History of the Town of Schaghticoke

the results of research about the history of the town of Schaghticoke

The Schaghticoke Boys

c. 2014

I am now researching and writing the next section of the history of the town of Schaghticoke- c. 1920- while the “Mechanicville Express” is publishing the previous section , the town c. 1900. All of this will eventually go online, but meanwhile, I think I will put up the book I wrote in 2014 about all the men I could find with a connection to the town who served in the Civil War. I recently revised it. I have posted a couple of the bios previously, but there are hundreds more.



This document includes all the men I could find who fought in the Civil War and were in Schaghticoke for any period of time, before, during, and/or after the war. Some of the men were born here, some returned here just after the war; some came to town long after their service. Some never lived in Schaghticoke, but came to town to enlist in Company K of the 125th New York Infantry Regiment or other regiments.  I found them in various sources: the listing in the Schaghticoke portion of Sylvester’s “History of Rensselaer County,” published in 1880; in the special listing of veterans in the 1865 New York State Census, the Schaghticoke portion; in the 1890 US Veteran Schedule- the only portion of the 1890 Federal Census which survived; on the official record cards of New York State Regiments; in Elmwood and St. John’s Cemeteries; in the official NYS list of men in the 125th Regiment; and in random places.

One might ask why I set out to do this, or why I included men who had only a tiny connection to our town- for example, just enlisting here. I feel that these men were truly the “greatest generation.” They were all volunteers (though men were drafted for the war), who fought and lived in awful conditions for a noble purpose- preservation of their country.  Some made the greatest sacrifice – their lives- knowing that their loved ones might never retrieve their bodies. Others suffered from illness or injuries incurred in the war all the rest of their lives. While I feel all Civil War veterans deserve more recognition than our society gives them, I can at least illuminate the lives and thereby honor those connected with our town.

In order to write about them, I primarily used the resources of ancestry.com, which includes the Federal Censuses, the record cards kept by New York State regiments, the Federal Pension index, the New York State Draft books of 1863, the reports of many Town Clerks of New York State in 1865 (with the exception of Schaghticoke, unfortunately), records of many of the Soldiers and Sailors Homes, some records of U.S. tombstones requested by Civil War Veterans, and other items. In my office, I have transcriptions of the 1855, 1865, 1905, 1915, and 1925 NYS census portions for Schaghticoke, and the records of the Schaghticoke Dutch Reformed, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and Methodist Churches. The Rensselaer County Historical Society (now the Hart Cluett Museum) has the probate records for the county, and records of the Veterans Association of the 125th. The latter included a roster of the 125th, plus information on the men at the time the association was formed, about 1888. A unique resource is “Friend Jennie,” a transcription of the Civil War letters of George Bryan of Schaghticoke, written home to his friend Jennie Ackart, edited by Joseph Stickelmyer. George was a Lieutenant in the 125th Regiment, the Rensselaer County Regiment. Company K was primarily composed of men from Schaghticoke.


George Bryan’s letters to her are a great source of info on his Civil War experience

I also used the website of the NYS Division of Military and Naval Affairs for information on the battles of each regiment. The site also includes the roster of each regiment, allowing me to confirm the service of the men. Most of the local men served in New York State Infantry, Cavalry, Artillery, and Engineer Regiments. A few served in the U.S. Army, a few in the U.S. Navy. A few served in regiments from other states. For them, I found that the information online about the regiments of other states was not nearly as complete as New York’s- at least as far as I could find. I also used http://www.fultonhistory.com, where millions of pages of New York State newspapers have been digitized. Unless otherwise indicated, I took the photographs.

In writing about the men, I created as complete a biography as I could. I listed names of their families, cognizant of interest of genealogical researchers. I speculated a bit about why they might have enlisted and what the effect of their service was on them. I kept thinking about the parallels with the current veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, whose trials after their service have been so publicized. I also discussed, as much as I could, their lives before, during, and after the war.

Well into his service as a soldier, in September 1863, George Bryan wrote home to his friend Jennie about why he enlisted. The draft had just been instituted. He said, “I suppose you all have dread of going in the Army, at times I can not blame you or anyone else, but as our Country needs our help, I for one am willing to share the hardships and dangers of it. …we have had some very hard times and some very pleasant times and to put the good and bad together I think I am satisfied to try it all.” There are two reasons given: to help the country and to “try it all.” Later in the same letter, George added that he often felt he should be at home, helping his aging parents, but “how can I…stay at home and let others do the fighting?” He states he enlisted because “I could not content myself at home. I would work hard all day and night I would go out..somewhere until late…I saw it was killing me and I was getting less contented every day. I thought it better to go to war and try my luck there.” So, here is a third reason: discontent with his career and life path- “finding himself.” George rose to become a lieutenant, finding he was good at being a soldier and leader.

Men all over the state and the North were subject to “war rallys”(sic), with haranguing speeches from prominent citizens, day-by-day accounts of the course of the war in the newspapers, and recruiting tents in every town. As the war went on, larger and larger enlistment bounties were offered. Men in our local 125th N.Y. Regiment, joining in August 1862, got $140, a huge sum at the time. The recruiting poster proclaimed  “ho! for the sunny south,” and urged the recruits to “Preserve the Union” and “Protect the Constitution.” And after Lincoln instituted the draft in 1863, men wanted to join the unit they preferred, perhaps getting a bounty, rather than be drafted. Bounties to join the 125th and the 169th, the other Troy regiment, reached almost $1000 by early 1864.  One man I researched got a bounty of $1300, an enormous sum at the time.

Most of the Schaghticoke men served in a New York State regiment. New York provided more men to the Union Army than any other state. Regiments of 1000 men were recruited all over the state from just days after the war began to 1865. At the beginning, men enlisted for nine months, but it soon became clear that the war would be long, so enlistments moved to two, then three years, and some were for the duration of the war. In the end, the State had formed 194 Infantry, 40 Artillery, 25 Cavalry, and 3 Engineer Regiments. Some were recruited in just one county, like the 125th, others were made up of men from all over the state. In addition, after the Emancipation Proclamation at the end of 1862, 4000 black men from New York State enlisted in U.S. Colored Regiments.


While the men of Schaghticoke served in many different regiments during the Civil War, Company K of the 125th NY Infantry Regiment was primarily recruited in Schaghticoke in August of 1862. The 125th was the second Rensselaer County regiment of the war. The first was the 2nd New York, recruited primarily in Troy in April 1862. The 125th left Troy for Virginia about September 1, 1862. On September 15 they were captured en masse with 10,000 others when Harpers Ferry was surrendered to General Stonewall Jackson. The Confederates didn’t have the means to deal with so many prisoners of war, so the men were sent to Camp Douglas, Chicago, which served as a “parole camp.”

camp douglas

Camp Douglas, Chicago

By Chas. Shober & Co. – https://www.loc.gov/resource/cph.3a17854/, PD-US, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=54607619

In early 1863, the men were “exchanged” and sent back to the front in Virginia. Their first major battle was Gettysburg in July, when the regiment suffered 139 casualties. They went on to fight at Spotsylvania Court House, and the siege of Petersburg, ending up at Appomattox Court House in April 1865. Of the 1000 men who went off to war, 127 were killed or died of wounds and 285 wounded over the course of the war.

A side story of the 125th is the number of men who were captured by the Confederates during the war. I have only tried to deal with those from Company K.  Captured while on picket duty near Mine Run, Virginia on December 1, 1863 were W.O. Carr, Douglas Fisher, C.E. Stratton, John Conlin, and James Simon. Forty men of the 125th were captured in all. Somehow Simon was freed, but the others ended up at Andersonville Prison, where they died in the summer of 1864.  Jason Robbins, Arteus Loomis, and Andrew Jackson Doty were captured during a battle on the Po River in May of 1864. They were sent to Andersonville, but were transferred to the new stockade at Florence, South Carolina when it opened in September, and survived to be “exchanged” at the end of the war in April 1865.  Conditions in both Confederate and Union prisoner-of-war camps were horrible, but those at Andersonville were especially cruel.

The letters of George Bryan begin after the capture of the 125th Regiment at Harpers Ferry in September 1862. During his time in parole camp in Chicago, he reported that morale was low, some men deserting, others ill due to the poor living conditions. But after the return of the regiment to winter camp in Virginia, he wrote to Jenny, “You ask me how I would feel if ordered to go into Battle. That is a question that is quite hard to answer, but to tell you just how I feel about it, if I was ordered out to fight, it would be just what I have long wished for. I enlisted to fight and do not mean to go home to stay until I have seen some more fight. Yet I hope I may be prepared to meet my God if it should be my time to fall…I shall never give up a loaded gun again to all the rebels in the south.” A month later, after lots of guard duty, he wrote, “I would much rather risk my life in battle than to be out so often all night in rainy weather, one is a slow death, the other honor or a quick death.” As time went on and George experienced battle, he found he really liked being a soldier. In late 1863, he wrote, “Do not think I am tired of a soldier’s life as I am NOT.” George was shot and killed by a Confederate sniper on June 16, 1864. The 125th was mustered out, as were most regiments, in summer 1865.

I have tried to follow the lives of all of the soldiers until the end. Today we are very aware of the effects of service in war on soldiers. Some soldiers seem to sail through the rest of their lives untouched outwardly, though I can say as the wife of a Vietnam veteran, that being in battle changes men in some way forever. Other men have to live with varying degrees of physical and mental disability. In the case of these men, the physical disabilities are sometimes evident in the records. It’s hard to know if those who died relatively young had had their lives shortened by the harsh living conditions of soldiers in the war, or by some sort of war-related injury, and it’s rare to find out that they had mental disabilities.


Men disabled by their service in the war were entitled to a pension right from the start, based on an 1862 law. The amount they received depended on the gravity of the disability. Widows received a pension based on total disability. In 1890, the Grand Army of the Republic, the veterans’ organization founded by and for Civil War Veterans, lobbied for a change in the system. Veterans who became too disabled for manual labor could apply for a pension at any time. A change in 1906 ruled that old age itself justified a pension. The pension system created the first large bureaucracy in the history of the nation. The card index, on ancestry.com and family search.org, is amazing, containing thousands and thousands of men and widows. And the pension applications themselves run to 100 pages or more, documenting many details of each man’s service. A flaw in this account is that I have not applied for the pension papers of all of the veterans. At least two thirds applied for them- and I have included that information in each biography. Widows mostly applied very soon after their husbands died, sometimes a good insight into death date of veterans.  But they cost $80 apiece, a prohibitive amount for me.

AlexanderPBush pension card

a typical pension card…..there are many thousands in Washington, plus the 100-page plus pension files that go with them

The Grand Army of the Republic, founded in 1866, was composed of men (and a few women) who served in the Civil War. It was the first organized advocacy group in American politics, and worked to secure veterans’ pensions.  At its peak in 1890, it had 490,000 members. Five members were elected President of the U.S. It was composed of a department for each state and posts in individual communities within the states.

The Schaghticoke GAR post, Post Hartshorn No. 487, was organized June 3, 1884. The charter members were Edward E. Pinkham, John Hines, Jr., Lewis Hunt, Elbridge D. Green, Daniel H. Tarbell, Henry Campbell, Thomas McMillan, Herbert H. Dill, Lorenzo Guest, Jesse B. Armstrong, Eugene Munn, John H. Conde, Charles H. Wolf, John Bacon, Michael O’Keefe, Leander White, Charles Turner, and Timothy Hurley. Interestingly, only Bacon, Wolf, and Guest were veterans of the 125th, in addition to Hartshorn, for whom the post was named. From what I have seen, they did a good job of marking the graves of veterans, especially in Elmwood Cemetery. And the local American Legion post continues to replace the flags yearly.

Dave McMahon, author of “Peril in the Powder Mills,” pointed me to the section about Civil War vets in “Stand Proud Sonny,” the memoir about early 20th century life in Schaghticoke by Art Herrick. I think it is worthwhile to quote him extensively, as we gain such great insight into the later years of the veterans of the war. I know that the men also marched in “Decoration Day” and 4th of July parades, just as Vietnam veterans do today.


“As I got around town, I began to see more and more old men and found that they were veterans of the Civil War. I must have become acquainted with over one hundred of them. I think I helped their day to have some meaning, listening to their stories as they refought many a famous battle for me. …On Decoration Day they would put on their G.A.R. uniforms and be driven to the cemetery for a ceremony that included several speakers. The Fife and Drum Corps of the Washington Engine and Hose Company would play music…After the ceremony the veterans would put a potted plant on each soldier’s grave, a flag marking each one to make it easier to find. …

These veterans all belonged to the Grand Army of the Republic and met at stated intervals in a regular meeting room.  At first, when their numbers were large, they would have a county-wide encampment. Grounds had been cleared and leveled and possibly two thousand men would be encamped for a week in tents.  This encampment was just past the bridge in the village and the outlines of it may still exist.”


I will begin by telling the stories of the local Civil War veterans who were “Schaghticoke Boys,” the men of Company K and other companies of the 125th NY Infantry Regiment, then move on to veterans of other units. And I will begin with the officers, including a few not from town as they were the officers of the “Schaghticoke boys,” then move on to the enlisted men, alphabetically.








The Lohnes Brothers: Two More Civil War Soldiers from Schaghticoke


I am happy to share the stories of two more local men who served in the Civil War, ancestors of much-missed former historian of the village of Schaghticoke, Dick Lohnes. Edward and Atwater Lohnes were two of the sons of George and Nancy Lohnes. Lohnes family members had first moved to Rensselaer County around the time of the Revolution.  George, born in 1804, died in 1845, leaving Nancy and five children.

By the time of the Civil War, Atwater, born in 1838, was a 24-year-old axe maker, living in Johnsonville, married to Joanna, and the parent of two children. He enlisted in Company K of the 104th NY Infantry on March 5, 1862.  Also in Company K was a Chauncy Lohnes from Brunswick, who must have been a cousin, and two other local men, whom he may or may not have known.  Atwater survived the bloody battles of Antietam and Fredericksburg in fall 1862, but was wounded at the battle of Gettysburg on July 1, 1863, one of 194 casualties among the less than 1000 men of the 104th at that battle. Atwater had his leg amputated at a makeshift hospital in Gettysburg and died there, either on July 6 or August 20, depending on the source used. I have not been able to find a record of his burial. Widow Joanna applied for a  widow’s pension in December 1863.  I believe she may have survived until 1923, not remarrying.

Edward was the youngest of the five children of George and Nancy, just three when his father died. He was 18 when he enlisted in the 1st NY Mounted Rifles in June 1862. He was described as a farmer with grey eyes, a light complexion, and light hair, and was 5’8” tall.  At least two other local men were in the same unit, which served throughout Virginia and North Carolina during the war. Edward was promoted to Corporal, then to Sergeant. He mustered out with his Company on July 6, 1865 in Washington, D.C. The 1865 NY Census for Schaghticoke listed him living with his brother John and his mother, but if he was home, it wasn’t for long.

edward lohnes fort rice 1864

Fort Rice, North Dakota Territory about the time Edward Lohnes was there

Thanks to a blog from the Lake Region Heritage Center in Devil’s Lake, North Dakota, I learned that Edward enlisted in the 31st U.S. Infantry in 1867. This is confirmed by the 1870 US Census, which lists Edward as a soldier at the Fort Rice Garrison in the Dakota Territory. Fort Rice was established in 1864 and was an extremely active military post. It sent out a number of expeditions against the Indians, hosted peace conferences with the Sioux Indians in 1868, and sent companies of Cavalry to fight beside General Custer at the Little Big Horn in 1874. Edward and his company helped build Fort Totten nearby, then served in the garrison.

Edward definitely was at peace with the Sioux: he married a Sioux woman named Mary early on during his time in the Dakota Territory. An ancestry.com family tree states her name was Mary Wannatan, or Blue Nest, and that they married in 1865, which seems a bit early to me. The Heritage Center blog states that after his second discharge from the Army, in 1870, Edward was a mail carrier between the Missouri River Forts, a dangerous and demanding job. Then he and Mary were the first settlers of Freshwater Township. According to Dick Lohnes, Edward participated in the 1889 State Convention establishing the state, then the 1894 North Dakota State Constitutional Convention.  The Heritage Center blog adds that he was then elected to the new State House of Representatives, where, his obituary stated, “He did not waste much of the people’s time in long speeches, but always voted right.” The state school for the deaf was located at his home town of Devil’s Lake due to his efforts.

edward lohnes

Edward Lohnes at the time he was in a delegate to the North Dakota State Convention

In the 1900 US Census, Edward was listed alone in Freshwater, ND, as a 56-year-old unmarried farmer. In the same census, his wife Mary Lohnes was listed in the section for the Devil’s Lake Indian Reservation. She was 49-years-old, with children James, 22; Gertrude, 20; Chauncey, 15; Hattie, 13; Mattie, 11; Clement, 18; Aaron, 16; and Sarah, 11.  Son John, 24, and his wife Emma, 22, lived next door.  By the 1910 US Census Mary and Edward were listed together, though he was mis-indentified as having been born in Minnesota, as was Mary, who was listed as 50. She was identified as Sioux, and as having had twelve children, nine of whom were living. Children Clement, 18; Aaron, 16; and Sarah, 11, lived with their parents. Obviously some of the ages have been misrecorded by the census takers. They lived in Wood Lake, North Dakota.

By the 1920 US Census Edward and Mary lived with just daughter Sarah, age 21, but were next door to son James and his family. Interestingly, Edward and Sarah were listed as white in the census, while Mary and James and his family were all Indian. Edward was now 74 and Mary 70, and they were in Mission Benson, North Dakota. Mary died in 1924. The 1930 US Census showed Edward living alone in the village of Crary, North Dakota. He was not listed as a veteran, though he had applied for a pension in 1891, but when he died on March 31, 1933, his son James applied for a veteran’s headstone for him. According to the blog cited above, he was buried in the Crary Cemetery in North Dakota with full military honors. I know that Richard Lohnes, village historian of Schaghticoke, visited Edward’s descendants in North Dakota, Native Americans all.

edward lohnes, crary nd

Tombstone of Edward Lohnes in Crary, North Dakota

This may be the most amazing of all the stories of all the Schaghticoke veterans.  Edward must have had tremendous skill and perseverance, fighting through the Civil and Indian Wars, being the first settler in his part of North Dakota, and raising a large family.  Obviously Edward’s marriage to a Sioux woman did not affect his standing as an important person in his community, representing his fellows in the new state government. The Heritage Center blog was illustrated with a photo of a quilt donated to the center by Edward or a descendant. There is no mention of his wife or their descendants in the blog post, nor of Edward’s birth in upstate New York.






Beroth Bullard Crapo: From Schaghticoke to Arizona


I discovered this Schaghticoke-born Civil War soldier from his obituary in the Schaghticoke “Sun” in August 1897. B.B. Crapo was a pillar of the town of Prescott, Arizona. He was the son of John Knickerbocker and Sally Bullard Crapo, born in Schaghticoke in 1841. John was the son of Peter Crapo, who though born in Massachusetts had fought in the Revolution in a New York Regiment. I have found no connection to the Knickerbocker family, so it seems John was named for a man that Peter admired, perhaps Colonel John Knickerbocker, first Colonel of our local Revolutionary War regiment.

In any event, I did find Beroth, called B.B. in his obituary, in the 1850 US Census for Schaghticoke with his parents. He enlisted in Company E of the 17th Connecticut Infantry Regiment in Weston, Connecticut. He was listed as a machinist. I cannot find him in the 1860 US Census, but perhaps he had moved there for work.  The occupation of machinist implies he was working in a mill.

The 17th Connecticut arrived from the North in Baltimore, Maryland on September 3, 1862. It fought in the battle of Chancellorsville May 1, 1863, when B.B. was both wounded and captured. However he was paroled a couple of weeks later. Did he recover in time to serve with the Regiment at the battle of Gettysburg on July 1-3? We don’t know. Next the regiment served in South Carolina, in actions against Fort Sumter and Charleston. It stayed on the coast, moving on to St. Augustine, Florida by the end of the war in April 1865. In January 1864, B.B. was promoted to Corporal.  He was discharged with the rest of the regiment on July, 1865 at Hilton Head, South Carolina.

