Posts Tagged ‘Vermont’

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

150th Anniv. of George Perkins Marsh’s Man and Nature

410px-George_Perkins_MarshThis year, New Yorkers are rightly commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the National Wilderness Preservation Act of 1964. Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve, Rockefeller Institute of Government, NYS DEC, and SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry recently kicked off that anniversary with events in the Capital Region. More events and activities with students, faculty and college collaborators are planned.

2014 is also the 120th anniversary of our “forever wild” clause of the NYS Constitution protecting the Adirondack and Catskill Forest Preserve. It was that late 19th century constitutional protection which so inspired the 20th century’s Howard Zahniser of The Wilderness Society to undertake his 18-year campaign to both author and lobby for the National Wilderness Act. That’s one reason, and there are others, why wilderness preservation, in terms of designation and protection, began in New York State. Bob, George and Jim Marshall’s upbringing in the Adirondacks by noted forever wild advocate and attorney Louis and his wife Florence Marshall, and the later creation of The Wilderness Society by Bob and allies is another reason to make this claim.

But there’s an older 19th century anniversary this year that cannot be overlooked without missing what has influenced humanity around the globe to conserve since 1864, the year a Vermonter named George Perkins Marsh (1801-1882) wrote Man and Nature; or Physical Geography as Modified by Human Action. Woodstock and Burlington, respectively where Marsh was born and lived parts of his adult life and which influenced his book, could legitimately make the claim that Vermont is where wilderness preservation began in America and, indeed, in the world. » Continue Reading.



Monday, May 19, 2014

The Northern New York Roots Of Pratt & Whitney

FrancisPratt01AdkAlmIn the year 2000, five years after Plattsburgh Air Force Base closed, Pratt & Whitney signed a lease, moved in, and set up shop on the former base property. Many jobs and residents had been lost in the shutdown, making Pratt & Whitney a valued anchor business in the recovery effort.

Their arrival might have been a homecoming of sorts with historical significance, but persistent misinformation carried forward for more than a century appears to have robbed the region of an important link to the past. » Continue Reading.



Thursday, April 24, 2014

Event To Recreate America’s First Victory at Ticonderoga

No Quarter Release 2014Fort Ticonderoga kicks off the 2014 season May 10-11 with its “No Quarter” event recreating the capture of Fort Ticonderoga on May 10, 1775.

In this weekend-long recreation visitors will experience “America’s First Victory” by exploring this dramatic story from the perspectives of both the British garrison and the Green Mountain Boys, including face-to-face interactions with the historical characters including Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold. » Continue Reading.



Sunday, July 28, 2013

Park Perspectives: On The Fort Ticonderoga Ferry

ti-ferrywebYou can measure time a number of ways aboard the Fort Ticonderoga ferry. The voyage from shore to shore of the Lake Champlain Narrows takes seven and a half minutes. Set your watch. Seven and a half minutes across, seven and a half minutes back.

Or you can free your mind to roam as you chug across the waterway. Let the Civics, Fiestas, and 4-by-4’s on the deck dissolve in your imagination and be replaced by rustic passengers in the rowboats and canoes that plied the crossing when ferry service began in 1759. Or picture those that crowded onto the sailing scow that went into service in 1800. This is the grand sweep of time through the generations, played out under the gaze of colonial Fort Ticonderoga, which played key roles in the formation of this country. » Continue Reading.



Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Guided History Tour Across Lake Champlain Bridge Planned

Crown Point Bridge 2If you’ve wanted to learn more about what you see as you walk or drive over the new Lake Champlain Bridge, join the managers of the Chimney Point, VT, and Crown Point, NY, State Historic Sites for a guided walk on Sunday, July 28, 2013, at 1:00 p.m.  Tom Hughes and Elsa Gilbertson will leaders a walk across and back on the bridge, and will discuss the 9,000 years of human history at this important location on Lake Champlain.

At this narrow passage on Lake Champlain humans have crossed here, as well as traveled north and south on the lake since glacial waters receded over 9,000 years ago.  The channel with its peninsulas, or points, on each side made this one of the most strategic spots on Lake Champlain for the Native Americans, and French, British, and early Americans in the 17th and 18th centuries. » Continue Reading.



Wednesday, April 17, 2013

New Report: Lake Champlain Basin Flood Resilience

Lake Champlain FloodingThe Lake Champlain Basin Program (LCBP) has released a new report, Flood Resilience in the Lake Champlain Basin and Upper Richelieu River. The report presents results of an LCBP flood conference held in 2012 at the request of Vermont Governor Shumlin and Quebec’s (former) Premier Charest, following the spring 2011 flooding of Lake Champlain and the Richelieu River Valley. The report provides a review of the 2011 flooding impacts and includes specific recommendations to help inform flood resilience policies and management strategies to reduce the impact of major floods anticipated in the future. » Continue Reading.



