After a lot of unusually warm weather in December and January (at least, warm by northeast standards), the falls were behaving like it was spring.
The turbulent water undermines the stone walls along the creek, the remnants of old mills. More blocks have fallen into the water every time I visit.
The Universal Friends, a religious sect similar in some ways to the Quakers, built the first grist mill here in 1790.
The Friends also added a second mill, this one for linseed oil, and eventually there were dozens of places – – grinding grain, making paper, paint, etc.
When all those industries eventually ground to a halt, for a time, the falls generated electricity for the village.
The mills have all disappeared over the years, with the exception of the Birkett Mill, grinding buckwheat since 1797. Starting near that mill, in Penn Yan, there’s a seven mile walking/biking path on the old railbed along the creek.
The trail association has put up some excellent new signboards, where I learned a new bit of local history.
I was curious about those oldtime Quaker-ish folks and why they were making linseed oil, instead of say, oatmeal.
I knew it can be used in paint and wood preservative but didn’t realize just how many uses it has.
As “flaxseed oil,” it’s a dietary supplement for people, cows, pigs and chickens. And used in soap and face cream, medicine, salad dressing, etc. It’s rubbed into cast iron pans to season them and into people’s faces to prevent wrinkles. And as a base for liniment, I guess to rub on a sore head when someone criticizes the cook and gets whacked with a cast iron skillet.
It can also be flammable – – which brings us back to the local history.
I mentioned one time, in a post about Lafayette’s 1825 visit to the U.S., that the celebrations in my hometown resulted in at least one death, when a cannon exploded and killed the local militia captain.
When the Marquis visited the little mill town near the falls, their militia unit turned out to fire salutes with their black powder muskets…and managed to set the linseed and grist mills on fire.
I’m now wondering just how many fires and fatalities were involved in Lafayette’s Farewell Tour and the attendant pyrotechnics and 24-gun salutes. (Not 21-gun salutes, the “National Salute” in this country used to be one bang per state, until 1841 when they had 26 states, more on the way and decided it was getting out of hand.)
He was on the road for thirteen months so there were plenty of opportunities for mishaps. Although certainly the toll was far less than some of our time’s crowd disasters at soccer matches, rock’n’roll concerts, dance clubs, etc.
I did read that after visiting Andrew Jackson in Tennessee, Lafayette’s steamboat sank on the way to Louisville, with no drownings but some loss of money and property.
Mostly it was thirteen months of parades, ceremonies, dances, and stuff being named for him, like the park in my hometown.
He received an honorary U. S. citizenship, too, although the paperwork wasn’t completed until just a bit after his visit.
(“Bureaucracy” was adapted from a French term, and first used in English in 1815. And so Lafayette’s citizenship didn’t come through until…last year?! July 22, 2022).
He did return to France with at least one souvenir – – snow globes hadn’t been invented yet, so he took a trunk full of dirt instead.
(It was soil from Bunker Hill and in 1834 was spread on his grave as he’d requested.)
Wikipedia has assembled a long list of places named for him – – streets, squares, towns, counties, etc. I don’t think there’s a city in upstate NY that doesn’t have something to memorialize him. But none I think with his full name:
Marie-Joseph-Paul-Yves-Roch-Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de La Fayette.
La vache! How I’d like to see that on a road sign.
26 thoughts on “Walks Around the Finger Lakes. Seneca Mills Falls, Keuka Outlet, January.”
I laughed at that trunkful of dirt. I know a couple of women forced by circumstance to leave Texas who insisted on taking jars of Texas soil with them, so their babies could be born close to Texas dirt.
Your history of the Marquis raised a question in my mind: could Fayetteville, Texas, also be named for him? In a sense, the answer’s yes. Our Fayetteville was named after the town with the same name in North Carolina, and that town was named after Lafayette.
In the history of Fayetteville, Texas, I found one other completely amusing connection to this post. Before the town became Fayetteville, it had another name:
“Fayetteville was also known as Lick Skillet (Lickskillet), supposedly for the fact that latecomers to the numerous community festivals who complained that all the food was gone were told to “lick the skillet.”
Those early Texans had a sense of humor. Wrightsboro got its name in 1851 because settler Jack Wright allowed his burrow to roam at will. There’s a historical marker.
That’s great, Linda, I love stories like this about unusual place names. I’m glad they named a place after a burro! NY has a town called Horseheads, but that’s more creepy than funny.
