Today we’re looking at the Ogdensburg Public Library located at 313 Washington Street in the downtown historic section of the Ogdensburg, New York. Behind the library is a green open space called Library Park, which is the home to the Spirit of Liberty monument that was installed in 1905.
The Ogdensburg Library as an organization dates back to 1828 and throughout the years moved around the city and never had a permanent home. That was the case until the 1890’s, through the efforts of Dr. Fred Van Dusen, the Ogdensburg Public Library saw some significant changes that would have lasting effects to the library’s establishment in the city. Changes included getting the library officially incorporated by the State Board of Regents in 1891 and eventually getting a permanent home for the library: the Clark House at 311 Washington Street.
The Clark House was a private residence built in 1888 for George C. Clark, a New York banker, who has used the house as a summer residence for his family. Prior to construction of the new Clark summer home, the property was originally the location of the Greek Revival home of Joseph Rosseel (also spelled Roselle) stood. Rosseel had been the land agent to David Parish one of the early landowners in St. Lawrence County. Rosseel employed Joseph Jacques Ramee to design his Greek Revival home in 1810. When Clark purchased the property, he had the old house demolished to build his Queen Anne home. By 1895, Clark was beginning to have second thoughts. Given the distance from Ogdensburg to New York City, Clark determined it would be better to have a summer residence closer to the city. Clark offered his home and entire block for the new home of the library for $35,000 ($10,000 of which Clark donated). The home was estimated to be worth $125,000. In addition, Clark gave his dock property (land between his residence and the streets) to be used as a park space in the city- this is today’s Riverside Park in Ogdensburg.
A side note about the Clark House, different sources say slightly different things about the house. One article reporting on the fire dated November 25, 1921 (Ogdensburg Republican Journal) said that Clark, “greatly overhauled and renovated,” the original 1812 structure for his summer residence. While other sources say that Clark completely demolished the older building to construct a completely new home. It’s unclear why there is a discrepancy in the information on what exactly happened but it would be safe to say that if any portion of the library is the original 1812 building still exists it would be difficult to determine given the level of renovations through the years and the 1921 fire.
In early 1921, funding was given from the estate of George Hall and John C. Howard to be used to complete needed renovations of the library’s main building and the library’s annex- George Hall’s house across the street. John West was hired as the contractor for the renovations, which were coming along fine and would have been completed by February of 1922 but a fire broke out on November 24, 1921 destroying most of the interior of the library.
Luckily, all of the collections were safe. The books, records, Frederick Remington paintings, and original bronzes had been placed at either the George Hall residence or in a massive safe in the library’s basement.
The fire was discovered around 7 am by a passerby on the way to the local market. The fire department was alerted immediately and the local firefighters in their response to the blaze, were assisted by sailors from the USS Chillicothe, which was moored at Riverside Park. They weren’t’ successful in putting the fire completely out until noon of that day.
John Wert originally estimated the damages could be anywhere between $25,000-$50,000, and the entire building was gutted. A few weeks later, the damages were able to be assessed and the losses only totaled $15,000, which was covered by insurance. The cause of the fire was determined to be an overheated hot air furnace. The flooring and the roof completely burned but the walls somehow remained in good shape, allowing reconstruction to still be possible. The reconstruction work that occurred resulted in the library that we see today- it was rebuilt as a replica of the old 1812 Rossell Mansion.
Associated with the public library is Library Park, which is home to the Spirit of Liberty, a sculpture by local Sally James Farnham. The Park is behind the library and was laid out in 1903- the area was also part of the Clark Property.
When the library acquired the Clark Mansion in 1895, it also acquired a fantastic open space that was planned out to be a park for the city. Plans were eventually created in 1903 and not finally completed until the following year. The plans for the landscaping of the Library Park as it was called, were drafted by Arnold E. Smith and Dr. Dusen assisted in getting the authorization to complete the layout around the library.
The Commercial Advertiser on July 5, 1904 reported that the park plans consisted of, “a horse-shoe or semi-circle of, prominent, outlining, the concave facing the river, the library building at the apex, forming the background. The fountain, as now located, the central figure; the proposed soldier’s monument about one hundred feet westerly there- from and a little lower down…” In addition to this description, the park was to have trees throughout the park such as cherry, Persian lilac, and hydrangea and principal walkways were to be laid out from corner to corner of the park, crossing at the center in front of the fountain.
In the same year that finishing touches were made to Library Park, Sally James Farnahm, won her first commission via competition- a Union soldier monument to be placed in the park. Sally had submitted to models to the monument committee of Ransom Post, GAR, “Defenders of the Flag” and the “Spirit of Liberty.” Funding for the monument came from a number of sources: Mr. and Mrs. George Hall, Swe-Kat-Si Chapter GAR, Fortieth Separate Company, Ransom Post GAR, Post Card Subscriptions, and even from Sally Farnham herself.
The Spirit of Liberty:
The Spirit of Liberty was installed at the Park in 1905. The city of Ogdensburg had held a competition for a Civil Ware monument for the Park for the soldiers and sailors from the town of Oswegatchie who died during the Civil War. Sally James Farnham submitted two different designs: Defenders of the Flag and the Spirit of Liberty. Out of 15 submissions, Sally’s Spirt of Liberty was chosen by the City.
Sally was born in 1869. Her mother passed away when she was 10 years old, for this reason Sally was very close to her father and they traveled around the world. While Sally wasn’t formally educated in an art medium, she was exposed to art throughout her travels with her father to France, Norway, Scotland, and even Japan. In 1896, Sally married George Paulding Farnham, who was the design director for jewelry and silver at Tiffany & Co. Yes, THE Tiffany & Co.
Sally’s first experience working with modeling clay was the result of both a personal tragedy- the death of her father- and a serious illness that left her bedridden. Her husband, George, during this time brought home clay for her to work with, hoping it would help improve her spirits. Sally greatly became interested in working with clay as an art medium- she was guided partly by her husband, who was a member of the National Sculpture Society, and more importantly by Frederick Remington, who was another native of Ogdensburg and a family friend of Sally’s. Remington supported and encouraged Sally’s artwork up until his death in 1909. Oddly enough Remington lived in the house across the street from the building that is the city’s public library. It’s fitting that Sally’s sculpture not only stands high in her hometown but also in view of her friend and mentor’s old house. The other unique thing about Sally James Farnham is that she was one of the first women to successfully compete for national sculpture commissions, like the one for the Ogdensburg Civil War monument.
In competing for the Ogdensburg Commission, Sally had a strong connection to wanting to design the city’s Civil War monument, not only was she obviously a local to the city but her father was Col. Edward C. James who commanded the 106th NY Volunteers during the war. Her winning design features a winged Victory with laurel wreath and flag atop of a 35-foot granite column and pedestal (the granite is from the quarries of Barre, Vermont). The pedestal features four bronze war eagles and shields. Originally, the base also had a life-sized bronze soldier, it has since been removed due to damages caused by vandalism. The monument was officially dedicated on August 23, 1905 and was attended by almost 20,000 people including the USA Vice President, Charles Fairbanks. Later in her career, Sally created a similar Civil War monument for Bloomfield, New Jersey, which was dedicated on June 11, 1912- in 2001 the monument was restored by the city.
Some of Sally’s other sculptures include: The Defenders of the Flag (1908), which is a Civil War monument located in the Mt. Hope Cemetery in Rochester, NY; the Frieze of Discovers (1910) located in the Pan American Union (now OAS) building in Washington D.C.; and the Simon Bolivar statue (1921), which is located in Central Park in New York City.
The Public Library, Library Park, and the Spirit of Liberty make up a portion of the Library Park Historic District in Ogdensburg. Other contributing properties include the Remington Museum and other houses along the square block made by Washington, etc. All of these sites are easily accessible in the historic downtown area of Ogdensburg, NY. The park is also in close proximity to the riverside where there is a walking trail that leads to the Maple City Trail and the Abbe Picquet Trail on Lighthouse Point!
Thanks for reading !
Resources and Further Information
John C. Howard, “A History of the Ogdensburg Public Library and Remington Art Memorial,” Ogdensburg Journal, May 31, 1938. The Trustees of the Ogdensburg Public Library.
John Harwood, National Register of Historic Places Inventory- Nomination Form, Library Park Historic District, Sept. 1982.
This post has been in the making for at least the past month or at least once I learned that Azure Mountain’s Fire Tower celebrated its centennial on July 29, 2018. This post is a little more personal than usual because I grew up hiking Azure Mountain yearly and also because the fire tower on Azure was constructed with the intent of being part of the fire detection network New York State created in the early 20th century. It oddly has some relevance given the fact that the state of California, where I currently reside, has had a hard recently with wildfires throughout the state.
Azure Mountain is located in the township of Waverly in Franklin County and is one of the mountains located in the Adirondacks in New York State. The mountain to though, is not one of the 46 mountains that make up the Adirondack High Peaks. The Adirondack High Peaks were all originally thought to be mountains that were all over 4,000 feet. Today it has been determined that four of the mountain peaks do not actually hit 4,000 feet. Azure Mountain in comparisons is only 2,518 feet tall, so it’s far off from being a high peak. But even though it’s not one of the coveted mountains of the Adirondacks, I still think it is the prettiest. I could be biased though because I’ve been up the mountain so many times.
While the view from the summit never changes, every new trek adds to my memories of Azure Mountain. The following is a collection of photographs showing the same view from Azure Mountain’s summit just during different times of the year!
View of three neighboring peaks near Azure Mountain; view during the summer; taken 2014.
Another view of the surrounding Adirondacks from the summit of Azure during the summer.
Views from the summit during the summer of 2015.
Those same three summits seen from Azure during the summer of 2015.
I have a thing for these nearby mountains I’ve realized; view from winter 2013.
This is considered a “glacier erratic,” which is basically a fancy term for debris that was left during the last ice age when the ice retreated some 10-12,000 years ago.
I can’t remember how old I was the first time I hiked Azure Mountain (most likely around 3rd grade) but I know my Dad dragged my brother and I up the mountain not too long after we moved to Northern New York from Osceola, NY. We would typically make our annual trek up the mountain in the fall when the Adirondacks are in full color and the mountain top blueberries are ripe enough to eat. Some falls we could determine- based on how many blueberries were left on the summit- that we had beaten the local boy scout troops up the mountain for their annual hike to the summit. On one fall hike, we convinced my mom to join us, another time we brought along some of my cousins Kyle and Derek- Kyle almost killed himself by running down the mountain, and then there was another fall trip up the mountain that I took with the modified and varsity girls soccer teams that we did in lieu of practice on the field.