Thursday, March 21, 2013

Maple Sugaring: Do New Tapping Strategies Hurt Trees?

sugaringOur sugarhouse is within walking distance of an elementary school, so we’ve given tapping demonstrations to hundreds of school kids over the years. At the part where someone drills a hole in the tree and it sort of bleeds, the next question is invariably: “Does tapping hurt the tree?”

The stock answer is no, as long as you don’t overdo it: use the smaller “health” spouts, follow conservative tapping guidelines, give the tree a year off if it looks stressed. As proof that sugaring is sustainable, we point to some of the trees in our sugarbush that have been tapped for close to a hundred years and are better off for it. Better off because we thin out the trees around them, giving the chosen trees extra light, water, and nutrients.

Their increased vigor, when compared to the maples in unmanaged sections of the forest, is plain to see.  But the sugarmaking being practiced today in many commercial bushes – including our own – is not the same sugarmaking that was practiced even 10 years ago. » Continue Reading.



Sunday, January 20, 2013

In The Champlain Valley, A Brawl of Birders

common pochardNoting the long line of cars parked on the shoulder of the road in front of DAR Park in Addison, Vermont, I decided to pull onto the opposite shoulder, only to discover, too late, that said shoulder consisted of a five-foot-deep snowbank into which the right side of  my car promptly sank.  I tensed up expecting the car to roll onto its passenger side but, mirabile dictu, it stayed on its tires albeit at a forty-five-degree angle. I got out to investigate, sunk in up to my waist and then struggled back onto the road, my jacket now festooned with a phalanx of burrs the size of Concorde grapes.

The dashboard thermometer read minus three degrees. I pulled my wife out of the car, and we simultaneously concluded that we needed to get towed out of this mess and that we might as well go and try to see the bird before starting in with AAA and waiting for a tow truck.  So what I drove the car into a ditch. » Continue Reading.



Monday, January 7, 2013

Writing: Avoiding Book Publishing Frauds

With so many successful self-published books in the Adirondack region, it was disturbing to hear the recent news so close to home that police in Hinesburg, Vermont (south of Burlington), discovered what they have termed a Ponzi-style publishing scheme. The case first came to light in June 2011 when it was reported that Peter Campbell-Copp, former president of the Manchester Historical Society, had allegedly defrauded individuals and businesses to the tune of $170,000.

According to media reports, Campbell-Copp contracted to handle the editing, printing, and marketing of clients’ books as a publisher. Apparently, some of the printing was done by at least two firms, and Campbell-Copp was known to have served at least fifteen authors. Except that the allegations are he served them nothing but bitterness.

According to police, taking the biggest hit of all was Print Tech, a Burlington company for more than three decades. Around January 2010, they began producing print jobs for Campbell-Copp, receiving several scheduled payments. The work continued, but the payments stopped, and the work eventually stopped as well, by which time the company was owed about $100,000. » Continue Reading.



Thursday, October 11, 2012

Outside Story: Decline of American Kestrels

One autumn day, 15 years ago, I found myself perched on a ladder that was leaning against a highway sign on Interstate 89 somewhere in Vermont. There was a wooden box clamped to one of the sign poles at least 15 feet off the ground, although fear may have exaggerated that memory. I was providing a little autumn house-keeping for one of those nest boxes so it’d be ready when the kestrels returned to breed the next spring.

The box was one of 10 kestrel nest boxes then deployed along the interstate by the Vermont Agency of Transportation, or VTrans. It’s a feel-good project started in 1995 with $40, some scrap wood, and plenty of volunteer hours from VTrans employees, who built the boxes on their own time. Since then, about 90 kestrels have fledged and four orphaned young were fostered in the boxes. That’s a lot of bang for the buck, or rather, a lot of birds for the box.
» Continue Reading.



Sunday, September 23, 2012

Cabin Life: A View of Vermont

I’m a traitor.  I went to Vermont to go hiking this week.  A friend and I hiked Elmore Mountain to an old fire tower.  The fire tower was open to the public even though it was decommissioned, which is a big change from New York.  Most of the fire towers here have had their first two flights of stairs removed, with the small, obligatory “Warning” sign attached somewhere.

When I went over Sunday afternoon on the Port Kent ferry, the overwhelming view of both Vermont and the Adirondacks was still green.  The shoreline of Lake Champlain on both sides of the lake showed little sign of the cooling temperatures of mid-September. » Continue Reading.



Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Lake Champlain: ‘Good News, And Not So Good News’

The Lake Champlain Basin Program, created by the Lake Champlain Special Designation Act of 1990 to coordinate the implementation of the Lake Champlain management plan, has released its 2012 Lake Champlain “State of the Lake Report”. The report, which is issued every 3-4 years, concludes that the water should be treated before drinking or bathing, most of the lake is safe to swim in most of the time, and some fish may be eaten, if “consumed responsibly” according to fish consumption health advisories.

Phosphorus levels and the potential threat of toxic algae blooms remain elevated. Mercury and PCB contamination in fish is declining, but new chemical threats are on the rise. Invasive species remain a serious problem, especially to game fish and native mussels, but biodiversity projects such as fish ladders, and wetland and riparian habitat restoration or enhancement has made progress in protecting sensitive ecosystems in some areas. » Continue Reading.



Thursday, May 17, 2012

Champlain Bridge Grand Celebration This Weekend

New York Vermont Bridge OrganizationAfter many months of planning the Lake Champlain Bridge Community (LCBC) will host its two-day Grand Celebration which celebrates the re-opening of the Lake Champlain Bridge and the re-connected New York and Vermont communities that surround it. The bridge re-opened to traffic on November 7, 2011, but the celebration was postponed until now.

The Grand Celebration will take place on Saturday and Sunday, May 19 and 20. Saturday’s events begin at 9 a.m. with an opening ceremony and end at approximately 10 p.m. after a street dance. Sunday’s events begin at 6 a.m. with a sunrise ecumenical service and close with a fireworks show at dusk. All events will take place at or near the Chimney Point State Historic Site, Addison, Vermont and the Crown Point State Historic Site, Crown Point, New York. All of the weekend’s events are free and will take place rain or shine. » Continue Reading.



Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Adirondack Philosophy: The Landscape of Memory

My friend and I walked down a trail at the end of the afternoon, mindful that this day soon would slip from the present into memory. We had spent the last several hours on the side of a hill looking more often out at the Adirondacks in the distance, than at the near landscape where we whiled away.

In retrospect this was fitting since most of our recollections, all of our shared stories at least, had settled years ago between the rise of those mountains and the fall of their valleys. And here we were, older and perhaps better though surely in other ways lesser, versions of ourselves. » Continue Reading.



Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Team Adirondacks: Local and Regional Tourism

Despite the fact that it’s been more than twenty years since I walked the halls of my Adirondack K-12 school, I still consider myself a Westport Eagle.

I’m actually somewhat of a traitor, living in neighboring Moriah. But since our two schools were in different sports leagues (based on enrollment), the people of Westport do continue to welcome me for reunions and the like. (Now, if I lived in Elizabethtown, we’d be having a whole different conversation.)

It occurred to me long ago that our Adirondack community rivalries embed themselves early via friendly competition on soccer, baseball and football fields. As we grow older, those loyalties remain.

The competitive rivalries continue today for those who grew up in these communities, and are contagious for those who relocate to them from afar, but the stakes have changed. Instead of a league title, there is a competition between municipalities for County, Region and State attention and funding, and for most, competition for a share of tourism; the greatest economic driver for the region.

It is encouraging and inspiring to see those municipal boundaries disappear, however, courtesy of a threat from a common rival. A crisis such as Tropical Storm Irene, for example, showcased both the communities rivalries AND teamwork. The Town of Jay perceives that it didn’t initially receive the heightened attention from Albany and the media that the town of Keene and the repair to Route 73 received. On the other hand, the ongoing outpouring of hands-on cleanup and monetary support for relief efforts in all of the affected communities from the Adirondack neighborhood was overwhelming and inspiring.

This takes us to the reason I brought this up; a recent instance in which those community boundaries disappeared in front of my very eyes.

New York State’s tourism promotion program, I Love New York, is run by the the state’s Empire State Development wing. In 2012, they hired a new public relations agency to promote the State’s regions to the traveling public via traditional public relations efforts. The agency, M.Silver Associates, were ushered around the state to meet with tourism promotion agents from each county in meetings set up by region. This was an exercise set up so that the agency could learn as much about the regions as possible in order to develop their strategy for acquiring editorial coverage.

For tourism promotion, the state has been cut into 11 geographic regions, including the Catskills, Finger Lakes, New York City, Thousand Islands-Seaway and Greater Niagara, and the Adirondacks. As communications director for Essex County, I attended the meeting in which they solicited information about the Adirondacks from representatives from the Counties that comprise our region; the Tourism Promotion Agents that make up the Adirondack Regional Tourism Council.

