Tag Archives: Washington County

Wind Power Has A Long History in America


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Scores of gigantic wind turbines in the Adirondacks’ northeastern and southwestern foothills are a startling site amidst historically bucolic scenery. The landscape appears “citified,” with structures nearly 40 stories high where the largest buildings rarely top 3 stories. It is a dramatic change, and a far cry from simpler days when family farms were prevalent. Few realize that in those “simpler days” of dairy farms, windmills were actually quite common across the region.

Of course, the windmills once dotting the North Country’s landscape were nothing like today’s behemoths, which stand nearly 400 feet high from the ground to the tip of a skyward-pointing blade. And, the windmills of old weren’t always efficient machines.

Wind technology took a tremendous leap forward in the 1850s thanks to Daniel Halladay, a Connecticut machinist. Halladay’s windmill not only pumped water, but automatically turned to face into the wind as it changed directions. Almost as important, he devised a way to control the speed of the blades (windmills are prone to destruction from within when operating at high rpm levels). Halladay established the US Wind Engine & Pump Company, setting up shop in Illinois. From the start, the business flourished.

Though his sales were focused on the country’s expansion westward, New York State was also experiencing dramatic growth, particularly in the remote northern Adirondack foothills, where pioneers faced a harsh climate and difficult living conditions. Halladay’s invention eventually helped turn some of those weather negatives into positives by taking advantage of wind patterns across upper New York State.

In 1874, the railroad was expanding north from Whitehall towards Plattsburgh. Since steam engines require water, the line generally followed the shore of Lake Champlain. Tanks were constructed along the route where the rails approached the lakeshore. Steam pumps or windmills were used to fill the feeder tanks, which had a capacity of 33,000 gallons each.

As settlers moved north on both sides of the Adirondacks, windmill technology crept northward with them. Farming was necessary for survival, and the enormous workload was eased by mechanical devices like windmills. The description of one man’s operation about 18 miles south of Lowville was typical of the times: “… a beautiful farm of 280 acres, milks 35 cows, and is a model farm. House, barns, windmill pump, all systematically arranged.”

In situations like that, windmills often filled tanks placed on the upper floor of a barn. The water was then gravity-fed to the livestock below and piped to other locations as needed. The machine was also used to grind various grains. Early models were mounted on wooden frames, but many fell victim to the very power they were trying to harness, toppling before raging windstorms. Eventually, steel frames supported most windmills.

Wind power wasn’t just for individual homes and farms. In July 1879, H. H. Babcock & Sons of Watertown was hired to install a windmill at 1000 Islands State Park. Water was drawn from the St. Lawrence River to large tanks near the dining hall, and from there was conducted to the various cottages by galvanized iron pipe.

And at Hermon, a contract for $6,595 was signed with Daniel Halladay’s company to install a new waterworks system. Included were a wooden tank of 50,000-gallon capacity, a windmill with a wheel diameter of 20 feet, and more than a mile of piping. The frost-proof tank was 24 feet in diameter, 16 feet high, and 3 inches thick. It sat on a trestle 20 feet high, while the windmill stood on a trestle 80 feet high.

Many hotels, including the Whitney House in Norwood and the Turin House in Turin, used windmills to power their water systems. At Chazy, windmills pumped water from the quarries; at Port Henry, they filled water tanks for the trains; and at Saranac Lake, they fed the water supply of the Adirondack Sanitarium.

In 1889, George Baltz of Watertown handled the Halladay display at the Jefferson County Fair, demonstrating that windmills furnished cheaper power than steam engines and could run a feed mill, a circular saw for cutting wood, or pump water.

Though Halladay’s products were widely known, he did have competitors. Some added their own modifications, and some were “copycats.” And they weren’t all products from afar. In 1882, an advertisement touted a windmill “warranted to take care of itself in high winds, equal to the best western mills, and is sold for half the money. It is manufactured at Potsdam.” It featured a self-regulator, and appeared to be based on Halladay’s own successful model.

In the late 1890s, most of the windmills in the Ticonderoga and Lake George area were products of the Perkins Windmill Company, which had already installed more than 50 units across the lake in Vermont. Though windmills in the Midwest were primarily for irrigation, most of those in the North Country supplied water to homes, businesses, and farm animals.

Wind power did face competition from other sources. Gasoline engines became more and more common, offering a reliable alternative. However, they were expensive, noisy, and costly to run. An operator had to be present to start and stop a gas engine, while windmills employed a system of floats to start and stop filling the tanks automatically. A once-a-week oiling was the only required maintenance. The biggest problem at the time was that gas engines ran when you wanted them to, but windmills depended on the weather.

