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Memorial Day: It’s Also Community Day

By Anthony F. Hall

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Memorial Day is, of course, the day we honor our nation’s veterans. But it is also, as the son of a Civil War veteran from Crown Point once said, “our own community day.” Every town will celebrate it, but every town will celebrate it in its own way. This weekend, when we attend the ceremonies in our own hometowns, in all likelihood we shall find that little has changed since we stood in the same places thirty years ago. The parades will follow the same routes to the cemeteries. The same rites will be re- enacted. Only we change. “The statues of the abstract Union soldier grow slimmer and younger each year,” as the poet Robert Lowell put it.

Unlike the Fourth of July, which was decreed a national day of celebration even before we had achieved independence, Memorial Day, or Decoration Day, as it used to be called, was initiated by the towns themselves. In 1866, a town in upstate New York chose a day in May to decorate the graves of Union soldiers. Other towns followed suit, and New York declared May 30 a legal holiday in 1873.

The Union armies were comprised of regiments and companies raised entirely from single regions. It was not uncommon for a small town to find that it had lost an entire generation of young men in one day – as Dryden, New York did at Gettysburg. Of the 1,100 men who joined the famous Adirondack Regiment, only three hundred returned at the war’s end. That regiment contained three companies from towns in Warren County. Samuel Richards, in whose memory the library in Warrensburg is dedicated, was its first commander. Company H of the Fifth Volunteers Cavalry was recruited from Crown Point. The company was led by Colonel John Hammond, whose monument to the horse that carried him through 34 battles still stands in the village park.

The battle flag of the 118th regiment, also known as the Adirondack Regiment

On Decoration Day, if on no other day, the town was united. Townspeople were united by shared emotions: “broken hearts, bereaved affection and agony of soul,” according to Major John L. Cunningham of the Adirondack Regiment. For the dead whom the towns honored on that day were not the abstract soldiers of statues. They were kinsmen, neighbors, and comrades. “These young men were known to all of us – they came from our own homes,” wrote E. Eugene Barker, the son of Captain E. J. Barker of Crown Point. But the town was also united by pride. “People were proud of the sacrifices their town had made for the sake of the nation,” a man now in his eighties once remarked. As a boy, his pride in his hometown was founded in the fact that it had mustered more troops in defense of the Union than any other town in the county.

Memorial Day, which links us to our nation’s past and the past of our towns, is an appropriate occasion to salute not only the virtues of the veterans but that seedbed of virtue, the small town. “True courage is mostly a fine quality of mind,” Major Cunningham wrote in his diary only hours after the Battle of Drury’s Bluff, in which 173 men from the Adirondack Regiment were killed, wounded or captured. That quality of mind was somehow cultivated in the offices, shops and schools of Adirondack towns. The men who distinguished themselves on the battlefield had already given proof of their merit in their friendships, their honesty, and even in the numbers of rods of stone wall which they had built. Our towns still produce “fine qualities of mind,” and we still take pride in the sacrifices our towns have made on behalf of the nation. It is therefore only right that Memorial Day is not only a national holiday but still very much a local holiday – our own community day.

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The GOP Should Pray for a Right Wing Third Party

By Anthony F. Hall

Saturday, November 3, 2012

There may be lessons to be drawn from the presidential election of 1948, but none that will be especially instructive for President Obama. It is, rather, the Republicans who can learn something from Harry Truman’s victory that year. Everyone but Harry Truman himself thought he would lose the election, and it is probably true that the election was lost by New York Governor Thomas Dewey rather than won by Truman. By running such a cautious campaign, Dewey allowed Truman to sieze and hold the initiative. Truman not only ran against the  conservative “Do Nothing Congress,” he ran against “the reds and the pinks” who were, in fact, members of his own administration. According to local historian David Pietrusza,  the author of the newly published “1948: Harry Truman’s Improbable Victory and the Year that Transformed America,” Dewey refrained from attacking domestic Communists because he had been criticized so sharply for doing so in 1944, when he was also the Republican nominee.

Defending his reluctance to attack the left, Dewey said, “we have a lot of Communists in New York” – one of the best lines of the campaign. And he was right. New York is the only city to have sent a Communist, Vito Marcantonio, to Congress,  and only New York delivered enough votes to the Progressive Party’s Henry Wallace to deprive Truman of a plurality and  allow Dewey to carry the state, which he had lost in 1944.  At the start of the campaign, Wallace was expected to receive ten million votes. Instead, he drew only one million. Some of those millions drifted back to the Democratic party after it became increasingly clear that Wallace couldn’t win, and that Truman, whatever his flaws, was preferable to Dewey. Others may have become disenchanted with Wallace, whose campaign, it became clear over time, was dominated by Communists. Those who stuck with Wallace were committed leftists, a fact which may have been extremely helpful to Truman’s chances. “The Democrats who deserted their party strengthened it,” writes Pietrusza, perhaps because moderates, conservative Democrats and even Republicans could now feel comfortable voting for a party that was no longer identified with the far left (or, for that matter, with the far right, which had also bolted the party to support the segregationist Dixiecrats.)

