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Recognizing Working Women

By Paul Bray March 30, 2016
Courtesey of the Kate Mullany National Historic Landmark

Courtesey of the Kate Mullany National Historic Landmark

The Riverspark State Heritage Area was one of the first heritage areas established in the nation. Having a theme is a feature of national parks and it is especially important for heritage areas because heritage areas  encompass entire complex settings.

Under the State System, Riverspark was designated to have the themes of industry and labor. Industry was an easy theme for Riverspark because its industrial history in its cities like Troy, Cohoes and Watervliet and villages like Green Island and Waterford preserved large 19th century industrial structures like the Harmony Mills in Cohoes, the Watervliet Arsenal and the Gurley Building in Troy. In addition, industrial archeologists have done an excellent job identifying and interpreting the 19th century industrial history of the area.

The challenge for Riverspark was to interpret the labor theme. The immigrants that made up the 19th century working class in the mines, mills and factories did not have the wealth to make an enduring  mark on the urban landscape.  In the 1970s the National Park Service did not have a labor theme study as it had for many significant natural, social and cultural highlights of America.  There was little guidance for labor sites.

Riverspark started to address the labor theme by studying its 19th century workers’ environment. The iron molders and laundresses in Troy stood out when it came to the emergence of trade unions because relatively good jobs for women were abundant. Often a wife married to an iron molder worked in the collar industry and immigrant family fortunes were shaped by both women and men.

Riverspark also reached out to current labor unions and attracted the interest of Paul Cole, Secretary Treasurer of the AFL-CIO. Cole was passionate about educating students and others about the labor movement and its positive impact over the years. He passed a resolution at the annual AFL-CIO convention calling Riverspark “the Williamsburg of labor unions”.

In 1980 I went to Washington to lobby for Riverspark. With Paul Cole’s help we reached out to former Congressman Mike McNulty who had been Mayor of Green Island and a member of the Riverspark governing board and former Senator Moynihan who agreed with former Congressman Vento from Minnesota to sponsor legislation directing the National Park Service to do a labor theme study.

To make a long story short, the study legislation became law and park historian Harry Butowsky was designated to do the labor theme study. He was impressed with the labor history of Riverspark and his report recommended landmark designation for the Harmony Mills in Cohoes and the Kate Mullany House in Troy.

The Mullany House was home of the young woman who organized the first women’s labor union in the collar and cuff industry. She led its first strike during the Civil War Years. In part with proceeds from the strike she was able to have a home built on 8th Street in Troy.

Hillary Clinton when she was First Lady and was doing a national treasures tour came to the Mullany House to dedicate it as a national landmark. Clinton gave an inspiring talk that impressed Republican women, Democratic men and children who were awed by seeing the First Lady on their street.

Thereafter, with support from Paul Cole, the Mullany House was designated an affiliated National Historic Site. It was not easy as a woman on the Secretary of Interior’s advisory committee did not want a “uneducated” woman like Kate to be honored. A Park Service planner in Boston did not want to honor a home on a poor street in Troy.

The good news is that the House is now an affiliated part of the more than 400 sites in the National Park System, but being affiliated means that the National Park System doesn’t pay for restoration or operation.

Paul has gotten state grants and did other fund raising.  He also started an American Labor Study Center web site in the House as a source of labor history.   Labor unions have contributed their skills to restoring the House. But Paul still needs additional funds through the Mullany web site to complete the restoration of the living quarters.

At the Troy House on May 19th Kate will be inducted in the International Labor Hall of Fame.  Paul is hoping to complete restoration of Kate’s living quarters by Labor Day of this year.  The House will then be open to the public and an important chapter to American history will be saved and available to all.



Partners in Caring for Land

By Paul Bray January 31, 2013

Partnership for stewardship is happening between upper Hudson River communities in Saratoga and Washington counties. Under a new state law, it will include the Hoosic River communities in Rensselaer County.

A few years ago, I stopped to talk with Long Island Assemblyman Steven Englebright in the Assembly chamber. He told me he was doing something exciting in Saratoga County with then-Assemblyman Roy McDonald and that I had to talk with him.

I had participated in the Rockefeller Institute initiative on regionalism in the 1990s when McDonald, now about to depart as a state senator, was supervisor of the town of Wilton. McDonald and others from Saratoga County had little interest in regional efforts, especially those that included tax-sharing with distressed communities.

I later wrote about this parochialism. I told Englebright that I didn’t think McDonald would want to talk with me. Nonetheless, Englebright led me to McDonald, who smiled when he saw me.


