My friendship with Paul Keesler began three decades ago, when he was the editor-publisher of the New York Sportsman magazine. I met Paul and his late wife, Janice, at the Mayfair near Utica, at a banquet the magazine hosted annually for its writers and readers. The fact we readers of the publication were sufficiently dedicated to attend these eagerly anticipated events, and Paul would organize and host them, speaks volumes about the man and his drive to readily share the fruits of his loves and labors with others.
Paul has always been an avid outdoorsman as well as a history buff. He's also a gifted writer and editor who started out by writing a weekly outdoor column for the Utica Observer-Dispatch. Then in 1972, when he became frustrated by his limited column space, started his own magazine, the Mid-York Sportsman, which quickly grew into the New York Sportsman, a publication dedicated to the many outdoor recreational opportunities available in the state.
At the time of our initial meeting I was writing a weekly outdoor column for the Norwich Evening Sun and writing freelance stories. I asked Paul if he’d be interested in an idea I had for a feature for his magazine and then gave him a brief overview of the subject. He said, “Sure. Put it together and send it. I’ll let you know if I can use it.” I did and he did, and it was the beginning of a long-term friendship---and also my becoming a part of the magazine’s writing staff and eventually its editor when Paul stepped aside to pursue other writing challenges.
A good writer or editor is a stickler for detail and accuracy, and also has to present the material in an easy and free-flowing style that readers enjoy. Paul has always been able to accomplish this. Whether he’s writing about fishing or hunting, describing a special place he wants to share with readers, or giving an in-depth look at history, his writing comes across as both informative and entertaining. He deftly carried these skills with him when he made the switch from producing a highly popular magazine to authoring books.
Having lived most of his adult life in or near the Mohawk Valley, his intimacy with the region has grown with each passing year. Whether he was fishing, hunting, hiking, canoeing or exploring new areas, each trip added to his knowledge-base of the region and also his desire to learn more. He’d spend countless hours pouring through data at libraries, historical societies and centers, while also seeking out lifelong residents of the different areas who might be able to provide further information and insights. It was during these research trips that the idea of a book on the entire Mohawk Valley was spawned.
This would obviously be a mammoth undertaking, considering the abundance of attractions and history to be covered, a challenge that, to my knowledge, no one had accomplished---exploring, researching and writing a book on the entire Mohawk Valley, its watersheds, settlements and the history surrounding these and of those notables who lived, worked and died there over the centuries.
So on April 26, 2000, Paul did what any true explorer does: he started at the beginning, by attempting to locate the exact source of the Mohawk River. After three attempts and miles of walking upstream along petite brooks in the West Leyden area, he was rewarded by locating a small spring-marsh that was, indeed, the birthplace of the Mohawk River.
Once the exact source of the river was found and behind him, there was no stopping Paul. He walked tributaries too small to canoe and canoed those when they were just barely big enough to float a small craft. He poured through historic records, seeking important sites and events which helped shape the valley and its inhabitants, from the era of prehistoric times, to native Americans, on through the arrival of explorers, settlers and traders. He then explored and wrote about the most important of these sites while also exploring the entire river and most of its tributaries.
Knowing the project would require a tremendous amount of time and countless exploration trips, Paul decided to share his adventures with others by putting up a book-in-progress web site (http://www.paulkeeslerbooks.com/Mohawk.htm) as he worked his way methodically from west to east, adding new chapters and sections as he physically finished and researched each leg of his exploration. Several friends, including myself, had the enjoyable opportunity to join Paul on many of the exploring trips, employing everything from canoes to foot travel to vehicles. On each, Paul would pause to give us a brief overview of important sites and locations as they pertained to history.
Since its beginnings more than four years ago as a modest Chapter One introduction page, Mohawk - Discovering the Valley of the Crystals, the finished book contains everything anyone would want to know about the Mohawk Valley and its past and current history and conditions. And you can rest assured that Paul left few stones unturned in acquiring and polishing the accuracy of everything contained while also presenting it in his usual highly informative and entertaining style. Regardless of whether your interest lies in history, outdoor recreation, touring, sightseeing, or any or all these, you’ll find a wealth of useful information and facts in the following pages.
The tremendous impact of the Mohawk River and Valley on North American history is best explained by an excerpt from Paul's book: "The Valley of the Mohawk is the only east-west passage through a range of mountains that runs from Maine to Georgia. What's equally amazing, its western terminus was an easy-mile carry to a watershed that flows westward to the Great Lakes, providing a cross-country land and water route that has served man since time immemorial."
Paul and his wife Gert presently live along the shores of West Canada Creek near Newport, a location that is both fitting and natural for a man who loves the outdoors. For Paul Keesler is a modern-day explorer with a gift of connecting the past with the present with his style of writing. His when, why, where, who and how are never boring, and will add an insight we probably seldom think about when we visit a location in the Mohawk Valley, regardless of our current pursuits there. Be forewarned: Once you start reading this, you may find it nearly impossible to put it down—and, for me, that’s the sign of a truly great book.