Friday, August 3, 2018

Canawler Songs!

Some recent research put us off course and into the Ohio Canal system!

During the early 20th Century, cultural anthropologists - men like John A. Lomax - hauled cumbersome recording equipment into rural America to capture the true sounds of the people.  One such American was Pearl R. Nye - a retired canal boat captain with "a large repertoire of folk songs" to sing.

Check out the wonderful collection of papers and audio from the Library of Congress.  Below is the bio of Nye and a couple of the recordings. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Empire in all its Glory

Empire in all its Glory
By: Jenny Galough

Let’s think about the last time you visited Schoharie Crossing in Fort Hunter, NY (if you haven’t, it might be time you do). Now, let’s reminisce and think about what you took away from your visit… Chances are, your memory (or knowledge) went straight to Empire Lock #29 and rightly so.

Empire, constructed between 1838 and 1845, by Contractor James C. Ott, is one of the enlarged locks within the Erie Canal. It has two side by side chambers which allowed for two barges to utilize the lock simultaneously, and thus not causing an extended wait time for passing.  Expanded in the late 1880’s, this lock is 110’ x 90’ compared to the original 90’ x 15’.  In the center of the photo, you will notice an indent in the structure.  This is where the massive wooden lock gate would have been situated. At the Eastern end of the wall you can see the stairs where boatmen could either leave or gain access to the barges.

The photo above better depicts the indentation in the wall where the gates would have been, in the background, you can also get a glimpse of the remains of Lock 20 from the original 1820's canal. This location is the only one in New York State where you can experience the Enlarged Canal adjacent to the Original Canal. Photo right, is an Eastern view of the elongated portion of Empire Lock.

This western view of side by side chambers show the length variation between the orginal enlarged and the elongated enlarged chamber. This view makes it quite obvious that a whole second barge could fit in the east bound chamber without a problem. The west bound chamber showcases another set of access stairs as well as a contractor’s plate which identifies Ott as the builder.

Empire Lock Number 29 is one of the 73 locks along the enlarged Erie Canal which spanned over 300 miles across New York
State. Groundbreaking for the original canal was in Rome, NY on July 4, 1817, and construction commenced both east and west toward Albany and Buffalo. In 2000, Congress designated the Canal part of the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor. Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site is the only location along the canal where all three of the major phases can be witnessed.


Monday, May 14, 2018

Walk with Me - Volunteer Schoharie Crossing photographer & contributor to MVTTL takes you on a walk along the trail

Walk with Me

by Jenny Galough

Volunteer Schoharie Crossing photographer and contributor to Mohawk Valley Through the Lens takes you on a walk along the trail

Often times, when thinking about Schoharie Crossing you either think about the Aqueduct, Empire Lock, Yankee Hill Lock or the Erie Canal as a whole. When I head out, I head straight for the Towpath Trail starting at Yankee Hill which scenically connects the two locks. It is roughly 2 miles to get to Empire when leaving from Yankee Hill. The Towpath travels right in between the Mohawk River and the Erie Canal.  While Schoharie Crossing  has preservation and the beautiful Schoharie Creek at its doorstep, the nature trails and historical context spanning from Ft. Hunter to Amsterdam keep me coming back to explore.

Let’s Go for a Walk
Traveling west, you will have the river to your right and the canal to your left. The Towpath is a grass covered, fairly level trail. It is very easy to walk, just be sure to watch for fallen sticks as you would on any tree lined path. The first .40 of a mile goes very quickly, once at this spot you will notice a clearing in the trees off to the right where you can see down to the Mohawk River, and Pepper Island across the way. Here is where I take a minute to just stop and stare at the water; just enjoying the scenery and my surroundings.  Moving on, you will notice a slight curve in the path which makes it feel almost enchanted. The trees are dense and in the late summer the greenery layers up for a whole different feel.  You should definitely plan a summer visit.

The First Mile
As the trail curves back you will notice the old Wemp Homestead across the canal, off to your left. There is very large symmetrical home which sits on the southern canal bank. In front of you, a sign with some great information about the Enlarged Erie Canal and its relevance to successful traffic demands in the mid-1830s. You will have to visit the marker to learn more! You are half way to Empire Lock at this point.

Moving on!   
Just ahead about 1.5 miles in, there will be an amazing moss covered, fallen tree on the left side of the trail. It spans across the whole Canal and undisturbed nature has just improved it over time. 
This too is ever changing throughout the seasons. If you aren’t looking for it you may miss it, but that’s OK, you can find it on your way back. With the final half mile before Empire Lock approaching, notice the quarry on your left.  I have a tendency to stop here as well, I listen, look and wonder. Some thoughts that come to mind are: the importance of that quarry and how it was used to build the canal walls, as well as, how the canal looks now compared to how it may have looked in the 1800s. All of these thoughts play into how truly significant the original canal was for the transportation of goods.

Empire Lock
Wow! With so much to look at and take in- that 2 miles went quickly. Straight ahead you will come into Empire. First you might notice how grand it is! That’s because it’s enlarged, 110’x90’ compared to the original 90’x15’.  Notice the side by side lock chambers which allowed boats going in opposite directions to utilize the lock at the same time. The enhanced canal also allowed for larger barges to take advantage of the Erie Canal.