B.B. married Jennie Davidson in Prescott, Arizona in 1867, according to Arizona marriage records. Jennie was born in Scotland in 1849. I don’t know how B.B. and Jennie ended up in Arizona at what was basically its founding. He was certainly a pioneer, probably crossing the country by wagon, as the transcontinental railroad was not completed until 1869. I think that he and Jennie returned to Rensselaer County for a time, before returning to settle and farm in the Skull Valley area, near Prescott, Arizona. I found Beroth, 29, working in an axe factory in Pittstown, living with Jennie, 21, and baby son David, 8-months-old, in the 1870 US Census. His parents lived nearby with their son George and his family.

beroth crapo skull valley AZ

Skull Valley, Arizona

The 1880 US Census listed the family back in Yavapai County, Arizona: B.B., 39, a farmer, plus Jenny, 29, and David, 10; Cora, 6; and Alice, 3. It seems amazing that anyone could farm in Skull Valley, but it does get 19 inches of rain a year- still not much. We would love to know how the farming went. In 1881 B.B. applied for a Civil War pension, at the point where they were only awarded for disability. According to his obituary, he was a member of the Masonic Lodge and the G.A.R. in Prescott. He had been a member of the Victor Lodge in Schaghticoke as a young man. The obituary also stated that he had moved to Arizona in 1869, but the public documents, of his marriage in Arizona in 1867, and the 1870 Census in Pittstown, tell a different story.

beroth bullard crapo arizona

Tombstone of B.B. Crapo

B.B. died in Prescott in 1897. He clearly had maintained a connection to Schaghticoke, as his obituary was published a month later in the “Sun.” The obituary says he was buried in Prescott, but Find-a-grave states that he and his wife Jennie, who died in 1912, are buried in San Bernadino, California. I don’t know why there is this difference,but the pictures seem clear. The tombstone also states he was born in Valley Falls and died in Skull Valley. Wouldn’t we like to talk to this couple about their amazing life experiences?

Fact and Fiction and an Unusual Civil War Vet


Honestly, I am biding time in my column. I am just about finished with a long piece about Schaghticoke around 1900- at this point about 50 pages long- but it’s just not ready yet. So I have been sharing bios of local men who fought in the Civil War. These were written a few years ago and have not been published. I was prompted to share the story of Henry J. Simmons as a good friend just told me the version of his early life that he had heard. I have heard much of what he told me too, and feel it is a tall tale, though much more exciting than his real life. I think I can set the record straight, though it will take a couple of columns to do it.

Henry Simmons was born in Canaan, Columbia County on March 8, 1831. I can’t find him in the public record before the Civil War, but I believe I found his parents in the 1850 US Census for Canaan: Charles, 55, and Harriet, 50, Simmons, plus a daughter Dorsey, age 19.  Charles was a laborer with a personal estate of $400. I’m quite sure this is the correct family as Henry and his parents were free blacks, and certainly in a real minority both in Columbia County and here.  I haven’t found Henry in the census that year, however. All blacks were free in New York State after 1828. Many freed slaves moved away, though not the Simmons.

I sent to the National Archives for Henry’s Civil War pension file, and it provided lots more information. He married Julia Jackson in 1852 in Rochester, NY.  Julia was working in the hotel of John Schriver in Kingston as of the 1850 U.S. Census, when she was 18. They had three children born before the war: Daniel in 1854, Richard, in 1856, and Julia, in 1860. Henry was also unusual as a free black with a wife and family. Most were individuals, either black barbers or black cooks or serving maids in hotels.

henry simmons 2

On September 5, 1864 Henry enlisted in Company H of the 20th U.S. Colored Infantry. The regiment had been formed at the end of the year before, in response to the desire of black men to serve in the Civil War following the publication of the Emancipation Proclamation, and the need of the Union army for more men. It mustered on Rikers Island in New York City. Shortly after formation, it went to New Orleans, where it served through the end of 1865. Only one enlisted man died in combat, but 263 died of disease out of the regiment of 1000 men.

Henry gave his age as 35 when he enlisted. He was 5’6” tall, and gave his occupation as farmer. He gave his birthplace as Canaan, New York. Henry mustered out after one year of service, with the rest of his regiment, in September 1865.

I know from Henry’s pension file that he was in an Army hospital for some months in 1865, suffering from jaundice. He also told a long and detailed story about receiving an injury to his right foot. While in the hospital, Henry had improved a bit, and a doctor asked him to hold the horses of his carriage. He and his wife were going to go for a drive. The flies were bad and one of the horses swiped at flies with its back foot, which it put down directly on Henry’s right instep. He ended up back in the hospital, still ill, but now with a badly injured foot. Henry was discharged from the hospital but never really returned to duty and walked with a limp thereafter. After a few years, his foot began to break open and drain yearly, for the rest of his life.

After the war, Henry lived in New York City for a few months, then in Albany for a few months more. He moved back to New York City in the fall of 1866 and lived there until 1872. He was coachman for a W.P. Furness. In 1873, he moved to Schaghticoke. I know these movements from Henry’s pension file, but don’t know where his family was during all of these years, nor why he moved around.

The first time I can find Henry in the census after the war, he and his family were living in the village of Schaghticoke in 1875, with Henry listed as a laborer. I wonder if he came here because he had heard of Schaghticoke from Amos Vincent, a local man who was a fellow soldier in Company H. In the 1880 US Census, Henry and wife Julia, 43, listed children Cordelia, 15; Emma, 13; Isadora, 6; and Harry F., 10 months old, in their family. Henry had a good-paying but dangerous job in the gun powder mill; Cordelia and Emma worked in the woolen mill.

From the records of Elmwood Cemetery, I know that Henry and his wife had had a younger son named Harry, born in August of 1875, who lived just 9 months. The Harry born in 1879 died at age 11. And the cemetery records give Henry’s wife’s name as Candis Julia Jackson. She was born in 1837 and died in 1887 of pneumonia.

Henry applied for a  Civil War pension in 1885, before they were available on the basis of old age. His claim was based on his foot injury, and was rejected. Several of his fellow soldiers testified about the circumstances of the injury, but their descriptions were contradictory. And the Army’s hospital records showed he was only hospitalized for jaundice, not for a hurt foot.

But several local people testified as to his disability. These neighbors, Herbert H. Dill, John Healy, and Nelson Viall, all stated that Henry was a man of good character, a hard worker, who lost a couple of months of work each year due to his foot injury and used a cane or crutches often. His local doctors, W.C. Crombie and D.H. Tarbell, described the injury in great detail. Dr. Tarbell, a fellow veteran, added that Henry now had kidney problems in addition to the foot injury. Dill and Healy were also veterans.

In 1890 he began to receive a $6 per month pension just based on old age. Henry applied for more money in 1896, adding in the foot problems again, and did get more at that point.  Of course he appeared as a widower in the 1900 US Census. Now 69, he was still a powder maker, living in the village. His daughter Cordelia, now 34, took care of the house, which included her sisters Isadora 24, working as a twister in the woolen mill, and Maude, 19, who was a servant. Maude had been born in 1882, so lost her mother at age 5.

A surgeon’s certificate in the pension file describes Henry in 1898, aged 67: 5’10” tall, 145 pounds, in fairly good health except for his right foot, but with no teeth except for a few stumps. The doctor felt he had some heart problems which led to his shortness of breath, plus some rheumatism.

Three little granddaughters, Ruth Lovelace, born in 1889, and twins Edith and Edna, born in 1892, lived in the family in 1900 as well. They were the daughters of Henry’s other daughter, Emma, who had married Edward Lovelace.  Emma died of heart disease at just 25 in 1892, leaving the three little girls. Edna died in 1907. The father of these girls was not far away. As of the 1900 census Edward Lovelace lived in a rooming house in Troy, and worked as a porter. Presumably he lived in Troy for work.  He was also black, born in New York in 1860. His parents were born in Florida. It is interesting to speculate how they ended up in New York in 1860 if they were slaves in Florida. Edward died of tuberculosis in 1915, and is also buried in Elmwood.

The 1910 US Census listed Henry on West Street in the village of Schaghticoke. Now 79, he was retired. His daughter Cordelia, 44, was still keeping house. Granddaughters Ruth, 20, and Edith, 18, still lived with them. They worked as twisters in the linen mill.

Soon after, Cordelia and Henry moved to Springfield, Massachusetts, along with daughter Isadora. He received an increase in his pension, to $24 a month, in 1912, and to $35 in 1919. Henry died later that year, aged 87, of nephritis. The government paid $153 for his funeral and interment in Elmwood. Unfortunately his death date was not added to his tombstone.

It would be interesting to know for sure how Henry found Schaghticoke. He evidently fit into the community, though it was as rare for a black family to live in the village then as it is now. He lived surrounded by women- his daughters and granddaughters.  He was a member of the local post of the G.A.R. The testimony of his neighbors in the pension file clearly shows that he was a valued member of the community who suffered almost daily from his war service. He must have had an amazing constitution!


henry simmons 1

This photo appeared in two local books: Arthur Herrick’s “Stand Proud Sonny” and Richard Lohnes’ “Schaghticoke Centennial Booklet”. This is Herrick’s caption, wrong on two counts- Henry was not a slave and the photo was before 1920. Lohnes says this is the Hartshorn G.A.R. Post (the Schaghticoke one) c. 1915.

So you are asking, where is the fiction?  Arthur Herrick, born in 1903, grew up in Schaghticoke. When he retired from his printing business in Mechanicville in 1967 he wrote his memoirs, published as “Stand Proud Sonny: Village Life at the Turn of the Century,” edited by Walter Auclair. There is a long passage in the book where Henry recounts his life story to the author, then a child.  As far as I can tell,the story is entirely false. Was it made up by Arthur or Henry? I’m assuming that an old man had a great time telling all of this to a gullible child.  As recounted, Henry was an escaped slave from Virginia, educated alongside the son of a beloved master. After his death, Henry was employed as a stud, fathering 300-500 children! As the war began he escaped, joining the cavalry, staying in the Army long after the war, serving all over the West and ending up in Vermont, where he met his wife and retired from the Army on a partial pension. All of this is false, including his final statement that there was a place reserved for him in the Soldiers’ Plot at Elmwood – his family has its own plot.

Henry Simmons

Central stone in the Simmons plot at Elmwood. Henry has his own small stone as well.

To me, while Henry’s true story is not as exciting and salacious, it is commendable. He was a hard-working family man who found a niche and lots of support in a conservative upstate community.


















“Quite Profane…a Drinking Man”

I am returning to biographies previously researched of about 300 men with connections to Schaghticoke who served in the Civil War, 1861-1865. They had fascinating lives before, during and after the war.

One of the men was Jacob H. Houck. He was born in Schaghticoke about 1830 and by the time of the war he was married to an Irish woman named Margaret and had four young children. They lived in Waterford, where he worked as a boatman. Jacob enlisted in the 125th NY Infantry Regiment, the second Rensselaer County to be formed in the war, in August 1862. Jacob was an older soldier, and married, which would have exempted him from service, but perhaps he was drawn by the generous enlistment bounty he would have received.


NYS Muster Card of Jacob Houck

The 125th NY had a rough start to its Civil War. Just after it arrived in Harpers Ferry, Virginia in September 1862, the whole regiment, along with 10,000 other soldiers, were surrendered to a Confederate Army led by General Stonewall Jackson. They spent the fall and winter in an internment camp in Chicago, Illinois, as the Confederates had no provision for a prison camp of that size. Then they were paroled and rejoined the Union Army. They fought in the battle of Gettysburg in July, and several other battles leading up to the battles of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania in spring 1864.

Jacob did well as a soldier, being promoted to Corporal in June and Sergeant in August 1863. The “Regimental History of the 125th NY Infantry Regiment” by Ezra Simons reveals another side of Jacob. “Survivors of this regiment will remember Jacob Houck as a large, strong man physically; as quite profane; as a drinking man, who, when under the influence of liquor, was given to fighting.” The chaplain of the regiment, author of the history, reported that “on the battlefield of Gettysburg, he had promised his God that if spared he would lead a Christian life. But later on the march southwards and just after rations of whiskey had been served to the troops, (he was) under the influence of liquor and again guilty of profanity.”  But he kept going to prayer meetings at camp and decided he had to give up liquor and turn to prayer.

Houck was wounded in action at Spotsylvania on May 18, 1864. The chaplain “kissed his brow” as he headed off in the ambulance with what proved to be a mortal wound. His Bible was at his head. He died a Christian. He died in a hospital in Washington on June 7.  Jacob is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Sadly, his family did not know that.  The 1865 NY Census stated his burial place was unknown.

This is a very dramatic story, but the reality was that wife Margaret was left a widow with four children. I believe I found at least two of the children, Jacob and Andrew, in a long list of young children in the orphan asylum in Troy in the 1865 NY Census. I have not found Margaret in the public record after the war. She may have remarried, which would explain why she didn’t apply for a pension. Perhaps her new husband didn’t want to take on four children.  Son Andrew did apply for a pension based on his father’s service in 1886.


Henry Lay Bliss, Ambitious and Daring


I am sharing the biographies of a few of the 300 or so men connected with Schaghticoke who fought in the U.S. Civil War. Many local men served in Company K of the 125th NY Infantry Regiment. They left Troy about September 1, 1862, went to Harpers Ferry, Virginia, and were surrendered as part of a Union Army of 11,000 men two weeks later to the Confederates under General Stonewall Jackson. After spending the winter in an internment camp in Chicago, they returned to duty in Virginia and fought out the rest of the war.

Henry L. Bliss enlisted as a Private in Company K in August of 1862 at age 19. He was born in Schaghticoke, and had brown hair and blue eyes. He was 5’10” tall and gave his occupation as student. For that to be his occupation, he must have been attending college somewhere. Nineteen was too old to be in a local school.  Though his record card states he was born in Schaghticoke, I believe he was born in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1843.

Henry’s mother Julia was the daughter of Colonel Bethel Mather, a prominent farmer in Schaghticoke. He had been a Colonel of the local militia at the time of the War of 1812.  His farm house was where the M & T Bank is now. Julia Mather attended Emma Willard’s Troy Female Seminary, a very rare thing in the 1820’s.   In 1840 she married Henry Bliss, born in Massachusetts, who was a farmer. Henry, age 34, and Julia, age 30, show up living with her parents in Schaghticoke in the 1850 US Census, along with son Henry, age 7, our future soldier,  and daughter Mary, 5. Mary died the following year.

Parents Henry and Julia attended the local Presbyterian Church. Julia died in childbirth in 1859.  Colonel Mather died in 1861 and listed among his heirs the son of his deceased daughter Julia: Henry of Springfield, Massachusetts. He may have been living with relatives of his father in Springfield, perhaps attending school there. When it came to enlisting in the Army, Henry returned home.

henry Bliss card

NYS Muster Card of Henry Lay Bliss

He was promoted to Sergeant in the 125th  in April 1863. In March 1864 he accepted a commission as a First Lieutenant in the 31st  Regiment, Colored Troops. As the war went on, partially because President Lincoln had turned the focus to the abolition of slavery, partially due to the need for more men, the Union began to recruit African-American regiments. The officers, however, were white. Some of the officers were idealistic and sought to work with the blacks, others were men who saw an opportunity for promotion. Several men from the 125th joined the Colored Troops as Lieutenants. Ezra Simons, author of the history of the 125th Regiment, noted that “men going from us on such service were all men of a marked force and exalted character. They had passed a rigid examination, for only men of special fitness were deemed qualified to land in a service demanding not only intelligence and skill and patience but unusual daring.” He added that if captured they would surely be shot.

The 31st participated in the vicious battles of the Wilderness and Cold Harbor, and the sieges of Richmond, and Petersburg in June and July 1864. They stayed around Richmond through the winter of 1864-1865, and were at Appomattox when Lee surrendered in April. The Regiment served in Texas until they were discharged in the fall of 1865. By then Henry had been promoted to Captain. He is listed on the African-American Civil War Memorial in Washington, D.C. , see below.

African am. civil war mem. (2)

By the 1870 US Census Henry was a painter living in Chicago, Illinois. That occupation usually indicates the person was a house, carriage, and sign painter.  He married Laura Lane in 1873.  They lived in Marshall, Iowa for a time and had three children. The 1900 US Census listed him back in Chicago, with a second wife, Nellie H.  Henry was now 57, still a house painter, but was also the census taker!  He remained in Chicago.  Henry also worked periodically as a special policeman for the board of education.

plutocracy's statistics

Henry died in 1916, at age 72, and is buried in Mt. Hope Cemetery in Chicago.  He was widowed, and still worked as a special policeman for the board of education. The bare facts of his life hide his private work as a statistician. An article in a magazine called “The Public” on January 23, 1916 states that though Henry was a paperhanger by trade, he “was known to a wide circle of readers as a statistician. He was a frequent contributor to the press, and during the free silver agitation he wrote a book.” It was as a newspaper controversialist..that he distinguished himself. No one, from the Superintendent of the U.S. Census down to the densest protectionist was immune from his criticism; and it was rare indeed that he failed to make his point. Mr. Bliss was a fundamental democrat and devoted all his spare energies to the propagation of Free Trade and Singletax.”   The book was called “Plutocracy’s Statistics: Statistical Lies and Liars, Official and Unofficial.” Published in 1900, it is still available on amazon.com as the company considers it “culturally important.” Henry Bliss must have been a very interesting person.




Chauncey Crandall, Civil War Casualty


I am returning to biographies of men from our town who served in the Civil War, written long ago, but not published before. Company K of the 125th NY Infantry Regiment was recruited mostly from Schaghticoke in August 1862. We are fortunate to have the letters of one of those recruits, George Bryan, written home to his friend Jennie Ackart, thanks to Joe Sticklemeyer, who published them as “Friend Jennie.” The 125th was part of the Army of 11,000 who surrendered to General Stonewall Jackson on September 15, 1862 at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. The men were interned in camp in Chicago, as the Confederacy had no way to imprison that many men. They were paroled in the winter and returned to camp in Virginia, ready to fight in the spring.

Chauncey J. Crandall enlisted at age 18 in Company K. He was 5’10” tall, with black eyes, brown hair, and a fair complexion. He was born in Schaghticoke, and gave his occupation as farmer. The 1850 US Census shows the family when Chauncey was just 8. His father, Albert, 45 was a farmer. His mother Amanda was 38, and he had two older brothers, Harvey, 12, and George, 10. By the 1855 and 1860 censuses, Albert listed his occupation as laborer, and just Chauncey lived at home. In the 1860 US Census he gave his occupation as farm laborer.


NYS Muster Card of Chauncey Crandall

George Bryan referred to Chauncey quite a few times in his letters to Jennie Ackart. Either he was good friends with Chauncey, or he knew that Jennie was. While the 125th was interned in Camp Douglas in Chicago, Bryan wrote on November 2, 1862, “Channey Crandall is in the hospital. He had the fever but is doing very well now. By November 13, he added, “Channey Crandall is gaining slowly. I think he is past all danger…Channey Crandall has just been here. I have written two letters for him today…He says you have forgotten him as you do not write to him”; also, “You need not worry about Channey Crandall, he will not want for anything.” This tells us either Chauncey was not able to write or too ill to do so. He was not as well as Bryan thought, as “he was not able to come with us when we left Chicago…was left there in the hospital….The things you sent him I shall keep for him until he joins the company again.” By January 24, 1863, Bryan reported that “I read a letter from Channey Crandall a day before yesterday. He is getting better. I think he will be able to be with us soon. He is in Baltimore.”  By March 14, in their camp in Centreville, Virginia, Bryan added, “Channey Crandall has joined his company, he is well. He said he had sent for some money twice, but did not get it.  I think you had better not send him any more now; we will get paid this week.” March 28 Bryan wrote, “Chauncy Crandall is well as usual; and does his duty like a soldier.” On April 23, “Channy Crandall acts as though he liked to be a soldier.”

Chauncey was wounded at the battle of Gettysburg on July 2, 1863. Bryan wrote to Jennie on July 17, “Channy lay out in the rain all night…He was wounded in the shoulder. He was quite weak and exhausted. I did not think it dangerous. I went to see him as soon as he was brought in.”  George would have had to leave Chauncey, as the 125th moved on after the battle. Chauncey died July 9 of that wound. He was buried in the National Cemetery, section A, site 90, the cemetery dedicated by Lincoln with his famous speech.


gettysburg crandall tombstone

tombstone of Chauncey Crandall at Gettysburg

gettysburg lincoln monument

Chauncey Crandall was buried very near this monument at Gettysburg, which marks the spot where Lincoln gave his famous address.