When I graduated from high school in 2008, I received a scholarship from the Friends of Azure Mountain. In return for the scholarship, I had to be a Fire Observation Tower “interpreter” on the summit five different days during the summer. Being an “interpreter,” meant hanging out around the fire tower and welcoming visitors to the mountain’s summit, as well as answering any questions that they may have had about the mountain, the Adirondacks, or the fire tower. There were also other things to do other than answer questions, such as documenting the conditions of the trail, picking up any litter seen in the parking lot or on the trail, and even moving stones around the summit to help slow erosion. Was I good at being an interpreter? No, it’s because I was super nervous talking with strangers but I did hang around the tower to be there is people had questions. But I was super good at documenting trail conditions and moving rocks around to areas that needed erosion prevention. I did this adventure five times during the summer of 2008 and I dragged my brother with me every time. Two years later, my brother repaid me by also receiving the same scholarship and dragged me up the mountain a number of times during the summer of 2010. Every time there was a hike, it would be a race to see who could get to the summit first. I think Cody often beat me but there were a few times I made it first.
As you can imagine, I’ve been up the mountain many times, so many that I can visualize most of the winding trail from the parking lot to the summit. The trail starts from the parking lot, which is gravel and located in a stand of coniferous trees. There’s also a sketch outhouse in “front” of the parking in between the trees. At the end of the parking lot headed in the direction of the trail head there is a pile of stones, which super dedicated hikes can pick from and transport rocks to mountain summit. There is a pile at the end of the trail at the summit where the stones can be dropped off at. The stones are used by volunteers to help slow erosion on both the summit and along the trail. There is like a type of warm-up trail that goes from the parking lot to the actual base of the mountain, which is actually an old jeep trail. This trail stays mostly level for its duration and goes through a swampy/marsh area where you can see frogs and then goes into a heavily wooded area. Eventually, you’ll come to a mini wooden sign-in “station,” which is a common sight on trails in the Adirondacks.
The old jeep trail ends in a small clearing where the site of the former fire tower observer’s cabin was once located. The cabin is long gone but there still exists the ruins of a stone fire place indicating that there was once more to the clearing than meets the eye. The cabin went through three different incarnations, the original structure was constructed in 1914, with later reconstructions occurring in 1919 and then in 1936. The cabin would have last been used in an official capacity 1978, the same year the tower was last used to detect fires. Over the years, the cabin fell into disrepair much like the fire tower but wasn’t as lucky- it was officially removed in 1995.[i]
The hike continues through a forested area on a natural dirt path with some sections slightly altered by volunteers through the addition of stones or logs to help keep the trail intact from erosion. Along the first half of the hike, I have my favorite rocks and trees I like to stop at to catch my breathe. The so called “halfway” mark of the hike is at a rocky outcrop that’s on the right-hand side of the trail as you climb upwards. You won’t miss it. My brother calls it the, “caves.” There are some good rocks to sit on and the cave can be explored to some extent. I don’t think there’s any real caves though, it’s just the way the rock formation has shifted and eroded over the years, which gives the idea of there being caverns.
While it is a great place to stop, eat a quick snack, take a water break, and seems like a “halfway” point of the hike, it’s all a lie. You’re not really half way up the mountain- trust me. I consider the real halfway point to be slightly further up the trail at a ledge with a great view of the surrounding mountains and forest.
From that point onward, it’s an even more vertical climb up Azure, kind of like stairs. Eventually, the trail curves to the left and that’s when you know you’re almost at the summit because you can start to see specks of light through the tree canopy. The last 100-200-foot climb is steep but you just have to do it because the summit is close. The trail evens out at the very end through some underbrush and you walk out below the fire tower. To the right of the end of the trail there is a pile of stones where you can drop any stones you carried up the mountain.
Which brings me to Azure Mountain’s claim to fame, which is its historic fire observation tower that at one time was part of New York State’s main line of defense against forest fires in the Adirondacks. Before the current fire tower was constructed, there was a fire observation station constructed of wood up on Azure Mountain in 1914. That’s also the same year that the mountain’s name was changed from “Blue” to “Azure.”[ii]
The construction of the fire observation station at Azure followed a common trend in the Adirondack Preserve in the early 20th century- the construction of a number of observation stations on mountain peaks to help combat devastating fires. For example, in 1903 a fire in the Adirondack Forest destroyed 428,180 acres between April 20 to June 8, and only ended because of heavy rains. While in 1908, another fire caused by railroads burned an estimated 368,000 acres of the Adirondacks. In both instances, New York City experiences falling ash and smoke from the Upstate fires. In response, by 1909, a fire detection system was put in place and by 1910, 20 fire observation stations had been built.[iii]
The early fire stations were typically constructed of wood but as anyone can guess, wood doesn’t always stand up well to mountain top weather, lightening, or wind. Many of the early structures didn’t fair well and by 1916, the State had started to replace the wooden stations with steel structures and by 1918, there were a total of 52 steel towers in the State. Also, in 1918 the present galvanized steel tower was constructed on Azure Mountain- materials were transported up the mountain using horses most likely.[iv] Now the exciting thing is that the fire tower is a specific model. The steel frame was manufactured by the AerMotor Company of Chicago and they actually specialized in wind mills. The cool thing is that their wind mill structures could be easily adapted into a fire tower station, instead of the windmill on top, a cabin could replace it. Azure Mountain’s fire tower is the AerMotor Model No. LS-40, which is considered the “heavy construction type.” These models used heavier steel for the tower legs and angled “X” braces, as well as integrated stairs, with a square steel and glass cabin with a hip roof. Because Azure’s tower has five flights of stairs that means it’s 35 feet tall.[v]
A quick search through historic newspapers from 1900 to 1980, found the first mention of Azure in a news article titled, “Commission Designates Game and Forest Protections,” in the Chateauguay Record and Franklin County Democrat on September 11, 1914 where it was reported that, “Harlow Wheeler, formerly forest ranger as observer at the new mountain station on Azure Mountain.”[vi] Now this is interesting information because most sources record that Fred N. Smith was the very first fire observer at Azure Mountain and may have even helped build the original wooden observation station.
An article in the Adirondack News entitled, “Forest Rangers and Mtn. Observers,” reported that Fred Smith was designated Azure Mountain’s observer. The article stated that:
“State conservation commissioner George D. Pratt has announced the appointment of his assistants in the conservation department, including the forest rangers and mountain observers, whose duty it will be to guard the forests of the state throughout the great extent of Adirondack territory from fire also from trespassers.”[vii]
It seems that yearly announcements were made in the local Northern New York newspapers on who had been appointed forest rangers and mountain observers starting in 1914 until the late 1970’s. For example, an April 8, 1948 article reported that Earl Johnson was that year’s Azure Mountain fire tower observer. That year mountain fire observers went back to duty starting April 1 and that a number of observers would be assigned once the weather demanded it. Between Clinton, Essex, and Franklin counties there were a total of 18 mountain stations.[viii]
The Azure Mountain Fire Observation Tower was used as part of the fire detection system in New York for 60 years. The last fire tower observer was Mike Richards, who closed the tower for the season in 1978, the DEC removed the lower sets of stairs to prevent people from climbing up. The use of the towers to detect fires had been slowly replaced with aerial detection flights making the historic observation towers obsolete.
In 2001, the State began to move forward with plans to demolish the fire tower, which was in poor condition to say the least. In response, a group of concerned citizens and organizations like Adirondack Architectural Heritage quickly came together with the purpose of saving the Azure Mountain Fire Observation Tower by working with the DEC. The DEC gave those concerned with saving the tower, the opportunity to form an official group who would be involved in the maintenance efforts of the tower for long term. The group that formed was the Friends of Azure Mountain and was created largely in part to the efforts of Carolyn Kaczka and Michael McLean.[ix]
In the same year, as part of the effort to save the Azure Mountain Fire Observation Tower, it was listed on both the State and National Register of Historic Places as part of a multiple property nomination, Fire Observation Stations of the NYS Forest Preserve. Other fire towers included in the nomination consist of the towers on Arab, Blue, Hadley, Kane, Snowy, and Poke-O-Moonshine Mountains. Azure Mountain is listed under Criteria A and C because of its historic significance to NY State’s forest preserve (Criteria A) and because architecturally it is a good representative of early 20th century fire towers (Criteria C).[x]
By 2002, the involvement of a number of forest rangers helped the cause. Jeff Balerno was able to coordinate seven helicopter flights to Azure’s summit to drop off needed construction materials that would be used in restoring the tower. During the 2002 summer, a collection of people including forest rangers, Americorp volunteers, members of the Friends of Azure Mountain and volunteers worked to replace damaged and rotted wood, hardware, repainted metal, etc. basically everything you see today on the tower was done during the 2002 restoration. Eventually, a DEC structural engineer inspected the newly restored Azure Mountain Fire Observation Tower and on September 27, 2003, the tower was once again open and could be used by the public![xi]
The interesting thing is that Carolyn Kaczka trained me on how to be a fire observation tower interpreter for my internship/scholarship in 2008. ON the first day that I was the interpreter for the summer. I don’t think I saw again for a very long time. After moving back home from graduating UVM, I did occasion consultant jobs, one of which was conducting a free walking tour of downtown Potsdam, NY, which is known for its Red Sandstone buildings. I did this as part of Adirondack Architectural Heritage’s yearly tour offerings in May 2016. At the end of the tour, this woman came up to me and re-introduced herself as Carolyn and that she had enjoyed the tour! I can’t remember how the full conversation went but I do remember telling her that after graduating from SUNY Potsdam, I went on to grad school for historic preservation and was doing the occasional odd consultant job. It was a wonderful surprise to see her again and, in a way, see how somethings in life are connected. I’m not sure if being having a scholarship/internship with the Friends of Azure Mountain is what exactly got me into historic preservation but maybe subconsciously, it was there the entire time when I was making decisions about grad school.
On that note, Friends of Azure Mountain is always looking for volunteers, as is most non-profit organizations. If you live in the area of Azure or any historic fire tower for that matter, and enjoy hiking and helping preserve history and trails for others to use…. I suggest volunteering or at least contacting them to see in what ways you can help.
I meant to get this post out sooner than what I did. Work had been much busier than expected since returning to California in January. So free time after work was limited but I still have been going to the Sunday “Shut Up and Write” sessions. For the time being though I’m currently on a much needed vacation home in Northern New York. So while I’m home, I hope to catch up on a number of posts I’ve written but haven’t yet shared on the blog.
Anyways, the next part of my adventure along California’s coast was in Point Reyes National Seashore where I stayed at a hostel located within the National Park and hiked a couple of shorter trails: the San Andres Fault Loop and part of the Coastal Trail.
