Tourist Trips: Philadelphia and the Quaker Colonies
The states of Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey all belonged to William Penn the Quaker in one way or another. New Jersey was first, Delaware the last. Penn was the largest private landholder in American history.
Revolutionary War Era
The shot heard 'round the world.
History: Philadelphia and the Quaker Colonies
Philadelphia and the Quaker Colonies
Surviving Strands of Quakerism
Of the original thirteen, there were three Quaker colonies, all founded by William Penn: New Jersey first, Pennsylvania biggest, and Delaware so small Quakerism was overcome by indigenous Dutch and Swedes.
Escape Path for Tories to Canada
Northern Overland Escape Path of the Philadelphia Tories 1 of 1 (16)
Airplane pilots tell us the main streets of quite a few cities seem laid out as if with a compass, north, and south, east and west. Philadelphia probably started that tradition in America, although Google Earth will show anyone who doubts it that Beijing, China was laid out along the same grid two thousand years earlier. It seems possible that Thomas Holmes was aiming at the Delaware Water Gap when he drew his famous map for William Penn, but there are troublesome objections. Broad Street, itself due North-South, when extended is called Route 611, heading straight for Doylestown, and then for the Water Gap. While there's a second pass through Blue Mountain at Wind Gap, it was a hard climb in the 17th Century. Until the Lehigh Tunnel was built, the water gap was the only practical way to go north for three centuries. The gap's existence had been known to the Indians for centuries, and the dividing line between East and West Jersey terminates at Dingman's Ferry, essentially the same place as the Delaware Water Gap. Since Penn's Proprietorship of New Jersey was seven years older than his ownership of Pennsylvania, he definitely knew about the main landmark of the area which he used as a fixed boundary marker. In fact, it is a tradition among modern proprietors that he unsuccessfully pressured the boundary negotiation in order to get both sides of the Delaware Gap into West Jersey, taking advantage of the sharp bend in the river for the purpose. Since he eventually owned or controlled all of the regions, it seems entirely plausible that he could arrange the direction of the roads as he pleased. There is one big problem with such a unifying hypothesis, however. If the Water Gap was to be made due North of Broad Street, and Broad Street was to be the center of the city, there was no way to accomplish it except by adjusting the location of the whole City of Philadelphia. That was within his power as owner, but it seems an extreme way to get maps tidy. The alternative explanation is that these mapping niceties were just a series of coincidences, and that is equally hard to believe. Present-day proprietors are often engineers and surveyors, so even to mention these issues is likely to lead to indignant dispute.
The Allegheny Mountains run from Georgia to the Adirondacks, presenting a sheer face to the East with very few gaps except for the major rivers. The water gap was a busy place for all North-South travel, whether on riverboats, canals, railroads or Interstate highways -- or mocassins. From there up to Canada, the simple explanation for a continued northerly path was there was scarcely any other way to go. The rivers and finger lakes have a due north orientation between mountain ridges as a result of advancing glaciers and receding glacier melt. That's the whole idea of global warming and global cooling; the polar ice cap advances and recedes from the north pole. When you are standing on the North Pole, everything else is South of you.
With logic plus a little imagination, it's thus possible then to see why a compass points you from City Hall, Philadelphia to Kingston Ontario, but how fast you go is your decision. The rest of this article argues that this seemingly desolate trail is peppered with an interesting history; even if you drive straight and fast, you ought to know a little about what you are passing. In this suggested trip, the traveler is urged to consider stopping for half a day in Doylestown, followed by the Water Gap, or Jim Thorpe, PA. You might alternatively duck off the Pennsylvania Turnpike extension into Wilkes-Barre and Great Bend, or toward Ithaca and Cornell University's famous bird sanctuary, then onward to Skaneateles and Marcellus over good local roads, tipping your cap toward Apalachin the gangster headquarters as you go. People in a hurry to get to Canada will take Interstate 81 most of the way, but at least consider taking secondary roads along Lake Ontario. It's a very pleasant drive, including a stop in Sackets Harbor for at least a meal. And then, detour to Clayton and Alexandria Bay before going over the international bridge to Canada. Finally, go down along the northern shore of Lake Ontario to Kingston. You're there.
Getting home after a long weekend is a hard drive, four-lane highways suggested, stopping at some of the places mentioned on the way home rather than using them all up on the way north. The detours add perhaps a half day to the trip in each direction. If you have the time, a trip westward along the northern or southern sides of Lake Ontario to Niagara Falls would be very nice, but not the subject of this topic.
It's pleasant to wander and stop at interesting places on impulse, but it's also nice to have a fairly clear idea of the day's outlines. You can eat in nice restaurants or grab a burger in a fast-food outlet; it often makes little difference which you choose. If you are traveling with children, tell the waitress to bring some crackers for the kids when she brings the menu. But by all means avoid the dreadful experience of watching it get darker and darker in the evening, with all the hotels full and adamant about it. By at least four o'clock in the afternoon, pick out a likely place to spend the night and call ahead for a reservation.
If you are traveling on a tight budget, at lunch don't go to a fast-food place, but to a supermarket. Pick up ingredients of tomorrow's breakfast and today's lunch; at the check-out counter, ask where the town park is, for a picnic lunch. With an assured place to spend the night, it's a lot easier to take a bath there, and then go out on the town for dinner. The main reason people drive like demons and thus miss the most interesting parts of a vacation trip comes from not knowing how to manage the children, and the details of travel life.
And so, after the Revolution was finally over, there was a third war between Pennsylvanians and the Connecticut born settlers of the Wyoming Valley. This time, the disputes were focused on, not the land grants of King Charles but the 1771 land sales by Penn family, most of which conflicted with land sales to the Connecticut settlers by the Susquehanna Company. The Connecticut settlers felt they had paid for the land in good faith and had certainly suffered to defend it against the common enemy. The Pennsylvanians were composed of speculators (mostly in Philadelphia) and settlers (mostly Scotch-Irish from Lancaster County). Between them, these two groups easily controlled the votes in the Pennsylvania Assembly, leading to some outrageous political behavior which conferred legal justification on disgraceful vigilante behavior. For example, once the American Revolution was finally over (1783) the Decision of Trenton had given clear control to Pennsylvania, so its Assembly appointed two ruffians named Patterson and Armstrong to be commissioners in the Wyoming Valley. These two promptly gave the settlers six months to leave the land, and using a slight show of resistance as sufficient pretext, burned the buildings and scattered the inhabitants, killing a number of them. One of the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation was thus promptly demonstrated, as well as the ensuing importance of a little-understood provision of the new (1787) Constitution . No state may now interfere in the provisions of private contracts. Those with nostalgia for states rights must overcome a heavy burden of history about what state legislatures were capable of doing in this and similar matters, in the days before the federal government was empowered to stop it.
A flood soon wiped out most of the landmarks in the Wyoming Valley, and it had to be resurveyed. Patterson, whose official letters to the Assembly denounced the Connecticut settlers as bandits, perjurers, ruffians, and a despicable herd, boasted that he had restored, to what he called his constituents, "the chief part of all the lands". The scattered settlers nevertheless began to trickle back to the Valley, and Patterson had several of them whipped with ramrods. As the settlers became more numerous, Armstrong marched a small army up from Lancaster. He pledged to the settlers on his honor as a gentleman that if both sides disarmed, he would restore order. As soon as the Connecticut group had surrendered their weapons, they were imprisoned; Patterson's soldiers were not disarmed at all and assisted the process of marching the Connecticut settlers, chained together, to prison in Easton and Sunbury. To its everlasting credit, the decent element of Pennsylvania was incensed by this disgraceful behavior; the prisoners somehow mysteriously were allowed to escape, and the Assembly was cowed by the general outrage into recalling Patterson and Armstrong. Finally, the indignation spread to New York and Massachusetts, where a strong movement developed to carve out a new state in Pennsylvania's Northeast, to put a stop to dissension which threatened the unity of the whole nation. That was a credible threat, and the Pennsylvania Assembly appeared to back down, giving titles to the settlers in what was called the "Confirming Act of 1787". Unfortunately, in what has since become almost a tradition in the Pennsylvania legislature, the law was intentionally unconstitutional. Among other things, it gave some settlers land in compensation that belonged to other settlers, violating the provision in the new Constitution against "private takings", once again displaying the superiority of the Constitution over the Articles of Confederation. It is quite clear that the legislators knew very well that after a protracted period of litigation, the courts would eventually strike this provision down, so it was safe to offer it as a compromise and take credit for being reasonable.
