The Crooked Lake Review

May 2008

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1829, Part 6

New York City / State Timeline

from Eagles Byte by David Minor

Year-by-year tracing the growth of the early days of the Republic

Set 'em Up, Joe

Despite some speculation in 1829—mostly wishful thinking out in the hinterland—it looked like Albany would remain New York's state capital for the foreseeable future. The place certainly was busy enough. Besides the construction of a new city hall, this hillside capital lit by oil lamps (586 by a recent count) was seeing construction of St. Mary's Church (the city's second of the name), and over on Washington Street a large frame building was being readied for the Albany Orphan Asylum, established within days of James Stuart's visit. It would move into new quarters in another four years. Much of the new growth, of course, had been the result of the Erie Canal. In May the Canal Bank of Albany had been incorporated. It would have an 19-year run, failing in 1848.

Back in April, some 80 miles or so to the north in Keeseville, a young, newly-arrived schoolteacher described a more primitive existence. His friends over in New Hampshire received a letter from him - it cost them 18-and-three-quarter cents - written on April 15th, in which he described his new life. "It is but three years since the first house was built. Now there are two or three stores, a public house, iron works and lumber mills . . . I expect this will soon grow to be a great business place." He mentions the sluggish local economy, " Business is very dull in this country. Everywhere money is scarce. Iron and lumber are low. The iron works are very tardy in their movements on account of the scarcity of money." But there are compensations. ". . . a fine Dutch girl where I board sweet little bird ! -a modest little thing as ever you saw!" He writes again in August to describe a planned new road being built in the vicinity and state that much land nearby, of varying quality, is being bought up by local people in anticipation.

Planned roads into the interior of the Adirondacks will increase dramatically in the following decades, but for now most of the activity is spread around the perimeter of the region. Progress will be aided after this year as David H. Burr, an appointee of Surveyor General Simeon DeWitt, readies his atlas of the state for publication. It's only the second state atlas ever produced, preceded by Robert Mills' 1825 atlas of South Carolina.

Newcomers are trickling into the region. This year Nathan Southmayd, a veteran of the War of 1812 who had fought at Plattsburgh, and somewhere picked up the title 'commodore', moved to Jay, near Lake Placid, and built a handsome, two-story stone house. He, his wife and their descendants would live there until the end of the century. It would later serve as a maternity hospital and a nursing home; food would be raised on the grounds for the Lake Placid Club.

Another newcomer, a visitor who'd come over from France in 1815, took an interest in real estate in New York and New Jersey, purchasing land this year over natural caverns over near Lake Ontario in Jefferson County and building a mansion. Complete with tunnels, in case he needed an escape route at some future date. His late younger brother could certainly have used such a set-up. The Count de Surveilliers, a.k.a. Joseph Bonaparte, former King of Naples and Spain, knew only too well you had to be ready for emergencies.

410. Cut It in Half?

James Stuart may have found travel on the Erie Canal too tiresome to be borne last year, but now, in 1829, the canal boom continued across the eastern U. S., with projects in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Massachusetts, Ohio, Virginia, and Illinois. Canada opened its Welland Canal this year, as well. And New York was by no means done tinkering with its system. Back before the second war with Britain, in 1812, the state had commissioned engineer James Geddes to survey the route for a canal to link Seneca Lake with the Chemung River at Elmira. In 1825, with the war long settled, interest in the scheme was revived in the legislative halls at Albany. The salt fields around Onondaga Lake were being depleted; coal, the newly-developing miracle fuel from eastern Pennsylvania, might be brought up into the New York via the Susquehanna and Chemung rivers. Markets for New York produce and manufactures might open in states to the south. The legislature passed the authorization for funding in April and in November began advertising for contractor proposals.

