When Ice Came from the Hudson River: Ice Harvesting in Staatsburg

Before the invention of electric refrigeration, how did food and perishables keep cold, especially during the warm summer months?  The answer is ice.  Large blocks of ice cut from a river or lake during the winter would keep food items cool all summer.  But how did the ice move from there into the home?

That feat was the work of an expansive ice harvesting industry, which was active throughout much of the northeast coast of the country (as well as inland, in northern states) between the 1830s and 1920s, and which was dominated for several decades by production on the Hudson River and nearby lakes.

Workers guide a horse pulling an ice-cutting rig on the Hudson River, circa 1912. (Photo Credit – New York State Archives # A3045- 78_830)

Although Staatsburg in Dutchess County is a quiet hamlet today, it was once a bustling hub of the ice harvesting industry.  Ice was a very valuable natural resource, which required an impressive amount of infrastructure and investment to cut and transport to customers. The labor came from a small army of men and horses.

In the 19th century, as cities grew in size and population, the demand for ice to preserve food and cool people in warm weather grew tremendously, as urban populations did not have immediate access to frozen ponds and rivers.  Hamlets and towns along the Hudson developed a robust trade to supply the demand downriver in New York City, and export ice to other, farther-flung locations.

Another significant consumer of ice was the brewing industry, which used ice in regulating the temperature of fermentation so that beer could be made year-round rather than in a limited number of months.  As the meat-packing industry grew, it too consumed large quantities of harvested ice. 

Records by two different ice companies reflect the harvests from Staatsburg and Rockland Lake in this April 1866 report in the Rockland County Journal. (Photo Credit – Peter Stott, “The Knickerbocker Ice Company and Inclined Railway at Rockland Lake,” Journal of the Society of Industrial Archeology, Vol. 5, No. 1 (1979), page 9)

Some households, like the affluent Gilded Age owners of what today is the Staatsburgh State Historic Site, had the luxury of filling their ice house with ice from a body of water adjacent to their property, but others did not have the same resources and had to purchase ice.

This country estate and 79-room mansion of the very wealthy Mills family frequently hosted parties of houseguests for elegant weekends, and boasted all of the era’s cutting-edge technology and luxurious amenities available, including electricity, gravity-fed plumbing and ice-cooled culinary delicacies.

With a large staff of estate and farm workers, Staatsburgh had the labor needed to cut and store a year-round supply of ice from the Hudson for its own icehouse each winter. A period photograph of the estate buildings at the river’s edge suggests the location of the now missing icehouse: a peaked roof appears behind the double-roofed boathouse complex on the water, and to the right of the powerhouse, which generated electricity for the estate. (While the powerhouse still stands along the riverbank, its chimney, seen in this photograph, no longer exists).

This photo likely depicts Staatsburgh’s now-removed icehouse, its peaked roof visible behind the double-roofs of the boat house, and to the left of the powerhouse and its chimney. This location would have placed the icehouse on the incline of a steep slope toward the river, which was needed for drainage of melt water from the icehouse. (Photo Credit – NYS Parks)

Judging from this photo, the estate’s icehouse sat several yards away from the riverbank, on a fairly steep incline, which would have provided the excellent drainage needed as ice melt occurred during the year.  Icehouses uniformly had a system of drainage at their base, along with insulated walls (often double walls) and interiors carefully designed to reduce humidity (which promotes melt) and provide maximum insulation.  A well-designed icehouse, packed expertly, could provide ice a full year until the next ice harvest.

As seen below, the ice box inside the mansion at Staatsburgh is quite large, meriting an entire room in the basement as part of the house devoted to food preparation.  It bears a brass label reading, ‘The Lorillard 1168 Broadway,’ which identifies its maker.  Lorillard was a company that manufactured refrigeration units from 1877 until approximately 1920.  The company produced some of the most expensive iceboxes on the market which could be found in the homes of wealthy families like the Vanderbilts, Carnegies and the Mills.

The Lorillard brand icebox at the Staatsburgh mansion was top of the line during the Gilded Age. (Photo Credit – NYS Parks)

Producing and storing ice had been practiced since ancient times in Asia and other parts of the world, by controlling evaporation, but in America, the impetus for a fast-growing ice harvesting industry, drawing on naturally-produced ice in cold weather, is credited to the “Ice King of Boston,” a man named Frederick Tudorwho between 1805 and 1836, developed technical advances that made ice harvesting and storage profitable, creating a mass market for ice. Through tireless experimentation, Tudor reduced loss from ice melt in storage from 66 to 8 percent, and created markets for shipping his product in southern states and the Caribbean.

One of Tudor’s employees, Nathaniel Wyeth, patented the horse-drawn ice cutter which was the first tool to cut even-sided, regular blocks of ice. Before his invention, ice was hacked out in irregular chunks, which led to much loss from melt and inefficient shipping and storage. Wyeth’s innovation made possible a viable ice industry.

Another premier site for ice production in New York State was Rockland Lake approximately 30 miles north of New York City on the Hudson River’s western shore in Rockland County. Now the location of Rockland Lake State Park, beginning in 1831 ice from the frozen 256-acre lake was transported with the aid of gravity about 150 feet down to the river for shipping to the city. A steam-driven inclined railway for its transport was completed by 1860. Improved machinery to replace human and horse power continued to be developed throughout the age of ice harvesting. 

A steam-powered inclined railway brought ice from Rockland Lake for shipment to New York City markets. (Photo Credit – NYS Parks)

Despite rapid expansion, the Hudson Valley ice harvesting trade was consistently outrun by increasing demand for ice, as populations grew, cities expanded, and industries to feed people increased. Complicating things further, ice harvesting was dependent on the weather, and, as a reporter on the trade in 1880 described, “…in not more than two out of three years is the crop a fair one.”  An ill-timed week of warmer temperatures or a rain storm could dramatically reduce the ice yield.  

To meet consumer demand and surmount the vagaries of weather, inventors were keenly focused on developing efficient artificial ice production and refrigeration. In its heydays — between 1840-1920, however, the Hudson Valley ice trade employed up to 20,000 men (and a thousand horses) during the intense weeks of cutting and storing the cold-dependent commodity. Ancillary industries sprung up along the river: barges and ships designed specifically for ice transport, enormous icehouses, ice tool businesses, stables, boarding houses for workers and fields to grow the insulating hay and timber for dunnage (material used to keep cargo in position in a ship’s hold). 

