All posts by New York State Parks

Celebrate Earth Day with State Parks!

This week we celebrate Earth Day! The first Earth Day was held in 1970 to draw attention to ongoing environmental issues in the United States, such as water and air pollution. Since then, Earth Day has become a global event held every April 22nd in honor of protecting the environment. With over 350,000 acres of park land and waters, NY State Parks play an important role in the protection and stewardship of New York’s natural ecosystems. If you would like to join in the celebration and participate in hands-on Earth Day activities, check out the list below for a sampling of Earth Day events held in State Parks across the state! If you can’t make any of this week’s Earth Day events, join us for Arbor Day programs next week and I Love My Park Day on Saturday, May 7th!

Long Island

Brookhaven National Lab Climate Van
Jones Beach Energy & Nature Center
Friday, April 22, 2022 09:00 AM – 04:30 PM
This pioneering mobile laboratory consists instruments used in their climate research to measure atmospheric variables. Come explore and get a glimpse into the science of forecasting atmospheric conditions. The talks will be on Zoom as well as in person.

Protect the Pollinators Event
Jones Beach Energy & Nature Center
Saturday, April 23, 2022 12:00 PM
Build your own bee or insect house; Guided tour of our Pollinator Garden; Springtime Storytime; and Pollinator Relay Races

Earth Day Celebration Project
Connetquot River State Park Preserve
Saturday, April 23, 2022 09:00 AM
In celebration of Earth Day, please join Friends of Connetquot to plant native plants and ferns along the main road to the Clubhouse. Meet up by the Kiosk in the main parking lot starting at 9 am. Please dress appropriately and bring gloves. To register, please visit www.friendsofconnetquot.org.

Earth Day Hike
Hallock State Park Preserve
Saturday, April 23, 2022 09:00 AM – 11:00 AM
Celebrate our earth home by taking a 3 mile hike through the trails of the Preserve observing all that nature can share with us! All programs meet in the upper parking lot unless noted. Programs led by MaryLaura Lamont. Call for details, reservations at (631)315-5475. Snow/rain cancels programs!!!

Earth Day Festival
Hempstead Lake State Park
Saturday, April 23, 2022 11:00 AM – 3:00 PM
The event will include alternative energy activities, up-cycling t-shirt into aprons, make native pollinator seed bombs, and more!

Come to Hempstead Lake to up-cycle a t-shirt!

Niagara

Earth Day Walk
Buckhorn Island State Park
Friday, April 22, 2022 10:00 AM – 11:30 AM
Happy Earth Day everyone! Joins us for a relaxing walk through the woods and along with Niagara River. For information and registration call (716) 282-5154

Arbor Day Walk
DeVeaux Woods State Park
Friday, April 29, 2022 01:00 PM – 02:30 PM
Happy Arbor Day! Enjoy a walk through old growth trees. Registration required, please call (716) 282-5154.

Thousand Islands

Celebrate Earth Day!
Point Au Roche State Park
Saturday, April 30, 2022 10:00 AM – 12:00 PM
Celebrate Earth Day with us! Go on a Scavenger Hunt! Play some Earth Day themed games! Plant a seed to take home! Help clean up the Park! Activities available 10am-12pm. All ages welcome!

Earth Day at Zoo New York
Minna Anthony Common Nature Center
Saturday, April 23, 2022 10:00 AM – 03:00 PM
Come join the Earth Day celebration at the Thompson Park Zoo! Learn about the natural world around you and the importance of protecting our natural resources. Discover new places and ways to enjoy the outdoors. There will be numerous family friendly activities and many different organizations at the event, including the Nature Center! For additional information, please call the Thompson Park Zoo at (315) 782-6180. Preregistration recommended. Please call (315) 482-2479 to register. Face covering encouraged when indoors.

Arbor Day at TILT’s Sissy Danforth Rivergate Trail
Wellesley Island State Park
Saturday, April 30, 2022 10:00 AM – 02:00 PM
Celebrate Arbor Day and the Thousand Islands Land Trust’ (TILT) 9th Annual “For the Trees” Celebration by planting trees at the S. Gerald Ingerson Preserve along the Sissy Danforth Rivergate Trail. Bring the whole family to get their hands dirty! There will be numerous family friendly activities, workshops, games, and exhibits from TILT and many different organizations, including the Nature Center! For more information, please visit tilandtrust.org or call (315) 686-5345. Preregistration recommended. Please call (315) 482-2479 to register. Face covering encouraged when indoors.

