Thursday, September 15, 2016

Nature and History in New York

Sunday, September 11 - Wednesday, September 14, 2016
Bouckville, New York

Making sure that this stop had satellite reception, you can guess what we do all day Sunday. With the exception of a certain Texas team, it's a great day of football for us. Laundry also gets done :-)

Monday and Tuesday the weather continues to be enjoyable and we get out to see more of the countryside. With the exception of one motorhome and one tent camper, we are the only "live" site here. The other seven 5ers and one motorhome are empty during our stay. It makes for a very quiet and dark home - just how we like it!

Chittenango Falls (Haudenosaunee word meaning "where waters divide and move north") is a beautiful day use state park with a 167 foot, multi-layered waterfall. Sculpted by glaciers, the 400 million-year-old bedrock is as spectacular as the rushing water. Even with the current drought, the falls are strong. 

What is it about waterfalls that hold us at their edge, just watching and listening...... 

The tiny town of Peterboro has a big history. Both the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum, and the Gerritt Smith Estate National Historic Landmark are here. And unfortunately they are both only open on weekends. 

The museum is on the second floor of the community center, but the estate is un-fenced with several interpretive signs. We are able to see everything except the exhibits inside the lodge and barn.

The national park service includes the Network to Freedom: historic sites, facilities and programs associated with the Underground Railroad. This site is part of the network.

Another wonderful opportunity to walk through history, the story of Gerritt Smith and his family is inspiring. An abolitionist, philanthropist, politician and reformer, Smith was also the older cousin of Elizabeth Cady. It was at this home that she met the young abolitionist who would become her husband, Henry Stanton. His daughter, Elizabeth Smith Miller, was an active suffragette and abolitionist, who participated in the first women's rights convention in Seneca Falls.

This family not only provided shelter, meals and transportation for slaves escaping along the Underground Railroad, but they also bought slaves who they then freed, and gave money to free blacks to help buy their family members. Smith provided funds to John Brown in support of the raids that would spark the Civil War, and ran for president five times. 

In 1974, the New York Times said, "The history of the most important half century of our national life will be imperfectly written if it fails to place Gerrit Smith in the front rank of the men whose influence was most felt in the accomplishment of its results."

Carriage Barn
Laundry building, built in 1830 (photo 2002)
Restored in 2008
Signage throughout the grounds tell the story. There are yet two places where slaveholders cannot come, heaven and Peterboro.
Son Greene Smith followed a different path, the scientific collection of bird, nest and egg specimens from across the globe. His substantial work was housed on the estate. The majority of his collection was donated to Harvard by his wife upon his death in in 1893.

The lovely Bird House
did not survive long enough for restoration
The mansion no longer stands either. Photographs show the home of a very wealthy family - one that was shared with scared and weary travelers on their way to a life of freedom.

Built in 1804, the other building on the property is the Land Office where Gerrit Smith worked 10-12 hours a day, six days a week, for fifty-five years. Over 750,000 acres of land were sold here, providing Smith with great wealth which he used to support numerous reform movements.

Large land holdings map 
Checking out the old smokehouse 
Smith's office now used for docent lectures
What an amazing piece of history.

Our loose plan to cross New York was to continue traveling Hwy 20 through the center of the state. That changed when we heard from John and Pam who were heading to the 1000 Islands area later this week. They will be there for two weeks and offered to show us around if we wanted to go north instead.

We did, and so we are. Wednesday we head for Oswego, New York, to spend a couple days on Lake Ontario before our meet-up in Clayton.


  1. As many times as we have been through various parts of NY, we've never spent time following the historical trail. There is such a wealth of history in this area of the state. Thanks for sharing another area we knew little about:) Can't wait to see you three Saturday!! Tell Tessa I remembered the treats:)

    1. It would be fascinating to follow the network sites and "see" the whole story. We're looking forward to seeing you guys just as much as Tessa is :-)

  2. What a great piece of history. Thank you for sharing it. We have never considered following a historical trail, but it sounds like fun! A great idea for our next trip east.

    You will love 1000 Islands and what a treat to spend time with Pam and John. Can't wait to read all about it!

    1. Smith was an incredible man, his list of "highlights" was the longest I've ever seen. We're looking forward to seeing this beautiful area.

  3. Love the water shots! It really is fascinating to read and walk through all these historical places as we travel the country. Thank goodness for all the people willing and able to assist those who are down trodden.

    1. While a lot of the material touches on the amount of money spent, and the use of his home, I imagine there was a big risk to his family and business as well - all the things they did were incredible.

  4. Wow your waterfall up there looks a lot more full of water than when we were there. Has it rained hopefully? Here you are showing me something I wish I could have “stopped” by on our way to Glimmerglass. I found that after labor day nearly everything up there goes to week-ends only. That’s a shame. I am sorry to admit I’d never heard of Smith. Thanks for informing me. History classes skipped this part when I was in school. Both the Hall of Fame and the NHL look very interesting although Tessa doesn’t appear to care much for the signboards. What a shame that the mansion and the Byrd house didn’t make it long enough to be saved. I didn’t know about the Network to Freedom. You’d think they would have mentioned it at the Harriet Tubman house. Maybe I just missed it.
    How neat that you are going to meet up with John and Pam. Wish you all would show up along our path. Guess we should have stayed in NY longer.

    1. There was a big sign on the door of the little VC about the park centennial and a Find Your Network Park program that I never saw in any of the other parks, sadly they didn't seem to promote these very much. No, Tessa isn't much for signs :-) We're all moving south eventually so hopefully we'll catch up with you soon!!

  5. You definitely found another gem. I love the header photo and the waterfalls. So beautiful.

  6. What everyone else said! Nice falls and have fun with John and Pam

  7. Oh such sweet waters. Bet the sound and energy were delightful. Seems there is a difference between just reading about history and touching it. Nice to see at least some of these buildings could be restored. I'm guessing you're already having fun with Pam and John. Ah, spontaneity.

    1. Yes, that water energy was intoxicating, and we've been fortunate enough to be on water since then as well. It was fun to make a turn north just because we can :-)))