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Blenheim-Gilboa Hydroelectric Station Visitor’s Center

The Blenheim-Gilboa Hydroelectric Power Station is a scenic half hour drive south from the small city of Cobleskill, New York, in Schoharie County. The area is absolutely beautiful, and the power station and visitor’s center are well nestled in the rural setting. The visitor’s center is in a remodeled 19th century dairy barn (red!) on a small hill, between Brown Mountain and Schoharie Creek. It overlooks the hydroelectric power station.

Schoharie Valley

NYPA1

NYPA view2

The visitor’s center is very modern inside, with dozens of hands-on displays for curious schoolchildren and adults. We perused the labyrinth of hallways, stopping to flip switches, push buttons and learn about hydroelectricity.

NYPA museum1

The plant uses the force of running water to spin magnetic turbines and generate electricity. I wondered how this can be, seeing the Schoharie Creek is so languid and sluggish? One of the ladies overseeing our visit said that the water from the creek is pumped up into a large reservoir at the top of Brown Mountain. There are enormous pipes within the mountain that channel the water from the creek. When energy is needed, the reservoir is drained. The rushing water that spills down through those pipes spins the turbines and creates the electricity.

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Wow! I was astonished by the pipes inside the mountain. The idea of using up energy to make more energy seemed counter-intuitive to me, though. And it is. According to the information I saw, the Blenheim-Gilboa plant is an “emergency” power station. It provides energy only when electricity generation levels are low elsewhere, and helps to prevent brownouts and blackouts.

All the power generated at this plant is sent to New York City.

NYPA plant map

The visitor’s center also has many displays about the surrounding land. I loved the history! The center has an open sunroom type of room filled with stuffed animals native to New York State and other displays. This is a portion of an ancient tree fern. In it are bits of branches and seeds! These stumps were discovered in the 1920s when the land was cleared for the Schoharie Reservoir.

Schoharie Reservoir fossil tree stump

The view is beautiful.

NYPA view1

Admission to the visitor’s center is free. It’s a wonderfully educational experience and the ladies we chatted with were so hospitable. We had a great time.

Venturing outside again, I was quite taken in by the view. Even though it was cold and windy, we spent some time exploring the grounds.

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Next to the visitor’s center is a beautiful home and a yard filled with curiously-wrapped arbor vitae.

Lansing manor yard

This is Lansing Manor! Sadly, the house was not open for visitors today. I was sorely disappointed. Curtains hung across the windows so I couldn’t even get a peep inside.

Lansing Manor

The view from the front porch is beautiful.

Lansing manor porch view

Lansing Manor is named for John Lansing, Jr., who represented New York State at the Constitutional Convention in 1787 and also at the state’s Ratification Convention in 1788. He was a contemporary of Alexander Hamilton. Lansing built this house in 1819 for his daughter, Mrs. Jacob Livingston Sutherland. The house is in excellent shape. It has been owned by only four families from 1819 to 1972, when the last private owner donated the house and grounds to the Blenheim-Gilboa Visitor’s Center.

We roamed the grounds, reading the many informational plaques in the yard.

Look! John Lansing’s air conditioners! They are in excellent condition.

Lansing manor air conditioners

I Spy

One of the most interesting plaques told the story of the Anti-Rent wars that roiled through Upstate New York in the mid 1800s. Before the American War for Independence, New York State was a royal colony, ruled much like England with “feudal lords.” With such a system, one very wealthy family owned and controlled large swaths of land. Small tracts of land were parceled out into farms, maintained by tenants. These tenants had very few rights and were practically enslaved to the land on which they worked. They were required to pay taxes on the land they worked. They had no rights to any of the land’s natural resources such as lumber or minerals.

Even after the War for Independence, New York State still held to this strange, European feudal system. By the early 1800s, the impoverished farmers had endured enough. They organized into protest groups, storming farms about to be confiscated and electing sympathetic politicians. The protests led to violence. Stephen Van Rensselaer, a very wealthy landowner in the Albany area, was murdered in 1839.

Photo courtesy of College of Oneonta, New York

The angry farmers dressed up like “Indians” when they went on their tirades. This kind of disguise was declared illegal in 1845.

In 1846, incumbent Governor Silas Wright lost his election to a newcomer, John Young, because Young had promised to pardon all farmers imprisoned for their Anti-Rent activities. The New York State Legislature eventually forbid landowners from taxing their farmers’ rental income and also forbid the confiscation of farmers’ possession to pay rent. This led to a tremendous increase in individual land ownership, as many farmers purchased the land their worked. Feudalism had been eradicated from New York… well, at least in name. The entire “rent” system is strikingly familiar in this day and age. Today, landowners “own” their land but it is ownership in name only, because if the landowner does not pay his exorbitant property taxes, the government can confiscate the land and all the equity with it. Very unjust, in my opinion.

You can read more about the Anti-Rent Wars at the College of Oneonta website at www.oneonta.edu/library/dailylife/protest/index.html. It’s very enlightening.

John Lansing never lived at this house and his death is shrouded in mystery. On December 12, 1829, he left his New York City hotel to mail a letter. He never returned. No one ever found his body nor knew what became of him, and his disappearance was described as similar to the fate of William Morgan, that same year. Morgan was probably kidnapped by Freemasons in Upstate New York, as he threatened to reveal the secrets of the cultic order. As for Lansing, it was later suspected that he was murdered by some political opponents who felt he was “in the way.”

According to Wikipedia:

There has been only one major clue to Lansing’s disappearance that has appeared since his death. After his death in 1882 the memoirs of Thurlow Weed, former Republican political leader in New York State, were published by Weed’s grandson T.W. Barnes. Weed wrote that Lansing had been murdered by several prominent political and social figures who found he was in the way of their projects.

Weed was told this by an unnamed individual, who showed him papers to prove it, but begged Weed not to publish these until all the individuals had died. Weed said they were all dead by 1870, but he found that their families were all highly respected, and upon advice of two friends he decided not to reveal the truth because it would hurt innocent people. And that was the last anyone ever heard of a possible resolution to the mystery. It is unknown if Weed actually received the truth.

Good heavens. Who knew what sordid stories we’d encounter, just visiting a hydroelectric plant in rural Upstate New York!

For more information, visit:
www.nypa.gov/vc/blengil.htm

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About the Author

I've been traveling throughout New York State since I got the travel bug after touring the Herkimer Home on a school field trip as a youngster. We've been blogging about our travels since 2006 and have visited over half of New York's 62 counties so far.

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