Trees and Climate
Point Au Roche State Park
Saturday, April 30, 2022 02:00 PM – 03:00 PM
Join the park naturalist to explore trees, their important role in the ecosystem, and what they do for us. How can trees help with climate change? What can we learn by studying tree rings? What threats do trees face? Also, learn about Wangari Maathai, a very inspiring conservationist and activist, and how we can follow her example to help trees! Please note this will be an indoor program.

Finger Lakes

Beach Cleanup Event
Sampson State Park
Friday, April 22, 12:00 PM – 4:00 PM
Looking for a good way to give back to your community this Earth Day? Come out to Samson State Park from 12:00pm to 4:00pm on Friday, April 22nd and help us clean up trash and debris along the beach front and cobble shoreline of Seneca Lake. Did you know that the beautiful and State Threatened grows right here at Sampson? Twinleaf is just one of the unique and important species that call Sampson State Park home. Come help us protect this important ecological community and learn about conservation efforts around the state! Feel free to bring work gloves, or borrow ours! Meet us near the beach and look for the FORCES table!

Saratoga/Capital Region

Earth Day Clean Up
Saratoga Spa State Park
Friday, April 22nd, 10:30 AM
Celebrate Earth Day at Saratoga Spa State Park with our most recent park partner, the Children’s Museum at Saratoga! We will work together to make the park a little more beautiful.  At 10:30AM on April 22nd, we will meet at the Lincoln Bathhouse where the Museum’s new Nature Backpack program will be demonstrated. At 11:00AM everyone will head out to help clean up one of the park’s many pathways. Come share in the reward of making a greener, cleaner world! Gloves and bags will be provided. No registration necessary.

Trout Discovery Day
Grafton Lakes State Park
Thursday April 21, 2022 11:00 AM to 1:30 PM
Grafton Lakes State Park is hosting its annual Trout Discovery Day. As the weather gets warmer it is the perfect time to stock long pond with trout. The DEC will be providing trout and Grafton will be providing activities. Come on your own or bring out the whole family, Trout Discovery Day is the perfect event for all ages. Enjoy trout shaped treats, crafts, and educational booths highlighting the wonders of trout! Learn about their habitats, school programs and micro and macro invertebrates. Come help to stock our ponds. The event will be held on April 21 from 11am-1:30 pm, $2 cash per child, ages 6-15. Ages 5 and under and adults are free to enter. DEC will bring trout at 11:30 am. Park at Rabbit Run.

Earth Day Festival
Grafton Lakes State Park
Friday, April 22, 2022 5:00 PM-8:00 PM
Join Grafton Lakes for a family friendly Earth Day festival. Learn about the migration of monarch butterflies, the importance of pollinators, the impacts of invasive species, and much more. Partake in activities, demos, and crafts. This year’s Earth Day theme is to Invest in Our Planet’s Future. Each one of us can make a positive impact from the small to the tall. No registration required. The Festival will be held Friday, April 22nd from 5-8pm. The charge for the festival is $3/person cash, ages 5 and under free.

Taconic

Earth Day Celebration
Rockefeller State Park Preserve
Saturday, April 23 from 10:00 AM – 4:00PM

Earth Day was first celebrated in 1970 as an act of support for environmental protection. Now, more than 50 years later, Earth Day events are attended by over a billion people worldwide. What better way to celebrate this year than to visit your local Preserve!

Immerse yourself in nature and stop by “education stations” along Brother’s Path from 10 am – 1 pm to learn about topics such as clean water initiatives, sustainability, native plants and pollinators, wildlife conservation, and more!

Start your own native plant garden with our seed planting activity, which will take place every half hour from 10:30 am to 12:30 pm beside Swan Lake. (While supplies last.)

Learn about birds of prey and get up-close and personal with a few of them in a LIVE demonstration from 1 – 2 pm on the Overlook trail. (Please note: no dogs or horses will be allowed on Overlook during this time.)

Participate in a “BioBlitz” to learn more about biodiversity within the Preserve and contribute as a citizen scientist by logging your observations using the iNaturalist app. We’ll meet at the Swan Lake kiosk at 2 pm and venture from there.

