Recognizing an Altered Landscape; Memories from an Archaeological Investigation at Trapps Gap

By Chloe McGuire

If you ever find yourself in the position to visit the Shawangunk (pronounced: SHOM-GUN) Mountains running through upstate New York, about 12 miles from the Hudson River and 100 miles outside New York City, you absolutely must visit the scenic Trapps Gap (see Figure #1).

Figure #1: Map of Northern Shawangunks, Trapp’s Gap is denoted by red triangle. Image taken from (Snyder 1981: 4).

Figure #1: Map of Northern Shawangunks, Trapp’s Gap is denoted by red triangle. Image taken from (Snyder 1981: 4).

Although today you will recognize the gap by the hoards of rock climbers or the exaggerated horse-shoe turn that lies just before the mountain range’s summit on Highway 44/55, this seemingly inconspicuous landscape has been in use long before today’s adventure seekers knew of its glory; from the initial Esopus Native Americans within the Neolithic to homestead settlers in the years after European colonization, this beautiful slice of the American landscape has a dense history deeply emblematic of greater United States history (Kiviat 1991).

Two summers ago in 2011, I was fortunate to work with Vassar College Anthropology Professor Lucy Johnson on a 10-week archaeological excavation of a dual-component site within miles of Trapps Gap. Our original research questions guiding the excavation sought to further understand the nature of pre-historic Native American rock shelters in the area, but due to previous surveys of the area at large, as well as excavations by New York State and Cornell University in the 1960s and 1970s, few Native American artifacts were initially recovered and we were forced to reconsider the focus of our project. Fortunately for us, almost immediately, we came upon the homestead foundation of Calvin Burger, the son of Benjamin and Helena Burger, one of the three original homesteaders families to settle the area (Smith 1965: 205). During Calvin’s lifetime, and within decades of this original wave of settlers, the community–called ‘the Trapps’ due to its location next to Trapps Gap–peaked in 1880 with about 50 homesteads, a school, store, tavern, mill and chapel.

During the next 9-weeks, our project began to more holistically consider homestead life in the Trapps, both before and after the construction of the Smiley’s famous Mohonk Mountain House in 1869, looking specifically at how this rural mountain community was able to survive and flourish throughout the social and economic tensions of the 1800s till today. Life in the Trapps was by no means easy, and these original homesteads survived off a combination of subsistence farming and “cash-generating” activities. From making barrel hoops during the pre-Civil War era to distilling alcohol during Prohibition, the life of these people was dependent on the social and economic fluctuations of New York City and the rise of urbanizing America (see Figure #2).

APPENDIX A: Figure #2: Chronology of the economic activities of the Shawangunks (Kiviat 1991: 11).

Figure #2: Chronology of the economic activities of the Shawangunks (Kiviat 1991: 11).

Below I speculate on how life for the Burger’s as generational members of the Trapps community functioned within these ever-changing economies, focusing primarily on the Benjamin and Helena Burger and their son Calvin.

Perhaps the first great economic boom that altered the Trapps the need for raw materials to support this new growth. This drive for lumber led to intensive woodcutting throughout the Shawangunks, and subsequently cleared enormous swaths of first growth forests, that in the decades following, would evolve into pasture and agricultural lands on both a subsistence and commercial scale (Kiviat 1991: 22). Although the area can first be detected in the historical records of 1677 as “Table Rock” in the original Paltz Patent–a legal document granted by Edmund Andros, Colonial Governor of the English province of New York, giving 40,000 acres to Louis DuBois and his 11 Huguenot associates–the first physical evidence of landscape alteration was not performed by the Huguenots that clustered in the valley (in the present day town of New Paltz), but rather by the following wave of more rural settlers, including Benjamin and Helena Burger, that dared for the mountains and all of the resources it had to offer (Partington 1911: 5).

If you find yourself wandering through the Shawangunks, or really anywhere throughout the Northeast landscape of colonial America, you may notice the miles of resilient rock-pile walls in various stages of deterioration compartmentalizing the natural landscape. When you next stumble upon one of these walls, a good rule of thumb used by archaeologists when considering an altered landscape’s past use, is that if the rocks composing the wall are on the smaller side, the land had most likely been used for agriculture for the farmers had to completely clear the soil so as not to damage their farm equipment; whereas if these rocks are bigger, the land was probably then used as pasture for livestock where these smaller rocks were irrelevant. Although this may be common knowledge in some circles (i.e. the Indiana Jones type that like digging in the dirt), to the untrained eye these historical features may go unnoticed.

The history of the Trapps cannot be understood from an archaeological perspective alone though; for although such research sheds light on the material conditions of these early homesteaders in the wake of New York City’s rapid urbanization, old folklore from the region tell a rather different story. According to one of such local legends, when Benjamin and Helena Burger were initially settling the area, every night they had to construct fires to ward off the wild animals (Phillip 1965: 201). In another tale of the Burgers and Trapps wildlife, Helena accidentally stumbled upon a rattlesnake nest one day while berry picking in a nearby-by rock outcrop and barely escaped with her life. Perhaps these tales are a bit romantic and far-fetched as a product of time, or perhaps they were created as such by the Burger’s to dissuade following generations of youngster from climbing those enticing rock jungle-gyms. That is only speculation of course.

When considering the natural landscape of the Gunks, these rocky outcrops would come to gather a much different connotation in the years to come, for beginning in the 18th- century, and reaching its peaks in the century following, Shawangunk conglomerate became known as the most durable conglomerate found within the young country and thus became extensively quarried for building stones and millstones (Stradling 2007). In fact, during the 19th-century, the majority of all United States millstones were cut within a 50 mile radius of the Trapps, thus further altering the landscape much more permanently than all pervious deforesting (see figure #3 below). Although there has been no evidence either archaeologically, or within the historic records, that suggests the Burger family ever entered in the millstone market commercially, probably for both fiscal and environmental reasons (the Burger property does not have a constant source of running water that would be needed with such an endeavor), examples have been found in the archaeological record throughout the Shawangunks.

Figure #3: I!ustration of mi!stone quarrying (Kiviat 1991: 15)

Figure #3: Illustration of millstone quarrying (Kiviat 1991: 15)

Between 1820-1900, during the purchase of Mohonk by the Smiley Brothers after the Civil War in 1869, homestead population was to reach it’s peak with about 50 family units, and the accompanying community infrastructure–from a tavern, mill, and schoolhouse, although small, the community was high functioning (Evers 1995). Through the late 1800s, the Industrial Age and up through the Great Depression, the economy of the Trapps was dictated by the demands of industrializing New York City chronologically as follows: quarrying, charcoal-making, tanbark peeling (Hemlock trees), barrel hoop production,blueberry and huckleberry harvesting, and lastly, tourism with the birth of the idealized natural American landscape and the Mountain House (Stradling 2007).

Unfortunately, in the years following the Great Depression, both the Trapps as a community, and the Burger’s original property specifically, was significantly altered the emergence of the automobile industry, and the accompanying tourism that followed in its wake. I did have the resources to track down exactly when the last of the Burger family sold their property, but with the construction of Highway 44/55, a gas station was built sometime in the 1950s directly on top of the original foundation of Calvin Burger’s house. Thereby, no archaeological excavation ensued.* There are still many signs throughout the Trapps of these original homesteaders, however. For although the second growth forests have filled in the landscape and the rock walls are crumbling, a landscape that to the average tourist may look seemingly natural. If you find yourself in these parts however, you will be the wiser and understand this landscape as a product of United States history, forever altered as New York City became the international metropolises that it is today.

 

*This location was deduced during Professor Johnson’s 9-week excavation of the old Burger property, now apart of the Minnewaska State Park. Although the original Calvin Burger house site was destroyed, surveys of the area yielded various other structures, including a shed and perhaps a secondary house for Rachel Burger– Calvin’s wife (CIITE)

Bibliography:

Evers, Alf. In Catski! Country: Co!ected Essays on Mountain H istory, Life and Lore. Woodstock: The Overlook Press, 1995.

Kiviat, Erik. The N orthern Shawangunks: An Ecological Survey. New Paltz: Mohonk Preserve Inc., 1991.

Partington, Frederick. The S tory of Mohonk. Annadale: Turnpike Press, 1911 (1932, 1964). Smith, Phillip. L egends of the S hawangunk (S hon-Gum) and its Environs. Syracuse: University Press, 1965.

Snyder, Bradley. The Shawangunk Mountains: A H istory of N ature and Man. New Paltz: Mohonk Preserve, Inc., 1981.

Stradling, David. Making Mountains: N ew York City and the Catski!s. University of Washington Press, 2007.

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Conservation at the Mohonk Mountain House

By Kim Kogler

Europeans first arriving in the United States brought not only their bodies and personal belongings, but also thousands of new plants and animals. The European customs, plants, and animals dissipated throughout the surrounding country leaving changes in their wake (Snyder 1981, 17). The Shawangunk Mountains in New York transformed from feared wilderness to an industrial profit. From 1677 to 1869, humans directly exploited the Shawangunk Mountains through “industries yielding wood, charcoal, tanbark, barrel hoops, building stone, millstones, blueberries, huckleberries, and water” (Snyder 1981, 40; Kiviat 1991, xiii). Since the time humans arrived in the United States, we directly or indirectly influenced the ecosystems in which we lived. While for most of our history we labeled wilderness as “dangerous” and “unproductive,” by the end of 19th century, a change in the attitude towards nature arose.  Once feared, manipulated, and exploited, the land became revered as “beautiful,” spiritually and physically refreshing, and a place for recreation (Snyder 1981, 26-27). From this attitude, people began building mountain houses throughout the eastern United States’ landscape. In the Shawangunk Mountains, the Mohonk Mountain House emerged and became a frontrunner for environmental conservation and observation. To this day, it is the only Mountain House still operating and continues, through the Mohonk Preservation, as a leading organization to protect the landscape and track changes in ecosystems.

Around the decline of direct industrial exploitation of the Shawangunk Mountains, Albert and Alfred Smiley bought a plot of land to develop an inn. A year later, in the summer 1870, the Mohonk Mountain House, placed at the edge of Mohonk Lake, opened for business (Snyder 1981, 27). What started as a ten room inn has grown to the current Mohonk Mountain House, which holds 600 guests (“About Us”). The Mountain House served as a vacation spot for the higher social classes—“scholars, doctors, lawyers, bankers, merchants, executives, and ‘eminent divines’”—to enjoy the landscape away from their usual urban environment (Snyder 1981, 27). Albert and Alfred Smiley, following the changing attitude, believed the mountains should be admired and enjoyed in the forms of recreation, rather than used industrially (Snyder 1981, 38). Due to their Quaker background, the Smileys abstained from selling alcohol at their inn and were also dedicated to peace (Snyder 1981, 27). By 1895, conferences held at the Mohonk Mountain House discussed world problems and searched for alternatives to war (“About Us”). Also, partially due to their Quaker background, nature fascinated the Smileys. In 1896, a brass rain gauge and iron bar bolted to the ground in the lake were implemented (DePalma 2008). It marked the beginning of a century long record keeping of the weather and lake water levels at Mohonk Mountain House.

