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Make New York State History Great Again

Kentucky Bourbon Trail Passport (

On August 28, 2012, Governor Andrew Cuomo declared his intention to make New York State history great again. The occasion was the launching of his Path through History project. I attended the program in Albany and still have the materials and souvenirs from that day. The program was intended to generate revenue (and jobs) through the telling of the history of New York to tourists.

The plenary address was given by Ken Jackson, Columbia University, Mr. New York State History. In his address, Ken spoke of the ways in which New York had been a national leader over the centuries. He recounted various events, named various people and places, and highlighted the prominence of the Empire State. He also noted how much better other states like Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia were at touting their own stories than New Yok was. You would never know that George Washington spent more time here than in any other state over the 1775-1783 period.

In the years to come, the Path through History quickly became a joke and embarrassment. Instead of being a revenue generator, it became a project of signs, a scarcely used website, brief programs not during the tourist season that historic sites already did anyway, and no paths. The best that could be said for it was that it created a logo and phrase for I LoveNY and history sites to use as a brand. It did nothing to fulfill its original promise that had brought hundreds of people to Albany six years ago to expectantly witness its birth.

As a result, Ken Jackson morphed from plenary speaker to critic. He criticized the program in a letter to Cuomo. He criticized the program when speaking at subsequent conferences. He criticized the program in private conversations. The program certainly has garnered its share of critical columns here in this history column. All to no avail. The Path through History mocked the idea of making New York History great again through telling its story to tourists.

Perhaps the most egregious exposure of its shortcomings occurred in the AMC cable series “Turn” (for example, see AMC Mocks the Path through History). The nationally-shown program was about America’s first spy ring, the Culper Spy Ring, based in Setauket, Long Island, in New York. Although the show was filmed in Virginia, the story was a New York one. Who advertised on the show to visit the historic sites of the American Revolution? If you guessed Virginia, you are right. Come see where it happened. In Virginia. One might think New York would make that claim since the scenes were in New York, but no, it was Virginia that marketed its history to the national audience. Perhaps it was just as well. If someone had flown into JFK or LaGuardia to see the American Revolution sites shown in the series, no American Revolution Path through History itineraries had been created. Make New York State History great indeed! New York had been handed an opportunity on a silver platter to reach a national audience and did nothing.

The South has continued to show up the Empire State. As reported in previous posts, the southern states collaborated to produce a Civil Rights Trail (for example, see The Confederacy Trumps New York on Civil Rights Tourism). It opened January 1, 2018. That effort involved creating teams of people from the tourist, economic development, and academic sectors to cooperate and collaborate to produce the trail. New York State had talked the talked of doing that when the Path through History was launched but it hasn’t happened. To add more insult to injury, the U.S. Civil Rights Trail has attracted interest even in New York publications (for example, see In the South and North, New (and Vital) Civil Rights Trails, Learning About the Civil Rights Era Through Travel, and On a Civil Rights Trail, Essential Sites and Indelible Detours). When was the last time you read about someone following a Path through History trail? Even the events listed on the path website on Father’s Day and in October are of short duration intended for people within a 50-mile radius as a daytrip.

Speaking of trails, let’s not overlook the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. New York may have its wineries, but Kentucky has its Bourbon Trail. The Trail is complete with maps, mugs, t-shirts, history booklets, an itinerary and a passport. The website provides a suggested seven-day trip with an optional eighth day. It explains how the passport can be obtained and used. Seen any Path through History passports lately? Is there a winery one? Puts New York to shame. Sad.

By these comments, I do not mean to suggest that nothing has happened. We now do have a fulltime state historian but that is not due to the Governor. The New York State Museum has exhibits in recognition of the two centennials – women gaining the right to vote in 1917 and New York’s involvement in World War I – but they are not due to the Governor. The New York State Barge Canal has begun celebrating the Erie Canal bicentennial from the beginning of construction on July 4, 1817, to the completion with the Wedding of Waters on November 4, 1825.  The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation still operates but the parks and recreation take precedence over the historic sites under its administration, just as they always will. So, yes, things are still happening at the state level related to history.

