Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Sandy Hildreth Visits The View’s Photo Exhibit

On my way through the Adirondacks, while traveling for the holidays, I stopped at View, the Arts Center in Old Forge, to see “Adirondack View Finders: Farb, Battaglia, Bowie, Heilman”. As I walked through the galleries of photos I kept waiting for one to jump out at me – to say “hey, this is new and different – look at me” and it wasn’t happening.

Don’t get me wrong, this is an outstanding exhibition of photographs. Nathan Farb’s work can take your breath away with the incredible details. Nancie Battaglia is exhibiting some striking sepia tone images. Mark Bowie has some low light nighttime exposures with amazing results and Carl Heilman’s panoramas pull you into the space so much you feel like you are right there with him on a mountain summit. All good – but all things I had seen before.

In adjoining galleries there are additional photographs: “Emerging Views,” featuring works by Johnathan A Esper – who sometimes climbs up big white pines to get some wonderful panoramic views; Leslie Dixon and Clark Lubbs, both of whom are showing lovely, intimate views of the natural world.

Finally, there are photos from an exhibit called “Teacher’s Turn: Instructors from the Adirondack Photography Institute.” Another batch of terrific images from Eric Dresser, Joe LeFevre, John Radigan and Carl Rubino. Here is where my inner spirit was moved. We’ve all seen cute bear cub photos, or monster buck images that make you wonder if the photographer was shooting animals contained on a game preserve. Eric Dresser’s photos seem to just take you to the place – you feel like you were stepping softly through the forest and chanced upon these animals without disturbing them. Not overly cute, nor dramatic, just a beautifully composed, captured moments in the life of wild creatures.

However the photos that made me stop and walk back to look at them again were some relatively small images perhaps in the 12×18” size, by John Radigan. Not dramatic, nor extreme in detail or view, but subtle, soft painterly moments in time. In fact they looked more like paintings than photographs – printed on lovely paper with torn edges. I thought they were something like polaroid transfer prints, but after contacting the artist, he explained that “the series of images for the View exhibit were made using an Epson archival inkjet printer on watercolor stock. The image edges were made manually using Photoshop to approximate edge effects like an acid burn, etc. The paper edges are hand torn. The images themselves were captured using various in-camera techniques such as multi-exposure, long exposure blur and image overlay. No computer tricks were used.”

This photography exhibit is definitely worth seeing for it’s breadth, depth, and excellence. And if the opportunity to wander through the Adirondacks via the captured images of all these photographers is not enough, then consider the sixty-eight pieces of native stone sculptures tastefully placed throughout the galleries by Keene Valley artist Matt Horner. Soft, organic forms of hard Adirondack rock! A final bonus is a slide show in an adjoining gallery of Nathan Farb’s striking images of the devastation of Hurricane Irene. Worth seeing as a reminder of the awesome power of nature. The overwhelming response to this natural disaster cleaned things up so quickly it’s easy to forget how bad it really was.

These exhibits will be on display until January 29 at View in Old Forge. Correction: “Adirondack Viewfinders” will remain on exhibit until March 3. Hours are Monday through Thursday, 10 – 4, Friday and Saturday from 10 – 5, and Sunday from noon to 4 pm. Admission is $10/$5 for members. 315-369-6411.


Monday, January 9, 2012

A Local Search and Rescue Makes News Photo History

In modern times, photographs accompanying newspaper stories are sent around the world in digital format, utilizing the latest technology. But for half a century, from 1935 to 1989, the Wirephoto Service of the Associated Press was the industry standard. Prior to that time, the text of stories was sent by wire, but photographs for newsprint were shipped the same way mail and other urgent items were: by train or by plane.

Even by the speediest of methods, it could take more than three days for photographs to arrive. When the dramatic advancement came in 1935 to an instant process, the Adirondacks were linked forever with communications’ history. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, January 8, 2012

‘Open House’ Weekends at Camp Santanoni

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC), Adirondack Architectural Heritage (AARCH), the Town of Newcomb, and the Adirondack Ecological Center have announced that historic Camp Santanoni in Newcomb will be open for three special long “open house” weekends this winter. Over these weekends, cross-country skiers and snowshoers will be able to visit the Gatelodge and Main Lodge, get short interpretive tours with AARCH staff, and warm up at the Artist’s Studio before the return trip. These weekends will be January 14-16, February 18-20, and March 17-18.

