Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Sustainability has many facets

The concept of recycling to lower our carbon footprint and achieve a sustainable environment has effectively reached nearly everyone. Increasingly we read and learn more about using renewable building products for sustainable development. Energy Star appliances, hybrid autos, alternative heating fuels all vie for attention, and rightly so.

The concept of achieving a sustainable local economy is not so widely understood. What makes a local economy sustainable? As always, technology and innovation lead by promoting "green jobs" as a solution to both economic woes and sustainability needs. Zero-waste manufacturing has gained enough notoriety to become a marketing asset. Technology and new concepts cannot by themselves create a sustainable economy, however. Many of the building blocks hearken back to simpler times and are quite familiar to us all--farmers markets offering locally grown foods, local media free of corporate control, indedendent retailers who offer personalized customer service.

The Dutchess County Regional Chamber of Commerce served us well by introducing our own "Shop Local First" campaign several years ago. As John Tozzi reported in the February 2009 issue of, areas with shop local campaigns in place fare better in an economic downturn than areas without such networks. Is shopping closer to home actually cheaper for the consumer. Many say no. The local business cannot always match the superstore pricing. But what of the savings in time and gas? Furthermore, those who are committed to shopping local point to values beyond the monetary--the satisfaction that comes from supporting your neighbor, a friendly merchant who knows your name, attractive stores with a strong sense of place that is difficult to achieve on a big box scale.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Crisis facing our small town newspapers

We genealogists all appreciate the small town papers from days of old. We use them as sources for births, marriages and deaths occurring before vital records were kept in all locations. From obituaries we glean clues of maiden names. Many times we can get a "died before" date of death by finding a relative listed as having gone before the decedent in an obituary. Because the small town news reported nearly everything, reading that Aunt Tilly came to visit from out of town helps us discover the origin of the family.

And, this delightful little notice found in the "Connecticut Journal" both 24 Jul and 31 Jul of 1772 made me wonder what business Salmon Agard had between Mansfield and New Haven when he was born in Litchfield, baptized in Torrington, and found in Litchfield with family in 1790?

Sources: The Barbour Collection of Connecticut Town Vital Records (1994-2002; Baltimore, MD; Genealogical Publishing Co), Litchfield VR Vol 1 p 3.; Samuel Orcutt, History of Torrington, Connecticut: from its first settlement in 1737, with biographies and genealogies (J Munsell; Albany, NY; 1878), p 298; 1790 Census of Litchfield, Litchfield, CT; p 345]


What treasures might be lost to future generations if these small town papers do not survive? Can it be that electronic media will successfully replace this function? Ah, but what of the relaxing value of just kicking back and having a nice, relaxing read? Many of our Dutchess County local weeklies have vanished recently. New papers are struggling to fill that gap. Their success depends in large part upon our support. The "Crossroads" column in the launch issue of Historic Towns of Dutchess County will feature comments from these newspapers about their hopes for the future and their obstacles to success.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Glenn Curtiss, a True American Tinkerer

By Bernard J. Rudberg

Bernie Rudberg is a retired engineer, historian and railroader who serves on the Board of Historic Towns of Dutchess County, the Dutchess County Genealogical Society and as the current President of the Hopewell Junction Depot Restoration Inc. His article examining the history of the Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge is scheduled for the August 2009 launch issue, and he will be a regular contributor to future issues.

With only an 8th grade education, Glenn Curtiss became one of the most influential inventors in aviation history. Born in 1878 in Hammondsport, NY, Glenn developed an interest in bicycles and later motorcycles. At his shop near Buffalo he designed and built engines and by 1903 held a worlds record of 64 MPH on a motorcycle. A few years later he built a V8 engine to power another world record motorcycle and became “the worlds fastest man” at 136 MPH in 1907.

One of his early jobs was with the Kodak Film Company in Rochester, NY. He worked for George Eastman who was the brother of former Poughkeepsie mayor Harvey Eastman. Glenn invented a stencil machine that was used to mark film boxes at Kodak for many years.

His interests soon turned to “aeroplanes” and he earned the first pilot license issued in the US. Glenn began building planes in competition with the Wright Brothers. The Wrights had made the first powered flight in 1903 but they were very secretive about their work and did not publicize their flights. Curtiss changed all that by announcing his flights and gathering large crowds.

By 1909 he had built several models, slowly improving the designs with each version. Also in 1909 he began training pilots. In the summer of 1909 Curtiss went to Rheims France to enter a competition with aircraft from other countries. There were five Wright planes also entered. Glenn won the competition and the Gordon Bennett trophy in August 1909. The Wright planes did not win any of the events. Coming home to the US, Glenn Curtiss was hit with a patent lawsuit by the Wright Brothers. The main point of contention was the Wright wing-warping control vs Curtiss aileron control. That suit dragged on through the courts for several years with the Wrights finally winning in 1914. The Curtiss ailerons were far superior and have been used on almost all planes since 1911. Even though the Wrights won the case, their wing-warping control has not been used since.

Back in the US there was a Pulitzer prize offered for anyone who could fly from Albany, NY to New York City, a distance of well over 100 miles. At that time the record flight was 24 miles. Curtiss took up the challenge. On 29 May 1910 he took off from Albany in his newly built “Hudson Flier” which was equipped with both wheels and floats in case he had to ditch in the Hudson River. Today a blue and yellow historical marker shows the spot where he took off.

Glenn Curtiss at the controls of the Hudson Flier in 1910

The New York Times chartered a special train to follow the flight along the New York Central RR tracks on the east bank of the river. Many dignitaries were on board including Glenn’s wife, who waved from the train window.

The Hudson River was known for tricky winds and turbulence, mainly because of the high hills and cliffs along the banks. Glenn left Albany and had an uneventful flight south to a refueling stop near Poughkeepsie. The refueling was to take place at a section called Camelot, which is along the riverbank south of the present day IBM main plant off South Road. Curtiss landed but there was no gasoline waiting for him. He managed to borrow ten gallons of fuel from local motorists and was off again on his way south.

Passing through the highlands near West Point proved tricky. After almost falling out of his plane flying through turbulence, he managed to gain control and finally saw the skyscrapers of New York ahead.

His engine developed an oil leak so as a precaution he made a second landing on a grassy lawn near Columbia University. After a quick fill up of oil and gasoline he again took off south past Manhattan with people cheering and boats blowing whistles. Glenn Curtiss made a triumphant circle around the Statue of Liberty and then landed at the designated point on Governors Island to cheering crowds. This flight marked another record—Glenn Curtiss carried the first airmail, a letter from the mayor of Albany to the mayor of New York City. He had flown 152 miles at an altitude of about 700 feet averaging a speed of 52 MPH, shattering the old record of 24 miles by a wide margin. Glenn Curtiss collected the prize of $10,000 and also the permanent possession of the Scientific American Trophy.

A few months later in November 1910 the Hudson Flier again made headlines. A wooden deck was added to the bow of the US Navy Cruiser Birmingham and the Hudson Flier became the first plane to launch from a Navy Ship. In 1911 a Curtiss plane was the first to land and take off from the wooden deck built on the US Navy cruiser Pennsylvania in San Francisco Harbor. Glenn Curtiss is called “The father of Naval Aviation”.

Replica of a Curtiss Model D at the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome

The Model D was the first Curtiss aircraft sold to the US military. Glenn Curtiss sold his model D to the US military which began a long association with high performance aircraft including the famous “Flying Tiger P-40's “ of World War II. If you would like to see a Curtiss model D up close, there is a replica in the collection of the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome in Rhinebeck. It is in flying condition if the weather is not too windy.

In 1909 Glenn Curtiss established a seaplane experimental base and a pilot training facility at North Island near San Diego. Out of that effort came a series of seaplanes and flying boats including the four-engine US Navy NC-4, the first plane to fly across the Atlantic Ocean in 1919.

World War I proved to be a busy time for Glenn Curtiss and his company. Probably his most famous WW I plane was the JN-4 “Jenny” trainer. After the war many Jenny’s were sold as surplus and became barnstormers. There is an original Jenny in the collection of the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome. The Curtiss company continued on building racing planes in the 1930's and thousands of military planes during WW II. The Wright Company had fallen on hard times by being too conservative. The embittered Orville Wright sent the original Wright flyer to a science museum in London. It was not returned to the US until 1948 when it was moved to the Smithsonian in Washington DC.

In 1921 Glenn Curtiss retired from the company he had founded and began to develop real estate in Florida. Such towns as Hialeah and Miami Springs were his projects. Of course he could not stop tinkering. He invented a shallow draft boat driven by an aircraft propeller to be used in the swamps of Florida.

After years of bitter rivalry, the Curtiss Company and the Wright Company merged in 1929. None of the original people were still involved at that point. It was strictly a business deal. Glen Curtiss and the surviving Orville Wright remained enemies to the end. Glenn Curtiss died on 23 July 1930 at age 52. He had a pulmonary embolism after an appendix operation.

In 1911 Glenn Curtiss had patented the aileron control surfaces for aircraft wings. Almost every plane built since 1911 has used his aileron design including private and military planes plus commercial airliners and even the space shuttle. Not one of the Wright Brothers inventions has been used on modern aircraft. The Wright Brothers may have been the first off the ground, but Glenn Curtiss built the foundation of the modern aircraft industry with his inventions and improvements.

Did you know?


What are you likely to learn more about by reading the historical articles in Historic Towns of Dutchess County? We plan to address topics that answer the question:

Did you know…..

…How Salt Point got its name ?

…How Danskammer Point got its name ?

…What famous local Indian chief fought on our side in the Revolutionary War ?

…How Claverack got its name ?

…What local church was used as a hospital for George Washington's army ?

…Why the eastern border of Dutchess County is called "The Oblong" ?

…How Nuclear Lake in Pawling got its name ?

…Why towns in the Hudson Valley have "kill" on the end of their names ?

…What famous WW II newsman lived in Pawling ?

