Posts Tagged ‘St Lawrence County’

Monday, July 9, 2012

Charlotte Smith’s War on Bicycling Old Maids

Charlotte Smith of St. Lawrence County was a women’s rights activist with few equals. From the 1870s through the turn of the century, she was among the most famous and visible women in America, battling endlessly for anything and everything that might improve the status of women. No matter what the issue―unemployment, unfair treatment in hiring, deadbeat dads, the plight of single mothers―Charlotte was on the front lines, fearlessly facing down politicians at all levels.

In the 1890s, she also staked out some positions that appeared difficult to defend, but Smith’s single-mindedness gave her the impetus to continue. The bane of women in America held her attention for years, but in modern times, it’s unlikely that any of us would guess its identity based on Charlotte’s description. » Continue Reading.


Monday, July 2, 2012

Charlotte Smith:
A Groundbreaking Advocate for Women’s Rights

In the world of women’s rights, there has been great progress across many issues that are still being debated. A North Country native stands at the forefront of the ongoing battle, taking on a number of concerns: jobs for single mothers; equal pay for equal work; the negative effects of drugs and cigarettes on young women; the horrors of trafficking in women for sexual purposes; food labeling; the restriction of food additives; the rights to patented and copyrighted works; women’s ability to serve in the military; and the issues faced by families of soldiers serving overseas.

If you follow the news, you’ll recognize most of those topics from current or recent headlines. They are the very same issues that were current between 1880 and 1900, when St. Lawrence County’s Charlotte Smith was American’s groundbreaking and leading reformer in the fight for women’s rights. » Continue Reading.


Monday, June 25, 2012

Professor Odlum: A North Country Daredevil

The recent exploits of Nik Wallenda at Niagara Falls call to mind North Country folks who once performed daredevil stunts and amazing feats, some of them more than a century ago. One who secured his place in history was Robert Emmet Odlum, a St. Lawrence County native whose most famous effort earned him footnote status in the story of one of America’s most famous landmarks.

While Odlum’s origins (he was born August 31, 1851) have been reported as Washington, DC, and Memphis, Tennessee, he was born in St. Lawrence County, New York. That information is in stone, literally―Ogdensburg is the birthplace that is carved into the obelisk atop Odlum’s grave. (He was buried in Washington, which may account for some of the confusion.)

Robert’s entire life was linked to water, beginning with the St. Lawrence River, where it is said that he learned to swim as a very young child. That information comes from his mother, who wrote Robert’s life story after he died. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, June 7, 2012

DEC Drafting St Lawrence Flatlands Management Plan

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC) Region 6 office is preparing a unit management plan (UMP) which will include ten state forests and seven detached forest preserve parcels in northern St. Lawrence and Franklin counties. This plan for the new St. Lawrence Flatlands management unit is a continuation of the former Brasher UMP which began several years ago. » Continue Reading.


Monday, April 23, 2012

Rooftop Highway Commentary: A Cause Worth Losing

What follows is a guest commentary by John Danis of the organization YESeleven, a grass roots citizens group in favor of upgrading Route 11 to rural expressway standards as set forth in the 2002 “Northern Tier Transportation Study” and opposed to the “I-98” (Rooftop Highway) project. Copies of the 2002 and 2008 transportation studies are available at their website.

“I-98”. There is no plan, no route, no funding. According to Wikipedia there is no federal designation of it as a current or future interstate highway project. The name, ‘I-98’ is fiction except in the minds of its proponents who created it as an advertising and promotion gimmick. Yet, here we go again with the “I-98” crowd doubling down on yet another propaganda campaign of resolutions from towns and villages in St. Lawrence County to once again try to create the illusion that everyone is in favor of this really bad idea. » Continue Reading.


Monday, March 12, 2012

Edward Babbage: The Story of a Phat Boy

This is a story about a fat guy. In this politically correct and hyper-sensitive world (a Utah School District recently rejected the students’ choice of mascot―cougar―because it might be offensive to middle-aged women!), some of you might already be reaching for your keyboards to send me a nasty message for being so thoughtless. But if I can’t refer to him as fat, I couldn’t write this piece.

I’m pretty sure he knew he was obese, as did anyone who ever met him. But if there was ever any doubt, one could always refer to his professional name: Phat Boy. (Imagine … a name like that, 150 years before the birth of Rap music.)

His given name was Edward Frederick Babbage, the son of John and Frances Babbage, who emigrated from England in the early 1800s and eventually settled in Rochester, New York. Among their five children was a pair of twins, Edward Frederick and Edwin Francis, born in 1841, about 20 miles west of the city. Early on, Edward exhibited a propensity for gaining weight. He was considered large at age six, and weighed 200 pounds when he was fourteen.

By his early twenties, Edward had worked as a hotel porter, hotel manager, traveling salesman, museum manager, and glassblower (he was lead agent for a group of glassblowers performing at various venues). After the Civil War ended, he returned to Rochester. A number of veteran soldiers formed a minstrel troupe (again, politically incorrect), and Edward worked successfully as their road agent for three years.

When minstrel performer and organizer “Happy Cal” Wagner needed an agent, he dispatched a telegram to Rochester, but unaware of Edward’s first name, Wagner addressed it to “Phat Boy Babbage.” The nickname became Edward’s public identity, and for the next several years, he traveled across the country, representing various minstrel shows (including Wagner’s) and other performers.

Invariably, at the bottom of newspaper ads and posters touting his events appeared, “Phat Boy, Agent.” Everyone in the business knew him, and Edward became somewhat of a celebrity in his own right, courtesy of his large size, charming personality, handsome looks, and great sense of humor. He was always good for a laugh, and people gravitated to him. (If you caught it, that’s the sort of self-deprecating humor he employed.)

For more than a decade, he traveled to every state in the country (there were 37 at the time), and claimed to have visited every city or town of more than 5,000 residents. His travels included stops in northern New York and southern Quebec, and in the early 1870s, he recognized an opportunity for promotional work of a different sort.

