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Museum History: From Maine to the Met to the Erie Canal

https://www.amazon.com/Nostalgic-Reproduction-Barnums-Museum-Circus/dp/B00LMILP7Q

Museums have a history, too. Museums today the repositories of historical artifacts available to scholars and the general public alike. However that was not always so. There is a history of how museums came to be what they are today. This topic was the subject of two presentations at conferences in June: “Entertainments at Taverns and Long Rooms in New England, 1700-1900” at Historic Deerfield and in the keynote address at the Massachusetts History Alliance conference at Holy Cross. In addition, there is an article in the current issue of Near Eastern Archaeology about the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the 19th century that directly relates to this topic even though the specific artifacts in question are from overseas.

MUSEUMS ON THE ERIE CANAL CORRIDOR, 1820-1836
Paul E. Johnson, University of South Carolina

Abstract: In early 1820 there were no museums in New York west of Albany. By 1836 there were permanent museums in Utica (1820), Geneva (1830), Syracuse (c. 1830), Oswego (1836), Auburn (1832), Rochester (1825), Buffalo (1829), and Niagara Falls, Canada (1833). I…will focus on the museum of William Stowell and Justin Bishop at Rochester. It is well documented and its origins in New Haven, its itineracy before moving west, and its long tenure in Rochester permits discussion of the full sweep of early nineteenth-century museum history.

The upstate museums varied considerably, but they had much in common. First, none of them received support from governments or learned societies. They relied on ticket sales to stay in business. All maintained collections of minerals, stuffed birds and animals, paintings, and local curiosities. They used them to provide a respectable setting for variety acts ranging from trick dogs to giants and dwarfs to Indian war dances to demonstrations of laughing gas.

Professional entertainers drew visitors, but the principal everyday attraction was wax figures. While Charles Willson Peale [of mastodon fame in Orange County, New York] used wax figures solely as mannequins for his costume collection, the Boston and New York museums followed the lead of Madame Tussaud. She filled her London museum with kings and queens, poets, generals, and other notables. They were posed in quiet elegant surroundings. Museum patrons spoke softly and minded their manners.

Early seaport museums did not try to thrill visitors with their wax galleries. They tended to portray violence: Louis XVI preparing for the guillotine or Aaron Burr leaving the scene after mortally wounding Alexander Hamilton. Waxworks in early museums were part of the furniture of the room and not stand-alone attractions.

The western museums were less decorous. First they displayed most of their figures in tableau and not as individuals. The Rochester Museum put these groups behind glass. This action transformed the visitors into an audience that had not wished to join the scenes of Richard M. Johnson killing Tecumseh, an American officer who is killing an Indian who is scalping a boy, Chief Black Streak killing a settler, and Andrew Jackson killing Black Streak. Few sources describe the wax tableau in detail. Those that do reveal that the museums played up the violence. In Rochester, Othello was stabbing (not smothering Desdemona).

Finally, the upstate museums anticipated P. T. Barnum and hoaxed their patrons. When the Syracuse Museum burned down in 1834, customers discovered that the great sea turtle was made of leather and painted, and that the anaconda was a long sleeve stuffed with cotton. Rochester museum-goers always doubted the three-foot oyster shell. Patrons leaving the museum passed a picture of two donkeys facing each other. A caption read “We Three Will Meet Again.” A customer reported that he felt both cheated and entertained.

In his presentation, Johnson described museums as peaceful places but not scientific. But he also said the sensationalism of the wax figures were a chamber of horrors meant to cause children to scream: they show the moment the husband’s ax strikes the wife’s head! Museums were not educational as much as they were entertainment. The Canal Museum plied the waters of the Erie Canal showing its wares much as Showboat would do on the Mississippi but without the live performers.

DISCOMFORT AND RENEWAL: THE ABBE MUSEUM (MAINE)
Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko, President/CEO, Abbe Museum

Catlin-Legutko delivered the keynote address at the Massachusetts History Alliance conference. Her theme was the dismantling of the institutional racism of her museum.  According to the museum website:

One mission, two locations – Inspiring new learning about the Wabanaki Nations with every visit

In recent years, the Abbe has grown from a small trailside museum, privately operated within Acadia National Park, to an exciting contemporary museum in the heart of downtown Bar Harbor. In 2013, the Museum became the first and only Smithsonian Affiliate in the state of Maine. 

At the Abbe’s downtown museum, visitors find dynamic and stimulating exhibitions and activities interspersed with spaces for quiet reflection. The history and cultures of the Native people in Maine, the Wabanaki, are showcased through changing exhibitions, special events, teacher workshops, archaeology field schools, and workshops for children and adults.

From spring through fall, the Abbe’s historic trailside museum at Sieur de Monts Spring continues to offer visitors a step back in time to early 20th century presentations of Native American archaeology in Maine.

Catlin-Legutko referred to her museum as having been a colonial museum with a troublesome relationship with the Wabanaki. The museum exhibits were sterile display cases. The museum tended to homogenize the multiple Indian nations and tribes of Maine into one individual group. One might think from the presentation at the museum that it was referring to an extinct people.

For the Indian audience, the visit was painful. They had no rapport with the museum.

The museum board was elitist and white.

Under Catlin-Legutko’s stewardship the Abbe Museum underwent a “decolonizing” program. Now the term pre-history was out [technically the term “prehistoric” refers to a pre-writing people although the popular usage is different]. Now a place of privilege is given to the Indian history. They are not simply a people who were removed. Archaeological worked was stopped until new protocols could be developed. The conversations within the board and between the board and Indians were “difficult.”

In the Q&A, someone asked about DNA research. Apparently now everybody wants to be “native.” There is a romanticization in being connected to a vanishing race. This question and answer directly relates the topic of Columbus Day and Indigenous Peoples’ Day, a topic to which I shall return.

My own question was about education. What is taught about the Wabanaki? Catlin-Legutko acknowledged the issue of the state-mandated curriculum. The museum has increased teacher training, school contacts, and posting curriculum on its website.

