Tourmate #3: Corridor of Commerce
Natural Forces and Native People
With the end of the American Revolutionary War in 1783, all obstacles to settlement in the region were removed. The threat of fierce and sudden raids by native war parties or hostile invading European armies was finally gone.
The land's appearance quickly changed as forests were cut down for building material and fuel. Streams were harnessed for their power with dams and mills. What had been habitats for a variety of animals and birds was altered as the whole region was given over to farming and later, to industry. With habitat eliminated, wildlife populations declined dramatically, or disappeared entirely.
The native people who had long lived along the banks of these rivers and streams were soon distant and dim memories, occasionally recalled in the discovery of a flint arrowhead in a farmer's plowed field.
Conflict and Settlement
It would be hard to blame the farmers for thinking that soil and other resources were almost infinite. Not only was the topsoil rich and deep, but there always seemed to be more land; if not nearby, then further west along the expanding canal system and beyond.
Advances in transportation allowed farmers to reach markets that had been well outside the reach of their ancestors. Markets in cities proved to be insatiable in their need for food, wood, fish, livestock and hay. Cash crops were quite profitable, and farmers cleared and devoted more and more land to their cultivation.
Unfortunately, many nineteenth century American farming practices hadn't changed a great deal from medieval times. True, some changes had been introduced in breeding animals and improved machines, but the notion of conserving resources was non-existent. Crops were planted in fields until the nutrients were exhausted; clearing timber and plowing techniques resulted in disastrous erosion.
By the 1840's most of New York had been deforested and with much of the land worn out and with populations growing, the pressures for opening agricultural lands further and further west accelerated. In time, factories and mills would become the most important employers in the region.
Corridor of Commerce
It is sometimes difficult to believe that the peaceful Hudson River before you now is the same one that flows past the bustle of New York City almost two hundred miles to the south. The Hudson River from Albany to New York City had always been busy with river traffic: sailing ships eventually gave way to early steam ships that speeded up transportation through the valley.
Transportation through the shallower "Upper Hudson" had always been more limited. Many travelers, from the original native inhabitants through the various European people and Americans, knew the back-breaking work of portaging. Not only did portaging cause delays, it also limited the amounts of cargo that could be carried.
Philip Schuyler's early attempts at canals in the 1790's were not successful; however, in the early 19th century canal technology and building improved. Although overshadowed by the more famous Erie Canal, the Champlain Canal was inaugurated in 1823 forging a link between the Hudson River Valley and Lake Champlain and Canada.
By modern standards, travel by canal was still quite slow; often the average speed was 3 miles per hour. However, canal locks eliminated the delays and labor of portages around obstacles. The pace may have been slow, but it was steady and allowed great quantities of cargo to be moved.
Distant markets opened to the region. Albany, New York, and Montreal were now in a network of trade that encouraged farmers and entrepreneurs to expand their operations. Old Saratoga which was renamed Schuylerville in the 1830's became something of an international port thanks to the canal system.
Traveling became easier, and hostelries, shops and taverns sprouted up along the path of the canals. Canals also proved to be "highways of information", long before the internet. They infused our young Nation with different languages, customs, and religions. News and ideas were carried along by travelers, stimulating people's thinking on many subjects, including such profound notions as the abolition of slavery and equal rights for women.
Magnet for Tourism
As his life was ending, a man sat on a porch overlooking the Hudson Valley and composed his memoirs.
Wracked with throat cancer and under the threat of financial ruin, Civil War General and former President Ulysses S. Grant had fled the heat and crowds of New York City to complete his autobiography at Mount McGregor, just 7 miles to the northeast of this site. From his porch where he wrote, Grant could look out over a Hudson River Valley that had changed dramatically in the span of his lifetime.
Grant and his family were among many thousands who had discovered the serenity and natural beauty of this region. The landscape was no longer pristine wilderness but it suited the notions of 19th century Americans. Dotted with farms and mills and more sparsely populated than America's urban centers, the scenery showed a well-ordered world where nature and humans appeared to harmonize.
For families like the Grants the region may have offered a "get away" from their usual routines, but life for them in the countryside was as formal as at home in the city. Besides social calls to each other, their activities included carriage rides and picnics, with gentlemen in frock coats and top hats, and ladies in long dresses over confining corsets.
General Grant wrote his memoirs laboriously by hand, detailing his role during the terrible Civil War, dying a few days after completing the draft manuscript. The last photos show him top-hatted and reading a newspaper, perhaps noting the rapid changes occurring in the world he was leaving.