No reason to Bragg about this any more…

Last week, I wrote a post about how my mother told me that allegedly I was related in one way or another to Braxton Bragg, former Civil War general of the Confederacy.

The thing is, when it comes to my mother, I am a person who follows the rule of “Trust … but verify.”  And my mother had a very bad habit of telling me things that were later revealed to be half-truths, falsehoods, or pants-on-fire statements.  If my mother told me that the sky was blue, I would look up to confirm – and then get a second opinion.

Continue reading “No reason to Bragg about this any more…”


Coins of the Rebellion: The Civil War currency of Albany merchants

I want to show you some historic treasures today.  It’s a window to Albany life from 150 years ago.  And it’s a nice collectible series as well.

Take a look at this.  This is an actual minted token from 1863 for a shoe store on Broadway.

And tokens like this were the norm in 1863 – not the exception.

During the Civil War, common U.S. coinage virtually disappeared.  Gold and silver were hoarded, and even copper coins were squirreled away for their metallic value.

From this came a rise in custom-stamped coinage, as private metallurgists struck copper tokens for merchants.  These Civil War tokens were coins with patriotic messages, and were used in lieu of actual currency.  The Civil War tokens, also known as “storefronts” or “storecards,” were produced between 1862 and 1864, when their similarity in size and composition to actual pennies caused the United States Government to pass laws prohibiting private coinage.

Some storefronts were offered by various merchants in lieu of currency, and these sovereigns have developed into their own collectable numismatic subgenre.

In Albany, there were several styles of storecards stamped between 1862 and 1864, including some with typeface variations.  Most of them were either made of pure copper or a copper-brass alloy, but there are some examples struck from lead, tin, and even melted into bronze.

civil-war-token-1aOne of the most common Albany Civil War Tokens is the Benjamin & Herrick Fruit Dealers token, which could be redeemed at their 427 Broadway store.  There are several variations on this token, as the most dedicated collector will examine how close the letter ‘F” in FRUIT is to the letters in “BENJAMIN.”



The reverse side of this token shows the address of redemption.  There are several different styles of this reverse as well, depending on the size of the numerals, and whether the “2” in 427 has an extra cedilla-like descending mark (as can be seen at right).

civil-war-token-12aAre you hungry for some coffee and spices?  Then you should head down to Exchange and Dean Streets and visit John Thomas’ Premium Mills.  There are several variations on this storefront coin as well, so keep an eye out.

civil-war-token-22aSometimes these coins may have a tiny hole punched through them; although there are several possible reasons for this type of modification, some sources say that the coins could be strung together on a string, or worn as part of a necklace or watch fob; other holes could have been made to test the coin’s metallurgic components.  Others may have been caused by stamping errors at the token manufacturer.

Of the Albany merchants with known Civil War minted tokens, only one – D.L. Wing – still has a building in downtown Albany, although the structure itself is an empty facility.  During the Civil War, D.L. Wing’s operations were housed at 318 Broadway – a different location than the D.L. Wing building currently on Broadway – and D.L. Wing’s Civil War storecards proudly offered “Union Flower” for their customers.

And by far the coolest of the Civil War token was one from Straight’s Elephantine Shoes, located at 398 Broadway – well, a parking lot is located there now.  Straight’s tokens featured a marching, boot-wearing elephant, and this figural token is extremely collectible, with good examples selling for up to $200 today.

The collectibility of these treasures ranges from common to nearly impossible to find.  While one can go on eBay and find several Benjamin & Herrick Civil War tokens for a low selling price, one variation – in which the token’s reverse contains the patriotic phrase “United We Stand / Divided We Fall” – is extremely rare, with prices ranging as high as $1,000 for a clean token with that phrase.

Although most of the tokens were stamped in copper, there were plenty of other materials used for these coins – including silver, brass, nickel, tin, and a copper-brass alloy.

The coins are about the size of a modern penny, and can easily be mistaken for a one cent piece.  In fact, the U.S. Government in 1864 actually passed a law that forbade the minting of storefronts and storecards.  The ones that survive today are treasures of a bygone time.

In addition to the private coinage, local merchants – as well as the City of Albany itself – issued paper scrip as the equivalent of currency.  This scrip was not backed by silver or gold, but was instead backed by the promise of local merchants to honor the face value of the printed document.


These paper scrips were signed by C.J. Paige, Albany City Chamberlain, as well as by Albany Mayor Eli Perry, who in 1862 commenced the second of his three non-consecutive stints as Albany mayor.  Perry would later serve two terms in the House of Representatives in the 1870’s.