Other presentations from the Massachusetts History Alliance conference will be covered in future blogs.

THE METROPOLITIAN MUSEUM DISPLAYS IN THE 1870s

The article in question is by Ann-Marie Knoblauch: “The Mainstream Media and the ‘Shocking Bad Art’ from Cyprus: 1870s New York Reacts to the Cesnola Collections” (Near Eastern Archaeology 82 2019 67-74). While there are vast differences in the story at the Met and the Abbe, there are similarities as well. One obvious similarity is in the questionable means for obtaining the objects in the first place. One obvious difference is the international competition for objects in which the Met participated against museums in England and France whereas this was less of an issue in Maine.

One area in common was the putdown of both the Wabenaki and the Cypriots. The article refers to the ideal standard of beauty with which the museums operated: it was based on the Greek art of classical and Hellenistic periods [before and after Alexander the Great]. No surprise there. But this shows that “white” civilizations could be perceived as substandard as well.

The display of the objects at the Met was overwhelming and sterile although that word was not used in the article. As reported in the New York Herald (August 4, 1878), the public response was one of apathy. Luigi Palma di Cesnola responded by besmirching the New York audience. Again as reported by the New York Herald:

It is that unfortunate word “museum” that the General [Cesnola] attributes in a great measure the lack of popularity of the institution. To the scholar “museum” means “temple of the museums,” but to the untraveled New Yorker it means Barnum, mermaids, wooly horses and Bowery shows of fat women exhibited by shouting ruffians to the sound of a hurdy-gurdy.

So when did museums stop meaning Barnum and become the educational and scientific institutions it means today…while still being entertaining?

REDC Funding NYS Canal Corporation, 2018: The Erie Canal Affected the Whole State

Locks, Erie Canal, Lockport, 1908? (http://www.eriecanal.org)

We are in the midst of the bicentennial of the construction of the Erie Canal. It began on July 4, 1817, in Rome and ended eight years later with the Wedding of the Waters on November 4, 1825, in New York harbor. In 2017, the World Canals conference was held in Syracuse in honor of the commencement of the Erie Canal bicentennial. One would think that the eight-year commemoration provides ample time to develop Paths through History along the Erie Canal. There could be multiple paths as people returned each summer for another conference and tour. Forts Plain and Ticonderoga have annual American Revolution conferences with tours. The Erie Canal provides the same opportunity with the advantage that a different location along the Canal could be featured each year so people could experience the entirety of the Canal over the course of the bicentennial. And there would be plenty of chances for teacher programs at a variety of levels as well. Obviously that is not what has been happening.

With this background in mind, let us turn to the REDC grants awarded by the New York State Canal Corporation. Funding totaling $1 million was available:

The Canalway Grants Program is a competitive matching grant program available to eligible municipalities and 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations along the New York State Canal System. Funding is for capital projects that enhance economic and community development along the canal corridor and are consistent with the goals of the Regional Economic Development Council Plans.

Since the number of awards is comparatively low, the awards are listed in alphabetical order by county and not by REDC region.

Erie
Buffalo Maritime Center
Building Replica of Dewitt Clintons 1825 Erie Canal Packet Boat

This project seeks to create a historically accurate replica of the Seneca Chief, the packet boat that led the flotilla for the 1825 official opening of the Erie Canal. The boat will be built at the Inner Harbor in Buffalo in full public view. The Buffalo Maritime Center will use the project to develop programming with canal heritage partners to identify their Erie Canal history. It will culminate with a reenactment of Governor DeWitt Clinton’s voyage on the Seneca Chief from Buffalo to New York City.
$150,000

Buffalo Maritime Center
Building Replica of Dewitt Clinton’s 1825 Erie Canal Packet Boat

Buffalo Maritime Center is awarded funding to construct an historically accurate replica of DeWitt
Clinton’s Erie Canal packet boat, which led the flotilla from Buffalo to NYC for the official opening of the Canal in 1825. The boat will be constructed in full public view, year round on Canalside.
New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) Arts and Cultural Impact Programming
$49,500

I included the NYSCA award since it directly relates to the Canal award. These two awards are directly connected to the Erie Canal bicentennial. The implication is that the New York State Canals Corporation is planning a bicentennial celebration of the opening of the Erie Canal and the Wedding of the Waters in 2025.

Herkimer, Montgomery, Oneida
Erie Canalway Heritage Fund Inc
Canalway Water Trail – Directional and Wayfinding Signage

Signage under this project will identify water trail access points, historic sites and canal infrastructure that
can be visited during a water trip and facilities for the entire Canal System. Signs will display a custom logo of the water trail along with directional arrows where necessary. They will complement the release of a new guidebook, a navigational map set and website updates that will identify launch points and trail blazers.

$95,359

This type of grant is typical of those awarded in this category: maintenance, refurbishing, and signs.

Monroe
Village of Fairport
Fairport Canal Gateway Project

This project will increase access to canalside attractions in the village of Fairport. On the north bank, new ADA-accessible docks will be installed, along with an accessible kayak launch, regraded boat ramp, observation desk, wayfinding, an information kiosk and new lighting and landscaping. Enhancements along the south bank include a new park that will feature an interpretive heritage trail to celebrate the Erie Canal bicentennial. The trail will connect to existing pathways in Kennelley Park and to downtown neighborhoods via an extended sidewalk network.
$150,000

Village of Fairport
Fairport Bicentennial Canal Gateway Project

The Village of Fairport will create an ADA accessible formalized waterfront park which celebrates the Erie Canal’s and Village’s history and improves water access for all users. The project will enhance the existing docks, kayak launch, and boat ramp along the north bank of the Erie Canal, add comfort amenities and signage, and will improve the safety of Erie Canal Trail bicyclist along Liftbridge Lane West.
OPRHP PKS D $300,000

Village of Fairport
Village of Fairport Local Waterfront Revitalization Program

The Village of Fairport will work with residents, businesses and other public and private stakeholders to prepare a Local Waterfront Revitalization Program (LWRP) for its Erie Canal waterfront. The LWRP’s vision, policies, and project recommendations will promote business development, enhance public access and recreational facilities, protect water quality, encourage development of underutilized waterfront lands, promote walkability and enhance quality of life.
DOS Local Waterfront Program (LWRP) $75,000

This enterprising municipality was able to parley three funding sources on related projects with two different names.

