Neither of us had visited New York’s capital city or its burbs. Albany was not very prosperous from the campground standpoint, but we did find one called Arrowhead in Glenville, a part of Schenectady. We got into the best full service site in the park; Arrowhead is on the banks of the Mohawk River and has a marina as well as a campground. Our view was right on the waterfront.
Near Glenville is the town of Watervliet, NY. It has several claims to fame. It is the location of the oldest Federal arsenal in the US, built in 1813 and still today producing artillery and tanks today. Its most famous native is Leland Stamford, railroad baron, eighth governor of California and founder of the university that bears its name. And its best known immigrant is Ann Lee, founder of the Shakers.
My sphere of knowledge about the sect was pretty much limited to the lovely wooden boxes and furniture designs attributed to them. I know a bit more now. Born in Manchester, England, and a mother who lost 8 children before the age of six, Ann Lee joined an organization called the Wardleys and, as she rose through the ranks, preached celibacy and the equality of women. In the process, she founded the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, or, less formally, The Shakers. Their name was actually a contraction of Shaking Quakers. The groups were similar in beliefs; the Quakers, too, were pacifists and communists and believed in many of the same things – except celibacy and gender equality – but they worshiped quite differently. The Shakers would shake and shiver the Devil out of themselves as they danced to their hymns in their Meeting House. In fact, Ann was repeatedly arrested for dancing and blaspheming on the Sabbath.
To avoid further persecution, Ann moved to New York in 1774 at age 38 with eight followers and settled in an area of Watervliet known as Niskayuna, now a separate town. She established her fledging community over the next five years. Another group, the New Light Baptists of New Lebanon, NY heard her preach and adopted her philosophy, thus creating strength in numbers. From 1781 through 1783, she and her closest followers carried the message into New England, where they established several villages — at the expense of severe physical abuse from those afraid of her. She died a year after her return to Watervliet; some say that the violence against her body contributed to her demise.
Our guide, Candy Murray, Ph.D. of the Shaker Heritage Society, which formed in 1977 to preserve this site. Her all-encompassing knowledge made her a delight to listen to, especially when she gave us the inside track. For example, the Meeting House sanctuary is a large room, wide open for the dancing and carrying-on at their worship, with a set of bleachers at the far end where the general public can watch their services. The front section of the building has a second floor for the elders, with small windows through which they could watch the audience for signs of euphoria or enthusiasm (possible converts) and rowdiness (troublemakers).
Senior church elders and elderesses migrated to New Lebanon after Ann’s death, and that site, known as Mount Lebanon, became the center of authority. But it has been undergoing a restoration and the “official” Shaker Museum is currently closed. Candy told us that reorganization has been going on ineffectively for three years so far. The SHS that operates the original Watervliet site is independent.
The two front rooms on the first floor of the Meeting House were “shoe rooms,” each with its own outside door, where men on one side and women on the other removed their street clothing and changed shoes to be more comfortable for services. The center door was for the elders alone. A peek into the attic showed why the long and wide roof is still straight as an arrow after all these years.
The men’s side is now a small museum, showing the tools of the trades that Shakers used to create a good standard of living for their community through trade. In addition to a wide variety of farm products, both grown and raised, they specialized in herbs, furniture, boxes, textiles, brooms and baskets. The women’s front parlor is now a reception room and gift shop.
We viewed other buildings in the Village as well, including the Ministry Workshop, Wash House, Brethren’s Workshop and the Trustee’s Building. The last, which was right behind the Meeting House, held the person wielding extensive power in the community, for it was he who managed all the finances and dealt exclusively with the outside world.
The Shakers recruited singles and families, but a major source of their membership came from the adoption of orphans. Some indigent people joined to stave off poverty and malnutrition. At their height, the Shakers had 13 active communities: Maine (2), New Hampshire (2), Massachusetts (4), Connecticut (1), Ohio (2) and Kentucky (2). Their ranks thinned into the 20th century; Watervliet closed down in 1925 and New Lebanon in the 1940’s. At their height, they numbered over 6,000 members. Today, there are 3. Not three thousand; three members. They live in the Sabbathday Lake Village in Maine. Until several years ago, there were four, but when the Boston Globe sent a reporter up to do a story on them, one fell in love with her. Bye-bye celibacy. Candy told us, however, that there are currently three potential new recruits. On the way out, we visited the cemetery, two blocks away. All of the headstones are identical, save for Ann’s, which is a bit taller and more inscribed.
The two sights we wanted to see in Albany were the State Capitol and the State Museum. They were near each other in a major complex called Empire State Plaza, a 95 acre urban renewal project that was championed by Gov. Nelson Rockefeller. The first building of nearly a dozen opened in 1961 but wasn’t fully operational until 1976. We drove around to the State Capitol and found a parking spot at the top of its block-long park. Across the street was the Alfred E. Smith State Office Building, the second tallest in the city, built in 1930. The tallest is the Erastus Corning Building; the first building opened in the Plaza. It is named for Albany’s mayor who worked closely with Rocky to make the project possible. Across the street to the north is the State Education Building, opened in 1912. Its 36 Corinthian columns are the longest colonnade in the U.S.
