York Staters Update: Summer Hours

And now a word from your editors, Jesse and Natalie:

Hello readers,

Another glorious upstate summer is upon us, and we'd like to announce a few changes here at the blog.
Tomorrow Jesse is heading to Turkey (yes, Turkey) for a few weeks for some adventures, and shortly afterward, will be heading to the Adirondacks until August. Both of which are very exciting, neither of which, however, are condusive to posting. Natalie finally acquired an internet connection at home, which while not very exciting, is condusive to posting. These factors combine to form York Staters 'Summer Hours': like many establishments, our operations are going to be a bit different in the summer months. You'll hear a bit more from Natalie, a bit less from Jesse. And we're hoping that we'll hear a lot more from you, gentle reader. Now that the sun is shining, we're hoping that you'll be out and about around upstate, and share some of your experiences with us. Go to an interesting festival? Have some insight about the election-year upstate political bouts? Moved to write poetry by scenic vistas? Have a photo you'd like to share? Send it to us.
You can check out our pages on submissions and our mission statement for more information, but our basic policy is: if it's at all related to Upstate and it's decipherable, we'll post it.

Thank you,

Jesse and Natalie, Co-Editors
York Staters


County Courthouse Series No.2: Columbia County

Second in our occasional series on the County Courthouses of New York State is Columbia County. Located in the City of Hudson, this courthouse was erected from 1898-1900 by the firm Cure & Mont Ross, builders who were prolific in the area.

When standing directly in front of the building, you can see that the oculus of the dome and the arc of the Palladian window line up perfectly.

Posted By Natalie
The first in the County Courthouse Series and more information can be found here.


Three Upstate Ghosts

Lately, I've been perusing a fun little book entitled Ghost Stories of New York State by Susan Smitten. It is a collection of tales about phantoms and poltergeists from across the Empire State and I thought I would share three of my favorites with you folks. Do you know of a haunted location in Upstate New York? Where are your favorite ghosts? I hope you enjoy this small sampling.

1) The Seneca Falls Historical Society:
Society employees report that the organization's building, a Victorian mansion dating back to 1855, is haunted by three spirits. The first is the ghost of Edward Mynderse, the original owner. The staff believes that Edward is the protector of his beloved home: he first appeared in the 1890s after a later owner vastly changed the house (from Italianate to Queen-Anne style). He is known to stop clocks, turn around pictures so that they face the wall and lock people out of rooms or the entire building. The education director, Fran Barbieri, reports: "The routine [16 years ago when this happened] upon leaving was to set the alarm, lock the back door and let the screen door close... one day she arrived to find the screen door locked from the inside with an eye hook... 'Now I always make sure when I leave to say good night to Edward and it hasn't happened since.' " The second ghost is Mary Merrigan, a nanny who passed away at the house and first appeared on the night of her death at a nearby mental hospital to 'say goodbye.' She has appeared to repairmen, whispered on sound recordings made in the house and generally haunt her third floor room (which the staff avoids). The final ghost is of a 15 year old Irish girl who was hired by the owners but quickly died of consumption. It is said that she trapped here and forever pines for Ireland: " 'We hear her crying on the back stairs, which are the ones she would have used' says Fran." Despite the hauntings, the staff reports that the spirits are friendly and generally protective of their home and the staff within it (they have been known to warn employees of trouble by rattling china, etc) and that it is "a very comforting place."

2) The
Bull's Head Inn, Cobleskill: The oldest building (1752) in Cobleskill has a storied history: it was burned twice in battles during the French and Indian War, served as town hall, courthouse and meeting hall, was an inn, a residence and, since the 1960s, an inn again. However, the problems didn't start until after the new owner acquired a liquor license; unbeknownst to him, he had established the bar in the bedroom of Mrs. John Stacy (the last resident of the house), a member of the Women's Christian Temperance Union and a committed anti-alcohol advocate. Mrs. Stacy makes minor trouble on a regular basis, "tossing silverware off tables, knocking over glasses and throwing napkins about...an apparition in a long white dress or nightgown wandering through the dining room by staff working late at night." Despite moving the bar into the basement, the events have only increased of late: guests have reported seeing a strange woman in "period dress" wandering the building, strange lights appear and unconnected crank-handle phones mysteriously ring. Something strange is going on in Cobleskill.

