Last time: From 1950-60, the Cambridge District and America reaped the new peace dividend (before we called it that), and boomed with lots of new little people and immense pride from sea to shining sea.


Chapter 25: The Legacies of the Cambridge Patent, Past and Future

This is it, dear reader, the finale of Cambridge History Lives, first issued early last year as a run up to the 250th Anniversary (1761-2011) of the Cambridge Patent, Province of New York (the Honourable Sir Cadwallader Colden, Governor.) We first stepped back five decades to the Cambridge of 1961, then peered deeper into the rear view mirror in 50 year increments, finally arriving at The Cambridge Patent and Prelude to Revolution. Next we took a broad brush to Revolution and Constitution, salted with local details, then filled in the gaps, the Anti-bellum and Gilded Age, and finished our trek through the early and mid-20th century.

At trail’s end now, we slip out of a dusty backpack of history’s nuggets and perspectives, and step onto the tarmac in a "post-modern" landscape. After reviewing the record of 250 years, indeed half a millennium, what legacies do we carry from the past, for those of today, those for tomorrow? What of the values of our forebears, the settlers of the 1761 Patent, of Edmond Wells and Isaac Sawyer and fellow land grantees who carved civilization from raw wilderness? For that matter, of the first people, the Haudenosaunee in 1461 at Tiashoke—the confluence of the Owlkill and Hoosic—their reverence for the gifts of the forests and waters. Of the early French fur traders and the later day Walloons and Dutch. But more significantly of the founders and fighters for America’s independence, including White Creek farmer George Gilmore who helped trip up the King’s men at Wallomsac in 1777; and retired Redcoat major James Cowden (French & Indian War), owner of the area’s first tavern—later the famous "Checkered House"—who took up the cause and risked his life and prospects for freedom rather remain loyal to the Crown and perhaps flee to Canada. Let’s not forget those of the War of 1812 who finally drove home to Mother England our absolute sovereignty. Nor the Union preservationists of the 1860s including Clarence Coulter, Archibald McDougall, and other sons of Washington County, cautious but steady along lines of Blue on southern battlefields yet too often dealt, if you will, red badges of courage. Remember our patriots who gave their last in the French trenches of the Great War, Earl Maxson and the others. And our ranks of the Greatest Generation, some who died but mostly who returned home to give life and freedom to children of their own, many reading these words. In their sacrifices are writ the lasting material, intellectual, spiritual culture of the Cambridge District, the agrarian, commercial and light industries, the architectures and artifacts, art forms and liturgies. We can honor this history and preserve this promise to the future by recalling the words of Gen. Douglas MacArthur (USMA 1903): "No man is entitled to the blessings of freedom unless he be vigilant in its preservation." Let’s take a closer look at yesterday’s bequests, our gifts to tomorrow.

A village is cast firmly in time by the character and color of its residents, by the wisdom and courage of its leaders. Folks like the publishers of the long running Washington County Post, and Jerome B. Rice who gave Cambridge its first enterprise of note in seed packaging. Like Grandma Moses who put the region on the map, and Charles John Stevenson, on the media charts. Like the 36 village presidents of 1866-1927 with familiar names: John W. Eddy Esq. (1874), William Robertson (1889-90), and Hiram Parrish (1891-94, 1902-05); and the mayors from 1928-75, including Gardner Cullinan (1947-53), Charlie Ackley (l954-56), Floyd Smith (1957-67), Art Center (1968-70), and Bob Wright (1971-75). Like Cambridge Central teachers Carson Fuller, John Herbert, Ruth Hudson, Maurice O’Connor and Ken Wilbur and their life-long lessons. And leading citizens Bob and Anne Boeker, Joe and Dottie Canzeri, Tom and Jean Dunn, Ken and Charlotte Gottry, George and Liz Morse, Irwin and Sally Perry; Ben and Bill English and wives, Eddie King, Leroy MacDougall, Tink Parish, Joe Vitello, Lyman White. Out in the countryside, "Around Cambridge, White Creek and Jackson", and in town, in churches and law offices, businesses, barber shops and bowling alleys. Today area roads and lanes bear some of the names. We carry their words and works in our memories and offer them up to the future.

