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We search for fun, happiness, joy, peace and love in many places and in many ways… and sometimes we search in vain… for what we don’t know. Been there… done that. But did you know that our hearts are born to seek? All the while we grow up and mature, we’re seeking and learning, trying to find our place in this great big world.
We wonder if our life makes a difference. Does anyone care? What is our value, and how is it measured? To prove our worth, we may seek wealth, fame, praise, prestige, power… and often think we’ve found it in relationships and possessions. In reality, our search for true peace and joy has nothing to do with these things. That’s where the world finds its value.
So, we carry on, as our hearts continually seek something better to fill the void in our soul. In reality, we’re “lookin’ for love in all the wrong places” as the song says. (“Looking for love” sung by Johnny Lee, written by Wanda Mallette, Patti Ryan and Bob Morrison; 1980 movie “Urban Cowboy.”)
And we keep searching until we realize the something that’s missing is ultimately only found in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33) For God created us and put within our hearts a longing for Him… because, as our creator, He desires to have a close relationship with us. He wants us to give up our futile searching. He wants us to give up the world’s false security, our pride, and our faith in all the petty trinkets which hold no eternal value… to gain something far more valuable when we put Him first in our lives.
As we search for God and focus on Him and His love for us, we find that the Apostle Paul’s words “…I no longer live, but Christ lives in me,” say it all. (Galatians 2:20) For as we seek His will in our lives, we discover that our purpose, our joy and our peace, can come only from God. Like C. S. Lewis wrote in “The Problem of Pain” … “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains.”
In seeking and finding our Lord, it’s then that the void in our heart and soul is filled… with a peace that only God can give. Our eyes are opened and we see the Lord’s loving hand working through us as we become more like Him… especially, it seems, through the toughest of times. For so often, that’s when our faith grows deeper as we draw closer to our Lord, and rest in His comforting words of wisdom… His loving embrace.
After teaching His disciples to pray, Jesus said, "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Luke 11:9) As I searched… I found.
Linda A. Roorda
In vain I searched the corners of life
As my heart yearned for what it did not know
But might it be the world cannot give
The depth of peace as You hold my soul.
In pleasures I searched for the hint of fun
The best this world could ever offer
But disillusioned it caught me up short
When softly I heard Your voice fill the void.
In hope I searched for one to carry
For I had fallen from heights I had claimed
Then helped was I by a tender soul
One filled with grace from mercy’s blest store.
In silence I searched away from life’s noise
Seeking Your voice in solitude’s calm
Within my prayers Your words then echoed
As You called to me in a still small voice.
In forest I searched midst towering trees
For there was I enveloped by peace
And as the sun broke through the dark depths
It mirrored the Son whose light pierced my soul.
In valleys I searched along gentle streams
Till gazing upward to towering peaks
Majestic splendor was captured in view
Of stunning vistas, creation’s glory.
In faces I searched Your image to find
Those with a heart of compassion true
The humble and meek without prideful boast
Till one in tatters lent a hand to me.
In faith I searched for the living truth
Of One whose claims have captured my heart
For my soul was cleansed when You took my place
Lifting me up to heights of Your love.
In children I searched for innocence sweet
The gift of love not lost in their eyes
Like arms open wide are their hearts and souls
Freely they give without asking more.
In love I searched for the best in You
Someone to hold and treasure for life
To carry my dreams on the wings of time
As ever I cling to faith, hope and love.
With joy I found all this and more
As my heart sang out its praises of You
For is it not true that blessings are mine
From the depth of peace as You hold my soul.
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Driving home today I noticed that the leaves are starting to change colors. I actually saw some leaves turning yellow with hints of orange. It seems like just yesterday school was ending for the summer. Now it’s August and time to think about going back to school in a few short weeks. Seeing back to school commercials on the television I mentioned to Grandson #7 that he'd being going back to school soon. "I'm not going to school" he told me and the look on his face spoke volumes. I just laughed thinking that will be Mom's battle when the time comes.
July was a month of heat, humidity and celebrations. Sister #5 hosted a 4th of July picnic, we attended a nephew’s wedding, and our youngest grandson turned 5. "A whole hand" as his older cousin once said.
I hosted our monthly sister meeting which was rather low keyed. There were no games or disagreements, just conversation and being together. I did try a new recipe, BLT pasta, which was good but nothing that would tempt me to make again.
No garden was planted this year as hubby wasn't feeling it. He said it was good to give the ground a rest. I told him that excuse worked for me. However, our daughter-in-law discovered tomato plants growing among the weeds in hubby's raised beds so she got busy pulling weeds. It was a pleasant surprise to find several nice cherry tomato plants growing from last year's tomatoes. A little gardenner helped her with the weeding. I asked him about the winter boots he was wearing. "Grandma, the snakes can't bite me when I wear my boots".
When we bought our home in 1981 my Dad gave me a cutting from a wild rose bush that he let grow beside a shed. The words "let grow" are important because Dad was not a flowery kind of guy but for some reason he liked that rose bush.
Hubby planted it for me and it took root and grew. It has always been a tempermental rose bush, blooming like crazy some years, not flowering other times or only sharing a few roses.
Last Autumn, my youngest sister decided to sell the family home and she told me to take Mom's rose bush which was planted in the front yard. Last summer Mom's rose was a cream colored flower with a salmon color around the tips of the petals. In years past, when the petals would drop after blooming, a few weeks later, another rose would bloom. It wasn't always the same color, it might be a solid cream or a solid salmon color. This didn't happen every year but when it did it was special.
Again, Hubby planted Mom's rose bush for me next to Dad's rose bush. "I can't guarantee this will take root" he told me and I told him not to worry, it would grow if it was meant to grow. Well, I'm happy to say Mom's rose bloomed this summer, just once, and Dad's wild rose bush was full of roses. It was kind of nice seeing them bloom together.
August began with expectations of Hubby's surgery on the 7th to correct a very painful large tear in his shoulder. The insurance company, however, decided that it wasn't medically necessary and up until the evening before his scheduled surgery I was discussing the matter with "advocates" at the insurance company.
To say it was frustrating is an understatement. I realized it wasn't the advocate's fault but knowing the conversation was recorded for review I politely stated that it wasn't as if Hubby decided he had nothing better to do on the 7th so lets have someone cut into his shoulder. I also pointed out that we pay for Medicare and the Medicare Advantage plan we have yet a "for profit entity" is determining what services we can or can not have.
His surgery was cancelled. I was very frustrated and angry and I held on to those feelings much longer than I should have. My bad but typical for me.
While driving home from the store this afternoon the phrase "just for today" popped into my head. I thought about that as I drove, wondering where it came from.