3) Bannerman's Castle, Hudson's Haunted Island: "
Without a doubt the Hudson Valley's most renowned ruin" (this comes from the experts, www.hudsonvalleyruins.org), the island is a "small chunk of forbidding granite in the Hudson River" that "creates a dramatic backdrop for legends of nasty goblins and unsettled spirits." Surrounded by swift currents, the island was chosen in the early 1900s by Francis Bannerman (a NYC arms dealer) to be the home of his "arsenal." Bannerman went a step beyond the expected and built an incredible castle with towers, walls, a moat and other fortifications. In the 1960s, a mysterious fire destroyed the keep and today it is in a state of complete ruin, given over to Canada Geese, vandals and the Putnam County Sheriff. However, the president of the Bannerman Island Trust, Neil Caplan says that there are numerous spirits: one of the lodges is haunted by the spirit of a sea captain and "a former caretaker claimed to hear a horse galloping across the drawbridge during the night." Even before whites arrived in the region, local native peoples avoided the island at night. The Dutch settlers believed that goblins inhabited the rock and capsized boats, "in order to keep the creatures [from attacking], the would leave freshman sailors drunk on the island's shore to appease the creatures and ensure safe passage to Newburgh Bay. They would pick up the token 'peace offerings' on the way back." In any case, Bannerman's Island is a fascinating spot, whether you see it from a MetroNorth traincar or drunk and unwittingly left upon its shore.

-Posted by Jesse


What's in a Name No.5: City Nicknames

Almost every upstate city large and small has a nickname. We've all heard at least one of these names in the past, but many contemporary York Staters don't think much about their somewhat anachronistic origins (many of these names refer to the now long-gone industry that put the city on the map.) The upstate city identities of the past may well be a valuable consideration as we examine our York State identity today, and so for the fifth installment in our What's in a Name series, we bring you city nicknames.

Amsterdam: The Carpet City
Many of the now empty factories that comprise Amsterdam's skyline were once humming with the production of carpets.

Binghamton: The Parlor City
This city name is drawn from the city's many stately homes at the height of its importance as an industrial center. Several of these are now funeral parlors. Also known as The Carousel Capital of the World.*

Buffalo: The City of Good Neighbors
Unlike many of the other upstate city nicknames, Buffalo's City of Good Neighbors moniker is predicated on the inhabitants friendly dispositions and helpful nature.

Cortland: The Crown City
This name comes from Cortland's geographic location at 1,130 feet above sea level, making it the crowning city of New York State. (Fun Fact: rocker Ronnie James Dio grew up in Cortland.)

Rochester: The Flower City
Rochester was first known as The Flour City for its numerous mills that shipped flour down the Erie Canal. By the 1850s, the importance of the milling industry had declined - meanwhile, several seed producers in the city had grown to be the largest in the world, leading Rochester to change its name from the Flour to the Flower City.

Saratoga Springs: The Spa City
Refers to the towns prominence as a destination to take to the 'healing waters' that led to its dominence as a resort town.

Schenectady: The Electric City
Home of General Electric.

Syracuse: The Salt City
Syracuse was a major producer of the nation's salt, which was crucial to preserving meat in a pre-refridgeration era.

Troy: The Collar City
I think the Troy Polloi put it well when they wrote: "As everyone knows, Troy is called 'The Collar City' because of the number of arrests that occur each year. That's not true. Troy is called "The Collar City" because the city was once a leading manufacturer of..............zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz."* Seriously though, the "Collar City" name comes from city's once major industry of detachable collars for men's shirts, an innovation that was born in Troy and gave rise to the term "white collar" to denote a class of worker. A thorough article about the collar industry's history can be found here.

Some other nicknames which fall under the catagory of bold pronoucments include Jamestown: The Furniture Capital of the World, Fulton (Oswego County): The City with a Future, Geneva: Lake Trout Capital of the World, and Florida (Orange County): The Onion Capital of the World (See Wikipedia's list of city nicknames)

If there are any notable nicknames I've forgotten, please leave us a comment, and join us next time for What's in a Name.

Posted by Natalie

*But as any Johnson City or Endicott resident would be quick to point out, many of these carousels are outside the Binghamton city limits.
*In this same post, there were suggestions for a new Troy nickname, my favorite was "Where Henry Hudson Turned Around"

Announcing my new blog

Hello everyone,

I've decided that I've greatly enjoyed the work that I've done here at York Staters and that perhaps I should expand and begin a second blog. My new site, "An Upstate
Anarchist" (www.upstateanarchist.blogspot.com) is dedicated to philosophy, politics, ethics and cultural observation, not to mention Upstate New York. Already I have posts up discussing the philosophy of pacifism and the values that underly Anarchism. I hope you enjoy the site and if you see any technical problems or have any comments, please don't hesitate to email me.



Onondaga Lake's Tree of Peace

At a time when it appears certain that the next phase in industrializing and commercializing Onondaga Lake will take place I thought I should share the following with you.

Yesterday I got a call from a couple traveling by car from Evanston Illinois to Boston Mass for a family reunion. They had read The Return of the Bird Tribes by Ken Carey and felt compelled to stop by Onondaga Lake and see the Tree of Peace. County Parks gave them my number and directed them to Willow Bay. In conversation with me they repeatedly referred to Willow Bay as “Willis Beach”.

