In autumn, a single maple tree can carpet an acre. So then you can cut a rug, and dance in the leaves.

 

 

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4.  A lot of different hues in the bricked-up window of an old mill.

 

 

5.  A marshy area was saturated with leaves.

 

 

6.  Oak leaves swirl around, hundreds of feet in the air, almost like they’re trying to follow that hawk.

 

 

7.  The holes in this oak leaf are pretty small, apparently the bugs only took a few bites before buzzing off.  The high tannin content in oaks, redwoods, etc. provides some level of protection, from bugs, bacteria, and fungi, but of course, we happily ingest small amounts of tannin every day, in coffee, tea, chocolate, berries, etc.  And I prefer to use witch hazel solution, another source of tannin,  instead of aftershave.  I read recently, that scientists have created some high-tannin tree hybrids, to discourage beavers from chomping them down.

 

 

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9.   Skeleton of an 1840 “pony truss” bridge, which once led to a now-vanished hamlet

 

 

10.  The bridge now serves as a trellis for wild grapes.

 

 

11.  The bridge during summertime

 

 

12.  Tentative identification: Black Rat Snake. Kind of a terrible name, I think it’s actually pretty handsome. My only complaint, is that it can climb trees, and that sort of behavior by snakes should be discouraged.

 

 

 

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14   Remnants of an old lock and dam

 

Keuka Lake just doesn’t fit in with the other Finger Lakes.

It’s absolutely lovely, but it only resembles a finger, if you got careless using a table saw.  It’s really shaped more like a crude letter “Y,”  if you drew it in the dirt, with a stick, blindfolded, liquored up & left-handed.   Go ahead try it, we’ll wait.

map is courtesy of the NYS DEC

 

Anyway, to me it looks more like a forked branch, and in fact, the hamlet on the northwest branch, is called Branchport.

At the top of the other, northeast branch, there is a creek which flows from the lake, through the village of Penn Yan, heads east, and eventually drains into Seneca Lake.

The village has a fascinating history, and was once home to a Quaker sect called the “Society of Universal Friends”.  Maybe a topic for another article some time.

Today I’ll just mention two things –  where the odd name originated, and a bit of local history.

One – Penn Yan is a contraction of “Pennsylvanians & Yankees,” after the original settlers.

Two – The village kind of relocated, without moving – – in a manner of speaking, it was once in Massachusetts, even though that state is 230 miles away.

It’s located  just west of the 1786 “Preemption Line,” a north-south line bisecting New York, from the Pennsylvania line, to Lake Ontario.  You’ll cross a marker for the line, walking on the trail. 

Land west of the line was claimed by Massachusetts, based on a grant from King Charles I.  After the Revolution, the two states went to court, and it was decided:

  • the land was part of New York
  • but was owned by the Iroquois, and was therefore part of their sovereign territory
  • but Massachusetts possessed a preemptive right of purchase from the Iroquois
  • but Massachusetts sold their interest to private speculators
  • but the speculators went broke
  • but they sold their interest to Robert Morris, one of the Founding Fathers
  • but he sold most of it to a British syndicate
  • but non-citizens couldn’t own land
  • but they found a Scot who became a naturalized citizen, to front for them
  • but then the non-citizen rule was revoked, so a Dutch syndicate could buy land
  • etc.

Meanwhile, while all this was going on…the natives were dispossessed, settlers moved in, Rochester and Buffalo were founded, and eventually, in 1960, the Bills joined the AFL.  That’s as brief as I can make it.

Is that all clear?  Welcome to New York, the State of Confusion!

Anyway, at Keuka Lake, there were settlers from Pennsylvania and New England = Penn Yan.

In an area replete with interesting place names – drawn from Europe, classical Greek and Roman history, Native American sites, and land speculators – this creek we’re going to walk along, was somehow left with the utilitarian and totally un-poetic name of Keuka Lake Outlet.  “Outlet” means a discount factory store, or a place to plug in a lamp, or a method of venting.  This is a waterway desperately in need of a good PR firm.  Brook, stream, bourne, creek (prounounced “crick” by the older folks here) – – any of these are better.  Heck, I’ll take “runnel” over “outlet” any day.

