August 2015 – Schenectady, New York

The trip south out of the Adirondack Mountains was a simple since it was an hour and a half south on Interstate 87.  After traveling for the past two months on US and state highways, the Interstate was a nice change, especially since there was not much traffic.  We only had about 30 minutes of travel around the north of Schenectady to the Mohawk River and our next stop.  I was a bit concerned about our next stop, Arrowhead Marina and RV Park, partly because it was a marina on the river which can tend to be close to industrial parts of cities.  Also because it was a small RV Park with only about 40 sites and was the first place that did not take credit cards.  However, we were in for a pleasant surprise.  Arrowhead is at the end of a road across the river from the Interstate with a secluded location along the Mohawk River.  The marina is small and used by locals to store their fishing and pleasure boats.  The RV Park itself was nicely wooded with only about half of the sites occupied by seasonal campers who obviously took pride in their sites.  The transient sites were set apart from the seasonals in a circle.  All of the sites are back-in, but with a nice clearing in front it was no problem backing in the RV.  As long as I have room in front to swing the truck around I am getting pretty good with backing in.  It took only one shot and we were in.  None of the sites have sewer hookups, so we would have to use the dump station when we left in a week and my only suggestion would be to relocate the dump station.  It is conveniently located for anyone coming into the park, which is backwards, as everyone would be using it when the exiting.  You have to circle around to get to the dump station, which was just poor planning in my opinion.


We selected this location near Albany because there are a number of National Park Historic Sites that we want to visit.  So on Tuesday we drove south of Albany to the Martin Van Buren National Historic Site.  You are probably aware that Martin Van Buren was our 8th President during the period of time between the Revolutionary War and Civil War when the country was still very new and trying to identify itself in the world.  You may not know that he was our first President that was born an American citizen since he was born soon after the Revolutionary War.  You also may not be aware that at that time political parties were not well established and politicians easily shifted between the existing parties depending upon the issue.  Political parties were also regional in nature.  Martin Van Buren is credited for creating the first truly national party, the Democratic Party.  I won’t go into much about his political career here (see the accompanying page if you are interested) except to say that he served only a single term as President, largely due to Panic of 1837 and resulting six year depression that the federal government was ill suited to handle at the time.  While in office he purchased his childhood dream of owning the Federal style mansion just outside of his boyhood home in Kinderhook, New York.  He named it Linderwald and gave his son, Smith, the freedom to remodel the mansion, while expanding it to accommodate his growing family.  Smith hired the renown architect, Richard Upton, to “modernize” the house which led to a unique structure.  If you are familiar with the Federal style of house, they are generally strictly symmetrical multi-story homes that often look the same from front and back.  Upton added a large addition to the back of the house with roof lines that did not match, a four story tower on one corner in the Italian style and a Gothic style front porch with columns.  Inside they removed the arched entry way in the center hall and the grand staircase, creating a very large entry hall on both the first and second floors.  Martin Van Buren took advantage of this large space by locating a huge table that could seat at least 15 people and used French wall paper that creates a mural of hunting scenes all around the room.  Van Buren was also big on gadgets and this table is the largest example in the house.  Sections of it folds up accordion style to create a number of side boards that would be placed along the walls for less formal occasions. It may seem strange for a house to have a room like this until you realize that Van Buren used it as a conference room.  Linderwald is located right on the busy post road between Albany and New York City and Van Buren had many visitors and political supporters and opponents over the years come for strategy meetings.  From this room he ran his attempt at reelection in 1840, his narrow failure to gain the Democratic nomination in 1844, and his final attempt at the Presidency in 1848 under a third party candidate for the Free Soil Party.  The National Park Service conducts a very nice tour of the home, which is well worth it due to all the unique features in the home, especially after the remodeling!!  Just watch your head so you don’t bump it as you move from the older to the newer sections. The most amazing aspect of the tour was to find out that after the family sold Linderwald it went through a number of owners, including a nursing home for a time, tea room, and antique store.  None of these owners made any significant changes in the house except for electricity and plumbing, including the French wallpaper in the entry hall.  Unfortunately the large table is a reproduction, but they found stored in the basement the original fireplace screens which are sheets of wood with paper scenes glued on them.  There is also a nice walk around the grounds with interpretive signs about the Dutch farming practices in the mid 1800s, of which you can still see evidence of today.


After the tour and eating lunch, we crossed the highway where they have a series of nature walks in the second growth forests.  While the hike was pleasant, it was also a disappointment.  There are a series of numbered sign posts along the trail to enhance the nature trail, however, due to budget cuts under sequestration, they are not producing the brochure for the public.  It was still a nice walk and got us back early in the afternoon to the campgrounds.


