It’s a chilly afternoon in mid-April several years ago, one of those sunny days that invites you out into the garden, but then leaves you shivering. It had been warm standing next to the bus as the Harvesting History Club disembarked at Clermont State Historic Site in Germantown, Columbia County, but soon we were in the dirt, one with the Earth, as spring arrived. Doing the digging were a dozen or so elementary school students, our garden educator Leslie, and me.
I was assisting one of the youngest students as she methodically planted her tiny seedlings and asked me questions. I handed her another seedling, a cool-weather vegetable she’d planted in a tray weeks earlier. Just like her, before the new semester began I knew next to nothing about plant. But I did know that cakes and cheese did not grow on trees.
“Oh,” her lips pursed at my answer. She took the kale and gently patted it into the dirt.
“But,” I continued, “I know we have strawberries. You can use strawberries in cake.”
“OH!” she brightened. “Where are they?!”
I pointed to a wild tangle of leaves and vines, already vying for dominance in the far corner of the garden. The strawberries wouldn’t be ready until June, which she wasn’t thrilled about. But she perked up moments later, when another student discovered a cool bug and everyone ran to see it.
Clermont has a centuries-old garden history. The mansion has stood since colonial times — when growing and harvesting was an essential part of life. One of the wealthiest families in early America, the Livingstons of Clermont grew most of their own food and took in significant farm contributions from their tenant farmers. Clermont Livingston (yes, they named their son after the house) kept weather journals detailing growing and harvesting on the manor from the 1840s through the 1890s.
Through the early 20th century, most of the mid-Hudson Valley was agrarian, with vast farms, orchards, dairies, and kitchen gardens populating the landscape.
Today, most people in the area are living on land that was farmed within the last century. With all of this in mind, it’s a little startling how many of us live so close to nature but are so disconnected from it.
To help reintroduce and reestablish that tie, Harvesting History began at Clermont in 2014, spearheaded by Site Manager Susan Boudreau and Garden Educator Leslie Reed. The purpose of the program is to connect Hudson Valley kids with their history and engage them hands-on by working in the garden. As they learn about seeds, plantings, and garden care, they also learn about healthy eating, the history of their home, and the natural world.
It’s amazing how many students start the program with no knowledge of where their food comes from or how it’s made. It’s not just young kids, like the little girl and the cake trees, but teenagers and young adults. I was 23 when I started working with the program and had no concept of growing seasons or how to plant something.
It’s a blind spot that our parents and grandparents would not recognize, brought on by refrigerated trucks and supermarkets where you can buy tomatoes and avocados at any time of the year. By planting heirloom vegetables in the chilly spring air, students don’t just begin to understand the seasons, they begin to understand meteorology, biodiversity, and entomology.
Harvesting History has become quite popular. When I was first out in the garden in 2014, talking about cake trees and planting kale, we were serving 100 students annually. In 2018, we served 800 and we had even more students in 2019. The program is often on the road, visiting after-school programs, libraries, and schools, working on their own gardens and learning about healthy eating.
We do garden crafts, like making your own weather journal.
We even have this amazing bike blender we use to chop up herbs and veggies. Bike blender salsa is my absolute favorite way to make salsa now.
This last spring, our little kitchen garden was expanded to 2,500 square feet, allowing for more students to visit and experience some hands-on history.
And to dream more dreams of cake trees.
Post by Emily Robinson, School Programs Coordinator and Camp Director, Clermont State Historic Site.
Before State Parks could purchase 131 acres of Saratoga County forest to add to Moreau Lake State Park in 2018, staffers first had to find out about all past owners of that land – back to the beginning of written records.
As anyone who has ever purchased a home knows, information on past ownership is addressed in a process called a title search. Property records uncovered in such searches are normally covered by a special kind of insurance meant to protect the buyer of a property against claims over disputed ownership that might arise after the sale.
However, since New York State cannot purchase title insurance on land, it had to ensure that there were absolutely no hidden claims lurking from the past in the potential Moreau purchase. For State Parks, the only way to do that was to follow property records as far back as possible.
