Saturday, August 29, 2015

Saturday Serendipity (August 29, 2015)

The following are a few recommendations for inclusion on your reading list this weekend. 

1.  Yesterday's Friday Fotos featured two 1841 rental receipts to one of my ancestors for his rental of a pew in the Episcopal Christ Church in Lonsdale, Rhode Island. This week an interesting article in the New York Times explains why the Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island is establishing a museum focused on the trans-Atlantic slave trade as part of the new center for racial reconciliation and healing to be housed at the Cathedral of St. John in Providence. More than half the slaving voyages from the U.S. left from the Rhode Island ports of Newport, Bristol, and Providence and many of the shipbuilders, financiers, and captains of those slaving voyages were Episcopalians. As a result, Rhode Island has been referred to a "the Deep North." Read more about this action by the Diocese of Rhode Island and the preeminence of Rhode Island in the slave trade here.    

2.  We all know how Find-A-Grave and similar sites can be very useful for obtaining genealogical information. And most of us are probably aware of, or have seen for ourselves, how many cemeteries are falling into deplorable condition. Read here about a man in Pennsylvania who took it upon himself to buy a cemetery where his ancestors and relatives are buried and the care he gives to keeping their final resting place in order. 

3.  Why is transcribing documents relating to your genealogy important and what can it do for your research? Read this post by Janine Adams of Organize Your Family blog to find out. 
4.  UpFront With NGS blog posted about a free database made available by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). The database is of Historic Landmarks. Have a look here and you can get a link to the website while learning how Diane Richard found and used the database.             

5.  UpFront With NGS also posted a very interesting piece about genetic inheritance from ancestors. As we all know, if we look at a graphic of our family tree, it appears that we would get 50% of our genetic make-up from each of our two parents, 25% from each of our four grandparents, 12.5% from each of our eight great grandparents, etc. But, as the post points out, this is a simple math approach and genetics does not follow simple mathematics. Have a look at the post here and get a link to a Slate article titled, "Which Grandparent Are You Most Related To?" for more in-depth information on this topic.          

6.  As genealogy researchers, we are always on the lookout for new, untapped sources of information that could prove useful for evidence or even mere clues about influences on our ancestors and thus our genealogy. One such source could be an understanding of the business/economic booms and busts during certain periods of our nation's history. The Vault posted an interesting piece about an early 1940s infographic produced by the Tension Envelope Corporation for its customers. A large chart depicting business booms and depressions from 1775 - 1943 was folded into a pamphlet that, when opened, could be displayed on a wall. Learn more about the chart here and see an image that can be clicked on to access a large zoomable version.      

7.  Just this morning, James Tanner of Genealogy's Star blog posted a very informative and useful piece about the available state-by-star resources for genealogy research by location. See Mr. Tanner's helpfully illustrated post here.     

8.  And finally, in a related post about location-based data for genealogy research, Randy Seaver of Genea-Musings blog posted this week about finding genealogy and family history records that are not digitized. The post is Randy's useful and informative answer to a question raised at a recent meeting of the Chula Vista Genealogical Society, "When I have exhausted available online data, how can I find out what paper or microfiche information is kept in a particular area?"  Read Randy's illustrated post here
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Copyright 2015, John D. Tew
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Friday, August 28, 2015

Friday Fotos (August 28, 2015) -- Eber Miller's 1841 Pew Rental Receipts

Eber Miller is my 3X great grandfather. He was born in 1805 and married Abby Hunt who was two years younger than he. They lived in Cumberland, RI at 551 High Street and belonged to Christ Church (Episcopal) in Lonsdale, Rhode Island.

Shown above are two paid rental receipts to Eber Miller for the quarterly rental of Pew No. 80 for the periods beginning March 12, 1841 and June 12, 1841 respectively.  The cost for the rental of the pew was $1.43 per quarter or $5.72 per year.

For more about Christ Church in Lonsdale, see the post of February 20, 2014 here.
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Scans from the original receipts in the collection of the author.
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Copyright 2015, John D. Tew
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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Hunting for Abby (August 27, 2015) -- Part II of "A Mystery Solved?"

1850 U.S. Census for Cumberland, Rhode Island

This post continues the analysis of available information about Abby [Hunt] Miller in an effort to learn more about her and to identify her parents and siblings.  In Part II, I move to data available in the public record. As shown in the relevant excerpt above, the 1850 U.S. Census provided information that matched up nicely with the notes from my grandmother.