Cost: FREE! No registration required. You may want to bring cash for raffles and merchandise. Proceeds support the maintenance of our beautiful carriage roads and landscape. Appropriate for all ages. Rain date: April 24

Wildlife Spotlight – The Peregrine Falcon

The Peregrine Falcon is the swiftest of all birds of prey, slightly larger than a crow, with and nondescript coloration of brown, grey, and white. Peregrine falcons are one of the most widely distributed species of birds, nesting on every continent except Antarctica. The world’s largest urban population of nesting Peregrine Falcons can be found in New York City.

A peregrine falcon can spot its prey from six miles away. Tucking in its wings, diving like a missile, changing direction with precision, ruffling its feathers to control speed, and slamming its talons into its quarry mid-air. Its beak has a type of tooth that acts like a wire cutter, severing the spine of its prey in an instant. Peregrines are avian predators and feed almost exclusively on other birds. Most of their prey is caught on the wing. Peregrine falcons diving at prey has been clocked at speeds of more than 200 mph, making them among the fastest animal on earth.

Peregrine falcons have never been very abundant. Studies in the 1930s and 1940s estimated that there were at least 200  breeding pairs of peregrine falcons in the eastern United States. Then, beginning in the late 1940s, peregrine falcons suffered a devastating and rapid decline. By the mid-1960s, the species had been eliminated from nearly all the eastern U.S.

In the mid-20th century, peregrine falcon populations took a nosedive due to the DDT pesticide poisoning. DDT moved through the food chain from insects, fish, and birds and moved up to larger carnivores, like the peregrine falcon. DDT caused harsh chemicals to build up in the falcons’ fat tissues, reducing the amount of calcium in their eggshells. With thinner shells, the eggs would be easily crushed when incubated by the parent falcons.

DDT was finally banned in 1972, and a partnership between scientists and falconers worked together to breed the birds in captivity and release them to places where they had traditionally nested, including New York City. Peregrines naturally prefer cliffs as a habitat, so the city’s canyons and skyscrapers provide desirable nesting spots for them, along with an abundance of food like pigeons, starlings, and sparrows.

Due to restrictions on the use of DDT, and intensive captive breeding and reintroduction programs across the United States and Canada, the peregrine falcon has made a remarkable comeback. Peregrines have been returned to much of their natural range and have reclaimed many historic breeding sites.

Thacher State Park is home to a 6-mile section of the Helderberg Escarpment, an exposed limestone cliff reaching several hundred feet high. An ideal nesting location for peregrines. Peregrines don’t build nests; they dig an indentation in the ground or in rock cliffs, called a “scrape”. The Helderbergs were a historic nesting ground in the 1950s and earlier. Since the ban on DDT, peregrines were not spotted around the Helderbergs until 2016 when a mated pair was discovered flying around the southern section of the park.

Since 2016, the Helderberg falcons have been monitored for nesting attempts. In 2021, the mated pair was found nesting with a clutch of eggs, but the nest was abandoned after a few weeks for unknown reasons. In 2022, the falcons have been spotted very early in the year, around February. With increased sightings and activity in the southern section of the park. Park staff and visitors are hopeful that this year will be a successful nesting season and may bring 3 to 5 new peregrine chicks into the world.


Peregrines next on the side of cliffs

Celebrating Beavers this International Beaver Day

*SLAP* *SLAP* *SLAP* What’s that!? Oh, is it the tail slapping that beavers use to tell each other to watch out for something nearby? That must mean it’s almost International Beaver Day! Every April 7th,  we get a chance to reflect on what these hard-working mammals mean to us! 

The American Beaver (Castor canadensis) is a key player in NY State Parks— so key, in fact, that it is considered a keystone species of its wetland ecosystems, playing a major role in keeping ecosystems healthy. This is because beavers are one of the few animals that truly modify their habitats to better suit their needs, which has given them the title of “ecosystem engineers!”  

Most people associate beavers with their dams, which are certainly their most influential construction projects, but they build other structures too. Beavers don’t hibernate, instead opting to spend the winter in a cozy, dome-like lodge in the middle of their pond with a passageway that provides easy access to water below the ice. A lodge houses a family (colony) of beavers, including a pair of parent beavers and their young (kits). Beavers mate for life and have 3-6 kits a year. Those lodges must get quite snug! 