The Crandalls remained in Schaghticoke. Mother Amanda filed for a Civil War pension in 1868, based on her son’s service. Chauncey’s brother Harvey and his wife named their son born in 1867 for Chauncey.




Parents Pay for Public School in Schaghticoke in 1845


Perhaps paradoxically, researching the past is always full of new discoveries. Recently I received an envelope of old documents from the Hoosick Falls historian. They were noted as having been in the Hazel Hill Collection and in a bag with 1985 obituaries. But they are school bills from the 1840’s from Schaghticoke! At first I was puzzled as to their content, as they seemed to show families being billed for the number of days their children attended school. Hasn’t the U.S. always had free public education? Then I found a professionally prepared handout in my files, collected by my predecessor as historian, unsourced, but dating from 1967. It gives a summary of education laws in N.Y.S. up to 1967. From the first public schools in 1812 until 1867, school funding was a combination of state aid, local property taxes, and “rate bills.”  The latter were basically tuition payments. Parents paid a daily cost for each child. Of course this could make it impossible for some parents to send their children to school, or make them less able to send them full time. At the time, attendance averaged less than 50% across the state, compared to over 90% today. So, no, public education in the U.S. has NOT always been free.

The town of Schaghticoke was divided into one-room school districts at the time of the first public school law, 1812. Ideally, students could easily walk to school, where one teacher taught all grades from kindergarten to 8th.  Each school had its own trustees and hired its own teacher. The school bills I received from the 1840’s are for the school whose district was made up of School District No. 2 in Schaghticoke and No. 6 in Cambridge- so the district was at the north end of the town, overlapping into Washington County. The school building was in Washington County.

school district with Cambridge 1877

portion of Beer’s Atlas of 1877 showing the district in question. The school was just over the county line in Cambridge

The bills showed that the school teacher him or herself multiplied out the number of weeks taught in each term by the salary per week, then subtracted the amount of state aid for the district from the result. She/he then recorded the names of the students and the number of days each had attended, added up the total for each family, multiplied by the cost per pupil per day and assessed the amount due from each family. Teacher Harriet P. Main submitted one bill from March to July 1845, 16 weeks and one day- or 91 days. She made $1.50 per week, for a total of $22.77. (I know the numbers don’t quite work out.) Public money received was $7.48, making $15.23 to be raised from the district. There were thirteen parents of 34 total children. For example, John Burch had two children: Calista attended 70 ½ days, Henry 65, for a total of 135 ½ days. He owed $1.24.  Nathaniel Welling had three children. Richard and Leonard attended 38 days, Rachel 56 days, for a total of 132 days. He owed $1.21.  Everyone on the list paid. The amounts seem tiny to us, but this was an economy without much cash. Eunisa Burch and Mary Shrieves had the best attendance: each attended 80 days. Mary and Sarah Brownell only attended four days, and their sister Ann just 14! As a former teacher, I would not have been happy that even the best attendees missed 10 of 91 days.

school district with cambridge records

a portion of one of the school bills, this one from 1845

I would love to give some information on the teachers mentioned in the school bills. Sadly, I have found nothing about Harriet Main, or the other two teachers mentioned, Nancy Welling, who may have been related to the many Welling in the district, and J. Henry Walch. From what I have researched elsewhere, school teachers in the 1840’s were sometimes young men who were in the middle of going to college. At this time future President Chester A. Arthur taught for a few terms in a school not far from this one. Sometimes the teachers were young women, often recent graduates of the school in which they were teaching. Public education has certainly changed a lot in the last 150 years.





Schaghticoke in the Late 19th. Century

It’s been over seven years since I began to research and write the history of the town of Schaghticoke.  The most recent articles here have been about the town in World War I. This is because we were in the midst of the centennial of the U.S. participation in that conflict. Before that, I had been writing chronologically about the history of the town and had reached 1850.  Those blog posts are here.

I will pick up the story about the town about 1870. I have used the same sources of information as before: census, Sylvester’s “History of Rensselaer County”, newspaper articles found through use of http://www.fultonhistory.com; maps; church, town, cemetery, and surrogate records; and records available through http://www.ancestry.com. Since Sylvester’s book was written in 1880, it has particular relevance to this period. And Beer’s “Atlas of Rensselaer County” was published in 1876, so is very timely, as is the “Rensselaer County Directory” of 1870. The censuses for 1855, 1860, 1865, and 1870 provide more and different kinds of information than that of 1850, including how long people have been living in town, and how many children women have had. The occupation of women is also included, as it was not in 1850. Newspaper articles become more and more detailed about people and events. On the one hand I am able to write a lot more about a lot more folks, but on the other hand, the task of writing becomes more daunting. I have had a hard time knowing when to stop, frankly. And I keep finding more interesting people to research and write about.

By my calculations, the total town population in 1870 was about 3,100- this is without the portion south of Grant Hollow, that is today’s Speigletown and Pleasantdale. This is about 100 less than in 1850- the only statistic that makes me wonder about the town’s relative prosperity.  570 people, or 18% of the population, was foreign born. 70% of that number were born in Ireland. The next largest group was from the British Isles: England Wales, Scotland, and the Isle of Man; then Canada, then Germany.  There was an average of 5.4 people per household. The village of Schaghticoke had 1120 people, about 40% under 16 years of age. Of those 448, 148 were in school and 100 were working. One 6-year-old child was working in a mill. So Schaghticoke was young, and spoke with an Irish accent! The 2010 population of our larger town was about 7,000, the village about 600.

troy and boston depot beers atlas map

Rail depot across the river from the village of Schaghticoke- Hart’s Falls 1876

Of course, right after 1850, there was a major improvement in transportation for Schaghticoke- the Troy and Boston Railroad came through town. As I have written before, I haven’t been able to discover why the railroad station ended up on the other side of the Hoosic River from the village of Schaghticoke, but it did- it was at the junction of today’s Meadowview Drive and East Schaghticoke Road. I think it was a matter of cost- another bridge across the river was expensive. It was still handy to the Schaghticoke Powder Mill, which was relocating from the north side of the Tomhannock Creek at Schaghticoke Hill to the south side of the Hoosic River, more easily accessible from Valley Falls. The location was certainly awkward for the mills in the gorge of the Hoosic River. I do know that when the Troy and Boston Railroad was planned, the station was to be on the village side of the river. An article in the Troy “Times” in September 1859 about supporting the Albany and Northern Railroad after a horrible accident records that the citizens of the village were duped by the Troy and Boston. “A most shameful piece of deception was practiced on us by the Directors of the Troy and Boston Railroad in changing the site of the road after it was located, after the stock was taken, and the first ten per cent installment paid in.” This must have been particularly galling to local entrepreneur Amos Briggs, co-owner of most of the mills, heavy investor in the railroad, and its first President.

As it ended up, the railroad ran directly north from Troy, roughly paralleling Route 40, running on the west side of that road until just north of the little hamlet of Melrose, then crossing over the road- you see the abutments just south of where Pinewoods Road goes to the west of Route 40- then running east of route 40, heading to the station at East Schaghticoke and on to Valley Falls. The tracks south of Valley Falls were taken up in 1973. I don’t know why, but the 1856 wall map of the town of Schaghticoke shows the Albany Northern Railroad (see below) but not the Troy and Boston, and the 1876 Beers Atlas shows the Troy and Boston, but not the Albany Northern.

1856 map shows the Albany Northern RR curving through town

A second railroad, the Albany Northern, organized in 1851, also ran through the town of Schaghticoke. Its first train ran from Eagle Bridge to Albany in July 1853. Its station was actually in the village of Schaghticoke, near the current Agway. This railroad always suffered financially, and was reorganized as the Albany, Vermont, and Canada Railroad in 1856. This was the era of explosive railroad construction, with many of the roads either failing or consolidating with other companies. According to an article in “The History of Railroads” by Henry Varnum Poor, p. 234, the Albany Northern directors were all men from Albany. The railroad went from Albany to Cohoes and crossed the Hudson River just north of where the Deepkill empties into the Hudson River. This is just south of the junction of Calhoun Drive and River Road- where River Road now comes to a dead end. It curved north through town, crossing the Tomhannock Creek just west of Route 40, then crossing the little peninsula where Agway is, then crossing the Hoosic River just south of Valley Falls and heading to Eagle Bridge. The Troy and Boston and the Albany Northern rails were just feet apart from Valley Falls to Eagle Bridge, and of course in direct competition. In Eagle Bridge, passengers could connect to trains to Vermont and Massachusetts.

the Albany Northern crossed the Hudson River near the junction of River Road and Calhoun Drive

According to Sylvester’s “History of Rensselaer County”, published in 1880, William Pitt Button and Abram Myers of Schaghticoke, “compelled” the railroad to build three bridges over their tracks in the town. William lived on what is now the Denison Farm on Buttermilk Falls Road. Abram lived on what is now the Brock Farm. At the time, the railroad crossed Pinewoods Road as it goes down the hill to River Road, Hansen Road, Buttermilk Falls Road where the railroad crosses now, Farm to Market Road on a section which no longer exists, and Route 40 where the railroad crosses now. There is a bridge at the latter crossing today, of course. I am not sure where the other two bridges were.

the Albany Northern crossing today’s Buttermilk Falls Road, and the Tomhannock Creek, where the accident occurred

The railroad worked to make itself attractive- for example, the Troy “Daily Times” of September 26, 1856 reported that passengers of the Albany Northern would receive free transport on an “omnibus” from the Troy House and the Mansion House in Troy to the Watervliet landing for the day boat to New York City, and all points in between on the Hudson. The boat, the fast steamer “Alida”, departed every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 7 a.m. In 1853, a branch of the railroad connected with the Rensselaer and Saratoga, enabling passengers to go to Saratoga, and on to Lake Champlain and Montreal. An ad in the Troy “Times” in 1858 listed 5 departures a day from Albany for the north- from 7 in the a.m. until 5:30 in the evening. On the other hand, a letter to the editor of the Troy “Times” June 1, 1858 stated “the cars on the ABVC Railroad are the meanest we ever rode in. The one in which we were put (and it was the only one of the train) was so leaky in the roof and on both sides, that it was like being caught out in a shower of rain without an umbrella. Such rickety cars are worse than a rotten bridge, and the directors ought to be censured for having them on the Road.” Well, as we shall see, a rotten bridge is worse.

newspaper ad for the Albany Northern

So for about 30 years, the village of Schaghticoke was served by two railroads. The Albany Northern had a couple of accidents previously, one resulting in a fatality, but on August 2, 1859, there was what is still the county’s worst train disaster. It was widely reported in the newspapers of the time all over the country. The mail train, headed south around 7 p.m., was passing over the Tomhannock Creek when the trestle collapsed. (“Centinel of Freedom”, Kingston Aug 9, 1859)“The accident took place about one mile this side (south) of Schaghticoke. The moment the train, which was running very rapid, struck the bridge, the structure gave way. The locomotive, however, got across, and became uncoupled from the tender. The latter went down, and the baggage car and two passenger cars followed. The first passenger car went down endwise on the top of the tender, while the second passenger car ran into it, and keeled it over.” The article reports that the cars fell almost 40 feet, landing in eight feet of water- I am surprised at the report of the depth of the creek, though one of the passengers testified that the cars fell 25 or 30 feet into 3 feet of water, which seems more likely.
At the Coroner’s Inquest in Albany, the engineer, Charles Jones, reported that the train had been going 10 miles per hour- “running very rapid”?? –but that the brakeman had failed to slow the train to cross the bridge. He also said that the bridge had been reported unsafe about a year ago, but that it had been repaired. As the bridge was only eight years old, it must not have been much of a bridge to begin with! The President of the Railroad, William White, testified to the Coroner that maybe the bridge was unsafe, but that the engineer was known for going too fast- that 10 miles per hour was considered too fast. The Coroner held the owners of the railroad responsible for the deaths in the accident. In fact, there was an attempt to indict Mr White for manslaughter in an appellate court, which failed by two votes. The indictment charged that he knew very well that the bridge was unsafe.(Kingston Daily Chronicle, Sept 3, 1859)
The first report was that eight people had been killed in the wreck, including all but one of those in the baggage car, which was reduced to splinters. There were 45-50 passengers in the first car, including the wife of the Cashier of the railroad, Mrs. John Cuyler, who was killed, along with her daughter, Lucinda Cooley, wife of the conductor. Other dead included Charles Plimpton, the mail agent; Charles Bethelon, the brakeman; Patrick Connolly and Dennis Cahill, machinists who worked for the railroad; David Russell, the express messenger, a baggage man, and Howard Wright, a merchant who lived on Hudson Street in Albany. A number of others were badly injured, including the conductor, Mr Cooley, and passengers from Quebec, New Hampshire, New York City, Dayton, Ohio, and Whitewater, Wisconsin. Just one resident of Schaghticoke, Hiram Buel, was injured. The inhabitants of Schaghticoke turned out to help the wounded. It was the practice of the railroad to send another engine down the line after the final train of the day, and according to an article by Joseph Smith in the Troy Record (Aug 3, 1968), the engineer and fireman of the wrecked train ran up the track and stopped that engine just before it came around the curve and went off the collapsed trestle itself.
The Albany, Vermont, and Canada, already in financial trouble, was forced into foreclosure almost immediately after the accident. On October 20, its stock was sold to the Rensselaer and Saratoga and Troy and Boston Railroads. The Rensselaer and Saratoga Railroad leased the rails from Albany to Waterford, but the Troy and Boston clearly had no use for most of the tracks it had leased in the town of Schaghticoke. It took up at least some rails and ties and sold or used them elsewhere. It is unclear how long the bridge across the Hudson River survived, unused. The roadbed remained ready for reuse. A long and litigious battle ensued between the Troy and Boston and its rival, the Boston, Hoosac Tunnel and Western Railroad over the roadbed from Valley Falls to Eagle Bridge, with suits and countersuits working through the courts and the New York State Legislature from 1860 through the 1880’s. The Hoosac Tunnel had finally opened in 1875, giving direct access to Boston. One of the conditions of the lease of the roadbed was that the Troy and Boston would maintain several bridges in the town of Schaghticoke. This was not done at first, and the town of Schaghticoke sued the railroad. It then complied and fixed and/or built bridges. So did the Boston, Hoosac Tunnel and Western Railway, which in 1879 erected a stone and iron bridge at the site of the fatal accident. Its rails went west, then north, to cross the Hudson River at Stillwater in 1879 (“Saratoga County Heritage, p. 532) and connect with existing rails north and south. Though that company went bankrupt in 1882, the rails continued in use. Arthur Weise’s “History of Troy and Vicinity” in 1886 reported that the village of Schaghticoke was a station on the Boston, Hoosac Tunnel and Western Railway, with a station on the Troy and Boston Railroad across the river in East Schaghticoke. The Bird’s Eye View map of the village made in 1889 shows a train on a track right on the edge of the village, puffing into a station on the village side of the river, then headed for the trestle across Electric Lake.

albany northern from birds eye view

train about to reach the depot at Schaghticoke from 1889 bird’s eye view

The Troy and Boston Railroad was not immune from fatal accidents. An article in the Troy “Daily Times” on October 5, 1869 reported that the 5 o’clock passenger train going north ran into a freight train between Lansingburgh and Speigletown. Cars were derailed and three people were injured. Fortunately the trains were going slowly. The freight train should have stopped in Schaghticoke to let the passenger train pass. The track was quickly cleared and the passenger train went on. At 10 o’clock the same day the rails gave way between Hoosick Junction and Hoosick Falls and the same engine, tender, and one car went down an embankment in the Hoosick River. Three people were killed. Talk about a cursed train!
The Troy “Daily Times” of May 2, 1887 reported the consolidation of the Troy and Boston Railroad with the Fitchburgh and Boston, Hoosac Tunnel and Western Railroads. I think that this move would have finally resulted in the track conformation that we became used to- with the station at Melrose, the railroad crossing route 40 just north of that, then crossing the town to a small bridge over the Tomhannock on Madigan Road. And the rails went west, with a stop at Reynolds, near the junction of Howland Avenue and Route 67, then on over the Hudson to Mechanicville.

Boston and Maine (former Troy and Boston) RR Station at East Schaghticoke

So by 1870, people in Schaghticoke could travel easily to Troy or Hoosick Falls, or indeed to many other places by train. There was a daily stage connection from the express train at 1:30 from Troy at Schaghticoke to Easton, and north (Troy Daily Times April 10, 1867). I have found a few mill operators, for example Edwin Hartshorn, G.P. Mealey, and Sydney Spicer, who commuted to town, but most people still worked near where they lived. The town, which had the same northern, western, and eastern boundaries as today, ended at the DeepKill in Grant Hollow, as it had since 1819. So Speigletown and Pleasantdale- which were not really built up- were part of Lansingburgh politically. The centers of population in the town were almost as they had been for many years: Grant Hollow, Schaghticoke Hill, the portion of Valley Falls in Schaghticoke, and the village of Schaghticoke. Grant Hollow, also called Junction, was the site of the agricultural machinery factory, begun about 1830, and its associated store. There was also the Methodist Church, and a school, up Mineral Springs Road, and a post office. The Methodist minister served this church and the one at Schaghticoke Hill.


Melrose from Beers Atlas 1876 (Baucus is misspelled)

The new competition for Grant Hollow was Melrose, where by 1877 there were a new railroad depot, a post office, a hotel, and a store. This was where the Troy and Boston Railroad crossed the main road, a better place for a train depot than Grant Hollow. An article in the Troy “Times on March 31, 1874 reported “The Troy and Boston Railroad Company will build a new station here. GW Sinsabaugh of Troy is putting up an elegant summer dwelling. Melrose is growing rapidly and eligible villa sites are much sought after.” Mr Sinsabaugh was a very successful confectioner in Troy. The Sinsabaugh home is now the home of Denise Hegarty, at the base of Church Street. And Avenue A was the street of “villas”, built after his. The convenient railroad depot made it easy for wealthy Trojans to travel to the “country”.
Looking at the map in Beers Atlas of 1876, there were high hopes for Melrose. 61 building plots were laid out on both sides of Avenue A, plus a parallel Avenue B. There was just one home built on Avenue A, about midway along the west side. Of course, most of these plots were never developed. The map shows a wagon shop on the east side of the main road, just south of where Valley Falls road veers north, a store and post office next to that, and the Park Hotel in the vee of Route 40 and Valley Falls Road.
The historical pamphlet written about Melrose by Patricia Crandall for the U.S. Bicentennial in 1976 reports that Mr Schoonmaker, a resident, decided that Melrose, which had been called “Checkered Shed”, should have a nicer name and called it Melrose after Melrose Abbey in Scotland about 1870. I can find no mention of Melrose before 1874 in the newspaper, but it is definitely called that in Beers 1876 atlas.
C.C. Schoonmaker owned the land at the corner of Church Street and Route 40, where the Esquire Pharmacy, now the Ercswma warehouse, is. Christopher C. Schoonmaker appears in the 1875 NY census for town, age 43. He was a photographer, born in Albany, and lived with his wife Eleanor, 44, plus a farm laborer named Daniel Gardener, age 21 and a servant named Mary Piper, 18, born in Germany. Christopher may have only lived in town a short time. He appeared in city directories in Troy as a photographer almost until his death in 1906. Of course, he could have maintained a summer home in Melrose. This short-term or part-time resident had a long-term effect on our town, for sure, if the name Melrose did come from him.
Schaghticoke Hill, where the Tomhannock Creek crosses Route 40, continued to be the site of the keg mill, associated with the Powder Mill, plus the Evans Grist Mill, several other mills, a Methodist Church, school, and Hurley’s blacksmith shop. The Powder Mill was now on the Hoosic River across from the village of Schaghticoke. The “Rensselaer County Directory” for 1870 notes it had “a Methodist Church, two stores, a saw mill, a grist mill, and twine and cordage mill, a scutching mill, the Schaghticoke Powder Keg Mill and about 150 inhabitants.” Scutching is part of processing flax.