In Part I of this analysis, the first spoon notes of my grandmother indicated that Abby Hunt was born in 1807 and married Eber Miller who was born in 1805.  The second spoon notes indicated that Amey Bishop married Asquire Miller and they had four sons (Aurin, Namon, Eber, and Asquire, Jr.).  Those notes also stated that Eber Miller married "Abby Hunt" while his brother Aurin married "R.A. Hunt."

The 1850 Census corroborates the Miller-Hunt connection and the birth years for Eber Miller and his wife Abby as stated in my grandmother's notes.  In 1850, Amey Miller, widow of Asquire Miller, was 70 years old and the head of the Miller household in Cumberland, RI.  As indicated in the Census, Amey's son, Eber Miller, was 45 years old in 1850 making his birth year 1805 (which matches my grandmother's notes).  Eber was married to Abby Miller who was 43 in 1850 and so her birth year was 1807 (again this matches my grandmother's notes for the birth year of Abby Hunt).  Two daughters of Eber and Abby are also listed in the Census -- Ruth A. Miller (age 21 in 1850) and Cornelia C. Miller (age 17 in 1850).

Things then get very interesting in the 1860 U.S. Census, which is shown immediately below.

1860 U.S. Census for Cumberland, Rhode Island

In 1860, Amey Miller, mother of Eber Miller, was still alive at age 79.  Eber was now head of the Miller household at age 55 and his wife Abby was 53.  Their daughter, Ruth A. Miller, was now married to Samuel Carpenter and the Carpenters and their son, Samuel Eber Carpenter (age 6), and their daughter, Abby Laura Carpenter (age 1), were living in the Eber and Abby Miller household. But of greatest interest is the fact that a 61-year-old woman named "Charlotte Hunt" was also living in the Eber and Abby Miller household in Cumberland. Based on the Census information, Charlotte would have been born in 1799.  At eight years older than Abby Miller, Charlotte Hunt could not be Abby's mother, but she could be an older sister -- and Charlotte was not a very common female name at the beginning of the 19th Century.[1]  I thought this could be a very valuable clue to finding Abby Hunt's parents and siblings.

1870 U.S. Census for Cumberland, Rhode Island

A decade later, the US Census (immediately above) shows that the Miller household in Cumberland, RI was still headed by Eber Miller.  Eber and his wife Abby had their daughter, Ruth A. [Miller] Carpenter, and her children (Samuel Eber Carpenter, Abby Laura Carpenter, and Nancy Bishop Carpenter) living with them. And Charlotte Hunt, age 70, was still a member of the household.  Ruth's husband, Samuel Carpenter, is missing from the household, but according to the Census in 1870 for nearby Attleborough, Massachusetts, he was still alive and living with his parents (Joseph and Nancy Carpenter).

1880 U.S. Census for Cumberland, Rhode Island
By the time of the 1880 US Census (shown above), Charlotte Hunt was no longer among the Miller household members. Abby Miller, widow of Eber Miller and age 73, was living in the Cumberland home with her daughter, Ruth A. [Miller] Carpenter, and Ruth's three children -- Samuel E. Carpenter, Abby L. Carpenter, and Nancy B. Carpenter.  Ruth's husband Samuel had also returned to the household.

Armed with the notes from my grandmother and the corroborating data from four decades of US Census enumerations for Cumberland, RI, I was now fairly confident that Eber Miller had indeed married a woman named Abby Hunt.  I had a working assumption that Abby had an older sister named Charlotte who had lived with Abby and her family for more than a decade. In addition, I assumed that Eber Miller's brother, Aurin Miller, had married another sister of Abby Hunt known from my grandmother's notes only as "RA Hunt."

Recalling that my grandmother's notes and a spoon with the initials DSH provided clues that Abby's father was Daniel S. Hunt, I began a search for Daniel Hunt and his family. The search was unsuccessful, but I did eventually come across the following information in Rhode Island, Vital Extracts, 1636 - 1899 about a Hunt family in North Kingstown, RI.