Montgomery
Montgomery County Business Development Center
Chalmers Mill Riverfront Civic Space

This project, a key component of a $30 million brownfield revitalization development, will build an elevated pedestrian boardwalk and community space adjacent to the Erie Canal in Amsterdam. It will connect the Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook to the downtown business district and Amsterdam’s historic South Side neighborhood. The boardwalk will reorient residents and visitors to the impact the Erie Canal had on the region and highlight the Mohawk River as a beautiful, natural amenity.
$150,000

Niagara
Lockport Locks Heritage District Corporation
Lock Tender Tribute

The project seeks to honor an iconic 19th-century photograph of lock tenders on the steps of the old
Flight of Five locks in Lockport, by creating 14 lifesized bronze sculptures of those same lock tenders. They will be placed on the steps of the Flight of Five, which is undergoing restoration and rehabilitation efforts in the city.
$125,000

When I used that photograph in a post, several people responded requesting information about it. The restoration and rehabilitation are not part of an REDC award in 2018 or 2017. In 2014, which is as far back as I went in my research there was a grant related to this effort.

City of Lockport
Flight of Five Restoration

The Restoration of the Flight of Five, the historic Erie Canal locks built in the mid-1800s in Lockport, is the centerpiece of a comprehensive economic development and downtown revitalization strategy called the Locks District Redevelopment Plan. The completion of the Restoration of the Flight of Five is expected to annually draw 230,000 visitors and generate $17 million in spending.
ESD Grants $700,000

This award was part of a $150 million pool at the disposal of Empire State Development(ESD):

ESD has several grant programs that together make available $150 million of capital grant funding for the Regional Economic Development Council Initiative. Capital grant funding is available for capital-based economic development projects intended to create or retain jobs; prevent, reduce or eliminate unemployment and underemployment; and/or increase business or economic activity in a community or Region.

In 2016 I found two related awards for the Erie Canal Museum located at the Flight of Five Locks.

Lockport Locks Heritage District Corporation
Lock Tender Tribute

Lock Tender Tribute involves the creation of state-of-the-art exhibits at the Erie Canal Museum at the base of Lockport’s Erie Canal locks to better interpret the cultural and historic resources in downtown Lockport.
Arts, Culture, Heritage New Initiatives – Implementation (CHPG I) $75,000

Lockport Locks Heritage District Corporation
Lock Tender Tribute

This grant will fund updates and improvements to the Erie Canal Museum, located at the base of the Flight of Five locks.
$85,000

Clearly Lockport and the Lockport Locks Heritage District Corporation are working hard to maximize funding in the REDC process, have a long-term program, and have been receiving support from their REDC region on behalf of history or cultural heritage tourism. I wonder how many other municipalities are as well organized and successful.

Oswego
City of Fulton
Fulton Canal Corridor Multi-Use Trail

This project will help construct two multi-use trails along the Oswego Canal, the Pathfinder Canal
Towpath Trail and the Canalview Bridge Walk Trail. It will build upon work already completed in Fulton, such as the Indian Point Landing gazebo as well as the downtown Canal Landing marina, gazebo and park.
$150,000

Tompkins
City of Ithaca
Ithaca Waterfront Access

The City of Ithaca will partner with a private developer, City Harbor LLC, to improve the Cayuga Lake waterfront. The project will include housing, a restaurant on the point across Cascadilla Creek, seawall construction and new boat slips. Ithaca will also develop a public promenade, a connector path to the Ithaca Waterfront Trail and electric car charging.
$29,575

Wayne
Village of Newark
Village Trail Connector

The village of Newark will improve about 1.6 miles of Erie Canalway Trail that is currently too narrow, unpaved, lacks wayfinding signage and is susceptible to erosion. The trail will be widened to meet national design standards and be outfitted with lighting between the Edgett Road Bridge to the Port of Newark and downtown business district. Safety barriers will be installed along with new benches and bike racks. Measures will also be taken for slope and erosion control protection.
$150,000

In 2017, the Erie Canal was all the rage. I LOVENY was out in force promoting the World Canals Conference. The New York State Canal Corporation staff were present at Tourism Advocacy Day. Now in 2018, it is as if the Erie Canal vanished. No award by I LOVENY for 2018 even mentions the word “canal.” It’s as if the Erie Canal is Brigadoon and will not reappear until 2025…and then will disappear once again for a century. It is unfortunate the pride in Canal is not ongoing.

Election Results: Amazon versus Hallmark

Amazon decided to locate its new headquarters in Long Island City, Queens, New York, and Alexandria, Virginia. These two locations possess the characteristics Amazon considers desirable.  They have highly educated and mobile workforces. They are located at both national and international transportation hubs. They have significant other business sectors so Amazon will not be the 600 pound gorilla that everyone turns towards to solve local problems. They have an excitement about them: people want to move there. The bottom line is that the midsize cities of mid-America simply do not have the base to support the Amazon behemoth. The other major cities simply do not have the resources or the proximity to the politicians and regulators Amazon needs to buy and sell.

As it turns out, Amazon probably would have chosen these two locations even if there had been no government prostitution. Other communities made more lucrative offers but they could not match the actual requirements for a successful match. For all we know, Amazon may well have been leaning towards these two winning locations even before the search began even if they it never consciously acknowledged it to itself yet alone to the public. In the meantime, Amazon gathered a great deal of information about a multitude of sites throughout the country that will be useful.

One cannot help but notice that the desirable characteristics for Amazon coincide with the burgeoning demographic areas of the Democratic Party. By contrast Republican areas were not even in the running.

