Monday, September 14, 2009

The Last Days of John Brown: The Secret Six

John Brown has often come down to us as a lone nut, bent on an suicidal mission, but this is far from the truth. Brown was part of a larger movement to free slaves that grew with passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 (which required the return of escaped slaves to their masters with all its potential for torture and death at their hands) and the large Underground Railroad movement. It’s little understood that Brown was intimate with northern politicians, industrialists, ministers, and folks from all walks of life, including the leading intellectuals of the era – the Transcendentalists. » Continue Reading.


Monday, September 7, 2009

The Last Days of John Brown: Black Soldiers

This is the second installment of a series of posts marking the 150th anniversary of John Brown’s anti-slavery raid on the Harpers Ferry Armory, his subsequent execution and the return of his body to North Elba in December of 1859. I’ll be writing each week to retrace the steps of Brown and his followers. You can read all the posts in the series here. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

An Adirondack Poison: White Snakeroot

‘Tis the season for White Snakeroot (Ageratina altissima). This pretty, weedy plant can be found blooming in many of our forests from late summer “until frost.” Hm…that could be any day now, if you believe the weather reports!

One of the nice things about white snakeroot is that it is one of our native plants. According to my field guide, it is classified with the bonesets and Joe Pye weed – a Eupatorium. However, botanists, like birders, can be found reclassifying living organisms on an almost daily basis, it seems, and now this plant is in a separate genus: Ageratina.

I think that because we are surrounded these days with warnings about non-native invasive species, we tend to slip into the idea that native plants must all be good. In one sense they are: they are good for the ecological niche in which they have evolved. But this doesn’t make them “good” plants, necessarily. White snakeroot is an excellent example of this, for it is poisonous.

Back in the 19th century, many many people died from a disease that was labelled “milk sickness.” It seems that some milk (and, it turns out, meat) was tainted with something that made the cattle ill and killed people. The disease was known to wipe out large portions of early settlements (Abraham Lincoln’s own mother was one of its victims), and it became such a problem in parts of Kentucky that a $600 award was offered in the early 1800s to anyone who could find the cause of the disease.

Although not officially identified until 1928, legend has it that Dr. Anna Bixby (1809-1869) identified the causative agent long before that. Supposedly many of her patients were dying from milk sickness, and, as was probably fairly common at the time, the disease was blamed on witchcraft. Dr. Bixby knew there must be a more rational explanation, and noted that the disease only turned up in late summer and into the fall, and it seemed to be based on something the cattle were eating. One day she met up with a Shawnee woman who told her that white snakeroot was the culprit. Dr. Bixby fed a bit of the plant to a calf, which promptly displayed all the symptoms. She had all of the plant torn out from the fields and forests where cattle were grazing, and remarkably, the disease went away. Sadly, she never got credit for this (nor did the Shawnee woman).

What happens is that cattle eat white snakeroot when there is no other forage around, so it’s not like it’s a primary food choice for them. The plant contains tremetol, which is the poisonous compound. Tremetol is stored in the meat and milk, and thus it gets passed on to people who consume these cattle products.

That said, according to Daniel Moerman’s Native American Ethnobotany, the Cherokee and Iroquois did use this plant for a variety of medicines, including treatment for urinary ailments, as a diuretic, and as a treatment for venereal diseases. He doesn’t say, however, how well the medicines worked.

Still, just because a plant is toxic doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy it – just don’t eat it! As you walk through the woods, perhaps along a shady path, keep your eyes open for a scraggly-looking plant about three to five feet tall. The leaves are jagged, and the top has a flattened cluster of white flowers. If you are lucky, you may find some butterflies nectaring on it, for it is one of their foods. Take the time to get to know it, for it is a lovely plant. Then note where it is so you can be sure your cattle don’t graze upon it.


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Rogers Rangers Challenge Triathlon Event

The Rogers Island Visitors Center at Fort Edward is hosting the Rogers Rangers Challenge triathlon. The run, canoe/kayak, and bike event will be held (rain or shine) on Saturday October 3, 2009.