Various printing companies lithographed these scrips.  The five cent scrip above was printed by Murray & Co. Exchange of Albany, while the ten-cent note came from Lewis & Goodwin, with offices at 452 Broadway.


It’s amazing that any of these bills have survived to the 21st century.  The notes were printed on very thin oil-like paper stock, and there are indications that some of these scrips were counterfeited.


It’s hard to believe that in many instances, the City of Albany did whatever they could to provide more money for their citizens – by simply manufacturing more money!  Imagine if the City tried to do this today…

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little excursion into a little-known fragment of Albany’s history.  And who knows … maybe this might inspire you to combine being a numismatist and a Civil War re-enactor.

As for these pieces … I’ll hold on to them for a little while, and then when I get a chance, I’ll donate them to the Albany Institute of History and Art.

Who knows?  Maybe 150 years from now, someone else might want to do some research on these little treasures.

Especially that cute one with the marching elephant.

Continue reading “Coins of the Rebellion: The Civil War currency of Albany merchants”

A new life for Frontier Town in 2017?

Frontier Town, January 1, 2017. BlackBerry PRIV camera phone. Photo by Chuck Miller

Frontier Town, January 1, 2017. BlackBerry PRIV camera phone. Photo by Chuck Miller

You might have missed it when Governor Andrew Cuomo issued his recent “State of the State” addresses, but buried on page 102 of the adjoining “State of the State” budget report is a $32 million plan to revitalize what was once the Frontier Town amusement park into a new type of tourist attraction.

The plan would take the land on the Frontier Town campus and convert it into a “Gateway to the Adirondacks” tourist facility.  This would include a visitor’s center, a campground, an area for horseback riding, and a festival staging area.

The “Gateway to the Adirondacks” project also has the potential to revitalize tourism and recreation in the Adirondack towns of North Hudson, Newcomb and the surrounding communities.  Plus, with the recent State acquisition of the Boreas Ponds tract, a “Gateway to the Adirondacks” project would certainly boost job opportunities throughout the region.

I’m for this.  Yeah, we’ll never get Frontier Town back, and even if someone did try to revive the old amusement park, it wouldn’t be the same as it was in the past.  It just couldn’t be.  This “Gateway to the Adirondacks” concept makes so much more sense.

As a public service for those of you who don’t normally read Governor Cuomo’s budget reports, I’ve included pages 102-104 here in this blog.  They describe the “Gateway to the Adirondacks” project, its future and its goals.

Oh, and if you DO want to read all 383 pages of Governor Cuomo’s budget plan, here’s a link to keep you entertained over the weekend.

Proposal: Create Master Plan for “Gateway to the Adirondacks” at Northway Exit 29 in North Hudson

The Frontier Town theme park was built in the Adirondacks in 1952. For more than four decades, this entertainment destination was a boon to the local economy, drawing visitors from across the country to the town of North Hudson. But since 1998 when the theme park was closed, this site at Exit 29 of the Northway has sat dormant. As a result, local jobs, restaurants and lodging have all but disappeared from this once thriving Adirondack community.

In 2016, recognizing a critical need to invigorate the economies of these Adirondack communities, Governor Cuomo challenged the Open Space Institute and five neighboring Adirondack towns to collaborate with the State to design a blueprint for a new recreation hub at this location. In 2017, that challenge will be met and a new world class recreational experience will be realized through the establishment of state, local and private partnerships led by Governor Cuomo to invest up to $32 million to create the Gateway to the Adirondacks.  The new hub will include:

  • A DEC campground and day use area along the Schroon River;
  • An equestrian camping and trail riding area, similar to DEC equestrian camping and riding facilities at Otter Creek and Brookfield, which are drawing visitors from throughout the eastern United States;
  • A Visitor Information Center to introduce visitors to the world class recreational opportunities in the Adirondack Park;
  • An Event Center with tourist accommodations and facilities for hosting shows and festivals;
  • Interactive exhibits in historic structures highlighting the past, present, and future of the Adirondack forest products and local food industries; and
  • Areas designated for commercial business development including those which provide food, lodging and amenities for visitors and those which can grow at this strategic location along the Northway corridor.

As a first step, the Department of Environmental Conservation will acquire a conservation easement on approximately 300 acres of land with support from the Environmental Protection Fund. This will allow construction of the public and equestrian camping and day use areas. Paradox Brewery will also be investing $2.8 million to expand its operations at the site thanks in part to $200,000 in incentives from the Empire State Development Corporation.