Politically, Amazon’s choice in New York will not make much difference. New York already is a democratic state. Republicans have no chance of winning any statewide election. At the state level success for a Republican is obtaining 40% of the vote. Its last hold in power, the State Senate, witnessed an eight seat drop this past election. Instead of vying for majority power it has had for roughly 75 years with some breaks, Republicans now are an also-ran with little if any power to do anything if the Democrats are united. Even without Amazon, the 2020 census is likely to accelerate this trend as the one-party city itself and the Democratic suburb offshoots gain in power. In the reapportioning, the Republicans are likely to lose even more of what little they have left at the federal and state level.

The situation is a little different in Virginia. Republicans still have no chance of winning a statewide election there but the margins are not as stark as in New York. Part of the difference is due to one-party Washington, D.C. not being in the state of Virginia the way one-party New York City is in New York. As the Washington suburbs served by the Metro continue to expand especially with Amazon, the state will become more and more Democratic. It will not take a coin toss anymore to determine who is in power in the legislature. Republicans in Virginia will be restricted to the rural non-growth areas. The biggest difference from New York is where upstate New Yorkers retire to the South, rural Virginians are already there.  Amazon is quite willing to sell to these people but it would not want to locate there.

Hallmark’s audience is quite different from Amazon’s. The Hallmark movie universe tends to be the rural one with mainly white Christians, probably Protestants. If the city is involved, such as New York, it is the place the hero/heroine leaves. They either return home to be reconnected with their loved ones and to save the family home/store/factory. They tend to be in their thirties so they may have known some success in the big city but it comes with a price to their soul and happiness. They regain their soul when they return to the place where everyone says “Merry Christmas” and the community lighting of the Christmas tree is a big deal…unlike say in New York City where Rockefeller Center is devoid of all signs of Christmas and no families are present!

If they are not from the rural paradise and are the mean person sent there to shut it down or buy the store/factory/inn, then they soon succumb to its charms for its money they have and peace they lack. Hallmark could tell big city-based Christmas stories but they are the exception not the rule despite their being where the American people live.

And if there is not a rural American paradise to which to return, then there is always a small kingdom in Europe that no one has ever heard of desperate for an American princess. Considering the real stories of not only Grace Kelly but Meghan Markle, it turns out that fairy tales can come true.

Still the Hallmark world has an attraction to the Amazon world but only a part-time basis. People in the city buy second homes but rarely in another city. Someone in New York does not buy a second home in the Boston or Philadelphia area. They may visit a child in college in those cities but for a second home for weekends, summer, and maybe retirement, they often chose the Hallmark world. Excluding the glitzy Hamptons, many New Yorkers choose to go north to the Hudson Valley, the Catkskills, the Berkshires, and beyond. They want land, they want space, they want peace and quiet as long as they can go to Starbucks and get the delicacies and entertainment they want. These people do not want to live in Mayberry, Bedford Falls, or Cicely, Alaska. It’s nice to leave the rat race and visit Brigadoon every now and then. They need the Field of Dreams but only for a moment.

Did you ever notice how popular and important Friday Night Lights was for people who did not live in a Friday Night Lights community? A Friday Nights Light community is a Hallmark community with more realism. It does have conflicts. It does have tensions. It does have rivalries with similar neighboring communities. But unlike the Hallmark communities, the Friday Night Lights communities gather together every Friday and not just once a year. In these communities, the people have their community songs, their community flags and banners, their community traditions, and a community spirit that is passed on from generation to generation. If you buy a second home in such a community you will be an outsider even if your city money enables you to throw your weight around. This separateness especially will be true if you have no kids attending the local schools.

In this regard, a Friday Nights Light community is like a Jane Jacobs city block or street. The social fabric is strong. People have a sense of place, a sense of belonging, a sense of community. These are not the characteristics of an Amazon community. The people who move to the big cities in other states have limited connection to the history of that state, that city, that community. Here in New York we are celebrating the bicentennial of the building of the Erie Canal. That project put New York on the national map on its way to becoming the world capital. That project launched a can do period in American history that lasted until we placed a man on the moon. Yet today the Erie Canal has no meaning to the people of the city. It remains an underutilized asset of American history in upstate New York of little interest to people in downstate New York. They would sooner visit the canals of Europe than those of New York.

The fate of the Erie Canal story highlights the shortcomings of the piecemeal approach. America has a big story to tell. What the two political parties have in common is that neither is trying to tell it. No candidate proposes a vision for We the People of the 21st century and the less said about our shallow, superficial, simple-minded President the better. Clearly there is a need for such a vision. Clearly there is a need for such a storyteller. Clearly there is a need to connect America’s citizens to the story of their country. In 1976, my father temporarily relocated to Washington, D.C., and bunked with Congressmen to reduce living expenses when he worked on the Bicentennial. In July 2016, the United States Semiquincentennial Commission was established in preparation for the 250th anniversary of the United States. It will occur on July 4, 2026, the bicentennials of the deaths of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams on July 4. Will we be a united country then or will the experiment have run its course?

Is I Love NY Familiar with Your Site (Days 2and 3)

Mohawk Country, Inc.

In this post, I complete the review of the familiarization tour in Central New York by I Love NY in August. The background information on the participating tour operators and the first day of the three day tour was presented in Is I Love NY Familiar with your Historic Site. At the conclusion of the post, I noted three history topics touched upon in the tour:

1. The Palatine migration to America and the Mohawk Valley
2. The American Revolution in the Mohawk Valley
3. The Erie Canal

and asked “Let’s see what other sites were included in the remaining two days of the tour” related to these topics. These remaining days shed light on how if at all I LoveNY pulls all the sites together.

