Weary To My Bones: Stories From Higley Hill

It was a blue sky Saturday. Large dagger-like icicles dripped from the roof. I had an errand to run in Bennington. Rich said he would join me and after the errand we could drive across the New York border.

“It will be like when we use to escape the Inn,” he said. “Just hop in the car and head out for some random exploring.”

I checked the map. My finger followed a loop taking Route 9 out of Bennington that turns in to Route 7 at the New York border, hook a right in Hoosick and take Route 22 to Hoosick Falls.

“It’s probably one of those old mill towns powered by the falls. We could walk around, check out some cool old architecture, maybe find a coffee shop or a brew pub.”

“Let’s go,” Rich said.

hoosick-river

Hoosick River, New York

We drove through downtown Wilmington where cars with New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut plates waited at the red light in the center of town on President’s Day weekend at the start of a school vacation week. The height of the ski and snowmobile season. Old Man Winter has been generous this year, conditions are good and local business is doing well.

Route 9 climbs up and over the Green Mountains then descends into Bennington where I quickly ran into CVS to pick up a prescription then we were back on the road. The Bennington Battle Monument loomed in the distance, a 306 foot stone phallic symbol commemorating a revolutionary war battle.

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Bennington Battle Monument

In 1777, the Continental Army once stored weapons and food where the monument now stands. The British, camped out in Upstate New York, were planning a raid on the provisions. John Stark and 1400 other men from New Hampshire were called on to help the Green Mountain Boys defend the provisions.

Back in 1752, Stark had distinguished himself when he was out hunting and fishing along the Baker River in Manchester, New Hampshire. He was captured by Abenaki Indians. They took him  to Canada where he was forced to run a gauntlet of warriors wielding sticks. He grabbed one of the sticks and began to defend himself. The Abernaki chief was so impressed he adopted Stark and John spent the winter with the tribe. In the spring of 1753, a government agent was sent to rescue him. He paid $103 in ransom for Stark’s release.

Six years later, in 1759 during the French and Indian war, Stark was ordered to travel from Lake George to an Abenaki village deep in Quebec. He refused to participate in the raid out of respect for the tribe that had adopted him and instead, he returned home to his wife Molly.

hoosick-river-2

Hoosick Falls, New York

We drove past collapsing barns, fields dotted with rusted farm equipment, and empty silos. I thought about the Patriots who once lived here, farmed these fields, settled the towns, and fought for freedom. Rich and I discussed the President’s Day holiday, how it was once Washington and Lincoln’s Birthday but then became one holiday celebrating the American Presidency on a three day weekend.

Our friend, Peter, was visiting with us for the weekend. He and his daughter were back at Mount Snow skiing for the day. The night they arrived he reminisced about the cherry pie his mom always made. We talked about George Washington and the pie and “I cannot tell a lie.”

“Now it’s alternative facts,” I said. With nothing else to say, we all nodded sadly.

We passed through Hoosick quickly. It was like a lot of the New England-Upstate New York towns we’ve traveled through since returning from Florida. Empty mills, peeling paint houses, old cars abandoned in the backyard, sagging front porches. Forgotten chapters from the story of Election 2016 that many politicians skipped over. But I saw it. I was writing it all down.

abandoned-hoosick

Hoosick Falls, NY

Before we left the house I quickly Googled Hoosick Falls and saw mention of a brew pub. I also quickly glanced at a link to a New York Times article about contaminated water but once Rich decides he’s ready to go somewhere, he’s ready to go.

“If we find this brew pub, we need to ask if they use local water to make the beer,” I told him.

pub-for-sale-hoosick

Pub for Sale in Hoosick Falls, NY

We never did find the brew pub or any dining and drinking establishment that was open for business. I’ve seen some sad cities in my time. Woonsocket, Hinsdale, Torrington, Waterbury, the list goes on. Many are off Route 91, aka the Heroin Highway. Places where you can find the answer to the question, How did Trump win the election? The intrigue wasn’t only coming out of Russia. It was all here, right next door, just a short drive from the bright lights of the cities and the driveways of suburbia.

Hoosick Falls is one of the saddest places I’ve visited. Most of the buildings were empty. The streets were empty too. A family of four walked a snow covered trail along the Hoosick River where we parked our car. A woman with weights in her hands walked briskly across the bridge. Other than that no one was around on this blue sky day.

We walked a few blocks. I snapped some photos. Rich wanted to go in a barber shop but the guy was closing for the day.

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Thorpe’s Hoosick Falls, NY

Grandma Moses is buried somewhere near here. Her paintings depict the landscape in and around Hoosick Falls in a different time. A different America.

