Author Archives: Sean Kelleher

Fourth of July: Celebrating Independence in 1812

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What follows is a description of the Richmond County Celebration of Independence from The Columbian newspaper in 1812:

In the very interesting situation of our country, it was expected that 4th of July, the 36th anniversary of our Independence, would be celebrated in a masterly manner. We are highly gratified to say, that the public expectation was not disappointed. We have never witnessed greater order, harmony, sobriety, patriotism, and becoming zeal.

The concourse of people was great, not only from the different quarters of the island, but also from the neighboring places. Republicans and federalist seemed to forget their party differences, and like brothers, rallied round the common cause of liberty and the rights and laws of our country…where, after being further entertained with the firing of national salutes and feu de joies, singing, &c. the company sat down at their respective tables, richly and plentifully furnished, and drank the following toast, with the firing of guns:

1 The 4th July, 1776 – the day we celebrate- May it ever be remembered with gratitude to the Supreme Ruler of the Universe. 3 cheers.

2. The armies that achieved our Independence-Our thanks and our honors are an “offering meet.” 6 cheers.

3 Bunker-Hill – Where the world was convinced that the lovers of Liberty dared to fight British veteran troops 3 cheers.

4 Saratoga – Where Burgoyne and high-toned royalist were convinced, that republicans could conquer. 3 cheers.

5 Yorktown – Where the thunder of our republican ordnance compelled the haughty Cornwallis to cry Enough! and made his impious head hide low in his cave of sand! 6 cheers.

6 The Constitution of the United States of America – the bond of our union, and grand charter of our rights – May it stand coeval with time. 17 cheers.

7 The Senate and House of Representatives in Congress assembled – We will stand by our country and obey her laws 12 cheers.

8 The President of the United States – at this eventful crisis, may Prudence be his advanced guard, and Determination his rear. 6 cheers.

9 The memory of George Clinton, late Vice President – The able defender of Liberty, and the people’s confident friend (Drank standing.)

10 The memory of George Washington – the illustrious Commander in Chief of the armies of America (Drank standing.)

11 The sentiments of Washington – perpetual union of the states – Our safeguard in war, as well as security in peace, and pledge of increasing glory. 9 cheers.

12 Confusion to the councils and plots of the enemies of our country – “We hold all nations enemies in war, in peace friends.” 6 cheers.

13 War with England – with France – and with the world- if peace cannot be enjoyed without paying tributes of subjection, losing our liberties, and our independence. 13 cheers.

14 The defence of our rights “with our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honors” – The militia and soldiers of Freedom may be depended on. 17 cheers.

15 The memorable conduct of our gallant sons at Tripoli – It augurs well for the infant navy of our country. 9 cheers.

16 Our trusty and well-beloved Daniel D. Tompkins, and the important state of New York over which he presides – Second to none in the Union 9 cheers.

Source: The Columbian, New York, New York. July 10, 1812 accessed through NewsBank/Readex, Database: America’s Historical Newspapers

Image: The Tammany Society Celebrating the 4th of July, 1812 done in 1869 by William P. Chappel owned by the New York Historical Society

Sean Kelleher is the Historian for the Town of Saratoga

Q&A: Douglas Cubbison on British General Burgoyne

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Douglas R. Cubbison is a military historian, who authored Burgoyne and the Saratoga Campaign: His Papers (2012, Arthur H. Clark Company), which presents the documents and letters of British General John Burgoyne.
 In 1777, Burgoyne began an attempt to divide the rebellious United States in the American Revolutionary War by moving south from the British Canada to gain control of the Hudson River Valley, separating the New England states from those to the south.

After Burgoyne’s early capture of Fort Ticonderoga, his campaign had become bogged down in difficulties and ended with surrender on October 17 of his entire army after the Battles of Saratoga.
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Roller Coaster Landmark: The Comet Marks 85 Years

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Summer means warm weather and visits to the amusement parks. This year, The Comet, a classic wooden roller coaster and without a doubt the most beloved ride at the Six Flags Great Escape in Queensbury, NY, turns 85. The Comet is such an icon that it was named a Roller Coaster Landmark three years ago by the American Coaster Enthusiasts.