We went around the room, describing the events, attractions, activities and experiences that differentiated our respective Counties as the PR agency staff furiously took notes. As the conversation drew on, however, the comments from the individual counties took on a more collective, regional context. Oddly enough, that change happened right after M. Silver mentioned what they had learned while talking to the “Catskills people”, and that they were headed next to talk to the “Finger Lakes” representatives.

New York State is big, and some of our competition lies within. Suddenly, we were not St. Lawrence, Essex, Warren and Hamilton Counties; we were Team Adirondacks. And when we had finished explaining all the reasons that the Adirondacks should represent most of M. Silver’s promotional efforts versus the other regions of New York State, we then turned our attention to the adjacent states.

As an unintentional catalyst for mayhem, the M.Silver rep asked innocently, “Isn’t Lake Champlain in Vermont?”

An uproar quickly ensued. We replied defensively that the “Adirondack Coast” is collectively promoted from Plattsburgh south to Ticonderoga, despite the vast promotion of “Vermont’s Lake Champlain”. 

The evidence was stacked up with comments from every side of the table. “Vermont doesn’t own Lake Champlain, and WE produce maple syrup, too,” “Forts Ticonderoga and Crown Point are on OUR side,” and the most convincing: “Everyone knows that Champ, the Lake Champlain monster, lives on the New York side of the lake.”

The conflict over our common asset, Lake Champlain, seems strangely appropriate as one of the most historically significant waterways in America, home to discoveries and events that shaped the Country. And fittingly, the conversation culminated in the proposed creation of a new event in which the Adirondacks wage a battle against Vermont to gain control of Lake Champlain – in tandem with the celebration of the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812.

The mission of the Adirondack Regional Tourism Council is to promote the region collectively on behalf of the Counties, and our organization has long subscribed to a regional approach with respect to destination marketing. But this conversation banded us together in a different context, and there is a greater understanding that not just for Essex County’s Lake Placid, or Warren County’s Lake George, but for all of our region’s communities, our competitive advantage is to tie our destinations to the Adirondacks. After all, visitors don’t know when they’ve crossed a county line.

The meeting for me was enlightening and encouraging. In those moments when we were able to shout out our individual differentiators, I learned even more about the visitor experiences that the rest of the region offers.

And now I look forward to seeing what our Team Adirondack uniforms look like. We’ll need them for our war with Vermont.

Illustration: Lake Champlain-River Richelieu watershed. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Kimberly Rielly is the director of communications for the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism based in Lake Placid.



Monday, May 9, 2011

Ausable Forks Golf Great Marjorie Harrison

Seventy-five years ago, the Adirondacks were abuzz about a precocious athletic phenom, a plucky teenager who exhibited incredible abilities on the golf course. The best players across the region were impressed by this remarkable child who could compete with anyone on the toughest courses. In a man’s world, this youngster—a girl—could challenge the best of them.

Marjorie Harrison, daughter of Neil and Eva, was born in 1918 in the town of North Elba. Her dad earned a living as a golf-club maker, eventually moving to Ausable Forks to assume the position of club professional at the Indole Course.

Having first wielded a club at the age of three, young Marjorie began developing her golfing skills on the local links. In a shocking glimpse of future possibilities, she won the women’s cup at Indole in 1928 when she was just ten years old.

In 1932, the loss of her mom, Eva, to pneumonia, tested Margie’s inner strength, but that was something the young girl never lacked. With few team sporting possibilities available to girls, she excelled at horseback riding, skating, skiing, shooting, and, of course, golf, which are largely solo pursuits requiring heavy doses of self-reliance.

Neil soon began to eye the amateur golf tour as a challenge for his highly skilled daughter. In sports, the term amateur revealed nothing in regards to talent—it only meant that a competitor was unpaid, and thus pure (unsullied by the world of professional athletics).

At that time, there was no golf tour for women professionals. Nearly all the best players competed for cups, trophies, prestige, and for the sake of competition. Turning pro was rare. Only a few of the top women players were signed to represent major sporting goods companies. Once money was accepted, they forfeited all eligibility to compete in amateur events. Men lived in a different world, but for women, a professional golf tour was more than a decade away.

In August, 1933, Marjorie Harrison played in the state event at Bluff Point just south of Plattsburgh, where an international field offered stellar competition. She fairly burst onto the New York golfing scene, battling to the semifinal round, where a seasoned opponent awaited.

