Bagg’s Square is an inconspicuous spot in the northern section of Utica, NY. It is named for Moses Baggs, a blacksmith and tavern keeper who kept a thriving business here.
Before there was Utica, there was Fort Schuyler, built in this area by the British in 1758. It was a critical spot for the new American settlers. Fort Schuyler was “a chain of forts built to protect the northern frontier from the French and their Indian allies, and to guard the great ford across the Mohawk Valley.” Fort Schuyler was named for Colonel Peter Schuyler, the uncle of the famous Phillip Schuyler (who later became Alexander Hamilton’s father-in-law). There’s a bit of confusion about the naming of the forts. During the American Revolution, Fort Stanwix in Rome (another British-built fort and was named for a British officer during the French and Indian War of the 1750s) was renamed Fort Schuyler, after Philip Schuyler. This Fort Schuyler here near Bagg’s Tavern was renamed “Old Fort Schuyler.” After the Revolutionary War, both Fort Stanwix/Fort Schuyler and Old Fort Schuyler were dismantled. When Fort Stanwix/Fort Schuyler was resurrected in the 1970s as a memorial, it was given it’s original name Fort Stanwix. Got that? There’ll be a test tomorrow… whew!
In 1794, Moses Baggs built a small but comfortable tavern near the fort, to house the many settlers and military men traveling from the eastern to western ends of New York State. George Washington and Marquis de LaFayette stayed at the tavern, as well as Henry Clay and General Ulysses Grant. It also became a stagecoach stop for mail delivery. In 1815, Moses Baggs’ tavern was torn down and replaced by a larger one made of brick. That, too, is gone. This newer stone building and park remain as a memorial to the important part Utica played as intermediary for travelers and ideals of revolution and reconstruction.
If I remember correctly, this area is where a huge revival was sparked in the 1820s, under the preaching of Charles Grandison Finney. Utica was one of the most affected cities. It was reported that all bars and houses of ill-repute were closed, because there was no business for such promiscuous living. Everyone was “getting religion” and didn’t want to sin anymore! This area was buzzing with revival that it became known as the “Burned-Over District.” Imagine, this happening in Utica, New York!
And then this plaque at the top of the tavern made us stop in our tracks.
An honorable and patriotic city from the earliest days. Let us keep up its high standards.
Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain. Psalm 127
IN MEMORIUM PATRUM
How great is thy fall, O honorable and patriotic city! Why do we wander your streets as strangers, left to peruse the mere remnants of such a glorious past?
The little tavern building is not open to visitors. We drew closer to peer inside the windows.
The surrounding park is nice, if a little odd. It’s strange to be wandering around such an historical and ancient (as far as America is concerned) fatherland and have roaring 18-wheelers coasting above you on a highway. The Adirondack Railroad and Amtrak trains are in the back, too.
We went to investigate the old train displays next to Utica’s Children Museum, which is on the other side of Bagg’s Square.
Utica’s Union Station (a beautiful building that we will blog about sometime) is next to Bagg’s Tavern and the Children’s Museum.
The city of Utica is in deep decline right now, as are most other Upstate New York cities. Utica was blighted during the 1930s-60s with an Italian mafia organziation that brought “prosperity” to some, but drug abuse, prostitution, and scab-attacks to others. It is so ironic that Utica, that “honorable and patriotic city” became known as Sin City. It has never really recovered. But I believe better days await the city. Like Samuel Adams said, who tirelessly pounded America’s conscience with a clarion call for national virtue, “It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people’s minds.” Utica needs to be the Burned-Over District once again!