Sunday, June 22, 2008

Ken & Mary Give Us Some Hometown Hospitality

When people learn that we are traveling in our RV, they quickly recommend typical tourist destinations. These happen to be places the locals rarely go – restaurants where they hardly ever eat, art museums they’ve never visited, and crowded festivals they avoid. As we travel, Ed uses the phrase “We don’t do Branson” to say “We want the authentic places, not those contrived for the tourist dollar.”

Sometimes people react with surprise. But when people get it, they become excited. Sometimes they will even offer to be our local guides.

Ken and Mary get it. They picked us up on one of New York’s most humid Sunday’s in June. Our first stop was the swimming hole in Accord. Ken reminisced about coming here as a youngster, something teens still do today. The water was tempting because of the drenching humidity, but we stayed on the dry land. From the base of the dam on Rondout Creek, we watched kids 40 and 50 years younger than ourselves cannonball into the refreshing water.

Ken drove us along roads familiar to him. They were the roads along which his grandparents lived and where his dad had an auto repair shop. We stopped at both places. Later, he came to a stop at a place that looked like a cave with an iron door. He explained that the underground storage vaults behind the protections of the door and surveillance cameras keep documents safe from destruction. This Iron Mountain facility is not in the mile-to-mile guide books of New York.

You will find information about the Delaware & Hudson Canal in travel books. The canal was a significant part of the region’s history and economic growth. The D& H Canal is considered to be among the greatest tributes to American innovation. In 1825, Maurice and William Wurts formed the D&H Canal Company. With financing from investors, their enterprise created a waterway that spanned 108 miles and became the route to move anthracite coal from Pennsylvania coal mines to New York City. This part of history appealed to Ed and I so Mary and Ken suggested we visit the volunteer operated D&H Canal Museum in High Falls.

Inside the small museum, we found the recreation of a canal boat cabin. Entire families often worked and lived on the canal boats navigating the system of 108 locks in a weekly journey to move goods. This cabin exhibit included cooking utensils, a portable bath tub and a straw pillow, something Ed has always said he slept on a kid on the farm in the early 50s. I am not sure if I believe him or not, but I did ask if his pillow looked like the one on display.

The volunteer docent seemed eager to show us how the lock system worked. We obliged by watching her operate a working lock model. In our own browsing of the museum, we learned that in addition to carrying anthracite coal, the Canal carried world famous hydraulic cement and regional domestic goods.

Ken told us that the museum had once been St. John’s Episcopal Church and a place where he came for scouts as a kid. You could still see traces of the church style windows and riser for the pulpit. This church was built between the years of 1883 – 1885. The stone for the Canal had been quarried years before in the area behind the church.

The Canal was eventually abandoned in 1898. Steam locomotion became the favored means of transportation but parts of the old Canal are still visible today. If we had additional time, we could have walked along the towpath trail where remnants of the locks, aqueducts and bridges remain. We cut our time short. The day of our outing also happened to be the day of the Belmont Stakes. Ed wanted to know if we could get to a TV to watch the race. We hadn’t place a bet but the race had been hyped because of legendary Big Brown.

Ken, who is a professional truck driver, showed us he could safely navigate the back roads of New York’s Catskills in his SUV. He got us to his house in time to serves us cold beers before the starting gate went up. We watched the shocking outcome of the race.

We found solace in more cold beers and Mary’s yummy chip dip. That evening, we feasted on grilled hamburgers and hotdogs with assorted salads – potato, macaroni, and coleslaw. We let Mary heap our bowls full of ice cream and I sat in the cab of one of Ken’s big rigs before asking them to drive us back to the coach parked in the Accord Municipal Parking Lot.

We enjoyed a most wonderful afternoon of hometown hospitality with our new friends. Mary and Ken, Thank you so much!

June 15, 2008

D&H Canal Museum
23 Mohonk Road
High Falls, NY 12440

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