Tag Archives: Transportation

Governor Plans New Roadside Signage Project


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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


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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.

Lawrence Gooley: History and Rising Gas Prices


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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


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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


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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


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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


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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


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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


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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.

Westport’s Historic Depot Theatre Looks to 2012


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The historic Depot Theatre in Westport on Lake Champlain will celebrate its 33rd year with a new managing director, a new volunteer guild and four shows for the 2012 season. The popular professional theatre company was founded in 1979 by Carol Buchanan, former President of the Westport Historical Society, which maintained stewardship over the historic Westport train station.

The Historical Society saw the potential for cultural activity in the partially renovated D & H Railroad station, and turned first to a Wednesday Night Bingo game to reach the goal. In 1985, the Depot Theatre stepped out from under the Historical Society’s umbrella to become its own separate not-for-profit entity (the theatre company turned professional in 1988 under an agreement with Actors’ Equity Association, the union of professional actors and stage managers. In 2006, the Depot Theatre also became a member of the Theatre Communications Group, the national organization for professional, non-profit theaters.

Since 1979, the Depot Theatre has produced over 170 plays in its handicap accessible, 136 seat performance space (the former D&H freight room, now fully air conditioned.) In 1995, the Depot Theatre was recognized with a Park Heritage Award from the Adirondack Council and in 2000 with an Adirondack Architectural Heritage Award which recognized major renovation and restoration work to the historical building.

Though Delaware and Hudson is no longer in operation, AMTRAK continues to service rail passengers on the Adirondack Line between NYC and Montreal. The Westport stop is a gateway to the Adirondack Park, and the train station and the Theatre have developed a unique partnership to keep this historical space maintained – the Depot Theatre serves as steward of the historical site.

The Depot has launched a national search to replace outgoing managing director Chris Casquilho who is moving to Ogden, Utah with his family to work for Weber State University.

The Board of Trustees has said it’s approaching this leadership transition as an opportunity to realign operations to focus on the Depot’s long range plan. “We’re looking for an individual who can help grow the operating budget in order to nurture our commitment to exploring new work alongside the canon of American Theatre,” explained Artistic Director Shami McCormick, whose involvement spans the organization’s history. The annual operating budget recently ranges between $300,000 and $350,000, but McCormick is says there is room and demand for growth.

“There’s something quite magical about being behind the scenes in a live theatre atmosphere,” said Kim Rielly, board trustee. “And in 2012, we plan to ramp up our Volunteer Guild, with new opportunities for community members to take a real hands-on role in the operation of our hometown Theatre, and earn some great perks to go along with it.”

The 2012 season will feature four main stage shows including a Country/Blues Love Story, a fast-paced comedy, a 1950‘s musical with classic favorites, a funny story of five full-figured women racing to meet nearly impossible production deadlines, plus a full season’s worth of mid-week and special events.

For more information, season subscriptions, tickets and a complete schedule, contact the Box Office at 518.962.4449 or visit depottheatre.org.

Auto Museum Offers Pinewood Derby Clinic


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The Saratoga Auto Museum will be holding a workshop for area Cub Scouts on the science involved in building a winning Pinewood Derby Car. The event, which will take place on January 7, 2012 at the Museum (110 Avenue of the Pines, Saratoga Springs), will begin at 1:00 pm and include Tech Talk (The physics of speed), Speed Shop, and Track Time.

To participate in the full event, preregistration is required and will be limited to the first 40 registrants. Each registration includes a pinewood derby car kit with regulation axles and wheels which will be assembled during the Speed Shop segment. Once the cars are completed, a weigh in will precede a series of heat races on the SAM’s Garage Pinewood Derby Track.

Registration fee for the event is $10.00 and will include a car kit and Museum admission for the scout and an adult, so participants should come early to check out the “Porsche: 60 Years of Speed and Style in North America” exhibit before the Pinewood Derby event begins.

Participation in the Tech Talk and Track Time segments is also open to Cub Scouts who have previously completed their car and just want to join in the fun.

For registration, visit www.saratogaautomuseum.org and click on the Pinewood Derby link.