Incredibly, Margie went on to lead her semifinal match by one hole going to the 18th (nearly all tournaments featured head-to-head match play). There, she faltered, three-putting the final green to lose her advantage. But with steely resolve, Margie parred the single playoff hole for the win, sending her to the finals.

In the championship round she faced Mrs. Sylvia Voss, an outstanding golfer who promptly won the first three holes, putting Margie far behind. Bringing her power game to the fore, Harrison tied the match by the 14th and led by one at the 17th, but lost the last hole to finish in a tie. Just like in the semifinals, a playoff was necessary.

And, just like in the semifinals, Marjorie holed a par putt to win on the first playoff hole. She was barely 15 years old and had conquered some of the best golfers in an international tourney.

From Boston to Dallas to the West Coast, newspapers touted her great accomplishment. The New York Times wrote, “Swinging a wicked driver and with iron shots of unusual precision … Marjorie Harrison of Au Sable Forks won her first major golf tourney today.” She was also featured in The American Golfer magazine for the Bluff Point win.

In 1934, Marjorie, 16, made it once again to the finals at Bluff Point, where she was set to face Dorothy Campbell Hurd, a golfing legend. Hurd, 51, owned 749 victories, 11 national amateur titles, and once held the American, British, and Canadian titles at one time.

They played even through 16 holes, but Hurd pulled out the win on the final two greens. A gracious opponent and future member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, Hurd was clearly impressed, saying, “With a little more experience, no woman golfer will be in the same class with Miss Harrison. She is a future champion that bears watching by the leading golfers.”

Hurd was right—there was much more to come, including several wins over the next few years. Margie finished near the top in virtually every tournament she entered. Some were very gutsy performances featuring remarkable comebacks, but most were head-to-head battles where mistakes seemed to have no effect on her. She was one tough competitor, always playing with grace, humility, and great determination.

In 1935, Marge finished second in the New York State Championships, and then reached the semifinals each of the next three years. Another major breakthrough came in July, 1937, when she shot a 37 on the final 18 holes at Rutland, Vermont (near her dad’s home area of Castleton) to win the Vermont state title. She was just a few months past her 19th birthday.

At Brattleboro in 1938, Marjorie successfully defended her Vermont title with a birdie on the 15th hole to clinch the win. Other highlights that year included shattering the course record at Bluff Point; winning at Lake Placid; and teaming up with the legendary Gene Sarazen in a remarkable comeback to win a benefit tourney.

For years, Marjorie was at the top of New York’s competitive golfing scene, which attracted some of the best players in the country. Despite the high level of play, it was considered an upset NOT to see her name in the semifinals of any tournament she entered. Whether in Quebec, Syracuse, the Berkshires, Briarcliff, or anywhere else she competed, the North Country’s ambassador of golf was respected and admired for her sportsmanship and fine play.

Many club titles were won and course records set by Marjorie, including at Bluff Point, Lake Placid, Albany, and Troy. She wowed the crowd at Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, battling fiercely to finish second in the Mason-Dixon tournament. Some golf writers pointed out that unlike athletes from warm-weather areas, Miss Harrison achieved great success despite playing only a few months of the year, and while attending high school and different colleges.

Though still a youngster, she returned to Ausable Forks in 1940 for a career review at a testimonial dinner—and for good reason. A few days earlier, at the age of 22, Marjorie had overwhelmed all comers and captured the New York State Women’s Golf Championship.

She maintained her winning ways, but during the World War II years, sports were sharply curtailed across the country to conserve fuel for the troops. Opportunities were meager, but Margie picked up two wins in 1944, followed by a stellar performance that led her once again to the finals of the New York State Championship Tournament.

Her talented opponent in the finals, Ruth Torgersen, was a very familiar combatant from many past matches. Torgersen, in fact, would go on to win a record seven NYS championships and be named New York’s Golfer of the Century.

On this day the two stars battled for 32 holes, at which point Marjorie held a three-hole lead. But on the 33rd, a stroke of bad luck left her ball balanced atop a bunker. Deemed an unplayable lie, it cost her the hole as Torgerson was quick to take advantage and cut the deficit to two.

Undaunted, Margie looked down the fairway of the 346-yard 16th hole and blasted a 200-yard drive. She nearly holed her second shot from 146 yards out, and then tapped in an easy putt for her second New York State title.

In that same year, the Women’s Professional Golf Association was formed, to be replaced six years later by the LPGA. Had she been born years later, there’s a good chance the girl from the Adirondacks would have won a good deal of prize money. For Marjorie Harrison, though, life took a different path.

After completing college, she had begun a career as a physical education teacher. In June, 1946, while still competing and winning, she married Bart O’Brien, himself a star golfer at Indole, the Ausable Forks course managed by her father, Neil.