The first thing I noticed was that while there was no Daniel Hunt in North Kingstown for the time period involved, there was a Samuel Hunt, son of another Samuel Hunt who married a woman named Susan and had a family of seven daughters, but no sons.  It took me a second read of the Samuel and Susan Hunt family members to suddenly realize that the names and births matched up almost exactly with my grandmother's notes AND the US Census information for a Charlotte Hunt living in the Eber and Abby Miller household in Cumberland, RI!

As the above excerpts from the North Kingstown births and marriages clearly show, Samuel and Susan Hunt had a daughter Abby born on March 17, 1807 -- the same year my grandmother's notes show for Abby Hunt's birth and the same year for Abby [Hunt] Miller's birth as calculated from decades of US Census enumerations for the Cumberland, RI Miller household. More important, however, is that Samuel and Susan Hunt had a daughter Charlotte who was Abby's older sister and was born on November 11, 1798 -- making Charlotte about eight years older than Abby.  This, of course, correlates with the age difference between the Charlotte Hunt living in the Miller household in Cumberland, RI and Abby [Hunt] Miller who was married to Eber Miller.  But the connections do not stop there. Note from the p. 83 excerpt above that Samuel and Susan Hunt of North Kingstown also had a daughter named Ruth Ann Hunt who was born May 14, 1801. This matches up nicely with the "RA Hunt" who, according to my grandmother's notes, married Eber Miller's older brother, Aurin! 

The discovery of the above information about the North Kingstown family of Samuel and Susan Hunt was all too good to be merely coincidental! My tentative working conclusion about my 3X great grandmother, Abby Hunt, was that her parents were Samuel and Susan Hunt of North Kingstown, RI and that her older sister Ruth Ann Hunt married her brother-in-law, Aurin Miller.  In addition, I reached the plausible conclusion that Abby's older, unmarried sister, Charlotte Hunt, had lived with Abby and her family in Cumberland during the last decade or more of her life. 

But, as shall be shown in the third part of this analysis, there are still a few nagging inconsistencies and questions raised by additional data I have collected. This additional data prevents a definite conclusion that I have indeed found the parents and siblings of my 3X great grandmother, Abby [Hunt] Miller. 

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[1]  See for Popular Given Names US, 1801 - 1999.  Data from the US Census of 1850 indicates that in the first decade of the 19th Century in a sample of 6,363 female names, there were only 38 Charlotte examples vs. 66 for Abigail and 953 for Mary.  From the same Census data a sample of 26,154 female names in the decade of 1841 - 1850 indicates only 125 examples for Charlotte as opposed to 128 for Abigail, 4338 for Mary and 2020 for Sarah.  
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Copyright 2015, John D. Tew
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Saturday, August 22, 2015

Saturday Serendipity (August 22, 2015)

The following are a few recommendations for inclusion on your reading list this weekend. 

1.  Starting (as we often do) with news and stories from NEHGS, notice was given this week that NEHGS will be taking over publication of The Mayflower Descendant  pursuant to an agreement with the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants.  Published since 1899, The Mayflower Descendant is one of the oldest and most respected journals in genealogy.  NEHGS publication will begin in 2016 with two issues a year.  Find out more about this development here.

2.  Last week Saturday Serendipity mentioned the solution to a mystery about President Warren G. Harding using modern DNA analysis. The were always two accusations about Harding during his time that became enduring mysteries.  One was that he had an illegitimate daughter and the other was that he was "black" due to African American ancestry and so was our first black President. One of these accusation has now been proven true and the other false.  In case you have not heard which is which on the news, you can read about the details here in the NYT article.   

3.  If you have a small collection of various family artifacts, heirlooms, and mementos, then you have probably wondered (as I have) how long such items will be valued by your children, grandchildren and more distant descendants. And you probably grapple with issues of how to properly preserve them in case descendants come to share your concern about and fascination with such artifacts of your family history. New Englander Jan Doer has also wondered about such matters in an article titled The Value Of Family Heirlooms In A Digital Age. You can read the article here
4.  The Vault posted a historically important but quite disturbing brochure that has been digitized by the University of Pennsylvania Libraries.  The brochure is an 1855 auction notice by the J.A. Beard & May firm in New Orelans for disposal of the property of deceased planted and investor, William M. Lambeth. The auction was for the sale of Mr. Lambeth's slaves -- two labor "gangs" were to be split up and sold.  The brochure illustrates the way such auctions were conducted. The brochure provides names, ages, and some brief descriptions of the people and families being sold and thus might be of some value to African American genealogists today.  You can read more about this historical document here and see the brochure pages. The brochure is also available on the Internet Archive.         