Thinking about it for a while, I realized I wasn't remembering the important moments.
Mom and Dad's roses blooming. The little gardener pulling weeds to help his Mom find the tomato plants. The beautiful, sunny summer days full of bird song. The music the trees make as the summer breezes blow through their leaves. The beauty of a clear, brilliant, blue summer sky; a beautiful canvas for the cotton candy like white clouds as they slowly drift along. The sound of thunder as it rumbles across the hills surrounding our home during a summer storm. Joining together with family to celebrate life's moments. Visiting with Hubby's cousin Patsy and listening to the music they created, he on his guitar and she on her ukulele. The sound of their voices blending so wonderfully as they sang together while we sat together on her porch on a warm summer evening.
The fact that each morning I wake up is a gift, to be enjoyed and cherished.
Someone was reminding me that I needed to take a look at what I was allowing to be important in my world.
I have said before that I tend to hold onto stuff when I should be letting it go. I work daily on changing how I react to things and not let myself go into the land of "what if". Sometimes I win and sometimes that bitch, anxiety, wins.
I constantly remind myself to believe that what is meant to be is what will happen. Fretting and over thinking won't stop anything from happening.
Three little words.
Just for today, I will treasure each moment, great or small. Just for today I will let go of all that belongs to yesterday. Just for today, I won't worry about what tomorrow might bring.
Every morning I'll try to remind myself to think "just for today".
All rights reserved. I hope you enjoyed my story but please remember it's my story so no using or copying any content in any manner without the express written permission of the owner....me.
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Whaling was not a romantic venture by any means. It stunk… literally and figuratively.
“Some years ago – never mind how long precisely – having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world.” So said Ishmael after sailing in 1841 on the Nantucket whaler Pequod under Capt. Ahab. “Moby Dick,” a novel by Herman Melville of Troy in New York’s Hudson Valley, piqued its readers’ interest in the world of sailing and pursuit of leviathans, those great and plentiful whales of yesteryear.
Ishmael’s adventure on the high seas left him forever immortalized as the sole survivor of a whaling trip gone awry. In this epic sail, Capt. Ahab’s obsession for revenge against the white whale which took his leg created an undiluted raging hate that destroyed himself and his crew. And Melville’s romanticized whaling venture proved the very real fears of family and friends of whalers were not unfounded.
When a whaling schooner put to sea it might be gone for months to a year or more at a time. The trip was both boring and stressful, with frenzied excitement in the chase… but it was also an occupation filled with apprehension by living life so close to the brink of disaster. Even the family left behind lived with constant fear… would their husband, father, or son be coming home, and when?
Mariners and sailors of the open sea, who provided transportation of goods from one area to another, were of the same ilk. It is well-known that they were hardy men of strong stock who braved the raw elements, loading and unloading ships, but they were also a loud and boisterous, fighting and swearing crew. They were the backbone of commerce, providing the necessary resources to move foodstuffs and manufactured goods, but equally ready to defend a ship or nation from attack at a moment’s notice.
Mariners and whalers were vital to a growing world economy then just as today’s sailors or merchant seamen on cargo ships are. And, in a sense, their traffic on the open sea can be likened to yesterday’s teamsters and trains and today’s tractor trailers which have been the mainstay of commercial transportation for the modern world’s products - always on the move.
But let’s imagine ourselves in a New England seaport where we happen to notice a woman standing at an upstairs window, gazing out to sea… watching, waiting, longing and hoping. Her man, the love of her life, the father of her children, is a-whaling. It’s been almost a year since she last saw him. There’s been no word of him or the whaling schooner. But wait… is that a sail peeking over the horizon… could it be his ship, or just another disappointment? She waits, hope building, heart pounding... As the schooner sails into the harbor, she recognizes the sails, the colors, the bowsprit… it’s his ship! But… is he on it, or did he lose his life in the whaling boat? She dashes out of the house, through the busy streets, down to the docks… and finally spies that familiar stride coming toward her, as she collapses into his arms.
In another town, another woman watches and waits for her man… a mariner and landowner, a fairly wealthy man who put to sea from Portsmouth, New Hampshire. He’d struck quite a handsome figure when she first met him. Hannah thinks back to those early days and how good he’s been to her. She knows how much he loves her for he’s told her often, and brought treasured gifts from his trips. He’s a good man, everyone likes him, and she’s so proud of him.
Just then, her unborn little one stirs, and his movements bring a smile to her face and joy to her heart as she tenderly draws her shawl a little tighter in the cool air. Comes the summer day in 1755 when her little one is born, and she names him for his father, giving her surname as his middle name, not a typical gesture for Scots-Irish. But, when her beloved John sails back into harbor, his dear wife is not waiting at the dock for him. And little John will never know his beautiful mother who dies soon after his birth. Relinquishing his son to the care of his late wife’s parents, John returns to sea.
Yet, neither will the little lad walk in his father’s footsteps. He will never learn his father’s wisdom… for his father dies at sea in 1758, and there is buried. He may have been part of the French and Indian War between 1754 and 1763... or, he may have taken sick and died at sea. We don’t know. And now, orphaned as a toddler, at so tender an age, little John C. is raised by his mother’s parents, eventually marrying his cousin, Hannah, who shared his mom’s name. Within this story are interwoven documented facts of my ancestor, John Caldwell McNeill, the son of said mariner, John, of Londonderry and its environs in New Hampshire. While John McNeill, Sr. left behind personal belongings (some from his time at sea) and several properties as documented in estate papers, no documentation has been found to prove his own parentage, nor where and how exactly he died.
Though the sea has an unparalleled beauty all its own, it is also unforgiving and relentless. And those answering its beckoning call with efforts to sail its wild forces will either become victor or the defeated.
