Archive for the ‘Route 5S’ Category

Part I

2010_ft_plain_0703_1200_01_thumb6The natural waterways, long before the first canals or railroads, were of strategic importance to any European state trying to control North America. While the surrounding area was still wilderness, critical battles were fought as far inland as modern Pittsburgh and Detroit, as early as the mid-1700s. The Mohawk Valley was no exception, and many of the early forts and fortified homesteads remain as testament, either as restored landmarks or in the names of communities that sprang up around them.

As the newly formed nation, the United States, began to develop in the early 1800s, the settlements became small industrial centers. The Erie Canal followed the Mohawk River, and continued west, to open a route to Buffalo and across the Great Lakes to Chicago. The towns along the Canal grew, as trade and small manufacturing centers. The mid-1800s saw the numerous short line railroads gobbled up by the New York Central and Hudson River Railway, to form the Water Level route from New York to Chicago, eventually reducing a lengthy boat trip to a mere 18 hours travel time at its peak. This boosted local economies even more.

2010_ft_plain_0703_1205_thumb2In a somewhat ironic turn, the area is returning to its pioneer agrarian roots. The Erie Canal is now used mainly for pleasure boating, and the rail line, now owned by CSX, carries mostly high-speed container through-freight instead of locals. Amtrak uses the line, but with stops at the eastern and western ends of the valley, and one in the middle at Amsterdam. Amish families are moving into the area, buying up vacant “English” family farms, and prospering with their low-capital, large-family labor model. This has brought a slower pace of life. Horse drawn buggies, baked goods sales, family-run sawmills, women in simple dresses, and small, neighborhood schools are increasingly common. Public wi-fi hotspots are nearly impossible to find, as are modern chain stores and restaurants.

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Mohawk Valley at CanajoharieThis is the area featured in classic novels, such as Drums Along the  Mohawk, Last of the Mohicans, and Rome Haul. The Mohawks drove the Algonquian Mohicans out of the Valley, pushing them east of Hudson before white settlers arrived.

The only avenues of travel in the wilderness of the New World were the lakes and rivers. Along these natural highways, the earliest inland settlements were established, as Europeans moved inland during the first hundred years after the establishment of port cities like Boston and New York (originally New Amsterdam). The communities of the Mohawk Valley are some of the oldest in upstate

Map picture

New York.

The British gained control of New York from the Dutch in 1664. The first major wave of permanent settlers were Palatine Germans, fleeing a century of religious wars and persecution that destroyed their Rhine Valley homeland. By 1723 the Palatines began to settle in the Mohawk Valley, opening the frontier for the British. There they found some peace, but also renewed warfare, first in the French and Indian War, and later in the American Revolution.

Part II