This illustration shows the design of barges made to transport ice down the Hudson River. By 1880, author Henry hall reported that “On the Hudson, a large fleet of barges, built especially for the trade, are employed. There are about 100 of them at present…They carry from 400 to 1,100 tons of ice… A small windmill revolves around the top of the roof [of the cargo house] and drives a pump for clearing the hold of water from the melting ice.” (Photo Credit – Henry Hall, The Ice Industry of the United States: With a Brief Sketch of its History and Estimates of Production in the Different States. SOURCE: U.S. Dept. of the Interior, Census Division, Tenth Census, 1880., vol.22, Washington, Government Printing Office, 1888)

From approximately 1840 to 1920, ice was harvested from the Hudson River, particularly north of Poughkeepsie. The ice near New York City was not used because, as an estuary, it contained too much salt, which would result in ice that resisted freezing and melted more quickly than the ice from freshwater further north.    

Ice harvesting began in January and on average continued for about six to eight weeks or until the icehouses were filled. The harvesting season was very limited and ice had to be at least six inches thick to be cut, since melting would have occurred in storage and transit; conversely, blocks too large were unmanageable for workers to transport. Men accompanied by horses, and later aided by steam-driven mechanical devices, often worked ten hours a day and seven days a week harvesting and storing ice. In January 1895, the Poughkeepsie Eagle-News reported that many pack peddlers abandoned their routes to work at ice harvesting. Residents of the mid-Hudson Valley who made bricks or farmed in the warmer months, found good employment in the winter harvesting of ice, while other workers handled the shipping of stored ice to markets in the fall, summer and spring.

The process of harvesting ice from the river involved clearing snow or dirt from the surface with horse drawn plows, and sometimes planing smooth the surface.  The area was measured and then scored into a grid by a horse-drawn “marker,” resembling a plow.  Another tool (Wyeth’s ice plow, or a derivative of his invention) then cut blocks free. The long lengths of ice were then floated toward the shore in an open water channel. Once they neared the ice house on shore, a final cut was made with a 4 or 5 foot-long handheld saw.  The ice was moved into the ice house by a horse-drawn or, later, steam-powered elevator or conveyor belt. Workers used a pole to hook the floating blocks of ice and position them on the elevator.  Inside the ice house, the blocks were insulated by sawdust and hay between layers to prevent them from melting and fusing. When the demand for ice began from March onward, barges carrying anywhere from 400 to 1000 tons of ice would ship the ice down the river to sell. 

A worker uses a hand saw to cut ice blocks , circa 1900. (Photo Credit – U.S. Library of Congress)

 In its heyday, Staatsburg had at least ten private commercial icehouses.  Many companies operated in New York City, but had an ice house in Staatsburg to store ice from that section of the river including the American Ice Company, the New York Ice Company, the Mutual Benefit Company and the Knickerbocker Ice Company.  According to an article in the New York Daily Herald published February 13, 1874, the Mutual Benefit Company had an ice house at Staatsburg that held 15,000 tons of ice.  The company employed 75 men, 10 boys, fivehorses, and a steam engine to fill the ice house.  The largest ice harvesting company was the Knickerbocker Ice Company, which was based in New York, but had ice houses all along the Hudson.  Their ice house in Staatsburg held 25,000 tons of ice and they employed over 10,000 men in the region. In 1896 they had a capacity for 1.8 million tons of ice, which was approximately 50 percent of the entire industry in New York. 

The icehouse for the American Ice Co. in Kingston. (Photo Credit – Kingston Daily Freeman – February 19, 1909)

In addition to commercial ice harvesting in Staatsburg, one of the most successful companies in the village produced tools for the trade. After J.H Bodenstein (1823-1875) emigrated from Germany, he settled in Staatsburg and started a blacksmith shop that made tools used for ice harvesting.  The business officially became the Staatsburg Ice Tool Works in 1868 and the family business continued for four generations. The family held approximately twenty patents for various ice harvesting and other tools including this one for an ice cutting tool.  A catalogue of their ice tools is found here.

The works sold their products both across the United States and abroad. The business lasted for more than a century before closing in 1984 when all of the buildings and equipment were sold by the fourth generation of the Bodenstein family.  

A catalogue for the Staatsburg Ice Tool Works illustrates a pair of ice tongs. (Photo Credit – J. G. Bodenstein & Co., Catalogue No. 102, accessed from Archives.org

A worker recalls his service at the Staatsburg Ice Tool Wors in the March 14, 1949 edition of the Poughkeepsie Journal.

 Once ice was cut from the river and stored in the ice house, its final destination was the ice box inside individual homes and restaurants, or businesses such as breweries and food transport. After the Civil War, ice boxes became affordable for the working class, which contributed to the growth of the ice harvesting industry.  

The end of it all came into view when the first electric refrigerator for home use was invented in 1913, but it was not until the late 1920s and several models later that the use of an electric refrigerator in the home became more common and affordable.  This rang the death knell for the ice harvesting industry.  Artificial ice was now able to keep food cold all year long and ice harvesting became a thing of the past by the 1930s.

Today the Hudson River rarely freezes long enough to produce ice of any useable thickness so ice harvesting really is a thing of the past in the Hudson Valley.  For a further look into ice harvesting in the Gilded Age and Staatsburgh’s high-end ice box, enjoy the following video from Staatsburgh interpreter, Frank Pidala.

Cover Photo – Workers use ice pike poles to guide blocks of ice through a chip canal to an ice house on the Hudson, circa 1912 (Photo Credit –
Photo: New York State Archives, #A3045-78_834)


Post by Maria Reynolds, Historic Site Assistant/Curator, Staatsburgh State Historic Site

“Grand Old Fort: but alas Manned by Colored Troops…” Buffalo Soldiers at Fort Ontario

When a U.S. Army regiment of African American soldiers arrived at Fort Ontario in the spring of 1908, it was in the wake of a racially-charged incident in Texas that had sparked a national controversy for President Theodore Roosevelt.