McDonald told me he wanted me to draft a bill for him like the intermunicipal Albany Pine Bush Commission and the Long Island Pine Barrens Commission laws that I had drafted. That was music to my ears.

First, McDonald established his environmental bona fides with me. He told me that when he was Wilton supervisor, a delegation from The Nature Conservancy came to see him to ask his support for the preservation of 40 acres in Wilton. It has blue lupine habitat for the endangered Karner blue butterfly. McDonald said he needed to think about what The Nature Conservancy wanted and they could come back in a week to meet with him.

When they met again, McDonald said he would establish a 3,000-acre preserve that included the blue lupine so long as The Nature Conservancy would manage it. McDonald told me Saratoga County had secured its economy and it was time to protect its natural and historic assets.

Gen. John Burgoyne’s sword surrender site near the Saratoga Battlefield brought Englebright and McDonald together. Englebright was driving in that area when he saw a property with an old house, a for sale sign and an Education Department historic sign saying this property was where Burgoyne surrendered his sword to American Major Gen. Horatio Gates, marking the end of the Battles of Saratoga. It was the turning point of the American Revolution.

Englebright reached out to McDonald to help preserve the sword surrender site. With the support of former Sen. Joseph Bruno and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, funds were obtained for the acquisition of the surrender site by the Open Space Institute. Englebright and McDonald successfully sponsored legislation to establish the Saratoga-Washington on the Hudson River Partnership, made up of nine towns and villages represented by their supervisors and mayors. This year, 15 towns and villages in Rensselaer and Washington Counties were added to the partnership.

Its mission “is to preserve, enhance and develop the historic, agricultural, scenic, natural and recreational resources and significant waterways within the partnership region.”


Partnerships have become epidemic as the superintendent of the Saratoga National Historical Park, nonprofit organizations like the Saratoga P.L.A.N., Agricultural Stewardship Association, Lakes to Locks and Friends of the Battlefield, the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor and too many others to mention have contributed to a common stewardship effort.

A site development and cultural landscape plan for the sword surrender site, an overall stewardship plan and steps to develop a gateway visitor center in Schuylerville are among the Hudson River Partnership’s key achievements. Englebright’s chief of staff and historian Devin Lander coordinates the work of the partnership.

Regionalist David Rusk calls small cities, towns and villages like those that make up the partnership “little boxes” unable to solve the large social, economic and environmental challenges we have today. I agree with Rusk, but I am delighted that the Hudson River Partnership shows that little boxes can at times collaboratively find ways and means from the bottom up to achieve large goals.

This article was originally published in the Albany Times Union on December 13, 2012.



New York State Parks Agency Dropped the Ball

By Paul Bray December 29, 2012

A great thing about America is its parks, their diversity and their endurance. Communities proudly have parks, as do states and the nation. Those parks preserve natural and cultural assets for future generations, offer places for recreation and foster civic identity.

New York’s state parks and historic preservation system began with acquisition of Gen. George Washington’s Revolutionary War headquarters in 1850 and the preservation of natural and historic treasures like Niagara Falls.

Later came the Robert Moses era, which was intended to assure outdoor recreational opportunities within reasonable distance for all New Yorkers. Urban and regional state heritage areas broaden that mission explicitly to include sustainable economic development.

Creativity and pride go into the protection of natural and historic treasures as parks. New York courts have protected parks with the public trust doctrine that requires legislative approval before discontinuing or compromising a municipal or state park.

Sadly, the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation is walking away from responsibility for heritage areas.

These parks, created in our time, were put in jeopardy by former state parks Commissioner Carol Ash during the Paterson administration. In 2008, her deputy commissioner wrote to the state heritage area directors declaring that the “agency’s approved Financial Management Plan for this year includes the end of agency staff support and technical assistance for the Heritage Area program.”

The new parks commissioner, Rose Harvey, has publicly expressed support for heritage areas and has done the bare minimal responsibilities under the law relating to heritage areas. But she has not found a way to the leadership called for in the law creating the state heritage area system.

With strong support from state legislators, local officials and many other public and private leaders, state heritage areas have managed to survive in hard times that have been made harder by the state parks agency. The Susquehanna Heritage Area, for example, recently expanded from 2 cities and village to include more than 35 towns and villages in Broome and Tioga counties. New heritage areas in the concord grape region and the city of Niagara Falls have been established by having their locally prepared management plans approved by the state.