In the 20th century the environmental exploitation shifted from direct degradation to indirect degradation. Humans unintentionally affected the Shawangunk ecosystems causing initially imperceptible changes (Snyder 1981, 40). For instance, the disappearance of trout and acidity of rain, from use of DDT, originally went unnoticed and when finally recognized, could not immediately be explained (Snyder 1981, 40-41). The sometimes disastrous effects of humanity’s influence on the environment once again shifted the attitude towards nature. A growing feeling of conservation and preservation challenged humanity’s indirect exploitation of the land. The science of ecology grew in congruence with “the growing desire of wildlife biologists to reconstruct natural ecosystems with all their checks and balances” (Snyder 1981, 35). A few generations down the road from Albert and Alfred Smiley, Daniel Smiley, similarly to his ancestors, found passion in observing nature. He slowly incorporated his ecological values into the Mohonk Mountain House. Both Daniel Smiley and his brother, Keith Smiley, began taking phenological records of the surrounding areas around the mid-1920s and Daniel Smiley, starting in 1930, collected specimen from the land (“History”). Eventually, Daniel Smiley formally established The Mohonk Trust.

In 1966, Daniel Smiley transferred the deeds of two-thirds of the Mohonk Mountain House land to The Mohonk Trust. This non-profit organization, later known as the Mohonk Preserve, worked to conserve and protect its land from indirect human exploitation (Snyder 1981, 39). The Mohonk Trust originated from Daniel Smiley’s interest in the natural world. He traveled throughout the United States observing different environments and conservationists associated with land protection. He studied how these conservationists worked to protect local lands, ensuring the preservation of the country’s “natural” landscape (“History”). Daniel Smiley’s love for nature, the responsibility he felt for protecting the landscape and increasing the awareness of its importance, and his appreciation for humans and lands contributed to the formation of The Mohonk Trust. Daniel Smiley initiated the transition of the Mohonk Mountain House from merely a hotel under the management of a Quaker naturalist to a National Weather Service station.

As the Director of Research at the Mohonk Mountain House, Paul Huth holds the same job as his predecessors Daniel Smiley and Keith Smiley. He continues the daily tradition at Mohonk Mountain House of collecting the weather data, measuring the lake level based on its distance from the top of the iron bar, collecting other lake water data, and recording his observations about the land (Huth 2013). In this manner, for the past 120 years, the data collection at Mohonk Mountain House has remained consistent. Between Paul Huth and Daniel Smiley, 14, 500 observational records are held at the Mohonk Research Center (DePalma 2008). Many of the records from Daniel Smiley are written on the back of old cut up menus from the dining hall at the Mountain House (Huth 2013). It was around the 1970s that data collection expanded from weather recordings and phenological observations to also include regular monitoring of the pH of precipitation, lakes, and streams (“Weather”). While these observations started as a mere naturalist watching the environment, they now hold key information that is used as scientific evidence of climate change and its influence on nature.

The detailed records from the Smiley brothers and Paul Huth, as well as the collected specimen from Daniel Smiley, reside at the Mohonk Research Center. Those working at the Research Center use these notes to compare phenology and weather in the late 1800’s with today’s phenology and weather. The Research Center’s data remains even more valuable in today’s debate about environmental change because the research was completed in the same place, with the same instruments. Plus, only five people, including Huth, have worked at the Research Center and performed the data collections, which decreases variability in the data even further (DePalma 2008). Because of its constant weather collection, the Mohonk Preserve became a National Weather Service station that shows the climate change over the century. With little interest in the cause (human’s presence versus natural changes in the environment), of climate change, the Mohonk Preserve and Research Center focus more on showing that climate change exists (Huth 2013).  According to Paul Huth, over the past 100 years, those collecting data have seen a 2.5 percent increase in average temperature, which is half as much as the 5 percent increase over the previous 10,000 years. The data collected at the Mohonk Preserve deepens human’s knowledge of climate change patterns and the influence that change has on ecosystems, both at the broad level of entire communities and the minute level of individual species.

As the Director of Research, Huth stated that you need weather information and you need local information, but you also need a good eye. He explained that you need to train your observations and record everything you see because you will never be in the same circumstances again. This makes each moment vibrant as well as a learning opportunity. Huth watches the connection between what the data shows about climate change and what this climate change does to the species on the preserve. For instance, some species are moving farther north to reach colder weather to which they are acclimated. While humans like to believe in the ability to preserve nature and keep it unchanged, nature is in a constant state of flux. Huth’s data, along with all his predecessors, shows the dynamic quality of nature, regardless of human impacts or any other external impacts. No matter the influences, the ecosystems within the Shawangunk Mountains will continue to change, as all natural systems do. However, it seems clear humanity’s presence is a major factor to this change, which insinuates an inextricable link between human actions and choices and the health of the Shawangunk Mountains over the coming years (Snyder 1981, 40, 42).

Suggested Readings:

For more on the Smiley Family:

Burgess, L. (1969). Alfred, Albert, and Daniel Smiley: a biography. Redlands, CA: Beacon Printery.

For more on the Mohonk Area:

Burgess, L. (1993). Mohonk, its people and spirit: a history of one hundred years of growth and   service. Fleischmanns, NY: Purple Mountain Press.

Partington, F. (1911). The Story of the Mohonk. Annandale, VA: Turnpike Press.

 

Works Cited

“About Us: History.” Mohonk Mountain House. Accessed 1 May 2013. http://www.mohonk.com/About-Us

DePalma, A. (2008). “Weather History Offers Insight into Global Warming.” The New York Times. Accessed 1 May 2013.

“History of Conservation Science at Mohonk Preserve.” Mohonk Preserve. Accessed 3 May 2013.

Kiviat, E. (1991). The Northern Shawangunk: An Ecological Survey. New Paltz, NY: Mohonk Preserve.

Snyder, B. (1981). The Shawangunk Mountains: A History of Nature and Man. New Paltz, NY: Mohonk Preserve.

“Weather Data.” Mohonk Preserve. Accessed 1 May 2013.

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The Regal Fight for Storm King Mountain

By Madison A. Hayes

Storm King Mountain is an imposing force along the Hudson River. The river itself has played a significant role in the Hudson River Valley for centuries, and Storm King has also been a part of this role. The ‘60s was a tumultuous time of civil rights, war, and music, but environmentalism also came to the forefront during this time (as seen from Rachel Carson’s famous Silent Spring). When the electric company, Consolidated Edison, proposed a hydroelectric plant along the river at Storm King, environmentalism efforts were sparked locally, which then had ripple effects throughout the nation. It can be said that this fight for Storm King brought environmental efforts into the public’s eye, resulting in many environmental actions and even laws, as well as music.

Con Ed probably would likely not be considered a “bad guy” in most narratives, but it posed a threat to Storm King Mountain. In the 1960s, Con Ed was the leading gas and electric company in the United States.[1] They provided power to a wide region, including New York City. In 1962, New York City was seeking more energy sources, so a hydroelectric plant was suggested to provide this extra stored energy.[2] Con Ed “planned to install an 800-foot-long powerhouse at Storm King Mountain, with a huge reservoir atop it,” which would have made it the third largest hydroelectric plant and the largest pumped storage hydroelectric plant.[3] At the time, energy use was a large concern nationwide. Con Ed claimed that building the hydroelectric plant would avoid the use of fossil fuels and nuclear energy, both of which had a negative reputation at the time.[4] Indian Point (which, coincidentally, was built by Con Ed) was a nuclear power plant that had been known to negatively affect the Hudson River. This nuclear plant had caused major fish death, which added to the already poor image of nuclear energy.[5] Because of this, alternative energies were needed. Yet Con Ed had a history of negatively interacting with the river, so the retaliation of their Storm King proposal could have been anticipated.

Con Ed did not foresee severe backlash from their proposed actions, but there were certainly concerns. The Hudson River, whose waters the hydroelectric plant would use, had a romantic history. The Hudson River Valley, as would be expected from the name, has loved the lordly Hudson for years. In the mid-nineteenth century, Thomas Cole, the founder of the Hudson River School, celebrated the sublimity of the river, “the awe and reverence inspired by nature” through works of art.[6] This appreciation of the aesthetic carried on into the 1960s. Storm King was seen as “sacred” to many Americans due to its history of art, its draw for tourists, and its connection with nature.[7] By building the hydroelectric plant, people felt it would mean the desecration of a naturally beautiful image.[8] Considering its sacredness, this could be compared to desecration of one’s holy place, such as a temple or sanctuary. It is not unreasonable then to understand why people would be upset at such destruction. The initial reaction to Con Ed’s proposal was for these aesthetic and spiritual reasons, but reactions also had a more scientific approach.[9] As mentioned previously, Indian Point had raised concerns about fish death from river contamination. It was thought that the hydroelectric plant would cause similar fish deaths due to the significant water necessary.[10]

Con Ed was willing to compromise with the situation due to the reactions of locals and other people committed to Storm King’s wellbeing. Con Ed claimed that beauty could not only be maintained but also improved by a “handsome” design of the power plant, in addition to the alternative energy they could supply to many people.[11] The conservationists, however, did not want to compromise. They claimed “any power plant at Storm King would be an industrial intrusion on an area that had become a symbol of wild, unsullied nature.”[12] Again, the history of Storm King’s association with sublimity played a role in these people’s minds. These general concerns gained public interest, and organizations, such as Scenic Hudson, The Hudson River Fishermen’s Association, and the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater were formed as a result.[13] Storm King was a rallying factor, and these organizations, while committed to Storm King, were also committed to raising awareness of the river’s health in general.