For a while she competed as Marjorie Harrison O’Brien, but when Bart took a job teaching in the Oneida school system, they moved there and began raising a family. Semi-retired, Marge played occasionally in tournaments, but by 1954 she was busy raising three children, teaching, and becoming a very active participant in the community.

She began giving adult golf lessons, and children’s lessons soon followed. Bart became school principal, and together he and Marjorie maintained a high profile as community leaders. Honors were bestowed on both of them for their work in the school system, and in 1970 she was chosen as an honorary life member of the Oneida school district PTA.

In 1973, Marjorie was named Outstanding Citizen by the Oneida Rotary, and Bart was cited several times for his work on behalf of the organization. Through it all, they maintained close ties annually with family in the Ausable Forks area, where her dad, Neil, still held the position of golf pro at Indole through the mid-1960s.

Marjorie Harrison O’Brien passed away in 1999, and Bart died in 2004—two natives the North Country can truly be proud of.

Photo: Young Marjorie Harrison, golfer extraordinaire.

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, April 24, 2011

Books: War of 1812 in the Champlain Valley

As the 200th anniversary approaches, there will be a steady stream of new books about the War of 1812. But for readers interested in the effects of the war on the ground in the Champlain Valley, there remains just one foundational text, now available for the first time in paper by Syracuse University Press. Although first issued in 1981, Allan S. Everest’s The War of 1812 in the Champlain Valley is still required reading for those hoping to understand the Plattsburgh campaign, considered critical to the war.

The War of 1812, ranks with the often overlooked American conflicts of the 19th century, but unlike the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) or the Spanish-American War (1898-1902), the War of 1812 really was a Second War for Independence. America stood at the other side of Britain’s own Manifest Destiny, the homes, farms, property, and lives of Americans in the Champlain Valley stood in the middle.

The first months of 1814 spelled gloom for America, then only 35 years old. The war against England was stalled. The British continued to kidnap and impress American for service on their warships. They supported Native Americans who attacked outposts and settlements on the American frontier. American harbors were blockaded by the British and New England, never sympathetic with the narrow vote of Congress for war, had become openly hostile and was threatening to secede.

Still worse, Napoleon had been defeated in Europe and Britain could now devote more time and effort to America. The British saw an opportunity to split the new American republic and once again take control of sections of the young colonies. The bold plan called for a combined army and naval strike at Plattsburgh, followed by a drive down the lake and through the Hudson Valley to New York City, splitting the colonies in two. The Americans saw that opportunity too.

The Navy Department contracted Noah Brown, one of New York’s finest shipwrights, to build a fleet to protect the way south from Canada along Lake Champlain. In less than two months, Brown constructed, armed, and launched a total of six of war ships: Allen, Borer, Burrows, Centipede, Nettie, and Viper. With the help of the small Vermont town of Vergennes and its iron foundry that could supply spikes, bolts, and shot, and it’s water-powered sawmills, and surrounding forests filled with white oak and pine for ship timber, Brown built the 26-gun flagship Saratoga, in just 40 days, and commandeered the unfinished steamboat and completed it as the 17-gun schooner Ticonderoga.

Vastly out-manned and outgunned on both land and sea, a rag tag inexperienced group of 1,500 Americans commanded by Capt. Thomas Macdonough met the greatest army and naval power on earth. Because of a serious shortage of sailors for his fleet, he drafted U.S. Army soldiers, band musicians, and convicts serving on an army chain gang to man the ships.

Their leader Macdonough had some experience. He had served against the Barbary pirates in North Africa, but two decades of warfare had given the British considerably more experience. It had for instance, led to the promotion of officers by merit, rather than by purchase or birth. As a result the British forces were the best trained and most experienced in the world and they enjoyed the backing of the world’s greatest military power. Sir George Prevost led the large British army and its fleet into New York and down Lake Champlain to meet the Americans. But what happened that September 11th no one could have predicted.

By the end of the day, the U.S. had achieved the complete and unconditional surrender of the entire British fleet and the full retreat of all British land forces. More importantly, the American victory at Plattsburgh helped persuade the British to end the war.

That’s the bigger story, but the local story is the strength of Allan Everest’s history. As a professor of history at SUNY Plattsburgh, and the author of Moses Hazen and the Canadian Refugees in the American Revolution, Our North Country Heritage, and the seminal book on the region’s prohibition history drawn from local interviewees, Rum Across the Border, Everest had a grasp of the topography of the region’s political, social, and cultural history.