What happened at the historic fort in Oswego County during the next three years was part of the long American journey from racially segregated military units to the end of the practice in Korea in 1951.

The nearly three hundred men of the 24th Infantry Regiment arriving at the lakefront community were a unit of “Buffalo Soldiers,” which was the nickname given to segregated units of African American troops formed after the Civil War ended in 1865.

According to popular lore, Native Americans who fought the units used the term either because the soldiers’ dark curly hair resembled a buffalo mane or because the soldiers fought like the fierce Great Plains buffalo.

Just returned from military service in the Philippines, the soldiers of 24th Infantry were coming home to a political controversy still simmering around Buffalo soldiers from the infamous Brownsville Affair less than two years earlier.

At a time of Jim Crow laws, racial prejudice against African American military units remained strong in the U.S., most particularly in the South. After fatal violence in Brownsville, Texas was blamed on the 25th Infantry Regiment of Buffalo Soldiers who had just been stationed there from the Philippines, President Roosevelt had all 167 Black soldiers of the three companies involved summarily discharged, despite protests that evidence did not support the charges. Tellingly, Roosevelt did not discharge the unit’s white officers, who testified that all their soldiers were in barracks at the time of the incident.

That event was still fresh in the summer of 1907, when the U.S. Army announced it was stationing Buffalo soldiers east of the Mississippi for the first time by bringing the 24th to Fort Ontario. The unit found itself in a political firestorm, with some local residents and political leaders objecting to the move.

During the early 20th century, the situation for Black soldiers in the U.S. Army was deteriorating rapidly.  Four decades after their formation, the Buffalo Soldiers were no longer needed far from the general population to fight against Native Americans in the west. Their overseas service in Spanish-American War (1898), the Boxer Rebellion in China (1899-1901) and the Philippine-American War (1899-1902) was at end as well.

Buffalo Soldiers on duty in Cuba during the Spanish-American War. (Photo Credit – U.S. Army)

A newspaper account describes Congressional efforts to disband all African American military units after the end of the Spanish-American War and in the wake of the Brownsville Affair. (Cleveland Enterprise, Jan. 4, 1907)

So, as these African American U.S. Army regulars returned to garrison life in the United States, the proponents of segregation and domination were pursuing their racist goals more fervently than ever. The Ku Klux Klan was approaching its pinnacle of strength and numbers, racist members of Congress tried to purge the four Buffalo Soldier regiments from the regular army, and in some states black National Guard regiments were eliminated and others relegated to labor duties.

Mindful of the professional pride, discipline, and assertiveness of African American soldiers, and perhaps of their access to weapons, white civilians in the mid-west and south vehemently objected to them being posted near their communities.

At Brownsville where Jim Crow laws were enforced, the black soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 25th U.S. Infantry Regiment immediately encountered racial discrimination, physical abuse, and threats from local businesses, civilians, and customs collectors.  After being accused of going on a midnight shooting spree on Aug. 12-13, 1906 that left a civilian bartender dead, the entire regiment was dismissed by President Roosevelt over numerous objections that the accusations may have been unjust and racially motivated by the townspeople.

Roosevelt’s reaction to Brownsville shocked his Black civilian constituency and the Constitution League, a national interracial civil-rights organization, which along with many whites decried his action. But the decision stood until 1972, when the Army reinvestigated and reversed Roosevelt.

A 1906 political poster criticizes President Theodore Roosevelt for his mass discharge of the Buffalo Soldiers after the factually-disputed Brownsville Affair. (Photo Credit – U.S. Library of Congress)

President Roosevelt’s decision on the Buffalo Soldiers after Brownsville drew criticism from African American religious leaders at a time when they were reliable Republican political allies. Syracuse Post Standard, June 10, 1907

Perhaps seeking a northern posting for other returning Buffalo soldiers as a way of cooling racial tensions after Brownsville, the U.S. War Department announced in the summer of 1907 that when the 24th Infantry left the Philippines, it was being assigned to Fort Ontario and Madison Barracks in nearby Sackets Harbor in upstate New York.

Earlier, in rejecting a Texas senator’s demand to reassign Black troops before they arrived at Fort Brown, Secretary of War William H. Taft (who later became President) wrote that “sometimes communities which objected to the coming of colored soldiers, have, on account of their good behavior, entirely changed their view and commended them to the War Department.”  Taft added: “The fact is that a certain amount of race prejudice between white and black seems to have become almost universal throughout the country, and no matter where colored troops are sent there are always some who make objections to their coming.”

Before the Civil War, Oswego had been a hotbed of the abolitionist movement and active in the Underground Railroad, which was a a vast network of churches, safe houses, and community sites in New York and other states to help emancipate enslaved people reach freedom. The Oswego region later sent thousands of men to fight with the Union Army.  After the war, Oswego’s representatives in Congress were strong supporters of Reconstruction and civil rights for former slaves.

However, Taft’s observation that racial prejudice prevailed throughout the nation sadly rang true even in abolitionist Oswego. When news of the 24th coming reached the North Country, it prompted hysterical fears by some of disorder and lawlessness. 

A July 10, 1907 article in the Evening Times-Republican, of Marshalltown, Iowa, outlines the political opposition to the stationing of the Buffalo Soldiers at Fort Ontario in Oswego.

The fallout from the Brownsville Affair still occupied public attention when plans were announced to send the 24th Infantry Regiment to Oswego. The Scranton Tribune, Sept. 13, 1907.


Some residents sent petitions to the War Department and appealed to their Congressman, Charles Knapp, from Lowville, Lewis County, and State Republican Committee Representative and Oswego banker John T. Mott, who were both close friends of Roosevelt. Local newspapers paid closed attention to the firestorm.

Congressman Knapp didn’t file an official protest but instead attempted to have the white 9th U.S. Infantry substituted for the Black 24th.  He claimed motivation from the 9th having previously been garrisoned at Fort Ontario and Madison Barracks and containing many locally recruited soldiers whose families wanted them near home.


A headline in the Buffalo Morning Express, Sept. 13, 1907 questions why Black soldiers who fight for the U.S. are met with protests at home.