…How the Harlem Valley of Dutchess County got its name ?

…Where those blue coin-collecting folders come from?

…What famous European cars were once built in Poughkeepsie ?

…How many times the railroad tracks sank into Whaley Lake?

…What plant on route 9 built machine guns during WW II ?

…Where the Appalachian Trail crosses both the Taconic Parkway and I-84?

…Where the New York State electric chair was kept for many years?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Quaker Migrations by Steven Mann anticipated for HTDC Corridors issue.

As I proofread and edit Steven Mann’s upcoming article on Quaker Migrations I am excited by the multiplying effect of its content for future subject material. I originally thought that the article was appropriate for the Corridors issue due to the very nature of those migrations forming an actual corridor through Dutchess County. Additionally I hoped that it would generate anticipation for a future Quaker Symposium to be held in Dutchess County. But the topic actually promises to run throughout many of the future issues. Covering the historical aspect requires using the space intended for the genealogical content as well. However there is genealogical material contained in the history article. It seems more than likely that the various Quaker family genealogies mentioned will form an ongoing series to be published here or on our main web site at

However, as an illustration of how connections present themselves in unlikely ways, work on a totally unrelated project that focuses more often on New England and New Brunswick genealogy recently landed me right back in Dutchess County New York in the midst of this topic! The National Association of Leavitt Families’ annual reunion this year celebrated our 75th anniversary by honoring the founder, genealogist Emily Leavitt Noyes. We decided to focus on making the genealogy aspect more meaningful to our many members who are not genealogists. It occurred to me that most of our members gather for the fraternal aspect and must sometimes wonder why we genealogists insist the bus tours stop at every cemetery. We must seem a little quirky…most of the time these Leavitt graves do not even belong to our own ancestors!

To communicate what we are doing for the Association I made a display entitled “Genealogy 101”—pages illustrating how we find the records and how we use them to place individuals and flesh out their biographies. I had no illustrations particularly apropos for probate records, but knew I would find something I could use at the NEHGS database “Abstracts of Wills, Administrations and Guardianships in New York State 1787-1835”. Sure enough I found a Leavitt listed, one that led to a mystery. Roger Leavitt of Franklin County, MA was appointed executor in 1813 for a Jonas Hayw[?] of Otsego County, NY who died intestate. This is puzzling in that these two counties are not even on the borders of their respective states, but rather are separated by four other counties. What could the two men have in common? They could be related, but I did not find evidence of this yet in Roger Leavitt’s genealogy, which is fairly well defined. I remembered from our reunion a few years ago in Charlemont, MA that this Roger Leavitt’s children were active abolitionists. And, I was pretty sure I remembered something about the Underground Railroad passing through Otsego County. But wasn’t the time frame off a little? I did some digging and found the following passage from Fergus M. Bordewich.

Dutchess County had the largest concentration of Quakers outside Philadelphia. The eastern portion of the county was densely settled with Quakers. The Oblong Meeting of Quaker Hill was was the first in the country—in 1769—to free slaves as an official action of the body.

North of Quaker Hill, fugitives could count on protection from Quakers belonging to the Oswego Meeting, to the northwest. Some were sheltered at Susan Moore’s Floral Hill boarding house, a few miles from the Meeting, at Moore’s Mills.

About twenty miles north of Quaker Hill stood the most important single abolitionist institution in the valley—and one of the most important in the country: the Nine Partners School, just east of present-day Millbrook.

This Quaker school may, in fact, have served as a sort of command center for the underground in the entire region. As early as the 1810’s, students were required to memorize a lengthy anti-slavery catechism that described slavery as a “dreadful evil.” Ending slavery, it went on, was “a great revolution,” a “noble purpose” for which men and women had been created by their Heavenly Father.

The school had a profound influence on students who went on to shape the entire abolitionist movement—and other great reform movements. They included abolitionist and women’s rights advocate Lucretia Coffin and her future husband James Mott, also a prominent abolitionist. And Daniel Anthony, later a stationmaster on the Underground Railroad, and the father of Susan B. Anthony.

The school’s headmaster Jacob Willetts—he was author of the most popular textbooks of the day—personally sheltered fugitives at his home just down the road from the school. So did several of his Quaker neighbors.

Well, I still don’t know if or how this plays into the Otsego County connection with Roger Leavitt. But I did learn more about the Underground Railroad and the Abolitionist movement in Dutchess County. Clearly this topic will come up again, especially as we move to the townships where Quaker Meeting Houses are found.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The more you consume it, the better it gets...

Doesn't a natural resource deplete with repeated consumption? Well....sometimes yes. In the case of our local historical and scenic sites the answer is no. More museum visits generates more income to improve the collections. More trail enthusiasts can generate more volunteers to maintain those trails, more tourism dollars spent locally to generate tax revenue to help expand and improve the trail system. Cultural events at our local historical sites and parks bring in visitors, generate local income, and so on. Every town in Dutchess County may not have an industry or large service business. But, every single one of our towns does posess historical assets. Let's help each other learn how to use them to build more sustainable local economies!

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