Clearwater was a particularly interesting endeavor. The Clearwater sloop was formed with help from the famous folk singer, Pete Seeger, as well as a variety of other sponsors. In 1965, Seeger and others were concerned about the environment, especially the Hudson River. At the time, the Hudson was known for its toxins and PCBs, making it comparable to a dumping ground. [14] Pete Seeger learned about the history of sloops on the Hudson River from his friend, Victor Schwartz.[15] In the 1600s, Dutch tradesmen had used sloops to navigate the river for trade reasons.[16] It seemed that Schwartz and Seeger realized the value in recreating a historical boat in a contemporary context on the river. In 1969, Seeger proposed that a replica of a Hudson River sloop be built to raise environmental awareness, specifically of the condition of the Hudson River.[17] Hudson River Sloop Restoration, Inc. built the boat, and Pete Seeger and the rest of the crew gave concerts up and down the river at river towns.[18] Using the Dutch sloop of the past, Seeger and the Clearwater crew were able to navigate the river they sought to save and spread the word to those they encountered. Seeger claimed that “we cannot experience the modern river or plan for its future without feeling the pull of its rich past.” This acknowledged the romanticized past while educating the people of the present about the environment. [19] The Clearwater’s efforts were successful, not necessarily due to Seeger’s presence, but due to people’s interest in the river and the fight for Storm King.[20] The fight for Storm King was crucial in the sloop’s development, as well as its success. The sloop, in turn, helped lead to environmental awareness and bringing change to the Hudson River’s health.

In January of 1970, President Richard Nixon signed the National Environmental Policy Act into law. The law “created a national environmental policy by seeking to infuse environmental values into the decision making of the entire federal government.”[21] The act required “an environmental impact review of all major projects proposed by or requiring approval from [the] federal government.” This principle was largely established from by the Storm King efforts.[22] After this, the first Earth Day was celebrated in the spring of 1970. This signified a shift in environmentalism efforts because the focus became more on pollution than preservation. What this meant, however, was that the main stream of the population had accepted the Storm King struggle and sided with environmentalists.[23] Con Ed’s intents unintentionally helped spark the environmental movement due to their attack on Storm King. This fight for Storm King officially ended (although it had been fizzling out for the past decade) on December 19, 1980.[24] After nearly two decades of conflict, the land was returned to the people.[25]

Clearly the fight for Storm King had far-reaching effects that no one likely anticipated. Con Ed may have had good intentions for the people with their energy plan, but it was evident that its more important for the people to maintain the mountain’s environmental integrity. What was significant about the fight for Storm King was the reaction from the people. This indicated an investment in the environment, which then sparked other environmental efforts, such as Pete Seeger’s Clearwater. Con Ed’s hydroelectric plant was not built due to local efforts and commitment to the environment. As a result, people today can benefit from hiking Storm King and observing the river for themselves and realizing its sacredness. 

 

For more information:

Works Cited:

Dunwell, Frances F. The Hudson: America’s River. New York: Columbia University Press: 281, 284-285, 290, 292, 298.

Hansen, Kris A. “Hidden History at Storm King Mountain.” The Hudson River Valley Review. no. 1 (2007): 101.

Harrington-Hughes, K., and D.V.F. “Clearwater Sails for Cleaner Hudson.” Journal (Water Pollution Control Federation). no. 2 (1979): 219-220.

Lifset, Robert Douglas. Storm King Mountain and the Emergence of Modern American Environmentalism, 1962-1980. PhD diss., Columbia University, 2005. UMI (3182964): 15, 17, 161, 342, 345-346, 405, 408, 535.

Stanne, Stephen P., Roger G. Panetta, and Brian E. Forist.The Hudson: An Illustrated Guide to the Living River. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1996: 100-101, 109-110, 134-138.

Work Referenced:

Chaffin, Tom. “Keeping the Faith.” Horizon, October 1981, 42-47.

 

Footnotes:

[1] Robert Douglas Lifset, Storm King Mountain and the Emergence of Modern American Environmentalism, 1962-1980. (PhD diss., Columbia University, 2005), UMI (3182964): 15.

[2] Stephen P. Stanne, Roger G. Panetta, and Brian E. Forist, The Hudson: An Illustrated Guide to the Living River, (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1996), 134-136.

[3] Kris A. Hansen, “Hidden History at Storm King Mountain,” The Hudson River Valley Review, 24, no. 1 (2007): 101; Robert Douglas Lifset, Storm King Mountain and the Emergence of Modern American Environmentalism, 1962-1980. (PhD diss., Columbia University, 2005), UMI (3182964): 17.

[4] Frances F. Dunwell, The Hudson: America’s River, (New York: Columbia University Press), 285.

[5] Lifset, Storm King Mountain, 161.

[6] Stanne et al., The Hudson, 109-110.

[7] Dunwell, The Hudson, 281.

[8] Ibid., 284.

[9] Stanne et al., The Hudson: An Illustrated Guide to the Living River, 134-136.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Dunwell, The Hudson, 285.

[12] Ibid., 292.

[13] Stanne et al., The Hudson, 136-137.

[14] K. Harrington-Hughes, and D.V.F., “Clearwater Sails for Cleaner Hudson,” Journal (Water Pollution Control Federation), 51, no. 2 (1979): 219-220.

[15] Lifset, Storm King Mountain, 342.

[16] Stanne et al., The Hudson,100-101.

[17] Dunwell, The Hudson, 298.

[18] Lifset, Storm King Mountain, 345.

[19] Stanne et al., The Hudson, 137-138.

[20] Lifset, Storm King Mountain, 346.

[21] Ibid., 405.

[22] Dunwell, The Hudson, 290.

[23] Lifset, Storm King Mountain, 408.

[24] Ibid., 535.

[25] Hansen, “Hidden History at Storm King Mountain,” 101.

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PCBs in the Hudson River: The Rehabilitation of a Superfund Site

By Maggie Hankins

For centuries, the Hudson River has been well documented as one of the most important natural features in northeastern American history. Having been closely monitored almost continuously for the past 25 years, the Hudson now exists as one of the most extensively studied rivers in the country (EPA 2013A). Unfortunately, a major force driving this monitoring is the need to examine the results of deleterious anthropogenic influences on the Hudson. During the Industrial Revolution, the proliferation of factories along the river created communities and promoted economic growth, but the pollution created by these enterprises has become an increasingly significant threat to the river’s ecosystem and the local populations.

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), for example, are a group of organic chemicals widely used in transformers and capacitors because of their ability to withstand incredibly high temperatures (Strayer 2012, 140). Between 1947 and 1977, it is estimated that two capacitor manufacturing plants, owned by General Electric (GE) and located in Fort Edward and Hudson Falls, respectively (GE 2005), discharged around 1.3 million pounds of PCBs into the Hudson (McGurty 2007, 29), creating what the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) now classifies as a Superfund Site (EPA 2013A). Fortunately, this classification has led to the development and initiation of a two-phase cleanup project facilitated by the EPA. Phase two began in June 2011, and is currently operating at full production as the largest PCB remediation project ever attempted (Strayer 2012, 146). Ultimately, the goal of this project is the removal of PCBs from the 40-mile stretch of the Upper Hudson most affected by the pollution.

As pollutants, PCBs are particularly problematic because they do not degrade. This characteristic is referred to as persistence, and the resulting effect is a bioaccumulation of the compound. PCBs’ failure to dissipate was recognized in the 1970s: in 1975, the EPA estimated that 45% of the American population had PCBs in their tissue (McGurty 2007, 28). In 1977, this estimate increased to 90%. The rapid increase was attributed to the bioaccumulation effect, wherein PCBs deposited in the sediment do not disappear. When a fish eats a plant that has grown in this sediment, PCB levels are completely conserved. Humans are not immune to this effect, and consumption of contaminated fish is the primary health risk associated with this site. Specifically, the risks associated with even low exposure to PCBs include increased risk of cancer and disruptions to the immune, reproductive, neurological, and endocrine systems (Strayer 2012, 140). These reports all demonstrated the importance of an immediate ban—given the dispersion and volume of the pollutant, there was no way to instantly remove all PCBs, and it would take some time to significantly reduce the risk of exposure. Just like that, “the miracle chemical that helped electricity fuel a vast expansion of the economy turned out to cause havoc, in unknown proportions, to people and environments” (McGurty 2007, 29).

Importantly, the EPA’s designation of the Hudson River as a Superfund Site in 1984 earned it a place on the Agency’s National Priorities List of the most contaminated hazardous waste sites in the country (EPA 2013A). This classification also, however, assigned all financial responsibility for cleanup costs to GE (Strayer 2012, 145). For years, GE engaged in elaborate public relations efforts to refute the risks associated with PCBs. Simultaneously, the company aggressively fought the legality of the EPA’s decision to designate GE as financially responsible for the cleanup; even in 2005, the company “continue[d] to pursue its lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the federal Superfund” (GE 2005). GE persistently resisted all plans proposed by the EPA, spending millions of dollars on a marketing campaign for an alternative, cheaper solution that involved dechlorinating the PCBs without dredging (Strayer 2012, 145). Ultimately, GE lost these battles, and twenty-five years after the classification as Superfund (Revkin 2009), an operation to eliminate the most contaminated sites had finally emerged out of the convoluted battle between science and politics.

For the EPA, determining how to execute this cleanup was challenging. Initially, the EPA decided that dredging the contaminated sediment on a large scale was not technically feasible (Strayer 2012, 145). Many opposed the decision to dredge because they thought it would stir up the PCBs lying benignly in the sediment, thereby increasing exposure to the chemical. GE was a major proponent of the contention that leaving the contaminated sediment alone would allow fresh sediment to settle on top, effectively sealing off the pollutant and eventually eliminating the problem. This did not hold up, though, and while the disruption of sediment remains a legitimate concern, improvements in technology drove the Agency to switch from a no-action plan to a hot-spot-focused one. That is, to ensure maximum impact with minimum cost and disruption, only the most highly contaminated areas would be undertaken and sediment would be carefully removed.

Phase I was carried out between March and November of 2009, successfully removing sediment from a six-mile stretch of the Upper Hudson River near Fort Edward, New York (EPA 2009). After an extensive review by a board of independent scientists and a broad range of stakeholders, the more substantial Phase II began, targeting sediment from a 40-mile stretch of the Upper Hudson ranging from the former Fort Edward Dam south to the Federal Dam at Troy (EPA 2013B). During dredging season, the computer-operated barges run 24 hours a day, six days a week. Many local people are hired to work on the project, which employs a total of 500 individuals per season. The dredged sediment is transported to PCB-approved disposal facilities around the country, including Texas, Idaho, and Michigan.

Even now, GE is prosecuting whoever they can in an attempt to alleviate the financial burden of this cleanup. On April 30, for example, they filed suit against National Grid, attempting to blame them for a portion of the PCB contamination (Dolmetsch 2013). GE’s behavior is understandable: expected to cost more than $500 million, this project is expensive, complicated, and will only solve part of the problem – only 46 miles of the 200-mile Superfund site are included in the present plan (Strayer 2012, 145-6). Nevertheless, the project is accomplishing more good than harm, and it is one of many difficult but necessary responses to the human trial-and-error, live-and-learn approach to reconciling industrialization and our environment. The EPA’s cleanup project is a substantial step in the right direction, and will hopefully set the stage for more mindful decision-making regarding future corporate growth.