The Point Reyes National Seashore was established in 1962 by Congress and is located on the Point Reyes Peninsula. The Peninsula is separated from mainland California by a linear valley, which happens to be on the San Andres Fault. The Fault is where the Pacific and North American Continental Plates meet; geology talk time- this means that the Pacific Plate is slowly sliding underneath the North American Continental Plate and when things don’t go smoothly with this geological process, earthquakes happen. Today about 1/3 of the National Seashore is a protected wilderness, while another third is preserved as a pastoral zone for dairy and beef farms that date back to the 1880’s. The National Seashore also offers numerous outdoor activities and places to see for visitors; there’s roughly 150 miles of trails within the boundaries of the Seashore.
The drive from Sacramento to Point Reyes is roughly two hours. Inverness, which is the place I wrote about in the last post, is about a 15 minute drive from the National Seashore’s main entrance….longer if you’re planning on driving deeper in the Seashore. The car ride is very simple. The route goes through Point Reyes Station- a quaint looking town but I didn’t stop. I drove to the Point Reyes Visitor Center to get a map and to buy some souvenirs. I did walk on a short trail located near the visitor center: the San Andres Fault Loop (roughly 0.6 miles long). The trail is along a mostly even terrain that winds through a field and a forested area, which must be a popular hangout for the local deer population.
Along the trail there are a number of signs giving both geological history of the region and the history of the Great 1906 Earthquake. By the way, it seems any time I go to something related in anyway to history here in California there’s always some connection to the 1906 Earthquake or the Gold Rush….there always is a connection….no matter what.
Within the National Seashore, I stayed at the Point Reyes Hostel located in the heart of the Seashore. It’s very secluded yet homey with a large kitchen, porch area and a cozy living room. The hostel is at the site of the historic ranch, Rancho de Laguna, which was established at the current site in 1866. Eventually, the ranch buildings were purchased by the Park Service in 1971 and instead of demolishing the buildings, they were renovated and the hostel was opened up in 1972.
The ladies eight bed dormitory was spacious, as was the shared bathroom within the main hostel house. There’s also a number of newer looking buildings that are apparently more dorm rooms for larger groups aiming to stay within the Seashore. When I’m traveling around I like to stay at hostels because it’s way cheaper and it gives the opportunity to meet cool people. While at the Point Reyes Hostel I didn’t really talk to anyone like I had at previous hostel stays in San Francisco and San Luis Obispo. Since the Point Reyes Hostel is secluded and in a forest, there is no Wi-fi and there’s definitely no cell service. I was able to get one bar at the end of the road on both of my cellphones (work phone is AT&T and my personal cell is Straight Talk in case you’re interested). I spent the night at the hostel writing…you guessed it…blog posts and reading on my tablet, A Company of Liars by Karen Maitland is what I had been reading at the time. Side note- it’s a very interesting book but literally the last chapter isn’t the best. I looked up the book after finishing to see if others were as annoyed as I was and it seems like the general consensus was that the ending isn’t the best. So readers beware.
In the morning, I decided to hike the Coastal Trail, which the trail head is just down the road from the hostel. The morning was colder than I expected- probably in the 40’s. I didn’t see a lot of wildlife on the trail other than groups of partridges. On that note, I’ve never seen groups of partridges- they’re funny little posse and they all flap off together when you get too close. Closer towards the coast and the beach, you could hear the crash of the ocean waves.
There were no other people on the trail, which can kind of be unnerving in a large national forest especially since there’s signs telling you to watch out for mountain lions, not to hike alone, and to flee to higher ground in the case of an earthquake/tsunami death combo. On another side note, what the wrong with California?!?!?!?!?! We don’t have these kind of warnings at the beginning of trail heads in New York. This all just continues to solidify my thoughts that California is a hostel environment….
Now back to the coastal trail….
When I emerged from a marshy area with a lot of tree coverage, there were sloping hills where grazing elk could be seen. Let’s be honest, they probably saw me first and were probably wondering what the hell I was and why I was up so early. I assume I must have been a spectacle for the elk to watch since I was flaying my arms around trying to determine if my phones were going to pick up a signal or not.
The trail curved through the hills without any real incline. To be honest most of the trail seemed to be an even grade without any real noticeable inclines/ downhill sections and then finally the path emerged onto rolling hills towards the beach.
There was, unsurprisingly, no one at the beach. So I was able to hang out on the beach by myself and take lots of photographs. Based on the trail signs, the Coastal Trail continues past the first beach stop to another beach area. Instead of continuing on the trail, I decided to head back to the hostel to get ready to leave for the day to travel the rest of the way to Fort Ross, which would be another 1 ½ drive up the coast.
On the walk back through the woods, I was still keeping an eyes and ears alert for any unusual rustling sounds. Call me a Nervous Nancy but there’s a crazy need to be alert in the California woods especially when most trail head signs warn of tsunamis and mountain lions. It also didn’t help that the local, patrolling, partridge posses are noisy in the wee hours of the morning. So while I was walking along the trail observing my surroundings, minding my own business, I looked down the trail and saw that it was clear, I looked down at my feet and then I looked back up and saw some four-legged canine creature ahead of me on the trail.
Well let me tell you. I freaked out. I think it was a coyote.
It looked at me.
I looked at it.
I mentally freaked out.
It remained calm.
I yelled a little to scare it off.
It stayed on the trail staring at me- probably wondering what the hell was happening.
Actually, wait. It was probably judging me for hiking alone on the trail in the early hours of the morning. Obviously that’s what it was doing- judging the lone human in the woods.
I decided my best move in our standoff was to walk towards the coyote while making some obnoxious noises. It must have been my menacing look and walk that caused the coyote to saunter off the trail….LOL. Who are we kidding, probably not. But at that moment I realized that I probably needed an adult supervising my outdoor adventures, especially in California. For the rest of the walk back to the hostel, I only saw a few cute bunnies and luckily no more sightings of larger mammals.
And that was my adventure in Point Reyes National Seashore.
Thanks for reading! Next up, Fort Ross.
*See below for applications to be a “supervising adult for Courtney’s Adventures.”*
All of the information about Point Reyes came from a pamphlet I picked up at the Point Reyes National Seashore Museum but more information about the National Seashore can be found here:
*Sadly, there’s no actual applications to be a supervising adult in my adventures, I just need to be better prepared for the unexpected. Obviously, my years as a girl scout didn’t prepare me for coyotes in the woods at 8 am. But if you’ve had moments in your own adventures, where you questioned your life choices, please feel free to share!
This week is going to focus on a weekend trip I took out to Marin County to see the central coast area of California, especially around Point Reyes National Seashore and up to Fort Ross, a historical site with a reconstruction of the original Fort that was used by the Russian’s from 1812-1840’s. The main reason for the trip was to see Fort Ross but I also stopped along the way in Inverness and Point Reyes.
While in Point Reyes National Seashore, I visited Inverness, California to get dinner. Inverness is located on the west shore of Tomales Bay and is surrounded by the National Seashore. Fun fact about the town, parts of two John Carpenter’s films, The Fog and The Village of the Damned, were shot in and around the community. I only stopped in the town briefly to get dinner at the Saltwater Oyster House but while there I discovered a place that’s part of the Atlas Obscura atlas, the “Tomales Bay Shipwreck,” also known as the S. S. Point Reyes, which is an apparent nod to the S. S. Minnow from Gilligan’s Island. The shipwreck is not really a “shipwreck” but more of a fishing boat that has been grounded in the restored wetlands of Tomales Bay. A previous owner had made plans to restore the boat but these were never acted upon. Instead the boat has become an added tourist attraction and photography spot for the National Seashore and the Giacomini Wetland Restoration Project.
The S. S. Point Reyes is located in the Giacomini Wetlands, right behind the Inverness store. At one point there boat was almost removed because of the restoration work to the native landscape but the photography community rallied around the boat and it has remained in its place. In 2016, the haul of the ship was burned pretty bad by either vandals or photographer’s who screwed up during their photo shoot; a full investigation was never conducted on the fire.
The other cool part of the boat’s location is the Giacomini Wetlands themselves. The Waldo Giacomini Ranch Wetlands Restoration Project, other than being a mouthful, is the attempt of the National Park Service to restore the former dairy ranch back into the tidal wetlands and floodplains the area is meant to be. The project’s roots stem from the 1972 statewide Coastal Act, which places a high value on protecting California’s natural resources. The act was directly related to a failed 1968 plan to extensively develop West Marin. The ranch lands were eventually incorporated into the Boundaries of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, so that the Park Service could purchase the land to do the work. In 2000, the purchase was finally completed and within 7 years the wetlands restoration work done. The project has resulted in 550 acres (roughly 50% of Tomales Bay’s wetlands) to be restored to their native habitat. In comparison though, the 550 acres is the estimated equivalent to just 12% of the total lost coastal wetlands in Central California. The restored wetlands are home to a number of animals including: salmon, seals, bat rays, white pelican, black-bellied plovers, white tailed kits, river otters, raccoon, and even bob cats.
Across the street from the Inverness Store, is the post office and the Saltwater Oyster House, an upscale yet laid back restaurant that’s open for lunch and dinner. I went during their dinner service and was lucky enough to get a seat at the bar during the busy dinner service. My bartender, who happened to be the owner was great and attentive. I went with the Oyster Stew, which was cream based with chunks of oysters, leeks, and brioche croutons. It was very good, not too salty and the leeks went well with the oysters. I know, you’re probably wondering why I didn’t get any raw oysters. It’s because I’ve never had them before and felt a little out of my element trying to order them. But seated at the bar I did get a great view of the man preparing the oysters for those who ordered them. It was hypnotizing to watch him shucking oysters and plate them on a bed of ice. I did order dessert though, the chocolate brownies sundae, to be exact. I was expecting something small and delicate and instead got enough sundae to share! Atop of the very dense brownie was frio gelato and that was covered in a creamy chocolate sauce that also hardened into a shell on the gelato. I just want to let you all know, that I took one for the history adventure team and ate most of the dessert.
I had no regrets.
It was glorious.
I would highly suggest visiting Inverness and especially the Saltwater Oyster Bar to anyone. I definitely plan on visiting the area again and would to go there for food again. It might be fun to go during the lunch services to see how different the menu is and if it is as busy as dinner had been. I would love to go back and explore the small town of Inverness now that I know it was used in a few films. It would be fun to compare scenes to what is there now much like I’ve done with historic postcards in the past.
Watch for my next post on Point Reyes National Seashore and my brief time there!
Last week I had an opportunity to travel to Donner Lake, which is located in the mountains of Tahoe National Forest. Along the way, I stopped at a couple of vista point “exits” off of Interstate 80 and took a number of photos of the mountains.
The Tahoe National Forest was originally established in 1899 and named Tahoe Forest Reserve. In 1905, the name was changed to Tahoe National Forest and controlled of the National Forests was changed from the Department of the Interior to the Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service; President Theodore Roosevelt was in office during this time. His presidency consisted of pushes to conserve our Nation’s natural resources. President Roosevelt, actually established the US Forest Service, signed into law the creation of five National Parks, and signed the 1906 Antiquities Act, which created 18 National Monuments.