The giant turbines we see in northern New York today are not a new idea. In a peek at the future, Charles Brush of Cleveland, Ohio demonstrated in 1888 the first use of a large windmill to generate electricity. As early as 1895, observers noted that windmills were “destined to be much used for storing electricity. We predict an immense future for the windmill industry.”

In 1910, a farm in America’s Midwest employed windmills to charge a bank of batteries. Wind power provided electricity to light the farm and operate the equipment. When the wind didn’t blow, the farm ran on battery power for a few days.

By 1925, wind turbines had been used to run refrigerators, freezers, washing machines, and power tools. And in 1926, the NYS Fair urged farmers to purchase windmills, using a 12-foot-high model to show the benefits they might enjoy. It was an enticing glimpse at the potential of electricity. Ironically, the popularity of windmills soon became their undoing.

Though they were a wonderful source of cheap power, the main problem was intermittent operation. When the wind didn’t blow, the tools didn’t go. Battery storage systems were only good for brief periods, and people wanted power WHEN they wanted it. Soon, another overriding factor arose—the growing need for huge amounts of electricity.

By the late 1930s and 1940s, constantly flowing electricity was the goal, relegating wind power to the background of the energy battle. It was still used, and advancements were pursued, but success was limited. One notable effort was the huge Smith-Putnam windmill installed atop Grandpa’s Knob near Castleton and Rutland, Vermont, in 1941.

Though less than half the size of today’s models, it was still large, featuring a 16-ton, 175-foot steel rotor that turned at 28 RPM. Occasional use ended abruptly in 1945 when metal fatigue caused the blade to snap, hurling a huge section 1000 feet down the mountain.

In the North Country, windmills have returned after a long hiatus. They stand ten times taller than their predecessors (in 2012, the new ones will be 492 feet high), and now pump electricity instead of water. Where potato, hop, and dairy farms once dominated, the wind farms of today stand above all others.

Photos: Above, windmills 400 feet tall at Churubusco (and another under construction in the foreground). Middle Right: Typical use of windmill to fill railroad water tanks. Middle Left: Halladay windmills were offered by George Baltz of Watertown. Below, advertisement for Halladay’s company.

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.

British Assault on the Home of Pie a la Mode


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“The British are coming” is the warning shouted in Washington County as the British TV Chef Gordon Ramsey comes to the historic Cambridge Hotel this week. Ramsey is expanding his Fox TV shows beyond cooking to remaking hotels in a new program called Hotel Hell. The concept of the show is “help fix struggling, privately owned hotels, inns and bed-and-breakfasts in destination towns across the U.S.”

“The Cambridge Hotel holds 126 year history of housing local celebrations and so seems to have a very permanent part in the memory of the people of our community,” explains General Manager Shea Imhof. “Often folks stop in to see us and share pictures and stories from their 1960′s wedding or speak to how the whole family gathered for an elders passing. These memories are made stronger by sharing them in the setting in which they were made which is in part why we strive to exist.”

Today, the Cambridge Hotel is a hotel run by the Imhof family. It is best known for inventing pie a la mode, (French for “according to the fashion”) apple pie with vanilla ice cream. In the 1890s, Professor Charles Watson Townsend dined regularly at the Cambridge Hotel. He would frequently end his meal with an ice cream topped apple pie, which another diner called “pie a la mode.”

While dining at the famous Delmonico’s restaurant in Manhattan, Townsend requested his favorite dessert and was met with blank stares from the waiters. Townsend was quoted as saying “Call the manager at once. I demand as good service here as I get in Cambridge.” Townsend was overheard by a newspaperman from the New York Sun, who reported in the next paper about Delmonico’s working to recreate the dessert served in Cambridge Hotel. The story was repeated and pie a la mode became a standard menu item at restaurants across the country.

Townsend died in 1936 at the age of 87 and his New York Times obituary notes that he “inadvertently originated pie a la mode.” There are some conflicting reports including Barry Popnik’s The Big Apple that mentions the dish appears to have been first served at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. However this being a New York History site, we are going to stick with the Cambridge Hotel as the inventors of pie a la mode.

The other little tidbit is that apple pie isn’t American, it’s British. There were no apple trees or pies in America before the British settled according to a recent Historic Foodways blog posting from Colonial Williamsburg.

It may be just dessert that a British Chef is helping to remake a historic American hotel best known for pie a la mode.

