Oct 16, 2017

Adirondack Railroad trip

There is still time to take a short trip before the snow flies.  Recently, John and I had a great two-day, one-night vacation. We drove to Utica where we checked into the Hotel Utica which recently reopened as a DoubleTree by Hilton after extensive upgrading. The hotel first opened its doors in 1912 just a few weeks before the fateful voyage of the Titanic. Walking into the two-story lobby with glittering chandeliers and a wraparound balustrade balcony where Judy Garland once sang to her many admirers it is easy to feel the grandeur of its early days when the posh found it the place to stay in the Utica area. During its heyday the hotel hosted presidents, sports figures, and a slew of famous people. 


After checking in and getting our warm chocolate chip cookie we settled in and walked across the street to Ocean Blue for dinner. Ocean Blue Restaurant and Oyster Bar is located on the top floor of the Landmarc Building with a large rooftop patio overlooking the city and sunset. It is part of the revitalization of Utica. There is a dedicated elevator to the slick, trendy restaurant with an open kitchen and it is even possible to
reserve a Chef’s Table where the chef will do the cooking and serving. There indoor dining but it was a beautiful day so we dined on the rooftop patio. I opted for a dinner made up of some of their side veggies while John took advantage of their fresh clam and oysters.  We dallied until the sun set. Their food is locally sourced when possible. It was a lovely relaxing evening. We returned to the Hotel Utica for a nightcap in their Chophouse by Chesterfield restaurant. 


In the morning we ordered room service so we could relax before checkout. The Adirondack Railway trips leave from Utica’s Union Station. Union Station is one of those grand old stations with marble columns built by the same architect who designed Grand Central Terminal. Check out the wooden benches.  They have heating ducts in them so travelers in the winter will feel warm and cozy. There was plenty of parking in the area and all parking in Utica is free.

The Adirondack Railroad started in the 1970s but it wasn’t until the 90s that it really got organized and became successful.  Our trip from Utica to Thendara with no stopover had over 300+ people when we left Utica.  About 100 got off in Thendera and continued on to Saranac Lake by bus.  They were part of a tour group. I would have liked to have had lunch at
 the Van Auken’s Hotel which is just steps from the Thendera Station. However, there was a Club Car so we ate on the train.  They even serve wine and beer.  Many people brought their own food. As the train traveled north the trees became more colorful. Some were a
brilliant red. It was a relaxing way to see the foliage and view areas that are only visible from the train.  They offer several other trips I’d like to take.  The Loomis Train Robbery sounds like a lot of fun.  I remember reading about the Loomis Gang, a Central New York family of thieves. The Adirondack Railroad also runs a Clown Train, Hobo Train, but their most popular is the Polar Express, based on the popular book, and sells out early.


Oct 9, 2017

New York's Haunted Trail

New York State has published an extensive “Haunted History Trail” brochure. There are several places in Oswego County on the list. There are two in Mexico – Starr Clark Tin Shop and Underground Railroad Museum, and Casey’s Cottage at Mexico Point Park. Both are only open with prior reservations. 

Casey’s Cottage, designed by Dr. William Casey, a Columbia University professor spent his summers turning the carriage house at Mexico Point into an 11th century manor house.
After his death in 1978 visitors reported hearing faint organ music, cries for help, candles jumping off the shelves, and other unusual phenomena. The Starr Clark and URR Museum on Main Street in Mexico was a “station” on the Underground Railroad and paranormal investigators have reported seeing shadows, hearing voices, and other unique experiences. Fort
Ontario built on the ruins of three earlier fortresses dates back to the French and Indian Wars. Hundreds of soldiers and civilians died on the site which may explain the paranormal activity people have reported including strange lights and music, a child calling for his cat, and apparitions in the nearby cemetery. 


It doesn’t have to be October to explore haunted places. The “spirits” do not take a vacation. All three of the places have special investigations scheduled throughout the year by the Paranormal Investigative Team of Central New York, PIT CRU NY for short. All the places on the list are historic and great places to visit any time of the year.