So too is a nation set in stone, on original parchment, hard bound in libraries, on today’s flash drives. At least two future presidents passed through the "Old Cambridge District", to see this part of the new USA for themselves, just three years past the New York State Township Act of 1788 that authorized the Town of Cambridge. In 1791 Thomas Jefferson and James Madison—politicking federal officials at the time as George Washington was contemplating a second term—travelled by carriage between the battlefields of Bennington and Saratoga. Other chief execs have also breathed not too distant New York air including Washington himself who in 1779 established his wartime HQ on a bench projecting over a west point along the lower Hudson. By 1802 this was the US Military Academy that later produced graduate giants and presidents Ulysses S. Grant (1843) and Dwight D. Eisenhower (1915.) Martin Van Buren and Franklin D. Roosevelt, of course, also had eastern upstate NY roots, complementing the region’s notable presidential chronicle.

In 1982, our 40th president, Ronald Reagan, speaking to the American legacy apparently at risk, issued a precaution: "In a few days the Congress will stand at the fork of two roads. One road is all too familiar to us. It leads ultimately to higher taxes. It merely brings us full circle back to the source of our economic problems, where the government decides that it knows better than you what should be done with your earnings and, in fact, how you should conduct your life." It’s said, though, that the Reagan Era is over, that the American Century is dead, given today’s White House occupant. Barack Hussein Obama made US presidential history, of course, the very first to apologize for America ("We’ve been arrogant, dismissive, even derisive"), to bow down to another sovereign, and to sign off on debts and deficits beyond the pale, beyond the orbit of Mars, with no plan to rein in. And also no plan to step onto the red planet, a dour legacy for a true prophet like Ray Bradbury. (Our first minority president, incidentally, was Dutch-American Van Buren.)

President Reagan continued, though, with a vision of higher expectations: "The other road promises to renew the American spirit. It’s a road of hope and opportunity. It places the direction of your life back in your hands where it belongs." A CCS classmate (in a recent note to the author) reinforced these words of free market enterprise and personal achievement, and also addressed the special place that is Washington County, New York: "I'm in a unique position having spent almost all my life in Cambridge. I've travelled more than I ever imagined I would when I was building my business into a global corporation, but there is something very special about this area. I look out over Lake Lauderdale and the Green Mountains 700 feet over the valley, I know I'm blessed to be lord and master over my little piece of paradise. I remember Cambridge when it had a thriving business community (compared) to what it is today, a bedroom/retirement community that has survived due, no doubt, to lack of infrastructure, and has dodged the urban spread experienced by other communities around the country".

Lack of infrastructure? Readers may recall when Clifton Park was but a sleepy crossroads at NY 146 and US 9 with a fruit stand and a gas station pumping Esso at 30c a gallon. Then the Adirondack Northway went in and made for upstate strip mall and housing history. But what if that intersection had come to the outskirts of Cambridge? Never happen, you say? Consider this: With the increasing use of the auto in the 1920s, then NY State official FDR conceived of a scenic byway through the eastern Hudson Valley to provide easy access for the urban masses to regional state parks. A winding road would yield dramatic vistas of the Hudson Highlands, the Catskills, and the Taconic Mountains, the northern reaches of which are the hills east of the Owlkill. According to Kathleen LaFrank in her 2002 report "National Register of Historic Places nomination, Taconic State Parkway" (NY State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation), in 1925 Roosevelt, the TSP Commission chair, proposed the agency design and build a parkway along the following route: "… past Chatham, with the idea that at some point north of Chatham (it) would be divide(d) and one fork would lead northeast to Williamstown and the Mohawk Trail and the other fork northwest passing east of Troy, (author’s underline) to the Saratoga Battlefield." The map points to several northbound routes east of the Collar City which skirt Tomhannock Reservoir and, given the scenic parkway idea, would pass near Grafton Lakes State Park, Pittstown State Forest, and/or Tibbetts State Forest before crossing the Hoosic River between Johnsonville and Hoosick Falls, and then up past Cambridge either to the east or west. Imagine a four lane overpass with exit ramps a half mile east of Bennett’s Corners with a BP and Shell station, a McDonald’s and Cracker Barrel, a Home Depot and Hampton Inn. Imagine a Hedges-Lauderdale State Park, $6.00 a car to get in. But with a great depression and a world war, the TSP extension blueprint was shelved and never dusted off. In this post-modern era, the Village of Cambridge still echoes the old Cambridge Patent.

