The History of New York State
Book I, Chapter I
Pt I

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam

 

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS AND RESULTANT INFLUENCES

New York, commonly known as the "Empire State," owes much of its importance to its geographical position and natural advantages.

Its physical features attracted aboriginal empire-makers. The dominant Iroquois probably recognized its potentialities, as a seat of government, and they became the most powerful confederacy of Indian Nations of the North. Its waterways provided the Six nations of the "Long House" with natural lines of communication, giving them ready means of access to most parts of the Atlantic Coast region. Its mountains afforded them safety in invulnerable fastnesses. Its valleys sheltered and nourished them, for the fertile, well-watered soil yielded bounteous harvests of corn. Fish were plentiful in its beautiful lakes, and game abounded in its forests. Even climatically, New York offered distinct advantages, for, although perhaps factors unnoticed, the exhilarating change of season was one of the positive factors that helped the Iroquois to gain and maintain political supremacy. The bracing air of the New York winter developed a vigorous aboriginal people, such as could become a paramount power, and the hot summer's sun fostered rapid growth of vegetable bounties.

The region was equally attractive to white men. New York Bay, and the majestic waterway leading from it into the unknown interior, held alluring possibilities for the early navigators. Henry Hudson's hopes were high in 1609 as he passed the impressive Palisades into the Highlands channel of the "River of the Mountains"--the beautiful waterway now known by his name. Although his thoughts were centered mainly on what good fortune lay beyond this supposed arm of the sea, he could not withhold an expression of his admiration of the New York region itself. "It is as beautiful a land as one can tread upon," he said. The intrepid Champlain, who penetrated the "Sea of the Iroquois" (Lake Champlain) in the same year, was equally entranced by the beauty of the river, valley, and lake scenery of Northern New York. Later the strategic value of New York waterways was recognized by both the French and the English. To possess them these two powers fought bitterly for a century and a half, possession and supremacy ultimately going to the English. When English monarchical government gave way to American republican, the geographical relation of New York to the other English colonies made it, commercially and politically, the most potential State of the original thirteen. It was the heart of the confederated States,. Just as it had been of the Indian Confederacy. Throughout its history, New York has, indeed, been truly the Empire State, though this status has not been always conceded.

Geological History of New York--To give even a broad idea of the eons of time that have contributed to the moulding of New York's natural features. It will be necessary to explain briefly the geological processes and division of time. The three comprehensive classifications of the earth's crust are igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks. Igneous rocks have solidified from the molten state, some beneath the surface, some above--thrown our as lavas. Sedimentary rocks come from accumulation of sediment in water, the sediment being perhaps rock fragments, making conglomerate, sandstone, shale; or they may be decomposition of animal or vegetable matter, making certain limestones and coal; or they may have been produced by chemical action or evaporation, leaving sale, gypsum, etc. Sedimentary deposits form a layered structure known as stratification. Metamorphic rocks are derivatives of igneous or sedimentary rocks, produced through chemical activities in the earth's crust. The unaltered sedimentary rocks are commonly stratified, their order of succession and their fossils providing the fundamental data from which historical geology is deduced.

Geological history is divided into four eras, the Proterozoic, Paleozoic, Mezozoic and Cenozoic. We will take them in order, and as they come into the geological history of New York.

The Proterozoic era, that of primordial life, is divided into two periods, the Archean and Algonkian or Pre-Cambrian. The Archean period is the epoch of crystalline rocks in which no fossils have been found. The Algonkian gives the first distinct record of life--crustaceans, brachiopods and seaweed. As to the Pre-Cambrian period in New York, we will give the geological history as traced by a very skilled geologist--the late Director John M. Clarke, of the New York State Museum, who was a member of the advisory board of this historical work. In a terse review he traced the geological evidences in New York back to the Pre-Cambrian time, "the oldest recognizable in the rocks of the earth." These earliest rocks, the Grenville metamorphosed sediments (gneisses, marble, etc.) are, he said, "not the oldest which have ever existed in the State." The Grenville rocks are exposed in the Adirondacks and the Hudson highlands. They prove that in Grenville time Norther, Eastern, and probably Southwestern New York were under the sea. After the deposition of the Grenville sediments, igneous activity took place on a large scale, and huge masses of molten rock (granite, anorthosite, gabbro, syenite) were pushed into the sediments from below. Some time later the whole Adirondack region was subjected to enormous pressure, and intensely folded; and then the great mass of Grenville sediments was upraised well above the sea.