The Rogers Rangers Challenge is dedicated to the memory of Major Robert Rogers and his Independent Company of American Rangers which were based on Rogers Island at Fort Edward during the French & Indian War (1755-1763). Rogers Rangers, forerunners of the U.S. Army Rangers, fought and died on ground upon which the challenge takes place. Local Native Americans described Rogers as having the ability to “run like a deer.” Participants in the event are encouraged to dress in period costume.

The Challenge begins at the Hogtown Trailhead with a run over Buck Mountain to Fort Ann Beach at Pilot Knob (7.5 miles) and then a canoe/ kayak along the east shore of Lake George (3 miles) (a Compass is recommended due to the potential of thick fog). The final leg is a bike from Fort Ann Beach to Rogers Island Visitors Center, Fort Edward (30 miles). The race is limited to 100 participants and you must be at least 16 to participate. The entry fees is $60.00 per person which includes membership to Rogers Island Visitors Center, and entertainment & catered lunch for each participant.

Participants must pre-register by September 12th; for more information e-mail Eileen Hannay at [email protected] or call 518-747-3693.


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Seligman Scandal, Antisemitism in Saratoga Springs

Yesterday, I noted the newly released details of Fish Rock Camp, believed to be the first Great Camp built on Upper Saranac Lake. The camp was built for Isaac Newton Seligman, the son of banking giant Joseph Seligman. Today I’ll provide some background to the antisemitism that is believed to have inspired many Jewish Americans, like the Seligmans, to create their own camps and resorts in the Adirondacks.

The story includes one of Saratoga’s most prestigious hotels, the Grand Union, luminaries like Ulysses S. Grant, the robber baron Jay Gould, and Boss Tweed and Tammany Hall. But it starts with America’s first department store mogul – Alexander T. Stewart. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Upper Saranac Lake’s Fish Rock Camp and Jacob Riis

Marsha Stanley of the Upper Saranac Lake Sekon Association dropped me a note to say that she has spent the summer posting the history of Fish Rock Camp, believed to be the first of the great camps built on Upper Saranac in 1893. Marsha’s work included digitizing and placing online the camp’s guest register from 1905 to 1915. The guest book is replete with sketches of life at the camp, including the vignette at left from 1905, “Alfred in his Auto.” » Continue Reading.


Monday, August 31, 2009

The Last Days of John Brown, August 1859

This year marks the 150th anniversary of John Brown’s October 16, 1859 anti-slavery raid, during which he led 19 men in an attack on the Harpers Ferry Armory. He was charged with murder, conspiring with slaves to rebel, and treason against Virginia (West Virginia was not yet a state) and after a week-long trial was sentenced to death in early November. Brown was hanged on December 2nd (John Wilkes Booth snuck in to watch) and his body was afterward carried to North Elba in Essex County to “moulder in his grave.” » Continue Reading.


Sunday, August 30, 2009

Fabric & Fiber Arts Festival at Adirondack Museum

Spinning, weaving, knitting, quilting, music, and North Country artisans will be featured at the Adirondack Museum‘s celebration of traditional and contemporary fiber arts, the Adirondack Fabric & Fiber Arts Festival, on Saturday, September 12, 2009. The event will run from 10:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m.; admission is included in the price of general museum admission.

The Festival will include demonstrations, textile appraisal, songs and stories about quilts, an artisan marketplace, a “knit-in” as well as the museum’s new exhibit, “Common Threads: 150 Years of Adirondack Quilts and Comforters.”

The celebration will also showcase a special display, “Artifacts of Almanzo Wilder’s Time,” featuring coverlets, linsey-woolseys, and hands-on activities. The presentation is made possible by the Wilder Homestead. The Homestead, located between Malone and Chateaugay, N.Y. was the boyhood home of Almanzo Wilder who was born and raised there from 1857-1875. Interpretation of the site is based on the classic book, Farmer Boy, written by Almanzo’s wife Laura Ingalls Wilder, as he described his recollections of his life at the farm to her.