There are many places open year round. Thompson Park in
Watertown is home to a Frederick Law Olmstead-designed park that is said to contain a time vortex that transports those who discover it to another portion of the park.  People who have witnessed the phenomenon say the location seems to move within the park. Utica’s beautiful Union Station, built in 1914, is reported to be haunted by those who died accidentally along the railways. Witnesses report ghost lights moving along the tracks, phantom passengers, and late at night
hearing haunting sounds of tragedy echoing throughout the station. The Erie Canal Museum in Syracuse is located in the last remaining Weighlock Building. It is said to be home to several ghosts including a group of see-through children playing in the courtyard, a woman who was killed on the site where the replica of a canal boat is located, and two men arguing. Also, Syracuse’s beautiful, ornate Landmark Theater had reports of haunting soon after it opened in 1928 including that of Clarissa who fell to her death from a balcony in 1930.


One of the most touted haunted places in New York State is the
Genesee County Poor House in East Bethany. It is rated as the second most haunted site in the United States.  The offer a variety of experiences including one called “Quarantined” - a nine hour private hunt that includes a guided tour.

For the fearless there are several haunted inns and hotels that welcome overnight guests including the Oneida Community Mansion House in Oneida, Cazenovia’s Brea Lock Inn and Allegiance B&B in Mount Morris. Not up to sleeping with the spirits then consider dining at the Wayside Irish Pubs in Elbridge or Cobleskill’s Bull’s Head Inn. Some locations such as Split Rock Quarry and Spook Hill are just creepy. There are many haunted places scattered throughout NYS and a variety of blogs to keep “hunters’ intrigued.

Sep 25, 2017

The Root Farm - A Challenging Place

 Sometimes the name says it all such as “Lincoln Boyhood Home National Memorial.” Other times the name is misleading.  Such was the case with the Root Farm in Sauquoit near Utica.  I was expecting a farm growing beets, carrots and other root vegetables. It turns out it is named for its founder Alice Root. The name does not do it justice. 


Yes, it does grow things. In fact it has a Horticulture Center that includes an educational greenhouse, gardens, maple syrup production, honey production, a chicken coop and so much more.  Their hydroponic greenhouse, called the Freight Farm, produces two acres of lettuce in just a few days. It is water efficient, weed free, and herbicides are not necessary. And it produces year round. They also operate a coop and offer unique programs like healthy cooking classes. 

The Farm has expanded to a new location on 100 acres in Sauquoit near Utica.  It is a non-profit organization with an Equine Assisted Therapy Center and works with the Upstate Cerebral Palsy group. It has been proven beneficial for those with autism, Down syndrome,developmental delays, mental health challenges, and soldiers suffering from post-
traumatic stress syndrome and war-related injuries . While I was there a couple of youngsters arrived for their lessons.  The Equine part is open to everyone for private lessons, adaptive riding, recreation riding, hippotherapy and vaulting. From the pictures I saw people can be taught to stand on a moving horse.  A great confidence builder, I would think.


I was intrigued by their Action Track wheelchairs that allow wheelchair-bound people to go just about anywhere.  It is all-weather, all-terrain, and all-purpose. There is even one that will allow the individual to enjoy the outdoors in an upright position. While I was there they were putting the finishing touches on the rock climbing wall and zip line. Their Challenge Course is incredible. It is a state of the art outdoor adventure center. It is the
only one in New York State. There are several Multiple Physical Organization Development areas for team building.  The high rope course has six challenges designed for able-bodied people as well as those with limited use of their lower extremities. People in wheelchairs (or those who feel they cannot do the course) can use their customized harness seat and suspension system.  The course has six components: Burma Bridge, Cargo Wall, I Can Do it Bridge, Monkey Rings, Horizontal ladder, and Rope Vine. I watched a fit, young able-bodied lady walk across the Burma Bridge and thought “I can do that.” Next was the

Cargo Net which was harder but still doable. When she reached the Monkey Rings I was glad I didn’t try.  I would have to use the harness seat. It was very impressive. The zip line covers 1000 feet and, it too, is handicap accessible. The name Root Farm just doesn’t tell the whole story. 