The Paleozoic era is that of old life. This era of geologic time is divided into five periods; The "Cambrian," in which trilobites, brachipods and other sea shells developed and seaweed was abundant, but in which there was no trace of land animals; the "Ordovician," in which shell forming sea animals are recorded, and the first trace of insect life occurs; the "Silurian," in which fishes developed, also the reef-building corals; the "Devonian." Classified as the "age of fishes,' and in which amphibians rose and land plants appeared; the "Carboniferous," known as the "age of amphibians," in which tree ferns and mosses predominated, and backbones land animals had their beginning. The New York region during this era passed through many distinct geologic changes. In the beginning of the Cambrian period, when organic life becomes first recognizable in the State, only the eastern margin was submerged, buy toward the end (Potsdam limestone time), the sea covered the whole region, except the central and northeastern Adirondacks. At the close of the Cambrian period North New York was, however, above sea level. In the long Ordovician period, during which the Beekmantown, Chazy, Black river limestones, and the Utica, Frankfort, and Lorraine shales and sandstones were deposited, New York State was most of the time submerged under the Ordovician Sea, except for the Adirondack island. Toward the end of that period, however, the Green and Taconic mountains arose along the eastern border of the State, and practically all of Northern, Central, Eastern and Northeastern New York became dry land. In the succeeding Silurian period were deposited the Medina and Oneida sandstone, and conglomerate, the Clinton shale, sandstone, limestone, and iron ore, the Rochester shale, the Lockport and Guelph dolomites, the Salina shales, sale and water lime. During the early part of this period the sea has spread over only Central and Western New York, while during the late Silurian period it had extended over practically all the State west and east of the Adirondack region. The strata of the next, the Devonian, period comprise the whole Catskill and southwestern plateau region and cover more than a third of the State. These rocks abound in fossils and show that the sea continued to cover at least the southern half of the State. The next and last period of the Paleozoic era us the Carboniferous. It seems, however, that the sea of this period hardly came over the boundary of the State of Pennsylvania.

The next era is the Mesozoic, which is that of intermediate life. Its three periods--Triassic Jurassic, and Cretaceous--embrace what is termed the "age of reptiles." During this geologic time huge land animals (dinosaurs) rose and reached culmination. Birds and mammals appeared, also palms and hard wood trees. At the end of the Paleozoic time New York, except for a small area at the mouth of the Hudson, was raised during the Appalachian revolution well above the sea, never to be invaded again until the end of the Glacial epoch. New York was dry land during the long Mesozoic era. In the Triassic period there was much volcanic activity in the Southeastern New York, and then sheets of lava--the traps of the Palisades--were forced into nommarine Triassic beds. During the next period--the Jurassic--the State was above the sea and actively eroded. However, in the succeeding Cretaceous period, Staten and Long Islands disappeared under the sea. At the end of this period the State, which had been eroded nearly to a plain, was uplifted 2,000 to 3,000 feet.

The fourth era of geologic time is the Cenozoic, which is that of recent life. It is divided into two periods: The "tertiary," which is subdivided into four epochs, the Eocene, Oligocene, Miocene, and Pliocene; and the Quaternary, which is subdivided into two epochs, the Pleistocene (or Glacial) and the Recent ( or that in which we now are). The Tertiary period, which, in characteristic life, is known as the 'age of mammals," marks the rise and development of the highest orders of plants, and also the possible first appearance of man. During that period the present drainage and relief of New York State were developed, in its main feature. The Quaternary period is known as the "age of man," evolving animals and plants of modern types. New York, in passing through the Pleistocene, or Glacial, epoch, was enriched by thousands of lake and waterfalls. The Glacial epoch ended with the Champlain subsidence, during which the sea came for the last time into New York--into the Champlain Basin and Hudson Valley. A comparatively recent elevation has again drained these regions.

