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.


piece of an old millstone along the stream


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.


ice-covered stalks on one of the colder days


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.


still green in a sheltered, south-facing spot

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.








1800's, canal trails, Early American History, Finger Lakes, FLX, History, Lafayette, NY, Upstate New York

Walks Around the Finger Lakes. Seneca Mills Falls, Keuka Outlet, January.



I’m having fun swopping photos of wagons with Liz at “Exploring Colour,” here’s two photos I took years ago.

An old wagon in Logan, Utah, and a surrey made in Waterloo, NY.

Here’s the link to Liz’s post 

I know I’ve got shots of a Conestoga, the big freight haulers of their day in the northeast U.S. and Canada, I’ll add ’em when I find ’em.


old wagon in Logan, Utah



Surrey (yes it probably had a fringe on top) made by the Waterloo Wagon Co. in my hometown

A pretty classy rig, right?!

I kinda like a bright golden haze on the meadow…But there will be no singing of songs from Oklahoma! allowed in this blog!!

(And enough with the exclamation points already!!)


Wagons Ho

1800's, 19th century, Early American History, Finger Lakes, FLX, History, NY, Upstate New York, Waterloo

Napoleon is not Dynamite in Waterloo


Martin Van Buren Old Kinderhook LOC

Martin Van Buren, “Old Kinderhook” Library of Congress.

My Hometown, Part I

As the story goes, Martin Van Buren was pretty pissed-off when they renamed my hometown “Waterloo.”

Since he was from the old days, and was a President, I should not be so vulgar, so let’s say he was “piqued”,  “exasperated,” or “apoplectic.”


Or perhaps we should say, verbolgen en kwaad, since he probably thought in Dutch, his first language.

He seems to have been a pretty happy guy, and, for a lifelong politician, a pretty decent one.  But when they created “Waterloo, New York,” he was irate.

I’ve always been puzzled about the re-branding of my town.


Who names their town after their enemy’s greatest victory?


V0024799 Astronomy: various apocalyptic scenes, including a grieving Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images Astronomy: various apocalyptic scenes, including a grieving widow, war, and the Duke of Wellington rejecting Harriet Winter [?]. Coloured lithograph, n.d. [c.1839?]. Published: - Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

Wellcome Library

I grew up in a small village in upstate New York, in the Finger Lakes region.

There was a Cayuga Indian village here, destroyed during the Revolution, called “Skoi-Yase.”  When the whites moved in, they called their settlement  “Skoys,” “Scauyes,” “Scayau,” etc. and later, “New Hudson.”

At that time, this area was “The Military Tract” – over a million acres sold by, or taken from, the Cayuga Nation, one of the Iroquois tribes that fought on the losing side during the Revolution.  The tract was parceled out as compensation to war veterans who’d fought on the winning side.

So there was a concentration of people in this area, who’d fought against the British Army.


Continental dollar

“Not worth a Continental” was an old American expression.

The Continental Congress, short of cash, and not much trusted (some things never change) had promised to reward its soldiers with land.  A private got 100 acres, a lieutenant got 200, a colonel 500, etc.

New York, which was also short of cash, sweetened the pot, and gave each private an additional 500 acres, and so on, up to a major general, who got over eight square miles.  This is during a time when 100 acres amounted to a good-sized farm.

Some of the veterans chose to sell their “bounty” land.  So just after the War of 1812, Elisha Williams bought a square mile of this Military Tract.  He was a Yankee lawyer who moved to Hudson, NY, and became a land speculator… and a political enemy of Martin Van Buren, who lived in the same town.  Williams sold off building lots for a new village, at first called “New Hudson.”



Dutch dragoon. NY Public Library.

In 1816, the residents, apparently prompted by Williams, voted to rename the village “Waterloo.”

So in a place specifically set aside for veterans who’d fought the British, and just after fighting the British again in the War of 1812, the village was renamed “Waterloo,”  after the British triumph.

Doesn’t that strike you as just a bit weird?


V0048407 Arthur Wellesley, first Duke of Wellington. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images Arthur Wellesley, first Duke of Wellington. He rose to prominence in the Napoleonic Wars, eventually reaching the rank of field marshal. 1814 By: Thomas Phillipsafter: William SayPublished: Nov. 8 1814. Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

The Duke of Wellington. Little known fact: all the evergreens in Britain were used up by 1814, used to construct warships during the Napoleonic wars, so England had a chronic shortage of Christmas trees — they were forced to decorate public figures instead.   Wellcome Library


New York saw a lot of bloodshed during the Revolution.  This is where George Washington got kicked off Long Island and lost New York City.   An entire British army marched into NY’s North Country, met their Waterloo at Saratoga and marched out again as prisoners.  Mad Anthony Wayne shot and captured hundreds of British soldiers at Stony Point, New York settlers suffered the Cherry Valley Massacre and countless other frontier fights with the Iroquois and their British and Tory allies.  Neighbor fought neighbor and Iroquois fought Iroquois at Oriskany.  Benedict Arnold slapped together some gunboats and delayed an invasion fleet at Valcour Island, and later, having turned traitor and trying to hand over West Point, his handler, Major Andre, was hanged at Tappan.



Benedict Arnold. Like Elisha Williams, a Connecticut Yankee, not a New Yorker


More Americans died of starvation and disease in the British prison ships in New  York Harbor, than in all the battles of the war.

As a little reminder of British consideration for American prisoners, their bones washed up on the shores of Brooklyn for decades.

