One hundred and fifty-five years ago today John Brown was executed after leading an anti-slavery raid on Harpers Ferry, Virginia, part of the radical movement of tens of thousands of Americans struggling to undermine the institution of slavery in America before the Civil War.
It’s often said that just one thing secured Brown’s place in the hearts of millions of Americans – his execution and martyrdom. But there is another more important reason to celebrate the life of John Brown – his courage in standing against unjust state and federal laws, the press, and popular culture in the cause of basic human rights.
In 2009, I wrote a ten-part series of posts following the last days of John Brown’s fight to end slavery. You can find that here (to read in chronological order, start at the bottom).
November 11, 2014 marked the 220th year of the Canandaigua Treaty, which was signed in 1794 by United States representative Colonel Timothy Pickering, and leaders of the Haudenosaunee Nations: the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, Mohawk, and Tuscarora. The Canandaigua Treaty established peace, friendship, and respect between the Nations and the United States.
Each year leaders of these Sovereign Nations and others remembering and honoring the treaty meet at the original site of the treaty’s signing, a place called Council Rock. Council Rock sits on the front lawn of the Ontario County Courthouse on Main Street in Canandaigua, NY. » Continue Reading.
On November 27, 1901, the Hamilton County Board of Supervisors unanimously passed an act that created a new town from northern Morehouse, with the South Branch of the Moose River dividing the two towns. Afterwards, Inlet held its first town meeting on January 14, 1902. Presently (2009), the Adirondack Park Agency reports that Inlet consists of 42,446 acres of which just under 4,000 acres is not state land.
But this narrative is about the over 6,000 acres in the northerly Part of Township 3 of the Moose River Tract surrounding the “Head of Fourth Lake”, as Inlet was formerly known, and the connections among the speculators who owned it prior to Inlet’s creation. This square tract covers the lands from Fourth Lake to Seventh Lakes down to Limekiln Lake at its southwest corner. » Continue Reading.
Black history in the Adirondacks has an anecdotal quality, maybe because the numbers of black Adirondackers have been so few. Here’s a story of a black homesteader who was good friends with John Brown. There’s a barn that may have sheltered fugitives on the Underground Railroad. Outside Warrensburg is a place in the woods where a black hermit lived. And so on.
The temptation – and I should know; I’ve been a lead offender – is to make a sort of nosegay out of these scattered stories, pack them all into a story by its lonesome, a chunky little sidebar, and let this stand for the black experience.
It makes a good read, and it’s efficient. And it’s wrong. It reinforces the idea that the black experience in this region was something isolated, inessential. It ghettoizes black Adirondack history, and this wasn’t how it was. » Continue Reading.
It may seem hard to believe, but politics were once truly local. A Congressional candidate was nominated by his party only after he had already served his community, usually in local and state offices, where his character and his abilities had been given a chance to reveal themselves.
The erosion of locally-rooted politics has been attributed to the nationalization of congressional races by Newt Gingrich’s Republicans in 1994, to the proliferation of politicized and polarizing radio shows and television networks and to the tides of money from lobbyists and corporations flowing into local races.
Once, even national elections were local, as Harry McDougal, the Republican leader of Essex County for decades, recalled in an interview in the 1960s. » Continue Reading.
In the summer of 1892, the wife of President Benjamin Harrison, Caroline Scott Harrison, became extremely ill. She primarily suffered from tuberculosis, but experienced complications from pleurisy and the accumulation of fluid in her chest. Medical treatment of T. B. at the time mainly amounted to having the patient rest. For this reason, it was felt that a stay in the Adirondacks offered the best chance for restoring the First Lady’s health.
Early in July, the journey from Washington, D.C. to Loon Lake was undertaken, via a special train. The Troy Daily Times dutifully reported on the train’s progress. It arrived in Troy in the wee hours of the morning on July 7, then proceeded to White Creek, Rutland, Vermont, Rouse’s Point, and Malone, reaching the latter place at 10:30 am. There, a crowd that included some local officials met the two-car train, but the President asked that they refrain from cheering, so as not to disturb his sick wife. » Continue Reading.
