NY-19 About a Small Town


The Sports Fan’s Trail

The New York-19th has been represented by Congressman Chris Gibson since 2013 when he was redistricted from New York-20, where he was first elected in 2010.

Cities & Towns in the New York-19th include:

  • Oneonta
  • Monticello
  • Rhinebeck

It happens every time I see the movie. I start to choke up a little with the first “people will come Ray.” I start brushing a bit of moisture away from eyes during “for its money they have and peace they lack.” And then 765px-Babe_Ruth_Plaque_commonsJames Earl Jones nears the end of his soliloquy:

“The one constant through all the years Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an Army of Steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and it could be again.”

And  at this point I’m actively wiping tears from my cheeks. I am not ashamed of this and although the acting is quite good and Field of Dreams a great story, I don’t think it’s the movie that elicits this reaction. It is that, at the risk of being overly dramatic, that I think our national sport has become a metaphor for America itself.

So, although I seriously doubt that I represent a true majority of sports fans in the USA, the Sports Fan’s Trail for me, had to begin with baseball and it had to begin with the game’s history…in Cooperstown.

One Great Day in the New York-19th

A note about this section.  One day isn’t long enough to spend in any district – it’s not nearly long enough to really understand the place and everything that makes it unique. But time for both real and virtual expeditions is often limited so I’ve chosen a day to try to encapsulate what the district is like. If you go…and have longer to spend, you should.

Furthermore, these are just the things my family and I would find interesting, many of which I’ve never been to – you probably would find and suggest others. Let us know where it says Leave a Reply at the bottom of the page or better yet,  drop us a line if you’d like to write a guest post about any district. 

8 am:

Caneoing in Grafton Lake State Park

Because the Sports Fans Trail will be headed west from here, our great day in the sprawling New York 19th begins in the eastern side of the district and the state. As you will read below, my family has a long history with this region – more than any other place, it is where we are from. So we’ll begin the day at Grafton Lakes State Park .

The little village of Grafton, New York sits about halfway between Bennington, Vermont and Troy, New York. If those reference points leave you lacking, it is about 150 miles north of New York City. You can read a little more about the town in the next section and a lot more in a book referenced there, but for now, it is a little town, unremarkable in the same way as dozens of other little towns like it spread across the rural New York-19. “Don’t blink or you’ll miss it,” might aptly be said about 21st century Grafton.

But the town is home to a lovely park. Opened in 1971, Grafton Lakes State Park sits on 2,500 acres including a tract that had been in my family. It includes six ponds. Long Pond is the largest and has a very nice sandy beach but in my recollection, it was the colder and clearer Shaver Pond that was the favorite for swimming in my family. People fish all the ponds for multiple species including Trout, Pickerel, Perch and Bass and there are 25 miles of hiking and biking trails.

On this short stay we would head for the Granville Hicks trail – a nice little jaunt into Shaver Pond more or less along a path I think used to be informally known as King Henry’s Highway, named after our family friend Henry M. Christman who helped my grandfather cut the original trail. At one end of it in a long stand of towering pine trees my grandfather planted, are the gravesites of both men in a family burial plot that now includes my parents. It is a beautiful spot and although obviously personal, I couldn’t write about this place without writing about it.

11 am:

About 90 miles south of Grafton in the village of Hyde Park is the Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site. The Springwood Estate, which was the lifelong home of the four-term President, also now includes FDR’s Presidential Library, which was the first of its kind.

The area is also home to two other significant historic estates. The Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site at the house she called Val-Kill is the only historic site dedicated to a first lady. It was here that Mrs. Roosevelt spent most of the years after FDR’s death in 1945. A bit further up the river is the Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site is a well-preserved example of the country estates of industrialists like the Vanderbilts in the Gilded-Age.

The stop would be short since it would take about 2.5 hours through the Catskills to reach Cooperstown, but the guided tour, which is the only option to see the FDR home, lasts about an hour and we will do that 1280px-National_Baseball_Hall_of_Fame_and_Museumand check out as much as we can of the Presidential Library and Museum before heading northwest.

 3 pm:

It is strange, given a long preoccupation of mine with baseball and relative proximity to several places I’ve lived, that I’ve only been to “The Hall” once. I went for a few hours during the 1991 Excellent Adventure trip and remember it as being a place I could happily spend days. If you can – plan on at least a few hours.

I grew up wanting to be a baseball sportscaster and chose Syracuse University because it was well known for providing a gateway to that business (several of my college classmates are well-recognized sports broadcasters.) Thus, I’d want to spend some time in the section of the Museum devoted to “Scribes and Mikemen.” I would also head to a section on the 3rd floor titled Sacred Ground, which commemorates the ballpark cathedrals  of baseball’s past.  The place is magic, though, there is truly something for everyone with at least the smallest passing interest in baseball.


 6 pm:

A couple of miles north of Cooperstown we will wrap up a great day in the New York-19th at Blue Mingo Grill on the shores of Lake Otsego. The place bills itself as Creative Grill Cuisine and its website tells the story that the genesis of the restaurant is outdoor cooking, originally practiced at a weekend cabin in the woods without electricity. I love grilled food and cooking outside so entrees like grilled Filet Medallions and Black Florida Grouper served lakeside sound pretty good to me.

More Days?  – More Things to See and Know in the New York-19th

What Matters Here?


I stopped at an upscale grocery store/farmers market in the Berkshires a couple of years back and came across a sign that caught my eye. “Famous Berlin tomatoes,” or something like that. Around the sign were scattered several different varieties of lovely greenhouse grown tomatoes and I thought, well maybe this is it?