The front and rear sides of the State Capitol are pretty much a mirror images, except for the endless staircase up from the street. Since the front was blemished by repair scaffolding, you’re looking at the back side below. The Capitol took 32 years to become a reality. Many years ago, A. Whitney Griswold, then president of Yale University, asked, “Could Hamlet have been created from a committee . . . certain ideas spring from individuals.” Such was not the case with the Capitol building. The first floor was designed by Thomas Fuller. He was fired in 1875 by Gov. William Dorsheimer, who hired Leopold Eidlitz and Henry Hobson Richardson; they created the second and third floors. In 1883, Gov. Grover Cleveland dismissed Messrs. Eidlitz and Richardson and brought in Isaac Perry to complete the project. Richardson, however, is credited with the greatest influence on the final result. Richardson’s best known work is the magnificent Trinity Church in Boston’s Copley Square, where a cousin of mine, Theodore Parker Ferris, was rector from 1942 – 1972.
We entered on the north side, through security that was very stringent. The last two Capitols we visited – Oregon and Idaho — had no security whatever. Their next tour was later than we wanted to wait for, so we found our way to the Great Western Staircase that runs from top to bottom in the center of the building. Each level held legislative offices and chambers, off limits to us because we weren’t on tour. On Level 2, we found a poster series that told the story of the Great Fire of 1911. There were three significant casualties, two of which could not be replaced. First was the extensive damage to the building itself. Second was the only demise, an elderly night watchman named Samuel Abbot who perished and haunts the building to this day. Third was the half million historical records contained in the libraries that were beyond recovery.
Continuing to the Senate and Assembly levels, we eventually arrived at the fourth floor, where the ingenious lighting system was revealed. Above us was a two part system to illuminate the entire shaft: a laylight and a series of skylights. The laylight was a domed affair that consists of 2,600 square feet of layered, diffusing glass that filters the light passing through the skylight(s) above. The central has 200 panes of clear glass. Together, they create the appropriate aura for the flights below. By hiking a fire stair, we were able to view the elements closer at hand.
Back to the Culture Building, we checked in at the NYS Museum’s front desk. The exhibit ran in a U-shape around the utilitarian center, and you could approach if from either direction. And if you had the time, you’d give it a full day’s worth of attention. It was very New York – nothing trivial, nothing simple, just one set after another. We began with prehistoric formation and wilderness, then moved on to a full-blown presentation on the Adirondacks. Pix below show wildlife, early surveying, logging, and an old steam engine. The last shows the Rondack chair/bed, designed for just settin’ out on your porch and having a snooze when you wanted to.
The group of pictures below portray early settlers.
Next, two ancient occupants who left their calling cards, a mastodon and a right whale.
Next, a feature on Seneca Ray Stoddard (1844-1917), a painter and photographer who documented the Adirondack area on film. There were several dozen examples of his fine work, and it induced a flood of tourism.
Coming around to the other side, we begin to view downstate. The first three pix display early transportation. The boat is a Sandbagger, very popular as a racing craft in the mid nineteenth century on Long Island Sound. Shifting the sandbags from one side to the other allowed it to carry more sail area and (usually) kept it from capsizing. They were built on City Island, a part of the Bronx at the west end of the Sound.
The next group below bear witness to the city’s waterfront trade along South Street.
Then we looked at the growth of New York City, from early construction and development of neighborhoods rich and otherwise.
There was a focused exhibit on Harlem and some of its champions, and a study of the garment industry sweatshops and the worker’s salvation by the ILGWU (Int’l Ladies Garment Workers Union).
9/11 was neither neglected nor emphasized. The first two images below picture a trailer that was on-site after the tragedy for the comfort of victims’ families and volunteers. The next two are a steel girder collapsed by the heat and a fire engine that never made it home. Next is the story of the naval ship, USS New York, that was built from steel recovered from the site.
Behind this display was one featuring half a dozen old NY fire engines.
That was a too-quick trip through the first floor. But we also found an attic on the fourth floor with a few more exhibits, including a working carousel (yes, I rode it), a Hansom Cab, a “newer” hack, FDR’s 1932 Packard that he bought as governor and brought with him to Washington, the first state plane, a model of the Coney Island Parachute Jump and a section of the early Stock Exchange. Finally . . . out of the 4th floor windows, looking back into the Plaza, I managed to get a good picture of The Egg. It’s a performance center for the city, with two amphitheaters; one seats 450 and the other 982. Some of you will recognize the memorial name of the larger: The Kitty Carlisle Hart Theater.
Finished with New York, we headed across the border to Massachusetts. We had three choices of route: the Turnpike, the Mohawk Trail and the Molly Stark Trail through lower Vermont. Molly’s route looked a little tricky, until we realized that there was probably nothing these little hills could throw at us that matched the Rockies, Tetons, Bitterroots, Cascades. . . . . .