In the early 1980s when the state heritage area law was enacted and the early 1990s there were recessions and cutbacks in state and federal funding. But in both times, state participation in the heritage area partnership continued. Former state parks Commissioner Orin Lehman stated in the face of cutbacks in 1981 that the heritage area concept “will remain valid and achievable”. He did not walk away from it as Carol Ash did.

When the National Park Service held a conference on “Partnerships in Parks & Preservation” in Albany in 1991, these heritage areas were celebrated as “partnership parks.” New York has 18 state heritage areas and 4 of the 49 national heritage areas, including the Erie Canalway, the Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area and Champlain Partnership. A portion of each of these 3 national heritage areas is within the Capital Region.

At that 1991 conference, then-Gov. Mario Cuomo said “government – be it state, federal or local – cannot by itself assure that our most precious historic and natural resources will survive.”

He went on to say, “we now recognize that an entire area or region, like our Hudson River Valley, the Adirondacks or what we now know as the Hudson-Mohawk Urban Cultural Park (also known as the Riverspark heritage area) can constitute in its totality a resource of pre-eminent importance.”

The state heritage area program is codified in the state parks law. The state parks agency was to be the leader of a heritage area system with local governments and private organizations playing significant roles in organizing and managing their heritage areas. State agencies were to assist heritage areas as they pursued their integrated goals of conservation, recreation, education and sustainable development pursuant to management plans approved by the state parks commissioner. Albany, Schenectady, Saratoga Springs and the Riverspark including Troy, Cohoes and five neighboring communities) are state heritage areas.

Throughout New York history, the ball has not been dropped by withholding support and jeopardizing the continuance of an important type of park as our state park agency did with the state heritage program. It should not get away with this dereliction of duty and tradition.

This article originally appeared in the Albany Times Union in November 2012.


Erie Canal – Deserves Attention

By Paul Bray November 30, 2012
Lock 27, Photo by flicr user sailorbill.

View of Erie Canal, lock 27. Photo by flickr user sailorbill.

Historian Warren Roberts begins the chapter on “Albany and the Erie Canal” in his book “A Place in History: Albany in the Age of Revolution, 1775-1825” by declaring, “The Erie Canal is one of the most important transportation projects in all of American history.” The Erie Canal is approaching its bicentennial in 2025. It is hard to underestimate how transformational its creation was to the nation. Yet, why can’t we realize its potential as what former Gov. George Pataki called one of New York’s most valuable resources?

Visions for a new chapter for the Erie Canal came from Pataki when he was governor, Andrew Cuomo when he was the U.S. housing secretary, members of Congress when the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor was established and Peter Tufo, chairman and CEO of the Thruway Authority when Mario Cuomo was governor.

Little of that potential has been realized. The Erie Canal is threatened every time a Thruway toll increase is proposed. Tufo led the preparation of the Canal Recreationway Plan and called the scenic vistas that appear when a canal lock lifts travelers to new water levels as being “like a Verdi opera.”

Tufo envisioned the Canal Authority doing for upstate what the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey does for economic development downstate. He proposed goals to Pataki including “piers, restaurants, retail shops, information kiosks, picnic tables and trail amenities” along an end-to-end trail from Buffalo to Albany as well “tourist clusters” at Tonawanda, Rochester, Oswego, Seneca Falls, Little Falls and Whitehall. Planners believed the increase in tourism would create 2,700 jobs and pump $230 million into the state’s economy by attracting 1.3 million visitors.

I thought Pataki would jump at a project that would benefit traditionally Republican upstate New York, but Thruway interests killed it. The best Pataki did for the canal was the not-so-bold “bold new vision to create an ‘Erie Canal Greenway.'” It was a news release solution.

As Pataki dropped the ball, Cuomo announced a Canal Corridor Initiative for the Department of Housing and Urban Development to provide $74.2 million in low-interest loan guarantees and $56.8 million in grants along the entire Erie Canal Corridor and connecting waterways. Members of the New York congressional delegation announced legislation to designate the Erie Canal to be a National Heritage Corridor. The results were small steps forward for some Canal communities.

Cuomo recently announced an upgrade to the state’s tourism program to attract more visitors to economically struggling upstate. The report in the New York Daily News on this tourism revival didn’t mention the Erie Canal that Tufo believed could be an international attraction. It also didn’t mention the marketing power that could come from a bicentennial celebration for the Erie Canal looking forward to the emerging technologies across the state.

