Around and About Athens, New York, part 1

Enjoyments of Athens, New York

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Memorial Day Weekend 2019 Pam and I visited Athens, first settled in the 17th Century by an ancestor through her maternal grandmother. Click me for more about the Van Loons. Jan Van Loon is 10 generations removed from Pam and her siblings and is one of 1024 (512 pairs) of ancestors. Whatever became of the other 1022 people (and all those in between) Pam was there with me that day to enjoy the experience of walking around town and talking about Jan Van Loon’s connection to herself.

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Founded as Loonenberg, named after the first settler Jan Van Loon. today,Athens is a lovely destination, a historic village on the Hudson River.

We stopped for a very enjoyable latte at Bonfiglio and Bread on 2nd street. As we ambled south on 2nd street Pam spotted someone to talk to and I proceeded with the goal of the Hudson River, visible at the bottom of the street.

I noticed this architectural specimen and turned to capture this side in a good light and was lucky to capture a young co-admirer of its style with whom I assume is her Mother. Athens, developed as a “National Register Historic Site,” is a charming place to stroll and admire.

Southeast view on 2nd Street between Water and Washington streets. Athens, New York

Hudson Riverfront

Yesterday I did a Red Cross blood donation at an elementary school on Hudson Street here in Ithaca. Henry Hudson, the first European to sail up the river that now bears his name, is memorialized this way across New York State so much so it is unusual to find the “Riverfront Park” named as such.

The city of Hudson, in Columbia County directly across the river named its park “Henry Hudson Riverfront Park.”

Looking east toward the entrance of the Riverfront Park, Athens, New York. Found at the east end of 2nd Street.

Peace and Quiet

The Athens Park is a gathering place for the village with a large swath of grass, a short boardwalk, benches and generous shade trees along with river…….

The photograph captions will speak for themselves for the rest of today’s post. Enjoy!!

A sole reader enjoys the solitude and view across the Hudson. A large mid-stream island, Middle Ground Flats, provides a swath of green instead of a view of the city Hudson.

…and a dock.

The map shows a dotted line between this dock in the Athens Riverside Park and the Henry Hudson Riverside park of the city of Hudson. Barely visible in front of the wooded hills is the Hudson-Athens lighthouse.
A pleasure craft motoring south on the Hudson River passes in front of the Hudson-Athens Lighthouse. On the eastern shore is a line of freight cars. Amtrack uses this line for service between New York City, Albany and beyond. We have enjoyed this Hudson River view from the train and highly recommend that trip.
Built 1874, the Hudson-Athens lighthouse guides traffics around the island named “Middle Ground Flats.”

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Copyright 2019 All Rights Reserved Michael Stephen Wills

They came for the beaver, he stayed for the corn

Pam’s Ancestors Jan and Maria Van Loon

June 2018 I shed a 53 year old habit of working for a living for new habits in retirement. Instead of waking at 5 am to work for someone else, my routine became to wake at 5 am for personal projects. From June into September 2018 my morning time was spent researching and documenting family history, also known as genealogy: my own and Pam’s.

It was fitting Pam and I spent the last days of that year (June 2018 through May 2019) harvesting our newly acquired knowledge on the ground, a 3 hour drive from our home, to the site of Pam’s earliest ancestor in the New World, at that time Colonial America. Our visit will be book-ended by another this September to Burlington, New Jersey, on the eastern short of the Delaware river, founded by my earliest ancestor, also in Colonial America and 4 hours from our present day home.

A river setting is a link between our ancestors and the two rivers associated in a number of ways. In driving to Athens, New York, a village on the west bank of the Hudson River 31 miles from the state capital, Albany. Our route from Ithaca to Athens included route 23 that passes through the Catskill Mountain, Delaware County, village of Stamford. The headwaters of the west branch of the Delaware River passes through Stamford.

Founded as Loonenberg, named after the first settler Jan Van Loon. Today, Athens is a lovely destination, a historic village on the Hudson River. The rear of the Jan Van Loon house is in the background.

