Wednesday, May 30, 2007

An photo tip from TheOldLibrarian

As an aside, if you're looking for photographs of historic buildings along US 20 (or other places as well,) try using the Historic American Buildings Survey at the Library of Congress' American Memory site. It is a treasure trove of very fine black and white photographs of American architecture! The survey started in the 1930s.

I've downloaded several images from there to use in this blog already, like the image of the Case Tavern in the entry below.

Albany to Sangerfield cont.

In Guilderland, 9.4 m. (225 pop.), is (R) the Schoolcraft House (private), an excellent example of the mid-nineteenth century fad, the Gothic Revival cottage. A yellow wooden structure, it is complete with carpenter fashioned buttresses, drip moldings and tracery.

The Case Tavern (L), a large, rectangular frame structure covered by white clapboards, was built by Russel Case in 1799. The building is typical of the 62 hostelries that at the peak of turnpike travel lined the 55 miles to Cherry Valley. (Photo shown here...)

At 20.7 m. is the junction with a dirt road. Left on this road 0.3 m. to the North House (L), a square, two story frame structure of Georgian Colonial design built in 1784 by William North (1755-1836). Born in Maine, North served during the Revolutionary War as aide to Baron Von Steuben, and later was adopted by Steuben... His grave is in Christ Episcopal Church Cemetery in Duanesburg.

A short distance beyond the North House stands the 12 room Georgian Colonial structure known today as the Duane-Featherstonhaugh House, built about 1816 by James Duane's youngest daughter Catherine...

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Section b. Albany to Sangerfield; 93 m. US 20

West of Albany US 20 follows roughly the old woods-roads andIndian trails over which the Tory and Indian raiders struck eastward during the Revolution, wiping out settlements and isolated homes. Over this same route rode nineteenth century Paul Reveres, hunting horns blaring, to call the antirenters together to fight the sheriff and his deputies.

Just west of Albany, 0 m., is Mckownville, 5.8 m., a clambake and midget-auto racing paradise. Almost every weekend during the warm season, Albany clubs and organizations crowd McKown's Grove for a 'bake.' A cobblestone lined pit is filled with cordwood, which is burned until the stones are almost white hot. Then the ashes are swept out and the pit spread with a layer of fresh seaweed. Wire baskets, each filled with two dozen or more washed and selected clams, two clambake sausages, one-half chicken, one white and one sweet potatoe, and one or two ears of corn..., are set into the pit and the whole covered with a tarpaulin, edges sealed with wet clay. The steamed clams are supplemented by iced raw clans, bread, pickles and olives.

On Sunday afternoons the Capital City Speedways sponsor midget auto races on the pear shaped quarter mile dirt track in McKown's Grove. The light, stubby cars, 500 to 900 pounds in weight, whirl 21 laps for the main event, their open exhausts clattering, adding din and dust to the general excitement.

Albany NY cont.

(More excerpts from the Albany city section in the guide - TheOldLibrarian.)

The diminutive DeWitt Clinton made the first trip over the Mohawk & Hudson railroad to Schenectady on September 24, 1831. [From the intersection of Western & Madison Ave. on what is now US 20. See picture above.)

The unleashing of energy and the sprut of industrialization that followed the Civil War, together with increased immigration, turned Albany into the path that led to its twentieth century industrial and commercial importance...

Together with its industrial neighbor, Rensselaer, Albany today has large factories making, among other products, checkers..., billiard balls..., drugs, textiles...

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Albany NY

(The OldLibrarian: the tour passes over Albany itself, what follows is a very abbreviated version of the entry for Albany in the cities section of the guide. US 20 follows Madison and then Western Avenues through the city, the only part of the route though NY other than Auburn where the route ran through one of the larger upstate cities.)

Albany (18' alt., 130,447 pop.), capital of New York State, inland seaport..., is built along the edge of a plateau that extends 18 miles northwest to the Mohawk Valley... Although Albany is an important manufacturing and wholesale center, its personality is determined by its function as the capital of the state... It is this large group of office workers that gives Albany an essentially 'white-collar' appearance.
The first permanent settlers, who came in 1624, were 18 families, mostly Walloons from Holland. They built a second fort on the site of the present river steamer landing and called it Fort Orange in honor of the ruling house of Holland.

In 1630 Kiliaen Van Rensselaer, with two partners, purchased from the Indians land on both sides of the Hudson River and established the patroonship of Rensselaerwyck.

[After the colony passed from the Dutch to the English in 1664...] The British permitted the Dutch to retain their own language, customs, religion...

The fur trade made Albany traders wealthy and intensified friction with the French. Control by the English of the interior and the fur trade of the Great Lakes area depended on their alliance with the Iroquois and the of the defense of the Colonial frontier, of which Albany was the key.

[During the Revolution...] Capture of Albany was the objective of the British campaign of 1777... The war at an end and the Indian treaties voided, Albany found itself at the crossroad of a free Nation in the making. Lands in the central and western parts of the State were opened to settlement; and the principal route from the New England States lay down the Hoosick Valley to the Hudson, south to Albany, and across the pine plains to Schenectady and the Mohawk Valley. The main stream of westward emigration poured westward through Albany; in 1795, five hundred vehicles a day pushed up State Street hill...

In the closing years of the [18th] century, migration forced the first road improvements and the development of a number of turnpikes radiating from the city. At the height of turnpike travel, 20 stagecoaches left Albany daily over the Cherry Valley route (now US 20)...

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Mass. Line to Albany cont.