Monday Aug. 28th: Oneida & Chenango Counties

8:30-9:30am: Breakfast presentation with the DoubleTree Hotel Utica team (2nd floor ballroom)

9:45am SHARP: Depart DoubleTree Hotel Utica

Wolf Mountain Nature Center – Smyrna, NY (Chenango County): Will Pryor, Founder & Head Animal Curator will lead a walking tour (approx. 1 mile) to meet the animals, learn about how the center formed & purpose in having a wolf sanctuary. A non-profit organization situated on 60+ acres of woods, fields, and ponds in the rolling hills of Chenango County in upstate NY. Educated, dedicated volunteers will introduce animals, teach about their diets, habitats, and share personal stories about the center’s animals.

12:30pm (approx.): Northeast Classic Car Museum – Norwich, NY (LUNCH) (Chenango County): Tour and enjoy lunch in this educational facility that preserves, interprets and exhibits vehicles related to the evolution of transportation, with particular emphasis on the role of the automobile and its impact on American culture.

Destination Group Travel Show at Turning Stone Resort & Casino – Verona, NY (Oneida County):

The Destinations Group Travel Show is an intimate, free-flowing networking opportunity bringing US tourism suppliers (hotels, attractions, destinations, tours, etc.) to you in a free-flowing tradeshow atmosphere, allowing you to gather new ideas and inspiration when creating unique itineraries and planning travel destinations in New York and beyond!

Don’t forget your business cards!!

Turning Stone Presentation and site inspections by the Turning Stone Casino team.

Destination Group Travel Show Networking & Dinner Reception and enjoy the Casino!

9:30pm (approx.): Program at Turning Stone Casino ends

A little time to enjoy the Casino on your own

10:30pm SHARP: Bus will depart for hotel

11:00pm (approx.): Arrive to DoubleTree Hotel Utica

Note – As previously reported, in January 2016, I participated in a workshop called by the Oneida Nation to discuss funding for a possible documentary on the Oneida emphasizing their participation on the American side in the American Revolution.  At my suggestion NPS staff from the Fort Stanwix site in Rome who also manage the NYSOPRHP site for the Battle of Oriskany were invited and did attend. The Oneida maintain a cultural center as part of the Turning Stone complex. It does not appear from the description that the Oneida heritage was part of this tour.

In another post, New York State Indian Paths through History,  I reported on the challenge in creating an itinerary encompassing all the Haudenosaunee peoples. This can be considered a fourth history topic of the Mohawk Valley.

Tuesday Aug. 29th: Oneida & Montgomery Counties

Today is check-out day! Please bring your luggage to the front desk to be stored (unless you are staying Tuesday night).

Breakfast buffet at DoubleTree Hotel Utica is available starting at 6:30am (2nd Floor Ballroom)

8:45am SHARP: Depart DoubleTree Hotel Utica

Liberty Fresh Market/Taste NY & Erie Canal Lock E13 – Fultonville, NY (Montgomery County): Lock E13: Taste NY representative will give an overview of the facility and how to coordinate groups to stop there. History and overview of the Erie Canal; past, present and future. https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-announces-opening-new-lock-e-13-living-history-rest-area-mohawk-valley

[Note – In the Mohawk Valley Teacherhostel/Historyhostel we did not stop at this lock. We did spend time at the NYSOPRHP canal site at Schoharie Crossing.]

Arkell Museum – Canajoharie, NY (Montgomery County): Museum tour and hands-on activity. The Arkell Museum celebrates the history and culture of New York’s Mohawk Valley and America itself with works by legendary 19th- and 20th-century painters alongside advertising art for iconic Beech-Nut products that were made in the area. The museum features more than 350 paintings and sculptures.

[Note – In the Mohawk Valley Teacherhostel/Historyhostel we did stop here.]

Fort Plain Museum – Fort Plain, NY (Montgomery County): Abbreviated tour and Mohawk Country discussion. Established by the Mohawk Indians and settled by soldiers during the American Revolution, the village of Fort Plain contains fascinating and significant history captured at the museum. Visitors can share common ground with Gen. George Washington, who visited the site in 1783.

[Note – In the Mohawk Valley Teacherhostel/Historyhostel we did stop here. For three years now the Museum has held an American Revolution conference including talks and bus tours.]

1:30pm (approx.): Saranac Brewery – Utica, NY – (LUNCH) (Oneida County): Tour of the Brewery and lunch, including Utica specialties. Founded in 1888 by German-born immigrant Francis Xavier Matt (FX), the Matt Brewing Company is one of the few remaining great American regional breweries. The brewery hosts behind-the-scenes tours year-round and are home to the Tavern, where patrons can enjoy a pint and socialize.

Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute – Utica, NY (Oneida County): Tour the main building, permanent collection and rotating exhibit: Roaring into the Future: New York 1925-1935. A renowned art collection, fascinating exhibitions and educational programs for all ages. MWPAI has two buildings – one designed by Philip Johnson and another that is Fountain Elms, an 1850 Italian Revival mansion.

4:00pm (approx.): DoubleTree Hotel Utica – Utica, NY: (FAM TOUR ENDS)

Thank you for your time and we look forward to working with you and your clients in…

CENTRAL NEW YORK

There are people in the Mohawk Valley interested in promoting the history and heritage of the region. At approximately the same time as the familiarization tour the following press release was issued.

Guy Park Manor Restoration Group Forms

A meeting of concerned Amsterdam residents and local historians was held this past Wednesday evening to discuss the rehabilitation and restoration of Guy Park Manor said the committee’s spokesperson Norm Bollen [also of Fort Plain Museum, one of the stops on the tour]. “Guy Park Manor, built is 1766, is Amsterdam’s oldest building”, said Bollen. It deserves to be restored and opened once again to the public as a place to explore our colonial history and promote heritage tourism in our city.

The initiative, spearheaded by the newly formed Mohawk Country, Inc. was attended by trustees of the Historic Amsterdam League, the Amsterdam Daughters of the American Revolution and the Old Fort Johnson Historic Landmark.

 “Heritage tourism is a 5 billion dollar industry in New York”, said Bollen and Montgomery County has more colonial American and Native American heritage sites than anywhere in the upstate New York area. Reopening Guy Park Manor as a heritage tourist attraction will help shape the City of Amsterdam and Montgomery County into a great American Heritage destination. A well thought out destination tourism program is a vital component to any economic development plan. Tourism is your “window” on the area for others to look in on your community and see what your community has to offer.

