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More stories in the statute books

It was, there can be no doubt, a major feat in civil engineering for its time.

StormKingRunning along the Hudson River in the highlands of Storm King Mountain, the Storm King Highway — a roughly three-mile-long segment of road between the towns of Cornwall-on-Hudson and Highlands in Orange County, New York — wasn’t an easy build.

First of all, it was expensive: the 1913 plan for the highway ran to more than the New York Highway Commission had available. Just to lay out the route for the highway, “surveyors sometimes had to rappel down the mountain’s cliffs to mark the route.” The first contractor chosen to build it went belly-up in a bankruptcy; the second one ran into labor troubles when all the available workmen went off into World War I.1

But when the highway was finally opened to vehicular traffic in 1922, it dramatically shortened the driving distances for residents of the area, and particularly those who worked at the United States Military Academy. And the achievement stood the test of time well enough that the Storm King Highway was “added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982 in recognition of its accomplishment in civil engineering.”2

Now that’s a neat little story — and one a genealogist might want to add to a family history if we had folks from those areas in the years leading up to and just after World War I.

But how would we know, today, that this was such a big deal for the people of that time and place?

You already know the answer.

Because you’ve been coming along with The Legal Genealogist this week on a trip through the laws of New York as we look to this Saturday’s spring seminar of the Orange County Genealogical Society at the Goshen United Methodist Church. (Come on out and join us!)

And, it turns out, that’s where you can find out that the town of Cornwall in Orange County was wildly enthusiastic about the opening of the highway — and wanted to celebrate in style. But it didn’t quite have the legal authority to spend money on that sort of thing. It had to go to the Legislature, and so, on the 11th of April 1922, with the approval of the Governor, a bill became law in New York:

The town board of the town of Cornwall, Orange county, at any regular or special meeting, may appropriate not more than five thousand dollars for the purpose of assisting in defraying the expense incident to the celebration in such town of the opening of the Hudson river highway, sometimes known as the Storm King highway, and sometimes known as route number three, from West Point to Cornwall. The money appropriated for such purpose shall be a town charge and shall be assessed, levied and collected the same as other town expenses, and shall be expended under the direction of the town board.3

Of course, there’s more to the story. And doing nothing but reading the law books isn’t going to tell the whole tale.

As would any good genealogist, we’d go to other sources for the whole picture, including the newspapers of the day.

That’s where, for example, we’d find out about the addition of lands to the Palisades Interstate Park of 800 acres along the highway by Dr. Ernest G. Stillman that same year — an act that “puts the Storm King Highway for that distance entirely within park lands.”4

And — sigh — it’s also where we’d find out that the opening didn’t quite go as planned:

Definite announcement has been made at Albany that the Storm King highway which was to have been opened for traffic this summer, will not be opened until next year. Because a contract for a piece of road connecting the new highway with the Cornwall road is to be let soon, it would be impossible for throngs attending the proposed opening celebration to even see the Storm King highway. There is no possible detour at that spot.

The 1922 legislature authorized the appropriation by Corwall of $5,000 to stage the opening celebration on July 4. Subsequently Cornwall, Newburgh and other communities developed a contest to see where the celebration should be staged. It had not been decided by the time the celebration was called off.5

Fortunately, that’s where we can also find out that it didn’t take quite as long as the Highway Department feared: on September 24th, the highway was finally opened to the public. The New York Times reported:

CORNWALL, N.Y., Sept. 24–For the first time since it was completed the new Storm King State Highway, which was blasted through the cliffs on the face of Storm King Mountain in Cornwall, was opened to the public today and hundreds of automobiles passed over it in a few hours.

The rush of automobilists who wished to ride over the fine boulevard on the opening day was so great that Chief of Police William Fee of the Palisades Interstate Park force assigned four patrolmen to regulate traffic.

The new highway, which took seven years to build and cost the State altogether $1,500,000, is regarded as a great feat of engineering. …6

It’s a fun story, for sure… and, of course, like most stories, not one that can be told only from the law books.

But this genealogist, for one, wouldn’t have known there was a story there at all without reading the law books.

Just sayin’ …


SOURCES

Image: Storm King Highway and the historic Hudson River (Newburgh, N.Y. : J. Ruben, 19??); digital images, Internet Archive (http://www.archive.org : accessed 27 Apr 2016).

  1. Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.com), “Storm King Highway,” rev. 22 Jan 2016.
  2. Ibid.
  3. An Act to authorize the town board of the town of Cornwall, Orange county, to make an appropriation for assisting in defraying the expense of the celebration in such town of the opening of the Hudson river highway, 11 April 1922, Chapter 554 in Laws of the State of New York, … 1922, Vols. I-II (Albany: State Printers, 1922), 1281; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 27 Apr 2016).
  4. “Gives 800 Acres to the Palisades,” New York Evening World, 27 July 1922, p.3, col. 1; digital images, Newspapers.com (http://www.newspapers.com : accessed 27 Apr 2016).
  5. “Storm King’s Fete Delayed,” Poughkeepsie (New York) Eagle-News, 17 June 1922, p. 5, col. 6; digital images, Newspapers.com (http://www.newspapers.com : accessed 27 Apr 2016).
  6. “Storm King Highway Open,” The New York Times, 25 September 1922, p. 14, col. 7; digital images, Newspapers.com (http://www.newspapers.com : accessed 27 Apr 2016).
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