Demonstrations will include the Serendipity Spinners, members of the community-based needlework group Northern Needles, the Adirondack Regional Textile Artist’s Association, as well as felt makers and fiber artists Sandy Cirillo and Robin Blakney Carlson.

Two sessions of a musical program will be offered at 1:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. Peggy Lynn and Dan Duggan will present “A Stitch in Time Songs Celebrating the Art and Heritage of Quilting.” The duo will be joined by museum Curator Hallie Bond.

Peggy Lynn has been featured at the Bluebird Café in Nashville, and in 1996, Peggy was named “Adirondack Woman of the Year.” Peggy’s song about Mary Brown, the wife of abolitionist John Brown, was selected as the cover piece in Songs for Peace Magazine and was also recorded by the folk duo Magpie on their Sword of the Spirit album. Peggy has co-authored a book with Sandra Weber titled Breaking Trail: Remarkable Women of the Adirondacks and released an album of new ballads about strong women called “Stand a Chance,” produced by Dan Duggan. In 2005, the
Adirondack Mountain Club honored Peggy with their Arthur E. Newkirk Education Award.

Dan Duggan is known nationally for his work on hammered dulcimer and flat-picking guitar, and is the recipient of the National Hammered Dulcimer Championship. Adding to his array of recordings, Dan has recently released a new album of original airs and waltzes called “Once in a Blue Moon.”

Dan and Peggy have released a trio album with Dan Berggren, called “Ten Miles to Saturday Night,” and as a duo have released two recordings: “Keeping Christmas,” and “A Stitch in Time: Songs Celebrating the Art and Heritage of Quilting.” Dan’s children’s album, “Pieces of Our Life,” earned a Parent’s Choice Award in 1998. His dulcimer work can also be heard on Paul Simon’s CD “You’re The One”, released in October of 2000.

Museum visitors can discover more about personal antique and collectible fabric pieces with textile appraiser and historian Rabbit Goody of Thistle Hill Weavers, Cherry Valley, N.Y. For a small donation to the Adirondack Museum ($5 is suggested) she will examine vintage textiles and evaluate them for historical importance and value in an “Antiques Roadshow” setting. Appraisals will be held from 10:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m.

Goody is a nationally recognized textile historian and expert in the identification of historic textiles. She is the founder, owner, and director of Thistle Hill Weavers, a commercial weaving mill that produces reproduction historic textiles for museums, designers, private homeowners, and the film industry. Textiles created by Thistle Hill have appeared in more than thirty major motion pictures. For more about Thistle Hill Weavers, visit http://www.rabbitgoody.com/.

The Fabric and Fiber Festival will feature a “knit-in” in the Visitor Center from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Folklorist and knitter Jill Breit will host the activity. This will be an opportunity for knitters to work on a project in the company of other knitting enthusiasts, and to exchange tips with participants about how to tackle tricky techniques. Knitters are encouraged to bring finished projects to display, as well as works in progress. While the group knits, Jill will talk about popular styles of knitting in the Adirondacks, a resurgence of interest in handspun
yarn, and the role of knitting groups in this traditional fiber art.

Jill Breit is Executive Director of Traditional Arts in Upstate New York, an organization devoted to documentation and presentation of folklife in the North Country. She is the curator of the exhibition “Repeat from Here: Knitting in the North Country” and author of an article Knitting It Together: A Case Study of a Sweater.

Regional artisans and crafters will offer handmade and specialty items for
sale in a day-long marketplace at the Adirondack Fabric and Fiber Arts Festival.

Visitors of all ages can use vintage treadle sewing machines to make souvenir balsam sachets in the Mark W. Potter Education Center from 11:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m.

Photo: Album quilt made by Huldah Harrington, near Wevertown, N.Y., 1868.


