This is another post in a continuing series about our trips to the Adirondacks.
In autumn of 2007, we drove up to the foothills of the Adirondacks, north of Utica. We wanted to visit and pay respects to Baron Frederich Wilhelm Augustus Steuben, aka Baron von Steuben, buried on Starr Hill Road in Remsen, NY. He is known as the “drillmaster of the American Revolution,” but affectionately known as “von Schtooby” to my history-buff kids. My daughter says (in a very good German accent) that any American desiring to learn the techniques of the bayonet must have asked himself “vhat vould Schtooby do.” Ha!
I thought the site would be just the huge burial marker that I have seen in brochures. I grossly underestimated the size, quality, and beauty of this historic site. Our jaws dropped open when we pulled up to the gate.
I cannot express with words the eye-popping grandeur of this site, and the spectacular view of the Mohawk Valley below. My lame photos only serve to dim the incredible landscape. Wow. That’s all I can say. What turned out to be a 10-minute visit rapidly became an hour of woodland exploration and historical reflection.
I’ll drop a few photos to aid in my inadequate descriptions. How I longed for a fancy camera to fully portray its beauty!
The site is very well kept. Although it was officially closed, trails were open and brochures were available from a waterproof box. We turned to walk down a heavily wooded trail to Steuben’s burial site. Walking into these woods is like walking into another world. Strange birds chittered to us from the treetops. Deep hoofprints of virile bucks heavily imprinted the soil. Crunchy layers of pine needles and the remnants of a gravel path urged our feet to go deeper into the forest. It was… primeval. Numerous historical markers were the only evident signs that someone had been here before us.
We paid our respects to the man so responsible for the success of our independent nation.
Steuben had requested in his will that he be buried in an unmarked grave. However, ten years after his death, a road was proposed to cut through his burial place (progress, you know). The body was interred and placed in its present-day site: a five-acre, heavily wooded area. The marker is enormous (as you can see) but very plain. A crown is carved on one side, and Steuben’s name on the other. A few stone plaques gave more details.
My daughter has written a brief history of this patriot:
Baron von Steuben (“Baron” was not his first name; Frederick was his first name, and he had several “middle names”) was a hardcore veteran from Prussia (now a part of Germany) when he came to America to aid the Continental Army in its fight for independence. He became known as the “Drillmaster of the American Revolution,” because during the harsh winter of 1777 in Valley Forge, Baron von Steuben taught the Americans how to perform bayonet drills. His services were invaluable, for until the Americans learned how to use this dreadful weapon, the British troops and Hessian mercenaries almost always won the day on the battlefield, for they knew how to use the bayonet. But when the American troops became more skillful with it, they could be more of a match against the British.
Baron von Steuben was well-liked by General Washington and his officers; however, communication with the Americans was at first difficult. Steuben did not speak English, and it became necessary for him to be accompanied by an interpreter when drilling the Continentals. There, too, was another problem– none of Washington’s officers spoke German! Thankfully, the language that Steuben and a few officers understood was French. So when Steuben drilled the Continentals, he spoke in French while his interpreters (Gen. Nathaniel Greene and Lt. Col. Alexander Hamilton) would translate itinto English for the soldiers. These two American officers, particularly Hamilton, were responsible for teaching Steuben the English language.
Not surprisingly, a close friendship developed between Hamilton and Steuben. After the war’s end, Steuben, who suffered great financial difficulties, found sanctuary in Hamilton’s home. Hamilton did everything in his ability to aid Steuben, who is reported to have once told some impatient creditors, “My Hamilton is my banker.” Hamilton was also responsible for helping Steuben secure land in Upstate New York that Congress had promised Steuben for his services. Hamilton helped Steuben secure the deed, and that piece of land became the place where Steuben spent his final days. He passed away in 1794.
In his will, Steuben requested that he be buried in an unmarked grave. But his services to his adopted country were far too significant to allow his fellow Americans to forget him. The Welsh-Americans who settled near his land, and the citizens of New York, erected monuments and memorials to him. A large monument was built over his remains.
It is easy for us Americans, especially in this present age, to forget those who forged the freedom which we enjoy, but freedom is itself a monument to those heroes. It ever reminds us of the debt of gratitude we owe to them.
“The world will little note what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.” Abraham Lincoln.
After leaving the burial site, we walked back to the open square and found means of entry to another area of the forest. It was like walking into another world.
Like I said, I wish I had a better camera to detail the glorious beauty of this land. It is stunning. Slivers of sunlight barely punctured the gnarly network of bottlenecked pine trees. Our presence startled a pair of eagles who had been nesting high in the trees. At first, we didn’t know what the earth-shattering rustling was. We looked up to see a couple of tremendously large birds stretch out their wings and flap through the dense pine boughs. The sound was terrifying and the birds were so large I feared they would swoop down upon my youngest (but not likely). I’d estimate the wingspan of the eagle I saw was about 6 or 7 feet.
Walking through the forest was a bit laborious for me (unprepared for hiking as I was), but nothing deterred the children from dispersing and disappearing behind enormous clumps of pines. I think they could have explored all day and into the night. I finally had to gather them up and pull them out of this place, as it was getting late.
Yet there were even more places to explore after this! Quickly, we picked apples from an apple tree (so tart but delicious), discovered a tiny toad and chased him down for a while, and attempted to begin another trail down a beckoning road.
I begrudgingly called to the kids to forsake this plan, and led them to Steuben’s cabin for a peek on our way out of the park.
The cabin is a replica (a very good replica) of the little house Steuben built for himself. It was locked up (the memorial site is only open from Memorial Day to Labor Day) but we could peer inside the glass windows. The interior looked incomplete. We saw a stone hearth and a lovely plank floor, but plywood and wood scraps were on the floor. A barrel filled with toy wooden muskets stood by a wall. The interior looked under construction still.
We longingly looked back into the woods, but we had to leave. The sun was going to set soon, and I had dinner to make.
What a lovely property for a great man. Rest in peace, Baron von Steuben.
On our way home, we stopped for a brief second to snap a photo of another historical marker. This one was dedicated to the Welsh immigrants who cleared the land and settled this area in 1795.