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History Tourism And Andrew Cuomo’s State of The State

In my last post here at The New York History Blog, I reported on a recent tourism press release issued by Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office.

Today I’d like to turn to the Governor’s State of the State address as it relate to history, history tourism, and cultural heritage tourism more generally.

Here is some of the relevant text:

“Last year I invited some of you to participate in the Adirondack Challenge at this speech, at this time. Most of you accepted the challenge. We had the new guys, who came proudly. WE had the tough guys who came. We had Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid who actually made a guest appearance. We had the Thelma and Louis’s raft, which was a highly competitive one. We had the odd couple raft and we had the city slicker raft. We had the master rafters, or at least people who thought they were master rafters….Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Leader Dean Skelos, since we know that something pressing must have come up because they would never just on a random fluke miss a pressing competition, we are giving them a second chance and a second challenge this year it is the 2014 bass master classic. It is the governor’s challenge, it is August 21st, it will be held on Owasko Lake. I once again hope that Dean Skelos and Sheldon Silver and Jeff Klein are there for the competition it will be all in good sport but I hope that they are there and you are all invited. Let’s have some fun and promote some tourism. I will see you there.”

Even reading it now, you can feel Governor Coumo’s excitement and enthusiasm. This is what tourism means to our Governor. It appears to a perfectly legitimate and sincere passion on his part, and I do not mean to suggest he should not fish and raft. But let’s be sure to recognize what his interests and priorities are, as he’s outlined them here, and what they are not.

Our Governor saluted the Motor Vehicles Bureau for becoming a one-stop center for people to obtain the licenses one needs to engage in New York State tourism.

“Now  you can go to one portal, the department of motor vehicles and you can apply for all of your licenses and they will literally be presented on your motor vehicle license rather than having to deal with a lot of agencies and carry a lot of paper.”

Is this a good idea? Of course it is. Does it promote efficiency and improved service. Certainly it does. But where is the New York State History Passport to be stamped by people to travel the paths through history? Where is the shout-out to anything historic in the state?

“[Furthermore, o]n this quest the state will open up fifty previously closed state owned lands so there will be more opportunities for hunting, fishing and boating for both in state people and tourists who come from out of state.”

Attention! All historic sites interested in tourism: make sure you have hunting, fishing, and boating otherwise the Governor is not interested.

Am I being too harsh? Not giving him a fair chance. OK, the Governor did give a shout-out to New York’s Native American heritage.

“After decades of conflicts, we renewed our spirit of partnership with the Indian nations across this state and let’s take a moment to recognize the nation representative Ray Halberdier from the Oneida nation of New York. Ron La France of the Saint Regis Mohawk, Beverly Cook of Saint Regis Mohawk and Mike Kimelburgh of the Seneca nation. Thank you and thank you for being with us today, thank you.”

Did the thanks originate due to the paths through history which had been created in recognition of the Indian contribution to New York and American history? Need you ask?

“Our casino plan is already generating great interest we said we believed it would and it is. Our challenge now is to make casinos a reality make it happen, make it happen fast and make it happen correctly our current plan is March 2014 for the RFP to go out, bids come back in June and we hope to make the selections in early Fall. The casinos are going to be run by the gaming commission and the chairman of the gaming commission, which is an appointment by me, is going to be Mr. Mark Gearan who is the president of Hobart and William Smith Colleges. He is great academic, he the former director of the Peace Corps. He is a model of civic engagement he has done a great job at the university and it is a pleasure to have him and we thank him for taking the time to take on this important obligation. Mr. Mark Gearan, thank you very much.”

Where is the Mark Gearan for the history community?

In our neighbor to the north, Steven Thorne who writes on cultural tourism for Economic Development said the following in an interview:

“The demand for cultural tourism is enormous – but seldom recognized. I touch on this in one of my earlier posts. For example, more domestic trips by Canadians include historic sites, museums or galleries, or plays or concerts, than include spectator sports, or skiing, or golfing, or cycling, or canoeing or kayaking, or theme parks, or casino gambling.”

That observation hasn’t percolated south yet.

History tourism wasn’t completely ignored in the State of the State address.

“We are going to launch a whole new signage campaign on our roads, promoting the assets of New York, organized into three campaigns. The path through history campaign, the I love New York attraction campaign and the taste of New York Food and Beverages. You will see these signs on the roads literally in the next few days. These campaigns link online to all those attractions in that particular area, all along the thruway and all along major routes. The goal is to get people who are on the roads off the roads and into communities and fostering and promoting the economy of the state of New York.”