“The Comet is truly a special roller coaster that was able to get a ‘second lease on life’ (or in this case, a third as it was part of a previous roller coaster at Crystal Beach). The coaster is fast paced from beginning to end, featuring tremendous ‘air-time’ (that ‘out of your seat feeling’) that coaster lovers craze the most,” explains Dave Hahner, the Historian with American Coaster Enthusiasts (ACE) organization. “We are indeed fortunate to be able to still ride the Comet years after its original park had closed forever.”

“The Comet continues to be our most popular attraction at the Park,” explains Rebecca Close, Communications Manager for the Six Flags Great Escape. “Each year there are over 400,000 rides on the Comet, above all other rides. Another measure of the Comet popularity is that it has been the setting for many weddings for park goers and coaster enthusiasts.”

The Comet was first constructed in 1927 by legendary coaster builder Harry Traver. It was first named the Cyclone, and was thought by many to be the most intense coaster ever. “A nurses station was built near the exit of the ride to assist riders who may have been overcome by some of that ride’s intensity!” said Hahner. It had a laminated wood track and a steel superstructure, but was considered to be a wooden coaster by definition. The Cyclone’s first home was Crystal Beach Amusement Park, a short distance from Buffalo, NY in Ridgeway, Ontario, Canada. The Cyclone enjoyed a robust life until 1946 when decreased park patronage and increased ride maintenance led the Park to dismantle it.

Crystal Beach then contracted with the Philadelphia Toboggan Company (PTC) and Herbert Schmeck, considered one of the best coaster designers of all time, for the design and construction of a new, larger coaster. To save money, the new coaster was built with steel salvaged from the Cyclone. It featured a low-profile layout, which saved on materials, and produced the unbridled speed that riders crave. Unveiled in 1948 as The Crystal Beach Comet, the new coaster was thought by many to be the best of its kind because of its classic profile and thrilling interplay of G-forces.

When Crystal Beach Amusement Park closed in 1989 after its 101st season, enthusiasts mourned the loss of The Comet. A month later, the coaster was rescued from destruction when legendary Charles R. Wood, owner of The Great Escape Fun Park in Lake George, NY, purchased The Comet for a record $210,000.

After a lengthy approval process and several years of storage, reconstruction of this world-class wooden coaster began in earnest in October, 1993. More than 49 tractor-trailer loads of steel crossed New York state, while more than 1,000 concrete footers were poured at The Great Escape. The complex process of sandblasting, restoring, priming, and reassembling thousands of steel subassemblies was handled entirely in-house by park personnel. Hahner explains, “the ride reopened to the public in June of 1994 and is considered a great act of historic coaster preservation, which is also one of the reasons that ACE chose to classify it as a landmark roller coaster.

“This is our signature attraction and each year we invest significant dollars to keep it running smoothly,” said Close. “In the last two years we have replaced a significant portion of the wooden track to maintain its fantastic ride.”

The Comet stands 95 feet tall and reaches speeds up to 60 mph never ceasing to surprise riders with its gut-wrenching hills and drops along its 4,197 foot long track. The Comet is an icon, a classic, a universal favorite that perennially is chosen as one of the top ten roller coasters in the world.

“There are currently 28 roller coasters designated as an ACE Roller Coaster Landmark, with a 29th, Whizzer, an Anton Schwarzkopf steel coaster at Six Flags Great America, to be dedicated in August at our national ACE Preservation Conference,” said Hahner. “The purpose of the landmark award is to make the public aware of the historical significance of those rides that we feel are important to the evolution of roller coaster design or of special historical significance to the amusement industry.”

“We are honored to have such a high profile and historical attraction on our Park. The Great Escape loves to hear the feedback from park guests each year,” said Close. “Guests from all over the world come to ride the Comet and tell us about their first trip, when it was here or while it was at Crystal Beach. The Comet means a lot to The Great Escape and we look forward to providing many more years of thrills at The Great Escape.”

Sean Kelleher is the Historian for the Town of Saratoga in the Upper Hudson Valley.

Cambridge Home of Pie a la Mode in Foreclosure

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The invasion of British TV Chef Gordon Ramsey into Washington County during the winter of 2012 did not leave the horrors of the invasion of British General John Burgoyne during the summer of 1777. However, Ramsey’s new program for Fox TV, Hotel Hell, could not remake the historic Cambridge Hotel hotel and has left the home of Pie a la Mode on the auction block.

