Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Start Your Planning Now!

It might seem pretty easy to forget the wonderful adventures that can be had along the canal once the cold and snow has arrived.  Then again, it seems like a really good time to think about ways you can still enjoy it – such as visiting the museums that are open all year – or planning your spring, summer or autumn trip now!

An invaluable resource is the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor website.  By clicking on that link, you can explore a myriad of options that the corridor has available for you.  The site gives a lot of information not only about great heritage sites, but the canal communities along the way. 

Another great online resource is the Mohawk Valley Region Path Through History website.  The blog has covered information on this before, but the MVPath site does a great job of providing information on historical destinations throughout the valley and is part of a larger I Love NY initiative. 

If your thing is the trails and parks along the Erie Canal or all over New York State then Parks & Trails New York is an online mega-source of information and advocacy.  Schoharie Crossing has a great section of the Canalway Bicycle Path that travels through the site, and every year there are hundreds of cyclists that come through on it – PTNY is a huge advocate and promoter of the path and parks. 

The New York State Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation website is a great way to check out what is happening in NYS Parks and particularly Schoharie Crossing.  Keep up on changing Park opportunities, hours of operation, suggested destinations, directions and contact information.  Also, check out the events page for upcoming programs and more. 

Another super great way to keep up on what is going on at the site is by “Liking” their official Facebook page.  Honestly, finding Schoharie Crossing on Facebook can be a challenge. There is the “Official” page that the site operates and updates - providing valuable information about programs, events and history.  Then there is an automatically generated “destination” profile that people can access to indicate they have “been there.”  Sure fire way to ensure you have “liked” the official page is by using a link provided and seeing the Visitor Center as the profile image. 

If you happen to be the more “tangible” materials kind of person, and would like information about the site sent to you or your organization please either Janice or David at (518) 829-7516 or via email: janice.fontanella@parks.ny.gov / david.brooks@parks.ny.gov

Sunday, December 14, 2014

2014 Top Five - Year End Review

The Friends of Schoharie Crossing Blog has only been online since June 2014.  

In that time the information posted, images shared and program details for this great historic site in New York have been viewed and shared around the globe.  Below is the Top Five list of the most viewed posts:

     This is a great testament to the interest in Schoharie Crossing.  By reaching out through the internet and increasing our social media reach, we are connecting to not only larger numbers of people but a more diverse field of interests, backgrounds and visitor base. 
     To make it even more exciting is the increasing buzz about the Erie Canal due to the modern “Barge Canal” obtaining a place on the National Register of Historic Places.  While the “old” canal has held that distinction since the 1960’s, the recognition that the canal system in New York is still vital today is something to be proud of. 
     Taking a tiny leap forward toward 2017, there is also a lot of discussions happening in the canal community all over the state as development of programs, exhibits and outreach are underway to celebrate the bicentennial of the first shovel full of earth moved to create the artificial river that would go on to define an era and build a nation.  Began in 1817, the digging of the canal has been recognized as an engineering marvel and New York State has a lot of rich history that surrounds it. 
     Look forward to more information from Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site on how it is planning to recognize and celebrate the anniversary! 


*Please consider being a part of the great things that happen at Schoharie Crossing, where history is celebrated and created!

Print, complete and send along to us.  

Your generous contribution funds events, programs and development at Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site.  As a supporter of this heritage site your efforts are appreciated and recognized.  To learn more, please contact: Schoharie Crossing - (518) 829-7516 for more information about the Friends Group.  

Friday, December 5, 2014

Keep Your Powder Dry Ep. 2 - Fort Friday

In part one of Keep Your Powder Dry we briefly explored the artistic aspects of powder horns and how they portrayed the Fort Hunter area in the colonial era.  A small disclaimer at the bottom of that article mentions that horns were used to store bulk powder.  This article will take a quick look at that concept of bulk powder as it translates to ammunition cartridges and use.

     Recently another blog –  Journal of the American Revolution covered severe supply shortages in powder the army needed to be an effective fighting force; especially early in the war before heavy foreign support.  Commentary on that post by scholars and authors does a great job in demonstrating bulk powder stored in barrels and how that translates into rounds of ammunition per pound and per soldier.  For each round the dry weight measurement of grains is used, and the number of approximate grains per pound averages at seven thousand.  There is some uncertainty as to the number of pounds per barrel but the common accepted number of rounds that could be produced from it is around 3,500.  That roughly indicates an average of 40 rounds per pound, assuming that the barrel contains about 90lbs of powder.  Each round would contain somewhere over 160gr to 220gr that was typically to be used to propel a .69cal ball from a .75cal musket. 