I operate in the basis of the 80% rule. As a New Yorker, not Yogi Berra, is said to have said, 80% of life is showing up. The issue is not whether the bureaucratic momentum continues to grind forward on a routine basis but of leadership. What about the extra 20% that requires more than just showing up? In baseball terms, this is known as wins over replacement (WAR).  One analytically examines what a player contributes above and beyond just showing up, just being a replacement. Does this player add to the team value? Will the team win more?

For example, next year is the centennial of the state requirement for municipalities to have an historian. Sometimes even our Governor has mentioned this law as a sign of New York State’s commitment to its history. The law is often honored in the breach. Too many municipalities have no historian. The responsibilities are ill-defined especially given the new technologies available for the storing and dissemination of information to the general public. When the position does exist, it is often disrespected or minimized. There is no training. All in all, it is easy to see why there are no plans to celebrate the centennial – it would only highlight the shortcomings which need to be fixed.

So here are some suggestions as to how a governor could provide the leadership to make New York State history great again. They are offered in the hopes that the victorious candidate will rise to occasion and set New York on a great path through history. One should note that the implementation of these suggestions requires the assistance of the Regents and the Legislature as well.


1. Celebrate the centennial in 2019 of the legislation creating municipal historians in the state.
2. Enforce compliance with the legislation in all municipalities.
3. Define the responsibilities of the municipal historians based on the population of the municipality.
4. Extend the law to include creating a New York City historian.
5. Extend the law to create community district historians in New York City.
6. Establish a one-week training program for municipal historians starting with the county historians. The program should be based in Albany and include presentations by the New York State Archives, the New York State Education Department, the New York State Library, the New York State Museum, the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation including a visit to the Peebles Island facility and I LoveNY. The program should conclude with a reception at the Executive Mansion.

Municipal historians should provide the local infrastructure for the creation of history tourism programs throughout the state.


1. Allocate $1 million of its REDC funding to the Path through History project or $100,000 for each of the ten regions.
2. Create teams in partnership with the New York Historian for each of the themes in the Path through History following the format of the southern states in creating a U. S. Civil Rights Trail.


Establish a $1 million REDC funding pool for history projects to include what used to be done through member items, for anniversaries such as the Suffrage Centennial, and for other history projects.


Create a Senate and Assembly history caucus. The caucus would aim to provide a forum for members to share their interest in history and to promote an awareness of the subject throughout the state. Start by calling for a history roundtable meeting since it has been years since the last one was held.


1. Offer courses in state and local history throughout the community and four-year SUNY colleges.
2. Require teachers to take such courses as part of their certification process and/or for professional development.
3. Include field trips to the local historic sites as part of the courses.
4. Revise the curriculum to include links to the local historic sites.

New York does have great stories to tell. New York does have great stories to tell that are directly relevant to the issues confronting and challenging the country today. New York has people dedicated, committed, and eager to tell these stories. What New York does not have is the leadership and support the history community needs. Let’s make the telling of New York State history great again.

AMC Mocks the Path through History

“Turn” is an AMC cable series set in the American Revolution in New York. The series purports to tell the story of America’s first spy ring. It was based in Setauket, Suffolk County. The fidelity of the TV series to history is not the issue of this post. That subject has been addressed elsewhere and by others. Rather the focus is on tourism and the squandered opportunity by New York State.


The history roundtable on May 29, 2014, in Albany, was convened by State Legislator Steve Englebright of Setauket. He began the meeting by expressing his disgust about the TV series set in his home town being filmed in Virginia. Worse was the state of Virginia advertised on the show inviting viewers to come to Virginia to see where the American Revolution happened. So here we had a situation where Virginia was leveraging an American Revolution show set in New York to promote tourism in Virginia while New York did nothing. I will leave it to your imagination to choose the words to characterize the performance of New York State in this matter.