Here, we are inclined to think, is a lesson for the Republican party. Rather than attempting to accommodate the Tea Party, the Evangelicals and the Libertarians, the GOP should distance itself from them; it should encourage them to create their own minor parties. If Mitt Romney, who many on the right still perceive as a moderate, loses to Obama, they may desert the party on their own accord for more ideologically pure alternatives. That is something to be wished for. Republican candidates would no longer be pulled rightward in the primaries, and the ultimate nominee might be someone whom moderates, independents and Democrats would conceivably support. After years of polarization, we might once again have a vital center. A center that can hold. In every end is a beginning.

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Editor’s Notes: Lake George in Decline? It’s Relative

By Anthony F. Hall

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Adirondack Explorer magazine has a well-researched and reported article in its current issue about the politics of the Lake George Park Commission. Unfortunately, the title given to the piece – Decline of Lake George – was predictable, and predictably misleading.

We’ll wait for the release later this summer of a study by the Darrin Fresh Water Institute and The Fund for Lake George analyzing trends in water quality over the past thirty years before making such glib pronouncements ourselves. “Without that kind of information we are subject to supposition, accusation and hearsay,” says Dr. Charles Boylen of DFWI, who has directed the studies. What the studies will probably show, says Peter Bauer, the executive director of The Fund for Lake George, is that “While Lake George continues to have some of the highest water quality in New York and in the eastern US, large parts of the lake have shown trends of changing, most notably at the south end.” No doubt. But not all downward trends are irreversible. If that were the case, state and local governments, conservation organizations and private individuals would not have committed millions of dollars to restoring the wetlands at the mouth of West Brook. When completed, the project is expected to treat most of the urban runoff polluting the south basin.

The development that the article faults for “large deltas and algal blooms” took place over the course of a century, not over night, and remediation will not take place over night. (And by the way, are we the only ones who never saw “the entire southern basin of the lake blanketed in algae (that was) prevalent all over the lake,” as a source for the article claimed?) We are in complete agreement that poorly regulated development is the greatest threat to Lake George’s water quality. (Northern Lake George, where development is limited, was declared the clearest water body in New York State last summer by the New York State Federation of Lakes.) Lake George, however, is in a better position than any other lake in New York State to meet those threats. That’s not only due to the authority of the Lake George Park Commission, whose penchant for moderate rather than radical progress may be due to a lack of resources, and not to a lack of political will, as its critics claim. It’s also due to the commitment to the protection of Lake George shared by local governments, businesses and not-for-profit organizations – a coalition whose like is not seen anywhere else in the Adirondack Park. Lake George, like every oligotrophic lake, will ultimately decline and morph into a eutrophic lake. But thanks to actions taken today, it will not happen in our lifetimes or for generations to come. Compared with other lakes, the decline of Lake George is relative indeed.

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Happy Times

Happy Times

Remembering Lake George Racer, Boat Builder Bill Morgan

By Anthony F. Hall

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Bill Morgan, the individual most responsible for reviving wooden speedboat building in North America, died in Glens Falls on February 21. He was 84.

Best known for re-animating the Hacker-Craft brand, whose boats he manufactured in Silver Bay, Morgan also restored or built replicas of more than twenty Gold Cup racers of the 1930s, including “Happy Times,” a replica of George Reis’s El Lagarto.

“Those beautiful, slender race boats were in my background long enough to make an impression,” Morgan once told the Mirror.

Raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Morgan spent his summers on Lake George,  where he was  able to view the Gold Cup races of the 1930s from his front yard.

“He was always interested in engines; that’s all he ever talked about,” recalled Jane Kiernan Gabriels, a friend of Morgan’s since their summers as children on Lake George.

(Apparently, Bill had no interest in joining the family business, Morgan Lithograph Co., which was founded in 1864. By the 1920s, the company was the nation’s foremost printer of movie posters.)

George Reis, whose El Lagarto had brought the races to Lake George in 1934, was a friend of Morgan’s family, and “his stories furthered my interest,” Morgan said in 2000.

After attending Williams College (where, according to Gabriels, he was a champion swimmer) and serving in the Navy, Morgan himself became a racer, competing in Gold Cup, President’s and National Sweepstakes races, as well as in the Silver Cup, Canadian National and in a World Championship, compiling an impressive record of victories.

After building his own inboard racing boats, Morgan said in 2000,  “I got to the point where I wanted to build replicas of boats that were no longer around.”

El Lagarto was donated to the Adirondack Museum in 1969, and after several trips to the museum to take measurements, Morgan completed Happy Times in 1971.