The Hudson River is one of the most ancient of the continent, and flows over rocks which have been frequently and heavily faulted. Director Clarke writes: "The fault blocks seem to have reached their equilibrium, and cause earthquake disturbances." The rock gorge of the Hudson River proper is assumed to be about 750 feet deep in the vicinity of New York, and soundings to a depth of 650 feet have been made at Storm King, fifty miles above the city. another most remarkable feature is the so-called submarine channel of the Hudson. It has much interested geologists. "It may be described as a submerged valley leading across the continental platform from a point a few miles east of Sandy Hook southeastward to the margin of the shelf, fifty-five miles from the beginning. Beyond this margin a sharp canyon-like north extends down the escarpment to a depth of a mile or more below the surface of the sea." #1 The depth of the channel at the start is five or six fathoms below the adjoining sea bottom; at 10 miles out the depth is eight fathoms below; at 40 miles it is 15 fathoms below; at 45 miles our it is only eight fathoms, but immediately beyond this point begins to narrow but deep outer canyon, which drops abruptly from 228 feet to 1,008 feet. Six miles farther on another drop of 400 feet occurs; and a third drop occurs at about 12 miles from the beginning of the canyon. The total depth here is 2,292 feet, or about 20.50 feet below the continental platform. At 31 miles the depth of the canyon becomes 4,800 feet, or 3,800 feet below the surrounding sea bottom. Father our the canyon is said to be even deeper.

In this wonderful submerged channel of the Hudson are three precipitous drops which would provide waterfalls that would rival the mighty Niagara; and the canyon itself would be comparable with the Grand Canyon of Colorado, if visible.

The geological formation of the State embraces the igneous or primary rocks, and all the strata lying between them and the coal measures of Pennsylvania. State geologists bring into what is known as the "New York System," #2 all the rocks above the primary, the rocks of the New York system being analogous to the Silurian and Devonian system of the English geologists. The highest of the rocks of the New York system is old red sandstone, which forms the floor of the coal measures. This explains why New York state has no coal beds. The Catskill Mountains are composed principally of old red sandstone, and the tops of some of the highest peaks are covered with the conglomerate of the coal measures. On Long Island there is a peat bog #3 but this deposit is not used for fuel.

Mineral Resources-New York, which ranks twenty-ninths among the States in size--having a land area of 47,654 square miles--and first in population, is placed twenty-second in value of mineral products. According to the Federal Census of 1820 the gross annual value of products of all mines, quarries and wells in New York in 1919 was $25,131,093. Later State statistics, however, value the mineral products of New York State "at more then $70,000,000 a year," the mineral industries reported in New York in 1919, classified by Federal authorities according to principal products and listed in order of value of products, were petroleum and natural gas, iron ore, limestone, gypsum, talc and soapstone, basalt or trap rock, lead and zinc, pyrite, slate graphite, abrasive materials, sandstone, marble, granite, feldspar, millstones and clay. One important mineral industry in New York--salt--was not included in the Federal census of mines and quarries.

The petroleum and natural gas enterprises make up 80.1 per cent of all mineral enterprises in the State. In value of products, however, the percentage is not nearly so high, being only 39.4 per cent. Petroleum and natural gas are found in three counties along the Pennsylvania State line--Alleghany, Cattaraugus, and Steuben--though natural gas only is reported from ten other western counties.

Iron ore enterprises are few, but in value of products the iron ore industry ranks second in the State, according to Federal statistics,. Its percentage being 20.9 of the total for the State. New York ranked fourth among the States in the value of iron or produced in 1919. Iron has been mined in New York for a century and a half, and is found in many counties. Magnetite is to be found in the Adirondacks; hematite in Central New York, in the Clinton beds, and limonite and siderite in Dutchess and Columbia counties. Mining operations are in progress in the counties of Essex, Clinton, Orange, Oneida and Wayne.