Governor Cuomo’s goal is to promote and increase the economic vitality of the towns connected to this North Hudson location.  Transforming this site into an attractive destination will link local and regional resources and provide year round recreation opportunities and services for multiple uses, users and businesses.  The Gateway site will welcome, orient and connect visitors to trail networks, recreation destinations and businesses in the Adirondack Park.  Drawing visitors to North Hudson to connect with premier opportunities for hiking, biking, horseback riding, snowmobiling and boating. This, coupled with commercial business development, will revitalize communities and help transform this region.


This will be big.  And much needed.

But even though all this is on the table… I just ask Governor Cuomo for one thing when his people work on this project.

Just save something from Frontier Town.  Revitalize the Main Street facade.  Restore the old chapel.  Something.  Just as a reminder of what Frontier Town used to be for generations of families who originally visited North Hudson and the Adirondacks for a day trip or for a weekend.

As much as it means to preserve New York’s beauty and majesty…

Let’s just save a small piece of New York’s history while we’re at it.

BUILT 2016 is coming…

One of my favorite charities during my late-year “Charity Season” is Historic Albany Foundation, and their BUILT: Albany’s Architecture Through Artists’ Eyes auction and fundraiser is an event I totally treasure.

BUILT is an amazing charity event, in which Albany’s top artisans create breathtaking artwork and imagery inspired by the architecture – past and present – of the Capital City.  And it’s all available for purchase and bid.

From Historic Albany’s Facebook page about the event.

BUILT promotes awareness of Albany’s built environment and raises funds for preservation efforts. For the past 13 years we’ve used our annual art exhibit & silent auction to highlight the issue of vacant buildings in Albany. With BUILT, we extend this artistic lens not just on vacant architecture, but onto Albany’s entire BUILT environment. A portion of the proceeds from the reception and art sales will benefit the Foundation’s programming and technical services.

In 2015, we had 80 artists submit close to 200 works of art. We are constantly impressed by the caliber of artwork that is part of the show and we encourage any and all artists to submit once the call for art is released.

And with that in mind, BUILT is currently calling for new and unique artwork that showcases Albany’s brilliant architecture and vibrancy – oh, and this year, they’re also including art that showcases the architecture of Schenectady and Troy as well, as part of Historic Albany Foundation’s collaboration with the Breathing Lights art project.  BUILT’s prospectus can be viewed by visiting this link.

Nipper's Flip Side
Nipper’s Flip Side. Nikon Df camera, Nikkor 80-200 f/2.8 lens. Photo by Chuck Miller.


Oh, and how’s this for super-coolness… the prospectus has one of my entries from last year, Nipper’s Flip Side, as one of the art examples!  Yes, the photo I took with the RCA dog atop the Arnoff Moving and Storage Building (the former RTA Warehouse), as shot off a reflection in a street puddle.  I blogged about taking that photo in this post.

If you plan on entering BUILT, you should get your pieces ready.  This is one of the best showcases of the Capital Region’s artisans and craftspeople, and it also affords buyers the opportunity to purchase these artworks – and those purchases will help preserve our area’s most beloved and endangered buildings and architecture.

So here’s the deal.  Read the prospectus, look for your three best pieces that represent the visual excitement and wonder of Albany, Schenectady and Troy, and submit them to BUILT.

You’ll be glad you participated.

Trust me on this.

L-Ken’s sign, restaurant, demolition began today

I knew it would happen.  It was only a matter of time.

But when I received a message from one of my loyal blog readers, I knew I only had a few moments to act.


I had just put the finishing touches on this morning’s blog, when I received a comment on one of my other blog posts.  It was Dave.  And his message:  “They tore down L-Ken’s Drive-In today.  Go buy the sign.”

Well, I didn’t have enough money to buy the sign – heck, if I did, that sign would have been in the Town and Village years ago – but I did have enough time this morning to race over to Colonie and see if it was true, that L-Ken’s Drive-In was on its last heartbeat.

Demolition worker begins removal of chef logo from L-Ken's sign. BlackBerry PRIV camera. Photo by Chuck Miller.
Demolition worker begins removal of chef logo from L-Ken’s sign. BlackBerry PRIV camera. Photo by Chuck Miller.

