Subscribe to the IHARE Blog

Happy Seventh Birthday Path through History: Creating a Cultural Heritage Trail

August 28, 2019, marked the seventh birthday of the failed Path through History project. I was there on August 28, 2012, with hundreds of others for the opening fanfare. People were excited about this new initiative to revitalize cultural heritage tourism in the state with the creation of paths through history. As reported in CityLab (Amanda Erickson, 9/12/12),

…the Path through History…aims to turn upstate New York’s past into a tourist draw….Eventually the program will encompass an interactive website and smartphone app that “allows tourists to custom-trailer a trip based on specific top areas.”

Little did anyone know that the resulting project would rapidly degenerate into a big yawn signifying nothing.

Even as I write this blog, history sites throughout the state are being asked to submit events to the Path website for the Columbus Day weekend. As always these events will be local attracting people from the surrounding communities just as they would if the Path project did not exist. It is unlikely that there will be any paths, routes, itineraries, or anything that involves collaboration and cooperation among sites to draw on the buzzwords from seven years ago.

In this blog, I wish to explore the challenge of creating a viable cultural heritage tourism route/road/path. I have chosen three recent examples which highlight some of the potential as well as obstacles to developing such programs. In general, such endeavors are beyond what an individual site alone could do. The three are the Dutch in the Hudson Valley, history signs in Vermont, and an African American trail in Massachusetts. None of them are actual cultural heritage tourist programs at present but all involve or are related to the task of creating one.

The Dutch in the Hudson Valley 

This example comes from an article in the Sunday Travel section of the New York Times published June 23, 2019, by Russell Shorto. The article covered the front page and two pages in the middle of the section. If you are familiar with the Sunday paper then you know that is a lot of space. Shorto’s name also should be familiar as a writer and speaker about the Dutch presence in New York State.

I am in here somewhere

On October 17, 2017, I participated in a program convened by Cordell Reaves, Historic Preservation Program Analyst, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation (NYSOPRHP). The title was “Connecting Dutch Heritage in the Hudson Valley Corridor.” People from a wide range of government and private organizations attended. Every “food group” in the history community was represented quite literally as we had Dutch food for lunch. Shorto was the plenary speaker.

During the one-day conference, we broke into roundtables to discuss a variety of subjects.

The Red Group: Research is the foundation on which all of our work is based- how do we get it out to the public

What new research or new programs are happening that could lead to potential programming collaboration?

The Blue Group: A freewheeling discussion followed focusing on the topic of educational/interpretive programs.

The Green Group: What problems exist that are keeping facilities from moving forward with their programming?

The notes from the discussions were subsequently typed up and circulated to the attendees. (I am using that PDF as the source document for this section).  I am not aware of any followup to these discussions which does not necessarily mean there was not any.

Subsequently, Cordell sent notices about the logo and the website to be used for the submission of Dutch-related events. Periodically, I receive notices about individual events but such notifications tend to be from the individual group presenting the event.

In the end it was Shorto himself who created an actual Dutch in the Hudson Valley Heritage tour. He did this by driving one weekend to the Dutch sites in the Hudson Valley. He started with the van Cortlandt House in the Bronx and headed north. He crossed the Hudson River on the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge with a “twinge of sadness” for the demise of the previous name, the Tappan Zee Bridge, a name that lives on with everyone who is not a government employee. His journey took him to Historic Huguenot Street in New Paltz, the Stone House Bed & Breakfast in Hurley for the night, back across the Hudson to Kinderhook, Valatie, and Stuyvesant Falls, the Columbia Historical Society in the Lucas Van Alen House, the Mabee Farm with its barn, and the Van Ostrande-Radill House in Albany. It appears that he drove straight back to New York from there.

During his trip as a renowned author, Shorto had the opportunity to meet with people not normally on a tourist agenda. Similarly when I was doing Teacherhostels/Historyhostels we also met with people not normally available to the everyday tourist and for longer times than a standard tour. Still his weekend jaunt suggests the possibilities for a weekend tourist program and even a week long one with some more sites and extended tours of different sites. However, to the best of my knowledge no such tours exist although there have been some attempts to create one.


Yes, there is one in Virginia from Vermont in the Civil War but not in New York for Ethan Allen at Fort Ticonderoga

The second item comes from a notice I received about a new web page for the roadside history markers in Vermont.  I was impressed by the comprehensiveness of the state’s recordkeeping and the accessibility of information about the individual markers.

Unveiled in 1947 by the Vermont Legislature, the Roadside Historic Site Marker program has proven an effective way to commemorate Vermont’s many people, events, and places of regional, statewide, or national significance. Over 265 cast-aluminum green markers, crested with the distinctive gold state seal, are placed throughout Vermont to provide a fascinating glimpse into the past and insights into the present.

If you wish to report a missing or damaged marker, please email Jennifer Lavoie at Please let us know the name of the marker, location, and when you first noticed it was missing or damaged.

For new roadside historic marker, please review the Vermont Roadside Historic Site Marker criteria for evaluation and marker  application.