Bryan district 1876 Note the school and the Lutheran Church

There was another small concentration of population along the Hudson River south of Hemstreet Park, at the junction with Allen Road, called Bryan’s Corners. At this spot there were the WW Bryan Grain Cradle Factory, a Lutheran Church established in 1852, and a school. Hiram C. Bryan originally had a farm in the area. His father Elijah, born in Connecticut, had come to town after the Revolution. He died in 1842. Around 1850 Hiram and his sons William Ward and Amos began to dabble in making agricultural machinery. Hiram helped to found a Lutheran Church there, and there were enough children for a school, which stood at the junction of River and Allen Roads.

While I think that Amos returned to farming, William W. continued as a manufacturer- and an inventor. William had at least two patents. One in 1856 was for an “improved mode of securing braces in the snath of a grain cradle.” Another in 1870 was for grain fork improvements. In 1876 he exhibited a “fanning mill of his own manufacture” at the NYS Fair in Albany (Troy “Times” September 14, 1876). He also displayed barley forks and “one of his patent self-oiling axles, which can be used one month with one oiling.” He had introduced the axle the year before.
Through examination of the census over the years, it seems that Bryan always had a “mechanic” or two living with his family, or a blacksmith or a “cradle maker” (referring to grain cradles.) In the 1880 US Census, William, 53, and wife Maria, 54, had their sons N. Visher, 23, and Eugene, 18, at home, working in the agricultural shop, plus two blacksmiths, George Brodt, 26, and John Buckley, 19. When William W. Bryan died in 1898, the Mechanicville “Mercury” (September 10) reported he was “one of the best known residents of the town” He was the “manufacturer of the Bryan grain harvester machinery and of late employed by Westinghouse as an attorney, his territory covering the western states.” This last phrase is a great surprise to me. I can’t find how Bryan became a lawyer!
Around 1880, the focus of population and activity shifted from Bryan’s Corners to the junction of the Boston, Hoosac Tunnel and Western Railroad and Allen Road, near Howland. This was named “Reynolds “. Newspaper articles of the era mentioning the Bryans were datelined “Reynolds.” It first was a train stop, but there was briefly a post office there. It also became a milk stop, where dairy farmers could bring their milk to be shipped.
I previously explained the source of the name “Reynolds” when I wrote about Schaghticoke in 1850. William VanVechten, a farmer in the area of “Reynolds”, was town supervisor in 1850. His daughter Deriah married a man named Noyes Reynolds, a merchant from Troy. VanVeghtens were among the first settlers of the town, and always lived in what became known as Reynolds. Noyes died in 1874 and Deriah in 1888. Their son William VanVechten Reynolds, a graduate of Columbia Law School, inherited his grandfather’s property. Though William was a member of the bar, he never practiced law. He was aide to General Burt when he laid out the track of the Boston, Hoosac Tunnel Railroad, then managed the railroad for a number of years. He also was the Postmaster at what was named Reynolds for him, a milk stop on the railroad. He was prominent in Democratic politics, and, according to his obituary in the Schaghticoke Sun on January 15, 1897, a “Gold man”, who attended the National Sound Money Convention in 1896. William was a prominent local club man, in a couple of Masonic Lodges and the Clover Club in Mechanicville. He was also a director of the First National Bank in Mechanicville.

tombstone of William VV Reynolds in the little cemetery on Route 67

William VV Reynolds died of a heart attack while visiting New York City in 1897. His funeral at the Dutch Reformed Church near his home was attended by many fellow Masons, over 100 of whom came by special train from Troy, along with Doring’s Band, which played at the funeral. William died without a will, leaving debts which were greater than his estate. He had worthless stock in the Hamilton Iron and Steel Company of Canada and the Troy “Press”. He was survived only by his young widow, Estella Knight, whom he had married in Manhattan in 1895. She was not mentioned in his extensive obituary in the “Sun.” She and a physician named Sabbati Ullman named as the executors of William’s estate. William was buried next to his father in the little cemetery on route 67 near the private airport, called the Reynolds Cemetery.


bridge across the Hudson at Hemstreet Park

There had been a bridge across the Hudson at Stillwater since at least 1840, and as Mechanicville grew, I’m sure there was pressure for a bridge there. The Mechanicville Bridge Company was incorporated by the NYS Legislature in 1872 (Saratogian May 2, 1872), but the law authorizing the construction of the bridge wasn’t enacted until 1883, first by the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors. It mandated an iron truss bridge about 1,000 feet long and 24 feet wide, with a railing at least 4 ½ feet high and stone piers. This was to be a toll bridge, and the law established a detailed schedule of tolls, from 13 cents for a two-horse wagon to 3 cents for a pedestrian. The directors of the company were Thomas P. Wilkinson, Charles A. Whedan, Horace J. Medbery, William VV Reynolds, and William H. Leach. (Saratogian, November 16, 1883) Only William VV Reynolds, mentioned in the previous paragraph, was from Schaghticoke. The Rensselaer County Board of Supervisors adopted the same resolution at the same time (Journal of the Board of Supervisors, 1883). The new bridge company issued $20,000 in stock, which was all purchased by November 1887. (Troy “Daily Times” November 9, 1887) The bridge was finally constructed the next year, for just over $21,000 (Dedication Pamphlet, new bridge, 1950). The current hamlet of Hemstreet Park developed after the bridge, and I will discuss it in a future article.


The Schaghticoke portion of Valley Falls, 1876

Another center of population, the village of Valley Falls was and is still divided by the Hoosic River. In 1867, the toll bridge became a free public bridge, to be jointly maintained by the towns of Pittstown and Schaghticoke (Troy Daily Times April 10, 1867). By the Beers Atlas of 1876, the Schaghticoke portion was dominated by the Valley Falls Paper Manufacturing Company. Its mill was located to the north of the bridge across the Hoosic River, with buildings labeled “Mill,” “store house”, and “straw shed.” There was a black smith shop on the south side of the bridge, plus a number of residences. Though the owner of the mill in the 1870 US Census was Thomas Lape, the operators of the mill by 1880 were Charles J. Stark and John Kenyon, who lived just up Bunker Hill Road from the mill. I will discuss these men later in this article.
Of course the major center of population was still the village of Schaghticoke. The village was finally incorporated in 1867 by a joint NYS Legislative resolution that April. It was named “Hart’s Falls.” The Troy “Daily Times” of April 18, 1867 said it was named for Richard P. Hart. In the 1820’s Hart, “early saw the advantage to be derived from the excellent water privileges of that place, and was the first to avail himself of them.” The first half of that sentence is correct, but there had been mills at Schaghticoke for about thirty years when Hart and his local partner Amos Briggs bought up all of the mills in the gorge of the Hoosic. Richard died in 1844, but his widow Betsey continued as Amos’ partner. Actually, as of 1867, Betsey was working hard to extricate herself from partnership with Briggs, who was hopelessly in debt to the company. She actually accomplished this about the time the village was named. And Briggs, as I will explain, was not in favor of the incorporation of the village.
In May 1867 the first election under the new charter occurred (Troy Times May 8, 1867), “the most exciting affair that has happened ..in many months. The two tickets represented charter and anti-charter.” I don’t know what would have occurred if the anti-charter ticket won, as the Legislature had just incorporated the village, but in the event, the “pro-charter” ticket triumphed. O.A. Arnold, who lived in the first house on the southeast side of the current Hoosic River bridge, got 182 votes and was elected President of the village over Amos Briggs, who received only 60. It is so interesting that Briggs, such a long-time prominent citizen was so decisively defeated and that he was an “anti”. The trustees of the village were J.A. Baucus, C.B. Slocum, and S.S. Congdon, with Elihu Butts elected justice. Butts had been a town justice of the peace for many years. Interestingly, one of the anti-charter trustee candidates was Michael McGrath, who ran the saloon across the street from O.A. Arnold’s house.
An article in the Troy “Times” on August 13, 1880 implied that the village was named for one Edward Hart, who had the first fulling mill in the village in 1798. I have done lots of research on early mills in the town and have NEVER heard of Edward Hart before. In any event, the name Hart’s Falls only lasted until about 1880, when the village was appropriately renamed “Schaghticoke”. The Troy “Times” reported on April 19, 1880 that a bill doing that was working its way through the NYS Legislature. An article in the Troy “Times” on August 13, 1880 said the village had 1525 residents. The biggest employers were a paper mill, the new cable flax mill, which it said had 900 employees by 1880, and the woolen mill, with 200 employees. I think in fact the flax mill had 200-250 employees.
The “Rensselaer County Directory of 1870” stated “at this place is one of the finest water-powers on the Hoosick River. The whole fall is about 96 feet, including a perpendicular fall of 32 feet.”
Let’s imagine we lived in the village of Schaghticoke in 1870. What would that be like? First of all, we would probably work close to home, very possible due to the mills and stores. The mills even had some dedicated housing to rent to workers. We could travel easily by train to Troy, but the village really offered all that we would need in the way of shops and services. George and James Beecroft, E. M. Congdon, and Charles Herrick sold meat; Job Viall sold hardware and groceries; Garrett Groesbeck sold groceries; Andrew Sipperly sold groceries and general merchandise; Richard Gunner had a bakery. Miss Mary Penman made dresses; there was a hat shop above the Opera House; Lorenzo and Charles Baker had a clothing store; Moses Wells sold shoes; Thomas Jackson made shoes and boots; Alonzo Doty sold groceries and shoes. Andrew Rexford had a jewelry store. Charles Albro had a hardware store. Where we might have a department store, Woolworth’s or a dollar store, Mary Barker had a variety store and William Bryant and Julius Butts were called “general merchants.”
Where we would have businesses connected with cars, the village of Schaghticoke had James Camfield’s and Jacob Cookingham’s carriage shops, Albert Hurley’s blacksmith shop (Hurley was an ancestor of our current Hurley’s Garage in Melrose), and Peter Denegar’s harness shop. James Nutt had a furniture store. Mrs Mary Richards and T.A. Hayden had drug stores. Hayden also dealt in paint, oils, glass, dye stuffs, perfumery, and fancy articles. There were also the marble shop of Patrick Prendergast, who made tombstones and provided stone for construction; the paint shop of William W. VanSchaick, who painted signs and decorated carriages as well as houses; and the carpenter shop of William Smith. Julius Habersack made cigars in the basement of Searle’s store.
The village also offered a number of services. Alphonzo Merrill (Merrell), Elihu Butts, and E.E. Frost had law offices; Charles Gerhausser a barber shop; S.S. Congdon an insurance agency and telegraph office; Dr. James Hornbrook was a dentist, Hiram Button a dentist and deputy sheriff; P.H. Ragan the undertaker, Drs. E. N. Beale and Tarbell the doctors. Randolph (John Robert) Hinds was listed as physician and surgeon. There was a post office, in Congdon’s insurance agency, and a train station. The 1870 Rensselaer County Directory also included J.D. Comstock a “photographic artist.” His office was over Hayden’s drug store. And there were several “saloons”, upstairs “halls” for meetings, and the opera house for theatrical performances.
Residents could choose among the Presbyterian, Methodist, Episcopalian, and Catholic Churches in the village, and the Lutheran and Dutch Reformed elsewhere in town. The churches were major social centers in town, sponsoring all kinds of events, from theatrical performances to lecture series, to fairs, to offering Bible study and the chance to sing in the choir. The village had three one-room school houses, but if students wanted to go to high school, they would have to travel elsewhere.
Let me tell a bit more about some of the more prominent community members of 1870, first the attorneys. The life of one, Dr. Elihu Butts, is easy to report, as he paid for a full page biography in Sylvester’s “History of Rensselaer County”, published in 1880 (p. 442-443). Elihu was born in Rome, Oneida County in 1813. He married Mary Ann Minerva Hartwell, daughter of a doctor in Rome, in 1833. They had two sons, Julius and Charles. He moved to Albany about 1835, and while running a drug store studied medicine at Albany Medical College, graduating in 1848. He moved to Schaghticoke in 1850 and set up his medical practice. The family lived just south of the bridge over the Hoosic River, across the street from the Catholic Church.

Elihu Butts from Sylvester’s “History of Rensselaer County”

Elihu was elected a Justice of the Peace for the first time in 1858 and became interested in the law. He studied law and was admitted to the New York State bar in 1861. Though he continued to be a member of the Rensselaer County Medical Society, he became a lawyer. His ad in the Troy “Times” for March 31, 1863 read “Attorney and Counsellor at law in Schaghticoke: Being furnished with blanks of the most approved form for securing pensions, bounties, etc. also deeds, bonds, mortgages, contracts, etc. with the requisite revenue stamps…is prepared to dispatch business…upon short notice and to the satisfaction of those who may entrust business in his hands.”
Elihu’s bio in Sylvester states “his health became somewhat impaired” and the physical demands of being a physician on-call were too much for him. Over the rest of his life, he served off and on as a Justice of the Peace in Schaghticoke and had a vigorous law practice. He was also health officer and justice of the peace for the village of Hart’s Falls, and elected “justice of sessions” in 1878. I believe this latter would be the highest criminal court in the county. As of 1870, Elihu’s law office was in the Geddis Building, which was on the east side of Main Street, just north of 2nd Street. Elihu seems to have become very interested in criminal law. The Troy newspaper included quite a few articles about his cases both as lawyer and judge.
One of Elihu’s sons, Charles Edward, was a music teacher in the village, and usually lived with his parents. The other son, Julius, married Carrie, the daughter of a local merchant, Charles Stratton. As of the 1870 directory, Stratton was a dealer in dry goods and general merchandise in the “Brick Block”. Sadly, I do not know which building this was, but I am sure it was located on lower Main Street. Julius and his family moved with his –in-laws to Brooklyn in 1874. At that point the Methodist Church minutes record his departure and state he had been organist and choir director at the church for twenty years, and that he would be missed.
Father Elihu and his wife were always active in the Schaghticoke Presbyterian Church. Elihu was director of the choir in his old age. The Butts were certainly a musical family. The newspaper record Elihu’s activity as a lawyer through 1884. 1885 was a very bad year for the family. Elihu died January 3. His cause of death is listed as diphtheria. Wife Mary Butts died January 13. And unmarried son Charles died December 23. All are buried in Elmwood Cemetery.
Alphonzo Merrell was another lawyer in town. He was born in 1827 in Easton to parents Frederick and Loenza Merrell. His father was a tailor. As of the 1850 US Census, the family lived in the village of Schaghticoke: parents Frederick, 47, and Louisa, 39, plus children Jane, 19; Harriet, 11; and Frederick, 4. Where was Alphonzo? Perhaps this is when he was studying to be a lawyer. As of the 1855 NY Census, he was living back at home, at age 28, listed with no occupation. His sisters had married, so the family included his parents and brother Frederick, just 9. By the 1860 US Census, Alphonzo remained in the village as a lawyer, living with Ann Perry and her son Charles, but his parents and brother had moved back to Easton. On June 3, 1868, he married Phebe L. Sherman in the Methodist Church. The 1865 NY Census listed three Sherman sisters in the village of Schaghticoke: Margaret, 32, Louise, 30, and Phoebe, 28. Margaret and Phoebe were milliners. Alphonzo and Phoebe lived in the first house on the west side of Main Street, just north of where the American House hotel stood- now a fenced in yard just beyond the World War I statue. As of 1880, Alphonzo’s law office was upstairs in the Congdon Block, which was on the east side of Main Street between First and Second Street.
Alphonzo served as clerk and treasurer for the new village of Hart’s Falls after 1867, as well as Justice of the Peace for the town, and as U.S. Postmaster in the village. He was involved in the Republican Party, listed as a local representative to the County Convention in 1871. He was also an informant for Nathan Sylvester when he wrote his “History of Rensselaer County” in 1880. He was a prominent member of the Methodist Church, where he was married.

josiah masters patent

patent by local resident, witnessed by Alphonzo Merrell

Unlike Elihu Butts, accounts of Alphonzo Merrell’s cases do not appear in the Troy newspaper. I feel he did the kind of legal work that many people need- wills, deeds, and other civil matters. He also witnessed at least two patents by local people: an improved potato sorter by D.A. and A.B. Banker in 1878, and a new bed spring by Josiah Rising Masters in 1882. He was a pillar of our community until his death of stomach cancer in 1884. His will left his house in Easton to his mother, and provided for the care of the family lot in Elmwood Cemetery, where his dad was already buried. His brother Fred, who lived nearby in Easton, received his wearing apparel right away. Widow Phoebe received the rest of the estate. She died in 1897.
One more man, Chauncey B. Slocum, apparently was also an attorney in 1870. I say apparently as the only place I found him listed as one is in the 1870 County Directory. Every census gave him a different occupation: in 1850 he was a “mechanic” in Pittstown, with $6000 in real estate; in 1855, he was a surveyor in Schaghticoke; in 1860 he was a “gentleman” in Schaghticoke with real estate of $2000 and a personal estate of $500; in 1865, he was a manufacturer, in 1870 a “general agent,” with real estate of $9,500. I know he was also the Rensselaer County Deputy Clerk in 1859, a U.S. Postmaster in the 1850’s, village trustee in the new village of Hart’s Falls after 1867, and Justice of the Peace in the town. He was one of the first trustees of the new Elmwood Cemetery in 1863, and secretary of the new Victor Masonic Lodge, founded in 1867. Chauncey was also a busy father. He and his wife Charlotte Crapo had eleven children.
I’d like to mention one man who had a rather new occupation in 1870. Joseph D. Comstock was listed in the 1870 County Directory as a photographer, with a studio above Hayden’s drug store on Main Street. I found that Joseph lived in Lansingburgh with his wife and children, so he was a commuter. I thought he may have had a studio in Lansingburgh as well, but he is just listed as living there. Photography was a new and short-lived occupation for Joseph. As of the 1865 NY Census, he was listed as a printer. He was the editor of the “Lansingburgh Chronicle.” By the 1875 NY Census, he had moved with his family and parents to Broome County, where he was listed as a farmer. In 1886 he was elected Justice of the Court of Sessions in Broome County (Troy Daily Times Oct. 19, 1886). This may have led to still another career. Beginning in 1900, when he was 69, the census listed him as a lawyer. He died in Nineveh, Broome County in 1915, at the advanced age of 84. His obituary in the “Binghamton Press” on October 12, 1915 said he was the oldest lawyer in the county and “well-known and highly respected” by all. What an interesting man!