And the sign – the last remaining example of Googie advertising on Route 5 between Albany and Schenectady – was now being disassembled by Town of Colonie construction workers.  As I arrived, a worker in a cherry-picker had already loosened off the RC Cola sign from its moorings, and was now carefully removing the plexiglass waiving chef from the sign itself.

“Hey, you!”

It was another Town of Colonie construction worker, looking directly at me.


“This is a hard-hat area only.  If you want to take pictures, you need to step back.”

I took a few steps back.

“More steps.”

Great.  I’m playing Mother May I with the Town of Colonie public works department.  I look around.  There are no other photographers or interested parties nearby.  If I don’t get these shots… no one will.

I took a few steps back.  I also stayed along the sidewalk and used as much technical acumen that my BlackBerry PRIV could achieve.

Construction worker removing L-Ken's chef panel. BlackBerry PRIV camera. Photo by Chuck Miller.
Construction worker removing L-Ken’s chef panel. BlackBerry PRIV camera. Photo by Chuck Miller.

And slowly, surely, the construction worker removed the panel.  I wached as another worker manipulated the cherry-picker basket to bring the panel safely to the ground without it shattering into a million pieces – either the sign, or the construction worker.  Safety first.  It is a hard-hat area, after all…

A couple of construction workers took the panel and hauled it over to a flatbed.

“Hey!” I called to them.

They looked up.

“Hold the sign up, I’ll get your picture.”

And sure enough…

Construction workers with piece of L-Ken's sign. BlackBerry PRIV camera. Photo by Chuck Miller.
Construction workers with piece of L-Ken’s sign. BlackBerry PRIV camera. Photo by Chuck Miller.

I swear that chef sorta looks like a caricature of Mario Cuomo.  Doesn’t he?

Anyways, the cherry-picker construction worker tried to examine if the next piece of the sign – the rotating hot dog that had “DRIVE-IN” and “SNACKS” in neon tubes – could come down.  But it was bolted together in such a way that other pieces of the sign had to be removed beforehand.

The workers moved their equipment to the other side of the sign, and the cherry-picker started to remove the second chef sign.

Construction worker confirming the removal of the sign. BlackBerry PRIV camera. Photo by Chuck Miller.
Construction worker confirming the removal of the sign. BlackBerry PRIV camera. Photo by Chuck Miller.

And within minute, that sign was removed as well.

Demolition on the L-Ken’s sign will continue throughout the day, I expect.  At 7:30 a.m. this morning, this was all that was left of the sign that once brought generations of fried food lovers to this little corner of Central Avenue.

L-Ken's sign, July 26, 2016. BlackBerry PRIV camera. Photo by Chuck Miller.
L-Ken’s sign, July 26, 2016. BlackBerry PRIV camera. Photo by Chuck Miller.

Wow.  Just wow.

I know the sign had become an eyesore over the years, but there was some faint hope that maybe someone would restore the sign or declare it a landmark or restore the sign or buy the property or restore the sign or restore the sign.

At this point, though… all that’s left are memories once again.

And I suspect that the next time I visit this little corner of Central Avenue…

The sign will be gone.

I’ll still have memories of L-Ken’s – including those based on photos I have taken.

Like this one from 2014, in which I re-animated the sign with digital colored neon.

Re-lighting L-Ken’s. Nikon Df camera, Vivitar 19mm f/3.8 lens, and a little electronic paint job. Photo by Chuck Miller.

Or this restored L-Ken’s sign with its original ice cream cone replacing the garish real estate advertising sign.

L-Ken's Drive-In Updated Sign//

Yeah, L-Ken’s is now officially gone.   The sign will vanish.

I’m sad to see it go.

But I’m glad I was around when it was there.

The Storytown U.S.A. “Do Declare” Coloring Book

By now, I’m sure you’ve enjoyed watching the WMHT documentary “Charles R. Wood: A Storied Life.”  It’s a great piece about the history of the man who created Storytown U.S.A. / The Great Escape, as well as creating Gaslight Village, the HH Ranch, all those great businesses and entertainment spots throughout the Adirondacks.

And since I know people are now getting involved in adult coloring books, I thought I would share this with you.

Back in the 1950’s, author Lula A. Shaver and illustrator Janet W. Brotherton combined their talents for a series of coloring books called the “Do Declare” series.  As the opening titles state, “A Do Declare Book is just what you need // In each there’s a story for you to read // Color the pictures with the greatest of care // And hear Mommy say, I DO DECLARE!”