Having Knapp, Mott and local citizens object to the black soldiers drew fiery criticism from the national press and civil rights advocates, as well bitter resentment from Assistant Secretary of War Robert Shaw Oliver, an Albany resident buried in Albany Rural Cemetery. The apparent hypocrisy also drew the delight of southern racists.  But Oliver angrily declared that the “War Department knows no color line…” and sent the 24th to Oswego and Sackets Harbor as planned.

A article plays up the hypocrisy of Northern resistance to the presence of “colored” troops. July 11, 1907, The Daily Palladium, Oswego.

By fall, Shaw had settled the matter. The 24th was coming to Oswego, as these newspaper accounts of the time made plain.


In late March 1908, as the black troops arrived at Oswego, community leaders and the press had taken a wait-and-see attitude.  Little notice of the 24th’s arrival appeared in newspapers, but Oswego’s Daily Palladium newspaper reported that some restauranteurs discussed raising the price of food and drink to keep out Black troops; others said that they would maintain regular prices provided the troops conducted themselves decently.

For their part the 24th reacted to initial hostility with quiet professional pride and dignity; they quickly became active and beneficial members of the Oswego community.

First to benefit were the tailor shops who received orders to replace clothing lost when the 24th’s stored baggage was destroyed in the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. The men had arrived with literally all the tropical climate clothing from the Philippines on their backs or in knapsacks. The 24th spent their pay and participated in community activities, ceremonies, parades, sporting events, veteran’s funerals, and the post orchestra performed regularly in the city.

This penny postcard (shown below) is an iconic artifact in the collection of Fort Ontario State Historic Site.  It coldly documents racism in the early 20th century U.S. Army officer corps.  Postmarked August 24, 1911, after the Buffalo soldiers had been in Oswego for several years, an unidentified colonel addressed it to a sergeant at the recruiting station in Trenton, N.J.  He wrote of Fort Ontario:   `Grand Old Fort but alas:   Manned by “Colored Troops” for which as you know I have no use. Well & happy, leave for VT. Friday.  Report for duty Sept. 6th. Absence of two ? mos.  Hope you are well.  Colonel.’  


The “Colonel” who wrote this was likely on leave visiting white officer friends at Fort Ontario and traveling to see others at Fort Ethan Allan, Vermont, garrisoned by black troopers of the 10th U.S. Cavalry Regiment who had arrived a year after the 24th arrived at Oswego.

This officer reflected a belief held by some commissioned officers who avoided assignment to black regiments, transferred out at the first opportunity, and refused promotions to such units. Some officers urged the united be eliminated or relegated to menial manual service. Many in the army believed that only southern whites knew how to command Black troops, and discouraged, harassed, and sought to drive out the few Blacks who sought to become or became commissioned officers.

Yet the Buffalo Soldier Regiments also attracted white commissioned officers without racist beliefs who were proud to serve in them.

By November 1911, the 24th was reassigned to the Philippines for a third time, with Fort Ontario and the community having each played its role in dealing with the contentious issue of racial segregation in the U.S. military at the turn of the 20th century.

While not without its tensions, Oswego managed to avoid the extreme displays of Jim Crow racism that had stained Brownsville with blood and led the 24th to be based in the north to prevent a possible repeat of it.

In Oswego, initial hysteria against the unit disappeared as white citizens fears towards the Black soldiers went unrealized.  The soldiers conducted themselves as gentlemen and were courteous towards civilians, but unlike white troops they were forced to prove themselves beyond any doubt before being trusted.

As Secretary of War Taft observed before the Brownsville Affair, once some communities gave black troops a chance, they praised and commended them to the War Department. After a uneasy and rocky start, Oswego became one of those communities.

In this colorized July 1908 postcard, the officers and men of the 2nd Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment appear in full-dress for either inspection or parade at Fort Ontario. White officers are on horseback in the front, with other officers on foot at the rear and sides, while the Black enlisted me are on foot in double ranks. All are wearing white gloves. Another colorized postcard from July 1908 (below) shows the 2nd Battalion encamped in tents on the grounds as the post orchestra plays and spectators line the banks


For some of the Buffalo soldiers, Fort Ontario was their final post. One of the four members of the 24th Infantry buried at the fort is Sgt. Juneious Caldwell, a Kentucky native who had enlisted in 1901. He served in the Philippines, where he contracted a tropical disease that took his life at age 26 in July 1908 shortly after the unit’s return from the Pacific.

The marble headstone at the grave of Sgt. Juneious Caldwell at Fort Ontario State Historic Site.

Learn more about the history of the 24th Infantry Regiment in this 1983 report by L. Albert Scipio II, a U.S. Army officer and a faculty member at at Howard University, the Tuskegee Institute, University of Minnesota, Cairo University, University of Puerto Rico, and University of Pittsburgh. Scipio’s father was a member of the 24th from 1915 to 1942.


Cover Photo- Members of the 24th Infantry Regiment in the Philippines in 1902. (Photo Credit – U.S. Army) All other images NYS Parks unless otherwise noted.

Post by Paul A. Lear, Historic Site Manager, Fort Ontario State Historic Site

The General of Hearts

While the Grant Cottage State Historic Site marks the final days of a renowned Civil War leader and U.S. President, it also was the final chapter of a long love story, which seems appropriate to share with readers around Valentine’s Day.

Lying in bed inside the cottage as he drew his final breaths, only days after finishing wartime memoirs that he hoped would support his family after he was gone, Ulysses S. Grant held the hand of his wife as they shared a final gaze.

It was decades from the spring of 1844 when the 21-year-old U.S. Army lieutenant first met 18-year-old Julia Dent, the sister of his West Point roommate Fred Dent, while visiting the Dent family in St. Louis. There was an instant attraction between them that was fostered by time spent together. Julia remarked that “Lieutenant Grant… became a daily visitor… He was always by my side walking or riding.”

A young Ulysses S. Grant at about the time of the Mexican-American War.
Julia Dent, the object of the young officer’s affections.


On their way to a wedding in St. Louis, the couple encountered a rain-swollen creek. Julia was ready to turn back, but Ulysses was characteristically confident that he could navigate it. The nervous Julia said as they pulled up their carriage to the submerged bridge, “Now if anything happens, remember I shall cling to you, no matter what you say to the contrary.”

