Posts Tagged ‘Clinton County’

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Battle of Plattsburgh: Alexander Macomb

Last week I wrote about the significance of September 11th, being a date that illustrates the surprising, narrow and often untold margins by which history unfolds.  I wrote of two fateful events that occurred on that date: the terrorist attacks of eleven years ago and the Battle of Plattsburgh in 1814.  I left that tale unfinished.

When last we left the story the fate of the nation lay in the hands of a passel of barely trained regulars, invalids, soldiers unfit due to dysentery and typhoid, teenagers and sporadic militia, many of whom didn’t arrive in time for the battle and many of whom changed their minds as things got dicey.  This less-than-glamorous force faced upwards of ten-thousand battle-hardened British troops poised to invade from Canada.  It should have been hopeless for the Americans: there was not a chance that the British force could have been defeated had Sir George Prevost, the Military Commander for North America, prosecuted his invasion without letup or hesitation. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, September 15, 2012

Battle of Plattsburgh:
When the North Country Saved the Republic

This week is the anniversary of a horrible attack upon the United States.  At the time it occurred I was working in a field related to policing and intelligence.  As I watched the agonizing drama unfold along with so many riveted Americans I could not have foreseen how much my world, how much everyone’s world, would change, how much was truly at stake.  I have many ties to New York City and at the time almost all of my closest family lived in Manhattan.   In November of that year I went to the city and was pulled to the raw, still-smoldering ruins of ground zero.  I’ll never forget it. » Continue Reading.


Monday, July 16, 2012

Hindenburg: When Dirigibles Roamed North Country Skies

Many famous ships can be linked in one way or another to Plattsburgh on Lake Champlain in northern Clinton County. There was the Philadelphia under Benedict Arnold’s command in the Battle of Valcour, and the Saratoga under Thomas Macdonough, hero of the Battle of Plattsburgh. There were steamers, like the Vermont, the Chateaugay, and the Ticonderoga. And as noted here in the past, Plattsburgh also owns an unusual link to the largest seagoing vessel of its time, the Titanic.

But there is yet another tied not only to Plattsburgh, but to the entire Champlain Valley, and from Whitehall to Albany as well. And like the Titanic, its name became synonymous with disaster. » Continue Reading.


Monday, June 18, 2012

Lawrence Gooley: Remembering Dad

While I mostly write about North Country history in one form or another, I’ll digress this week, but only slightly: the history I’d like to mention is personal, and the impetus is yesterday, Father’s Day. I’ve never really had the opportunity to write about my dad, who at age 88 is still with us. He has changed, certainly, but the core man is still there, and I’m luckier than many folks who lost their dads and moms early in life. My mom is 90.

As you get older, you’ll often recognize parts of yourself or your behavior that came from one of your parents. It might be good or it might be bad, but it’s always an awakening to suddenly realize who we sound like and who we act like. It’s also an opportunity to change. One of my children once told me I yelled too much. That was so frustrating because the one thing that really got me fired-up when I was young was my dad’s yelling. I didn’t want my children to remember me that way, so I changed. » Continue Reading.


Monday, June 4, 2012

The Lyon Mountain Mining and Railroad Museum

This is New York State Museum Week, highlighting some of the best of what our state has to offer. Among the finest in the North Country, and at a price that can’t be beat (free), is the Lyon Mountain Mining and Railroad Museum, housed in the former railroad depot building. This community project has grown into a remarkable facility dedicated to regional and town history. The focus, of course, is on the iron mining facility that operated in the town for a century, producing some of the finest iron ore on earth.

No matter what your expectations are, you’ll be amazed at the quantity and quality of the displays. To top it all off, there are friendly, helpful folks on hand anxious to share their knowledge of the town’s history, further enhancing the museum experience. » Continue Reading.


Monday, May 28, 2012

Lake Placid Hall of Fame Seeks Nominations

Lake Placid Hall of FameThe Lake Placid Hall of Fame Committee is seeking nominations of full or part-time residents of the Olympic region (Essex, Clinton and Franklin Counties) for 2012. The Lake Placid Hall of Fame began in 1983 and has inducted over 100 individuals including members of the 1948 U.S. Olympic four-man bobsled team and the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team. Permanent plaques commemorating each member are on display in the Olympic Center’s Hall of Fame.