Over some two and a half years, the region saw armies raised, defeated, and disbanded, including their own militia, which was repeatedly called out to protect the border areas and to serve under regular army units. Everest catalogs the political and military rivalries, and the series of disheartening defeats, loss of life, and destruction of property and markets resiliently borne by local people, who were forced to flee when battle threatened, and returned to rebuild their lives.

2001’s The Final Invasion: Plattsburgh, the War of 1812’s Most Decisive Victory painted with a broader brush and suffered criticism for misunderstanding the Plattsburgh campaign. As a result, Everest’s 30-year-old work – despite its age – is still the definitive work on the impact of the War of 1812 on northern New York.

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



Monday, April 18, 2011

Local History: Liberian Pioneer Jehudi Ashmun

Thursday, April 21, marks the birthday of one of the most famous men you never heard of, and surely the least known of all North Country figures who once graced the world stage. It is also appropriate to recall his story at this time for two other reasons. It has ties to slavery and the Civil War during this, the year marking the 150th anniversary of America’s darkest period. And, in relation to current world news, it involves fighting for change in Africa.

If you’re well familiar with the work of Jehudi Ashmun, you’re in a very small minority. Even in his hometown, little has been done to mark his achievements other than a single roadside historical marker. And yet, if you look, you’ll find him in dozens of encyclopedias and reference books as an important part of African and Liberian history. » Continue Reading.



Saturday, March 5, 2011

Lake Champlain: An Illustrated History

The eastern edge of the Adirondack Park stretches into the middle of Lake Champlain, that great river-lake 120 miles long, four times the size of Lake George. Standing between the states of New York and Vermont, it’s the largest body of water in the Adirondacks, one that connects Whitehall and (via the Champlain Canal and Hudson River) New York City to Quebec’s Richelieu River and the St. Lawrence River. Two routes inland from the Atlantic Ocean that have had a historic impact on the entire North County, New York and Vermont. The book Lake Champlain: An Illustrated History celebrates what is unquestionably America’s most historic lake.

Four hundred years of Champlain history are conveyed in the coffee-table book’s more than 300 color photographs, drawings, maps and vintage images. Chapters on the towns along the lake, the Chaplain basin’s First Peoples, its critical military and transportation history, and the sports and recreation opportunities are eloquently contextualized by regional writers, including occasional Almanack contributor Chris Shaw who provides the book’s Prologue and Epilogue, and Russ Bellico who offers a chapter entitled “Highway to Empire”.

Published by Adirondack Life in Jay, Lake Champlain: An Illustrated History is a great book for those who love the lake, local and state history buffs, and nature lovers.

You can pick up a copy online.

You can hear an interview with the book’s editor Mike McCaskey on the Vermont Public Radio website.

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



Monday, February 28, 2011

Local History: A True Story of Sunken Treasure

Recent acts of piracy on the high seas brought to mind stories of what some call “the Golden Age of Pirates” (like Blackbeard, or Henry Morgan). That conjured images of sunken treasure, which in turn reminded me of what might well be the shallowest sunken treasure ever recovered. And wouldn’t you know it? It happened right here in the North Country.

It occurred at the southern tip of Lake Champlain, near Whitehall, already the site of many historic lake-related treasures. Arnold’s Valcour fleet was built there, and it’s also the final resting place of the ships that survived the Battle of Plattsburgh. Most of them eventually sank in East Bay, which is a vast marshy area surrounding the mouth of the Poultney River.

If you’ve never toured the lower part of Lake Champlain, you’re missing a great experience. Besides playing a critical role during centuries of regional history, the scenery is spectacular. South of Ticonderoga, the lake narrows into a 20-mile, river-like channel previously referred to as Wood Creek. It features cliffs, narrows, lush vegetation, and copious wildlife.

Just outside of Whitehall is South Bay, bound in places by high, steep, cliffs that once hosted a historic battle. It also hosts a healthy population of rattlesnakes. The long, high ridge to the west, from here to Ticonderoga, separates South Bay from Lake George. Of all the canoe trips I’ve taken, South Bay is one of the all-time best.

A little further east down the lake is a sharp bend known simply as the Elbow, a shortened form of Fiddler’s Elbow. It was here that a famed member of Roger’s Rangers, General Israel Putnam, led an attack against Marin’s forces in 1758. To the east, just past the Elbow, is the entrance to East Bay, less than a mile from downtown Whitehall, where Lock 12 provides access to the New York State Barge Canal. Like I said, this place is extremely rich in history.

The story of sunken treasure is tied to the possession of Fort Ticonderoga, about twenty miles north. In early July, 1777, General Arthur St. Clair was the US commander at Ticonderoga, but the American troops were far outmanned and outgunned by the forces of Sir Johnny Burgoyne, whose great show of strength prompted St. Clair’s decision to evacuate the fort.

