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Heritage Tourism and Immigration in New York State

Immigration has always been an important part of New York history. If one considers the story of the state from the Ice Age to Global Warming, then we and/or our ancestors all arrived here from somewhere else. Even if we were born an American and reside here now we may not have been born in New York. And if we were born in New York, we may not now live in the community where we were born or grew up. People move around a lot. How often do you hear the story of someone who has only been a resident of the community for 10, 20, 30 years and is still considered a newcomer?

Telling the story of immigration in New York provides an opportunity for us to connect with the world. What country doesn’t have residents in this state? So here is an opportunity for New York to tell the story about what it means to be a New Yorker by examining the lives of people who became New Yorkers.

The Germans

Our Governor has called for New York to increase its exports as a way to improve the economy of the state. Some New York “exports” are sold to tourists. In effect, the selling of services to foreigners who are visiting the sights and sites of New York functions as an “export.” For example, at the Tourism Advocacy Day which I recently attended, Gavin Landry, the director of ILoveNY was not in attendance because he was in Germany drumming up business. Germany has been a leading source of immigrants to America over the centuries and could be a leading source of tourists.

Since the 18th century, Germans refugees from the Palatinate have been a part of the history of New York State. Now suppose, that in Germany someone asks Gavin about visiting New York to experience the Palatine story in New York. What would Gavin have done?

NellisTavern2013Naturally, he would have referred the person to the Path through History website. If one goes there and enters “Palatines” the following is displayed:

Colonial History
Founded as a Dutch colony early in the 17th century and later a British colony, New York distinguished itself as the most culturally diverse of the nation’s thirteen colonies and a colonial leader in politics, commerce, and culture. Visitors can explore the dazzling array of New York’s colonial history attractions in communities across the state. Below are some of the attractions you must see if you are looking to explore colonial history in New York State.

Of the 14 sites listed under Colonial History, only one is clearly identified as a Palatine site (thanks to its name), the 1747 Nellis Tavern / Palatine Settlement Society on Route 5 in St. Johnsville. The remaining 13 sites are Dutch, Huguenot, and on William Johnson. Hard to create a Palatine trip based on the one site (I wonder why these other sites are even listed in this search?)

One might suspect that the Fort Klock Historic Restoration in St. Johnsville, near the 1747 Nellis Tavern, has a Palatine connection, but one would have to already know that – the website does not provide that information. The Palatine German church (also on Route 5) is practically in walking distance, but isn’t listed. Nor is the nearby hamlet of Stone Arabia in the Town of Palatine. (Forget for a minute how Herkimer County got its name, or the dozens of other communities in New York State with German roots).

ILoveNY does not have the staff, resources, or expertise to create a Palatine Path through History in New York that could be marketed to Germans or to teachers for professional development.

The Dutch

The Dutch contributed significantly to why New York became a successful immigrant state. The Dutch consulate in New York recently invited people to attend an informal working lunch to discuss how to promote the Dutch legacy in New York State. The story was told by Russell Shorto in his popular recent book The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony That Shaped America. Shorto’s book was partly based on research done by Charles Gehring of the New Netherlands Institute and NYS Library. They were both in attendance at the Dutch consulate luncheon.

New-France_2_6_Map-of-New-Belgium-or-New-NetherlandThe meeting focus was primarily on the k-12 curriculum, and one of the points I made was about the need to bring teachers to historic sites where the history actually occurred. Bob Ulrich recently taught an adult education class at Marist College on the Dutch with over 100 enrollees. The class did not include field trips, but it suggests that people in the Hudson Valley would be willing to visit the Dutch heritage sites if there was such a program.

In any program about the Dutch in New York the assistance and participation of organizations such as the New Netherlands Institute and the Holland Society would be welcome and crucial in creating a meaningful experience. A search on the Path website for the New Netherlands Institute however, turns up almost every Path theme including the U.S. Presidents’ page which lists every presidential site in the state. It would be difficult to create a tour based on the website.