To be considered for membership, individuals should be past or current residents of the Olympic region or have some significant connection to the area. All nominees must have made significant sports, cultural, or civic contributions to the region, or have enhanced Olympic region heritage. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Adirondack Family Time:
World’s Biggest Disc Golf Weekend

Disc GolfIn its 23rd year, this year’s World’s Biggest Disc Golf Weekend will be hosted in 15 countries and over 140 locations throughout the United States. This Saturday, May 5, the only Adirondack location registered for this annual event is Keeseville’s Ausable Chasm Campground. 

Recreational Manager Chuck Fries says, “We are offering free admission and free disc rentals all Saturday from 11:00 a.m. – 11:00 p.m. We have a local league that will start earlier and later have a mixed doubles tournament. We hope people will come out and see what a fun sport this is.”

Fries confirms that the event is geared toward the novice in mind. From 2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. league members and experienced players will be on site to show people how to play disc golf. Fries will even have league players and volunteers available to join novices on the course to demonstrate strategies. Though anyone can come, sign out a disc and play the Ausable Chasm course at any time throughout the day.

“This is a great family activity and lifelong sport,” says Fries. “It is low-impact. We can bring our young daughter and walk the courses while she enjoys nature. My wife and I used to mountain bike and have had to put that sport on hold for a bit. We can’t share that with our daughter quite yet. Disc golf is a great way to bring the whole family together and spend time outdoors. It is less frustration than regular golf to play right from the start.”

The late Ed Headrick is known as the father of the modern day Frisbee and of the game Disc Golf.  Headrick, of California, also invented the first disc golf basket and designed and installed the first course. While working at Wham-O, Headrick was credited with the first patent for modern day Frisbee. He helped develop the sport in the 70’s even establishing the first disk golf tournament in 1979.

Similar to traditional golf, disc golf has various weighted Frisbee-like discs that serve as driver, midrange and putter. According to Fries, anyone that has played mini-golf can tackle disc golf. Instead of a ball and club, it is a disc into a metal basket. He recommends for beginners to start with one disc and not worry about the various sized discs. For those a bit more adventurous, he suggests sticking around for the evening festivities that will consist of glow-in-the dark discs and lighted baskets.

“Beginners have a hard time throwing the driver. If they start with the mid-range or putter, it throws more like a traditional Frisbee,” says Fries. “One of the great features of the Ausable Chasm course is that it is heavily wooded and not so easy to lose a disc.”

The World’s Biggest Disc Golf Weekend is May 5 from 11:00 a.m. – 11:00 p.m. Call 518-834-9990 for more information.  There are grills and tables available for those wishing to bring a picnic.

Diane Chase is the author of Adirondack Family Time Your Four-Season Guide to over 300 activities in Lake Placid and the High Peaks. Her second guidebook for the Champlain Valley will be in stores this summer 2012.


Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Adirondack Regiment in the Civil War:
“The Home Voices Speak Louder than the Drums”

What follows is a guest essay by Wanda Burch has spent 42 years in historic preservation. She recently retired as site manager of Johnson Hall State Historic Site and now serves as Vice-President of Friends of Johnson Hall. She is a regular contributor to the online news magazine New York History.

On August 7, 1862, Henry Graves, physically exhausted from walking, fighting, and from four days detail digging trenches under a Petersburg, Virginia, sun and not “a breath of air stirring,” sat down and wrote to his wife, describing the importance of the imagination to survival. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Adirondack Family Activities: Be Careful of Ticks

I recently spent my Sunday in the Emergency Room due to a classic “target” shaped bite that showed up on my ankle after an Earth Day weekend of clearing trails and picking up roadside garbage near Westport, N.Y.

Not only did I get to spend my leisure time with the ER staff but I, usually so diligent with tick searches, did everything wrong regarding my own health. So to save you a trip to the ER and a bothersome dose of antibiotics, here are some safety tips for tick prevention. » Continue Reading.