Daniel H. Tarbell

Turning to doctors in town, I have written about one of the men before. Daniel H. Tarbell was a Civil War veteran. He was born in Brandon, in Franklin County, near Malone, in 1842, where his parents were farmers originally from Vermont. He enlisted in the 98th NYS Infantry in 1861 as age 19. Unusually, he moved on to the 14th U.S. Infantry Regiment, in the regular U.S. Army, soon after. I believe he was a hospital steward. He must have gone to medical school directly from the Army, as he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1866, according to the pension file of fellow veteran and Schaghticoke resident Henry Simmons. He married Katherine Child, whom he knew from home, in 1868, and moved to Schaghticoke about 1874. His office was on the east side of Main Street, somewhere in the vicinity of current Diver Library. Presumably his war experience made him wwant to become a doctor.
Daniel and Kate were prominent citizens of the village of Schaghticoke. According to the “Journal of the American Medical Association”, he served as President of the village, coroner of the Northern District of Rensselaer County, and health officer of the village for 28 years. Daniel was one of the founders of the local post of the G.A.R., the Civil War veterans’ group in 1884. Kate was a member of the Methodist Church, while Daniel was an elder in the Presbyterian Church. He was also “Past Grand” of the local Odd Fellows, a member of the Troy Lodge of Elks, and the Rensselaer County Medical Association.
Sadly though the Tarbells had three children, they all died young: Florence died of cholera infantum aged one month, Earnest Arthur drowned at age 13, and a third child was not even named. An article in the August 5, 1882 Troy “Times” reported that Arthur and two friends were “bathing” (swimming)- about 200 feet downstream from the powder mill dam in the shallow water near the shore of the Hoosic River. Arthur went a little too far out and slipped into the much deeper water of the river. His friends tried to reach him but couldn’t. His body was recovered in twelve feet of water. Of course his parents were reported to be “much afflicted” by this event.
Daniel died in 1905 of a stroke. His obituary in the Troy “Daily Times” (November 11, 1905) stated he was “one of the best known residents of the northern section of Rensselaer County.” He was “a physician of the old school that is rapidly disappearing. He entered into the families of his clients as a friend and counselor. Their sufferings were his sorrow and their joys were also his.” “Genial and kindly”, his worked for the betterment of his community. In addition to being a doctor and coroner, he was also the Schaghticoke correspondent for the newspaper for many years. Wife Katherine survived until 1931. They are buried in Elmwood Cemetery.

en beale

E. Newton Beale, from an album in the Masonic Hall

Edward Newton Beal(e) was the other major doctor in town. According to the catalog of Williams College of 1902, he was born in Spencertown, NY in 1834. His obituary of March 17, 1902 recorded that he graduated from Williston Seminary in Easthampton Massachusetts, then Williams College in 1857. He attended medical school at Michigan University, then graduated from Berkshire Medical School in Pittsfield in 1864. He married Maggie Blinn there in 1862 and moved to Schaghticoke in 1865. I think she and Newton, as he was known, had two children, Fanny, who died very young, and Alma, born in 1867. Maggie died in 1869 and Newton married Elizabeth Munger in 1874. Elizabeth was a school teacher and the daughter of Morgan and Amanda Munger. Morgan was a market gardener in the village of Schaghticoke.
Newton served as Master of the Victor Masonic Lodge and an Elder in the Presbyterian Church. He influenced several local young men to attend medical school. He retained a large farm in Spencertown, probably where he had grown up. The September 27, 1894 “Hudson Valley Republican” reported the death of his mother, Delia, widow of Matthew Beale. She had lived with her son in Schaghticoke since the death of her husband twelve years earlier. The April 14, 1898 edition reported that Newton had made extensive improvements in the buildings and fences on his large farm in Spencertown.
Newton’s office was in the rear of the grocery of Andrew Sipperly on the west side of Main Street, about where the bridge crosses now. The March 11, 1902 Troy “Times” recorded that he was operated on by Drs. Ferguson and Roarke of Troy, assisted by Drs Hutton of Valley Falls and Tarbell and Beale of Schaghticoke, but died a week later of heart failure. He had suffered from chronic laryngitis for the previous 15 months. He and both wives are buried in Elmwood Cemetery. Daughter Alma followed in his footsteps. At the time of her father’s death, she was listed in the census as a physician in Baltimore, where she had graduated from Johns Hopkins Medical School in 1900, but she returned to Schaghticoke to set up a practice soon after. Sadly, she died of heart disease at age 47 in 1915. In her will, she established the Dr. Edward Newton Beale Scholarship at Williams College. (Williams College Catalogue, 1918)
A third physician practiced in Schaghticoke in 1870. The public information about him is rather confusing. The 1870 County Directory lists Randolph Hinds as a physician and surgeon, but the 1865, 1870, and 1875 Censuses for Schaghticoke list him as John Robert Hinds. Ancestry.com says he was born in Hebron, Washington County in 1834. According to a Hinds family genealogy, he married a woman named Anna in 1854. They had two children. Ella was born in 1855. The 1865 census says she was born in England, the 1875 census in Oneida County! By 1858, the family lived in the Minnesota Territory, where son William was born that year, and John was listed as a merchant. Anna died and he married a woman named Fanny. John and Fanny had daughter Jennie in Washington or Rensselaer County in 1862, and son Howard in Schaghticoke in 1871. As of the 1865 NY census, John was listed as a physician here. Where did he get his training? Ancestry.com says he died in 1880, but I have no confirmation of that. Certainly, by the 1900 US Census, widow Fannie was living in New York City with her daughter Jennie and her husband.
One of the dentists in town had been in practice since about 1840. He was James Hornbrook (Hornibrook, Hornabrook), who was listed on the 1840 census. Born James and his wife Margaret were born in Ireland. They were different from the many other Irish in town in that they had arrived before the potato famine of the 1840’s, were educated, and were Presbyterian rather than Catholic. Son Robert was baptized in the Presbyterian Church in 1842. They had a second son Albert, born in 1844. The family lived and worked across the street from the Presbyterian Church on Main Street. Albert enlisted to fight in the Civil War with the local regiment in August 1862, but did not serve, possibly due to his poor health. Sadly, both sons died in 1880. The 1880 US census listed Robert as a dentist with his dad and Albert as a bookkeeper, suffering from “general debility.” He had been unable to work for a year. Ironically, the 1882 edition of the Transactions of the Dental Society of New York State listed father and sons as dentists, two years after the sons had died. It is not clear how much training any of them had. Training was very informal at the time James became a dentist, and more formal but not rigorous or licensed for the sons. James died in 1896 at age 80, and Margaret in 1907. They are all buried in Elmwood Cemetery.
A second dentist listed in the 1870 Rensselaer County directory for Schaghticoke was Hiram Button, who was also listed as a deputy sheriff, an interesting combination. I don’t know how he got his dental education. According his obituary (Nov 11, 1907 Troy “Times”) Hiram was born in 1824 in Old Schaghticoke (meaning the area around the Knickerbocker Mansion) to John and Mary Button, who had come here from Rhode Island. John died in 1832. As of the 1850 US Census, Hiram still lived with his mother Mary, and worked as a carder, presumably of wool. He was 25, and had brothers Horace, 27, and Harmon, 23.
I don’t know how Hiram received a dental education, but by the 1855 NY census, he was married, to Cynthia Louisa, had a daughter Alice, 4, and was described as a dentist. Hiram had a personal estate of just $150 in the 1860 US Census, so was not a terribly prosperous dentist. By that 1870 Rensselaer County Directory, Hiram and Cynthia Louisa had a son Charles Herbert, and Alice was working in the linen mill. From his placement on the 1875 NY Census, it seems that Hiram could have been lived south of the bridge. He lived in a large household with the Joseph Slocum family, so did not have his own home. He was listed in the 1882 edition of the Transactions of the Dental Society of New York as a dentist in Schaghticoke. Hiram was still listed as a dentist in the 1900 US Census, when he was 75 years old. His son Charles became a druggist. Finally in the 1905 NY Census, Hiram, now 80, was listed with no occupation. He died in 1907 and Cynthia in 1909. Sadly, his obituary did not describe his life story. Both are buried in Elmwood Cemetery.
Sidney Smith Congdon had what was a newer occupation, but an important one for a full-service community. He was the local insurance agent. He was a son of Ephraim Congdon, who had come to Schaghticoke from Rhode Island during our big industrial revolution of the 1820’s. Ephraim had been an early textile mill owner, but the 1855 NY Census listed him as a farmer at age 61. His wife, Harriet, was one of the daughters of Bethel Mather, another early mover and shaker in town. In this census, son Sidney, 21, was listed as a clerk. By the 1860 US Census, Sidney was listed as an insurance agent. The 1870 Rensselaer County Directory listed him as a general insurance agent and his brother Ephraim as a butcher, both located in the “Congdon Block,” certainly built by their father, and located next to the Schaghticoke House on lower Main Street in the village of Schaghticoke. Ephraim, Sr., had died in 1864 of cholera.
The Congdons attended the Presbyterian Church, but Sidney was suspended by the church in 1855. I don’t know why. He married Jane Bradley about 1865. The 1870 US census listed Sidney, age 36, an insurance agent, with Jane (Janette), 35, and daughters Jennie, 5, and Florence, 1, living on Main Street, north of 5th Street. Jane’s mother, Margaret Bradley, a Scottish immigrant, lived with the family. Sidney and his brother Ephraim served as village trustees and President of the village. Sidney was the postmaster of the village for quite a few years, a plum political appointment. They were both prominent in the Victor Masonic Lodge. His name appears in many local wills as either a witness or appraiser. He had his finger in many local pies. Janette died in 1897 and Sidney in 1899. They are buried in Elmwood Cemetery.
Another pillar of the community was Richard C. Gunner. He was born in Canterbury, England in 1826, but immigrated to Schaghticoke about 1852. He married Elizabeth Ablett, ten years younger, shortly after. She was the daughter of English immigrants who lived in the village of Schaghticoke. The 1855 NY Census showed the couple, Richard a baker. His brother John, a bit older, was in town that year, also working as a baker. He disappears thereafter, but helped Richard for a while. The Gunners lived and had their bakery just south of the Presbyterian Church. They had their children baptized there. Sons Richard and George died as small children, but daughters Mary and Elizabeth and son William, who followed his father as a baker, survived. The youngest son, Daniel, born in 1863, died in 1887 of typhoid.
Though the Gunners began as Presbyterians, they switched to the Methodist Church in the village about 1865, where Richard played a prominent role. Richard was also very involved in the new Victor Masonic Lodge, established in 1867. He was the baker in the village until about 1900, and his son continued after him. Wife Elizabeth died in 1898, so the 1900 US Census showed a family of Richard, 73; daughter Mary Ackart, 42, a widow, working as a teacher; son William, 41, a baker; and Elizabeth Fettis, 63, a widow who was their housekeeper. Mary had married farmer John B. Ackart about 1875, but he died of a fever in 1882. Richard Gunner died in 1913 at age 86. He left an estate of about $9000 to children William, Mary Ackart, and Lizzie Streeter. (Troy Times 1915)The Gunners are buried in Elmwood Cemetery.

richard gunner

Richard Gunner, from an album in the Masonic Hall

Richard Gunner was a newcomer to town, an immigrant to the U.S., who was well-accepted and a pillar of his new community. Garrett Groesbeck, proprietor of the Schaghticoke House, was a descendant of one of the earliest and most prolific families in the area. The Groesbecks came to Schaghticoke in the early 1700’s, living first in the area around the Knickerbocker Mansion, but expanding to live and farm all over town. Garrett had a rather different upbringing than most after a promising start. His father, Anthony, married Lucy Button, daughter of another prominent local family. Garrett was born in 1827. The family lived in the area of Schaghticoke Hill, just around where the Tomhannock Creek crosses route 40, where Lucy was buried after her death in 1849.
Interestingly, Lucy was listed as the head of household in 1840, a woman living with just her children and next door to her brother Ransom Button. Her husband Anthony was alive, as he showed up living with his son Walter in the 1860 census. We just won’t know what happened. Was he away working somewhere or were they separated? As of the 1850 US Census, Garrett, then 24, was a farmer living with his uncle Ransom Button and his family. By the 1855 NY census, he and his elder brother Walter, 32, were tavern landlords. I would love to know how they got the funding. The tavern was valued at $5000. Both brothers were married. Walter and wife Mariah had two children, and Garrett and wife Indiana, 23, had one child, son Edward, just 1.
Indiana was the only daughter of John and Susan Thomas, farmers in Berlin. The Thomas’ had some imagination, as two of her brothers were named John Appalachian Valley and Charles Hudson River Thomas. Indiana, unusually for the time, had attended the Troy Female Seminary, now Emma Willard School, from 1850-1852. I’m not sure how she and Garrett met, but they married in 1852.
When Garrett died in 1897, the Schaghticoke “Sun” ran an extensive obituary (January 8, 1897). Garrett, born in 1827, was known “far and wide” as a great landlord. He had first leased a tavern at Schaghticoke Hill for a few years, then the Schaghticoke House, in the village, from 1855 to 1860. The Schaghticoke House was near the current Sammy Cohen’s on lower Main Street. The 1855 NY Census showed he employed six servants and had eleven residents. So the Schaghticoke House was also a boarding house. The obituary states he then purchased a different saloon in the village, but was back in the Schaghticoke House by 1866. The censuses reflect that, with the 1860 US Census, showing Garrett as a “saloon keeper”, but with no residents in the building aside from him, his wife, and child plus Mickle (sic) McGraw, 30, the bar tender. It was foreclosed on in 1887 (Troy “Times”, March 4, 1887)
But the 1865 NY census showed Garrett as a hotel keeper in a building valued at $6000. He and Indiana had four servants, and the hotel had 13 residents. This would be the larger Schaghticoke House. Evidently while he still owned the smaller place, he purchased the Schaghticoke House. As of the 1870 US Census, he and Indiana employed a bar tender, a waiter, an “ostler”- hostler, who would have managed the stable, a chambermaid, and a cook. The chambermaid, Alice Lyons, was a single mother with two small children. Her elder son, 12, worked in the woolen mill. Seven people rented rooms in the inn, including the 19-year-old black barber, William Andrews. This must have been a pretty high-class place to live, as the residents included the Presbyterian minister and his wife, Jonathan and Caroline Noble. It seems that Garrett was overextended, as on December 7, 1872, the Troy “Times” reported foreclosure on the mortgage of the Schaghticoke House of Garrett Groesbeck, with a sheriff’s sale reported on February 7, 1873.
Garrett moved on to try store keeping for five years. This is reflected in the 1875 NY Census which lists him as a “grocery merchant”. Son Edward was his clerk. The store was where Tommy’s Tavern, or L.T.’s, is today, on lower Main Street. But Garrett made one more try at the hotel business, back in the Schaghticoke House in 1880. By now he was 52, son Edward, 15. They had two waiters, a cook, a bartender, a laborer, and, amazingly, 26 boarders. But on September 3, 1880, this came to an end as the same fire which consumed the new Opera House began in and destroyed the Schaghticoke House. I will discuss this more below.
It’s hard to know from the obituary if Garrett’s issues with money were because he was too generous a landlord, a bad money manager, prone to overextension of his businesses, or perhaps one issue was his propensity for owning “fine horses”, certainly an expensive hobby. Or perhaps he thrived on chaos! After the fire, Garrett retired “due to ill health.” But he survived until 1897. Son Edward died in 1908, and Indiana in 1918 at the home of her daughter-in-law in Troy. All are buried in Elmwood Cemetery, though I don’t believe they have tombstones.

american house

American House- at the junction of Main and School Streets


The Schaghticoke House was just one of the eating/drinking establishments in the village of Hart’s Falls. James C. Riley ran a saloon near the current Agway. Gilbert Rice had a billiard saloon on Main Street. Michael Mc Grath’s Brooklyn House was just south of the Hoosic River, now just south of the bridge on the west side of the road. Mr Birmingham had a saloon in the new Kane Block on Main Street. Michael Butler’s saloon was called the Central House. Probably the oldest tavern/hotel was the American House, located behind where the statue of the World War I soldier is now. John Downs was the owner in 1870. A few of these establishments also provided decent housing for people who were in town for a short time, or single men. The I.O.O.F. (Odd Fellows) had a lodge on the east side of Lower Main Street. It featured a large hall, Eagle Hall, upstairs, and meeting rooms for the G.A.R., the Civil War veterans organization, and the village government. The hall was used for many public functions.


Baker’s Opera House, sadly a short-lived building

Baker’s Opera House, built about 1875 about where Sammy Cohen’s is now on lower Main Street, combined a number of functions in one building. It included at least five stores, a millinery shop, the room of the Catholic literary club, and the apartment of Charles Herrick, with the theatre on the upper floor, as was common. Two area survivals of this type are the Troy Music Hall, above the former Troy Savings Bank, and the Saratoga Music Hall, above the city government offices and the police station. An article in the Troy “Times” in 1875 reported 2000 people attending a political meeting there- twice the population of the village, a truly huge crowd.
The opera house was constructed by Lorenzo Baker. He and his brother Charles were sons of Ezekiel Baker, who was the prominent local physician from about 1820 until his death in 1866. I have written about these folks before: (https://schaghticokehistory.wordpress.com/2016/05/17/schaghticoke-in-1840/) Charles first worked for local magnate Amos Briggs and then became a general merchant. Lorenzo was a tailor and sold clothing. Both served in local government. Two of the retail spaces in the opera house were theirs. I will write about them again in a later article, as both were in business through the end of the century.
A devastating fire on September 3, 1880 destroyed the new Opera House plus the Schaghticoke House, where the fire began, and Thomas Jackson’s shoe store, Mrs Richard’s drug store, “the elegant residence belonging to the estate of E. Congdon,” a “tenement” house with four apartments, and Charles Wilbur’s home. The Masonic lodge was on the upper floor of the Schaghticoke House, and they lost everything. One thing the village did not have was a fire department. The Troy fire department was summoned by telegraph, but by the time they arrived, on a special train able to carry a fire truck, the fire had done lots of damage. Members of the Cohoes fire department were in town for a target shoot, and they helped the local bucket brigade.
The Troy “Times” reported “the hotel, (the Schaghticoke House) which was filled with boarders, was the scene of THE WILDEST EXCITEMENT. Women ran screaming into the street…Beds and bedding, crockery ware by the wagon load …covered the sidewalk for a distance of several hundred feet…” The Opera House, described in the newspaper as the finest building in town, burned next. It was not rebuilt.
In the course of my research, I came across a very shocking series of newspaper articles about the village of Schaghticoke in the late 1870’s through 1882. An article in the Troy Daily Times on August 9, 1880 stated that the village was “visited by a scourge which destroyed 1/12 of the population,” three different types of malarial fever. In the first epidemic of diphtheria, which began in June 1874 and lasted 11 months, there were over 475 cases and 120 died. “The effect of this unprecedented mortality was paralyzing. Many people moved away from the pestilential locality.” A letter to the newspaper on August 14, 1880 from Dr. D.H. Tarbell, of whom I wrote above, “the Village of Schaghticoke has for the past five years been a very sickly place. The terrible scourge of diphtheria, which prevailed here in the years of 1875 and 1876 carried to the grave about 125 victims from the village.” There were many cases in 1879 as well, he said.
The articles went on to say that in the fall of 1878 there was “malarial fever of an intermittent” form, confined to the village. Though village officials and the local doctors tried to prevent it, the fever increased, with over 500 cases reported. There was also a variety when “an eruption breaks out over the body” with “intolerable itching” which lasted five days. A final kind was a typhoid malarial fever which lasted from two weeks to a month, with 10% fatalities.
A Dr Ward of Troy stated that the cause of these diseases was the creation of a swamp after the construction of the Albany Northern Railroad. At the time, which would have been about 1855, “the channel of the river was diverted away from the village”, creating an embankment between the village and the river, and hence “a miasmic swamp of fifty acres.” The swamp poisoned the atmosphere. I don’t have any idea if any of this is accurate, and why it was finally written about in 1880, five years after the events.
Dr Ward said that making a culvert through the embankment would restore a portion of the river to its original channel and allow the swamp to fill and drain. The problem embankment was outside the bounds of the village, limiting the power of the village to require amelioration. In 1882 (Troy “Times” October 2, 1882) the Governor ordered several entities in Schaghticoke to remove their “malarial nuisance”: John A. Baucus, who had the farm which bordered Electric Lake to the north, the Schaghticoke Powder Company, located just across the river from the village, and the Hart Estate, which owned much of the property in the southern part of the village. No one property or person was held at fault: the state was just trying to target all the possible causes of the problem. After this, the Troy “Times” had no more information about the problem. I also don’t know if the reports of deaths are true, but Dr. Tarbell would seem a reputable reporter. He had begun practicing medicine in the village at this time, and had a young child die of cholera, perhaps as a part of this epidemic.

Two major industries were just developing in town around 1870: the Cable Flax Mill and several paper mills. First, I will discuss the truly new industry, the paper mills. There were two paper mills on the Hoosic River at Schaghticoke in 1870 and one on the Schaghticoke side of the river at Valley Falls. According to “Changes in Print Paper during the 19th Century” by AJ Valente, up until about 1830 paper had been made from rags- mostly from linen or hemp. Rag pickers collected discarded clothing and it was recycled to make paper. Obviously this limited the amount of paper which could be made, and as the demand for paper grew with the development of newspapers, inventors tried using all sorts of fiber to make paper. A family in Pennsylvania developed paper made partly with straw around 1830, others made paper from old manila ropes, sails, etc., then manila and straw was combined. In 1860, a company in Fort Edward patented a method of making paper from straw, filtering out the many impurities of dirt and weeds. We now have paper made of wood pulp, which was developed after 1870. The local mills at this time all made paper from straw, a process which must have resulted in lots of pollution entering the Hoosic River, as the process used caustic soda and bleach to whiten the paper. And the paper was still not really white. The technology used was short-lived, though making paper from wood pulp was no less polluting. I have not tried to figure out where all the straw for the mills came from. Presumably as much as possible came from local farmers, but the agricultural censuses for 1870 and 1880 did not have a tabulation of straw produced on farms.


Lewis Pickett- his father owned the paper mill, but Lewis got stuck in the machinery!