ILoveNY does not have the staff, resources, or expertise to create a Dutch Path through History that could be marketed to the Dutch, to teachers for professional development, or for cultural heritage tourists.

The Italians

Italians certainly are a numerous immigrant group in New York. When Bill de Blasio became mayor of New York, his ancestral village in Italy celebrated the victory as one of their own. Sam Roberts wrote a piece for the New York Times examining the mayor’s Italian and German ancestry using newly digitized census records. The Governor of New York State is Italian. His primary challenger is Italian. The current newsletter of the Friends of the Croton Aqueduct has an article about the Italians who built the New Croton Dam. There just was a full page of historical pictures in the New York Times showing people in New York playing bocce including the workers at the site that would become the United Nations. And who sings the most popular versions of “New York, New York”? Frank Sinatra and Liza Minelli.

bocce2On the Path website, a search for Italian brings up the immigration theme. Of the 12 listings, the only evidently Italian one is the American Italian Heritage Museum & Cultural Center on 1227 Central Avenue in Albany.

By coincidence, I just received an email from Prof. Philip J. DiNovo who helped found the American Italian Heritage Museum 35 years ago. In case you are interested among the other sites in the listing are one Irish museum also in Albany, the Katonah Museum of Art in Westchester, Safe Haven Museum in Oswego for its work in World War II with holocaust survivors. It would be difficult to create an Italian Path through History in New York from the website.

ILoveNY does not have the staff, resources, or expertise to create an Italian Path through History that could be marketed to Italians, Italian-Americans around the country or to teachers for professional development.

The Immigrant

In a movie entitled “The Immigrant” Hollywood is telling the immigrant story in New York. The new film is not based on a real person. Some of “The Immigrant” was filmed at Ellis Island with extras who were the descendants of immigrants processed there. The film tells the story of a female Catholic Polish immigrant and her experiences once she arrived in New York. The movie contrasts the idyllic uplifting image of the Ellis Island immigrants with the strangeness and horror of leaving one world for another.

the_immigrantHow difficult should it be to create an Immigrant Path through History in Lower Manhattan? The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island are listed on the Path website but Castle Garden/Clinton National Monument where people previously disembarked in the 19th century (and there will be a 50-cannon salute there July 4 by the Veteran Corps of Artillery of the State of New York) is not. The Eldridge Street Museum/Eldridge Street Synagogue and Lower East Side Tenement Museum are listed, the Museum of Chinese in America and the Lower East Side Jewish Conservancy are not.

ILoveNY does not have the staff, resources, or expertise to create an Immigrant Path through History that could be marketed to the over 100 million Americans who are descendants of immigrants through New York or to teachers for professional development.

Immigration Is A New York Story

Immigration to America is one of the foundation stories of this country. No state is better positioned to tell this story than New York. The story is a continuing one with over 3 million immigrants now living in New York City. The story of immigration today continues the story which has been played out for centuries in America. The story of immigrants becoming Americans is essential for the health and well-being of the country. New York has the opportunity to lead the nation in telling this vital story.

If the immigrants today do not connect to the immigrants of the past than America will pay the price. If we do not create a shared story that integrates the global tapestry that is America, then our country will dissolve into a multitude of hyphenated niches that has helped to tear so many other countries apart.

ILoveNY does not have the staff, resources, or expertise to tell the immigrant story which America needs to be told.  I believe the proposed New York History Commission will.

How do we get the Legislature and Governor Cuomo to understand that?

Illustrations (from above): Government poster using the Statue of Liberty to promote the sale of Liberty Bonds during World War 1; Nellis Tavern; a map of New Netherland; Italian-Americans at a Bocci court in New York City; and a promotional poster for the new film “the Immigrant”.

18 thoughts on “Heritage Tourism and Immigration in New York State

  1. Keep on fighting Peter. This piece like your many others points out the need for a greater state involvement in promoting New York’s very rich but often underappreciated history.

