Tag Archives: Environmental History

A Short History of Manhattans Water Supply

Section of water pipe, ca. 1804. Wood. New-York Historical Society, Gift of Stoughton and Stoughton, 1953.308SMany New Yorkers say the reason you can’t get a good bagel anywhere else is because of New York City’s tap water, and indeed, we have some of the best in the country.

But that wasn’t always the case. Early 18th century inhabitants rarely had clean drinking water (in fact, beer was a more trusted drink than water), but that all changed in 1799 with the founding of the Manhattan Water Company and pipes like this. Continue reading

The Real Lake Placid: Alligators in Mirror Lake?

In 1999, Fox 2000 Pictures released the film Lake Placid. Despite the title, the story takes place on fictional Black Lake in Maine. The folks at Fox apparently figured the name of an internationally renowned Olympic site in New York might attract more attention than Black Lake, which was, after all, placid, just like the title said. Except for those times when a giant killer crocodile was thrashing on the surface, gulping down humans for lunch.
Continue reading

Public History and Debate of Public Issues

How important is “public history?”

The essay on public history in the newly published second edition of the Encyclopedia of Local History, provides some fresh insights. The Encyclopedia, edited by Tompkins County Historian Carol Kammen, a long-time leader in the field, and Amy H. Wilson, an independent museum consultant and former director of the Chemung County Historical Society in Elmira, is  a rich source of fresh insights on all aspects of local history. Continue reading

Exhibit: Side-by-Side Hudson River School Imagery

Many of the iconic landscape scenes painted by Hudson River School artists, now hanging in major museums all over the world, are the breathtaking views surrounding the Hudson River Valley. Thanks to preservationists and conservationists, several of these vistas remain remarkably similar to their 19th-century appearance and are instantly recognizable. Continue reading

Central Park’s Woodlands Stewardship Event Friday

The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) and the Central Park Conservancy (CPC) will host Bridging the Nature?Culture Divide II: Stewardship of Central Park’s Woodlands conference tomorrow, Friday, October 5, 2012, at the Museum of the City of New York (registration now open).

The one-day conference, co-curated by TCLF Founder and President Charles A. Birnbaum and CPC Associate Vice President for Planning Lane Addonizio examines the management of nature and culture in the stewardship of Central Park. The conference will feature speakers from public institutions and landscape architecture firms across the country, and follows up on the sold out, similarly themed conference held last year at the Jay Heritage Center in Rye, New York.

The conference will be followed on October 6-7 by What’s Out There Weekend New York City, featuring free expert led tours of parks and opens spaces in the city’s five boroughs (tours are free, registration is required).American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) CEUs will be available for the conference. The 843-acre Central Park, originally designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr., and
Calvert Vaux, with a succession of additions and refinements by Samuel Parsons, Jr.,Michael Rapuano, Gilmore Clarke and others, is also host to 230 bird species, along with turtles, fish, and countless species of butterflies, dragonflies, and other insects. The Central Park woodlands are among the most historically significant designed landscapes in the country, providing valuable refuge for wildlife and New Yorkers alike. In the 1960s and 1970s, Central Park experienced an unprecedented decline, suffering from neglect and a lack of management. Litter filled its waterbodies- its Great Lawn was a great dust bowl- its woodlands were avoided, not celebrated. The Central Park Conservancy, a private, not-for-profit organization created in 1980, has skillfully and successfully reawakened, restored and maintained a world-class icon.

Nevertheless, managing a park that is both a culturally significant landscape and natural habitat is delicate- this conference specifically examines sustainability, the agendas of different constituencies, diversity, the role of people, and public education.

Creating a progression of varied landscape experiences was a primary goal of Central Park’s designers. Within the landscapes themselves, horticultural diversity was also a goal. In the Ramble, both exotic and native plants were to provide a sense of lushness and intricacy, realizing Olmsted’s intended “wild garden”effect. Neglect of the Park’s woodlands over a prolonged period resulted in a lack of horticultural and social (as well as scenic) diversity. What park stewards know is “letting nature take
its course” is not sustainable. While the woodlands serve to provide the experience of escape from urban life, they are in fact designed urban landscapes that require consistent management.