One of the mills at the village of Schaghticoke was owned by Lewis Pickett and Son. I have written about both Picketts before. Lewis was a carpenter and a speculator, listed in the 1850 US census as having gone West to prospect for gold. He returned and lived in the lovely house at 133 Main Street, across the street from Diver Library, with his wife and only son, Charles. He manufactured melodeons there for a time around 1855-60. Charles went off to the Civil War as a Lieutenant in the local regiment, though he did not thrive as a soldier and managed to get out of the Army before the battle of Gettysburg. The 1865 NYS census listed Lewis as a carpenter, but by 1870 he had invested $17,000 in a straw paper mill, with a water wheel producing 60 horse power, and two paper engines. He employed ten men and one woman and in 1869 used 1,150,000 pounds of straw worth $9000 to make 800,000 pounds of straw paper worth $22,500.
Charles, who was Town Clerk in 1869 and Justice of the Peace in 1873, was President of the newly incorporated village of Harts Falls (Schaghticoke) from 1870-1873. Of course he also worked with his dad, hence “Pickett and Son.” An article in the Troy “Times” on August 15, 1870 reported that “while regulating one of the cylinders of the machinery he was caught by the belting and drawn into the machinery and considerably bruised, but no bones were broken.” The mill was quite short-lived, as Lewis Pickett died suddenly in April 1872 (Troy Times, April 11, 1872) of a heart attack. The obituary called him “head of the extensive paper manufacturing concern,” and added that his son Charles was also “confined to his house by sickness.”
At the same time Charles was working with his dad and serving as the President of the village, the Presbyterian Church was citing him for drunkenness, profanity, and unchristian behavior. He was suspended as a member in 1873. Tellingly, Lewis’ will left his money to his wife and his nephew, not to his son. Though his mother continued to live in Schaghticoke, Charles does not appear in the 1875 or 1880 censuses. Sylvester’s “History of Rensselaer County,” published in 1880, states that the paper mill of Lewis Pickett was taken over by John Baucus, John Banker, and John Buckley, then the men who owned the second mill described below, plus David Button.
The 1870 US Census lists the Pickett mill and a second- and different- straw paper mill in the gorge of the Hoosic River at Schaghticoke, this one owned by James W. Baucus and Frederick Wiley. They had invested $18,000, had two water wheels producing 60 horse power, and two paper engines, employing ten men, one woman, and one child. The mill used 1,200,000 pounds of straw worth $9,600 to make 830,000 pounds of paper worth $22,825 in 1869. The 1880 census, which may reflect the two mills which the men now owned, reported that J.W. Baucus and Co. had $33,000 invested in its mill. It employed 18 men, one woman, and one child, who worked 12 hours a day year round and made from $1-$1.20 per day. The mill had been idle one month- this could have been in summer with low water or winter with a frozen river. It had two paper machines, 48 inches wide, and six water wheels to provide power: four tub, one Collins, and one Rich. Collins and Rich were both patented types of wheels. In 1864, 864 tons of straw and an indecipherable amount of pulp made 764 tons of wrapping paper, worth $19,500.

Collins tub wheel

The partners in the mill both lived near the current Schaghticoke Town Hall in Melrose. James W. Baucus, born in 1812, was a son of John Baucus and Maria Wetsel. The Baucus family had been in the town since at least 1800. I believe they were descendants of Palatine immigrants, with their name originally spelled something like Backes. A little booklet about the history of Melrose published in 1976 says they were from Holland on one page, and that they were German on another. It also says that John was born in Dutchess County and came to town as a child with his father William. Indeed William and a different John Backes are both in the census for Schaghticoke in 1800. Most of the Baucus family were members of St. John’s Lutheran Church, located at the junction of Valley Falls Road and Northline Drive. John and Maria had a large family: sons William, Daniel, Elisha, George W., John A, James W., and Joseph, and daughters Eliza, Julia Ann and Hannah Jane. John, who died in 1832, was a prosperous farmer. And his sons were prominent members of the community.
The 1856 town map shows twelve farms in the Melrose area owned by James W., Elisha, William, and George W. Baucus including the land where the town hall is now, plus the farm across the street at the corners of Gutbrodt Road and route 40, and the Wertman farm on Pinewoods Road. James, the focus of my attention here, was a farmer for many years, but the 1870 US Census called him a farmer and paper manufacturer, with real estate valued at the very high figure of $60,566. The figure in the 1865 NY Census had been just $3000, so this helps pinpoint when he got involved in the paper mill. . James was married to Maria Swartout. That 1865 NY census listed the family: James, 52; Maria, 46; and children Francis, 21, Alida, 19, Elizabeth 17, Loretta, 15, J. Irving, 13, and Elva, 9, plus Maria’s father James Swartout, 79. They had in all eight daughters and one son, plus a child who died in infancy.
John A. Baucus, brother of James, was also a farmer, but his farm was the one just at the northeast end of the village of Schaghticoke. The house is just south of Hoosic Valley Elementary School on Pleasant Avenue. John married Elizabeth Bryan Banker, another local person, in 1851. She and John had two surviving children, J. Bryan and Jessie. Besides dabbling in milling, John invested in real estate locally and in Minnesota and Wisconsin. In his 1884 will, he left his piano and about $5000 to his daughter Jessie, plus two houses at the corner of Main and 5th Street and the “Perry Premises,” while son J. Bryan received the farm, and the two children split his real estate outside the town equally. (Banker Family Genealogy)
The Baucus’ were almost all involved in local politics and business. John A. served as town supervisor from 1857-1858 and as a trustee of the village; his brother William was town supervisor in 1863, and his brother Elisha from 1868-70. Brother George was a justice of the peace. Unusually in this town at least, Elisha was a Democrat. He was Chair of the Rensselaer County Board of Supervisors in 1870. Brothers James, John, and William were elected directors of the Rensselaer County Bank in January, 1864, (Troy Times January 8, 1864), three of the five directors on the board. James, the paper manufacturer died in 1899. His obituary, April 6, 1899, reported that he had “at one time been a large holder of real estate, prominently identified with all public matters.” “Landmarks of Rensselaer County” describes him as a “farmer, paper manufacturer, and speculator in real estate.” (p 34)

James Baucus’ son-in-law and partner Frederick Wiley lived and farmed just south of him and today’s town hall on the east side of route 40. Frederick, born in 1833, was the son of William and Anna Herrick Wiley of Pittstown. “Landmarks of Rensselaer County” states he attended Fort Edward Institute and Charlotteville Seminary and taught school for four terms before becoming a farmer.(p 31) In 1861 he married Hester Baucus, one of the eight daughters of partner James. Like James, the census listed him as a farmer in the 1865 NY Census. Frederick, 32, and Hester, 23, had two children, William Elmer, 3, and Clara, 1. He was still listed as a farmer in the 1870 US Census, but as a paper manufacturer in the 1875 NY Census and the 1880 US Census. Frederick’s obituary on March 22, 1896 reported that he had joined the paper-making firm of his father-in-law JW Baucus and moved to the village of Schaghticoke in 1871. After James left the firm in 1878, David M. Button joined Frederick and the firm was renamed Wiley and Button. The factory was still in business when Frederick died.
Like the Baucus men, Frederick served his town as well. He was town clerk from 1875-76 and town supervisor from 1885-1888. An article in the Troy “Times” on March 4, 1888 reported that he was a candidate for his third term as supervisor – each term was just one year- In a “triangular fight”- presumably there were three candidates- “he received a plurality of 157 over the Democratic opponent. He did not seek the office. He was chosen because he was considered to be the very best man to fill it.” Later that year, Supervisor Wiley swore out a complaint against George Beecroft, the tax collector of Schaghticoke and a butcher, who had failed to pay the full amount of taxes to the county treasurer, having kept about $1600! Beecroft had been found in front of the American House (located behind the World War I statue in the village), where he was watching a circus parade. (Troy Times May 31, 1888). I love this article as it tells us that governmental malfeasance is nothing new, and that there was a circus in town!
Frederick also served as President of the village of Schaghticoke, a Justice of the Peace, and was on the board of the Methodist Church and the Union Free School District. During his term as President of the village, he worked with the town to get a pedestrian walk added to the bridge over the Hoosic River at Schaghticoke.
The third paper mill was at Valley Falls, with buildings located on both sides of the bridge crossing the Hoosic River on the Schaghticoke side. The mill was owned by Thomas Lape in 1870. The 1870 US census reports that he had $30,000 invested in his mill, with a water wheel generating 75 horse power, plus two paper engines. He employed ten men and four women, and used 1,600,000 pounds of straw worth $9000 and 800 barrels of lime worth $750, plus 500 tons of coal and oil worth $1000 to make 1,300,000 pounds of straw paper worth $34,000 in 1869.
The 1880 US census, at which point C.J. Stark and John Kenyon operated this mill, reported that the mill had $24,000 invested in it, twelve male employees and five female, and no children, who worked twelve hours a day year round, making $1-$1.50 per day. The mill had one cylinder paper machine, 58 inches wide, and used three water-powered American turbines to produce 90 horsepower. In 1879 it used 864 tons of straw and an indecipherable amount of wood pulp to make 642 tons of wrapping paper worth $16,050. This was slightly smaller than the Baucus mill in the village of Schaghticoke.

Thomas Lape

Thomas Lape was instrumental in the development of both the villages of Valley Falls and Schaghticoke. He was born in 1828 in Greenbush, Rensselaer County, attended the Lansingburgh Academy, and taught school in Speigletown for one year. Thomas went into trade in Lansingburgh in 1851, selling lumber, plaster, grain, and straw for five years, then began to manufacture flax yarn and twine with a partner there. Thomas moved operations to Valley Falls around 1858, where he built a paper mill. It made “straw board and wrapping paper.” The 1860 US census for Schaghticoke lists Thomas, 32, as a flax and twine manufacturer with real estate worth $15,000 and a personal estate of $5,000. This implies that he retained his interest in the flax mill. And he lived in the town of Schaghticoke.
By the 1865 NY Census Thomas was living in the Pittstown portion of Valley Falls. He bought the property called the Promised Land, to the east of State Street in the village of Valley Falls. In 1863 and 1869. It was meant to be developed as an extension of the village of Valley Falls. The 1877 Beers Atlas shows the layout of the Promised Land, with Thomas’ home at the eastern end. The 1870 US census for Pittstown shows his growing prosperity. At 42, he had real estate valued at $80,000 and a personal estate worth $40,000. Showing that desire of businessmen to be farmers, his profession was listed as “farmer.” An article in the Troy “Times” in July 1872 reported that he had invented a new potato digger, “the plan of which is different from any machine of the kind.” Thomas sold his controlling share in the Hoosic Valley Paper Mill around 1872, because he had bigger fish to fry. The mill continued. An article in the Troy “Times” in 1888 reported that the Valley Falls Paper Manufacturing Company was running full time, with twenty men making 7000 pounds of straw wrapping paper per day.
Meanwhile Thomas Lape was very active in the Prohibition or Temperance Party, running for NYS Assembly and US Congress as a candidate of that party. Thomas was married three times. He and wife Martha had five children, three of whom died young. She died in 1861 and he married Emily Stover Hamblin, widow of Myron Hamblin. They had two children, who died, and she herself died in 1867. He then married Nellie Stickles in 1869. They had twins Clarence and Clara, but Clara also died young. A street in the Promised Land was named for each of them.
Thomas sold his share in the paper mill as he organized the Chicago Stove works in 1872, building a foundry in that city. He also purchased the old Schaghticoke Linen Mills, which he reorganized as the Cable Flax Mills. A note in the Troy ”Times” of September 8, 1871 had advertised “For sale or to let: the Schaghticoke Linen Mill.” Thomas had had experience with flax in Lansingburgh, and bought the mill. He served as President of the company, E.A. Hartshorn as Secretary, and EE Starks as Treasurer. Starks was replaced by CC Hill shortly after. An article in the Troy “Times” on October 19, 1872 reported that “work has been resumed in the cable flax mill. It has been suspended for nearly five weeks on account of the putting in of a new water wheel and flume. The wheel was manufactured by Geo. W. Eddy of Waterford, and is of 75 horse power. It stands beside the old wheel and the machinery of the mill is now propelled by the force of both, which is about 165 horse power. The flume is of chestnut, 22 feet wide. The work has been done by CJ Starks of Valley Falls.”

Charles J. Stark

CJ was Charles J. Stark. It seems like he had been preparing to be a mill owner for a long time. He was a son of Silas and Susan Stark, born in Raymertown in 1821. As of the 1850 US Census, he and wife Rhoda Brownell were farmers in Pittstown, but the 1855 NY Census called him a mill wright, the 1860 US Census a flax dresser, the 1865 NY Census a farmer and miller. In 1868 he bought the 250 acres of what had been the Isaac Tallmadge farm, still the Stark farm, for $33,500 from Isaac’s son William. The house for the farm is at the corner of Bunker Hill Road and Master Street. He bought 32 more acres, bordering Lape’s Paper Mill lot, for $6,750 later the same year. (Book 137 of deeds, p. 238, 406)

Rhoda Brownell Stark

The 1876 Beers Atlas reflected this purchase, showing the Starks lived in Schaghticoke, just up the road from the Lape paper mill on the Schaghticoke side of Valley Falls. The 1870 US Census for Schaghticoke listed Charles, 48, as a farmer. He and wife Rhoda, 49, had children Charles B., 15; Helen, 19; Emily, 18; and Isabel, 13. Next door was John Kenyon, 41, who was a bookkeeper, and his wife Harriet Slocum, 37. Both John and Harriet were local people, John the son of farmer Benoni Kenyon, and Harriet of farmer Lewis B. Slocum. The 1875 NY Census listed Charles Stark as a mill wright. Son Charles Byron had moved into his own home, next door, and was listed as a paper maker, as was John Kenyon, next door to the Starks. I thought I would find a deed with the Valley Falls Paper Company passing from Thomas Lape to Stark and Kenyon, but I did not. Perhaps the men leased it, perhaps I missed the deed. The Beers Atlas of 1876 lists Charles as the President and John Kenyon as the Secretary of the Valley Falls Paper Company. Charles J. took another step common for important local men and served as Supervisor of the town in 1879. Sadly, Charles died of heart disease in 1880, wife Rhoda of pneumonia the following year, ending a promising career.


Cable Flax Mills, street side

Returning to the village of Schaghticoke, or Harts Falls as it was at the time, the Cable Flax Mills, which made all sorts of twine and woven tape, became its economic powerhouse. An article in the Troy “Times” on March 20, 1874 reported that the mill made flax twines and shoe threads, with 200-250 employees using 6000 pounds of raw material per day to make 5000 pounds of finished goods per day, “supplying largely the markets of the world” with offices in New York and San Francisco .” A further article in the Troy “Times” on August 13, 1880 stated that it employed 900 employees, a very large number in a village of under 2000 people, and I think exaggerated. The 200-250 estimate was more accurate, I believe.
Whole families worked for the mill. For example, in the 1880 US Census, widow Mary Johnson, born in Ireland, did not work, but her son Robert, 21, and daughter Mary Ann, 14, worked in the woolen mill, and daughters Jane, 20, Elner, 19, and Martha, 13, and son Mathew, 17, worked in the linen mill. In the 1875 NY Census, father Michael Shaunnesy (sic) worked in the powder mill, but children Ellen, 16, Michael, 14, and Margaret, 13, worked in the linen mill. Yes, this is child labor, very common at the time.
The Cable Flax Mills had an almost immediate impact on the housing stock of the village. An article in the Troy “Times” on September 28, 1872 reported that “the row of tenement houses on the West street of the village is not completed….named Hill Place after CC Hill of the Flax Mills…the houses are…so neat and tastefull (sic) as to much improve that part of the village and reflect credit on the architect Mr Cummings of Troy and the carpenter Mr Dodd of Cambridge and the painters VanSchaack and son of this place.” This article has, I believe, a critical error. What came to be known as the “Cable Flax Mill Tenements”, were in fact on East, not West Street, and are now called “the brick row.” The architect was Marcus Cummings, designer of a number of buildings in Troy, including the Ilium Building. The painters were William and Chauncy VanSchaack. William, who had been a Sergeant in the local 125th Regiment in the Civil War, was also a carriage and ornamental painter. And the financer- and namesake- was Calvin C. Hill, an interesting guy. I will talk about him more below.


Cable Flax Mills, river side

Thomas Lape stepped down as the President of the Cable Flax Mills in 1881, with Edwin A. Hartshorn being promoted to the job. I spoke of Thomas last week. He lived in the village of Valley Falls and attempted residential development of the area east of State Street, the “Promised Land.” Thomas had a number of other businesses on the Hoosic River in Valley Falls. For example in 1885 he traveled to purchase machinery for his pulp mills in 1885 (Troy Times July 15, 1885). “The old wheels at Mr Lape’s red mill were replaced, the wheel pit enlarged.” An article in the paper in 1888 reported on the flour, grist, pulp, and plaster mills of Thomas Lape at Valley Fallls. The pulp mill processed two to three tons of wood pulp daily.
Thomas was also active in his community of Valley Falls, chairing the building committee for the new Methodist Church in 1882 (Troy Times Dec. 23, 1882), speaking at the Farmer’s Institute in 1889 (Troy Times, Nov 16, 1892), serving as the President of the Valley Falls Musical Association in 1889, (Troy Times Jan 14, 1889), running as the Prohibition candidate for county judge in 1890 (Troy Times Nov 12, 1890). Thomas died on November 6, 1898 (Troy Times Nov. 7, 1898), reported as “one of the best known men in the county. …He was an active promoter of several industries and interested himself in the development of the pretty village of Valley Falls.”

Edwin A. Hartshorn had been involved in the Cable Flax Mills from the start. He was born in Petersburg in 1841, a teacher by age 19, and enlisted in August 1862 as the 1st Lieutenant of Company E of the 125th NY Infantry Regiment in the Civil War. He was promoted to Captain shortly after. He was discharged from the Army in November 1863 after months of illness, but despite his relatively short and uneventful time in the Army- he missed all of the battles of the 125th- he plunged himself into the activities of the veterans of the war. I don’t know what experience or acquaintances led him to be named Secretary of the Cable Flax Mills when they were founded in 1871, at the tender age of 30. The Secretary was not a note-taker, but one of the chief executive officers of the company. Though Edwin never lived in Schaghticoke, he obviously had great influence here. The local post of the Grand Army of the Republic, the Civil War veterans’ organization, was named for him.
Edwin was also very active in Republican politics, becoming friends with future President William McKinley and serving on the Common Council in Troy, where he lived. He was a national leader in the American Protective Tariff League, working hard to get the products of the Schaghticoke mill protected by tariffs from competition from such places as India, where wages were tiny. (There’s nothing new under the sun!)He also worked hard to boost growth of hemp and flax in the area, through the Flax and Hemp Spinners and Growers’ Association of America (Washington County Post Nov 15, 1889). The Cable Flax mill did buy foreign flax- an article in the Troy “Times” on August 18, 1874 reported “E.A. Hartshorn off to Europe.” Hartshorn implied that it was foreign competition which led the mill to produce twine and tape rather than fabric, which could be made so much more cheaply in India. I will report more about the Cable Flax Mills in a separate article in the future.
There were several mills in Schaghticoke which provided materials to the Cable Flax Mill. Local farmers grew the flax, had it processed at these mills and then sold it to be made into twine and woven tape. These were seasonal mills on small streams throughout the town. One was that of Smith Cass. The 1870 US Census shows he had $1600 invested in a flax dressing mill, plus a saw and cider mill. Eleven men worked in the flax mill, processing 450 tons of flax worth $15,730. Smith Cass is separately listed in the 1870 US Census as a flax manufacturer with real estate worth $7000. Smith, 36, and his wife Helen, 32, had two children. Five of their employees lived with them. I don’t know where his mill was. He appears in no other census in Schaghticoke, and was a farmer in the Cambridge area by 1880.
Nathan Aiken had a much bigger investment- $24,000 – in his flax dressing mill on the Wampaconk Creek. A 40 horsepower water wheel and 12 employees dressed 600 tons of flax straw worth $21,000 and made 90 tons of flax lint worth $28,800 and 22 tons of flax tow worth $910. The tow was a by-product which could be made into rope. W.H. Buckley, a neighbor of Aiken, also had a flax dressing mill on the Wampaconk. More about him later.