 

References:

Dolmetsch, Chris. 2013. “GE Sues National Grid for Payment of Hudson Dredging Cost.” Posted April 30, 2013. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-04-30/general-electric-sues-niagara-mohawk-over-hudson-dredging-costs.html

General Electric. 2005. “Shareowner Proposals: Report on PCB Cleanup Costs.” Last modified 2005. http://www.ge.com/ar2004/proxy/prop03.jsp

McGurty, Eileen. 2007. Transforming Environmentalism: Warren County, PCBs, and the Origins of Environmental Justice. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press.

NUS Corporation. 1983. Hudson River PCBs Site, New York: Feasibility Study. Pittsburgh: NUS Corporation.

Revkin, Andrew C. 2009. “Dredging of Pollutants Begins in Hudson.” The New York Times. Published May 15, 2009. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/16/science/earth/16dredge.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Strayer, David L. 2012. The Hudson Primer: The Ecology of an Iconic River. Berkeley: University of California Press.

United States Environmental Protection Agency. 2009. “Phase 1 Dredging: Factsheet.” Last modified November 2009. Accessed April 26. http://www.epa.gov/hudson/pdf/phase1_factsheet_nov2009.pdf

United States Environmental Protection Agency. 2013A. “Hudson River PCBs Superfund Site.” Last modified April 12, 2013. Accessed April 26. http://www.epa.gov/hudson/index.html

United States Environmental Protection Agency. 2013B. “Phase 2: Phase 2 Overview Factsheet.” Last modified Spring 2013. Accessed April 26. [1] http://www.epa.gov/hudson/pdf/Phase2_Overview-Spring2013.pdf

Posted in Environmental Issues | Comments Off on PCBs in the Hudson River: The Rehabilitation of a Superfund Site

Geography of Sing Sing Correctional Facility

By Gwen Frenzel

New York State has long had a large proportion of its residents living in New York City. For a multitude of reasons, like discrimination against the impoverished and racial minority groups that are common in New York City, residents of the city make up the majority of the state’s incarcerated population. In 1830, two years after the completion of Sing Sing Correctional Facility, New York City made up over 10% of the state’s population. The city now comprises 42% of the state’s population. Because a large percentage of the state’s incarcerated population is from New York City, public transportation to state prisons from the city is vital for family visitation. Sing Sing Correctional Facility is a model for other state prisons in its availability for visitation, an important factor in reducing recidivism rates, particularly for visitors from New York City.

The construction of Sing Sing Correctional Facility began in 1825 by convict laborers primarily from Auburn Prison, located over 200 miles from the town of Ossining, at the time named Sing Sing, New York.[1] By 1828, construction was still in progress, but enough development had been made to allow the transfer of all men incarcerated at Newgate Prison in Connecticut, a facility in need of closing.[2] Visitation was not permitted at Sing Sing until 1846, when family visits were permitted twice a year.[3] Late in the 20th century, however, Sing Sing expanded visitation hours to four weekdays per week and one Sunday visit per month.[4] Today’s policy is quite similar–visits are allowed from 8 AM to 3 PM Monday through Friday. Weekend visitation is on an odd/even basis, where incarcerated men can have visitors on odd or even days, based on whether the last digit of the incarcerated individual’s ID number is odd or even.

Sing Sing’s warden in 1846 was Hiram P. Rowell, a man not known for his friendly policies. Rowell would punish incarcerated men as he saw fit for the crime with which they were charged.[5] Methods of punishment ranged from use of the “cat,” a whip, to limiting food, bedding, tobacco, and books, to providing no change of clothes, or the “cold water cure,” a form of torture where water is slowly dripped on a person’s forehead, often causing severe mental health issues.[6] Reforms came by way of citizens, who in 1846 urged the state to allow incarcerated men to have access to tobacco and visitation. The state legislature went a step further and provided a Bible to all incarcerated individuals, permitted religious worship on Sundays, required state inspectors to check Sing Sing four times a year, and required the warden to keep a log of all complaints.[7] These reforms were far from establishing a humane correctional system, but they were a step in the right direction.

A large percentage, about seventy-two percent, of incarcerated men at Sing Sing are from New York City.[8] The state average of incarcerated individuals in maximum-security facilities from New York City jails is 60.7%.[9] As aforementioned, the city currently comprises 42% of the state’s population, so individuals from New York City are overrepresented in the state’s prison system. This overrepresentation must be addressed. But until then, the large percent of New York City residents in maximum-security facilities, like Sing Sing, demands accessibility to these facilities from the city.

The proximity of Sing Sing Correctional Facility to New York City makes visitation easier for families in the city who have to rely on public transportation. Ossining is less than 40 miles from New York City, and a one way off peak train ticket from Grand Central Terminal to Ossining is $9.75.[10] From the station, Sing Sing is less than a mile away, ensuring a low-priced cab ride.

Compared to other maximum-security facilities, Sing Sing is quite cheap and easy to access. Besides Sing Sing, the two maximum-security male state prisons closest to New York City are the Downstate Correctional Facility in Fishkill, and Green Haven Correctional Facility in Stormville.[11] Both are approximately 70 miles from New York City. There is no easy way to travel to Green Haven without a car–there are no nearby train stops from the city and no large bus lines, so families and friends must rely on private transportation or an expensive cab service. Travel to Downstate is available by public transportation, via a $15.25 off peak train to New Hamburg and a 5.5-mile drive from the station to the facility.[12] Families of incarcerated females in a maximum-security facility can pay $11.75 for a train ticket from New York City to Bedford Hills, the location of the only New York state female maximum-security facility, and then take a 1.2 mile cab from the station to the facility.[13] For a spouse and children, the journey could easily become quite costly. These are, of course, some of the closest maximum-security facilities in the state to New York City. There are other facilities like Upstate Correctional Facility in Malone, NY, that is 360 miles from the city. On average, male maximum-security facilities are over 200 miles from the city.[14]

Limiting weekend visitation is an effort to keep visitors to a controllable number on any given day. Families and friends who have normal job hours hoping to visit would be unlikely to be able to take the time to visit Sing Sing on a weekday, given long processing times before and after visitation. Therefore many families and friends prefer visiting on weekends or are only able to visit on weekends. Consequently, weekend visitation times are important.

Although the precise goal of incarceration has not been clearly defined by the state, the actions of lawmakers have led the Pew Center on the States Report to define four goals of incarceration: punishment, removal of the accused from society, determent of citizens to commit crimes, and chiefly, to avoid future crimes through rehabilitation.[15] Visitation is vital to the goal of rehabilitation for many incarcerated individuals. The positive effects of visitation are well known. The Minnesota Department of Corrections studied over 15,000 persons released from the state’s prisons between 2003 and 2007. They found that those who were visited in prison were less likely to recidivate: 13% less for felony reconvictions and 25% less for technical violations.[16] Greater frequency of visits, a larger support network of visitors, visits close to release dates, and visits by family and clergy had the largest impact on reducing recidivism.[17] Because visitation is so beneficial, states that work to make visitation easier for families and friends of incarcerated individuals are therefore helping to reduce the chance of a formerly incarcerated individual recidivating, saving the state funds and potentially creating safer communities.

Because the benefits to visitation are well established, it is in the best interest of states to place incarcerated individuals in facilities near their families and friends. It is also vital for states to establish affordable transportation for families to correctional facilities. Sing Sing Correctional Facility is a model for other New York state prisons in its location and availability to New York City, the home of many individuals incarcerated at the prison.

 

Bibliography:

Brian, Denis. Sing Sing: The Inside Story of a Notorious Prison. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2005.

Cheli, Guy. Sing Sing Prison. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2003.

“The Effects of Visitation on Offender Recidivism.” Minnesota Department of Corrections. November 2011.

“Facility Listing.” New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. Accessed April 28, 2013. www.doccs.ny.gov/faclist.html.

Lowy, Franklin D., Allison E. Aiello, Meera Bhat, Vicki D. Johnson-Lawrence, Mei-Ho Lee, Earl Burrell, Lester N. Wright, Glenny Vasquez and Elaine L. Larson. “Staphylococcus Aureus Colonization and Infection in New York State Prisons.” The Journal of Infectious Diseases 196 no. 6 (Sep. 15, 2007): 911-918.

“Metropolitan Transportation Authority New York City Transit Trip Planner+.” Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Accessed April 28, 2013. www.tripplanner.mta.info.

Pew Center on the States. State of Recidivism: the Revolving Door of America’s Prisons. Washington, DC: The Pew Charitable Trusts, April 2011.

 

Footnotes: 

[1] Denis Brian, Sing Sing: The Inside Story of a Notorious Prison (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2005), 18.

[2] Ibid., 19.

[3] Guy Cheli, Sing Sing Prison (Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2003), 48.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Brian, Sing Sing: The Inside Story of a Notorious Prison, 35.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Franklin D. Lowy, Allison E. Aiello, Meera Bhat, Vicki D. Johnson-Lawrence, Mei-Ho Lee, Earl Burrell, Lester N. Wright, Glenny Vasquez and Elaine L. Larson, “Staphylococcus Aureus Colonization and Infection in New York State Prisons,” The Journal of Infectious Diseases 196 no. 6 (Sep. 15, 2007): 913.

[9] Ibid.

[10] “Metropolitan Transportation Authority New York City Transit Trip Planner+,” Metropolitan Transportation Authority, accessed April 28, 2013, www.tripplanner.mta.info.

[11] “Facility Listing,” New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, accessed April 28, 2013, www.doccs.ny.gov/faclist.html.

[12] “MTA NYCT Trip Planner+.”

[13] Ibid.

[14] “Facility Listing.”

[15] Pew Center on the States, State of Recidivism: the Revolving Door of America’s Prisons (Washington, DC: The Pew Charitable Trusts, April 2011), 6.

[16] “The Effects of Prison Visitation on Offender Recidivism,” Minnesota Department of Corrections, November 2011.

[17] Ibid.

 

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Choo Choo: A Guide to the History of Railroads in the Hudson Valley

By Jake Spies

Once upon a time, transportation in the Hudson Valley was a challenge to say the least.  Traveling across the Hudson River was vital to trade, as a large percentage of American manufacturing was done in New York and New England to the east of the Hudson, while to the west lay Pennsylvania and the Midwest, purveyors of large quantities of coal and grain. Goods were loaded onto barges, which got the job done, but were very slow and unreliable due to the dependency on weather (Mabee 9) Storms could be a major hindrance to these boats, and in the winter, ice was an even more challenging obstacle. However, on January 1, 1889, the Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge was opened (Mabee 54) as the only bridge over the Hudson for 150 miles (Mabee 9). The impact of the railroad on the Hudson Valley was immense, and not only in terms of trade efficiency. In subsequent years, train travel was viewed as fast, luxurious, and fun! It rapidly became the population’s vehicle of choice.  This guidebook will hopefully encapsulate the history and reception of the railroad in the Hudson Valley, and provide insight as to how Poughkeepsie and the surrounding areas came to be what they are today.

