The ACHC Blog

Friday, August 28, 2015
Introducing the Albany County History Collaborative

Anna O'Mera, Historic Site CoordinatorBy Anna O'Meara

“History is not made by one man! Paul Revere? He didn't do it all,” Susan Dee, President of the Clarksville Historical Association, says in a conversation over sparkling water on the porch of her home, which was at one point a boarding house for New York City Teachers who worked on the Bennett Hill apple orchards. This speaks to the great perspective we can provide through compiling history, regionally, throughout the landscape of Albany County. For example, so many towns and hamlets of Albany County were affected, even relocated, based on the rail system. Each town and hamlet has its own American Revolution stories, its own Civil War stories, its own Native American history, its own conflicts, through temperance and prohibition to rent wars to civil rights. The Albany County History Collaborative aims not only to identify important historical sites and societies of Albany County, but also to tell the story of Albany County from the perspective of each of its unique regions. Debbie Brennan Mahan of the New Scotland Historical Association says, “I love old cemeteries. There's so much information here,” as we walk past graves of the revolutionary war graves at the Early Mission (First Methodist) Dutch Reform church in New Scotland. Indeed, we cannot define such efforts based merely on the men who have become symbols for entire eras in history. When I met with Joe Boehlke, Curator and Historian of the Ravena Coeymans Historical Society Museum, we discussed the many small sites and museums of the area. The incredible density of material in each region could benefit from sharing information, both online and physically. “It would be great to collaborate with other sites on finding materials for exhibits, here,” says Boehlke. Sites who express struggles with garnering general interest and funding (with which many of us may empathize), we hope will feel revitalized through an increase in general interest and awareness.


Wednesday, July 08, 2015
Barn Quilts

The hilltowns have such an incredible quilting tradition. Check out this amazing geometry from the collections in Berne, where I had the pleasure of visiting yesterday. 

I'm beginning to feel tempted to paint my own barn quilt, as per the instructions from the Knox Barn Trail:

Friday, June 26, 2015
This Day in History, June 26th, 1956

June 26th, 1956, the Federal Aid Highway Act was passed, leading to the creation of many interstate highways, including I90. Throughout history, Albany County has been a hub for transportation, through canals, trains, and major highways. Interstate 90 is the longest Interstate Highway, stretching from Stockbridge, Mass to Seattle. Eisenhower proposed the creation of Interstate Highways as necessary for national defense after his observations of the German autobahn system in World War II.

The Society for History Education notes reactions to the creation of Interstate Highways: 

"The era during which the highway system was built was typified by protests about causes such as civil rights and the Vietnam War. Anti-interstate groups developed, attracting environmentalists, historic preservationists, and those whose neighborhoods and communities were being destroyed. By 1970, “freeway revolts” had broken out in twelve cities, sometimes preventing a highway from being built or changing its route. In Phoenix, for example, citizens objected to the proposed building of Interstate 10 through the downtown area, and the highway was rerouted underground with a park over it. African-American citizens living in Washington,D.C. believed that racism was a factor in choosing where a highway would go, prompting artist Sammie Abbott to design a poster with the slogan, “White man’s road thru black man’s home!” 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015
Visit to Knox

I had a great visit and great conversations in Knox today at the Saddlemire Homestead with Jane McLean and John Elberfeld. Can't wait to look into the nature preserve in Knox to find out more about the Knox Cave and Helderberg Mountains as the "birthplace of American paleontology." I particularly love this photo. One of the reasons I was originally drawn to Art History was through watching Indiana Jones as a kid, and the sort of cinematographic sublime in this photo gives a similar discovery that I feel when I've traveled to these sites all over Albany County, from, as ACCVB put it, "the Hilltowns to the Hudson."