It is useful to remember that the Pennsylvania legislature and the Founding Fathers were meeting in the same building at 6th and Chestnut Streets, sometimes at the same moment. Books really need to be written to dramatize the contrast between the motivations and behavior of the sly, duplicitous Assembly, and the other group of men living in nearby rooming houses who had pledged their lives and sacred honor to establish and preserve democracy. To remember this curious contrast is to help understand Benjamin Franklin's disdainful remarks about parliaments and legislatures in general, not merely this one of which he had once been Majority Leader. The deliberations of the Constitutional Convention were kept a secret, allowing Franklin the latitude to point out the serious weaknesses of real-life parliamentary process, and supplying hideous examples, just next door, of what he was talking about.
Only a decade ago, the Quakertown exit of the Pennsylvania Turnpike made possible a quick trip from the city to the country, letting you off in the cornfields between Sumneytown and Lansdale. Today, the rush hour traffic is as bad as anywhere else, even on the four-lane express highway known as Forty Foot Road. A comfortable two-lane highway would be about forty feet wide, so presumably, the name denotes what was once a modern miracle of a two-lane highway, in this case until quite recently. It's all built up for miles, but almost all the commercial buildings are new. Exurban sprawl has positively lurched across the landscape, making prosperous people rich, and poor people prosperous. It won't be long before the housing subdivisions demand traffic signals to protect the school children, speed limits to reduce the collisions by teenagers, and other things destined to bring high-speed travel to a crawl, all day long. When that happens, it won't be called farm country anymore.
|Alderfer Auction Company|
On Fairground Road, where occasionally corn is still growing, a number of large new commercial enterprises have located, among them a moving and storage company with ten or so truck loading platforms in the back. Behind that is another large new building, also with a parking lot for fifty or so cars, the auction house. Different categories come up for auction on different days, so used furniture, for example, comes up every few weeks and has to be stored as things accumulate for the big day. With a moment's thought, you can easily see why the auction is affiliated with or owned by a moving and storage company. As you go through the entrance, you are invited to sign up and identify how you plan to pay, just in case you buy something; the product of this registration is a card with a number in big colored letters. That's your number, your payment arrangement, and soon you will find no one cares anything about you except that number. The auction I was interested in was for used books, one of three or four auctions conducted in different rooms.
Nearly a hundred people had numbers for used books, maybe a similar number for antique furniture and paintings. Obviously, one other purpose of the registration process is to create a mailing list of customers interested in various objects, possibly linked to a program which sends out flyers and announcements. Country auctions have always been a source of local entertainment, so non-buying spectators are able to come and watch if they wish. There seemed to be few if any casual sight-seers; just about everybody is a buyer or a potential buyer. Players, as they say.
Most of the customers probably set their alarm clocks for 5 AM or earlier; the auction is centrally located, but most everybody comes from a considerable distance. At 9 AM, very promptly, the auction began, and from his manner, you could tell the auctioneer was anxious to get started. The object for sale had been on display for a day, but most people arrived around 7 AM to examine the goods, which are frequently sold in lots, meaning a box full of thirty or forty books more or less on the same topic. At the stroke of nine, the auctioneer chanting began, "Do I have ten dollars, yeh, ten, ten, ten, five, five, ten, fifteen, twenty, twenty, sold for fifteen. Your number, sir?" Two assistants took down the customer number, and the lot number, and the price; one of the two recorded the transaction in a computer, the other on a list by hand. One gathers the man without a computer was on the look-out for shills, people trying to bid up to the price without getting stuck for a purchase. The auctioneer repeatedly assured the audience that no one but a real bidder was allowed to bid, you owned it, and no excuses about being confused. When he reached he hundredth sale, he stopped for a drink of water, and proudly noted the first hundred sales took thirty-seven minutes. It required four other assistants to fish out the lots next in line, holding them up for confirmation only, since inspecting them at as the distance was out of the question. After each sale, the assistant dumped the prize in the new owner's lap.
And yet entitled to wonder a little. The ordinary run of books thirty or forty years old will sell for between ten and twenty dollars. Books about golf, just about any old book about golf, "go" for about forty dollars. Children's books are about sixty dollars. And, to my great surprise, boxes or albums of old photographs go for over a hundred dollars. A lady next to me excitedly brought an album of old photos back to her seat and thumbed through them. "Are you a dealer?" Yes. "Who buys this stuff?" I don't know, they come to my store and just buy it. Like the Auctioneer, she had a feeling for what the retail price would be, made a calculation, and knew what she could afford to pay wholesale. What the stuff actually represented, why people wanted it, what was a good one and what was a bad one--these people in the trade had very little idea. But they knew very precisely what a fair price, and gradually lowers it until it sells. Fun Lots of fun. When a familiar insider makes a mistake and pays too much, the others laugh heartily at him. Why this funny system works has long been a mystery, but everyone except a socialist readily acknowledges it does work. At least it works better than any known substitute.
Although the ritual of the country auction has been essentially unchanged for the centuries, it is just another transaction system. In the past fifty years, the world economy has been transformed by computerized efficiencies in transaction systems, with vast prosperity resulting from small saving endlessly repeated. Banking and Wall Street have concentrated most of the standardized transaction, in perfectly astounding volume; lots and lots of people have become immensely rich for producing small efficiencies in high volume. Those of us who have not become immensely rich can easily identify trivial innovations which resulted in wealth, and we easily sense the unfairness of old photos worth more than books of poetry. After all, the country auction is still grossly inefficient; the seller pays the auction company 20% of the price, and the buyer pays another 10%. There's 3% for the credit card company and &% for the sales tax. Forty percent of this transaction is going to the middle man, over and over and over again. The goal is to reduce transaction costs to the level of Wall Street, considerably less than one percent, Which still lots of yachts for middlemen.
As you walk out of the country auction, it doesn't take a mathematical genius to multiply thirty percent times the number of transactions, times a guess at the average sales price. No wonder these auction people are so cheerful, so much in love with their work. But two other parties are cheerful, too. That is, the buyer and the willing seller.
Caught between the expansion of two metropolitan areas, Bucks County is inevitably doomed to extinction as a culture. Chester County and Bucks are in similar situations, as the suburbia devours exurbia, in this case, the Quaker farm communities. So you better go have a look, while they still survive to some degree.
The political unit of the area has been the county, and the county seat is in Doylestown, population about 8000. Within a few decades, it seems safe to predict the county population will approach a million. The town has lots of pride in itself and is just as cute as any town could possibly be. New Castle, Delaware has been preserved with the same pride but is uniform of a single period of architecture; Doylestown is a carefully preserved jumble of styles and periods, sizes and shapes. Like Princeton, NJ, and Odessa, DE, it is so attractive it brings hordes of visitors, which in turn quickly strangle it with traffic and lack of available parking space. There is an attempt to rescue the town with a by-pass highway, and blessings on the attempt. But the problem for these exurban jewels is not that people want to go around them, the problem is they are the main destination.