“El Lagarto was the best Gold Cup boat in its time, and Happy Times is its duplicate,” Morgan told the Mirror in 1971. “Like El Lagarto, my boat with the five steps has the same distinctive leap which enabled the original to clear itself from the water and run a little faster than its competition.”

Asked by the Mirror if he intended to enter Happy Times in races, Morgan replied, “No, but I’ll let her out and just see who we pass.”

Morgan went on to build “ten or twelve replicas – one each of the nicest boats,” he said.

That number includes Delphine IV, a replica of the 1932 Gold Cup winner designed by George Crouch for Horace Dodge, and Hotsy Totsy, a replica of the Purdy-built two-time Gold Cup.

Morgan also bought and restored the Californian, which competed in the Gold Cup races of 1930, 31 and 32; Miss Detroit VII, a Gar Wood boat which won the 150 mile Sweepstakes in 1924 and 1925; Miss Los Angeles, which competed in the 1929 Gold Cup races; and Miss Canada III, which competed in the 1939 Gold Cup Race.

“It would have been a crime to let them go,” Morgan said. “They are a part of our history… the Californian was in rough shape. Canada III-we rescued her days before she was about to be bulldozed. She was stripped of her deck for use as a fishing boat. Detroit VII was a basket case.”

Morgan’s replicas and restorations took first place awards in nearly every antique and classic boat show in the Northeast.

He donated his personal collection of Gold Cup raceboats – as well as a rare 1923 Gold Cup Packard engine and volumes of archival material about the boats – to the Antique Boat Museum in Clayton, New York.

In the 1980s, Morgan assisted the Wolgin family, which had recently acquired the Sagamore hotel, with the construction of an excursion boat.

“Bill was a friend, so we went to him for advice, and he became the project’s shepard,” said Ike Wolgin.

The 70-ft boat, which was built on Green Island, was launched in 1985. At the suggestion of Marian Wolgin, the boat was named “The Morgan,” in honor of Bill.

Bill Morgan

In 2004, Morgan made arrangements to sell Hacker-craft and his Silver Bay boat yard to another former speedboat racer, Lynn Wagemann.

The company was purchased in 2011 by investor George Badcock, who became the company’s president.

“We at the Hacker Boat Company would not have the honor today of building Hacker-Craft without Bill,” said Badcock. “Everyone at the Hacker Boat Company has a responsibility to keep the Hacker-Craft brand vibrant as a testament and memorial to Bill’s life’s work.”

Morgan was married to Jean Eckert of Albany, New York and later to the late Patricia Robinson of Marblehead, Massachusetts.  There were no children from either marriage.

He is survived by his sister, Mary Burry of Cleveland, and two nieces, Marilyn Hitchcock of Chagrin Falls, Ohio and Susan Phillips of Williamsburg, Virginia.

Morgan was a member of the Lake George Club, the Fort Orange Club and a Director of the Antique and Classic Boat Society (International).

“With his passing, Bill Morgan leaves behind a multitude of friends and fans who honor and revere his many and diverse lasting contributions to boating, especially wooden boating and racing, on a level of excellence which may never again be equaled, much less surpassed,” attorney David Morris said in a statement announcing Morgan’s death.

Memorial services are scheduled for late May or early June.

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Since Silent Spring

By Anthony F. Hall

Friday, April 13, 2012

In the 50 years that have passed since Rachel Carson wrote  “Silent Spring,” we have learned to think of the natural world around us as a complex, interdependent system – “the economy of nature,” as she called it, or the environment, as we do. Changing how we think about nature was, of course, Carson’s greatest achievement. Ostensibly, “Silent Spring” is about a rather dull topic, a pesticide, DDT. But in showing how plankton, poisoned by DDT sprayed above a lake, will poison fish, which in turn will poison birds and humans, Carson illustrated nature’s interdependence. She also showed us how our inventiveness, our mandate to conquer nature, can endanger nature and life itself. (Without Carson’s “Silent Spring,” it is unlikely that Bill McKibben’s “The End of Nature” could have been written.)

One year after “Silent Spring” was published, New York’s Conservation Department discontinued the use of DDT in the Adirondacks, largely as a result of its effects on Lake George’s  Lake Trout. In 1955, the state’s fish pathologists reported that all fry hatched from the 347,900 eggs taken from Lake George that year had died within a month. By 1959, preliminary studies  showed that fry hatched from Lake George eggs contained DDT, but it was not until 1962 that DDT was proven, conclusively, to be the cause of the Lake Trout’s massive mortality. “Silent Spring” helped us put this local story into a larger, national context. It should have compelled us to place Lake George in the larger context of an interdependent environment as well.  Many people, however, continued to think of threats to Lake George’s health as discrete in nature: an unsealed head, a failed septic system. But in 1983, Dr. Jim Sutherland published his important study that showed that the major threat to Lake George’s water quality was non-point source pollution, or storm water. That’s the runoff that’s generated by unregulated and poor development, and since then, we’ve learned that we can’t protect the lake without good Planning and Zoning boards.