One of the most illustrious and admirable ancient occupations of the sea was found in the whaling industry. With a knowledge rich in the history of the centuries-old business of whaling, Richard Ellis wrote in “Men and Whales” that “…it is only through the lens of hindsight that the whaleman's job becomes malicious or cruel… Oil was needed for light and lubrication; baleen was needed for skirt hoops and corset stays. That whales had to die to provide these things is a fact of seventeenth-, eighteenth-, and nineteenth-century life…" (quoted in New Bedford Whaling Museum, Whales and Hunting)
It was a different era than ours. Whales provided much to a civilization which gave no thought to the decimation of such a magnificent creature. Whaling was simply a way of life, meeting life’s necessary accoutrements. Few men beyond the company owners became wealthy from the whalers’ dangerous efforts. For initial research, I turned to the New Bedford Whaling Museum website. (URL at end of article)
Whalers brought home:
1) sperm oil from the blubber of sperm whales; a light straw color, it was used for lubricating, lighting and soap;
2) spermaceti or head oil, particularly from the sperm whale, is a pearly-white translucent waxy liquid at body temperature, the most valuable product used for top-quality candles, medicinal ointment, sizing for combing wool, and used through the 1960s for leather tanning, in cosmetics, textiles, and typewriter ribbons;
3) a darker whale oil from the right, bowhead and humpback whales was used for lighting, lubrication, food, tempering steel, in the headlamps of miners, and in soap;
4) baleen, or whalebone, was made of keratin (in fingernails, hair, hooves and claws) which hangs from the mouth of 14 whale species; it acts as a strainer for krill in seawater, providing many 19th century goods for which today’s plastic or steel has taken over, including buggy whips, carriage springs, corset stays, fishing poles, hoops for skirts, umbrella ribs, etc.; and
5) ambergris (black to whitish gray) which came from the intestines of diseased sperm whales, used as incense and medicine in ancient times, now used primarily as a stabilizer in perfumes.
Many New England ports were home to whalers, most notably Nantucket, Rhode Island and New Bedford, Massachusetts, while San Francisco, California became the popular base for Pacific whalers. New Bedford was the busiest and wealthiest port along the eastern coast from Maine to Delaware. In 1857, New Bedford’s fleet of whalers peaked at 329 vessels having a collective value of over $12 million, employing over 10,000 men.
From the New Bedford Whaling Museum website, we learn that whaler Benjamin Tucker returned to port in 1851 carrying “73,707 gallons of whale-oil, 5,348 gallons of sperm oil, and 30,012 pounds of whalebone (baleen). After expenses, the net profit of Benjamin Tucker's voyage was $45,320. The usual share for the owners of a ship was between 60 and 70 percent. In this case, between $13,596 and $18,128 would have been left to be divided among the captain and crew for several years of work.”
I was then caught by surprise to learn from a friend that the old North (aka Hudson) River in New York boasted a profitable home port for whalers putting out to sea. Will Van Dorp has traveled New York City’s waterways, Hudson River, Erie Canal, Great Lakes (except Superior), and the St. Lawrence Seaway. He has a captain's license, and works on a passenger vessel as an onboard lecturer. He is also author/photographer of the blog Tugster, with photos and data on tugs and ships in what he’s termed New York City’s watery Sixth Boro. In a recent conversation, Van Dorp shared with me the Hudson Valley Magazine’s April 2012 article on New York’s whaling industry. “Hudson Valley Whaling Industry: A History of Claverack Landing (Hudson), NY,” written by David Levine, is an intriguing article which readily sent me off into further research.
New York’s North (Hudson) River provided three home ports to a thriving whaling industry for a good 60 years. It’s believed the North River was so named by the early Dutch who gave directional names to the waterways around Manhattan. To confuse us even a bit, there are maps and old photos which indicate interchangeable usage of North and Hudson River for the entire river’s length. Some retained usage of North River for only the southernmost portion between New York City and northeast New Jersey, while the Hudson River designation was intended for that section of river above and within New York state. A 1990 Hagstrom street map of New York City still labeled it the North River, although Hudson River, in honor of the 1609 explorer on the Halve Maen (Half Moon), has been preferred since the early 20th century.
But, were it not for the British Parliament’s 1766 duties and taxes on their thriving colony’s exports of whale oil, there may not have been a Hudson River whaling industry. Reacting in 1774 to the British Intolerable Acts, the Colonial Continental Congress banned trade with England. Naturally, Britain retaliated by blockading its colony’s ports in New England, including the highly successful port of Nantucket. They captured and destroyed the colony’s ships on the seas, and forced American sailors to work on British ships. The result was that New England’s strangled whaling industry was essentially dead in the water.
As the Revolutionary War came to a close in 1783, enterprising businessmen began searching for new ports and good land away from the effects of war. From Nantucket, Seth and Thomas Jenkins sailed in search of a protected port, well away from marauders of the sea. Finding just what they wanted along the Hudson River at an old Dutch community, they purchased land at Claverack Landing, New York. Renaming the town Hudson in 1785 after the intrepid explorer, Henry Hudson, thirty proprietors (New England whalers and businessmen) laid out the new city and helped establish the shops needed to support a thriving whaling industry. Though the ocean was over 100 miles south, the port soon became “one of the most important whaling centers in the country.” (Levine)
By about 1819 or 1820, however, and just when booming growth marked it as the fourth largest city in New York state, the Nantucket Navigators’ last whaling ship put to sea. A new Hudson whaling company was created in 1829, while competition down river soon saw other whaling companies established. In 1832, both the Poughkeepsie and Newburgh Whaling Companies sent whalers out, while the Dutchess Whaling Company in Poughkeepsie was established in 1833. Yet, by about 1844, these highly profitable inland whaling companies also ceased to exist, and the industry as a whole began its slow decline with crude oil products taking over the market from whale blubber. Though a relatively small city formerly known as Claverack Landing, Hudson had profited greatly from its flourishing whaling industry. Essentially, that growth was relatively short-lived and smaller in volume in comparison to the resurgence of New England’s booming seaports at the edge of the sea.
So, what was involved in whaling to bring the goods back home? Soon after putting out to sea, the men on a whaling schooner typically took 2-hour turns high up “in” the crow’s nest on the mast. (The crow’s nest was a simple structure or platform for men to stand on near the top of the mast to get a good look into the distance.) The job of the man “in” the crow’s nest was to look for the spout of a nearby whale when it came up for air. Knowing that each type of whale had a distinctive type of spout when coming up for air was important in determining whether to pursue or not. And with the shout, “Thar she blows!” the crew was in business.
Passing key information down about the kind of whale and exactly where it had been spotted brought the captain, mates and crew assembling in the whaleboats. The remaining crew, often a cooper (who made and fixed wooden casks), blacksmith, carpenter, cook and steward, stayed behind to care for the ship and be ready for the returning whalers. After launching their small whaleboats into the sea, rowing began in earnest to get the crew as close as possible to their intended prey.
With the captain urging the men forward, their rowing efforts grew quieter the closer they came to the whale. With its keen hearing, they were well aware that as they drew near, they could easily be crushed and drowned by the unpredictability of such a large leviathan. The next danger they faced was in setting the harpoon, or whale iron, into the blubber of the whale’s back. The harpoon was a long iron rod with either a single or double arrow-shaped tip which acted as a hook. Once embedded in the whale, the harpoon’s attached rope, i.e. line, was allowed to play out its slack as the whale took off with a surge.