After that I felt I needed something more relaxing so I went to the
Utica Zoo which is open year round. It was relaxing and there were people who work nearby enjoying their lunch at the zoo. The zoo his home to the World’s largest watering can, a beautiful all white peacock, and red pandas. They offer several animal encounters included one with the red pandas but they are sold out for the rest of the year. I was in time to watch the camels being fed.  

Visiting the Thomas Cole House

Thomas Cole was born in 1801 in England and immigrated to the United States. By the time the 1800s rolled around most of England and Europe had been turned into farmland or villages and cities so there were very few forested areas.  Cole was enthralled with the scenery of
the Hudson Valley and painted many works of art that personified the beauty and serenity of the area. His work gained him the status as being the founder of the Hudson River School of Art, a movement that flourished in the mid-19th century creating many landscape artists. I think an argument could be made that Cole was the beginning of the conservation movement in New York State.  His paintings were purchased by wealthy people in NYC thus sharing the beauty of the area and changed the way Americans thought about nature. 

John and I visited the Thomas Cole National Historic Site in
Catskill, NY where the visitor center has an excellent video providing back ground on Cole and the Hudson River School of Art. Besides books and reprints they have a place where one can make a postcard using an inked stamp of one of Cole’s painting.  We toured the house which has a view of the Catskills that is still beautiful today. The 1815 Federal-style house has recently discovered hand-painted decorative room borders created by Cole. There are interesting things to see besides his paintings such as a harp played by the wind. Cole,
looking at the Catskills and exploring it on foot, feared the ravages of the axe as more and more people moved into the area and clear cut the land. The mid-1900s was the beginning of industrialization and people did not appreciate the beauty around them – he changed that. He wrote “We are still in Eden… Nature has spread for us a rich and delightful banquet. Shall we turn from it?”  The house also hosts changing exhibits featuring contemporary artists. There is also on the site is the 1839 Old Studio where Cole created many of his works and is furnished with original easels and art materials. A New Studio serves as a gallery for works of art that personify the movement. 


I was familiar with Cole’s landscape artwork of the Hudson Valley area but was surprised by his five-part paintings called “The Course of the Empire” which depicted the rise and fall of an empire from its Eden-like beginnings to the height of the empire to its ultimate decline and decay.  Interesting. The Thomas Cole site is on an art trail that spans from the New England area to Yellowstone. But there is also a local Hudson River School of Art Trail that takes visitors to places in the area that inspired Cole.

John and I decided that we should check out one of the sites so we
went to Kaaterskill Falls, a favorite of Cole and other like-minded painters.  It was a nice short walk from the upper parking lot on a beautiful day. It seems every time we go to a waterfalls it hasn’t rained for a while so the water wasn’t as powerful as it could have been but the view was still beautiful. For those into climbing a lot of steps there is a way to the bottom where there is a pool where someone was swimming. Not for me. Cole said waterfalls were “the voice of the landscape.”