This historical detective work stretched back more than three centuries, to a controversial royal land grant during New York’s colonial period that covered Native American lands in what is now much of Saratoga County, as well as parts of Montgomery, Schenectady and Fulton counties.
Called the Kayaderosseras Patent, this land transfer was issued in 1708 by a Royal Governor of some ill repute named Lord Cornbury, who under dubious circumstances bestowed up to 800,000 acres north of the Mohawk River and west of the Hudson River.
Ownership of that land was a disputed tale riddled by claims of fraud and missing records, with Native Americans saying that the Colonial patent holders grossly overstated what originally was intended to be a very modest land sale. And the entire affair took six decades to untangle…
Based on a shadowy alleged sale agreement dated several years earlier from native Mohawk tribal leaders, Cornbury awarded this massive tract of land to 13 prominent Colonial citizens of the time _ all in exchange for official fees, of course. The group included such well-connected players as the colony’s Attorney General, several prominent Albany residents, and some Manhattan businessman of Dutch ancestry, with one of them named Joris Hooglandt.
The land patent in colonial New York was an important unit of settlement, along with the large manors of the Hudson Valley—preeminent among them the Van Rensselaer Manor, or Rensselaerwyck, which covered much of present-day Albany and Rensselear counties, as well as parts of Columbia and Greene counties, and Livingston Manor further to the south in Columbia and Dutchess counties. These areas were governed by powerful and wealthy patroons who enjoyed sweeping authority over land usage.
Prior to the American Revolution, land patents were issued by the English Crown or colonial authorities to individuals or groups as a means of encouraging settlement of the sparsely populated frontier. To those who were granted patents fell the responsibility of surveying, subdividing and conveying parcels to new settlers, which were offered either as freehold land or otherwise as land occupied under lease agreement, as was the case of the quasi-feudal manor system.
The Kayaderosseras episode can be seen as an early example of the dispossession of Native American lands that was to occur repeatedly throughout American history in the years that followed it. Here in the 21st century, the story of this land can be updated to reflect a more nuanced point of view on past decisions and actions that might not now be seen as just or exemplary.
“By far the largest and most important land-grant made in colonial times, any part of which lay within the bounds of Saratoga County, was the patent founded on the old Indian hunting-ground of Kay-ad-ros-se-ra. This large tract includes the greater part of Saratoga County, and runs also on the north into Warren county, and on the west into Montgomery and Fulton.
Kay-ad-ros-se-ra, “the country of the lake of the crooked stream,” as has already been seen in these pages, was the favorite hunting-ground of the Mohawk branch of the Iroquois or Five Nations of central New York. The Indian deed was obtained of the Mohawk chief in the year 1703, but the patent was not granted till the year 1708, and the Indians did not ratify the purchase till the year 1768. This patent was, therefore, disputed ground for more than sixty years.”
According to the online description by the New York State Museum, the alleged size of the Kayaderosseras patent later was reduced by Colonial officials, but still was claimed to encompass more than 250,000 acres.
However, these supposed new owners took no action on their land patent for decades, with property interests changing hands during the years before steps to conduct land surveys finally started in the aftermath of the French and Indian War in the 1760s, which settled that the British, and not the French, would control North America. By that time, due to subsequent sales, deaths and inheritances, interests in the land patent had spread out to among some 130 colonists.
Sylvester’s story continues:
“At length, in 1763, the French and Indian war being over, the patentees of Kayadrossera began to look, with longing eyes, after their lands. In the year 1764, some one of them began to issue permits to settlers to enter upon and occupy portions of the patent.
In pursuance of these permits, several families moved upon the patent in the vicinity of Saratoga lake, at the mouth of the Kayadrossera river.
In the fall of that year the Mohawks, upon their hunting excursion, fell upon these settlers and drove them away.
Learning from the settlers that they claimed it by purchase, the Mohawks became alarmed, as they said they had never heard of such purchase.