 Mohawk Country, Inc. represents colonial era historic attractions throughout Montgomery County. Their goal is to promote, protect and preserve the counties historic attractions, and in the process create a new tourism model for Montgomery County. Since the demise of the [state-sponsored] Mohawk Valley Heritage Corridor Commission there has been no agency working to preserve and promote our heritage.

The committee plans to reach out to local politicians for support and petition the state to work with the organization in reopening the historic site to the public. Guy Park Manor was originally operated by New York State Parks & Recreation but was closed over 20 years ago. Reopening the site as a tourist attraction would be good for the city and create a companion attraction to the new Pedestrian Bridge.

For more information on the Mohawk Country initiative email mohawkcountryusa@yahoo.com

The press release touches on many of the issues in previous posts over the years. It identifies a significant problem and the lack of state leadership. No one in I Love NY has history expertise and it is not the job of tourist people to have such knowledge. On the hand, it is I Love NY’s responsibility working through the county TPA and/or through the consultants it hires to reach out to such expertise. This familiarization tour was a rapid “everything including the kitchen sink” smorgasbord of sites and not a thematically-honed tour. It was not specifically intended to highlight the history heritage of the Mohawk Valley. When will it?

History Conferences, Cultural Heritage and Tourism

Mohawk Valley History

Local history organizations in New York State create history conferences. This comparatively unexplored facet to the history community provides examples, lessons, and insight into what is being done and potentially what could be done.

In the past few weeks, I have participated in the third-annual American Revolution Mohawk Valley Conference organized by the Fort Plain Museum and in the Erie Canal 200 Bicentennial Conference organized by the Oneida County History Council and the Canal Society of New York. I should note that during this period I was the recipient of frequent notices about the Peterboro Civil War Weekend the same time as the American Revolution conference. I further note that I have occasionally attended French and Indian War and American Revolution Conferences at Fort Ticonderoga, Underground Railroad Public History Conferences organized by the Underground Railroad History Project of The Capital Region, and baseball conferences in Cooperstown. I exclude from this discussion such annual organization conferences as by APHNYS, MANY, and the NYSHA back when there was a state history conference. I also am referring to multiday events that potentially require lodging by the participants.

As we all know, New York is rich in local, state, American and even world history. Becoming aware of that history and then immersing oneself in it sometimes requires more than a one-hour talk or tour. These history conferences provide a welcome opportunity for diehard aficionados, the educated, the biologically-connected, and local boosters to join together in an intellectual and physical shared experience…in some cases year after year.

Let me review some of the non-content lessons learned from these conferences. By that I mean I am not going to dispense content knowledge about the American Revolution or the Erie Canal, but to share observations about the conference experience.

Lesson #1 – It can be done . Kudos are deserved for the volunteer efforts by the local organizations who undertake the daunting task of organizing a conference. As someone who has organized both day-conferences and week-long Teacherhostels/Historyhostels, I know from personal experience that everything always takes longer than expected or desired and there always is more involved than originally anticipated. I strongly recommend that sessions be held at APHNYS and MANY about the logistical and organizational challenges in putting together such events.  While it may not be possible or advisable to put together to rigid a procedural manual, there are lessons to be learned and benefits to be gained by sharing what is involved. In the meantime I encourage all such conference organizers to submit a post to New York History Blog on what is involved in organizing a conference.

Lesson #2 – Conferences generate revenue.  The Erie Canal conference included 106 registrations including 72 who paid for a conference dinner at a restaurant, 82 who participated in a bus tour, and 86 who paid for a canal cruise.  I don’t have the comparable numbers for the American Revolution conference but registration was in the range of 200 people, there were over 100 people at the conference dinner at a catered meal at an historic site, there were two 55-seat buses on the tour I took.

As an example of the revenue generated, consider my dinner-table companions at the American Revolution conference. Two people from North Carolina and Kansas had flown to New York, rented a car, and stayed in a motel. Two had driven from out-of-state and one from downstate (me) and stayed in a motel (and I know there was travel expense for at least one other – I don’t take notes at the dinner table so some of the details have been forgotten). The net result is that our one table generated more travel revenue than all the local Path through History events since the project was launched on August 28, 2012, have produced.

A few years ago, I think it was in the food court at Empire State Plaza in Albany where I saw Gavin Landry and Ross Levi of I LoveNY, I mentioned the potential of promoting history conferences as way of bringing people to (upstate) New York and generating revenue. As I recall, Ross responded favorably to the suggestion as something that should be done. It is something that should be done. As part of the REDC funding process there should be a bucket for funding history conferences.

Lesson #3 – Conferences create actual paths through history even when they aren’t on a Path through History weekend. At the Erie Canal conference there was a one day bus trip. Admittedly that bus tour was best for real canal buffs but let’s face facts, for almost anything you think of there are bound to be fans. Our local archaeology society in Westchester had a lecture recently on the discovery of the skeleton of King Richard III at a carpark in England. We had people from New Jersey and Philadelphia drive to attend a 45-minute lecture by the excavator. Who knew there was a King Richard III fan club? Thank you William Shakespeare. The point is not everybody is interested in something but there is a segment of the population interested in practically any aspect of New York State history if organized and promoted right. Whose job is it to do that?

As it turns out, one of the presenters at the Erie Canal conference was Dana Krueger, who is an organizer and member of the MANY board. Her presentation showcases what can be done and what isn’t being done. Interest in canals is a worldwide phenomenon. Naturally there is a conference for canal people. This year the World Canal conference will be in Syracuse due to the Erie Canal bicentennial. In her presentation Dana mentioned the various other canal activities besides the conference itself:

  • There is a special one-day early-bird tour on the shipwrecks of Lake Champlain with lodging and travel arrangements from Albany.
  • There is a two-day pre-conference tour on the Champlain and Eastern Erie Canals following immediately upon the special one day early-bird tour with travel and lodging arrangements from Albany.
  • There is the third annual two-day cycling tour of the towpath through the Old Erie Canal State Historic Park which involves lodging and apparently is held independent of the World Canal conference.
  • There is a three-day post conference Erie Canal tour from Syracuse to Buffalo.