Doylestown was created in 1745 when William Doyle built a tavern at the crossroads. The county seat brings the courthouse with eleven judges and who knows how many lawyers, and the hospital. Henry Chapman Mercer brought three astonishing buildings, his 44-room mansion on 70 acres in the center of town, his famous Mercer tile factory in his back yard, and his multi-story museum of tools and crafts. All three of Mercer's buildings are made of concrete, built by craftsmen and himself with essentially unlimited personal funds derived from fabric manufacture in New England. And then this last bastion of the crafts movement embraced the artist colony established by Redfield at New Hope, and both of them attracted all those rich Broadway stars and publishing moguls. Right in the center of town, the Mercer crafts museum sits across the street from the James A. Michener Art Museum, small but very tasteful, the museum home of the Pennsylvania Impressionist school of art. The essence of this style is a smooth careful background, overlaid with quick thick foreground brushwork, producing a strong three-dimensional effect.
Schoolchildren in buses delight in the dolls house aspects, tourists admire the very fine art, everybody likes the cute little jumble of well-preserved eclectic buildings. It's all in a setting of Quaker farmhouses for the time being, but the split-levels and the McMansions by the thousands are coming. Visitors throng to see, and the residents are proud of what they have. But, really, does everybody have to bring his car?
|Delaware Water Gap|
When we think of water gaps, we tend to think of Harrisburg or Pittsburgh, with a wide river turning abruptly to run through a sharp cleft in a single mountain ridge. West Point on the Hudson might be a third well-known example. But the frontal ridge of the Alleghenies, variously called Blue Mountain, Blue Ridge Mountain, South Mountain, or Kennesaw Mountains, is several ridges wide. A gap in that sort of complex mountain range must be crooked and several miles wide to let a river of any size find its way through it. Presumably, this gap at Stroudsburg was formed by some huge volcanic action, because thick sedimentary layers are upended and exposed at the river's edge, with the water winding between the towering formations. To avoid going up and over a thousand feet of the mountain, human travel must follow the same path; a railroad, a little town, and several highways are crowded into the base of the cleft now filling up with gravel eroded from the cliffs. Even the birds need to travel several miles through the winding cleft in the formidable forests, with eagles and occasional turkey vultures coasting overhead, enjoying a ride on windy updrafts, casually on the lookout for lesser prey.
The Gap is a great intersection between New Yorkers and Pennsylvanians, mostly going somewhere else. The dominant Philadelphians got there first and tended to congregate in Stroudsburg where the Waring Blendor was invented within the once-flourishing Pocono region for fishing and getting away from summer fevers. As the jolly guide at the visitor's center chuckled, the New Yorkers tend to arrive eight busloads at a time and head straight for the bathrooms. After that, nowadays most species of city dwellers buzz off for somewhere else, leaving the Water Gap to darkness, and to me.
The Water Gap has at least two other outstanding attractions, however. For fifty or more miles along both New Jersey and Pennsylvania sides of the river, a Federal Game Preservation area stretches through the forests and cliffs to the New York border. You have to be pretty determined to get to it, however, because traffic is traveling in herds at eighty miles per hour past the few entrances. You can be hopelessly beyond the entrances before you recognize you are past the point of no return, or at a point where you can if you wish only make another try for it by finding a place to turn around, pay tolls, and risk your life between the cliffs and eighteen wheelers. If you have enough courage and eye/hand coordination, however, once you do get off into the quiet woods, you pretty much have Shawnee America to yourself. The Appalachian Trail crosses at this point, but hikers should remember you must wade the Delaware River to pick up the trail on the other side.
The other gem of this area is called the Shawnee, a 19th Century resort hotel of genteel note, with outstanding food and a famous golf course that you reach by footbridge to an island. PGA championships have been played here, and Fred Waring probably played some dance music once. At one time, there was a couple of dozen such mountain resort hotels scattered from Maine to Georgia, all of the American Plan, looking as though Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda would come lurching around the next corner. It's anybody's guess whether recessions and gasoline shortages will ruin these places, or whether the people who deserted this summer custom and went to Europe will remember these mountain resorts are here and save them. Right now, there are the golfers and the mountain hikers during the summer and the skiers in the winter. And then there are a few people who want to write or read novels, some conventions, a few tourists if they own a necktie.
This winding, several miles long canyon, once a forest fastness of the Shawnee, was perhaps their main bastion. That most powerful tribe of the Algonquin federation participated in a sixty-year war with the Iroquois and mostly lost. You can certainly imagine what a marvelous fortress this region was, containing protected fertile islands to grow food, interior forests which probably abounded in game, rivers full of fish, sheltering mountains with hidden entrance clefts from which to emerge and dominate the flatlanders in all directions. If you were going to be an Indian, this was surely the best place in the world to be an Indian.
There are a dozen or so places on the planet where a natural bowl formation famously moderates the climate. Cuernavaca in Mexico, the Canary Islands, and Chungking in Western China all claim to have temperatures which range from 70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit, year-round. In Cuernavaca at least, they claim it only rains at night. These three places have a high plateau in the center of a mountain bowl, like an angel food cake pan, which may (or may not) contribute to the unusually mild climate effect. Several other places within inner China compete for the title of Shangri La, famous in song and story, never precisely located by tourists. The Wyoming Valley of the Susquehanna River once enjoyed a similar luster during the Romantic Period at the very beginning of the Nineteenth century, although unfortunately, its temperature is plainly not so balmy. Wyoming of song and poem was imagined to be the home of the Noble Savage, unstained by the wayward influences of civilization, and thus a model for the democratic ideal expected to emerge in Old Europe once the aristocrats were exterminated by nature's noblemen, European version. That seems to have been Robespierre in France, as disappointing to idealists as the Iroquois along the Susquehanna.
But one must not scoff. The Wyoming Valley was created long ago by a lake between two mountain ridges, which gradually dried up leaving flat topsoil deep at the bottom of the valley when the river finally broke through at Nanticoke and drained it. Its appearance is enhanced by surroundings in all directions of at least fifty miles of bleakness. Nowadays, the best way to appreciate the natural beauty of the place is to arrive from the south, gaining the summit of the ridge by one of the secondary roads. Housing development down below stops at the edge of the level plain, so as one ascends to the southern rim it is possible to see the inside of the bowl without seeing much of the town, and thus appreciate how it must have looked to frontiersmen searching for likely places to settle. It's quite beautiful. Descending into the bowl, the potholes in the road and roadhouses along the way to begin to make an impression. In full sight, it looks as though a city suburb has filled the place to its edge, with a rather decaying Nineteenth-century town center, but towering wooded mountainsides. There's a quiet park in the very center, through which the quiet river runs. In a little subdivision named Wyoming, there is a monument to The Massacre, now described as a hopeless defense by untrained Revolutionaries against the fearsome Indians and British Loyalists. The names of the fallen and the names of those who escaped are carved on this monument near Forty Fort. One presumes the wounded and some bystanders were massacred, the officers and trained infantry were more likely to escape the hopeless odds by fleeing into the woods. It is claimed that common soldiers were finished off by Indian Queen Esther smashing their heads between two flat rocks. Wounded officers were tortured to death.
|Delaware Water Gap at Stroudsburg|
Just where the Connecticut immigrants, or invaders, first arrived in the Wyoming Valley is not known. Their most likely entrance was at the top of the northern end of the valley, where ski lodges now cluster, after coming up the mountains from the east. The hills rising from the Delaware watershed are wooded but too rocky for farming. It's therefore inexpensive to set aside parks named "Promised Land" and "The Lord's Valley" and such, with some Milford, scattered here and there in the woods. A section of the upper Delaware River fifty miles long, from Port Jervis down to the Delaware Water Gap at Stroudsburg is enclosed in a National Wildlife and Recreation Area of about a mile's width on either side of the river. It's surprising how little is said of this rather large national park close to two large metropolitan areas. No doubt the visitors are torn between wishing it was more appreciated, and hoping to keep it secret and unspoiled.