The conference features two panels addressing this stewardship dilemma- the first (the morning session) focuses on “lessons learned” by public sector stewards at Prospect Park (Brooklyn), New York Botanical Garden, and The Presidio (San Francisco)- the second (afternoon session) will be comprised of landscape architects in private practice with experience in urban parks (complete list below).
Speakers and Moderators:

• Eric W. Sanderson, Senior Conservation Ecologist, Wildlife Conservation
Society (moderator)
• Christian Zimmerman, Vice President for Design & Construction, The Prospect
Park Alliance, Brooklyn, NY
• Michael Boland, Chief Planning, Projects & Programs Officer, The Presidio
Trust, San Francisco, CA
• Todd Forrest, Arthur Ross Vice President for Horticulture and Living
Collections, The New York Botanical Garden
• Elizabeth K. Meyer, Associate Professor, University of Virginia, School of
Architecture, Landscape Architecture (moderator)
• Dennis McGlade, President/Partner, OLIN, Philadelphia, PA and Los Angeles,
CA
• Margie Ruddick, Margie Ruddick Landscape, Philadelphia, PA
• Keith Bowers, Biohabitats, Baltimore, MD

Registration is $150 and is available at the conference Web site.  The Central Park Conservancy is the presenting sponsor, with additional support provided by Landscape Forms and the Museum of the City of New York.

About the Central Park Conservancy

The mission of the Central Park Conservancy is to restore, manage and enhance
Central Park in partnership with the public, for the enjoyment of present and future
generations. A private, not-for-profit organization founded in 1980, the Conservancy
provides 85 percent of Central Park’s $46million park-wide expense budget and is
responsible for all basic care of the Park. Since 1980, the Conservancy has overseen
the investment of more than $650 million into Central Park. For more information on
the Conservancy, please visit centralparknyc.org.

About The Cultural Landscape Foundation
The Cultural Landscape Foundation provides people with the ability to see, understand and value landscape architecture and its practitioners, in the way many people have learned to do with buildings and their designers. Through its Web site, lectures, outreach and publishing, TCLF broadens the support and understanding for cultural landscapes nationwide to help safeguard our priceless heritage for future
generations.

One Smart Bird: The Homing Pigeon in NY History

Unlike eagles, hawks, and others, pigeons are an Adirondack bird surrounded by neither lore nor legend. Yet for more than a century, they were players in a remarkable system of interaction between strangers, birds, and their owners. Others were tied to noted historical events, and a few were undisputed participants in major criminal activity in northern New York.The bird referred to here is the homing pigeon. According to the Atlas of Breeding Birds in New York State, the Rock Dove is “commonly known as the domestic or homing pigeon,” and is a non-native, having been introduced from Europe in the early 1600s.

They are often mistakenly called carrier pigeons, and the confusion is understandable. There are carrier pigeons, and there are pigeons that carry things, but they’re not the same bird. Homing pigeon are the ones used to carry messages and for pigeon racing.Racing them has proven very popular. Regionally, there is the Schenectady Homing Pigeon Club (more than 60 years old), which in the 1930s competed with the Albany Flying Club and the Amsterdam Pigeon Club.The existence of those clubs, the carrying of messages, and other related activities are all based on a long-studied phenomenon that is still debated: how the heck do homing pigeons do what they do? Basically, if taken to a faraway location and released, they usually return to their home, and in a fairly straight line.Flocks have been released and tracked by airplanes, and transmitters have been attached to the birds, confirming their direct routes. They use a variety of navigation methods, the most important and least understood of which involves the earth’s magnetic orientation.In recent decades, Cornell University’s famed ornithology unit summarized their findings after extreme testing: “Homing pigeons can return from distant, unfamiliar release points.” And what did these scientists do to challenge the birds’ abilities? Plenty.According to the study, “Older pigeons were transported to the release site inside sealed metal containers, supplied with bottled air, anesthetized, and placed on rotating turntables, all of which should make it hard for them to keep track of their outward journey.” The birds still homed effectively.This unusual ability has been enjoyed and exploited for centuries. In 1898, in order to keep up with European military powers, the US Navy established the Homing Pigeon Service. One use was ship-to-shore communication in any conditions—when pigeons sent aboard the ship were released with a message attached, they flew directly back to their home loft.Their use during World Wars I and II is legendary, and many were decorated with medals. In 1918, pigeon racing was temporarily banned in the United States to ensure that all birds were available for the use of the military.In peacetime, homing pigeons were treated with near-universal respect and were weekly visitors to the North Country. Whenever one with a metal band or a message tube attached to it was found, standard protocol was followed by all citizens. The birds were immediately given water and food. If they appeared injured, the information from the leg band was given to local police, who tried to contact the owner.Caring for the birds, whether ill or healthy, was automatic, and it continued until the journey was resumed. For more than 130 years, Adirondack weekly newspaper columns mentioned the landing of homing pigeons (but usually called them carrier pigeons). If a bird somehow appeared to be off course, the leg band information might appear in a short article or in an advertisement.That informal system was widely used and religiously followed. To further protect the birds (and the system itself) and to confirm their importance, New York State’s Forest, Fish, and Game Commission made it law: “… No person shall take or interfere with any … homing pigeon if it have the name of its owner stamped upon its wing or tail, or wear a ring or seamless leg band with its registered number stamped thereon, or have any other distinguishing mark …”Next week: Homing pigeons in North Country history, including multimillion dollar smuggling schemes.Photos: Top?A Pigeon Bus in Europe during WWI (1916). Middle?WW I US troops in trench, sending messages by pigeon. Bottom?Winged members of the military.


