Our Unique NYS History Dioramas
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Historian Allen Foote says, "The Utica Children's Museum is the only one who has a permanent exhibition on the history of the Mohawk Valley." Our Central New York area is rich in history, geology and culture, including its geography, natural resources and natural energies. We have supplied NYC with water for over 100 years. Many leaders have come from the CNY area, US Senators and a White House VP. The Battle of Oriskany was a turning point in the Revolutionary War. We have a richness of people in this area. Beginning in early 20th century, immigrants from Europe (Italians, Polish, Irish) brought with them a dream that was fulfilled within two generations. They came as farmers and textile workers; their descendants became doctors, lawyers, teachers. There was nothing they could not do; the possibilities were endless. In the 21st Century, they were joined by Bosnians, Russians, Sudanese, Vietnamese. (come view all on our History wall).

Fording the River - history

Old Fort Schuyler - history

Fort Stanwix- history

General Herkimer & Battle of Oriskany - history

Moses Bagg's Blacksmith Shop - history

Moses Bagg's Hotel and Inn- history

Erie Canal Barge with Laundry - history

Samuel Morse Studio/Laboratory - history

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Fording the River

Utica was founded by the Iroquois Indians. The area was named Unundagages or "around the hill". It was a spot of no small importance to the five Indian nations, even though it was mostly a swamp. The only ford over which man could cross the upper part of the Mohawk River was located here. The trail which united the five members of the Iroquois Confederation crossed the Mohawk River at this point. It was indeed the Iroquois "busy corner." Not only was it on the main trail which connected all five nations of the League, but it was the place where messengers and war parties met.

Originally, the Mohawk River swung south in a great horseshoe bend through what is now the Barge Canal Harbor and passed the city under what is now the overhead crossing at Bagg's Square. The present channel, south of the Barge Canal, was dug to prevent floods, and the old channel was filled in.

The first white men who visited this region traveled by Indian trail or inboats and canoes on the Mohawk River. They were hunters, trappers, soldiers, and eventually, settlers moving west. If they followed the Genesee Trail, they came along the north of the river to the Great Ford. Here was a shallow place in the river, for the Mohawk was much wider and deeper than it is today, and it was the only place for many miles where men afoot or on horseback could cross the river.

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Fort Schuyler

In 1758, Fort Schuyler was created on the south bank of the Mohawk River and named in honor of Colonel Peter Schuyler. This fort was designed to guard the fording place over which men could cross the upper part of the river. Also, it was to form one in a chain of posts between Fort Stanwix (Rome) and Schenectady.

The dutires at the post were to check advancing parties of French and Indians, to influence and protect the Iroquois, and to furnish scouts for crossing the forests between the Mohawk and Canada. At the end of the French and Indian War, Fort Schuyler was useless and empty, and quickly deteriorated. It is believed the Fort was not actively used during the Revolution, but may have been temporarily occupied by troops in their passage to and from Fort Stanwix and the Indian country.

After the renaming of Fort Stanwix for Philip Schuyler, the site of the abandoned Fort at the Utica location became known as Old Fort Schuyler. Its present location if Main Street and the Mohawk RIver, just below Second Street. There is also a new Fort Schuyler -- now a military museum -- north of Utica on Route 12. There they display weapons and military equipment.

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Fort Stanwix

In 1758 the British Officer, General Stanwix, was sent to the carrying place between the Mohawk River and Wood Creek. Here at a cost of $300,000, he built one of the strongest fortifications in North America, and named it Fort Stanwix. A fortress was needed in this location because traders were almost helpless if surprised by an attack while engaged in getting their boats and cargoes from the Mohawk to Wood Creek. It was an active post up to the end of the French and Indian War, but then was alloed to go to ruin.

In 1776, it was restored by the Americans for use in the Revolution and renamed Fort Schuyler (not to be confused with old Fort Schuyler at the Utica site.) It is better know by its Fort Stanwix name. After the Revolution, it was again allowed to fall into ruin. Its site today is occupied by the Rome Club in the center of Rome's business district. (They are now in the process of trying to ressurect the old fort.)

During the Battle of Oriskany, the soldiers at Fort Stanwix, only six miles away, could her the sound of the guns. They made an attack on the British camp between the Fort and Oriskany and did much damage. However, the most famous thing they did that day was to make and raise over the Fort an American flag.

On June 14, 1777 Congress had passed a law that the flag should have seven red and six white stripes with a square of blue in one corner containing thirteen white starts in a circle. No flags had yet been made and sent to the Forts and Armies. The brace men at Fort Stanwix knew of the law and wished to fly a real American flag in the face of the British. An officer gave his blue cloak, a woman offered a red skirt, someone contributed a shirt and the women of the Fort cut and sewed the first American Flag ever used in battle. The date was August 3, 1777.

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General Herkimer

During the Revolutionary War, in 1777, the British forces under Colonel Barry St. Leger came from Lake Ontario and surrounded Fort Stanwix on the upper Mohawk River with about 2,000 troops. Fort Stanwix, under the command of Colonel Peter Cansevoort, managed to beat back all enemy attacks and responded with counter measures against the seige. It was imperative from the American point of view that aid should be sent to Fort Stanwix.

About 800 American Colonists quickly gathered at Fort Dayton (Herkimer) and started out toward Fort Stanwix under the command of General Nicholas Herkimer. Alerted by scouts and spies, St. Leger sent out heavy details of Johnson's and Butler's Torries and Brant's Indias to head off Herkimer's relieving force. On August 6, 1777, despite their little screen of friendly Oneida Indians and their own skilled scouts, General Herkimer's militiamen stumbled into a carefully laid ambush in a ravine on the south bank of the Mohawk River near Oriskany. A day long battle raged with little groups of former neighbors and relatives often opposing each other, two behind each tree, alternating fire.

