Reynoldston Research and Studies:
Historical Background and Current Projects
By W. J. Langlois & Robert H McGowan
- Oral History of Reynoldston, New York – 1968-70
Creation of Reynoldston Research and Studies
Franklin County New York Oral History,
- Collecting Social History
- Collecting the History of the Reynolds Bros. Mill
Rebirth of Reynoldston Research and Studies
The Reynoldston Research and Studies Collection
Using New Technology
- Documenting the Social Fabric of Franklin County
- Collecting Economic and Business History
In late December, 1968, William J. Langlois and Robert H. McGowan, Malone, NY natives and recent graduates of Franklin Academy then attending Harper College (now Binghamton University) and Hamilton College, respectively, began recording an oral history of the largely abandoned Franklin County logging town of Reynoldston. Oral history was then a relatively new approach to preserving history and seemed like an appropriate means of capturing the social history of this small community from the people who had directly experienced it. From the beginning both of us were taken with this historical method and were genuinely excited by the opportunity to collect and document the history of our area. It should be remembered that at the time, in the relative early days of oral history, most historians took a somewhat jaundiced view of this novel method. Somewhat surprisingly, we both found academic sponsors at our respective institutions.
Even though we were very young at the time, we had grown up in the North Country, and thus were able to ask questions that we knew would elicit substantive answers. In hindsight it would seem clear that it was this shared bond that brought us together to undertake this work. We also understood the sometimes archaic accents of and terms used by our respondents. By asking many of the same questions of each interviewee, we were able to recapture and confirm layers of detail about a world that was 50 years gone. The consistency of our respondents’ answers gave us confidence that we were reconstructing the world of their youth correctly.
2. Oral History of Reynoldston, NY – 1968-70
We first interviewed Eugene and Daisy (French) Bordeaux, Bill’s grandparents, two of only a few people then living in Reynoldston. They were a good choice; they were patient with our endless list of questions as we learned the ins and outs of interviewing. During vacations over the next year we collected over 60 hours of tape from 17 people, a group comprising most of those who had lived and worked in Reynoldston during its active years (1890-1930). In addition we collected historical photographs and documents that the interviewees had preserved and given us. The interviewees’ openness and candor allowed for collecting personal information that would never have been shared with an outsider.
- Collecting Social History
From the beginning we made the conscious decision to collect as much social history as we could. We both believed that we were giving a voice to people and lives that were rarely documented in traditional histories. This led to long lists of detailed questions about topics such as home remedies, religious beliefs, and the chores of daily life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Many of the interviews are several hours in length. Listening to the tapes today, we recognize that we were somewhat relentless in our questioning and request for details about daily work and life in Reynoldston.
We focused on the social fabric of this French Canadian and Scottish/ English community that at its peak in 1915 numbered no more than 350 people. This led us into documenting the history and operation of the vanished lumber mill itself, a challenging task, as neither of us had ever seen the mill. Another important story that we focused on was life and work in the Reynolds’ logging camps. This included everything from diet to cleanliness, recreation, to cutting and drawing trees to the mill or railroad.
Often, we wondered if anyone would ever be interested in so much detail about daily life in an isolated mill and logging community in Northern New York State. In truth other professionals that we consulted expressed similar reservations about the detail we found so fascinating. Still, we persevered with our commitment to document individual lives in detail.
- Collecting the History of the Reynolds Bros. Mill
The history of the Reynolds Bros. Mill and related businesses is both complex and interesting. It involved an “old time partnership” of four brothers and the various components of the mill and logging business, as well as a company store, rental housing, and telegraph and telephone operations. We have also documented the Reynolds Bros. relationship with the Brooklyn Cooperage Company, which had extensive business interests in Franklin County. As well, we recorded information on their business interests outside of Reynoldston, which they undertook to diversify the family resources.
- Creation of Reynoldston Research and Studies
By 1970, we had formalized our local history research project as Reynoldston Research and Studies, and in late 1969, applied for and received a prestigious research grant from the State University of New York to further our work. This gave credence to our work and allowed us to have better tapes, tape recorders and materials. In addition, we found new support from Special Collections at SUNY Plattsburgh, the Oral History Program at Cornell University and the Folk-life Program at Cooperstown, NY.