Sean Kelleher is the Historian for the Town of Saratoga and Village of Victory in the Upper Hudson Valley. He served as the Director of the Washington County Fair Farm Museum, and worked with a number of Champlain, Hudson and Mohawk Valleys historic sites on grant writing, interpretive planning, and marketing.

A New Contributer: Saratoga Historian Sean Kelleher


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Please join all of us here at New York History in welcoming our newest contributor Sean Kelleher. Kelleher is the Historian for the Town of Saratoga and Village of Victory in the Upper Hudson Valley. He has a particular interest in colonial history, being active as a reenactor for 34 years and has served as a Commissioner on the New York State French and Indian War 250th Anniversary Commemoration Commission.

Kelleher worked for a decade at a public television station, in addition to assisting on documentaries for PBS’s American Experience and the BBC. As an educator, he was a New Hampshire Council for the Social Studies Executive Board member and the Director of the New Hampshire Teacher Training Institute for Character and Citizenship Education. As a historian, he served as the Director of the Washington County Fair Farm Museum, and has designed a number of interpretive panels in his community. As a consultant, he has worked with a number of Champlain, Hudson and Mohawk Valleys historic sites on grant writing, interpretive planning, and marketing.

He writes about colonial history, the upper Hudson River, commemorations, and history education.

Lawrence Gooley: Missing Aunt Mary


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It has been a year now since the death of a friend and her burial on the last day of 2010. The friend, Mary (Pippo) Barber of Whitehall, was nearly four decades my senior, but acted so young that she made me feel old. I first met her around ten years ago when she came 100+ miles north to Plattsburgh with a friend and stood with us in line for three hours at a job fair. She was there as moral support, talking and joking all day long. I had no idea she was 84 at the time. As I would learn, she never looked anywhere near her age.

My partner, Jill, is from Whitehall (at the southern tip of Lake Champlain, where the barge canal begins). It is through her that I met “Aunt Mary,” a very important person in Jill’s life. On every visit to Whitehall during the past decade, Aunt Mary was on our schedule of stops. She was always nice, friendly, inquisitive, and fun to chat with … just a classy lady.

Her memory was as sharp as anyone’s, and our interest in history often prompted us to steer the conversation in that direction. As many of you know (but many of us neglect), elderly citizens provide an invaluable connection to the past. When we republished Whitehall’s pictorial history book several years ago, it was Aunt Mary who readily answered dozens of questions, helping us correctly label many buildings when we prepared the captions.

At one point in our conversations over the years, she mentioned that a movie had once been filmed in Whitehall. That was news to me and Jill, and we had to wonder if maybe she had made a mistake. It would have been easy to believe that she was a little mixed up—after all, she was about 90 then, and nobody else had ever mentioned a movie. Still, we just couldn’t believe she was wrong.

Jill’s faith in Aunt Mary drove her to keep digging, and much to her surprise, delight, and amazement, it was true! After much time and considerable research, she was able to uncover the entire story, a tale that may have been lost except for the teamwork of Jill and Aunt Mary.

It strengthened the already solid bond between them, and it didn’t stop there. A poster re-creation of the original movie advertisement is now an exhibit in the Whitehall museum, donated by Jill in Aunt Mary’s name.

Aunt Mary’s passing was certainly a sad loss, but it offered a reminder of the wonderful people and great historical resources that are often neglected—our elderly, whether they are relatives, friends, or nursing home residents. If you have considered talking to any of them and asking all kinds of questions, do it. They’ll enjoy it, and so will you. Don’t put it off and eventually live with painful regret.

We still miss her, and I’m certainly glad we asked Aunt Mary all those questions over the years, learning about her life and Whitehall’s history. It was not only a smart thing to do. It was respectful, educational, and just plain fun.

Photo: Above, Mary (Pippo) Barber, circa 1943; Below, Mary (Pippo) Barber, circa 2005.

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.

Civil War: Lester Archer, 96th New York Infantry


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In this, the year marking the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War, there is a North Country native who served with particular distinction in the 96th Infantry. The 96th, often referred to as the Plattsburgh Regiment (and sometimes Macomb’s Regiment), was recruited from villages across the region, spanning from Malone to Plattsburgh in the north, and south to Ticonderoga, Fort Edward, and Warrensburg.

Among those to join at Fort Edward was 23-year-old Lester Archer, a native of nearby Fort Ann. Lester enlisted as a corporal in December, 1861, and for three years served with hundreds of North Country boys and men who saw plenty of combat, primarily in Virginia.