With the harpoon set in the large whale, the crew rapidly backed their boat away for their own safety. As the wounded whale thrashed about in pain, it could irreparably damage their boat in a variety of scenarios. The whale might escape if the harpoon wasn’t set deep enough. It could also overturn and sink the whaleboat as it thrashed, leaving the men to flounder around at the mercy of the sea until their ship could find them which, unfortunately, wasn’t always the case. It was not unusual to have several or all men lost during this part of the venture.
Then, while the whale swam easily near the water’s surface at speeds of up to 20 mph, the whaleboat began its wild ride, often being helplessly dragged and bounced along at the whim of the whale. Sometimes, if they were taken too far, the mother ship was unable to locate the crew when they didn’t return in a reasonable amount of time. As the whale swam and dove, the line usually “played out so fast that it smoked from the friction.” And, if the whale dove deep and fast enough, the whaleboat could easily be taken down with it and all men lost. Occasionally, a man managed to get tangled up in the fast-moving line and was all too quickly yanked out of the boat and drowned.
As the whale tired, the crew turned the line around a short post in the boat to take up the slack, all the while slowly gaining ground on their victim. The crew would then maneuver their boat closer for the kill. As the men reeled in the line, the harpooner would go aft to steer while the boatheader came forward with a lance. Standing and walking was an extremely dangerous position change in an unsteady boat, leading to the death of one or both men on many occasions. Then, when in position, the boatheader plunged his lance into the heart or lungs to kill the whale.
At this point, the crew again rowed their boat quickly away while intently watching the whale as it thrashed about. When the whale had died and turned over, the men attached a line to a hole made in the tail, and the exhausted crew worked even harder to tow the dead whale back to their ship. Unless the ship was nearby, rowing as they hauled behind them a good 50 tons or more of dead weight meant their prize was by no means easily brought in.
By the late 1850s, harpoon guns had been developed which were much more accurate and able to penetrate deeper than a man’s throwing strength could bury the harpoon. Other explosive devices were used after 1865 in an effort to more effectively and safely defeat the great whales and prevent the loss of life and boat as in years past.
When the crew arrived back at the schooner, the men worked in 6-hour shifts around the clock. They had to complete the next phase as quickly as possible before frenzied sharks snatched up too much of their profit. The whale was attached to the ship’s starboard (right) side with chains as the crew put a “cutting stage” (plank platform) atop the carcass. Next, they stripped thick layers of blubber off the carcass with long spades. Once these huge chunks were cut off, each weighing about a ton, they were hauled up on deck and cut into smaller, more manageable pieces.
Trying out, i.e. boiling or rendering, was the process that extracted oil from the blubber. Initially done on shore, the crew began tackling this job on their schooner by the mid 19th century. Big iron pots were set up in a brick stove with fire beneath the pots. As oil was rendered from the blubber, it was then cooled, put into wooden casks, and stored in the ship’s hold below deck. Typically, one barrel equaled 31-1/2 gallons. Once on shore, this oil would be strained, bleached, and sold as lamp oil.
With little of the carcass going to waste, the head of the whale was prized for it contained oil more valuable than the blubber. The top of the whale’s head held the purest oil called spermaceti, up to 500 gallons, and worth 3 to 5 times more than any other whale oil. The lower half of the forehead contained additional oil which was boiled separately; it was less valuable than spermaceti, but still superior to the oil rendered from blubber. The jaw and teeth were also saved and used by the crew to carve beautiful and delicate scrimshaw in their spare time.
But, processing the dead whale was virtually as dangerous as the hunt had been. As the men worked, there was no way to avoid getting blood and oil on the wooden deck. And, occasionally, someone slipped and fell overboard into the jaws of those ravenous sharks in the roiling waters below. Other crewmembers might be crushed by the huge strips of heavy blubber, or injured by sharp harvesting tools. At times, boisterous waves caused the ship to toss back and forth, sloshing boiling oil onto men, an injury they did not easily recover from, if at all. And, there was even the rare occasion when fire for the rendering process spread and destroyed part or all of the ship. Whaling was definitely not an easy job even for men at the peak of physical fitness.
Once each whale was processed and stored in barrels and casks below deck, the upper deck was scrubbed clean, and the men were back at their posts looking for the next whale. Soon enough, “Thar she blows!” was heard from another watchman, and the entire process began again. When the hold was filled to capacity, at times less so or even empty, the whaling schooner returned to home port for a respite. To more fully appreciate an in-depth experience of yesterday’s whalers, check out the New Bedford Whaling Museum website. The information and illustrations are impressive in explaining a way of life unknown to us today.
But, beyond all the hard work, the whaling ship and her hearty crew retained a certain stench, an odor that never seemed to dissipate. Simply put, whalers stunk! Even though the conscientious crew scrubbed their ship clean after each whale was processed, the malodorous aroma permeated everything. As the New Bedford Whaling Museum website noted, “It was said that a ship downwind could smell a whaleship coming.”
Again, while most whaling schooners remained at sea for many months at a time, some were out for a year or several years at a time. Not an arrangement exactly conducive to quality family life as we know it, theirs was simply an accepted way of life a few hundred years and more ago. Occasionally, rather than remain alone at home for months or years at a time, some women sailed aboard whaling schooners which were then called “hen frigates.” These women, alone or with children, were spouse of the captain or a crew member, and were also lookouts, cooks, and nurse to crew members who became ill or injured.
Obviously, the whaling schooner was a very welcome sight for many reasons as it sailed back into port after its time at sea. As we look back in the mirror of hindsight, we understand the valuable resource whales were to the world’s economy. But, we also realize the extent to which whales were decimated, and greatly appreciate those who began preservation efforts of these magnificent creatures of the sea.
Source information for this article and quotes, except as noted, and illustrations can be found at the New Bedford Whaling Museum website.
New Bedford Whaling Museum – Life Aboard a Whaling Ship
Hudson Valley Magazine, April 2012, by David Levine, “Hudson Valley Whaling Industry: A History of Claverack Landing (Hudson), NY.”
Columbia County Historical Society, Hudson River Whaling: (data and illustrations)
Wikipedia: History of Whaling in the U.S.
For pictures of the whaling industry, see “The Spectacular Rise and Fall of U.S. Whaling: An Innovation Story”, by Derek Thompson in The Atlantic:
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“Silent night, Holy night”. Christmas festivities in colonial America were in stark contrast to the celebrations and preparations of modern day. Christmas was celebrated by early settlers of Chemung and throughout the newly formed United States of America. New York was the 11th state to ratify the U.S. Constitution on July 26th, 1788, the same year the Town of Chemung was established. Although the celebrations would not have been as elaborate as those in the cities or of the wealthy, a modest celebration would have taken place. It has been noted in writings of how generous and extravagant George Washington was on Christmas to his family, guests and servants. The Christmas of 1788 found our Country without a President, it being run instead by the Confederation Congress.[ii] The election held for the First President of the United States of America actually ran from Monday, December 15, 1788, to Saturday, January 10, 1789. No doubt politics would have been a newsworthy item spoken around the dinner table. Whether or not the settlers in Chemung were given the opportunity to vote is not known.