Photo: Pinewood Article from 1954 Boy’s Life magazine. Hat tip PinewoodPro.com.

Floyd Bennett: American Aviation Legend


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Among the rock-star personas of the Roaring Twenties were a number of aviators who captured the public’s imagination. Some were as popular and beloved as movie stars and famous athletes, and America followed their every move. It was a time of “firsts” in the world of aviation, led by names like Lindbergh, Byrd, and Post. Among their number was an unusually humble man, Floyd Bennett. He may have been the best of the lot.

A North Country native and legendary pilot, Bennett has been claimed at times by three different villages as their own. He was born in October 1890 at the southern tip of Lake George in Caldwell (which today is Lake George village). Most of his youth was spent living on the farm of his aunt and uncle in Warrensburg. He also worked for three years in Ticonderoga, where he made many friends. Throughout his life, Floyd maintained ties to all three villages.

In the early 1900s, cars and gasoline-powered engines represented the latest technology. Floyd’s strong interest led him to automobile school, after which he toiled as a mechanic in Ticonderoga for three years. When the United States entered World War I, Bennett, 27, enlisted in the Navy.

While becoming an aviation mechanic, Floyd discovered his aptitude for the pilot’s seat. He attended flight school in Pensacola, Florida, where one of his classmates was Richard E. Byrd, future legendary explorer. For several years, Bennett refined his flying skills, and in 1925, he was selected for duty in Greenland under Lieutenant Byrd.

Fraught with danger and the unknown, the mission sought to learn more about the vast unexplored area of the Arctic Circle. Bennett’s knowledge and hard work were critical to the success of the mission, and, as Byrd would later confirm, the pair almost certainly would have died but for Bennett’s bravery in a moment of crisis.

While flying over extremely rough territory, the plane’s oil gauge suddenly climbed. Had the pressure risen unchecked, an explosion was almost certain. Byrd looked at Bennett, seeking a course of action, and both then turned their attention to the terrain below.

Within seconds, reality set in—there was no possibility of landing. With that, Bennett climbed out onto the plane’s wing in frigid conditions and loosened the oil cap, relieving the pressure. He suffered frostbite in the process, but left no doubt in Byrd’s mind that, in selecting Bennett, he had made the right choice.

The two men became fast friends, and when the intrepid Byrd planned a historic flight to the North Pole, Bennett was asked to serve as both pilot and mechanic on the Josephine Ford. (Edsel Ford provided financial backing for the effort, and the plane was named after his daughter.) In 1926, Byrd and Bennett attained legendary status by completing the mission despite bad luck and perilous conditions. The flight rocketed them to superstardom.

Lauded as national heroes, they were suddenly in great demand, beginning with a tickertape parade in New York City. Byrd enjoyed the limelight, but also heaped praise on the unassuming Bennett, assuring all that the attempt would never have been made without his trusted partner. When Bennett visited Lake George, more than two thousand supporters gathered in the tiny village to welcome him. As part of the ceremony, letters of praise from Governor Smith and President Coolidge were read to the crowd.

Both men were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest award for any member of the armed services, and rarely bestowed for non-military accomplishments. They were also honored with gold medals from the National Geographic Society. Despite all the attention and lavish praise, Bennett remained unchanged, to the surprise of no one.

The next challenge for the team of Bennett and Byrd was the first transatlantic flight from New York to Paris, a trip they prepared for eagerly. But in a training crash, both men were hurt. Bennett’s injuries were serious, and before the pair could recover and continue the pursuit of their goal, Charles Lindbergh accomplished the historic feat. Once healed, the duo completed the flight to Europe six weeks later.

Seeking new horizons to conquer, aviation’s most famous team planned an expedition to the South Pole. Tremendous preparation was required, including testing of innovative equipment. On March 13, 1928, a curious crowd gathered on the shores of Lake Champlain near Ticonderoga. Airplanes were still a novelty then, and two craft were seen circling overhead. Finally, one of them put down on the slushy, ice-covered lake surface, skiing to a halt.