In June, 1864, Archer was promoted to sergeant amidst General U. S. Grant’s heated campaign to take Richmond, a critical Confederate site. Guarding Richmond several miles to the south on the James River was Fort Harrison, a strategic rebel stronghold.

To divide Lee’s troops, a surprise attack was launched on Fort Harrison on September 29. The men of the 96th were among those who charged up the hill against withering fire, successfully driving off the fort’s defenders and assuming control. As the fort was being overtaken, a Union flag was planted by Sergeant Lester Archer, emphatically declaring victory.

Until Harrison fell, it was considered the strongest Confederate fort between Richmond and Petersburg, 25 miles south. Lee’s forces regrouped to launch several bloody efforts at recapturing the vital site, but the North stood their ground, protecting the prize.

Union General Burnham was killed in the battle, and in his honor, the site was temporarily renamed Fort Burnham. More than 800 soldiers were buried nearby at what is now known as Fort Harrison National Cemetery.

The 96th remained in the vicinity of Fort Harrison for three weeks, and in late October, an assault was launched against Fort Richmond at Five Oaks. The result was a bloody, hard-fought battle, with both sides claiming victory, but both suffering heavy casualties. Many North Country soldiers were killed or captured. Just three weeks after heroically planting the Union flag atop Fort Harrison, Sergeant Lester Archer was among those who perished at Five Oaks.

On April 6, 1865, Archer’s exceptional efforts were officially acknowledged. The highest US military decoration for valor was conferred upon him with these words: “The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pride in presenting the Medal of Honor (posthumously) to Sergeant Lester Archer, United States Army, for extraordinary heroism on 29 September 1864, while serving with Company E, 96th New York Infantry, in action at Fort Harrison, Virginia, for gallantry in placing the colors of his regiment on the fort.”

President Lincoln himself would die just nine days later.

Photo Top: Lester Archer.

Photo Bottom: Scene at Fort Harrison, Virginia 1864.

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.

Champlain Canalway Trail Plan Unveiled


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At the Historic Saratoga-Washington on the Hudson Partnership meeting yesterday, Hudson Crossing Park announced the release of the Champlain Canalway Trail Action Plan for the 62-mile corridor between Waterford and Whitehall in Saratoga and Washington
Counties.

The Action Plan is intended to help focus and coordinate locally-based efforts to complete the Champlain Canalway Trail. It uses narrative, maps and photographs to describe the existing conditions, issues and opportunities along the proposed trail route. Each segment of the Action Plan can be used as a stand-alone by an individual community, to help focus attention and prompt constructive dialog.

The 62-mile Champlain Canalway Trail, together with the 9-mile Glens Falls Feeder Canal Trail, comprise one leg of the planned statewide Canalway Trail system. The 348-mile Erie Canalway Trail between Albany and Buffalo is the longest trail in the system. Now more than three-fourths complete, it is actively used by people in local communities, and is rapidly becoming a world-class recreational trail, attracting visitors from across the country as well as from abroad.

In the Champlain Canal corridor, about 17 miles of trail are complete, and another 14 miles are either in planning stages or expected to be completed within the next few years. Similar to the Erie Canalway Trail, the Champlain Canalway Trail is envisioned as an off-road trail wherever possible, with some on-road linkages. Once completed, the trail will provide connectivity between residential areas, business districts,
schools, parks and communities while reducing emissions and fuel consumption.

The Champlain Canalway Trail will be used by bicyclists, walkers, historical tourists, cross-country skiers and others. Sections will also be used seasonally by snowmobilers.

The completed Action Plan was produced by the LA Group of Saratoga Springs. It was funded by a grant awarded to Schuylerville-based Hudson Crossing Park, Inc, (www.hudsoncrossingpark.org) from the Rails to Trails Conservancy, a national organization that supports trail development.
Planning assistance was provided by the Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program of the National Park Service.

For further information contact:

Southern Champlain Canalway Trail representative:
Nelson Ronsvalle – nronsvalle@townofhalfmoon.org

Central Champlain Canalway Trail representative:
Marlene Bissell – info@hudsoncrossingpark.org

Northern Champlain Canalway Trail representative:
Jeanne Williams – jpw.fca@gmail.com

The New York State Canal System is comprised of four historic waterways, the Erie, the Champlain, the Oswego and the Cayuga-Seneca Canals. Spanning 524 miles across New York State, the waterway links the Hudson River, Lake Champlain, Lake Ontario, the Finger Lakes and the Niagara River with communities rich in history and culture.