Sunday, August 23, 2009

‘The Adirondack Guide at The Adirondack Museum

Don Williams, storyteller, author, and retired Adirondack guide, will deliver a presentation entitled “Adirondack Guides” at the Adirondack Museum at Blue
Mountain Lake Monday, August 24. Part of the museum’s Monday Evening Lecture series, the presentation will be held in the Auditorium at 7:30 p.m. There is no charge for museum members. Admission is $5.00 for non-members.

William’s program will include the portrayal of a historic Adirondack farmer-lumberman-guide, Adirondack humor as found in folk tales, and the introduction of skunk oil, ginseng, and spruce gum, as well as traditional Adirondack skills and tools well known by guides. He will focus on the role played by jack-of-all trade Adirondackers in
opening up and popularizing the rugged North Country with sportsmen and tourists.

Don Williams (above) is known throughout New York State for his Adirondack storytelling, sharing the lives of Adirondack settlers and visitors through oral histories and humorous tales. He has been an Adirondack lecturer and storyteller at schools and organizations throughout the Northeast for more than forty years.

A retired teacher, school principal, and Adirondack guide, Williams has provided presentations about the Adirondacks at elementary and high schools, colleges, libraries, and Elderhostel programs.

Williams is the author of nine books about Adirondack and local history. He has written more than 250 articles for magazines including Adirondack Life and the Journal of Outdoor Education. He served as Adirondack regional editor for New York Sportsman for twenty years. His “Inside the Blueline” column has appeared weekly in four regional newspapers since 1989.

Williams hosted an Adirondack television show in Gloversville and Glens Falls, N.Y. for six years and appears in the PBS documentary, The Adirondacks, produced by WNED Buffalo.


Saturday, August 22, 2009

Exhibit Features Photos of Johnsburg Gathering Places

A new exhibit entitled, ‘As Time Goes By’: Photos and Stories of the Town of Johnsburg, will open at Tannery Pond Community Center’s Widlund Gallery August 29th. The exhibit will feature a Johnsburg Historical Society collection of photos and stories in the Town of Johnsburg in the past beside contemporary images. Gathering Places such as local bars, rooming houses for skiers in the 30s, the Ski Bowl, businesses and more, will be featured. The exhibit was written and assembled by Sally Heidrich with contributions from others connected to Johnsburg.

The exhibit will open at 6:30 pm, Saturday, August 29th as the first event of an evening of entertainment at Tannery Pond. At 7:30 pm will be a showing of A. R. Gurney’s play, “Love Letters” featuring Nan and Will Clarkson and directed by Lyle Dye. A reception will follow the performance.

Photo: Near T.C. Murphy’s Saw Mill, Wevertown, c. 1944-5. L to R: Tommy Smith, Bert Stevens, Kenneth Waddell, Foster Monroe (U.S. Army) and Mott Liddle. Photo courtesy of Mary Murphy.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Locals Elected to Adirondack Architectural Heritage Board

For your information comes the following press release issued by the Adirondack Architectural Heritage on the recent election of their Board of Directors:

On June 13, 2009, Adirondack Architectural Heritage (AARCH) held its annual meeting at the Boathouse Theater in Schroon Lake, during which time the following individuals were elected to serve their first three-year term on AARCH’s Board of Directors: Willem Monster (Northampton), and Albert Price (Piseco Lake); Jane Mackintosh (Queensbury), and Howard Lowe (Plattsburgh), were elected to serve their second three-year term; William Johnston (Westport), Jay Higgins (Lake Placid), and Phebe Thorne (Keene Valley), were elected to the AARCH Advisory Council. And, at the July AARCH Board meeting, Stewart de Camp (Thendara) was elected to serve on the AARCH Board for a first three-year term.

Adirondack Architectural Heritage is the private, non-profit, historic preservation organization for New York State’s Adirondack Park. AARCH was formed in 1990 with a mission to promote better public understanding, appreciation and stewardship of the Adirondack’s unique and diverse architectural heritage. For more information on membership and our complete program schedule contact AARCH at (518) 834-9328 or visit our website at www.aarch.org.