Out came local hero Floyd Bennett, quickly engulfed by a crowd of friends and well-wishers. While in Staten Island preparing for the South Pole flight, he needed to test new skis for landing capabilities in the snow. What better place to do it than among friends? After performing several test landings on Lake Champlain, Bennett stayed overnight in Ticonderoga. Whether at the Elks Club, a restaurant, or a local hotel, he and his companions were invariably treated like royalty. Bennett repeatedly expressed his thanks and appreciation for such a warm welcome.

A month later, while making further preparations for the next adventure, Floyd became ill with what was believed to be a cold. When word arrived that help was urgently needed on a rescue mission, the response was predictable. Ignoring his own health, Bennett immediately went to the assistance of a German and Irish team that had crossed the Atlantic but crashed their craft, the Bremen, on Greenly Island north of Newfoundland, Canada.

During the mission, Floyd developed a high fever but still tried to continue the rescue effort. His condition worsened, requiring hospitalization in Quebec City, where doctors found he was gravely ill with pneumonia. Richard Byrd and Floyd’s wife, Cora, who was also ill, flew north to be with him. Despite the best efforts of physicians, Bennett, just 38 years old, succumbed on April 25, 1928, barely a month after his uplifting visit to Ticonderoga.

Though Bennett died, the rescue mission he had begun proved successful. Across Canada, Germany, Ireland, and the United States, headlines mourned the loss of a hero who had given his life while trying to save others. Explorers, adventurers, and aviators praised Bennett as a man of grace, intelligence, bravery, and unfailing integrity.

Floyd Bennett was already considered a hero long before the rescue attempt. The selflessness he displayed further enhanced his image, and as the nation mourned, his greatness was honored with a heavily attended military funeral in Washington, followed by burial in Arlington National Cemetery. Among the pile of wreaths on his grave was one from President and Mrs. Coolidge.

After the loss of his partner and best friend, Richard Byrd’s craft for the ultimately successful flight to the South Pole was a tri-motor Ford renamed the Floyd Bennett. Both the man and the plane of the same name are an important part of American aviation history.

It was eventually calculated that the earlier flight to the North Pole may not have reached its destination, but the news did nothing to diminish Byrd and Bennett’s achievements. They received many honors for their spectacular adventures. On June 26, 1930, a dedication ceremony was held in Brooklyn for New York City’s first-ever municipal airport, Floyd Bennett Field. It was regarded at the time as America’s finest airfield.

Many historic flights originated or ended at Floyd Bennett Field, including trips by such notables as Howard Hughes, Jimmy Doolittle, Wiley Post, Douglas “Wrongway” Corrigan, and Amelia Earhart. It was also the busiest airfield in the United States during World War II, vital to the Allied victory. Floyd Bennett Field is now protected by the National Park Service as part of the Gateway National Recreation Area.

The beloved Bennett was also honored in several other venues. In the 1940s, a Navy Destroyer, the USS Bennett, was named in honor of his legacy as a flight pioneer. In the village of Warrensburg, New York, a memorial bandstand was erected in Bennett’s honor. Sixteen miles southeast of Warrensburg, and a few miles from Glens Falls, is Floyd Bennett Memorial Airport.

In a speech made after the North Pole flight, Richard Byrd said, “I would rather have had Floyd Bennett with me than any man I know of.” High praise indeed between heroes and friends. And not bad for a regular guy from Lake George, Warrensburg, and Ticonderoga.

Top Photo: The Josephine Ford.

Middle Photo: Floyd Bennett, right, receives medal from President Coolidge. Richard Byrd is to the President’s left.

Bottom Photo: Floyd Bennett Field, New York City’s first municipal airport.

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.

World War One and Charles Dabney Baker


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War heroes come from all walks of life, and are deemed noteworthy for all sorts of reasons. In April 1918, during World War I, the North Country was justifiably proud of five lesser headlines in the New York Times beneath a bold proclamation: “Plattsburg Youth A Transport Hero.”

The story was particularly unusual for one main reason—though the youth was a lieutenant in the infantry, he and his foot-soldiers had performed heroic deeds with no land in any direction for perhaps 1000 miles.

