. State Tax Commissioner Thomas Lynch said that there was “no assurance that the public would pay two cents more for gas.” Since it was taxed at the source (the distributors), Lynch said the oil companies would probably just absorb the cost. (A fine example of naiveté on its grandest scale.)

As for that new money in the treasury? In no time at all, politicians were appropriating gas-tax funds for a variety of non-road-related uses. Once the feeding frenzy began, it was all over. Requests to raise the gas tax soon became routine. After all, it was a state income bonanza.

Even a county as small as Clinton paid $293,000 in 1932, of which only $96,000 came back for highway use. By 1934, the gas tax itself amounted to 24 percent of the price. In 1934, the state took in $85 million from the gas tax, $50 million of which was diverted for non-highway use. (That very same issue arose recently with the loss of the Lake Champlain Bridge.)

It probably comes as no surprise that, in 1929, the Supreme Court rejected efforts by the states to treat gasoline as a public utility. Natural gas and electricity were somehow necessary, but gas was deemed a commodity that we could do with or without. And so Standard Oil (the father of virtually every major oil company) won the right to regulate itself.

Today’s ExxonMobil was formerly known as Standard Oil, and for them, it was business as usual—move into an area, depress prices by lowering its own price, put the competition out of business, and then raise prices at their whim. Walmart has been accused of employing the same tactics.

What were the results of the gas-price problems in the 1990s? The 1970s? The 1920s? All the same. Oil companies flourished, while consumers, victimized by high prices, explored electric cars, ethanol fuel, and sometimes just did without. The huge ethanol movement of a few years ago was hardly different from 1997 and 1927, mostly serving as a boon for farmers.

So, as prices rise and you begin to see articles and editorials complaining about the oil companies, and about the inexplicably higher cost of gas in the North Country, it may be a story, but it’s not news. There’s nothing new about it at all.

Photos: Future gas prices; 1929 advertisement for ethanol.

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.

The Greatest Grid: The Master Plan of Manhattan


By on

1 Comment

Columbia University Press has announced the publication of The Greatest Grid: The Master Plan of Manhattan, 1811-2011, edited by Hilary Ballon, which includes more than 150 illustrations and a gatefold of the original plan. The book accompanies the exhibit of the same name which just opened at the Museum of the City of New York.

Laying out Manhattan’s street grid and providing a rationale for the growth of New York was the city’s first great civic enterprise, not to mention a brazenly ambitious project and major milestone in the history of city planning. The grid created the physical conditions for business and society to flourish and embodied the drive and discipline for which the city would come to be known. The Greatest Grid does more than memorialize such a visionary effort, it also serves as reference full of rare images and information.

The Greatest Grid shares the history of the Commissioners’ plan, incorporating archival photos and illustrations, primary documents and testimony, and magnificent maps with essential analysis. The text, written by leading historians of New York City, follows the grid’s initial design, implementation, and evolution, and then speaks to its enduring influence. A foldout map, accompanied by explanatory notes, reproduces the Commissioners’ original plan, and additional maps and prints chart the city’s pre-1811 irregular growth patterns and local precedent for the grid’s design.

This text describes the social, political, and intellectual figures who were instrumental in remaking early New York, not in the image of old Europe but as a reflection of other American cities and a distinct New World sensibility. The grid reaffirmed old hierarchies while creating new opportunities for power and advancement, giving rise to the multicultural, highly networked landscape New Yorkers are familiar with today.

Note: Books noticed on this site have been provided by the publishers. Purchases made through this Amazon link help support this site.

Canal Society of New York’s Winter Symposium


By on

0 Comments

The Canal Society of New York State has announced it’s Winter Symposium will be held Saturday, March 3, 2012 at the Warshof Conference Center at Monroe Community College’s Brighton Campus, 1000 East Henrietta Road in Rochester (Monroe Room A & B; Park in Lot M, Center Road; enter through lobby at northeast corner of Building 3).

The Symposium includes papers on topics that are directly or indirectly related to historic or operating New York State Canals, canals and inland waterways worldwide, and the communities through which they run.

Further information, a including a summary of the agenda and pre-registration procedures may be found at the Society’s webpage; pre-registration forms are due by February 22nd.

Canal Society is an organization of canal enthusiasts who study New York canal history, including its effect on the life and economy of the State; exchange information; promote interest in the canals in the United States and abroad; educate the public and encourage preservation of canal records, relics, structures and sites; and help restore abandoned canals and historic vessels, including replicating their structures.

Founded in Buffalo on October13, 1956, the Canal Society is a not-for-profit educational organization that enables people to visit canal sites in New York State and beyond through regular, organized field trips, to share information and ideas about preserving canal history and traditions, and to advocate for canal renewal and development.

Illustration: The first issue of the Canal Society of New York State’s journal Bottoming Out.

