Category Archives: Historic Sites

Training the Doughboys

Looking over the playing fields at Fort Niagara State Park, it is hard to imagine that 100 years ago those fields were used for a different purpose: training young New Yorkers headed off to the ‘Great War.’

In April 1917, President Woodrow Wilson declared war on Germany, ending 2-1/2 years of neutrality.  This was not an easy decision for President Wilson, but many factors influenced his decision. There was unrest in Russia and German U-boats were indiscriminately sinking US merchant ships. In addition, it was discovered that Germany had secretly offered to help Mexico recover land lost during the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) if Mexico would ally with Germany and declare war on the United States (Mexico did not take up this offer). With all this in mind, Wilson declared war on Germany.

When war was declared, the United States was not ready. The Army was small, with under 100,000 professionally trained soldiers, many of whom had never been on the battlefield.  Sixteen nations had armies larger than the United States.  With the declaration, the Army needed both enlisted men and officers to help defend United States’ interests and allies France, Belgium, and Great Britain.

As the United States inched towards war, Army officials were looking for places to train officers through the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC).  One of the places that was chosen to train officers was Fort Niagara, an army training post at the mouth of the Niagara River in Youngstown, New York.  When Wilson declared war, Fort Niagara was training troops headed to Panama or to minor conflicts along the Mexican border.

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ROTC trainees, photo courtesy of Old Fort Niagara

The Army planned two ROTC trainings at Fort Niagara in 1917, one from May through August, and the second from August through November.  Each session would train men on field sanitation and hygiene, care of arms and equipment, drilling, military courtesies, and the realities of trench warfare.  The chief training officer was Colonel John W. Heavey.

Because housing for the trainees was in short supply, the camp quartermaster hired day laborers to build nine 20’ x 300’ barracks and four mess halls during the month of April. The buildings were completed before the first class of ROTC trainees arrived.  Telephone and electrical systems were also installed throughout the training facilities in April.

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The ‘Long’ and ‘Short’ spar in autumn 1917, photo courtesy of Old Fort Niagara

The first officer class consisted of 2,500 young men from Pennsylvania, including some from wealthy Philadelphia families.  Local newspapers noted that a few of the officer candidates “know more about the different brands of face powder than they do about gunpowder.”

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Nora Bayes singing to the ROTC trainees

The second class consisted primarily of New Yorkers, many of which were from Buffalo. These “typical Americans, clean-cut, upstanding fellows, the kind that make fighters” were lucky enough to have a concert by Nora Bayes (Eleanora Sara Goldberg) just after their training started.  Ms. Bayes was a popular actress, singer, and comedian of the time who co-wrote Shine on, Harvest Moon with her husband Jack Norworth.

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Bayes’ concert was a brief reprieve from the daily 16-hour training.  Each day the trainees had inspections, signal practice, mapmaking, long marches, mock battles and marksmanship, and trench construction.  The trenches were dug on the Fort Niagara Beach.  Military ceremonies marked the end of the training, with the ‘graduates’ learning which regiment they were assigned in the American Expeditionary Forces. American Expeditionary Forces troops were also known as ‘doughboys.’

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Advance Guard, photo courtesy of Old Fort Niagara

After the second ROTC training, the fort became training grounds for 1,772 Polish-American soldiers who were part of the Polish Blue Army.  They trained at Fort Niagara from December 1917 through February 1918 before joining the Western Front.

After the war, Fort Niagara served as the home of the US Army 28th Infantry Regiment until the regiment was relocated to Fort Jackson, South Carolina in 1940.

Blog adapted from:  Emerson, Robert, Clean Cut, Upstanding Fellows: Fort Niagara’s ROTC Training Camps, 1917 March 2017 Fortress Niagara, p 5 – 15.


Wikipedia United States in World War I

Katonah Record, July 27, 1917

The Honeoye Falls Times, July 26, 1917

Buffalo Evening News, September 25, 1917

Special thanks to the staff at Old Fort Niagara for their assistance with this post.

Voting NO on Women’s Suffrage

Women have not always had the legal right to vote in America.  On August 18, 1920, the 19th amendment was ratified granting women the right to vote. This milestone in women’s history was the result of decades of sustained action: protests, political organizing, direct confrontations and debates with people who felt women needed no further rights. Suffragists were ostracized, fired from jobs, beaten, arrested and imprisoned – all because they dared to strive for the right to vote.

For the supporters of women’s suffrage gaining the vote was a matter of life or death. Women were subject to the will and mistreatment of their husbands, both financially and physically within the home. Husbands had complete legal authority over their wives and could abuse them with no fear of consequences. Any woman attempting to leave a marriage faced the loss of custody of their children and destitution. The workplace was no better; women faced sexual harassment, abuse, terrible working conditions and lower wages than their male counterparts with little to no legal recourse. Women were also barred from many professions completely. The vote meant access to the political power needed to reshape laws and gain equal treatment and dignity as human beings.