In the 1830’s, the state government constructed the Crooked Lake Canal alongside the creek.   “Crooked Lake” is another name for Keuka, and is not a reference to state officials.  As is traditional for New York State ventures, the canal lost money for each & every one of its forty-four years of existence.  It was replaced by the Fall Brook Railroad in the 1870’s, which was in turn washed away by Hurricane Agnes in 1972.

 

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A local group restored six miles of the towpath/railroad bed, and created a walking trail, from Penn Yan, on Keuka Lake,  to Dresden, a hamlet on Seneca Lake.

The creek drops 270 feet, from Keuka to Seneca, and in the old days, it powered three dozen mills and little factories, starting in 1790.  Buckwheat, paint, plaster, paper, tanneries, etc. and in more recent times, insecticide.  So, depending on where you were standing, it must have smelled like breakfast cereal, or like paint, or just plain horrible.  Until well into the 20th century, a key component in tanning leather was dog manure.  Where they got it, how it was transported, and what price it fetched on the open air market, we’ll reluctantly leave for another day.

Quickly segueing to hair of the dog, there was also a distillery somewhere along here, which, with our forebears’ customary frugality, included a hog pen.  The hogs consumed the leftover mash from making alcohol, and no doubt contributed to the general eye-stinging atmosphere of the place.

In summary, the 19th century along the stream was a bucolic tiptoe through the daisies.

If you begin your walk in the village of Penn Yan, you’ll pass Birkett Mills, founded in 1796 and still grinding up buckwheat.  If you’ve ever felt nostalgic for the days of Tsarist pogroms and serfdom, and really enjoy chewing for extended periods, the mill is supposed to be the world’s largest supplier of “kasha” (buckwheat groats.)

Most remnants of the 19th c. industries have fallen down, crumbled, and been washed away over the years, but as you walk along the water, through what is now a wooded ravine, you’ll pass a few traces.  Circular stone and brick pits, nearly filled-in with dirt and leaf mold.  A towering brick smokestack, rusted remnants of water turbines, some foundations made of huge stone blocks, and a couple of crumbling concrete buildings from the 20th century.  A triangular chunk of millstone, embedded in a tree’s roots.  The shattered remains of a steam boiler, and a massive iron fly-wheel, were removed a few years ago, and taken to a local steam engine museum.

 

16. A wall from an 1884 mill, that converted straw into paper and cardboard.  During WWII, it was running full-time, making paper to wrap munitions..  Some of the stones may have been re-purposed from the canal locks. This was taken four years ago, and I believe most of this wall is now in the creek. Generally I’m a big advocate for historical conservation and preservation, but somehow in this little valley, it seems just as positive and proper to watch this creek return to its natural state.

 

Even as the industrial relics vanish, there’s sometimes still an old-fashioned feel to the little valley.  Many of the nearby farms are Amish or Old Order Mennonite, and young couples from the farms come to the falls to picnic and court, arriving in horse-drawn buggies.

One of the families, the Hoovers, has a welding/blacksmithing shop, and I’m guessing it was one of their sons, who showed up one day with an all-metal buckboard.  Gleaming steel diamond plate, like they use for factory floors or pickup tool boxes.  Must have weighed a ton, but dazzling, quite a sight.

I’m guessing the church elders found it to be an act of vanity, and made him get rid of it, or perhaps his horse died, dragging it back up the hill, but I never saw it again.

 

Autumn, Finger Lakes, FLX, hiking, History, Nature, NY, Upstate New York

Walks in Upstate New York. Keuka Outlet Trail.

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History, Uncategorized

Old Milwaukee. Troubled bridges over water.

Milwaukee drawbridge LOC

Milwaukee drawbridge. LOC

Milwaukee is often overlooked and overshadowed by Chicago and Detroit (even if usually for bad news), and seem destined to never be quite as cool as the Twin Cities (“The Hipster Capital of the Tundra”).