Monday, April 23, 2012

Rooftop Highway Commentary: A Cause Worth Losing

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

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


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Adirondack Family Activities: Back to the Future’s James Tolkan

Actor James Tolkan will be in Au Sable Forks April 1 to help raise funds for two Au Sable organizations. Tolkan, a familiar character actor has been in over 70 films during his lengthy Hollywood career. With an extensive resume in TV and films, Tolkan’s Principal Strickland in the Back to The Future Trilogy is what sparked a film fundraiser for event organizer Cassidy Garrow.

Garrow says, “Flashback to the Past is my idea but I couldn’t have done it without help. I met James Tolkan at an outing. I approached him with my idea and he was very willing to help. I thought of the local organizations and know they can use the fundraising money.”

Held at the Hollywood Theatre in AuSable Forks, six classic 1980s films will be shown in succession with a special guest appearance with actor James Tolkan held at 8:00 p.m. at the Jay Community Center.Tolkan will conduct a “meet and greet” with audience members and share his experiences during the making of the films. He will also answer questions from the audience.

Seating is limited but tickets can be reserved. One of the Hollywood Theatre’s two screens will be shows what Garrow terms “chick flicks” with Footloose, Dirty Dancing and Sixteen Candles while the second movie theatre screen will house the Back To The Future Trilogy. The first show starts at noon.

“The two events, the films and meeting James Tolkan are separate,” says Garrow. “Tickets are sold individually. People can just attend the evening event if they just wish to meet James Tolken or come watch the films. I wanted to keep options available so people could attend one event or both.”

Besides a fun “flashback films of the 80s” concept, the funds raised will benefit two special local charities, the AuSable Forks Fire Department Water Rescue Program and the Jay/Black Brook Annual Toy Drive.

“The annual toy drive collects funds to buy gifts for children during the holiday season for Essex and Clinton County areas including Black Brook, the town of AuSable and Jay,” says Garrow. “ I believe that last year this organization was able to help 30 families during the holidays.”

Garrow praises the Ausable Forks Fire Department Water Rescue Program’s diligence during emergency situations. Many people rely on the Au Sable Forks Fire Department during the year and countless people were assisted during Tropical Storm Irene.“The Fire Department lost some of their equipment while rescuing people trapped by water during Irene,” says Garrow. “ We hope that funds raised by this event will help replace that equipment. The Au Sable Fire Department will also use the funds for water rescue training.”

Garrow thanked others that are helping to make this event a success including The American Leagion Post 504, Admag Designs and The Hollywood Theatre. There will be raffles for three autographed copies of the Back to the Future DVD sets, signed by James Tolken. Tolken will also do an autograph session after the “meet and greet.”

Movies and times are listed as follows: April 1
noon – 9:00 p.m. Noon -Back to the Future and Footloose.
2;15 p.m. Back to the Future II and Dirty Dancing
4:30 p.m. Back to the Future III and 16 Candles
Admission Prices:Adult $3/Child $2 (10 and under)

8:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. Meet James Tolkan
Admission Adult/$5, Child/$3 (10 and under)

Advanced admission tickets can be purchased by calling 518-643-2849 (cash, check, or money orders only).

Diane Chase is the author of Adirondack Family Time Lake Placid and High Peaks: Your Four-Season Guide to Over 300 Activities (with GPS coordinates. Her second Adirondack Family Time Champlain Valley book will be in stores summer 2012.


Monday, March 26, 2012

Dannemora Mountain and a Truckload of Carrots:Hills, Speed, and Pioneer Motorcycle, Indy Racer Ralph Hepburn

On a recent drive in Clinton County, I was reminded of a story told to me by my grandfather, James Lagree. Jim was a Churubusco farmer, but he also worked other jobs, including road construction. We both loved fishing, and in my pre-teen years, he took me to all his secret places, including Bradley Pond near Lyon Mountain. As it turned out, he had worked on construction of the Bradley Pond Road.

The conversation that day drifted to other roads, and that’s when he told me the story of a truck losing its brakes on Dannemora Mountain. It was hilarious the way he told it (he was great with jokes and embellishments), but I recently learned just how true the story was.

If you’ve ever driven east over the mountain, you’re familiar with one of the steepest roads and most dramatic speed changes in the Adirondacks. For the sake of all the strictly law-abiding drivers out there, yes, the change is technically no different from many others: a main highway (in this case, Rt. 374) enters a village, where the speed limit drops immediately to 30 mph.

