Thursday, May 19, 2011

Route 20 Mystique To Inspire 10 Books


Michael J. Till grew up in Independence, Iowa, and Route 20 in front of his house was the stuff of his boyhood daydreams, spanning the nation as it does, from Boston’s Kenmore Square to Newport, Ore.
His future wife, Christine, was from Pittsburgh, and when married the young couple used to drive Route 20 from Minneapolis east to visit her family.
As Dr. Till’s career in pediatric dentistry led him into academe – he was dean of the University of Minnesota’s College of Dentistry for years – he and Christine, on getaway vacations, travelled Route 20’s whole 3,365 miles.
Retired, the Tills decided on a plan to immortalize their beloved Route 20 – in truth, it’s loved by many – by capturing it on the printed page.
The first result of their effort – nine more volumes are planned – is “Along New York’s Route 20,” just published by Arcadia.
The Tills were at the Richfield Springs Historical Society Saturday, May 14, chatting about their project and signing copies.
Contrary to Route 66, which has been largely absorbed into the Interstate Highway System, on Route 20 “the original highway is still 90 percent intact,” Till said.
Route 20 actually goes through 12 states, the authors said, but that includes only about 20 miles of Pennsylvania and about the same of Montana, not enough for a stand-alone volume.
The couple chose New York first because more postcards have recorded this stretch than any of the others, John Sagendorf of the state’s Highway 20 Association encouraged them, and because of its historical routes.
In Otsego County, it includes both the historic Cherry Valley Turnpike and the beginnings of the Great Western Turnpike, two storied roads.  “We wanted to capitalize on that,” Till said.
The Massachusetts volume is nearly complete, and Ohio is half-done, so the project is gaining momentum.
In their travels and through their research, the Tills have collected page upon page of Route 20 lore. 

Here are just a few examples, not to ruin the anticipation:
• The “Black Sox” scandal of 1919, where Joe “Say It Ain’t So” Jackson helped fix the World Series, was hatched in Boston’s Hotel Buckminster, right on Kenmore Square.
• Samuel B. Morse developed the first working telegraph machine in 1837 in Cherry Valley, right on the future Route 20 (before the four-lane shifted the route a mile north), and he returned to C-V in 1844 to establish the first telegraph office.
• Route 20 cross four presidents’ hometowns:  Millard Fillmore, East Aurora; James Garfield, Mentor, Ohio; Rutherford B. Hayes, Fremont, Ohio, and U.S. Grant, Galena, Ill.
• A stone obelisk in Sioux City, Iowa, memorializes Sgt. Charles Floyd, the only member of the Lewis & Clark Expedition to die en route, (of “bilious colic,” now thought to be a ruptured appendix.)

And much, much more.  But see for yourself.  “Along New York’s Route 20” is available at The Tepee, that Route 20 landmark just this side of Sharon Springs, the Richfield Springs Historical Society, and on

Vitch Committal


A committal service for Norma I. Vitch, 92, who passed away on Dec. 10, 2010, will be at 4 p.m. Friday, May 20, in the Evergreen Cemetery, Otego, with Rev. Teressa Sivers, officiating.
Arrangements are by the Lester R. Grummons Funeral Home.

Bridger Interment


The graveside service of committal and burial for Mrs. Rosalina “Rosie” M. (Pugliese) Bridger, 86, who died Jan. 8, 2011, will be offered at 1 p.m. on  Monday,  May 23, 2011, at Hartwick Seminary Cemetery.  Arrangements are under the guidance of the Connell, Dow & Deysenroth Funeral Home.


Milford’s Bob Harrington smartly drives Tim and Tom at the 18th annual Plow Days Saturday-Sunday, May 7-8, at Don and Donna Decker’s Deckerdale Farm in South Hartwick.   The Deckers organized what Donna calls “The No-Name Gang” almost two decades ago.  “I’m the only boss they’ve got,” she said, referring to the draft-horse aficionados that gather annually.  “No president.  No money.”  A harvest weekend is planned at the end of September.  Don Decker’s father, Mortimer, was one of the last farmers in that area to stop farming with horses, in the late 1950s.  Their sons, Don Jr., David and Dennis, aren’t farmers, but in the next few days planned to help their parents, using the horses, plant 350 pounds of potatoes.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