Actually central New York didn't have to worry about running out of salt anytime soon. New technologies would allow extraction from more difficult-to-reach sources and keep the industry thriving for another 97 years. Clinton's ditch would spur a population explosion, swelling Syracuse's population to 2500, nearly equal to Salina, her neighboring village. The two would not merge until 1847. Which caused a dilemma for Samuel Forman, Oren Hutchinson and John Smith. The three men were named to a commission to select a location for the new Onondaga County courthouse, one whose jurisdiction would include consolidated courts at Ovid, Levana and Onondaga. Question was, where? The three men would do King Solomon proud. They decided to locate the home for the new court at the corner of North Salina and Ash streets, exactly between the two villages. It would remain there until 1857 when the third courthouse was constructed. That one lasted until 1906. Just up North Salina, within the Salina village boundary, Irish Catholics Thomas McCarthy and James Lynch, with some aid from friends in Albany, Utica and New York City - including some truly ecumenical assistance from local Protestants - erected St. John's Roman Catholic Church. For two years clergymen from the Diocese of New-York would visit once a month, but then the Reverend Francis O'Donoghue, was assigned as permanent pastor.

Off to the southwest in the Finger Lakes region another clergyman, the Reverend William Bostwick of St. James Episcopal Church in Hammondsport, had been traveling around, setting up new parishes there and in Bath and Penn Yan. With plenty of opportunity to ponder the rural scenery he soon realized the suitability of conditions for a new agricultural venture. He imported a few catawba grapevines from the Hudson Valley and planted them in his rectory garden, assuring his parishioners a future source of sacramental wine. Cuttings from his vines were later obtained by local merchant William Hastings; in 1847 he sent the first shipment of grapes from the area to New York City. Wine, sacramental and otherwise, would follow. The wines James Stuart is enjoying at various points throughout his journeys can not have come from the region yet, but you were born in luckier times. So next time you follow the Wine Trail through the Finger Lakes of Central New York, raise a glass to Rector William Hastings. Salud!

411. Printer's Inc.

At the time Reverend William Bostwick was planting his first grape vines in Hammondsport, New York, in 1829, another crop was being nurtured forty-some miles to the north by a genuine farmer. Martin Harris had been helping a young former neighbor over the past year, down in Pennsylvania, translating gold tablets that Joseph Smith claimed to have received from an angel at Hill Cumorah, near Palmyra.

Prosperous and learned, Martin Harris had been a backer both of the Erie Canal and of the Greeks in their battle for independence from the Ottoman Empire. Described by those who knew him as, "an industrious, hard-working farmer, shrewd in his business calculations, frugal in his habits", Harris had recently swung his considerable intellectual telescope around to the affairs of Joseph Smith. When Smith decided to leave New York because of the hostility of most of his god-fearing neighbors, it was Harris who loaned him the $50 to pay off his debts and move south. Mrs. Harris did not share her husband's beliefs in this claimed new religion called Mormonism. When her husband returned from visiting Smith with a number of translated pages and they subsequently disappeared, she became historians' favorite suspect, justifiably or not.

All the same, the pages had to be re-translated. With that done, practical business needs took over. Books without readers serve only to keep their authors off the street (or, in this case, farm). As 1829 opened, money was needed to spread the word and it was here that Harris stepped in once again. In April he mortgaged his farm to Palmyra printer Egbert B. Grandin for $3000, in exchange for the printing of Joseph Smith's book. We can be sure Mrs. Harris was not amused.

While Grandin began setting up his frames of hard type in Wayne County a 28-year-old farm-hand/carpenter living in Canandaigua moved to the next-door county of Monroe. It would be another three years however before Joseph Smith would meet Brigham Young.