But the difference is this: after a couple of curves during the brisk, mile-and-a-half descent, a final, steep, straight incline ends abruptly at the village limits. The road suddenly flattens, and perhaps not everyone has decelerated to 30 mph by that point. Add snow or ice, and you’ve got hellish road conditions.

But weather wasn’t a factor in two of the most famous incidents linked to that section of highway. One of them occurred in September 1930, when nationally renowned driver Ralph Hepburn visited the region.

Inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1998, Hepburn won motorcycling championships and set records during a superb career, and then turned to automobiles. Many more records fell to his skills, and fifteen times he competed in the Indianapolis 500, never winning, but finishing second twice.

As the automobile industry flourished, racing champions were hired to promote and demonstrate the capabilities of different brands. Hepburn was employed by Studebaker in that capacity, and while touring New York State in 1930, he briefly set up headquarters at the dealership in Plattsburgh.

His highest-profile publicity stunt locally was a speedy climb up Dannemora Mountain, accompanied by two newspapermen. Despite the curves, he reached the summit while maintaining the astonishing speed of 50 mph. That was more than eighty years ago, when cars were in their infancy, and I can guarantee, I’ve been stuck going up that grade behind cars that were going much slower.

And consider this: when Hepburn did it, the road surface was composed of dirt and gravel, hardly conducive to high speeds and good traction.

Hepburn made a second run that day, carrying six passengers (some of them on the running boards, which must have been quite the rush). Carrying nearly 1300 pounds, the Studebaker crested the mountain at 41 mph. It was typical of Hepburn’s flare for the dramatic.

After the Dannemora exhibition, he continued promoting and racing for many years. Hepburn died doing what he loved (he was killed during qualifying practice for the 1948 Indy 500, a race he is famed for having led in three different decades―1925, 1937, and 1946).

The second famous incident on that notorious section of Dannemora highway occurred in October 1939. It began when a produce truck, driven by William Coryea of Malone, suffered brake failure while heading down the mountain. The road had been rebuilt with concrete several years earlier, which meant better tire grip and a smoother ride. To a freewheeling vehicle without brakes, it also meant greater velocity.

When Coryea reached the base of the mountain road, his speed was estimated at 60 mph. With the weight of 150 bushels of carrots on board, the truck was sure to coast for some distance. Stopping it would not be easy.

Racing through the village could have been disastrous, and Coryea had little time to think. After about three-tenths of a mile, near the gates of Dannemora Prison, he solidly sideswiped a moving car, and then another, sending carrots flying into the streets.

But the truck slowed only a little, and people were in danger. Coryea then hit a bread truck and two more parked cars. Bread products and carrots scattered everywhere while vehicles bounced aside, but still the truck kept rolling.

Finally, it slowed enough for Coryea to whip sharply onto a side street, where he drove the truck into a brick wall at the back of Lafountain’s store. The reason, as he later told police, was to avoid hitting any more vehicles. It’s amazing that through it all, there were no injuries.

I don’t know if my grandfather actually witnessed the aftermath, and although he was quite the storyteller, it doesn’t seem like he embellished it much after all. The crushed cars, with food scattered everywhere, and nobody hurt, were actually elements of the true story. Unlike many other Dannemora accidents on that stretch of highway, it thankfully lacked tragedy, and has been looked back upon with at least some amusement.

Photos: Ralph Hepburn (courtesy wikipedia); the maps shows Rt. 374 entering at the upper right and plunging into the village on the far left. Clinton Prison is at the bottom left.

Lawrence Gooley has authored ten books and dozens of articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 19 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Monday, February 6, 2012

The Chazy Native Who Upturned Mormon Politics

During the ongoing battle for the Republican nomination, a candidate’s religion has sometimes surfaced as an issue. The intent was to scare voters and create a negative feeling about the candidate whenever the religion is mentioned. In this case, the candidate is Mitt Romney and the religion is Mormonism. It’s interesting that fear and loathing of Mormons coming to power is not a new thing. In the 19th century, when they dominated life in the Utah Territory for several decades prior to statehood, a fierce battle was waged between two religious factions.