The story gets even worse. Towards the end of the third season, the locale of the show shifted. SPOILER ALERT: Benedict Arnold is a traitor and John André is captured and hanged. All these events happened in the Hudson Valley, a region full of American Revolution sites and signs. Part of the presentation on the show was historically laughable:



Beverly Robinson House (Garrison Union Free SD) Arnold’s Flight (Robyn Luzon)

  1. Benedict Arnold did not live at West Point. He lived in the Beverly Robinson home on the east side of the Hudson in Garrison, Putnam County. Little remains of the house save for a root cellar. I have been there with the teachers and the current owners of the property invited us into their home. There is, of course, a NYS history sign to mark the site.
  1. Arnold fled to the Hudson River to make his escape. There is another history sign on the opposite side of Route 9D in Putnam marking the start of his escape route. In the TV show, Arnold is shown on a waterway representing the Hudson. It looks more like the creek Sheriff Taylor took Opie fishing. There is none of the majesty of the Hudson nor the S-curve, the choke point where a chain was placed across the river from the western point (hence the name “West Point”) to Constitution Island.
  1. Washington and the captured Andre are shown living in tents in the open field. In fact, Washington stayed at The DeWint House aka George Washington’s Headquarters, Masonic Historic Site, in Tappan, Rockland County. Far from being held prisoner in a tent, André was ensconced in good officer tradition in the 76 House. I have been with the teachers to both locations and enjoyed several meals in the still-operating restaurant.
  1. The hanging did not occur in the open field ether as depicted in the show.


76 House and the monument to the hanging (Rolf Müller)

One can understand the logistical advantages of not filming on location but still the publicity opportunities to showcase these tourist locations should be obvious to anyone with some exceptions.

DeWint House
DeWint House

I mentioned this deplorable condition to someone from AMC during a panel discussion at the New-York Historical Society last spring. I gave the person my card and was told it would be referred to the appropriate person within AMC. Naturally nothing happened.

The story gets even worse. Guess what took place in the middle of these two episodes on “Turn” where André is caught and hanged — that’s right, the Path through History weekend.  The event celebrating New York history was smack in the middle of two nationally-shown episodes about events in New York history of national importance. It’s almost as if AMC went out of its way to mock the Path project. Only Virginia chose to advertise its American Revolution sites during these shows.

The story gets even worse. As is well known, New York State provides no staff or funding to develop paths through history. To compensate for New York’s failure to support the Path program, last year I recommended that the history community submit requests for “Pathfinders” in the REDC funding process.

These people would then do what should have been done for years. Their job would be to create itineraries which could be offered to tour operators as “shovel-ready” tours. Priscilla Brendler, executive director of the Greater Hudson Heritage Network (GHHN), the organization which actually handles the Path weekend program, responded to my suggestion by submitting exactly such a proposal to the Mid-Hudson REDC, the region where these “Turn” episodes were set. Meghan Taylor, the Regional Director for the Mid-Hudson Region, previously had meet with the regional history community at my initiative, was receptive. The Pathfinder application was approved at the regional level and submitted to Albany.

Guess what. There was no funding line appropriate for the request. Remember all the times how New York State talks the talk of collaboration and cooperation. Now when a grassroots application was submitted to create exactly such collaboration and cooperation among history sites, there was no bucket into which the application could be placed. Not only is there no staff or funding for state bureaucrats to develop paths on a fulltime basis, there is no funding either to support such efforts by the history community itself. The application was denied. The next time anyone from New York State talks about collaboration and cooperation, say SHOW ME THE MONEY!

The story gets even worse. The Path project is intended to generate revenue especially from sales, lodging, and gas taxes as tourists travel the highways and byways of the state. Typically tourist travel to historic sites happens during the summer tourist season.  For example, here is an excerpt from a state press release reported in a previous post:

As the Fourth of July weekend kicks-off this summer season, the Governor’s summer tourism ad campaign invites residents and visitors to celebrate the state’s history and experience the unmatched destinations, attractions, events, landmarks, and cultural opportunities New York State has to offer.