Beavers also store food caches near the entrance to their lodges, which helps get them through long, cold New York winters. In these caches, the herbivorous beaver stores things like branches, leaves, and green stems that are crucial food sources in winter months.

Diagram of beaver structures. Photo credit: Jennifer Rees, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

Their big, watertight dams—made of logs, sticks, mud, and sometimes stone— block running water, creating their own beaver ponds with rich, surrounding wetlands. Beavers constantly work to maintain their dams and build new ones where they hear running water. Beaver colonies can maintain several dams at once, sourcing wood from the forest around their pond. They use their sharp, orange teeth to cut down trees, leaving chewed stumps that can be seen up to 165 feet from bodies of water. Have you ever seen one of these stumps in a State Park? Beavers live in and modify almost any forested body of freshwater from Canada to Northern Mexico, so that’s quite a few waterbodies they may impact.

Living with Beavers

State Parks can be centers of beaver activity, which comes with its own set of challenges between beaver habitation and park infrastructure. Damage to property caused by flooding, plugging culverts, and damage to trees are of particular concern. For instance, Seneca Lake State Park recently wrapped the bases of important trees with chicken wire to prevent beavers from gnawing on them, which worked well.

Other efforts in parks across the state include using devices such as beaver deceivers, culvert protection fencing, and pond levelling devices. Beaver deceivers are a very handy way to keep beavers in our parks while also reducing the risk of flooding for trails, roads, and other amenities we enjoy.

Interpretive programs also play an important role in promoting education and public knowledge of beavers and good beaver stewardship. Trail cameras can allow State Park Biologists to monitor beaver populations and observe their behaviors – and the photos can be used in educational programs too. The Beaver Walk and Talk at Moreau Lake State Park is a very popular educational program that shows off the major beaver lodge at the park. The Bear Mountain Trailside Museum and Zoo is also a wonderful place to brush up on beaver knowledge. Environmental stewardship in NY State Parks is vital to balancing the work of two major ecosystem engineers: beavers and humans. Good stewardship allows for the many environmental benefits of beaver-created wetlands, while also minimizing impacts to park infrastructure. 

Beaver Wetlands

Prime wetland habitat is incredibly beneficial to all sorts of organisms and even the land itself. In terms of why beavers make dams, the resulting pond and wetlands foster growth of aquatic plants like water lilies—some of the beaver’s favorite summertime snacks. Wetlands also protect beaver colonies from predators such as coyotes and fishers. For other animals, beaver-created wetlands are highly productive environments. Amphibians, fish, invertebrates, large herbivores, and waterfowl flourish in these wetlands, supporting predator populations higher up the food chain like raptors, bears, other semi-aquatic mammals like otters, and more.

As for the landscape, wetlands act like a sponge. Wetlands store water in wet periods and release water as the landscape dries, helping to regulate the water table. They also work to filter sediment and more harmful chemicals, which benefits any animal or person using the water downstream. From the wealth of biodiversity to the maintenance of healthy landscapes, beavers can help make the environment strong and resilient, which is necessary to adapt to climate change now more than ever.

Beaver History

Beavers and their wetlands were once much more abundant than they are today, seeing a massive decline in numbers due to the colonial and post-colonial fur trade. Over the course of the fur trade in New York, beavers were sadly on the brink of extirpation (regional extinction) across the Northeast United States and beyond. Beaver populations dropped so low due to unregulated, commercialized trapping for their fur, which was often made into fancy hats. New York was a center of the fur trade as trapping flourished with widespread and abundant beaver populations upstate, coupled with the easy access to navigable waterways, including the Hudson River, Lake Champlain, and the Great Lakes. At the height of the North American fur trade between 1860 and 1870, trading companies reported buying 150,000 beaver pelts per year.

An old, whimsical illustration of beavers hard at work near Niagara Falls from the early 1700s. Photo Credit: Nicolas De Fer, from L’Amerique Divisee Selon Letendue de ses Principales Parties, 1713

From the 1600s to late 1800s, the fur trade grew together with cities like Albany and New York City at the expense of beaver populations. Beavers are displayed on the seals of both of those cities as symbols honoring their fur trading past and allude to values such as diligence and hard work. Likewise, the history of the beaver is tightly linked with the entire state of New York, as shown by the beaver’s status as state mammal. We’re lucky today that beaver populations persist and are not just symbols of fur trade history, unregulated trapping, and all that caused their decline.