The Tahoe National Forest includes parts of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. The mountain range has been created by a geological activity called plate tectonics (movement of plates that make up the crust of the Earth). In particular the creation of these mountains was caused by a “subduction zone,” where one plate moves beneath another plate and as that happens magma is created from movement, that slowly cools down and the magma rocks created at the zone build up to create these mountains. It takes a very long time. The plates that helped make the Sierra Nevada Range are the Pacific and North America plates. This geological activity began somewhere between 400-130 million years ago but the range as we know it, really was created until between 20-5 million years ago. That means the Sierra Nevada Range would have been around when dinosaurs walked around North America. Parts of the mountains have also been created by the weight and movement of glaciers during the ice ages; “U” shaped valleys are a geologic indicator of this. I just want to give a shout out and thank you, to my basic 9th grade Earth Studies class, where I learned geology….oh, and I guess those geology courses I took at SUNY Potsdam.
So that’s some real brief history of the Tahoe National Forest and it’s geology. There’s a lot more that could be added but let’s keep it simple and move on to the juicier stuff.
Next up. Cannibalism!
Sooooo, Donner Lake and Donner Pass are named after a very, very, very ill-fated pioneer wagon train that tried to cross through Donner Pass in 1847. Let’s back up a little bit before 1847, to 1846…not that far back in comparison to 1847… when nine families left Springfield, Illinois in April of 1846 to head west to California. The families were organized by James Reed and George Donner was the captain of the wagon train. The nine families met up with other families headed west creating a large wagon train. Everyone stopped at Fort Bridger, which was located in modern day Wyoming, to resupply and get ready for the long haul to California.
While at Fort Bridger, 87 members of the much larger wagon train decided to set off on their own to travel a new route through the Sierra Nevada Mountains. This group is known as the Donner Party and consisted of the group first organized by James Reed and headed by George Donner. Reed had learned of a new route through a pass in the Sierra Mountains near a lake (known today at Donner Lake). With that information, Reed assumed that if the Party took this route, they would arrive in California sooner.
James Reed got some real bad information.
The Donner Party arrived at the summit of the mountains at the lake around October 28, 1846. By that time, there was already 6 feet of snow and this stopped the Donner Party dead in their tracks. The different families set up camp around the lake using their wagons and other materials for shelter. The families technically were trapped by the snow- they couldn’t go forward or even back the way they had come by late fall. In the middle of December a group of 15 people left the encampment to travel the rest of the way to California in the hopes of getting help. Only 7 people survived the trek into California and reached Sutter’s Fort, where they were able to get much needed help. During that time the Donner Party went through most of their supplies and livestock. People starved and froze to death, and some of the survivors turned to cannibalism to survive. There was a total of four rescue parties that went to Donner Lake from Sutter’s Fort. Of the original 87 pioneers that got stuck at Donner Lake, only 48 survived and made it to California.
Obviously Donner Lake and Donner Pass are named after the Donner Party. Donner Pass through the Sierra Nevada Mountains has been used in a series of different transportation routes starting with the California Trail (wagon trail). Eventually the pass was incorporated into the route of the Central Pacific Railroad for the First Transcontinental Railroad. More recently, in the age of the automobile, there has been a route through the pass for U. S. Route 40 (the Lincoln Highway), which was the first road across the United States and then the pass was indirectly used by Interstate 80. Interstate 80 was the route I took to get to Donner Lake.
So there you have it! A very brief history on the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Donner Party.
If you have any questions or comments, let me know in the section below.
Today I’m trying out a new topic for an ongoing series much like my, “What is the Jargon!?!” series. It is no surprise that I enjoy exploring cemeteries wherever I go. The closest cemetery near me is Bayside Cemetery, here in Potsdam and when the weather is nice, I like to walk to it. There’s a lovely path that runs along the Raquette River that goes all the way to the rural cemetery.
Now, almost every time I adventure around Bayside or another burial ground, I take tons of pictures of gravestones that interest me for one reason or another. I figured I could share some of those gravestones with you all, along with information about the person who the stone represents.
The first story and stones I wanted to share with you are the gravestones of William and Thankfull Davis, located in Section E, Lot 168.
The timing for this post was completely unplanned until I looked at a calendar on Tuesday and realized that May 25, which is today, is the death anniversary of William. He was a Patriot during the American Revolutionary War and possibly the War of 1812, though I couldn’t confirm that.
William Davis was born September 30, 1762 in the town of Rutland of Worcester County in Massachusetts. His parents were Nathaniel and Ellen (Hubbard) Davis. William was the youngest of 15 children! When he was 17, William enlisted in the 7th Worcester County Regiment.
On July 5, 1787, William married Thankfull Nye in Hardwick, Massachusetts. Thankful (Nye) Davis was born February 10 1764 and was the daughter of Joseph Nye Jr. of Sandwich and Thankful (Goodspeed) Nye of Barnstable (they were married in Hardwick on October 20, 1757). Thankful (Goodspeed) Nye was the eldest child of Ebenezer Goodspeed and Elizabeth (Bodfish) Goodspeed; AKA Thankful Davis’ grandparents. On a side note, Thankfull’s gravestone is the only place where her name is spelled with two of the letter, “L.”
Both William and Thankfull passed away in 1833 in Potsdam, NY.
So how did William and Thankfull get all the way from Hardwick, Massachusetts to Potsdam, NY. Well, it’s unclear when exactly they arrived in Northern New York. A source I used for initial information, indicates that they were in Potsdam by 1820 – they would have been in their 50’s.
The other curious thing about the couple, looking at the detailed family trees for both William and Thankful, none of them indicate that they had kids, which seems really weird. Especially when you envision two middle age people in the early 19th century moving all the way to Northern New York from Massachusetts. That’s normally a 6 hour car drive – imagine doing that on horses and wagons. Plus, during this time, it was usual to have large families because of infant mortality rates and having more kids meant having more helping hands on a farm. So that’s why I thought something must be missing in the record.
I went back to the New York State DAR blog that explained William’s service during the American Revolution and checked to see what records were used, so I could check them out for myself. Census records from 1820 and 1830 were used, so I found those online. Looking at the 1820 Census records, I kind of found the answer I was looking for. William Davis is listed and in the row associated with his name, marks were made to indicate that in his household there was one “Free While Male over 45,” and one “Free White Female over 45” and that one person worked in agriculture. A few lines under William, another Davis is listed, Joseph!
The markings in Joseph’s row indicate one male aged 16-25, one male aged 26-44, and one female aged 16-25. From this I assume, Joseph Davis is either a son or other close relation of William and Thankful. Joseph doesn’t show up on the family tree from William Davis’ family but they’re actually buried next to each other at Bayside.
Looking through online records for Bayside Cemetery and searching for the last name, “Davis” I was able to make some more connections. Mary Harwood Davis (1797-185?) was married to a Joseph N., the “N.” is probably for Nye, Thankful Davis’ maiden name. Mary Harwood Davis was the mother of Ebenezer H. Davis, who was born 1832 and passed away 1911. By the way, they’re all buried in a row next to each other at Bayside. So they all have to be related! Ebenezer is an interesting name to choose…it would have been same name as Thankful (Nye) Davis’ grandfather.
So based on the new information and comparing that to the 1820 Census information for Joseph’s household we can conclude that: Joseph is the, “male aged 26-44” and Mary would be the “female aged 16-25.” Her birth year is 1797, in 1820 she would have been 23. The other male in the household, I have no idea because their son, Ebenezer, wasn’t born until 1832, so it can’t be him. I assume it must be a relative of either Joseph or Mary. If the other male was a brother of Joseph, that would mean William and Thankful Davis had another son but why isn’t he living with them? I think it might be a relative of Mary Harwood, maybe a brother. That would make a little more sense…
I went back to the 1810 Census and William Davis shows up there too; I couldn’t find Joseph Davis listed on his own.
Looking through the Bayside Cemetery records further, I found some other Davis family connections and another Joseph Davis. I found the Joseph Davis that I have been talking, about via the census records from 1820 and 1830. In the cemetery records for Bayside, the Joseph Davis that is listed is occasionally listed as the husband of Mary Harwood. Sounds correct right? Well it’s not the same Joseph. This new Joseph that keeps getting confused with our correct, old Joseph, was born 1860 and died in 1872…..Mary Harwood Davis died in the 1850’s. The other glaring issue- this new Joseph would have been 12 when he passed away.
I assume the mix-up has happened because of a few possibilities:
There are two different Joseph Davis- our adult Joseph Davis, the son of William and Thankful and the child Joseph Davis, maybe a relative in someway;
The old Joseph Davis’ gravestone in actually broken and embedded into the ground next to Mary’s stone- it was never seen during the original inventory of the cemetery;
There’s only one Joseph Davis and his birth year has been recorded incorrectly but he still died in 1872.
If the last one scenario is the correct mix-up- Joseph when he passed away would have been at least 75 years old, assuming he was born the same year as Mary Harwood, his wife.
The other Davis family members that are immediately related to Joseph, Mary, and ultimately William and Thankful include:
Thankful Davis (died 1836) Apparently this Thankful doesn’t have a stone but is buried in Section E, Lot 168).
Catherine Davis Averill (died 1882). Her father is listed as Joseph Davis. Her spouse’s initials are E.W. buried in Section E, Lot 106.
Thankful Davis Chapman (1838-1882). Her father is listed as Joseph Davis. She is buried in Section E, Lot 105.
? Elmina S. Davis Barnes (1838-1859). No parents are listed for her entry in the cemetery records. Her husband was Charles. She is buried in Section D, Lot 019. I included Elmina because her maiden name is Davis and her birth year is very close to the other “confirmed” Davis daughters. Maybe she is a cousin.
A few final points about the family to make. William Davis was a supposed veteran from the War of 1812. I researched and I couldn’t find any records officially indicating this. Joseph Davis though, served during the War of 1812 in Darius Hawkins Company of the NY militia. The record for his pension also lists that he married Mary Harwood on September 16, 1816.
Joseph’s son Ebenezer H. Davis was a veteran from the Civil War. Ebenezer was a private during the Civil War. He served in Company B of the 50th NY Volunteer Engineer Regiment. Ebenezer’s enlistment lasted from September 1, 1864 to June 1865, when the regiment was mustered out.
So that makes three generations of the same family, veterans in a number of wars fought in the early years of American history.