Please note the references to summer travel and state history. One might logically conclude therefore that Path through History programs would focus on this time period. Think again.

Here are three items for your consideration highlighting the stark reality that New York State no longer even pretends that the Path through History is a tourist-driven project designed to increase tax revenue through a robust history tourism program.

  1. The Museum Heritage Weekend in May renamed and rescheduled as the Path weekend in June occurs prior to the summer tourist season designated by the Governor and consists of local events for the local community. I have recommended that it be called Community Heritage Weekend. One notices that the reports about the success of the weekend are strictly limited to the body count of events with no tax benefits calculated or even contributions to the economy suggested. By contrast when the Tourism industry has its advocacy day in Albany, it is sure to provide dollar figures.
  1. I Love NY has now proposed an extension of the Path through History weekend to the fall.


You spoke and we listened.
We received a variety of feedback regarding the timing of Path Through History weekend, so we are exploring the option of expanding in 2017 to two weekends: a Spring PTH Weekend on Father’s Day weekend in June, and a Fall PTH Weekend on Columbus Day weekend in October. Host sites would be able to choose whether they wanted to participate in one or both of the weekends; sites would not be obligated to participate in both.

It’s nice to know that I Love NY is listening to the history community. A second community heritage weekend is a perfectly valid initiative. Just as many sites could not offer programs in May during the original Museum weekend (some upstate sites weren’t even open then), Father’s Day weekend may not be the best time for local events either. A three-day weekend does provide opportunities for events involving overnight lodging that generates tax revenue. Let’s see if any such programs are proposed. That would be a big change.

  1. The new New York State Historian has issued a notice about this year’s celebration of New York History Month in November. The event is defined by state regulations:


57.02 New York state history month

  1. Each month of November following the effective date of this section shall be designated as New York state history month.
  2.   The purpose of this month shall be to celebrate the history of New York state and recognize the contributions of state and local historians.
  1. The commissioner of education, through the office of state history is hereby authorized to undertake projects to recognize New York state history month. Such projects may include the creation of an essay contest for state residents who are enrolled in any elementary or secondary education program which shall reflect upon the importance of New York state history. Any project or projects created pursuant to this subdivision may, in the discretion of the commissioner of education, authorize non‑monetary awards to be given to project participants or project winners as such commissioner may deem appropriate.


Again, the State History month is one of community heritage and civic engagement, not tourism. The notice just sent by the State Historian is consistent with this definition.

New York State History Month represents an opportunity for historians and cultural institutions to assert the vital importance of preserving and learning about our state’s history. It is also a time to engage with the public through programs and learning opportunities about the history of New York State and the ways in which we can help preserve our history.

The New York State Museum encourages historians, museums, historic sites, archives, and libraries across the state to join us in presenting events, tours, lectures, discussions, publications, and exhibitions that highlight the importance of New York State history and the role we (and the public) play in preserving it.

Marketing: New York State History Month Logo and Path Through History Logo

Any historical or cultural organization hosting programs for New York State History Month is encouraged to use the New York State History Month logo in their marketing. It is recommended that Path Through History sites also use the Path Through History logo.

So once again, the Path through History project is associated with a non-tourist community-heritage program not designed to generate tax revenue.

How come there are path through history events listed on the path website outside the tourism season but no path through history tours are listed during the summer tourist season?

Even if I Love NY advertised on “Turn,” are there any American Revolution tours available on the Path website…or just a lot of sites (but not the signs of either Arnold’s or André’s escape routes that would be of interest to an American Revolution tourist buffs because signs are not museums).


Tarrytown,Westchester County                                              Carmel, Putnam County
(Courtesy Researching Librarian and The Historical Marker Database)

Has anyone ever heard of Elderhostel? It’s not as if New York State has to reinvent the wheel. Just do what has been done for decades elsewhere.

How come the non-tourist community-heritage program is even located in I Love NY.

Happy 4-year old birthday, Path through History. May your future take a turn for the better.