Up in the Adirondack Mts, there’s the Racquette River and when I was a kid, I assumed it was called that for really noisy whitewater.
Upstate has a LaFayette, Fayette and Fayetteville and I haven’t checked but I bet every city has a Lafayette street, circle, park, something.
And there’s a nature preserve near Big Flats called “Frenchman’s Bluff,” but that was named for a tavern run by a French immigrant, apparently a place with a bad reputation that supposedly “harbored dissolute women,” counterfeiters, and worse.
And, for one more connection… Gary Myers, the artist who often comments on my blog using the screen name Redtree Times lives in Horseheads. We’ve become friends, and every year I get a Christmas card with a Horseheads postmark.
The oil rub on the forehead for the cook is a good one, those “Friends.” Ha! Lovely tale Robert, I like how you thread the landscape with the history (or more accurately, how you reveal where the landscape and history are threaded). Thanks for this warm walk with you in the woods!
Thank you, Bill. That little valley along the creek, you literally trip over the threads and rusting scraps of the past.
I did not know that there were so many uses for linseed. I will make sure that I have some on hand to get some relief when my wife whacks her frying pan over my head.
Haha, oh dear! You must behave better so she won’t do that!
Haha! She won’t do that, even if I criticize her cooking.
I am glad that the honorary citizenship was finally settled for Marie-Joseph-Paul-Yves-Roch-Gilbert du Motier de La Fayette 😎😊
What a breathtaking life he had! Thanks for the story, including the one about the linseed oil 🤣
Thank you, Hanna, yes, he led an amazing life, I’m so glad he survived the wars, the Reign of Terror, and all those ceremonies and formal dinners.
His name was so long, maybe he sometimes couldn’t remember it in full!
I wouldn’t be surprised! Apparently his friends called him Gilbert. He named his son Georges Washington Louis Gilbert de La Fayette.
They must’ve had a heck of a time when they got name tags for the army.
Great photos. And some interesting history as well.
Thank you, Anne. It’s a popular falls to visit even in winter.
As it seems unlikely he went by Marie-Joseph-Paul-Yves-Roch-Gilbert, but quite possible he went by La Fayette, I looked up Fayette thinking it might mean something in French. I found, in “French Baby Names” the meaning of the name Fayette is “little fairy.”
I wonder what all those towns and counties would say if they knew they were named after “the little fairy?” Especially as many seem to be in manly red states.
To be fair, it also means “raven” in Gaelic.
And now, thanks to your informative post, I know why cast iron pans don’t have wrinkles.
I wonder if its meaning as “little fey folk” might be a modern invention? And in his time, maybe “the faithful,” but I’m not a French speaker at all. And “Raven” seems more cool anyway, terrible singers but apparently very smart birds, maybe Ben Franklin should’ve considered them instead of turkeys for our national bird.
I realized the bread I usually get has flaxseed in it but it doesn’t seem to taste of anything.
So are you implying people’s faces are like cast iron pans, with linseed oil the great equalizer?
Wok? You’re grilling me about my inclusion of skillets and faces and panning my article?
Now you’re really cooking.
Here’s another interesting fact about Lafayette: at the time of his marriage, he was 16 and his bride 14.
I guess that wouldn’t seem strange to aristocrats in the 18th century. His wife had a pretty tough life, I wonder how she felt about his years away fighting in our Revolution, after only three years of marriage. I read that she voluntarily joined him during his five-year imprisonment after the French Revolution, after her mother, sister and grandmother were guillotined during the Reign of Terror.
Yes, she had plenty of difficulties in her life. According to Wikipedia: “In 1795, the Marquise de La Fayette was imprisoned and about to be executed. Intervention by Elizabeth Monroe saved her. Mrs. Monroe visited the imprisoned marquise on the day before the execution and loudly announced she would come the next day. Not wanting to cut ties with then-diplomat James Monroe, France did not execute her.”
I don’t know what’s better – and wackier – the things you dig up or the comments you get as a result. Hourra for you! That’s Hooray in French. 😉
Thanks, Lynn, and thank you also for “Hourra” I didn’t know that!
Beautiful pictures of the falls! It also is beginning to feel like spring where I live–even though we had quite a bit of snow at the beginning of the winter–now, it’s like 50 and raining every day, which is strange.
Thanks Cecelia, we just had a little cold snap but back in the 40’s this week, pretty balmy for Milwaukee.