The War Between The Poets

CGP student Julie Broadbent conceived of a “poetry blast” to recollect the Civil War.
When most people think about the Civil War, they think of Gettysburg, Abraham Lincoln and the freeing of the slaves.  It’s a topic that’s been heavily researched, written about and the subject of movies such as “Glory,” “Gods and Generals,” and “Gettysburg.”
For Cooperstown Museum Studies graduate student Julie Broadbent, it’s best represented in poetry.
While browsing through the archives at the New York State Historical Association, she found an anonymous poem, written about a Southern woman living in Ohio during Confederate Brig. Gen. John Hunt Morgan’s attack.  The woman is torn between her Southern heritage and her Ohio upbringing as she tends to the wounded from both sides.
 “It was an extremely personal conflict,” Broadbent explained.  “She saw both sides as human, and she wanted to heal them all and send them home.”
She will be reading that poem at the “War Between the Poets” poetry slam, at 5 p.m. Saturday, May 14, held at the NYSHA library.
The poetry slam will feature original poetry as well as classics from such poets as Walt Whitman.  All members of the community are invited to participate.  The slam will showcase the performance, rather than the straight reading, of these poems, and performances are limited to four minutes.  The poem must utilize a documented source, costumes are encouraged and the five judges will be picked out of the audience to rate each performance on a 1-10 scale, dropping the highest and lowest scores.  In the event of a tie, the audience will decide on the winner, and prizes will be given..
But why the Civil War?
“The Civil War touches on issues that are still very prevalent today – race, economics and class conflict,” Broadbent said.  “As manufacturing jobs started disappearing, there was a depression, a sense of “what comes next?” 
Of course, race was and still is an issue, and the abolishment of slavery was a huge upheaval to the African American community, allowing them more resources to make their own social stratus – of course, Jim Crow laws immediately tightened this freedom after Reconstruction.”
“There is still a conflict,” Broadbent said.  “There are still huge inequalities and still tensions.”
In addition, gender roles were redefined in the Civil War.  As men went to war, women had to take over as farmers, and the classic images of Florence Nightingale and Clara Barton as nursemaids to the wounded help change the landscape of nursing as a predominantly male career into the “feminized” industry it is today.  And with so many soldiers not coming home, women were either widowed or didn’t marry.
It’s been 150 years since the start of the Civil War, but for Julie Broadbent, a single anonymous poem brought it all home.  The “War Between the Poets” poetry slam is to raise awareness of this anniversary, as New York state isn’t having an formal reflections or celebrations.  “I want to bring these issues – race, gender, class and economics – to the forefront,” she said.
For complete rules or more information, please contact Julie Broadbent at

Corning’s Project Blazes Trail For Oneonta’s Bresee’s

What Is... Will Be

Corning’s Connors Block, Cedar and East Market streets, was the first building renovated for first-floor stores and apartments upstairs.  It opened in 2001.

With Grants, Credits, Revised Building Codes, Restorations Make ‘Financial Sense’ Again


A big reception was in the works.  Corning Inc. President/CEO Jamie Houghton had sponsored it.  The plan was to introduce the Connors Block as site of Corning’s first experiment to return housing to the downtown’s upstairs.
Then a big, thick beam in the roof collapsed.  Water poured into the premises below.
“There was a ton of water” – yes, an actual ton – “between the ceiling and the roof,” architect Elise Johnson-Schmidt reported discovering.
The mishap didn’t discourage the developers.  In fact, the event underscored Johnson-Schmidt’s thesis:  Downtown buildings are often in need of expensive repair; if the upstairs floors can’t be used to enhance the revenue stream, demolition becomes the most cost-effective option.
This story had a happy ending.  In 2001, a renovated Connors Block reopened for stores and apartments.  A decade later, 41 apartments have been created in the formerly vacant upstairs of Market Street buildings, with more on the way.
And a new chapter is about to open for Johnson-Schmidt & Associates, Architects which is partnering with Corning’s Klugo Enterprises in renovating the former Bresee’s Department Store in downtown Oneonta and 1 Deitz St., the yellow-brick building around the corner.
Johnson-Schmidt has also made an appearance in Cooperstown in recent months, speaking at Otsego 2000’s Nov. 16 seminar on reviving housing on Main Street’s upper stories.  The Planning Board in April referred the initial revisions to the village code to the trustees.
“I was so excited I could hardly contain myself,” said Johnson-Schmidt, still elated by news of the Bresee’s contract.
She was being interviewed in the second-floor conference room of Johnson-Schmidt Associates at 15 East Market St., which – walking the walk after talking the talk – she purchased and renovated into two stores and one apartment – rented for $1,500 a month to an engineer in the gas-drilling business.
Plus, her architectural firm, three stories on the back of the building, entered from the parking lot that separates the structure from the Chemung River.  Her office is on the third floor, rear; she’s partial to the northern light.
“She sees what it used to be in its prime,” architect David Anderson said of his boss.  “And she sees what it’s going to be.  She doesn’t see the dirt and the decay.”
The Bresee’s plan, announced Tuesday, May 3, in Oneonta City Hall, would create commercial space on the first floor, and five two-bedroom apartments and 10 one-bedroom apartments above. 
The recent demolition of the back end of the building will provide tenants’ parking, and additional parking for downtown shoppers, as well as picnic tables and open space.
While revisions in the state code do not require an elevator (a $100,000 expense), Klugo and Johnson-Schmidt plan to install one anyhow as part of the marketing plan – tenants will be able to pull up to the entrance and unload their cars by the elevator.
“You have plenty of student housing in Oneonta,” Johnson-Schmidt said.  “The preference would be to offer a different housing opportunity, for professionals, for people who are retiring, for young professionals.”
Construction is due to begin Jan. 1, and Johnson-Schmidt anticipates people will be moving in 16-18 months from today.
As it happens, the Bresee’s partner was perhaps the foremost reason such rehabilitations are possible.
A Painted Post native and Cornell graduate with a master’s in its historic-preservation planning program, and after a career in Europe and New York, Johnson-Schmidt returned to Corning in 1990 as executive director of its Market Street Restoration Agency.
While helping create the 600-building Southside Historic District and enabling 150 facade improvement projects, in 1996 she began lobbying for changes in the state building code to allow redevelopment of upper stories.
The changes – substituting sprinklers for a second egress, for instance – are in place.  A second piece, New Markets Historic Tax credits – 39 percent – were enacted by Congress in 2000.  A third, Restore New York grants that have been used to prepare Bresee’s for redevelopment, were created in the Spitzer Administration.
“Now, finally,” said Johnson-Schmidt, “there was money for people to actually rehabilitate buildings and have it make financial sense.”
Regarding Bresee’s – the planning began in Mayor John Nader’s administration – Oneonta has “been looking at the right pieces,” she continued.  And, she added, Bresee’s can be just the beginning.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Reindeer's Christmas Wish