As first reported here at New York History in January, the Cambridge Hotel is best known for where apple pie with vanilla ice cream, was invented . Since the filming of the Fox TV show, the hotel, which owed nearly $470,000, has been foreclosed on by the Glens Falls National Bank and Trust Co. The Cambridge Hotel has had financial troubles for years under different owners. The Fox TV show is scheduled to air late this summer.

The American Victory at Saratoga over General Burgoyne in 1777 is known as the Turning Point of the American Revolution. This commentator is hopeful that Chef Ramsey’s TV show will mark a turning point for the Cambridge Hotel.

Sean Kelleher is the Historian for the Town of Saratoga. 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.

Battle of Oriskany Recreation Planned For August

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To commemorate the 235th Anniversary of the Battle of Oriskany in the American War for Independence, the Continental Line and British Brigade Revolutionary War re-enactors, will depict the various New York battles of 1777 on the weekend of August 4 – 5, 2012 at Gelston Castle in Mohawk, NY. Participants can witness the local militia company from Mohawk Valley confronting the King’s Regulars, Loyalist, and Native Americans, in the re-enactment of the “Battle of Oriskany”. The “Battle of Oriskany” is one of a series of event that will be recreated August 4 and 5, 2012 at Gelston Castle, just 15 minutes south of the towns of Herkimer and Mohawk, NY.

“This is a great opportunity to witness our common heritage as Americans” says Mitch Lee, event organizer and Commander of the 1st New York Regiment. “Spectators can arrive on Saturday, August 4 at 10 am to view living history demonstrations and battles from the 1777 New York campaign.” “The site will have 1,500 reenactors and trades people representing the military culture of the American Revolution,” explains Lee. ”There will be lectures, demonstrations and activities though out the weekend and on Saturday night there will the premiere of a pageant play called ‘Drums along the Mohawk’,” added Lee.

This event has been made possible by private funding from many Mohawk Valley businesses and the Safflyn Corporation. Lee points out in a time when historic sites are understaffed and under funded, volunteer units who recreate the American Revolution are still moving forward with plans to commemorate special dates and places in New York history.

For more information visit

Sean Kelleher: Toasts as Cultural History

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Today’s traditions is to raise a glass and offer a toast to celebrate a wedding and a new year. In the 17th through the early 19th century, public toasting was very common and many of these toasts are documented in old newspapers. “Toasts were efforts to draw all present into an agreeable fellowship, whether they wanted to be drawn in or not. At the best. the practice knitted together people from different classes into a comity of good cheer,” explains historian Peter Thompson in And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails.

It was typical during the American War of Independence that 13 toasts were drunk, one for each State, however, the toast below number 18. These toasts were offered on July 5, 1775 by General David Wooster and the officers of the Connecticut forces, who were dining at Mr. Samuel Frances in the Fields with the members of the New York Military Club in New York City. The accounts in Rivington’s New York Gazetteer describe “the day was spent in the utmost harmony every thing conspiring to please being all of one mind and one heart. The following loyal toasts were drank:

1. The king better counselors to him

2. The hon Continental Congress

3. General Washington and the army under his command

4. The several provincial congresses and committees in the confederated colonies

5. A speedy union on constitutional principles between Great Britain and America

6. Conquest and laurels to all those heroes who draw their swords in support of freedom

7. Confusion and disappointment to the friends of despotism and the enemies of America

8. May the disgrace of the rebels against the constitution be as conspicuous as that of the rebels against the house of Hanover

9. All those worthies in both Houses of Parliament who stood forth advocates of America

10. The Lord Mayor and worthy citizens of London

11. The glorious memory of King William

12. The immortal memory of Hampden Sydney and every patriot who fell in defence of liberty

13. May the enemies of America be turned into saltpetre and go off in hot blasts

14. May Great Britain see her error before America ceases in affection

15. May America ever be the dread and scourge of tyrants

16. The daughters of America in the arms of their brave defenders only

17. Death and jack boots before dishonor and wooden shoes

18. The glorious nineteenth of April when the brave Americans convinced General Gage and the friends of tyranny that they dare fight and conquer also

There are a couple of notable items from these toasts. The toasts were drunk the same day as the Continental Congress passed the Olive Branch Petition. The Olive Branch Petition was the last effort of the Continental Congress to avoid war with Great Britain in 1775. Some delegates to the Continental Congress wanted to break with England at this time, but they yielded to the majority who weren’t as radical. Those who were more moderate wanted to explain their position clearly to King George, in hopes that he had been misinformed about their intentions. They made it clear that they were loyal subjects to Great Britain and they wanted to remain so as long as their grievances were addressed. The King refused to even receive their petition. This set the stage for the American Declaration of Independence a year later.