Camp Santanoni was built beginning in 1892 by Robert and Anna Pruyn and eventually consisted of more than four dozen buildings on 12,900 acres including a working farm, Gatelodge complex, and a huge rustic Main Lodge and other camp buildings situated on Newcomb Lake. Santanoni was in private ownership until 1972 and over the last several decades, in state ownership, it has gradually been restored by a partnership between NYSDEC, AARCH, and the Town of Newcomb. Santanoni is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a National Historic Landmark.

Camp Santanoni is one of the most popular cross-country ski destinations in the Adirondacks, and for good reason. The snow conditions are usually excellent, the trip itself is of only moderate intensity, and the camp on its remote lakeside setting makes for an interesting and most beautiful destination. The round-trip cross-country ski and showshoe trip is 9.8 miles on a gently sloping carriage road. People may visit Santanoni 365 days a year but these weekends are rare opportunities to visit the camp in winter, have a brief tour, and have a place to warm up.

As snow conditions so far in 2012 have been light, it is best to check in advance to make sure the road is suitable for skiing.

 


Thursday, December 29, 2011

Famous Murder Case at the Adirondack Museum

The first program of the Adirondack Museum’s 2012 Cabin Fever Sunday series, “Chester Gillette: The Adirondacks’ Most Famous Murder Case” will be held on Sunday, January 15, 2012.

It’s the stuff movies are made of- a secret relationship, a pregnancy and a murder. Over a century after it happened in Big Moose Lake, Herkimer County, the Chester Gillette murder case of 1906 is the murder that will never die. The murder of Grace Brown and the case following was the subject of Theodore Dreiser’s 1925 book An American Tragedy, and the Hollywood movie A Place in the Sun.

The story continues to be told today with a 1999 Opera at the Metropolitan Opera in New York and in a 2011 documentary North Woods Elegy. Author Craig Brandon, considered among the world’s foremost experts on the case, and author of Murder in the Adirondacks, will present and lead a discussion.

Craig Brandon is a national award-winning author of six books of popular history and public affairs and a former award-winning reporter.

Held in the Auditorium, the program will begin at 1:30 p.m. Cabin Fever Sundays are offered at no charge to museum members or children of elementary school age and younger. The fee for non-members is $5.00. The Museum Store and Visitor Center will be open from noon to 4 p.m. For additional information, please call (518) 352-7311, ext. 128 or visit
www.adirondackmuseum.org.


Saturday, December 24, 2011

Adirondack Carousel: A Moveable Feast

When the Adirondack Carousel is completed it’s going to be a moveable feast for the eyes. Kids (and adults) will love to take a ride on it and surely will pick out their favorite animal. (I always had a favorite horse on the carousel I rode as a child at the Wisconsin State Fair). But besides the traditional thrill of the ride, this carousel is going to be an amazing work of moveable art.

First of all, the carved wooden animals are all unique and all native to the Adirondacks, rather than the traditional leaping horses. Talented wood carvers from all over the country have donated their time to create these animals. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Almanack Welcomes Arts Writer Sandy Hildreth

Please join us in welcoming our newest contributor here at Adirondack Almanack, local artist Sandra Hildreth. Sandy, who will be writing regularly about Adirondack arts and culture, grew up in rural Wisconsin and is a retired high school art teacher ahving spent 29 years with the Madrid-Waddington School District in northern New York.

She moved to Saranac Lake in 2004 to live where she was spending much of her time anyway – hiking, paddling, skiing, and painting. Today, Sandy spends much of her time Plein air painting – working outdoors from nature as an exhibiting member of the Adirondack Artists’ Guild in Saranac Lake. She is also active in Saranac Lake ArtWorks.


Saturday, December 17, 2011

Midnight Rising: New Book on John Brown

In his new book Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War, bestselling author Tony Horwitz tells the story of Adirondack abolitionist John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry.

