Categories
Historic America

Flames on the Mohawk

Tracing Revolutionary War battles in New York’s Mohawk River Valley.

During the Revolutionary War, the Mohawk Valley in central New York was the scene of brutal fighting between patriots committed to American independence and loyalists committed to remaining under the British Crown. Many settlements and homesteads were raided and burned. Stone houses became “forts” where civilians and militia would take shelter during these attacks. You can still visit the sites of these battles and skirmishes today, though several are marked only with a small sign.

Siege of Fort Stanwix

The Siege of Fort Stanwix is among the most well-known Revolutionary War battles in the Mohawk Valley. British General John Stanwix ordered construction of this fort in the summer of 1758 to guard a portage connecting the Mohawk River and Wood Creek. Colonial troops under the command of Colonel Elias Dayton occupied and repaired the fort in July 1776 and renamed it Fort Schuyler. British forces besieged it from August 2-22, 1777, but were demoralized by a colonial raid on their camp and withdrew. It burned down in 1781.

Categories
Historic America Photography

Stories in Stone: Capt. Richard McRae

The “Cockade Monument” in Blandford Cemetery, 319 South Crater Road in Petersburg, Virginia, is dedicated to Capt. Richard McRae (1787-1854), commander of the Petersburg Volunteers during the War of 1812. The Volunteers fought on the Canadian frontier and helped defend Fort Meigs. They conducted a sortie against a British battery on May 5, 1813, but Capt. McRae, who was sick, did not participate. The Volunteers wore distinctive red, white, and blue ribbons, or cockades, on their hats, leading President James Madison to call Petersburg the “Cockade City”.

Categories
Historic America Photography

De Montcalm’s Men

Reenactors dressed as French soldiers at Fort Ticonderoga, 102 Fort Ti Rd, in Ticonderoga, New York. French engineer Michel Chartier de Lotbinière, Marquis de Lotbinière constructed the fort between 1755 and 1757 during the French and Indian War. It was originally called Fort Carillon.

Categories
Historic America Photography

Stories in Stone: Daniel Butterfield

Monument to Maj. Gen. Daniel Adams Butterfield (1831-1901) in West Point Cemetery, 329 Washington Road, United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. A native New Yorker, Daniel Butterfield’s father had founded the company that became American Express. He had no military experience prior to the American Civil War, but rose from the rank of captain to major general, and even won the Medal of Honor in 1862.

Butterfield was a talented organizer. He wrote an Army field manual, introduced the use of patches to distinguish between Union Army corps, and is credited with composing the bugle call “Taps”. He later transferred to the Western Theater. After the war, he served as Assistant Treasurer of the United States, but was forced to resign for taking part in a scheme to manipulate gold prices.

Categories
Historic America

Coles County Ghost Towns: Hitesville, Farmington, and Curtisville

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.

Hitesville

James Hite, who immigrated from Kentucky to Coles County in 1831, created this village in Ashmore Township and named it after himself in April 1835. He was appointed postmaster on August 24, 1835. A stone marker at the location, however, says that Hitesville was founded in 1837.

Whatever the year of its establishment, at its peak it contained several shops and houses. The History of Coles County (1879) stated that the village was “swallowed up” by new villages that appeared when the Indianapolis & St. Louis Railroad was built. Ashmore, which was plotted in 1855, was the most likely culprit.

James Hite and some of his neighbors also built a nearby Presbyterian church. A man by the name of Reverend John Steele presided over the congregation until the building was sold when James Hite moved out of the area. The parishioners, many of whom were from the St. Omer area, then attended a different church. Hitesville lasted long enough to appear on a county map alongside St. Omer and Ashmore, but shortly after, both Hitesville and St. Omer ceased to exist.

Categories
Historic America Photography

Stories in Stone: Captains of Industry

Almost untouchable in life, today anyone can visit the final resting places of these wealthy and powerful figures.

America’s cemeteries are filled with rich and poor alike. In life, these wealthy industrialists were among the most powerful men alive. Yet today, their sometimes humble monuments can be found scattered among a sea of granite stones. A name and date carved into stone tells so little about the incredible lives they must have lived. Here are a few of their stories.

George Pullman (1831-1897)

Monument to George Mortimer Pullman (1831-1897) in Graceland Cemetery, at 4001 N. Clark Street in Chicago, Illinois, the city’s premier burial ground. George Pullman invented the Pullman sleeping car. He’s perhaps best well-known for the town he created for his factory workers in Illinois. When his workers went on strike in 1894, President Grover Cleveland intervened and sent several thousand troops to Chicago to break the strike. The violence left 30 dead. Pullman died in 1897 and he is buried in a lead-lined coffin sealed in cement to prevent desecration.

Categories
Historic America

The Manteno Madness

Manteno State Hospital was at one time the largest state mental hospital in Illinois, but its overcrowded corridors invited disaster. From typhoid epidemic to scandal, trace the tragic history of this forgotten asylum.

“It is not by confining one’s neighbor that one is convinced of one’s own sanity.”

Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Novels (and the films based on them) such as The Snake Pit (1946), One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1962), and even memoirs like Girl, Interrupted (1993) have permanently colored public perception of mental hospitals. Images of sadistic Nurse Ratched and torture disguised as treatment have horrified us for decades, but those of us who grew up after the closure of such facilities have no memory of the very real scandals that led to their condemnation.

At one time, Illinois had eleven state mental hospitals, located in Alton, Anna, Chicago, Dixon, East Moline, Elgin, Jacksonville, Kankakee, Lincoln, Manteno, and Peoria. Manteno State Hospital was the largest of these, and perhaps the one that attracted the most negative press. Ironically, hospitals like Manteno, with their “cottage system” of patient housing, were meant to correct the appalling conditions of what we now know as the classic “mad house” or “insane asylum” that Michel Foucault deconstructed in his influential book Madness and Civilization (1965).

Progressive hospitals like Manteno State proved not to be much better than their predecessors, and the Community Mental Health Act of 1963 began the long, slow process of de-institutionalization that eventually led to their closure.