The spectacular scenery of the Thousand Islands area was attracting thousands of travelers, and during the summer months, Edward began working as a tour guide on the water. It was there that he became a North Country legend.

Steamship companies sought his services, and Phat Boy himself became one of the area’s great attractions, holding court while seated in the bow of the boat, and always wearing his two signature items: a felt hat with a large brim, and a diamond pin on his chest. As individual islands were passed, he spouted (there’s another one) their history, interspersed with colorful stories and plenty of humor.

Edward became well-versed on the background of sites from the Great Lakes to Montreal, plus Boston, New York City, the Hudson River Valley, and Lake Champlain. He eventually put it in writing, and for more than a decade, a new version of his booklet appeared each year, with the title changed and the text modified.

One of the later editions was The Phat Boy’s 15 Years on the St. Lawrence River: The People I Have Met and the Things I Have Seen. For 25¢ each, Babbage sold thousands of copies to his followers. He addressed his great size in the text, warning others that being large wasn’t always so great, and that he often couldn’t fit into common spaces designed for average-sized people. As always, the passages were laced with humor.

He also told of encounters with famous people, many of whom had sought him out for his own fame as a guide. Among them were President Grant, George Pullman (of the luxurious Pullman rail cars), Mark Twain, Sir John A. MacDonald (Canada’s first prime minister), and members of various royal families. Others too numerous to mention were captains of industry, including many who owned St. Lawrence River islands that were part of his tours.

For all the references to his weight over the years, Edward carried it well. Unlike in modern times, well beyond 300 pounds was substantial for his era. Yet the consensus held that Phat Boy’s great bulk was dwarfed by his bigger-than-life personality. He was invariably described as congenial, obliging, and very funny.

Which all combined to make him a hit on the St. Lawrence River boat tours. He worked hard to learn the region’s history, an effort reflected in another, more flattering, nickname: the Bureau of Information.

By 1890, more tours and stories were added to his repertoire. From his storytelling perch in the bow, he often referred to his weight as 333 pounds. His wife, also very large, had died a few years earlier, and their daughter was heavy as well. Edward’s twin brother, Dr. Edwin Babbage, was said to have lagged behind him, weighing around 300.

At Alexandria Bay’s Marsden House, on the evening of June 30, 1891, Edward didn’t feel well after a full day’s work and told hotel employees he was retiring to his second-floor room to rest. Though he whistled a tune while climbing the stairs, pain suddenly overtook him. He called out for someone to summon a doctor, and then fell at the head of the stairs, dead. He was 51.

Mourning ensued up and down the shores of the St. Lawrence, and the flags of several boats and islands were lowered to half staff in his honor. Edward’s guidebooks, maps, and some great memories eased the loss, but nothing could replace the man who had spent 18 years on a job he truly loved. Eight months later, his twin brother Edwin, who had been ill, died similarly, collapsing in the streets of Rochester.

Photo: Edward Frederick “Phat Boy” Babbage; advertisement with “Phat Boy, Agent.”

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.


Monday, March 5, 2012

Civil War: North Country Volunteers, Bounties, and the Draft

While reviewing some Civil War materials, I encountered mention of the New York City Draft Riots, which reminded me of my own experience with the draft back in the late 1960s. Whether there was a war or not, I had no interest in joining the military, but it was out of my hands. Vietnam was getting worse instead of better, and more troops were being sent. When I became eligible to go, America switched to the draft lottery.

While I was still in high school, my number (based on birthdays) came up in the 200s, so I didn’t have to go unless I enlisted. That wasn’t the case for men aged 18–45 during the Civil War. They had options, and not being drafted was one of them.

Few people realize that a draft of sorts was used even in the 1700s, a century before the Civil War, and that it was very similar in nature. The call for troops emanated from a central authority, whether it was the Continental Congress, or later, the President (or the Secretary of War).

Across the land, the order was funneled down to the county and town levels, where volunteers were sought. If a town’s quota wasn’t filled by men joining of their own volition, bounties (bonuses) were introduced: the government, the local municipality, or private citizens offered money to entice recruits.

People learned quickly not to volunteer, but instead waited for bounties to become available (like today’s signing bonus). Why join for free when incentives would surely be offered? Thus, bonuses eventually became standard for enlistees.

In 1863, when President Lincoln called for 300,000 troops, every Congressional District in the North had to meet their quota. If you were healthy and were among those called, you had several options provided by federal law: pay a substitute to take your place; pay a commutation fee of $300, enabling you to avoid service; or join the fight.

During that particular call for troops, New York State citizens were offered financial enticements (bounties) that were hard to resist for the average struggling family. In all, bonuses from the county, state, and feds brought the ante to more than $700 per man (over $12,000 in 2012).

Substitutes received the same financial benefits as volunteers, and were also officially listed as “volunteers,” even though they were solicited, recruited, and paid to join the army.

Although the cause was noble, the great pride felt by many Northern states for providing volunteers to preserve the nation was not based entirely in honorable intentions. One reason that so many enlisted was because of the bonuses. It was better to take the financial incentives rather than risk being drafted, which carried with it no bonus pay at all.

Truth be told, the reaction to the draft in the 1860s was typical. A small minority of men (but still numbering in the thousands) opted for draft dodging: many went West, or paid an extended visit to Canada. For that reason, the President made it a crime for any draft-eligible man to leave his state (or the country), a remarkably deep incursion into personal liberty in a nation that so valued freedom for all (unless you were Black, of course). The travel restriction was lifted only after a region’s soldier quota was met.

The majority reacted typically as well, enlisting to take advantage of the financial incentives rather than risk being drafted. As Lincoln himself said, the intent of the draft was not to force men to join, but to increase the number of enlistees (“volunteers”). It mattered not if soldiers were substitutes paid to enlist by either the original draftee or the government.

Though individuals could avoid military service by hiring substitutes or paying a fee, entire counties (dozens of them) took action to avoid the draft for its citizens. Among them in New York was Rensselaer County, which put up $75,000 as bounty (bonus) money, and St. Lawrence County, which took it much further, appropriating more than a half million dollars.