Once safely across the creek, Ulysses turned to Julia and proposed by asking if she would cling to him for the rest of her life. While the proposal came as a surprise for the young Julia, Grant’s boldness paid off as she agreed to wear his class ring as a symbol of their engagement.

But the coming Mexican-American war would separate them for four long years, inspiring the young officer to express his love in numerous romantically tinged letters to his faraway fiancée. Ulysses shared a sentiment that would echo across the rest of their lives, writing to his future bride: “In going away now I feel as if I had someone else than myself to live and strive to do well for.”

This sentiment would define their relationship but perhaps no more so than during his final weeks on Mt. McGregor as Ulysses fought to finish his memoirs to provide for Julia and their children.

In some ways Ulysses and Julia were like Romeo and Juliet, representing young people from different worlds on a collision course. Ulysses had grown up in an abolitionist ripe area of southern Ohio with antislavery parents. Julia, on the other hand, had grown up on a slave-holding plantation near St. Louis, Missouri. Neither of their fathers were keen on the match and for their entire lives there would remain some tension between the two families.

When Grant was in Mexico, he wrote young Julia often with a heartfelt yearning. “You can have but little idea of the influence you have over me Julia, even while so far away… absent or present I am more or less governed by what I think is your will.” Pining for their reunion he wrote, “I am getting very tired of this war and particularly of being separated from one I love so much.” And frequently he ended his letters with sentiments such as “Adieu dearest Julia. A thousand kisses for you. Dream of me” as shown below.


With the war finally over, in the summer of 1848 the couple were wed in a small ceremony at the Dent home in St. Louis. Among the groomsmen were three other soldiers who would later fight for the Confederacy, including Julia’s cousin James Longstreet. (Two decades later, Grant helped obtain a Congressional pardon for Longstreet, a prominent former Confederate general who supported Grant in his successful 1868 bid for the U.S. presidency.)

During the next 12 years of marriage, the Grants would endure the trials and separations of an army life, which included postings in upstate New York. His playful romantic gestures including a letter sent from a nearby town stating, “I find that I love you just the same in Adams [NY] that I did in Sackets Harbor [NY].” But frequent moves and a separation of almost two years strained Ulysses to the breaking point, prompting him to resign from the Army in 1854 to reunite with his wife and two young sons, Fred and Ulysses Jr. The couple would have two more children, Nellie and Jesse, before the end of the 1850s.

Conflict again claimed the devoted husband when the Civil War began in 1861. As fighting raged, the rising military star would not forget his wife and children, sending for them to join him in the field whenever possible. Ulysses strained to be the consummate family man and was a devoted husband and father. Julia would be his confidant and supporter through the trials of war.

The Grants pose for a formal portrait during the Civil War.

Ulysses, in his general’s uniform, Julia, and their son, Jesse, pose together at City Point, Va., the site of a major Union military installation and a headquarters for Grant during the Civil War.

As Ulysses assumed command of all Union forces and his fame grew, Julia began to feel as if she was too plain. She approached her husband on the subject of corrective eye surgery for her cross-eyed (strabismus) condition. He responded with the charming sentiment, “Did I not see you and fall in love with you with these same eyes? I like them just as they are, and now, remember, you are not to interfere with them. They are mine, and let me tell you, Mrs. Grant, you had better not make any experiments, as I might not like you half so well with any other eyes.”

After the war, Grant served as U.S. president from 1869 to 1877, and Julia would stand by her husband through those tumultuous years, offering advice on important matters at times. At their New Jersey cottage, known as the “Summer White House,” their playfulness would again emerge.

After watching his son Ulysses Jr. bound over the porch railing Ulysses. teased his wife, “If you were sitting here alone…and the cottage caught fire, you must be rescued or burn.” “You think so!” Julia replied playfully as she defiantly bounded over the porch railing as easily as her son had done.

President Ulysses S. Grant, and Julia, the First Lady.

The couple’s affectionate manner was always at the surface and was illustrated in another incident on their U.S. and world tour in 1879, when Grant was one of the most recognized Americans in the word. They had returned to the U.S. from abroad and were visiting a mine in Virginia City, Nevada.

At the entrance, the General made a wager with another gentleman that Julia would not make the harrowing descent deep into the mine. The gentleman secretly informed Julia that her husband bet money she would back out. She resolutely stepped up on the platform surprising Ulysses who questioned whether she really was going down into the mine. Julia uttered a simple “Yes” and Ulysses lost his bet.

Ulysses and Julia pose for a photograph after Julia (center, in light jacket) with Ulysses (right) cost him a bet by agreeing to descend into a Nevada mine.

The dedicated couple was able to enjoy a few years of happiness with their children and grandchildren before Ulysses entered his final struggle after being diagnosed at age 62 with terminal cancer in his throat. The couple had lost most of their money through a corrupt business partner, and Ulysses was determined to write a book about his wartime experiences in hopes that sales would support his family after he was gone. He was aided by his friend, famous American author Mark Twain.

To complete the book, Grant came to an Adirondack cabin in Wilton, Saratoga County, to accomplish his final mission. Throughout his six-week ordeal, Julia was by his side. Pushing through his pain, he finished his book and died on July 23, 1885, only four days after final proofreading of his manuscript.

A terminally ill Ulysses S. Grant at Grant Cottage in Wilton, Saratoga County, where he completed his memoirs shortly before his death. Julia sits by his side.

His resolve secured financial security for his family, who were supported through $450,000 in proceeds from what became a best-seller.

Years later, the widow of the great American hero would state, “For nearly thirty-seven years, I, his wife, rested and was warmed in the sunlight of his loyal love… and now, even though his beautiful life has gone out, it is as when some far-off planet disappears from the heavens; the light of his glorious fame still reaches out to me, falls upon me, and warms me.”

According to Ulysses’ last wishes, Julia would be placed in a matching red granite sarcophagus within Grant’s Tomb after her death in 1902. The two who loved each other so truly in life would now be together for eternity.

Grant’s Tomb, officially called the General Grant National Memorial, located in the Morningside Heights Neighborhood of Manhattan.

Post by Ben Kemp, Friends of Ulysses S. Grant Cottage Operations Manager


More About Grant Cottage


Located immediately below the summit of Mount McGregor in Saratoga County, the cottage and 43-acre site was recently named a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service.