The Mohawks at once appealed to Sir William Johnson, and were surprised to learn that the whole of their favorite hunting-ground had been deeded away by their fathers more than two generations before.”
It is telling who the Mohawks turned to as their advocate. Johnson, whose home in Johnstown, Montgomery County, is now a state historic site, was the largest single landowner and most influential individual in the colonial Mohawk Valley. His success and fairness in dealing with the Mohawks, as part of the Six Nations of the Iroquois, greatly influenced England’s victory over France for control of North America.
For his service, the British Crown bestowed upon Johnson the title of Baronet, and appointed him Superintendent of Indian Affairs, a position to which he devoted himself and held throughout his life.
It is important to note that Sylvester was writing as a resident of the mid-19th century, a time when the U.S. was fighting a series of violent wars against the Native Americans of the Great Plains. His viewpoint was likely informed by the predominant viewpoint that Native lands had to be taken, by force if necessary, for the United States to grow.
As Sylvester returns to the saga where the Mohawks turned to Johnson for help with the alleged decades-old sale of their lands:
“Sir William took up the matter warmly in favor of the Mohawks, and made every effort in his power to have the patent set aside.
In the first place, Sir William wrote to Lieutenant-Governor Colden, stating the case as he understood it, and urging relief. That very autumn, Sir William introduced a bill into the Colonial Assembly to vacate the patent on the ground of fraud.
These measures failing, in the year 1765 Sir William appealed to the council in person in behalf of his dusky brethren, but the members of the council put him off with, among other things, the plea that to vacate the patent in council would be disrespectful to the council who granted it. By this time the controversy had been taken up warmly by all the tribes of the confederacy of the Six Nations, and Sir William in their behalf petitioned to have the patent vacated on the ground of fraud by act of Parliament.
At length the proprietors themselves became alarmed for the safety of their patent, and offered to compromise with the Indians by paying them a certain sum of money to satisfy their claim. The Mohawks thought the sum offered too small, and the effort failed.
Thus the matter went on till the year 1768, when the proprietors of Kayadrossera gave to the governor, Sir Henry Moore, full power to settle with the Indians. In pursuance of this authority, Sir Henry proceeded to the Mohawk country in the early summer of 1768, and called a council of the Indians to deliberate upon the matter. But it was found that the proprietors had no copy of the Indian deed to produce in evidence on the occasion, and that, as no survey had ever been made, no proper understanding of the subject could be arrived at, and the council was dissolved.
Upon his return to New York, the governor ordered a survey of the patent to be made. The outlines of this great patent were accordingly given by the surveyor-general, and, the boundaries being ascertained, a compromise was arrived at. The proprietors relinquished a large tract on the northwestern quarter of what they had claimed to be their land, and fixed the northern and western boundaries as they now run. They likewise paid the Indians the sum of five thousand dollars in full of all their claims and the Mohawks thereupon ratified the patent and forever relinquished their claims to their old favorite hunting-ground.”
Ultimately, with Johnson’s intervention, the once-gigantic Kayaderosseras land grant was reduced to about 23,000 acres as part of a compromise that eventually concluded the sale in 1768, according to State Museum records.
And this brings our story full circle at last…
The new portion of Moreau Lake State Park so recently added was among the patent lands awarded in 1708 to Joris Hooglandt, the Dutch merchant who lived in Colonial Manhattan. He died in 1712, and there is no record that he ever saw or did anything with the disputed land that he allegedly owned.
In 1723, his children sold their claim to the widow of Hooghlandt’s brother. And in 1770, with the dispute finally settled, descendants of that family ended up with two of the original 13 patent shares, making it the largest single largest land distribution that could be traced back to an original party.
Over the years, this land was sold many times privately before finally becoming part of Moreau Lake State Park in 2018.
This new parcel at Moreau Lake State Park encompasses multiple summits, including portions of the Palmertown Range, and affords dramatic views of the Hudson Valley and southern Adirondack Mountains. The park was 700 acres when established in 1968, and has since grown to about 6,100 acres.