Lawrence Gooley has authored eleven books and dozens of articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 22 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.

Seneca Ray Stoddard Exhibit Opens at NYS Museum

A new exhibition has opened at the New York State Museum showcasing the works of Adirondack photographer and conservationist Seneca Ray Stoddard.

Seneca Ray Stoddard: Capturing the Adirondacks is open through February 24, 2013 in Crossroads Gallery and includes over 100 of Stoddard’s photographs, an Adirondack guideboat, freight boat, camera, copies of Stoddard’s books and several of his paintings.

There also are several Stoddard photos of the Statue of Liberty and Liberty Island. These and other items come from the State Museum’s collection of more than 500 Stoddard prints and also from the collections of the New York State Library and the Chapman Historical Museum in Glens Falls.

Born in Wilton, Saratoga County in 1844, Stoddard was no doubt inspired by the Adirondacks at an early age. A self-taught painter, he was first employed as an ornamental painter at a railroad car manufacturer in Green Island, across the Hudson River from Troy in Albany County. He moved to Glens Falls (Warren County) in 1864, where he worked with sketches and paintings until his death there in 1917.

Early on he sought to preserve the beauty of the Adirondacks through his paintings but then became attracted to photography’s unique ability to capture the environment. He was one of the first to capture the Adirondacks through photographs. He used the then recently introduced wet-plate process of photography. Though extremely cumbersome by today’s standards, the technique was the first practical way to record distant scenes. It required Stoddard to bring his entire darkroom with him into the Adirondack wilderness.

His renown as a photographer quickly grew once he settled in Glens Falls, which also became his base camp for his explorations of the Adirondacks. He studied the Adirondacks intensely over a 50-year period.

Stoddard’s photos showed the challenges travelers faced in getting to the still undeveloped wilderness, along with their enjoyment of finally reaching their destination. His writings and photographs indicate that he was especially skilled at working with people from diverse economic backgrounds in a variety of settings. This was especially important as he used his photos to capture the changing Adirondack landscape as railroads were introduced and the area became an increasingly important destination for the burgeoning middle-class tourist, but also for the newly wealthy during the “Gilded Age.”

His work stimulated even further interest as he promoted the Adirondacks through his photographs and writings on the beauty, people and hotels of the region. Stoddard’s photographs showed the constancy of the natural beauty of the Adirondacks along with the changes that resulted from logging and mining, to hotels and railroads. As unregulated mining and logging devastated much of the pristine Adirondack scenery, Stoddard documented the loss and used those images to foster a new ethic of responsibility for the landscape. His work was instrumental in shaping public opinion about tourism, leading in part to the 1892 “Forever Wild” clause in the New York State Constitution.

The State Museum purchased over 500 historic Stoddard prints in 1972 in the process of acquiring historic resources for the Museum’s Adirondack Hall. They included albumen prints from Stoddard’s own working files, many with penciled notes. Nearly all are of the landscapes, buildings and people of the Adirondacks taken primarily in the 1870s and 1880s.

An online version of the exhibition is also available on the State Museum website at http://www.nysm.nysed.gov/virtual/exhibits/SRS/ .