They spent some quiet and soul full time by the Tree of Peace. They prayed and did ceremony. They said that they were very moved and grateful that a tree had been planted by the lake providing them with the opportunity to pray.

Because it had been a tough winter for the tree (being at the far end of the lake makes it the first to meet a strong head wind that robs its needles of moisture) I asked how the Tree was. They said that the tree looked and felt fine. Theresa told me that there was lots of new shoots and growth sprouting from the ends of the branches. I was relieved because it seemed that my efforts these past few weeks to revive the Tree of Peace with fertilizer had worked.

June 1 will be the third anniversary of when Chief Jake Swamp led us in a wonderful ceremony and planting of the Tree of Peace. During the ceremony Chief Jake Swamp told us that when he does Tree of Peace plantings at schools and colleges he tells the students that if they get depressed that they should go stand by the Tree of the Peace and gently hold one of its branches and ask creator for help.

A wonderful and strong vortex of energy has formed around the Tree of Peace, as does so with any place of prayer or meditation. Attached you will find an old picture of its base. The Tree of Peace is located at the mouth of the Seneca River and Onondaga Lake in Willow Bay.
Please go and sit and pray or meditate by the tree. It is a powerful place that will help you hear your inner voice.

Rest assured something wonderful is at work at the other end of the lake.

God Bless and Praise Allah,

Madis Senner


PS. The Tree of Peace will be featured at our July 1st “Honor the Lake Gathering”. Through out the day there will be chanting, drum circles and prayers around the Tree of Peace. We welcome any group or individual—gospel, folk, community choir, other—that would like to lead us in spirit around the tree. Please contact me. We also welcome faith and community groups to table for free at the Gathering. As it stands now the Bayview Pavilion is just about booked solid with musical performances—but we could always try and squeeze someone in if they feel called. Hope to see you there.

Editors Note: Madis is one of the organizers of an event July 1st at Onondaga Lake Park. You can read the more about the event here or at the website.


Fireplace Picture

Wandering through the forest, I came upon this ruined building. I thought it was very tragic and picturesque.



Anybody want to buy a fort?

For those of you looking to move to (or back to) Upstate New York and are searching for a unique, historic structure to move into, you should look no further than Fort Montgomery in the village of Rouses Point on Lake Champlain. For a mere $9,950,000.00, you can be the proud owner of a Civil War-era ruin and 365.7 acres of relatively untouched lake-front property a mere 45 minutes from Montreal.

But in all honesty folks,
this ebay auction is definitely one of the more bizarre that I've seen since the Sterling Renaissance Faire was auctioned off a while back. Fort Montgomery, listed in the National Register of Historic Places, is one of a series of fortifications lining Lake Champlain and is in a state of glorious ruin overlooking the Canadian border (early border control I suppose). Currently the bidding stands with 39 bids, the highest being $3,000,100.00; the auction ends on June 5th.
The first question that is raised by a Civil War Fort on Lake Champlain is, why? The northeasternmost corner of New York State in what was a deep wilderness seems a strange spot for a fortification to defend against the Confederacy. At first it seems that Haliburton's great-grandfather company got some serious pork up in the North Country. But in those days, Canada was still a British Colony and Britain leaned towards aiding the Confederacy in the early days of the war; British textile mills relied upon Southern cotton and, as history shows over and over again, mill owners often care more about low costs than the living conditions of the work force. Lake Champlain has long been a corridor of invasion and had seen struggle since the days of conflict between Algonquin and Iroquoian speaking peoples. In fact, the site of the current Fort Montgomery saw a Revolutionary War battle in 1777.

To fast forward back to our modern Ebay auction, the sale of Fort Montgomery is, frankly, a bit troubling. Now, the owner is within the law in the sale, but that doesn't shake the feeling of skeeviness that I get from the auction. To think that a piece of New York's history, a stout old stone fort and (perhaps just as important) a broad section of undeveloped lakefront property right on the border is being sold to an anonymous bidder on the Internet makes me worried. Border concerns aside (maybe the Minutemen should do some good and restore the Fort to protect us from the Canadians... they do speak French after all), this is "one of the largest undivided tracks of lakefront property in the New York / Vermont Lake Champlain Region. A true developers dream !" The ebay sales pitch continues:
"There are no restrictions on the fort, meaning the new owners can develop it as they see fit. One possible use for the land would be the creation of a marina and luxury condominiums with dramatic views of the lake and mountains in Vermont and New York states; there are no height restrictions for such a development. Potential also exists for commercial development, as the area has proven to be attractive to business...The listing of private property on the National Register does not prohibit under Federal law or regulations any actions which may be otherwise undertaken by the property owners with respect to the
In other words, a buyer could tear the Fort down, sell of the stone for a highway project, cut down the old forest and build luxury condos across the entier property. Have the people of Rouses Point been consulted on how they feel about the sale of, and potential changes to, the largest and probably most important historic site and undeveloped parcel in their village? But at the same time, can Fort Montgomery be put to better use for the community than it's current life as a romantic ruin? Difficult questions that I haven't heard raised elsewhere.