Today, we face another threat from beyond, or, rather, above, our shores. Thanks in part to research conducted on Dome Island from 2006 through 2011,  scientists and policy makers now know that mercury pollution from as far away as China is an imminent threat to local songbirds, bats, and other forms of wild life. The study, “Hidden Risk: Mercury in Terrestrial Ecosystems of the Northeast,” by the Nature Conservancy and the Maine-based Biodiversity Research Institute,  reports that “Mercury concentrations in songbirds from Dome Island, Lake George rank among the highest in the state.” Since the sources of the pollution may not be local, we must begin to think globally if we are to truly protect Lake George. Everything is connected, “Silent Spring” taught us. Rachel Carson’s legacy is still with us.

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Illustration by Collin Badger

Illustration by Collin Badger

Game On: Groups Begin Debating Benefits and Risks of Bringing Casino Gambling to Lake George

By Anthony F. Hall

Friday, March 30, 2012

Casino gambling will not become legal in New York State for another two years, if then. Nevertheless, the prospect of casinos in Lake George is stirring new hopes among some residents, and fears in others.

“Casinos, if they come here or if they go to competing resorts, could determine the future of Lake George,” said Lake George Village Mayor Bob Blais. “If it’s put to a vote, it’s going to be the biggest decision ever made in Warren County.”

In December, Blais and the Village’s Board of Trustees voted unanimously to help fund a study of a casino’s likely impacts on Lake George.

“If we’re to determine the effects of gaming on infrastructure, taxes, employment and the quality of life, we need information. We have to get the ball rolling,” said Blais.

Blais said he would ask Warren County and the Town of Lake George to contribute to the costs of the analysis, which would be conducted by an independent consultant.

Bill Dow: Pros and Cons

Bill Dow, the president of the Lake George Steamboat Company, has been conducting some research on his own.

In October, Dow paid a visit to an old friend in Las Vegas, Michael Gaughan, the casino owner whom Dow came to know in the early 1990s, when Dow and his father were exploring the possibility of acquiring gaming licenses for their New Orleans steamboats.

Among other things, Dow concluded: “A gaming casino would be a powerful magnet. Gaming is very much a growth industry, even as America’s economy becomes discouraging to the rest of us. Were a casino to come to the Catskills and not the Adirondacks, then our tourist trade would further atrophy.”

Nevertheless, Dow said, a few things should be taken into account if gaming is to have a maximum economic impact.

“A casino may well seek to build a hotel in conjunction with their gaming facility. We would not want such, such should be prohibited. A casino will want its own food facilities. Again, such could be quite harmful to our local economy. Employment: an operator’s contract should specify at what level local people must be used, as well as calling for a training program to bring locals up the ladders. Tax rates: The county, the towns, the school districts, the environmental organizations all will attempt to be blessed by the casino’s tax flow. I do not think anybody below the state level would receive a meaningful money flow,” Dow stated.

Roaring Brook Ranch: Build it Here

While Dow believes a casino should be independent of a hotel if it is to have a significant economic impact, the owners of Roaring Brook Ranch say “our site is the best location for a casino and we hope our community agrees.”

“Even one casino would benefit the community,” said George Greene, one of the owners of Roaring Brook. “Gamers wouldn’t stay just at our resort; they would fill the neighboring resorts.”

Greene added, “We were approached by a consortium who wanted this property for a casino resort in 1996, the last time the state considered legalizing casinos. We had the acreage and the access to the interstate the investors needed, and it was in Lake George. In 1996, we projected that about 5,000 full time jobs would be created, in addition to the construction jobs.”

According to Greene, Lake George needs gambling if it is to survive as a resort area.

“We no longer have even the ten week season. It’s busy only on weekends. And it’s been years since anyone could afford to stay open in winter,” said Greene. “A casino would be very helpful to this area.”

Little: Pact May Preclude Casinos

However profitable gambling could be for Lake George, a 2004 agreement between New York State and the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe may preclude Lake George casinos, says New York State Senator Betty Little.

“That law grants the St. Regis Mohawks the right to operate slot machines in exchange for a portion of the proceeds for the State,” said Little.  ”The law prohibits the state from allowing others to operate slots in an eight county region, which includes Warren County.”

Little continued, “How would a constitutional amendment legalizing gambling address that? Would the State have to change the 2004 statute and what interest would there be in doing so?”

But, Little said, “The legislative leaders and governor have agreed to work toward an amendment.  There is public support for doing so and given the state’s financial challenges, a strong desire to act.”

According to Dan Macentee, Little’s spokesman, the Senator would support Warren County’s efforts to bring gaming to the area, if, that is, Warren County wants casinos.