The Common Ground Alliance (CGA) recently met in Long Lake. One of the break-out sessions focused on reform of the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan (SLMP), which is the policy document for management of the Forest Preserve. The Common Ground Alliance effort is one of a handful of organizing efforts around the Adirondacks where ideas are being collected to detail potential changes to the SLMP.
In its December 2013 resolution classifying the Essex Chain Lakes/Pine Lake Primitive areas and Hudson Gorge Wilderness area, the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) committed to examine several items for possible SLMP revision. Since then, there has been no action by the APA or release of a public memo detailing a schedule for the APA to follow up the December 2013 resolution. In this void, various APA Commissioners have made comments at APA meetings, as has the representative from the Local Government Review Board, that express the desire that the APA undertake a revision of the SLMP well beyond the scope of the December 2013 resolution.
The SLMP has worked effectively for 40 years. As a frequent user of the SLMP, I’m continually impressed by the durability and prescience of this regulatory document. Though it was written long before wildlands management developed as a professional field, it has served the Adirondack Forest Preserve exceedingly well. » Continue Reading.
The Town of Newcomb will celebrate its annual TR Weekend on September 5-7, 2014 with more events than you can shake a big stick at. TR Weekend celebrates the town’s connection with Theodore Roosevelt, a naturalist, explorer, and historian from New York City who served as the 33rd Governor of New York State the 26th President of the United States.
TR was a leader of the Republican Party before helping to found the Progressive Party. He is known for his energetic personality and his leadership of the Progressive Movement’s efforts to break corporate monopolies, regulate businesses (notably the food and drug industries), foster conservation, and expand public lands. His slogan “speak softly and carry a big stick, and you will go far,” is still widely quoted. » Continue Reading.
Rouses Point businessman Mark L. Barie has written the first biography of North Country politician Smith Weed. In The President of Plattsburgh, The Story of Smith Weed (Crossborder Publishing, 2014), Barie paints a portrait of Weed – six feet tall, with piercing black eyes – a man who was said to smoke nine cigars a day.
Smith Weed was instrumental in the establishment of the Champlain Valley Hospital, the YMCA, the Plattsburgh Library, and the Hotel Champlain, but was perhaps best known nationally for his central role in “The Cipher Dispatches” voter fraud controversy during the fiercely disputed presidential election of 1876.
Weed was President (Mayor) of Plattsburgh in the mid-19th century and served six terms in the New York State Assembly. The Plattsburgh attorney was also a successful businessman and philanthropist. » Continue Reading.
The recent decision by the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court upholding the approval by the Adirondack Park Agency of the proposed Adirondack Club and Resort (ACR) project in Tupper Lake has generated intense controversy. Groups on both sides have weighed in with their views on the wisdom or folly of the APA’s approval of the massive project and the court’s affirmance of that approval.
Putting aside the merits of the controversy, what is striking about the court’s decision is the startling absence of any discussion of the uniqueness of the Adirondack Park, the history or purpose of the APA Act, or the special place the Park occupies in the hearts and minds of the people of New York. These omissions are all the more disturbing because of the court’s recognition that ACR is “the largest project ever proposed for New York’s 6,000,000-acre Adirondack Park.” Which leads one to wonder: have the courts fallen out of love with the Adirondack Park? » Continue Reading.
On a warm September day in 1964, President Lyndon Johnson signed what is now recognized as one of the most significant legislative acts in American environmental history. This was the national Wilderness Act. Before then, federal lands, even those protected as national parks or national forests were expected to serve a variety of functions. The national forests, for example, permitted logging, mining, and grazing. The national parks were often centered on opulent hotels and other all-too-civilized amenities. The idea of setting aside part of the public domain as wilderness, even though this word was and is difficult to define, was radical then, and it remains controversial today. It was a monumental step, and its roots lie in the Adirondacks.
