9 on 5: Field Trip no.1 Albany to Little Falls

9 on 5

updated 11 December 2022

Welcome, travelers!

We will be visiting random locations of interest along NY Route 5 beginning in Albany, NY and ending somewhere near, maybe west of Utica. We'll see. When one of our field trips begins things become unpredictable. Who knows where it will end!

Origins, Albany NY area

Bank buildings of various impressive designs are (ahem) a dime a dozen in Albany. I wonder if this is typical where politicians congregate. Money and politics are particularly well connected in the Albany of 2016.

Bank of America, Albany NY

Aside from the fancy entrance, the thing that strikes me about the structure above is its size. A primary objective of bank headquarters architecture is to convey strength and permanence. Your money will be safe here! So we'll take all of it, thank you.

On this photo and others to follow, you will notice the occasional Google logo. This is derivative photography originally shot from Google's nine eyes on Street View. No effort has been made to disquise origins, as origins are part of the story here on Photographers Street View. The captions link to the original location.

"mystery building"

"Mystery buildings" crop up now and then in my narratives. The one above looks sorta churchy on the James St. side. One of the nice things about a blog is that captions can be revised as more information is acquired. Give an assist! Comment below. Tell me something about any landmark pictured here.

142 Washington Ave., Mystery building 2
(If following link above, rotate left to view building)

Home of the famous Pinto and Hobbs Tavern, it appears #142 might have been a private residence at some time in the past. It also appears their cook works hard and needs a break. Note the elegant cornice. The chalkboard next to the entrance lends character, too.

"ascending spire"

Many banks and many churches populate downtown Albany. It seems they conspire to make other buildings architecturally inconsequential. As my father, a banker, could tell you, a great many bankers need churches! Proximity is not coincidence.

Speaking of "needing churches," in 2016, the elected residents of the building below would be among those so classified. (You probably can guess without scrolling down.)

NY Capitol building
Chancellor's Hall (1912)

The NY State Education Dept. houses itself in style! How many secondary, primary or college campuses have buildings that look like Chancellor's Hall in New York State? Not many, I'm sure. At one time, the public supported free tuition throughout the SUNY system. Today, the public supports this. Chancellor's makes a statement. Should pomp and ceremony trump substance and learning?

West of Albany on route 5, we encounter substance and learning:

"Scholars rest, Fonda, NY"


Travelling on Google Street View has its quirks. Though there are great advantages, like comfortable seating, no fuel costs, little danger of mechanical breakdown, minimal distractions and a handy bathroom, there are also frustrations. The resolution on Street View photos taken in 2007-2009 is not sufficient to observe roadside features with much clarity. As of 2016, Google has not revisited stretches of Route 5 since those early days of poor resolution. Therefore, there will be significant gaps in our journey due to this technical difficulty.

In addition, Google has yet to survey multitudes of back roads, canals, rivers, trails and most importantly, railroad lines. There's lots of interesting stuff which is going to be left out simply because Google doesn't go there -- yet.

With these technical difficulties in mind, let the field trip resume!

Clouds over the Mohawk River

Our visual perception of the landscape is influenced by the light we see it in. Colors along the banks of the Mohawk are softly muted here because the sun's light is being filtered through a band of mostly stratus clouds. Basic boring, I'd say. But the action is in the atmosphere this day, not so much on the ground. Picasa has brought out some greenish and pinkish tinges to this combination of grays. While it is primarily flat-appearing, on closer inspection the cloud deck has considerable variation and vertical depth. Not so boring, after all!


Route 5 is a heavily traveled transportation corridor.
Rail lines, the Erie Canal, the NYS Barge Canal, old roads and new make the historic trip
up the Mohawk River to the cities and villages of central New York State.
Google Earth leads the way west towards Amsterdam.
Looking west, Route 5 is on the right, north of the NYS Thruway, which is on your left.

Route 5 tends to be a bit informal. It varies from 2 lanes to 4 lanes. It has many stretches that appear to be limited access, but much of the way private drives connect directly with the main highway.

This is what a private railway crossing looks like.
Dams control Mohawk River water levels, making the NYS Barge Canal navigable.
They look like bridges because of the gate lifting they must do to fulfill their purpose.
This one is located here, just east of Amsterdam.
A satellite view from Google Earth in 3d gives a good overall view of the NYS Barge Canal Lock #10 with its dam, seen above from route 5.