Snowmobilers Partner to Help Save Historic Bridge


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On a chilly Sunday morning, January 23rd, the Washington County Association of Snowmobile Clubs presented Hudson Crossing Park with a check of $4000 as their contribution towards the local match of the transportation enhancement grant awarded to rehabilitate Dix Bridge, a centerpiece of the park that connects Saratoga and Washington Counties.

Hudson Crossing Park has been leading the charge to rehabilitate the historic bridge since it was closed in 1999. Marlene Bissell, president of Hudson Crossing Park said, “The Washington County Association of Snowmobile Clubs, with Dave Perkins at the helm have been exceptionally supportive of Hudson Crossing Park and rehabilitating the Dix Bridge. We are so grateful!”

The clubs of the Association value the opportunity to put in place a safe, non-ice trail crossing from Washington County into Saratoga County. With the restored Dix Bridge providing the trail connection, snowmobilers will finally be able to ride from many parts of New York State into Washington County and access the excellent trail systems of Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. The clubs that donated $500 from their own fund-raising efforts include Battenkill Snowdrifters, Granville Border Riders, Greenwich Trail Blazers, Hartford Ridge Riders, Hoosic Trail Masters, Kingsbury Barnstormers, Sno-Kats and Northern Washington County Trails Blazers.

The Board of Directors of Hudson Crossing Park undertook the challenge to preserve the Dix Bridge over ten years ago. In a pro-active intermuniciapal effort, Saratoga and Washington Counties, the Towns of Saratoga, Northumberland, and Greenwich, and the Historic Saratoga-Washington on the Hudson Partnership have come together to preserve a significant piece of history and provide safe passage over the Hudson River for hundreds of pedestrians, bicyclists, and snowmobilers. Funding for this significant project will be acquired primarily through a federal transportaion enhancement program. Local organizations and agencies are coming together to provide the remaining funds necessary.

Engineers from Greenman-Pedersen, Inc. have begun work on plans to rehabilitate the historic Dix Bridge. Extensive structural inspections have taken place to ensure proper stabilization of the bridge. Work on the Dix Bridge will commence in 2011. It is hoped the Bridge will re-open as a shared use recreational trail late in 2012. The bridge will not be open to automobiles.

In addition to providing safe passage across the Hudson River for snowmobilers, the Dix Bridge will serve as the link between Saratoga and Washington Counties for the NYS Canalway Trail. In the near future, a 67 mile-long Champlain Canalway Trail will link communities from Whitehall to Waterford and join the Erie Canalway Trail leading to Buffalo. The economic benefit of the Canalway Trail statewide was estimated in 2007 to be $27,705,731. The new Champlain Canalway Trail will help bring a portion of those dollars to our local communities.

For more information about the Hudson Crossing Bi-County Park, call Marlene Bissell at 518.859.1462 or visit: www.hudsoncrossingpark.org. Hudson Crossing is a bi-county educational park project centered on and near the Champlain Canal Lock 5 Island of the Hudson River.

Photo: Above, closed Dix Bridge. Below, attending the ceremony from left to right are: Dave Linendoll, WCASC President; Claudia Irwin, Hartford Ridge Riders; Mike Irwin, Hartford Ridge Riders; Sara Idleman, Supervisor, Town of Greenwich; Tom Richardson, Supervisor, City of Mechanicville; George Morrow, Battenkill Snow Drifters; Judy Dashnaw, Kingsbury Barnstormers; Doug Brownell, Sno-Kats; Marlene Bissell, President, Hudson Crossing; Cliff Howard, Greenwich Trail Blazers; Hank Dashnaw, Kingsbury Barnstormers; Dave Perkins, WCASC; Ben Gaines, Hoosick Trail Masters; Ed Leonard, Kingsbury Barnstormers; Jason Hammond, Greenwich Trail Blazers.

Tories: American Revolution and Civil War


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In 1777, as General John Burgoyne’s army marched south, having taken Fort Ticonderoga, a temporary loyalist enclave was created in Rutland County, Vermont. While many rebel Americans fled before the British Army, a few stayed on. In Rutland Nathan Tuttle, a rebel known locally for hating and taunting loyalists, was one of them.

Tuttle’s decision to stay behind was not a very good one at a time and place when the American Revolution was a full-scale Civil War. As Burgoyne’s army passed through Rutland, Tuttle disappeared. Ten years later it was revealed by a local Tory that Tuttle had been bayoneted, his body weighted with stones and thrown into a creek. Nathan Tuttle was an American, and so were his murderers, likely men associated with the notorious Loyalist and close confidant of John Burgoyne, Philip Skene of Whitehall. Continue reading

A Fort Edward French & Indian War Encampment


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Two full days of free family entertainment and education are being offered at Rogers Island Visitors Center in Fort Edward this weekend, September 25 and 26. French and Indian War reenactors from across the Northeast will establish an authentic period encampment on Rogers Island along the Hudson River.

Visitors can see how the men prepared for battle, learn what the women did in the military camps, and browse through the sutlers’ tents and see the merchandise that was offered in the military camps. Enjoy the smells as meals are prepared over open camp fires and listen to stories of 18th century camp life. At the 2:00 PM military tactical each day you will hear the musket fire as troops are ambushed by the French beyond the fort and watch as the British and provincial soldiers, along with their Native American allies, hurry to their defense. With the dredging now completed around the Island four period bateau will be launched in the river and joining in the battle.

“The End of the Campaign Reenactment” is this Saturday and Sunday, September 25 and 26, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Rogers Island Visitors Center, Route 197 (just off Route 4) in the Village of Fort Edward. Free admission. For more information call 518-747-3693.

Lois McClure at Champlain Canal’s Hudson Crossing


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On Wednesday July 28, from 10am to 5pm, the 90-foot canal schooner Lois McClure while will be docked at Hudson Crossing Park, located on Champlain Canal Lock 5 Island, off of Route 4 just north of Schuylerville, Saratoga County.

The schooner Lois McClure is a full-scale replica of an 1862 sailing canal boat. These unique vessels were designed to sail from lake cities to canal ports using wind power and then to lower their masts and sails when traveling along canals. The schooner staff will share stories about the boat and its role in New York State history.

Hudson Crossing President Marlene Bissell welcomes the Lois McClure back and says, “Seeing and boarding this exquisite replica of an authentic canal boat makes you feel like you’ve stepped back to another era. It’s an exciting way to experience the continuum of history that the Hudson River and Champlain Canal holds.”

Hudson Crossing is a bi-county educational park project centered on and near the Champlain Canal Lock 5 Island of the Hudson River. For more information about this event or to learn more about Hudson Crossing Bi-County Park, please call Marlene Bissell at 518.859.1462 or visit their website.

State Museum Showing Major Stoneware Exhibit


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“It’s a prime example of American folk art, probably one of the best collections of decorated stoneware in the country,” is how John Scherer, Historian Emeritus of the New York State Museum characterized the Weitsman Stoneware Collection. The over 200-piece collection was donated to the museum by Adam J. Weitsman, one of the leading collectors of 18th and 19th Century stoneware.

Forty unique vessels from the collection titled Art for the People: Decorated Stoneware from the Weitsman Collection are currently on exhibit at the Albany museum’s New York Metropolis Gallery. The show was recently extended due to popular demand through the summer of 2010. “We are delighted with this collection. It attracts a lot of visitors to the museum. They are very, very impressed and almost overwhelmed by the quality of the collection,” said Scherer.

The exhibition features decorated stoneware vessels, including jugs, crocks, pitchers, jars and water coolers. The designs are considered premier examples of American folk art. Most were created in New York State and many are “presentation pieces,” oversized and often richly decorated with cobalt blue designs and folk art illustrations. Decoration tools, early pottery related graphics and photography complement the exhibit.

After the exhibition, it will become a permanent part of the New York State Museum. The collection is also the subject of a color, coffee-table format book being published by the museum that will be released this spring. The book is being funded by the generosity of Mr. Weitsman.

“We had a few important pieces of stoneware, but nowhere near the quality that Adam donated. The Weitsman Collection is supreme,” said Scherer.

Adam Weitsman collected his first piece of stoneware in 1980 at age 11 and the experience sparked his passion for the genre. Since then he acquired rare pieces at antique shows, estate sales and auctions. One example was a water cooler decorated with a portrait of a Civil War general and his wife. He purchased it at auction for $88,000 which set a record price for American stoneware at the time.

In 1996, Weitsman donated 100 pieces to the museum to ensure his collection would be preserved. From those and pieces acquired subsequently, 40 were carefully selected for the current exhibition. Most have never been publicly displayed.