    1. The article and subsequent comments were very interesting. I am going to spend a few days in the Hudson River Valley soon and plan to visit a number of historic sites. In putting together my itinerary I discovered a number of sites are open Wednesday-Sunday only and my trip is arrive Monday and leave Wednesday morning! As a person who has worked in the museum field, I can understand the numerous reasons for sites to have schedules like this, but as a visitor that is frustrating. I can empathize with the woman involved with the German Palantine history and also applaud the hard work by volunteers to share this part of our history, but promoting a site to visitors beyond one’s immediate community that is only open 4 hours per week is challenging. People often do not pay attention to details, even when those details are shared, and promoting a site to visitors with such limited hours can result in disappointment for those who arrive on a closed site’s doorstep or even read about a site and get to the end of the description only to find that there is a very small window of opportunity for visiting. It’s a tough balancing act but it is important to try to keep the visitor’s perspective in mind as it is the public we serve and try to inform and the public we hope will be our advocates.

      1. Hi Debbie,

        It was a pleasure meeting you at the NYSHA conference in Niagara Falls two years ago. The conference this year was less exciting – anyone can walk across the Hudson River now that the Walkway is operational.

        Your points are well-taken. You don’t state if you were using the Path website to prepare your itinerary or not but it is obviously inadequate for some of the very reasons you detailed. The program has never been about creating itineraries real tourists would ever use. But suppose someone wanted to visit Syracuse for a few days and maybe was arriving by train (as I have done), what Syracuse Path through History would you create? Would it be possible to bring the Syracuse history community together to craft a program so visitors would have options and wouldn’t have to figure everything out for themselves?


    2. Re: German immigration
      In Rhinebeck we have the Palatine Farmstead now undergoing restoration. Site of original settlement of Palatines who came from Germany 1710. In the same neighborhood is the St. Peter’s Lutheran Church called Stone Church site used since 1730, church built 1786. The parsonage, built 1798 is the location of the Museum of Rhinebeck History open weekends during the summer. Also CJ’s Restaurant a colonial Palatine house occupied for generations by the Hayner family.
      We also have many stone houses built by Palatine settlers and St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Wurtemburg, Rhinebeck, NY. These structures may be viewed from public road and some are open by appointment.
      Nancy Kelly
      Town Historian

  2. Peter, thanks for the shout-out; hope you enjoyed the meeting. To update your comment, I DID teach a Dutch in NY Road Show at Bard College’s Lifetime Learning Institute. It was my introduction to the great story of how the Dutch started America, here in NY, and all because of finding beavers. It was a seven session class that involved lots of car pooling (no $$ for a bus), but all who took it enjoyed it, except for the manic pace. I planned 3 stops per session, and that was a lot. We went as far south south as Philipsburg Manor, where the staff accommodated us by moving back their normal history story to include the Dutch. As with so many things, American history is force fitted around the English story, but the reality is cute, as Shorto explains in his book: Fredrick Philips , the successful namesake of that property (and a staunch Loyalist forced to flee after the Rev War) was preceded by his namesake, the very Dutch “Vredrick Flipse”. As with so many of our ancestors, the family Anglicized the name when the English took control. if you can’t beat ’em, might as well join ’em.

    When I now teach the Dutch program, I still include a handout of the week to week travels we took for anyone interested in doing a self guided attempt at it. I can make that available to you if you’d like. Of interest, Albany was 2 or 3 visits, Coxsackie (the Bronck’s Museum and Farm) was another trip, and Craillo, north of Albany by just a bit, was a very important site, strongly recommended to me for inclusion by none other than Dr Charles Gehring, who made Russell Shorto’s book possible. Those who do Craillo should travel a little further to see the Van Schaik house near Peeble’s Island. It was the kick off planning base for the American forces heading to the Battle of Saratoga, and where the troops of Albany built the defensive berms , should the Brits make it past Saratoga (actually, Stillwater). The berms are still there today !!