Decorations would have been very simple by today’s standards. The German settlers most likely would have brought a small tree into their home. If they had the means to do so they might have adorned the tree with candles. New England Puritans preached against frivolity and the pagan heathen traditions of Christmas trees, Christmas carols and any joyful expression that desecrated “that sacred event.”[iii] Although there were hymns, Christmas Carols weren’t actually sung until the later part of the 19th century.
Fruit of any kind was too precious to be wasted on decorations. You would not have seen any apples or other fruit adorning the mantel. The home and church might have been adorned with what was called the "sticking of the Church" with green boughs on Christmas Eve. Garlands of holly, ivy, and mountain laurel were hung from the church roof, the walls, and perhaps the primitive church benches. Lavender, rose petals, and pungent herbs such as rosemary and bay were scattered throughout the churches, providing a pleasant holiday scent. Scented flowers and herbs were chosen partially because they were aromatic and thus were considered an alternative form of incense.[iv]
Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and Moravians celebrated the traditional Christmas season with both religious and secular observances in the Middle Atlantic colonies of New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, and in the South. However, the celebration of Christmas was outlawed in parts of New England by Calvinist Puritans and Protestants. [v]
By the 18th century, Santa Claus, St. Nicholas, Christkind or Kris Kringle might have made an appearance at Christmastime to leave a gift. Similar figures were a jolly elf named Jultomten, who was thought to deliver gifts in a sleigh drawn by goats and Father Christmas, Pere Noel, Babouschka and La Befana; depending on the nationality of the family home.[vi]
Although private celebrations would have been held in the confines of some of the first log cabins and frame homes in the town, it is possible that some of the families came together to celebrate with bible readings and prayers provided by family members. Little is known about the first church erected in the Town of Chemung. It sat on the bank of the Chemung River several miles from what is now “Chemung Proper” on the south side of the river. Travel to the church especially in the cold winter months would have been difficult. A ferry would have been needed to traverse the icy water in December. For those living on the south side of the river, their difficulties would have been to travel the rutted path with their families. At that early a time in the history of the town, there were few horses or oxen and little or no carts or wagons. Most settlers would have traveled by foot. It was here where “The beginning of Christian Organizations in Chemung and Neighboring Valleys” was organized. “The site of the first church of any denomination in Chemung Valley.” It was “organized September 2, 1789 by Roswell Goff, Pastor and William Buck, John Hillman, Peter Roberts, John Roberts, Jesse Locey, John VanCamp and Elizabeth Hillman. (All Baptists)”. (A monument, located ¼ mile from the site of the church can be seen today on the Wilawana Road, located approximately 2 miles east of Wellsburg at what is known today as the Tanner Farm.)
A small gathering met in worship, according to the early minutes of the Wellsburg Church. From this beginning, the Baptist Church grew, expanding to the building of a Meeting House in 1812 on land purchased by Abner Wells for 50 cents.[vii] The log cabin church and a cemetery were washed away in a flood. There are no remains today and no record of burials in the cemetery.
Traditions from various nationalities were brought with the early settlers from their homes in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Connecticut and other New England States and from their homes across the Atlantic. Many of the earliest settlers arrived between the years 1788 and 1791. Depending on when they began homesteading and growing crops, their harvest and winter supplies of food may have been lean for several years. If they had a roof over their head, a warm fireside and enough food to eat, along with the courage and fortitude to better their circumstances, they were wealthy in their own right. “All is Calm, All is Bright”.
Merry Christmas to All,
Mary Ellen Kunst
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Fall has finally arrived on Wipjibber Mountain, which means the boys of Troop 000 are back up and running after time off for summer vacation. The scouts are just back from their first camping trip for the 2018-2019 season and I’m told it was one for the history books.
In an effort to train for next Summer’s backpacking trip in the Allegheny Mountains, the scouts hiked from the Methodist Church to the property of their scoutmaster, Gary Inzo. It was fair weather for the 5 mile hike with an overnight stop in the woods near the old railway station.
The following morning they arrived at Inzo’s property and set up camp. The older scouts instructed their younger charges in the ways of woodcraft including cooking a meal over an open fire. I’m happy to report no injuries other than an incident in which Lawrence Hubschmidt got smoke in his eyes and recoiled, sending his pan full of half done fried potatoes flying through the air. As his spuds returned to earth, some landing in a fresh mug of coffee, just poured, Lawrence lost his balance and went rolling down the hillside, his scoutmaster following closely behind him. Lawrence was uninjured, thankfully, largely in part to the strength of the adult leaders who restrained said scoutmaster until a fresh cup of joe could be poured for him. The adults later remarked it was a good thing Inzo forgot about the shotgun he’d brought in case of a visit by a nuisance bear that’d been having around his place.
The scouts enjoyed a rousing game of “Flashlight Tag” in the wooded section of the property until the game took an interesting turn which will not be soon forgotten.
Bobby Joe Olson, being designated as the person who was”it”, heard what he suspected to be another scout in a nearby thicket. He snuck up on the unsuspecting boy aided only by the moonlight. He was nearly on his quarry when he heard a low, deep snuffling sound.
“B-B-B… BEAR!!!!” he bellowed, before stumbling over a tree root and falling backwards, losing his flashlight in the process.
Scoutmaster Inzo, seeing the opportunity to finally be rid of the bear, remembered he'd brought his 12 gauge and, grabbing it, sprinted up the hill towards the sound of Bobby Joe’s yelling. Arriving where the boy was still thrashing in the dry leaves trying to get to his feet he took aim at the thrashing weeds where he knew the bear stood, and let fly with two rounds of buckshot.
At the report of the old Remington, Bobby Joe snapped to his senses. He also snapped countless small trees and limbs as he bolted into the night towards camp.
Certain the bruin was down, Inzo went to his tent, fetching a lantern and returned with the rest of the group. All were anxious to see the monster which nearly ate their fellow scout. All that is except said scout who was occupied cleaning up the mess in his shorts.
Shining the lantern on his trophy, Inzo was immediately crestfallen to find not the bearskin rug he’d long desired, but Ollie, his grandson’s prize Hereford steer which until this weekend was bound for next year’s State Fair.
The remainder of the weekend was a somber affair as scoutmaster searched for ways to break the news of the steer’s demise to his grandson. But all agreed it was a weekend they’d never forget.