 

The World Canal Conference website also mentions the possibility of additional “itineraries” through the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor. That website contains nine “itineraries.”

Don’t these tours and itineraries seem a lot like paths? How come none of these events are even listed on the Path through History website? Is the promotion for these tours limited to people who will attend the conference? Isn’t it possible that people would be interested in such early-bird, pre-conference, and post-conference tours in years when there is no canal conference or by people who are not going to attend the conference in Syracuse this year? Are these one-time tours or the beginning of a sustained repeatable development and promotion of paths through history based on one of the themes of the Path through History project? As one who has attended the Tourism Advisory Council meetings, I can say without hesitation, the World Canal Conference is a separate agenda item treated as a onetime event with no ongoing considerations for upstate tourist travel.

A similar situation occurred with the American Revolution conference. Two tours were offered. One repeated the one I had taken the first year…and was sold out by the time I registered for the conference this year. It focused on sites between exits 27 and 29 in the New York State Thruway depending on whether one was coming from the east or the west. The Exit 27 to 29 history organizations in Montgomery and Fulton counties have created a website call Mohawk Country and produced two brochures. Combined they feature about 20 sites. Individually, they tend not to be destination sites on their own. But these organizations take the collaboration and cooperation mantra seriously. Collectively Montgomery and Fulton counties have created the basis for a Mohawk Valley Path through History. Now what they need is tour operators. Recently Norm Bollen of the Fort Plain Museum addressed the Montgomery County legislators on the value of cultural heritage tourism. For these sites to put together bus tours outside the annual conference would be great achievement. Montgomery and Fulton counties should request the creation of Pathfinder as part of the REDC funding for this year. A little help from the state would be nice.

Finally I would like to share the experience of the annual conference of the Society for Industrial Archaeology held in Albany in 2015. Although it was two years ago, I have been saving the information for the right post and now is the time. Look at the trips this conference sponsored keeping in mind the specialized nature of industrial archaeology.

First there were the all-day trips with lunch and transportation provided

  • Schenectady and vicinity
  • Power and Transportation including the Amtrak and New York State Canals repair shops, the Port of Albany, Erie Canal at Waterford, and the Mechanicville Hydroelectric Plant, built 1897, oldest continuously operating plant in the nation with original equipment in service.
  • Port of Coeymans where sections of the new Tappan Zee Bridge were being assembled; Scarano Boat Building, Port of Albany, builder of passenger ferries, cruise boats, and historic replica vessels; SUNY College of Nanoscale Engineering & Science, Albany, R&D facility for the microchip industry with complete prototyping lines.
  • Hudson-Mohawk Industries in Cohoes, Troy, and Waterford.
  • Bridges, both the manufacturing of them and those that have been built.

 

Participants had the option of choosing only one tour since all five were offered on the same day. One can see that combined, they would create a one-week program based in Albany. Quite obviously the focus of the tours was for specialists but how difficult would it be to create history tours involving Albany, Cohoes, Schenectady, Troy, and Waterford. Actually the problem would be limiting the tour to just five days! I speak from experience having created Capital Region Teacherhostels/Historyhostels and having scouted sites that couldn’t be included even in a week. Somehow the conference organizers were able to put together five one-day tours.

In addition to these tours which were part of the conference price, one also could take

  • day bus trip to Sharon Springs
  • four 1.5 to 2.5 hour tours in Albany during the course of a day
  • day bus tour for Landmarks of the Hudson-Mohawk Region through historic industrial districts of North Albany, Watervliet, Cohoes, Waterford & Troy. One bus returned via Albany Airport for those who need to catch early afternoon flights.

 

How’s that for planning.

I have championed the creation of Pathfinders. These are people who would have the job of doing what these conference organizers have done but with the intention of creating repeatable sustainable tours. It is truly tragic with all tens of millions of dollars expended on touting New York, so little is devoted to building the infrastructure, the actual creation of tours for people to take.  All tourists are just supposed to wing it by surfing the Path through History website to create one-time tours specifically for themselves. Makes you wonder how many people actually use the site to create such self-guided tours before traveling to New York.

History Anniversary Funding

Lockport Erie Canal Locks

There is always an anniversary somewhere. For the state, three come to mind now: the Women’s Suffrage Centennial, World War I Centennial, and the Erie Canal Bicentennial. State funding for anniversaries has been problematic over the years to be polite about it. Each time has been an exercise in reinventing the wheel, seeking out legislative support, lobbying for a pittance, and constantly laboring to scrounge up funds for a threadbare program.

The REDC funding process does not address this problem. There is no history bucket for applicants. No anniversary bucket. The logical source for such funding would be through the State Historian’s Office, a position which has been degraded in recent years and is now making a bit of comeback. A serious problem is that the state historian along with the museum, archives, and library, are all under the jurisdiction of the Board of Regents and therefore not directly under the control of the Governor. The REDC funding buckets are. Could the Governor extend the REDC funding to include them? Could the Regents establish their own funding mechanism to compensate for this shortcoming? Even if they could, who is going to ask them?

In the meantime, the New York Canal System operates independently and does provide funding through the REDC applications. In this post, I examine how it distributes its funds and comment on the lessons to be learned through this anomalous source of history anniversary funding by the State.

Canalway Matching Grant Program (Canals) – up to $1,000,000

The Canalway Grants Program is a competitive matching grant program available to eligible municipalities and 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations along the New York State Canal System. Funding is for capital projects that enhance economic and community development along the canal corridor and are consistent with the goals of the Regional Economic Development Council Plans.

Notice that the description specifically identifies capital projects as being within its purview. As will be seen, awards also can be for marketing and/or developing history-related programs. Below are all of the awards granted by the New York State Canal System in county order.