As Monroe County gained one good-sized intellect it lost another. Almanacs had been around since the time of the ancients but had begun proliferating in the region in the decade now coming to a close. Those real-life dukes of omnium and gatherum, the almanac publishers, even had their own self-bestowed title - philomaths - or loosely translated - brothers in astrology. In Bushnell's Basin, along the Erie Canal to the southeast of Rochester, Oliver Loud died on the first of November. Born in Massachusetts he'd moved to Egypt, New York, between Rochester and Palmyra, in 1812 and opened an inn there about the time hostilities were breaking out with England. For the next dozen years, as he ran his busy log way station here in the business and law court center for the Town of Perinton, he spent all of his spare time compiling, studying and categorizing the latest astronomical data. He combined forces with a kindred spirit, Bushnell's Basin postmaster Lyman Wilmarth, and the two adjusted their calculations for local conditions, then sought out Rochester printer Everard Peck to publish their findings in 1822, as first the Western Agricultural Almanaks, then the Western Almanak. Other almanac printers substituted Loud's calculations for those of their original sources and by 1829 Loud was the premiere philomath in upstate New York. Then, at the age of 49, apparently of natural causes, Oliver Loud was off to do some real-time astronomical field work.

412. Arcade City on the Erie

Construction on Rochester's Reynolds Arcade, that indoor mall, post office and business incubator designed by William Jones that we visited in 1828 was completed this next year. Most of Rochester's business community could be found gathered here in the main central corridor, four stories beneath the building's skylight, once the daily mail arrived. According to Rochesterian John Rothwell Slater, "You could buy a suit, pawn a watch, see a doctor, meet a friend, escape a bore, borrow money, sell a bond, send a telegram, read a paper, get a shine, eat a meal, play a game of chess and buy flowers for the lady; or you could hire a desk and wait for customers to come pouring in." Many did the latter. Tenants were clamoring for space in its 86 rooms and postmaster/landlord Abelard Reynolds stood to recoup his $30,000 construction cost quite quickly. The Reynolds Arcade you will see there in the 21st century, by the way, will be a replacement built in the early 1930s.

Even if you weren't pawning a watch or buying flowers for your lady, or doing both, in the arcade you might be wising up in other ways. The city's founder, Colonel Nathaniel Rochester, and other local promoters of education, founded the Athenaeum there as the building opened, to acquaint the citizens of this Erie Canal town with literature, science and the arts. From such a humble acorn would one day grow an oak tree known as the Rochester Institute of Technology.

Neither was the soul being neglected. On the first day of 1829 Unitarian minister James D. Green arrived by invitation in Rochester and launched a three-month series of sermons, eventually drawing as many as 500 worshippers to each meeting; launching the First Unitarian Congregational Society of Rochester. Green then moved on and a series of laymen, including canal commissioner Myron Holley, struggled forward to establish a Unitarian foothold.

Holley's work on bringing the canal to Rochester brought far more immediate results. Back in 1824, the year before the canal's completion, eight or nine boats a week would tie up along the canal running through the village. Now, in 1829, five times that number would pass through in a single day. There would often be a waiting line at each end of the aqueduct over the Genesee River. Seth C. Jones, one of the local boatbuilders launched a packet boat he called The Superior. The vessel lived up to its name, providing luxury service along the waterway that might have made our old friend James Stuart change his mind about canal travel. Described as weighing between 15 and 20 tons, the vessel featured washrooms, a bar, and a cabin that was seven feet in height. But it was the boat's decor that held the passenger's eye the moment he entered the palatial cabin, with original scenic oil paintings on each of the walls.

Two noted people left the Rochester scene this year. Nathaniel B. Rochester, son of the village's founder Nathaniel Rochester (no B.) moved westward to Buffalo to become manager of the newly-established Bank of the United States there. We'll head that direction next time. We'll pass on the journey of the young man named Patch who climbed to the top of a tower overlooking the Genesee Falls and entered into the beyond—and folklore. Got a boat named for him, too.

2008, David Minor
Index to David Minor's New York Timeline
The Eagles Byte New York City / State Timeline is from David Minor's radio scripts for Simon Pontin's Salmagundy radio program on WXXI-FM (91.5). David can be heard every Saturday morning at 9:15 am talking about various aspects of world history.
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