5.  James Tanner of Genealogy's Star blog (which recently passed 3 million page views!), has an interesting post on "glottochronology" or the study of how differences between related languages develop over time.  Mr. Tanner provides some details with language comparisons and opines on why this discipline is of interest and importance to genealogists.  You can read Mr. Tanner's post here.        

6.  The Legal Genealogist once again visits the question of the difference between owning a copy of a photograph and the the ownership of the right to copy and allow copies of a photograph (known as the "copyright"). This can be a convoluted subject to many, but Judy G. Russell, as usual, walks us through the maze and makes the subject quite easy to grasp.  Read Judy's post, "The limits of ownership," here.  

7.  UpFront With NGS blog posted a piece about Mega-Search's "Genealogy in Time's Top 100 Sites for 2015." Read here about Mega-Search and the various genealogy searches available.  [N.B. Apparently there was some problem with using/referencing "Time's Top 100 Sites for 2015" so the link at the Mega-Search site is now disabled, but you can still learn about Mega-Search and its use for genealogy at the Mega-Search site.]  

8.  A post that provides a confluence of two subjects addressed by pieces referenced above (preserving family heirlooms/artifacts and sharing family photographs) was provided by Heather Rojo of Nutfield Genealogy blog.  Read the awfully sad story in Heather's post titled, "The Will Says 'All Other Family Portraits to be Destroyed." 

9.  Denise Levenick of The Family Curator blog has a fascinating and very detailed post about the possibility and method for crowdsourcing group photographs in order to get help identifying people in the photos -- and perhaps providing much sought after pictures of family members to those who have few if any of some ancestors or relatives. Read Denise's post "Hey Soldier, What's Your Name? Crowdsourcing IDs in Old Group Photos [TUTORIAL]." 

10.  And finally, the first of a two-part post at New England Folklore blog by Peter Muise.  Have you ever heard about the "Melonheads" of New England?  Neither had I. Since Halloween is just around the corner as we approach the end of August, read "Melonheads Part I: A Trip Down Dracula Drive" here.        

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Copyright 2015, John D. Tew
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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Hunting For Abby (August 19, 2015) -- Part I of "A Mystery Solved?"

Headstone for Abby [Hunt] Miller (1807 - 1893), wife of Eber Miller
Cumberland Cemetery, Cumberland, Rhode Island (March 2010)

For several years now whenever I looked at the graphic chart of my family tree there was a nagging hole at the level of my 4X great grandparents.  I have known for a near certainty [How often is there ever complete, absolute certainty in genealogy?] that one of my 3X great grandmothers on my mother's side was Abby Hunt and that she married my 3X great grandfather, Eber Miller of Cumberland, Rhode Island. Yet despite much research and several accumulated clues, I still had no definite proof about who Abby's parents were and so that part of the chart remains blank. I do not know precisely where Abby was born. I do not know definitively who her parents were. I know almost nothing about who she was and what she did before she married Eber Miller.  It has all been a frustrating mystery as mentioned in my May 27, 2014 Tombstone Tuesday post here.

To begin unraveling this mystery, this post begins a written analysis of what information I have and the steps I have taken when I focus on this particular gap in my genealogy.  To start, I lead off with a review of my known descent from Eber Miller and Abby Hunt.  The descent is as follows . . . 

          Eber Miller (1805 - 1877)  m.  Abby Hunt (1807 - April 23, 1893)

          Ruth Ann Miller (1828 - April 6, 1893)  m.  Samuel Carpenter (1828 - 1904)

          Samuel Eber Carpenter (1853 - 1929)  m.  Sarah Etta Freeman (1858 - 1945)
          Everett Shearman Carpenter (1891 - 1962)  m.  Ruth Eaton Cooke (1897 - 1979)

          Shirley Carpenter (1927 -      )  m.  Arnold George Tew, Jr. (1922 -      ) -- my parents

The first question I asked when I decided to concentrate on solving the background of Abby Hunt was, "How do I know my 3X great grandfather Eber Miller married a woman named Abby Hunt?"

The answer came from the first bits of "evidence" I had from family resources:

     1.  My maternal grandmother left notes regarding some family heirloom spoons and some pieces of furniture that were inherited by my mother and her siblings.  I have the spoons and the furniture remains with my mother and her siblings.  My grandmother's spoon notes are shown below.