General David Wooster was an American general who served in the French and Indian War and in the American War of Independence (AWI). He died of wounds sustained during the Battle of Ridgefield, Connecticut on May 2, 1777. Cities, schools, and public places were named after him. He has been called “a largely forgotten hero of the Revolution.” A masonic history of Wooster is:

“DAVID WOOSTER was born near Stratford, Conn., March 2nd, 1710-11. After graduation from Yale in 1738, he served as a Lieutenant of the Connecticut Colony sloop “Defense” cruising between Cape Hatteras, Virginia, and Cape Cod, Mass., protecting fishermen and traders against the depredations of Spanish raiders and privateers in “the War of Jenkin’s Ear”. In May 1742 he was promoted to the command of the “Defense”. In the Louisbourg expedition he served as a Captain, commanding a company in the Connecticut contingent, becoming senior Captain at the end of the siege. He was one of an escort of twenty who accompanied the prisoners to France, being assigned to the flag-ship “Launceston” which transported the officers and their families, leaving on July 4th, 1745, in a convoy of eleven ships. This ship proceeded to London where he and his brother officers were feted and honoured in recognition of the great achievement of the colonial troops in the capture of Louisbourg. He was also appointed in December 1745 a Captain in Pepperrell’s new Regiment. It would seem probable that while in London (September to November 9, 1745) he was made a Freemason. On his return to Connecticut he was employed on recruiting service in that State and in December 1745 married a daughter of the President of Yale, Mary Clap, then 15 years of age, his own age being thirty-five. Wooster was on duty with his Regiment at Louisbourg from April 1747 to February 1749 and on the cession of that city back to France in 1748, he returned to New Haven in July 1749. On August 12th, 1750, the Grand Lodge at Boston “At Ye Petition of sundry Brothers (including Whiting) at Newhaven in Connecticut” the charter for the present-day Hiram Lodge, No. 1 was granted, naming David Wooster as first Master. Among his associates were Nathan Whiting and Joseph Goldthwaite, brother officers at the first siege of Louisbourg, at Louisbourg during the period 1747 to 1749. In 1755 he was made a Colonel in the Provincial Army and served in the Campaign of 1755-63 against the French including Quebec in 1759. He took a leading part in the Revolutionary War, and succeeded to the command of Montgomery’s Army at Quebec, after the death of the latter. He was later appointed Major-General in the Connecticut militia and fell mortally wounded while leading an attack at Ridgefield, near Norwalk. A memorial bearing the Square and Compasses stands over the spot where he fell April 27, 1777, while harrying the rear guard of the British troops that had raided Danbury and New Haven. He died May 2, 1777.”

An irony is that General Wooster was an acquaintance of the African-American poet Phillis Wheatley. Phillis Wheatley shared with his widow, Mary (Clap) Wooster, on 15 July 1778, an elegy poem on the death of General David Wooster. This poem is known for its lines concerning slavery in the hero’s prayer at the end: “But how, presumptuous shall we hope to find/ Divine acceptance with th’ Almighty mind — / While yet (O deed ungenerous!) they disgrace/ And hold in bondage Afric’s blameless race…” A contrast to the 18 toasts which do not mention slavery, but do reference “Conquest and laurels to all those heroes who draw their swords in support of freedom”.

Toasts are truly a wonderful area of research. They provide an opportunity to see what our forefathers valued. Toasts are how a community tried to draw in a community in fellowship and celebration.

Illustration: A Birmingham toast, as given on the 14th of July by the–revolution society from Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Sean Kelleher is the Historian for the Town of Saratoga and Village of Victory in the Upper Hudson Valley.

A Chat With Fort Ticonderoga’s Rich Strum

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Rich Strum is the Director of Education at Fort Ticonderoga. For the past 13 years, Strum has responsible for all the educational activities at the Fort (including the 2,000 acres of landscape). His focus includes school programs, family programs, youth group (scouts) programs, seminars and conferences, workshops, college and university partnerships, and lecture programs.