Plattsburg (no “h” used in those days) was a principal military training facility, and many death announcements during the war ended with a single, telling entry: “He was a Plattsburg man.” In this case, the Plattsburg man in question, Charles Dabney Baker, was still very much alive and receiving praise from both sides of the Atlantic for astute leadership and remarkable calm during a crisis situation.

The odd circumstances surrounding Baker’s citation complemented his unusual path from childhood to the military. Historically, the vast majority of fighting men do not come from affluent backgrounds. Men of money and power have often been able to protect their children from serving. Poorer folks, on the other hand, often joined for the guaranteed income and the financial incentives dangled before them. A few thousand dollars was nothing to a person of wealth, but constituted a small fortune for someone in need.

Charles Baker was certainly part of an affluent family. He was born in Far Rockaway, Long Island in 1891, the son of a Wall Street banker. When he was but eight years old, the family household of four children was supported by a live-in staff that included two nurses, a waitress, a cook, and a chambermaid. A kitchen maid and a laundress were later added. Life was sweet.

Charles graduated from Princeton in 1913 and went to work for the Bankers’ Trust Company in New York City. It was an ongoing life of privilege, but after two years in the banking industry, he opted to join the military. Following a stint on the Mexican border, he was promoted to the rank of sergeant, and then trained at Plattsburg as America finally entered the war in Europe.

For Baker, who was prepared for battle, disappointment ensued when his regiment was ordered to France without him. He was instead tasked with commanding a detachment of men assigned to care for 1600 mules and horses that were being shipped to Europe in support of the troops.

As the journey began, a series of problems developed, culminating in a crisis situation in the middle of the ocean. A powerful storm threatened the mission, with winds estimated at 80–90 miles an hour. The ship was badly tossed, and a coal port lid failed (it was said to have been the work of German spies who had loosened the bolts when the craft was docked).

As the ship began to flood, chaos and disaster loomed. Baker, the highest ranking officer aboard, took charge of his landlubber crew and whipped them into action. The partially flooded ship rocked violently, and its precious cargo suffered terribly. A sailor on board later reported that many of the horses and mules “were literally torn to pieces by the tossing and rolling. Their screams of agony were something awful to listen to.” A number of others drowned.

Under Baker’s orders, bailing crews were assigned, dead and living animals were tended to, and the remaining men battled to keep the ship afloat. Days later, they limped into port and assessed the damages. It was determined that 400 animals had been lost, but the remarkable response by Baker and his infantrymen resulted in the survival of 1200 others. A complete disaster had been averted, and after delivering their cargo, the 165th Infantry was soon on the front line in France.

The story of the ocean trip might have remained untold except for brief mention that appeared in some newspapers. Among those reading the report was a sailor who had shared the voyage. He contacted the newspapers, and soon the story was headline news, praising Baker and his soldiers for great bravery and heroism under extreme conditions.

While the story gathered momentum, Charles and his men were otherwise occupied, already engaging in trench warfare. Just a few weeks after joining the fight, the 165th was pinned down under withering bombardment by the Germans. As Baker encouraged his troops, a shell exploded nearby, puncturing his eardrum.

For three days the barrage continued. Against the advice of his men, Baker endured the pain, refusing to withdraw to seek treatment. He felt his troops were best served if he remained on duty with them.

In early May it was announced that the French government had conferred upon Baker the Croix de Guerre medal, accompanied by the following citation: “First Lieutenant Charles D. Baker showed presence of mind and bravery during a heavy bombardment of nine-inch shells. Went calmly to his post in the trenches despite a destructive fire, assuring the safety of his men and locating the enemy’s mortars which were firing on the positions.”

Baker was forced to spend time recovering in the hospital. Despite his adventures, the frequent praise, and the French medal, Baker was described as humble, unassuming, and much admired and respected by his men. Soon he was back on the battlefield, right in the thick of things.

In July 1918, less than six months after Baker’s arrival in Europe, the 165th was involved in heavy fighting on the Ourcq River about 75 miles northeast of Paris. The Germans had the better position, and Allied forces suffered very heavy casualties as machine gunners cut down hundreds of men. Some of the Allied commanders took to an old method of moving forward by sending only two or three men at a time, backed by intense cover fire. It was difficult and deadly work.

On July 29th, while involved in fierce fighting, Charles Baker was badly injured by machine-gun fire and was once again removed to a base hospital in France. Nearly six weeks later, on September 12, he succumbed to his wounds.

From the crisis on the high seas to his eventual death on the battlefield, barely eight months had passed. It was a tragedy that was repeated millions of times during the war. And in this case, it was duly noted: Baker was a Plattsburg man.

Photo: Charles Dabney Baker, 1913.

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.

Lake George Shipwrecks and Sunken History


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A new book, Lake George Shipwrecks and Sunken History, was published this spring by The History Press. Written by Joseph W. Zarzynski and Bob Benway, the book is a collection their columns previously published in the Lake George Mirror along with additional material. Zarzynski and Benway helped establish Bateaux Below, which works to preserve shipwreck sites in Lake George.

The depths of Lake George hold an incredible world of shipwrecks and lost history. Zarzynski and archeological diver Bob Benway present the most intriguing discoveries among more than two hundred known shipwreck sites. Entombed are remnants of Lake George’s important naval heritage, such as the 1758 Land Tortoise radeau, considered America’s oldest intact warship. Other wrecks include the steam yacht Ellide, and excursion boat Scioto, and the first Minne-Ha-Ha (including some new findings). Additional stories include an explanation behind the 1926 disappearance of two hunters, John J. Eden and L. D. Greene, of Middletown, and pieces on the lake’s logging history and marine railways.

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

Tunnel Engineer Charles Watson Murdock


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By most accounts, the Lincoln Tunnel is the world’s busiest vehicular tunnel (the type used by cars and trucks). It actually consists of three tunnels, or tubes, and accommodates about 43 million vehicles per year, or about 120,000 per day. It was opened in 1937, ten years after the Holland Tunnel (about three miles south) began handling traffic. And a North Country man was instrumental to the success of both tunnel systems.

Charles Watson Murdock, a native of Crown Point, New York, worked closely with some of the best engineers in American history, playing a key role in solving a problem unique to tunnels for vehicles with gasoline-powered engines.

Charles was born on February 11, 1889, to Andrew and Mary Murdock. After entering the Sherman Collegiate Institute (a prep school in Moriah), he attended Middlebury College in Vermont, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree, and then RPI in Troy, graduating in 1912 as a civil engineer. Following a stint with the New York Telephone Company, he accepted a position with the Public Service Commission, 1st District, New York City in 1913.

During the next several years, a pressing problem developed in Murdock’s field of work. The automobile had taken hold in America, and with the proliferation of cars in New York City, gridlock became routine. There were far too many vehicles on the road, clogging thoroughfares with major traffic jams, particularly at bridges.

Ferries helped, but the wait was long. The solution of adding more bridges and more ferries carried several additional problems. After studying the issues, experts decided that tunnels were the best option.

Plenty of tunnels had been dug in the past to accommodate trains, water pipelines, and subway systems. The advent of the automobile introduced new problems in anything but the shortest of tunnels. The gasoline engine emitted poisonous gases, primarily carbon monoxide. The problem vexing engineers was how to discharge those deadly gases from tunnels to make the air safe.

No method had yet been devised to fill long tunnels (like the planned 1.6-mile Holland) with safe and breathable air. Slow traffic, stalled cars, and accidents could keep citizens within a tunnel for lengthy periods. All the while, every vehicle would be pumping poisonous gas into an enclosed space, with deadly results.

From among several options, the method proposed by Clifford Holland was chosen. On his team of engineers was Charles Murdock, who was then employed by the New York State Bridge and Tunnel Commission and the New Jersey Interstate Bridge and Tunnel Commission. (Clifford Holland died just two days before the two tunnels from east and west were joined. The project was renamed in his honor.)

