Tag Archives: New York State History

John Burroughs: A Naturalist for the Ages

Upon his death in 1921, the New York Times devoted an entire page to John Burroughs.  The New York State Senate adjourned, and the Daily Times of Los Angeles reported that a resolution passed in Burroughs’ honor by the California State Assembly – it read in part, “whereas press dispatches today announce the death of John Burroughs, foremost naturalist of the United States, be it resolved that in his death the nation has sustained the loss of one who as scientist, citizen and man, occupied a deservedly high place in the regard of all people…”

When I was in my teens, I stumbled upon one of John Burroughs’ 27 books in a local library.  His writing was simple yet elegant and wonderfully descriptive of the natural world.  I was hooked.

Every walk in the woods is a religious rite, every bath in a stream is a saving ordination.

Who was this man of such great fame 100 years ago but who today is almost forgotten?

John Burroughs was first and foremost a farmer who developed an intimate, deep-rooted connection with the land.  Born in 1837, Burroughs dropped out of school after the sixth grade.  He spent 17 years working on his family’s farm and read every single book from his small local library.  His father was a strict Baptist, but Burroughs resisted organized religion.

jb-looking-at-a-bird

I never went to Sunday school and was not often seen inside the church.  My Sunday’s were spent roaming in the woods or fields… following the streams and swimming in the pools. 

 

He briefly attended the Cooperstown Seminary, but formal schooling was not for him.

I can learn more about a cat by it jumping on my lap than by dissecting it in a laboratory.

 At age 20, Burroughs married Ursula North, and like most of his family and acquaintances, she did not support his intense interest in writing.  Undaunted, Burroughs began to write seriously for the Saturday Press and the New York Leader. By age 23, he was regularly publishing essays in the Atlantic Monthly and would continue to do so for the rest of his career.

At age 26, he met Ralph Waldo Emerson who was a great influence on him as a writer.  He then moved to Washington D.C. where he met another writing mentor, Walt Whitman, who ultimately became a close friend.  By age 48, Burroughs was a full-time writer and farmer gleaning much of his inspiration for his essays from the natural world that surrounded him.  This is what set him apart from other writers of his time(?).

John Burroughs is credited with inventing the nature essay, a truly American form of creative writing, and he did so in a way that spoke to the masses.  His writings soon became standard in popular magazines, as well as in many schools across the nation where his descriptions of nature enthralled students and piqued their interest in the out-of-doors.

The student and lover of nature has this advantage over people who gad up and down the world, seeking some novelty or excitement; he has only to stay at home and see the procession pass.  The great globe swings around to him like a revolving showcase.

By his late sixties, John Burroughs was a household name across the nation.  He had befriended John Muir and traveled with him as the naturalist on the Harriman Alaska Expedition in 1899.  Industrialists of the age, including Edison, Firestone and Ford, sought out John Burroughs as the guest naturalist on camping expeditions.  President Roosevelt, a big fan of Burroughs’ essays, steamed up the Hudson River in his presidential yacht to visit the famous writer at his small writing cabin that Burroughs had named “Slabsides.”

The most precious things in life are near at hand, without money and without price.  All that I have ever had or will have can be yours by reaching forth your hand and taking it.

It is impossible to know what influence Burroughs’ work and friendship had on all of these important figures in American history.  What we do know is the extent to which they sought him out, and undoubtedly he helped form their impressions of the natural world and man’s relationship to it.

Our civilization is terribly expensive to all of its natural resources.  One hundred years of modern life doubtless exhausts its stores more than a millennium of the life of antiquity.

John Burroughs died at age 84 on a train heading for home from California.  He was laid to rest in his home town of Roxbury, New York, adjacent to what he referred to as “boyhood rock”, the giant rock he played on as a child.  The property and gravesite are proudly maintained by New York State Parks.  His summer get-away home in his later years, “Woodchuck Lodge”, stands adjacent to his gravesite and is maintained by “Woodchuck Lodge Inc.”  His writing cabin “Slabsides” in West Park, New York, is maintained by the John Burroughs Association.

John Burroughs’ nature writing remains relevant today for several reasons, but perhaps most importantly, because it focuses on nature close at hand, right outside our door.  Wherever we are, there too is nature with all its mystery and wonder.

Young people (and old) are getting outside less, suffering from what Richard Louv described in his book “Last Child in the Woods” as nature deficit disorder.  All of us at State Parks play a critical role in reversing this trend.  We are providing more and more opportunities for young people to get outside to learn about nature and have fun while enjoying the great outdoors!

I suspect John Burroughs would approve.

I am not always in sympathy with nature study as pursued in schools… such study is too cold, too mechanical and likely to rub the bloom off of nature.  It lacks soul and emotion, it misses the accessories of the open air and its exhilarations.