The middle note section of the spoon notes deals with a small spoon that my grandmother says belonged to DSH -- "Daniel S. Hunt." She further explains that Daniel's daughter "Abby b. 1807" married "Eber Miller b. 1805" in the year 1827.  The rest of my grandmother's notes about the Daniel Hunt spoon brings the genealogy down through my mother, Shirley Carpenter.

Middle section of the spoon notes indicating Abby Hunt's birth year as 1807
and her marriage in 1827 to Eber Miller (born 1805) 

While it is hard to make out, the spoon handle is engraved with the elaborately scripted letters "DSH."

Close up of the spoon handle showing the elaborately scripted letters "DSH."

While not mentioned in the spoon notes shown above, I also have another spoon with my grandmother's handwritten notes explaining that the spoon belonged to "Daniel Hunt," father of Abby Hunt and wife of Eber Miller. Note, however, that this particular memo refers to Abby's father simply as "Daniel Hunt" and not "Daniel S. Hunt" as the first notes on the "DSH" spoon indicate. The note and the second spoon are shown immediately below, but close examination of the actual spoon shows (in my opinion) that the engraving says "A. Hunt" and not "D. Hunt" -- so I believe my grandmother was mistaken about this particular spoon and it belonged to Abby the daughter rather than Daniel the father.

Close up of the spoon which actually is engraved with an elaborately scripted "A. Hunt"

     2.  My grandmother's notes about certain heirloom furniture provides some additional information about the Miller-Hunt family connections.  Her furniture notes are shown immediately below.

The Miller family descent notes on the top left of the paper above state first that the house my mother grew up in was built by her ancestor, Peter Miller, in 1767.  [I have posted about this house previously and photos of the home can be seen here. We often visited my maternal grandparents at 551 High Street in Cumberland, Rhode Island until my grandmother moved shortly after my grandfather died in 1962.]  The notes also indicate that two of Peter Miller's grandsons, Aurin and Eber, married women from the Hunt family.  Aurin married R.A. Hunt and Eber married Abby Hunt. It is easier to make out these marriages by clicking to expand the excerpt shown immediately below. 

     3. The Carpenter/Miller homestead at 551 High Street in Cumberland, Rhode Island is within a fairly short walk of what is now called "Rhode Island Historical Cemetery 3" in Cumberland.  It is located on Dexter Street down High Street from the family homestead and to the left. There are many Carpenters, Millers, Angells and Bishops interred in the Cumberland Cemetery. Among those interred at this cemetery are my 2X great grandfather, Samuel Carpenter (1828 - 1904), and his wife, Ruth A. [Miller] Carpenter (1828 - 1893), daughter of Eber and Abby [Hunt] Miller. Also interred there are my great aunts, Nancy Bishop Carpenter (1864 - 1928) and her sister, Abby Laura [Carpenter] Angell (1859 - 1929) -- who are granddaughters of Eber and Abby [Hunt] Miller.  The Miller interments in this Cumberland Cemetery include Eber Miller (1805 - 1877) and his wife, Abby [Hunt] Miller (1807 - 1893), my 3X great grandparents. 

Gravestone of Eber Miller (1805 - 1877) in 
Rhode Island Historical Cemetery 3 in Cumberland, RI.

Gravestone of Abby [Hunt] Miller (1807 - 1893) in 
Rhode Island Historical Cemetery 3 in Cumberland, RI.
Part II of this analysis will exam public record documents relating to Abby [Hunt] Miller.  It will also present my tentative working conclusions about the mystery of who my 3X great grandmother's parents and siblings were.  
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All photographs and scanned images by the author. 
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Copyright 2015, John D. Tew
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Saturday, August 15, 2015

Saturday Serendipity (August 15, 2015)

The following are a few recommendations for inclusion on your reading list this weekend. 

1.  A nearly century old mystery surrounding our 29th President, Warren G. Harding, has apparently been solved via DNA analysis with AncestryDNA, a division of  Was the otherwise childless Harding indeed the father of a daughter born out of wedlock to the much maligned Nan Britton?  Does Harding have any living descendants?  To read about the answer to these questions and the solving of the Harding mystery go here.      