The Decision of Trenton(1782) simply gave the disputed land back to Pennsylvania. There is a strong presumption the Connecticut migrants were privately promised land in the Western Reserve, in Ohio, whenever Ohio became a state. In spite of the implicit guarantees, the Pennsylvanians nevertheless treated the usurpers pretty roughly, and traces of Connecticut trail westward toward the Ohio line. There's a Westmoreland County near Pittsburgh, where many stranded families in the bituminous coal regions can thus trace their ancestry back to the Mayflower. It is truly extraordinary that such bitterness could leave so little trace of itself later. History may not be bunk, but persistent grievances are surely a menace to a peaceful existence. The events of the Pennamite Wars are widely believed to have led to the slanting of the 1787 Constitution toward the protection of individual property rights, but the wording to that effect within the Constitution is hard to locate. Somehow, like the implicit promises of the Western Reserve, ways were found to provide credible promises that it soon wouldn't matter which state you lived in. Somehow the word got to John Marshall that in actual practice, what would matter was whether an identified person could demonstrate clear title to specific land back to, or a little beyond, 1787, no matter what state the land was in. And the obscurity of the complex connection between this revolution in the law of property, and the very sad events in the Wyoming Valley suited everybody concerned. Stare decisis.
|Jim Thorpe, Himself|
Hundreds of millions of dollars were made in the anthracite mines during the 19th Century, and then Henry Frick invented a way to make steel with coke, a product of bituminous coal. Consequently, the steel industry moved from the Lehigh Valley to the Ohio Valley, greatly transforming the image of both the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh regions. While the town of Mauch Chunk was prospering, it was the center of activity of a financier named Asa Packer, whose mansion dominates what is left of the town in the mountains, next to a graceful church, a railroad abandoned except for scenic tourist rides, and subdued economic desperation. The mountainous valley on the north side of Blue Mountain called itself Pennsylvania's Switzerland, and it was once a scenic gem indeed, but is now choking up with traffic trying to get through the narrow passage down the hill. One of the relics of former prosperity is an Opera House, now used for rock concerts and related events in an effort to re-establish the town as an entertainment center.
|The Town of Jim Thorpe|
John O'Hara wrote some stories using Mauch Chunk as the setting, and that author is getting to be better appreciated now that his level of bawdiness is more or less the norm. Being better appreciated is of course not the same thing as selling a lot of books, so it is now uncertain whether the transformation was mainly artistic or financial. There is no doubt that coal regions the world over tend to be pretty rough districts.
|Old Mauch Chunk Station|
Perhaps it was Asa Packer or some other financier who started the tradition of this town pushing the publicity button pretty hard. The town rightly promotes itself as a charming inexpensive place to spend a quiet weekend visiting the sights, including a ride on the now-abandoned rail line through the scenic mountains, the Asa Packer mansion, antique shops and that sort of thing. The Pennsylvania Switzerland moniker suggests a touch of the P.T. Barnum approach, although a fairly innocent one. But buying Jim Thorpe's body is on quite another level. There is very little question that this offspring of an Irish father and an Oklahoma Indian mother was a natural athlete of the very highest skill; whether he was mainly an Indian or mainly an Irishman is more debatable. Thorpe played professional football and professional baseball with distinction, after winning boxes full of Olympic track medals. Dwight Eisenhower played football against him once and expressed genuine admiration for the talent he encountered. Unfortunately, he had his medals taken away because it was discovered he had played for money before he was competing for the amateur Olympic prizes. After growing too old for athletics he turned into a chronic alcoholic with associated erratic behavior, embarrassing to his admirers. When he died, members of his family sold his body to the downtrodden town of Mauch Chunk, which renamed itself Jim Thorpe and greatly expanded its publicity efforts. His son has lately sued to have the body returned to Oklahoma, creating still more publicity, not all of it congratulatory.
It's sort of a sad story, but the Town of Jim Thorpe is only five miles from the Mahoning Valley exit of the Pennsylvania Turnpike extension. It's not hard to go satisfy yourself of the fairness of all this uproar.
For eons of time, the site of Wilkes-Barre, PA was once a sort of finger-lake between two mountain ridges. As dammed-up rivers tend to do, this one gradually filled up with sludge until the water spilled over at Nanticoke, a few miles to the south. After the lake drained out leaving the original river in place, there was also left a flat and fertile valley on either side of it. Furthermore, the towering mountain ranges on either side protected the valley from the weather, so the Wyoming Valley became a verdant paradise in the middle of the mountains. Somehow, the Congregationalist settlers of Connecticut found out about it, dug up some old deeds from King Charles to the effect it belonged to Connecticut, and eventually set forth to resettle in this mountain valley. Pennsylvania took offense at this, and the result was three little wars which few people have heard of, called the Pennamite Wars. The local Indians were most offended of all and did the most massacring in a very thorough way. During the Third Pennamite War, George Washington was at Valley Forge with more urgent matters on his mind, and dispatched General Sullivan to "take care" of the Indian problem; Sullivan did so in a very thorough way, essentially destroying the Iroquois nation. The other eleven colonies were distraught to see Pennsylvania and Connecticut putting on a side-show, and part of the judicial settlement was to give Connecticut the "Western Reserve" in Ohio as compensation for restoring the peace. The American Constitution of 1787 essentially made state possession of land a moot point, and the Western Reserve is just a quaint term you hear in Cleveland. Wyoming is a term that most people associate with a Western State, although it is named for this valley, and Dallas is another term that has been largely transplanted from a small town near Wilkes-Barre to a big town in Texas. So, if you want to get the confusion of terms straight, about Wyoming, Dallas, Western Reserve, and Westmoreland, you will take a little time to learn about Wilkes-Barre. Westmoreland is the name of gentleman's club in Wilkes-Barre, but it is also the name of a county near Pittsburgh where Connecticut folks thought it would be useful to flee.
That's a lot of history for a little town, but there's more. Somehow, the joys and pleasures of living in the Wyoming Valley were carried back to people like Rousseau, who were looking for examples of the "noble savage", noble because he had not learned all of the evil things that French aristocrats invented, and therefore warranted effusive praise during the so-called Romantic Period, when France was being purified by the guillotine. The main drum-beater for this mania was a poet named Thomas Campbell, who composed a long poem in Spencerian rhyme called "Gertrude of Pennsylvania". Even those who find merit in Spencer will nowadays find it difficult to accept the notion of flamingos on Pennsylvania streams, or lying on the ocean beaches of Pennsylvania, reading Shakespeare. Even those who have less taste for Herbert Spenser will still find a reason to distrust the judgment of those who praise the beheading of, say, Lavoisier. The noble savages in this particular case were Iroquois, who exterminated 600 settlers by essentially torturing them to death.
|General John Sullivan|
There's a memorial in nearby Wyoming commemorating this massacre, which indeed is probably better left forgotten. There are plaques with the names of the fallen, and the names of the survivors. The idea of the Wyoming Valley as a paradise on earth was destroyed by another event. The ancient lake which once filled the Wyoming Valley was deeper and more ancient than anyone guessed. Underneath the rich topsoil was a vein of anthracite, and Wilkes-Barre became a boom town with strip mining, a fate no paradise can long withstand. There is nearby said to be a coal mine which caught fire underground and has been burning uncontrolled for several decades. Talk about pollution disasters; this one is a monster.