To be serious about upgrading upstate tourism, it is time to go back to Tufo’s vision from the Mario Cuomo era and hitch it to the Erie Canal bicentennial as a means to capture the attention of the whole state, the nation and the world.

The Erie Canal is not only a recreational asset; it symbolizes a dynamic state that opened commerce to the Great Lakes. It sparked the development of upstate cities and allowed New York City to become a world-class city.

In addition, builders of the Erie Canal moved on after its completion to build the Ohio & Erie Canal. Roberts wrote, “the success of the Erie Canal was so great that it ignited a ‘canal fever’ that swept across America.” According to Roberts, “it contributed to a shift in the geographical center of economic activity, giving America a new place in the world community of nations.”

The Erie Canal bicentennial should have a national series of events. One of many benefits for us, for example, could be learning how the Ohio & Erie Canal counties like Tuscarawas County were inspired by their canal to create a countywide trail and green space system.

Some of the historic steps that led to the building of the Erie Canal have already had their 200th anniversary. Time is running out to launch the commemoration of the canal we deserve.

This article originally appeared in the Albany Times Union on November 8, 2012.

 Photo by flickr user sailorbill.


N.Y. the Vanguard of Conservation

By Paul Bray October 21, 2012

Hudson River Greenway

Conservation of nature and heritage is important to having both good places to live and to leaving a better legacy for future generations. New York has done well in conservation, better than most people realize.

Bob Bendick, a former deputy commissioner with the state Department of Environmental Conservation and now director of U. S. Government Relations at The Nature Conservancy, recently wrote an article titled “Creative Conservation: Reflections on the Way to the Future.” It can be found on the Lincoln Institute website . It reinforced my belief that we have been in the vanguard of conservation for a long time.

Bendick advocates moving beyond the “100-year-old debate between conservationist John Muir and forest manager Gifford Pinchot.” This debate was about choosing between protecting nature for its intrinsic value, as we do in national and state parks, or being utilitarian and practicing sustained harvesting of forests, as we do other places.

It was simpler when conservation solutions could focus on specific places like creating a particular park. Today the health of land, air and water is at stake and impacts of threats like global warming mean every place needs some form of management.

Conservation organizations like The Nature Conservancy are working at the landscape scale. A little more than a decade ago, The Nature Conservancy would concentrate on small areas of habitat to protect endangered species like the Karner blue butterfly in Albany’s Pine Bush. It has changed its focus to whole landscapes or what it now calls “whole systems.” Disconnected pieces of natural systems often do not survive. Nor does nature thrive just by being in traditional gated parks separated from their ecosystem.

This more holistic approach is spreading according by people like Bendick into “a nationwide movement of landowners, government agencies, nonprofit organizations and community groups working together to protect the places they value, such as the Blackfoot Valley in Montana, the Flint Hills of Kansas, and the Connecticut and Hudson River valleys in the East.”

Bendick’s strategies for creative conservation are not new in New York. We have examples of working at landscape scale for more than a century starting with the creation of the “forever wild” Forest Preserve in 1885, the vast Adirondack Park in 1892 and the Catskill Park in 1904. Our natural landscapes were celebrated in the 19th century by the Hudson River School of Artists.

Now we have the Hudson River Greenway, the Hudson River National Heritage Area and the Hudson River Estuary program all working at landscape scale to protect the environment and serve human needs in the Hudson Valley.

The state’s innovative state heritage area program was established to achieve management goals for the amalgam of natural and cultural resources both cities as well as regions like the Concord grape region in western New York.

Former Gov. Mario M. Cuomo said in a speech at a National Park Service conference in 1991 that the Adirondack Park is “home to thousands of residents and welcomes millions of visitors a year, but at the same time retains much of the majesty the Iroquois knew a century ago.” He declared “the greenway, I hope, will become New York’s emerald necklace — a place where the resources of one community become the resources of a broader community, where the value of the whole transcends the sum of the parts.”

Inspired by this legacy of working at an ecosystem scale, Rep. Paul Tonko has introduced legislation in Congress to establish a five-state Hudson-Mohawk Basin Commission encompassing the Mohawk River and Hudson River valleys and the New York Harbor.

Creative conservation is not new to us. We should be proud of our conservation achievements and take more advantage of our having had the foresight to protect and celebrate the large landscapes and heritage areas that are increasingly being valued.

Paul M. Bray was the founder of the Albany Roundtable – Read more and see this article in the Albany Times Union