2.  History, the parent of genealogy, is often very useful to telling a family history.  It provides context via relation to big events and occasionally can even involve ancestors or relatives in events previously unknown to the genealogist.  It is for this reason that I have yet to meet a genealogist (professional or amateur) who is not also an avid history buff.  With this connection in mind, I want to recommend the history podcast known as "The Memory Palace."  The creator of The Memory Palace is Nate DiMeo, a native of Providence, RI now living in LA.  He is a public radio veteran who contributed to All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Marketplace . . .  so he might sound familiar to many of you.  Find out more about The Memory Palace at  I also encourage you to sample one of Nate's podcasts by going here and clicking on Episode 49 (Dreamland) -- especially do so if you have ancestors who lived in and around Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York in the period of 1904 - 1911.  Enjoy . . . but be forewarned, you could get hooked listening to the podcasts and find an hour has easily slipped by as you listen to one episode after another!

3.  NEHGS and The Weekly Genealogist had a few interesting items this week (Vol. 18, No. 32, Whole #752, August 12, 2015) including links to pieces about the Hatfield and McCoy descendants working together at a dig on one of the feud sites and the news about a major finding in the Roakoke Island "Lost Colony" story.  Two items are of special interest.  First is the discovery by contractors in Oklahoma City of untouched chalkboards from 1917 beneath a set of chalkboards being removed for updating with whiteboards.  If you had ancestors who attended Emerson High School in Oklahoma City in or around 1917, you will find this piece and the photographs of special interest.  Second is a piece about two sets of identical twins in Colombia who, as the result of a hospital error, were split and then raised as two pairs of fraternal twins.  Read here about the twins and how they found one another.       

4.  The 70th anniversary of the use of the atomic bomb on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was this past week and The Vault, provides some really haunting panoramic views of the destruction of Hiroshima.  See the photographs here.       

5.   There are two items of interest from NGS on its UpFront With NGS blog.  If you have ancestors and relatives in Maine, you should be aware that vital records from 1892 to the present are no longer available at the Maine State Archives.  Read more about this development here   

6.  The second NGS item of interest is really fascinating.  What would you think of the ability to produce a picture of what your long deceased ancestor looked like even if he or she never had a photograph taken? Read here about two links to articles on how DNA might be used to reconstruct how individuals looked.

7.  Do you find it difficult to set aside enough research time to advance the development of your family history?  Maybe you should try the 30 x 30 method described here by Janine Adams of Organize Your Family History blog.

8.  Diane Boumenot of One Rhode Island Family blog had a very useful post a few weeks ago about how to organize your genealogy journal collection. Check out Diane's step-by-step instructions and photographic illustrations here.

9.  And finally there is the post at New England Folklore blog by Peter Muise titled, "Is The Scarlet Letter A True Story?"  Read the post here . . . and be sure to read the first comment from blogger Heather Rojo and then the comment further down from Karen K.    

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Copyright 2015, John D. Tew
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Thursday, August 13, 2015

Rail Bikes In The Adirondacks -- Travel Thursday (August 13, 2015)

We are back from our annual family vacation in the Adirondacks of upstate New York -- thus explaining the short hiatus from posting here at The Prism.

Pictured above is a four-person "rail bike" that is powered in the same manner as a recumbent bicycle  -- by pedaling with one's feet from a sitting or slightly reclining position.  The rail bikes are custom made and come in two-person or four-person versions.  Two weeks ago today our family boarded two of the four-person rail bikes that we had reserved many weeks earlier for the inaugural season of this unique outdoor experience.  Three generations of the family went for a roughly 6-mile trek on the rails between Lake Clear Junction and Saranac Lake. [Many thanks to daughter-in-law Pamela for discovering this opportunity and for making the arrangements!] 

As some background to this Adirondack experience, a little railroad history is in order. 

In 1890, William Seward Webb, the husband of a Vanderbilt heiress, financed the construction of a railroad (the Mohawk & Malone Railway) through the Adirondack wilderness so he could more conveniently reach his Great Camp known as Nehasane Park.  Webb's railroad later became part of the New York Central Railroad (NYC) system that carried wealthy families such as the Roosevelts, Whitneys, Morgans, Vanderbilts, and others to their Great Camps in the Adirondacks.