Lock #10 shows a good bit of rust. The NYS Canal System needs a great deal of
maintenance to deal with the damaging effects of New York winters. It is a huge expense.
The Canal System, however, generates very little income with which to support its operation.
In 2016, the System was overseen by the NYS Thruway Authority.
The only commercial traffic it sees are tour boats, with pleasure boating the primary use.
Roy G. Finch, in The Story of the New York State Canals (written for the 100th anniversary of the Canal in 1925) explains what's going on in the above picture:
"The dams which have been built as a means for controlling the
canalized rivers are of two distinct types -- fixed and movable. The
most notable of the fixed type are those located on the Mohawk
River between Schenectady and Cohoes. The larger of the two is at
Crescent and is nearly semicircular in shape. The top of this
structure is 39 feet above the river bottom and the length is nearly
one-half mile. [see below] In general appearance the Mohawk movable dams look like steel bridges. [above] They have concrete piers and abutments with spans made of heavy structural steel. From the downstream side of the lower bridge chords steel uprights are hung by a hinge-like connection. One end of the uprights rests on a concrete
sill in the river bottom. Against these uprights slide steel plates,
called gates, which may be raised and lowered by the aid of
machinery. When the gates are lowered, or closed, the structure is
in operation as a dam and whenever it is desired to permit the
escape of more water than would flow over the crst, the gates are
partly raised, allowing more water to pass through. During the
winter season or in the event of a severe flood, the gates and
uprights are entirely removed, being swung up under the bridge
floor and leaving a perfectly clear channel. Eight structures of this
kind are visible to travelers between the cities of Schenectady and
Little Falls."
Google Earth 3D spots the Crescent Dam referred to by Roy Finch above.
Before the NYS Thruway was constructed Route 5, along with parallel route 20 mostly to its south, carried all the vehicular traffic between Albany and Buffalo. Sections of it were rebuilt to carry the heavy traffic load. Where traffic was unusually congested, the road was rerouted or expanded to two lanes in each direction. In Amsterdam it took over a railroad siding alongside the Bowlers Brewery. From what used to be the railroad loading platform travellers get a good view of the 19th century building:

The New York History Blog features
 a podcast interview withPhillip Bowler concerning the history of this building
and the Bowler Brewing enterprise.

Fort Johnson

"I'm just a [wood] whose intentions are good
Oh Lord, please don't let me be misunderstood" - The Animals
Bored, yet? If so, try some tree identification. If you think you've seen them all, you most likely haven't ever looked at any. Like all plants, each species of tree has preferred growing conditions. Hemlocks like the north-facing slopes of cool streambanks. Willows love water, so you'll find them near streams, ponds and swamps unless someone has been so bold as to plant one in their yard, in which case willow roots will soon find their water supply and septic pipes. Willow, weep for me...!

Sarah Vaughan sings "Willow Weep for Me" 1957

Usually the most successful way to identify trees is by their leaves. Unless stopping long enough to hike into the forest, however, folks passing through at 55mph or so on route 5 won't be seeing individual leaves. Other clues must be pursued. In the case of the trees above, our clues are location, bark characteristics, growth habit and general shape.

The trees above are all in a bunch, which is a distinctive characteristic of trees such as sumacs, locusts, aspens, beeches and birches among others, many of which spread by root sprouts. (If you've ever hiked in a beech forest, you quickly learn to watch out for beech roots which lie in wait to trip you up if you aren't careful.) They are deciduous, shedding their leaves every autumn. They are on a well-drained, south-facing slope, which rules out our willow friends. I'll bet that the soil has been disturbed by road development and probably isn't particularly fertile.

My guess is they're aspen trees. The color of the bark is too light for beech and too dark for white birch. The crowns don't look quite right for locust and they're much too tall for sumacs. But that's only a guess. What do you think? Go back to the original. Move your cursor around a bit and see if you can pick up additional clues. Give us your take on the identity of this grove by commenting below.


9 on 5 gets the go-ahead!
This is the home of the Mohawk Community of Kanatsiohareke (Ga na jo ha lay gay).
Founded by Sakokwenionkwas (Tom Porter), this land was repopulated in 1993 by the Kanienkehaka (Mohawk) Nation for the purpose of promoting "the development of a community based on the traditions, philosophy, and governance of the Haudenosaunee, and to contribute to the preservation of the culture of people as a framework for a blend of traditional native concerns with the best of the emerging new earth friendly, environmental ideologies that run parallel to these traditions." 
Google Earth 3D captures a satellite view of Kanatsiohareke
The Kanatsiohareke community is challenged by the same climate issues as
the NYS Barge Canal. You can help.
The climate in New York State is not kind or gentle. Humid, with seasonal extremes of temperatures, anything left exposed to the weather is attacked by the chemical and physical properties of water. Cycles of freezing and thawing ("frost weathering") break rock formations and plumbing alike. Water seeps into wood, attracting excavators such as carpenter ants that weaken structural beams. Bacteria, fungus and mold work together to rot exposed timbers, in particular. Steel rusts away slowly as water vapor initiates a chemical reaction involving iron and oxygen. Protective chemicals can be applied to the surface (paint, usually) or injected into porous materials to retard deterioration.