By now these signs should be visible throughout the state. It is a well-known fact that people make travel decisions while driving 70 MPH on the highway. The number one cause of accidents on New York’s interstates is people swerving to exit immediately to see an historic site they just read about on a sign. Signs are great if you are already on the way, but they are not catalysts for going there in the first place.

Much more effective would be advertisements in New York City calling on residents to “Get Outta Town” and go upstate. As it turns out, New York State did launch a “Get Outta Town” ad campaign in late October on the buses, subways, and commuter trains in metropolitan New York. Josh Vlasto, the Governor’s Chief of Staff, said at the time (while standing in Grand Central Station), that the Governor’s goal is to bring some of the 55 million annual visitors to New York City upstate. The ads included several interesting facts about upstate New York to entice people northward:

New York has over 1,438 family-owned vineyards
New York has over 2,000 miles of snowshoeing terrain
New York has 51.097 acres of apple orchards.

The Governor did tout the Cheese Museum in Herkimer County in his press release in 2012, but as one reader reported, it is located in Oneida County. Hopefully these numbers are more accurate.

As it turns out, earlier last summer and in the fall, a caterer brought over 1,000 kids to the Sylvia Center at Katchkie Farm in Columbia County, kids from housing projects and homeless shelters who had never been out of the city. They got their hands dirty doing farm work and cooking the results. One youngster exclaimed, “Are we still in America?”  So yes, there is a lot to be said for giving city kids an outdoor experience in upstate New York, not as tourism, but as an investment in our future and open space. But it would have been nice too if they could have seen Olana overlooking the Hudson River, visited the Columbia Historical Society, and stood in the home of president Martin Van Buren.

In his post “Racial and Socioeconomic Diversity and the Adirondacks” over at the Adirondack Almanack, Pete Nelson wrote of the demographic danger confronting preserving North Country scenery. The new mayor of New York campaigned on “two cities” but New Yorkers have known for years that we are two states, Upstate and MetroNY.

This is about the experiences we want the youth of this state to have, the role of historic societies in maintaining the social fabric and developing a sense of place, and creating places people want to visit are too important for the mere political ritual of a ho-hum state of address. They are the issues which need to be addressed by a governor or president on the bully pulpit for the long term health of the state, and the country.

How can we convince our Governor that he should do more than pay lip service to the role of the history community to the well-being of the state?


17 thoughts on “History Tourism And Andrew Cuomo’s State of The State

  1. Interesting and welcome review of the governor’s speech. Cultural tourism, especially to historic sites, is of substantial economic benefit if we can work together to promote our institutions and leverage our respective resources, rather than relying on the state government to be of any material assistance. The “Path Through History” campaign has already proven a tremendous disappointment.

  2. “Motor Vehicles Bureau . . . a one-stop center”
    Great, now my wait time will increase from 2 hours to 3 hours. Thanks Gov.

  3. I doubt that Governor Cuomo and the folks he has appointed to head up the NYS Tourism program even know what historic tourism is. Is there even a historian on the staff?

    1. There is, of course, a New York State historian. I intend to write about that position in an future post. There also is a Tourism Advisory Council which I intend to write about as well. I doubt the State historian is part of that council or that there is much if any history representation on it. At least we are starting to identify some of the key people and organizations that should be the focus of any effort to get the Governor to support the history community. But again it must be noted, the purpose of the historic organizations is not simply to promote tourism. Their primary purpose is to support the community in which they function as an integral part of the social fabric. How about putting together an Ossining Path through History?

  4. Peter,
    I cannot more strongly applaud your efforts to promote a real understanding of the State’s fabulously rich history as a basis for generating tourism and economic development. Tourism is now New York City’s most important industry having long since eclipsed manufacturing and finance, but still there are many critically important historical sites that are almost completely unknown. To me the unmarked grave of General Horatio Gates (recently marked in 2012 by the DAR) commanding General at the Battle of Saratoga was a metaphor for the many historically important and relatively unknown sites throughout the State that could teach New Yorkers about our history and attract tourists from around the world to interesting and important places in American history. I urge you to keep up your fight to educate our state officials and politicians about the importance of these sites and their potential as engines for economic development,
    I assure that we who work in Manhattan, which may have more such sites than any where else in the world will support your efforts. I also think this history blog is proving to be an important vehicle for an exchange of information and ideas among similar minded history aficionados who might otherwise think they are working alone in the dark.

  5. You are so right. In every town (Cold Spring, Fishkill, Village of Fishkill) there are people who are really into the history there but there is nothing linking them.

