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The Path Through History Project A Year Later: Failure?

August 28, 2013 not only was the 50th anniversary of the “I Have a Dream” March on Washington, it also was the one year anniversary of the kickoff of the Path Through History project. That event was attended by hundreds of people from throughout the state and heralded a bold vision of the role of the history of the state in New York’s future.

I have the paperweight handed out to commemorate the event, and two slick, glossy, color booklets distributed for the event.  I even have an unused napkin from the Executive Mansion with its image as a souvenir of the event. What I don’t have is any hope for the project of great potential and little achievement.

In the year since that event, has Governor Andrew Cuomo even visited an historic site?

In the year since that event, has Governor Cuomo traveled a Path Through History?

He has paddled; he has fly fished, he has graped, but has he been an example to the tourist community of the historic sites to see in New York?

During President Obama’s recent trip to New York he visited the Women’s Rights National Historic Park in Seneca Falls. He did not visit the Harriet Tubman House or Seward House in Auburn as had been hoped, instead visiting a local high school. He did however travel on Route 20, one of the historic roads mentioned by several New York History readers.

Here is a simple way for the Governor to show he is committed to the Path through History project. The Governor should go to the Path Through History website and create a path through history, just as he wants tourists to do. He doesn’t even have to actually visit the sites, he just needs to show it can be done. He can pick any region. He can pick any theme. Just do what he advocates real people doing to get them to travel to New York. Let’s make it easy. How about an Albany path? That should be easy; he already knows the area.

How hard should it be to show after one year and spending millions, that the Path project really works for tourists? Wouldn’t that be a great photo? The Governor showing at the website creating his staycation in the Great State of New York.

One of the members of the Executive Board of the Path project, told me it didn’t have the resources to do what it was supposed to do. My recommendation about using the $1,000,000 pledged at the kickoff not to scatter among sites but to hire people for each of the ten regions was meant in part to address this shortcoming.

A second member of the Executive Board of the Path project sent me an unsolicited email to say that governors do reinvent the wheel rather than build on what has already been achieved. This was also addressed in a recent post by Andrew Alberti who pointed out what has already been done. There seems to be no room in the Path Through History projects for paths that already exist.

A third member of the Executive Board of the Path project sent me an unsolicited email sharing their bewilderment. This mirrors the comments previously posted here at New York History by Brian Howard of the Oneida Historical Society who withdrew from the project and Suzanne Izaksen, Region 3 APNYS coordinator who complained of being out of the loop. Since there is not much going on the Hudson Valley Region, there isn’t much to be out of the loop on. To the best of my knowledge no county executive in the region has embraced the Path project, nor have any county Tourist Departments, nor have County Historians initiated any events, programs, or meetings to foster the development of paths within their own counties. It’s as if the project doesn’t exist.

So until such time as the Governor demonstrates that the Path Through History project is alive and well there is no point in taking it seriously (he obviously doesn’t). Yes there will be an allocation of the $1,000,000 promised last August 28 and that will provide some photo-ops at dozens of sites throughout the state, but that is for show, not substance and will not represent an investment in the history community infrastructure or organization.

My advice is to focus on the Regional Economic Development Councils and try as best you can to organize, cooperate, and collaborate at the local level, because there isn’t any direction or leadership at the state level.

Finally, to those who don’t like what I am saying: show us the paths you’ve created this past year as part of the Path Through History project.


17 thoughts on “The Path Through History Project A Year Later: Failure?

  1. Peter,
    I agree with you, 100%. The same dynamic plagues us down here in Virginia. One suggestion for the Schenectady/Lake George region…would be to create a path through history showing how so many GE engineers traveled to camp sites on Lake George, following the enthusiastic leadership of John S. Apperson, Jr. to camp out on Dollar Island. This love of the outdoors led them to try out skate sailing, ski sailing, and rigorous winter hiking and camping – into the far-reaches of the Forest Preserve. It also led to an ambitious project, initiated by Apperson, to rip-rap the shores of the islands at Lake George, many of which were losing soil and trees due to erosion. Eventually, this sort of activity sparked a keen interest in fighting legislative battles to protect the Forever Wild clause of the NY Constitution. This seems like a pretty important slice of New York history, to me! For more on Apperson, please have a look at my website: Thanks!