Bonds were sold to finance the plan, backed by St. Lawrence County property valued at more than $15 million. An agent was hired, tasked with the job of recruiting through widespread advertising, and then paying the amounts promised to the “volunteers.”

The process also served another purpose: saving counties the embarrassment of failing to muster enough volunteers to battle for America’s existence. If an outright draft became necessary (forcing men to fight), it might cause others to question Northern citizens’ patriotism.

There were also many private draft agents who were unscrupulous, reaping small fortunes by charging high fees for recruitment of replacement soldiers. Those who weren’t poor willingly parted with substantial cash to avoid joining the battle.

Besides commutation fees and substitutes, there was one other avenue open to those seeking to avoid military service: medical exemption. The government issued an official list of 41 health concerns (complete with detailed levels of disease and disability) that would excuse men from the draft.

Prospective but unwilling warriors perused the list for any symptom, real or imagined, that might save them from service. Doctors reported a surge in self-mutilation (unexplained loss of fingers, toes, and teeth).

The list of exemptive health problems covered the obvious, including insanity, epilepsy, cancer, heart disease, missing limbs, severe skin problems, and more. Others were less common and perhaps surprising: stammering (if excessive, and if proven by evidence under oath); loss of a sufficient number of teeth to prevent mastication of food; a grossly protruding abdomen; and excessive obesity.

Another was cringe-worthy enough that I, for one, would have enlisted with enthusiasm: incontinence. Mild enough, sure, but talk about incentives: the only requirement for proof was “introduction of a metallic catheter.” That would have sent me sprinting to the recruiter’s office.

Another affliction qualifying for exemption was “retracted testicles,” but with the rejoinder, “voluntary retraction does not exempt.” Puzzling enough on its own, it also begs the question: “So this happened enough to merit an entry in the Surgeon General’s manual?”

Photos: Civil War recruiting posters included bounty incentives.

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.


Monday, February 27, 2012

A St. Lawrence County Trust Buster, Peace Advocate

The Potsdam area of St. Lawrence County is home to many citizens of great accomplishment. The achievement list is extensive: a US Secretary of State; a Nobel Peace Prize winner; a judge on the World Court; an attorney known as the “Trust Buster” for defeating multiple gigantic corporations, including Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company; and a man who was the force behind the historic Kellogg-Briand Peace Pact of 1928.

There’s more, including a senator from Minnesota and a US Ambassador to Great Britain. By any standard, that’s an impressive list. What makes it truly mindboggling is one other fact: those are all the accomplishments of a single North Country native.

Frank Billings Kellogg had such a varied, successful career that even an outline of his life is very impressive. He was born in Potsdam in December 1856, the son of Asa Farnsworth Kellogg and Abigail Billings Kellogg. The family moved to Long Lake, New York, in 1857, and then relocated west to a small farm in Minnesota in 1865.

Five years later, Asa’s health problems forced fourteen-year-old Frank to quit school in order to run the farm. In 1872, the family moved to Olmsted County, where they assumed operations of a larger farm. These seemingly trivial events would play an important role in Kellogg’s career.

In 1875, when he was nineteen, Frank left the farm and moved to nearby Rochester, Minnesota, where he ran errands and did chores in exchange for the opportunity to read and study law in a local office. He worked on nearby farms to support himself.

Two years later, the young, self-taught lawyer was admitted to the bar, and within a year was appointed Rochester city attorney. In 1881, he became Olmsted County attorney, a position he held until 1887. During his tenure, Frank won an important case representing two townships against a railroad company, which helped establish his eventual career path.

He married Clara Cook in 1886, and in the following year became a member of Davis, Kellogg, and Severance, a new firm that for decades remained one of the top corporate law firms in the Midwest. Among their clients were some of the most powerful businessmen and politicians in the country.

For several years, Frank was a Minnesota delegate to the Republican National Convention, while also serving the party in several other capacities. In 1905, his reputation led to assignment as prosecutor of the Western Paper Trust for violating the Sherman Antitrust Act. His efforts forced the company to dissolve in 1906, and Kellogg became known as a “trust-buster.”

During the next several years, Teddy Roosevelt appointed him to similar ventures against several railroad trusts and Standard Oil, the massive corporation owned by J. D. Rockefeller, the world’s richest man. In each case, Kellogg won, enhancing his public persona. His victory over Standard Oil solidified the perception that Frank was the nation’s top trust-buster.

In 1912, he was elected president of the American Bar Association. Kellogg left Republican ranks to support Roosevelt’s presidential campaign under the Progressive Party, but in 1916, he returned to the GOP and became the first Minnesota senator ever elected by popular vote.

After serving for six years, Kellogg lost his re-election bid. In 1923, shortly after leaving office, he began his first diplomatic mission, having been assigned by President Harding to the Fifth Pan-American Conference, held in Chile. Harding died later that year, and when Kellogg returned, President Coolidge appointed him as US ambassador to Great Britain, a position he assumed for two years.

In 1925, Coolidge named him Secretary of State, and through 1929 he represented American interests around the world. Kellogg was a strong proponent of arbitration rather than military involvement to settle international disputes. He signed a record number of treaties during his tenure (more than eighty). The most famous of all was the Pact of Paris, often referred to as the Kellogg-Briand Pact.

In the years following the horrors of World War I, French Foreign Minister Aristide Brand called for a treaty with the US, specifically denouncing war. Kellogg was less than enthusiastic initially, wary of making the US appear weak.

But the concept aligned with his own beliefs, and Kellogg seized the opportunity, offering a remarkable counter-proposal: a treaty “renouncing war as an instrument of national policy.”

He pushed the idea for all he was worth, and in August 1928, an agreement was signed. Eventually, more than 60 nations committed to the alliance.

Though war continued in the years to come, Kellogg’s efforts were lauded by many as an honorable, honest attempt at eliminating war as a tool for settling differences. Until the signing of the Kellogg-Briand Pact, war had been accepted worldwide as a legal policy. There was no clause providing for punishment of violators, causing some to label the new pact as a futile effort. Others deemed it an idea well worth pursuing.

