Friday, October 2, 2009

88 in the Shade

© 2007 David Minor / Eagles Byte

As he prepares to board the stage at New Hartford in 1830 John Fowler mentions a brief visit to nearby Clinton, New York. The pretty village lies at the bottom of a hill, the summit being the site of Hamilton College. As he clarifies, “or colleges, for though the buildings are united there have been three separate erections. . . . Until very lately it was ranking high among institutions of the kind in the State, but I regret to hear that in consequence of some misunderstanding have arisen between the masters and the students, it has been altogether deserted.” He mentions efforts underway to mend fences at the institution, chartered back in 1812, but doesn’t go into further details, probably having no reliable source of information.

Actually the rift was more a matter of student misunderstanding, rather than of one involving the professors as well. Until recently the college had two literary societies, the Phoenix and the Philopeuthian (if anyone knows the meaning of the second name, please let me know; Google never heard of it). In 1828 a tubercular Westmoreland, New York, minister’s son Samuel Eells, returned to Hamilton after taking time off to recover his health. The two college societies smelled fresh blood and began battling for his allegience. They only managed to repel him by their methods (although he did join the Philos) and he determined to form a third society. So, two months after Fowler’s visit a modest group was formed around Eells. Name of Alpha Delta Phi. Began to go co-ed in 1992 through a split and currently has 24 chapters and five affiliates in a number of states and two in Canada.

But Fowler’s visit proceeded the healing of the rift. And now, he was off. His coach passed through Manchester and Vernon, “neither requiring comment; the land good and seemingly well farmed nearly all the way.” Oneida Castle – the ‘castle’ referring to a former Indian defensive works – where an overweight Tuscarora woman and her children chase alongside the coach, begging for handouts. Fowler’s not impressed by them, noting that, “they are a harmless, inoffensive set of beings, but have lost much of their ancient spirit and energy.” He adds that English beggars are much more accomplished and, in similar circumstances would be turning cartwheels as they followed the coach. But, no doubt, they still put their pants on one leg at time.

The coach soon leaves their unasked for escort in the copious dust behind them and head off through Lenox and Quality Hill to Chittenango (which he misspells; don’t laugh until you try it). He mentions only the side cut here from the Erie Canal two miles to the north and admits the village, “has little to attract the attention of a stranger.” Hartsville and Fayetteville fare no better by Fowler. However the latter village this year was the site of proto-Mormon Joseph Smith’s first church. Syracuse is next on the itinerary and a rest stop is taken at a “handsome and commodious brick building”, the principal hotel, which he apparently chooses not to name. He does note, however, that the thermometer on the side of the building stands at 88°, and this at four in the afternoon, (typical August weather, as we know).

Two other Europeans arrived here in 1830, named Georg Stephens and Carl Walter, German immigrants, the beginning of a large influx who would settle and begin working in the settlement’s burgeoning salt industry. After all, their ancestors in the old country had been working in saltworks for over 1000 years.

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