Post by Tom Alworth, State Parks

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Boyhood Rock and Gravesite, photo by Tom Alworth

Featured image John Burroughs and grandchild courtesy of New York State Archives

Walk Through History On the Sackets Harbor Battlefield History Trail

trail dedic. - Welles
National Trails Day speakers at the site’s National Recreation Trail dedication included: NYS Parks Statewide Trails Program Planner Chris Morris, District Manager for NYS Assemblymember Addie Russell Kate Wehrle, Village of Sackets Harbor Mayor Vincent Battista, site manager Connie Barone, NYS Parks 1000 Islands Region Director Peyton Taylor, and Deputy District Director for NYS Senator Patti Ritchie Mike Schenk. Also attending were the Town of Hounsfield Supervisor Tim Scee and representatives from the Adirondack Mountain Club Black River Chapter, Ontario Bays Initiative, and Indian River Lakes Conservancy. Guests followed the trail in perfect weather and enjoyed refreshments donated by Walmart and Price-Chopper.

In June 2015, the United States Department of the Interior designated Sackets Harbor Battlefield History Trail at Sackets Harbor Battlefield State Historic Site (Sackets Harbor) as one of ten new National Recreation Trails. The trail tells the story of Sackets Harbor and the pivotal role it played during the War of 1812 through ten interpretive panels along the three-quarter mile loop trail.  Additional panels highlight other historical aspects of the site including the 1860s Sackets Harbor Navy Yard and the importance of historic preservation.

Sample Panel
Sackets Harbor Battelfield History Trail interpretive panel, photo by Constance Barone

The trail unifies the core of this 70-acre property. The trail is accessible and offers views of the 1860s Navy Yard structures, the 1913 War of 1812 Centennial 100-maple tree grove, the 1930s Civilian Conservation Corps decorative stonewall, abundant birdlife, and unsurpassed views of Black River Bay on the eastern end of Lake Ontario.

From mid-May through Labor Day, amenities near the trail include public restrooms, a picnic pavilion, interpretive programs, and living history demonstrations. On the trail visitors walk, jog, or bicycle. Just off the trail guests practice yoga, rest on benches, picnic, fly a kite, or bird watch. The non-motorized trail is open year-round, free of charge. Sackets Harbor staff maintains the trail’s stone dust surface and reproduction mid-19th century wooden boardwalks.

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Bicycles are one of the many ways to explore the Sackets Harbor Battlefield Recreation Trail, photo by Constance Barone

Sackets Harbor Battlefield History Trail connects to the Village of Sackets Harbor’s War of 1812 Bicentennial Recreation Trail. That trail consists of stone dust paths, converted rail line, village roadways, and sidewalks. The six-mile loop through the historic village includes the former Army post Madison Barracks, two historic cemeteries, and farm fields where the 1813 Battle of Sackets Harbor took place. In July 2014, during the War of 1812 Bicentennial celebration, two granite monuments erected in the fields along the trail to honor the American forces who died defending Sackets Harbor and British-Canadian forces who were killed during the 1813 battle.

The National Park Service recognized the grounds at Sackets Harbor as one of the top War of 1812 sites in the nation.  Sackets Harbor is the only deep-water United States port along eastern Lake Ontario.  In June 1812 and again in May 1813 Americans successfully defended the Navy shipyard at Sackets Harbor from invading British and Canadian forces.  WCNY featured Sackets Harbor battlegrounds in the 2014 documentary Losing Ground: The Race to Preserve War of 1812 Battlefields in New York State, funded by the National Park Service Battlefield Protection Program.

Come check out this newly recognized National Recreation Trail at Sackets Harbor Battlefield State Historic Site!

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The Commodore’s House at Sackets Harbor Battlefield State Historic Site, photo by Constance Barone

Excelsior Conservation Corps: A Modern Vision of an Old Idea

CCC By Unknown or not provided (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Civilian Conservation Corps By Unknown or not provided (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

What started in 1931 as a simple idea to put unemployed New Yorkers to work on state-funded public works projects through the New York Temporary Emergency Relief Administration grew to become the largest peace time utilization of people and equipment in US history – the Civilian Conservation Corps, the CCC. Many New York State Parks including Thacher State Park, Fahnestock State Park, Lake Taghkanic State Park, Selkirk Shores State Park, Thacher State Park, Green Lakes State Park, Letchworth State Park, Hamlin Beach State Park, Chenango Valley State Park, Franklin D. Roosevelt State Park and more benefited from the work that was performed by over 200,000 CCC members from 1933-1942.  During these nine years, 61 camps of 200 CCC members built roads, trails, cabins, and stonewalls, planted trees, worked on early invasive species detection and removal and more.  The Allegany and lower Hudson Valley regions were considered the highest environmental priority and had CCC camps each year, while other encampments would last a season or two, moving on to another location when the job was done.

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About 40 different CCC camps were spread across the state each year. The typical CCC member was between 18-25 years old, “unemployed, unmarried, healthy, not in school, from a needy family, and capable of doing work” (Thompson).  Most CCC members were white males; however New York also had CCC camps for Native Americans, African Americans, WWI veterans (separate camps for white and African American veterans), and separate camps for women (known as She-She-She Camps).

State Parks honors the memory of the CCC members with a CCC Statue at Letchworth State Park.