Albany

City of Cohoes Cohoes Visitor Center
This project will create an engaging Canal exhibit for the Cohoes Visitor’s Center in time for the Erie Canal bicentennial celebration and will feature a model lock and other model machines. The project is part of a larger revitalization effort to support tourism in Cohoes.
Amount: $62,000

This award easily could be part of Marketing NY. One would think all visitor center funding for history exhibits could be done through I LoveNY or through the State Historian.

Erie Canalway Heritage Fund Inc.
Matton Shipyard Structural Preservation Initiative
This project will stabilize three original buildings at the Matton Shipyard in Cohoes at the junction of the Hudson and Mohawk Rivers.
Amount: $148,000 in addition to $182,936 from Marketing New York for an Erie Canal Waterway Trail

In this instance, the applicant was able to leverage funding from two sources, one a capital improvement and the other a tourist award. But as Cohoes shows, the waterway trail could have been funded through New York State Canal System.  Here is an example of where knowing how the system works pays off.

Cayuga/Onondaga

Canal Society of New York State
Erie Canal Bicentennial Exhibition Collaboration
This grant will fund a joint collaboration with the NYS Canal Society and the Erie Canal Museum to do state-wide outreach for the Erie Canal bicentennial through the design and fabrication format that will be utilized throughout the eight years of the bicentennial.
Amount: $39,000

Clearly this award is an anniversary one. One may anticipate eight years of such awards to the applicant. The issue is not the legitimacy of the award but the structure through which history anniversary awards are awarded. Undoubtedly, Women’s Suffrage Centennial which will extend through 2020 would love to have such a secure source of funding.

Niagara

Lockport Locks Heritage District Corporation
Lock Tender Tribute
This grant will fund updates and improvements to the Erie Canal Museum, located at the base of the Flight of Five locks.
Amount: $85,000

Here we see a new wrinkle in the funding process: capital improvement awards based on the historical sector. Imagine a scenario where American Revolution sites applied for funding to one source while immigration museums and municipal historical societies applied to two additional funders. Again, the issues not the merit of any individual application but the dysfunctional structure without a clear source for history organizations.

Oneida

Rome Area Chamber of Commerce
Rome Canal Bicentennial Program
This grant will fund a series of art and culture events to promote the Erie Canal bicentennial in the City of Rome.
Amount: $97,000

The awards of the New York State Council on the Arts but one may observe the overlapping jurisdictions.

Onondaga/Madison

Madison County Signage Plan for the Old Erie Canal State Historic Park
This project will develop and install wayfinding signage within the Old Erie Canal State Historic Park, which spans three counties (Onondaga, Madison, and Oneida) and contains the longest and one of the only remaining portions of the original Erie Canal system.
Amount: $30,000

Schenectady

City of Schenectady
Mohawk Harbor Visitor Center and Large Vessel Dockage
This project will include the construction of a walking trail, visitor’s center with public restrooms and approximately 75 feet of large vessel dockage space.
Amount: $150,000

Seneca

National Womens Hall of Fame
Center for Great Women
This project is phase three of a project that will transform the empty Seneca Knitting Mill into the Center for Great Women – the headquarters of the National Woman’s Hall of Fame. Work will include demolition, construction, interior build-out and site work of the first floor of the Mill, creating 4,200 square feet of habitable space for exhibits.
Amount: $125,000 in addition to the $250,000 from Marketing New York

Obviously this award is a bit of a surprise. Who would expect a grant to renovate a knitting mill into a woman’s hall of fame in the canals category?  And this ignores the additional two grants for another $800,000 from two other funding sources. The four awards refer to “rehabilitation,” “demolition,” “transform” and 4200 square feet of exhibit space. Again the merit of the award is not the issue. Since none of the four awards even mention suffrage, I will address the suffrage awards regardless of funding source in another post.

Steuben

Corning Museum of Glass
New York Waterways GlassBarge
This grant will fund the Corning Museum of Glass’ project to install a mobile glass blowing studio on a Canal barge to provide demonstrations to the general public at waterfront locations along New York’s
waterways.
Amount: $144,000 in addition to $57,830 from Marketing New York

Wayne

Wayne County
Canal Trail Lock 26 Pedestrian Bridge redecking
This grant will provide funding for materials and installation of a former railroad bridge in Wayne County in order to remove the biggest off-road obstacle to extending the Erie Canalway Trail to connect with Seneca and Cayuga Counties.
Amount: $120,000

As one surveys the awards in this category, one observes the lack of clarification in the scope of each funding agent. It would be very easy to move awards from one category into another one. In a sense that is what happens as applicants from around the state and in different regions seek to identify the most likely source for approval of their request. Once again, the merits of individual applications are not the issue. Imagine if all the history-related awards were grouped together and under a single source. Now imagine a request for that exact sum of money which has been awarded through scattered funding sources was now under the label of history funding. The outcry would be ferocious. Instead we make do a procrustean bed funding process.

 

I picked the etching because I preferred its historical look to a photograph of the canal today. The drawing comes from  ClipArt ETC.  The source is Benson John Lossing, ed. Harper’s Encyclopedia of United States History (vol. 3) (New York, NY: Harper and Brothers, 1912). It looks like it is a drawing of the locks at Lockport. For a photograph, see Low Bridge Productions.

Path Through History: An Historical Perspective

The Path though History project does not operate on a tabula rasa. When Henry Hudson arrived, there were no signs to guide him. Today there are more signs then one can count. For Path through History the challenge is not to create ex nihilo but to create order out of chaos. Continue reading “Path Through History: An Historical Perspective”

Irene and New York State History

This past July, a group of educators toured the historic Mohawk Valley. The group consisted of teachers from the region, particularly the Utica school district, people from historical societies, and cultural heritage tourists. The program was described as an “immersion experience”into the history of the Mohawk Valley. Little did we know that the metaphorical image soon would become a literal one. Continue reading “Irene and New York State History”