Researching this family showed a couple of interesting issues in that can happen when researching history of a family. The first issue was the lack of information in William and Thankful’s family trees especially in regards to their own family and whether or not they had kids. Based off of their family trees it would appear they didn’t have kids but the census records and location of gravestones at Bayside would indicate they moved to Potsdam with some children. The lack of clear information can indicate a couple of things: records along the frontier area of the United States weren’t well maintained AND it can be assumed that once William and Thankful moved to Northern New York, their communication with their family back in Massachusetts was very limited.
The other unplanned aspect of this post is that it’s right in time for Memorial Day, which is May 29th here in the United States. So maybe if you have time this weekend, head to your local cemetery and see what graves you can find of veterans of the United States Army and Navy, and pay respects to our pass veterans.
If you have questions or comments, leave them below.
I’m super excited to tell you all that the George T. Robinson House has been officially listed in the National Register of Historic Places. I wrote the nomination for the property this past summer! Working with a representative from the State Historic Preservation office, we edited the nomination during the fall. It was submitted to the State for review in December and officially listed to the State Register in February. From there it was forwarded to the Keeper of the National Register to be reviewed and finally it was listed April 17, 2017!
Today’s post is going to look at sections of the nomination that I wrote and submitted during the late summer. At the end of this post, there is a link to the final copy of the nomination.
Building Description Summary The George T. Robinson House, located in the town of Clayton, Jefferson County, New York is a highly intact 2 ½ story, rear-facing “T” plan, Shingle Style home. The home occupies a center location on the southern side of Bluff Island overlooking the St. Lawrence River and mainland New York State. The home was constructed in 1901 and designed by Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania architect, Thorsten E. Billquist, for George T. Robinson and his family, also from Pittsburgh. The south-facing front facade is dominated by an open porch that almost wraps around the entire length of the first floor; the porch is supported by evenly spaced stone pillars. The walls and roof are finished with shingles, and the foundation and porch supports are built of red granite that originated from quarry located on Picton Island located to the north of Bluff Island. The interior of the home is finished with wood paneling and wainscoting from floor to ceiling. There is an 11 foot granite fireplace located within the wall that separates the living room and dining room, so that there is a fireplace in both rooms. The upstairs historically consisted of seven bedrooms, four bathrooms, and a living space in the attic for employed help. To the east of house once stood a 2-story boat house that collapsed sometime after 1966. Other important resources of the property include surface remains of walled garden located directly north of the house on a slight slope. While to the west of house there is a path that leads to the powerhouse that was once used for water pumping. The Robinson Family Estate is in good condition with the only alterations to the home being general maintenance throughout the years, and the current renovations to update the utilities of the property and replace shingles that have been severely weathered because of the elements. The maintenance changes and loss of the boat house do not detract from the overall integrity of the Robinson Family Estate in terms of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association.
Setting and Location:
The George T. Robinson House is located on the southerly side of Bluff Island, one of the islands situated in the St. Lawrence River; the Island is located within the township of Clayton located in Jefferson County, New York. Bluff Island is a 61 acre island, with the property of the Robinson Family Estate occupying 26 acres of the Island. The property is accessible by boat and is roughly two miles north-east of Clayton, while the closest islands are Picton Island to the north and Grindstone Island to the west. The home is located on rocky south point of Bluff Island, with the front facade facing south towards Round Island and the mainland of New York. To the east of the home is another summer cottage, once owned by Colonel Harry C. Kessler, once called “The Bluffs.” Today the property has a shop on it called “Boateak” and the shop features American arts, crafts, and antiques and is only opened during the summer months. To the west of the Robinson Family Estate is a modern style home situated on a rocky outcrop.
Before you check out the statement of significance, which is basically the WHY is this building important enough to be listed in the State and National Registers of Historic Places…let me explain a little bit more about the statement. What you see below is literally only half of the statement. The section that is missing is related to the historical “context” that the house falls under. In this case the historical contexts for the George T. Robinson Houses includes the Gilded Age in the Thousand Islands Region and the commonly seen use of the shingle style in summer residences.
The other exciting part of this is that one of the main secondary sources I used in researching the Thousand Islands was the book, The First Summer People: The Thousand Islands 1650 – 1910, written by Susan Weston Smith and published in 1993. It is a great book and I suggest checking it out if you’re interested in learning more about the region and the history of the Thousand Islands, like all of the islands. So last weekend, I went to a writing fair located at TAUNY (a non-profit that focuses on folklore in Upstate NY). Susan Smith was there!!! I was able to thank her! And tell her how much her book helped me! I also told her about this nomination and how it was approved! I also told her about some of the other projects I might be working on in the area! It was wonderful to actually meet the person who had written a book that I used for research! I fan-girled out! I got a hug from her! It was beautiful!
Soooo anyways, here’s part of the statement of significance for the George T. Robinson House:
Statement of Significance Summary
The Robinson Summer Estate is locally significant under Criterion A, “property that is associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history.” The Robinson Summer Estate was designed by Thorsten E. Billquist in 1901 as the shingle-style summer home of George T. Robinson’s family. The Robinson family originated from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where Mr. Robinson worked in the steel and manufacturing industries. The property remained the summer residence of the Robinson family until 1948, when Anne H. Robinson passed away. It changed hands during the 1950’s, and ownership passed to Harry and Ruby Butcher. The couple ran the property as the “Bluff Island Lodge,” where tourists could stay while visiting the surrounding area. The Robinson Summer Estate relates to the summer resort era of the Thousand Islands during the turn of the 20th century and then again in the tourism boom of the 1950’s. The property is also locally significant under Criterion C, “property embodies the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction or represents the work of a master, or possesses high artistic values, or represents a significant and distinguishable entity whose components lack individual distinction.” The summer home was designed by Pittsburgh architect, Thorsten E. Billquist, in the shingle-style, a style commonly used in summer resort areas. The Robinson Summer Estate is significant under these two criteria in regards to its connections to architecture (a Shingle style summer cottage), entertainment, recreational, and tourism values, as well as its connections to the social history of the Thousand Islands region as a tourist resort during the early 20th century and again in the 1950’s tourist boom in New York State.
George T. Robinson House: Social History
The Robinson Family Estate fits into the overarching social history of the Thousand Islands in regards to entertainment, recreational, and tourism in the sense that the home served as a private residence and was used as a fishing lodge briefly during the 1950’s. The home was constructed at the turn of the century in 1901, near the end of the Gilded Age, to be used as the summer residence of a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania family, the Robinson family. The home is also built in the Shingle Style, an architectural style that has been considered the leading cottage design during the Gilded Age; the home was designed by Pittsburgh architect, Thorsten E. Billquist.
George T. Robinson was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1838 to son of William C. Robinson and Ann Holdship. Ann was the daughter of Henry Holdship, who owned the largest paper making establishment in the area. William C. was a member of the firm, Robinson and Minis, which was a foundry that constructed engines. Specifically, William built steam boats and their engines; he himself owned a small fleet of steam boats.1 It was mostly likely because of his father’s work, that George became involved in the steel and engine building industry in Pennsylvania.
George married Althea Rebecca Dilworth on November 3, 1863. Together they had five children: Mary Mason, William Christopher, Anne Holdship, Stuart Holdship, and Henry Holdship. According to the United States census of 1880, George’s occupation was listed as, “iron founder and engine builder.”2 By the 1910 census, George’s occupation had changed to, “capitalist.”3 Up until 1897, George had been the president of Robinson-Rea Manufacturing Company, which was one of the first steel foundries in Pittsburgh, building engines and rolling mill machinery.4 In that same year his Robinson-Rea Manufacturing Company was consolidated with another Pittsburgh company, Leechburg Foundry and Machine Company, into a new larger organization, Mesta Machine Company. George still had a role to play in the new, larger company; he was a member of the board of directors for Mesta Machine Company. The plant that had been used by Robinson-Rae Manufacturing Company in the South Side, was still to be used by Mesta Machine Company.5
From his work in the steel industry, George was able to provide his family with a comfortable life, given the fact that he was able to purchase land in 1900 and then build a summer home on Bluff Island in the Thousand Islands in 1901. George bought land on Bluff Island from General Harry C. Kessler, who happened to be his brother-in-law. General Kessler was born in Philadelphia in 1844 and during the Civil War enlisted in the Union Army.6 Kessler had married Josephine Alden Dilworth on November 8, 1876; Josephine was a younger sister of George’s wife, Althea.7
From the deed records at the Jefferson County Clerk’s office, Harry and Josephine Kessler, who at the time were living in Montana, sold the northerly and western portion of Bluff Island to George T. Robinson. The transaction was recorded at the County Clerk’s office August 30, 1900. The Kessler’s had previously purchased the island from Fannie and Eugene Washburn and that transaction was recorded in the county records on August 20, 1900.8 The transaction was noted in the local paper, where Bluff Island was described as, “…one of the most desirable unimproved islands in this section of the river.”9 By the next summer, the Kessler and Robinson families had begun to build their summer homes. In May of 1901, the Watertown Re-Union, briefly reported that the construction work of the buildings on Bluff Island was “progressing rapidly.”10 George Robinson employed Pittsburgh architect, Thorsten E. Billquist to design his summer home; during the construction, the Robinson family vacationed on Grenell Island.11 Documents regarding the construction process of the Robinson Family Estate are lacking and consist solely of blue prints created by Billquist for the house and a boat house. The materials for the buildings are not mentioned in the blue prints but most likely were locally sourced. During the turn of the century, red granite quarries were located on both Grindstone and Picton Islands and Clayton and the surrounding area had a number of lumber businesses.12
View of the East Facade
View of the North Facade
View of the West Facade
The connection between the Kesslers, the Robinsons, and their ability to purchase a 60 acre island and build homes on the island, show the growth of wealth among those involved in industrial capitalism, which was common among America’s elite during the Gilded Age in summer resort areas. The summer people of the Gilded Age, looked for places where they could escape from the health and social problems of the inner cities by vacationing somewhere fresh and full of natural beauty much like the region of Thousand Islands and the St. Lawrence River. The Robinson family vacationed every summer at their cottage on Bluff Island. Snippets in the local newspapers of the Thousand Islands and even from Pittsburgh, give insight into how the upper class family lived during the summer. The Shingle home was officially finished by 1904, based on news reporting that members of the Robinson family were visiting Bluff Island. George’s son, William, his wife, and their young son visited the elder Robinson and his daughter, Anne Holdship for the summer.13