We took a different road back to West Bennington. Before crossing the border into Vermont, we passed the Battle of Bennington battlefield, now a state park  in Walloomsac, New York. The British soldiers never made it across the border to Vermont. On August 16, 1777 they were decisively defeated by George Washington and his troops, joined by the Green Mountain Boys, and John Stark and his men from New Hampshire.

pharmacy-hoosick

Pharmacy Hoosick Falls, NY

It was a quiet drive home. Our adventure didn’t turn out as expected. Back at the house, I Googled Hoosick Falls again. I was curious about what happened to this ghost town. I discovered a man named Michael Hickey contacted the state requesting a drinking water test after his Dad died of kidney cancer in 2014. The Saint Gobain Performance Plastics plant has now been declared a super fund site and the residents of Hoosick Falls have been told the water is contaminated with the toxic chemical perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) which is used in making teflon and household cleaning products. The chemical has been linked to kidney and testicular cancer as well as other health issues. Erin Brockovich has visited the Hoosick Falls.

According to CNN, late last year, more than a year after the first samples showed higher-than-advised levels of PFOA, the EPA issued an advisory recommending village residents avoid cooking with and drinking the water.

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Tattered Flag Hoosick Falls, NY

I knew Trump had done well in Upstate New York and I’d seen the lawn signs myself when we worked at the inn and took day trips through Duchess County to places like Hudson, Millerton, and Rhinebeck. Google only gave me election results by county. In Rensselaer County, the district Hoosick Falls votes in, Trump beat Hillary Clinton by 2 percentage points. During the primaries, Bernie Sanders beat Hillary Clinton 60.255% to 39.75%.

As always, the story of this election was right there, laid out before us in a landscape of forgotten places, struggling middle class Americans, toxic drinking water, ineffective politicians, and insufficient news voters could use. Most people weren’t paying attention and neither was the media.

I was. I’ve been writing about it since the day I started writing five years ago. Not that it makes me smarter than anyone. I’ve often been mistaken and I’m very confused these days. I don’t even know where this blog is going.

typewriter-in-hoosick

Storefront in Hoosick Falls, NY

I fear it’s all going to get worse. Scott Pruitt runs the EPA, Betsy DeVos is in charge of public education, and Trump replayed the election results in one of the scariest, craziest press conferences I’ve ever watched.

The history of America is always around us. The historic houses, the museums, the battlefields, the old graveyards. The lies to Native Americans at Standing Rock. The misinformation, the rewriting of history.  Does anyone pay attention? Trump never mentions history. I’m quite sure he’s never heard of the Battle of Bennington. He and his administration recently spoke of Frederick Douglas as if he were still alive.

I’m weary. I don’t know what to do. It often feels like a losing battle. Although others make excuses and disregard their own culpability, I am well aware of what went wrong. I’ve been watching this unfold since Ronald Reagan. As Jack Kemp once said,“{Murdoch) used the editorial page, the front page and every other page of The New York Post to elect Ronald Reagan president” and that led to smooth sailing on his effort to build Fox. I don’t think I need to tell where that took the “news”.

I’ve been fighting this battle for a long time and my optimism is growing dim. It’s not what it used to be.

stick-with-love-hoosick

Message of Hope in Hoosick Falls, NY

John Stark was married to Molly. They had eleven children. Molly never lived in Vermont but she is immortalized here in the town I now live in. There is the Molly Stark hiking trail on Hogback Mountain and a statue of her in the center of town. The scenic byway we take from Brattleboro to Bennington is called the Molly Stark Trail.

Molly ran a hospital in her home in Manchester, New Hampshire and cared for her husband John’s troops during a smallpox epidemic. She is most famous for her husband’s battle cry on the night he fought the Battle of Bennington. “There are your enemies, the Red Coats and the Tories. They are ours, or this night Molly Stark sleeps a widow!”

Small things leading to big things. A man fighting for freedom and liberty. His wife supporting the effort while raising eleven children. Do small things add up? Is that how history is made?

Keep making those phone calls, my friends.

Keep sharing real news.

Talk to people who don’t agree with you. Educate them.

Show up at your town meetings. Don’t let your representatives hide. Remember they work for us. Our taxes pay their salaries, their pensions, and their awesome health insurance.

There are two marches coming up in April. The March for Science could be as large as the Women’s March, possibly even larger. The links are below. It should’t be hard to find one near where you live. Hang in there. Remember, we’re all in this together. You are not alone.

March For Science, Earth Day, April 22 

Tax Day Marches April 15

And there’s always music:

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6 thoughts on “Weary To My Bones: Stories From Higley Hill

    • Hi Kevin, I also heard from Brian Bushner and I told him I would love to meet with him and write the story of the resilence of the people in Hoosick Falls. A lot of people would like to hear how the town is dealing with the situation. It’s happening all over the country, including Bennington, VT and Merrimack, NH. I am a native New Englander and have actually lived in all six states. I care a lot about this beautiful region and the people who live here. I’ll shoot you an email.

      Like

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