Reliable records of how the Connecticut Yankees got to the Wyoming Valley are hard to find. Offhand, it is puzzling to wonder how they got past New York or crossed the Hudson River. The best way to get between the two places today is probably pretty close to the route the colonists took, however, because travel in those days was much more constrained by geography. We know they started from Litchfield, CN, and in fact, for a while, Wilkes-Barre was part of the County of Litchfield. From Litchfield, they likely crossed the Hudson near Newburgh, went to the mountain gap at Port Jervis, and either came into the Wyoming Valley over the ridges or went a little north to the Susquehanna and came down from there. On a map at least, that's a relatively straight shot.
As the traveler up the Pennsylvania Turnpike Northeast Extension approaches the New York border, there's a chance for a fleeting glance at an exit sign pointing to Great Bend, without additional comment. The comment is definitely needed because a ten-mile detour at this point is rewarded by two interesting attractions. In the first place, the Susquehanna does indeed make a great bend there. Starting in Cooperstown, New York at a beautiful mountain lake which resembles Lake Geneva in Switzerland, the Susquehanna heads south for ninety-six miles and then turns around at Great Bend and goes back fifteen miles north to Binghamton. After that, it goes west for forty miles to Sayre and then goes south again as it picks up other branches. Greatly enlarged, it reappears to Turnpike travelers at Wilkes Barre. Thousands of travelers have sped up the wide valley without noticing that the same river which flows south from Wilkes Barre apparently starts flowing north at Great Bend. The traveler's eye is deceived by the apparently continuous long valley which the highway follows. At Binghamton, the Susquehanna starts flowing west, but that too is overlooked in whizzing past the cloverleaves and traffic directions. The Great Bend itself is a lovely water gap with a couple of small towns on its shores, but is otherwise pretty deserted.
For two and a half years, Joseph Smith the founder of the Mormon religion spent full time five miles away from the Turnpike exit, at the real bend in the river (not the town of Great Bend) writing the 275,000 words of the Book of Mormon. Although Smith was a native of Palmyra, New York, and Mormonism is most easily viewed as an outgrowth of wide-spread religious uproar in upper New York State during the 1820s, it undoubtedly provoked malicious gossip from those who resist all claims of miracles, as well as staunch defense from those who believe. It's comparatively safe to say the prophet was living at the Great Bend in his wife's tiny home while she wrote down his dictated translation. The source of his vision was said to be John the Baptist, which others have since taken literally to varying degrees. Those who believe in the pregnancy of virgins and reappearances after a death must be tolerant of the sometimes overstated beliefs of others. Smith never let anyone see the golden plates from which the writings were derived, however, and ultimately it must rest that he was relating what he believed he had seen. His father-in-law described him as a charlatan, an attitude not completely rare among other fathers in law. His wife, caught between conflicting family loyalties, declined for years to join the religion that flowed from her own pen.
|The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints|
However, with the publication of the Book of Mormon, Smith rapidly gained adherents numbering in the thousands. He moved the center of the religion westward in several steps and was shot to death by a mob, variously styled as militia and vigilantes, in Illinois at the age of 38. Just who killed him and what the motives were are matters we normally leave to courts rather than newspaper accounts. There is little doubt that many other religions of the time were outraged by the tolerance of polygamy, and so the account that he was assassinated by offended husbands of those to whom he proposed marriage, must be somewhat discounted. All religious disputes have a tendency to get out of hand, and the frontier religions of that time were particularly feverish, flaring up in an environment of the rule of the six-gun.
|Joseph Smith House|
The attraction of this religion seems to an outsider to have been based on its forgiveness for sinners, offering them tolerant heaven rather than the vindictive hellfire and brimstone which more puritanical protestant sects at that time envisioned for even well-behaved converts. There is a certain echo in Smith's Mormonism of the tolerant Quaker view that "There is that of God, in everyone." Similarly, although it is difficult to accept his idea that the American Indian tribes might be descendants of a lost tribe of Israel from the 7th Century B.C., the Mormon, and Quaker, teaching of tolerance to the Indians was in keeping with changing racial views in the early 19th Century, and softens somewhat the former Mormon distrust of the black race; although that, too, must be seen in the context of the then-approaching Civil War.
The best-known feature of this religion used to be polygamy, however, which is difficult to defend with theological, demographic or even romantic reasonings. With a few exceptions among Mormon extremists, the religion has moved away from any defense of polygamy. As the center of Mormonism moved to Utah, Congress outlawed polygamy, and the church officially condemned the practice and gave it up. Since it is still not rare to encounter a kindly decent gentleman on the streets of Salt Lake City whose grandmother or great-grandmother had been a polygamous wife, the whole subject has come to be treated there as an ancient embarrassment, best left unmentioned, but never quite forgotten. As a matter of fact, all religions have so much to account for in their past that they are most fairly judged by the sort of behavior they seem to inspire in their followers. By that standard, the earnest, decent, hard-working Mormons of today have earned their right not to be sneered at.
|Great Bend PA|
As for the simple little memorial along the river, it may seem a disappointment to some. It has not been made into a tourist attraction or a place of pilgrimage. It may even be a little unprotected from vandalism. But is surely worth the small trouble to visit, adding only half an hour to anyone's trip. One does not have to accept either the history or the theology in order to wish to see the place, which is a sweet little neglected clearing with a railroad running between it and the river. As a backdrop, the great bend in the Susquehanna is a remarkable sight in itself, because the river seems to be running in the wrong direction while no one notices. But one final double-take about polygamy simply cannot be resisted. One of the members of the Right Angle Club spent many years in the Middle East as a diplomat, where every Muslim man is permitted to have four wives. He reports that the younger Muslim men will often have nothing whatever to do with polygamy. Having watched the scheming, conniving jealousies of that custom from a front-row seat, the sort of Arab who always wears western clothes has firmly decided from personal observation that one woman, or at least one woman at a time, is quite enough.
The newspapers tell us a Mormon tabernacle or church may soon be constructed near the new Barnes Museum on the Parkway in Philadelphia. It could even resemble the one in Washington DC, with a statue of the Angel Moroni, blowing a gleaming gold trumpet. The Mormons seem to want Philadelphia to notice them and form an opinion, which indeed we probably will.
It's hard to convince people of something they don't want to believe; others are simply determined to deny they already know it. In any event, prior to 1957, it was vigorously denied by many Americans of Italian descent that there was any such thing as organized crime, The Mob, The Mafia, or La Cosa Nostra. One of the pieces of evidence for regarding organized crime as just an anti-Italian slander was the consistent denial by the head of the F.B.I. J. Edgar Hoover that a national crime syndicate existed. Just why Hoover took this strange position will have to be left to future historians. But even J. Edgar Hoover couldn't deny it after November 14, 1957, when New York State Police surrounded a hundred mob bigwigs, lieutenants, and bodyguards at Apalachin, NY.
|Sgt Edgar Croswell|
New York State troopers always kept a watchful eye on a fifty-acre estate belonging to Joseph Barbara the reputed boss of Central Pennsylvania crime, located just within New York state borders; it is not necessary to invent a feud with one trooper, or insist that some disgruntled criminal tipped him off. When all local motels were suddenly booked up, and dozens of expensive automobiles with out-of-state licenses could be seen parked in the estate, it was only prudent to check the license numbers. When the report came back that most of the cars belonged to persons suspected of leadership in organized crime, it was reasonable to establish roadblocks around the estate, just in case. And then, after a car sped in past the roadblocks, soon followed in reverse by dozens of adult males fleeing in suits into the surrounding woods, it was natural enough to pick them up for questioning. It's estimated that fifty of them got away, but 58 mob bosses, henchmen, and bodyguards were caught and indicted. Everybody, it seems, had heard that Joseph Barbara was feeling unwell, and they had come to inquire after his health. Local lore has it that for years, wallets filled with hundred dollar bills were to be found tossed into the nearby underbrush.