Benjamin Budd's Tavern, 11.2 m., (L), now a private residence, was built about 1800 on the site of the cabin of David Brainard (1718-47), Indian missionary. (TheOldLibrarian - the Indians would have been the Mohicans, whose homeland this area was. Pictured here is Mohican chief Etow Oh Koam).

At 11.8 m. is a junction with State 66. Left on State 66 down the Kinderhook Creek valley to the Berkshire Theatre Workshop, 3.5 m., a summer school for dramatic training...

At Nassau, 16.1 m., when legal obstructions can be circumvented, greyhound races are run at the Rensselaer County Fairgrounds. Tickets for admission are distributed profusely without charge ; the large profits are made from betting. The course is sometimes run with monkeys astride the dogs.

Skirting the Hudson Valley fruit belt, at 20.9 m. US 20 unites with US 9.

At 24.1 m. is the junction with US4.

At 29 m. the route bears L. on the Parker Dunn Memorial Bridge.

(TheOldLibrarian - US 20, before it crosses the Hudson into Albany, runs through East Greenbush, in 1940 a region of small farms, and Rensselaer, home of Fort Crailo, site of the writing of Yankee Doodle Dandy etc. A New Yorker, I have perhaps noticed this more in the NY guide than others, the sometimes curious omission of towns along the way.)

Monday, May 7, 2007

Mass. Line to Albany cont.

At 2.1 m. is the eastern junction with State 22 which unites briefly with US 20.

New Lebanon, 2.9 m., (400 pop.), was the birthplace of Samuel Tilden (1814-86) who as member of the state legislature and governor pushed the investigations that smashed New York City's Tweed Ring and the upstate Canal Ring. Tilden was initiated into politics at an early age when conferences were held at his father's house by Martin Van Buren... and other big wigs of the Albany Regency... In 1876, as presidential candidate, he won a majority of the popular vote. But the electoral vote was so close that a special commission was appointed which gave Rutherford Hayes the office by a majority of one... (Pictured here)

Just west of the village is (R) the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes (open May-Nov.), built around a spring. On the Sunday nearest the feast of St. Christopher (July 25), thousands of motorists drive to the shrine for the annual blessing of automobiles.

Crossing the narrow valley of the Wyomanock Creek, the road passes between the Lebanon Valley Ski-Jump Course (R) and Toboggan Slide (L)...

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Section a. Mass. Line to Albany; 29.3 m.

Shaggy Mount Lebanon rises north of the point where US 20 crosses the Massachusetts Line, 0 m., 7.8 m. west of Pittsfield, Massachusetts. As the highway winds down the mountainside it passes several barnlike houses (L), remnants of the Mount Lebanon Shaker Settlement, established here in 1785. The Shakers were one of the earliest religious cults to sprout along the east-west axis of the Empire State. Its distinguishing tenents were celibacy, community of property... The social unit was the large 'family' housed under one roof, but the men and women eating and lodging seperately. The physical paroxysms accompanying their religious exercises gave rise to the name 'Shaking Quakers,' later abbreviated to Shakers. (Pictured here, the Mount Lebanon Meeting House ca1933.)

In response to a revelation, Mother Ann led six men and two women converts to America from England in 1774. This group originally settled at Watervliet, but Mount Lebanon was the first formal Shaker Society...

A combination of communism, industry and inventiveness built a prosporous society during the 19th century... But the sects exclusive dependence on converts and the adoption of orphans to recruit its numbers has led to a slow disintigration until today there is only a handful of aged Shakers left.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Tour 8, US 20 across New York

(Pittsfield Mass.) - Albany - Cherry Valley - Sangerfield - La Fayette - Auburn - Geneva - Canandaigua - Fredonia - Westfield - (Erie, Pa.) US 20. Massachusetts Line to Pennsylvania Line, 387.6 m.

Two, three, and four lane concrete, with stretches of two-lane macadam...

In 150 years trails and woods-roads have been joined to make US 20 a popular route spanning the Empire State but touching only two large cities - Albany and Auburn. From the crest of the Taconics the highway drops into the Hudson Valley; west of Albany it mounts the flank of the Helderbergs, dips into and out of the valley of Schoharie Creek, plunges into the upper valleys of the Susquehanna watershed, rides the serrated northern rim of the Allegheny Plateau, crosses the base of the Finger Lakes, then cuts across the rolling Ontario Plain to Lake Erie, and thence southwest to the Pennsylvania line...

Following the trails made by moccasined feet, the route runs the length of the 'Long House' of the Iroquois Confederacy... The Revolution ended, Sullivan's soldiers went home to New England bearing tales of a fertile land to the west; and with the peace, the westward rush was on...

The migrating New Englanders, besides settling the region with stubborn, sturdy men and women, added their characteristic religious and political vagaries. Memorials of their sects and cults are scattered along the route from the Shakers at New Lebanon to the the Brotherhood of the New Life at Brocton...

US 20 across New York

New York is TheOldLibrarian's home state, and I'm looking forward to this part of the tour. Many familiar and beloved stretches of rural highway here; if you ever can, drive US 20 from outside of Albany to Skaneateles, it is a lovely stretch of upstate NY touring.

The descriptions that follow are drawn from New York: a guide to the Empire State, Federal Writers Project, 1940. Like the other state guides, this title is widely available in libraries (see, and used book stores for modest prices (check

As always on this tour, bear in mind that it is drawn from a series of books now almost 70 years old! This fact is part of their charm and historical interest, but obviously some sites are no longer there and so forth...