QUEENSBURY, N.Y. (NEWS10) – Historian Don Rittner has been the director of a historical society covering Lake George, Glens Falls, and a slice of the Adirondacks for just over a year. His love of history is much older than that – as is a history show he’s been producing on and off since 2012. As his work at the Warren County Historical Society continues, Rittner has decided the time is right, and made the county the focus of the next season of “History on the Road TV.”
Rittner co-hosts “History on the Road” alongside Justyna Kostek, director at New York City-based Just More Theatre. The two focus on America’s earliest highways, and the history along the roadside – some still standing, others paved over.
“Most people think history comes from big urban centers,” said Rittner. “There weren’t that many big urban centers in the 18th and 19th centuries. It was small towns and villages – so, who were the big movers and shakers of those small towns and villages?”
The upcoming season of “History on the Road TV” will be seen on YouTube, Lake George TV, and LOOK TV – and viewers on all three platforms will get an up-close look at Warren County, along a route by a name unknown to many. Rittner and Kostek have spent 2023 traveling the New Netherland Highway – a name given to what was once an Indigenous trail connecting New York City to Canada, and now contains parts of Route 9. The name has only come into use by historians in recent years, following the publishing of “The Island at the Center of the World” by Russell Shorto, which chronicles the under-discussed role of the Dutch New Netherland colony in early America.
The New Netherland Highway has taken Rittner and Kostek through Queensbury, Lake George, Hague, Warrensburg, and on as the road heads north. They’ve visited dude ranches and rodeos in places that don’t fit where most Americans would imagine them. Then there are the real oddities – like Warren County’s involvement in a 19th-century “vampire panic” across New England, egged on by cases of consumption from tuberculosis.
The duo has also visited Lake George and heard about the area’s role in the Revolutionary and French & Indian wars. Those stories are well-documented. For others, like the abandoned town of Graphite, the evidence isn’t in what’s told, as much as what’s been left behind.
“If you’re 50 or older, when you were in high school and you took a test, it had to be in #2 Adirondack pencil. I never knew the graphite was mined (in the town of Graphite, in part of modern-day Hague),” Rittner said. “They used to have three taverns, a ballroom, and a hotel – and there’s nothing now.”
“History on the Road” still has some interviews to film, with hopes to release the Warren County-centric season in early 2024. When it premieres, Rittner will be pitching it to larger networks – something he intended to do when the project got its first go-around in 2012. He pumped the brakes back then because he didn’t like how the first version of the show had come out.
The revival, on the other hand, has already made open-minded strides through New York, with episodes on history through Albany, Sharon Springs, and Cherry Valley. If it gets network support, Rittner hopes to take it further. America has a lot of old and storied highways – Route 66, Lincoln Highway, and Yellowstone Trail, for a few. He hopes to one day take “History on the Road TV” to them all. Whether at home or far away, there’s always more to learn.
All previous episodes of “History on the Road TV” can be seen on YouTube.