By 1961 sections of the railroad line were abandoned, but passenger service from Utica to Lake Placid (known as the Adirondack Division) continued scheduled service until April 1965.  Then in 1968 the NYC merged with rival Pennsylvania Railroad to form Penn Central.  Although Penn Central went into bankruptcy in 1970, declining freight service on the line continued until about 1972 when Penn Central applied to the NY Public Service Commission to abandon the line.  In 1975 the state of New York purchased the abandoned line and it remained essentially dormant and decaying from then on with one notable exception -- an ephemeral return to service for the 1980 Winter Olympic Games in 1980 in order to run passengers from Utica to Lake Placid.

In 1992, some railroad enthusiasts formed in order to found and operate a 4-mile section of track as the Adirondack Centennial Railroad (ACR).  When more than 50,000 passengers took advantage of the ride in the first season, the state allowed continued passenger service on an expanded section and in the summer of 1994 the ACR morphed into the Adirondack Scenic Railroad operated by the not-for-profit Adirondack Railway Preservation Society, Inc.

In the six years between 1994 and 2000, the Adirondack Scenic Railroad restored sections of rail so that passenger service could operate between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake and other sections much further to the south. However, the tracks between Big Moose Lake to the southwest of Lake Clear and Saranac Lake to the east of Lake Clear -- some 60 miles or more that includes the Lake Clear Junction to Saranac Lake leg -- needs a great deal of work to make it safe for sustained passenger train service. In the meantime, the state of New York designated the corridor as a multi-use area for limited seasonal rail traffic and as a snowmobile trail during the winter. This left an opening for the creative entrepreneurs behind "Rail Explorers."

The rail bikes now traverse the six miles of track between Lake Clear Junction and Saranac Lake and thus open this wooded corridor among the lakes and remote meadows along the route for the first time since 1980 -- and without what many consider the intrusive noise and pollution that can be caused by vintage trains. The run from Lake Clear to Lake Saranac is particularly easy given the long stretches of downhill track that allow a whizzing ride with little or no effort by the riders.  The uphill reverse route from Lake Saranac to Lake Clear Junction is another story, but it can be done by almost anyone with a bit more effort. The specially built Adirondack rail bikes are the first in America and the season is very limited, so this is an experience that needs to be planned.  

But the future of this unique Adirondack experience may be in some doubt.  Just this past June, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (the DEC) along with the Department of Transportation (DOT) stated that they will amend the unit management plan for the Remsen to Lake Placid rail corridor.  They reason that since the Adirondack Scenic Railroad runs tourist excursions on small sections of track, the vast majority of the line's midsection between Thendara and Lake Placid (including Lake Clear Junction to Lake Saranac) is unused.  The new DEC/DOT proposal calls for the removal of tracks from Tupper Lake through Lake Clear Junction to Lake Placid in order to construct a 34-mile long route for hikers, cyclists, cross country skiers, and snowmobilers.  The plan has wide support from the Adirondack Rail Trail Advocates.  The plan would also restore 44 miles of passenger rail service through backcountry wilderness to Tupper Lake from points south and the village of Tupper Lake has already completed restoration of its train depot in anticipation of this development.  More about the proposed plan can be seen here.

It is highly recommended that if you are in the high peaks area of the Adirondacks this summer, you should take in this unique outdoor experience.  While we hope the rail bikes have a future in the Adirondacks, use of the current rail bike route conflicts with the DEC/DOT stated corridor plan and therefore the Lake Clear to Saranac Lake experience might be a fond memory a few short seasons from now.

Rail Explorers staff members prepare rail bikes for the run from Lake Clear Junction to Saranac Lake.

All aboard!  The lead bike in our two four-seaters. [Yours truly in the olive drab hat.]

Our second four-seater with son (Christopher) in the headband, sister-in-law (Kathy), and brother-in-law (Patrick).

The rail bikes do not travel linked together. At least 30 feet is required between bikes during
travel. This photo shows the rubber bumpers to absorb any inadvertent contact when gathering
for the few road crossings, which are supervised by traffic flagmen provided by Rail Explorers.

Son (Jonathan) with our granddaughter Nora snuggled in for the ride!

Gathering for a view across backcountry meadows.  Yours truly pointing out some interesting flora.  Nora with her parents Jonathan and Pamela and Christopher all paying rapt attention.

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All photographs taken on July 30, 2015.  All images above are from the originals in the collection of the author.
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Copyright 2015, John D. Tew
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