Saturday, December 8, 2012

War and Upstate NY

I really enjoy planning field trips that match up to the topics we're studying.  I don't like them to be "special events" that don't make sense- I just love to weave them in.  We live in an area that's a gold mine for a family studying colonial history up through the revolution- in fact, there are historical markers everywhere if you're looking for them.  We made quite the sport of it last spring as we were studying the revolution and the area is littered with "George Washington slept here" type signs.  The street at the end of ours is Burgoyne, crossed by Ethan Allen a mile away- and a range of other names I never recognized as historical until this year.  We're also in the near vicinity of the setting for the novel The Last of the Mohicans, the upper Hudson Valley, and the foothills of the Adirondacks.

So, imagine my disappointment when I figured out that all of the fun historical sites we could visit would be closed until after our school year had ended!  We had a very lame winter last year, so I couldn't even tell myself that the ground would be wet, etc...but none of them would open until mid-May.  So, I wound up cramming visits to all these sites into just a few days.  Until then, we contented ourselves with hunting down historical markers.  Now, I will cram them all into one blog post (long overdue) as well.

 This is one of the homes of Philip Schulyer, who was a general in the Revolution.  Part of the Saratoga National Historical Site borders on the property where my mother grew up, although the house isn't there anymore.  It's in the village of Schuylerville, site of a battle called the Turning Point in the Revolution.  I have passed it many times, and toured the battlefield park as well, but I don't remember ever going on the tour of the house before.
We got lucky that day because we walked up to the house and got a tour guide all to ourselves, while seconds behind us a school bus had pulled up and the kids were headed our way.  The guide said we got their first.  I was happy not to have to share the small spaces or the guide with a group of students.  Midway through the tour, we became exhibit B as they all gaped at us coming down the stairs.  (Ohh, homeschoolers...)
I couldn't take any pictures inside, but a few interesting features I can recall I would like to record.  One is that the sitting room of this house (windows to the right in this picture) boasts original wallpaper on one of the walls.  The others have been made to match it.  Whoa!
Another interesting feature was the little beds. If you've ever been to a historical home and noticed the short beds, perhaps you have been told or guessed that "people were shorter back then."  But according to our young guide, who I really liked but whose name I can't remember, people weren't shorter.  In fact Philip Schuyler was almost as tall as George Washington (who didn't sleep there, though he visited), 6'4".  But they slept sitting up in those days due to some sort of superstition.
The other striking element to me is that the floors in the public areas were lined with a rattan-like coverings which turned out to be the packing materials from the crates of fancy dishes (china) the Schuylers had had shipped over from, well, China.  Reuse and recycle!
One other interesting fact I picked up was that Schuyler's wife was of the family Van Rensselaer.  There are plenty of Dutch names up this way, thanks to the original European colonizers.  But Van Rensselaer is a name associated with another historical building, of which you might find pictures on this blog, and a certain number of my readers might be familiar.  It was a fun little connection to make.  They had 15 children.

 From there we moved on to the Battlefield Park visitors' center.  We found very friendly and outgoing staff, as well as a bookstore stocked with all the books we had just read for our unit.  They also sell a nice supply of local goods like maple syrup, honey and recipe books.  We watched a movie there about the Turning Point and then we played with their hands in exhibit of soldier clothes and a tent like the soldiers would have camped in.  After that, we toured the battlefield.  That costs extra, but I was determined to do this right.  We had brought a picnic, so we found a nice spot to sit and eat.  We were met by another friendly and outgoing interpreter, a retired to teacher who happily told us all about the site.  He also gave us directions to a spot on the lake in Ticonderoga where we could find a heron rookery, but I regret we didn't get there this year.  He also told us that there might be birds' nests in the cannons, which might have become the most memorable fact of the day for the Boy.

I regret to say that once you've seen one grassy field with a cannon on top of a hill, you've pretty much seen them all.  Getting in and out of the car for each redoubt quickly got old, so, we rushed through the remainder of the park.  We had one more stop to make.

 No visit to the Saratoga National Historical Park is complete without seeing this:

 And climbing all the steps to the top.  This was our second trip up the monument, which was 200 steps and is covered with murals of battle scenes.  The view form the top covers the battlefield, the Hudson River on its way to Albany, hills dotted with cows and trees, and a military cemetery with a walking trail.  From there we ran to meet Daddy at a Ben & Jerry's.  It was the last day to use our Groupon.

In mid-June we attended our first re-enactment.  I see more in our future.  This one happened at Bolton Landing on Lake George, and was a French and Indian War event.  British soldiers on land met with French, wearing blue, who arrived by ship from the Lake.  They battled up the hill and then the British beat them back down.  
 There were also Scottish bagpipers and soldiers, and some Native American re-enactors acting on either side.  It was very well-done and the battle lasted about 20 minutes.  Afterwards we were able to visit  the re-enactors' tents, as they were encamped for the weekend.  We learned that the first step in becoming a re-enactor is to pick a war, and then to pick a side, and get the clothing made.  Apparently when we have done that, we can just show up!  It does sound like a fun way to spend a weekend or two each summer.

One of the displays we enjoyed was that of a lady who does costuming and speaks at schools.  We also saw food preparation, and a few vendors had displays for sale.  I thought the pewter chess set was something special.

What do you suppose the marker below is about?   I thought it was about the battle that was being re-enacted, but it isn't.  It's another "George was here."

Another day, we went to Crown Point, NY, another National Historic Park.  Crown Point is on Lake Champlain, a spot that the French and English vied for for years.  I never knew, growing up, just how important this area had been during colonial times.  Though familiar with some of the Revolutionary spots, I didn't realize the trade importance of all those waterways and the richness of fur, lumber and stone that made it worth fighting for.  Although the Hudson River and Lake Champlain aren't attached, and the canal system hadn't been invented yet, the waterways were still the easiest way to transport goods at the time.  So, this spot where we live, just before the Hudson becomes un-navigable, was very important. 

At the Crown Point Site there are remains of both a French Fort (St. Frederic) and a British one, which became an American one during the Revolution but wasn't very important by then.  There isn't much left of Fort St. Frederic, but I took a picture anyway.

As at Saratoga, our trip began with a picnic.  It was a very hot day, so we were excited to pay the small fee and go into the museum to watch a movie about the site.  It was an interactive display that lit up in red flames when it told about the fires that had destroyed the various incarnations of the Fort.  After we toured the museum, which is filled with artifacts pulled from the ashes, we met a man dressed in full French regalia.

There is another site between home and Crown Point, Fort Ticonderoga.  We didn't visit there because it costs more than the others and wasn't in the budget.  It is nearly a 2 hour drive to visit these.  I am glad we did though and wonder whether the next time we visit this period of history, I should try to align it better with the seasons so that we can visit the sites at the right time.