Upstream. A Mohawk Valley Blogzine.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Defining The Mohawk Valley. Final Post??

Note: This is an edited compilation of my four earlier posts on defining the Mohawk Valley, with some additional paragraphs to bring the subject to a close, for now anyway.

It's not easy to define the Mohawk Valley. The Mohawk Valley Heritage Commission defines the valley in terms of political geography. The Mohawk Valley, according to the commission, includes the Oneida Indian Nation and the following eight counties: Albany, Fulton, Herkimer, Montgomery, Oneida, Saratoga, Schenectady and Schoharie.

One of the problems with the Mohawk Valley Heritage Commission's definition of the Mohawk Valley is that it leaves out places with a strong connection to the valley and includes places with very little connection. Troy while on the east bank of the Hudson River is clearly in the Hudson Valley, however, it had a strong connection with the Mohawk Valley, particularly when the Erie Canal was going strong and Troy was a terminus for goods shipped through the canal. Troy is not part of the Mohawk Valley Heritage Corridor yet has a stronger connection to the Mohawk Valley than does northern Saratoga County which is part of the corridor. Troy has much in common with such Mohawk Valley cities as Schenectady, Amsterdam and Utica.

In his book The Mohawk Codman Hislop defines the Mohawk Valley in terms of physical geography. The Mohawk Valley, according to this definition is the area covering the Mohawk River watershed. This area encompasses most of Schenectady, Schoharie, Herkimer and Montgomery Counties, about half of Fulton and Oneida Counties, and a tiny portion of Albany, Saratoga, Otsego, Hamilton and Lewis Counties. Codman's book is part of the Rivers Of America Series. It was published in 1948 so is somewhat dated now in parts.

The Schoharie Creek is the largest tributary of the Mohawk River. The Schoharie Valley does have its own identity. In some ways it is more beautiful than the Mohawk Valley proper, having not been spoiled as much. A great deal of the water from the Schoharie ends up coming out of taps in New York City, thanks to the Gilboa Dam and reservoir.

Codman's definition, like all definitions of the valley, is not without its difficulties. If the Mohawk Valley is the area covered by the Mohawk River watershed, then the Hudson Valley is the area covered by the Hudson Valley watershed. This would mean that the Mohawk Valley is part of the Hudson Valley, just as the Schoharie Valley is part of the Mohawk Valley.

The Mohawk Valley is generally divided into three sections. The first section, or the lower Mohawk covers Waterford to Schenectady. The second section, or the middle Mohawk, covers Schenectady to St. Johnsville, and the third section, or the upper Mohawk, covers St. Johnsville to Utica.

The problem is that the lower Mohawk is part of the Capital District and is more often referred to as the Capital District than the Mohawk Valley. Similarly, the upper Mohawk is often called the Utica-Rome area. The middle Mohawk has no such identity confusion. Maybe that's why in my mind I often think of the middle Mohawk as the real Mohawk Valley.

I don't think we can define the Mohawk Valley with any precision. Nevertheless, a definition as nebulous as the Mohawk Valley is a state of mind is not very useful. While I have pointed out the problems with defining the valley in terms of its political geography or physical geography, both of those definitions provide us with a starting point for defining the valley. In the end, however, the valley is both narrower and wider than both of those definitions.

Even though defining the valley in nebulous terms alone is not helpful, there is a sense in which the valley is defined in each person's mind. Your geographical orientation influences whether or not you live in the valley. I touched on this some earlier, when I said that some people living in the lower valley associate themselves with the Capital District rather than the Mohawk Valley. Similarly, some people in southern Fulton County are more oriented towards the Adirondacks than the Mohawk Valley. It is in this sense that the valley can be defined in narrower terms than either physical or political geography.

On the other hand, the valley is wider than these definitions because there are many people who moved from the valley years ago, for a variety of reasons. Many of them still have a great interest in the area. Relocation due to declining industry has forced many to go, even though they would rather be here. It seems to me that these people still live in the Mohawk Valley, even if they might be living in Albany, Georgia rather than Albany, New York or Amsterdam, Ohio instead of Amsterdam, New York.

Obviously, this post is not the final word on the subject which is why I put a question mark at the end of the post's title. Hopefully, it will get people to think about what it means to live in the valley, comment on it and maybe we will pick up the thread of this discussion again down the road.


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