    1. Ellen,

      Thank you for contacting us from Virginia. While your suggestion is well-taken, one major problem with the Path project is that there is no one to create the path you suggest. The Project itself does not have the staff or resources and local people are busy trying to keep their own organizations together. This is why, (and I know I sound like a broken record) I recommended that the $1,000,000 which Cuomo pledged to project be used to create the staff to do exactly what you and others want to be done as expressed in comments to posts on the project. unfortunately no one in Albany is listening or perhaps even worse they are and they say “no.”

    2. Is this a solution.? one of the most exciting, innovative, and inspiring things that I have seen in a long time is the work that some that young people are doing in the inner city, with this wonderful and imaginative mobile Nature and Maritime Museum, the EnviroMedia Mobile- They have reached out to us several times to bring our unique African Heritage in Living History program to the community of the inner city. And I of recent, we are entertaining a full partnership in making our African Heritage in Living History a staple component of their public programming. This unique and quality mobile Nature and Maritime Museum is an amazingly innovative low cost resource and venue that enables concentrating most of its resources towards public engagement, a key component toward the social, cultural, educational, economic development and tourism that Pathway Through History seeks to achieve. It would also appear that this resource would fill a major cultural gap, provide a solution toward the social and educational deficit in advancing learning NYS History and American History in general, as there are very few venues that offers a committed and rich perspective of African Heritage in NYS History. The environmental education that they have historically offered adds an additional bonus. Such a resource would make perfect since in any of our under served historic sites or parks… and they are seeking a permanent home where this resource can thrive.

      To have a glance at this mobile museum you can watch this community documag

      What do you think? Is this valuable? Does it make since in our historic sites and or parks?…Where would be a perfect place for this resource within our known under served places that can use such a capacity building and development?

      1. Great idea. I remember the Bookmobile when I was growing up. Some historical organizations create traveling boxes. Once NASA rolled in with a trailer at SUNY PURCHASE. Imagine if the New York State Museum had a van which travel the state stopping a schools. Certainly in New York, there are major institutions would could reach out to schools and local communities through a mobile museum. In this time of limited field trips, wouldn’t it be great if we could bring history to the kids! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Good morning everyone: Peter: to comment to you and those following the “Path” progress as I do, I would like to comment on this aspect of your current post…..”To the best of my knowledge no county executive in the region has embraced the Path project, nor have any county Tourist Departments, nor have County Historians initiated any events, programs, or meetings to foster the development of paths within their own counties. It’s as if the project doesn’t exist.”

    I would like to reach out to any entity described above or other entity not listed to help me drive a Path Through History I envision. I am creating a “Path” from Lake George, NY to Mohawk, NY.
    First stop, Last of the Mohicans Outdoor Drama in Lake George, NY. Last stop, Drums Along the Mohawk Outdoor Drama in Mohawk, NY. The Path we travel is the path of our country’s western expansion from 1757 to 1777, the years represented in these respective outdoor historical dramas. This method I believe helps tell the story of our history in a tourism friendly way. They educate as well as entertain. I have also developed a brand under which to design this “Path” and any other “Path” for that matter. The brand ensures that the experience is a sensory rich one who’s purpose is to enhance the targeted theme. Out of the 13 themes that The Path Through History has determined, this “Path” easily qualifies for three: Colonial History, Revolutionary War and Native Americans.

    I have been working on this for a long time and it is now ready to LAUNCH. Anyone want to jump start this talk and take a walk with me? I can be reached via the Drums Along the Mohawk Outdoor Drama website at

    My facebook page tells the back-story of the drama I developed [DATMOD] by showing commitment to continued self education on authenticating the tourism experience.