|J. Edgar Hoover|
A great deal has been said and written about what was really going on, although a lot of it is probably deliberate misinformation, and some of the rest is couched in "weasel words" intended as some sort of code. The present general opinion is that the old-style Sicilian Mafia had engaged in a war for several years with upstart "Liberals" and that this meeting was intended as a peace treaty of the "Crime Commission", for which some crime bigwigs from Italy had been imported as referees. Grander visions, including the extension of crime syndicates into Cuba, Las Vegas, and California were on the agenda but were not the primary agenda. It was rumored that Angelo Bruno of Philadelphia had been newly appointed to the Commission, and was leaning toward favoring the "Liberal" faction. Such a disruption of leadership as the Apalachin round-up naturally resulted in a large number of assassinations, imprisonments, novels, and movies. This was the final, undeniable, outing of organized crime. The mob was finally turning away from the giddy days of prohibition rum-running, toward more modern entertainments like recreational drugs, gambling, and loan sharking. The Sicilians were losing control to Italians and Jews. The public was going to movies and reading books; it was becoming inevitable that the "goddam innocent bystanders" and other do-gooders were going to demand that this sort of invisible empire simply had to be curbed
|Joseph Barbara's Place|
Just why Apalachin was selected is debatable. It's visible from the Interstate Highway, and state roads run by the estate. It's quite close to the Susquehanna River, for whatever value that might have to organized crime. It's, therefore, both private and remote, as well as within a couple of hours easy drive to most East coast cities. And its back road runs straight to Hazelton, which might seem a more natural place for the boss to live, except that Apalachin was just over the state line for legal purposes. The verbal history circulated within knowledgable circles is that the Mafia started in Sicily in response to resistance to Italian authorities, especially Garibaldi. When it got to be time to move, they first went to New Orleans. Unable to cope with the Ku Klux Klan, however, the pilgrims split into two main movements. One went to South Philadelphia, and the other went to Hazelton. After that, the links to New York, Chicago, and Las Vegas are obscure.
So, Apalchin is worth a drive-by. Those who are timid can get a fairly good idea from Google Earth.
|Senator Ezra Cornell|
Cornell is in Ithaca, at the foot of Lake Cayuga. It's New York's land grant college, which at first seems a funny way of expressing it, until you learn that during the Civil War, Congress declared that at least one college in each state would receive a grant of federal land (which they could sell) for advancing the working class through agricultural and mechanical education. Cornell is thus New York's "A and M". The whole idea is central to the Whig philosophy that social classes were not a permanent status, but rather only stages in the evolution of penniless immigrants into managers, and thence into entrepreneurs and owners.
|Sen. Andrew White, President|
The Whigs didn't hate poor people, they just wanted to get rid of that class by showing them how to get rich. Although the Republican Party was largely the successor to the Whig party, Lincoln remained philosophically an ardent Whig; the emancipation of slaves was a bold and imaginative extension of the Whig ideal. The striking thing about the founding of Cornell University is that both of New York's U.S. senators were enthralled by the land grant college idea. Ezra Cornell drove the legislation through Congress, and Andrew White became Cornell's first president; both of them devoted their later lives to it. Cornell donated most of his substantial fortune to its establishment and applied his unusual financial talents to investing the proceeds of the land grant.
Devotion to self-improvement of the working classes helps explain why many of Cornell's departments sound a little out of place in the Ivy League, hotel management being the first to come to mind. However, it must have been the two senators who instilled in this project the idea of striving for excellence. If you manage a hotel, be the very best hotel manager in the world if you have it in you. Very likely that's the bug that bit the Johnson family, whose name is on the Johnson School of Management, the Johnson Museum. And the Imogene Powers Johnson Laboratory for Ornithology, which is our present topic.
|Cornell Laboratory for Ornithology|
They say it took the architects six years just to design the 80,000 square foot building overlooking the wetlands on 220 acres of the bird sanctuary, otherwise known as the Sapsucker Woods. The public doesn't often see most of the interior of the building, which is devoted to working scientists, and their extensive effort of computerizing the voluminous efforts of volunteer bird watchers up and down the Appalachian Flyway. The result has been a set of coherent conclusions about what is happening to ecology, as illustrated by ornithology. That's only one of many scientific projects underway. What the public does see are two things: the most elaborate bird-watching museum anywhere, and one of the most imaginative bird-hobbyist stores. Between them, these two features are designed to make a bird lover out of the meanest curmudgeon, show him how to arrange an indoor watching area, buy books and magazines about how to do it, and offer for sale the most advanced and clever devices and supply. If you hate birds, or even if you are merely indifferent to them -- this is the place to come to Jesus.
|The Krebs Restaurant|
The glaciers of an ancient ice age came to rest at the top of what we now call the finger lakes, and melted, wearing away the lakes from top to bottom, but depositing rich loam while they lingered. As an elaboration of this theory would suggest, the finger lakes are much deeper at their southern ends. The Indians, presumably Iroquois, called one lake Skaneateles, which is unpronounceable until someone tells you to say "Skinny-at-less". At the end of the Revolutionary War, the Continental currency was worthless, and the land was money. So, Congress designated land for war veterans. Thirty-nine of them took them up on it at Skaneateles. It's pretty certain a history like that will leave distinctive marks on a town for a long time; in this case, it may account for the quite small number of non-white residents, the beautiful old Federalist buildings, and an amazing number of first-class restaurants.
You can have your seafood or your exotic continental arrangements, but the Krebs is the restaurant knowledgable people have frequented for much more than a century. It serves American food, American style, and lots of it. You can call that plain if you want to, but when things are really really fresh, and the cooking style developed over decades of study, plain American food is pretty hard to find in America. For example, when was the last time you saw corn on the cob on a menu? America seems like one big corn field from the Hudson to the Rocky Mountains; any cross-country traveler passes ten million ripening ears of corn on the way. But corn on the cob? Sorry, we don't carry it. Except in Skaneateles.
|Map of Marcellus|
The region of upstate New York called Marcellus stretches from the tourist jewel of Skaneateles to the Onondaga Indian Reservation, where you can buy untaxed cigarettes if you wish, and get on Interstate 81 to the Canadian border. Tucked within that region is the little town of Marcellus, which is neat and cute, but almost too small for tourists to notice. It's one of those remarkable things about scientists that someone in 1840 noticed a black shale outcropping in Marcellus, and recognized it as a distinct layer of sedimentary rock. Little did they know this tiny outcropping in Marcellus was part of a layer thousands of square miles in area, containing more dissolved natural gas than the peninsula of Arabia. Even if they had realized the extent of it in 1840, the technology for extraction had yet to be invented, and the price of gas had yet to rise to a level making extraction worth the effort. And also, worth enduring what has proved to be a hornet's nest of criticism by environmentalists. Patty Weisse, the most eminent local geologist, simply shrugs her shoulders and says, "It's going to happen." Since a number of prominent scientists are firm of an opinion that alternative forms of non-fossil energy will take at least fifteen years to become practical energy sources, public pressure to develop the "Marcellus" shale gas seems indeed pretty undeniable.
|Route 175/ Route 174|
First, the tourist attraction. The original shale discovery has long since vanished, but there's a big hill outside the town, meaningfully identified as Shale Hill. Two state roads intersect at that point, Routes 174 and 175, so the highway engineers created some cuts in the shale hill. That's not exactly an outcropping, and something ten feet high is not exactly a cliff, but you can certainly find shovels-full of honest to goodness Marcellus shale within a few feet of the highway. No one objects if you take a piece of the stuff home with you, but in trying to do so, you will discover something important about Marcellus Shale. It easily breaks off in your hand, and if you drop it on the floor of the car, it will crumble into dust. You have now just observed why it is possible to extract gas from it with relative ease and expense. This formation is called Devonian because there is something like it in Devon, England.