Henry Hudson and the crew of the Half Moon were the first recorded Europeans to visit both the Delaware and Hudson rivers. The Half Moon dropped anchor in Delaware Bay late August, 1609. They reached the estuary of the Hudson (then called the North or the Mauritius). The goal of Hudson was a route to China. Luring him up was the flow and width of the river, Hudson suspected this land was a island, behind which lay the route to the Orient. He navigated up the river for ten days, passing the future site of Athens.

Historical signage with house. One wall remains of the original house, this is a loving restoration on the original site.

Beaver!!

Hudson was in the employ of the Dutch East India Company and it was the Dutch who laid claim to the length of the Hudson for the purpose of trade. In summary, when Swedish/Finnish colonists on the Delaware proved successful in shipping huge numbers of beaver pelts and tobacco the Dutch took control of the Delaware under force of arms in the interest of controlling this trade.

The Dutch, AKA the Dutch East/West India Companies, had little interest in establishing colonies. Instead huge areas of land, “patents”, were granted to individuals with the underlying goal of providing a flow of shippable goods. It remained as such for many years, until 1664 when England, under the king Charles II, took control of New Amsterdam and, by extension, trade flowing on the Hudson River.

Overview of the Jan Van Loon House, 39 South Washington Street, Athens New York from the Athens Veterans Memorial Park with view of the Hudson River and the lighthouse. Phlox are in bloom!!

Stayed for the Corn

Jan Van Loon (pronounced Van Loan) comes into the picture with a 1676 marriage to Maria in New Amsterdam. When Jan acquired a major interest in the 1688 Loonenburg patent the land was just opening to European settlers and their tenancy was less than secure. Threatened by incursions of Native Americans and animosities between the French and English. They had eight children who reached adulthood, the house of one of them, Albertus, is one of the oldest continually inhabited residences in New York State.

Athens, New York is the present day name of this town on the Hudson River first settled by Pam’s ancestor in the 17th Century. Pam is pointing to the modern window restoration (aluminum double-hung), the roof is cedar shingle (I believe).

Tradition has it Jan Van Loon acquired the land through a payment of 50 beaver pelts and provided services as a blacksmith, though that had to be after a number of years of residence, since he was a first settler. Pam and I are learning more about those early years, but we know Jan and Maria’s interest in the land was not trade. It was to live peacefully and prosper which they, somehow, did to the benefit of all the people around them.

Detail of the modern restoration of the east foundation wall, Jan Van Loon house, Athens, New York, at the juncture of the field stone/brick joint. The front of the house is to the right.
The lighthouse as viewed from the Jan Van Loon House site. Build 1874, the lighthouse was not part of the environment of Jan and Maria Van Loon.

Click me for the next post in this series, “Around and About Athens, New York, Part 1.”

Copyright 2019 All Rights Reserved Michael Stephen Wills

for our father, Thomas Francis Wills, on Memorial Day 2019

a personal narrative

An excerpt from an interview by Diane Frances Wills of our father Thomas Francis Wills for a seventh-grade assignment about 1971.  I did some editing to correct the date based on historical records and my father’s military records (Michael Stephen Wills).

Thomas enlisted for the navy one day after his 24th birthday, September 25, 1939 and served 6 years and a few weeks until October 7, 1945 having experienced the Battle of the Atlantic (American Defense Medal) and liberation of the Philippines (WWII Victory Medal, American Campaign Medal, Asiatic Pacific Theater, Philippine Liberation Ribbon).  Here is his description of an incident from that time:

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Thomas Francis Wills, Ocean View Beach, Virginia, 1940

1 Year, 6 months after my enlistment in New York City, March 1941, on the USS Upshur two days out of Boston on its run to Reykjavik, Iceland delivering mail and supplies to the marines stationed to prevent the Germans from establishing a base.  Steaming north we got word there was a gale blowing in our path.  We all became apprehensive.  I asked Bill Rogers, the radioman, about the approaching storm.  “Say, Bill, I see by the weather report we’re heading info some rough weather.  How long do you think it will last?”

“Yeah, according to the latest weather report it is a regular Northeaster and we can expect a couple days of rough winds and high waves, also very cold weather.  We’ll have to secure everything topside so it won’t blow or be washed overboard.  We can also expect very little in the way of normal meals except for maybe coffee and sandwiches.”  On such a small ship the cooks can’t prepare meals in such weather.