The math can seem overwhelmingly insecure – especially when we are working with rough ideas and the adjustment of measurement scales that may skew figures.  But that all seems a bit beside the point here. 

How was this powder keep secure and dry – or at least as much as possible given circumstances?  The answer to that has some variations as well, however we will take a short journey through common practices. 

Image sourced: NPA.gov
Most notably is the standardization of rounds into cartridges that could be created with a treated paper.  These cartridges served the purpose of powder protection, and almost more importantly consistency for each shot and reduction of loading time.  As show in the image, a paper cartridge would be rolled around a dowel and ball.  With the ball end folded and securely affixed to keep the end tight and now allow loose grain powder to spill out, the dowel was then removed and the paper tube would be filled with a measured amount of powder.  The open end would be folded and secured leaving a “flap” that would be used to open the cartridge for loading. 
Image sourced: NWTA.com

Paper cartridges were often coated in beeswax, lard, or tallow, which served a number of purposes. It provided some degree of water resistance, it lubricated the paper-wrapped bullet as it was pushed down the bore, and it melted upon firing to mix with the powder residue and make the resulting fouling easier to remove.

So now what?  The cartridges would further be protected after being made or distributed to individual soldiers by use of a cartridge box.  More on that in the next segment... 


As always, your comments and or questions are encouraged!  


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Dam That Creek! - Erie Canal dams of the Schoharie Creek

Upon arriving at the Visitor Center this morning, there was a pleasant surprise that the water level was low enough to give a peak at the remains of several dam efforts built across the Schoharie Creek for purposes of the Erie Canal. 

West bank view - 12/02/14
     The Schoharie Creek is the watershed for an area of nearly a thousand square miles and is notably the principle southern tributary of the Mohawk River.  During the planning of the original Erie Canal, a survey by Engineer Charles C. Broadhead, noted the creek surface would be low and a dam would be required to raise the water surface approximately ten feet.  This was in order to avoid the cost at the time of constructing an aqueduct, but it would also allow the use of the creek to feed water into that portion of the canal without additional works. 

     The first dam was built in 1821-1822 and was a timber structure filled with stone and anchored in masonry.  At eight-feet in height and spanning six-hundred fifty feet across the creek the original dam allowed for a rise in water level two feet less than Broadhead’s calculation due to the use of Lock #19 (with a six foot lift) on the western bank and the additional “Voorhees” Lock #18 (with a seven foot lift) near Caughnawaga.  On the east bank of the Schoharie Creek a guard lock was constructed to regulate the water and was only closed at times of high creek levels or fast moving current.
     While the creek could still prove treacherous, the practice of open crossing continued until the erection of the Schoharie Creek Aqueduct in the early 1840’s.*  Even after the canal rose above the creek instead of through it, the dams were vital to the operation of the system.  Though the maintaining of those dams proved to be difficult, costly and frequent, they nonetheless were required for decades to come. 

     This first dam lasted about ten years and was rebuilt in sections after severe flooding in March and April of 1832.  After the Schoharie Creek Aqueduct became operational in 1845, the waters of the creek continued to be fed to the canal by use of the 1820’s “Clinton’s Ditch” and a nearly ten-foot high dam.  This version of the dam was of constant complaint and required continual patching and securing at a growing expense until 1849.  Devastating flooding in 1850 completely destroyed the dam works in the Schoharie Creek.  Use was then made for over a decade of a repaired version of the original 1820’s dam.
     The last dam constructed across the creek for the Erie Canal was completed in 1864.  This time at eleven feet in height and over four hundred thirty feet in length, the dam was built from timber secured by large bolts into five layers between two stone abutments.  More than fourteen hundred trees at lengths between seventy to ninety feet and butt diameters between eighteen to twenty-two inches were used.  Gravel and stone fill was used to secure the structure further.  This dam cost well over twice that of the original, due in part to inflation but mostly because of scarce labor and rise in material prices due to the Civil War.  The final bill was $44,502.27. 
Engineer & Officials atop 1864 Schoharie Creek dam
     This dam also saw a great deal of structural damage from flooding and ice.  The rains of 1869 and 1879 caused flooding that broke the banks of the creek and injured the feeder canal as well – sweeping out portions of the walls.  While the dam was repaired, lengthened and permanently docked to the embankments, it required annual maintenance for leaking and structural breaches.  Another section washed out in 1894 and repairs were made yet again to the entire structure.  Although the dam needed constant repairs it effectively lasted until a new canal was ready to take over.  With the opening of the Barge Canal in the early twentieth-century, the dam and the aqueduct were no longer necessary to the system. 
A view from the west bank looking east.  Circa 1890s.  
Similar vantage points from 1998 & 2014


*More information to come on the original crossings of the Schoharie Creek