General Herkimer, although his leg had been broken by a hot at the beginning of the battle, continued to direct the fighting. About 200 Americans were killed and 200 more taken prisoner. Indians filtered away to collect scalps and be paid. British finally fell back. Before dusk, the militiamen were in full retreat down the Mohawk Valley, carrying with them General Hrkimer, who died on August 16th as a result of the amputation of his leg.

Although the Battle of Oriskany was indecisive and a defeat for General Herkimer's partriots, it prevented St. Leger from effecting a junction with General Burgoyne in Albany. Called "the bloodiest hand-to-hand clash of the Revolutionary War", as one quarter of the whole American force were killed there.

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Blacksmith Shop

In 1793, Moses Bagg first came to the Old Fort Schuyler on a flat boat up the Mohawk River. He was a blacksmith by trade and in 1794 he purchased four acres of land from Joseph Ballou and set up a blacksmith's shop on Main Street.

The horny casing of the foot of the horse is quite sufficient to protect the animal under natural conditions. However, when a horse is subject to hard work this casing is found to break away. Thus, in the early days, when horses were one of the main means of trasportation and sources of labor, the blacksmith who made horseshoes was of great importance.

The first regular carrier of the mails through old Fort Schuyler was Simeon Pool, who conducted a postal route from Canajoharie to Whitestown in 1793. The next year he sold out to Jason Parker who came to Old Fort Schuyler in 1794 and took over the mail route between the two villages -- once creating great excitement by bringing six letters in one day to old Fort Schuyler.

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Moses Bagg's Hotel and Inn

From its earliest days, Old Fort Schuyler's chief business was the care of the traveler. Hundreds of men, women, and children were passing almost daily through this frontier village during the late 1790's and the first years of the 1800's. As a result, stores and inns for the accomodation of traders and travelers sprang up.

Bagg's Hotel was built in 1794 by Moses Bagg, a blacksmith, to accomodate weary travelers waiting for their horses' shoes to be repaired. At first, it was just a shanty made of hemlock boards nailed to the tops of four trees. Shortly afterwards, he put up a two story wooden building on the same site, namely, the corner of John and Main Street.

He conducted this tavern until his death in 1805, when it was taken over by his son, Moses Bagg, Jr. In 1813, this building was torn down and the central section of the brick hotel built. It was run by Moses Bagg, Jr. until 1836 when it was sold to the Bagg's Hotel Company.

Bagg's Hotel played host to many distinguished guests of the period. They included Thomas Moore, the Irish poet; Joseph Bonaparte, former King of Spain; Aaron Burr, Vice President of the United States; and Washington Irving.

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The Erie Canal

The Erie Canal was built at a cost of $7,000. and took eight years to complete. It was built when DeWitt Clinton was Governor of New York, and has often been referred to as "Clinton's Ditch." The Canal contains 83 locks which lift boats 570 feet. It is 364 miles long. The purposes of the Canal were to give faster and more comfortable transportation to develop trade between the East and Midwest and provide a quicker means of communication.

The Erie Canal was successful. It paid for itself in only a few years.

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Samuel Morse

Samuel F. Morse, although remembered mainly for the invention of the telegraph, was also a very good artist. He founded the National Academy of Design, and one of his most famous portraits was of Lafayette. Morse was a frequent visitor to Utica where he often visited his uncle, Arthur Breese. His first wife died early in life, and he later was married to Sarah Griswold, who was also a Utican.

The year 1845 found Utica playing a notable role in the wider interests of intercommunication, for here was formed the Buffalo, Albany and New York Telegraph Company, the first in the state and the second in the world. Theodore Faxton, a partner in the stage business of Jason Parker & Co., was aroused and intrigued by the reports of the wonders of the magnetic telegraph.

The long experience he had gained in his stage line had taught him man's growing need for speed. A consultation with Professor Morse, the inventor, followed. On Mr. Faxton's return to Utica, he and others formed a company which built a line between Utica and Springfield and began operating the first telegraph in the state. In fact, it was the first commercial telegraph in the world.

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In 1942, eight dioramas, depicting the early history of Oneida County and events in the lives of some of its famous citizens was dedicated in the Muson-Williams Memorial Building of the Oneida Historical Society. Representing about 18 months of work by a group of WPA art project workers, under the direction of E.N. Clark, Utica artist, the dioramas were described by Dr. T. Wood Clarke as "the most important addition t our museum in many years." He estimated the value of the dioramas at $4,000, or $500 each, adding that "it's difficult to translate the value of art work into terms of dollars and cents."

In case you're not familiar with dioramas, they consist of miniature scenes. In the foreground, with wax figures, coaches, horses, buildings, etc., with a painting for a background, continuing, in illusion, the three-dimensional foreground. "Most of the figures are of wood and beeswac," Artist Clark explained. "First we made the models of wood, adjusting arms, legs and heads for naturalness of position, proportion of parts and realistic appearance. Then, the final wax figures were made. When we started on this project, none of us knew very much about making dioramas, but we learned by experience. By the time the last one was completed, we were quite proficient, having met and overcome just about all the obstacles that can reasonably be expected in such work." What to use for grass in the foreground was one of the perplexing questions. The answer was ground sponges stained green.

Now housed in the Children's Museum of Utica, NY, historian Allen Foote said, "The Children's Museum is the only one who has a permanent exhibition on the history of the Mohawk Valley."

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The Children's Museum of History, Living History, Science & Technology
311 Main Street, Utica, NY 13501
Tel: 315-724-6129
* Web: www.museum4kids.net

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