And this land, like all land, has a story to tell, which in this instance may help state residents further examine and appreciate some lesser-known aspects of our shared history.
Post by Brian Nearing, Deputy Public Information Officer; Travis Bowman, Senior Curator, Bureau of Historic Sites, and William Krattinger, Parks Survey Project Director.
Cover Photo: Historical maker on the Kayaderosseras Patent in Ballston Lake, Saratoga County. (Courtesy of Saratoga County Historian and William G. Pomeroy Foundation)
New York State Museum link of the Kayaderosseras Patent.
Read a Daily Gazette account of an 1812 copy of the Kayaderosseras Patent map being restored and put on display at the Saratoga County Clerk’s Office in the village of Ballston Spa, which was first settled in 1771, the year after the disputed land patent was resolved..
Follow this link to an 1866 map of Saratoga County, showing the outlines of the patent, maintained by Clark University.
Today at Christmas, we have Santa Claus, the jolly old elf who brings joy to children, and asks only milk and cookies in return.
In other traditions, the English had St. Nicholas and the Dutch had Sinterklaas. But what did the Palatine children of the Hudson Valley believe in during the 18th and 19th century?
The answer in a word, Belsnickel. The answer in a photo:
Rather than a jolly old elf, Belsnickel is a crotchety old man dressed in dirty clothes and furs, usually with his face disguised, who was both gift bringer and child punisher in the Palatine region of southwestern Germany.
There are several variations of the spelling including Pelznickel, which would seem the most likely as “Pelz” in German means fur and Nickel is related to Nicholas. Sometimes, his fur hat has deer antlers which allude to a pagan origin of the character.
In New York State, Palatine immigrants initially settled in the Hudson Valley, bringing the legend of Belsnickel with them.
In 1710, the largest eighteenth century migrations of Europeans to America took place when three hundred families from the Palatine region sailed 110 miles north up the Hudson from Manhattan. There, they established camps on both sides of the river, with the West Camp later becoming the Town of Saugerties and the East Camp becoming Germantown.
Later in the 18th century, Palatine families also spread into the Mohawk Valley and founded such communities as Herkimer, Palatine Bridge and German Flats.
Belsnickel is different from other variations of Christmas characters in that he combines both threatening and generous aspects of a Christmas spirit.
The basic tradition is thus; sometime between St. Nicholas Day and Christmas Eve, Palatine children would hear a tapping at their window at night and suddenly Belsnickel would burst through the door. He would be carrying a sack of presents and a switch. (Belsnickel was the first of the Christmas characters to distinguish between good and bad children. And unlike Santa Claus, who is never to be seen by children, Belsnickel and his message are meant to be seen and heeded…)
The children of the house would be lined up and asked if they were good that year. In some cases they would be asked to recite something from school or a passage from the Bible. If they succeeded they got a present from the sack. If they lied about being good or couldn’t do their recitation, they got a whack from the switch. In some versions of the tale, Belsnickel might merely leave the switch in the stockings of naughty children, similar to the practice by Santa Claus of leaving coal for those who had misbehaved.
In another variation, Belsnickel would scatter treats or gifts on the floor during his visit. If the children waited for permission, they could have the presents. If they dove in greedily without waiting, then Belsnickel walloped them all with his switch.
It has been difficult to find traces of Belsnickel in the Hudson Valley but his legend has lived on, particularly in the Pennsylvania Dutch, whose roots are actually Palatine German, not Dutch. Perhaps in the Hudson Valley, the Dutch and English influence drove him out earlier.
Belsnickel all but disappeared in the first half of the 20th century thanks to two world wars where Germany and all things German were the enemy. Suddenly many people of Deutsche (German in that language) descent became Dutch and many German traditions were quietly swept under the rug.
However, Belsnickel has seen a bit of a resurgence in recent years. He now features in several holiday festivals in Pennsylvania and even appeared in a holiday episode of “The Office” a few years ago.