Gambling Has Support 

Among the Warren County Supervisors voicing support for casino gambling is Ron Conover, the Supervisor from Bolton.

“I don’t have any objections in principle to gaming, so under the right scenario, I could support it,” said Conover.  “ We need year round jobs, and gaming would help businesses extend their season. Casinos, as we know, generate more forms of recreation than just gaming. They support golf courses, entertainment and winter sports. We should be receptive to what the business community has to say.”

Speaking as a member of the business community, Lake George Regional Chamber of Commerce – Visitors Convention Bureau president Kevin Rosa said,  “If you build it, they’ll come.”

He added, “Every resort business from Hague to Lake George would benefit, if, of course, the gaming business is done right. We’d look for one that’s compatible with our environment, and allows us to remain a resort that reaches out to families.”

Environmental Groups Opposed

While there is, as yet, no organized opposition to casino gambling on Lake George, advocates for environmental protection said their organizations will probably oppose it and may work actively to prevent it from coming to Lake George.

“We were opposed to casino gambling in 1996 because we didn’t feel it reflected the values of the Adirondack Park,” said John Sheehan, a spokesman for the Adirondack Council. “We believed it would bring new pressures for development and undermine the quality of life. I have no reason to believe that our position today would be different.”

Peter Bauer, the executive director of the Fund for Lake George, said his organization “takes a dim view of legalized casino gambling anywhere in the Lake George watershed.”

Bauer continued, “The Fund is hard-pressed to see how gambling can have anything but a negative affect on the ecological health of Lake George and on tourism. Whatever identity Lake George has, it will change over-night if gambling is permitted.”

Bauer said his organization will seek partners in opposing casino gambling on Lake George.

“We’ll be reaching out to others. There are many groups who don’t want large-scale, casino gambling inside the Adirondack Park,” said Bauer.

To the Floor of the Legislature

A constitutional amendment legalizing casino gambling in New York State is expected to be introduced in both houses of the legislature this year. Once introduced, the amendment must be approved by two consecutively elected legislatures and by the voters before it becomes law.

According to Dan Macentee, Little’s spokesman, it is by no means clear what the amendment will allow: a limited number of casinos, distributed across the state or in a few specified areas; or the right of every county to decide if it wants casinos or not.

“It’s vague, at this point. What we do know is that part of the December discussion about revitalizing New York’s economy included an agreement by the Governor, the Senate Majority Leader and the Speaker of the Assembly to move a constitutional amendment lifting the prohibition on casino gambling,”  said Macentee.

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Plinyville is Dying. Should You Care?

By Anthony F. Hall

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Town of Long Lake has a population of 800, thereabouts. (Actually, according to the 2010  census, the town has lost 139 people, or 16.35% of its 2000 population.) So of its 711 year-round residents, approximately forty of them throw pots, weave scarves or make twig furniture as their primary occupation. That, at any rate, is what we were told at a forum on the future of Adirondack towns at the Visitors Center in Newcomb on September 30.

North Country Public Radio journalist Brian Mann, whose essay for Adirondack Life, “The Other Endangered Species,” was the genesis of the forum, argues that Long Lake and other Adirondack Park communities are in danger of becoming “ghost towns and hollow vacation resorts;” the mission of the Adirondack Park Agency, he writes, should be re-oriented toward sustaining those communities. Mann’s essay has generated inches of ink and yards of cyberspace, but his fundamental premise – that communities that are not economically viable should be placed on artificial life support – has not, so far as I know, been explicitly challenged. But it’s a question that deserves to be asked. Why should tax payer dollars support communities that cannot support themselves?

Mann is among those who have adopted the revisionist posture that the Adirondack Park is “a great experiment” that “accepts that people are one of (the park’s) intrinsic values.”  Bill McKibben, Mann and others  assume, correctly, in our opinion, that most of us can fulfill our potential as human beings only as active members of a community. (That’s what Aristotle meant when he said that we are political animals.) But pot luck suppers in the fire hall do not a community make. Every town in what is now the Adiriondack Park came into being for their capacity, real or imagined, to produce wealth, and they remain viable communities only insofar as they are able to generate wealth. Towns that sawed lumber, tanned hides and milled grain like Lake George and Bolton re-invented themselves as resort towns, and are thriving today. A town like Ironville didn’t re-invent itself after its iron ore was depleted, and today, it’s a museum.

Shouldn’t it be the responsibility of every community within the Adirondack Park today to re-invent itself if it wishes to survive? Granted, today’s towns may be constrained by the amount of Forest Preserve lands within their borders or by the Adirondack Park Agency’s Private Land Master Plan, but those are the historical conditions in which we find ourselves, and to which we have had to adapt. (Mann’s assertions notwithstanding, the founders of the Adirondack Park Agency had no mandate to give equal weight to both the preservation of the park’s open space and the residents’ need for employment. If that were true, Adirondack legislators would not have fought so bitterly against the creation of the agency.)