Let’s Head Back

Just because we are going back the same way we came doesn’t mean we won’t find something new to explore.  Now headed east, it’s a whole new direction and perspective.  And, look at that- half mile on the right, there is the handy work of a resident canal beaver. What an exciting discovery! The little guy chewed threw a whole tree and it now rests at a 90 degree angle. You again will pass the quarry, this time on your right, if you look through the clearing over the canal you will notice a ledge, up there is where the Canalway Trail is, you are travelling parallel to the bike path. The nature and wildlife never ceases to amaze me on the Towpath, tomorrow, there could be something totally new and different to look at!

Almost Done!
Trekking back the last mile, I enjoy the Mohawk River views, listen to the train heading westbound along the North side of the river, the birds chirping and the pesky squirrel off to my right down in the canal.  I think about everything that I have just taken in; the towpath, its relevance, my location, and how vital this canal is to New York as a whole.  In total, we will have travelled about 4 miles, it took us just over an hour and a half to complete, with a couple of short stops along the way. There are a lot of great reasons to get outside and explore what is right in our own backyard. Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site lends the perfect opportunity for nature, historic preservation, waterways and overall health and fitness. I hope you will plan a visit to the Towpath and maybe pack yourself a picnic to enjoy at Yankee Hill Picnic area for when you get back!!


Did you enjoy Jenny's work? Check out her post on the old Wemp Barn by clicking HERE!

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Fort Hunter Broom Factory


 Louise McAllister Merritt

Division for Historic Preservation
July 11, 1974


     The Fort Hunter broom factory was built about 1876 by Ebenezer Howard.[1]  Howard was a local farmer who had previously been in business in Fort Hunter as a broom maker with John D. Blood under the firm name of Blood and Howard.[2]  In the new factory, Howard operated the American Broom and Brush Company which apparently specialized in deck brooms for use of boats on the nearby Erie Canal.[3] 
     The business passed from Ebenezer Howard to his son Charles L. Howard, who in  about 1901 moved it to Port Jackson.[4]  Here he reputedly built the largest broom factory in the world.[5]  Howard continued to reside in Fort Hunter and was listed in the Amsterdam Directory as President of the American Broom and Brush Company until at least 1929.[6]  After that he appeared as President of the Farmer’s National Bank of Amsterdam, until about 1940 when his name disappeared completely.[7]
     When the Howard firm left Fort Hunter, the factory building was sold to Fred C. and Charles Wittemier.  They conducted a broom making business under the name Wittemier’s Sons.[8]  Sometime during the Wittemier’s ownership the factory was converted from steam power to electricity.[9] 
 About 1917, the Wittemier’s sold the factory to Fred W. Bohney of Amsterdam.[10]  Bohney, who in 1905 was a grocer with a store at 5 East Main Street, Amsterdam,[11] had later operated the Premier Broom and Brush Company in that city.  When his establishment was burned out, he moved to the factory in Fort Hunter.[12]
     By 1940, ownership of the Premier Brush and Broom Company had passed to Fred H. Miller.[13]  Miller was reputedly a brother-in-law of Bohney’s nephew.[14]  Under Miller’s management, the factory made primarily brush brooms.  The firm held contracts with Grant’s and Kress’s chain stores and made brooms to order for various department stores and railroad companies.[15]  By 1952, however, business was sliding and the building needed a new boiler.  James E. Downing, a former employee, negotiated the purchase of the buildings with all the equipment except that specifically exempted by Miller.  As soon as the sale was completed, Downing closed down the business[16]
     Soon after, the machinery was sold to D.W. Swindle of Nashville, TN.  Much of the machinery from Fort Hunter was old-fashioned, foot-powered machinery and was especially useful in Swindle’s factory which employed a number of blind people.[17] 
     For several years Downing used the main floor of the factory buildings for his cabinet shop and stored antiques upstairs.  Windows were constantly being broken and security was a problem, so eventually he moved his things out and abandoned the structure.[18]
     The broom factory was the smaller of two located in the village of Fort Hunter.  The other, on Queen Anne Street, has now been demolished.  A county atlas of 1905, shows  this factory was operated at that time by Hartley Brothers.[19] In the early years of this century, the majority of wage earners in the village of Fort Hunter earned their livelihood in this broom making industry.[20]

[1] Interview:  James E. Downing, June 27, 1974.
[2] Hamilton Child.  Gazetter and Business Directory of Montogomery and Fulton Counties 1869-70,
  p.p. 143-105.
[3] Amsterdam Recorder, May 2, 974. p. 24.
[4] Port Jackson was originally an independent village which grew up to the south of the Mohawk, along the Erie Canal.  By 1901 it had been annexed by the city of Amsterdam.
[5] Downing – op.  cit.
[6] Amsterdam City Directory, Amsterdam:  Evening Recorder, 1928
[7] Amsterdam City Directory, Amsterdam:  Evening Recorder Printing House, 1940.
[8] New Century Atlas of Montgomery and Fulton Counties New York.  Philadelphia:  Century Map Company,  1905.
[9] Downing, op.  cit.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Amsterdam City Directory, 1905-1906
[12] Downing, op.  cit.
[13] Amsterdam City Directory,  1940.
[14] Downing, op.  cit.
[15] Ibid.
[16] Ibid.
[17] Ibid.
[18] Ibid.
[19] New Century Atlas, op.  cit
[20] Amsterdam City Directory, 1905-06, 1917-18


*This History of the Fort Hunter Broom Factory is part of the preservation report completed in 1974 for the Historic Preservation Office on behalf of Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site.  The complete draft is on record in the collection of the site as well as NYSOPRHP.