    The Dutch story is a great one,and ties into the importance of the Hudson River. My very back-of -the-envelope calculations show that even today, approx. 50% of the population of NYS lives in a swath of land 10 miles east and west of the Hudson, from NYC to Albany. That land represents only 5% of the total land are of NY. THAT’S an indication of where people settled and have stayed in NY !

    1. Bob,

      I did vaguely recall that once you might have included visits to sites as in the IHARE programs in which you participated. I never did a Dutch-only program although Dutch sites did figure prominently in many programs. Please do send your self-guided itineraries. Charlie and Russell expressed interest in creating such programs. Perhaps the next step is meeting in Albany to develop itineraries for the New York, the Hudson Valley, the Capital Region, and the Mohawk Valley.

  3. THV’s resources for teaching about immigration include the units listed below. Find them and others by clicking Resources and then Lessons on THV’s webiste.

    Immigrant Living & Working Conditions at the New Croton Dam, grades 5-12, social studies (Laura Compagni) This program explores how immigrant workers responded to low wages, long
    hours, and dangerous working conditions. Students use primary sources.

    Localism: Migration, Immigration, and the Importance of Diversity, elementary level social studies, science, math, and environmental education (Amanda Huron, Wildlife Conservation Society)
    Students learn about the importance of diversity to natural and human environments.

    Stories Along the Hudson: Albany Heroes, middle school social studies (Kerri Evers & Erin Lewis, Albany City Schools; Carol Ann Margolis & Christine Garretson Persans, Albany Visitors Center) Students do research using oral histories gathered from modern immigrants in the Albany region.

  4. You could probably create an Italian Pathway Through History simply by getting a list of Sons of Italy organizations throughout the state. Although a number of them are no longer active, the current state-wide organization could probably provide a listing that would show where Italian immigrants settled. Likewise, a list of Italian Catholic ethnic parishes and ethnic evangelical churches across the state would serve the same purpose.
    As in my own community of Mechanicville which is predominantly Italian, many of these immigrant enclaves are “living museums,” that is, the lifestyle and values of the ethnic community are practiced on an non self-conscious daily basis, not “preserved” in some museum-like fashion. I saw the Times photo article on bocci and told my wife that she ought to show the pictures to the women who play in the three bocci leagues she is involved in. Of course, the members of men’s leagues at the Fratellenza would also be interested in seeing portrayals of something they have been doing here for generations. There are lots of similar communities spread across the Hudson and Mohawk valleys and Italian immigration did not end at Ellis Island and New York City.

    1. Do you have any contact with the state organization? Perhaps they would be interested in promoting an Italian cultural heritage program. Perhaps they do something at present.

  5. Dear Peter,

    Thank you for your recent post. We are Germantown Palatines. I am the new historian. Several months ago I tried to register on the Path Through History Site as we have the 1767 Parsonage and we are becoming an integral part of our Economic Development. The Path Through History rejected us because we are only open 4 hours per week. Like they don’t know we are all operating with only a few volunteers who carry an incredibly heavy load.

    I am a teacher who knows this drill but I still get irritated. This is an upward battle but at least our town council is supportive and we are moving forward. It still burns that they make it incredibly difficult to exists within the parameters of their criteria.

    I applaud your tenacity! Thank you for your unwavering and supportive blogs.

    1. Funny you should mention this. At the Tourist Advocacy Day, I made the same point to Ken Adams, the head of Empire State Development and therefore of ILoveNY and the Path through History. His reaction was one of genuine surprise. People in the Manhattan bubble really aren’t familiar with the situation in the real world. Also, let’s remember the Path through History project is intended to boost tourism at the crown jewels of New York State as identified in the brochure distributed at the kickoff campaign in August 2012. Small sites really aren’t relevant to it except for inflating the body count on the Path weekend events. This is one reason why we need the new York History commission.

