hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


News February - March 2020


A fascination with all things natural

Maury Thompson


When a large elm tree on the east side of the Glens Falls Insurance building was cut down in February 1912, Professor C.L. Williams counted the number of rings and estimated the tree was 75 years old.

Williams at the time was writing a history of trees in Glens Falls, and he led the effort to rid the city’s trees of the elm leaf beetle, a nuisance insect that was prevalent about a decade before Dutch elm disease began to wipe out many of the city’s elm trees.

Like the Lorax, the Dr. Suess character, Williams spoke for the trees. But as the city’s tree warden, entomologist and official “weather observer,” he spoke for all things in nature.
Williams served in these duties in addition to his day job of 45 years as a math and science teacher, and some years as principal, at Glens Falls Academy.

His legacy can be found in the many Post-Star news stories about his weather observations and the detailed monthly weather reports he filed with the city for about 40 years, tracking temperature and precipitation in Glens Falls and water levels at the city’s reservoir in Queensbury.

Williams was reluctant to predict the next day’s weather. But 24 hours later, he could authoritatively put whatever transpired into the perspective of decades of previous weather.
In his spare time, Williams helped organize the Chamber of Commerce community garden initiative, grew prize-winning asters, enjoyed bird watching, and hiked local forests and fields to identify wildflowers. He also was an examiner for the Girl Scout music badge.

“In telling of his search for various kinds of wildflowers, Professor Williams said that the greatest fun in the outdoors was coming on things unexpectedly,” The Post-Star reported on Nov. 27, 1934.

Wildflowers he identified around Glens Falls included the evening primrose, about a dozen varieties of lady slippers, a “curious fly-catching plant” at Mud Pond, rock ferns at Cooper’s Cave, and grass of Parnassus on a cliff near the Hudson River.

Williams frequently gave public lectures to civic groups and youth organizations about weather history and on topics such as “The Work of Roots and the Structure of Woods,” “What A Tree Is Good For,” and “Exterminating of the Fly.”

He was known for explaining complex scientific topics in layman’s terms.
And he was a carpenter. When the new Glens Falls Academy building was constructed on Chester Street in 1914, Williams built the furniture for the physics and chemistry labs on the third floor.

“Every bench and desk in the laboratories was built and installed by Professor Williams, and he is therefore acquainted with the room’s detail, no matter how slight,” The Post-Star reported on Sept. 16, 1914.

Williams came to Glens Falls in 1887 to teach at Glens Falls Academy, and several years later he began as weather observer for what was then the village of Glens Falls.

His stature at Glens Falls Academy was evidenced in a Nov. 25, 1915 Post-Star report that Williams and Headmaster Mason Brent received turkeys from the students for Thanksgiving, while the rest of the teachers received baskets of fruit.

In 1932, the Glens Falls Academy alumni association gave Williams a $200 gold piece to celebrate his 45th year of teaching.

The city Common Council voted in 1912 to pay Williams $100 a season as tree warden, plus $25 a week during the summer months to supervise spraying of trees to control the elm leaf beetle.
The tree spraying was part of a multi-year effort to stop the beetles from chewing the leaves of the elm trees. In 1913, the city sprayed 4,000 trees, at a cost of about 34 cents per tree.
“Professor Williams stated that the city had effected a savings of about $1,500 by having an employee do the work instead of letting a contract to an outsider,” The Post-Star reported on Aug. 12, 1913.

Williams’ role as weather observer was a four-season avocation.

“Although few if any persons may realize the fact, the records so accurately kept by Professor Williams show that between January 1 and 31 the total snowfall measured eight inches,” the lightest January snowfall since 1896, The Post-Star reported on Feb. 4, 1913.
“Professor C.L. Williams, who keeps in close touch with all things pertaining to the weather, yesterday afternoon informed a reporter for The Post-Star that the thermometer yesterday reached 93 degrees above zero at the highest point,” the paper reported on July 26, 1917.
In May 1944, Williams notified the city he would be giving up his duties as weather observer because of his poor health. The city Fire Department took over in August of that year after installing weather-monitoring equipment at the Ridge Street fire station.
Williams died on Oct. 12, 1945.


Maury Thompson was a reporter for The Post-Star of Glens Falls for 21 years before retiring in 2017. He now is a freelance writer focusing on the history of politics, labor and media in the region.