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A French State of Mind: Then and Now

While you recover from a weekend filled with fireworks, crêpes, and plenty of pétanque, NYSOM is taking a moment to reflect upon a bit of the French history in our State. The tiny New York town of Paris, just south of Utica, is only one part of the story. Here are several landmarks to consider visiting in honor of France’s Fête Nationale to maintain the spirit of Bastille Day.

Due to its pride of place in the New York Harbor, millions worldwide are familiar with the history of the Statue of Liberty, France’s iconic gift to the people of the United States. The statue, designed by Frederic August Bartholdi in 1875, harkens back to the friendship established between France and the United States during the Revolutionary War, and today also recognizes freedom and democracy between their alliances. In fact, several replicas reside in Paris, including a copy on an island in the Seine River, near the Pont de Grenelle. It is engraved with the dates of both the 4th of July and Bastille Day, a tribute to the independence of both countries.

In the town of New Paltz, historic Huguenot Street honors its French-Protestant founders (from then-Northern France, present-day Belgium). In search of freedom from persecution by the Catholic authorities, the Huguenots sailed to America in the 1660s and 1670s and founded New Paltz, named in honor of the locale of the Huguenots' temporary refuge in Germany before they fled the continent for America: “Die Pfalz.” In 1677, 40,000 acres of land stretching from the Shawangunk Mountains to the Hudson River were exchanged between twelve Huguenot families and the Esopus Indians. The settlers’ village was built on the east bank of the Wallkill River. Today, Huguenot Street houses seven original 17th-century stone homes, a burial ground, and a stone church which dates back to 1717. All remain located in their original settings, and provide visitors a direct connection to the independent spirit that laid the foundations of the town. Check out the Huguenot Street website HERE.

We owe much of our state’s developmental history to Samuel de Champlain, better known as “the father of New France.” During the early 1600s, Champlain led expeditions throughout present-day Northern New York State, creating the foundation for European occupation throughout New York State. Lake Champlain, in the Adirondacks, was named for Champlain, by Champlain himself.

The Alliance Française was founded in France in 1883 to promote French culture and language throughout the world. Today, New York State claims five chapters of this not for profit in cities around the State: Buffalo, Rochester, White Plains and two locations in New York City; one at Columbia University and the French Institute. The French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF) annually hosts a Bastille Day celebration on 60th Street. The FIAF offers unique educational programs, such as cinema and culture courses “that explore the evolving diversity and richness of French cultures...to generate new ideas and promote cross-cultural dialogue through partnerships and new platforms of expression.” Check out their year round opportunities, including language immersion social hours, HERE.

With reporting by Christine Murphy.

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