Tag Archives: New York State History

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.

balthasar kreischer
Balthasar Kreischer. Image courtesy of the Staten Island Museum Collection.
kreischer bricks
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.

photo1
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.
photo2
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.

 

Ganondagan in the News

In 2014, NBC’s WGRZ recently aired a story on Ontario County’s Ganondagan State Historic Site. Ganondagon is the site of a seventeenth century Seneca town and granary, where over 500,000 bushels of corn were stored until the town, and the corn, were burned by the French-Canadian army in 1687 as part of a series of conflicts between the French, British, and Iroquois called the Beaver Wars.

Today, Ganondagan’s White Corn Project promotes the cultivation of a historical Iroquois corn variety as a way to promote not only good nutrition, but traditional cultural practices as well. Check out the original story by following the link below.

 

What’s in a Name? – Taughannock Falls

Taughannock Falls State Park, in Ithaca, NY, is part of the historical territory of the Cayuga Nation, one of six nations that form the Iroquois Confederacy. In the period of European colonization of the Americas, the Iroquois controlled an expansive territory that included New York, Pennsylvania, and part of southeastern Canada.

There are two commonly repeated sources for the name of Taughannock Falls, the tallest waterfall in the state of New York

Territory of the 5 Iroquois Nation, approx. 1650
Territory of the 5 Iroquois Nation, approx. 1650. This image is in the public domain.

and a highlight of Taughannock Falls State Park. Both are explained in a travelogue from 1872 by Lewis Halsey, The Falls of Taughannock.

The first is a translation by William H. Bogart, who claims that Taughannock means “the great fall in the woods.” However, Bogart combines his understanding of Iroquoian root words with roots from the Algonquian language, a group with lived south of Iroquois territory.

George Copway, 1850. This image is in the public domain.
George Copway, 1850. This image is in the public domain.

Haley also cites George Copway–a well-known Christian-educated Ojibwe man who produced many writings in the late 19th century– as positing his own translation as, “the crevice which rises to the tops of the trees.”

The most exciting, if least plausible, origin story for the falls’ name comes from David Henry Hamilton, a Presbyterian minister born in Canjoharie, NY in 1813. Hamilton wrote that Taughannock was a chief’s title in the Delaware Nation.

The Delaware tribe lived in the region of the Delaware and Susquehanna rivers at the time of European colonization. Being so close to Iroquois territory, the Delaware were frequent victims of Iroquois raids, in which Iroquois warriors captured members of other tribes and adopted them into their own families in order to increase their numbers. According to Hamilton, a young Taughannock–a chief–was captured, but too strong-willed to be adopted into the Cayuga tribe. The chief gathered a group of followers and camped near the falls, only to be defeated in a dramatic last stand. The story ends with his body being tossed over the falls.

We can’t be sure how these writers came to their conclusions, and so we can’t ever be sure how the name Taughannock attached itself to falls or what this word really means. In the end, Taughannock remains as mysterious and beautiful as the falls themselves.

Source: Halsey. 1872. The Falls of Taughannock. New York: Cutter, Tower & Co., Printers and Stationers.

featured image from Taughannock Falls State Park, by Lilly Schelling. Post by Paris Harper.