Stoneware was vitally important to the development of New York State and its central role in western expansion of the country via the Hudson River, the Erie Canal and its network of feeder canals, and through the Great Lakes to the western river systems. Stoneware was in high demand for storage and preservation for things like drinking water, milk, butter, eggs, beer, ale, whisky, pickles and salted meat. Clay deposits ideal for making stoneware were found in what is now South Amboy, New Jersey, lower Manhattan and eastern Long Island. As a result, New York State became a large stoneware producer.

Potters sprang up along the Hudson River and throughout the New York State canal system making vessels of various shapes and sizes. During kiln firing, salt was applied to vessels that combined with clay silica to create a smooth, lustrous finish. Chocolate brown Albany Slip, named for where the clay was mined, was used to coat the insides of vessels. To identify or decorate the vessel, a painter applied a metallic oxide clay slip that turned a rich blue when fired. Sometimes manganese that turned purplish-brown was used. Simple identification included the makers’ mark and the vessel’s capacity. Elaborate designs and highly creative illustrations such as those found in the Weitsman Collection represent the sublime expression of this folk art period.

Historically significant of examples of stoneware from the Weitsman Collection include:

A Jar made by Paul Cushman of Albany in 1809–Weitsman acquired it from the personal collection of PBS’ Antique Road Show host Leigh Keno.

A Jug created by William Lundy & Co. of Troy, New York in the 1820s that depicts cobalt blue caricature of a merman, a male version of mermaid.

Crocks displaying a prancing zebra and a camel were inspired by the traveling circuses of the era.

A Jug displaying a fisherman with a pole on a lake signed Nathan Clark, Lyons, NY.

A Crock decorated with a Dutch or German-style church with a gambrel roof and round tower and a weather cock, signed W. A. Maquoid, Little West 12th Street, New York City.

A two-gallon crock made by Charles W. Braun of Buffalo around 1870 is decorated with what appears to be a caricature of Buffalo Bill.

A humorous long-necked gooney bird on a six-gallon water cooler made by M. Woodruff of Cortland, New York around 1860. It was acquired from the collection of Donald Shelley, former director of the Henry Ford Museum.

A highly decorated five-gallon water cooler came from the famous George S. McKearin Collection. It was created by Julius and Edward Norton of Bennington, Vermont and shows three types of decoration commonly associated with potters at Bennington, Troy and Fort Edward, New York.

One of the rarest is a six-gallon crock made by Nathan Clark & Co. of Rochester, New York in about 1845. Decorated with the mythical phoenix firebird, it was rendered in such detail that it has a three-dimensional quality.

“I emphasized to Adam how important his collection was and how important it is to New York State. He not only donated it, but also acquires new pieces every year to add to it which is wonderful for us,” Scherer concluded.

While not engaged in collecting stoneware and fine art, Mr. Weitsman is busy with his other passion as President of Upstate Shredding LLC. With numerous locations, Upstate is the largest privately owned metal processing and recycling operation on the East Coast.

Photo: Two-Gallon Jug, (c. 1815) by Israel Seymour (1784-1852) of Troy, New York. The finely incised figure of an American Indian decorates this early ovoid jug. He carries a sword in one hand and a banner with the letter T (for temperance) in the other. Some intricately decorated stoneware pieces commemorate special events and historical figures. The Indian is believed to be Handsome Lake (c. 1734-1815), the Seneca religious prophet who in 1799 began to tell his people to refrain from drinking and doing evil.

Have Dinner With Samuel de Champlain Oct. 24th


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Rogers Island Visitors Center in Fort Edward is hosting dinner with Samuel de Champlain on October 24th at the Tee Bird North Golf Club (30 Reservoir Road, Fort Edward). Local Chefs, Neal Orsini owner of the Anvil Restaurant in Fort Edward and Steve Collyer, researched the stores list aboard Champlain’s ship, the Saint-Julien, to develop a dinner menu using European, 17th century ship and New World ingredients. Some menu items were standard fare aboard 17th century ships, but the Saint-Julien was 500 tons, carried more than 100 crew and had a galley which meant that even livestock was brought on board aboard, if only for the captain and officers.
Don Thompson, who has spent this Quadricentennial year traveling throughout New York, Vermont and Canada portraying Samuel de Champlain, will serve as a special guest presenter bringing the story of de Champlain’s North American explorations to life.

There will be a cash bar at 5 pm; and dinner served at 6 pm. The price is $22 for Rogers Island VC members, $25 for non-members and $8 for children under 12. Special prize baskets have been donated for a raffle.

For reservations call Rogers Island Visitor Center at 518-747-3693 or e-mail rogersisland@gmail.com. Proceeds benefit the Rogers Island Visitor Center.