Mostly by volcanoes and glaciers, rocks get split into gravel, gravel gets ground into sand, and sand is ground into powder. Add heat and water to the powder and you get clay. Marcellus shale is a form of clay, with a difference that it was formed at the bottom of a huge lake by fine-grained rock particles slowly drifting down to the bottom, getting later squashed by vegetation, sand, gravel, and rocks. The vegetation ferments and permeates the clay, at the rate of twenty-five cubic feet of gas to a cubic foot of shale, and a cost to extract it off about a dollar a cubic foot. The economics of extracting it is quite attractive. The mechanism for extracting it is to inject lots of water through a drill-pipe, drain out the water, and let the gas flow. Getting rid of the dirty water is a problem we will return to in a moment. One surface well can be used to drain off the gas from many different underground directions, which reduces the surface spoilage considerably. If you have fiber-optic television cable, it was most likely installed underground by such "re-directional drilling", much like the operation of a colonoscopy to extract your colon cancers and polyps. Since gas has the smallest carbon emission of any energy source except those which have no carbon emissions at all, this seems like a godsend at a time of world-wide energy uncertainty. It can be stated without much challenge that no non-carbon energy source is or will be practical for another fifteen years, except nuclear energy. There is easily enough gas in the Marcellus shale to supply America's energy needs for fifteen years. If you don't like that, your choice must be nuclear, but the U.S. Government refuses to license any nuclear plants because of the dispute about radioactive waste disposal. And furthermore, while France uses a disposal method which is safe from that sort of contamination, their approach is easily transformed into nuclear weapons. It would thus emerge that our choice is between the French nuclear approach and allowing oil and coal to dominate. Atom bombs for everyone, or pollution for everyone. On the other hand, going ahead with Marcellus shale would give us relatively low carbon emission for fifteen years, on the prayer that wind and solar power can be made practical in the meantime. So, what's the matter with shale gas?
Three things. First, the heavy equipment used in drilling seriously tears up the landscape. The construction roads open up the wilderness to raccoons, snakes, and rodents of all sorts, which badly affect bird migrations. These aren't highways they are building; the soil erosion is fairly major. Secondly, "fracking" or injecting water into the shale formation uses up tremendous amounts of water, and could easily drain dry some lakes and streams, not to mention human water supplies. Since the aquifers are formed by flowing water boring holes along with the upside of an impermeable layer, the aquifers are right above the layer of Marcellus shale. If water runs dry, the chances are high that some driller will reach up into the aquifer for water, and claim it was accidental. Third and finally, the water which is washing around underground will inevitably encounter salt, minerals and radioactive materials. When the resulting brine reaches the surface, it won't be useful for inhabitants without extensive purification.
Patty Weisse, a geologist member of a whole geologist family and who runs the Baltimore Nature Center in Marcellus, tells us it is unnecessary to inject water into the upper half of the Marcellus formation in order to get the gas out, at least in the neighborhood of Marcellus itself. That leaves only landscape damage to contend with, and surely the damage from that can be minimized by thoughtful zoning. After that, it gets harder because, in the southern half of the formation, water must be injected. That means that anxiety is less around Marcellus itself than in Pennsylvania. But there is going to be some kind of environmental price to be paid, anywhere shale gas is extracted. If you can't stand any pollution at all, even nuclear, apparently your only practical alternative leads to just letting Iran and North Korea get their bombs. Or letting OPEC drain our economy.
After the American Revolution, a New York land speculator named Augustus Sackett established a town on Lake Ontario, destined nevertheless to remain Sackets Harbor on maps and documents. As the boundaries of the United States and Canada became established, Sackett recognized the potential for his town to become an international trading center. Whether or not he knew it, that would essentially become a term for smuggling, which was the early foundation for the economy. Federal troops were stationed in (President) Madison's Barracks north of town in an effort to discourage smuggling, so existing fortifications came in handy for the War of 1812. With the advent of that war, the town was flooded with troops in a ratio of 8:1, eventually attracting attack by British warships and leading to the rapid establishment of a flourishing naval shipbuilding center. The war ended before most of those ships saw action, but the countryside was denuded of trees needed for the building of 32-gun battleships, and hence improved for agriculture. After the war, the town was used for naval training, but the burning of Washington DC was reason enough to move naval training to Annapolis MD.
Cute little Sackets Harbor is small enough to become a par-three golf green with a big water hazard in the middle, but instead, tourism turned in the direction of sail boating from a snug harbor. The abandoned railroad station is now a restaurant center, and there are hotels and restaurants in a circle around it. There are a lot of tourist amenities hidden around, leaving the rest of the village intact. It's really a nice place to stop for lunch or dinner or to stay overnight. The eastern edge of Lake Ontario nearby is a stretch of sandy beaches and lovely farm country, which turns out to be a favorite sort of place for people to go camping. Nowadays, that mainly means Recreational Vehicles and trailers, with retired folk resting in their hammocks on the neatly mowed grass. The most upscale trailer camps cost twenty or thirty dollars a night for "full hook-up", so the campers are mostly affluent retirees, watching their pennies nevertheless. There are motels galore in nearby Watertown, but just a little effort will seek out something more appealing in Sackets Harbor. Right now, Sackets Harbor is even cheaper, but everybody knows what happens to prices in response to supply and demand.
|Thousand Islands International Bridge|
Not counting summer tourists, the New York State lake towns of Sackets Harbor, Clayton, and Alexandria Bay have each about a thousand permanent residents, and all got started by the events surrounding the War of 1812. But Sackets Harbor attracts tourists interested in Upper New York State, Alexandria Bay attracts tourists to the Thousand Islands and soldiers on leave from Fort Drum, while Clayton is mostly content to be the commercial center of this little region. Yes, Clayton has a small obscure sign saying a battle of the War of 1812 was fought there, but mostly it tends to the town needs of the permanent residents of the region. It seems to have a fair number of summer homes of non-residents, but comparatively few tourists. Sackets Harbor we have described elsewhere, mostly servicing a group of people who drive there repeatedly for a sailing vacation. Alexandria Bay, on the other hand, is crowded with throngs of day-trippers and souvenir buyers, serviced by merchants who look as though they spend their own winters in Florida. As an almost inevitable consequence, Alexandria Bay alone has a section of dilapidation next to the center of town, which somewhat resembles Atlantic City in 1940. Just what caused these two originally identical towns to veer in such different directions, must be left to sociologists. The International Bridge certainly changed things, but it is equidistant between Clayton and Alexandria Bay. Things certainly could have taken a different direction; a ferry ride to Boldt Castle of 120 rooms is one of the main tourist attractions. Boldt Castle was built by a Philadelphian for his wife but never finished after her premature death. George C. Boldt was a Prussian who achieved early fame as the manager of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, inventing the Thousand Island dressing for the Waldorf salad. He then built the Bellevue Hotel on Broad Street. Other castles in the Islands were planned, smaller castles were even built on the Thousand Islands (actually, about 1,700 islands by some style of counting). The grave robbers of Skull and Bones are rumored to have a summer place in the region. The St. Lawrence Seaway is open, but mostly benefits Toronto and points West. It snows a lot in the winter.