The classmate continued, "I tell new comers some tales of what we did as teenagers and they think I may be stretching the truth but it's all true. Stories of the (hotels), both Cambridge and the Brick, the Oasis, Innisfale, and other gin mills along Route 22." Tales of lessons learned and legacies left—hopefully not the college frat "legacies" of the likes of Bluto, Otter, and Flounder of Animal House ("Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son.") Ah, our time of innocence, those American Graffiti years of too short summers, of cruising Main and Park in a ’57 Bel Air, and Lake Dances at Nesbitt’s; of long winters of hoop and sock hops in the old CCS gym. "Those were the days, my friend. We thought they’d never end. We’d sing and dance forever and a day…."

In the early Sixties we blithely dreamed the American dream for ourselves, for our community and nation, not today’s disquieting view of the future of ever-increasing government dictates and handouts. Consider again the familiar words from the public domain and letters pages (attributed to Scotsman Alexander Tytler, c.1780; and Frenchman Alex de Tocqueville, 1840): "A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the majority discovers it can vote itself largess out of the public treasury. After that, the majority always votes for the candidate promising the most benefits with the result the democracy collapses because of the loose fiscal policy ensuing, always to be followed by a dictatorship, then a monarchy." Such democracies are said to last about 200 years. But history, reliable history, is written thankfully, not out of the poli-sci faculty lounges of Berkeley, Boulder, and Boston (the "other" Cambridge), but in science labs and factories. And on the treaty tables of the victors for reasons wrapped in Just War, which is the premise that battle is not mankind’s worst madness. That’s left to subjugation and annihilation, as mankind inherently rejects slavery and holocaust. The righteous wage war only when driven to it, when compromise fails. "Blessed are the peacemakers" says Matthew (Mt 5:9) "for they shall be called the sons of God". Diplomacy and consensus are surely the noblest of human pursuits, but in the words of Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf (USMA 1956), "Someone has to look out for the peacemakers while the peacemakers are out making peace." Yes, national psyches do get worn down by war, even when good for jobs. But "Freedom Isn’t Free" says the bumper sticker, and ours continues to be exacted in blood, with reminders found on the hallowed grounds of Saratoga and Alexandria, Normandy, the Punch Bowl, and West Point. And through our wounded warriors who need our love and support now more than ever.

Let’s trust then that the children of the Old Cambridge District and America live to burnish once again our nation’s rather tarnished image in the eyes of too much of the world, often trashed by the phony outrage of our own unwitting, unwilling, and undisciplined. And may the children, our most precious of precious treasures, live to write the end to this latest chapter in the onward drumbeat and symphony of The History of Mankind


Final Musings: You just gotta love Norm, George, and Joe.

"How you doing, Norm?" asks Cliff, as buddy Norm walks into Cheers (a musket shot from some remarkable American history.) Norm: "I’ve never felt better." "Well, that’s great!" "Just once, I’d like to feel better."

"If you’re like me you won’t remember everything you did here. That can be a good thing." George W. Bush, May 1, 2001, addressing students at Yale University, his alma mater.

"You know, I just gotta say," grinned Joe Biden recently, "I’ve never been so pleased and proud to serve as Barack Obama’s vice-president."


Sources: Cambridge Village Archives; Old Cambridge 1788-1988 (Robert W. Raymond, et al, 1988); Around Cambridge, White Creek, and Jackson (Ken Gottry, Arcadia Press, 2010.)