Replica Manned Civil War Balloon to Take Flight


By on

0 Comments

In late 1861, Virginia residents were shocked to see a manned balloon rise on the horizon, directing Union Army artillery against Confederate positions. One hundred and fifty years later, a replica of the Intrepid – the first type of aerial vehicle used for combat in the United States – will take flight this summer.

Genesee Country Village & Museum (GCV&M) has begun building the world’s only Civil War manned balloon replica, with the intent of offering flights to visitors starting July 4. Rising 400 feet (32 stories) above the 700-acre museum grounds in suburban Rochester, NY, the Intrepid will carry up to four passengers at a time in addition to the pilot.

“Our launch of the Intrepid brings to life one of the most unique elements of American history in a manner never before attempted,” said Peter Arnold, chief executive officer and president of GVC&M. “As Civil War remembrances occur across the nation during its 150th anniversary, we believed there was no better time to undertake this initiative. The balloon and the planned Civil War encampment surrounding the launch site further enhance our authentic 19th century village – the third largest collection of historic buildings in America.”

Not only was the Intrepid the predecessor to modern-day military aviation, but it also foreshadowed the future of military reconnaissance communications. The pilot would send intelligence information – troop movements, artillery compensation instructions, and more – to soldiers on the ground via telegraph. Conceived by Professor Thaddeus Lowe, the resulting Union Army Balloon Corps was personally approved by President Abraham Lincoln in June 1861.

Originally fueled by hydrogen gas, the Intrepid replica takes to the air with helium. Like the original seven gas balloons used during the Civil War, the Intrepid will be tethered to land for optimal convenience and safety.

Visitors will have the opportunity to book 15-minute flights for a nominal cost in addition to their museum entry fee. More details will be released over the course of the coming months.

The Intrepid is being built by AeroBalloon of Hingham, MA, with historical guidance from GCV&M and a team of advisers including Tom Crouch, senior curator, Division of Aeronautics. National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution; Jim Green, Director, Planetary Science Division, National Aeronautics and Space Administration and Rob Shenk, Director, Internet Strategy & Development, Civil War Trust.

The initiative’s total estimated cost of nearly $300,000 has been partially offset by a number of donations. As construction progresses, GCV&M will continue to seek additional financial support for the project.

National Park Service Recruiting Amtrak Guides


By on

1 Comment

The National Park Service will hold a volunteer recruiting session on Saturday February 4 at 1pm in the Erie Canalway/Peebles Island Visitor Center at 1 Delaware, Avenue, Cohoes or on Sunday February 26 at 1pm at Roosevelt-Vanderbilt National Historic Sites at 4097 Albany Post Road in Hyde Park.

Volunteers are provided uniforms and training on the history of the area, then are scheduled aboard the Adirondack or Maple Leaf trains to present various educational programs about the significant examples of the natural, cultural, and historical resources of each route.

Three national parks represented along the train routes are Roosevelt-Vanderbilt National Historic Sites, Saratoga National Historical Park (the Battlefield) and Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor.

Email or call Volunteer Manager, Joe LaLumia at nytrailsandrails@gmail.com (518) 573-8628 to reserve your seat and learn more about this exciting volunteer opportunity. Visit the National Park Service Trails and Rails website.

Franklin County’s Studley Hill: Waterloo of All Cars


By on

1 Comment

There are many well known automobile testing sites—Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats and Colorado’s Pikes Peak come to mind—and some lesser knowns, like Michigan’s Packard Proving Grounds, built in the 1920s. Dozens of official and unofficial testing grounds have been used, and by now, you’ve probably guessed it. Yes … the Adirondacks once had their very own.

While it didn’t have a national profile, Franklin County’s Studley Hill was widely reputed as the most difficult road in the north—unevenly surfaced, extremely steep, and with several sharp curves. Because hill-climbing ability was primary in determining a car’s quality, events and competitions became important to manufacturers and very popular with the public.

Studley Hill is historically significant for many reasons, but the most unusual is the irresistible challenge it presented to some of the top car manufacturers of the early 20th century.

Well, the lure actually was resistible for a while, and for one good reason: fear of failure. Salesmen wished to brag that their product could achieve wonderful things that other cars couldn’t, but it was best to first try Studley on the sly. If you didn’t conquer the hill, you didn’t talk much about it. That made for a lot of quiet car salesmen in the North Country.

The automobile was still a new-fangled contraption that few people could afford, and folks traveling south from Malone on the Duane Road occasionally provided great amusement to those living on or near the hill. Some motored there for the challenge, and others came on joy rides, but from 1910 to around 1920, no one made it up Studley Hill’s steep northern slope. Only horse- or oxen-drawn vehicles could pull it off.

Tradition so often gives way to technology, and that’s what finally happened. Improvements in performance led to the inevitable, and in July, 1920, Studebaker dealer J. Franklin Sharp of Ogdensburg officially became the first to make the climb in an automobile. The real trick was to do it while keeping the car in high gear for the entire run.