3. Franklin County New York Oral History
In the summer of 1970, while expanding our oral history project, we lived in Bill’s grandparent’s Reynoldston camp in the woods with no running water, no electricity and only an ice box and a wood stove. This new project included interviews with a wider range of people who had been born and lived most of their lives in northern Franklin County Towns: Malone, The Bangor’s, Belmont, Bombay, Brandon, Burke, Constable, Duane, and Westville (referred to as: the Franklin County Oral History Tapes). We set out to interview as broad a cross section of people from around the northern part of the county as possible. As was the case with the Reynoldston material, we continued our focus on social and economic history and documenting in great detail peoples’ work and personal lives. That summer an additional 100 hours of tape was collected, of which about one third were later transcribed.
- Documenting the Social Fabric of Franklin County
As was the case with the Reynoldston material, we continued our focus on the social fabric of the area and documenting in great detail peoples’ home and personal lives in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. Interviewees included people from various social classes. The interviews are organized in clusters, both geographically and by relationships.
- Collecting Economic & Business History of Franklin County
A very important part of the collection focuses on farming and related agri-businesses in the area at the end of the 19th and early 20th Centuries. These include details on dairy farming, making maple syrup and extensive research on growing hops. Also represented here are descriptions of the operation of woolen mills, grist mills, starch factories, blacksmithing, railroads, and banking etc.
4. The Rebirth of Reynoldston Research and Studies
After graduating from college in 1971, we embarked on separate careers, lived on opposite coasts, and lost touch. Mr. Langlois went to British Columbia and started collecting oral history there. From 1972 until 1975, he continued the use of the name Reynoldston Research and Studies until under his direction he established the oral history program at the Provincial Archives of BC. Mr. McGowan obtained a Masters Degree in Folklore from Indiana University and later a law degree.
Luckily, 99% of the tapes and transcripts were preserved in several locations on both coasts. In 2009, after Mr. Langlois retired, we resumed work on the body of material we collected 40 years earlier. By then all of our informants had died, and our material had become genuinely old, holding precious memories of life and work in the late 19th Century. We knew that only a few family members of the interviewees had any idea that this material had been created or preserved.
We felt it was our duty to insure that the material and information entrusted to us should not only be preserved but made available to future generations. With that in mind, using our own resources, we resurrected Reynoldston Research and Studies with the intent of completing the task we had started 40 years ago. Little did we realize that it would lead us into whole new areas of technology to make the material accessible to as wide an audience as possible.
5. The Reynoldston Research and Studies Collection
In the first phase of our project we first focused on the Reynoldston material. The transcription of the 17 Reynoldston interviewees and more than sixty hours of tape was completed in 2011. These transcripts total over 1,000 pages and now exist in digital formats. Most of them are currently available on the website. Most of the transcripts have been annotated and include links to the web.
Since 2009 we have also collected more than 300 additional photographs, bringing our holdings related to Reynoldston to over 600 photos of early Reynoldston. All of those photos have been digitized. Numerous original documents have also been collected and most have been digitized. A great deal of research on legal and contractual material also has been assembled.
All the Reynoldston interview tapes have been transferred to digital formats and are preserved on archival CD’s to ensure that the material will survive in case the reel to reel tapes degrade over time. This allows us to share the audio material and the distinct speaking styles of the interviewees through the internet.
In April 2011 we moved from working on the Reynoldston tapes to focusing on the digitization and preservation of the more than eighty hours of Franklin County tapes. All of the tapes and transcripts had been digitized and added to the website. We have been truly pleased that we engaged a recent University of Victoria graduate, Mr. Tyson Rosberg, who has on his own developed an interest in oral history, to complete the transcription of all the Franklin County tapes.
6. Using New Technology
We recognized that due to ease and flexibility of modern technology, there is a new exciting opportunity to use and share this material in a way that was not even dreamt of when it was collected. The internet alone has provided us with a portal and platform for both today and the future. Without the internet much of the ongoing research and collecting of new material, would not have been feasible or possible. It has allowed us to establish new connections with the families of the interviewees.
The ability to digitize tapes, transcripts, photographs and documents will help to ensure that this material survives in perpetuity. The internet provides a whole range of new opportunities to connect and share this material with others around the world, most of who would not normally travel to an archives or any other repository to make use and view this material.
The time and costs related to this project since its rebirth have been borne by Mr. Langlois and Mr. McGowan. In addition we must acknowledge the generous help of many others, who have donated both their time and providing services. The present project reflects over four years of personal work by the two principals of Reynoldston Research and Studies. Most of this has been accomplished through file sharing on the internet etc. On an annual basis the principals get together in Vancouver and work on various topics. Trips to the Malone area have been used for further research.
7. The Website: http://www.reynoldstonnewyork.org
The true potential and future vision of Reynoldston Research and Studies is in the creation of web based interactive, responsive and collective process that is accessible to anyone at no cost to the user. We are pleased that to date a number of other individuals have and are continuing to contribute their personal knowledge and material to this site. In time we believe others will add material and join us in building this website platform for the history of Northern New York State.