-Posted by Jesse


Syracuse in 36 Hours

Today the New York Times travel section featured our very own Syracuse as a place, not as a place to escape from, but as a destination for jaded Manhattenites to escape to. It might be a bit of mental leap for City folk to view Upstate as a place for a cultural vacation, but those of us who live around the greater Upstate cities (Buffalo, 'Cuse, Rochester and Albany) know that these places have many fascinating destinations for those seeking entertainment, relaxation or enlightenment. NYT author Hart Seely has captured this in his article today "36 Hours: Syracuse" where he spends three days touring the sights and sounds of the city. He begins with this line:

"In Syracuse, birthplace of the serrated knife and the dental chair, as the city boasts, folks have been patiently distilling authentic Rust Belt culture. Pardon the grins, but winter is over, and global warming doesn't exactly panic a town that regularly wins the Golden Snowball award for upstate New York's most shoveled-out winter.Half a century ago, Syracuse's pro team, the Nationals, was a power in the National Basketball Association, its General Electric plant made the hot new television set and the Carrier Corporation built the giant air-conditioners that enabled Southern states to steal its factories. That was then; this is, well, something else. Just think of the 'Cuse as your past and future, waiting to be rediscovered."

From there, he visits Syracuse staples like Wegmans (for salt potatoes), Dinosaur BBQ and the MOST, but also stops at local favorites like a punk show at the Westcott Community Center, the Middle Ages Brewing Company for Grail Ale and the Central New York Regional Flea Market.

Overall, it's a great article, one that I'm personally excited about as I will be moving up north in a few months and I'm ready to hit up the sites and sounds. Hopefully, Syracuse and the rest of Upstate can continue to develop their own unique flavors that will entertain not only vacationing Downstaters, but also their own residents.

-Posted by Jesse


Yorkstater of the Month, April 2006: Bruce Coville

For me, and I assume many of my peers in their early 20s, the name “Bruce Coville” conjures up memories of little shiny softcover novels bought at middle school book fairs with titles like My Teacher Fried My Brains, The Monsters of Morley Manor and Aliens Ate My Homework. Coville’s imaginative works were about aliens disguised as teachers who gave too much homework, children who hatched dragons in their bedrooms and ghost-haunted creaky old buildings. They were wonderful, bizarre and far more entertaining than the standard children’s fare. I myself have stashed copies of his great classic, My Teacher is an Alien, in my attic for my children to enjoy.

However, I had not thought much about Mr. Coville’s books in several years until Natalie mentioned his name while we were discussing possible York Staters for this monthly column. I was amazed, and frankly a little embarrassed, that this pillar of 6th grade literature was living in Syracuse, less than an hour away from my hometown and I had never known it.

Since then, I have perused Mr. Coville’s
personal website and found a biography that discusses his life in our region:

"I was born in Syracuse, New York, on May 16, 1950. Except for one year that I spent at Duke University in North Carolina, I lived in and around central New York until September of 1990, when I moved to New York City, where I lived for two years. Now I am back in Syracuse."
While living Upstate is a prerequisite for recognition as the Yorkstater of the Month, we like to choose individuals who have gone further than that and have made a positive impact in the development of regional identity, helped to build our communities or help us to understand and celebrate our region. For this, we can look to Bruce's work.

Throughout his life Mr. Coville has continually turned to his hometown as an inspiration for his work and a place to leave his mark. For example, The Ghost in the Third Row is set in Syracuse’s supposedly haunted
Landmark Theater (a truly spectacular spot to visit if you ever get in the neighborhood) and The Ghost in the Big Brass Bed is set on Westcott Street where Bruce once lived and now has his office. Bruce also reads his work at performances of the Syracuse Symphony and once did a work in conjunction with Syracuse Stage. Bruce’s two companies, Oddly Enough and Full Cast Audio, are based in Syracuse.

Bruce, for your dedication to making Upstate New York a magical, bizarre and entertaining place to be a child, we salute you as our York Stater of the Month for April, 2006.

-By Jesse

Author’s Note: I’m sorry that this Yorkstater of the Month is so late… I’ve been so busy lately preparing for a vacation and packing up my belongings (I’m moving to Syracuse soon) that I just haven’t gotten around to writing much. -J


Taste of the Region #8: Shad

This entry in our Taste of the Region series is a bit different from the plucky recipes born out of necessity that have characterized the bulk of the series. The regional importance of shad, a fish whose Latin name means "fish most delicious" has long been known in both the Hudson River and other waterways like the Chesapeake Bay. But in recent years, spring Shad Bakes and Shad Festivals have emerged up and down the Hudson River as fundraisers for non-profit organizations.

