Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Poor Canajoharie

En Route, The Erie Canal
42 53.72 N 074 30;81 W

I'm sure you have heard the term "Rust Belt"  it refers to a string of formerly prosperous cities that are now in steep decline.  Many of them depended on heavy metal industries; hence the reference to rust.  Perhaps Detroit is the largest and best know Rust Belt city.  The belt continues down through Ohio, and up through Central New York.  Alas one of our favorite stops, Canajoharie, seems to be hit especially hard.

Canajoharie's enjoyed its former prosperity as a company town.  The Beech Nut Company (makers of baby foot and life savers) was the major benefactor, and Beech-Nut's owners The Arkell Family.  Many formerly grand homes remain, of which the Arkell's is most prominent.   Clearly, at one time Canjoharie enjoyed the high life and benefits of great local wealth.

Now, Beech-Nut has finally moved the last of it's operations out of Canajoharie, leaving behind the massive and ghostly white painted concrete buildings of the factory complex.  Sucked of it's life blood, the rest of the village seems to be just crumbling away.

A vestige of the good times is the wonderful library and Arkell Museum in the center of the village.  The museum has wonderful art on display from Winslow Homer and other American artists.  I spent quite a bit of time there, and at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art in Washington DC.   Let me say that the Arkell can stand shoulder to shoulder with the Smithsonian.

Sadly, I saw a notice in the Library/Museum yesterday.  It said that the community recently voted "no support" for this institution and that it's future is in doubt.   I'm not sure exactly what "no support" means, but it sounds ominous.  If you haven't seen the Arkell Museum before, I urge you to do so before it's too late.

Curiously, different rust belt centers have very different outcomes.  Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Utica, Schenectady and Albany were all in the rust belt.  Rochester took a double hit with Kodak down and out, and Xerox way down.  Schenectady's GE employment went from 28,000 to 3,000.   But Albany seems to do fine based on government money as the state capital.  Syracuse and surroundings seem to be supported by universities and hospitals.  Schenectady's downtown had been force fed to survival with government and health insurance service workers.  It suggests a massive shift from private heavy industries to public (or quasi-public) services.

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