We left the forum in Newcomb as soon as it ended, and we didn’t arrive back in Bolton Landing until 11 pm, but when we did, Main Street was lined with cars and the restaurants were open. Much of Bolton Landing’s vitality can be traced to the investment in the Sagamore which Norman Wolgin made in the mid-80s. And to be sure, a town’s re-invention may, in reality, be the influence of one single-minded entrepreneur. As it happens, one of the first tests of the Adirondack Park Agency’s authority came in the mid 1970s when Louis Brandt, who owned the Sagamore at the time, argued that he had the right to build as many homes on the island as he wished, regardless of the local wastewater treatment plant’s capacity to accommodate them. The courts upheld the new agency’s authority to classify lands according to their character and carrying capacity.

As towns re-invent themselves, an intact Adirondack Park Agency will be needed to make certain that any new development is appropriate development. (We can only imagine what the Adirondack Park would look like if gambling casinos were to proliferate, unregulated.) Protecting the environment remains the task of the Adirondack Park Agency, because it’s an unfinished one. Rug weavers, pot throwers and rustic furniture makers, alas, must fend for themselves.

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Ironville: One Hour and a Century Away from the Shores of Lake George

By Anthony F. Hall

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Less than an hour by car from the shores of Lake George but a century and a half, at least, from the motels and second homes that line the highway,  sits Ironville, a graceful relic of 19th century Federal and Greek Revival architecture.

Six buildings are maintained today by the Penfield Foundation, which was created in 1962 by the family of the late Gil Barker, a well-known local architect, to preserve not only 19th century architecture but the hamlet’s history of  iron mining.

It is not hard to imagine Ironville in the 19th century when the mines were being worked. From the porch of the Penfield Homestead, now a  museum, you can look south to the two-mile-long Penfield Pond which spills over the remains of a dam into Putnam Creek. To the west are the hills where iron ore was mined, brought here on a narrow-gauged railroad to the forge, neither of which, the forge nor the railroad, now exists.

Across the road from the homestead is the 1843 Congregational church and parsonage; weddings, memorial services, lectures and concerts, still draw people to the church’s original pews. Annual events include a Heritage Day Service, an Apple festival in the fall and a non-denominational 12th Night service every January.

The hamlet includes a cemetery, a monument to the Billy, the Morgan horse that carried Colonel James A. Penfield into battle at  Gettysburg and a state historical marker that describes Ironville as “the birthplace of the electric age.”

A tour of the museum with one of its informative docents (Bob Spring and local historian Joan Hunsdon were volunteering last weekend, when we visited) will illuminate that cryptic phrase.

Allen Penfield and a business partner, Timothy Taft, settled Ironville in 1828, establishing a saw mill and a general store, dealing in lumber and other products. Two years earlier, a boy who was hunting partridges in the area happened to grab a bush for balance and, in the process, uncovered a bed of ore, which Penfield and Taft purchased. They dammed the creek and built the forge. (Decades later, the Navy would use Penfield’s iron to produce plates for the hull of the U.S.S. Monitor.)

By 1828, Penfield already knew something about experiments being made with electromagnetism, and arranged for Professor Joseph Henry (then at Albany Academy and later the first director of the Smithsonian Institution) to build him a machine – a  magnet and a battery – that would separate iron from crushed ore. This is said to be the first industrial application of electricity. Thus Ironville’s claim to be “The birthplace of the electric age.”

What Allen Penfield did in Ironville led directly to the invention of  the electric motor, which, ironically, sounded the death knell for water power and ultimately towns like Ironville.

Ironville was like hundreds of other small manufacturing towns in upstate New York and New England. Situated on cascading streams, the towns attracted manufacturers and manufacturers attracted people. Small town life was unique, neither urban nor strictly rural. It was sufficiently affluent to afford books, paintings and trips abroad. It also provided good jobs and good pay to others; there was no great chasm between the homes of the manufacturers and those of the workers, no extremes of wealth and poverty.

That, at any rate, is the picture of life in a small 19th   century town you might leave Ironville with. It’s enough to make you wonder if progress is necessarily the same thing as improvement.

Ironville is located within the Town of Crown Point. To reach the hamlet, head north on Route 9N to Route 74 in Ticonderoga. Drive west on 74 until you reach the turn off to County Route 2, which will take you past Penfield Pond into Ironville. Ironville will host its annual AppleFolk Fest on October 10 from 10 am to 3pm. The Penfield Homestead museum closes for the season on October 10, but on  October 29 and 30, the museum will open for a Haunted Homestead tour, starting at dusk. The museum re-opens for the season in June. For more information, call 518-597-3804. 