The cottage is kept as it was during the Grant family’s stay. Open to the public seasonally by the Friends of the Ulysses S. Grant Cottage, visitors can tour its first-floor original furnishings, decorations, and personal items belonging to Grant.

Tours are scheduled to resume for the season in May 2021. Artifacts on display include the mantel clock stopped by Grant’s son Fred at the moment of his father’s death, and original floral arrangements from Grant’s funeral in August 1885.

Grant Cottage first opened as a historic site in 1890 when it was supported by funds raised by veterans of the Grand Army of the Republic.

The grounds surrounding the Cottage served as a tuberculosis sanitarium beginning in 1914, which in 1945 was converted into a veteran rest camp, until 1960 when it was repurposed and annexed as the Rome State School for disabled children until 1976. The Friends of Ulysses S. Grant Cottage was formed in the fall of 1989 to provide programming and tours, and partner with New York State Parks on site stewardship.

Learn more about the Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant which are available online here.

Grant’s preface to the memoirs:

“Man proposes and God disposes.” There are but few important events in the affairs of men brought about by their own choice.

Although frequently urged by friends to write my memoirs I had determined never to do so, nor to write anything for publication. At the age of nearly sixty-two I received an injury from a fall, which confined me closely to the house while it did not apparently affect my general health. This made study a pleasant pastime. Shortly after, the rascality of a business partner developed itself by the announcement of a failure. This was followed soon after by universal depression of all securities, which seemed to threaten the extinction of a good part of the income still retained, and for which I am indebted to the kindly act of friends. At this juncture the editor of the Century Magazine asked me to write a few articles for him. I consented for the money it gave me; for at that moment I was living upon borrowed money. The work I found congenial, and I determined to continue it. The event is an important one for me, for good or evil; I hope for the former.

In preparing these volumes for the public, I have entered upon the task with the sincere desire to avoid doing injustice to any one, whether on the National or Confederate side, other than the unavoidable injustice of not making mention often where special mention is due. There must be many errors of omission in this work, because the subject is too large to be treated of in two volumes in such way as to do justice to all the officers and men engaged. There were thousands of instances, during the rebellion, of individual, company, regimental and brigade deeds of heroism which deserve special mention and are not here alluded to. The troops engaged in them will have to look to the detailed reports of their individual commanders for the full history of those deeds.

The first volume, as well as a portion of the second, was written before I had reason to suppose I was in a critical condition of health. Later I was reduced almost to the point of death, and it became impossible for me to attend to anything for weeks. I have, however, somewhat regained my strength, and am able, often, to devote as many hours a day as a person should devote to such work. I would have more hope of satisfying the expectation of the public if I could have allowed myself more time. I have used my best efforts, with the aid of my eldest son, F. D. Grant, assisted by his brothers, to verify from the records every statement of fact given. The comments are my own, and show how I saw the matters treated of whether others saw them in the same light or not.

With these remarks I present these volumes to the public, asking no favor but hoping they will meet the approval of the reader.

U. S. GRANT

MOUNT MACGREGOR, NEW YORK, July 1, 1885.

Black History Month In New York State Parks

There is a rich heritage of New York history all around us to explore during Black History Month this February.

While the stories of civil rights icon Martin Luther King, Jr., his march at Selma, Alabama, and 19th century abolitionist Fredrick Douglass are well known, these people and places represent only a small part of our common cultural landscape.

Some of this fascinating African American history is closer to home, right here in New York State. This year, how about delving into New York’s own aspects of Black history by learning more about our own unique people and places?

Using the state’s parks, historic sites, the historic preservation agency, and I LOVE NY’s Path Through History and blog, you can find nearly four hundred years of interesting stories effortlessly, on such topics as the our state’s role in the the Civil Rights movement and the Underground Railroad, a network a network of secret routes and safe houses established in the United States during the early to mid-19th century, and used by enslaved African-Americans to escape into free states and Canada.

Under Governor Cuomo’s “Our Whole History” Initiative, which aims to broaden interpretations at state historic sites, Parks this year will designate Philipse Manor Hall State Historic Site as the first state historic site dedicated to the 400-year experience of African Americans in New York.

The Westchester County former Colonial estate was once home to enslaved Africans who labored there and exhibitions at the site will be expanded to include further interpretation of that enslavement, the Underground Railroad abolitionist effort, emancipation, the Great Migration and the Civil Rights movement.

Philipse Manor Hall State Historic Site will become the state’s first historic site dedicated to interpreting the 400-year history of African Americans in New York State.

In the U.S., Black History Month traces its origins to 1915 and the national 50th anniversary emancipation celebration in Chicago, where African American historian, author and journalist Carter G. Woodson staged a history exhibit.  In1926, Woodson selected the second week in February for Negro History Week as a nationwide event. It grew into a month-long celebration and was federally recognized by President Gerald Ford in 1976 during the U.S. Bicentennial.

To learn more about Dr. Woodson’s life and work, and his founding of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), visit https://asalh.org.

Figuring out where to begin on such a historical journey in New York may seem challenging, but here are some ideas to get you started. We hope you enjoy your step into the extraordinary history of Africans and their descendants.

Niagara Falls State Park, 332 Prospect St., Niagara Falls, USA: On Feb. 13, the falls will be illuminated in red, black and green (colors of the Pan-African flag) starting at 6 p.m., for a 15-minute period at the top of the hour continuing through 11 p.m.

Pan-African flag (Photo credit – Wikipedia Commons)

Shirley Chisholm State Park, 950 Fountain Ave., or 1750 Pennsylvania Ave., Brooklyn: Named in honor of Shirley Chisholm, a Brooklyn-born trailblazer who was the first African American Congresswoman, as well as the first woman and African American to run for President. As 507 acres, this amazing park leads you into the life of Ms. Chisholm, and also into the wonderful world of environmental justice. Sitting on a reclaimed landfilled, the paths and views of Jamaica Bay can refresh your spirit while introducing you to one of New York’s most noted Black politicians.


Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park, 87 Haviland Road, Highland: Although many people think Sojourner Truth was from the South, this former enslaved woman, abolitionist and suffragette was actually born and raised in Ulster County and grew up speaking Dutch. In August of 2020, a bronze statue of her was unveiled at the main entrance of Walkway Over the Hudson State Park in Highland. Learn more about her life, and about Vinnie Bagwell, the African American sculptor who made the statue, here.