The marriage of traditional food of the river and organizations that seek to preserve and improve the ecological and cultural health of the area is an obvious one. Shad spend most of their lives at sea, coming up the river only to spawn, so they are free of the pollutants normally associated with fish that live in the river.Shad Bakes in the area this season benefit a range of organizations and are excellent community activities. Here are links and locations to some of this years shad bakes:

Columbia Land Conservency Ghent, NY
Riverkeeper Garrison, NY
Hudson River Maritime Museum Kingston, NY
Hudson River Foundation in Catskill, Croton-on-Hudson, Nyack, New York, and Fort Lee, NJ

Here is a Shad recipe from Fannie Merritt Farmer, 1918:

Baked Shad Roe with Tomato Sauce
Cook shad roe fifteen minutes in boiling salted water to cover, with one-half tablespoon vinegar; drain, cover with cold water, and let stand five minutes. Remove from cold water, and place on buttered pan with three-fourths cup Tomato Sauce I or II. Bake twenty minutes in hot oven, basting every five minutes. Remove to a platter, and pour around three-fourths cup Tomato Sauce.

Posted by Natalie


A city is not made up of buildings.

A city is not made up of buildings.

They are nothing more than a collection of bricks, wood and stone. While there is value in old, beautiful buildings, in the labor that the creators put into them and the history to which they bore witness, their intrinsic value is trumped by the true spirit of a city: the people who live within it and the unique society that they have built there. A city is its residents and the buildings are a collection of artistically arranged bricks and mortar without them.

In the same vein, the entire region that we call Upstate New York is not just a place, but a way of life. When we speak of reviving Upstate fortunes, we should be seeking to envigorate the society of human beings, not simply to fill the buildings. It is informative to look at those areas of the Hudson Valley where Upstaters have been replaced: the villages, their names and their buildings are still there, but the people have changed. It isn’t the same place and the displacement of those people from their communities, even if it was done subtly and raised no protest, was a crime of a more powerful society against a weaker one.[1]

If we seek to protect the culture and history of our region’s cities and villages, and by extension Upstate itself, we cannot do it without the people that are already here: the Upstaters. Perhaps Amsterdam, NY would be prettier if the locals were evicted and swanky restaurants and inns filled her old buildings, but it would no longer be Amsterdam. Maybe Upstate would be richer if its towns and villages gave themselves over to condominiums and luxury houses for City folk, but something precious and important would be lost forever. A conquest disguised as a renaissance is an insult to the very humanity of the conquered.

This doesn’t mean that we should wall ourselves off or hate outsiders. Our region has a long history of being a meeting place of cultures, my own hometown is shared by Slavs, Hungarians, Italians, Laotians, African-Americans, old Yankee families and many others. Their interwoven stories is the fabric that makes my community and I’m sure that the addition of new threads will only make a richer tapestry.

However, the arrival of these groups did not involve the destruction, systematic displacement or marginalization of its previous residents. [2] This is the threat of many modern revitalization projects. Take a look at Harlem, a traditional black community that today is being colonized by wealthy whites from the lower end of the island; a friend of mine from the city recently said “you could walk through Harlem in KKK robes and not be threatened its become so white.” Shall there come a day when one can walk through Buffalo and be unable to find Beef on Weck? Where the children in Rochester learn nothing about Susan B. Anthony or the Oneida Community?

The key is a plan of development and rebirth that is directed by and works for the people who already live within the place. When the government of Binghamton attempts to create a Downtown that will attract hypothetical outsiders that have preferable traits[3] than the current residents, the government is betraying the very people who elected them. The Mayor and City Council don’t serve the buildings and bridges, they serve the people who inhabit and use those spaces. Cleansing and subsequent repopulation is not a solution to poverty and decay; in fact it simply forces the poor out of their homes and into other places, presumably those without pretty buildings.

A city is made up of it's people, with all of their flaws and all of their idosyncracies. The time has come for us to recognize that we need to reject the decayed and sorry state of our communities but at the same time to accept that within them we already have everything we need to rebuild: each other.

-Posted by Jesse

[1] This does not mean that there is no value in those places today and that the incoming culture has nothing to give, but that those villages already housed a way of life that was equally as valuable as the new one. Simply reversing a crime, e.g. driving out the Downstaters and moving in Upstaters, doesn't correct the injustice that has already passed and would only bring grief upon the new displaced. The damage has been done and today these new residents are developing their own different, but equally worthy, society in the place of the old Upstaters. But in those places where Upstaters still do live, the residents should have the right to make their own decisions.
[2] There is, of course, one great exception to this story: that of the native Haudenosaunee peoples. The arrival of Yankee settlers involved the destruction or displacement of the natives. That was a crime that cannot be reversed today, but may still perhaps be healed.
[3] Mainly money.