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Interpreter Joseph Privott

Interpreter Joseph Privott

Honoring Its Past, Fort Ticonderoga Embraces Its Future

By Anthony F. Hall

Monday, September 5, 2011

At the center of Fort Ticonderoga’s summer exhibit, “the Art of War” is Thomas Cole’s 1826 masterpiece, “Gelyna, or A View Near Ticonderoga.”

It’s not only the  most famous painting in the Fort’s collection, it’s the most valuable. When Fort Ticonderoga found itself $2.5 million in debt in 2008,  the Fort’s board of trustees gave some thought to selling the painting, which might have fetched more than $1 million.

The fact that it’s still owned by the Fort, and part of the first of many major exhibitions to come, signifies that America’s most historic fort has not only survived a crisis, but is in the midst of a renewal.

“Our vision is to create a site specific, high quality, 18th century experience,” says Beth Hill, the fort’s executive director. “People want to be immersed in the experience and become engaged, something that can’t be done with static exhibits.”

Hill became the fort’s executive director in May of 2010. That summer, attendance rose by 2% , and this year’s numbers will equal or exceed last year’s.

According to Hill, those details are important, because unlike many not-for-profit organizations or state-chartered musems (and Fort Ticonderoga is both), the Fort lacks a significant endowment.

“We rely upon admission fees and gift shop sales for 60% of our revenues,” said Hill. “To achieve our goals, we have to operate as a streamlined business.”

Hill’s job is not only to attract more people to the Fort, but to bring people to the fort who might otherwise have passed it by.

“We have to persuade people that history is not just about the past, it’s about life itself and its issues and challenges,” she said. “It incorporates science, math and music. It’s everything that’s happened in the past.”

Helping the Fort bring history to life in engaging yet authentic ways is its new Department of Interpretation, led by Stuart Lilie.

“Stuart was hired to help the Fort attain its vision of being the premier military historic site and museum in North America,” said Hill.

New programs include demonstrations of 18th century tailoring by Joel Anderson  and a presentation by Joseph Privott on the role of the Indian agent.

The interpretive programs will change with every year, since every year will feature a new military unit and a different moment in the fort’s history.

This allows the Fort to suggest a context for what visitors see and learn, said Hill.

“While the richness of our history is inspiring, it can be overwhelming,” said Hill.

This year, for instance, the interpretive staff portrayed members of Colonel Willard’s Regiment of Massachusetts, who occupied the Fort in 1759.  In 2012 the year to be revived will be 1775.

Of course, not everyone is happy. Reportedly, some of the groups of re-enactors who travel from site to site were not invited back to Fort Ticonderoga after 2010, which apparently caused some hard feelings.

Hill acknowledged that the Fort now requires a greater degree of fidelity to history than many re-enactors are able to achieve, and those re-enactors are no longer welcome at the encampments.

“Fort Ticonderoga was never a scene of encampments in the first place,” she says. “The French, the Indians and the British never camped near one another. Our goal is to keep the re-enactments colorful, but make them more authentic.”

According to Stuart Lillie, Fort Ticonderoga is a platform not only for military history but for the material and cultural history of the 18th century as well.

To attract individuals interested in that dimension of history, the Fort has introduced programs like “Material Matters,” which uses everyday objects from the collection to tell the story of daily life in the 18th century.

According to Hill, visitors who want to truly appreciate the whole of Fort Ticonderoga, both as a historical site and a destination for visitors since the 18th century, could do no better than spend time at its new exhibition,  “The Art of War: Ticonderoga as Experienced through the eyes of America’s Great Artists.”

As curator Chris Fox explains, the exhibition encompasses not only the experience of war, but the experience of remembering, preserving and assimilating the past.

As organized by Fox, the exhibition addresses not only “what happened,” through works like Asher Durand’s 1839 “Murder of Miss McCrea,” but also “remembering,” and “preserving.”

“The Fort has an important art collection and much of it has never been exhibited,” said Fox. “The Art of War pulls together fifty works from our collection, and depicts every period from the construction of the Fort by the French in 1755 to the restoration in 1909.”

“The Art of War: Ticonderoga as Experienced through the eyes of America’s Great Artists,” will remain on view at the Fort’s Deborah Clarke Mars Education Center exhibition gallery through October 20.

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Part of a brochure for Time Town

Part of a brochure for Time Town

Time Town: Spaced Out In Bolton Landing

By Anthony F. Hall

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

To the casual observer, there’s nothing unusual about this cluster of homes in the hills above Bolton Landing. These so-called uplands, with their startling views of Lake George, have been developed so rapidly, and with so little guidance, that their protection is the ranking priority for environmental organizations.

This subdivision, however, is a bit different. In the woods behind one of the houses looms a 15-foot-tall fiberglass bear. “We call him Bubba,” says Dede Mulligan, on whose property the bear stands. Bubba is the sole survivor of Time Town, a theme park that spanned this land in the 1970s.

