Diabetes Awareness Campaign: Trekking Along the Erie Canal.
North Tonawanda
Little Falls
St. Johnsville
Tuesday, October 30
Schnectady to Colonie
Yates House.
Yates House, 18th Century Dutch
Before I started Jerie and I took a quick pass through the historic Stockade District which the guide book said that there are “more old buildings on their original sites than anywhere else in the U.S.” The number given is 66. Really??? The source of the quote is the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Well, la- ti- da! Newburyport, Massachusetts far exceeds that number. In fact High Street alone has 52 houses that meet the requirement—built between 1700 and 1850.
The Stockade District.
The Stockade District
I think that the truth is that there are 66 families with big egos that are impressed with owning a house on the National Register! We stopped in front of the Abraham Yates house which was built in 1700 and reputed to be the oldest in Schenectady. It was built in the Dutch style similar to the Mabee Farm we saw yesterday. Very nice, but not so very old! I know of at least 35 first period houses in my small town of Newbury (founded 1635). “First period” is the term architecture historians apply to houses built in the 17th century—what my people used to call “salt boxes.” It is logical that my hometown would have older buildings since the French burned Schenectady to the ground in 1690.
One very impressive building was the three story stone federalist building on the corner of Union and Church streets. It was originally built as the Mohawk bank and served that capacity until 1853 when the bank was relocated. The building was then bought by a wealthy individual and converted into a private residence. After a series of owners it became the clubhouse of the elite Mohawk Club. The members put in a spacious bar on the first floor which came in handy when the Volstead Act ushered in Prohibition.
The Stockdale Inn.
The Stockdale Inn
Now a public hotel, it is known as the Stockade Inn. Jerie and I couldn’t help but take a peak inside and check out the prices. It was way over my budget, but they had some nice packages for the get-away couple. The lounge was quite stately. I could just imagine what it was like during the club’s hey day. I wondered if Mr. Edison or his brain trust from GE were guests here.
Stockdale Inn's Sitting Room.
The Inn's Sitting Room
We found where the trail picked on the corner of the stockade. Actually it didn’t pick up—it had never stopped. (Yesterday I had been picked up two miles back at Rice Road.) From here the path followed the river for about a block before it turned onto Front Street before merging with Erie Boulevard, which as we all know by now, was where the Erie Canal went through the city of Schenectady prior to construction of the Barge Canal.
The Boulevard went through the industrial warehouse section of the city. Even today it is busy with transportation of goods. Only today the drivers use vans and semi trucks instead of Durham Boats or Bull Head barges. And these vehicles go a lot faster then their waterborne predecessors. When the big rigs flew by, they kicked so much wind that I had to hang on to my hat. Fortunately for me there was a good sidewalk on which I could stay.
After a mile the trail left the congested city thoroughfare to follow a scenic road named the Mohawk Towpath Scenic Byway. After a two mile walk with casual car traffic, the Byway intersected with Route 146, a major road which crossed the Mohawk. The neighborhood was called Aqueduct which referred to an aqueduct of the Enlarged Erie Canal which crossed the river at that point and paralleled the river on its north side for about ten miles.
I had a choice between staying on the byway or following a bike path which went through a wood margin of the Mohawk’s south bank. Since the byway now was full of traffic I chose the bike path which was a pleasant walk. It wasn’t long before I realized that I was walking along an old railroad bed. After another mile I started meeting walkers coming towards me. But there was something amiss! These weren’t your ordinary hikers. They were wearing nice dress nice and slacks. And their shoes were definitely not for hiking. My bewilderment increased when the path was suddenly cut by a tall chain link fence and a locked gate. A detour sign indicated a paved ramp which snaked back and forth up the hillside.
Tree-lined sidewalk.
At the top of the hill the path continued through a meadow and came out onto a tree lined sidewalk in a nice residential area. A sign informed me I was in Niskayuna. I didn’t need a guide book to tell me that I was in an upscale neighborhood.
Niskayuna is not only a nice suburb of Schenectady but also the location of the research facilities of the larger companies in the world. It is the descendent of the Edison Machine Company—the General Electric Company, which is best known as GE.
A distant relative of mine once worked here while another, an uncle, work for the division located in Lynn, Massachusetts.
Edison was a hero of my childhood which was probably influenced by the fact that my father worked for the Massachusetts Electric division of the New England Electric System.
One of the first biographies which I ever read was Edison’s and I became interested in science because of him. I even had an old fashioned Edison light bulb among my most valuable possessions. One of my most favored memories is when my father helped me make an electric motor by making a wire coil and an armature made of 8p nails which spun when a current was run though a magneto.
Then he showed me how to use the converse design to generate an electric current by spinning an armature through a magnetic field. Thanks to my father, I was the star of my 8th grade science class.
Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory.
Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory
About 500 yards down the path I came to another compound. It was the Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory. It was started in 1946 as a joint venture between the US Department of Defense and GE. Its purpose was to research nuclear power for propulsion in submarines and other naval craft. Presently the company is owned by Lockheed Martin. Although the control and direction has changed, the mission is still the same.
I wasn’t familiar with the history of this place so I whipped out my camera to take an establishing photo to function as a reminder to research it on the web. As I was standing there poised with my trusty digital camera I heard someone yelling at me. It seems that a guard with an automatic weapon was upset that I was taking a photo of a federal facility. I almost reverted to the protest mode of my hippy youth asserting my rights as a US citizen on a public trail of the sovereign state of New York. Then, I though that a “Jack Bauer” type from the cast of “24” might jump out and rip the camera out of my hands and at the same time rip out my heart. So, I whipped out my cell phone and dialed Jerie and said loudly: “Zoe, patch me through to headquarters!”
As I “move(d) along,” I snapped a shot of the front sign which is hereby published on the Internet. If I suddenly disappear, please call my congressman. Seriously, it was stupid of me to forget the security threats of 9/11 let alone the tension from protests against nuclear power of the 70s and 80s.
"No Trespassing" sign.
Danger, Danger!
A quarter of a mile later the path passed though a pleasant wooded section. An ominous yellow sign from the Department of Energy declared a “No Trespassing” warning which I took very seriously.
The path.
After the Knoll Lab, the path went past a public playground and then wound back down to the Mohawk River where I felt at home and fell back into a comfortable stride. There was a fair number of joggers and bicyclists along this stretch.
A mile or so further, my guide book indicated, would be Lock #7. Just before the lock was a small bay formed where a creek enters the river.
Boat ramp in park.
This is the focal point of a nice little park. There were picnic tables, a boat ramp, and a small sandy beach. A sign said “Swim at your own risk.” Swim? In a river? No way!! Even though I grew up on a river and spent most of the summer in a boat, we didn’t do much swimming in the river. Its currents were quite strong and dangerous rip currents occurred when the out flowing current clashed with the incoming tide.
This happened twice a day and the location of the rips varied depending on the stage of the tide. In addition, during the outgoing tide the river current was about 10 miles an hour. This meant that it was easy to swim with the current but took a lot of effort to get back to where you jumped in. The only safe times to swim were at the peaks which meant a half hour before and after the turn of the tide. If we went up river to escape the influence of the tides, the water was polluted from the effluent of the mills and the city sewage of Lowell, Lawrence, and Haverhill. Since the mills are gone and the cities have installed treatment plants, perhaps the kids of today are enjoying my river. I’m too old to find out.
Train Station Park.
Train Station Park
At the edge of Niskayuna I came to another small park. This time it was centered around a 19th century train station. This small brick building didn’t look like a typical depot but rather like a small cottage. Perhaps it is because it was just a flag stop between the major stations of Albany and Schenectady.
Whatever the reason, for me it was a major stop. I sat, ate some rations, and rested for a while. A sign had alerted me to the fact that the trail from here to the Colonie Town Park had limited access.
It wasn’t long before I realized why there was a limited access. The trail went along a rail bed that was built though a swampy section. Although isolated, I was happy to be on the trail. My home is on an island that has a large national wildlife refuge which I enjoy very much. Having been trained as a biologist and having had an early career as a biology teacher, I am always scanning my surroundings to spot some wildlife. A great blue heron standing on a dead log didn’t disappoint me.
Great blue heron.
Great blue heron
As the miles passed by and the shadows got longer I called Jerie and suggested that she meet me at the park in Colonie because I didn’t how to locate the various access points. She was able to find the park on her map and could figure out the major roads to get to Colonie. She asked for an estimated time of arrival and I said about an hour.
Well, I was wrong! I had miscalculated as to where I was. At the appointed hour she arrived at the park and waited patiently. After about 20 minutes she called wondering where I was. I assured that I was close and that I should be rounding the bend at any moment. Again wrong! Because of the trouble finding the day before, she wanted to start looking. I assured her that it wasn’t necessary. I was passing through a neighborhood of houses along the river so I couldn’t be lost. Yes, I wasn’t lost. I just wasn’t where I thought I was. So, I eventually strolled into the park an hour late. Jerie was mad at me and happy for me at the same time.
Mohawk River Trailway sign in Colonie.
I was in striking distance of Albany! I should be able to finish my trek tomorrow. Tomorrow was the last day of the month. I started this trek out on the first. I had been on the trail for 30 days. I had to push on just one more day.
When I got into the car, Jerie slipped a disk into the CD player and we sang along “I got a mule, her name is Sal, 15 miles on the Erie Canal . . . . . . . . . . . .”
Day's end.
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