Friday, August 14, 2009

Pieces of Fort Edward Revealed During Hudson Dredging

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Newcomb VIC To Host Geology Festival Saturday

The history and culture of rocks in the Adirondack Mountains will be celebrated on Saturday, August 15 during the second annual geology festival, Rock Fest 2009, from 10am to 4pm at the Adirondack Park Agency Visitor Interpretive Center (VIC) in Newcomb. The VIC staff has teamed up with the Adirondack Museum and SUNY College of Environmental Science & Forestry’s Adirondack Ecological Center to present lectures, field trips, exhibits, and children’s activities. Free and open to the public, Rock Fest was designed to be a day-long exploration to increase appreciation and understanding of regional geology.

Exhibits and lectures at Rock Fest will focus on the geological history of the Adirondack Mountains and man’s relationship with natural resources of the Adirondack Park. Mining history will be presented by Adirondack Museum educators.

Here are the Rock Fest 2009 lectures and field trips:

10am Lecture: Adirondacks- Geology in the Park, with William Kelly, State Geologist, NYS Geological Survey

10:30am Lecture: Rocks as Resource with Steve Potter, Division of Mineral Resources, NYS DEC

11:15am-12:30pm Field Trip: Rocks in Place, with William Kelly and Steve Potter

1:15pm-2:15pm Lecture: Out of the Earth: Mining History of the Adirondacks, with Christine Campeau, Adirondack Museum

2:15pm Field Trip: Of Mines and Men: The McIntyre and Tahawus Mines, with Paul B. Hai, SUNY-ESF’s Adirondack Ecological Center

Exhibitors (10am to 2pm) will include: The Adirondack Park Institute, the Adirondack Museum (making sandpaper with kids), Natural Stone Bridge and Caves, High Falls Gorge, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, and New York State Geological Survey.

The Newcomb VIC is located 12 miles east of Long Lake on Route 28N. For more information about the VICs, log on to the centers’ Web site at www.adkvic.org.


Monday, August 10, 2009

A New French and Indian War Guide Book

A new guidebook to 19 French and Indian War historic sites invites travelers travel to destinations in New York and Pennsylvania. The Great Lakes Seaway Trail has published Waterways of War: The Struggle for Empire 1754-1763, A Traveler’s Guide to the French & Indian War Forts and Battlefields along America’s Byways in New York and Pennsylvania.ports. It’s one of the best general guides to the French and Indian War I’ve seen and covers the fortified houses, American and French forts, Lake George shipwrecks, and other battlefields and historic sites from the period. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, August 9, 2009

‘Mapping the Adirondacks’ at the Adirondack Museum

Adirondack Museum Librarian Jerry Pepper will present an illustrated presentation entitled “When Men and Mountain Meet: Mapping the Adirondacks” at the Adirondack Museum at Blue Mountain Lake on Monday, August 10, 2009. Part of the museum’s Monday Evening Lecture series, the presentation will be held in the Auditorium at 7:30 p.m. There is no charge for museum members. Admission is $5.00 for non-members.

A contested terrain amid warring nations, a frontier rich in timber and minerals, a recreational and artistic paradise and a pioneering wilderness preserve, the Adirondack Mountains are an intensively mapped region. Using rare and rarely seen maps, drawn from the over 1400 historical maps and atlases in the Adirondack Museum’s collection, “When Men and Mountains Meet: Mapping the Adirondacks” will chart the currents of Adirondack history, as reflected through the region’s maps.

The Adirondack Museum introduced a new exhibit in 2009, “A ‘Wild, Unsettled Country’: Early Reflections of the Adirondacks,” that showcases paintings, maps, prints, and photographs illustrating the untamed Adirondack wilderness discovered by early cartographers, artists, and photographers. The exhibition will be on display through mid-October, 2010.

Jerry Pepper has been Director of the Library at the Adirondack Museum since 1982, he holds Master degrees in both American History and Library Science.

Photo: “A New and Accurate Map of the Present War in North America,” Universal Magazine, 1757. Collection of the Adirondack Museum.



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