Many factors came into play before things were resolved. In one of the climactic moments that helped eliminate a powerful theocracy, a North Country man ended the Mormon’s 43-year rule of their greatest bastion, Salt Lake City.

George Montgomery Scott was born in July 1835 in Chazy, New York. From northern Clinton County, he moved West during California’s gold rush. In San Francisco, he established a successful hardware business, supplying the tools of the trade to hundreds of miners.

In 1871, in pursuit of new opportunities, Scott moved to the Utah Territory, where many mines were in early development. Besides investing in the Crystal Gold and Silver Mining Company, he also established the very successful George M. Scott Hardware in Salt Lake City.

As a member of the Lily Park Stock Growers Association in Colorado, he frequently dabbled in horses and range stock. In one transaction alone, Scott purchased 60 railcars of cattle (over 1000 head). The man obviously had plenty of money. Known as one of Salt Lake City’s leading businessmen, he traveled in first-class accommodations to several states and territories on both business and pleasure trips.

The downside among all this financial success was Utah Territory’s political atmosphere. Non-Mormons had virtually no voice in government because Mormons (a very high percentage of the population) were strictly bound by church rules, which applied to their entire lives, not just their religious activities. They generally voted as a bloc, which gave them absolute control of government. And unlike federal law, they allowed suffrage, in effect doubling their voting power.

When the US expanded westward, winning the Mexican-American War added vast new territory to the nation. Mormon leaders in Salt Lake City grasped the opportunity to firmly establish a power base. Statehood was applied for under the name Deseret. Had they been successful, the newest American state (Deseret) would have encompassed modern-day Utah, most of Arizona and Nevada, plus parts of California, Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico, Oregon, and Wyoming. Officers were elected to represent Deseret, led by Governor Brigham Young.

At the federal level, the State of Deseret’s application was denied because of two main issues: the proposed size was too large, and the controversial policy of polygamy was incompatible with American law. Since Mormon rules governed people’s religious and civil life, Washington legislators were doubtful about their future adherence to the laws of the land. Technically, the denial came because the area fell short of one requirement for statehood, a minimum population of 60,000.

The application was modified in 1850 to embrace what became known as the Utah Territory, and with congressional and presidential approval, Brigham Young was appointed as governor.

During the next four decades, at least six applications for Utah statehood were denied. There were many impediments, but the territory had become a virtual theocratic state controlled by the Mormons. Added to that was the ultimate deal-breaker: polygamy. To the adherents of other religions, plural marriage made Mormons nothing more than heathens.

For decades, the struggle for control of the Utah Territory was much more a religious battle than a political one. Progress was slow, but the non-Mormons made inroads, supported by federal laws outlawing bigamy and the president’s official removal of Brigham Young as governor in 1857.

Young resisted the order and prepared for war when federal troops were dispatched (the standoff became known as the Utah War, although no battles were actually fought). It is testament to Mormon power that, despite the setbacks, they maintained control of the territory for three more decades.

One reason for that dominance was revealed by a simple head count. In 1870, Salt Lake City’s population was about 90 percent Mormon, a number that would gradually decline during the great western migration.

Religious differences are often the root causes of war, and in Utah, that’s what dominated politics. Unlike most of the nation, Utah had no Democratic or Republican parties. Instead, it was the Liberals (the anti-Mormons) versus the People’s Party (the Mormons).

The anti-Mormons made gains over the years, particularly in Tooele County, which became known as the Republic of Tooele when residents voted the Liberals into power for a five-year period. During that time, it created an odd situation. Tooele leaders, under the Liberal flag, instituted women’s suffrage.

While it may have worked well in Tooele County, the Territory’s Liberal Party was forced to oppose the measure. Independent women might vote their own minds, but the Mormons already practiced suffrage, which added to their power because the Mormons generally voted as a bloc.

Anti-Mormons gained small victories here and there, gaining a more solid footing. Dramatic changes in the character of the population aided their cause. By the late 1880s, it was estimated that Salt Lake Mormons had been reduced from 90 percent to about 50 percent of the city’s head count.

The bitter battle came to a head in the 1880s with the aggressive enforcement of new laws against polygamy. Within that atmosphere, the fight against religious rule was won in several more communities. While it may have had a political face, the conflict was between two sets of church beliefs.