Grover Cleveland: York Stater on Big Money

And now for a visual interlude: York Stater Grover Cleveland gracing the 1928 $1000 dollar bill. Cleveland was born in, and died in, New Jersey, but was raised a York Stater in Fayetteville NY (my hometown) and went on to become mayor of Buffalo, Governor of New York State, this nation's only non-consecutive two-term president, and (to the best of my knowledge) the only York Stater to appear on money. Take that Millard Filmore and Martin Van Buren.

The Treasury website has other large bills and further information.

Posted by Natalie

Update: I stand corrected: Phil rightly notes that both FDR and Susan B. Anthony appear on coinage. Upstate has more monetary representation that I thought!


What to do with Amsterdam...

Back in January, I put up a post entitled "What do do with Amsterdam?". In that article, I laid out a dilemma to our readers, you see, Natalie and I had been debating for some time about Amsterdam, NY. To quote the article:

"She is always a bit more of an optimist than I am and sees in that city the perfect heartland and springboard for an envisioned York State Renaissance. Now I must admit that I have not spent a decent amount of time in the city, but my impression was always that it was something of a hole, not exactly a spot to inspire hope. It was always my metaphor in our personal conversations for the collapse of the Upstate economy."
We agreed to visit the city together once the weather warmed up and report on our findings; however, we asked those who know Amsterdam better to give us hints about what we could see in the neighborhood. This last Saturday we made the trip up north and spent an afternoon wandering about that little city in the Mohawk Valley.

To those who are not intimately familiar with Amsterdam, it is a rather small, post-industrial city northwest of Albany along the Mohawk. According to Wikipedia, it has a little over 18,000 people; to put that in perspective, Syracuse has about 150,000, Buffalo about 280,000, Binghamton about 47,000 and NYC over 8,100,000 [1]. Historically it was a manufacturing center, and the massive mills still tower over the city, though today they appear to be largely empty.

Dan Weaver, a local resident who wrote to us about his city said: "Amsterdam is going through a third stage of decay, the first being industrial and retail. Now Amsterdam's housing is going through a rough time, with boarded up houses all over the city. This started around ten years ago. Many houses have been torn down." This was obvious as we wandered about the city, in search for pierogis, old buildings and monuments to Kirk Douglas (a city native); I would estimate that about 5%-10% of the residential buildings we saw were condemned and about a third were abandoned. On one street I watched a handful of children playing in the road dust in front of their home... the only non-condemned building on the street.

The trip had several great disappointments: the two museums we wanted to visit (the Noteworthy Indian Museum [2] and the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame) were not open and the restaurant that had been described as "a pierogi and coffee bar" was serving golumpki, not pierogi on Saturdays (I'm a bit of a pierogi addict I'm afraid). There were several pleasant discoveries as well, including a neat street that wound around the hill from St. Stanislaus church with cliff-side houses that seemed to be carved out the rock, thrift stores filled with 80's clothes and a shrine of Kirk Douglass memorabilia on the wall of the Free Library. In all, it was an enjoyable day.

This brings us the question that was the springboard for our trip: is there hope in Amsterdam or is it a hole and should we only give hope that those can escape it do? What problems exist in the city and how can the people overcome them?

In my opinion (and granted I'm certainly not an expert or a native!), the greatest difficulty facing the city is the exportation of the community's resources. Walking and driving through the city, I saw few ways for people to spend their money (the most fluid form of resources) that did not export it directly out of the area; like so many places in Upstate New York, the only busy businesses were the chain ones found on the strip outside of city limits. For every dollar spent there, some of the money is siphoned away to the corporate HQ in some distant place. While this is a problem everywhere in our state, in Amsterdam I felt it was more pronounced than in most and there was nothing bringing resources back into the area. The decline of the city's housing is only the latest stage of this siphoning: today residents are so bereft of cash that their build resources, their very homes, cannot be maintained. The buildings of a city are its final resource, I don't know what will be left of Amsterdam when the structures that make up her are gone.

A rebirth of a true local economy is further hindered by the fact that the city is too spread out. There is a city-core along the river that appears to have once been the commercial heart (I'm referring to East Main Street); it could be the center of a new Amsterdam as well. However, the modern businesses are strung out along two other routes (67 and 30) out of the city. These two routes are up long hills and are quite dangerous for walking. I saw no evidence of public transportation (I'm sure there has to be something, but not to my eyes). Business, housing and funds seem to have migrated along these roads out of the city-center, leaving a blighted core.

I personally left Amsterdam with mixed feelings. It was impossible to not notice the city's decline and it's greatest remaining resource, fine old buildings, are decaying everywhere. Yet, at the same time it was not a dead city: I saw children playing, people out walking or playing the park and life continuing as it does in little cities across New York.