In 1909, the Robinson family prepared for two weddings at the Bluff Island cottage. The Hoffman- Kessler wedding was planned at George T. Robinson’s home on Bluff Island. The local paper documented activities of the members of the Robinson and Hoffman families such as when they dined at the Frontenac Hotel the week prior to the wedding.14 The bride was Althea Dilworth Hoffman, the daughter of Mary Mason Hoffman and granddaughter of George T. Robinson. The groom was her cousin, Harry C. Kessler Jr., the only son of Harry C. and Josephine Alden Kessler; their wedding was set for August 09, 1909. The second Robinson wedding of that year occurred on October 14, when Mary Mason Hoffman married her second husband, Frank J. Lynch at her father’s summer home.15
Interesting tidbits of the family’s summer activities are found in the most unusual places such as the annual report for the Carnegie Museum. The Museum’s annual report lists Anne H. Robinson under their donations for the year of April 1, 1911 to April 30, 1912. Anne donated land and fresh water shells from Bluff Island and the St. Lawrence River, collected in July of 1911. She also donated, “insects, particularly Odonata and their nymphs, from Bluff Island.”16 These snippets of information into the Robinson family’s summer vacations paint a picture of how Robinson Family Estate on Bluff Island emulates the summer activities common to the summer peoples of the Thousand Islands during the turn of the century. It was a place to relax, socialize, and enjoy the natural splendor of the St. Lawrence River and as The House Beautiful put it to escape the “city turmoil.”17
George T. Robinson died December 24, 1917, at his home in Pittsburgh. In his will, George left his home in Pittsburgh at 4926 Wallingford Street and all of its possessions to his daughter, Anne Holdship. Anne along with his other children also received shares of the stock in the Mesta Machine Company and money.18 Anne Holdship continued to reside there during the summers and was involved in the local summer community by hosting occasional garden meetings at her home on Bluff Island.19 From local newspapers of the time, it is clear that Anne was involved with the local garden clubs. In 1935, the Cape Vincent Eagle that four ladies of the “Ann Robinson Garden Club,” attended an improvement league meeting in Clayton.20 Anne was not present at the meeting. Another garden club was formed in 1938 as part of Clayton’s Improvement League, that club formed in June of that same year. Their first meeting was held on July 5th, at the home of Mrs. Joseph Davis. The second meeting was held in Clayton, at the summer home of, “Miss Ann Robinson “Bluff Island,” ” that meeting included members of both the Clayton and Cape Vincent garden clubs.21 Anne’s own garden club was still around and made the news again in 1941, when the “Anne Robinson Garden Club,” held their meeting and picnic at her home on Bluff Island.22 Though there is no photographic evidence of Anne’s gardens, the historic newspaper record points to Anne having some kind of garden. Summer cottages of the Gilded Age, much like the Robinson Family Estate, typically had formal landscaping such as terraces or flower beds.23 The granite wall surface remains that are located north of the house on a slope are most likely the remains of her gardens. There is no other location of the property that appears to contain stone walls that would have been associated with a garden. Anne Holdship Robinson continued to summer at Bluff Island until her death in 1948; she passed away at her home in Pittsburgh.24
The records for the history of the Robinson Family Estate after Anne’s death are scarce. The majority of the history comes from the Thousand Island Museum’s archives and the Jefferson County Clerk deed records. In Anne’s will, the Robinson Family Estate was left to her brother, William, in December of 1948. William and his immediate family had no need for the property and donated it to Clayton’s Christ Episcopal Church, which Anne had been a member of during her life. In 1951, Christ Episcopal Church sold the property because they too had no use for the home. At that time Harry and Ruby Butcher of Clayton purchased the property.25 Prior to purchasing the property on Bluff Island, the Butcher’s had run a popular snack shop, “Harry’s Snack Shop,” in Clayton. The Butcher’s has plans on turning the former single family residence of the Robinson Family Estate into a fishing lodge and for three summer’s from 1951 to 1954, the Butcher’s ran the “Bluff Island Lodge.”26
In 1954, the Butcher’s began to look into selling the “Bluff Island Lodge.” The Thousand Island Museum’s archives had a number of news clippings related to the sale and eventual purchase of the Lodge. The sale ad listed the lodge as having 7 bedrooms, 5 bathrooms, a 38′ living room, an 11′ stone fireplace, quarters on the third floor for help, a dining room large enough to accommodate 24 people, a pantry, and a large kitchen. At that time the property also had a boat house and even came with seven boats. By October of 1954, the Butcher’s had either sold or begun to lease the Bluff Island Lodge to Mr. and Mrs. Jack Cutler, of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and they continued to use the property as a lodge.27 The Jefferson County Clerk’s Office deed records show something a little different. In 1956, Ruby sold the property to Willard Cutler. The Cutler family eventually sold to Timothy Hubbard in 1963, after the death of Willard Cutler.28
Since 1966, the Hubbard family continued to own the home and live there during the summers. Timothy Hubbard was a professor of Syracuse University and in 1986 wrote the Dolphin Book Club best seller, The Race. His daughter, Stephanie Hubbard, also is a writer and wrote Bluff Island Rescue Service, which is a memoir of growing up on Bluff Island; it was published in 2010.29 The Hubbard family used the property as a single-family residence up until 2016, when the home was sold to the current owner, David and Robin Lucas.
Robinson Family Estate: Architectural Significance
The Thousand Islands has been a summer resort area since the 1870’s, when George Pullman invited President Ulysses S. Grant to his summer home on “Pullman Island,” located close to Alexandria Bay, bringing national attention to the St. Lawrence River.30 Shingle Style homes are a common sight in many of the northeastern seaside resorts like Martha’s Vineyard and Bar Harbor, the same can be said about the Thousand Islands. Between the townships of Clayton and Alexandria Bay, which make up a majority of the Thousand Island Region, there are only three other Shingle Style properties listed on the State and National Registers. Those properties include: the Boldt Yacht House on Wellesley Island built in 1903 for George C. Boldt’s estate, listed 1978; the Densmore Church, constructed in 1900, also located on Wellesley Island, listed in 1988; and Ingelside, a private estate on Cherry Island that combines Queen Anne and Shingle Style architectural features, it was constructed sometime between 1899 and 1906, listed 1980.
George Robinson employed Pittsburgh architect, Thorsten E. Billquist to design his summer home on Bluff Island. Thorsten E. Billquist was educated at the University of Gothenburgh. He immigrated to the United States in 1892, first living in New York and working with the firm McKim, Mead, and White. He was involved to some extent with the designing of the Boston Public Library. Shortly after that, Billquist moved to Pittsburgh, where he worked for a brief time for the firm, Longfellow, Alden, and Harlow and then with architect William Ross Proctor. By 1896, Billquist had launched his own practice by having the winning entry for the Allegheny Observatory (added to the National Register June 22, 1979) in that year. By 1905, Billquist had partnered with Edward B. Lee, to create the firm Billquist and Lee that was active from 1905-1909.31
The Robinson Family Estate is located in a summer vacation area where Shingle Style homes were a common sight. There is also the previous work experience that Billquist had during his career at the firms of McKim, Mead and White and Longfellow, Alden, and Harlow. Both firms had key partners who had worked for Henry Hobson Richardson, the architect who designed the high style homes that emulated the key features of every popular architectural style of the late 19th and early 20th century. Both firms designed buildings that were key in creating the Shingle Style in America. Working with them most likely inspired Billquist in his own designs during his career.32
Billquist designed a summer home for the Robinson family that emulates many of the key architectural features commonly seen in Shingle Style summer homes. The home is a frame home that is clad in cedar shingles and has a raised basement constructed of rough cut red granite blocks. The front facade, which faces south towards mainland New York, is dominated by an open porch that is covered by the floor of the second story; the porch is supported by columns of rough cut red granite blocks. The interior of the home is finished exclusively in wood. The first floor of the home has a large, open layout, with spaces flowing into each via a hall running the length of the home. The first floor’s largest room is the living room, which is where all the main entrances open into. The room’s key features include a built in bench and an 11-foot granite fireplace. The fireplace is double sides, in that it is built within the wall that separates the living room from the dining room; both rooms could have a separate fire going simultaneous, if needed. Both of these rooms would have been used for family and social activities by the Robinson family and subsequent owners. The upstairs of the home had historically seven bedrooms, four bathrooms, and numerous closets. The historic layout of second floor is almost completely intact, the other differences are a bathroom and closet have been removed, most likely during the ownership of the Hubbard Family. The upstairs also a main hallway allowing easy movement throughout the different rooms; some rooms are connected to each other and even share bathrooms. The attic space was used to house the help during the summer months.
The Robinson Family Estate is locally significant under both Criteria A and Criteria C. The Robinson Summer Estate was designed by Thorsten E. Billquist in 1901 as the shingle-style summer home of George T. Robinson’s family. The Robinson family originated from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where Mr. Robinson worked in the steel and manufacturing industries. It changed hands during the 1950’s, and ownership passed to Harry and Ruby Butcher, who ran the property as the “Bluff Island Lodge,” where tourists could stay while visiting the surrounding area. The Robinson Summer Estate relates to the summer resort era of the Thousand Islands during the turn of the 20th century and then again in the tourism boom of the 1950’s. The property is also a great local architectural example of the Shingle Style. The summer home was designed by Pittsburgh architect, Thorsten E. Billquist, in the Shingle Style, a style commonly used in summer resort areas. Billquist also had ties and work experience in a number of important northeast architectural firms of McKim, Mead and White, and Longfellow, Alden, and Harlow. Both firms designed buildings that were key to creating the Shingle style in America. Both firms also had key partners who had worked with H. H. Richardson, the architect who can be credited with designing the prototype of the Shingle Style home in America, with the William Watts Sherman House. The Robinson Summer Estate is significant under these two criteria in regards to its connections to architecture (a Shingle style summer cottage), entertainment, recreational, and tourism values, as well as its connections to the social history of the Thousand Islands region as a tourist resort during the early 20th century and again in the 1950’s tourist boom in New York State.
If you have any questions of comments about the George T. Robinson House or about writing a national register nomination, let me know in the comment section below!
2United States Census Bureau, “United States Census, 1880, George T. Robinson, Pittsburgh, Allegheny, Pennsylvania, United States,” citing enumeration district ED1 166, sheet 357D, NARA microfilm publication T9 (Washington DC.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d, roll 1095, FHL microfilm 1,255,095, 1880), https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MG7T-YRN (accessed July 17, 2016).
3United States Census Bureau, “United States Census, 1910, George T. Robinson, Pittsburgh Ward 7, Allegheny, Pennsylvania, United States,” citing enumeration district ED 360, sheet 5, NARA microfilm publication T624 (Washington DC.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d, FHL microfilm 1,375,314, 1910), https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MG7T-YRN (accessed July 17, 2016).
7 United States Census Bureau, “United States Census, 1850, Joesphine Dilworth in household of William Dilworth, Allegheny City, Ward 1, Allegheny, Pennsylvania, United States,” citing family 82, NARA microfilm publication M432 (Washington DC.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d,), https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:M44H-2LH (accessed July 17, 2016).