Applications for new State funded roadside historic site markers will be accepted after March 1, 2020.

To submit application forms, ask questions, or request additional information, please contact Laura Trieschmann at (802) 828-3222 or

The website also has a listing of the markers one can download and an interactive map showing their locations. Apparently, Vermont takes it history markers seriously. Wouldn’t it be nice if every state did?

And then there is the tourism factor. People sill stop and take a photograph at a history sign. People will search out such signs. Typically tourist departments do not think of history markers as tourist destination points. After all there may be no visitor center there, no staff, no bathroom, and limited or no parking. Yet the fact remains that people do want to stand at the exact spot where some event occurred or some person lived.  For example, there are a slew of John André markers besides the one where he was finally captured in Tarrytown and then hanged across the river in Tappan. How will people know such signs exist unless they live there and drive by them all the time? What about tourists?

One area of neglect is the linking of state history marker database (assuming it exists) with the tourist data base. Do you even have a complete inventory of the history markers in your village, town, city, county, or state? How many of them need repair? How many of them have inaccurate information? How many additional signs are needed to include people and events frequently ignored in the traditional history narratives? Imagine if high school students next spring for their senior service project canvassed their municipality for the history makers present and needed. Imagine if state history departments compiled an up-to-date listing. Imagine if history markers were linked to the state tourist map. There is more to cultural heritage tourism than big places with bathrooms, food, and gift shops. History markers should be included in cultural heritage tourism itineraries.


Tufts University professors Kendra Field, left, and Kerri Greenidge oversaw the mapping of historic African-American sites across Massachusetts. Credit Cody O’Loughlin for The New York Times

At the Massachusetts History Alliance Conference on June 24, 2019, professors Kendra Taira Field and Kerri Greenidge of Tufts University presented their African American Trail Project. They originated and completed the project inspired by another Tufts professor and with student assistance. It was not done at the behest of any tourist organization. At the conference, they distributed a map with 236 sites and there is a website with them as well…which is easier to update than the map.

The sites are not linked through any standard logo. Sites may not even have a sign of any kind. Sites may not even know they are on this trail. In this sense it is more of a database of identification than a working tourist itinerary.

Over the July 4 weekend, I was in the Berkshires and decided to visit the sites listed on the map for the region.  I started with the Stockbridge Cemetery since I was familiar with it from the Stockbridge Indian conferences I had attended (see Stockbridge Indian Conferences: Remembering the Indian Nations in American History). However finding the individual grave marked on the map in the actual cemetery was a little like finding a needle in a haystack. I decided instead to stop at the Stockbridge Museum and Archives which is not on the map. There I spoke with curator Barbara Allen. She informed me about the African American related exhibits and information at the historical society that one should see prior to going to the cemetery.

She also informed me about the African American Heritage in the Upper Housatonic Valley Trail. I had written briefly about the Upper Housatonic Valley National Heritage Area after picking up a brochure at the Stockbridge Indians Conference. I did not know about all their trails at that time. There are a variety of them. In fact, there is a counterpart to the Hudson Valley Ramble in September with a slew of walks and events in Berkshire, MA, and Litchfield, CT, over the four weekends. These four weekends provide great opportunities to create weekend programs not just for African-related sites but for history sites in general. Instead they are a collection of random events.

Moving on from Stockbridge, I then went to the James VanDerZee birthplace in Lenox. By coincidence, I had just seen an exhibit of his photographs from the Harlem Renaissance at ArtsWestchester in White Plains. The home is no longer standing and there is no sign there. Due to a recent fatal car accident, a change was made on Route 7 by the site which changes access to it. However I did go to the Lenox Library and it had a folder of materials on him including a savings account statement.

There are several W. E. B. Du Bois sites on the trail. The Du Bois Center in Great Barrington is in a small strip mall and doubles as a book store. It is a fount of academic materials and is not open to the public unless by chance the proprietor happens to be there. The W.E.B. Du Bois Homesite offers two free guided tours on Saturdays and Sundays during the summer season with a Ph.D. candidate but the brochure I picked up is dated 2016. The current website lists three tours for all of 2019. At the Great Barrington Visitor Center, I was informed of the Housatonic River Walk which goes by 200 feet from where Du Bois was born. The Housatonic is the “golden river” Du Bois wrote about. There is a park and garden there in his honor. The Riverwalk is not on the African American Trail Project.

The African American Trail Project is a work in progress. It will expand as additional research is done. I mention my own adventures to highlight the challenges in creating such a trail and transforming it into a tourist itinerary. I do so based on my own experiences in creating Teacherhostels/Historyhostels. They were very time consuming to create. In addition to research via the web, emails, and phone calls, on-site visits are still required. Plus as one delves into the site and talks to the people, one never knows what additional locations or people will be mentioned. In short, and to bring this long post to a close, to create actual tourist itineraries beyond the superficial ones of crossing places off a bucket list takes time and effort. Those qualities are precisely the ones that have missing in the New York State Path through History and any other program that simply lists places and/or signs.

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.