After leaving office in 1929, Frank toured Europe and America, receiving many honorary degrees and other laurels for his work towards ending international conflict. In addition to the French Legion of Honor medal, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1929.

A year later, Kellogg was elected to the World Court, but resigned in 1935 due to health reasons. He passed away in St. Paul, Minnesota, on December 21, 1937, one day shy of his 81st birthday. Death spared him the great disappointment of seeing world war afflict the planet less than two years in the future.

Though some dismissed his efforts for world peace as misguided and unrealistic, many others admired Kellogg’s adherence to a noble, worthy cause. To not pursue the opportunity would have meant giving up hope.

And as a man who rose from the humble beginnings of a poor farm boy, a self-educated attorney who reached the top of his profession, and a man who performed for years on the world stage, Frank Kellogg knew a thing or two about hope.

Photos: Frank Billings Kellogg (circa 1900); in the East Room of the White House in 1929, standing are Calvin Coolidge, President Herbert Hoover, and Frank B. Kellogg, with representatives of the governments that ratified the Kellogg-Briand Pact; Frank Billings Kellogg (1912).

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.


Thursday, February 2, 2012

St. Lawrence Valley Primitive Snowshoe Biathlon

The St. Lawrence Valley Primitive Snowshoe Biathlon, organized by the Fort La Présentation Association and Forsyth’s Rifles and hosted by the Massena Rod & Gun Club, will be held March 3-4, 2012.

“In our primitive biathlon, competitors on snowshoes run or walk a measured course,” said Fred Hanss, an event organizer. “They must load and fire two shots from a muzzle-loading firearm at five targets set at well-spaced stations and throw an axe at the sixth station.”

Two of the three classes reflect the organizers’ mission to educate the public about the colonial and early American history of the St. Lawrence River Valley. In the first two classes, competitors using smoothbore muskets or rifles (flintlock or caplock) must cover the course on wooden snowshoes. In the third category, participants with in-line rifles may wear wooden or modern snowshoes.

The advance registration fee is $20. Registration on the day of the event is $25. After paying the initial registration fee, a re-entry fee of $5.00 will be charged each time that a participant runs the course.

Within the competitive classes, there are men’s, ladies’, and youth divisions. Awards will be presented to the top three participants in each division at a ceremony on Sunday afternoon.

“To add to the fun, a blanket shoot will be held and door prizes will be available Saturday and Sunday,” Mr. Hanss said. “Net proceeds from the primitive biathlon will go to the Fort La Présentation Association for the construction of an Interpretive Center and the reconstruction of historic Fort de la Présentation on Ogdensburg’s Lighthouse Point.”

Participants are encouraged to wear historic clothes covering 1750 to 1812. Fort de la Présentation was one of a handful of French colonial forts in New York State. Forsyth’s Rifles from Ogdensburg re-enacts a U.S. Army regiment posted in Northern New York during the War of 1812. From the French and Indian War period, they portray a unit of French marines.
Registration form and rules are at www.fort1749.org.

Photo courtesy The Dalton gang Shooting Club of NH.


Monday, November 28, 2011

Noted Local Philanthropist Nettie McCormick

In 1835, in the small community of Brownville, a few miles west of Watertown, was born a young girl who would one day impact the lives of countless thousands. Nancy “Nettie” Fowler, the daughter of store owners Melzar and Clarissa (Spicer) Fowler, was the victim of tragic circumstances at an early age. In the year of Nettie’s birth, Melzar’s brother convinced him to move 13 miles northwest to Depauville, where trade was considerably more active at the time.

While on a business trip to Watertown, Melzar’s team of difficult horses caused problems for a hotel hostler, who found it too dangerous to enter the stall to feed them. When Fowler himself tried, one of the horses reared and struck him in the head with its hoof.

The family was summoned, and three days later, Melzar died from his injuries. Nettie was less than a year old (her brother, Eldridge, was two). Clarissa ran the family business while raising two small children, but seven years later, she died as well.

Nettie was raised in the home of her grandmother and uncle in Clayton, on the St. Lawrence River. The household’s strong Christian bent would have a lasting effect on her future.

Uncle Eldridge Merick’s lifestyle—daily toil, active community support, and deep involvement in (Methodist) church activities—influenced Nettie’s own life choices. In an era when women were generally expected to be homemakers, Merick’s prosperity provided other opportunities for his niece.

Following local schooling, and beginning in her teen years, Nettie attended Falley Seminary in Fulton, Emma Willard’s Troy Female Seminary, and the Genesee Wesleyan Seminary in Lima, New York. She was active in the missionary society and taught for a year at the little school she once attended in Clayton.

Hard work, luck, and serendipity guide most lives, and so it was with Nettie Fowler. The world of high finance seemed the unlikeliest of possible components of her humble life, but on a trip to Chicago, she made the acquaintance of a man by the name of McCormick.

He was a strong Presbyterian, while she was a Methodist, and at 49, he was more than twice her age (23). Despite those differences, the two hit it off. Within six months, she began attending his church, and in January 1858, a year after they met, Nettie Fowler married Cyrus McCormick.

Yes, THAT Cyrus McCormick. The one who, as we learned in grade school, was the inventor of a machine that changed the world (the mechanical reaper). His business had made him a very wealthy man.

Both were considered very strong-willed, but disagreements and difficulties aside, young Nettie became her husband’s silent business partner. Together, they forged forward in industry and shared many philanthropic efforts aimed at churches, schools, and youth.

In 1871, the Great Chicago Fire destroyed the McCormick Harvesting Machine plant. While Cyrus was discouraged, Nettie insisted they rebuild and took the lead in the resurgence of the company. Seven years later, Cyrus’ health issues left Nettie running the business, which she did for six years. He died in 1884, leaving a will that provided for division of the company at the end of five years, and specified various philanthropic work as well. The estate value was estimated at $5 million (equal to $118 million in 2011).