The Wipjibber Mountain Audubon Club will host a Pancake Breakfast at the fire department November 10th from 8-11 am. A free will donation is suggested.
Scout Troop 000 announced they will be postponing their annual Fall Spaghetti Dinner. Instead, there will be an “all you can eat” roast beef dinner held in the dining hall of the Methodist Church on Nov. 17th from 4-7pm. Cost is $10 for those 12 and up, children $5. All proceeds will go towards the troops newly planned Summer trip to New York City.
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Without a doubt, we’re heading into some exciting times here in Chemung County. With the slate of candidates running for election this year, voters have the opportunity to enact change that could impact the county for decades to come.
It’s exciting times for ElmiraTelegram.com as well. Not only has the site stepped forward to offer the chance for voters to voice their support for the candidates, but the opportunity for the candidates to reach out to the voters as well.
Additionally, it’s a time of change for the website as a whole. Prompted by several people in our community and the void expressed by many, ElmiraTelegram.com will be making some major changes to the website in the next few weeks.
Starting shortly after the election, ElmiraTelegram.com will be getting a major facelift, offering a more user friendly, professional looking website.
Just a peek!
The changes won’t be just cosmetic however. We’ll be making it easier for readers and community figures to make their voices heard with an expanded “Opinion” section, modeled off of the traditional op-ed pages found in newspapers across the nation.
E.T will have a Special Features section appearing throughout the year including a section to celebrate the holidays.
And for those who enjoy the laid back chat, the the forums will remain available to those who have signed up.
Best of all, ElmiraTelegram.com will remain free to the public. No firewalls, no pop up, just news and information.
This change has been something I’ve wanted to try for a long time, and now feels like the right time to give it a whirl.The original plan was to make the changes to coincide with the site’s five year anniversary, but there’s no way I can wait that long.
So stay tuned and sometime after Election Day we’ll pull back the covers and unveil the new and improved ElmiraTelegram.com. I think you’re gonna like it!
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by Erin Doane
The Lake Street Bridge closed to vehicular and pedestrian traffic in March 2011. I started working here at CCHS in May 2011, so I never had the chance to go over the bridge that is just across the street from the museum. It was announced recently that work would start next summer to repair the bridge and open it to pedestrians. This is just the newest chapter in the history of this river crossing.
The first bridge across the Chemung River in Elmira was completed at the foot of Lake Street in 1824. Before that, one needed a ferry to cross the river. The wooden bridge was constructed by the Elmira and Southport Bridge Company. It had three piers, one in the center of each channel and another on the island in the middle of the river. Some years after it was built, the spans began to sag considerably. Once, a drove of cattle crossing the bridge, broke through the first span during high water and timbers and cows went floating down the river. In 1840, the bridge was badly damaged in the “great fire” of that year. A new covered bridge was erected on the spot with J.H. Gallagher supervising construction.
The covered bridge burned in 1850 when the tannery at its south end caught fire. It was replaced by a wooden truss structure. This new bridge was open at the top except for some crossing timbers. This allowed the snow to fall through onto the roadway during the winter so that sleighs could more easily cross. A considerable part of this bridge was washed away during the St. Patrick’s Day flood of 1865. The bridge’s only stone pier was undermined and most of the southern span dropped out and washed down the river. The bridge was repaired and remained in used until 1869.
By 1869, there were two bridges over the Chemung, at Lake Street and Main Street. Both were toll bridges. Businessmen on the north side of the river did not like that people had to pay tolls to cross. Customers from the plank road district and other parts of Southport were reluctant to cross the bridge to do businesses. Farmers didn’t want to pay a toll to sell their produce so they went south to Troy, Pennsylvania instead of to Elmira.
Early in 1869, the city passed a legislative act authorizing it to purchase both bridges for $25,000 (around $460,000 today). They dropped the tolls and used taxpayer funds to maintain the structures. Three years later, another act was passed authorizing the building of new bridges at both locations. The Main Street bridge was replaced first, then the Lake Street bridge was completed in 1874. The new Lake Street bridge was made of iron with three spans of 182 feet each and trusses that were 26 feet high. The piers were made of limestone. It cost $65,000 (about $1.4 million).
The Lake Street bridge was replaced again by a new steel bridge in 1905. While the work was being done, a temporary wooden pedestrian bridge was erected next to it so that people could still move across the river.
In June, 1959, City Manager Angus T. Johnson reported to the Elmira City Council that the Lake Street bridge was in desperate need of repair. The bridge supports were weakened, the metal fixtures were corroded, and rivets were missing from some joints. Salt used on the roads during the winter caused much of the deterioration. The Council closed the bridge to both all traffic and plans were made to replace the structure.
On June 21, 1961, between 1,200 and 1,500 Elmirans gathered in the rain for the official opening of the new Lake Street bridge. The bridge had been closed for two years but construction had finished two weeks ahead of schedule. The cost of demolition of the old bridge and construction of the new was $473,270 (just under $4 million today).
In 1972, flood waters rose all the way to the bridge’s deck but it survived largely unscathed. Eleven years later, in 1983, it was closed for two months while new expansion joints were installed, the structural steel was scraped and repainted, and the roadway was resurfaced with a new membrane liner to help preserved the concrete deck.
Regular maintenance was not enough to keep the bridge from deteriorating. Winters can be hard here in the northeast and, despite yearly washing, salt used to treat the roads damaged the bridge’s concrete supports and rubber expansion joints. In March 2011, the Lake Street bridge was declared unsafe and closed to vehicles and pedestrians. At the time, it had the lowest traffic count of all the city’s five bridges over the Chemung River. As early as May 2011, there were reports that the bridge would be repaired for pedestrian use only. Next summer, some eight years later, the project may finally get underway.
Erin Doane is the curator at the Chemung County Historical Society. To see more of their blog, go to http://chemungcountyhistoricalsociety.blogspot.com
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I’ve been a member of the Senate Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction since 2014. The task force was established at a time when local police departments and addiction centers, including many across the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions, were pointing to the alarming rise in the availability and abuse of heroin and opioids.
Since its formation, this crisis has only accelerated and deepened.
Significant resources have been committed to examining the myriad causes and effects, and to find solutions. State funding, for instance, has doubled to nearly $250 million in this year’s budget.
Nevertheless, the work of responding is just beginning.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), “Every day, more than 115 Americans die after overdosing on opioids.”
The federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) pegs the economic cost of prescription opioid abuse at nearly $79 billion annually in the United States, “including the costs of healthcare, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice involvement.”