The ultimate seat of Mormon power, Salt Lake City, had remained untouchable for four decades. What many saw as the death knell of Mormon political control came in 1890. The results were touted across the country as the most important election of the year. For the first time, Salt Lake City had elected a non-Mormon mayor.

The victor was George Montgomery Scott, born and raised in Clinton County, New York. It was a prodigious victory, creating hundreds of media headlines.

With Scott assuming control in what had long been the Mormon center of power, change came swiftly to both sides. Latter Day Saints President Wilford Woodruff soon issued the Woodruff Manifesto, forever revising church doctrine with the line, “I now publicly declare that my advice to the Latter-day Saints is to refrain from contracting any marriage forbidden by the law of the land.”

With the grudging acceptance of federal marriage law by the official church, the crux of the problem was suddenly gone. The Mormons, always politically astute, disbanded the Peoples’ Party within a year and directed its followers to the nation’s two major national parties, Democrats and Republicans.

The Liberals were slower to move, but did the same two years later. Since that time, the Mormons have always held great sway in Utah politics, but well short of the control they once tried to parlay into a Vatican-like theocracy. No matter how great your god is, that’s a tough sell in a democracy.

The newly elected mayor of Salt Lake City was virulently anti-Mormon and a devout Episcopal, reflecting one facet of the religious war that shook the West. A number of issues ruled Utah’s early development, but a prominent theme was “my god is better than your god,” the basic foundation of so much strife in the world’s history. In Utah, the god issue came to a head over the concept of plural marriage.

George Montgomery Scott commanded center stage for only two years. The mayoral run was his only foray into politics in a career devoted principally to the world of business and community development. He was a commissioner of the 1883 World’s Fair, treasurer of the Utah Eastern Railroad, a founding member of the Utah Stock Exchange, and supported Episcopal hospitals and churches. His election victory, once the biggest news in the nation, is now a footnote in history

Due to illness and age, Scott sold his business interests in 1904 and retired to California. He died of pneumonia in San Mateo in 1915.

Photos: George Montgomery Scott; advertisement for hardware business.

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.


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Adirondack Family Activities: The Au Sable Bridge

Located near Au Sable Chasm, the Au Sable Bridge in itself is a child’s playground. After coming out of the woods from a hike we passed through Clinton County via Route 9 when both my children yelled for us to stop the car.

The water rushing over the falls is breathtaking so we pull over at the nearby parking area and go for a stroll. I watch my kids run across with snowball in hand to toss over the side.

I am leery of heights, to put it mildly. I can climb mountains and sit on the edge of a cliff but my brain is never at ease on a manmade object of any significant height.

This highway bridge that spans the gorge dates from 1934 so my children are quick to reassure me of their safety. (What about me?)

We find out this isn’t the first bridge near this spot. The earliest bridge was built in 1793 of logs and located about one mile downstream. Various other wooded bridges were built but consumed by flooding or rotted from the mist from the falls. In 1890 a one-lane iron bridge was erected and can still be seen upstream from the 1934 stone bridge.

The current bridge’s most distinguishing features are the 212’ steel arch span and the concrete arches faced in local granite and sandstone. My children’s eyes start glazing over with the history lesson. They always amaze me with their ability to retain information while acting disinterested only to parrot back information later to their friends.

For now they just want to watch snowballs drop and disappear into the rushing waters of the Au Sable River. According to the Au Sable Chasm website the Route 9 bridge was the main route that connected the northern communities such as Plattsburgh and Montreal to the southern sectors like Albany and New York City before in the Interstate was built in the mid 60s. It is said that remnants of the original railroad bed foundation is underneath the existing bridge but I wasn’t about to peer over the side to look for it.

Photo: Au Sable Bridge (Courtesy Diane Chase)

 Diane Chase is the author of Adirondack Family Time: Tri-Lakes and High Peaks Your Guide to Over 300 activities. Her second book of family activities will cover the Adirondack Lake Champlain coast and in stores summer 2012.


Monday, November 7, 2011

Lawrence Gooley: Long History of the ‘Rooftop Highway’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lawrence Gooley has authored ten books and dozens of articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 19 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.