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Column for 11.2.11
Standing alone there on a recent weekday morning, I was thinking that the place was remarkably unchanged from when General Nicolas Herkimer lived here and died here. That was in 1777.
The house is brick, has a Georgian-style and dates back to 1764. The planks used for the floor are wide and rough. The nails have square heads. There are big fireplaces. The nicest room in the house is the parlor, which has one of those big fireplaces and a bed. A bed in the parlor is the way it was here in 1777. The wallpaper has mostly worn away, but the house is in excellent condition, remarkable given its age.
The surrounding land includes a cemetery, where the good general is buried; a garden, exactly where it was back in his day; and a large root cellar, where many of those home grown vegetables were stored.
At one time, this place where I was standing was the edge of the frontier. Anyone traveling past Herkimer’s house would be heading into wild and mostly unchartered territory. Today, the house is just off the busy New York State Thruway, a short walk from Exit 29-A. Little Falls is just a couple of miles down Route 169, which passes by the entrance to the property, land now owned by New York State, which has designated Herkimer Home, a state historic site.
Many things in Herkimer County, including, of course, the very name of the county, are named in honor of General Herkimer, a courageous Revolutionary War hero. It was General Herkimer who led troops west from here in 1777 to bring aid and comfort to Fort Stanwix, present day Rome, which was under siege by British loyalists and their Iroquois allies.
It was crucial that Fort Stanwix be saved. Had the fort fallen, the Revolutionary War might well have been lost. As a National Park Service ranger at Fort Stanwix once said to me, “Had the fort fallen, we might be carrying British passports today.”
Alas, General Herkimer never made it to the fort. He, his troops and their Oneida Indian allies were ambushed at what is now Oriskany. They fought to a draw, but a draw was good enough. The siege was lifted. The fort was saved. The war was eventually won. We carry U.S. passports.
The loss of life was high, though. The fighting at Oriskany was at times hand to hand. History says the creek through the battlefield flowed red.
Some of that lost blood belonged to General Herkimer, who was shot in the leg. From that battle at Oriskany comes the famous painting showing the general directing his forces while propped up against a tree and smoking his pipe.
After the battle, they carried the general back to the home in front of which I was standing on this recent weekday morning. But the wound festered and the leg was amputated. They couldn’t stop the bleeding. He died at home 10 days after the battle.
Yes, what I was seeing on this recent weekday morning is just how it looked in 1777. It remains unchanged after all these years. I stood and enjoyed the feeling.
But then I heard a car door slam in the parking lot, watched a CSX freight train speed east, whistle blowing, on the nearby mainline tracks, and heard a shout from the WUTR Eye Witness News television crew I was there with that it was time to get back to work, taping a segment about Herkimer Home for the evening news.