    There is a real totally different mindset town by town also – some “official” historians are gems (Donald MacDonald for Philipstown) who just dig and report the history. THEN there are others who are in the back pockets of the deal makers who just stand there as our history is knocked down for the developers and those in office to benefit.

    So much could be done. Would love to hear what the State Historian is up to, I know the Manhattan historian is fabulous. NYS Tourism ignores (other than The Ramble) local historical sites. Even hundreds of those buried at The Fishkill Supply Depot are ignored.

    1. You are certainly right to point out that much more can be done but unfortunately the State Historian is not the answer at the local level. While I do intend to write about that position in a subsequent post, the immediate concern for the areas you mentioned is what is going on in Putnam and Dutchess Counties? What is going on at the county to bring the history community together especially once the anniversaries are over?

  6. Now that the good governor has alienated the pro-life and pro-gun segment of the state’s population, I’m no longer interested at all about what he may have to say about anything else. Many of us will be looking toward a state that would be willing to accept us or, at least, tolerate us. I, for one, actually do believe in diversity.

  7. Hi Peter,

    Upstate N.Y. is absolutely fabulous. Been there, hiking (summer and winter), apple picking, etc.

    However, what about having tourists coming to the FOUR BOROUGHS of New York City!!! When visitors come to NYC, over 90% come to Manhattan. The other four boroughs have a tremendous amount of places of interest to see, from museums, historic homes, landmarked districts, Coney Island, the Bronx Zoo, Prospect Park and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, the N.Y. Botanic Garden in The Bronx, walking tours, fantastic restaurants, etc, etc.

    In March, there is a group from the Newport Museum Society, in Rhode Island, coming to Brooklyn. I will be giving them a three hour tour of Brooklyn. I’m sure they will be pleasantly surprised.

    This Thursday morning, I will give a talk to the Big Apple Greeters, about the great locations in Brooklyn that are often overlooked. Many of these are “hidden in plain sight.”

    At Brooklyn Borough Hall, there is a tourism office on the ground floor. There is a visitors book that tourists have signed when they visit. They are not only from the five boroughs, but from all over the world, including New Zealand, Australia, many of the European countries, India, China, Japan, Russia and elsewhere.

    I feel that not only publicize upstate, and NYC, but the other FOUR BOROUGHS. When people on quiz shows win a trip to NYC, their itinerary is ONLY in Manhattan. There’s nothing wrong with Manhattan, in fact it has so much to offer. BUT, make information regarding the attractions in the OUTER BOROUGHS available as well. In Grand Central Station, the tourist booth does not have one item of interest available outside of Manhattan.

    Just a thought.

    All the best,

    Ron Schweiger
    Brooklyn Borough Historian
    718 219-7385 (cell)

    1. You are absolutely right. I have written about how NYC tourism is really Manhattan tourism and I intend to write about Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx in future columns (I am not sure I know enough about Staten Island). It should be possible to create quite a few Brooklyn Paths through History

  8. For five years, George Whipple and the Board of Preserve Putnam with the complicity of the Putnam County Legislature has sought to eradicate the authentic history of Tilly Foster Farm, substituting local history for a collection glorifying the era of sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll housed in the very home inhabited by those who made Tilly Foster Farm the envy of the thoroughbred community and the iconic vista of the Town of Southeast and Putnam County. The life and work of the Benedicts, Swensens, Gaudelli, Saks and immigrants and so many others were relegated to not even a footnote. Please help to restore and reclaim the authentic history of Tilly Foster Farm so that we can it can once again become the tourist mecca of the County.

  9. Gosh I love this blog, Peter’s writing AND the comments. Thank you. Let’s take the bull by the horns, get crackin’ and create some Paths thru NYSHistory, and not wait for the government to do it. I am doing the logistics of one now, and will be happy to share the itinerary when it is done, so it can be reused. Though the trip takes off from Rockland County, it is centered on the area from Albany to Little Falls to Schoharie. It’s an overnight August 9-10, 2014, theme American Revolution. The question: Will we have enough interest to fill the bus!?

  10. I wonder if “Central NY” will ever escape the BASEBALL nonsense? They did actually contribute some REAL things to the state, nation, and world history.

    1. I am not sure if anyone really knows exactly where “Central New York” is. It is sort of in the eye of the beholder. But if the area wants to be known for something else besides baseball and Cooperstown, then it needs to organize and speak up about those “REAL things” it did contribute to the state, nation, and world history. No one is going to create your Path through History for you, you have to do it yourselves.

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