Late on the night of October 16, 1859, Adirondack abolitionist John Brown led 18 well-armed men on a raid of the federal armory and arsenal at Harpers Ferry and sparked a nationwide uprising against slavery. The principal goal of the raid was to free slaves, not attack and hold a Southern state. The plan was simple: capture about 100,000 muskets and rifles, ammunition, and other supplies from the lightly guarded federal facilities at Harpers Ferry, retire to the countryside and carry out nighttime raids to free Southern slaves. The raider’s believed the southern harvest fields would be filled with disgruntled and overworked slaves bringing in the crops, a perfect opportunity to turn them to revolt.

The raid might have succeeded, had Brown not made a serious error in allowing an eastbound Baltimore & Ohio train the raiders had captured to proceed. The conductor alerted the main B & O office that abolitionists were attempting to free the area’s slaves. The word was immediately taken to B & O president John W. Garrett, who notified US President James Buchanan, Virginia Governor Henry A. Wise, and Major General George H. Stewart of the Maryland Volunteers that a slave insurrection was underway in Harpers Ferry. The worst fear of the southern slaveholders seemed to be at hand.

By about noon Brown’s last chance to escape into the countryside came and went – he was in command of the bridges, and held about 35 prisoners. Armed locals arrived and organized a makeshift attack with their own hunting guns. Then two militia companies arrived from nearby Charles Town – together they stormed the bridges and drove the half dozen or so of Brown’s men guarding them back.

Five raiders were captured alive. Seven initially escaped and five of them made it to ultimate freedom in the north; four later served in the Civil War. Ten men were killed. All but two were buried in a common grave on the Shenandoah River, across from Harpers Ferry. The lest resting place of Jeremiah Anderson remains unknown. Watson Brown’s body was given to Winchester Medical College where it remained until Union troops recovered it during the Civil War and burned the school in reprisal.

Brown 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. He was hanged on December 2nd (John Wilkes Booth sneaked in to watch) and his body was afterward carried to North Elba in Essex County to “moulder in his grave.”

Horwitz is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist who has worked for The Wall Street Journal and The New Yorker. He also wrote Confederates in the Attic, the outstanding look at the Civil War’s continued legacy in the South. Midnight Rising follows John Brown’s plot from its very inception to the savage battle, and then to its aftermath as it galvanizes the North and pushes the South closer to secession.

Adirodnack Almanack founder John Warren wrote about the raid in a series of posts on in 2009.

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


Monday, December 12, 2011

Franklin County Inventor Eliakim Briggs

In the 1830s, hundreds of inventors around the world focused on attempts at automating farm equipment. Reducing the drudgery, difficulty, and danger of farm jobs were the primary goals, accompanied by the potential of providing great wealth for the successful inventor. Among the North Country men tinkering with technology was Eliakim Briggs of Fort Covington in northern Franklin County.

Functional, power-driven machinery was the desired result of his work, and while some tried to harness steam, Briggs turned right to the source for providing horsepower: horses.

This particular branch of the Briggs family had many members across New England, descended from Irish ancestors who fought in America’s Revolutionary War. A number of them later moved to New York in southern Washington County, which is where Eliakim was born in 1795.

Dozens of Vermonters and eastern New York State residents were among the first to move farther north and settle along the border with Canada from Clinton County to western Franklin County. Several members of the Briggs clan, including Eliakim, made the journey around 1820.

With a background in foundry work, young Eli began experimenting with building a “traveling threshing machine.” Around this time, he married Chateaugay’s Russina Allen (a descendant of Vermont’s Ethan Allen), who had moved there from Ticonderoga. They settled in Fort Covington, and by 1827, Russina had given birth to five children. Only the fifth, Janette, survived infancy.

Eli’s inventive efforts proved successful, and he began patenting his creations. Unfortunately, a fire in December 1836 destroyed 80 percent of the Patent Office’s 10,000 records. Among the documents to survive were those covering Eliakim’s “Horse Power Machine” (patented July 12, 1834), and his machine for “mowing, thrashing, and cleaning grain,” patented February 5, 1836.

The 1834 machine was an improvement in design and function of the existing horse treadmill, which was subsequently used to power his threshing machine. Looking to the future, Briggs perceived all sorts of possibilities from harnessing the power of horse-driven treadmills.

In the following year, on the Saratoga and Schenectady Railroad (one of New York’s very first rail lines) was a most unusual sight. Instead of the customary single rail car being towed along by a horse, the car was moving silently forward with no visible means of propulsion.