8“Deed of Sale from Fannie L. Washburn and Eugene R. Washburn to Harry C. Keesler August 20, 1900,” (filed August 30, 1900), Jefferson County Clerk’s Office: Watertown, New York, Liber 296 of Deeds, page 331-332.
9“Brevities,” The Watertown Herald, August 18, 1900.
10“Clayton,” The Watertown Re-Union, May 22, 1901.
11 Thousand Islands Museum Archives, “American Islands Binder A-M,” Clayton, New York.
12“Clayton News,” The Watertown Re-Union, March 31, 1906. “Clayton News,” The Watertown Re-Union, July 21, 1900. Smith, First Summer Peoples, 79, 81.
18 Thousand Islands Museum Archives, “Family Binder: Robinson,” Clayton, New York.
19“Last Will and Testament of George T. Robinson May 15, 1909, Sealed February 20,1917,” (filed October 20, 1920), Jefferson County Clerk’s Office: Watertown, New York, Liber 2361 of Deeds, page 571-572.
20“Improvement League Holds Meeting,” Cape Vincent Eagle, May 9, 1935.
21“Garden Club is Formed in Village,” Cape Vincent Eagle, June 23, 1938.
22“Garden Club to Meet,” Clayton News, August 12, 1941.
24 Thousand Islands Museum Archives, “Family Binder: Robinson,” Clayton, New York.
25“Deed of Sale from Christ Church of the Town of Clayton to Harry W. and Ruby K. Butcher October 9, 1951,” (filed October 9, 1951), Jefferson County Clerk’s Office: Watertown, New York, Liber 559 of Deeds, page 180-181. Thousand Islands Museum Archives, “Family Binder: Robinson,” Clayton, New York.
26 Thousand Islands Museum Archives, “American Islands Binder A-M,” Clayton, New York.
28“Deed of Sale from Willard Cutler to Timothy William Hubbard August 16, 1963” (filed September 16, 1963, Jefferson County Clerk’s Office: Watertown, New York, Liber 741 of Deeds, page 380.
29John Golden, “Island Author Navigates From Ocean to Banks,” Watertown Daily Times, July 9, 1995. Stephanie Hubbard, “Great Reviews Are Coming In! Get Your Own Copy! Tell Your Friends!,” Bluff Island Rescue Service: A Memoir Website, August 25, 2010, http://www.bluffislandrescueservice.com/ (accessed August 23, 2016).
Recently, I traveled to Rochester, New York for my annual adventure to see my b.f.f., Amanda. While I was there, I had the opportunity to visit Mount Hope Cemetery, a rural cemetery located in Rochester. I have a fascination with cemeteries, so being able to visit Mount Hope was great. Rural cemeteries are quiet and peaceful, and I enjoy that greatly while photographing tombstones and paying my respects to those who have passed away.
Mount Hope was a wonderful place to visit. We visited the cemetery in the late afternoon and were there for a couple of hours; the weather was great! There are about 14 miles of winding roads and paths to walk along and there are many beautiful monuments and tombstones dedicated to the deceased. Amanda and I didn’t walk all throughout the cemetery but we did see a lot. To add to reasons to visit Mount Hope, the cemetery has a number of burials of historically significant people such as Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass.
Douglass was born a slave in Maryland and escaped in 1838 through Delaware and Philadelphia to New York City. Throughout his life he worked for the equality of all peoples as a social reformer, abolitionist , orator, writer, suffragist, and statesman. He also was friends with Susan B. Anthony, who is also buried at Mount Hope.
Prior to Mount Hope there had been a number of small burial grounds throughout Rochester including grounds at King’s Landing, the intersection of today’s East Ave. and Gibbs Street, Charlotte, and the intersection of Monroe Ave. and Alexander Street.
In the 1830’s, there was a growing need in Rochester for more burial space. The city had been steadily increasing in population making Rochester one of the first boom towns in the country. Apparently, Rochester had a lot of firsts for the young United States of America. The growth of population and a lack of good sanitary practices within the city caused outbreaks of cholera and typhus in Rochester during this time resulting in a number of deaths. This was just one of the many reasons the city of Rochester was looking for a larger burial ground. Other reasons included the fear of possible water contamination from the overcrowded cemeteries, plus those older sites were in prime locations for industrial and commercial development.
Rochester wasn’t the only place having these of concerns with burial grounds; Europe was having them too. As early as 1711, Sir Christopher Wren of England, was advocating for burial grounds on the outskirts of town. The first landscaped cemetery was completed in 1084 in Paris and is the Père Lachaise Cemetery. The first garden or rural cemetery in the United States was Mount Auburn in Massachusetts, which was finished in 1831. Mount Auburn inspired other cemeteries across America including Mount Hope in Rochester. These types of cemeteries are typically right outside of town and are landscaped. During the 19th century garden cemeteries were built not only for burials but also for public use, kind of like a park. They have winding paths, avenues lined with tress, garden plots, framed vistas, and monuments/funerary architecture. The concepts behind these new cemeteries were that nature could help overcome the reality and grief of a loved one’s death. There was also a push during this time to be outdoors and to take in the pastoral beauty of nature. The picturesque and romanticism of nature was seen not only in landscaped cemeteries but also in art during the early 19th century.
Click through the following photos for a general idea of the landscape of Mount Hope:
This is the gatehouse at the North Gate entrance of Mount Hope. It was built in 1874.
Another hill in the cemetery.
This cobble stone road is near the North Gate Entrance of the cemetery.
The building in the photo is the 1862 chapel and original crematory. The fountain was installed in 1875 and is called the “Florentine Fountain.” Both of these can be seen upon entering the cemetery via the North Gate Entrance (there is a parking lot here.)
Sylvan Waters is a geologic formation formed by glaciers and is called a “kettle.” The kettle is a natural source of water for the wildlife that call Mount Hope Cemetery home. The 196 acres that make up Mount Hope Cemetery have been declared a certified wildlife habitat by the National Wildlife Federation.
This view can be seen on Grove Avenue where there are many mausoleums erected.
This view of the cemetery can be seen from Patriot Hill. I believe I’m looking over at the land in between Glen Avenue and West Avenue.
This section of the cemetery is located near the single graves and graves that had been moved from previous burial grounds. This is either looking down Pine Avenue or Buell Avenue in the cemetery.
Mount Hope was dedicated by the city of Rochester in 1838 making it one of the first municipal cemeteries in the county! The cemetery needed little landscaping because the site was already fantastically formed into the hilly, winding landscape it is because of glaciers during the last ice age. For example, Central Park in New York City is not a natural landscape- that’s all created into a park- the only natural thing about the Park is the rocky outcrops. Mount Hope did employ Silas Cornell, a landscape architect, to help layout the roads and features of the cemetery. The name for the cemetery can be attributed to William Wilson, a laborer who worked on the layout of the cemetery. In his bills that he submitted to the city for his services, William kept referring to the work as “for labor at Mount Hope.” The name was informally accepted and people just kept calling the cemetery, Mount Hope.
Most of the earlier burial grounds in Rochester were moved in 1872 to Mount Hope. There are a few of the old burials still in Rochester though, they include the sites at King’s Landing, Charlotte, and Rapids.
The following are images of monuments and tombstones that I personally thought were interesting:
The monument on the left is for Michael Filon and his wife, Sarah Van Ness Filon. Michael was a previous mayor of Rochester. The monument on the right is for Azarial Boody and his wife Ambia Corson Boody. Azariah was born in Quebec, Canada and happened to be a congressman in the United States during his life.
This gravestone for an army nurse was another stone that caught my eye, mainly because it was for an army nurse. I haven’t seen many of those.
This monument is a memorial to all the children who died in the care of the orphanage. The Rochester Orphan Asylum opened in 1837 and took in eight children who had lost their parents to the cholera epidemic ( a reason the Mount Hope Cemetery was created). The memorial especially is for the 31 people (28 children and 3 adults) who lost their lives in a 1901 fire at the orphanage.
I did not find a lot about the family buried here but their monument is very unique!
My friend Amanda pointed out these gravestones to me. It was unique that the stones had a plant connecting them.
This monument caught my eye as Amanda and I drove by it to find a parking lot in the cemetery. The quote is from Revelations 14:13 and reads: “Yea Saith, The Spirit That They May Rest From Their Labours and Their Works Do Follow Them.”
This is a monument to the Wilbur Barry Coon and his family. Coon was a shoe manufacturer during his life. This monument was commissioned from Tiffany Studios of NYC. The monument is sculpted from a slab of white granite from Bethel, Vermont because of its size, it needed a special train car to transport it from the city to Rochester.
This is the reverse side of the Coon Family Monument. The quote along the bottom reads: “The shall the dust return to the earth as it was and the spirit shall return unto the God who gave it.”
While researching Mount Hope, I came across a poem about the cemetery written shortly after it was established that was published in 1840 in the Knickerbocker.
The poet was Elizabeth Clementine Stedman (1810-1889). She was a contributor to both the Knickerbocker and the Blackwood’s. During the 19th century she had three books published: Felicita, A Metrical Romance (1855), Poems (1867), and Bianco Capello, A Tragedy (1873). The last book was written during her time abroad; while traveling Europe she befriended Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Elizabeth’s eldest son, Edmund Clarence Stedman, followed in her footsteps and also was a writer and a poet.
If you’re interested in seeing another example of a rural cemetery, check out my previous post about the Bayside Cemetery in Potsdam, New York:
The University of Rochester has a course where students do research on monuments and tombstones in the Mount Hope. This is a link to their website where you can search to find possible research papers on the cemetery:
During the week in Emmitsburg, I had the opportunity to travel to Gettysburg with a couple of my classmates, Aileen and Kathryn. Shout out to Aileen who brought her car with her so we could adventure!
The very brief history of the Battle of Gettysburg goes like this:
The battle lasted for three days during July 1- 3 in 1863. The battle is seen as a turning point in the American Civil War. The battle was ultimately a Union victory under Maj. General George Meade, who commanded the Army of the Potomac. The Army of the Potomac, after three days, was able to hold back General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army and force their retreat back south. This would be the last time, the Confederate Army would attempt an invasion of the Northern States.
During those three days it is estimated that there were between 46,000- 51,000 causalities, making it the most costly in United States History.
After the Battle, Daughters and Sisters of Charity from Emmitsburg (see previous posts) arrived in Gettyburg on July 5th to tend to the wounded of both armies. Other retreating soldiers were cared for by Sisters who had remained at Saint Joseph’s campus.
For more information about the Battle of Gettysburg, please check out the “Further Information” section, there are many wonderful online resources.
That’s all I’m going to write, the rest of this post are all just photos from the battlefield.
This is the monument for Pennsylvania, it is the largest monument at Gettysburg. It is made of North Carolina granite over an iron and concrete frame. It was dedicated on September 27, 1910.