At the time of the Poughkeepsie Bridge’s construction and opening, it was the longest bridge in the world. Unfortunately for the Hudson Valley, the very next year a bridge opened in Scotland that was even longer (Mabee 55). Easy come, easy go. However, while the bridge lost its title prematurely, there are many aspects of the bridge’s construction that still are apparent today. The people who actually built the bridge were immigrants, primarily Italian, hired as laborers (Mabee 66). These people were brought up to Poughkeepsie from New York City, where they had traveled in search of prosperity and a better life. The influx of Italian workers to Poughkeepsie inspired relatives, and other Italians who were not necessarily laborers to follow. It was not long before Italians made up the largest foreign-born group in all of New York’s counties (Mabee 69). Today, Italians make up over 12% of Poughkeepsie’s population (Citytowninfo.com), and that is primarily due to the bridge’s construction. In a sense, it is the bridge that is responsible for Poughkeepsie’s “Little Italy” district, although in recent years, the number of Italians has declined in this area. In addition to this, the bridge had a huge economic impact on Poughkeepsie, as it became an important train hub in the Hudson Valley.

Poughkeepsie’s “Little Italy”

Poughkeepsie’s “Little Italy”

With the installation of Poughkeepsie’s east- west railway system, citizens could now travel great distances in relatively short amounts of time. Specifically, the city of Poughkeepsie was now a place on the map where people could come to as well as leave.  Central New England & Western planned out several express routes to pass through Poughkeepsie, leading to Pennsylvania, Washington DC, Maine, Boston, and Baltimore. Other rail companies also got in on the action, namely Philadelphia, Reading & New England Rail, Hudson River Rail, and New York Central Rail (Mabee 76).  To promote their businesses, some of the rail companies printed summer travel guides to their railway lines in the hopes of enticing customers. In 1895, railway travel was marketed to be as significant as the actual destination. Specifically, the guides highlighted the scenic views that passengers would witness, as well as all the different destinations that could be reached and why people would want to travel there at all. These guides were published like hardcover books, yet they contained many advertisements also designed with the intent to draw people into the passenger cars. For example, New York Central’s guide, Health and Pleasure on “America’s Greatest Railroad”, advertised the Adirondack Mountains saying, “If you have never visited the Adirondack Mountains you will find that region a surprise and a delight to you; if you have visited it, you will surely go again” (New York Central 393).

Passengers in a luxury car to Chicago.

Passengers in a luxury car to Chicago.

As time passed, the train industry started to suffer. With the development of the automobile, fewer and fewer people found it necessary to pay money for a train ticket for what was becoming an obsolete and comparatively slow mode of transportation (Mabee 241). The depression of the 1920s meant that many lines had to be cut back in order to reduce costs. Train travel was becoming unreliable just as the steamboats were, over 60 years earlier. Many rail companies, such as the New Haven, began to go bankrupt (Mabee 242). Maintenance of the Poughkeepsie Bridge declined along with the railway’s profits. Fires became common on the bridge (Mabee 244). In 1974, a huge fire broke out which resulted in the bridge being closed down after 85 years. It cost over $600,000 to repair the bridge (Mabee 251). Eventually, the bridge was restored and became a walkway with scenic views of the Hudson. You can visit and see the views yourself!

The bridge today.

The bridge today.

It’s true that today there are more efficient ways of traveling than on railroads, although with new technology, trains are faster and more direct than ever before. However, in the Hudson Valley, the railroad transcends its purpose and becomes a symbol for the industrial explosion of the late 19th century, and also for a major point in American history during which our nation became the melting pot that it is today. Poughkeepsie is a city that has seen better days, but those days were made possible by the railways.

 

 

Bibliography

Grant, William H.. The Hudson River Railroad observations on the western trade and its influence upon the growth and prosperity of the cities of New York, Boston … Poughkeepsie, 1846. 38pp. Sabin Americana. Gale, Cengage Learning. . 03 April 2013

Hudson river and the Hudson river railroad, with a complete map, and wood cut views of the principal objects of interest upon the line. New York, [1851]. 55pp. Sabin Americana. Gale, Cengage Learning. 03 April 2013

Mabee, Carleton. Bridging the Hudson: The Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge and It Connecting Rail Lines : A Many-faceted History. Fleischmanns, NY: Purple Mountain, 2001. Print.

Munsell’s guide to the Hudson river by railroad and steamboat : representing every town, village, landing, railroad station, and point of … Albany, [1864]. 66pp. Sabin Americana. Gale, Cengage Learning. 05 April 2013

New York Central & Hudson River Railroad. Health and Pleasure on “America’s Greatest Railroad.” Descriptive of Summer Resorts and Excursion Routes, Embracing More than One Thousand Tours by the New York Central & Hudson River Railroad. New York: American Bank Note, 1895. Print.

“Poughkeepsie, New York.” – City Information, Fast Facts, Schools, Colleges, and More. City Town Info, 2005. Web. 01 May 2013. <http://www.citytowninfo.com/places/new-york/poughkeepsie>.

Stover, John F. American Railroads. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1961. Print.

The Traveller’s steamboat and railroad guide to the Hudson River : describing the cities, towns and places of interest along the route, with maps … New York, 1867. 81pp. Sabin Americana. Gale, Cengage Learning. 03 April 2013

Images:

http://beaconarts.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Italian-Street-Fair-fr-Walkway-Pok-1024×1009.jpg

http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/dam/assets/120917073007-trains-20th-century-limited2-railroads-vertical-gallery.jpg

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e7/Walkway_Over_the_Hudson_4.JPG

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American Shad Fishing on the Hudson River

By Marie Schmidt

The American Shad, with its delicate flavor and history of abundance, has played a long and crucial role on the Hudson valley’s economy. As a natural resource with much potential, the fish have been caught shad as a means of subsistence, commercially, and as a hobby. A silver scaled fish with several black spots on its back, the American Shad generally spans between twenty to twenty-three centimeters in length, weighing between four and six pounds. It is a salt water fish that returns to the same river where it was born in every spring to spawn. The Hudson River provides a spawning habitat for shad, and the fishing season begins each spring as the shad leave the Atlantic Ocean and return to the Hudson, making the Hudson River crucial to the fishery. However, throughout the past century the Shad population has been inconsistent, and as recent numbers hit an all-time low it has forced New York State to develop a radical policy in their efforts to restore the once thriving fishery.

The technology to catch shad is quite simple: two poles are pushed into the ground, holding up a net. The tide of the river will push fish into the net, where they will get caught. Fishermen must then manually remove each fish from the net, a labor intensive procedure that requires round the clock work.  Because the technology is rather simple and inexpensive, motivated workers had the opportunity to make a living through shad fishing, regardless of their financial circumstances. This is exemplified in the New York Folklore article, “Shad Fishing on the Hudson”, in which Nack, a WWII veteran in 1952 tells his story of starting with no money or job, and working his way to making a successful living as a shad fisherman. He tells of how once he starts fishing, he is able to keep working his way up “Well, we fished that for three or four years, then we had enough money to buy another net, and then we finally got enough money to buy a bigger boat, and we worked our way up. We now have three eighteen-foot boats.”  (Voices: Shad Fishing on the Hudson, 2003).

Shad were once the Hudson’s most commercially important fishery. It is likely that Native Americans and early European settlers of the Hudson Valley both fished shad, eating them and using them as a source of agricultural fertilizer (Appendix I. Anadromous fish of the Hudson River, 1967).  By the mid-1700s, a commercial fishery developed. Fishermen of the Hudson Valley would often bring their catch right to the New York City market, where they could meet the demand of a large consumer base. Shad were so abundant that they were considered quite common, and provided a cheap source of nutrition for many throughout the spring (Joseph).

The shad fisheries remained variable but plentiful throughout the 1800s and into the early 1900s, with yields peaking in the 1940s (Hatala, 1997). However, over this time period the Hudson River changed dramatically, severely disrupting the shad’s habitat. The river became heavily polluted as sewage was dumped into it, as well as industrial waste from a number of factories that lined the river, and the pollution prevented the fish from up taking oxygen. The Hudson was dredged and filled in order to allow large boats to pass through, disrupting the shallow water close to the bank that is a crucial for spawning as well as an environment for juvenile shad to develop in. Cooling operative plants began operating along the river, killing numerous shad (Kahnle & Hattala, 2010).

All of these changes in the habitat played a role in the decline of shad; however the New York Conservation Department considers the man-made change of greatest consequence to be overfishing (Kahnle & Hattala, 2010). Shad are fished both in rivers and offshore in the Atlantic Ocean, and as New York increased in population size, these fisheries likewise increased in yields, extracting fish at an unsustainable pace. Technological advances, as well as increasing numbers of fishermen, enabled the increased harvest of shad. Additionally the collapse of the Striped Bass fishery in the Atlantic Ocean in the 1980s turned many fishermen to shad, increasing the stress on the offshore shad fishery. After the Shad fishery peaked in the 1940s when almost four million pounds of Shad were caught annually, their steady decline began, and by the next spike in the 1980s the numbers had drastically dropped with only one to two million pounds caught annually (Hattala, 1997).

 

The blank spaces indicate the years that no data was available on the amount of shad caught. This graph shows the abundant past shad runs, with peaks in 1890, the 1940s, and the 1980, and the decline that began after the peak seasons in the 1940s. (Hattala, 1997)

The blank spaces indicate the years that no data was available on the amount of shad caught. This graph shows the abundant past shad runs, with peaks in 1890, the 1940s, and the 1980, and the decline that began after the peak seasons in the 1940s. (Hattala, 1997)

As the quantity of fish declined, this industry that had once provided a profitable career to many also declined, and it is estimated that by 2001, there were only 35 fishermen still selling Shad (Shapley, 2003).  The harvest had gone down from 3.4 million pounds in 1944 to 101,000 pounds in 2001(Sharply, 2003).  At this point the future did not look promising, and it was becoming clear that in order to salvage the fishery, severe policy was going to have to be developed.