Nathan Gould Akin, from an ancestry.com family tree

Nathan Gould Akin (1823-1886) was another well-off local farmer. Unlike the others I have written about, he did not get involved in local politics. Nathan’s mother was a Gifford, another prominent local family. He married Phebe Hoag in 1849. They began married life in Pittstown, living in his childhood home with his recently widowed mother and his sisters. By the 1855 NY Census, they had bought a farm in a bend of the Powampaconk Creek on what would become known as Akin Road. They had four children: Hoag, Ella, Armenia, and Arthur.
By the 1870 US census, Nathan valued his farm at $29,500. He had 166 improved, and 20 unimproved acres, seven horses, five milk cows, two oxen, 16 sheep, and ten swine. Nathan grew similar items to his neighbors: rye, Indian corn, oats, and buckwheat, and a rather large amount of potatoes: 1600 pounds. He grew more flax than most of his neighbors: 3200 pounds and produced 64 bushels of flax seed. Different than his neighbors, at least for part of his life he had his own mill on the Wampaconk Creek to process flax. Nathan would have had a ready market for this flax locally. A letter from shortly after Nathan began farming in Schaghticoke, 1851, showed him selling $918 worth of flax to Amos Briggs, who was then running the flax mill on the Hoosic River. An 1853 letter recorded a $1000 purchase. Amos bought flax locally, but also from Belgium and Ireland, not able to buy enough for his needs in this area.
The 1880 US census showed Nathan growing a bit less flax: 2400 pounds, but listed 7 tons of straw- was he growing straw for the local paper companies? Several of his neighbors also grew flax and straw. Nathan died suddenly in 1886 at age 60, the newspaper said of heart disease, but if it was sudden, it may have been a heart attack.
There was another small mill in Schaghticoke about 1875, with a tangential connection to the Cable Flax Mills. This allows us an interesting snapshot of both the vagaries of the textile business, and of a man who made just a brief impact on our town. The 1870 US Census for Troy shows Edwin Hartshorn, twine merchant and future President of the Cable Flax Mills, living next door to Calvin C. Hill, another twine merchant. Calvin was just E.A. Hartshorn’s age, 28, with a wife, Eliza, and a son Walter, 1. And though C.C., as he was called, was born near Watertown, NY, his mother was from Petersburg, as was Hartshorn. Perhaps the men had known each other before. They must have gotten on well, as when Hartshorn came to work in Schaghticoke the next year Hill followed, becoming Treasurer of the mill a year or so later. Hartshorn and family continued to live in Troy, but C.C. moved his family to the village. They lived just south of the Picketts on Main Street, almost across the street from Diver Library today. He built “Hill Place,” the housing for the mill workers described above in 1872. An article in the Troy “Times” that fall reported that the housing was already all rented.
Unlike Hartshorn, Hill did not remain with the flax mill. Interestingly, his occupation in the 1875 NY Census was listed as “speculator,” but by the 1876 Beers Atlas, he was listed as the proprietor of the Eagle Shirt Works, housed on lower Main Street in the village, almost across the street from where Tommy’s Tavern is now. The Troy “Times” of May 23, 1876 reported that “not withstanding the general depression of business, the mills (of Schaghticoke) have been running thus far. CC Hill has removed his store and shirt manufactory to Eagle Hall block. He employs a hundred operatives.” I think that many of the workers or operatives made the shirts at home, perhaps with sewing machines purchased from Hill. Beers Atlas described him as “agent for Wheeler and Wilson sewing machines, manufacturer of shirts, overalls, and cottonade pants, machines to be sold, to be paid by easy monthly payments, work furnished to parties to assist with paying for the machines.” But all was not smooth. The Troy “Times” of October 16, 1876 reported that C.C. had bought $1000 worth of boots and shoes from a man and was selling them off, hoping to use the proceeds to pay off his creditors. The shoes were seized by the sheriff when those creditors became concerned that C.C. was keeping the money for himself. But Hill’s business survived: the October 4, 1880 Troy “Times” reported that “the Eagle Shirt Works have just completed an order of 1200 shirts for a Boston firm and have received a new order from the same firm for 5,000 dozen more, necessitating the enlarging of its working capacity.”
At the same time that he was wheeling and dealing, C.C. also was very active in the government of the village of Hart’s Falls, as Schaghticoke was known at the time. He was elected trustee several times, and served as the health inspector. This post could have been very important and controversial in view of the “malarial” problems in the village during those years. But C.C. moved on. He was in the village as late as 1883, when the newspaper reported that he had been ill, but was improving (Troy “Times”January 6, 1883). In 1888, his home was sold for non-payment of mortgage. (Troy “Times” June 2, 1888) His wife Eliza died in 1892. I’m not sure if C.C. and Eliza were still married at the time. She is buried in Troy and at the time of the foreclosure, she alone was mentioned as living in the house in the village. If the 1900 US Census is correct, C.C. married a Sarah Jordan in 1885. A tiny article in the Troy “Times” on September 15, 1892 stated that C.C., a former resident, was visiting Schaghticoke from Texas. He died in New York City in 1908, having been a salesman for the Ostrander Fire Brick Company there for fifteen years. He is buried in Elmwood Cemetery.

woolen mill

Schaghticoke Woolen Mill

The Schaghticoke Woolen Mill was another economic powerhouse of 1870. Like the Cable Flax Mill, it had its origins in the very early years of the village of Schaghticoke, just before 1800, when there were several wool processing and wool spinning mills. Later there were a couple of woolen mills including looms, but they were more or less successful financially and prone to fire.
When partner Betsey Hart finally succeeded in forcing Amos Briggs to close their cotton mill in the village, around 1865, Briggs managed to get backers to open a new woolen mill at the same time. He must have been a very persuasive man, as he was deeply in debt himself. Sylvester’s “History of Rensselaer County” states the mill was founded in 1864 by a company of which Amos Briggs was President and D. Thomas Vail treasurer. “The company erected the present large and convenient buildings, supplying them with the best of modern machinery. The goods made are fancy cassimeres, and 175 hands are employed.” This all sounds fabulous. The 1870 US Census reported that the mills had real estate and fixtures worth $250,000. Two water wheels provided 125 horse power to ten carding machines, 40 looms, and 4050 speeders (part of the spinning process). The mills employed 56 men, 48 women, and 65 children under 16 and in a year used 425,000 pounds of wool plus some silk and 500 tons of dye stuff to make 125,000 yards of fabric worth $375,000.

Schaghticoke Woolen Mill from 1889 Bird’s Eye View

schaghticoke woolen mill map

Schaghticoke Woolen Mill, 1876 map

David Thomas Vail became President of the mills in 1868. Amos Briggs was an elderly man at this point; he died in 1874. Vail was the son of George Vail, a very successful Troy man, who began in the dry goods business but ended as the founder and President of the Merchants and Mechanics Bank in 1829, instrumental in the Troy Orphan Asylum and the Troy Savings Bank, plus a founder of the Rensselaer County Agricultural Society. He was also a breeder of cattle. D. Thomas took over for his father as President of the Merchants and Mechanics Bank in 1851. He was also President of the Troy and Boston Railroad from 1854 to 1878- following Amos Briggs in that role-and President of the Troy Union Railroad in 1852- which built the first Troy train depot and connected the various railroads entering the city; etc. He was married to Phoebe Bloom Hart, one of the many daughters of Amos Briggs’ partner, Betsey Hart, the widow of Richard P. Hart. Their son was named Richard P. Hart Vail. So Vail certainly knew the financial situation of Briggs, the whole history of the Hart-Briggs relationship, and the prospects for a woolen mill in Schaghticoke. And amazingly to me, Betsey Hart, mother-in-law of D. Thomas and former disgruntled partner of Amos Briggs, invested in the mill.
I’m sure D. Thomas wasn’t involved in the mills on a day-to-day business. The 1860 US Census listed his occupation as “farmer.” The 1868 Troy City Directory did list him as President of the bank and the railroad, and listed his house as “River View, Mount Ida.” This would have been an estate on the hill to the east of the city of Troy.
After Sylvester’s “History” describes the wonderful woolen mills, it goes on to report that they went bankrupt and closed in 1878! Apparently finances at the mill had precipitously worsened after the Panic of 1873, a world-wide economic dislocation and depression. An article in the Troy “Daily Times” of October 3, 1883 reported on the court case which resulted after the scandalous discovery that the Merchants and Mechanics Bank had concealed from state bank examiners that it was $400,000 in debt- about $7 million today- all of it bad debts from the Schaghticoke Woolen Mill. Of course D. Thomas Vail was the President of the bank…and of the mill, certainly a terrific conflict of interest. D. Thomas died in February 1882, rather conveniently getting himself out of a heap of trouble. Daniel Robinson, the vice-president of the bank, was stuck with the mess and the scandal. The mill had been $156,000 in debt in 1872, which increased to $358,000 by 1876 and over $400,000 by 1878. D. Thomas had duped both Robinson and the head teller- the major financial officer of a bank- into believing that all was really okay. Poor Robinson had poured lots of his own money into the mill, taking over day-to-day operations and trying to make a go of it. The case went on in the courts until at least 1886, though where anyone thought any pay out was going to come from, I don’t know.
A letter to the creditors of the Merchants and Mechanics’ Bank written March 10, 1879 states the basic fact of the bank’s failure due to the enormous indebtedness of the Woolen Mill, and also gives a nice description of the mill: “a valuable mill site and water-power, a large four-story brick factory, in size 180 feet long, by 54 feet wide, with wings, a gas house, and other erections. The buildings are fully furnished with machinery adapted to make the finest quality of woolen goods made in America. The machinery includes 40 looms, 8 mules (spinning machines), drying machinery, washer, &c. all of the most approved style, with the latest improvements, and nearly as good as new. The whole property cost upwards of $250,000.” The point of the description was to get someone to buy the mill for a fair price, thereby ensuring some sort of payout to the creditors of the bank.
A second letter, written by Betsy Hart and dated June 28, 1879, listed the stockholders of the mill and required the 18 who had money- D. Thomas Vail and Augustus E. Masters, Jr., one of the Masters family from Schaghticoke, had none- to each give $216 to pay the salaries due the workers when the mill closed, amounting to $3,700 in total. It seems to me that this was a very generous move by the stockholders towards their poor employees. Of course the focus on all of this high finance should be seen beside what must have been a horrible stress for the poor employees, all residents of the village of Schaghticoke. No wonder the village was named Harts Falls for her for a while. These letters are in the Hart papers at the Rensselaer County Historical Society. Betsey Hart had been partner in a number of mills with local Amos Briggs, and was owner of what is now the Hart-Cluett House, 59 2nd Street, the historic home which is part of the RCHS.
The Schaghticoke Woolen Mills were quickly re-opened in 1879 by J.J. Joslin of Buskirk’s Bridge. Sylvester’s “History of Rensselaer County,” published in 1880 reported “The mills are now doing a large business, running overtime, and finding a quick sale for all their products.” What we would now call a “puff piece” about the mills was published in the Washington County “Post” on January 23, 1880. Perhaps its purpose was to rehabilitate the reputation of the village, after its long siege with diphtheria and “malarial disease,” and then the bankruptcy of the mill. “Along the surface of the adjoining precipitous rocks (of the lower falls of the Hoosic River at Schaghticoke) stretch the massive walls of the Schaghticoke Woolen Mill, its shining towers and pinnacles and picturesque façade calling to mind some ancient castle in Rhineland.” The article describes mill apparatus in similar style, from the “mammoth scourer”, which can clean 4,000 pounds of wool a day; to the design department, “whose sacred precincts the vulgar throng cannot enter”; to the “huge hanks of yarn of all the colors of the rainbow”. The third story is the spinning room, the second the carding room, and the first, the weaving room, filled with imported looms, which can turn out 160,000 yards of cloth each year in 400 styles. 600 tons of coal per year feed the boilers, heaters, and gas house. The towers contain water tanks for firefighting. And “the beautiful water power of a 37-foot fall never fails.”
“This mill is ably officered by its calm, impurturable (sic), self-poised and far-sighted proprietor J.J. Joslin, and the efficient superintendent J.E. Pinkham, a courtly gentleman of the old school…and by its active and polite clerk, J. Whitman Joslin, a nephew of the proprietor. John Jay Joslin (1834-1890) was listed in the 1880 US census as a wool dealer, so he knew that part of the job, at least. Before that, J.J., who grew up in Pittstown, the son of Whitman and Sarah Joslin, farmers, was himself always listed in the census as a farmer. When J.J. died in 1890, his lengthy will begins with leaving $75,000 to his wife, and goes on to list real estate locally and in the western states, so he was definitely an experienced and successful businessman.

james e pinkham

James E. Pinkham

James Everett Pinkham (1817-1903) had had the job of Superintendent under the previous management. He was born in York, Maine and got his experience working in mills there. The 1850 US Census found him in Saco, Maine, with wife Sarah. By the 1865 Massachusetts census, they were in Salem, where James was a manufacturer of wool. Sylvester reports that he moved here the next year. He and Sarah had two sons and two daughters. The 1870 US Census found James listed as the superintendent of the woolen mill, son Edward a bookkeeper there, and son Herbert, just 18, an overseer. Herbert and Edward went briefly to Abilene, Kansas, where they were grocers. They moved back to go into business in Schaghticoke, but Herbert died of typhoid in fall 1881, leaving a widow and two children. The 1900 US Census showed James, now a widower, plus son Edward, daughter-in-law Alice and her two children as a household. Edward became the local insurance man. James was mentioned in the lawsuits surrounding the bankruptcy of the mill and the Merchants and Mechanics Bank in 1878, but apparently lasted out all of it. When the law suits around the closing of the mill came to an end after several appeals, around 1888, I think James ended up being held responsible for about $1,800 of the remaining debt, owed to the receiver. (Troy Times Feb.24, 1888)
There is a lot more to the story of the Schaghticoke Woolen Mill, which I will postpone until later. One thing that the newspaper articles about the financial problems of the mill does not include is the effect of it all on the workers. There were many families in the village who depended on the mill for their daily bread, literally, and the off-and-on openings and closings of the mill must have made huge differences in their income from month to month. For example, the 1870 US Census listed five daughters of the widowed Elizabeth Glennon as weavers at the mill. Five younger children lived at home and attended school. The family would have no income without the woolen mill. Many of the families were immigrants, clearly going where the work was.
One more mill in 1870 Schaghticoke was S. A. Spicer & Co., which made bagging or “gunney cloth” and cordage in the village. It was run by T. C. and Sydney Spicer and G.P. Mealy, with an office of Vail Avenue in Troy. The mill was the farthest south in the village, where the Agway mill is today. This factory is not mentioned in the 1880 “History of Rensselaer County,” and none of the owners lived locally. I believe it was a short-lived enterprise. Theron C. Spicer was born in Pittstown in 1820, the son of a farmer. He and his brother went into the lumber business in Troy, and by 1870 Theron had essentially retired from that business and invested in this factory to make bags and cordage of jute. This is an interesting choice as jute had to be imported, whereas using linen would have allowed at least some use of local flax. Sydney was listed in the 1870 US Census as “gunney cloth manufacturer.” I think the real operator of the mill was George P. Mealey, 41, who lived in Lansingburgh in the 1870 US Census and was also listed as “gunney cloth manufacturer.” By the 1880 US Census, he was a worker in the railroad yard and Sydney was listed as a cotton manufacturer.


Schaghticoke Powder Mill From Sylvester 1880

The other major industry in town was a very old one, the Powder Mill, which had been operating since about 1812. The keg factory of the mill was still on the original factory site, on the Tomhannock Creek, near its junction with Route 40, but the rest of the mill was on the south side of the Hoosic River, across from the village of Schaghticoke, and mostly accessible from the village of Valley Falls, though still in the town of Schaghticoke. The owners and managers of the mill now mostly lived in Valley Falls, rather than just south of the Hoosic River on Route 40, where they had been before. President William Bliss was the exception. He and his wife lived in the third house south of the Catholic Church, now Transfiguration North.
The 1870 US Census reported that the powder company had invested $80,000 in its real estate and equipment, had four water wheels which generated 226 horsepower, and made 767,275 pounds of gunpowder worth $92,073 in 1869. This contrasts with over a million pounds made in 1865, the last year of the Civil War. As I have written before, the mill produced ¼ of the black powder for the Union Army during the war. The mill continued to grow, however, and was producing above its Civil War level by 1875. The business had seventeen employees, who made an average of over $1000 per year. Employees of the Pickett and Son Paper Mill made about $450. Powder making was dangerous and its workers were paid accordingly.
The mill had been founded by local men, the Masters brothers, and then owned by men who may have come from outside, but who settled here to run the operation they owned. The current President, William P. Bliss was an example. He had worked for the mill since 1837 and been President since 1868. But according to “Peril in the Powder Mills” by Dave McMahon and Anne Kelly Lane, in 1871 Laflin & Rand Powder Company became the largest shareholder in the Schaghticoke Powder Company. Presumably William Bliss and his Superintendent, Chauncey Olds, would have managed day-to-day operations, but Laflin & Rand would have had overall control. While the mills did a huge business in volume, it employed relatively few men. The community was certainly very aware of its presence- thanks to periodic explosions- but it wouldn’t have had the same economic impact as a mill with hundreds of employees.
In 1870 and 1873, the wheel mill of the Powder Company exploded, with no casualties, but on August 31, 1874, it exploded again, killing George Smith and James McGowan. I think that George had recently changed from a relatively safer job in the woolen mill, but James was the son and grandson of powder makers. He was 29, George 24. Another explosion on February 13, 1875 killed Horace (Maurice) Porter and Arthur (James) Rogers. Horace was 47 years old, and left a wife and son. Arthur was 55, and left a wife and at least six children. I have written about the earlier history of the mill elsewhere, and will go into more detail about it in a separate article.


Grant Fan and Cradle Mill from Sylvester 1880

Another continuing business was the Grant Fan Mill and Grain Cradle Factory in Grant Hollow, just east of route 40 south of current Melrose. This was founded in 1836 by Isaac T. Grant, who with partner Daniel Viall, patented the tools they sold. Isaac died in 1868, but the mill carried on, adding J.P. Leavens and E.B. Banker to the ownership. I have written about Isaac and the factory elsewhere. It also housed a general store and post office. As of the 1870 US Census, the mill employed twelve men and two boys and made $230 of fan mills and $6123 of grain cradles, uniquely using both steam and water power. The 1880 US Census added that the mill worked eight months full time and 4 months part-time. Water power depends on an adequate, unfrozen supply of water, hence the use of steam. The census recorded that the water wheel used was of the turbine type.
Still another factory, the WW Bryan Grain Cradle Factory, located on the Hudson River south of present-day Hemstreet Park, made $1890 of fan mills, $600 of cradles, $600 of wagons, $360 of harrows with its five employees in 1870. This factory had been in business since at least 1855. The NY census for that year recorded that William Bryan and his brother Amos employed ten men to make 12,000 grain cradles. As of the 1880 US Census, there were eight employees. This census records that the mill used an overshot water wheel on a stream that emptied into the Hudson, and that it had operated all year. I wrote about the Bryans earlier in this piece.
The bottom line is that in 1870 the town of Schaghticoke seems to have been prosperous. There was a hiatus after the woolen mill failed in 1878, but new ownership restored that business shortly after. The result was that more and more amenities were available locally. I have written about many of them earlier in the article. Most of these businesses were in the village of Hart’s Falls, with a couple in Schaghticoke Hill and Melrose. There were blacksmiths located all over town, at least 16 in all. Conspicuous by its absence is a bank. The closest one was in Troy. The Rensselaer County Historical Society has many letters written by local manufacturer Amos Briggs to his business partner Betsey Hart in Troy in the 1850’s. Most of them were stating how much cash he needed to pay the workers and acknowledging the receipt of that cash, transported by a courier from a bank in Troy either by road or railroad.

But Schaghticoke was still primarily an agricultural town. Many of the men who owned mills also had farms. For example, Amos Briggs, who had been the biggest mill operator in town in the first half of the century, had a large farm on Verbeck Avenue, where West Wind Farm is today. James W. Baucus, co-owner of a paper mill in the village, owned a farm in the part of town near the town hall, as did his partner Frederick Wiley. My own conclusion after reading about many, many of these people is that the goal of every man was to have a farm, whether he was also a manufacturer or lawyer or minister or whatever, or if he was a farm or mill laborer who eventually saved enough to purchase a farm.