Gawkers could hardly believe their eyes, but the secret lay within, where a horse on a treadmill propelled the car forward at the then blazing speed of 15 miles per hour, prompting one reporter to observe, “This is indeed an age of wonders.” He was witnessing the handiwork of Eliakim Briggs of Fort Covington, whose remarkable invention was being manufactured and sold in Ogdensburg at the time.

Briggs felt that the greatest potential for financial success was in agriculture, and after a trip to the West (which was Indiana, since there were only 26 states at that time), he was convinced. The family pulled up stakes and relocated to Dayton, Ohio.

In 1839, Thomas Clegg, one of Dayton’s pioneer industrialists, operated the Washington Cotton Factory, which had an extensive machine shop. Clegg partnered with Briggs in producing his automatic threshing machine, to the great financial benefit of both men.

Eliakim became one of the leading entrepreneurs of Dayton, but after three years he moved on to Richmond, Indiana for a year. In 1841, the family settled in South Bend, and it was there where Eliakim really made his mark. The fledgling settlement of perhaps 700 citizens soon experienced rapid growth, driven in part by Briggs’ threshing manufactory (powered by windmills), one of the first industries in the town’s history.

After three years of success, the company outgrew its quarters. Briggs built a large new factory, providing employment for many residents, some of whom later became leading businessmen themselves (the famed Studebakers are one example).

Briggs’ traveling threshing machine was a big success, and not only because of the inventor’s great abilities. Eliakim’s charisma was evident in his open, friendly treatment of customers who came from Indianapolis, Lafayette, Richmond, and other western locations. He opened his expansive home to visitors and customers alike, earning a reputation far and wide as the most hospitable and generous of businessmen.

He also remained a family man to a brood that had grown to nine by 1844, including sons John, George, and Charles, who eventually followed business pursuits as aggressively as their father had. John caught gold fever and ventured to California in 1849. As his brothers became old enough, they joined him in several business exploits, including mining. One part of their legacy, still producing gold today, is the Briggs Mine, about 20 miles north of Denver.

Successful in business, Eliakim combined his personal beliefs with financial profits in pursuit of a personal passion: the anti-slavery movement. He was a fervent abolitionist who sought freedom for all. Briggs abhorred slavery and was a longtime, ardent supporter of the Underground Railroad, despite the inherent dangers.

In early 1861, at the age of 66, Eli was still securing patents on new devices, while his horse-driven machines remained very popular. That same year, previous failures in the effort to process sugar cane in the West finally met with success when new equipment was introduced: “…a horizontal, three-roller, horse-power press for expressing the juice, manufactured by E. Briggs of South Bend, capable of pressing out sixty gallons per hour …”

Eventually, the development of steam and other power sources would replace Eliakim’s creation, but during his lifetime, it remained an important component of industry.

Briggs died in September 1861, still successful in industry, and still battling for the abolition of slavery. A year later, in September 1862, his wife, Russina, passed away as well. Much of the family fortune was placed in the hands of daughter Janette, a widow whose husband had also done quite well for himself.

Janette became very well known for philanthropy in South Bend. When she died in 1916, several bequests were included in her will, including $15,000 to an orphanage and $12,000 to the YWCA. Those two bequests alone were equal to approximately $500,000 in 2011, reminiscent of the generosity her father exhibited throughout his life.

Photo: Patent drawing of Eliakim Briggs’ horse treadmill (1834).

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.


Saturday, December 10, 2011

Adirondack Classic Now Available in Paperback

The Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) has released the third edition of The Adirondack Reader in paperback. The collection of writings about the Adirondacks, which is also available in hardcover, spans more than 400 years of the region’s history and literature and reflects our nation’s changing attitudes toward wilderness. Edited by the late Paul Jamieson with Neal Burdick, this edition includes the work of some 30 new writers as well as the classic entries of Adirondack explorers and philosophers for which the book is known. A glossy, 32-page, color insert features classic and contemporary Adirondack paintings, illustrations, etchings and photographs. The paperback edition retails for $24.95 and the hardcover lists for $39.95.

“Adirondack literature is an unparalleled mirror of the relations of Americans to the woods,” Jamieson writes. “This is a book about what Americans have sensed, felt, and thought about our unique heritage of wilderness.”