Family-owned theme parks like Frontier Town and Arto Monaco’s Land of Makebelieve proliferated along Adirondack highways after World War II. The products of sometimes visionary imagination, all were unique, and slightly off-the-wall.

Time Town was the brainchild of Ted Yund, an Albany man who had acquired a 21-inch telescope and needed a dark mountaintop on which to put it. He found the perfect spot in Bolton Landing. Once the telescope was in place, Yund decided to build a theme park around it. Time Town opened to the public in the spring of 1970.

Wounded on Iwo Jima during World War II, Yund spent his months in recovery studying astronomy until it became a passion, one that never left him even as he started a pre-press business, married and became the father of 14 children. With Time Town, he was able to combine his passion for the galaxies with what he hoped would be a profitable business. And with more than a dozen kids, he had a ready-made workforce.

“Storytown and the other parks seemed to be doing well, so I thought an amusement park was probably a good idea,” Yund told me before he died in 2007.

“Ted was always a creative person,” said his wife, Grace. “I certainly wasn’t going to interfere.”

Time Town’s brochures promised “family fun yesterday, today and tomorrow.” While visitors were invited “to step back in time” and hop a train through the woods (otherwise known as “a natural pioneer setting”), the primary appeal of the park lay in its space-age rides, exhibits and sound-and-light shows. “Enter the 21st century! Board the spaceship for a realistic space journey far beyond our own galaxy!” cried the colorful pamphlets.

“Time Town was very futuristic, very ‘other,’” says Peter Stevens, who spent his college summer vacations working there. “Almost all the buildings were geodesic domes. That was a far-out thing for the Adirondacks. It had no relationship to anything else.”

In addition to the telescope, the rides and exhibits, Time Town had a theater for puppet shows, magicians and ventriloquists, a snack bar and picnic grounds plus an “Adirondack Animal Revue,” which consisted largely of college students costumed as giant rabbits and chickens. Stevens was a rabbit until he could no longer stand being kicked in the shins by children; fortunately, there was an opening for a stage manager in the theater. Other budding scholars wandered the park in bear, moose, fox and raccoon outfits.

To realize his vision, Yund contracted with a Colorado company called Special Effects, which dispatched an artist named Gene Mundell to Bolton. “I got the call to create and install works for a new theme park in upstate New York,” Mundell recalls. “I’d seen mass-produced things. I wanted to make one piece at a time, each specific to its location.” So after completing the railroad, the merry-go-round and the waterslide, Mundell stayed on, building sculptures of animals, prehistoric giants and floating astronauts.

Without much of a marketing budget, the Yunds relied on a publicity agent to generate stories in the media about Time Town. One of his better ideas, or so it seemed at the time, was to invite the founder of America’s space program, Wernher von Braun, to dedicate Mundell’s statue of the Apollo astronauts floating in space.

Wernher von Braun

Von Braun was lured to Bolton under somewhat false pretenses, Mundell says. “He thought the statue was in a public park and that it was a tribute to the astronauts and space exploration. He didn’t know we were a tourist attraction.”

While local dignitaries like state senator Ron Stafford attended, few of the tens of thousands of expected guests showed up, says Ted Yund’s son Peter, who was in charge of the parking lot that day. “The PR guy told us not to advertise because we’d never be able to accommodate the crowds. On that day, we had perhaps 500 cars, only 100 of which were there because of von Braun.”

Nevertheless, von Braun was game, delivering a speech about U.S.-Soviet relations and lunching with the Yunds and Stafford at a lakeside restaurant afterwards. If he was annoyed, he didn’t show it.

Every summer some 60 college and high-school students worked at Time Town. “From the day school closed to when it reopened, we spent our entire summers there, from morning to night,” says the Yunds’ daughter Margaret Demeter. At the end of the working day everyone would head for the beach. “The kids who worked at the park became part of our family, and our friends for life.”

No one thing explains the demise of Time Town, which closed its gates after the summer of 1980. “When we got it going, we were hit by the gas shortage. The heavy influx of visitors dried up. Everything died,” says Mundell.

But as Ted Yund remembered it, “My big problem was the location. The Town of Bolton wouldn’t allow me to put up a sign on the road between Lake George and Bolton Landing—that certainly would have helped.” He said the late Charley Wood, founder of Storytown, in Lake George, agreed that the park’s setting made it difficult to draw in the tourists. “Charley Wood came up and he said, ‘It’s hard enough to get people off the highways, and you’re already off the beaten path.” Moreover, the telescope that had been the inspiration for the park in the first place was stolen and never recovered. That, and the death of the Yunds’ son Michael after a long struggle with leukemia, left the family emotionally depleted, says Grace Yund.

After Time Town was demolished and the 44-acre site was sold, the property was subdivided for second homes, the first—and far from the last—such subdivision in Bolton Landing to be created off the lake.

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2007 issue of Adirondack Life magazine and is reprinted here with the permission of the editors.

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