On Wednesday we traveled back to the north to the Saratoga National Historical Park, which is heralded as the turning point for the democratic movement around the world.  It also finishes the story of the Revolutionary War that we had been learning about at Fort Crown Point, Fort Ticonderoga, and Fort William Henry on Lake Champlain and Lake George. Following the failure of the Continental Army to capture Quebec in 1776, the British believed that the Revolution would be quickly handled.  They already occupied Boston and New York City and were determined to split New England, which was the most rebellious region, from the rest of the colonies with a three prong attack.  General Burgoyne would come south through Lake Champlain, General Lager would move east from Lake Ontario, and General Howe from New York City to the south.  Burgoyne easily captured Fort Ticonderoga in July, which greatly surprised General Washington who had been led to believe it could not be easily taken especially after fortifying Liberty Point across the Lake.  The Continental army was in a slow retreat south to Albany while Burgoyne tried to deal with logistical supply problems.  He sent a force to forage for supplies to Bennington, Vermont where they were soundly defeated in August costing him 1,000 soldiers and not relieving the supply problems.  General Lager was stopped trying to capture Fort Stanwix to the west and had to turn back and General Howe decided to take Philadelphia instead of moving north.  This left Burgoyne with a difficult decision and he decided to move on to Albany for the winter instead of retreating to Ticonderoga.  In the meantime, the Continental Army was being resupplied and reinforced with experienced units sent by Washington and large numbers of fresh militia units.  It would appear that the Patriots were not ready to give up on the Revolution.  Under the leadership of the Polish military engineer, Tadeusz Kosciuszko, they constructed defensive fortifications extending from Bemis Heights to the Hudson River where the steep bluffs created a chock point along the river.  Not knowing the true strength of the opposition, Burgoyne split his army into three columns on September 19, with one column continuing down the river and the other two columns heading west to attempt to outflank the Patriots on Bemis Heights.  Rather then staying behind their defensive work, Benedict Arnold convinced General Gates to send a regiment of sharpshooters and light infantry to engage the British from within the woods where they would have the advantage.  They engaged the center column of the British at Freeman’s Farm and were scattered after killing or wounding many of the British officers.  Arnold continued to send in fresh regiments throughout the day and with the addition of the right column of the British the fighting went back and forth across Freeman’s Farm until elements of the left column along the river arrived to take the field.  Technically the British had won the battle since they held the field, however, the Patriots retreated back to their defensive works and still blocked the British from Albany.  Hoping for reinforcements and supplies from General Howe, which never came, Burgoyne dug in building his own defensive work along the river and on Freeman’s Farm.  Over the three weeks, pickets from both sides continued to exchange fire with little result.  By October 3, the British were on short rations, while the Continental Army continued to grow, now outnumbering the British by over two to one.  Rather than retreating, Burgoyne decided to probe the defenses and sent about a third of his soldiers towards the Patriot’s position.  After advancing 3/4 mile they came upon the unharvested wheat fields on Barber’s farm and deciding that food was more important began to harvest the wheat.  Once aware of this activity Gates sent a large force to engage the British and drove them from the farm back into Balcarres redoubt, a strong defensive structure at Freeman’s farmhouse.  For the rest of the day the Patriots attempted to take the redoubt, but only managed to capture Breymann’s redoubt on the right flank of the British line.  It was here that Benedict Arnold led the famous charge into the redoubt, even though he had been relieved of command by General Gates days before over a severe difference of opinion on the conduct of the battle.  There is a monument erected at Breymann’s known as the “Boot Memorial” since it depicts a boot draped over a cannon with details of the heroic charge, all without naming Benedict Arnold!  Under the cover of darkness and heavy rain, the British retreated to the north towards Fort Edward.  General Gates, however, did not allow them to retreat but pursued them and surrounded them outside of present day Schuylerville.  After three days of negotiations, the British surrendered, which is significant because this is the first time in history that a British army, the best army in the world, was forced to surrender in the field.  It inspired the French that the Revolution stood a chance of succeeding and was a big reason that they formally recognized the United States and declared war on England.


As with all large battlefields, it takes a long day to explore it all and Saratoga was no exception.  Once again we purchased the CD for the battlefield tour which gave a lot of interesting information about each stop on the tour.    It is not surprising that none of the wooden and earthen defensive works still exist, especially since the land was back in crops the year following the battle, but the National Park Service has erected painted posts all along both the American and British defensive ramparts.  They have also endeavored to maintain the relative open and wooded areas, even though the open areas are no longer cultivated.  Along the tour you visit all the important points of the two battles and gain an appreciation for the strategic position chosen by the Americans.  The position of redoubts at the top of the bluffs and two water batteries along the river made this a bottleneck that the British would have to break through in order to reach Albany.  You also see the British positions along with their “Great Redoubt” above the river that would have stopped the Americans from advancing north as well.  A very interesting battlefield for this critical point in history that changed the outcome of the Revolution.


Thursday was spent in the campgrounds doing laundry and catching up on this blog.