And during the War of 1812, New Yorkers fought the British again, all along the Canadian frontier, and in Ontario and Quebec. Villages on both sides of the Niagara frontier and the Great Lakes were raided and burned, and ships were captured and sunk in naval battles.  The Americans crossed from Buffalo to capture Fort Erie and Fort George, and the British crossed over to storm Fort Niagara.


Plattsburg LOC

The War of 1812. The last British invasion of the northern U.S. – the Battle of Plattsburgh, NY aka Battle of Lake Champlain. Library of Congress. (sea of green and lots of smoke, hmmm.)


Everyone remembers the Battle of Baltimore, because of the bombardment of Fort McHenry, the “rockets’ red glare, “Star-spangled Banner, etc.  The day before, though, a bloodier battle was fought on the border between New York and Quebec. Veterans of Wellington’s battles in Spain participated in the last British invasion of the northern U.S. — which was defeated at Plattsburgh, NY, and on Lake Champlain.

Wellington’s army included the King’s German Legion, drawn mostly from Hanover and Brunswick, sources of many of the much-hated “Hessians” during the Revolution.  Other regiments of Redcoats and Highlanders fighting at Waterloo, had fought in New York during the Revolution, in the battles for Long Island, Brooklyn, and Manhattan.  British units which helped defeat Napoleon, had also participated in the Battle of New Orleans (where Wellington’s brother-in-law was killed), attacks in Maryland, and in the burning of Washington, D.C.

From my kitchen window, I can see the old “Elisha Williams” cemetery, where little flags are always flying on the graves of veterans of all this fighting.   General Maltby, the American commander at Boston during the War of 1812, is buried there, as is a Revolutionary War vet who’d survived the infamous British prison hulks.


Waterloo battlefield 1890 LOC

Waterloo battlefield, circa 1890. Library of Congress

None of these people could have felt very friendly to the Union Jack – – so how did they accept having their village renamed in honor of a British victory?  Wouldn’t you give Wellington the boot?


Elisha Williams was a Yankee and a Federalist – – and both groups bitterly opposed the War of 1812.  He may well have suggested “Waterloo” as a thumb-in-the-eye to the Democratic-Republicans, like his bitter opponent, Martin Van Buren.

Napoleon House of Representatives LOC

Napoleon. U.S. House of Representatives. Library of Congress

When Van Buren heard of the new “Waterloo” in his state, he immediately insisted on renaming another village “Austerlitz”, in honor of Napoleon’s biggest victory.



photo credit: Sarah Teel. Thanks, sis.

“In historical events, great men –so called– are but the labels that serve to give a name to an event, and like labels, they have the last possible connection with the event itself.”  Tolstoy


Maybe part of the answer, then and now, is that “New Yorkers” by definition, care more about the present day, than about history or the past.

So the mystery of why my town is called Waterloo is put to rest.

The answer is, that it just doesn’t matter.

Then or now, most New Yorkers don’t care if their town is called Waterloo, Austerlitz, or Calcutta — we have them all.  

We have a hamlet called Marengo — one of Napoleon’s early victories, and a delicious chicken recipe.  And if any of you actually waded through Tolstoy’s War and Peace, we have a Borodino, too, a Napoleonic bloodbath on the way to Moscow.

NY is famous for classical references (Syracuse, Utica, Greece).  My county has little cowpie hamlets grandly named Ovid, Romulus, Junius, and Tyre, complete with a crumbling Roman-style courthouse and decaying “Greek Revival” farmhouses.

This state also has Cadiz, Copenhagen, Dresden, Medina, Stockholm, Zurich, Berlin, New Berlin, Poland, Cuba, Salamanca, and a Stone Arabia (no idea on that last one).  And just a few miles down the road from me is Montezuma.

And today, I unconditionally guarantee, my fellow villagers do not know, or care, about ancient Greece, the Roman Empire, the Aztec Empire, or who fought at Waterloo, or which side won.

If you explained Napoleon’s final defeat to them, they would probably just express relief at not having to learn French in school.

OK, end of rant.  Our state motto is “Excelsior“, so onward and upward, moving on, ditching history as we go.

But I still think, before you graduate from school in a town called Waterloo, they should at least make it mandatory to know a bit about Wellington’s Victory.  Maybe just watch the 1970 movie, with Rod Steiger as Napoleon, and Christopher Plummer as Wellington.  And Orson Welles, too, I don’t remember in what role, perhaps as the Chateau d’Hougoumont?


In Part II, I searched newspapers across the country, to see how all the Waterloo’s around the USA (a clear majority of states have one) commemorated the 200th anniversary of the battle.  (Here’s a spoiler — it’s a pretty short list!)

Maybe it was just “Battle Anniversary Overload”?  Here’s a few more for 2015, and the movies to watch if you don’t want to read a history book:

600th anniversary of Agincourt – I think they’re supposed to be working on a movie right now.  But in the meantime, look up on YouTube, Kenneth Branagh doing the pre-battle speech from Shakespeare’s Henry V.  Seriously, if you don’t feel moved, go to the hospital, have them check you for a pulse.

100th anniversary of Gallipoli – the only time I’ve liked Mel Gibson, in a Peter Weir movie of the same name.   And Russell Crowe in The Water Diviner

75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain – the movie version is almost fifty years old, but lots of real airplanes, not computer simulations, with Michael Caine, Laurence Olivier, Christopher Plummer, again, and pretty much every other British actor alive in 1969