So it’s natural that the city’s interesting and unusual history isn’t any more publicized that the city itself.

Like NYC, Milwaukee wasn’t always one city – it was formed by a merger of rival settlements.  Three towns became one, and bridging the three-way split required…what do you think?  Rationality?  Efficiency?  Common sense?  Come on, get real, there were politicians and capitalists involved.  And these are Badgers we’re talking about!  These people chose an incredibly combative giant weasel for their mascot.  Of course there was some strife and lunacy before they could come together.

“The Bridge War” was part of the city’s tumultuous creation process — an odd story of destruction and “burning bridges” rather than building them.

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1901 Milwaukee River. NY Public Library

nypl.digitalcollections.510d47e1-c0a6-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99.001.w

1885 Milwaukee River from Walker’s Point Bridge. NY Public Library

The Milwaukee River is now mostly a place for pleasure boats.  But people focused on rivers in the old days, in ways that we’ve forgotten.  Rivers were the highways and trade routes, and sources of energy, and were still important, long after the railroads and steam engines came along.  They were lines of communication.  But they also have always served as borders and frontiers.

Natives of New York City are very aware that its boroughs were once proud, independent towns and cities, some for over two centuries.  In the 1800’s, the Roeblings built what was then the longest suspension bridge in the world, to link Manhattan to… those people on the other side of the East River.  The Brooklyn Bridge was an instant hit, and over 150,000 crossed on the first day, between the two biggest cities in the area, but a few years later, when the cities voted on merger, it was a real squeaker, and Brooklyn passed it by just a few hundred votes.

And Milwaukee had its Bridge War, which resulted from a fierce rivalry between three communities.

Juneautown was on the East bank of the Milwaukee River,

Kilbourntown was on the West bank,

and Walker’s Point was on the South bank.

Wait, can a river have three banks?  OK, Walker’s Point turned out to be on the south bank of the Menomonee River, and not pointy at all as far as I can make out.

All three towns were named for their founders, and all three founders were very much alive and well at the time of the War.  In fact, once the city was created, they took turns being mayor.  Which is nice.

But in the beginning, we had three rival Founding Fathers – – who were classic examples of that all-American hybrid, the Politician-Capitalist–Land Speculator.  The competition between their settlements was so intense, they deliberately laid out their streets, so that they didn’t intersect with their rivals’.  Even today, most of the bridges in this city have to cross the river on a diagonal, posing a hazard for boats, as a result of this nonsense.

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1885 Milwaukee River. NY Public Library

In 1845, the state government ordered the creation of a bridge over the Milwaukee River, between Juneau’s and Kilbourn’s sectors.  This proved widely unpopular on both sides of the river, as they enjoyed being independent entities, and feared they would lose out financially if they became part of a bigger collective.  There was also the simple economics of deciding who would pay to maintain and run the bridge.

Then and now, here and abroad, the “West Bank” always seems to be problematical.

On May 8, 1845, the people of Kilbourntown started the war, by simply dumping their half of the bridge into the river. They destroyed the drawbridge, to prevent those on the East Side from entering their town.  In retaliation, the Easterners destroyed other small bridges, to prevent the denizens of the West from crossing to Juneautown.  There were fistfights and worse, but no one was actually killed, and the ridiculous and petty war shortly fizzled out.  The next year, sanity prevailed and a united city was created.

In any case, the Germans had started arriving – including soon-to-be-famous brewers — Miller, Schlitz, Pabst, and Blatz – and somehow the whole East Bank – West Bank thing didn’t seem so important, after a couple of steins of beer.

Solomon Juneau served as the first mayor, and his rivals Walker and Kilbourn also had their shot at running the city.  Juneau married a member of the Menomonee Nation, and retired to the country.  Once a year, his cousin Joseph would write to remind him, that his town was still called Juneau, Alaska, and why exactly was Solomon’s place called Milwaukee now?  (Ok I made that last part up, but Juneau really is named for Solomon’s cousin.)