Rebounding beaver populations are, fortunately, a great conservation success story. Trapping regulations in the United States and Canada around the turn of the 20th century started the end of the decline. Reintroduction programs (moving animals back to habitats where they once lived) along with perseverant beavers hidden away in high mountains, like the Adirondacks, provided seeds for the growth of new beaver populations across New York and elsewhere. In the 1920s, the Palisades Interstate Park Commission even reintroduced three breeding pairs of beavers back to Harriman State Park!  

Beavers Today

Across their range, beavers number between 10 and 15 million, which is an incredible recovery! But that is only a conservatively estimated 10% of their pre-colonial population. There is much to celebrate about the beaver, but there is still much work to be done. There have been and will continue to be growing pains between beaver populations and people, but if we keep supporting the beaver, then they will help safeguard the natural places we cherish. 

This International Beaver Day, let’s reframe our understanding of the beaver. Beavers may be seen as ignoble rodents, pelts for hats, mere symbols on city seals, or unredeemable nuisances, but let’s try seeing them as wetland restorationists— stewards working toward resilient wetland networks and precolonial environments. There is a lot of work to be done to foster harmony between people and beavers, which will require continual human stewardship, but their own current recovery is a testament to how much good conservation work can be achieved over time. So be eager to get out there and explore your local State Park for dams, lodges, and the beavers that built them! 

A beaver dragging twigs at Allegany State Park. Photo Credit: Michael Head (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

More Beaver Facts!

  • Beavers are very large rodents. They can grow anywhere from 26 to 65 pounds and be almost 3 feet long with almost another foot of length from their broad tail.
  • Beavers communicate with each other in a variety of ways. Adults will grunt and young beavers will use high pitched whines. Beavers will even use their big, flat tails to make a loud, slapping noise to warn other beavers in the colony of nearby danger.
  • Beavers have orange teeth. Their teeth are very hard and contain high amounts of iron, which looks orange to us. It’s not just because they forgot to brush!
  • Like other rodents, a beaver’s front teeth (incisors) never stop growing. The length of their teeth is kept in check by being worn down when gnawing wood and are adapted to always stay sharp.
  • Beavers have very special, flat tails. They use their scaly tails to help them swim, communicate, and pat down their dams. A beaver’s tail also helps to store fat and steady their body temperature (thermoregulation).
  • Beavers have webbed back paws that help them swim better, and the second back toes have split nails they use to comb waterproofing oils into their fur.
  • So water doesn’t get into awkward places, a beaver’s nose and ears can close completely underwater.
  • Beavers also have a special membrane for their eyes that they can close to keep the water out called a nictitating membrane, almost like a clear second eyelid.
  • A beaver’s lips close behind their front teeth so they can chew sticks and other plant material underwater.
  • Beavers are also known for what’s called a castor sac (hence their genus name Castor), which holds oil that has a strong smell and is used to make a substance called castoreum. Castoreum has been used as a perfume ingredient, food flavoring with a taste like vanilla, and a traditional medicine. Beavers also groom themselves with the castor oil to keep their fur waterproof. The strong scent of the castor oil makes it great for marking beaver territories, too.
  • Beavers don’t hibernate in the winter and their lodges stay quite a bit warmer than the cold temperatures outside.
  • Beavers are most active at dawn and dusk (crepuscular) and at night (nocturnal), so keep an ear out for tail slaps after the sun goes down.
  • Beaver lodges are so well-built and cozy that other semi-aquatic mammals, like otters or muskrat, might adopt them if the beavers ever move out.
  • Beavers are pregnant with kits from the middle of winter to late spring, so be on the lookout around then for furry, little beaver babies on your adventures in State Parks.

Post by Daniel Fleischman, NYS Parks and Student Conservation Association

History on a Roll at New York State Parks

As of part preserving New York’s heritage, State Parks recently unrolled a bit of history in the story of a former 20th century paper factory complex in Albany once owned by a New York native who invented modern toilet paper.

Today, the 222,120 square-foot red brick structure on Erie Boulevard, visible to thousands of passing motorists daily on Interstate-787, is a warehouse furniture and home goods retail store. It is now being reimagined as urban apartments with space for a smaller store, with its rebirth fueled in part by state and federal historic rehabilitation tax credits.