The release of the third edition in 2009 coincided with 400th anniversary of the voyages of Samuel de Champlain and Henry Hudson and the European discovery of the waterways that bear their names. The Adirondack Reader opens with Francis Parkman’s account of Champlain’s voyage. But much of the historical material is contemporary: Isaac Jogues on his capture by the Mohawks, Ethan Allen on the taking of Fort Ticonderoga, William James Stillman on the 1858 “Philosopher’s Camp” at Follensby Pond, and Bob Marshall on scaling 14 Adirondack peaks in a single day. The Adirondack Reader also features writings by James Fenimore Cooper, Robert Louis Stevenson, Theodore Dreiser, Joyce Carol Oates, Henry David Thoreau, Theodore Roosevelt, Richard Henry Dana Jr. and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Newcomers to the third edition include Bill McKibben, Russell Banks, Chris Jerome, Barbara McMartin, Elizabeth Folwell and Philip Terrie. Visual artists represented in its pages include Winslow Homer, Rockwell Kent, Seneca Ray Stoddard and Harold Weston, as well as more contemporary artists such as Anne Diggory, Lynn Benevento, John Gallucci, Laura von Rosk and Don Wynn.

First published in 1964, The Adirondack Reader was lauded for its scope and its success in capturing and conveying the region’s spirit. Jamieson organized the collection into 10 sections and wrote an introduction for each that also imparts a great deal about the Adirondacks’ culture and character. His preface describes a place he knew well and gives readers a context for understanding the Adirondack Park’s unique role in the nation’s development and literature.

In the years that followed, Jamieson and editor Neal Burdick watched with interest the emergence of new voices in Adirondack writing. It is these authors, many of whom live in the region they write about (a marked change from earlier Reader contributors), who Jamieson and Burdick took particular care to include in the current edition. “There has been a remarkable flowering of writing about the Adirondacks in the last two and a half decades,” notes Burdick in his preface to the third edition. “A regional literature of the Adirondacks has come into its own.”

Neal Burdick is associate director of university communications for St. Lawrence University and editor-in-chief of Adirondac magazine. An essayist, reviewer, poet and fiction writer, his writing has appeared in numerous publications. Burdick is also past editor of ADK’s eight-volume Forest Preserve Series trail guides. A native of Plattsburgh, he holds a B.A. in English from St. Lawrence University and a Ph.D. in American studies with a concentration in environmental history from Case Western Reserve University.

Born and raised in Des Moines, Iowa, Paul Jamieson was inspired by the discovery of “uneven ground” in the nearby Adirondacks when he joined the faculty of St. Lawrence University in 1929. It was there, in Canton, that he became a hiker, paddler, author and prominent figure in regional and national preservation efforts. He is widely credited with the opening of many tracts of land and paddling routes to the public. Jamieson lived in Canton until his death in 2006 at the age of 103.

The Adirondack Reader is 544 pages and is available at book and outdoor supply stores, at ADK stores in Lake George and Lake Placid and through mail order by calling (800) 395-8080.

The Adirondack Mountain Club, founded in 1922, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the New York Forest Preserve and other parks, wild lands and waters through conservation and advocacy, environmental education and responsible recreation. ADK publishes more than 30 titles, including outdoor recreation guidebooks and maps and armchair traveler books, and conducts extensive trails, education, conservation and natural history programs. Profits from the sale of ADK publications help underwrite the cost of these programs. For more information, visit www.adk.org.

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


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Sandra Hildreth: A Local Lesson in Art History

What follows is a guest essay by Sandra Hildreth, a member of the Adirondack Artists’ Guild. The Guild is a cooperative retail gallery with 14 member artists, located at 52 Main St. in Saranac Lake. Gallery hours are 10 – 5, Tues – Sat, and 12 – 3 on Sundays. 518-891-2615.

The current featured artist exhibit at the Adirondack Artists’ Guild in Saranac Lake could easily be a lesson in art history. Nancy Brossard is a well known local artist who lives between Tupper Lake and Childwold. Brossard primarily paints Adirondack landscapes in the tradition of “en plein air” artists, that is, outdoors, on location. Her works interpret the environment in wonderful animated brushstrokes, reminiscent of some of the French Impressionists, but faithful to the Adirondack views they portray.
» Continue Reading.


