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.
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