Such credits are available to commercial properties once a site is added to the state and federal Registers of Historic Places, which is coordinated by the Historic Preservation Office within State Parks. In March 2022, the former Albany Perforated Wrapping Paper Company manufacturing building was recommended by the state Board of Historic Preservation for addition to the registers, opening the door for millions of dollars in rehabilitation tax credits to support the transformation of this historic structure.

The former Albany Perforated Wrapping Paper Company plant in the city of Albany, now a warehouse furniture and home goods store. The building will be undergoing a $65 million rebuilding as a mixture of apartments and retail space, supported in part by state and federal rehabilitation tax credits. Below, an interior view of the sprawling building, which was once the nation’s largest manufacturer of toilet paper and paper towels.

Setting the stage for such credits is a critical way that State Parks helps protect and preserve New York’s heritage, by making it more attractive for developers to preserve and reuse historic structures, rather than bypassing such valuable assets to build new elsewhere.

According to recent reporting in the Albany Times Union, developers recently obtained city approval to start a $65 million rehabilitation project that will build up to 260 apartments in the building. Other planned upgrades include a gym, a pool, a beach volleyball court, gardens and a dog park.

But back in 1918, when the first section of this paper goods mill opened in Albany, the factory represented the vision of a Columbia County native, Seth Wheeler, who several decades earlier had made his fortune by inventing a new way to make and dispense toilet paper and paper towels that is essentially unchanged to this day.

Wheeler’s simple yet profound innovation was making paper into a long continuous sheet with perforations that could be easily torn and then putting a perforated sheet on a roll to be easily dispensed. Up to that point, what was then called “wrapping paper” was sold and packaged in pre-cut flat sheets bundled and tied together, which made it more expensive to produce and more difficult for consumers to use.

How could Wheeler have known, when he in 1871 patented a machine to make rolled and perorated toilet paper and later the toilet paper dispenser in 1884 and other related improvements afterward, that he was starting a bathroom debate that continues to this day as to how to hang the paper from the roll _ with the first sheet from the front or the back?

The story of Wheeler and the Albany Perforated Wrapping Paper Company, which he founded in 1877, represents a time when the city of Albany, with its docks on the Hudson River, had easy access to lumber and later paper pulp to make paper goods. His company flourished, with branches in major U.S. cities, as well as in London and Paris. The company held a pulp mill and forests in Nova Scotia and a plant in England.

Wheeler’s new factory in Albany represented the company’s increasing success, which had grown so much that by 1925, the facility employed 1,000 workers to make up to 30,000 miles of toilet paper and paper towels each day for sale to customers around the world. By that point, the company had become the first in America to mass advertise toilet paper, pointing out that the “W” in its initials also stood for “welfare,” given that its product promoted public health and public sanitation.

This advertising lithograph for A.P.W. brand toilet paper dates to about 1900. The Albany Perforated Wrapping Paper Company was one of the first to nationally advertise toilet paper. (Photo credit- Albany Institute of History and Art, Digital Image ID 898)
Rose Barcomb stands in front of her machine at the Albany plant in this 1944 edition of the company newsletter. As World War II was raging, the caption calls Rose a “home front soldier” with her husband serving in the military overseas.

Seth Wheeler died in 1925, and his business was taken over by his two sons. In 1930, the company was sold to Roger W. Babson, an eccentric financial analyst, investor, and Massachusetts native who oversaw several expansions of the plant. In 1950, Babson sold an interest in the company to a New York City industrialist, who shortly afterward merged it with a larger Chicago rival. That led to a series of financial setbacks, and the shrinking company was sold again in 1957, after which it focused on commercial-grade towels and tissues. The final blow came in 1964, after the plant lost its largest customer and was forced to close.

The massive brick plant, constructed to be fire-resistant, was used for storage until 1985, when the current business of home furniture and other goods opened.

And that brings the story back to March 2022, when the State Historic Preservation Board recommended adding the former Albany Perforated Wrapping Paper Company and 20 other properties to the State and National Registers of Historic Places. Also recommended were other examples of New York State history including early automobile manufacturing and sales sites in Buffalo and Syracuse, a cemetery in the Mohawk Valley that includes the author of the Pledge of Allegiance, and the only remaining 19th-century textile mill in the Lansingburgh neighborhood of Troy, once known as the “Collar City.”