For Friday we decided to do something a little different and went to explore part of the Erie Canal in the area, Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site.  This is a relatively small historic site that only takes a couple of hours to fully explore, but it is a must see for anyone interested in the history of the Erie Canal.  The Erie Canal was started in 1817 with construction extending both east and west from Rome, New York.  By 1823, the canal was finished in this area which is near the terminus outside of Albany.  As with many locations along the canal, there was a stream, the Schoharie Creek, where it joined the Mohawk River.  At the beginning the built a dam downstream on the Creek creating a relatively calm pool to pull the canal barges across the creek.  Initially this was done using ropes, however, they soon built a bridge for the mules to cross while pulling the barge.  However, by the 1830s the Erie Canal needed to be enlarged and by 1841 this section was completed.  However, instead of pulling the barges across the pool they redirected the canal further upstream where they built an aqueduct full of water to float the barges and a towpath for the mules.  Therefore, at this location you can see the remains of this aqueduct of which only 6 spans are still standing which is less than half of the original structure.  Since they redirected the canal you can also see both the original canal and the enlarged canal literally side by side.  You get an immediate comparison of their relative widths and depth since they continued to use the original canal as a feeder system to control water depth instead of filling it in.  By taking the half mile walk you can also see the double locks they constructed for the enlarged canal right along side the lock for the original canal.  From what I understand this is the only location along the canal where you can see both side by side.

Aqueduct1 KalOnTowpath

For lunch we drove along the canal to the east where it comes very close to the Mohawk River.  At this location is another double lock system, where they have restored an example of the many stores that lined the Erie Canal. Near here you can also see the modern lock system that has been installed on the Mohawk River, known as the Erie Barge Canal that is still used today.


Since we had cable at this campground and Kal had both the NBC Sports Channel and Fox Sports, we decided to stay in the campground so she could watch soccer on the TV.  Depending upon the campground, we cannot be certain whether she will be able to watch much soccer this year, so we took advantage of the opportunity and had a quiet day in the campgrounds.

Sunday was our last day in the area, so it was south again beyond Albany to the Catskills and the home of Thomas Cole National Historic Site.  I admit, I knew nothing about Thomas Cole before we visited the site other than he was an American artist in the 1800s.  Thomas Cole is the founder of the first truly American art form, known as the Hudson River School of Art.  If you have ever seen large landscape paintings done in meticulous detail that could take an hour to discover all the little details, then you are familiar with the Hudson River School of Art.  Thomas Cole journeyed to the Catskills seeking inspiration and sketches of the landscape.  In the early 1830s, much of this part of New York had already been logged and cultivated, except for the more rugged terrain such as the Catskills Mountains.  Thomas Cole found this juxtaposition of the tame and untamed to be a rich source of inspiration and he painted many scenes from the Catskills as did the many students of his over the years.  His home, Cedar Grove, in Catskills, New York, preserves and commemorates this history.  In the house and barn which he converted into his first studio on the property you can see some of his works and tools of the trade.  They are also in the process of discovering painted patterns along the walls in the rooms Thomas Cole used to display his art works to potential buyers, along with some of the original furnishings from the time of Thomas Cole.  I expected all this, but what I did not expect is they would also use the house for art shows.  Every year has a different theme and this year was contemporary art.  Therefore, there are pieces of contemporary art throughout the house, but most notably in the dining room and staircase.  While I am not a fan of contemporary art, they did have a couple of interesting pieces.  On the second floor landing the walls are covered with a series of paper squares making an idealized map.  Every piece is different and although you can see the roads, landscape, and rivers connecting throughout, each is an interesting montage of patterns, colors, and textures.  The other piece was a video of scenes of Niagara Falls being shown through glass panel backlit by a projector.  The projector is connected to the internet that uses the Stock Market to set the speed of the water in the video.  While we did not get to see it, the water will actually flow backwards when the market is dropping.  Fascinating.

CedarGrovePorch ColeLandscape ContemporaryArtMap

After lunch we went to explore some of the sites given in the brochure, Hudson River School Art Trail, which takes you to some of the sites depicted in Thomas Cole and some of his students paintings.  They are scattered throughout the Catskills and would take quite a while to see them all.  We decided to explore Kitterskills Falls and The Clove, which necessitated a drive up some steep and windy mountain roads into the mountains.  I was impressed with how rugged the Catskills Mountains actually are since they look quite rounded and tame from a distance.  However, since this was a warm and sunny Sunday afternoon it proved to be impossible to find any place to park our huge truck anywhere along the highway or the small parking lots that had available. The number of young families enjoying the creek was amazing!!  They need to provide some kind of walking trail just off the road because anything wide enough for foot traffic would be used to park a car!!  Thankfully, you could not go fast on these roads anyway, but you had to keep an eye open for pedestrians.  Once we failed at our attempt to explore The Clove and Kitterskills Falls, we decided to call it a day and headed back to the campgrounds.

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