A report earlier this year from the Albany-based Rockefeller Institute of Government made this summary, “We found that drug deaths continue to surge in New York State. In one year, from 2015 to 2016, drug deaths increased 29 percent — from 3,009 total deaths to 3,894. In fact, it was the single largest annual increase in the number of deaths we examined going back to 2010. Overall…from 2010-16 there has been a 121 percent increase in the number of deaths in New York State.”
That’s just a small sampling of the impact. It does not even begin to tell the personal, family stories of loss.
Consequently, last week, our Senate task force released our latest, comprehensive report detailing a series of recommendations for ongoing state-level actions to address the burgeoning addiction crisis affecting communities. The report follows and continues to build on the series of public forums the task force has held across the state since 2014, including forums I have sponsored in Elmira and Penn Yan.
What the Senate task force has heard directly from the local front lines in fighting this heroin and opioid crisis is the foundation we are building on. This local input, which has been reflected in actions New York State has taken over the past several years, helps target the necessary responses and keep our strategies as up to date as possible.
Local input has been the driving force behind the recommendations we’re now putting forth to build on and strengthen the state-local partnership that's going to remain critical to putting in place the most effective combination of law enforcement, awareness and education, and treatment and prevention.
We need to keep acting and keep working, and we will. The report details the task force’s emphasis on a four-pronged response focusing on prevention, treatment, recovery, and enforcement. Among many other actions highlighted in the new report, legislation spearheaded by the task force has served as a national model for other states and in the creation of the federal Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment (SUPPORT) for Patients and Communities Act recently approved by Congress.
The report’s 11 recommendations emphasize a plan to utilize public and private resources to help underserved populations and others without access to treatment, as well as improve existing support systems to keep enhancing and strengthening New York’s evolving fight against opioid abuse.
The full report, which includes more information on the recommendations and details about numerous legislative actions spearheaded by the Senate Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction, is available on my Senate website, omara.nysenate.gov.
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The turkeys are back!! About two dozen are now scratching up all the vegetation below the bird feeders. Crisp leaves rustle like taffeta under their feet. Young turkeys in the dog pen provide some wild entertainment when Freckles decides he must go out. The birds race round and round, forgetting they can fly, and then suddenly they remember and soar over the fence with pounding wings and squawks of protest. Then we let the dog off his leash and he barks after them.
As the leaves continue to reluctantly fall, the catalogs have been pouring into our mail box; pages and pages full of Halloween, Thanksgiving & Christmas decorations and gift ideas. My mind boggles at the plethora of STUFF ----- I am amazed that anyone would spend money on some of these items. But then I remind myself that taste is surely subjective and what’s attractive, humorous or meaningful to one may not be equally so to another; I do not have a franchise on what is appropriate in décor, lawn ornaments or possessions.
Recently, we had visitors from Uganda --- a pastor and his wife --- and suddenly I looked at our house as they might see it. I was struck by the thought that they could well find all my stuff over-the-top too much in the spiritual value system that we share. Everyone’s culture is as different as everyone’s taste. Rethinking our living conditions and our possessions is probably a useful activity now and then. It’s so easy to accumulate, collect, and amass thoughtlessly.
Anyone who has visited our home knows that I’m definitely not a minimalist (you can all stop laughing now!). Each corner, the walls and all the shelves are full. I surround myself with items that are meaningful to me or beautiful in my eyes, from shells and stones to cut glass and silver tea pots. I like French provincial chairs and velvet pillows, homespun blankets and brass warming pans. But I can also appreciate homes that are quite different; I admire the sleek glass and steel rooms with splashy Georgia O’Keefe paintings and luxurious fur throws. I like the classic Arts and Crafts designs; Roycroft and Stickley. Then there’s the Adirondack-style décor all pine cones and Pendleton blankets. If I could decorate houses for a living, I’d be on cloud nine until my energy ran out. On the other end, I probably would live in a wilderness cabin quite happily if I had my own pillow and tea cup. I guess my point is that no one should feel a need to copy anyone else’s style – in homes, clothes or living. We are each unique and, hopefully, are able to embrace that. Alexandra Stoddard says: “Let the light that shines brightly inside you become the energy that guides the energy of your home.” * Now when any of my family lift their eyebrows at the multiplicity of my things ---- I’ll just respond that everything from the china and glass to the stacks of books, provide energy for my days------ but that I’m also trying to hold my possessions lightly.
In another three days, it will be Halloween. (And in thirteen days I hope you and all your friends, relatives and neighbors will be out to vote!!) We’ve harvested our few pumpkins for the steps and brought out the broom corn. These signs of autumn will remain until after Thanksgiving. My small concession to actual Halloween decorating, are three orange pails with cut-out faces, through which candles shine, and we do usually carve a pumpkin or two. I forgo the skeletons, ghouls, bats and spiders. They are a bit macabre for my taste.
Halloween began as the Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced Sah-ween). This was a harvest celebration and the beginning of the Celtic New Year, but also a time when it was thought that spirits could come back; to vent their displeasure on those they felt had wronged them in this life. The lighted pumpkins and gourds were carried to protect individuals from the unhappy spirits. Bon fires were set in and around villages to make more light for said protection. Samhain became our Halloween due to Pope Gregory the First. In 601 AD, Gregory ordered the missionaries of the Christian church: stop trying to stamp out the pagan customs and holidays. Instead, adapt the times already customary for celebration and rename them to fit the Christian faith. So --- Samhain became All-Saint’s Eve, All Saints Day, and colloquially Halloween.
When I was a teenager, we went trick or treating for UNICEF. Our sons seldom went out unless they were visiting someone who did. However, we had several Halloween parties at home, where we and assorted friends constructed mazes, bobbed for apples, did skits and dressed in costumes. Back when I sewed more, I made Super Man, Bat Man and other heroic costumes that after Halloween, became pajamas or went into the dress-up box. Our house in the Catskills was a marvelous site for Halloween parties. It had a split-level attic, the upper part of which was all gabled. We set up mazes there with recorded ghostly music and props like cooked spaghetti and peeled grapes. It was great fun. Currently, since we live back from the road and away from the village, we seldom get any little voices calling: “trick or treat”. However I find that it is sufficiently good to consider the All-Saints aspect of October 31st and November 1st. Enough of my family and friends have gone beyond earth’s tether that I like remembering and celebrating them.
One of my current autumn activities is making potpourri – of two or three sorts. My favorite happens to be a basil, sage and marigold combination. This wouldn’t appeal to everyone --- including the men in my family who think that herbs are generally stinky. But that pungent aroma brings back all the greenness and robustness of summer vegetable gardens. I put phlox flowers and alyssum into another mix, creating a comfort-giving scent that triggers thoughts of warm conversations around my mother’s table accompanied by cocoa and molasses cookies.
Diane Ackerman**, a local, but internationally-known writer, speaks at some length about fragrances and our sense of smell, in her book, A Natural History of the Senses. Diane is a biologist, professor and poet; a woman of many interests. This is what she says about our sense of smell: “Smells spur memories, but they also rouse our dozy senses, pamper and indulge us, help define our self-image, stir the cauldron of our seductiveness, warn us of danger, lead us into temptation, fan our religious fervor, accompany us to heaven, wed us to fashion, steep us in luxury.” And she goes on to discuss perfumes, plants, animals and humans ---- our olfactory capabilities ----- and tells us what happens when the sense of smell leaves us --- we lose our sense of taste among other difficulties. Odors are often hard to describe, but we can conjure them up in our memories if we concentrate. Helen Keller*** said: “Smell is a potent wizard that transports us across a thousand miles and all the years we have lived.” I’m not fond of most commercial potpourris and some perfumes actually give me a head ache. But my home-made potpourri keeps me happy all through the long, NYS winters.
Because Halloween is imminent, I conclude with this poem by Harry Behn**** to bring back your Halloween memories. “Tonight is the night when dead leaves fly like witches on switches across the sky, when elf and sprite flit through the night on a moony sheen. Tonight is the night when leaves make a sound like a gnome in his home under the ground, when spooks and trolls creep out of holes mossy and green. Tonight is the night when pumpkins stare through sheaves and leaves everywhere, when ghoul and ghost and goblin host dance ‘round their queen. It’s Halloween!”
I hope this carries blessings and fragrant breezes wafting across your life this October time.
Carol may be reached at: email@example.com.
*-Alexandra Stoddard—American writer and life-style guru.
**-Diane Ackerman – American writer, essayist, biologist and poet; born 1948, resides in Ithaca, NY.
***-Helen Keller – American author, activist, lecturer; first person to achieve a BA degree who was both blind and deaf. Quote from “The World I Live In”.
****- Harry Behn – American screen writer; 1898-1973
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The Chemung County Matters blog exists to help promote discussions about local issues. The views expressed by guest bloggers do not necessarily reflect my own, but are rather shared here in order to provide information and hopefully stimulate ideas.
Last night the Chemung County Legislature voted 14-2 in favor of a new sales tax plan, with only Peggy Woodard (District 8) and Rodney Strange (District 15) voting no.
The old plan has been under intense scrutiny since it was passed in 2013 for taking resources from the towns, villages and City of Elmira, causing many of them to suffer fiscal hardships.
Numerous candidates for local office have strenuously advocated for a change in the way sales tax monies are allocated between the county and its municipalities, something that is undoubtedly part of the decision of county leaders to change course.
However, the new plan has many problems as well.
Prior to the vote, I offered comments to the sitting legislature about new plan as it relates to the towns and villages. I intend to describe my position in a subsequent post within the next day or so.
John Burin, a former manager of the City of Elmira and current candidate for legislature in the 9th District, offered comments about the new plans as it relates to the city. A copy of his statement is shown below.Quote
October 9, 2018
On September 24, 2018 I mailed each of you a letter with supporting documentation asking that you table this proposed plan to revise the reallocation of sales tax. I also referenced a process by which the 2019 county budget and budget message could move forward without the revised plan being in place. In my op ed on September 23, 2018, I pointed out in three months, newly elected officials should have the right to vote on this multi-year funding program.
I fully support a plan to reallocate sales tax revenue however, I believe the plan should be based on more than fund balances and debt. For example, the County apportionment of real property taxes creates an unintentional double taxation for certain services. These inequities, which are common to most of the towns/villages in varying degree, should be taken into consideration with the allocation of sales tax dollars. Additionally, from 2013 to 2018 Chemung County expenses increased $15 million dollars. During this same time period five county budgets were passed with deficits that required $10.5 million dollars of fund balance to close the gap. Future estimates of county revenues and expenses should be projected showing the impact of a sales tax reallocation plan.
In order for our county to realize desired social/economic growth, we must work together for a common cause. It was in this spirit that the City of Elmira allowed it’s Empire Zone Benefits to be used outside the City. The City’s willingness to share its zone in early 2000 produced economic benefits we still enjoy today and will continue to enjoy into the future.
According to the Chemung County Industrial Agency report, Project Information, December 31, 2009 the City of Elmira Empire Zone;
*Leveraged over $700 Million of private investment.
*Generated new property tax revenue for the County in excess of $900,000 and $1.7 million local and school tax revenue. Each year as property tax exemptions expire, the real property tax revenue increases and therefore current tax revenue is significantly greater.
*The City’s zone created 4,500 jobs and retained 10,000 jobs.
*14,500 jobs with an average salary of $20,000 generated $290 Million of payroll.
*$290 Million of payroll generates millions of sales tax dollars.
This is a billion dollar infusion of economic benefits. If not for the City of Elmira sharing its Empire Zone, Chemung County finances would be quite different today.
In June 2016, the New York State Financial Restructuring Board commented on the City of Elmira’s Bond Rating. “Prior to June 2015, the City had a bond rating of A2 with a negative outlook from Moody’s. On June 1st, 2015, Moody’s released a new rating for the City’s General Obligation bonds and lowered the rating by five notices – to Ba1 with a sustained negative outlook. This is non-investment grade (junk bond) rating from Moody’s.”
The reasons Moody’s cited for this severe reduction in the City’s credit rating are:
*Significant loss of revenue from the County sales tax sharing agreement;
*Health insurance overruns;
*Recurring general fund deficits
Moody’s will view new development positively however this plan that defers City debt will most likely not improve the City’s poor investment grade of bonds. The mixed use $14,000,000 development project in Elmira was granted a twenty year payment in lieu of tax agreement with the first four years being 100% exempt, after eleven years the project will pay 30% and in year twenty 60%. Property tax revenue from the affordable housing projects are restricted by law and proposed private developments have been given multi-year tax exemptions. It is for these reasons additional sales tax revenue to the City should be a part of tonight’s plan. Even if the revenue is restricted as to use, Moody’s may look favorably at a slight upgrade.
Sound business practice would suggest that this proposed sales tax allocation is deficient of solid reasoning for the suggested allocations. Over the next three months, a cohesive legislature working together should develop a plan that addresses the needs of the community keeping in mind the future needs of county government as well as the social and economic challenges inherent with high poverty levels, effective tax rates that stagnate real estate values and the ever increasing cost of providing efficient public safety services.
The plan before you tonight falls short in capturing these community needs. Lets take a step back, analyze the financial impact of what is being proposed and compare those findings to the needs of our community.
John J. Burin