New York has been regulating shad fisheries since as early as 1908, when State law required nets to be taken up at sunset Thursday and left out of water until Monday at sunrise in an attempt to decrease fishing intensity in the area (Appendix I. Anadromous fish of the Hudson River, 1967). However, in 1979, policy was taken to a new level when the NY Department of Environmental Conservation established the Hudson River Fisheries Unit to study shad populations, in order to gather data on why the populations were declining that could be used for policy making. The different, and often conflicting perspectives of Biologist and fishermen came together, as they worked together to use the data collected in order to establish policy that would permit the fisheries to build up to their previous abundance (Hattala, 1997). However despite the intensified attention to the management of the fishery, fish populations continued to decline as a result of overfishing.

In 1991 Zebra Mussels were accidently introduced into the river from Russia. They eat a lot of zoo plankton and small animals that the shad also had to compete for, putting even more strain onto the already declining populations. In 2010, New York Department of Conservation decided to close the commercial and sport fishery, with the long term goal of allowing the river to reestablish the abundance of shad similar to what had been enjoyed in the 1940s (Kahnle & Hattala, 2010).  Although the fishery had been dissolving for some time, the closure finally ended a long and rich tradition.

The New York Department of Conservation has developed both short and long term plans for renewing the shad population in the Hudson River. They are currently doing extensive research on the current population, and reasons for its decline, as they establish quantitative goals for future populations. Short term, they are developing policy that will minimize loss of fish due to fishing, and to electrical plants. Electrical plants pose a threat because they take in huge amounts of water in their cooling systems, and they often take in fish, as well as fish eggs. The department’s long term goal is to reach a population similar in size as the 1940s population by 2050 (Kahnle & Hattala, 2010).  In order to meet this goal, they plan to implement habitat restoration along the river bank, and to do more research and to create models on how climate change is affecting shad (Kahnle & Hattala, 2010).

Since the 1970s, the state has intensified policy designed to put less strain on the Shad fisheries. Additionally, the Hudson had significantly been cleaned of pollution. However, the shad population has since decreased to the point that it is unclear if the fishery will ever be rekindled. The history of abundance of the resource, and the high rates in which it was once extracted, indicates that the management movement may have come too late. The American Shad industry had a long run, providing food, jobs, and a sport to many past residents of the Hudson Valley. The techniques of catching shad were improved over the years; methods were made more efficient as the fishery commercialized. However, policy did not keep up with the increasing harvests, leading to several severe dips in the annual fish caught over the years, and finally leading to the lowest point in shad history, and the halt of the fishery.

 

Bibliography

“Appendix I. Anadromous fish of the Hudson River.” The Hudson: fish and wildlife. State of New York Hudson River Valley Commission. 1967.  An overview of the history American Shad on the Hudson River, from the Natives use before European settlers came, through the beginning of their decline. The article discusses the early policy and the possible reasons behind the variations in the amount of shad caught over the years.

Harmon, John. ““Uppie, Downie” Commercial shad fishing on the Hudson.” Shad Journal. (1997): 1-8. web. This article discusses state (as of 1997) of the Shad fishery, and how it has changed overtime. It tells the story of people who still rely on the fishery for their livelihood, going in depth on the methods that are used to harvest the fish.

Harply, Dan. “Hudson’s Shad Stock Dwindling.” Poughkeepsie Journal. (2003). Article about the current (as of 2003) numbers of shad, and the circumstances of the fishery.

Hattala, Kathryn A. “Managing Hudson River American Shad A biologist’s perspective on the shad’s ups and downs.” Shad Journal. (1997): 9-11. Web. 2 Apr. 2013. This article discusses the reasons and consequences behind the sharp declines in Shad, and how Biologist and commercial fishermen have begun to work together in making policy that will help to bring populations back up.

Joseph, Richard. “Shad Fishing on the Hudson Half a Century Ago Tales of a family fishery on the Hudson.” Shad Journal. (1997): 16-19. Web. 2 Apr. 2013. This article discusses the past of the Shad fisheries, and the significance that the fish have always had on the people of the area.

Kahnle & Hattala. New York Department of Environmental Conservation. Hudson River American Shad: An Ecosystem-Based Plan for Recovery. 2010. Web. This document discusses how New York intends to recover from the declines in the Shad fisheries-both from a scientific and policy perspective. It also discusses the possibilities on why the fisheries have diminished over time.

Stane, Stephen, Roger Pantella, and Brian Forist. The Hudson An Illustrated Guide to the Living River . New Brumswick: Rutgers University Press, 1996. 59-77. Print. This book gives a short and broad overview on the fish of the Hudson, and how they have been important throughout the past. It discusses the major species, and what makes them significant.

Stang, Douglas. “Spring Fishing for Shad on the Hudson .” New York State Conservationist. 61.5 (2007): 8-10. Web. 23 Apr. 2013. This article describes sport fishing on the Hudson, and how technical that it has become as passionate anglers have perfected techniques from optimum water current and debt, to what color of shad dart should be used to catch the fish.

Stewart, Emily. “Hudson River shad fishing ban continues as stock stays low.” Poughkeepsie Journal. (2010): n. page. Web. 22 Apr. 2013. This article discusses some of the possible reasons of the 2010 ban, and the positive reactions that environmental groups have shown to this ban.

Voices: Shad Fishing on the Hudson. “New York Journal of New Folklore. 29. 2003. In this article Nack tells his story of getting home as a WWII veteran, and beginning his career as a shad fishermen. It shows how a man is able to build his way up in the fishery, beginning with nothing.

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Catskills Hikes and Climbs

By Ryne Pataki

New York State is home to five mountain ranges, but only two, the Adirondacks and Catskills, are the tallest and most mountain-like. Instead of being intricately folded, most rocks that constitute the Catskill range feature horizontal strata. (See Figure 2, attached) That is, the Catskills might be better described as “pseudo mountains” (Tarr). The Catskills got their start millions of years ago during the Devonian period, when the sea floor experienced dramatic sinking and was layered with deposits of sediment. Eventually, when the region increased in elevation, forming a plateau, the horizontal strata of sediment remained in tact. The process mainly responsible for the formation of actual peaks and topographic complexity is denudation, a form of gradual erosion. To this day, geologists and climbers alike have trouble categorizing the outer boundaries of the range because of the gradual change the rock formations exhibit from sharp peaks to smooth plateau. (Tarr)

The utilization of the Catskills landscape for pleasure activities like climbing has a long history. John Burroughs, a celebrated New York naturalist and writer during the 19th and 20th centuries, says in his essay “The Friendly Rocks”:

One of my favorite pastimes from boyhood up, when in my home country in the Catskills, has been to prowl about under the ledges of the dark gray shelving rocks that jut out from the sides of the hills and mountains, often forming a roof over one’s head many feet in extend, and now and then sheltering a cool, sweet spring, and more often sheltering the exquisite moss-covered nest of the phoebe- bird. (Burroughs)

A 1908 Health article titled “Walking in the Catskills”, dated five years prior to Burrough’s essay, offers several suggestions for impressive hiking and climbing locations. Having traveled moderately within the Catskills region, I would say that the author’s assessment of the region, describing land spread with twisting roads and well-dispersed villages, holds true to how it appears today. The author refers to Slide Mountain as “[o] ne of the finest single day’s walks” (Percival). It is the highest peak within the Catskills, topping 4,204 feet and is located in the southern region of the range. The Catskill 3500 Club confirms this data on its website and states that “[f] rom the summit of Slide, you can see 33 of the other 34 high peaks” (3500 Club). Slide Mountain is worth a look on account of its elevation, as well as its suitability for most individuals; According to the Club, the Slide trail is one of the easier Catskills climbs.

What does it take to become a member of the Catskill 3500 Club? According to the Club’s website, “[m] embership is open to anyone who has climbed on foot each of the 35 Catskill peaks above 3500 feet in elevation” (3500 Club). The club, founded in 1962, regularly organizes group hikes to all 35 peaks and exists as a testament to the landscape’s diversity and the accessibility of its climbing offerings to trekkers all experience levels. Establishment of the Club by Bill and Kay Spangenberger was subsequent to that of the Adirondack Forty-Sixers Club in 1948 by the same couple. Bill, former president of the Cornell Steamboat Company, and Kay, former editor at HarperCollins, held the Club’s first meeting at the Lake Mohonk Mountain House including a Vassar Outing Club member in attendance, Nancy Locke. By the 1970’s, winter climbing was becoming more popular, largely because of the Club’s efforts such as an official publication, the Catskill Canister, relations with the New York State Conservation Department and the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, and, of course, the operation of outings with knowledgeable leaders and all the proper safety equipment. Today, the club has a whopping 1,700 members who have met its eligibility requirements and paid their dues. (3500 Club)

Andrew Wallace’s 1985 article in the Chicago Tribune advises the book Guide to the Catskills, published by Walking News Inc., as a go-to handbook for Catskills outings. Published in 1975, “[t] he guidebook contains information about downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, snow-mobiling and snow-shoeing. Maybe we’ll try that” (Wallace 25). Besides his excitement for multi-season adventuring, Wallace is especially redolent of Wittenberg peak in the southern region of the Catskills range. He compares the peak to the “[h] ighlands of West Virgnia, the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia or the Appalachians of Pennsylvania” (Wallace 25). The 3500 Club states that the ascent of the peak is quite steep, though well worth the effort. It is also one of the more popular peaks, and crowds should be expected should one dare to grunt the climb, bound for the summit’s acclaimed vistas.

Closest to the Vassar campus lies the well-known Mohonk Mountain House and nearby Shawangunk Mountains, included in the Catskills designation. “Since 1963, perpetual open- space protection has been afforded 6,200 acres of adjoining land by the Mohonk Preserve, making it New York’s largest private nature sanctuary” (Hagan 62). The Gunks cover about 100 square miles and comprise what was formally the “Tannin Belt” that provided manufacturers with hemlock trees used in the animal hide tanning process. (Hagan 62-63) Patti Hagan details the slabrock overhangs and intricate rock scrambles that have made the area so popular in her 1995 article “Crags and Crum”. She mentions how Fritz Wiessner labeled the Shawangunks “the major climbing area east of the Rockies” when he visited in 1935. Evidently, rock climbing safety was becoming a concern to Mohonk reserve administrators in the mid-1990’s, since Hagan’s article notes ‘new’ disclaimer signs posted in all climbing areas open to the public.

There is an expedition outfitter, Alpine Endeavors, which currently operates directly out of the Shawangunks area in New Paltz. The company can be reached via its website, http://alpineendeavors.com. It advertises the availability of more than one thousand climbs in the Mohonk Preserve, Minnewaska State Park, and Sky Top areas. The company also caters to beginners with comprehensive introductory climbs.