Several dozen structures requiring innovative and exceptional engineering skills have been called “the Eighth Wonder of the World.” Among them is the Holland Tunnel, “the world’s first mechanically ventilated underwater vehicular tunnel.” That long-winded description is very important—the Holland’s machine-powered air-handling system became the standard blueprint for automobile tunnels the world over for the next seven decades.

Charles Murdock was deeply involved in its design, development, and implementation. In 1921, he conducted subway ventilation tests at the University of Illinois. Further work—highly detailed, exhaustive experimentation—was done in a test tunnel created in an old mine near Bruceton, Pennsylvania, duplicating the Holland site. The data from those testing facilities formed a basis for the creation of the Holland Tunnel’s ventilation system.

In the process, the engineering team also developed and used the first reliable automated carbon monoxide detector (with kudos from miners and canaries alike, no doubt).

The giant tubes that formed the highway tunnels were separated into three horizontal layers. The middle layer handled traffic; the bottom layer conducted fresh air throughout the tunnel; and the top layer pulled the poisonous gases upward for removal.

The system was driven by four 10-story ventilation towers, two on each side of the river. Together they housed 84 fans of 8 feet in diameter—half provided fresh air, which flowed through slits in the tunnel floor, and the other half expelled “dirty” air and gases skyward. The system provided a complete change in the tunnel’s air every 90 seconds.

Should it ever fail, thousands of lives were at risk. For that reason, extreme safety measures were built into the system. Power to the fans was supplied from six independent sources, three on each side of the river, and each capable of powering the entire tunnel on its own.

Due to Murdock’s great expertise, he was later chosen to oversee the installation of the ventilation system on the Lincoln Tunnel. Fifty-six fans performed the air-handling duties, and twenty men covered three shifts around the clock, monitoring the carbon monoxide instruments. Motorists commented that the air they breathed in the Lincoln Tunnel was far cleaner than what they breathed daily in the city.

In 1938, the year after the Lincoln Tunnel opened, Murdock’s presentation, “Ventilating the Lincoln Vehicular Tunnel” was made before the American Society of Heating and Ventilating Engineers, setting the standard for similar tunnels around the world.

By 1947, ten years after the Lincoln Tunnel opened, Murdock’s work was praised as a modern wonder. It had operated perfectly for a full decade—none of the backup systems were called into use during that time.

Though he was known principally for his work on the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels from the 1920s through the 1960s, Murdock’s skills were called upon for many other large projects. He was a consulting mechanical engineer on the addition of second tunnels to four sites on the Pennsylvania Turnpike—the Allegheny, Blue Mountain, Kittatinny, and Tascarora tunnels.

Among jobs in other states, Murdock consulted on the East River Mountain Tunnel in West Virginia; Big Walker Mountain Tunnel in Virginia; and the Baltimore Tunnel (Outer Tunnel) in Maryland. He also worked on the Riverfront & Elysian Fields Expressway in Louisiana, and Route I-695’s Connector D in Boston.

Charles Murdock remained with the Port Authority of New York for more than 25 years. The Crown Point native is linked to some of the most important engineering work of the twentieth century. He died in Volusia, Florida in 1970 at the age of 81.

Photo Top: Charles Watson Murdock.

Photo Middle: The three layers in the Lincoln Tunnel tubes.

Photo Bottom: A Lincoln Tunnel ventilation tower in Manhattan.

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.

Manhattan Grid System Focus of Exhibit


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The first comprehensive exhibition to trace one of the most defining achievements in New York City’s history—the vision, planning, and implementation of Manhattan’s iconic grid system—will be on view at the Museum of the City of New York from December 5, 2011, through April 15, 2012.

The Greatest Grid: The Master Plan for Manhattan, 1811—2011 will document the development of the “Commissioners’ Plan,” which in 1811 specified numbered streets and avenues outlining equal rectangular blocks ranging from (today’s) Houston Street to 155th Street and from First Avenue to Twelfth Avenue.

