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.”

Click me for more photography, my online Fine Art Gallery.

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.

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

A Visit to Proleek Dolmen

Romance of Ruins

I have an update to my post “Proleek, Grandfather McCardle’s home” where we explored the site of the boyhood home of my grandfather, Peter McCardle, on great grandfather James McCardle’s Proleek farm. Last April an email arrived from the brother of the owner of the house across the road.  He recognized the property from the blog photography and reached out to introduce himself and share information. His own genealogical research suggested we shared a great aunt.  We now work together to define this connection.

Our tour of Ireland was bookended by a visit to the farm site and, located little more than a kilometer away, a 5,000+ year old portal tomb, the last site Pam and I visited. We parked at the hotel / golf course built around the monuments.  There is no fee to visit the site, number 476 on the list of Republic of Ireland National Monuments (Irish: Séadchomhartha Náisiúnta), protected at the level of guardianship by the National Monuments Act of 1930.  The dolmen is named after the townland Proleek.  

Click photograph to view my Ireland gallery

Ballymascanlon House Hotel is on the R173, on the left heading from the M1 towards Jenkinstown.  Path to the monument is marked here and there and requires attention.  It helps to understand the general location of the monument on the property.  The parking lot and hotel are on the southern end, the monument is on the north end.

The path leads through the hotel grounds….

….and golf course…

…and you first encounter the megalithic Gallery Grave of a type named “wedge shaped.”

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The 22 foot long tomb gallery supported stories of a giant burial. Pam poses for a sense of scale.

These are the only ancient monuments in Ireland were a stray golf ball may be encountered.

A short way ahead is the dolmen, or portal tomb. The informational placard is in English and Gaelic.  There is an illustration of the stones covered with earth with a stone façade.

Some describe the formation as a giant mushroom with warts. The posting feature image is of the same aspect as the next photograph, with me for scale.

Click any of the following photographs to view my Ireland gallery

We are surrounded on three sides by the golf course.  The “entrance” to the tomb, through the two upright portal stones, faces northwest toward Slieve Gullion, a mountain with its own Neolithic burial site next to a lake on the summit.  The mountain and the flat land, such as Proleek township, feature in the story of how the Irish hero Cú Chulainn came by his name.  To learn more, click this link for “On the Tain Way” the first of my posting that includes some stories of the hero.

The fifth hole.

We had a beautiful day, so I took time to capture all aspects.  The hedge is the northern property border.

The “warts” are stones. There is a local saying that success in placing three stones on top will give a wish or lead to marriage within the year.

Click for more Ireland stories.

Copyright 2018 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Proleek, Grandfather McCardle’s home

Romance of Ruins

In three, so far, postings on the cottage ruins at Loughan an Lochan (Loughan Bay) we explored a former community above the Irish Sea with a view of Scotland.  For the third posting I shared some research on the last cottage people of that site with the intent of additional postings.

I wondered, “What motivates you to do this?” and remembered my mother’s Canadian passport in which, for place of birth “Proleek, Ireland” was written and my request to our cousin, John Mills, who invited us to stay with them after my mother passed away, June, 2013, the request being to visit the site of great grandfather James McCardle’s home, where grandfather Peter McCardle was raised, information since discovered from the Irish census.

On the morning of Sunday, May 25, John took us from mass on a tour of sites related to the family.  One of these was the site of the McCardle home, Proleek Townland.

Peter McArdle Former Home
The ruins of the former home of Peter McArdle are on a corner of unnamed streets in Proleek, County Louth. This is a view of the southwest side.

There site is an anonymous corner on a unnamed street with no outlet.  The street ends close to the Proleek Dolmen, an ancient passage tomb, after passing farms and fields.

Peter McArdle Former Home
The interior of the property. I see no evidence of great grandfather James McArdle’s home, It has returned to the earth.

The 1901 Irish Census provides these details from 116 years ago:

  • The walls were stone, brick or concrete
  • The roof of thatch, wood or another perishable material.
  • Two rooms, with three windows facing the road.
  • Out buildings listed were:
    • cow house.
    • piggery.

Today, the site is another person’s property, it was not possible to explore further than when the camera lens reached when I leaned as far a possible into the brush.  No sign of standing walls.

Southeast view from McArdle former home
Across the road from the McArdle Plot is this ditch (stone wall) and a home. In the far distance, just visible across the plain, rising from it, is an unnamed land mark, a rounded hill 350 feet tall of the neighboring townland of Bellurgan.

Modern homes surround the corner, solid and prosperous.

View to the west from McArdle Former Home
The site is surrounded by homes on the west and south, farmland on the east and west.

For this posting I collected the following images from Google Earth.  The site is marked with a pushpin, “McCardle Home.”  A “Proleek Dolmen” pushpin marks the passage tomb.

McArdleHomeProleekCountyLouthOverview

A closer view suggests, if we trespassed and poked around, some remains of the structure were concealed by the trees and brush.

McArdleHomeProleekCountyLouth

Between May 2014 and this image, from 2015, the center of the plot was gouged out.  The area corresponds to the corresponds to the remains indicated in the 2013 image.  From this we can understand were the structures stood in relation to the road.

Using the polygon ruler tool the size of the site is 413 feet in circumference, 9,619 square feet, and the gouge, indicating the ruins, is 1,368 square feet.

McArdleHomeProleekCountyLouthToday

But for John and Betty Mills, their kind invitation to stay and John’s guidance that day, the “Proleek” notation on my mother’s Canadian passport would still be a mystery today.

John Mills passed away the next year, September 26, 2015.  Here are Hawthorne Blossoms from the corner of the former McCardle home in memory.

Here is some follow-up to my story in the posting “A Visit to Proleek Dolmen.”

Hawthorne Blossoms
Blooming Hawthorne on the former McArdle Home

Copyright 2017 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved