Here at the SGE, we love coming across people or groups who share our passion for exploring, history and adventure. In this edition of The Fellow Explorer’s Club, we caught up with The Empire Explorer, which is fast becoming our favourite resource for discovering New York State.
When most people think of New York, they generally just picture the City. But leave the crowded throngs of the world famous metropolis behind, and venture into New York State itself, and you’ll discover a vast, diverse place to explore, filled centuries of Native American, Dutch Colonial and Revolutionary War history.
Seth Colegrove is the founder and curator of The Empire Explorer, a website dedicated to unearthing and highlighting New York State’s heritage. From abandoned buildings and ruins, to true crime, historic sites and lost places, the site is a first rate guide to exploring one of America’s most fascinating, historical treasures, the Empire State.
Society for Gentlemen Explorers (SGE): How did you come up with the idea for the Empire Explorer, are you from New York originally?
Seth Colegrove (SC): I am from New York. I grew up in Newburgh, NY and have long been captivated by the rich history and scenic beauty of the surrounding Hudson Valley. For many years, I was away from New York, going to school and then moving to Los Angeles to pursue a career in writing music for film, but I ultimately decided to move back to the land that inspires me most in 2016. After returning, I started exploring abandoned places in the region with a couple friends, one of which introduced me to the idea of creating then/now shots of these decaying places. I quickly took to the practice because I found that recreating old shots was about the closest possible thing to traveling back in time and experiencing the past in a tangible way. It was the perfect practice to bring back home to Newburgh, a city littered with decaying relics of its prosperous past. By recreating shots and sharing their stories, it felt like breathing new life into forgotten places, people, and events. It didn’t take long before I branched out throughout the region and state, seeking out fascinating places and interesting histories of places both known and forgotten. Since then, it’s grown to include informational videos, aerial drone tours, and more. More or less, my passion for history has become the perfect avenue for using all my creative and technical skills.
SGE: It is nice to see the rest of the state get a look in. It seems like so many sites just focus on the Big City! Is that something you intentionally set out to do?
SG: 100%. I’m happy to focus on any part of the state, but the Hudson Valley is my base and where I’m most passionate about. The world over knows New York City and its significance, but New York outside of the city is a grey area for most of the country and even people living in the city. I’d like to change that and show the extraordinary places and stories all around the state.
SGE: I particularly enjoy the before / after photographs. How do you go about finding things to cover? Are you always out and about keeping an eye open?
SG: I certainly am always on the lookout. Living in the digital age has made it easier to go out, see something interesting, research it on the fly, and quickly have an old photo you can recreate. While many places I find are spur of the moment, others are found via social media, internet, books, or just recommended by someone in the community.
SGE: Is there a particular subject or era you’re interested in?
SG: I do love abandoned places and explore them often, but am cautious about sharing some of them on Empire Explorer because I don’t want to encourage trespassing. As far as historical interests, I love sites associated with the Revolutionary War. I’m also always super excited to find places with any Native American history attached to them. Lastly, I love New York’s Dutch roots and all the old stone houses, and Dutch names you can still find throughout the state.
(Ed: The fence around Bowling Green is actually the oldest in New York. There was once a statue of King George III in the park, pulled down by the Sons of Liberty in 1776.)
SGE: You’re now organising a tour of one of our favourite towns in the state, the always charming, ever changing Beacon, on the Hudson River. What can you tell us about that, and plans for the future?
SG: The current Beacon Food and Heritage Tour is a collaboration with a local friend who has a background in the tour industry. It seemed like a great idea for Beacon, a popular city with good food and a fascinating history. If successful, we’d certainly love to try it out in other similar nearby cities. I have pretty wide reaching plans for Empire Explorer, but the most immediate goals are expanding my YouTube channel with exploration/vlog type videos and also creating a podcast where I can dig into some of these stories in a long form with guests.
SGE: How do you go about researching places to explore? Any tips for our budding fellow explorers?
SG: There are a lot of great resources available to us these days. One indispensable resource that I love is Facebook groups. I’ve joined a great deal of groups for towns, regions, explorers, etc across the state and have used these groups to consult locals, look through old posts/photos, and ask questions only they can answer. Another indispensable resource has been Google Books. Everyone searches google for websites and images, but I recommend clicking the “books” tab, where you can find hundreds of thousands of digitised books waiting. It’s been an invaluable resource because so many rare, out of circulation, and historic books are available to peruse.
SGE: What are some of your favourite discoveries in New York State?
SG: It’s a challenge just to name one, so I’ll give a few different ones; Grossinger’s indoor pool (now demolished) (Liberty, NY); The Armour Stiner Octagon House (Irvington, NY); Blind Rock, a surviving rock where Mohawk Indians ambushed and tortured unsuspecting victims (Queensbury, NY); the Old Dutch Church and Cemetery in Sleepy Hollow. It’s just so cool being able to visit the Headless Horseman’s old haunting grounds. (Sleepy Hollow, NY); the Temple of Virtue at the New Windsor Cantonment, where George Washington’s personal intervention prevented the potential military coup that could’ve radically altered what the U.S. became. (New Windsor, NY)
SGE: One last thing, is there a holy grail you’re after?
SG: My holy grail would be getting access to the Statue of Liberty’s torch. (Ed. The torch has remained off limits since German saboteurs blew up a munitions supply in New Jersey in 1916, which damaged the Statue of Liberty You can find out more about the explosion here) To go up and explore and experience that off limits piece of history and NY would be amazing. Oh, and maybe finding the fabled treasure of Captain Kidd. Word on the street is that it could be in the Hudson Highlands and I’m actually a direct descendant of his, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed!
Editor’s note: Our thanks to Seth for taking the time to fill us in on the Empire Explorer. New York State remains an endlessly fascinating place to explore, and we’d encourage you to leave the crowded streets of Manhattan behind! The Empire Explorer can point you in the right direction wherever your interests lie, whether its abandoned buildings, old American history, or even just some of the State’s breathtaking scenery.