Fort Edward’s “End of the Campaign”French & Indian War Encampment


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Rogers Island Visitors Center in Fort Edward will be hosting two full days of free family entertainment and education on September 26 and 27, as nearly 200 French and Indian War reenactors from across the Northeast establish an authentic period encampment along the Hudson River. Sutlers will sell merchandise that was offered in French and Indian War period military camps and visitors will be able to see how men prepared for battle and the domestic life of camp women including meals are prepared over open camp fires. “Hear the musket fire as troops are ambushed by the French beyond the fort and watch as the British and provincial soldiers, along with their Native American allies, hurry to their defense,” according to a recent press announcement.

At 11:00 on Saturday watch a fashion show and learn about the civilian and military clothing of the 18th century.

The encampment will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Rogers Island Visitors Center, Route 197 (just off Route 4) in the Village of Fort Edward. Admission is free. For more information call 518-747-3693.

Pieces of Fort Edward Revealed During Dredging


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A piece of historic Fort Edward, site of the Great Carrying Place portage between the Hudson River and Lake George and prominent in the history of the French and Indian War and the American Revolution, is reported to have been brought up while dredging the Hudson River for PCBs according to the Glens Falls Post Star.

“Neal Orsini said he was awakened at 4 a.m. by the noise of a clamshell dredge pulling the piece of wood, which he estimated to be about 14 feet long, from his property,” the paper reported. “There was a breakdown somewhere in the system and they took a piece of old Fort Edward out of the bank they weren’t supposed to be touching,” Orsini said, “It was really loud.”

Orsini also told the paper that a clamshell dredge removed a section of riverbank. “It left a gaping hole in my river bank,” he said. The paper is reporting that archeologists are on the scene and a “survey is being performed on the pieces taken from the area.”

Fort Edward was built in 1755 on “The Great Warpath” between Albany and the head of northward navigation at Lake George. It’s three components, the fort itself, a fortified encampment on Rogers Island, and a Royal blockhouse built in 1758 across the river was Britain’s largest military outpost in North America during the French and Indian War housing more than 15,000 troops. An earlier stockaded area named Fort Nicholson was located there in 1709 during Queen Anne’s War; it was rebuilt as Fort Lydus (primarily the trading post of John Lydus) and in 1731 was rebuilt as Fort Lyman. It was renamed For Edward by Sir William Johnson during the French and Indian War in 1755.

Although the historic site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it has been largely forgotten, after the area was heavily contaminated with PCBs, and has fallen into disuse except for the Rogers Island Visitors Center. The Associated Press reported this week that three entities are hoping to purchase parts of the site including the Archaeological Conservancy, the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, and archeologist David Starbuck, who has been excavating the site since at least 2001.

Rogers Island was also the base camp of Major Robert Rogers and his company of Rangers and it was there that he composed his “Ranging Rules” which form the basis of military tactics adopted by irregular fighting forces all over the world. The site is considered the birthplace of the U.S. Army Rangers. The fort fell to British forces under John Burgoyne in 1777 during the American Revolution.

The dredging project is in its fourth month of removing approximately 2.65 million cubic yards of Hudson Riverbed sediment contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). General Electric is believed to have dischargeed more than 1 million pounds of PCBs from its plants in Hudson Falls and Fort Edward into the Hudson River. The company then fought a legal, political, and media battle to avoid cleanup for nearly 20 years. GE fought the Superfund law in court and conducted a media campaign to convince the public that cleaning the toxic waste from the river would stir up PCBs. This week high levels of PCBs downriver slowed the dredging. GE was ordered by the EPA to clean up a 40-mile stretch of the Hudson River it contaminated in 2002.

Photo: Fort Edward from “A Set of Plans and Forts in Americas, Reduced From Actual Surveys” [1763]

Upcoming Events For New Adirondack Book


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There are several book signings and other events for the new book Historic Tales from the Adirondack Almanack beginning this weekend. I hope you’ll come out for one of them.

August 8: An informal talk about Adirondack blogging, trends in local media history, the new book, and their connection to Hulett’s Landing at 7:30 pm, this Saturday, August 8th, at the Hulett’s Landing Casino.

August 9: Book signing at The Adirondack Reader in Inlet, NY on Sunday, August 9th from 1-3pm

September 12: Book signing at The Open Door Bookstore in Schenectady on Saturday, September 12th from 1-2:30pm.

September 19: Book signing at Bookstore Plus in Lake Placid on Saturday, September 19th at 2:00pm.