    Kyle Jenks
    Drums Along the Mohawk Outdoor Drama
    Founder of American Heritage Bicycle Tours

    1. Co-Chairs
      Harold Holzer, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York Historical Society
      Mark Schaming, Director New York State Museum

      Tom Chambers, Niagara University
      Robert Harris, Cornell University
      Ken Jackson, Columbia University
      Lisa Keller, Purchase College
      William Vanden Heuvel, international lawyer and banker, founder Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute
      Bob Weible, NYS Historian

      This comes from the booklet distributed at the meeting.

  3. “Path Through History” Still No Shortcut

    I have to agree with you Peter that the Path Through History Project does seem to suffer from a certain amount of neglect. A year ago August when the Governor held the first PTH Conference I was beside myself with joy that this issue seemed to finally be getting some attention. In spite of the obstacles placed on the “Path” such as funding issues and interference from “I Love New York”, I have remained optimistic. The Mohawk Valley has a “Path Project” that is alive and well and making progress. Yes it has suffered setbacks. As the saying goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day…if it was we would have hired their contractor”. Unfortunately in New York it takes time to bid out projects under state guidelines and get things moving. Brochures, a website and an ad campaign promoting the Mohawk Valleys Revolutionary War historic sites are all in production for the 2014 tourist season. What really seems important to me is that we don’t want the public to lose interest in this project. The Governor’s Office needs to remind people of the efforts underway to bring New York history to life.
    It will take time to rebuild our long neglected heritage tourism industry. When the Mohawk Valley Heritage Corridor Commission ceased to exist, New Yorkers lost their best advocate for the preservation and interpretation of the Mohawk Valley’s colonial history. Unfortunately no other entity ever stepped forward to fill the gap and our colonial heritage has suffered as a result. The “Mohawk Valley Path Through History” has a chance to change that. The PTH Project money can be the catalyst needed to kick-start our heritage tourism program once again. Other states have successfully promoted their Revolutionary War heritage programs adding an important component to their overall tourism industry. A year ago Governor Cuomo correctly pointed out in his speech to the PTH Convention that one third of all Revolutionary War battles were fought in New York State but no one seems to know about it. The Mohawk Valley PTH group hopes to change that. This can only happen with the support of our historic sites, local governments and the public at large. If we can take the right steps now New York can join the ranks of other states that promote and preserve their colonial historic resources as a central theme for their state’s tourism industry.
    Norm Bollen
    Fort Plain Museum

    1. Thank you Norm. I appreciate your pointing out the challenge to go beyond simply listing a site on a website to creating a meaningful and coherent experience from visiting thematically and geographically-related historic sites. I have had the good fortune for leading a Teacherhostel/Historyhostel in the Mohawk valley to your site and others connected with the American Revolution and am aware of the efforts to come together as a history community particularly since the demise of the Mohawk Valley Heritage Corridor. It is especially challenging when there are no dedicated resources to the effort as concerned people also all to do their day jobs. There certainly is a lot going on in Fort Plain itself and even in a concentrated area it is not always easy to get people together. Your region does have a lot to offer for tourists and lovers of history but the reality of the situation is that you people in the region are going to have to make it happen through your own efforts.

  4. I like Norm’s comment that “Rome was not built in a day and if it was we would have hired its contactor.” I hope to keep in it in mind whenever I get frustrated that the local pols in my community still have not embraced the concept of a historic tourism program. They constantly talk about making Ossining a “tourist destination” but it is just a buzz word without any substance behind it. However after almost three years of emails, letters, meetings and public presentations they finally approved my request to establish the “Museum in the Street” an open air exhibit that features explanatory signage and archival photos on certain buildings in the Downtown Historic District that will enable a self-guided walking tour of this area. It may take at least two more years to realize. In the meantime the “powers that be” did put up historical type street name signs that delineate the Historic District that was established back in 1978 by the National Park Service. In other words it took 25 years for visitors to realize that they were in a Historic District. If I may paraphrase, “the grist mills of history grind exceedingly slow.” Speaking of grist mills I am hoping to have one placed on a park and even though no public funds are required, Its been 13 weeks since I requested a meeting to discuss the project with the Village Trustees with no response. By the way, I am still waiting for a call back from the Westchester County Tourism office about The Paths Through History thing. I heard they got funding and wanted to know if they were interested in the various tours that I conduct on behalf of the Ossining Historical Society.