The State and National Registers are the official lists of buildings, structures, districts, landscapes, objects, and sites significant in the history, architecture, archaeology, and culture of New York State and the nation. There are more than 120,000 historic properties throughout the state listed on the National Register of Historic Places, individually or as components of historic districts. Property owners, municipalities, and organizations from communities throughout the state sponsored the nominations.

Once recommendations are approved by the Commissioner, who serves as the State Historic Preservation Officer, the properties are listed on the New York State Register of Historic Places and nominated to the National Register of Historic Places, where they are reviewed and, once approved, entered on the National Register.

The next time someone questions how to hang the toilet paper roll, remember: That debate was started a long time ago in Albany, New York.

An early advertisement for the Albany Perforated Wrapping Paper Co. (Photo credit – Redbubble)

Cover shot – Toilet paper rolls from the Albany Perforated Wrapping Paper Company from 1935. (Photo credit – Albany Institute of History and Art) All images NYS Parks unless otherwise noted.

Post by Brian Nearing, Deputy Public Information Officer, NYS Parks

A New Light on Old Flowers

Inside Grant Cottage State Historic Site, where former President Ulysses S. Grant died of cancer on July 23, 1885 after spending his final weeks penning his memoirs, national grief remains frozen in time in the form of flowers.

Now nearly 140 years old, five different Victorian-era funerary floral displays in the parlor draw different reactions from visitors, ranging from “amazing” to “creepy.” But given that relatively few examples from that era survive today, these displays are also a rare look into the past.

Ulysses S. Grant on the front porch at Grant Cottage, with his wife, Julia, by his side. Grant was racing against his terminal cancer to finish his memoirs as a way to provide for his family.

While flowers have long been part of burial rituals, it was the tragic death toll of the American Civil War that ushered in the golden age of arranged floral tributes, when such displays became common for soldiers’ funerals.

Upon Grant’s death, such expressions of mourning for a leader who meant so much to Union victory began arriving at the cottage, which is located on Mount Macgregor in Saratoga County, about an hour by car north of Albany. One tribute still on display in the parlor was in the form of an oversized pillow, provided by Union veterans in Philadelphia from the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) that Grant had commanded two decades earlier.

A composite image of the floral pillow arrangement, with its appearance today on the left, and a photograph taken in the late 19th century at the right.

A reporter noted, “Almost every train which arrived at Mt. McGregor has brought beautiful floral mementos from Grand Army Posts and other organizations, and also from personal friends…” making the modest cottage “fragrant with flowers.”

Perhaps the most impressive piece was the enormous six-foot-high “Gates Ajar” tribute which rested in front of the fireplace. Likely custom-built, it was sent by family friend Leland Stanford of California – a native of Watervliet, Albany County who went on to become California Governor and later a U.S. Senator from that state. Its design depicted the gates of heaven, a popular theme of tributes in that era.   

The “Gates Ajar” floral arrangement, to the right, with the pillow and cross arrangements on the table to the left. Lighting in the room is normally kept dim to protect the display from potential degradation.

For decades, these displays have remained untouched and undisturbed in the cottage parlor, losing their fragrance and much of their color faded, but otherwise intact, other than being understandably dusty. Last year, these artifacts came to the attention of historical florist expert Robert Treadway (co-author of A Centennial History of the American Florist), who visited in August 2021  to inspect  under the supervision of conservators from the New York State Bureau of Historic Sites and site staff.

Treadway immediately cleared up two common misconceptions about the displays _  that they were prepared using fresh flowers which dried over time and  had been coated in wax as a preservative, neither of which were the case.

Treadway also found that the most prevalent flowers used were immortelles (Helichrysum), a species in the sunflower family also known as everlastings for their long-lasting nature, which had been dried before use.  In the Victorian era, immortelle flowers symbolized remembrance and hope in everlasting life, especially to the families of the deceased.

Historical florist expert Robert Treadway, right, joined by State Parks Conservator Heidi Miksch, examines the floral funerary arrangements at Grant Cottage State Historic Site.