Sojourner Truth statue in Walkway Over the Hudson State Park.

Jones Beach Energy & Nature Center, 2400 Ocean Parkway, Wantagh: The newly opened Center will be offering several programs during the month of February, including an exhibit of Black History related posters, including Heroes of the Great Outdoors shown below. The center is also hosting socially-distanced showings of  No Time To Waste: The Urgent Mission of Betty Reid Soskin. The film shares the story of an amazing 99-year old National Parks Ranger’s inspiring life, work, and urgent mission to restore critical missing African American chapters of America’s story.  The center is also hosting free online screenings of this film from Feb. 11 to 15. Registration is available here.


Marsha P. Johnson State Park, 90 Kent Ave., Brooklyn: Renamed for a transgender African American woman and dynamic pioneer who advocated for the LGBTQ+ and HIV/AIDS communities, this seven-acre park in Brooklyn offers a river front view of Manhattan and an opportunity to relax in a place where everyone is welcome.

Note: the park is undergoing extensive renovations including the installation of public art honoring Marsha P. Johnson and the LGBTQ+ community. Some areas of the park will be temporarily limited during construction to be completed June 2021. The north section of the park will remain accessible through neighboring Bushwick Inlet Park.


Old Fort Niagara State Historic Site, Youngstown: A Feb. 6 tour highlighting African American military service at post from the 18th through the 20th centuries, including the story of formerly enslaved Richard Pierpoint, who served during the American Revolution. The tour will also address the history of the 24th Infantry Regiment, a unit of African American “Buffalo Soldiers” raised after the Civil War. Tour size is limited to 20 persons, and preregistration is required by contacting Erika Schrader at 716-745-7611, ext. 221, or eschrader@oldfortniagara.org.

Clermont State Historic Site, 1 Clermont Ave., Germantown: A free walking tour at 2 p.m. Feb. 21 on the role of the Livingston family, as well as their enslaved people and tenants on their estate, during the Revolutionary War.

National Purple Heart Hall of Honor, 374 Temple Hill Road, Route 300, New Windsor: The mission of the newly reopened National Purple Heart Hall of Honor is to collect, preserve, and share the stories of all Purple Heart recipients. There and online you can learn about our brave service men and service women including men like Ensign Jesse L. Brown, the first African American naval aviator during the Korean War. You can also learn about registering a Purple Heart recipient for the Roll of Honor.

U.S. Naval aviator Jesse L. Brown

New York also has many sites of African American history on the State and National Register of Historic Places, including:

Sag Harbor Hills, Azurest & Ninevah Subdivisions (SANS), Sag Harbor, Suffolk County: The Sag Harbor Hills, Azurest, and Ninevah Subdivisions (SANS) Historic District, is a mid-twentieth century African American beach community on Long Island that has and continues to serve as a retreat created by and for families of color. Famous individuals who summered at SANS included Langston Hughes and Lena Horne. The district’s stewards are the recipients of a 2019 NYS Historic Preservation Award.

Stephen & Harriet Myers Residence, Albany, Albany County: The Stephen and Harriet Myers Residence was a headquarters for Underground Railroad activity in the Capital Region in the mid-1850s, as documented by a Vigilance Committee flier that has survived from that period with additional historic records. Today the site is operated by the Underground Railroad History Project of the Capital Region as a historic site where the community can learn about the Underground Railroad, the first integrated Civil Rights movement in the United States, and its relevance to today. This site is the recipient of a 2015 NYS Historic Preservation Award and was also featured in the “We Are NY” series. and the Underground Railroad Education Center

James Baldwin Residence, Manhattan (Harlem), New York County: Prominent author and activist James Baldwin (1924-1987) lived in this building during his last decades, 1965-1987. Baldwin made profound and enduring contributions to American literature and social history, addressing the major questions America faced in those decades. Recently, portions of Manhattan park were renamed after James Baldwin to further honor his legacy. His former home is featured in the New York City LGBT sites project.

John W. Jones Museum, Elmira, Chemung County: The John W. Jones House in Elmira is listed in the State and National Registers of Historic Places and is now a museum open to the public. John W. Jones became an active agent in the Underground Railroad in 1851 and continued to help enslaved individuals escape to freedom for many years. The museum explores Mr. Jones’ community involvement and his relationship with his contemporaries, as well as the location’s function as the only Underground Railroad station between Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and St. Catharines, Ontario Canada.

Colored Musicians Club, 145 Broadway, Buffalo: Formed in 1917, the Colored Musicians Club was one of the oldest continually operating African-American musicians’ clubs in the country as well an office for Buffalo Local 533, an early African-American union of musicians. These organizations were part of the response to racism and segregation in Buffalo’s musical community. The Colored Musicians Club was home to performances by such notable artists as Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Nat “King” Cole, Miles Davis and Cab Calloway.

Storefront of the Colored Musicians Club in Buffalo.


Given the need for social distancing amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, NYS Parks also has an array of virtual and online events and information. Here are a few examples:

John Jay Homestead State Historic Site, Katonah: A Zoom lecture on the history of enslavement in this prominent Colonial-era family starts 7 p.m. Feb. 24. Registration available at www.johnjayhomestead.org The website also includes virtual exhibits, school programs and tours to explore the Jay family’s history as enslavers, and the dedication of later generations of Jays to the abolitionist cause.

Olana State Historic Site, Hudson: A webinar on the life of 19th century African American and Ojibwe sculptor Mary Edmonia Lewis, presented by University of New Mexico professor Kirsten Buick. Starting 6 p.m. Feb. 24, access to this event requires paid membership in The Olana Partnership available at www.olana.org/membership.

Mary Edmonia Lewis, from the book Child of the Fire, by author Kirsten Buick.

Jay Heritage Center, Rye: A Zoom lecture by Dr. Gretchen Sorin, director of Cooperstown Graduate Program in Museum Studies, on her new book, “Driving While Black: African American Travel and the Road to Civil Rights” will be held 7 p.m. Feb. 11. Registration is available here.