Limestone ranks third among mining industries. The value of reported limestone products in 1919 was 18.3 per cent of the total for the State. Limestone is quarried in 27 counties. The Federal statistics value the limestone products at $4,597,942 #4 in 1919, but it appears that the limestone and clay beds of New York State yield about 7,000,000 barrels of cement yearly, valued at ore then $12,000,000.

The mining of gypsum ranks fourth, with 4.4 per cent of the total value of products of the State in 1919. In this industry, however, New York ranks first in the United States, even by Federal statistics, which credit New York with gypsum products valued at only $,110,463 in 1919, whereas, other statistics is more than a million short tons, with a value exceeding $10,000,000. The mineral is found in the counties of Erie, Genesee, Madison and Monroe.

Thirteen other mineral industries in New York together reported only 17 per cent of the total value of products; but several of these industries produce materials which rank importantly--principally garnet and emery--New York State ranks first, and the value of pyrite and slate, ranks third among the State of the Union. Talc is mined in St. Lawrence County tot he extent of about 70,000 tons a year, with a value of more than a million dollars. In St. Lawrence County also are to be found large deposits of pyrite, also zinc. Of the latter, the annual output is valued at about $800,000. Zinc deposits also occur in Orange, Ulster and Sullivan counties. The garnet industry of the Adirondacks yields an output of about 7,000 short tons annually. This is valued at $583,000. In the Adirondack lakes is a diatomaceous earth deposit, which, in Herkimer County, is worked to the extent of about $13,000 a year. Emery is mined in the Peekskill district to the value of about $10,000 a year. Feldspar and quartz, to the value of about $100,000 a year, are mined in the counties of St. Lawrence, Essex, Westchester and Fulton. The working of clay in various parts of the States reached an approximate annual value of $25,000,000, in common and paving brick, terra cotta, tile, pottery, and many other clay products; indeed, this wide range would place clay products first among the mineral industries of the State. The slate quarries of Washington County, near the Vermont line, produce annually slate valued at $800,000. Moulding sands, to the value of more than $1,000,000 yearly, is produced in that part of the Hudson Valley which centers in Albany.

It is therefore obvious that the metallic and non-metallic minerals of New York State are being actively mined and quarried, and in some places represent most important industries. Not the least among them are those which benefit by the mineral springs. The prosperity of Saratoga is based on its medicinal springs, and Syracuse owes its existence to salt--one of the most important mining industries of the State. It seems to be the oldest industry, Moravians having boiled salt on the shores of Onondaga Lake in 1752, and Indians having made good use of the salt springs probably for centuries before. Frontenac, who was campaigning against the Onondaga Indians, in 1696, noted in his journal that his force, "encamped at a place called the salt springs, which in truth they were; they produce enough salt to make us wish they were at Quebec." #5 Champlain fought in the region in 1815, and forty years later the French attempted to settle a colony in this pestilential spot, perhaps hoping to establish the salt industry. Salt was uppermost in the minds of all the pioneers who were drawn to the Onondaga country. James Geddes gave Syracuse its first start when, in 1804, he built the first salt works in "South Bay," and had a road built from Manlius to the salt reservations. Of course, salt is not now so important in the affairs of Syracuse, but is by no means unimportant throughout the Onondaga region. The brine salt industry in that district has declined, but the discovery of rock salt beds in Onondaga, Genesee, Wyoming, Livingston, Tompkins, Schuyler, and Yates counties in the latter half of the nineteenth century diverted the salt industry to the exploitation of these resources. Livingston and Tompkins counties produce all the rock salt gained by underground mining, through shafts of more than 1,000 feet in vertical depth. Elsewhere, the salt is brought to the surface in the form of brine by drilled wells, into which fresh water is introduced and then pumped back after saturation. The salt beds underlie several thousand square miles, and constitute a most valuable natural resource. About 14,000,000 barrels of salt are produced in a year, the estimated value of this annual yield being about $7,000,000.