Everlastings were frequently shipped to the United States from Europe and dyed various colors for use by florists. Bunches would be wired to a small stick and inserted into moss which filled a wire framework to create the tributes. It was a painstaking process that involved numerous assistants. Since the displays for Grant were designed only for short-term use, wax coatings on the flowers were deemed unnecessary and not used, according to Treadway’s inspection.     

Given that the delicate nature of these artifacts, Treadway and State Parks staff discussed how to best protect and preserve such historic objects for the years to come. Various options were discussed, including coatings, enclosures, and environmental controls, each method with its benefits and drawbacks.

Representing a nation’s mourning over the loss of a war hero and leader, the arrangements reflect a uniquely Victorian outlook on death and the hereafter, each with its own specific meaning.

The “Gates Ajar” symbolized the gates of Heaven, reassuring the grieving that their lost loved one was destined for a better place that, with the gate left ajar so they could follow and be reunited. The pillow set piece represented peace, relief, and eternal rest from the trials of the physical world.

Two floral pieces feature a cross, commonly used as symbols of  Christian tenets of grace, forgiveness, and salvation. Two pieces incorporate an anchor, another favorite Christian symbol representing hope amid trial with God being the “anchor of the soul.” One piece features a heart along with the anchor and cross. The heart symbolized the everlasting love of Christ but also the love of those in mourning for the deceased.

The floral cross with sword.

Two pieces – the pillow and one of the crosses – also feature a sword, which reflected General Grant’s military career, as well as the virtues of justice, fortitude, and courage.  

Victorian set pieces showcased the artistry and creativity of florists during that period. One of the best-known florists, Adolph Le Moult, operating out of New York City, created one of the largest floral pieces ever made for an event in Grant’s honor during a visit to Philadelphia in 1879. Le Moult also created elaborate floral tributes for Grant’s funeral in New York City in 1885.

The goal of florists in the 19th century was not just making impressive arrangements but also ensuring they would last. Florists boasted in advertisements with statements such as, “I can so perfectly preserve even the most delicate flowers that they will last forever.”

Floral funerary displays line Grant’s Tomb in Upper Manhattan to mark the year after his death.

Preserved funeral mementos from the Victorian era can be found in public and private collections throughout the world. For example, wax-coated and encased floral pieces from the 1881 funeral of James Garfield are displayed at his home in Mentor, Ohio.

What truly makes the tributes at Grant Cottage unique is their sheer scale and survival to the present despite never have been coated in wax, encased or otherwise protected from the onset or in the decades since. Treadway indicated that the two largest pieces are larger than any others known to exist.

Flowers continued to be used in tribute to Grant by his widow, Julia. While staying at the family’s Long Branch, New Jersey cottage, she continued remembering her greatest love through this mourning ritual:

“On an antique cabinet… is a bust in plaster of the brave old soldier… Behind it hangs a wreath of white immortelles -a widow’s first tribute to memory- with a circlet of white ribbon still clinging to it, typical of wedded love. A slender glass filled with geraniums… Every morning this tiny bouquet is gathered… by the lonely wife who kisses the blossoms and tenderly places them before the face of her hero. The faded flowers are dried and, mixed with their own fragrance, go to make those memory-bags so highly prized by the friends on whom they are bestowed.”

For now, these  treasures at Grant Cottage will continue to transport visitors to a moment when family, friends, and a nation were in mourning for an American icon. They are tributes not only to a man,  but to the character and ideals he lived by. These aging blossoms speak to humanity’s enduring need to grieve and desire to memorialize those they love and respect.

Ulysses S. Grant, and his wife, Julia.

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

These , our Earth’s perennial flowers—
The fadeless blooms by Poets sung,
Songs, that from Homer’s Age till ours,
Down the aisles of Time have rung—
In many an emblem do we weave
For passionate Remembrance’ sake;
And howe’er we joy, howe’er we grieve,
Sacred pilgrimages make;
For Loss and Grief, the Asphodels
On our graves we mourning lay;
For Memory, the Immortelles—
Our loved ones live for us always.
Death in Life, Life in Death—how we
This, Love’s Faith, keep reverently.

By Laura G. Collins’s from Immortelles and Asphodels (Everlastings) (1898)

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 on April 30, 2022. Other artifacts on display include the bed where he died on July 23, 1885 and the mantel clock stopped by Grant’s son Fred at the moment of his father’s death.

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.

Take this slideshow tour through the house…