In many ways the problem of Amsterdam would be easier if no-one lived there, but they do.
So, what can be done for Amsterdam and every other struggling Upstate City? Is there a way that can avoid turning the city into a mere commuter colony of Albany, and thereby driving out the people who live there today? I encourage all of the readers of York Staters to take a moment or two to think about the city of Amsterdam. Those with ideas can feel free to make a comment here or send us an email. After some thought, I will be posting my own ideas and those that are sent to us.

-Posted by Jesse

[1] These statistics are for the city proper and do not include their respective metropolitan areas.
[2] Interesting Amsterdam fact- "Noteworthy" doesn't describe the Indians within, but is the name of the company that sponsors the museum.


Music of the Catskills II

Here is a second version of "Lather and Shave," this one by a Mr. George Edwards. "George Edwards is a small, gnarled, and partially invalided man who worked as a farm hand. Most of his songs, of Irish origin, were learned from his father and mother. Others were learned while lumbering... Edward's song has a distinctly Irish flavor. It is in what is gnerally described as Dorian mode, with a rapid rise and sustained climax (both exaggerated in performance), a drop almost to a mumble, and a short, whimsical refrain" (pg 33-34).

The song originally comes from Ireland, where I understand it is an old folk song, and has as many versions there (and here) as there are balladeers and fiddlers. Soon, I will post my own version of this song, which I have resurrected into use again. I hope you enjoy this version.

-Posted by Jesse


River Sweep: Things Your Might Find in the Hudson

April 22nd - 30th is considered Earth Week, and in the Hudson Valley, that means Scenic Hudson's Annual Great River Sweep. Scenic Hudson is a huge environmental organization and land trust, consistently vocal and on the forefront of land use and environmental issues in the Hudson River Valley from Yonkers to Troy. Each year, sweeps all along the river are organized by individuals to clean up sites of their choosing, making small efforts towards the greater goal of a cleaner Hudson River.

This year was my first sweep, and this past Saturday morning I wasn't quite sure what to expect, but it was a beautiful day and I was ready for some manual labor. A former botany classmate who now works for the DEC was the organizer, and the rest of the team was made up of Bard College students, about 12 of us in all. Our goal was to clean the cove just north of Blithewood (The Levy Economics Institute) and just south of Buttocks Island. (Yes, that's seriously the name.)

With waders on our legs and trash bags in our hands, we set upon the aforementioned cove, intent on ridding out little corner of the river of litter big and small. The sun was out, and so was the tide, so atop last year's dead reeds, with the mud sucking at our feet like big sloppy kisses from Great Aunt Milred, we gathered up all the debris in sight.

What might you find in a cove on the Hudson?
- Innumerable soda bottles (whose design, shape, and material suggest they span decades)
- Huge drum/barrels, both plastic and metal (there were at least 6 of these)
- Tires
- Softballs
- A door
- A headless plastic Canadian goose decoy
- A frisbee
- Paint cans and oil bottles
- Chunks of foam and stryrofoam
Largest item recovered: a 200 pound tire (it was at least 5 feet high)
Smallest item recovered: one of those plastic tampon applicators.

For me, there is a certain thrill in picking up garbage, like a scavenger hunt. The prize is some sweat on your brow, the knowledge that you've used a Saturday productively, and a perfectly good frisbee.

(Thanks to Adirondack Almanac for reminding me)

Posted by Natalie


Music of the Catskills

As I mentioned in a previous post (the one on wolves), I recently acquired a number of copies of old New York Folklore Quarterly journals from the 1940s and 1950s. Much of what they write is centered on NYC doesn't really apply to us here (though it is interesting); but there are a few gems hidden away. One is an article entitled "Music of the Catskills" by Herbert Haufrecht and Norman Cazden from the Spring 1948 edition.

The authors were summer camp music instructors in the Catskills who attempted to integrate local musicians into their program, in the process, they came to learn a great deal about folk music in the hills and valleys.

They focus their article in particular upon two individuals: George Edwards and Etson Van Wagner. They publish a song "Lather and Shave" and give two versions of it, one by each of the singers. It's fascinating to see how different people in an oral tradition adapt a song to their liking. I've decided to put up their two versions and my own (since I'm a fiddler and neither one was fully suited to a fiddle). Today I will put up Etson Van Wagner's version.

"[Van Wagner was] an independent farm who lived on the steep slope of Red Hill. An opinionated rebel who flaunted his support of Roosevelt and Lehman in a slidly REpublican district, Van Wagner took as easily to shooting bears as fiddling. He would intersperse his sprightly ballads with talk about his youthful wandering, the purity of his spring water, and what he thought of the international situation; then, after executing a jig or two, he would go on to tell us about his apples and how ladles are made...Van Wagner's melody is in bright major, with a more delicate symmetry rising at the nd, and with a longe rmore lively refrain. It was sung with meticulous diction in a light, clear tenor." (pg 33-35) I hope you enjoy a resurrection of Van Wagner's "Lather and Shave."