Some of St. Clair’s men crossed Lake Champlain and retreated across Vermont territory. Others went south on the lake to Whitehall. Burgoyne pursued the latter group, taking control of Whitehall (known then as Skenesborough). As the patriots fled, they destroyed many boats and just about anything they couldn’t carry, lest it fall into enemy hands.

Burgoyne’s forces were involved in other battles before finally meeting defeat at Saratoga, but it’s his time at Whitehall that is a vital link to the treasure story. His men at Fort Ticonderoga and elsewhere frequently suffered the same problems as the Americans—exhaustion, hunger, and lack of pay. Many unpaid soldiers voiced their discontent, and mutiny could soon follow.

To alleviate the problem, British authorities in Quebec dispatched a sloop. Manned by a crew of ten, it carried sufficient gold to pay Burgoyne’s thousands of soldiers. After the long trip down Lake Champlain, the sloop reached Fort Ticonderoga, only to find that Burgoyne had traveled farther south. Captain Johnson (first name unknown), in charge of the gold-laden craft, decided to deliver his goods to Burgoyne at Whitehall.

Nearing the village, Johnson was informed that Burgoyne’s men had been victorious at Hubbardton, about 15 miles northeast of Whitehall. East Bay led directly towards Hubbardton, and about 8 miles upstream was a bridge the soldiers would cross as they made their way towards Albany. Johnson entered the bay, planning to intercept the troops at the bridge and give them the gold.

The sloop traveled as far as possible, anchoring just below Carver Falls, not far from the bridge. While waiting for Burgoyne’s men, the sloop came under attack by patriot forces, (possibly men retreating from the loss at Hubbardton). Captain Johnson scuttled his ship, but the men were killed trying to escape, and the Americans quickly left the area that would soon be crawling with British soldiers. The sloop lay on the river bottom.

Years later, it was learned that England’s military had offered a reward for the capture of Captain Johnson, for it was assumed he had made off with the booty, it having never been delivered.

Fast-forward 124 years to fall, 1901. Civil Engineer George B. West, who oversaw construction of the power dam at Carver Falls, learned that raging spring torrents had left part of a watercraft exposed in the riverbed below the falls. Aided by a crew of 30 men, he diverted the river temporarily to further explore the wreck and clear it from the channel. Using tools, and then a charge of dynamite, they managed to free the hull. Inside, they found various glass items, several muskets, and an interesting iron chest in the captain’s quarters.

Imagine the excitement of the moment, opening the lid to reveal 10,000 gold sovereigns, coins that today might fetch between $5 and $10 million!

As the spoils of a long-ago war, the coins were deposited in the Allen National Bank in nearby Fair Haven, Vermont. But ownership of the money was questioned by the New York Times, Boston newspapers, and many others across New England. Some said it should be returned to Great Britain as a gesture of good faith. Others said to keep it. After all, if the soldiers had recovered the gold when the boat sank, it surely wouldn’t have been returned to the Brits.

But it wasn’t that simple. The boat sank in 1777. Previous to that, the battle between New York and New Hampshire over land grants had led to the creation of the Republic of Vermont, located between the two litigants. Neither New York nor New Hampshire recognized Vermont independence, which led to an interesting scenario: in 1777, the site at Carver Falls could have been part of New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, or British territory.

Further complicating matters, when statehood was finally settled (and before the gold was discovered), the NYS-Vermont border in that area was placed right down the center of the Poultney River. In the end, it is believed the money remained in Vermont coffers.

There is an interesting side story that was not included in published accounts about the recovered gold. It helps explain how the boat went undetected for more than a century. Above Carver Falls, seven years after the sloop sank, the river’s path was diverted, whether by natural means, man-made means, or a combination of the two. A supposed dispute over water rights may have played a role, or the river may have naturally chosen a new course through a widespread sandy area.

What’s most important is the result of the change in path. Up to 1783, East Bay was navigable by ships weighing up to 40 tons. The course diversion caused massive amounts of sand and sediment to wash over the falls, reducing the channel’s depth dramatically.

In subsequent years, though rumors of sunken treasure persisted, it hardly seemed plausible that a boat of any size could have made the journey to Carver Falls. Who could have known the river was once much deeper? It wasn’t until 124 years later that nature released a torrent strong enough to reveal the truth. And to clear the long-sullied name of Captain Johnson.

Photos: Top, map of key locations; below, sample of a British gold sovereign from the late 1700s.

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.



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