Fort Ticonderoga, America’s Fort, is a private not-for-profit historic site and museum along Lake Champlain that presents the struggles, sacrifices, and victories that shaped the nations of North America and changed world history.

New York History
had the opportunity to do an email interview with Strum about his work at Fort Ticonderoga.

NYH: What is a challenge you face in your job?
RS: I think like all non-profits, the biggest challenge is maximizing limited resources to produce quality programs.

NYH: Tell us about the projects you’ve been working on this past year?
RS: Fort Ticonderoga has a strong reputation for hosting quality seminars and conferences. Our War College of the Seven Years’ War is entering its 17th year and the Seminar on the American Revolution is in its 9th year. In 2012, we’ve added three new seminar programs that reach out to new audiences: “Material Matters: It’s in the Details” is geared for collectors and others with an interest in 18th-century material culture. The First Annual “Garden & Landscape Symposium” complements our King’s Garden and reaches out to regional home gardeners. The “Conference on Lake George and Lake Champlain” takes a holistic view of these lakes, exploring the history, geography, culture, ecology, and current issues related to the region.

We are also expanding our scouting programs, building on our successful school programs to develop scout-specific opportunities on-site.

Probably the biggest undertaking in the past year was hosting an National Endowment for the Humanities Landmarks of American History and Culture Workshops program for school teachers. In July 2011, we held two week-long workshops for a total of 80 teachers from around the country. The focus was “The American Revolution on the Northern Frontier: Fort Ticonderoga and the Road to Saratoga,” looking at the first three years of the Revolution (1775-77). Thanks to a grant from NEH, we were able to bring scholars from across the country to spend a week with teachers talking about aspects of the Revolution. It was a great opportunity for me to work with some prominent national scholars, including William Fowler (Northeastern University), Holly Mayer (Duquesne University), and James Kirby Martin (University of Houston).

NYH: What is the primary constituency you serve?
RS: Most people think “students” when they hear Director of Education, but teachers and adult learners are probably a bigger part of my work. In many ways, every visitor setting foot onsite is my constituency, either directly, or through cooperation with the Collections, Interpretation, and Landscape departments.

NYH: What tools (traditional and digital) do you currently use to work with your constituency (whether it is teachers or docents, etc.)?
RS: We are blessed to have a fantastic collection of artifacts and documents as well as a historic landscape. Digital technology can still present some challenges as we still are beyond the reach of Broadband technology at the Fort itself. Over the past year, we’ve been better about embracing social media (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube) and we’ve revamped our website. I find Constant Contact especially useful in reaching both broad and specific audiences.

NYH: If you could do anything in the online or physical world to better serve your constituency, what would it be?
RS: As part of a much larger long-term goal, we need a visitor orientation center. Currently, visitors are thrust into the landscape with little orientation. In the more immediate future, solving the Broadband challenge would open up a number of opportunities for sharing our programs with those who can’t attend on-site.

NYH would like to thank Rich Strum for taking the time to answer our questions. Fort Ticonderoga offers a wide variety of educational opportunities for students including the highly acclaimed National History Day program held on March 10 at the Deborah Clarke Mars Education Center at Fort Ticonderoga. A new line-up of field trip experiences await students in 2012 including the new “To Act as One United Body” program where students will experience the basics of being a soldier fighting for the Continental Army. For more information on student activities at Fort Ticonderoga visit or call 518-585-2821to schedule a visit.

If you are or know of a museum educator who would be willing to answer a few questions about their work, please contact

Sean Kelleher is served as a member of the New Hampshire Council for the Social Studies Executive Board and was the Director of the Washington County Fair Farm Museum.

History Habits: National Parks Passports for Kids

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History Habits is a series designed to offer activities to parents to encourage their children’s love and enjoyment of history. The goal is to provide parents with tools they can use to stimulate your children’s active involvement in the history that surrounds them every day.

Next time you go exploring either locally or across the country, do not forget your Passport. That is your Passports to Your National Parks and, most importantly for parents, do not forget to bring along your Kids’ Passport to Your National Parks Companion. Passports are a way to “record” your visits to National Parks, Monuments, Recreation Areas, etc. National Park visitors centers and book stores usually have passport stations where you can stamp your books with their location stamp. (Many sites in New York actually have more than one stamp.) The cancellations, similar to those received on an international passport, record the name of the park and the date you visited.

