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  • Writer's pictureesopushistorymuseu

by: Heather Adams

Gaylord Nelson, Wisconsin politician, environmentalist and founder of Earth Day

On April 22, 1970, Vassar College students joined universities across the United States for a nationally publicized teach-in, being dubbed “Earth Day.” Vassar College would be hosting three days worth of education on the negative environmental impacts that the United States had been taking over the previous decades. Promoted by senator Gaylord Nelson and Congressman Paul McClosky, the first ever Earth Day teach-in at Vassar College was slated to include everything from documentaries on the Connecticut River to speakers on environmental policy. The Protect Your Environment chapter at Vassar College, invited students, staff, and local community members to attend the three day event, with the hope of garnering enough support in “relearning how to live” so as not to be “condemned to die.”(1)

In the decades leading up to April 22, 1970, consumerism in the United States was taking

over the lives of Americans while the natural world took the brunt of the negative consequences.

Peretz Partensky, General Electric Co. (GE) dredging PCBs on Hudson River (photo), May 12,2012,

It was not until the early 1960s that concern for living beings other than humans started to be seriously questioned; particularly after the release of the 1962 book Silent Spring by Rachel Carson.(2) In 1969, Wisconsin Senator, Gaylord Nelson, set out to begin a once in a lifetime achievement. Following the student mobilization in antiwar protests, Nelson sought to promote a similar “better way to live” campaign inspired by environmental change. So, in the fall of 1969 Nelson announced a nationwide teach-in on environmental policy to be held in the spring of 1970.(3) Poughkeepsie, New York’s Vassar College was one of over 1,500 universities nationwide that participated in the inaugural Earth Day celebration emphasizing the impact of consumerism on the local environment.

April 22, 2022 will be the fifty-second annual recognition of Gaylord Nelson’s Earth Day teach-in. Though now Earth Day is perhaps not celebrated by anything more than just making coffee filter paintings of Earth or a schoolwide tree dedication, the first ever Earth Day was quite significant in developing environmental policy. The United States saw the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency as well as the approval of several environmentally conscious bills after the massive turn out for the 1970 Earth Day teach-ins.(4) For the Hudson Valley, the

Earth Day Demonstration in Washington D.C., April 22, 1970

encouragement of Earth Day from universities like Vassar College, the historic United States region benefited from the funding provided by the– then new– Environmental Protection Agency. For several decades advocates of the Hudson River’s environmental protection have fought to get the level of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) down. The toxic chemical was dumped into the river between the years 1947 and 1977 by General Electric (GE) and wreaked havoc on the natural environment.(5) However as of 2019, reports of the decades-long efforts of the Environmental Protection Agency showed promising results of PCB levels on the decline. The improving health of the Hudson River is proof that even fifty-two years later, the environmental advocacy that was inspired by Nelson’s original Earth Day teach-ins still holds a significant role in the daily lives of Americans.


1. Charleen Kress, “Man Must Relearn to Live or Be Condemned to Die PYE & Earth Day at Vassar College,” The Miscellany 54, no. 19 (April 17, 1970): 6.
2. “History of Earth Day: The Origins of Earth Day,” Earth Day, accessed April 11, 2022,
3. Adam Rome. "The Genius of EARTH DAY," Environmental History 15, no. 2 (04, 2010): 194-205.
4. “History of Earth Day: The Idea for the First Earth Day,” Earth Day, accessed April 11, 2022,
5. “Hudson River PCB Dredging Project: Dredging is Working,” Hudson Dredging, accessed April 12, 2022,
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  • Writer's pictureesopushistorymuseu

Updated: Mar 30, 2022

by: Heather Adams

Figure SEQ Figure \* ARABIC 1: John Burroughs by George Clyde Fisher, 1918

Spring is an exciting time for the residents of the Hudson Valley. After months of snowy streets

and icy cars, the vernal equinox provides a glimpse at the budding days ahead. For centuries the beauty of the Hudson Valley has been admired by tourists, artists and writers alike; a noteworthy example of the latter is John Burroughs. Throughout his career as a naturalist, essayist and poet, Burroughs penned often about the environment around him. Though his poems were not seen as comparable to his contemporary, Walt Whitman, Burroughs’ poetry were often inspired by his appreciation for birds, plants and the natural world. So as we “hear the geese honking” and see that “the river ice is drifting'' let it be known that after a long winter, Burroughs’ idea of the “March glee” seems to finally be falling upon the region’s residents.(1)

In a writing cabin he called “Slabsides,” John Burroughs spent a significant amount of time being guided in inspiration for his essays and poetry. Born in 1837, the Catskills native purchased himself a nine-acre property in the Esopus, NY hamlet called West Park.(2) As he grew prominence through his naturalist essays, the property became a popular place to visit for other admirers of nature and intellectual contemporaries. Visitors such as Walt Whitman easily saw the beauty of

Figure 2: Slabsides, John Burroughs' cabin in West Park, NY. Photo by Wikipedia user [ Bikeable], 23-Oct-2005.

Burroughs’ Hudson Valley property; Whitman himself describing the place as “the handsome, roomy, honeysuckle-and-rose-embowered cottage of John Burroughs.”(3) Today, Hudson Valley tourists and nature enthusiasts have the opportunity to roam the same inspiring grounds as Burroughs. The John Burroughs Association established a 200-acre nature sanctuary on the parcel of land that presently still includes John Burroughs' writing studio, Slabsides.