In April 2010, based on our material, we launched our first website dedicated to Reynoldston, NY. – http://www.reynoldstonnewyork.com. We then decided it was important to develop a new website that would also accommodate the oral and digital history of Franklin County. In October 2011, this new website was launched. It provides a wider range of options for use of the material and allowed us to upload unlimited amounts of information: http://www.reynoldstonnewyork.org
In slightly more than a year over 6,000 people visited the original website and viewed over 12,000 pages of content. Now we have between 800 and 1,000 people per month visiting the new site and hope to see these numbers expand further in 2012.
The website contains almost all of the tapes and most of the complete interviews of the Reynoldston and Franklin County Tapes. The new site has both the audio tapes and transcripts available for researches and family members to use and enjoy. An important feature of the new website is that all material on the site is fully searchable with many back links to further facilitate searches. The volume of material and information available on the new site is sizable and more is added on a weekly basis. The content of the entire site is downloaded. Today the website and content is readily found through web search functions and by using the latest tools and technology.
The transcripts have been proofed and researched by Mr. Langlois and Mr. McGowan for accuracy. Due to the research and knowledge of Mr. Langlois and Mr. McGowan, the transcripts are now annotated with links to the web and contain footnotes, endnotes, maps, images, and related newspaper stories from the era. Links and reference between different interviews and transcripts have been created.
Through research many of the interviews also include relevant genealogical information. Historical maps and citations have been added for reference. In some cases, maps have been modified to identify places and businesses that no longer exist, but are discussed in the interviews. We continue to use our knowledge and research of the area to augment the material to make it as accurate and informative as possible. This helps to provide a more comprehensive picture of the time period.
We are also now using new technology that will merge the tapes and transcripts into one video document to improve the ease of use and the historical experience of the users.
The current site includes Face Book and Twitter capabilities and we look forward to further developing programs to encourage and support this use of the site. While we already have a number of people following us with this technology, we hope to expand it by providing them with better access and programming.
- A true interactive and collective process
One of the most exciting aspects of this new website has been the participation of many people with family connections to the interviewees. Many have expressed their gratefulness to us and are providing new and additional material for the site. We are in the process of including more tapes, photographs and documents from others who have collected material from the area. Thus the site will grow to include new interviews and topics over time.
A challenging aspect of the history of Northern New York is that much of the material is in private hands and will soon be lost to future generations. We hope to use our site and personal connections to reach more people and offer them an opportunity to contribute to the site. We are pleased that we have a number of people who still live in the area and are committed to the history who help to find and make connections with the families of the people we interviewed over 40 years ago.
In terms of the New York State oral history material, it is our plan to write and publish articles on the history of Northern New York and add them to the site. We have added a section the site called “Episodes in History” that will contain articles and features about the history of the area. A comprehensive article on Growing Hops in Franklin County is in preparation. We are also working on a book about the history of Reynoldston and plan to publish it on the web, using our site.
Lastly we want to thank the many, many people and organizations who have helped us over the past two years revive our work and without their contributions and support, none of this would have been possible. In particular we want to thank Debra Kimok of Special Collections in the Feinberg Libary at SUNY Plattsburgh for all her support and commitment. Similarly, we want to thank Tim Clukey, Associate Professor, SUNY Plattsburgh for helping with the digitizing of the Franklin County Oral History Collection. Similaryly, we want to thank Mr. Gary Barclay of vancuover for the digitzation of the Reynoldston Research Tapes. The continued support of the the Franklin County Museum and Historical Society has meant a lot to us and in particular the Anne Smallman the Executive Director has been of great help to us. Special recognition must be given to Mr. Tyson Rosber of Victoria, a recent history graduate of The University of Victoria, where he became interested in oral history, for his many months of editing and transcription of the Franklin County Oral History Collection. His dedication and work has been remarkable. Thanks to Mr. Parfait Nsanze who provides uw with website support. Then we must thank Milton Langlois, Mr. Langlois’ brother for his feet on the ground work for us in Franklin County. And thanks to the many members of the Langlois family who have contributed to this work. And in truth there are many many more people and insititutions in the United States, who have given so much to us in our quest for making this material accessible.
For more information about our work in oral history please see the Article pulbished in the Franklin Historical Review Vol 46, we wrote on:
A Personal Retrospective on Collecting Oral History 40 Years Ago
– and Making that Material Available to Today’s Researchers
Robert H. McGowan
Mr. McGowan was born in Malone, New York and graduated from Hamilton College in 1971 with a BA in History (Phi Beta Kappa). During college from 1969-1971, he worked with William Langlois on the oral history of Reynoldston and other places in northern Franklin County, New York.
After college Mr. McGowan worked in the Manuscript Division of The Library of Congress and then obtained a Masters Degree in Folklore from Indiana University. Based on his academic folklore training he authored Architecture from the Adirondack Foothills, a study of traditional building forms in Franklin County. Architecture was published by the Publishing Center for Cultural Resources (New York, NY) in 1977.
In 1977-78 Mr. McGowan was the Cultural Historian at Historic Annapolis (Maryland), Inc. From 1978 to 1981 he was an archivist and the Curator of Artistic Property for the State of Maryland. As such, he handled research queries at the Archives and oversaw the restoration and display of paintings in the State collection.
After graduating from Law School in 1984 Bob began work in field of utility law for the State of Maryland. Robert McGowan is now a Public Utility Law Judge at the Public Service Commission of Maryland.
Mr. Langlois’ grandparents were from the Bordeaux/Canpbell/French families that settled in Reynoldston and Brandon. Mr. Langlois often spent holidays with his grandparents, Eugene and Daisy Bordeaux. In the 1950’s and until the 1960’s, the house that they lived in did not have electricity or running water. They did have a telephone and mail service. In this period, the Eddy Road in Reynoldston was still gravel and the closest small store was in Skerry five miles away.
“I have fond memories of sliding with my cousins on the big rock by the old school house, just as kids had for over a hundred years before me. Similary, we regularly walked the short distance to the old mill road and the Deer River to play and to fish, I remember going down to the Avery lot to swim. My family and all my aunts and cousins went home to Reynoldston for Thanksgiving and Christmas Dinners. Winter holidays were often spent with my grand -parents and I remember being snowbound for several days with no mail or visitors.
In this period, my grandparents and Tommy and Jenny Campbell, my great Uncle Elond Bordeaux, living in Albert Bordeaux’s house and one other Campbell were the only permanent residents of what was still Relynoldston. The rest of the homes were used for camps. My grandparents house was the one place all the members of the extended family and distant relations, including Bombards, Campbells, Bordeauxs, and others visited on a regular basis to catch up on the “local news”. Many nights were spent playing penny poker and talking with the rooms lit by large kerosene lamps.
My grandmother still made her own famous potatoe bread, and my favorite molasses cookies and pies, just as she had in 1920. My grandfather still hunted when he could and in the winter he taught me how to trap beaver and other animals along the Deer River. I never ceased to be amazed about how skilled he was at trapping and skinning animals.
Similary I remember all too well the rides to my grandfathers “camp” up on the CC road, about two and a half miles away. My grandfather seemed to think that the roads belonged to him and saw no reason why he could not drive down the middle and he fully expected everyone else to get out of his way.
The stories my grand parents told me of the mill and logging fascinated me and when I heard about oral history, I knew that this was a special part of my familes life that needed preserving.
In 1971, W. Langlois was asked by Harpur College to undertake an oral history of the College which was established in 1946. The tapes and interviews were later used for a book on the history of the college.
In 1971 W. Langlois moved to Canada and attended the Universityof British Columbia. Almost immediately upon arrival, in BC, early in 1972, he was approached to undertake an oral history project of the cultural communities of the Provinceof British Columbia. During the next two years, the project interviewed and photo documented the lives of dozens of people from various ethnic backgrounds about their contributions to the development of the Provinceof British Columbia. Over 700 hours of tapes were created and transcribed.
In 1974, he convinced the Government of British Columbia to establish the oral/aural history program for BC at the Provincial Archives inVictoria, BC. While Director of Aural/oral History, he traveled in western Canada and the northwestern United States to help establish oral history programs in a number of provinces and states.
In addition in the 1970’s he wrote and edited manuals on how to do oral history that are still used around the world. He also created and edited Sound Heritage, 1972-1984, a very popular forty volumes series, that used oral history interviews to reconstruct the history of theProvinceofBC. In addition several books were edited and published again using oral history as their basis. As well thousands of hours of taped interviews, were collected for preservation in the Provincial Archives.
In 2008, after a hiatis 0f more nearly forty years W. Langlois took up the material that he and Robert H. McGowan had created and began to work on Reynoldston once more. Working together again, Mr. Langlois and Mr. McGowan are in the process of completing a book on Reynoldston. In addition they are using the latest we technology to ensure that this material on Reynoldston and the material they created on northern Franklin County is easily and publicly available to people today and in the future.