Lauren R. Stevens: Hoosic's history



The Hoosic River didn't sit for a portrait by the Works Progress Administration's Rivers of America series, as did the Housatonic, by Chard Powers Smith (1946), or the Hudson, by Carl Lamson Carmer (1936).

Grace Greylock Niles published "The Hoosac Valley: Its Legends and History," in 1912 which, while charming, doesn't always differentiate between fact and fiction. So maybe, a century later, it's time again to write a history of the Hoosic, which turns out to be one mighty interesting river.

For instance, did you know that the Hoosac Valley from Cheshire to North Pownal was underneath glacial Lake Bascom for some 800 years? That the valley is more forested now, 71 percent, than it has been for nearly 200 years? That with the return of the trees has come the return of large animals, like beaver and deer, which were virtually hunted out of existence here 100 years ago? That the Hoosic joins the Hudson at Lock 4 of the Champlain Canal?

Did you know that the entire valley was inhabited by Mahicans when European settlers arrived? That the Dutch, French and British fought over this area's beaver, which were fashioned into hats in Europe? That Fort Massachusetts, in North Adams, briefly belonged to the French? That James Fenimore Cooper apparently confused the Mahicans with the Mohegans, an eastern Connecticut tribe? Uncas, his "last of the Mohicans," was actually a Mohegan prince (hence the Mohegan Sun at Uncasville). That the Van Rensselear family bought one million acres along the Hudson from the Mahicans?

That if you lived in New York, you were a sharecropper, unless you were the patroon, whereas New England residents owned their land? Did you know that the Green Mountain Boys originally formed to fight the New Yorkers, not the British? That Ethan Allen was a land speculator who lived in Connecticut, not Vermont?

That the Battle of Bennington was fought in Walloomsac, New York? That that battle was the first win for the Americans in the Revolutionary War and crucial to their stunning victory at Saratoga? That the Stockbridge, mostly Mahicans, were one of a few tribes to fight on the American side in the Revolutionary War?

Did you know that valley farmers, assisted by slaves, grew wheat? That the Hoosic River once powered an enormous amount of textile manufacturing from Cheshire to the Hudson? That what was once the world's largest manufacturer of farming implements was located in Hoosick Falls? That the nation's largest manufacturer of capacitors was located in North Adams? That the valley was once served by 170 miles of trolley lines? That the inventor of alternating current experimented on a transmission line from Schaghticoke to Schenectady?

Did you know that the Hoosic River is navigable except for flood chutes and dams? That except for a section in Hoosick Falls, the river is classified as fishable and swimmable, although impaired by some biological contamination and by PCBs downstream of North Adams? That the upper reaches of the river are a cold water fishery in which trout reproduce? That the river is cleaner than it has been since the Industrial Revolution?

Further information is available at, where comments on the start of a Hoosac Valley history are welcome. At least, that's how it looks from the White Oaks.

A writer and environmentalist, Lauren R. Stevens is a regular Eagle contributor.


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