Historic America

Thunder on the Hudson

During the Revolutionary War, New York’s Hudson River Valley was the scene of numerous battles as both sides sought to control this vital waterway.

Before automobiles and paved roads, rivers were the highways of their day. Whoever controlled a major river could ferry troops and supplies back and forth over hundreds of miles. Control of the Hudson River in eastern New York was critical to British plans early in the Revolutionary War, but Patriots blocked passage by spanning the river with large iron chains at a narrow point near Bear Mountain.

After being pushed out of New York City in 1776, Gen. George Washington established his headquarters in Peekskill along the Hudson River. He considered the area critical for keeping the Continental Army supplied. Numerous battles and skirmishes were fought for control over this vital waterway.

Battle of White Plains

The Battle of White Plains was fought on October 28, 1776 during George Washington’s retreat from New York City. Washington positioned his depleted Continental Army on hills near White Plains, New York, east of the Hudson River. He established 3-mile long defensive positions, including two lines of earthworks, anchored by swampy land near the Bronx River on one flank and Chatterton’s Hill on the other.

Mysterious America

Abandoned America: Prisons and Asylums

Visiting a former prison or asylum is an eerie experience, knowing you are free to explore where hundreds were once trapped. Has so much suffering and loneliness left something intangible behind?

Most people avoid ending up in a prison or asylum, opting instead to experience it vicariously through television, movies, or books. When these institutions close, there’s not much that can be done with them. Some local communities, however, have figured out how they can profit from public curiosity by offering tours and events. It’s a unique experience, and thousands flock to see the empty corridors. Here are just a few of the former prisons and asylums I’ve visited over the years. Not all are open to the public, but most are.

Joliet Correctional Center

The former Joliet Correctional Center at 1125 Collins Street in Joliet, Illinois opened in 1858 and was originally called the Illinois State Penitentiary, Joliet. It was built using distinctive, locally quarried yellow limestone. It closed in 2002, but not before being used as a backdrop in several films, most notably The Blues Brothers (1980). It sat abandoned for many years, until being purchased by the city in 2017 and opened for tours. Ursula Bielski recently wrote a book about the institution called The Haunting of Joliet Prison.

Historic America Photography

Stories in Stone: Sir John Dill

Equestrian monument to British Field Marshal Sir John Greer Dill (1881-1944) in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. Sir John Dill fought in the First World War and was promoted field marshal in 1941. However, he did not get along well with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who sent him to Washington, DC as his military representative. This turned out to be a blessing for all involved, as Dill was enormously influential in fostering cooperation between the British and American armed forces in World War Two. He died in November 1944 never witnessing an end to that conflict. The American Joint Chiefs of Staff wrote:

“His character and wisdom, his selfless devotion to the allied cause, made his contribution to the combined British-American war effort of outstanding importance.”

Historic America Photography

Worthington Farmhouse

The Worthington Farmhouse on Monocacy National Battlefield, 4632 Araby Church Road (Visitor Center) outside Frederick, Maryland. On July 9, 1864, Confederate forces under Brig. Gen. John McCausland crossed the Monocacy River and clashed with Union Brig. Gen. James B. Ricketts’ brigade on the farm of John T. Worthington while Worthington and his frightened family huddled inside their home.

Mysterious America

Who Murdered John Mason?

The following is an excerpt from my book Tales of Coles County, a collection of history, folklore, and true crime from one of the most interesting counties in Illinois. Order it in paperback or Kindle today.

In 1880, the cold-blooded murder of an elderly German-American farmer and shopkeeper named John Mason shocked Coles County residents. Though two suspects were arrested, they were acquitted at trial. To this day, the person or persons responsible for Mason’s death remain a mystery. 

John Mason was born in 1807 in Württemberg, Germany and came to the United States sometime prior to 1840. He married Christena Fogle (1815–1870) and the couple had four children. They lived in Ohio before coming to Coles County sometime in the late 1850s. There his son Henry married Theressa Louisa Raser (spelled Theresa Reasser in the marriage record), daughter of Frederick and Johanna Henryette C. (Henrietta) Raser, recent immigrants from Saxony, Germany, on January 18, 1870.

John’s wife, Christena, died at the age of 54 on February 26, 1870. Three months later, John and 45-year-old Henrietta were wed.

For the next ten years, the couple were prosperous farmers in Seven Hickory Township and owned a grocery store eight miles north of Charleston along the plank road. His property stretched outward from the northwest corner of the intersection of what is today State Highway 130 and County Road 1600N to County Road 1700N.

Photography Roadside America

Fisher’s Bar

This sign for Fisher’s Bar, 719 Superior Street in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin, has all the sports. In business since 1933.

Historic America Photography

Stories in Stone: CPL Lewis W. Carlisle

Monument to CPL Lewis W. Carlisle (1878-1898) in Brookside Cemetery, at Watertown Center Loop and Brookside Drive, Watertown, Jefferson County, New York. From July 1 to Jul 3, 1898, during the Spanish-American War, American troops stormed the fortified village of El Caney, Cuba and overran San Juan Ridge, while the U.S. Navy blockaded Santiago harbor. Although the 71st NY was held in reserve and many of its soldiers were sick with malaria and yellow fever, it came under enemy fire. CPL Carlisle, in Company M, was wounded on July 2 and died 26 days later of typhoid fever. His epitaph reads:

He died for the cause of humanity.