Elaine Meinel Supkis
Thanks to our great readers, we have been able to buy a very good Nikon D40 camera [used] which would have cost three times as much if I bought it new. This camera takes great pictures and I have a lot to learn about using it. But on day one, I simply walked about Troy, New York, clicking the shutter and getting really good shots with virtually no effort except for dodging huge semis carrying debris and various cars. We start out our tour by visiting the site of the Burden Water Works which is one of several important sites where the United States Industrial Revolution began. This water wheel was the biggest in America when it was designed and built by Troy natives. The Van Rensselaer family literally owned all of this region by royal writ back in the 1600s. My own family, the Steeles of England, fled the King of England's malice and came here even before the Van Rensselaers showed up. The English crown, when they conquered the Dutch, set into law many restrictions on manufacturing. But when the American Revolution overthrew this regime, the inventive powers and engineering genius of the revolutionaries was unleashed.
Troy, New York rapidly morphed from a fur trading/timber source/hay farming community into a dynamo of capitalist engineered factories. This primacy continued until up to World War I and even afterwards, limping through the Great Depression, WWII revived industry here. But ever since the Vietnam War, it has steadily declined nearly to the vanishing point.
Across the street from the wall which welcomes us to Troy, New York, is a bridge that jumps over the Poestenkill creek. This very fast moving small river has tributaries that spring out of the Rensselaer plateau which rises to the west of my own farm. This landmass tilts steeply upwards by over 1,200 feet from the Hudson River which runs from the north to the south and ends at New York City. The waters up here flow with great speed downwards and 200 years ago, this energy was harvested via the famous water wheel. So all the factories that needed water power clustered around this on the lowlands on this side of the Hudson River. When I took this picture, the spring snowmelt was done so the river is at its normal flow rate.
In the last decade, all industries here have, like in the rest of this nation, nearly collapsed. So what we get to see are grand ruins that are slowly being knocked down.
These rusty portals had to be terminated after the Clean Water Act passed. We mock the Chinese for polluting everything this way but until Nixon, we did this merrily, too. The Hudson used to change color literally whenever these sluices opened. My father-in-law and his friends would bet on what color the river would be when they crossed the bridges on their way to work in the morning or home in the evening. Will it be blue? Green? Yellow or red? To this day, we can't eat much of the fish in the Hudson thanks to PCB pollution. At least the fish are making a comeback. They nearly went extinct. The downside to any industrial process is pollution. The US finds it too expensive to fix pollution so the 'fix' has been to simply move it to other nations and pollute them. Changing our tariffs and barriers to reflect this transfer of pollution is easy to do which is why no one ever even mentions it in the public arena. Those of us who do this are very, very few in number and we have a right to complain bitterly about this.
This photo can be repeated endlessly. Many of our factories look like this. There is no way around it: we are being rapidly deindustrialized. And this is a return to our colonial status.
This tavern is at least 150 years old and still in use. Note the separate entrance for the ladies :). In the 19th century, women and children worked long hours alongside the men. They often came from the surrounding farms. The eldest sons would learn all the farm skills and the younger boys worked in the factories or as lumberjacks. The girls worked to build up a dowery for marriage to a farmer if they were lucky. And an army of immigrants worked in these factories, too. Most of them were also peasants. Up until prohibition, they could celebrate their idle hours in this joint.
All of the fancy fretwork cement barriers and fences in this area were built during the Great Depression by the WPA. In Arizona, when I was growing up there, the few sidewalks that existed in downtown Tucson and next to my house on Fremont St were also built by the WPA. The cement mix they used across the nation was the same that built Hoover Dam. And this cement is distinctive for being a lovely soft color and hard as nails.
Now on to downtown Troy itself:
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The first all-women's college in America was founded by a Troy native. Her husband didn't believe in women getting all fancy with learning but when he died, she took firm control of the money and built this college and generously named it after him. He is very fortunate. No one would know who he was if it weren't for her being all uppity. The campus is quite beautiful. Many of the buildings were done in the style that was very hot back in the mid-19th century, Romanesque Architecture. The medievalist fad that swept Europe with Victor Hugo, Sir Walter Scott and Richard Wagner shows clearly in many of the Russell Sage buildings.
Here is a famous neo-Romanesque building, the Rice Building, in downtown Troy. It appears in a number of movies. 'The Age of Innocence' prompted the rebuilding of this magnificent structure.
So does River Street, it too, is in many a movie. The street gently curves along the river which runs behind the buildings. It has good outdoor dining and antique shops. My daughter and I love to eat here.
This colorful VW was visiting Russell Sage campus while I was wandering about. A lesbian couple had their car defaced one day so they decided to use this as an opportunity to talk about sexual civil rights. So they decided to keep the name spray painted on their car and renamed it the 'Fagbug.' I couldn't resist photographing it, the colors came out quite well and I liked the way the sun shone on the back window.
The other day, at the Mises Institute, I got in a debate over the history of the Civil War. People dearly would love to remove the issue of slavery from that war. They can't or willfully refuse to understand the importance of the slavery issue. This plaque commemorates a riot that ensued right before Lincoln was arrested. The Supreme Court ruled that northern police and sheriffs must cooperate with slavers retrieving those who flee this tremendously evil life imposed on them by force. This was extremely unpopular. When this particular slave was accosted, the citizens rose up and defied the Supreme Court and freed the captured slave. This was applauded by the local press and was one of many events that led to the Civil War.
As we see today, our courts can rip up the Constitution or ignore the Bill of Rights. From the very beginning when the US decided to not honor the opening words of the Declaration of Independence, our nation has struggled over the issue of race, slaver, power and sexual domination. Troy, New York, has been in the forefront of the fight for equality and justice. Even the beginnings of the unions lie in our precincts. This dynamic, restless nature is still here if we look around hard enough. It gives me faith that all is not lost. We can become the 'can-do' nation again.