Clermont State Historic Site, Germantown: A Facebook Live event starts 2 p.m. Feb. 20 hosted by comic artist Emily Ree on how the Red Scare of the 1950s led to blacklisting in the comic book industry, which at the time supported a diverse workforce of people of color and women.

Schuyler Mansion State Historic Site, Albany: In 1793 a good portion of the City of Albany burned down. Three enslaved Africans were accused of setting the blaze. In this fictionized drama based on historic evidence, see how the community of enslaved and free, Africans and Europeans interacted during this tense time in a legal system where the enslaved had little voice. Here is a guide to The Accused: Slavery and the Albany Fire of 1793.

Facebook posts on African American related items from Parks’ historic sites are also available, including:

Fort Montgomery State Historic Site, Fort Montgomery: This post offers a glimpse into the life of Benjamin Lattimore, one of the few known African American soldiers to fight in this 1777 Revolutionary War battle in the Mohawk Valley.

Fort Ontario State Historic Site, Oswego: This post describes the World War II training of Harlem Hellfighters, the segregated African American 15th New York National Guard Regiment who were stationed at the fort.

Formerly the 15th NYNG Infantry Regiment, the unit was activated into federal service and began training as the 369th Coast Anti-Aircraft Artillery Regiment at Fort Ontario in January 1941. This occurred after FDR federalized the National Guard in preparation for WWII. It was the first opportunity for blacks to serve in a technical role in the U.S. Armed Forces, a milestone in the Civil Rights movement. The regiment is now the 369th Sustainment Brigade with an armory on 5th Avenue in New York City.

Shown below is the 369th depicted in a promotion for the Netherland Dairy of Oswego which supplied the 2,000-man garrison with milk. It appeared in the May 28, 1941 issue of the Post Script, the regiment’s newspaper while stationed at Fort Ontario until September 1941.


And finally, the New York State Parks Blog also has recent posts on African American historical items, including the Dutch colonial-era African American holiday of Pinkster, 19th century abolitionist Sojourner Truth and her life in the Hudson Valley, the 19th century emancipation holiday of Juneteenth which last year became an official state holiday, and the role of African American leadership in the Civilian Conservation Corps in New York State during the Great Depression.

So, take advantage of these many opportunities to learn about the history of people and places that form a more complete story of New York State.

African American members of the Civilian Conservation Corps work on a project in New York State during the Great Depression.

Cover Shot: African American Cemetery in Montgomery, Orange County, believed to hold graves of about 100 people, mainly slaves brought to the region in the mid-18th cemetery. (Photo Credit – Lavada Nahon) All other photos from NYS Parks unless otherwise noted.

Post by Lavada Nahon, Interpreter of African American History, Bureau of Historic Sites, NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation

Wonders of the Winter Beach

Getting cabin fever? Well, bundle up and take a trip to a beach-front state park! Lake Ontario, Lake Erie, Lake Champlain, Long Island parks or the many parks on small lakes: Glimmerglass, Green Lakes, Long Point-Chatauqua Lake, Allegany, or many others.

This is the time to explore the many interesting patterns and colors of wintertime “icescapes.”


For now, enjoy some spectacular views from Southwick Beach State Park and its wild ice formations on the eastern shores of Lake Ontario. With no other visitors in sight on this day, there was no problem for this intrepid explorer to keep safe distances while enjoying the scenery.

During such visits, dress warmly and in layers, as shorelines can be chilly, as well as windy. But it is the wind that makes for fantastic ice sculptures along the shores. Sometimes the nearby trees or dune grasses will be laden with frost and salt spray. Or you may find some interesting driftwood and shells tossed up on the shore by the waves and wind.

Look way out to the water’s edge and you will realize that maybe that is not water but rather the frozen froth of waves forming an icy ridge on the beach.

Finding animal tracks in ice, snow or even frozen sand also is often easier than in other seasons. Look for footprints; can you figure out who has been there?

Which Track is That? A Look at Winter Animal Tracks Throughout State Parks

Winter is a wonderful time of the year, there’s snow and ice everywhere in our State Parks. Within that snow and ice, you can see traces of what animals have been there – maybe even just moments before you arrive! One of the traces that can help you identify which animal it came from is … Continue reading Which Track is That? A Look at Winter Animal Tracks Throughout State Parks

Ice can take interesting or fantastical shapes, as shown by the picture above at Southwick Beach.

How does the ice form shapes like this? A breeze pushes waves against the upper shore and the water at the top edge freezes as it hits the frozen sand. Then thin layers of water build up at the icy edge forming this wild pattern of ledges extending a mile down the beach.

In a different section of beach, the ice forms a pattern much like rickrack, a form of braided trim in a zigzag pattern that was highly popular in the 1960s.


And wintertime can create its own interesting illusions, such as this picture above, in which it appears the forest is floating in the sky above the water. This phenomenon is known as a “superior mirage” which tends to happen in cooler weather, when the air is colder above your line of sight than below. In this case, the air temperature is colder than the lake water. On this day the air was about 20 degrees and the water 40 degrees.

Read more about the science of a superior mirage on Wikipedia.

There is so much to see along our shorelines even in winter. Get out in the fresh air, explore some winter beaches and take pictures to share.


All photos of Southwick Beach State courtesy of Kathy Faber-Langendoen

Post by Julie Lundgren, State Parks Ecologist, NY Natural Heritage Program


Prepare to Explore more of State Parks in the winter by reading these previous posts from the NYS Parks Blog.

Evangola State Park: Lake Erie’s Winter Playground!

Along the shores of Lake Erie, Evangola State Park becomes a winter sports mecca as the lake’s famous lake-effect snowstorms blanket the park! Lake-effect snow occurs when cold, Canadian air moves across Lake Erie evaporating its open waters and causing intense, local snow bands which can drop one to two inches of snow per hour. … Continue reading Evangola State Park: Lake Erie’s Winter Playground!

Winter Tree Identification Part II: Evergreen Trees

Evergreen means these trees keep their “leaves” throughout the winter. Though we may call them pine needles, they are actually very skinny leaves that serve the same function as the leaves on a deciduous tree. Identifying evergreens during the winter months is almost the same as in spring and summer, with the added advantage of … Continue reading Winter Tree Identification Part II: Evergreen Trees

The official blog for the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation

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