Eventually, Cyrus, Jr., officially took over the company, but Nettie remained deeply involved financially and in business decisions. She also expanded her own charitable work on behalf of the poor while providing financial support to several organizations with the same mission. Nettie’s childhood influences of “giving back” were coming to bear in a very positive way.

The McCormick business remained successful, but competition, particularly from Deering Harvester Company, began to make solid inroads. By the turn of the century, a merger between rivals was in the works.

One of Nettie’s sons, Harold, had (in 1895) married Edith Rockefeller, daughter of John D., the world’s richest man. When the decision was made to merge McCormick and Deering (and a few smaller companies) into a new entity called International Harvester, the family connection to the Rockefellers was used to ensure that the McCormicks remained in control.

On paper, they were the directors, but in reality, the entire business was owned and operated by J. P. Morgan, who had provided backing of $120 million ($3.1 billion in 2011) to finance the deal and direct the company’s future. That high dollar assessment seemed to vastly overvalue the new conglomerate, but Morgan knew well the path he intended to take.

The McCormicks were mere figureheads while J. P. ran the show. In no time at all, he managed to sully the McCormick name by incorporating the shady practices he and Rockefeller (and many others) had used to control most of the nation’s important industries.

The Morgan and Rockefeller banks, which provided monthly funding for payroll and other necessities to so many businesses, informed several farm implement companies that funding was no longer available. They faced sudden financial ruin—or they could sell to Morgan. They sold.

For those who resisted, the next step was denying the use of Morgan and Rockefeller-owned railroads for transporting the farmers’ products. The two men, of course, controlled most of the major transportation routes.

How successful were those tactics? They had already made J. D. Rockefeller the wealthiest man in American history, and had done much for Morgan as well. Two years after the harvester merger, with the competition removed, the prices of farm machinery more than doubled.

Such monopolistic practices (like the Rockefeller oil business) led to a stranglehold on commerce. Trustbusters battled against the financial titans for years, and the monopolies were finally forced by the government to dismantle.

After years of complaints from farming states, the feds finally took action in court against Morgan’s International Harvester Company. In 1912, control of business operations was returned to the board of directors (the McCormicks).

Eventually, the Supreme Court forced the breakup of the company due to Morgan’s monopolistic and illegal practices. In a remarkable turnaround, Cyrus McCormick’s business was restored, eventually regaining its good name and returning to the philanthropic efforts of the past.

By the time of his death in 1884, Cyrus had given away $550,000 ($10–15 million in 2011), a mere drop in the bucket compared to what wife Nettie donated as the company grew in value over the years. Her focus on philanthropy surged in 1890, and by the time of her death in 1923, Nettie McCormick had given away more than $8 million ($125–200 million in 2011). She supported private schools and institutions, plus missions and churches.

Beginning in 1887, McCormick donations had funded several buildings of Tusculum College in Tennessee, where Nettie was deeply involved in teacher selection, expansion of the curriculum, and many other aspects of college life. In her honor, every year since 1913, the school holds Nettie Fowler McCormick Service Day, during which faculty and students join in all sorts of charitable works and improvement of the school grounds.

She was fortunate to have married a very wealthy man, but in life, you play the hand you’re dealt. Many people in similar circumstances have done little to help others, and she could have settled comfortably into the ranks of the idle rich.

Yet, from the time she was in her early twenties, Nettie worked on behalf of the underprivileged, supported women’s rights, handled a major corporation, financed schools and theological institutes, and forged her own path.

On top of that, the great majority of her philanthropy was done anonymously, as evidenced by Nettie’s obituary, which cited donations to six institutions when, in fact, the record later revealed she had supported forty-six. Her estate was valued at $15 million ($192 million in 2011).

In her final will and testament, $1 million ($13 million in 2011) was designated for certain charities. The remainder was divided among the McCormick children with the understanding that they would be likewise generous in giving.

In 1954, when Nettie’s daughter, Anita, died, her holdings were value at $35 million ($284 million in 2011). Of that total, she donated $20 million ($162 million in 2011) to various charities. Mom would surely have been proud.

Photos: Above, Nancy Maria “Nettie” McCormick; Middle, McCormick Hall on the Tusculum College campus; Below, Nettie McCormick (Mathew Brady, 1862).

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.


Monday, November 7, 2011

Lawrence Gooley: Long History of the ‘Rooftop Highway’

As has happened for so many, many years now, the Rooftop Highway is in the news again, with plenty of pros and cons presented and a whole lot hanging in the balance. While listening to some of the arguments, it struck me that the idea is perhaps a little older than some of us think. Paul Sands of WPTZ recently commented that the Rooftop Highway idea hasn’t moved for 20 years, but at the very least, I’m old enough to recall the intense discussions during the 1970s, and that takes us back 40 years.

Of course, the record shows that the concept was legitimized a half-century ago when, in early 1961, the New York State legislature passed a bill that included the proposed road as part of the federal interstate highway system.

In the 1960s, the idea was pushed by State Senator Robert McEwen (an Ogdensburg native) and Clinton County Assemblyman Robert Feinberg (Malone native and Plattsburgh resident). In fact, Feinberg said it would happen “sooner or later,” even if Governor Nelson Rockefeller vetoed the bill (which he did, after both houses passed it).

Perhaps not so coincidentally, Feinberg’s father, New York State Senator Benjamin Feinberg, was highly critical of the condition of the state’s highways in the late 1930s. At that time, he called for the construction of four-lane highways to help make travel safer. Decades later, Robert followed up on his father’s ideas.

Unnoticed in the mix was New York State Assemblyman Leslie G. Ryan (of Rouses Point), who presented serious arguments for the establishment of a main highway north to the Canadian border, and another running east from Clinton County to Watertown, the same concept known today as the Rooftop Highway.

Ryan’s ideas may well have been adopted by Congress when the interstate highway system later became reality. In 1940, when he proposed the idea of a multi-lane route across northern New York, his motivation came from several sources. Some of those same reasons were cited years later in the battle over the Rooftop Highway.