Sagamore - Teddy Roosevelt's Home

Down a tree-lined road with luxury homes snugged behind the trees is Sagamore, the place Teddy Roosevelt  called home. Roosevelt named it after Sagamore Mohannis who, as chief of his tribe, signed away his rights to the land. Roosevelt’s first wife, Alice, and his mother died on the same day. His wife died of Bright’s disease giving birth to their daughter, Alice; and his mother of typhoid fever. Roosevelt married again.
He and his new wife, Edith, called Sagamore home for their family which included their three children, Teddy Jr., Kermit, and Ethel along with Roosevelt’s first daughter, Alice.The house was not only the home of an active rambunctious family it also served as the Summer White House after Roosevelt became president following the assassination of President McKinley. In 1905 Roosevelt met with the envoys of warring Russia and Japan in his Sagamore library and then brought them face-to-face which led to the Treaty of Portsmouth (New Hampshire) that ended the Russo-Japanese War and earned Roosevelt the Nobel Peace Prize.
The rambling 23-room Victorian home is much the same as it was when the Roosevelts inhabited it as are most of the furnishings. The house is filled with great antidotal stories. Teddy Jr. recalled that the bathtub drain made a lot of gurgles and other noises. His Irish nurse said they were the cries of the “faucet lady and Teddy Jr. and his siblings would try to see is he could get a glimpse of her head in the pipe.

The path to the house goes by a windmill and according to legend one day the blades were stuck.Instead calling for one of the staff to take care of it, Teddy climbed up to the top with a can of oil. He was a fairly chunky man so it must have been an interesting sight.
Bleeding profusely he managed to climb down and make his way into the house where his wife is purported to have said, “Theodore, I wish you would do your bleeding in the bathroom. You are ruining all the rugs in the house.”While at the top he solved the problem but the wind shifted and the blades swung around slicing off the top of his scalp. Seems that bumps, bruises and cuts were a common happening with Teddy and the children. I also like the quote attributed to Alice, Roosevelt’s daughter by his first wife. Evidently she had a pillow that said, “If you don’t have anything nice to say about someone then come sit next to me.” 
Today Sagamore has a museum, garden, several outbuildings, and a nature trail down to Cold Spring Harbor. There are also some informative sign boards on the way from the ticket area to the house.
Roosevelt said to his wife, “I wonder if you will ever know how I love Sagamore Hill.”When we were there several people had their easels set up capturing images of the house in pastels, oils, and pencils. He died the next day, January 5, 1919, at the age of 60. Not far away from Sagamore is Young Cemetery where the Roosevelts are buried.

Vice President Thomas Marshall said, “Death had to take him sleeping, for if Roosevelt had been awake there would have been a fight.”They chose to be near their beloved Sagamore instead of Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn. His wife, Edith, continued to live at Sagamore until her death in 1948 at the age of 87.

Driving the Taconic Highway

John and I often drive between Central New York and the New
York City/Long Island area. And, when we don’t take the train, we usually take the NYS Thruway. Why? We have Easy Pass and it is convenient.


This last trip we decided to take the Taconic State Parkway. The Taconic State Parkway is a 104.12-mile, limited access,
divided scenic highway snugged between the rolling hills of the Berkshires and the Hudson. There are no tolls or trucks, so the drive is relaxing. The road was the vision of Franklin Roosevelt and he was instrumental in making it a reality. The hilly route was designed by landscape architect Gilmore Clarke so that it offered the best scenic vistas of the Hudson Highland, Catskill and the Taconic Region. The bridges and now-closed service areas were designed to be aesthetically pleasing.

It was built in four stages starting in 1931 and was completed in its present form in the 1960s and is now listed on the National
Register of Historic Places. It is the second-longest continuous road listed on the register. Only Virginia’s Skyline Drive is longer. Even though the road is limited access it is still easy to visit various important places. At Ghent there is the OMI International Arts Center – an outdoor sculpture park. Just south of Ghent there is a scenic overlook with panoramic views of the Catskills. Further on is the Olana, the home of Frederick Church. It is also considered one of the best places to watch a stunning sunset. 

I appreciate things that are repurposed instead of being torn down or left to decay away. Visit Poughkeepsie where the railroad bridge across the Hudson River is now a wonderful walkway. The Poughkeepsie-Highland Railroad Bridge was built in the late 19th century to link New York and New England to an extensive, nationwide railway network. The walkway opened in 2009 and is open for pedestrians, hikers, joggers, bicyclists, and people with disabilities. The bridge deck stands 212 feet above the river and is 6,768 feet (1.28 miles) long, making it the longest, elevated pedestrian bridge in the world. There are spaced storyboards that provide interesting information.