USS Upshur, 1940, the ten-man crew, including Thomas Wills, is on the bow

As we approached the storm zone the sea got rough and the wind started blowing.  Soon we were well into a horrible storm.  The sky got dark and gloomy, full of dark bold clouds.  The ocean rough, choppy and black.  The rain started coming down sharp and harsh, cold and icy.  The rain cut through your body like piercing arrows, it chilled your bones.

Sometimes I thought the ship was going to sink, the waves and the wind were so strong.  The bow would go bluntly into the water.  The ship listed sideways, seeming to almost rolling over.  The waves carried our ship up, then go out from underneath sending us crashing down.  This happened over and over, endlessly.  

 I was on duty in the radio shack and had to walk the whole length of the ship from my sleeping quarters.  Many times, I almost went overboard, the wind was so strong.  I could lay on my stomach but it did not help because I could still slide through the railings.  I would freeze to death in five minutes in that water.  I hope I never had to go through that again, seems like yesterday.  All we had to wear was a sailor suit, not too warm.  I’d just get all soaked. 

My shipmates and I, a five-foot eight-inch boy of 25 with dark brown hair, had to be calm and keep doing our normal scheduled duties, because we learned you can’t get panicky or else you will put your whole ship out of order.

 The storm went on until the end of night.  I thought the storm would never end.  It felt as if it lasted a week.  At that time no other ships sailed with us, so there was no possibility of help.  Nobody fell over the side or was drowned.

After that, a German U-Boat launched a torpedo at us and missed.  We searched, tried to sink them without success. 

Copyright 2019 All Rights Reserved Michael Stephen Wills

Apple Orchard in the Wilderness

Persistence of agriculture

….continued from the chapter “A Ride to Reavis Ranch”

Imagine walking across the ranch house ruin towards where I described the former pond. Looking to the east and north from the elevation you see this sight.

In the near distance a grass pasture slopes into Reavis Creek. The creek has flowing water in all but the longest dry seasons. By the way, the trail from Pine Creek is on the slopes of that conical feature in the distance, to the left.

Click any photograph for a larger version.
Looking from the former house site towards the Arizona Trail running beneath the distant red rock ridge. Not the fence rails on the left and apple trees in bloom.

From the ruin, walk down the Arizona Trail, south, for a few hundred feet and turn left into the fields to encounter the same apple tree, and a close up of pure white apple blossoms.

Portrait of a Blooming Apple Tree

At Rest and History

This tree is an outlier of a thick stand of several hundred trees to the north. The Searcher and I rode into the middle of the grove for a rest and chat. The horses were allowed to graze in the abundant new grass brought on by the winter rains.

The Searcher told me the story of the valley and that it was a man named Clemans who planted 600+ apple trees, trees in bloom all around us. The Reavis Valley was long a site of agriculture, starting in the 19th century with Elisha Reavis, who passed away in 1896 and is buried on the slopes of White Mountain, and continued with a series of ranchers and entrepreneurs in the 20th: John Fraser, William Clemans, who planted the trees, and John A. “Hoolie” Bacon, then Bacon’s son-in-law Floyd Stone who sold the land to the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1967.

We talked about some earthwork I noticed, in the southern part of the valley. It was part of a water system that diverted Reavis creek flow at the head of the valley to the ranch house. We decided that strange hexogonal structure on the elevation above the house ruin was the site of water storage. At that location the structure would provide a pressure feed for the house and much else.

Abandoned Hay Rake

A mix of winter rains and fertile soil were exploited in the Reavis Valley for a handful of decades, the enterprise now is set aside. This abandoned hay rake and chassis, used to harvest grass in seasons past, is evidence of the work. The apple trees produce to this day without irrigation.

The Searcher touched upon the subject of the “Circlestone” ruin he mentioned on our morning ride. He had never been there, but mentioned some books on the subject. It is a wide circle of rough stone wall enclosing mysterious structures. At this point, I was hooked, and decided to check Circlestone on a later trip. Here are some photographs from one of those trips, in November 2006.