|The War 1812|
One turns to history to explain anomalies in this border region and gets the idea that both countries would rather you didn't go too deeply into that. A strong tip come comes from the yearly celebration in early August, of the exploits of "Pirate Bill" Johnston. Now, everyone understands that there is a very fluid distinction between a pirate, a smuggler, and a privateer. Behind that is the history that Loyalists from Philadelphia flocked here during the Revolutionary War, and mostly their families continue to live in Kingston. The War of 1812 started out being neglected by England because of the Napoleonic Wars in Europe but contained a very real element of American exceptionalism which was emboldened to aspire to annex Canada. In 1838 an uprising in Canada led by the former mayor of Toronto Mackenzie attempted to revolt against the Crown, American-style, waving the flag of republicanism as contrasted with Church of England feudalism. Mackenzie lost, but not without significant help and sanctuary from the American side of the border, in the universal style of all guerilla uprisings. The American government came to its senses and joined with its Canadian neighbor government in suppressing the revolt, and the Canadians came to their senses and formed a new republic under MacDonald, starting in 1848 and finally achieving it in 1867. Essentially, some Tories from Philadelphia wanted to live in a monarchy in Canada, while some Whigs or republicans in Ontario wanted to live in a republic like the U.S., Yes, there had been the talk of secession or annexation, but mostly the argument was over the style of government rather than its headquarters. Since that time, anyone who brings up the subject is treated as though he had burped at the dinner table.
|Thousand Island Park|
In this context, facts are probably somewhat suppressed. Pirate Bill Johnston was descended from Loyalists who had fled to Kingston during our Revolution, but apparently developed republican leanings in the War of 1812 and moved to the U.S. side of the border, either after or as part of a smuggling career among the islands. When M.H. Mackenzie began a Canadian revolt in 1837 against what he saw as the feudal English rule, Pirate Bill came out of retirement and fought with him, mainly employing a skiff rowed by six oarsmen that could slip between islands, and in a pinch could be carried across the land to another river channel. In his most notorious exploit, Pirate Bill attempted to capture a riverboat called the John Peel but was forced to sink it. As part of a broader effort by the American government to quiet this whole uproar down, Johnston was fully pardoned by President William Henry Harrison. The August celebration in Alexandria Bay is apparently run by non-historians, who add a number of anecdotes to the story, of dubious authenticity. The aphorism which the Pirate Bill story brings to mind is that "Where you stand, has a lot to do with where you sit."
John A. Macdonald was a sweet, hard-working lawyer in Kingston, whose wife died young of tuberculosis. After she was gone, he devoted his life to achieving the modern Canadian government, which finally came about in 1867. He was the first Prime Minister, sort of the George Washington of Canada.
His home for several decades was a small farm near the center of town, because he wanted peace and quiet with his wife, raising his own vegetables, eating fruit from his own orchard. At least to the extent, Canadians go in for that sort of thing, his home has the beginnings of a national shrine for Canada, but he was said to be whimsical about the somewhat incongruous Italianate architecture which must nevertheless be admired for its comfortable design. The charming ladies of the city serve high tea in the afternoon to well-mannered visitors, in rather startling contrast to the tomb-like atmosphere which surrounds most such national shrines. They are anxious to please but respond to questions about the Tories of 1776 Philadelphia with the blankest of stares. Unless they are uncharacteristically evasive, they know absolutely nothing about any Kingston history before 1867. Their parents may well believe this is a sensitive topic best avoided in polite company, but at least the present generation appears to have been taught nothing, as a safeguard against rude encounters. Although half of the town is descended from Philadelphia Tories, they do not know what a Quaker meeting is, and do not believe Kingston has one. Touring around town, there is a short row of low brick houses which may have been built in Georgian style, but are now unoccupied, and that's about all there is left to suggest that episode. We're not Tories, but we aren't Americans, either.
|John A. MacDonald House|
Riding around town, a striking number of buildings are built of granite-looking (but actually limestone) blocks. There's probably a quarry nearby, but the effect is pretty somber. In the governmental center of town, building after building is built in the same heavy style of the same grey stone. In fact, the most prominent building in the center of town is the penitentiary at Riverside, looking as though it was meant to demonstrate what heavy stone blocks were really supposed to be used for. Perhaps it evokes the image of a fortress since memories of U.S. invasions in 1775, 1812, and 1838 are surely still alive somewhere. But unspoken, please don't speak of it.
The ride on the wide highway back to the International Bridge seems to take a long time because there is so little to notice. But things immediately get pepper on the other side. That seems to be the way both sides like it.
|Posted by: Younes | Feb 13, 2012 11:00 PM|
Due North of Philadelphia, More or Less
Broad Street in Philadelphia was laid out due North and South, with a compass. From there you go due North up route 611, which splits into 6 and 11 at Scranton. Due North of that is the mouth of Lake Ontario, emptying into the St. Lawrence. Because of two large lakes in upstate New York, a trip due North is about the only reasonable way to get to Canada from Philadelphia, by land.
The Third Pennamite War (1778-1784)
Connecticut and Pennsylvania stopped fighting during the Revolution, but then promptly resumed hostilities. The Decision of Trenton gave the prize to Pennsylvania, whose legislature promptly abused the helpless remaining Connecticut settlers.
Country Auction Modernized
On Fairgrounds Road, in the Quaker farmlands of Bucks County, efficiency and computerized streamlining are nibbling at the enduring customs of country auctions.
Doylestown is trapped between the steadily advancing edges of New York and Philadelphia, and must soon submerge. For now, the town's a lovely little jewel.
Delaware Water Gap
Somehow, we all got tired of the Delaware Water Gap and forgot it was there. It's one of the great scenic places in America.
Wyoming, Fair Wilkes Barre
The city of Wilkes Barre pretty well fills up the Wyoming Valley, transforming a once famous agricultural paradise into a crowded suburb.
Mauch Chunk, Jim Thorpe, and All That
Pennsylvania's Switzerland was founded on the anthracite business and died when it did. The Jim Thorpe business is an embarrassment, but a sign of revival.
Wilkes-Barre, Site of the Wyoming Massacre
Wilkes-Barre has certainly seen better days, but if you speed by without knowing its past, you are missing a lot.
Great Bend: Joseph Smith Translates the Golden Plates
Joseph Smith announced he discovered the Golden Plates of Mormonism near Palmyra, NY. He spent three years translating them at his wife's home in Great Bend, Pennsylvania.
La Cosa Nostra Has an Apalachin Outing
For many years it was widely denied by many, including J. Edgar Hoover, that there was such a thing as organized crime. And then, on November 14, 1957, the State Police stumbled on their national convention in Apalachin, NY.
Cornell, For the Birds
The Cornell Ornithological Center may not be the largest institution devoted to birds, but it certainly looks as though it might be.
A Tip of the Hat to Skaneateles
Skaneateles is at the top of Skaneateles Lake and has become a tourist attraction in spite of itself.
Marcellus, Where Shale Gas Comes From
The Marcellus shale formation stretches from Canada to Texas, mostly 5 thousand feet underground. But at Marcellus NY, you can really see it, pick it up, and take it home.
Sackett's Town at Sackets Harbor
For a town of 1200 residents, Sackets Harbor NY holds a lot of history.
Thousand Islands: U.S. Side
The Lake Ontario towns of Sackets Harbor, Clayton, and Alexandria Bay is about the same size, had much the same early history, but are demonstrating quite a different present and future direction.
Kingston: Birthplace of Canada
Kingston is where modern Canada began. Sadly, the capital has moved upstream to Ottawa, and commerce has migrated downstream to Toronto. It has the air of genteel poverty while looking prosperous.