Friday, May 15, 2015
Herman Melville in Albany County

Herman Melville grew up in Albany on Broadway Street. He was in and out of the Albany Academy and Albany Classical School. It was clear that he was bright, but he didn't like to study! His family had quite a few financial difficulties, and ended up moving around. In 1839, Melville went by boat from Albany to New York City, then from New York City to Liverpool on a merchant ship. When he returned, he became a teacher in Greenbush, and later rented a house on the river in Troy. We can imagine that his studies in Latin, the Bible, and literature at the Albany Academy and as a teacher, coupled with his voyage, generated the dense, cheeky, lively prose of Moby Dick. Perhaps we can see the author asking to be called Ishmael in the opening lines of the novel: "Call me Ishmael. Some years ago- never mind how long precisely- having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world...Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off- then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. " Below is a Rockwell Kent illustration from Moby Dick. Kent is a New York State artist.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015
Textile Production in Albany County

Here are two contrasting images that represent textile production in Albany County: on the left, a spinning room from Watervliet Shaker Village, and on the right, an image of the textile workers at Harmony Mills in Cohoes. Harmony Mills employed women mostly between the ages of 15 to 25, but ages ranged from very young to very old. Shakers also found means of integrating children into labor at young ages as a part of their education. However, the Shakers represented reform for working conditions, looking for means of moving from exploitation to fair and communal labor. They looked to their founder, a female textile worker, Ann Lee, for inspiration. We note that 19th Century and early 20th Century labor was divided by gender both in major factories and in Shaker villages. In Cohoes, men and boys worked for one of the largest iron mills in the country. Women and girls worked in textiles. For both the Shakers and Victorians, textiles were an ideological representation of femininity, and were associated with the domestic sphere, whereas hard science and iron works represented both brute force and logical discernment associated with masculinity. However, it should be noted that great strength was needed to work in both Shaker textiles and mills; women and children often lost fingers at Harmony Mills due to the great number of hours they worked and the dangerous equipment. Shaker women worked under vastly more forgiving conditions, but they prided themselves on their strength, productivity, and precision in the creation of Shaker textiles and in their everyday lives. The order and cleanliness of the Shaker spinning room would have consistently contrasted from the chaos and destitution of the mill. It's interesting to note that linens and textiles are the primary reference Marx uses to explain the 19th Century development of capital and industry, especially with reference to exploitation. I believe that his repeated use of the reference indicates both the prevalence and the outcry necessary when thinking of textile production at places like Harmony Mills in the 19th Century. For further reference:

For Shaker image source:…/shaker-stoves-in-histori…
For Harmony Mills image source:…/walkabout-harmony-mills-a-tro…/

Tuesday, May 12, 2015
Happy Tulip Fest!

Tulips in Albany County reference the region's Dutch heritage. However, the tulip is not native to the Netherlands - it's a North African flower that first became popular in Turkey, where the flower is called 'Lale' and is sometimes considered a holy symbol because it shares letters with "Allah." Etymologists note the possibility that the English word, "tulip," may have derived from the word "turban." Also, Albany County residents, make sure to watch out for your outdoor cats!! Tulips are very poisonous to them. It's said that, in early American history, tulips were once worth as much as gold. Talk about "prize tulips!"

Tuesday, May 05, 2015
This Day in History

Today in 1865, the 13th amendment was ratified, abolishing slavery. It's an important day to consider the history of slavery in Albany County, which existed here from 1621 to 1827, beginning with the establishment of the Dutch West India Company. According to Oscar Williams, New York was the last stronghold for Northern slavery. Albany's African American slave community developed its own regionally specific customs. For example, slaves appropriated what was formerly the Dutch Pentecost into a holiday similar in concept to May Day - a celebration of having time off work. It became called "Pinkster," which included a festival in the location that is now the State Capitol.

Thursday, April 30, 2015
This Day in History

April 30th: On this day in 1803, the treaty for the Louisiana Purchase was signed. Let's take a minute to consider some of the interesting French history of Albany. In the 17th Century, French Huguenots escaped religious persecution by immigrating to colonies in New York State, including Albany. When Albany was under Dutch control, the "Walloons" fed the soldiers and traders at Fort Orange. They have an especially interesting heritage as French speaking Protestants from the Spanish Netherlands. By the time Albany was under British power in 1690, the settlement of Corlear was attacked by the French and Native Americans, killing 60 people and taking many more as prisoners. In the mid 18th Century, Albany became a key target during the French and Indian War due to its proximity to Montreal, its density, and its political significance. Below is a print from the New York Public Library of the Walloons providing for Fort Orange.