The State Museum will present several programs in conjunction with the Stoddard exhibition. There will be guided tours of the exhibition on September 8 and December 8 from 1-2 p.m. Stoddard will also be the focus of Family Fun Day on September 15 from1-4 p.m.

Established in 1836, the New York State Museum is a program of the State Education Department’s Office of Cultural Education. Located on Madison Avenue in Albany, the Museum is open Monday through Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. except on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. Admission is free. Further information can be obtained by calling (518) 474-5877 or visiting the Museum website at www.nysm.nysed.gov.

Photo: Stoddard’s “Indian Encampment, Lake George, 1872″-.

Adirondack Museum Monday Evening Lecture Series Set

The Adirondack Museum has announced the presenters and lecture topics for the annual Monday Evening Lecture Series. Join the museum for the lecture series Monday nights at 7:30 p.m. in July and August.

The first evening, July 9, will be spent with Wildlife Conservation Society senior conservationist Bill Weber. Weber will present “Out of Africa and Into the Adirondacks: A Conservation Journey” lecture.

Lectures continue on July 16 with Charles Yaple and “Foxey Brown: The Story of an Adirondack Outlaw, Hermit, and Guide” lecture- July 23 with photographer Eric Dresser and “Capturing Adirondack Wildlife in Pictures-” July 30 with Environmental Historian Phil Terrie and “Green Fire: Aldo Leopold and A Land Ethic for our Time” a film, commentary and discussion.

August begins with author Harvey Kaiser and “Great Camps of the Adirondacks: Second Edition” on August 6- August 13 with senior art historian Caroline M. Welsh and “A.F. Tait: Artist of the Adirondacks-” and will end on August 20 with rustic furniture artisan and painter, Barney Bellinger’s “Art, Furniture and Sculpture: Influenced by Nature” lecture.

The presentations will be offered at no charge to museum members- the fee for non-members is $5.00. For full descriptions of the lectures, visit www.adirondackmuseum.org.

The Adirondack Museum is open 7 days a week, from 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m., through October 14. The museum will close at 3 p.m. on August 10 and September 7 for special event preparations.

Steuben County: Walking Seasonal Roads

Seasonal roads are defined as one-lane dirt roads not maintained during the winter. They function as connectors linking farmers to their fields, neighbors to neighbors, or two more well-traveled roads to each other. Some access hunting lands and recreational areas. Some pass by or lead to cemeteries. They can be abandoned as people move and towns fade.

Having traveled nearly every seasonal road in Steuben County, NY, Mary A. Hood finds in Walking Seasonal Roads (2012, Syracuse University Press) that they provide the ideal vantage to contemplate the meaning of place, offering intimate contact with plant and wildlife and the beauty of a rural landscape. Each road reveals how our land is used, how our land is protected, and how environmental factors have had their impact. Continue reading

Adirondack Civilian Conservation Corps Event

The Adirondack Museum will offer its fifth event in the 2012 Cabin Fever Sunday series, the “Adirondack Civilian Conservation Corps: History, Memories and Legacy of the CCC,” in North Creek, (Warren County) on Sunday, March 11, 2012.

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was a public works program that operated from 1933 to 1942 as part of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. In the Adirondacks, enrollees built trails, roads, campsites and dams, they stocked fish, built and maintained fire towers, observers’ cabins and telephone lines, fought fires, and planted millions of trees. Learn about camp life and Adirondack projects with author Marty Podskock.

Marty Podskoch, a retired reading teacher, is the author of three other books: Fire Towers of the Catskills: Their History and Lore (2000)- Adirondack Fire Towers: Their History and Lore, the Southern Districts (2003)- Adirondack Fire Towers: Their History and Lore, the Northern Districts (2005). While gathering stories of the forest rangers and fire tower observers, he became fascinated with other aspects of the Adirondacks such as the logging and mining industries, the individualistic men who guided sportsmen, the hotels they stayed in, the animals, railroads, etc. Marty and his wife, Lynn, live in Colchester, CT where they are close to their family and two granddaughters, Kira and Lydia. He enjoys hiking in the nearby Salmon River Forest and is doing research on the CCC camps of the Adirondacks and Connecticut. For more information, visit http://www.cccstories.com/index.html.

This program will be held at the Tannery Pond Community Center, North Creek, N.Y., and will begin at 1:30 p.m. Free to members and children- $5 for non-members. For additional information, please call (518) 352-7311, ext. 128 or visit www.adirondackmuseum.org.