Catskills visitors may be quick to assume that the region is not as conducive to climbing activities, specifically, throughout the winter months, but the truth is quite the contrary. “Winter High—ice climbing in New York” reports that the Catskills may offer shorter ice climbs than the more mountainous Adirondack range, but “…what they lack in height they make up for in sheer verticality” (Mecus 6). Mixed climbing is especially popular in the Catskills, involving both ice and rock elements that make for a particularly challenging climbing experience. (See Figure 1, attached) The article points out the Salmon River Falls Area in Oswego Country as a newer ice climbing spot in the Catskills waiting to entertain full utilization of its potential. Some of the safety equipment necessary for ice climbing is provided by the article’s author: “helmet, climbing boots, crampons, two ice axes, rope, climbing harness, an assortment of carabiners, ice screws and nylon slings” (Mecus 7).

Catskill Mountaineer (www.catskillmountaineer.com) publishes a listing of the best hikes in the Catskills region. For avid outdoor enthusiasts, the Blackhead, Black Dome, and Thomas Cole Mountains should be fulfilling. Rated “Difficult” to “Very Difficult” by Catskill Mountaineer, the loop requires a minimum 6.68 mile commitment. I have attempted the Blackhead climb in the winter months with the Vassar Outing Club, and was forced to abandon the endeavor on account of light snow. Therefor, even minimally obstructive conditions can make the steep 30-40 degree climb at the summit (Catskill Mountaineer) nearly impossible, and the climb should be attempted with caution. Other trip suggestions on the site include waterfall routes like Kaaterskill Falls and Poet’s Ledge. The Kaaterskill Falls hike was accomplished by my environmental studies field experiences class within two hours, though the Poet’s Ledge loop includes several stops and is slightly more difficult and more appropriate for a full day endeavor. Catskill Mountaineer suggests visiting the Poet’s Ledge loop in autumn when foliage is visible in its full spectrum of colors. Finally, many are familiar with the fire towers that dot many of the region’s rolling hills. Catskill Mountaineer rates the Hunter Mountain Loop as its top fire tower destination. The trip is of moderate difficult and covers over eight miles of trails.

 

For More Information on Hiking and Climbing the Catskills:

http://www.catskill-3500-club.org
http://www.catskillmountaineer.com/index.html http://www.rockclimbing.com/routes/North_America/United_States/New_York/Catskills/ http://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/77168.html

Works Cited:

Alpine Endeavors. Alpine Endeavors. Web. 5 May 2013. <http://alpineendeavors.com/index.html>

Burroughs, John. “The Friendly Rocks.” Harpers Monthly Nov. 1913: 836-841. Web. 6 April 2013.

Catskill 3500 Club, Inc. Catskill 3500 Club. Catskill Website Design. Web. 5 May 2013.<http://www.catskill-3500-club.org>

Catskill Mountaineer. Catskill Mountaineer. Web. 5 May 2013. <http://www.catskillmountaineer.com/index.html>

Hagan, Patti. “Crags and Crumpets.” Sierra May 1995: 60-65, 88-89. Web. 6 April 2013 Mecus, Robert. “Winter High—ice climbing in New York.” NY Conversationalist 66.4 (2012) : 2-7. Web. 5 May 2013.

“John Burroughs Memorial Historic Site.” NYS Office of Parks, Recreation, & Historic Preservation. NYS Office Parks, etc. Web. 5. May 2013. <http://nysparks.com/historic-sites/3/details.aspx>

Percival, Gilbert C. “Walking in the Catksills.” Health 58.12 (1908) : 685-692. Web. 5 May 2013.

Tarr, Ralph S. “The Physical Geography of New York State. Part II. The Mountains of the State.” Jou Amer Geo Soc NY 29.1 (1897) : 16-40. Web. 6 April 2013.

Wallace, Andrew. “Catskills aren’t real mountains—until you try climbing them.” Chicago Tribune 24 Nov. 1985: H23-26. Web. 5 May 2013.

 

Figure 1. Mixed Climbing Pg. 5, “Winter High—ice climbing in New York”

Figure 1.
Mixed Climbing
Pg. 5, “Winter High—ice climbing in New York”

Figure 2. Cross Section, Ulster County Catskills Pg. 38, “The Physical Geography of New York State”

Figure 2.
Cross Section, Ulster County Catskills
Pg. 38, “The Physical Geography of New York State”

 

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Sing Sing Correctional Facility: A Shift to More Humane Practices

By Molly Osborn

As one of New York’s oldest prisons, picturesquely situated overlooking the Hudson River, Sing Sing Correctional Facility marks an important part of the Hudson Valley’s history. From the time the facility was first established in 1826 to its present-day operation, Sing Sing’s policies and practices have progressed significantly, shifting from horrible treatment of its prisoners with the use of capital punishment to more humane practices, focusing on the reformative aspects of prison. This shift in policies began in 1914 primarily due to the influence of wardens Thomas Mott Osborne and Lewis E. Lawes.

By the early nineteenth century New York City’s jail had become overcrowded and the demand arose for a new state prison. Due to this demand, the governor of New York formed a commission in 1824 in charge of creating a new facility (Lawes 1933, 7).

(Blumenthal 2004, 264)

(Blumenthal 2004, 264)

This commission ultimately decided to build a prison on the current site of Sing Sing because of the natural resources available there. Sing Sing—aptly named after “Sint Sinck,” the Native American words for “stone upon stone”—was built upon a quarry. Prisoners from Auburn Prison in upstate New York were shipped in by way of the Erie Canal to work the marble and use the raw materials to build the original structure of Sing Sing (Blumenthal 2004, 3-11). Since that time, when the prison could only accommodate 800 prisoners, Sing Sing has grown significantly and now includes several different buildings.

From the time when Sing Sing officially opened in 1826 to the early 1900s its prisoners suffered through atrocious living conditions. Warden Thomas Mott Osborne who briefly served as the Sing Sing warden from 1914 to 1916 stated that when he arrived at the prison, the prisoners’ living conditions were “unspeakably bad…To call them unfit for human habitation [was] to give them undeserved dignity. They [were] unfit for pigs” (Blumenthal 2004, 3-5). Their cells were extremely cramped, at only 3 feet by 7 feet, and sometimes two prisoners had to occupy the same tiny cell (Conover 2001, 3). In addition to the lack of space, prisoners suffered from a lack of indoor plumbing or central heating as well as limited natural light and airflow (Tannenbaum 1933, 326-329).

Outraged by the horrible conditions in American prisons, New York politician Thomas Mott Osborne began working toward prison reform in the early twentieth century. In 1913, New York governor William Sulzer appointed Osborne as chairman to the New York State Prison Reform Commission. Starting at Auburn prison in upstate New York in 1913, Osborne published a book describing his experience at Auburn when he chose to live as incarcerated men did for six days to better understand the prisoners’ living conditions. Later that year, Osborne was hired as the warden of Sing Sing, where he worked for almost two years before resigning (Tannenbaum 1933, 100). During his time as warden, Osborne significantly improved the conditions for prisoners. He implemented the Mutual Welfare League, made up of Sing Sing inmates, to provide prisoners with entertainment including sports and leisure activities, like swimming. The Mutual Welfare League was also in charge of disciplining prisoners for minor offenses (Blumenthal 2004, 54).  This new disciplinary system contributed to the idea that the prison should be a community with the prisoners taking part in managing their own lives—an idea that Osborne worked very hard to implement.

In addition to allowing prisoners to contribute to their own disciplinary policies, Osborne also wanted to equip his prisoners with the skills necessary to survive once they left Sing Sing. Osborne employed a Sing Sing economic system, using a currency produced and distributed by the league. He wanted to prepare prisoners for the outside world and included other real-world elements into their prison life, including weekly wages that would pay for their meals, rent and insurance policies (Blumenthal 2004, 54).

After Osborne chose to leave Sing Sing, five different men served as warden over the course of three years before Lewis Lawes, coming from working at the New York

(Lawes 1933, 1)

(Lawes 1933, 1)

Reformatory at New Hampton, signed on (Lawes 1932, 64). Continuing and developing Osborne’s ideals of community and reformation, Lawes improved the policies at Sing Sing, working toward a more humane treatment of its prisoners. Lawes provided prisoners with numerous recreational activities, including Sing Sing’s famous baseball and football teams that drew spectators from the surrounding area. Each prisoner had access to a library and were given some solitary free time toward the end of the day in which “the prisoner [did] his letter writing, reading, studying—and reflecting (Lawes 1933, 15)” Lawes even

allowed prisoners to read the newspaper and listen to the radio, in order to stay connected to the outside world. Whereas Sing Sing’s meals during the nineteenth to early twentieth centuries had been bland and repetitive, according to Lawes, “the meals are varied so as to provide a balanced diet and there is always enough for even the hungriest” (Lawes 1933, 16).

(Blumenthal 2004, 117)

(Blumenthal 2004, 117)

Besides accommodating simple entertainment and living needs, Lawes provided for prisoners’ social and economic needs as well. After a brief “reception” period upon entering Sing Sing, Lawes allowed his prisoners to wear white button-down shirts and black ties, instead of the common prison jumpsuits. He also provided all of the prisoners with an education to make sure that every man had at least the same level of schooling as a sixth grade grammar student (Lawes 1933, 12). He wanted the prisoners to look and act in a professional manner, learning how to dress and conduct themselves once they were released from prison. Upon their release, Lawes even supplied each man with 20 dollars in addition to whatever extra money he had earned during his sentence, “a suit, shoes, underwear, sox, hat, and an overcoat (in winter); and a railroad ticket to the city or town from which he was sentenced”(Lawes 1933, 19). Lawes did everything in his power to reform the prisoners of Sing Sing and give them a chance to better themselves and start over.

Even after Lawes retired in 1941, Sing Sing continued to operate on his principles of humane treatment. In 1951, discharged prisoner Edward Kelly wrote a letter to the current warden saying:

“Due to the fact that I’m leaving the ‘Death House,’ I cannot say I have any regrets, nor will I recommend it to anyone, but I can inform them that, if they are ever unfortunate enough to go to Sing Sing, they will be very well treated. I had no fault to find with anything or anybody during my stay, every reasonable request was granted. The entire staff of the prison are a credit to New York State. The Officers and Guards are as fine a group of men as you could find anywhere” (Christianson 2000, 51).

Sing Sing, despite being a structure of forced confinement, provided—and continues to provide—its prisoners with the fairest treatment possible. Due to Lawes’s drastic improvements at Sing Sing, the prison remains permanently changed for the better. Today, Sing Sing Correctional Facility functions as a maximum security prison and continues to improve its policies. Now housing over 2,000 prisoners, Sing Sing has discontinued its use of the electric chair as capital punishment due to a change in state policy, added a Special Needs Unit to treat prisoners with the HIV-AIDS virus, and provides more advanced academic and vocational educational programs to its inmates (Brian 2005, 201). While improvements can always be made, Sing Sing has progressed immensely from its initial conditions in 1825 largely thanks to the reform efforts of both Thomas Mott Osborne and Lewis E. Lawes.