One of those coloring books tells the story of Mother Goose as she visits the then-new amusement park Storytown U.S.A.  She visits all the buildings and meets all her favorite storybook characters.

I can’t remember when I acquired this coloring book; but after watching the documentary, I knew I had to share this book with you.

So if you feel the urge to print out the pages and sharpen up your colored pencils or your vintage 64-count Crayola box…

Have at it.

Or you can just read along with the book as you see it here.  That’s fine as well.

And if you’re interested in collecting Lula Shaver’s other works, here’s a checklist, as near as complete as I can achieve, of the Lula Shaver “Do Declare” books.

  • Frontier Town (Illustrated by Janet W. Brotherton) 1955, A179055
  • The Gingerbread Castle (Illustrated by Janet W. Brotherton) 1955, A179054
  • An Invitation to Storytown U.S.A., Inc., the never-never land of the Adirondacks (Illustrated by Janet W. Brotherton) 1955, A190046
  • Larry Tours Franconia Notch, New Hampshire (Illustrated by Janet W. Brotherton) 1955, A190047
  • Outside My Window (Iullstrated by Janet W. Brotherton) 1955, A190048
  • Maple Sugaring Time in Vermont (I Do Declare Book)
  • To the Top of Mount Washington by the Way of the Cog Railroad (I Do Declare Book)
  • Trimble Bear (I Do Declare Book)
  • The Molly Stark Trail
  • Larry enjoys Mount Sunapee State Park, New Hampshire
  • Larry Visits the Wildlife Exhibit at Crawford Notch, N.H.
  • A Visit to Cape Cod
  • Little Red Arrow of Lake Minnewaska
  • Enchantment at the Land of Make Believe
  • Calling on Santa at The North Pole
  • Chipper and Chee Chee
  • Humpty Dumpty’s Night in Storyland
  • Santa’s Listening

If I come across any more of these “Do Declare” books in my travels, especially if they pertain to the Adirondacks or New England entertainment locales, I’ll certainly pass them along to you.  Because I’m sure you will enjoy them, too.

new-1 new-2 new-3 new-4 new-5 new-6 new-7 new-8 new-9 new-10 new-11 new-12 new-13 new-14 new-15 new-16 new-17 new-18 new-19 new-20 new-21 new-22 new-23 new-24 new-25 new-26 new-27

Frontier Town buildings could be demolished soon

If there was any hope of restoring the closed Frontier Town amusement park to any sort of former glory… this news pretty much quashed that hope.

According to the upstate New York website Sun Community News, legislators have discussed with the Essex County Board of Supervisors the need to demolish and dismantle the original remaining structures on the old Frontier Town parcel of land.  Essex County currently owns the Frontier Town property, and attempts to sell the land to private ownership have failed.

The old structures that have survived twenty years of neglect and ennui – including the wooden chapel, the rodeo stadium, the restaurant and the “Western Outfitters” main street – are covered in branches and greenery, as Mother Nature tamed what bandits and rustlers couldn’t tame.

Log Chapel
Log Chapel on Frontier Town property. Kodak Medalist II, Kodak EIR infrared “Aerochrome” film with yellow-orange filter. Photo by Chuck Miller.


There have been several plans offered by both Essex County and prospective property purchasers.  The park could be a connecting point to a 40-mile hiking and snowmobiling trail.  A Cabela’s or a Bass Pro Shops outdoors megastore would be a perfect location for Adirondack hunters and fishers.

But right now, the only people interested in visiting the park are urban explorers of abandoned structures, and county officials worry that someone will get injured in these unsafe, crumbling buildings.  So the structures have to go.

This is rough.  I’ve blogged about Frontier Town in the past, about what this amusement park meant to the local community in terms of entertainment and identity and jobs.  But as times changed, so too did the need for amusement parks that dotted the Adirondack Northway from Albany to the Canadian border.  And most of the parks disappeared.  Only a few still remain – The Great Escape, Santa’s Workshop, Waterslide World… while the others have drifted into our cultural memories and shared moments.

I wish places like Frontier Town were still around.  Heck, I even thought that one of these other Adirondack amusement parks might do well by acquiring a building or two from the Frontier Town parcel and relocating it to their own campus.

But I guess this is what happens over the years.  Mother Nature and Father Time are both cruel and benevolent.  They give us this short time upon this planet, and then it stops, like the switched-off illumination from a light bulb.

And maybe those hikers and snowmobilers will find a new appreciation for what was once the home of cowboys and rustlers and the like.

We can only hope.