When it came to the issue of women’s suffrage, New York was a state at war within itself.  Major activists on both sides of the issue held meetings, published articles, and attempted to sway public opinion.

The anti-suffragists claimed that giving women the vote would move them too far away from their primary duty of running the home. They fully agreed with the notion that a “woman’s place” was in the home, although they did concede that women should contribute their time and talents to educational, charitable, religious and moral organizations.  These endeavors did not require the vote, nor included politics.

Charles S. Fairchild, husband of Helen Lincklaen, was a politician and served under President Cleveland as the Secretary of the Treasury. Fairchild was the fourth owner of the estate which would later become Lorenzo State Historic Site in Cazenovia N.Y. and a staunch supporter of anti-suffrage. He was an active local leader in the effort to prevent women from gaining the vote. The collections of Lorenzo include many anti-suffrage items, such as, printed speeches, several issues of The Woman Patriot, a button which reads: “VOTE NO ON WOMAN SUFFRAGE”, anti-suffrage pennants, and books and handbills with titles like Anti-Suffrage: Ten Good Reasons and The Menace of Women’s Suffrage in New York State—some with hand written personal inscriptions by the authors.

Fairchild was not alone in his views within the town of Cazenovia. Many prominent individuals, both men and women, considered themselves avid supporters of the anti-suffrage cause. The Cazenovia Anti-Suffrage Society was very active and held regular meetings to support their cause and raise funds. Many anti-suffrage groups were organized by women; and the majority of these organizers were members of the upper class with husbands in prominent positions in business and politics.

From our modern day perspective it may be difficult to imagine why so many women supported the anti-suffrage cause. But the popular view of society in the early 1900s holds many of the answers. Life was cleanly divided into two halves, the domestic realm and the public world. Men were believed to be ideally suited by their nature to be masters of public life. Aggression and a competitive spirit were seen as traits best suited to politics, finance and war. Women were the converse, the peacemakers, the orchestrators of a happy family, the creators of cleanliness and order within the home. These views were not only popular but for many unquestionably true.  Suffragists challenged this world view directly with the assertion that women were equal citizens and deserved the right to vote.

The first organized effort to seek the vote for women in New York began in 1846 when a small group of women in Clayton NY petitioned the state government asking for “equal, and civil and political rights with men.” It took nearly 75 years to shift public opinion away from these historic, engrained views towards a more equitable society.


Exploring New Netherland

In December 2016, members of the Dutch Consulate, including Consulate General Dolph Hogewoning; the Deputy Consulate General, Jan Kennis, and Cultural Officer Tessa Dikker, toured Schuyler Mansion State Historic Site and Crailo State Historic Site (Crailo).

Their visit to Albany was part of a larger effort to promote Dutch history, heritage, and culturally connections globally.  The group met with several directors of cultural institutions that connect the story of the Dutch locally; explored promotional efforts and plans to improve information sharing.  State Parks Division of Historic Preservation Director Michael Lynch shared information about State Parks’ resources at five Dutch related state historic sites.

During their visit, the consulate staff was invited to return to the Capital Region to experience the first Pinkster event at Crailo, tour the new exhibit at Senate House State Historic Site, and visit Philipse Manor Hall and Clermont State Historic Sites to explore even more Dutch connections.

State Parks hopes that the visits will be the start of a strong and lasting relationship with the Dutch consulate, including enhancing the connections with scholars in both the Netherlands and the United States.

Touring the exhibits at Crailo State Historic Site, (left to right) Deputy Consulate General, Jan Kennis, Cultural Officer Tessa Dikker, Crailo Site Manager Heidi Hill, and Consulate General Dolph Hogewoning, photo by State Parks

Featured image: Consulate General Dolph Hogewoning and Deputy Consulate General Jan Kennis discuss the Schuyler family with Heidi Hill at Schuyler Mansion State Historic Site, photo by State Parks

Unseen Buds

We salute National Poetry Month with a poem by Walt Whitman, the 19th century poet whose birthplace is a New York State Historic Site.


Unseen buds, infinite, hidden well,

Under the snow and ice, under the darkness, in every square or

cubic inch,

Germinal, exquisite, in delicate lace, microscopic, unborn,

Like babes in wombs, latent, folded, compact, sleeping;

Billions of billions, and trillions of trillions of them waiting,

(On earth and in the sea – the universe – the stars there in the


Urging slowly, surely forward, forming endless,

And waiting ever more, forever more behind.

Walt Whitman, Leaves of grass, 1891-1892

Take some time this month to see the poetry in the unseen buds and early spring flowers in a state park or historic site near you.