Topography--The Appalachian Mountain system in New York does not reach very high altitudes, the elevations lowering to the classification of mills and finally sinking to the level of the lowlands that surround the great depression filled by Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. three distinct mountain ranges enter the State from the south, extending across it in a general northeasterly direction. The most easterly of these ranges is a continuation of the Blue ridge of Virginia. It enters the State from New Jersey, and extends northeasterly through Rockland and Orange counties to the Hudson River. It appears on the eastern side of that river, and forms the highlands of Putnam and Dutchess counties. A northerly arm of this range passes into the Green Mountains of Western Massachusetts and Vermont. This range reached an altitude of 1,700 feet above sea level, and culminates in the Highlands. The gorge that passes through it gives the Hudson River some of its most picturesque beauty, making the river scenery oft his superb region comparable with the exquisite valley of the Rhine. The second series of mountains enters the State from Pennsylvania, and extends northeasterly through Sullivan, Ulster, and Greene counties, culminating in the Catskill Mountains, upon the Hudson. The highest peaks are 3,000 to 3,800 feet above sea level. The Shawangunk Mountains, which run between Sullivan and Orange counties into the southern part of Ulster, form the most easterly range of the second series. The Helderbergh and Helliback Mountains are spurs extending northerly from the main range into Albany, and Schoharie counties. The third series of mountains enters the State from Pennsylvania, continuing northeastward through Broome, Delaware, Otsego, Schoharie, Montgomery and Herkimer counties, to the Mohawk. From the north side of that river the range runs northeasterly, and forms the whole series of highlands of the northeastern part of the State. It is generally known as the Adirondack Mountain Range. South of the Mohawk the elevations are broad, irregular hills, covering much territory and in many places rugged and precipitous, hiding charming nooks and entrancing cascades in the many deep ravines of this part of New York State. The valley of the Mohawk breaks through this range. North of the Mohawk the highlands extend northeastward in several distinct ranges, all terminating in Lake Champlain. Mount Marcy, 5,467 feet high, is the highest mountain in the State, and also the culminating point of the whole system.

West of these ranges a series of hills, which are spurs of the Alleghany Mountains, enter the State from Pennsylvania and occupy the entire southern half of the western part of the State. Am irregular elevation, running through the southerly counties, forms the watershed that separates the northern and southern drainage; and from it the surface gradually lowers northward until it reached the level of Lake Ontario. South of this watershed, two southerly tiers of counties are entirely occupied by these hills. They are abrupt along the Pennsylvania line, but northward their summits become broader and less broken by ravines. The highest elevations in Alleghany and Cattaraugus counties are 2,000 to 3,000 feet above sea level.

Terraces, formed by the outcropping of the different rocks which underlie the surface, mark the descent from the summits of this watershed toward Lake Ontario. Between the hills of the south and the level land of the north is beautiful undulating country, the ridges gradually declining toward the north. South of the most easterly mountain range the surface is generally level, or broken by only low hills. Long Island is flat, or only gently undulating. A sandy ridge, 150 to 200 feet high, runs across the island from east to west, to the northward of the centre.

Waterways--In dispensing her favors, nature was generous to New York. She marked out New York for greatness. General George Washington, as he passed along some of the natural waterways of the empire State, in 1783, was impressed by the potentialities of New York in this connection. He marvelled at "the goodness of that Providence which has dealt its favors to us with so profuse a hand." He was not the first nor the last to marvel at New York's natural wealth. Transportation means were as valuable then as now; but in that day more than now water transport settled such problems, there were no railroads, and no improved road such as we know. to the [pioneers of our country waterways, therefore, had peculiar value. They seemed, indeed, to be wealth dropped at their feet by the gods. Realizing this, a glance at the map of New York will bring the reader to agree with Washington that Providence had been profusely generous to New York.