    1. Congratulations on your efforts. Perhaps you would consider speaking at the annual social studies conference in White Plains in December as part of the local history sessions which I have had the past few years. There also would be an opportunity to have a display table.

      I am interested to know about the Westchester County Tourism funding you mention. The department receives the same posts from you that you but has never said anything, not that it is obligated to. As I said sooner or later the behind-the-scenes decisions about the allocation of the funds will be made public and it will be interesting to see what the decisions were.

  5. Peter, I was disappointed with the Path Through History Project we were invited to be part of the project and after providing all the information we were not even listed. There seems to be less interest in history than there was when I was younger. Invitations to schools and colleges to visit our museum has also been disappointing. We have had visitors from 18 countries but many people in the area of our museum have yet to visit. We keep on trying and we have not given up but we need a great deal more help from more sources to keep our museums and the study of history vibrant.

    1. I deliberately picked the example of the Governor creating his vacation in Albany using the Path website to see what he would include…such as a non-Dutch, non-colonial site like yours.

      You are exactly right that the more important issue for most historical museums is not the visitors from the 18 countries but the support from the local community. Only a few historical organizations are fortunate enough because of their circumstances to draw a membership outside their immediate geographic area. The Path project isn’t intended to help them. This really goes to the heart of the purpose and function of history organizations in a community which will be the subject of a future post.

  6. I’d thought, perhaps mistakenly, that the program would involve new signage of some kind. About all I’ve seen is the rebranding of old signs with “Path Through History” in text that’s too small to be read at any great distance at speeds of 55 MPH or higher. The little blue & yellow NYS Education Department signs were in part discontinued in favor of larger signs at rest stops and the like, if I’m not mistaken, due to the problem posed by people being unable to read them at higher speeds and the hazard of trying to read them where slowing down or pulling over was not really practical.

    Here the state is getting back into little print at high speeds. What also strikes me as wrong-headed about it is that on a single highway sign each individual historic attraction’s sign on it has the small “Path Through History” text as a footer, so one might have three or more such attractions’ signs all with tiny text. It would have been more economical (though equally pointless) to put “Path Through History” in *larger letters* as a *header* over all the historic attraction signs.

    I know the rebranded little highway signs all say “Path Through History” because of familiarity with the project. Aside from the old signs being rebranded, I’d seen a double-sided glossy color card at a rest stop which was OK – but which had a laughably absurd legal disclaimer on it. I guess the people changing the signs and the lawyers both did a good job of getting a piece of the pie.

    How many others who haven’t been familiar with the project have even noticed the appearance of additional text on signs? How much money was spent on the rebranding of those signs that could’ve gone to supporting historic sites and historic tourism around New York in some better, more productive, fashion?

    I’m reminded of SUNY Binghamton and SUNY Albany rebranding themselves, vainly and faithlessly, as Binghamton University and the University at Albany and the probable cost involved there in changing signs, stationary, etc.

    1. Your comment about recognizing the new sign because you already were familiar with the project is spot on. I remember the first time I saw Path signs on I-287. I, too, recognized that the old familiar sigh was gone and had been replaced by a new one. Since I was driving over 55 mph I barely noticed the Path logo and wouldn’t have if I hadn’t known about. Of course, the sign pointed people to the same sites including ones which have given up on tourism!

      If someone actually has gone to the Path website and created a Path vacation, then it is possible the signs would be helpful markers. Of course they might have GPS.

      The Path brand is a good one and I like the logo, but unless the history community and tourist-industrial-complex develop paths to be marketed, it is an exercise in futility.

      Thanks for sharing.

    1. I do think he does support history tourism but perhaps not as much as recreational tourism and he seems to talk only to the tourist industrial complex and not to the history community. I wonder if he realizes that the path project is not really making him look good, at least not to the people who are in the trenches.

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