Reavis Ranch Apple Orchard Tree

Reavis Ranch Apples Yellow

Reavis Ranch Apples Red

In my next post The Searcher and I return to Pine Creek, Colorado gives me some trouble and we visit a stand of wild oats in the Reavis Gap.

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Copyright 2019 All Rights Reserved Michael Stephen Wills

A Ride to Reavis Ranch

Some history and exploration

….continued from the chapter “Desert Luxuries”

Hitching the saddled buckskin and lightly packed pinto onto trees on the trail, The Searcher came up to my camp for a visit. I started water for tea and soon we were chatting. Right from the start The Searcher asked for privacy. Devoted to searching the Superstitions for the gold of the “Lost Dutchman Mine”, he assembles his expeditions from a staging point near Phoenix and spends about 60 days a year in the wilderness. Part of his preparation was a desert survival course provided by the Reavis Mountain School, conducted by Peter Bigfoot.

An Invitation from The Searcher

The Search described a place near Pine Creek, he called it “Circlestone,” a large almost perfect circle, of precisely constructed stone wall, on the slopes of Mound Mountain above the headwaters of Pine Creek. My sister, Diane, and I found Circlestone on backpack expeditions March and November 2006.

Here is a panorama from March 2006, southwest from the forests of juniper and pinion on the slopes of Mound Mountain.. The southern tip of Reavis Valley is to the right, from there Arizona Trail lead to White Mountain in the distance. It was taken on a later trip, in November of 2006 when my sister, Diane, and I visited Circlestone.

Click any photograph for a larger image.

The Searcher also told of Elisha Marcus Reavis, who settled the Valley west of Pine Creek in 1874. At one point, a band of Apaches planned to kill Reavis, but were respectful of his reputation as a rifle shot. They were waiting him out across from the his dugout, when Reavis stripped naked and with wild hair and a flaming red beard charge their camp, knives in both hands. The Apaches rode off, wary of his insane behavior, and never bothered him again.

We talked about my prospects and plans when The Searcher offered to take me to the Reavis Valley the next day, on horseback. There is a large apple orchard there and, this being April, we’d be treated to masses of apple blossoms. The day after Reavis Ranch, I could pack out with him down the Arizona Trail, past the Reavis Mountain School, over Campaign Creek and drive back to the Lost Dutchman Park. I readily agreed.

To Reavis Ranch on Horseback

The following morning dawn rose from colorless darkness, thin birdsong and brightening high clouds. When the Searcher arrived around 8 am he was leading the pinto, introduced as Colorado, equipped with a western saddle instead of a pack. As an absolute novice trail rider, the Search would hold Colorado’s lead. The reins were wrapped around the saddle horn, leaving me to hang on and “enjoy the view” and swishing tail of the buckskin, named Nugget.

The 2.5 mile trail to Reavis from Pine Creek is typical of the eastern Superstitions, minimally improved, dramatically uneven with large and small boulders to navigate. From Pine Creek there’s a climb of a 631 feet to 5,278 foot elevation, where it meanders beneath a dramatic red cliff with a view of the pinyon/juniper forests on the slopes of Mound Mountain. As he picked our way, The Searcher pointed out the sights. “Circlestone is somewhere over there, a ring of stones overgrown with Alligator Juniper.” I was able to do little more than observe, photography was out of the question.

A cliff along the trail to Reavis Ranch offered cover and the flat perches preferred by cougars. It was not an issue for us in daytime and attacks against horses are very rare. The most either of us ever saw of the cat in all our time in Arizona was the tip of a tail slipping behind brush. This was a lush April after a “wet” winter, so small game was plentiful. Only a sick cat would be hungry. The worst case scenario is for a cougar to meet and become infected from a rabid animal at a water source and we did not linger on this thought.

Eventually, the cliff descended with the path, steeply, to Reavis Creek, the valley floor and the intersection with the Reavis Ranch trail. Heading south the Reavis Ranch trail passes the site of a long abandoned ranch. What’s left of the adobe and stone ranch house is on a level valley elevation overlooking what used to be the corral and a large open expanse.

Open field at near the juncture of the trail from Pine Creek with the Reavis Ranch trail.