At the corner of Main and Cayadutta in Fonda, an abandoned building shows the effect
of New York climate on exposed timber, some of which was protected...for awhile.
Can you spot other examples of weathering on this blog post?
My guess here is that this was once a red dairy barn. It sits stuffed with good hay,
 apparently abandoned, just weathering away.... 
A Google 3d satellite view of the previous barn shows the private railroad crossing used
to access the fertile fields across route 5 from the barn. Going back for a second look
at the property, I can find no remains of a residence, though there might just be a
foundation among the trees nearest the middle "5" above. The access drive appears to
be used rarely, perhaps by someone storing equipment or hay in the remaining barns.
Looks like the road builders decided nobody was going to enter this barn again.
No admittance, except through the roof, that is. My hunch is the roof is still protecting several thousand dollars of reusable beams and siding. Your local lumber dealer has nothing
as classy as this time capsule--to say nothing of the possible hidden antique contents.
Potential, potential!
Google 3d views the barn above (red arrow) as a freight passes it by.
The farmer may have lived in the existing residence across the street. Typical of many
farms in this locale, farmers face not only road hazards, but railroad hazards as well whenever
they go forth from their homes above the flood plains to work their crops below.
Direct from the farm, farm stands probably had higher sales before the
NYS Thruway siphoned traffic off route 5.
moving on....

Palatine Bridge

Palatine Bridge has an interesting past as the site of a few large Victorian residences, notable today largely for their absence or collapse. While local preservationists have done everything possible to save them, they have been frustrated by the lack of support from individual owners, the most notorious case being that of social misfit Barry Woods, who is responsible for the destruction of the Webster Wagner house as documented on this blog's post "In Passing." 

Travelling across the actual Palatine bridge on Google Street View is a rather weird experience. Google's 9 eyes have been across on more than one occasion, but the traveller is not permitted to make it all the way from one side to another in a single year. In 2016, one has the jarring experience of jumping from exposures made in 2015 to those made in 2009 or 2008, then back to 2015 exposures as one moves the cursor across the bridge between Canajoharie and Palatine Bridge.

C'mon, try it for yourself!
The Mohawk River is the Canal along this stretch of route 5.
As I understand it, this was the chief difference between the NYS Barge Canal and the
original Erie Canal, which it replaced. The original Erie contained much structure that
was independent of the River itself, making upkeep very difficult and expansion of the
independent little ditch a gargantuan task if the expansion followed the exact route
of the original. Damming the River to allow the riverbed itself to serve
as the canal was a great idea. Note that the Canal is paralleled by its competition, the
railroad, which drove it out of commercial business. The railroad, in turn, competes today with
auto and truck traffic on the NYS Thruway, route 5's replacement.
Meanwhile, in some areas along route 5 near Palatine Bridge, the forest appears eager to reclaim
all man-made rights-of-way. 
Before the forest takes over, however, you should be aware that Palatine Bridge is not a particularly sleepy village. They aren't allowed that privilege. They have trains! Palatine Bridge NY is on many a railfan's map as a great place to watch trains--even from your motel room in some cases.

Youtube video from

Little Falls

Duluth Imperial Flour was one of several brands produced in Duluth MN.
This ad on the Stafford Warehouse Co. building in Little Falls dates from the late 19th century.
The Duluth Imperial Milling Co. went out of business after merging into the
United States Flour Milling Company. Pillsbury, a competitor, survived.
From the Poor Poetry Department comes this modest effort found on one of the more famous Imperial Flour ads:

"As our airship proudly rises
On high we heard the praises
And our song the world amazes
By its truth.

"For we sing of product cereal
Which makes our bread ethereal
And is known as flour “Imperial”
From Duluth"

Imperial's flour just had to be better than their ad copy!

order of change
In the northeastern US, deciduous trees begin to get their fall coloration in sequence. Can you identify the two principal tree species in the above picture? In front, the Sumacs have taken the lead. They are among the first to display. The Sugar Maples in the background, meanwhile, are only frosted with color. Parts of the Maples will remain green for awhile. Willows (not pictured above) are among the holdouts of the season, sometimes not coloring until late October. Beech trees retain a small percentage of their leaves through the winter, each leaf bleaching out gradually until they are almost white by spring.

Salada water tower
Anybody for tea?
In Little Falls, route 5 is definitely the "beaten" path. Yielding to temptation, however, I travelled off 5 a bit with Google's 9 eyes to capture a couple of other glimpses of Little Falls.

(click the photo to enlarge) 
In the Google 3d image of Little Falls above, route 5 is to your right. Centered is the actual "Little" falls, a rocky hazard for shipping, indeed! To the left is the NYS Canal itself, guarded against flood damage by a pair of gates in the upper left. At the center of the picture you can see the remains of a semi-circular dam which used to divert the Mohawk River into a power station for a local factory. The low dams at the top of the image are just high enough to divert water into the canal without blocking the Mohawk altogether.

Doing the best it can with the its first primitive 9 eyes camera, Google looks downstream from route 167 in September 2009 (above).

Meandering off route 5 on route 169, Lock 17 of the NYS Canal System gets boats safely around the falls:

To be continued...on another post, as I am tired of scrolling!

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