and if you want to read more from this author, visit her blog --

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Whether They Like Drilling Or Not, Bradford County, Pa., Is Riding A... NATURAL GAS Tsunami

If Drilling Comes To Otsego County, A Good Lease Is Your Best Protection

The Otsego County contingent observed one manifestation of natural-gas drilling en route home from Towanda, Pa., Friday, April 29:  This rig near the New York-Pennsylvania state line.

A gas lease may be your best protection against gas drilling.
In a visit organized by the Otsego County Planning Department, a group of county officials, town and private citizens went to Dimock and Towanda, Pa., (Susquehanna and Bradford counties respectively), on Friday April 29.
I went as a private citizen, and the group (we) stayed together for the discussions.
From three stops, it appears that there is a known incidence of shallow methane gas migration at about 1,000 to 2,000 feet below the surface that can migrate up to the aquifer. It is a known problem, and as yet there is no known way to predict its location.
Based on a limited study of a different drilling system, in a different gas field the incidence of hitting shallow methane is about 2 percent. Anecdotal comments on the trip yielded both higher and lower estimates.
However, the methane exists, and will migrate. It is this methane type that is suspected in those faucets in the county that you can light.
There was common agreement among the people we talked to that the methane was released by the vertical drilling, and not by the hydrofracking. Industry claims that hydrofracking does not contaminate water wells may be true in the narrow horizontal 6,000-8,000-feet-subsurface sense of the word.
As we listened to the economic development official from Bradford County, it was clear that there were jobs, not necessarily on the rigs, but in the ancillary industries supporting the drilling.
More clear was that areas with drilling were facing a boom-and-bust scenario. Pennsylvania is studying this process. Although they were unready in Bradford County for the boom, they want to be better prepared for the bust.
Example: Subsequently I learned that all the hotels in Williamsport are full all year long, and the gas companies want to lease hotels year round. Problem: the Little League World Series is played in Williamsport every summer and they need the hotel rooms. Working with the town, the gas companies made Little League World Series week a vacation week, freeing rooms for the series.
Impact on Otsego County is different. Our baseball season is three months long. However, that coincides with low Susquehanna water. Problem: the SRBC that licenses water removal from the Susquehanna has never denied the gas companies a water removal permit, according to one person we met.
In any case, hotel rooms will get built for the boom, and lower room rates in the bust.
In Bradford County, county officials listed five things that they know now that would have made a difference three years ago when the boom started.
1. The drilling boom evolves into a maintenance phase, so don’t overbuild in the boom as it will go back to what it was before in the bust.
2. You need land-use controls, not just for drilling but for the ancillary industrial activity, and at the county level they don’t know what they can do about the environmental issues.
3. Rural roads have pinch points such as bridges and intersections. According to one Pennsylvania study, traffic will increase 4/5 times, and truck traffic will increase 10 times. One road supervisor said that he had no problems getting gas-company road damage repaired, once they figured out whom to talk to at the company.  He always had the option to close the road until he could get to fixing it. It turns out that it is cheaper for the gas company to fix the road than stop work for a couple of days.
4. At every level, you need construction/best practices standards. For example, when they started drilling in Dimock they used just steel pipe, and over time that evolved into multiple casings. Now that Shell has entered the business, Shell is setting a standard with five casings; others may use less.
5. In retrospect the Braddock County people feel that they should have done a better job educating land owners to negotiate good leases. They made the point that we own the minerals, and they come with the
land, but now we are seeing the separation of mineral rights from the land.
Why did I say a gas lease may be your best protection? A lease is a contract, and an enforceable contract for everything that is in it. For example, if you put in the lease a requirement for the gas company to test and certify the water within 30 days of signing or you keep the money and mineral rights, you can be reasonably sure they will do so.
The downside of not testing the water is a 2 percent chance of a bad well and the gas company will deny liability. The lease can contain the remediation and damages clauses. In one example in Bradford county three families claiming water well damage had to get appraisals of their homes after their water went bad. The appraised value of their homes went down by a reported 85 percent, and goodbye borrowing capacity.
For the people who don’t have leases and are incorporated into the drilling unit by proximity, they may not have the same protections as lease holders. Their major asset, their home, may lose value to a process they didn’t want, and did not receive payment for. A tenth to a quarter of an acre divided by any drilling unit isn’t going to generate more than a token payment, nowhere near the potential loss in value on their house.
The gas companies may extract gas for 30 years, and all of your rights are contained in the document you sign for the down payment when the glitter of gold is shining in your eyes. However it is that lease that may well be your only protection.