Byron Kilbourn went on to various elected positions and business speculations, until his sharp-dealing caught up to him, and a bribery scandal caused his railroad to go bankrupt.  He ended up forgotten in Jacksonville, Florida.  About twenty years ago, the city dug him up and reburied him here – – he was kind of a disgrace, but they wanted a complete set of Founding Fathers.

George Walker was a fur trader, and never had the cash of the other two, and lost control of his patch of land.  But he did get to be mayor.  Twice.

A minute, trivial footnote in history, for a city almost reduced to the skids.  But a good lesson about a place that shook off its selfish, bridge-burning past and united, and made a contribution to America.

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My first day in Milwaukee

Footnote

Personally, I’ve always been fascinated by bridges – the architecture, the symbolism, and the stories.  A good bridge is not just beautiful, it almost always carries with it a good story or two.   So when I first set foot in Milwaukee, I looked at my little map and headed for the river.

My guidebook said the river has Bascules.  My keen, college-educated mind presented three options:

  • If I remembered biology class correctly, a bascule is the digestive tract of an amoeba, or,
  • a mysterious ethnic group in northern Spain, that used to blow things up, or,
  • a mythological creature that asks you three questions or riddles or something, and if you get it wrong, it eats you or you fall into the Gorge of Eternal Peril. Or something.

So, it turned out, all three guesses were wrong.  A Bascule is a kind of drawbridge.  The drawbridge was being pulled up when I got there, and I looked across the river to see what had caused the Panic & Alarum — an attack on Milwaukee, expecting to see maybe…a horde from the Sons of Norway with battle axes?  Scott Walker & The Tea Party, waving torches?  The Menomonee Nation on the warpath?

But it dawned on me — the lift bridges are just  to let the boats go out to the lake.

Bascule bridge Chicago 1890 LOC

Bascule bridge. Chicago 1890. LOC

There is an endless stream of stories about bridges:

  • Brooklyn Bridge 1910 LOC

    Brooklyn Bridge 1910. LOC

    T. Barnum’s parade of elephants, to prove the safety of the Brooklyn Bridge .

  • A really cool science lesson called “aeroelastic flutter,” “mechanical resonance,” or maybe “sympathetic vibration” (I don’t know, whatever, did you think I was a physics major?) when the Tacoma Narrows Bridge turned into “Galloping Gertie” and ripped itself apart – – just very cool, and scary, to see a suspension bridge start bucking in waves, look up the video.
  • The storied London Bridge, (“London Bridge is falling down, falling down…“) now sitting on an artificial lake in Arizona.
  • The Millennium Bridge in London, a beautiful sculpture, and a fantastic pedestrian walkway over the Thames — except the engineers forgot that pedestrians are human beings. When it opened, the first people walking across it, instinctively compensated for the slight swaying motion — and their reactions collectively made it sway harder and harder, until it was impossible to walk.  I thought it sounded fun, but they added more guy-wires to fix it.
  • The Waterloo Bridge, with bronze lamps made by melting down Napoleon’s cannons
  • Tappan Zee Bridge – NY’s sagging, staggeringly expensive symbol of governmental infighting and dysfunction
  • Golden Gate Bridge LOC

    Golden Gate Bridge LOC

    The Golden Gate – beautiful, impressive, but a magnet for over a thousand suicides

  • Even the Roeblings weren’t infallible – – their Niagara Falls Suspension Bridge lasted forty years, carrying trains on one level and pedestrians on another, but when locomotives got heavier, it had to be replaced with a homely, but stronger, steel arch bridge.
  • Hell Gate Bridge LOC

    Hell Gate Bridge LOC

    Hells Gate Bridge in NYC, so-called, because when you cross it, you’re in Queens.  The model for the Sydney Harbour Bridge in Australia.  To my eye, kind of ugly, but incredibly strong.  Part of it is supported by another span, far underground, over a fissure in the rock bed.    The bridge’s piers are on two islands, and supposedly, they were made of very smooth stone, so that inmates on the islands’ mental asylums couldn’t climb up and escape.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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