American Sabbatical 003: 8/30-9/1/96



August 31 - Adirondacks

Thoughts about museums: What is or should be saved in a museum ? What is the purpose of museums? What would our students like to save? Are museums really for kids? Did you / do you enjoy museums? Why? What would make them more enjoyable? Does it make sense to put objects behind glass?? Can you and a class create a specific museum? Can we / should we start a retail boom museum for Freeport?

Corduroy Road

We are at a gorgeous camp on Goodnow Flowage, a small lake in the center of the Adirondacks created by one of the lumber companies as a place to store “yarded” wood. When that was no longer necessary, house lots were sold off. There are some 250 houses around this lake, but it’s quiet and low key. A totally artificial community with by-laws, it’s an association. They have rules like no motors of more than 10 hp. A super chance to relax.

Goodnow Fog (Peggy)
Our hosts said we had to go to the Adirondacks Museum, and I’m so glad we did. It’s about 45 minutes away, a series of building on a hillside overlooking Blue Lake. Many individual buildings constructed for a specific purpose (to show a railroad car), or period buildings brought to the sight. On the way we talked about what history is preserved and what isn’t. I specifically mentioned roads as an “artifact” that was difficult to preserve -- we got to the museum and one of the special exhibits was on roads in the Adirondacks. It even had examples of a corduroy road !!!

Great exhibit on tuberculosis and the cure spas in the Adirondacks. Great text, diaries of TB patients, ads for cures. There was a place where four TB patients were described and then you were given three choices of treatment. They had super medical exhibits - an Xray of a healthy and a TB lung, a blowup of TB under a microscope. Also super exhibits of odd things you hear about - sputum cups (literally small containers for highly contagious TB spit), nurses’ uniforms, old fashioned caned wheelchairs, much medical equipment. One of the “treatments” was to collapse a lung to give it a chance to recoup !!!! A lot about the perceptions of TB and what caused it. There were advertisements that showed the discrimination against TB patients and “Hebrews” in the Adirondacks. So blatant. A hotel would have on its ad “No solicitations by Hebrews accepted”.

The roads exhibit was reached by walking a ten foot stretch of highway (complete with center yellow line) through the door. Good examples of things like old gas stations. Great focus but it seemed to me to have too much text.

Great small reconstruction of a hermit’s home with bios of famous hermits. Another exhibit on transport had gorgeous sleighs of every fashion, and things like the huge old wooden snow rollers. One great part of this exhibit was a fully harnessed horse. You could push a button on a display console to show a piece of harness (ex. crupper), and that part of the harness would light up.


There was a reconstructed hotel, an area one-room schoolhouse, even a 20th c. diner used until 1980 !! Also a “three sister” garden outside showing the plants Native Americans always put together (squash, corn and beans).

Labor Day at Goodnow (Peggy)
A great exhibit on mining in the Adirondacks and they showed you what products were produced from each metal mined. Super diorama of the whole operation - actual examples of pig iron, etc, for you to touch, good pictures of miners.
A great boats exhibit etc etc. Great museum (for everyone?).

(Memo #3)

Sept. 1 - Industrial Remains
A ghost town in a wilderness park

Topics: mining, why /when are parks established, photographers as social activists.

WHO? industrialists, iron smelters, mine workers

WHAT? abandoned industrial sites

WHERE ? Ironville and Tahawus, New York (Adirondack Mountains)

WHEN? 18th century

HOW? mining and smelting

Old smelter

The image of the Adirondacks is blue sky and lakes, green forests and mountains. Under it all apparently was/is tremendous mineral wealth. In fact, it was the horrors of mining, and its impact on the environment, that lead to the establishment of the Adirondacks Park. So today I got the tour of the industrial Adirondacks.

First Bridge over Hudson
(Larry Peterick Photo)

We went east almost to Lake Champlain to visit the small village of Ironville. Today it is a small lovely village of white homes surrounded by large trees. It was an iron smelting center. You can see the bed where the railroad was that hauled it all in and out. You can see incredible bits of walls and mounds. The fortune made by the smelter lead to the departure of the first family of Ironville for Boston, but they came back every summer. In their house are many bits of the family history, from rocking horses for the children to Civil War uniforms to the paymasters’ window from the business. There is a display of a crude electromagnet demonstrated first in the yard, which gives it the right to claim electricity was first invented here!

A huge industrial fortune and all that remains are grass-covered mounds.

On we went to the ghost iron mining town of Tahawus, maybe ten miles up a dead end road in the central Adirondacks. The Hudson River rises near here and we stopped to walk down to it. It’s a gentle stream about thirty feet wide, crossed by a suspension bridge. My host noted that both the first and last bridges over the Hudson are suspension. Further up the road you see the huge slag hills stretching along the stream. They’re now covered with some grass, but are still stark. The open pit iron mine is still being used, and is roped off.

On we went to the ghost town. Houses along the Main Street quite close to each other, some over the river on piles, you can see houses and parts of houses up the slopes. The woods have crept back and trees break the view in all directions. Vines cover walls, roofs sag. Interestingly, the cedar poles supporting the houses look perfect.

The main furnace is still to be seen. A huge stone and brick construction that nature is reclaiming. The size and craftsmanship are extraordinary, the bricks at the top of the furnace are carefully herringboned. There is some talk of a national site, but the company currently owning it doesn’t want to give it up.

Goodnow Sunset

Drive back up the road and you are in the Adirondacks, the only cars belonging to hikers and fishermen. Hard to believe industrial settlements were there.

9/1... Goodnow Flowage.

Goodnow Dock
We’ve enjoyed a two-day hiatus from the historic road here in the Adirondacks. Not that we haven’t soaked up some old tales. Peggy went over to Ironville to see where mining began in these hills, and we visited the Adirondack Museum which was full of guide boats, logging paraphernalia, and resort memorabilia. But our time has been spent mostly enjoying this idyllic lake and the generous hospitality of Barbara and Larry (an aunt and uncle-in-law we should have known better years ago). Swimming, mini-kayaking, doing watercolors and pastels of the postcard views, smoozing and sunning. This afternoon we fired up the sauna (a nifty barrel design 6 foot high and 8 foot long), then hopped back and forth between the lake and the sauna. Ultimate luxury.

This spot, Goodnow Flowage was dammed by the loggers as an impoundment lake to store logs for the spring drive down the Hudson. Eventually the paper company owner sold off shorefront to an owners’ association, and presto, instant community. No jet skis, highpower boats, or general aggro. Huge cedar stumps memorializing the old woods poke up along the shore, loons calling in the morning mist, and convivial company. Who could ask for more? This basin of old hills in an eroded plateau drains into a place apart from the hubbub of highways, and the ruddy light of sunset warms the evening trees, and our hearts.

Mountain ease (Bryce)

and Flowage (Bryce)
In order to get out to you listeners we motored the length of the lake to use a neighbor’s phone jack, and computer expertise. After a number of false starts, we succeeded in getting out of the Flowage. Then we were treated to a face-to-face with a red-tail hawk. These helpful neighbors do raptor rescue work, and they had a wounded hawk in their big cage. Close-up this great bird was stunning, in his proud plumage, and BIG. It was an honor to be in the same space with him. Now we must fly.

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