During the first stop, at the Springville, Pa., town hall, near Dimock, Roseboom Town Clerk Beth Rosenthal questions the motivation of a Dimock landowner who called cloudy water from a tap a “minor inconvenience.” 

At the second stop, the Wyalusing Overlook, Otsego County Planner Psalm Wyckoff points out rigs and gas-related facilities in the Susquehanna Valley below to county Rep. Kay Stuligross, D-Oneonta.

Bers Braves Israeli Strife As Volunteer


For 25 years, the Trudi Birger Dental Clinic in Jerusalem, Israel, has provided free dental care to the city’s poor and underprivileged children.  In March, Cooperstown dentist Leonard Bers joined the Trudi Birger team for a week-long residency of volunteer dentistry.
“I wanted to give something back,” Dr. Bers, of Northern Catskill Dental PC, explained.  “I hit that point in my life when I wanted to make a difference.”
The clinic is open to all children, regardless of race or religious affiliation.  Bers was proud to explain that sitting together in the waiting room at any given time would be an Orthodox Jew, a Muslim and a Christian child, all there for the same reason—to get a lesson in good dental hygiene, a full check-up and a full range of dental treatments.  “This is not battlefield dentistry,” said Bers.  “It is like any clinic you see here in the United States.”
A residency at the Birger clinic is available to four dentists at a time, and during Bers residency he worked with dentists from Minnesota, Germany and Sweden.  He was provided with an apartment and saw between six and eight patients a day. 
Despite hearing a bomb blast while waiting for a bus, Bers adopted the same cheerful attitude as the people of Jerusalem, who live with violence on an almost daily basis.  “It doesn’t stop people from doing what they have to do,” he says.
 Bers has plans to go back to the Birger clinic next May, but in the meantime he continues working at his cousin’s practice.  When Gerald Bers, a longtime Cooperstown dentist, died unexpected six and half years ago, Leonard came up from his practice in Washington D.C. to help out. 
“I didn’t know if I could do it,” he said.  He allowed the staff and his patients to call him Dr. Lenny, not wanting to take the Bers name from a man who meant so much to the community.  What he thought would be a three or four month gig turned into a bi-weekly excursion for those six and a half years.
Every other week, Dr. Bers flies from D.C. to Albany and drives to Cooperstown, staying with Ed and Marge Landers at the White House Inn.  “They treat me like family,” he said.  “And I help them out.  Sometimes on Saturday you can find me down in the kitchen cooking bacon for the other guests.”
“I feel like a local,” he adds.  “Coming up here is a lifesaver.”
Whether in Cooperstown or in Israel, Dr. Bers stresses the important of making a difference no matter what the occupation is.  “I was really moved,” he said.  “In your line of work, you wonder if you’re making a difference – and then sometimes, you see that you do.”