At the time, the United States was still fifteen months away from entering World War II. England and Canada, however, were at war with Germany. It occurred to Ryan and many others that a German victory could suddenly place the Nazis on our northern border, which was basically undefended.

(From the days of the Revolutionary War through the Civil War, the northern border had been a constant security concern. Since that time, the level of worry had waned, but it was still an issue.) By mid-1940, the Germans had won many victories, and Canada and Britain (among others) had already been at war with them for a year.

With German dominance a real possibility, Assemblyman Ryan addressed the problem eloquently in a letter to Congressman Clarence Kilburn, who in turn presented it at the federal level to the War Department. Ryan’s arguments were compelling.

“It seems to me that a weakness in our national defense, and one that would seriously hamper our cooperation with Canada, is our present system of main highways in northern New York. Over our narrow roads, it would be practically impossible to move large numbers of troops and military equipment, including heavy guns and tanks, with the speed necessary for effective operation in modern mechanized warfare.

“Because our Northern border is completely undefended, our inability to speedily concentrate forces in this section might well prove disastrous to our national defense, more particularly if Germany should defeat England and attempt an invasion of this country through Canada.

“It is my belief that the main highway from Glens Falls to the Canadian boundary at Rouses Point should be widened to provide three or four lanes, and the U. S. Highway No. 11 from Rouses Point through Champlain, Mooers, Ellenburg, Chateaugay, and Malone to Watertown and south to Syracuse, should likewise be widened, and much of it resurfaced with concrete.

“Such improvements would provide broad military highways from Albany, Syracuse, and then south to and along the Canadian boundary over which troops and military equipment could be moved speedily to the northern frontier if it should become necessary.

“They would also give direct connection between Lake Champlain and the St. Lawrence River, and the three United States Army posts at Plattsburgh, Madison Barracks [Sackets Harbor], and Fort Ethan Allen, the latter by way of the Rouses Point bridge.”

Looking to the future, Ryan added, “In ordinary times, these three or four lane highways would be no more than adequate to care for our constantly increasing local and tourist automobile traffic.” In other words, the changes wouldn’t be overkill, even in peacetime.

In the 1960s, twenty years later, McEwen’s plan cited a top priority that was remarkably similar to Ryan’s: “From a defense standpoint, this Rooftop Highway could be very important. Such installations as Rome Air Force Base, Camp Drum, Plattsburgh Air Force Base, Atlas missile sites in the Plattsburgh area, and the Burlington dispersal area would be served by this Rooftop Highway.”

Most, if not all, media refer to the “original” plan floated in the early 1960s for a Rooftop Highway, but the concept was promoted by Assemblyman Leslie Ryan of Rouses Point two decades earlier. Depending on which side of the argument you’re on, part of the blame or credit goes to Mr. Ryan.

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.


Monday, September 26, 2011

North Country Stories of Survival

No bones were broken. It’s a statement of relief that frequently appears in accident reports, emphasizing the fact that perhaps bones should have been broken, but due to amazing luck or some other reason, the victim survived perilous circumstances to emerge relatively unscathed. Stories of that type appear occasionally, and they’re always interesting.

It’s remarkable that in July 1895, three North Country survival stories appeared on a single newspaper page. Forget broken bones—it’s amazing that any of the victims survived. Yet among the three, there was only one broken bone.

Fourteen-year-old Frank Blanchard of Buck’s Bridge, about eight miles north of Canton in St. Lawrence County, was driving a load of hay when he fell from the wagon. He unfortunately fell forward, and as the horses drew the loaded wagon down the road, it ran over his shoulders and neck.

Despite the brush with death, young Blanchard was apparently intact and reportedly on the way to a quick recovery.

Along the Black River in Jefferson County, Mrs. Carl Hart was performing a routine chore in the field, untying a cow for milking. As she did so, a train passed by, spooking the cow, which bolted for parts unknown.

The rope became wrapped around Mrs. Hart’s ankles, and in an instant she was being dragged to almost certain death. Her body bounced terribly across the rough ground and then into the underbrush, where branches and thorns tore at her clothing and skin. The resistance of dragging through the brush caused the rope to slide down until it finally pulled her shoes off. That may well have saved her life.

The cow continued, but Mrs. Hart was left lying unconscious in the brush, bleeding from a multitude of cuts and scrapes, and nearly naked, her clothing having been shredded. Noticing her unusual absence from the home for so long a period, Mr. Hart began searching, and about thirty minutes after the incident, he found her.

After carrying his wife’s limp form to the house, Mr. Hart tended to her wounds and summoned a doctor. When Mrs. Hart finally regained consciousness, it was determined that she had suffered a broken bone in her right arm. It was termed “a miraculous escape from a terrible death.”

In Chateaugay, ten-year-old Delor Bushey and some friends spent a hot summer day playing in the river above a waterfall. The strength of the current proved too much, and young Delor was swept downstream over the 35-foot-high falls.

Landing on his head and shoulders, he was drawn into the whirlpool at the base of the falls, and it was five minutes before his friends finally managed to pull Delor ashore, an apparent drowning victim.

His body was taken to the Bushey home, where a doctor found signs of life in the boy. But Delor remained unresponsive, and as the hours passed, hope faded.

Then, in the unlikeliest of outcomes, he regained consciousness about eight hours after plunging over the falls. On the very next day, he was out and about as usual.

Despite sliding along the rocky riverbed and dropping 35 feet, Delor’s final assessment was — no bones were broken.

Lawrence Gooley has authored nine books and many articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004 and have recently begun to expand their services and publishing work. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Saturday, September 17, 2011

Clarkson University’s 3rd Forever Wired Conference

Clarkson University is now taking registrations at http://www.clarkson.edu/adk for the third annual Forever Wired Conference on Tuesday, October 4, in Potsdam.

The conference will offer a variety of sessions geared toward assisting small business owners and teleworkers in rural communities. Attendees will have the opportunity to discuss responsible and sustainable economic growth in the Adirondack region, and address the resources available to assist entrepreneurs in overcoming challenges.

