When you think maple, you probably think of Vermont and those little leaf-shaped candies. But at the end of the Eighteenth century, one man was on a mission to make the Empire State the maple state. Gerrit Boon, who had been a sugar refiner in Holland, came to upstate—way upstate—New York with dreams of turning its abundant maple forests into a vast plantation for making maple sugar.
Boon acquired 30,000 acres of land nestled in the Black River valley on the western edge of the Adirondacks and envisioned an operation that would yield one and a half million pounds of maple sugar per year. It was a bid for northern agricultural independence, giving the slave-dependent sugarcane plantations of the Caribbean a run for their money. Sadly, Boon’s experiments in gravity-fed sap collection using wooden tubing and troughs failed spectacularly. Some historians believe that his fatal misunderstanding was thinking that maple sap flowed year-round. In any case, Boon went bust and returned to the Netherlands to face the music with his investors. But before he did, he founded the quaint Oneida county towns of Barneveld and Kortenaer (renamed Boonville in his honor) and paved the way for production of another upstate liquid asset: milk.