How European-Americans have thought about this amorphous thing we call wilderness has been a complicated, often torturous story. (How Native Americans navigated these shoals is another story altogether, but their views have seldom if ever been consulted as this country has gone about the process of setting land-use policy.) If we go back far enough, we find a pervasive hostility to what many of us now treasure. In 1620, for example, the Pilgrim William Bradford contemplated the forests of eastern Massachusetts, which seemed to stand between his band of cold and hungry settlers and any sort of security, and declared despairingly that nothing lay before them other than “a hideous and desolate wilderness.” Wilderness, in other words, was the enemy. If these people expected to survive, let alone prosper, the wilderness had to be eliminated as soon as possible. » Continue Reading.
Just when I think I have learned all of the origins and instigators for the building of the Raquette Lake Railroad during 1899, I find a new participant.
I have read of Collis Huntington’s impatience with the inefficiencies of the Fulton Chain steamers and stages from Old Forge’s transportation monopoly’s companies, his sitting on a keg of nails during a long wait. Also, that his wife refused to visit him at Pine Knot until this builder of the transcontinental railroad built a railroad to their camp. Dr. William Seward Webb did plan in 1892 on a road from Clearwater to Raquette Lake. Later, the Raquette Lake Railroad would use the two mile lumber railroad built in 1897-1898 by John Dix to Rondaxe Lake as the beginning of this road’s route.
In the Harold Hochschild private history Township 34 excerpt published by the Adirondack Museum, we learn that William West Durant determined that the Delaware & Hudson Company would not be extending his father’s line past North Creek. This meant that Dr. Webb’s line built in 1892 would be the only railroad available to connect Raquette and Blue Mountain Lakes to major population centers. Hochschild wrote that it was Durant who thought a railroad should be built connecting with the New York Central and that, lacking the funds to do so, Durant interested Collis Huntington in the project. » Continue Reading.
Late spring of 1845 found Gerrit Smith, a leader of the Liberty Party, touring the North Country in search of disaffected “Whigs and Democrats, whose intelligence and Christian integrity will not permit them to remain longer in their pro-slavery connections.”
Smith, from Peterboro, in Madison County, traveled from Saratoga Springs, through Glens Falls and then into Essex and Clinton counties on his quest to build a credible third party, a devoted anti-slavery party. His report, printed in the Albany Patriot in late June, details the villages his visited, the people he met, and the difficulties he faced. » Continue Reading.
This year, New Yorkers are rightly commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the National Wilderness Preservation Act of 1964. Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve, Rockefeller Institute of Government, NYS DEC, and SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry recently kicked off that anniversary with events in the Capital Region. More events and activities with students, faculty and college collaborators are planned.
2014 is also the 120th anniversary of our “forever wild” clause of the NYS Constitution protecting the Adirondack and Catskill Forest Preserve. It was that late 19th century constitutional protection which so inspired the 20th century’s Howard Zahniser of The Wilderness Society to undertake his 18-year campaign to both author and lobby for the National Wilderness Act. That’s one reason, and there are others, why wilderness preservation, in terms of designation and protection, began in New York State. Bob, George and Jim Marshall’s upbringing in the Adirondacks by noted forever wild advocate and attorney Louis and his wife Florence Marshall, and the later creation of The Wilderness Society by Bob and allies is another reason to make this claim.
But there’s an older 19th century anniversary this year that cannot be overlooked without missing what has influenced humanity around the globe to conserve since 1864, the year a Vermonter named George Perkins Marsh (1801-1882) wrote Man and Nature; or Physical Geography as Modified by Human Action. Woodstock and Burlington, respectively where Marsh was born and lived parts of his adult life and which influenced his book, could legitimately make the claim that Vermont is where wilderness preservation began in America and, indeed, in the world. » Continue Reading.
My father Howard Zahniser, who died four months before the 1964 Wilderness Act became law 50 years ago this September 3, was the chief architect of, and lobbyist for, this landmark Act. The Act created our 109.5-million-acre National Wilderness Preservation System.
Had I another credential, it would be that Paul Schaefer—the indomitable Adirondack conservationist—was one of my chief mentors and outdoor role models. Paul helped me catch my first trout. I was seven years old. That life event took place in what is now the New York State-designated Siamese Ponds Wilderness Area in the Adirondacks. Izaak Walton should be so lucky. » Continue Reading.
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