69 years ago my grandfather, Granville Hicks, wrote a book titled Small Town. It was a bit of a departure for a man who had spent most of the previous three decades writing about political ideology – mostly the selling points, then eventually shortcomings of the Communist Party. Small Town was as the name implies, about life in a small town. Specifically, the book is about the small town of Grafton, New York, though it was known by its original name – Roxborough in the book.  If I had to sum it up I’d call it equal parts love story and lament.

Snyder's Bridge

photo from Web collection of Warren Broderick

Granville (my brothers and I always referred to these grandparents, through their encouragement, by their given names) certainly loved the little village in which he chose to live with his wife and daughter. But although I was too young to talk with him about it (he died when I was a teenager,) in reading the book and remembering snippets of conversations, I believe he loved Grafton in the eyes-wide-open kind of way that old married couples love each other.  He was a serious man and not, often anyway, given to flowery prose. But there were certainly many things about the town he loved and quite a few he did not. These are parts of the last two paragraphs of the book,

“I have learned to moderate the optimism that once was so strong in me. I think it wholly likely that attempts at peaceful organization of the world may fail, with either anarchy or tyranny as the outcome of the resulting wars for world hegemony. I think it probable that democratic social planning will come, if it comes at all, only after further experiments in totalitarianism. But just as I no longer believe in the inevitable progress of mankind onward and upward forever, or in the operation of a dialectical materialism that guarantees the safe arrival of the classless society, so I do not believe in irresistible forces making for either chaos or despotism.”

“As I write this, I think of the meeting of the board of fire commissioners that I must attend in a few hours. The outcome may be good or bad; all I can predict is that a considerable amount of time will be wasted in unnecessary talk. However, it appears to be my job as much as any man’s. I know the board would be in bad shape if all the members had my particular limitations, but there are contributions that a person with my background can sometimes make. So I shall go to the meeting, and no doubt I’ll be  bored, and perhaps I’ll be displeased with the outcome, but I may learn something and I may do something. As a matter of fact, I expect to enjoy parts of the evening, as I have enjoyed parts – and rather large parts – of the whole experience with which this book has dealt.”

Why all this about a little town on the edge of New York State 70 years ago? Two reasons I guess. One is that little town, and the neighboring town of Berlin, are where my parents met, grew up, fell in love and got married. I spent parts of many summers visiting Grafton when I was young and my family – my uncle Bill Craib and Aunt Phyllis, daughters and grandchildren all still live in Berlin. The other is – neither town has, to an outsider’s view anyway, changed a lot in those 70 years. There is some charm to that, of course. But there is also a peril that threatens the kinds of small towns that dominate the New York 19th district and much of post rural America. On the dust jacket of a 2004 reprinting of Small Town spearheaded by local historian Warren Broderick, is this excerpt from a forward written by the Pulitzer Prize winning author Ron Powers.

“Granville Hicks saw it coming. ‘Has any small town a future in this age of industrialism, urbanism and specialization?’ he asks in his classic work of 1946, which examined a town caught in the decline of small-scale society that even back then was well underway. Nearly 60 years of ‘future’ later, the balefulness of Hicks’s question seems sadly to have been enlarged, transmuted, and emphatically justified.”

Back to the tomatoes. The question I was asking myself as I looked at the brightly colored fruit that day was, Is this the future of Berlin and Grafton and the other towns like them and then, what kind of future will that be? It doesn’t seem bad, farms producing local food seems like a win in all kinds of ways from better scenery to better food. But although I found a few references to “Berlin’s Best” tomatoes on the Web, none looked particularly recent and I can’t help wondering, can a family sustain itself in this way – let alone other families in the community?  What if no one in the area can afford to buy these, undeniably better, local crops?

Hard questions I do not know the answers to, but I feel confident they represent a large part of what matters to this district and lots of others like it around the country…where will good jobs come from, and when.

Congressman Chris Gibson, though he will not run for reelection in 2016 (Gibson is said to be thinking about a run for Governor or the U.S. Senate in 2018) says on his website that job growth in the district has three keys: “driving down healthcare costs and expanding access,” lowering energy costs and enacting pro growth tax reform. “ Perhaps.

As noted in Finding America, Congress has been pushing for something better than the Affordable Care Act since the law was passed five years ago but relatively few specifics on how to do this in a meaningful way have surfaced and Congressman Gibson’s website seems more focused on the “repeal” vs “replace” side of that issue. However, Rep. Gibson has recently sponsored a bill aimed at helping expand the number of young people that take up careers as farmers. The Young Farmers Success Act of 2015 would help new and beginning farmers manage their student loan debt by adding them to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.

Congressman Gibson has also recently been lauded for an important distinction in an era of polarized politics. Finding America covered the state of partisanship in Congress at some length and just last month, the Lugar Center and Georgetown University added new data to the case showing that the last two congresses have been the least cooperative in decades. However, the organization also ranked each member of the 114th congress (which ended last year) on their ability to work across the aisle in a bipartisan way and Congressman Gibson ranked first among House members.

That’s a good start. Bipartisanship will not solve any of these issues by itself but it will be a necessary ingredient in helping any substantive solution to the decline of the small town become real.

Live in NY-19 or another district made up of Small Towns? What do you think?

 Next Up:

The Arts & Culture Trail continues in VA-10 on Tuesday.

The Sports Fan’s Trail rolls on next week in the NY-24


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