So perhaps this year as children in the Hudson Valley prepare for the arrival of Santa Claus, they should listen carefully for a tapping on their window. It just may be Belsnickel checking to see if they have been naughty or nice!
Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Fröhliche Weihnachten and to all a good night!
Check out the Clermont blog for interesting historical items on the history of the Hudson Valley and the former home of New York’s politically and socially prominent Livingston Family. Seven successive generations of the family left their imprint on the site’s architecture, room interiors and landscape. Robert R. Livingston, Jr. was Clermont’s most notable resident. His accomplishments include: drafting the Declaration of Independence, serving as first U.S. Minister of Foreign Affairs, administering the oath of office to George Washington, negotiating the Louisiana Purchase and developing steamboat technology with Robert Fulton.
After burning almost uninterrupted for more than a century, the natural gas streetlights in this tiny village in western New York were definitely showing their age.
Since 1912, more than 40 of the historic fixtures had illuminated Wyoming, the self-proclaimed “Gaslight Village” and home to about 500 residents of about an hour’s drive south of Rochester.
Along the tiny cluster of streets, there are gaslights in front of businesses, homes and churches, including the post office, the Methodist and Baptist churches, and the local grocery store.
But after decades of use and exposure to the elements, the cast-iron light fixtures were falling apart and corroded, leaving village officials facing a decision: Abandon gaslight, which almost all of the country had done long ago, or save their distinctive streetscape as one of the last reminders in New York State of this bygone era?
“These gas lights have been burning since I can remember,” said Village Historian Doug Norton, who is the mayor’s brother. “The only time they have been turned off was during World War II, because of the blackout regulations.”
Norton said the lights are a point of pride and heritage for the small village. “The lights are pretty cool and something different. They are unique.”
Originally founded in 1809 as Newell’s Settlement, the small village is in a part of the state were natural gas was developed in the 19th century. A gas company outside the village agreed to provide free gas for the public streetlights for 99 years in exchange for being allowed to install pipes in the village so gas could be sold to homes and businesses. That contract expired in 2011 and now the village is paying for its gas.
A 1912 advertisement for the model of natural gas streetlight found in Wyoming, followed by historical photographs of the village showing the lights in use.
Wyoming is a reminder of life before electricity was widespread, when natural gas was the most popular method of both outdoor and indoor lighting in cities and towns.
But unlike Wyoming, most places discarded gas streetlights once electricity became widely available after the turn of the 20th century. Natural gas streetlights now can be found only in a handful of places, including parts of Boston, Cincinnati, and New Orleans, as well as in foreign cities like Prague and Berlin.
That makes these remnants of the Gaslight Era a very rare resource here in New York and worth protecting as part of State Park’s mission under the Historic Preservation Act of 1980.
In Wyoming, thanks to a $65,000 state grant obtained by Senator Patrick Gallivan, and with support from the Division of Historic Preservation at State Parks, 19 of the original 42 historic lights were painstakingly restored and now can continue burning for decades to come.
Original luminaries were removed from the poles and sent out for restoration. A professional metalsmith disassembled the lights, removed dents, removed corroded metal and replaced it with new metal, and cleaned up and painted the street lights to match their original finish. After lamps were reinstalled on their refurbished poles, the flow of gas was restored and the lights relit.
The restored natural gas streetlights of Wyoming.
Lights in The Night
Another 20 lights are replacements – a mix of historic lights from other communities that were discarding their fixtures in the 1970s and 1980s, as well as modern replicas.
Research into the gas luminaries was done by a team headed by Senior Historic Site Restoration Coordinator Beth Cumming, Historic Sites Restoration Coordinator Sloane Bullough, Bureau of Technical Preservation Services Director John Bonafide, and National Register Western New York representative Jennifer Walkowski.
It was learned that the fixtures were made by manufacturer Thomas T. W. Miner Company of New York City. This information was used to augment the existing historic district National Register of Historic Places nomination.