 

Bibliography

Blumenthal, Ralph. 2004. Miracle at Sing Sing: How one man transformed the lives of America’s most dangerous prisoners. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Brian, Denis. 2005. Sing Sing: The Inside Story of a Notorious Prison. Prometheus Books. eBook.

Christianson, Scott. 2000. Condemned: Inside the Sing Sing Death House. New York: New York University Press.

Conover, Ted. 2001. Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing. New York : Vintage Books.

Lawes, Lewis E. 1933. Sing Sing. New York: Strawberry-Hill Press Inc.

Lawes, Lewis E. 1932. Twenty Thousand Years in Sing Sing. New York, R. Long & R. R. Smith, inc.

Tannenbaum, Frank. 1933. Osborne of Sing Sing. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina press.

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River of Life: Shad Fishing on the Hudson River

By Mai Nguyen

Fishing is perhaps the most intimate relationship humans have with the Hudson River. The river has been a source of food and livelihoods for the local population and the East Coast’s most important source of shad fish since the 19th century. While commercial fishing remains a seasonal source of income as much as it did 150 years ago, its importance in the culture of the Hudson Valley has diminished as the supply of the Hudson’s major fish has sharply decreased due to overfishing, pollution, and habitat loss caused by the industrialization of the area.

Figure 1. American Sketches: Shad-fishing on the Hudson [The Illustrated London News, Aug 7, 1875]  (Source: albanyinstitute.org)

Figure 1. American Sketches: Shad-fishing on the Hudson [The Illustrated London News, Aug 7, 1875]
(Source: albanyinstitute.org)

The History of the Hudson’s American Shad Fish

Native Americans harvested shad fish long before the arrival of European settlers, who had plenty of fish to feast on when they came to region. As Adriean Van der Donck, one of the documenters of the first Dutch settlements, noted, “this river is full of fishes.” [1] During the 1800’s, the fishery for shad on the Hudson River developed rapidly, and overharvesting of shad peak in the 1890s, with catches  declining quickly thereafter.[2] During this time, farmers salted shad in barrels for their own winter consumption or for commercial purposes and travelled miles to obtain the fish during the spring run.

Early fishing methods consisted of fyke and hoop nets, but these were replaced by the more efficient stake gill net by 1842. Even at this early date, nets nearly blocked the channel and a decline in shad abundance was anticipated. In 1825, nursery and spawning grounds, which originally extended from Kingston to Glens Falls, were restricted when a State dam was constructed at Troy (located below Glens Falls).[3] Since the combination of an intensive fishery and reduced spawning and nursery grounds apparently caused a reduction in the annual runs, attempts were made to save shade. In 1868, the New York Fish Commission organized an artificial propagation operation with river fishermen. In 1896, the Fisheries, Game and Forest Commission suggested lift nets for two consecutive days and three nights per week to ‘run’.[4] Increases in abundance of shad during the late 1800’s were attributed to these attempts. In 1896, the Commission found the shad fishery industry to be of great value ($184,898) with a total of 3,471 nets in both New York and. New Jersey landed 1,155,610 shad weighing 4,044,635 pounds.[5]

Concern has been expressed from time to time over the effect of dredging upon the shad. In 1899, a 12-foot channel from Coxsackie to Waterford was dredged to 27 feet from Albany to Hudson and by 1931 had been extended to New York City. Dredging reached its peak between 1926 and 1934 destroyed many of the sandbars over which the shad spawned.[6] By the turn of the century, the conditions of shad fish worsened because of serious pollution caused by a rapidly industrializing New York City dumping garbage and industrial waste in the river. At the same time, new immigration population settling in the Hudson Valley found shad to be an easy and cheap food supply, as every spring the shad fish returned to the Hudson by the thousands.[7] Thus, migration subjected shad fish to dangers at various places along the river. The lack of record of shad fishing during the early 1900s probably indicated that there was a lack of fishing at the time, which helped the shad stock to rebuild enough to produce a large harvest during the years leading up to World War II. Shad fishing was a valued trade during the war, with hundreds of fishermen set their nets each spring during the war period.[8] Overfishing during this period led to the next stock of collapse occurring during the 1950s.

Figure 1. Freshly caught shad from the Hudson (Source: Lee Ferris/poughkeepsiejournal.com) The American shad is the Hudson’s largest river herring. It can reach a length of 30 inches and a weight of more than 10 pounds. Usually between Hyde Park and Catskill, adults appear in late March and spawn until early June. Most Hudson shad may live 10 to 11 years.

Figure 1. Freshly caught shad from the Hudson (Source: Lee Ferris/poughkeepsiejournal.com)
The American shad is the Hudson’s largest river herring. It can reach a length of 30 inches and a weight of more than 10 pounds. Usually between Hyde Park and Catskill, adults appear in late March and spawn until early June. Most Hudson shad may live 10 to 11 years. [9]

The Lives of Hudson River Fishermen

Although women were involved in the fish trade on shore, it was men who netted the fish out on the Hudson River, and their accounts are fading. Fishing on the Hudson historically has not been a full-time occupation but more of a seasonal source of income. In 2009, only six sets of rivermen fishing for shad on the Hudson remained, and four of them were from Dutchess County.[10] According to the interview conducted by Dan Shapley, following the shad sign on Route 9 across from Locust Grove to Beechwood Avenue, one can find the house of John Mylod, the only remaining fisherman in Poughkeepsie. Starting to fish in the early 1970s, he catches shad and herring in the spring and blue crabs in the late summer and fall. “At one point in the 1950s, maybe before there were 15 guys fishing, all out of Poughkeepsie,” Mylod said. By the river where Shadows and the Grandview are located, there was “Shad Row”- a set of docks and shacks where fishermen camped, dried nets and sold fish. Currently, Mylod sells whole fish to Adam’s Fair-acre Farms as well as smoked fillets and smoked shad spread under the label “The Very Best There Is.” His customers are local people who have grown up eating shad and immigrants from parts of the Caribbean and Asia where eating locally caught fish is a fundamental part of the culture.[11]

Dan Lehan, a retired 80-years-old fisherman from Hyde Park, explained the custom of shad fishing and the friendly atmosphere between the fishermen. Whoever was the first one to the designated fishing spot would set his nets first, with the next drifting nets fifteen minutes later, and so on. The first net presumably would get more fish that the other ones, however, back in his day, this was not an issue because “the fish were so plentiful,” and the fishermen did not steal from each other. He also spoke about a special connection to the river that was shared by other fisherman: “I love the river. I lived on the river. When I was kid I used to swim on the river. The river and I are one piece…”[12]

Looking Forward?

The combination of overfishing, toxic pollution caused by sewage and water usage at electric power plants, and invasive species has led to destruction of the shad fish’s habitat, which will require a long time to recover. In addition, the move toward mass-produced food at supermarkets  also diminished the importance of fishing in the culture of Hudson Valley. As a measure to address the declining shad population, in 2008, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation imposed restriction on fishing for local shad by limiting fishing to only three days a week. With funding from the environmental group Riverkeeper and the state Department of Environmental Conservation, Chris Nack and his father Gary Nack, descendants of the region’s legendary fisherman Everett Nack, are trying to recover critical spawning and nursery habitat of the shad in shallow and low-energy areas. [13] These habitats have been disrupted by dredging projects in the 20th century for commercial shipping. They study the living and growth conditions of the fish in various shallow-water habitats along the river where juvenile shad dwell after spawning, such as what they are eating and how fast they are growing. According to Chris Nack, the goal of the project is to see if there is a particular habitat shad like and then try to restore some habitats and protect other habitats in the hopes to increase the survival of the larval shad.

As other species are too contaminated with PCBs and other pollutants, shad and blue crab are the only Hudson species that can be sold commercially. However, the regulations have resulted in limited supplies to restaurants of local shad, which is prized for its meaty flesh and delicate taste. Restaurants and markets in the area have to switch to buying more from Fulton Fish Market in New York City, which usually gets its supply from Maryland.[14] While the ban on shad fishing in the Hudson has negative impact on the few remaining commercial fishermen, John Lipscomb, a patrol boat operator for Riverkeeper, commented that, “the skills and techniques and lore of that centuries old fishery is a hard thing to lose. But if you are going to choose between a fishery and a fish, you have to go with the fish.” [15] Meanwhile, expressing more nostalgia for the diminishing fishery, Gary Nack said, “I’ll never see the fishery open again…Maybe, somehow, before I go, the heritage – how to fish, how to clean them, how to process them…,”  leaving his sentence unfinished.[16]

 

APPENDIX: SUGGESTIONS FOR FURTHER READING

Henshaw, Robert E., ed.  Environmental History of the Hudson River: Human Uses that Changed the Ecology, Ecology that Changed Human Uses

Limburg, Karin, Kathryn Hattala, Andrew Kahnle, and John Waldman. The Hudson River Estuary. 

Stanne, Stephen P., Roger G. Panetta, and Brian E. Forist, The Hudson: An Illustrated Guide to the Living River.

Wahlberg, Holly. Reflections on a River- The Hudson River in Dutchess County History.

Footnotes:

[1] Kathryn Hattala, Andrew Kahnle, Karin Limburg, and John Waldman, Fisheries of the Hudson River Estuary (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 2.

[2] Marist Digital Library’s Archive. Appendix I: Anadromous Fish of the Hudson River. http://library.marist.edu/diglib/EnvSci/archives/fisherie/nyhudsonrvalley/fw-appendixi.html

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid, 13.

[8] Ibid, 14.

[9] Brian Forist, Roger Pannetta, and Stephen Stanne, The Hudson – An Illustrated Guide to the Living River (New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2007), 70.

[10] Dan Shapley, “Commercial Fishing in Dutchess County,” in Reflections on a River- The Hudson River in Dutchess County History, ed. Holly Wahlberg, (New York: Dutchess County Historical Society, 2009), 120.

[11] Ibid, 127.

[12] Ibid, p.124

[13]John Ferro, “Hudson Shad Recovery Hangs on Habitat,” Poughkeepsie Journal, July 17, 2012.

[14] Alyssa Jung, “Shad Hard to Find in Local Restaurants,” Poughkeepsie Journal, May 9, 2009.

[15] Emily Stewart, “Hudson River Shad Fishing Band Continues as Stock Stays Low,” Poughkeepsie Journal, April 10, 2011.

[16] Ferro, ““Hudson Shad Recovery Hangs on Habitat.”

 

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