The exhibition, which is organized on the occasion of the bicentennial of the plan, will elucidate, through maps, photographs, and other historic documents, this monumental infrastructure project—the city’s first such civic endeavor—which transformed New York throughout the 19th century and laid the foundation for its distinctive character.

Some 225 artifacts will be on view in the exhibition, which is organized chronologically and geographically, leading visitors from 17th-century, pre-grid New York through the planning process and the explicit 1811 Commissioners’ Plan, and from the massive and elaborate implementation of the plan to contemporary reflections on New York and visions for its future.

“The 1811 grid was a bold expression of optimism and ambition,” Susan Henshaw Jones, the Ronay Menschel Director of the Museum said. “City commissioners anticipated New York’s propulsive growth and projected that the city—still relatively small at the time and concentrated in what is now Lower Manhattan and Greenwich Village—would extend to the heights of Harlem. The 1811 plan has demonstrated remarkable longevity as well as the flexibility to adapt to two centuries of unforeseeable change, including modifications such as Broadway and Central Park. The real miracle of the plan was that it was enforced.”

The exhibition will showcase the illustrious—most notably, John Randel, Jr., who measured the grid with obsessive care. Randel was an apprentice to Simeon DeWitt, the surveyor general of New York State from 1784 to 1834. Between 1808 and 1810 Randel measured the lines of streets and avenues at right angles to each other, and recorded distances and details about the island, its features, and its inhabitants. This resulted in a manuscript map of the grid plan, which he completed by March 1811. Randel continued surveying the island from 1811 to 1817, setting marble monuments (one of which will be on view in the exhibition; there were to have been 1,800) to mark the intersections of the coming grid. Between 1818 and 1820 Randel drafted a series of 91 large-scale maps of the island, now known as the Randel Farm Maps (ten of which will be on view). An article written in the 1850s cited Randel as “one of our most accurate engineers,” further stating that his survey of New York City was done “with such a mathematical exactness as to defy an error of half an inch in ten miles.”

The commissioners’ detailed notes about the grid will also be on view in the exhibition, explaining the plan and expressing their intent to “lay out streets, roads, and public squares, of such width, extent, and direction, as to them shall seem most conducive to public good…” (From “An Act relative to Improvements, touching the laying out of Streets and roads in the City of New-York, and for other purposes. Passed April 3, 1807.” )

Other colorful figures will be highlighted, including William M. “Boss” Tweed, who implemented high-quality improvements, advanced services, and pushed forward many amenities while at the same time benefitting his associates.

Other rare and exquisitely detailed maps dating from 1776 to the present will be on view, alongside stunning archival photographs portraying the island of Manhattan throughout various stages of excavation. An extraordinary street-by-street explanation of the plan in the words of the commissioners—Gouverneur Morris, Simeon De Witt, and John Rutherfurd—will be on view as will other historic documents, plans, prints, and more.

The merits of the grid will be debated. Historians have viewed it as the emblem of democracy, with blocks that are equal and no inherently privileged sites. Historians have also praised its utility, its neat subdivisions that support real estate development. The rectangular lots of Manhattan’s grid parallel Thomas Jefferson’s national survey, which organized land sales in square-mile townships. The grid manifests Cartesian ideals of order, with streets and avenues that are numbered rather than named for trees, people, or places. Frederick Law Olmsted bemoaned its dumb utility and lack of monuments and other features. Jane Jacobs credited city streets with creating New York’s public realm. And Rem Koolhaas called the grid “the most courageous act of prediction in Western civilization: the land it divides, unoccupied; the population it describes, conjectural; the buildings it locates, phantoms; the activities it frames, nonexistent.”

The Greatest Grid will reframe ideas about New York, revealing the plan to be much more than a layout of streets and avenues. The grid provided a framework that balanced public order with private initiative. It predetermined the placement of the city’s infrastructure, including transportation services, the delivery of electricity and water, and most other interactions. Manhattan’s grid has provided a remarkably flexible framework for growth and change.