Apple trees in bloom from the former site of the ranch house. There used to be a pond near this spot. With a little imagination, the trail from Pine Creek can be seen on the far ridge.

Reavis Ranch Trail, foreground, traverses the valley length north to south. The Arizona Trail from Pine Creek following below the red rock cliffs in the distance.

The US Forest Service razed the building after it “burned to the ground” around Thanksgiving 1991. I would not call what is left “a foundation,” it is a platform where the house stood. You can see for yourself in this photograph what was once was a homey tile floor. I’ve seen old photographs of the structure with a large pond to the left of this view, a door and simple porch face east and the pond used to hold irrigation water.

Turn around from this ruin and a platform comes into view. Built on the west valley slope, overlooking the ruined house is a hexagonal foundation of adobe bricks. We are looking here across the Reavis Ranch trail. My opinion about this structure rests on an examination of the land to the south, there is excavation of a shallow canal and this was the way water was captured from the upper Reavis Creek or tributary and directed to this catchment basin where it was then directed for storage or irrigation. The spot enjoys clear views of the central valley, an excellent place to enjoy the fall of evening.

The Searcher led me to a place a few hundred yards south, in a narrowing of the valley, where he let Colorado and Nugget roam free. The horses appreciated the level, open spaces and I enjoyed the Ponderosa pines on the west valley slope. We sat on the smooth trunks of fallen trees, 4 feet in diameter, near Reavis Creek.

Colorado took this opportunity to bolt, headed south. We took off after him into and through a thicket of locust trees where The Searcher cornered Colorado to regain control. “He was abused by his previous owner and is difficult at times,” was how The Searcher put it.

We were close to the end of Reavis Valley where Reavis Creek originates from the drainage of White Mountain, to the west.

We headed north here, back to the ranch house site, to the lush new grass of the apple orchard.

Nugget in Horse Heaven

Nugget grazed unfettered. Colorado was tethered with plenty of slack for grazing. This photograph of the pair shows their personalities, Colorado edgy, Nugget content to feast while the grass is available.

Colorado on the alert while Nugget grazes, typical of their personalities.

Apple Orchard in the Wilderness

The Reavis Valley was long a site of agriculture, starting in the 19th century with Elisha Reavis, who passed away in 1896 and is buried on the slopes of White Mountain, and continuing with a series of ranchers and entrepreneurs into the 20th,,,,,,,

Click me for the next post for photographs and more history of this Apple Orchard in the Superstition Wilderness.

Click me to visit Michael Stephen Wills Online Arizona Gallery.
Click me for the first post of this series.

Copyright 2019 All Rights Reserved Michael Stephen Wills

Taughannock Gorge Trail late winter hike

sights during a 4 mile hike on icy trails around Taughannock Gorge

Wednesday afternoon this week my exercise was a 4 mile hike around the Taughannock Falls Gorge on the north and south rim trail. I parked at the Overlook and took in a view of Taughannock Falls in the gorge below.

The video and pics are from my Apple IPhone.

I then headed south on the North Rim Trail. It was slow going because the trail was solid ice in many places. Throughout the walk was evidence of the great work of the park maintence crew preparing for spring.

A bridge over the creek transitions from the North to South Rim trails. Here is an overview of the dramatic site below this bridge.

The trail ice forced me off onto the Gorge Road that parallels the trail. Even without the ice, a portion of the trail is closed for the winter due to dangerous conditions. There are interesting sites along this road.

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Walking downhill only this medium-sized bark is visible, the road curves around to bring into view a tiny farmhouse, now abondoned, dwarfed by the barn.

I took a detour to explore a small cemetery just off Gorge Road on a shelf above the Taughannock Farms Inn.

Overview of this small cemetery overlooking Cayuga Lake

The lower falls is another worthy detour before I rejoined the Rim trail to climb up the north side of the gorge.

One of many Rim Trail overlooks. That is the Gorge Trail, below.

In this approximate 4 miles there is a 2088 foot change in altitude (1044 up and down). I took my time for an enjoyable 2 hours.

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Copyright 2019 All Rights Reserved Michael Stephen Wills