While the Thomas T. W. Miner Company is long since out of business, the quality and endurance of their product is a fitting legacy _ and one that will continue to light the night in Wyoming for generations to come.
Post by Sloane Bullough, Historic Sites Restoration Coordinator,and Brian Nearing, Deputy Public Information Officer for State Parks
This project was among ten projects honored this month with State Historic Preservation Awards. Read about the projects here.
All photographs provided by State Parks and Village of Wyoming
For many people, mushrooms can be a healthy, tasty addition at mealtime. But along the Lake Erie shoreline south of Buffalo, the science of mushrooms is being used in an innovative way – as an environmentally-safe method to reduce harmful bacteria in a stream near the beach at Lake Erie State Park.
At the beginning of this decade, tests of the stream and water at the beach by the State Parks Water Quality Unit were showing consistently high levels of e. coli, a bacteria found in fecal matter which can severely sicken those who have been exposed.
The sand and cobble beach in Chautauqua County had been closed to swimming for several years due to a combination of high bacterial levels and fiscal constraints. Testing indicated that the problem likely was being caused by faulty septic systems or unsewered properties upstream, although additional contamination from animals could not be ruled out as another potential source.
While there are mechanical and chemical techniques to filter such harmful bacteria from water, in 2014 Water Quality staff decided to test an innovative mushroom-based system developed by Fungi Perfecti, a Washington-state based company with a long research history into fungus and mushrooms, a scientific field known as mycology.
Company founder and owner Paul Stamets is a nationally- and internationally-recognized expert and promotes innovative uses for mushrooms in bioremediation and medical therapies. He even entered the realm of popular culture when creators of the latest Star Trek franchise, which started in 2017 on CBS All Access, named the ship’s science officer after him as part of the use of a a mushroom-based propulsion system for the Starship Enterprise.
Meanwhile, back here in New York State and with funding support from the federal Great Lake Restoration Initiative, water quality staffers at State Parks installed a Stamets-designed mycofiltration system into this small creek at the Park.
The filtration system uses large plastic containers called totes that contain a mixture of wood chips and mycelium (the tiny threadlike vegetative part of fungi that fruits as mushrooms) that allow water to pass through. This allows the mycelium mixture to absorb bacteria from contaminated water as it flows past.
So far, the test results seem promising. E. coli levels downstream of the filtration system have dropped and water quality at the beach has improved, although outside factors, including improvements in the surrounding watershed, may have contributed.
The mycelium in the totes were reinoculated – another way of saying reimplanted and reinvigorated – in 2016 and 2019. Data from this project is being shared with Fungi Perfecti to assist in their research and development of their system.
Said Renee Davis, director of research and development at Fungi Perfecti, “We are proud of the contributions that fungal mycelium has been able to make for Lake Erie State Park and the surrounding ecosystems. Though we still face challenges with scalability of this technology, the applications are promising. We are closely studying the aspects of fungal metabolism that drive these effects, particularly the secretion of specialized compounds from mycelium into the environment.”
She added, “New potential applications have also arisen for bioretention and stormwater. For us, this project is an example of the possibilities that emerge when we look at nature—particularly fungi—in a new, creative, and innovative way. We hope this is the first of many projects to come using mushroom mycelium for water quality.”
Currently, this is the only State Park where this chemical-free, ecologically-safe method is being tested, although it could be introduced into the Finger Lakes region if a suitable location can be found.
Cover Shot: NYS Parks crews service the mycofiltration unit in Lake Erie State Park in 2016.
Hear Fungi Perfecti Founder Paul Stamets give a TED lecture on the potential uses of mushrooms.
Stamets’ awards include Invention Ambassador (2014-2015) for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the National Mycologist Award (2014) from the North American Mycological Association (NAMA), and the Gordon & Tina Wasson Award (2015) from the Mycological Society of America (MSA).
Currently, Stamets is testing extracts of rare mushroom strains at the NIH (National Institutes of Health/Virology) and with Washington State University/United States Department of Agriculture against a wide panel of viruses pathogenic to humans, animals and bees.