These sessions will offer workshops on:

– Telecommuting Tips
– Overcoming Rural Entrepreneurship Challenges
– Micro-financing
– Government, Industry and Higher Education Collaboration
– Doing Business Internationally

Professionals and organizations are invited to set up promotional displays at the conference to connect with other entrepreneurs who may be seeking their services. Free one-on-one consultations with experts from Clarkson University’s Shipley Center for Innovation and Reh Center for Entrepreneurship will also be available upon request, as well as networking with rural sector experts from around the east coast, who are helping with the sessions.

“The Forever Wired schedule is designed to bring a wide cross section of regional stakeholders together,” said conference chair Kelly O. Chezum, vice president for external relations at Clarkson. “We will cover professional development, networking and information sessions for working-wired entrepreneurs, mobile workers, corporate telecommuters and people interested in green tech commerce.”

Last year’s conference drew more than 250 participants from across New York State and included many seasonal residents of the Adirondack Park, as well.

The conference is a central component of the Adirondack Initiative for Wired Work, which is championed by a team of regional leaders and energized professionals dedicated toward creation of a sustainable economy in the greater Adirondack North Country. Through their activities, the Adirondack Initiative encourages telework, green-tech commerce and entrepreneurship from home offices and businesses with minimal impact on the natural environment.

“We must advance economic opportunities that will attract and retain our young people and bring meaningful employment into to the region,” said Clarkson President Tony Collins. “The Adirondack Initiative balances the environmental needs of our region, and is aimed at preserving the unique character of our Adirondack and North Country communities, which we share with recreational enthusiasts, tourists and wildlife.”

Clarkson University is expanding support services for teleworkers and entrepreneurs in the area. The Adirondack Business Center hosted by the Clarkson Entrepreneurship Center in Saranac Lake, N.Y. is equipped with wireless Internet, a conference room, quiet workspace, and will provide other amenities to the public. The built-in classroom holds sessions such as “My Small Business 101” to advance practical business skills of local entrepreneurs.

For more information on the Adirondack Initiative for Wired Work, or to register for the Forever Wired Conference, go online, e-mail foreverwired@clarkson.edu or call 315-268-4483.


Monday, July 18, 2011

The Life Struggles of Dean Clute

Perspective. It is a singular word that can determine a life’s path, quality, and value to others. Those born to all manner of social and financial advantage, but with little change or improvement during their own lifetimes, can be perceived as relative failures, while those who strive to overcome physical, mental, or financial handicaps are viewed as accomplished, no matter what their ultimate achievement might be.

By that measure, one of the most successful citizens to ever have graced the North Country is largely unknown. He was an ordinary man blessed with athletic talent, and raised in a family of outstanding musicians. In the end, it was courage that defined him.

Dean Clute was born in Morristown, New York, on the shores of the St. Lawrence River in October 1893. The fourth of Amos and Henrietta Clute’s seven children, he was an average boy who enjoyed the usual pursuits along the river, as well as in Nicholville, a small settlement in the town of Hopkinton where the family lived for many years.

They also lived in Potsdam, but for most of Dean’s teen years the family resided in Ogdensburg. There he attained a measure of local fame for his skill on the baseball field. After high school, he found work on a Great Lakes lighthouse tender, a ship charged with servicing and maintaining the region’s lighthouses.

Among the many ports he visited was Rochester, and in June 1912, a marriage license was issued there to Dean Clute, 18, and Eva McLennan, 25, a girl with family in Ogdensburg. The two soon married, but just seven months later, in January 1913, Eva passed away at home. (It’s likely she died during childbirth. Dean told interviewers years later that he married at 18 but had lost his wife and child on the same day.)

It was an enormous tragedy to endure, but Dean soldiered on. Eventually he found work in a profession he knew quite well: baseball. Over six feet tall and sturdily built, he immersed himself in the sport and became a pitcher of wide repute in Buffalo, Rochester, and Watertown.

Manager John Ganzel (of Michigan’s famed Ganzel baseball family) liked what he saw and signed Dean to play for the Rochester Hustlers of the International League in 1914. This was no small shakes—the International League was Triple-A ball, just one step below the major leagues. Things were once again looking pretty good for the boy from Morristown.

Prior to the season, though, and less than a year after losing his wife and child, Dean began experiencing unusual aches and pains. The diagnosis was arthritis, a disease not generally associated with young, strong, twenty-year-old athletes.

And this was no ordinary case. The effects were so sudden and so debilitating that Dean was unable to honor his baseball contract. He visited several doctors and treatment centers, but no one could do anything to arrest the arthritic attack that seemed bent on consuming his body.

Within a year he was confined to a wheelchair, and as the disease progressed, Dean became bedridden. He moved to Watertown where he could be with family (his father and brother had established a successful contracting business there and built several commercial structures).

After three years of focusing on his own suffering and watching his limbs become gnarled and useless, Clute had an epiphany. His body was dying, but his mind was as clear as ever—so why not use it? His eyes could still move, which meant he could read, even if he needed someone to turn the pages for him. And so he began to read voraciously, ranging from philosophy to the great classics of literature.

As Dean’s condition deteriorated, it became apparent that home care was insufficient to meet his ever-growing needs. In 1922 he moved to New York City in hopes of finding a cure. Within two years, younger brother Walton (twin of Wilton) joined him there.

Despite every effort on his behalf, Dean’s health continued to decline, and by 1924 he was forced to enter City Hospital on Welfare Island (it was renamed Roosevelt Island in 1973). At various times Welfare Island hosted hospitals, insane asylums, and prisons. City Hospital housed hundreds of poor and chronically ill patients who were unable to care for themselves. Dean Clute, almost completely paralyzed from head to toe, had nowhere else to turn.

More than anything else, it appeared he had gone there to die. The loss of his wife and child, the disappointment of a sports career cruelly snatched away from him, and now a virtual prisoner within his own body—it was almost too much for any man to bear.