“It is always a delight for me to see families with children come to Martin Van Buren National Historic Site and the first thing they ask for is the stamp for their NPS passports” explains Park Superintendent Dan Dattilio. “Once they get that important task done they
go out and enjoy the park.”

As a parent of two preschoolers, I have seen these passports engage my children by creating a fun learning experience. What I really appreciate is the Kids’ Passport to Your National Parks Companion is an owner manual to the National Parks for children. This companion allows children (guided by parents) to develop a connection with history and the natural world. I hopeful someday my children will appreciate having this record and that is will spark great memories.

These passports provides background information on the National Park Service (NPS) and encourages children to use all of their senses to explore parks. There is plenty of space to record observations, sketch plants and animals, list accomplishments, track visits, and even collect park ranger autographs. The collecting of autographs has created a dialogue between my children and the Park Rangers. It is great fun to see the children engaged in learning and it is my hope that this is the first step in creating stewards for history and National Park sites.

Passports are easy to obtain. You don’t even need a birth certificate or photo. Most NPS visitors centers sell the spiral-bound 6 x 3.5 inch passports and a special Kids’ Passport to Your National Parks Companion for $13.95. For further information call Eastern National 1 (877) NAT-PARK or go to

One suggestion for parents to extend the learning is to bring extra index cards and collect each cancellation stamps on its own index card. This allows for scrap booking the stamp with photos from the site to create a memory book.

If you want to dig deeper into NPS cancellation stamps, think of joining the National Parks Travelers Club. This is a nonprofit, hobbyist organization that have an entire list of where NPS stamps and non-NPS stamps (lighthouses, National Registry homes, State Parks, etc) are located. It is free to join the discussion boards for information on National Park travel or for $10 a year one has access to the entire stamp database, as well as Google Earth maps to each location.

Cancellation sites in New York include:

African Burial Ground NM—New York City

Castle Clinton NM—New York City

Eleanor Roosevelt NHS—Hyde Park

Ellis Island—New York City, N.J./N.Y.

Erie Canalway NHC—Waterford, Buffalo,Rome, Stillwater, Seneca Falls, AKWAABA, Amherst Museum, Burden IronWorks, Camillus Erie Canal Park, Chittenango Landing Canal Boat Museum, Day Peckinpaugh, Erie Canal Discovery Center, Erie Canal Museum, Erie Canalway Visitor Center, Historic Palmyra Museums, Mabee Farm HS, Mary Jemison, Port of Newark Canal Park, RiverSpark VC, Rochester Museum & Science Center, Sam Patch, Sch’dy CHS History Museum, Schoharie Crossing SHS, Seneca Museum of Industry & Waterways, Spencerport Depot & Canal Museum, UGR History Project

Federal Hall N MEM—New York City

Fire Island NS—Wilderness, Watch Hill, Lighthouse, Sailors Haven, William Floyd Estate, Patchogue, Long Island

Fort Stanwix NM—Rome

Gateway NRA—Jamaica Bay; Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn; Wildlife Refuge District, Queens; Breezy Point, Fort Tilden, Ft. Wadsworth; Miller Field, Staten Island; Great Kills Park, Staten Island

General Grant N MEM—New York City

Governors Island NM—New York City

Hamilton Grange NM–New York City

Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt NHS–Hyde Park

Lower East Side Tenement Museum NHS— New York City

Manhattan Sites–Federal Hall, St. Paul’s Church NHS Mount Vernon, General Grant New York City

Martin Van Buren NHS—Kinderhook

North Country National Scenic Trail

Sagamore Hill NHS—Oyster Bay, Sagamore Hill Nature Trail, Roosevelt Museum at Old Orchard,

Saint Paul’s Church NHS–Mount Vernon

Saratoga NHP—Stillwater

Statue of Liberty NM—New York City

Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace NHS—New York City

Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural NHS—Buffalo

Thomas Cole NHS—Catskill

Upper Delaware SRR—Narrowsburg, Zane Grey Museum

Vanderbilt Mansion NHS—Hyde Park,

Women’s Rights NHP—Seneca Falls, M’Clintock House

Sean Kelleher. Kelleher is the Historian for the Town of Saratoga and Village of Victory in the Upper Hudson Valley. 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.

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.