Skyways, folkways and the rehabilitation of a bisected city

This morning, my good friend Jon sent me an email where, among other things, he referred me to his recent article in Buffalo Rising about how Syracuse University is engaging the community, comparing it to UB which isolates its students in a little bubble in Amherst. In particular, Jon mentions two SU projects: the Warehouse and the Connective Corridor. The Warehouse is a former warehouse near Armory Square in the city’s heart that has been renovated for the School of Architecture and cultural exhibitions (check out this link for a similar plan in the works for a downtown campus for Binghamton University).

More interesting, to me at least, was the proposal for the Connective Corridor: an enclosed elevated walkway connecting SU with cultural destinations in the urban core. The center of Syracuse is blighted with I-81, which cuts the city in two, isolating neighborhoods and greatly impeding transportation (except for the quick exodus of suburbanites out of the city of course). The proposed plan by SU would have their main campus and the Warehouse as the two end points (making about a 1.5 mile route) and link up destinations like The
Central New York Jazz Arts Foundation, the Downtown Writer’s Center, The Museum of Science and Technology (the MOST) and the shopping and entertainment areas of Armory Square (for a full list of Corridor destinations, click here). The idea is to ease students’ contact with the City and to facilitate city residents in reaching the cultural activities at the University; in particular, the goal is to cut over the top of I-81 to make crossing the highway safe and easy.[1]

The proposed Corridor has much going for it. It’d be convenient, probably better for your lungs than breathing the street air and sure as hell better than forcing people to drive everywhere. Their designs, which call for a shared pedestrian and bicycle path and featuring art and informative displays, could make the walk a pleasant experience. I personally support any effort to get Americans out of their cars and walking more.

However, I also have some mixed feelings about the walkway, in particular because of my experiences with the similar “
Skyway” in Rochester. This walkway system links sites like the Hyatt Regency, the Xerox Building and parking garages. Whenever I used the Skyway it seemed to me to be a way for middle class white folk and yuppies to avoid walking in the streets. There was a serious class and race divide in the project: the streets below hummed with the activity of (mostly black and often poor) city residents while in the air above a tiny handful of (mostly white and mostly wealthier) suburbanites scuttled to museums and corporate meeting areas. When all of the places that the middle class wants to visit in the city are connected by a tunnel in the sky they are able to avoid true interaction with the city below. There is no "overflow" of prosperity into the surrounding neighborhoods by pedestrians who might buy a hot dog or a newspaper (or even better, become outraged at poverty in their city and seek to change it...). The Skyway in Rochester, while probably facilitating pedestrian access to cultural sites, also serves to exacerbate that city’s problems.

So how can SU and Syracuse change all of this? Firstly, the Skyway in Rochester largely connects those who are already inside the cultural sites (or parking garages), if the city were to facilitate entrance to the new Corridor from the street and from poor neighborhoods they might find a more diverse population on the Corridor and an increased usage in general. The facts that there are few safe crossings of I-81 and that a major university with thousands of students in it might also increase usage of the Corridor. Finally, the designers need to take into account the desires of all potential users of the Corridor, not just students or suburbanites looking to avoid walking the streets. By working with the poorer neighborhoods, the communities of color, immigrant groups, etc, the University and the City might find out what destinations are important to them and what amenities would be important to increase their excitement and participation.

-Posted by Jesse

[1] I’m personally looking forward to peering out of the glass at the cars racing below in early evening, but that might just be me.


NY State Forests- A hidden treasure

Upstate New York is known for its vast areas of State Forest, which enables people to visit these lands and enjoy nature. Most people that are not from Upstate New York, and even many that are, believe that the “great outdoors” can mainly be found in the Adirondacks. And yes, this is in all reality true, but there are many other great state forests in Upstate New York that many do not even know exist.

Growing up in the “Greater Binghamton” area, I was also unaware of these State Forests, and what I was missing out on. I recently visited two of these State Forests. One was located in Owego, NY, and is known as Oakley Corners State Forest. The other one, which is located in Windsor, NY, is known as Hawkins Pond State Forest. These two parks, which are approximately 15 miles from the Binghamton area, provide trails for hiking, cross country skiing, and mountain biking.

During my visit through Oakley Corners State Forest, which contains 15 miles of hiking trails, I came across lands untouched and undisturbed by human interaction. Besides the trails and trail markers, nature was still in tact. Seeing many types of birds and mammals, I was astonished at the natural beauty of this place. And only 15 minutes away from home, what a great place to visit!

Hawkins Pond also provided me with a short get away from the reality of suburban life. As I heard the birds signing and the frogs splashing in the water as I walked by the pond, it felt as though I had gone back in time. If only nature could have been left the way it had been!

These State Forests provide a great way to escape and enjoy nature, not far from home. My visit to these two Forests is just the beginning of my ventures to these types of places. Below are links to the States website, where you can find a State Forest that is close to you. Go check it out!

-by Adam

Link to the map