And then it got worse. In the hospital, Dean had maintained his heavy reading program, which seemed to be all he had left to live for. But arthritis, as cold-blooded and brutal as many other diseases, wasn’t content with paralysis. Clute soon developed problems with his vision, and as the condition worsened, he was given the stunning diagnosis: total blindness was inevitable.

Doctors told him it would happen in a year, perhaps two. How much could one man take? For Dean, even suicide was impossible—he couldn’t move! And yet ending it all was never a consideration.

His reaction to certain loss of vision was to ramp up his reading program and consume every bit of knowledge possible in the time he had left. The one-time athlete had surrendered to physical helplessness, but he existed within a brain still vibrant with energy. Dean’s growing intellect was now insatiable, and he read like a man possessed.

By 1926, after two years at City Hospital, total blindness enveloped him. His life now consisted of darkness and immobility—virtually every person’s nightmare scenario.

But there was that word again: Perspective. Dean focused on what he COULD do rather than what he couldn’t. He could still talk and he could still learn.

Next week: Part 2 of 3.

Photo: Dean Van Clute with two attendants. The inset in the upper right is a closeup of Dean’s face (1932).

Lawrence Gooley has authored nine books and many articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. He took over in 2010 and began expanding the company’s publishing services. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Sunday, February 6, 2011

War Of 1812 Symposium Planned for Ogdensburg

During the War of 1812 the dogs of war barked and bit along the U.S. northern frontier from Lake Ontario to Lake Champlain as American forces tangled with their British and Canadian counterparts for two-and-a-half years. The War of 1812 in this region, and its wider implications, will be topics at the third annual War of 1812 Symposium April 29-30 in Ogdensburg, NY, sponsored by the Fort La Présentation Association.

The five presentations by authoritative Canadians and Americans are: Ogdensburg and Prescott during the War of 1812, Paul Fortier; American supply efforts on Lake Ontario: “Cooper’s Ark,” Richard Palmer; “Colonel Louis” and the Native American role in the War of 1812, Darren Bonaparte; The war on the St. Lawrence River, Victor Suthren; and Excavation of American Graves at the 1812 Burlington Cantonment, Kate Kenny. The post-dinner address by Patrick Wilder is the Battle of Sackets Harbor

“We established the symposium in advance of the war’s 2012 bicentennial to help develop a broader public understanding of the War of 1812, so important to the evolution of the United States and Canada,” said Barbara O’Keefe, President of the Fort La Présentation Association. “The annual symposium is a vibrant forum of scholars from both sides of the boarder presenting informative seminars to an enthusiastic audience of academics, history buffs and re-enactors.”

The cost of the symposium is $100 for the Saturday seminars and after-dinner speaker, including a light continental breakfast, a buffet lunch and a sit-down dinner. The Friday evening meet-and-greet with period entertainment by Celtic harpist Sue Croft and hors d’oeuvres is $10.

The symposium and dinner fee for Fort La Présentation Association members is $90, and they will pay $10 for the meet-and-greet.

Other pricing options are available: $80 for the Saturday seminars without dinner; and $35 for the dinner with speaker.

Seminar details and registration instructions on the Fort La Présentation Association webpage.

The Freight House Restaurant in Ogdensburg will host the symposium, as it has in previous years.

The Fort La Présentation Association is a not-for-profit corporation based in Ogdensburg, New York. Its mission is to sponsor or benefit the historically accurate reconstruction of Fort de la Présentation (1749) in close proximity to the original site on Lighthouse Point.

Seminar Presenters

Darren Bonaparte from the Mohawk community of Ahkwesáhsne on the St. Lawrence River is an historical journalist. He created the Wampum Chronicles website in 1999 to promote his research into the history and culture of the Rotinonhsión:ni—the People of the Longhouse. Mr. Bonaparte has been published by Indian Country Today, Native Americas, Aboriginal Voices and Winds of Change, and he has served as an historical consultant for the PBS miniseries The War That Made America; Champlain: The Lake Between; and The Forgotten War: The Struggle for North America.

Paul Fortier, of Kingston, ON, worked 10 years as a military curator and historian for Parks Canada and a following 10 years as a manager at the National Archives of Canada. While living in Prescott, ON, the home he restored was the Stockade Barracks, British military headquarters on the St. Lawrence River during the War of 1812. Mr. Fortier is a founder of the re-enacted Regiment of Canadian Fencible Infantry. He owns Jessup Food & Heritage, providing period food services at Upper Canada Village, Fort Henry and Fort York.

Kate Kenney is the Program Historian at the University of Vermont Consulting Archeology Program. She supervises historic artifact analysis and also helps supervise field work, particularly at historic sites. She is the senior author of Archaeological Investigations at the Old Burial Ground, St. Johnsbury, Vermont. Ms. Kenny has organized and conducted UVM CAP public outreach, including presentations to elementary and high school students. Personal research projects involve Vermont history from the earliest settlement through to the Civil War.

Richard F. Palmer of Syracuse is a senior editor of “Inland Seas,” the quarterly of the Great Lakes Historical Society, and has written some 40 articles for the publication, covering more than 250 years of Lake Ontario’s maritime history. His presentation on “Cooper’s Ark,” is the story of a short-lived floating fortress built in Oswego during the War of 1812, but lost in a storm while sailing to Sackets Harbor. He’ll also recount the attempt to raft lumber for the construction of ships from Oak Orchard to Sackets Harbor; the delivery was intercepted by the British.

Victor Suthren, from Merrickville, Ontario, is an author and historian. He served as Director General of the Canadian War Museum from 1986 to 1998, and is an Honorary Captain in the Canadian Navy and advisor to the Directorate of Naval History and Heritage, Department of National Defence (Canada). He has worked as an advisor to film and television productions and has voyaged extensively as a seaman in traditional “tall ships.” Mr. Suthren has published several works of historical non-fiction, as well as two series of historical sea fiction.

Patrick Wilder is an historian retired from the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. He is the author of The Battle of Sackett’s Harbour, 1813.

Photo: Canadian Fencibles Colours, courtesy Fort La Présentation Association.


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