If you have any comments or questions, let me know in the comment section below!
The Military Turnpike is one of the main roads to and from Plattsburgh, New York when traveling east- west across Northern New York. The road is long, winding, and dangerous. There have been numerous accidents on the road throughout its history. At the same time though, the road has a couple of interesting and historical road side attractions that can easily be missed.
The last time I was traveling along the route, I stopped and checked out the historical sites on the Military Turnpike. Prior to the trip, it seemed like a good idea to check out the sites. That was until I actually pulled over. There’s not a lot of shoulder on the road to pull over onto and cars were zooming along on the road at full speed (a legal speed I hope). But some days I like to live dangerously, so I got out of my car to check out an old cemetery and a historical marker located on the Turnpike.
But before I delve into the historical marker and the cemetery. Let’s look at the Military Turnpike, which has its own interesting story and has repeatedly been considered the most historic roadway in Northern New York. Using my favorite, trusty, historic resource- New York Historical Newspapers-I discovered a lot of information on the Turnpike and how the historical sites on the road intertwine with the Military Turnpike’s history.
The road, in some capacity, was in use prior to 1811. It probably wasn’t a road in the sense of what you’re use to driving on. Think more of a path traveled by farmers, their livestock, by foot, and by wagons. That path also would not have been level. It probably would have been overgrown with vegetation at certain times of the year. While at other times it would have been mud. Or impassable because of snow. This was not a road but more of a trail cutting through Northern New York.
In 1811, a law was passed to have the locals actually improve the Old Military Turnpike located between Plattsburgh and Chateaugay. The money to fund this improvement early improvement program was to come from a “lottery” for the purchase of a botanical garden….i
This would be a good time for an interjection.
This is some interesting stuff right here. I have NO IDEA what in blazes, this “lottery” or “botanical gardens” was. It is not clear. The source doesn’t even explain where the “botanical gardens” were located or even who was in charge of the “lottery”. Were people bidding to win a garden? I have no idea. I assume somewhere in Plattsburgh. I hope it was nice.
Now back to the history.
Unsurprisingly, nothing was done to the road to improve the path. Maybe no one actually put money into the lottery because they too were confused about what was going on…So, as you’ll soon see, a common theme in the history of the Old Military Turnpike, is the fact that good maintenance and much needed improvements were few and far between throughout the years.
Nothing was done on the road until after the War of 1812. In 1817, President Monroe, ordered that a good road be completed from Plattsburgh to Chateaugay. It’s possible that during the War, it was discovered how crappy the major “road” from Lake Champlain to the American forts along the St. Lawrence River, actually was. Thinking that a future war with England’s territories to the North (Canada) might be possible again, having a good road to get military supplies from Plattsburgh to the other side of Northern New York would have made logical sense. There might have been another reason too, which I’ll talk about later. Troops that were stationed in Plattsburgh from the 6th Regiment worked on the road every year from 1817 until roughly 1826 (some sources said work ended earlier in 1822/23). Whatever the actual date is the troops were able to clear roughly 24 miles of the road. The road at this time was the main route from Plattsburgh to Hopkinton via Ellenburg, Chateaugay, and Malone.ii
It seems that not much was done to maintain the road for the next 100 years. In 1926, the Plattsburgh Sentinel featured a large article entitled, “All Endorse Improved Old Military Turnpike.” The paper advocated for improving the road that, “…passes through a prosperous farming and dairy country.”iii This article marks the beginning of the paper’s and the resident’s attempts at petitioning to the local government for money to improve the Old Military Road, which was also called the Monroe Highway by some.
It would take about 10 years before any money would be available to do the much needed improvements to the route. It’s mind boggling, reading the news articles from the Plattsburgh Sentinel, which went through some name changes during that time; to “Daily Times” and then the “Daily Press.” The frustration of the paper is apparent in almost every article they wrote about this touchy subject.
“It seems like delving into the dim recesses of the Stone Age since this paper began a campaign for the improvement of the “Old Military Turnpike” which would open up such a splendid area to convenient means of getting to and from the market, for shortening the route between this city and Ellenburgh, Chateaugay, Malone, and other points to the North.”iv
“It seems strange that this, one of our oldest highways, should be allowed to become entirely neglected. It must be all of eight or nine years ago that we began an agitation for the improvement of this highway in keeping with what was being done for other highways. The best we could get was that the road would be placed “on the maps.” This is all very well, but people cannot travel on maps.”v
The sass from this newspaper is amazing.
One can only imagine the frustration of the road’s inhabitants during this time as- stories ran highlighting different proposed public work projects related to the roads in New York, yet it seemed like no one cared about this very important highway.
Examples include an article from 1932 where it was reported that there was an estimated $35,000,000 to be put aside for road improvements across the state. Three years later, in 1935, the state saw another estimated proposal for $200,000,000 to be put aside for road improvements.vi Each time a new amount was named for road improvements, the Plattsburgh Daily Press would write extensively about the Old Military Turnpike, the importance of the route, and how they hoped local officials would use State money to improve the road. It seemed that each time a new amount would be available for road improvements that the Monroe Highway would miss out on the opportunity for improvements.
That is until January 2, 1936!
The road was finally listed on the County Road Program. Improvement work was planned for 1936 and even 1937, if not possibly beyond that. The Plattsburgh Daily Press had a long article announcing the planned improvements, writing:
“Improvement of this historic road has long been advocated by the Plattsburgh Press and the residents residing along its route from the Sunrise hotel corner to Ellenburg Corners, a distance of approximately 22 miles. Not only because of its historic value has construction of this road been advocated but because of its need to a large number of farmers and residents along its route who find it almost impassable during the spring freshets and after heavy rain storms.”vii
It was also during the 1930’s that the Military Turnpike, or the Monroe Highway, was given a new name- New York State Route 190, as part of the renumbering of the state highways.viii
My research into the history of the road ended around the late 1930’s but today on the road, you can see what those improvements in the 1930’s created for today’s route that is the Military Turnpike. The road itself isn’t the only historic feature between Plattsburgh and Ellenburgh, as I’ve already mentioned the road has at least one historic marker and an old cemetery both of which I checked out on my last drive on the road.
The historic marker is for a decaying house along the Monroe Highway, if you blink at just the right moment, you will miss the house. It’s also easy to miss the stone ruins because of the jungle of vines that have crept up the walls, helping the ruins blend in with the field the house stands in. The blue “Historic New York” marker by the side of the road indicates the property’s importance to the road’s history.
The stone ruins at one time was a very popular tavern used by travelers of the turnpike. The home was built in 1823 by Lewis Sage Robinson. His father, Daniel, had built a log tavern located just south of where the stone ruins stand today. Either way, the site’s claim to historic fame is that in 1817, President Monroe had travel plans to tour the Northern States. One of the his first stops was in Plattsburgh, New York. From there he traveled west to get to Sackets Harbor. President Monroe and his party traveled on the Turnpike and stopped on Daniel Robinson’s property, close to the structure that stands today, to enjoy a picnic catered by the townsfolk.
This is also why the Old Military Turnpike was also called the Monroe Highway in the 1930’s, to pay homage to the President who traveled through the area. If you remember from earlier I mentioned that in 1817, Monroe ordered that the road be improved by the troops at Plattsburgh. So while President Monroe may have ordered the road to be improved because of its possible military importance in moving supplies across the northern most territory of the country. He may have also ordered the improvements because of the hospitality he received from the local people on his trip, as a way to thank those living along the Old Military Turnpike.ix
The tavern ruins are connected to another historic site on the state highway. Down the road from the ruins is a small cemetery seen on the left when traveling eats to Plattsburgh. The cemetery is maintained well enough, yet the stones have obviously been affected by the elements of time- engravings are not easy to read and there are stones that have fallen down.
Luckily the cemetery was inscribed in the 1930’s by Hugh McLellan, his son Charles, and daughter-in-law, Hulda.x It appears the 1930’s was a very busy time on the turnpike! Anyways, from looking at the online records from the inscription project, and I was able to make some connections to the Robinson family.
So here’s some quick genealogy of the Robinson family. Daniel Robinson, the man who built the log tavern, was an American Revolutionary War veteran when he moved from Middletown, Connecticut to Plattsburgh. In 1783, the year he moved, he married Thankful Sage, also of Middletown. They had 12 children, one of which was Lewis, who built the stone tavern! Records about Lewis list him as “Lewis Sage” or “Lewis Samuel,” I’m not sure which was his actual middle name. Anyways, Lewis married Hannah Eldred and they had 7 children. The tavern was passed down to their youngest daughter, Samantha and her family; they lived at the homestead and cared for the aging Lewis and Hannah.
Another one of their children, Rosetta, married Hiram Walker; Rosetta and Hiram had eight children. Hiram’s parents were Jeremiah (Jerry) and Harriet; they happen to be buried at the small cemetery. Their daughter, Hiram’s sister, Fidelia (or spelled as “Phidella”) is also buried at the cemetery near Jeremiah and Harriet. There is another Walker, and actually a Robinson family member, buried at the cemetery. The other relevant gravestone is for Samantha, who was the daughter of Hiram and Rosetta, which makes Samantha the great-granddaughter of Daniel Robinson and granddaughter to Lewis Robinson, Rosetta’s father. Neither Rosetta or Hiram are buried at the cemetery and there are no other connections I could make to the Robinson family.xi
The connections between the Military Turnpike, the Robinson Tavern, and the cemetery are pretty neat, in my opinion. Research took awhile on this project but I’m happy with the results. I’m sure there is a lot more that could be researched on the Military Turnpike in regards to it’s maintenance.
The tavern seems to have still been in “good shape” in the 1970’s; news articles indicated that the owners might have been in the process of remodeling the home. I could find nothing after 1975 about the house through the Historic New York Newspapers search engine to figure out why the remodeling ended. Obviously, the ruins are beyond repair unless someone is willing to put a fortune into rebuilding the home and recycling the stone that is currently there in the rebuilding.
As I have written before in previous posts, there is a lot of forgotten history in Northern New York. There is also a long history where maintaining and even restoring historic sites seems to not be a local concern. The history of the Military Turnpike supports that. It is historic and significant to the area, yet the local residents, and even the Plattsburgh Daily Press, had a hell of a time convincing politicians of the importance AND NEED to improve the road. Looking at the tavern too, though President Monroe did not see the stone tavern in 1817 because it had yet to be built, the location of the site is related to this historic tour of the Northern States by a President Monroe and yet, the tavern is just a decaying ruin today.
It’s frustrating that this history is largely forgotten. At the same time though, it inspires me to continue research and share what I discover about history here in Northern New York and other places I visit.
I hope you enjoyed learning about the Old Military Turnpike.
If you have any thoughts or comments, let me know below in the comment section!