CCC Statue, Letchworth State Park, OPRHP photo
CCC Statue at Letchworth State Park. Photo by OPRHP.

This January, New York State is reviving the Temporary Emergency Relief Administration conservation corps with the inaugural New York State Excelsior Conservation Corps (ECC) and a 10-month residential program modeled after the CCC.  The program is open toNew York State students and residents aged 18-25, with an emphasis on veterans and expanding diversity. The 50 ECC members will be based at SUNY Morrisville where they will receive eight weeks of specialized trainings and certifications lead by the Student Conservation Association – Hudson Valley Corps .  Then, starting in March and running through early November, ECC members will work in State Parks, Department of Environmental Conservation and other state agency lands on projects across the state focused on:

  1. Open Space Management, maintaining and improving hundreds of miles on New York’s hiking trails
  2. Recreation and Access Mapping, monitoring and mapping over 10,000 acres of public land for safe recreational use
  3. Natural Resource Stewardship, invasive species removal and protection of native species and ecosystems
  4. Environmental Education and Outreach, educating New Yorkers on conservation and stewardship of public lands
  5. Infrastructure and Sustainability, helping to cut New York’s energy consumption and energy costs through the construction of renewable energy projects.

During the 10-months, ECC members will get a chance to work on their education plans and develop career skills.  At the end of their service they will be given a Segal AmeriCorps Education Award.

Building on their hands-on experiences and training, ECC members will be poised to become New York’s next generation of conservation leaders.  Learn more about the ECC in future blogs.

Post by Susan Carver, OPRHP. Slideshow photos courtesy of OPRHP.

References:

Hopkins, June; The New York State Temporary Emergency Relief Administration: October 1, 1931, The Social Welfare History Project, n.d.; http://www.socialwelfarehistory.com/eras/great-depression/temporary-emergency-relief-administration/

She-She-She Camps, George Washington University, n.d.; http://www.gwu.edu/~erpapers/teachinger/glossary/she-she-she-camps.cfm

Thompson, Craig; 75 Years Later: The Legacy of the Civilian Conservation Corp; Conservationist, New York State Department of 85 Environmental Conservation, February 2008; http://www.dec.ny.gov/pubs/42768.html.

 

Rebuilding NYC After the Great Fire: Clay Mining on Staten Island

In 1836 Balthasar Kreischer emigrated from Bavaria to New York City with plans to help rebuild the city after the devastating fire the previous year.  The Great Fire of 1835 burned across 50 acres and destroyed 674 buildings.  Kreischer and his partner, Charles Mumpeton established the Kreischer Brick Manufactory, a firebrick businesses with locations in Manhattan, Staten Island, and New Jersey.  In the neighborhood now known as Charleston on Staten Island, he began mining for clay that would then be shipped to brickwork factories in Manhattan.  The business flourished until Kreischer’s death in 1886.  A few years after his death, the factory burned down, and although it was rebuilt, the business never recovered.

The remnants of the clay mining are still visible today from the hiking trails of the park.  Some of the clay pits have filled with water and provided habitat to new flora and fauna, while others remain dry and are home to flourishing skunk cabbage.  There are areas along the trails where you can still find signs of the former inhabitants of the area, untouched glimpses into the lives of those who once lived in this beautiful area.  Outside of the Interpretation Center are some of the historic Kreischer bricks in the walkway, guiding you away from the rush of city life and into the quiet serene that is Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve.

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Balthasar Kreischer. Image courtesy of the Staten Island Museum Collection.
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Kreischer bricks at Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve.

Post by Clare Carney, OPRHP, Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve.

 

The History of Clay Pit Ponds

The Winant/Gericke House at Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve was constructed by the Winant family before 1874. The Winants were among Staten Island’s earliest European settlers and established their farm close to the ferry landing along the Arthur Kill, where boats traveled daily between Staten Island and New Brunswick, New Jersey.

In 1946, the Gericke Family purchased the farm and Herbert Gericke established himself as an organic gardener. Gericke was an innovator, as “organic produce” was not widely known at that time. Among the crops he grew were comfrey (a traditional healing herb), strawberries, pansies, tomatoes, and rhubarb. He also operated a health food store. When it was sold to the State of New York in 1979, the Gericke Farm was the last working Farm on Staten Island.

Today, Gericke Farm is one of the last working farms in New York City. P.S. 37, a special education school within the New York City Department of Education system, works in cooperation with the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation to execute special programming. Students come to the farm every year to plant, cultivate, and harvest crops. The students then sell the crops to other students and family members at a Youth Market Program. It is a successful farm-to-table experience, which allows the students to gain a deeper understanding of where their food comes from, as well as teaching them teamwork skills and positive food attitudes through work in the garden.

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Gericke persuaded a closing coffee factory to dump 56 truckloads of coffee beans on his land to help improve the land’s fertility. Picture courtesy of The Organic Farmer, 1949.
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People traveled several miles to purchase produce from Gericke’s organic farm. Image courtesy The Organic Farmer, 1949.

Post by Elisabetta OConnor, Environmental Educator at Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve.