History major Jessie Clough '07 (Ava, N.Y.) decided to apply for a Levitt Fellowship because she wanted a summer of research to find out what studying history was really like. But what for a topic? Then Clough went home for a weekend and found a box in the attic marked "Daniel's Diaries." What she discovered were the diaries of Daniel Bork and an account of the end of the village of Delta, N.Y., which was emptied in 1908 to make way for an extension to the barge canal. Clough walked into Assistant Professor of History Lisa Trivedi's office the following Monday and said, "I know what I want to write on." The result was a proposal titled "The Village of Delta: Public Policy and Community History."
In 1906 the New York State Assembly began discussing a reservoir to extend the barge canal. In 1908 the 300 occupants of the village of Delta were required to leave. The reservoir was filled May 18, 1916. The foundations of Delta remain under the reservoir (now Delta Lake) but the rest of the town – people, animals, buildings, cemetery inhabitants – were all moved. Clough's research deals with the social repercussions of this decision and what happened when the closely-knit community was displaced. The Barge Canal Commission bought the land, Clough explains, but did not help resettle Delta occupants. The question throughout her research is, "what happened to the people?" She is also interested in the governmental aspects of the decision: why, Clough asks, in 1906 did the state feel the need to expand the barge canal? Canals were outdated at that point and most transportation was done by train. "It doesn't make sense."
For her research, Clough is relying heavily on the archives of the Rome Sentinel as well as, of course, the journals from the Clough attic. A first-source document forgotten in an attic is almost a cliché; for Clough, "as a historian, finding the memoirs of a…catastrophic event is just amazing." Bork, one of the last people to leave Delta, gives a helpful view into the social life of his village. His journal from 1916 is "one of the most amusing things I've ever read," says Clough, explaining Bork's terse reaction to water reaching his property fence. She also hopes to speak to Rome locals who have anecdotes about Delta which have been passed down in the family. After the Sentinel ran an article about Clough and her research, she said she received an "overwhelming response" which consisted of numerous phone calls from enthusiastic Romans, offering to share stories or memories. It is, she says, "a wonderful little community."Clough, who started this project to get a taste of what it was like to be an historian, says that she "loves it" and hopes to continue her work with Delta as a topic or extensive case study for her senior thesis. In the future, she says, she looks forward to "more exploring" and a higher degree in history. For her, the hardest part of the research process is dealing with "key information" that is missing or unavailable, and being able to work around the holes while continuing to speculate and ask questions. That being said, however, she is full of appreciation for the help given by the librarians at Rome Public Library, the Sentinel staff, and the Hamilton College history department. "The entire department is behind me the whole way," says Clough. And, from the sound of it, so is the entire city of Rome.
The grant which funds her work is the Levitt Research Fellowship, funded by the Arthur Levitt Public Affairs Center. It is intended to fund research in a public affairs issue and allows a student to spend 10 weeks working closely with a faculty advisor.
-- Lisbeth Redfield