It was said that Packards had climbed Studley in the past, and that may have been true. Prohibition had been in effect for nearly a year, and the Packard was a favorite of bootleggers. The Duane Road was a route they commonly used.

Sharp’s feat was easily achieved, but was not without drama. As one reporter put it, “The eyes of the motor world between Utica and the St. Lawrence River were turned this afternoon toward Studley Hill, the steepest grade in the northern country.” This was considered the first official test drive at Studley Hill, and looking at a map of the wilds south of Malone, one might argue that getting 159 people to such a remote location was the biggest accomplishment of the day.

The wagering (men will make a game out of anything and then bet on it) was described as heavy. On the very first attempt, Sharp’s Studebaker Big Six (named for its six cylinders) sped across the flat road to a running start of 55 mph. As quickly as it began the steep ascent, the speedometer plunged. All the while, spectators cheered wildly. Difficult curves slowed the car, but after about a mile, it crested the hill. The car’s lowest speed was said to have been 15 mph.

With Melville Corbett (Sharp’s garage foreman) behind the wheel, the trip was made in high gear four more times, carrying passengers that included Syracuse Post-Standard writers based in Malone and Saranac Lake.

Meanwhile, Frank Sharp wasn’t finished for the day, deciding to attempt the hill in a lighter model, the Studebaker Special Six. Much to the surprise of himself and everyone else, the car climbed ably to the top. It was a great endorsement of the Studebaker brand for dealers across the North Country when headline stories later told the tale.

Just as hiking down a mountain can sometimes be as difficult as climbing up, descending Studley Hill offered its own unique challenges. Many accidents there involving cars or horse-drawn vehicles prompted some unusual signage. Drivers approaching the steep descent to the north were cautioned by roadside warnings, the first of which offered the standard Drive Slow. A second suggested the harrowing drop that awaited: Keep Your Head.

A third and very large sign was unofficially posted by someone with a wonderful sense of humor. And who would dare question its effectiveness? In large, hand-written, red lettering, it said simply, Prepare to Meet Thy God.

In 1921 there were two successful assaults on the hill. A huge touring car, the Paige Lakewood 6-66 (11feet distance between the centers of the front and rear tires) accomplished the feat to great fanfare. (A Paige had won at Pikes Peak the previous year.)

Paige representatives from Malone and Rochester were on hand, proud to point out that, unlike the climb by Studebaker in 1920, their car did it without aerodynamics—the top and the windshield were up, and two passengers occupied the back seat. The wind drag and extra weight (the car alone weighed 3,500 lbs.) were handled on several successful attempts.

Six months later, an Olds Four climbed the grade in high gear. Successful tries were often touted by the manufacturer as some type of “first.” The Olds people said theirs was the first “closed car carrying three passengers” to climb the hill in high gear.

In 1922, a Durant Touring Car climbed Studley, “… the steepest and worst hill in the Adirondacks, and considerably harder to climb than the famous Spruce Hill at Elizabethtown on account of the abrupt incline and many turns.” Four men made the trip in what was claimed as the first ascent in high gear at all times under certain conditions (four passengers and much wind).

The driver claimed he was going so fast at the third curve, he was forced to brake hard. The car lost most of its momentum but still completed the run. Again, the story was used in newspapers to advertise the wonders of the Durant.

Technological changes led to even more impressive feats. In April, 1924, a Flint Six (made in Flint, Michigan by a Durant subsidiary) tackled what one writer called “the Waterloo of all cars.” This time there would be no running start. With the car parked at the base of the hill, high gear was engaged, and remained so throughout the climb. Despite sections of tire-sucking mud and slippery snow, the Flint crested Studley Hill without dropping below 15 mph.

Besides the sense of achievement, one other award awaited at the top—a view of the flats to the east, ringed by mountains and featuring several streams leading into the Salmon River. Among those waterways near the base of Studley Hill is Hatch Brook, one of my all-time favorite canoe trips. It twists and winds through the valley for miles, and I paddle until the shores actually brush against both sides of the canoe. The next time I go, I’ll be thinking back to those days of the automobile hill climbs, but content with plenty of peace and quiet.

Photos: Above, a Studebaker Big Six; Middle: The Packard Proving Ground, 1925, which did have a hill climb, but nothing the likes of which Studley Hill provided; Below, advertisement for Frank Sharp’s Studebaker dealership.

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.

The 1902 Park Avenue Tunnel Collision Online


By on

0 Comments

This Sunday marks the anniversary of a largely forgotten piece of New York history. On January 8, 1902, there was a train collision in the train tunnels of New York City. As a result of this disaster, laws were passed in NY which banned steam engines from entering Manhattan and forced the train companies to look into designing electric rails for their commuter trains. To accommodate electric rails, the old Grand Central Depot was torn down and the new and larger Grand Central Station was built, which changed the landscape of NYC forever.

Researcher Cathy Horn has been building an online memorial to the event which includes lists of those involved (including some short biographies), photos, documents, and newspaper clippings from the event.