Monday, December 5, 2011

Adirondack Canines: Doggone Good Friends

In an eight-month span in the 1930s, two Ticonderoga canines made headlines for something dogs are known for in general: loyalty. Few relationships are more rewarding in life than the human-canine experience, as anyone reading this who shares a dog’s life can attest. For those who have children as well … some might be loathe to admit it, but dogs provide many of the same positives without all the complicated baggage. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Adirondack Family Activities: A Cold Fort Ticonderoga

For the first year Fort Ticonderoga is providing a unique experience with “Hot Chocolate at a Cold Fort.” On December 3, 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m., Fort Ticonderoga will have a special opening allowing guests to witness how soldiers celebrated Christmas in 1776.

One way to snap children out of their glassy-eyed “I wants” from the onslaught of daily catalog deliveries is to experience an 18th century Christmas celebration at Fort Ticonderoga.

There will be opportunities to learn of past traditions and the winter hardships of limited resources. Fort Ticonderoga is only open during the winter months on special occasions, so this will be an interesting treat.

Stuart Lilie, Fort Ticonderoga Director of Interpretation says, “We hope this event will demonstrate how people were celebrating Christmas in 1776. On a basic level the goal is to show what the solders’ lives were like during the American Revolution to how we celebrate Christmas now.”

“At that time people did not have all the traditions that we have now. I think that true comfort of Christmas at that time and the other saint’s holidays was the camaraderie with the people around them,” says Lilie. “It was enjoying a simple meal that was perhaps better than they were used to. It was something as simple as a nice cut of meat. There was more focus on those around them. The simplicity.”

The event starts with a tour of the historic fort and will make use of re-enactors portraying Colonel Anthony Wayne’s Fourth Pennsylvania Battalion. The English and Dutch Christmas traditions of these Pennsylvania soldiers will be demonstrated. Colonel Wayne’s soldiers will also work around the mess hall to make hot meals for the officers, the sick and to try to find ways to feed the rest of the battalion.

Museum Curator of Collections, Christopher Fox will be on hand for the tour of “The Art of War: Ticonderoga as Experience through the Eyes of America’s Great Artists” exhibit. This exhibits brings together 50 of the museum’s most important artworks with works including Thomas Cole’s “Gelyna.”

The fort tour will attempt to tackle such issues as shortage of clothing, medicine and how the long transportation from Albany, at the time, was an overwhelming challenge. Through it all the soldiers manage to make a festive gathering with very little.

Of course there will be a musket demonstration, as those soldiers need practice in case of a winter raid. There will be an opportunity to see how muskets work and learn how they were the main weapons during Colonel Wayne’s command.

So with a bit of history and a fun day at the fort we can witness how the Fort Ticonderoga soldiers appreciated what they had in a cold winter in 1776.

Throughout the weekend there will also be the 2nd annual Ticonderoga North Country Christmas with other children’s activities throughout the weekend.

Photo by Diane Chase.

Diane Chase is the author of the Adirondack Family Activities Guidebook Series including the recent released Adirondack Family Time: Tri-Lakes and High Peaks Your Guide to Over 300 Activities for Lake Placid, Saranac Lake, Tupper Lake, Keene, Jay and Wilmington areas (with GPS coordinates), the first book of a four-book series of Adirondack Family Activities. The next book Adirondack Family Time Plattsburgh to Ticonderoga will in stores summer 2012.


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.


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

High Peaks Happy Hour: Burleigh House, Ticonderoga

The entrance door was freshly painted at The Burleigh House in Ticonderoga. (A neglected entrance is one of Pam’s pet peeves.) As we approached the bar toward the back of The Burleigh House, we experienced an absolute first in our many bar experiences this year – all of the patrons were women! Nope, never encountered that before. There were probably six women in all and it wasn’t the ladies’ auxillary night either. The bartender was cute and personable and male – maybe he was the attraction?