This truth was quite obvious to one of the founders of New York State--to Senator Gouverneur Morris. One day in 1800 he stood at the eastern extremity of Lake Erie. In the distance westward, as far as the eye could see was water. Beyond for a thousand miles or more into the interior of this vast continent was water--or at least natural waterways along which the commerce of a continent could pass. At his feet, almost, were nine ships--full-rigged vessels, some of them larger than those that had first circumnavigated the globe, and the stout ships that had brought thousands of Puritans safely across 3,000 miles of stormy sea to New England. These vessels at his feet, straining at anchor in the swift current of the Niagara River, were 300 miles from the sea--at least from the salted sea, though they had a sailing area of thousands of miles on the billows of those unsalted seas. One might expect to find boats and canoes on this inland water, thought Morris, but full-rigged ships !!!, it was wonderful. Gouverneur Morris, marvelled. He was astounded, especially when he, in imagination, saw what is was quite likely to being to New York., Gouverneur Morris did not hesitate to give utterance to some of his mental predictions, and he soon gained the reputation of being a visionary; but one wonders whether his imagination ever reached such extravagant heights as the picture to be seen from the roof of a Buffalo skyscraper, overlooking Buffalo Harbor, one day in the winter of 1918019-117 vessels, all fully loaded, some with as much as 450,000 bushels of grain. It was an immense floating granary, larger then the elevator capacity of any port in the world. Gouverneur Morris has visioned immense armadas of ships bringing grain from the vast prairie of the West, over the Great lakes, but he probably did not believe that the whole world could grow as much grain as came into Buffalo harbor before the close of navigation in 1918. To him, in 1800, it had seemed "like magic," that full-rigged ships should be there, hundreds of miles from the seaboard, but Buffalonians of 20 to 30 years later would have seen nothing surprising or remarkable in the fact, and people of today would class the great full-rigged ships of Morris' time as mere fishing "smacks," for such they in reality were.

Scarcely one was of Monroe then 100 tons burthen. Buffalo's whole lake fleet, in 1818, consisted of only five vessels, the aggregate burthen being only 377 tons. Lake Erie was able to support larger ships even in that early day of lake navigation, but Morris could hardly have imagined that a century or so hence "the billows of those inland seas," would be able to rock a ship #6 that had in her holds 472,837 bushels--143,815 tons-- of wheat. As he gazed at those tiny schooners in 1800, Senator Morris may have thought that the time might come when the experiments made to propel a ship :by squirting water through her stern," would bring a mechanically-driven boat into the Great Lakes, but he would hardly have dared to imagine that a century and a quarter later steel ships more then 600 feet long, propelled by steam would be busily churning the muddy waters--or the mud from the bed of those waters--through which the graceful little schooners of his time so silently glided. However his fancy in ships might run, he would hardly have thought it possible that lake navigation would bring into existence, in the heart of a continent 3,000 miles wide, a seaport which in exports would rank third among the world ports. Still, without severely taxing the powers of his credulous vision, he has good reason to be impressed by New York's potentialities, as suggested to him by the natural features of the eastern extremity of Lake Erie. As he stood there, opposite the little hamlet of Buffalo, he knew that nearby, almost within hearing, was the stupendous, thunderous guardian of the lakes--Niagara, the awe-inspiring sentinel which for aeons had held out a forbidding hand to all who approached the Great Lakes, and now--in Morris' imagination--seemed to turn and, like a traffic policeman, point all Great lakes commerce New Yorkward. After the few land barriers had been cut, thought Morris, the ships of the seven seas might pass through New York waters into the Great Lakes, to trade with those western lands which would soon be "teeming with progressive, productive men of his own race."

His enthusiasm knew no logical bounds. "The proudest empire in Europe is but a bauble compared to what America will be, must be," he exclaimed. In the century and a quarter that has since passed each decade has provided the State with men who had been equally impressed with the possibilities of inland navigational and there are today in New York many citizens who are just as enthusiastically advocating canalization projects as there were a century ago, when De Witt Clinton opened the Grand (Erie) Canal, merging the salted and unsalted seas.

The History of New York State, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc., 1927

 

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

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