Diabetes Awareness Campaign: Trekking Along the Erie Canal.
North Tonawanda
Little Falls
St. Johnsville
Wednesday, October 17
Seven miles east of Chittenango is an area known by the Oneida Indians as Kniste Stota, cluster of pine trees. In 1835 a community grew up around the canal. Like other canal towns it grew due to shipping of crops and development of industries supplied by raw materials shipped on the canal. Other resources were brought by the canal—immigrants. Immigrant labor was imported to build the canal. After completion of the canal, they were a supply of labor for the ever expanding railroad.
In the 1890s Sicilian workers were brought in to work on the railroad. Their families came with them and settled down to sharecropping. Many of them put their sights on worthless lands known as the Great Swamp, a five-mile area to the north. They drained the swamps and exposed the muckland. The land which they developed was called la terra negra—the black earth. Unlike the hard landers who raised traditional crops such as apples and wheat, the moist mucklands were ideal for potatoes, celery, and onions. And the Sicilians knew about onions. So successful were their skills, that Canastota became the Onion Capital of the world!
Bakery circa 1875.
The Bakery, circa 1875
The weather was miserable with on and off showers. It was a perfect day for museum prowling and I was surprised to learn that there was a Canastota Museum. It was housed in a simple building which is a former bakery.
Inside I met a nice volunteer who gave me a tour of the displays and told me some interesting facts about the town and its history. She grew up in the town then left for school. After her family grew up, she retired and moved back home.
She knew a lot about life in the area and told me about the muck farmers, many of whom were in her family.
There were three rooms beyond the office/gift shop. Each was dedicated to different aspects of Canastota’s history: the canal, farming, and industry.
Bakery building today.
Bakery building today
The last category had some surprises for me. One display had the heading “Birthplace of the American Microscope.” Charles A. Spencer designed and built a series of microscopes which were excellent quality and became the instrument of choice for the medical and scientific world. Two of his models looked very familiar to me. They should have. Spencer’s company became the Geneva Optical Company which became the Buffalo Optical Company, which evolved into the American Optical Company in 1935. I had used both monocular and stereoscopic versions of American Optical scopes in college and graduate school.
On the canal within the town was the site of a ten acre plant of the Douglas Pectin Company, headquartered in Fairport. In 1913, the Douglas brothers pattened a process to make liquid and powered pectin, a waste product from apple cider and vinegar production. Apples are one of the most significant crops in upstate New York.
Apple pectin is used to produce jellies from fruits which do not have much natural pectin. The brothers called their product Certo. It was very popular and sales skyrocketed. Eventually they sold the company to General Foods in 1929. Today Certo is still used by many homemakers.
Another company that received a national reputation was the Ideal Cut Glass Works. Here craftsmen cut and etched patterns into cast blanks to create candlesticks, coffee sets, and a variety of stemware.
These products were a must have for the high society matrons of New York, Boston, and Philadelphia.
The company adjusted to changing times and also produced glass lamps with the advent of electric light bulbs. But the company couldn’t adjust to pressures of the Great Depression.
One company is not as well remembered, but its products were an important part of the development of a new technology. The Marvin and Casler Company produced, among other products, the Mutoscope and Biograph instruments which were used in the new moving picture industry. Another interesting product was simpler yet more popular. It was designed for the new fangled horseless carriage—the tire chain.
After the museum I walked back to the town’s main intersection and found a bar/lunch joint. It was raining and the only walking I would be doing that day would be back to the motel. So, I allowed my self to have drink. Since the only wines in the joint were of the screw-type variety, I ordered a Rum & Coke. Make that a Diet Coke.
I’ve given up beer and normally don’t drink booze. Most of people think there are a lot of carbohydrates in alcohol but generally that is not the case. It is the mixers that are the problem. They have a ton of sugar. Oh sure, certain types of booze such as cordials, liquers, and after dinner drinks have a lot of carbohydrates, but booze like whiskey, gin, and vodka don’t. The problem with alcohol is not related to carbohydrates but rather triglycerides. These molecules have been linked to atherosclerosis. Having had a quadruple bypass surgery eight years ago, I have to be concerned about clogged arteries.
Within three days after my surgery, the medical team had me up and walking. When they sent me home two days later, I was given instructions to walk. I took the message seriously. My experiences have taught me that walking reduces insulin resistance and improves glucose readings. But equally important, it reduces the bad LDL cholesterol and improves the healthy HDL cholesterol.
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