When reading the works of John Burroughs, there is little doubting his musing of the Hudson Valley. In his poem, “March Glee,” Burroughs immortalizes the magic of springtime in the region. Residents of the area are sure to recall the honks of geese as the weather starts to break, the sweet smell of early blooms wafting in the air, and the swarm of life that cheerfully awakens from the snowmelt. Though it has been over a hundred years since John Burroughs passed away, his

Figure 3: John Burroughs Black Creek Trail by Michael Knutson,

writings of the Hudson Valley provide a connection to the past. The Hudson Valley’s natural beauty remains prominent in the memories of those that know it. While poetry is not always seen as a source of history, in the case of John Burroughs, he reflects on his world as he knew it. Reading his lyrical lines may spark a memory of the Hudson Valley within a person’s own personal history; because like it was for Burroughs, the natural beauty of the Hudson Valley is undeniable.


(1) John Burroughs, “March Glee” in Bird and Bough (Boston and New York: The Riverside Press, 1906), 10-11.
(2) “John Burroughs’ Slabsides, John Burroughs Association, accessed March 13, 2022,
(3) “Poetry of the Hudson River,” Vassar Archives and Special Collections Library, Paul Kane, accessed March 13,2022,

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Updated: Feb 25, 2022

by: Heather Adams

Old Revolutionary House & church photos by: David Longendyke

Sojourner Truth Portrait: credit below (6)


postcard of the tavern.. It has been said to be “part of” the Underground Railroad

As the Sunday morning sun reflected on the Hudson River, nineteenth century church goers made their way to one of the many places of worship in the Hudson Valley. The Low Dutch Church of Klyne Esopus opened its doors to anyone who wished to attend and eventually came to be known as the Klyne Esopus Dutch Reformed Church in Esopus, NY. However, as the white parishioners took their seats in the lower pews, the enslaved people who accompanied them were sent up the narrow stairs to sit in the gallery. Fascinatingly, one of the biggest voices of the abolition movement, Sojourner Truth, may have been brought to attend worship services at the Klyne Esopus Dutch Reformed Church by Martinus Scryver, one of the people who enslaved her. Known at the time as Isabella Baumfree, Sojourner Truth– had she gone with Scryver to the church– would have attended services in the original church building as the building that stands today was not built until 1827(1). It is unclear whether the first Klyne Esopus Dutch Reformed Church building had slave galleries, but often times slave galleries were small, cramped and stuffy. Unbeknownst to many present day Hudson Valley residents and tourists, these galleries still exist as some of the architectural evidence– along with segregated cemeteries such as the Pine Street African Burying Ground in Kingston, N.Y. and the Philipsburg Manor in Sleepy Hollow, NY among others– of the region’s history with slavery.

Then & Now... The old "Van Vliet" Homestead.. (Jug Tavern). Built ca.1767... Corner of River road & Broadway Port Ewen, N.Y.

As the breadbasket of the colonies, New York required an abundance of labor that it did not readily have. To overcome the inconvenience of labor shortages, slavery became paramount in keeping up with agricultural demand. By 1790, the federal census record showed that New York held the most populous slave society north of Virginia(2). The hierarchal structure of slave holding societies extended beyond the fields and into religious institutions. The Dutch Reformed Churches of New York were no exception to this rule. Throughout most of the eighteenth century enslaved people were not allowed to hold full church memberships. What membership allowances enslaved people had, varied from church to church. However a partial membership often meant that slaves were allowed to attend regular worship ceremonies but they had to be seated in a separate gallery and may not be permitted to receive communion or to get baptized. Baptizing slaves frightened slave holders because a baptized slave might use their Christian status to argue their freedom(3). While keeping enslaved people as partial church members in tiny, stuffy galleries, New York State legally allowed people to hold slaves until 1827(4).

Architecture, when used as a tool in historic research, can be of great value to the historian. For instance, throughout the Hudson Valley there are historic buildings that have design features that tell the secrets of the area’s history with enslavement. The Klyne Esopus Historical Society Museum has evidence that suggests that while enslaved to Martinus Schryver, Sojourner Truth attended worship ceremonies at the former Klyne Esopus Dutch Reformed Church. While the Hudson Valley likes to hold great pride in the birthplace of one of the abolition movement’s most influential people, it is important to remember that Sojourner Truth was not always seated on a pedestal. For nearly

thirty years, Truth was likely sitting in a tiny, stuffy gallery at the top of a narrow staircase, until her freedom was bought in 1826(5).

Truth may be one of the Hudson Valley’s more well known formerly enslaved people, but she was by no means the only. Census records reveal that in 1790, there were 2,914 enslaved people in Ulster County representing 9.9% of the total population. Most of those landowners who included enslaved people among their property generally held one or two. Those who held ten or more enslaved people, although rare, were considered large slave-holders for the area. This indicates that enslaved people existed throughout society prior to the end of Slavery in New York State. They worked in mills and fields, homes and taverns. They were blacksmiths, millers and coopers. Wherever work needed to be done, an enslaved person could be found. Through evidence– such as architecture– around the Hudson Valley, there are physical reminders that this beautiful area is not immune to ugly realities.


(1) “Timeline,” Klyne Esopus Historical Society Museum, accessed February 18, 2022,
(2) Michael E. Groth, Slavery and Freedom in the Mid-Hudson Valley (Albany: SUNY Press, 2017), 4-5.
(3) Roger Panetta, ed., Dutch New York: The Roots of Hudson Valley Culture (Yonkers, NY: Hudson River Museum/ Fordham University Press, 2009), 46-48.
(4) “When did Slavery End in New York,” Historical Society of the New York Courts, Craig A. Landy, accessed February 13, 2022,
(5) “Timeline of Sojourner Truth,” Biography, accessed February 13, 2022,
(6) Sojourner Truth. "I sell the shadow to support the substance." United States Michigan, 1864. Sojourner Truth, Eastern District, Michigan. Photograph.

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