Senator Chuck Schumer, Congressman Chris Gibson, and Governor Andrew Cuomo have all been in the news recently on the subject of history tourism. It is instructive to compare and contrast their involvement in the subject.
On July 1, Senator Schumer visited the Thomas Cole National Historic Site in Catskill, Greene County. The site is a privately operated. The cause of the visit was the unexpected discovery what appears to be original paintings from around 1836 by Thomas Cole which had been hidden under layers of paint. Schumer was contacted about federal funding to preserve the art. He not only supports the request, but also toured the site with executive director Betsy Jacks.
During his visit, Schumer said “When people from abroad come to my office, they know the Hudson River School. It’s like something out of a movie.” Schumer added that historic preservation boosts local economies. “Preserving our treasures is one of the best ways to create jobs,” Schumer said.
It’s often said that mass tourism in America began in the Hudson Valley. Through his paintings, Thomas Cole was both a participant and agent of its development. The steamship increased the number of tourists, which in turn meant more lodgings. In the 1820s, an integrated transportation system was devised using steamboats, stagecoachs, and later railways to bring large numbers of tourists into the region. The potential of the refurbished SS Columbia plying the Hudson suggests that river travel may once again be possible, just as it was in the glory days of the Hudson River School.
And why not here? We have seen the ads touting the cruises on the Mississippi River, along the New England and southern coasts and the inter-coastal waterways, and along the rivers Rhine and Danube – why not along the Hudson? As a reporter wrote of her journey on the Blue Danube: “We stepped onto dry land in a different city each day with the local guides and buses synchronized to meet us” Don’t we have cities, towns, and villages along the Hudson? Can’t we create day tours synchronizing the schedules of trains, boats, and motor vehicles? If New Yorkers can island hop on Caribbean cruises, why can’t we bring that level of organization, planning, and infrastructure development to make it work in the Hudson River Valley?
At the end of June, Congressman Gibson visited the Fort Plain Museum in the Mohawk Valley. According to the press release issued by his office about the visit, one purpose was to learn more about the fort’s role in the American Revolution.
Norm Bollen, chairman of the museum was quoted in the press release saying: “We were very excited to have an opportunity to host the Congressman. Our museum and our work with the Mohawk Country Association to promote heritage tourism are creating a new economic model that will bring tourist dollars into our area.”
During the recent Conference on the American Revolution in the Mohawk Valley, participants had the option to register for a bus tour of historic sites in the vicinity of Fort Plain. Local historic sites include the Fort Plain Museum, Fort Klock, Isaac Paris House, Nellis Tavern, Van Alstyne Homestead, Stone Arabia Church, Palatine Church and the Margaret Reaney Library, all located near Exit 29 on the New York State Thruway at Canajoharie, home of the Arkell Museum where the conference met. These organizations have created a website and a brochure. They are participating in a collaborative and cooperative grassroots effort to promote cultural heritage tourism in the area. When I was there I encouraged them to write posts for New York History about both the conference and these efforts for two purposes:
1. To show what small volunteer (upstate) organizations can accomplish by working together
2. To encourage similar efforts elsewhere in the Mohawk Valley around other exits so it would be possible to combine them into week long itineraries which could be offered to tour promoters.
Gibson went on to say “few people realize the struggle and hardships endured by the patriots of the Mohawk Valley who sacrificed so much in the cause of American Liberty…. I was very impressed with the work these groups had undertaken. Promoting the Valley’s rich heritage to attract heritage tourists makes sense.” One should keep in mind that while the Mohawk Valley still exists as a region with the Regional Economic Development Council process, it was eliminated as a region in the Path through History project. The state-sponsored Mohawk Valley Heritage Corridor Commission was eliminated in a separate action.
According to the press release, Congressman Gibson pledged his support in helping to get funding for the local history projects and mentioned that the Congressional legislation just passed continues funding to the Erie Canal National Heritage Corridor, another source of funds.
My previous contact with Gibson was at the kickoff for The Delaware Company in Sullivan County. In general terms The Delaware Company is trying to do in the Upper Delaware River Valley what groups in the Champlain, Hudson, and Mohawk River Valleys and the Finger Lakes are trying to do in their regions. There are a lot of opportunities to market brand names and create itineraries for tour operators and the self-guided. The Hudson River School, the Mohawk Valley, and the American Revolution are brands that resonate and are of importance.
With Schumer and Gibson we have examples of elected officials visiting historic sites, working on their behalf to secure funding, and seeming to have a genuine interest in the subject for what it means to the local community, New York State, and the world.
Photo: Charles Schumer visiting the Thomas Cole National Historic Site.