The do-not miss stop is the Franklin Roosevelt Home National Park. Remember, if you qualify, get your Senior Park Pass. It is a $80 lifetime pass – the best deal our government has ever offered. It is easy to understand Roosevelt’s comment, “All that is within me cries out to go back to my home on the Hudson
River.” I love the story about the time the Roosevelt’s served Queen Elizabeth hot dogs. She just couldn’t bring herself to pick it up with her fingers so she used her fork. Eleanor Roosevelt’s home, “Val-Kill,” is the only National Historic Site dedicated to a First Lady. We have visited both. I like the serenity of Val-Kill.

There are several scenic stops. However, there are no gas stations
or places to eat so it is necessary to exit the highway, but that offers a great excuse to explore. There is never enough time to do everything. The next time I want to visit Sleepy Hollow and the Headless Horseman Bridge. Washington Irving, along with other notables, is buried in the local cemetery. His stories personify the Hudson River area. Sleepy Hollow is near Kykuit, the John D. Rockefeller Estate, which is another great place to visit.

Skä•noñh-Great Law of Peace Center. in Liverpool, NY

John and I had visited the St. Marie Among the Iroquois a couple of times years ago but I knew it had been redone so decided it was time to revisit.  We were impressed with the changes and, as always, inspired by the Native American’s perspective on Mother Nature. In reality, the site is two historic sites and there are great views of Onondaga Lake. The museum, which was closed for a couple of years, reopened on November 21, 2015 and is now called Skä•noñh-Great Law of Peace Center.  The French Fort remains virtually the same.  Both are interesting but only the museum is open year round

In the 1700s the French sent a group into the area to set up a mission. There were soldiers, workers, and Jesuit priests. The fortified mission called “Sainte Marie de Cannentaha” had a church, workshops, dormitories and kitchen but it only lasted two years. Peace with the Haudenosaunee was on the verge of breaking down so the mission was abandoned.  By the way the correct name is Haudenosaunee. Iroquois is the French name. There is an interesting book for those who would like to know more about Pierre Radisson (hence the name
Radisson, NY) by Edith Hough called “Blue-eyed Iroquois.”  It is an historical but somewhat fictionalized account of Radisson’s life and details the quick withdrawal of the French from the fort.  Before he arrived in the Onondaga area, when a young boy, he was captured and adopted by the Mohawks. The newly renovated museum is excellent with several videos that detail various aspect of the Iroquois culture with an emphasis on the Onondagas, one of the six nations of the Iroquois.

I love the Haudenosaunee story of how the world was created on the back of a turtle but I am amazed that many other cultures have a similar story.  A turtle is a symbol of wisdom and knowledge.  Another part of the story is the two sons which is also a common theme in many creation stories.  For the Iroquois one son was in charge of the day and the other night.  They become representative of the two sides of most things – the good and the bad - and hence the balance in nature.

Nearby are displays that tell about how the Iroquois culture and
method of governing were admired by the founders of the United States, especially Benjamin Franklin.  The Onondagas are matrilineal meaning that the power is in the hands of the women making them an early promoter of Women’s Rights. One area tells the story of the Peacemaker’s Journey and the Great Law of Peace.  It was not an easy journey but peacemaking never is but with the help of Hiawatha peace unity was brought to the five nations. The George Washington wampum belt ratified the 1794 Canandaigua Treaty establishing peace between the Haudenosaunee and the United States.

Preserving one’s culture is difficult but for the Native Americans it was even more difficult because native children were often taken from their parents and placed in government run boarding schools where they were Americanized thus losing their heritage. There were several such schools in New York State.  I visited one in Wisconsin and was told that they became so Americanized that when they watched cowboy and Indian movies they yelled and cheered when the cavalry arrived.

The museum gives insight and understanding to Iroquois culture. So many cultures have been lost that it would be a shame to lose this part of American history.