As we took a seat and surveyed our drink options, we were greeted immediately by the bartender named Luke. Kim and Luke discussed beer options but she ordered a soda since it was her turn to drive. Lake Placid UBU Ale, Switchback Ale, Samuel Adams Octoberfest, and Coors Light are available on tap, and several bottled beer, malt and non-alcohol choices are offered as well. Pam readily noticed something new behind the bar, a chocolate raspberry vodka. She and Luke set to the task of designing a drink and the waitress, Barbie, soon joined them. Luke suggested a white russian variety and it was done. While Pam sipped the delicious drink, the waitress worked out a name and posted the newly born “Razz-berry Kiss” on a specials board at $3.50.

Pam sat, half listening, quietly contemplating something, while the owner, Kim Villardo, shared the history of The Burleigh House with Kim. When she pointed out an old picture of the original Burleigh House, Pam turned to it and studied it rather intensely. On the ride home later, she said that she had a sense of timelessness at the bar, like she was sitting in the original bar long ago. We tried to pinpoint what caused that feeling. Was Luke dressed in black and white, with a bow tie and cummerbund? No, but he was professionally attired in khakis and a button-down shirt. Was it the women in their fancy hats with cigar smoking men milling around them? No, they were casually dressed and still no men to be seen. Was it the ambient lighting reflecting shimmering bottles and liquids off the mirrored walls behind the bar? Yes, perhaps, and maybe a combination of factors, too much alcohol consumption not being one of them.

In 1953, fire destroyed the original Burleigh House, once an elegant four-story hotel with a bar and an orchestra downstairs. A new structure replaced the original in a simpler fashion with a bar and restaurant, sans orchestra, but there is Quick Draw and they do occasionally feature live music. Although it is no longer affiliated with the Burleigh family, the name was retained out of a love of the history of Ticonderoga.

Dozens of framed historic photographs, collected over the years by owner Kim Villardo, hang throughout the restaurant in silent retrospect. A gas fireplace adorns the pine covered wall near the bar, a vintage hand-colored and ornately-framed photograph of the original hotel hanging over the mantel. Open and spacious, with movable partitions for custom privacy, the interior conveys the impression of many rooms with distinct personalities. One area holds a pool table, a piano, and a few pub tables. A lounge in the center of the room, partitioned from the restaurant and bar with half walls, features two sofas, a piano and another smaller fireplace. The bar, with its soft, warm cherry finish, seats 15 to 20 patrons with leather stools comfortably spaced. Staff and patrons were friendly and interesting, as well as interested in what we were up to.

The Burleigh House doesn’t offer daily Happy Hour specials, but they do feature holiday drinks and a variety of spontaneous drinks like Cosmos, specialty shots and this day, and the Razz-berry Kiss. The kitchen is closed on Monday and Tuesday. The bar is open daily at 11 a.m. and noon on Sunday. They are open until midnight Sunday through Thursday and until 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.

On the more trendy side, The Burleigh House has free wi-fi, a website, and a Facebook page.

Located equidistant from Lake Champlain and Lake George, The Burleigh House is a summer hot spot. Though closed for the season, a large outdoor patio out back awaits the warmer weather. Local residents, snowmobilers and the occasional off season tourists support the business year-round. When you visit The Burleigh House, and we know you want to, have a Razz-berry Kiss with Luke and take a quiet moment to see if you feel the timelessness too.

Kim and Pam Ladd’s book, Happy Hour in the High Peaks, is currently in the research stage. Together they visit pubs, bars and taverns with the goal of selecting the top 46 bars in the Adirondack Park. They regularly report their findings here at the Almanack and at their own blog, or follow them on Facebook, and ADK46barfly on Twitter.


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Project to Record Keene and Jay Memories of Irene

Burlington College students, under the direction of their instructor, Adirondack Almanack editor John Warren, will conduct Oral History interviews to record the Tropical Storm Irene stories of Jay and Keene residents on Saturday, December 3rd, at the Keene Community Center, (8 Church Street, in Keene), between 10 and 4 pm. The public is invited to share their stories; the resulting oral histories will be added to the collections of the Adirondack Museum.

Participants can schedule a time on December 3, or walk-in anytime between 10 am and 4 pm. It will only be necessary to spend about 15-20 mins at the Community Center where participants will be asked a number of questions about their experiences with Irene and will be provided an opportunity to tell the stories they think are important to remember about the events of this past late-summer.

To schedule your participation contact John Warren via e-mail at [email protected] or call (518) 956-3830. The public is invited. Walk-ins are welcome.



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