Visitors will have the opportunity to consider New York’s preparation for the future and whether or not the grid will enable the city to face 21st-century challenges. New proposals for the city, the results of a competition, will be on view in a separate, related exhibition co-sponsored by the Architectural League. The Greatest Grid will also feature “12 x 155,” a conceptual art video by artist Neil Goldberg along with other artistic responses, such as original drawings from the graphic novel City of Glass (Picador, 2004) by Paul Auster, illustrated by Paul Karasik and David Mazzucchelli

The Greatest Grid is co-sponsored by the Manhattan Borough President’s Office.

The exhibition is accompanied by a companion book of the same title, co-published by the Museum of the City of New York and Columbia University Press. Dr. Hilary Ballon, University Professor of Urban Studies & Architecture at the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University, conceived of the exhibition, is its curator, and is the editor of the companion book.

A related exhibition, on view concurrently at the Museum, will feature the results of a competition in which architects and planners were asked for submissions using the Manhattan street grid as a catalyst for thinking about the present and future of New York; this exhibition is co-sponsored by the Architectural League of New York.

D&H Rail Fair Slated for North Creek Depot


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The North Creek Depot Preservation Association will pay tribute to “The oldest continuously operated transportation company”, The Delaware & Hudson Railroad and it’s Adirondack Branch, on October 15 and 16, 2011.

North Creek is home to one of the last complete and original D&H Terminals, fully restored to it’s turn of the of the century condition. The event feature exhibits on the the D&H and it’s operations on the Adirondack Branch including one-of-a-kind rare pieces of railroad history. There will also be vendors showcasing D&H merchandise, a slide show featuring passenger and freight operations on the Adirondack Branch and much more.

The exhibits will be open Saturday October 15, from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm, and Sunday, October 16, 11:00 pm to 6:00 pm. For more information, email director@northcreekdepotmuseum.com or call Justin Gonyo at (518) 251-5345.

Illustration courtesy North Creek Depot Museum.

1950-70s Car Show Planned for Downtown Albany


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The Saratoga Automobile Museum and the Downtown Albany Business Improvement District (BID) have announced that the Downtown Albany Fall Car Show, an ‘open air’ event, will be held on Saturday, October 15 from 11 am to 4 pm.

North Pearl Street will be closed from Pine Street to Sheridan Avenue to create an exhibition and judging area for the show, which will showcase automobiles and motorcycles from all eras but focus on vehicles from the 50′s, 60′s and 70′s.

The BID has partnered with the Saratoga Automobile Museum in organizing the show, which will be held rain or shine.

Retailers and restaurants throughout Downtown will be open during the Car Show, with many planning on having specials and sales. Additionally, a balloon artist will be taking requests and the Devil Dawg plans on making an appearance. Music is also anticipated throughout the Downtown restaurants and pubs. An event guide will be available on the BIDs website as the event draws near. Visitors should note as well that the Downtown Albany Restaurant Week, set for Oct. 13-21, will overlap the event and provide great post-event dining options.

The event is free for spectators. Vehicles and motorcycles can be pre-registered for $10 or registered the day of for $15. To register, contact Peter Perry at the Saratoga Automobile Museum at 518-587-1935 ext. 17 or e-mail peter.perry@saratogaautomuseum.org. Information is also available online at www.downtownalbany.org or by calling 518-465-2143 ext. 13.

New Website Features ‘Big Maps’


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There is a new New York City addition to the Big Map Blog, a bird’s-eye view of the Brooklyn Bridge in 1885 made by noted print makers Currier & Ives. The image is freely downloadable by anyone at its highest resolution [8,999px × 6,293px].

The Big Map Blog was begun in March and already has a considerable number of large, unusual maps. “I came across many of the maps you’ll see on the Big Map Blog while doing research for a film I’m working on,” The Big Map Blog’s curator, who calls himself 59 King, reports. “While searching, I found thousands of old, beautiful maps that are sadly being kept from the public that deserves them — sometimes by clumsy or unwieldy government ftp sites, and other times by archives with steep fees for research, and steeper fees for reproduction. I felt strongly that something should be done about this.”

The site adds new maps five days a week. There are also several other NYC maps on the Big Map Blog, which can be found using the New York City tag.