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: 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.

Historic America Photography

Fife and Drums

Reenactors dressed as a French fife and drum corps 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.


Stories in Stone: Before Their Time

Loving parents with means have often left behind lifelike statues dedicated to children taken before their time.

Death is always painful, but the death of a child is particularly tragic. While memories of their brief time on this earth are cherished, it is often the unfulfilled future we mourn the most. Whenever possible, their devoted parents have gone to great lengths to memorialize and preserve the memory of their dearly departed. The following are just seven of the most touching funerary sculptures I’ve seen on my travels.

Louis Ernest Mieusset (1881-1886)

Memorial to Louis Ernest Mieusset (1881-1886), son of Louise Helluin Mieusset, who designed fashionable hats for Boston’s elites, in Forest Hills Cemetery, at 95 Forest Hills Avenue in Boston, Massachusetts. She paid for this hauntingly lifelike white marble statue of her son sitting in a boat with all his favorite toys with money she saved for his schooling, leaving her grief stricken and penniless in her old age. According to popular lore, Louis drowned in Jamaica Pond, but some researchers maintain he actually died of scarlet fever.

Historic America Photography

Stories in Stone: John A. Green

Mausoleum for the Green family in Oakwood Cemetery, 940 Comstock Avenue, next to Syracuse University, in Syracuse, Onondaga County, New York. At least three generations of Greens are interred here, most prominently John A. Green, Jr. (1828-1872) and his wife Jane (1800-1889). John Green was a wholesale grocer and a brigadier general in the New York National Guard during the Civil War, tasked with defending the northern portion of the state (though he butted heads with Maj. Gen. John A. Dix, commander of the Department of the East). General Benjamin Butler mentioned him in his memoirs as a “confidential friend of the governor.” He was a founding member of the Onondaga Historical Association.

Historic America Photography

Stories in Stone: Daniel D. Bidwell

Brig. Gen. Daniel Davidson Bidwell (1819-1864) was born in Buffalo, New York and served in the state militia prior to the Civil War. He became colonel of the 49th New York Volunteer Infantry in August 1861. He fought at the head of his regiment in the Battle of Chancellorsville and was present at Gettysburg, although his unit wasn’t involved in the fighting. He took command of a brigade for U.S. Grant’s Overland Campaign, but he was not promoted to brigadier general until August 1864.

On October 19, 1864, a Confederate surprise attack initially routed Union forces at the Battle of Cedar Creek. Bidwell’s brigade was instrumental in slowing their attack and buying time for reinforcements. Bidwell himself was mortally wounded by an artillery shell and died on the field, asking the surgeon to “Tell them I died at my post doing my duty.” He is buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery, at 1411 Delaware Avenue in Buffalo, New York.