  6. Dear Peter, Thank you for mentioning our American Italian Heritage Museum and Cultural Center, the largest Italian American museum in the east. There are so many missed opportunities all over the state, we have a large number of Italian American sites in the Capital District. Also we have built bridges with other ethnic groups in the area that also have sites that would be of interest to tourist if they were promoted correctly. We all have limited funds to promote our sites, the government on all levels should help. Tourist spend money, we have had visitors to our museum from 19 countries and 23 states. We have Central Ave in Albany, that has over 50 different ethnic restaurants, in the Albany area there is a number of ethnic: museums, cultural centers, churches, bakeries, importing stores etc. worthy of a visit. We need to market this very important New York State asset! Prof./Cav. Philip J. DiNovo , President

    1. Is it possible to put together a list of those sites? Perhaps at some point it would be possible to have a meeting with the various groups and seeing about putting together a path.

  7. Peter,
    Hi! My name is Laura Compagni and I wrote the article for the Friends of the Old Croton Aqueduct about the Strike of 1900 at the New Croton Dam. Thank you for mentioning it in your blog post.

    I agree that the history of immigrant groups from every era is both important and easy to find in most communities in New York State. I liked Paul Loatman’s comment about the immigrant experience not beginning and ending at Ellis Island. While most people passed through a legal and medical inspection within six hours at Ellis Island, they spent the rest of their lives working and negotiating life as foreign-born Americans. It’s also worth mentioning that Ellis Island only represents immigration between 1892 when it opened and the WWI era when new legal restrictions slowed the flow of European immigrants to a trickle.

    If anyone is interested, I’ll be launching a new blog in September called the Hudson River Valley Labor History Project. I will attempt to identify some of the Hudson River Valley’s lesser known stories about workers and industry. I hope others will want to chat with me about local labor history and to post related stories and images.


    I enjoy your blog! Keep up the good work.

    1. Hi Laura,

      I would encourage you to contribute your labor history essays here at The New York History Blog rather than start another blog. By working together we have a very large audience that a single blogger can never achieve.

      Feel free to contact me via the about page if you have questions or concerns.

      John Warren

  8. Peter,

    I do not for one moment believe that either Gavin Landry or Ken Adams are clueless with respect to the fact that there is one site funded or supported by either I Love NY or the Regional Economic Council through the Path Through History Program for every 200 sites requesting representation and assistance.
    Mark Castiglione, Path Program Coordinator for Governor Cuomo, sat in on many, if not all, the discussions we had here in the Finger Lakes Region PTH Workgroup. The criteria for inclusion that came out of the Governor’s Office (i.e. his staff) was extremely restrictive to say the least. We complained about this but were told this was what we had to work with and further, there was no time to go back and redo the criteria. I nominated three sites from Wayne County that met all the criteria, however, there were another 15 excellent sites here that missed the criteria by a little or in some cases a lot. The one site that was selected for the PTH Project rollout is Historic Palmyra and its Alling Coverlet Museum. This is a truly excellent choice, they have the largest collection of hand woven coverlets in the United States. The question is – if you want to learn about the history of the state, region and Wayne County in particular, this is probably not the best place to spend your time. I thought it was the Governor’s intention that we all get on board his desire to make NYS History visible. If that was or is the case, then the Governor ought to leave it to the region and local historians to decide how best to go about that….not dictate a process from the ivory tower down to the field. When it was time to send representatives to Grand Central Terminal for the big Tourist Advocacy Day, we as a rigion met and decided to send our Seneca Native American story……I Love NY trumped that call and said nix the Native Americans, we want Women’s Rights from either Susan B. Anthony House or Seneca Falls. Good choice, of course, just not our choice….a lesson in how to make all the work we do here in the Region seem totally insignificant and superfluous. If you read between all my lines, you will realize that we have a long road to hoe, a road that no History Commission can begin to fix when the seats of power have the capacity to think they know better or even to ignore. That is one reason NYS History is in the pickle it is in. Tourism professional, marketers, PR people, and promoters, in general, know little about history which is one reason they tend to ignore that whole sector except for the really big ticket sites that have the power not to be ignored.

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