According to the 1870 US Census, there were 215 farms in Schaghticoke. 32 of those were valued at more than $20,000. For comparison, there were 410 farms in neighboring Pittstown, 23 valued at more than $20,000- so more but smaller farms than in Schaghticoke. Basically every farmer grew a variety of grains: Indian corn, oats, rye, buckwheat, plus Irish potatoes. Most farmers had one or two horses, perhaps a pair of oxen, plus a few milk cows and a few swine.  Of course milk was used for their own consumption, but excess was made into butter – and perhaps cheese- which would last longer for sale in these days before refrigeration. A few farmers made enough honey to record it in the census, a few had a number of sheep for wool or grew flax. Flax was a multi- purpose crop. It could be processed for fiber at the local mill and its seeds pressed to extract its oil. The seeds were then made into cakes and fed to stock. The oil could be used for food or in paint. Basically, excess crops and animals were sold to mills or for consumption so that the farmers could buy what they could not produce. This pattern had not altered since the land was first settled, though there were more consumer goods available for farmers and their wives to buy than there had been in 1800.

I would like to describe a few of the larger farmers, their family and personal history and their farms.   A few were descendants of families which had been in the community since the first Dutch farmers rented land from the city of Albany in the early 18th century: John and William VanVechten, Joseph Knickerbocker, John Quackenbush; others of families which had arrived just after the Revolution: Rising and Edward Masters; Emma, Daniel, and George Wetsell; Jediah Gifford; Henry, Samuel, and Cornelius Buckley; Jacob Diver; John Doty; Nathan Akin; and William Allen.

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William Pitt Button from Sylvester’s “History of Rensselaer County”

William Pitt Button had the farm worth the most in town, $40,000, in the 1870 US Census. He also paid for an extensive biography in Sylvester’s 1880 “History of Rensselaer County” p. 458). William was born in Pittstown in 1806, son of John and Mary Button, who had come to the area after the Revolution, along with many others. The large family moved onto a farm in Schaghticoke by 1812, where William worked with his father until he was 21. He bought his first farm in 1831, 107 acres, in Old Schaghticoke, probably on Buttermilk Falls Road where the Denison farm is today. William married Lois Buckley, daughter of Jabez of Schaghticoke, the next year.  This tied together two very large farming families in the town. I will write about the Buckleys elsewhere. Lois and William had six children. Lois died in 1849 and in 1850 William married Susan Lounsberry Wing, widow of Morgan Wing. They had four children, the last in 1859.

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Susan Lounsberry Wing Button, second wife of William Pitt Button

The Sylvester article indicates that William added 130 acres of adjoining land, plus the nearby Knickerbocker farm of almost 200 acres, a Groesbeck farm of 180 acres, and the Ezra Bryan farm of 150 acres. He helped his son David buy a farm, and “has accumulated a handsome property outside his real estate.”  Beers atlas of 1876 has “W.P. Button” on farms on Hansen Road, Buttermilk Falls Road, and Route 67, near where it is crossed by the Tomhannock Creek, plus a house on Main Street in the village of Hart’s Falls (Schaghticoke), north of where Pleasant Avenue joins it. The property at the Knickerbocker Mansion is labeled “J.F. Knickerbocker,” which would be Joseph Foster Knickerbocker, William bought part of the farm, which had been over 1000 acres, and may have managed the rest. Grace Greylock Niles’ book “The Hoosac Valley,” records that there was an Indian burial field on the Hoosic River, with the tumulus of Uncas, buried in 1757, visible in the center of the field as late as 1875. It was known as the Indian cellar and was ploughed down by William P. Button, superintendent of Knickerbocker Manor, “who sowed the field to wheat.” He reported “unearthing many warriors’ bones and weapons of rest (?) in the furrows.” (p. 106-107) Niles’ book is a combination of fact and legend, but this is a fascinating passage.


illustration from Sylvester’s “History of Rensselaer County”

Unlike other well-off men in town at the time, William was not much involved in politics, though the Sylvester article says he was first a Whig, then a Republican. He did serve as local highway commissioner for over twenty years, during which time he made the Albany Northern Railroad build three bridges over their tracks, “a marked instance of his perseverance and tact,” and certainly helpful to the farmers traveling the roads. At the same time, “no man in the town..has probably done more in the way of saving useless expense by successfully opposing the opening of roads and building of bridges which were not required by the public needs.” This juxtaposition makes one think.  He was also a trustee of the Methodist Church at Schaghticoke Hill for many years.

The 1870 agricultural census describes the farms of William Pitt, son David, and son-in-law Isaac Mabb. William had 450 improved and 70 unimproved acres, 11 horses, 8 milk cows, 100 sheep, and 33 swine. The sheep produced 450 pounds of wool, the cows 750 pounds of butter. The total value of all farm produce was $5,700. David, who was also a paper manufacturer(with Frederick Wiley), had 125 improved and 5 unimproved acres, 7 horses, 5 milk cows which produced 500 pounds of butter, and 1300 pounds of potatoes. Somehow he produced 300 pounds of wool, as no sheep were listed.  The total value of produce was about $3000. And Isaac had 162 improved and 7 unimproved acres. He had 7 horses, 2 milk cows which produced 600 pounds of butter, and 35 swine, and somehow produced 400 pounds of wool. The value of all farm produce was almost $4000. I need to note that all of these men could sell the wool to the mill in the village of Schaghticoke and that without refrigeration, milk was turned into butter, which could last longer.

When William died in 1887, at age 81, he left his “homestead farm” plus all “livestock and animals, farming implements, carriages, sleighs, vehicles, harness, whips, robes, produce on the farm and lot, household goods and furniture, except money and securities” to his widow. After her death, all would go to his youngest son, Theodore, then just under 30 years of age. He left farms to daughters Sabra and her sister Sarah, son Merrit, son David, and daughters Harriet and Emily. He continued to buy property up until just a few years before his death. Just a couple months after his death, in March 1887, his estate foreclosed on property of Garret Groesbeck, James Duffy, son David Button, Frederick Wiley, and Mary Dwyer, as I reported earlier. Mary Dwyer used the property, located on Main Street near the bridge over the Hoosic in Hart’s Falls, as a saloon and dwelling house (Troy Times March 4, 1887). An article in the “Times” on February 4, 1887 recorded that his estate was valued at over $200,000.

It is important to talk about John Quackenbush.  He had a large farm, was a descendant of one of the original families of Schaghticoke, and served as a U.S. Congressman. John was the son of Harmon Quackenbush and his wife Elizabeth Baucus, daughter of another important and old local family. Harmon, who was a farmer and surveyor, died in 1832, so John and his siblings were raised by his grandfather Jacob. Jacob’s great-grandfather had come to Schaghticoke in 1719, near the beginning of European settlement, leasing the land which John A. first farmed. This farm is along the lane, Bevis Road, that leads through the Liberty Ridge Corn Maze on the north side of the Hoosic River, off of Stillwater Bridge Road.

John attended the local schools and the Stillwater Academy. (Congressional Biography) He married neighbor Harriet Kinney in 1852. I think that he took over the “homestead” farm as his grandfather aged. The 1855 NY Census shows Jacob, 83, with John, 27, farmer, and Harriet, both listed as grandchildren, along with John’s mother Elizabeth and a cousin, Catherine, as the household. Jacob died later that year. John and Harriet had two little sons who died as infants, then son John, born in 1858 and daughter Emma in 1863.

According to Rutherford Hayner’s “Troy and Rensselaer County NY”, published in 1925, “from early boyhood, (John) had been his father’s assistant on the farm…he made agriculture his business, devoting his time and his energy to a careful study not only of the science of raising good crops, but also to the difficult art of successful marketing of farm produce.” Realizing that there was more profit in the latter, he “began to buy up farm produce, lumber, and wool, and soon became a successful speculator in those articles.” John also bought and sold wool.

In the 1870 Agricultural Census, the Quackenbush farm was worth $23,000, with 132 improved and 18 unimproved acres, six horses; five milk cows, which produced 600 pounds of butter;  two working oxen; 51 sheep, which produced 350 pounds of wool, and three swine. So John was producing wool for the local mill or mills. At this point, John was still operating the original or homestead farm.

By the 1880 Agricultural Census, John had purchased his second farm, which was almost exactly the same size. This was right on Stillwater Bridge Road, just to the north of the homestead farm. The large Victorian house there now was John’s house, which he enlarged over time.  John’s son John was 22 and listed on the 1880 census that year as a farmer as well. Eventually the son lived and worked the homestead farm, while his father occupied the new house and farm, but I don’t know exactly when that happened.

The production on the farms in the 1880 census was very similar. One farm had four, the other two oxen, they each had three milk cows; each made 375 pounds of butter; each had about 100 sheep and had produced 600 pounds of wool. Just one farm had pigs, twelve in number. Each farm had 100 apple trees, but one farm had produced 1800 pounds, the other 900 pounds of potatoes; one had grown buckwheat, and Indian corn, the other none. Both had grown oats and rye.

Meanwhile, John had become involved in politics. He was Supervisor of the Town of Schaghticoke in 1861-1863, and Chairman of the Rensselaer County Board of Supervisors in 1862. In fall 1862 he was also elected a member of the NYS Assembly. Next, John moved into law enforcement, elected to Sheriff of Rensselaer County at the end of 1873. I believe he served until the end of 1877. Next, John set his sights higher, and was elected to the U.S. Congress in 1888, and re-elected in 1890. He was defeated when he ran again in 1892. He also was a delegate to several national Republican conventions, and served on the State Republican Central Committee from 1888-1898.

Though it is not mentioned in his Congressional biography or his obituary, I feel that John made an effort to educate himself before he ran for Congress. His application for a passport in 1880 is in the data base of ancestry.com. John, described as a farmer, planned to travel to Great Britain, Ireland, France, the German and Austrian Empires, Holland, Belgium, Switzerland, and Italy. He was described as 5’10” with a high forehead, hazel eyes, grey hair, wide lips, a sallow complexion, and a “normal” nose. Sadly, I have not found a photograph of him.

There is an amazing article in the Troy “Daily Times”, published on November 15, 1888, after John was elected to Congress and Benjamin Harrison to the Presidency, in an election where the incumbent, Grover Cleveland, outpolled him in the popular vote, but Harrison had more electoral votes.  One of the major issues in the election was that Cleveland and the Democrats wanted to move to free trade, while Harrison and the Republicans wanted to maintain tariffs which would make woolen and linen mills like those which employed almost everyone in Schaghticoke competitive with the world.

“The greatest political demonstration that Schaghticoke has seen in many years took place last evening.” Train loads of demonstrators came from Johnsonville, Hoosick, and Troy to celebrate the Republican victory. They marched through the village of Schaghticoke and “were welcomed by the people of the village, who turned out en masse to cheer…” “Main, North, East, Fifth and Mill streets were aglow with red fired and lanterns. The Cable flax mills and the Schaghticoke woolen mills were brilliant with lights from cellar to roof, while from the top of each rockets were fired, and red fire was burned. The noise was increased by the constant screeching of the mill whistles and the clanging of the factory bells. A large cannon awoke the echoes with loud reports, as it was discharged in the field in front of the linen mill….Grand Marshall George H. Stevenson [Superintendent of the Cable Flax Mills] had arranged 500 men in line at Lyon’s hall, near the depot, at 8:30 a.m….The first club in line was a number of cavalrymen. Then came the Schaghticoke band. The first marching organization was the Schaghticoke broom blub…There were about fifty in the club, and each carried a broom and a flag. The Schaghticoke Harrison and Morton club was next in line….” There were “clubs” from Johnsonville and Hoosick, plus a special train of eight railroad cars brought Republican clubs and collar and shirt employees from Troy, adding up to about 500 men.

The parade finally got going about 9:30 at night. They marched south as far as the “Spook Hollow Bridge” across the railroad track just south of the village, then turned around and marched all through the village.  A large reviewing platform had been erected in front of the Cable Flax Mill, which was on the river side of lower Main Street, north of Agway. At the time, it was just north of where the bridge crossed the Hoosic River. Watching from the platform were the Congressman-elect John Quackenbush, Edwin Hartshorn, President of the Cable Flax Mill, and the newly elected Sheriff and NYS Assemblyman. The parade finished about 11 p.m., and the marchers gathered on the hill in front of the woolen mill, which was along the Hoosic River behind the current Presbyterian Church. Due to the lateness of the hour, there were no speeches, but there was a huge bonfire, and the “Mills bill”, the legislation which would have eliminated most tariffs, was ceremonially burned, with the statement that “workingmen had defeated the measure at the polls.” There were deafening cheers.

The marchers walked back to Lyon’s hall, which was somewhere near the Cable Flax Mills. “A spread had been provided…by the ladies of Schaghticoke,” and they were well fed. After midnight, the marchers from Troy reboarded the train, cheered by the locals who escorted them to the depot at midnight. They sang all the way home. The only down moment was when “some roughs” at Dwyer’s saloon on Main Street “made an insulting remark” to one of the Troy clubs, “which was not unprepared to meet rowdyism.” They “charged on the gang”, which retreated. There were at least a few Democrats in the village of Schaghticoke! What a beginning to John Quackenbush’s tenure in Congress!

An article in the very partisan Troy “Daily Times” on October 31, 1890 listed the reasons voters should re-elect John to Congress:  his “constant and faithful” discharge of his duties in Washington, even through the summer heat; his faithfulness to protective tariffs, “upon which depend the life of our manufacturing and agricultural industries”; his introduction of a bill appropriating $150,000 to improve the Hudson River; his work on behalf of the Watervliet Arsenal; his being on the “correct” side of the silver law and the pension act, as “voters in this district do not favor industrial suicide.”  He also obtained the federal appropriation for the new Post Office building in Troy, and another to improve navigation on Lake Champlain. An article in the Troy Times in 1892 (date impossible to read), credits the prosperity of the area to John’s support of the protective tariffs enacted under President McKinley. Locally, the woolen and flax mills were running full time.

John won that 1890 election but lost in his run for a third term in Congress.  He returned to his farm. He also owned a two-apartment tenement on Main Street in Schaghticoke, and built a four-unit tenement on East Street in 1874; so he collected rents as well as farming, and enjoying his position as “senior statesman”. Harriet Quackenbush died in 1899 and John in 1908. In his will, he split his property between his son and daughter. The probate file reveals that son John was living on and farming the “Old Homestead Farm.” Father and son co-owned most of the agricultural machinery and vehicles- carriages and sleighs. John also owned 103 shares of the Stillwater and Schaghticoke Bridge Company worth $1648. All of the furniture of the big Victorian house was worth less than $300, which seems like a very low amount. The inventory lists no books or pictures or paintings- but perhaps he had already given many things to his family. He is buried in the large Quackenbush lot in Elmwood Cemetery. His obituary describes him as of “genial disposition and large heart, ever ready to assist the poor and needy, unassuming in his manner.” (Hudson Valley Times May 11, 1908)


Tombstone of John Quackenbush in Elmwood Cemetery

Let me turn now to the iconic family of our town, the Knickerbockers. Of course the first of the family had come to town like the Quackenbushes, in the early 1700’s. They had farmed the area around the current Knickerbocker Mansion ever since. The family had educated its sons and a few daughters, gotten into politics- Herman Knickerbocker having served in the US Congress-, branched out into industry- Herman had had a textile factory on the Tomhannock Creek, but had also remained farmers. The 1865 NY Census lists the residents of the mansion: Abraham, 69, farmer, his second wife Mary Ann, 59, plus his son Joseph Foster, 41, listed as a gentleman. A second son, Henry, was a manufacturer in Saratoga County. Abraham was the brother of Herman, and both were sons of Johannes.   Both Abraham and Mary Ann died in 1869, just nine days apart, so by the 1870 US Census, Joseph still lived in the Mansion, but the family of Abram Button, a son of William Pitt, lived there too,  and Abram was the farm manager.

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The Knickerbocker Mansion from “Vision of the Arch of Truth”

Joseph Foster Knickerbocker was most definitely not a farmer, though the commercial portion of the 1876 Beers Atlas listed J.F. Knickerbacker: grain, hay, corn, potatoes, cattle, sheep, and etc. Presumably his farm manager produced these items.  Joseph was an 1844 graduate of Harvard Law School, but was primarily a poet and author. One of his works, “Vision of the Arch of Truth,” published in Troy in 1876, has been “selected by scholars” for amazon.com as “being culturally important” and “part of the knowledge base of civilization as we know it.” This book of poems and allegories is full of philosophical and florid descriptions of nature and man’s response to it. Joseph lived in the Mansion until his death in 1882. He was found dead sitting on a stoop on Canal Street in New York City on November 17, 1882 (Troy Times, November 18). He had been visiting his brother Henry in the city and while heading to catch the boat home he felt ill, sat down, had a heart attack, and died. He was buried in the Knickerbocker Cemetery with the rest of his family. His brother Henry inherited the property, but did not live there, making Joseph the last of the family to live in the iconic mansion, inspiration for Washington Irving’s “History of New York.”

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The Witenagamot Oak, illustration from “Vision of the Arch of Truth”

In the 1870 Agricultural Census, two of the farms worth over $20,000 in Schaghticoke were owned by descendants of James Masters. James had come to Schaghticoke just after the Revolution. Two of his sons, Josiah and Nicholas began the Schaghticoke Powder Company, in addition to being farmers on what is now called Master Street. Nicholas’ son, Nicholas, was the last Masters to run the Powder Mill. He died in 1837. One of his sons, Albert, had two sons who were the Masters in the 1870 census: Edward and Rising (really Josiah Rising.) The 1850 US Census listed Albert P. 58, with real estate worth $25,000. Sons Josiah R, 31; and Edward, 29, lived with Albert and his wife Sally Rising, 50. Albert died in 1854. In his will, each heir received over $15,000, worth over $400,000 today. The will added that Albert and Edward had decided that Edward could withdraw from his legal studies- indicating that Albert had had intellectual ambitions for a young man who did not share them. Albert had also advanced money to son Marshall to invest in a mining company in California- an investment which apparently bore no fruit.

By the 1855 NY Census in Schaghticoke, Edward was set up as a farmer, with wife Allina and children William, 3, and Mary, almost 1. His brother Josiah Rising lived with them. He had real estate worth just $1800.  The 1856 map of the town shows Edward and Josiah as the owners of the old mansion and farm at the corner of Master Street and Ridge Road, now St. Croix Farm. Edward also had a building on the Hoosic River to the east of the bridge to Johnsonville. The 1860 US Census reflected the inheritance, with Edward holding real estate worth $29,160. Josiah still lived with his family. Finally in the 1865 NY Census, Josiah, now listed as Rising J. Masters, 45, had real estate worth $3000, and was listed as a farmer. He had taken over the management of the farm of Lucy Benjamin, widow of his brother Marshall Masters, who had died in 1858. She had three children: Georgianna, 20; Francis, 18; and Shelton, 15. At that point, brother Edward, 49, and Alice, 38, had five children, the youngest, Marshall, just 1, clearly named for his recently deceased uncle.

The 1870 Agricultural Census listed Edward N. Masters with a farm worth $25,000, and Rising Masters, $25,460. Edward was first on the whole census list for the town, perhaps because he was also the census taker. He stated he had 160 improved and 25 unimproved acres, four horses, seven milk cows, 150 sheep, and four swine. His farm had produced 450 bushels of Indian corn, more than most of his neighbors; 400 bushels of oats, a modest amount; and 25 bushels of buckwheat, a tiny amount. Those sheep had given 650 pound of wool, a relatively large amount. He grew 1800 bushels of potatoes, also a large amount, and the cows had produced 700 pounds of butter, a modest amount. The farm had produced $3000 worth of produce of all types, about midway among his neighbors.

Josiah Rising Masters operated his sister-in-law’s farm of 152 improved and 36 unimproved acres. He had four horses and four milk cows, 125 sheep, and six swine. He grew 200 bushels of rye, 400 of Indian corn, and 200 of oats, all quite small amounts, and 1400 bushels of potatoes. His sheep produced 450 pounds of wool, his cows 500 pounds of butter. Unlike most of his neighbors, however, Josiah had grown 1600 pounds of flax, which had produced 50 bushels of seed. Both flax and its seed were commercial products, the latter processed into oil and cow feed. So the total value of the produce on his farm was slightly more than Edward’s, at $3,180.

The 1870 data may well show the high peak of Edward and Josiah’s farming careers.  Neither is listed in the business portion of the 1876 Beers Atlas, and by the 1880 US census, Edward and family had moved into the village of Schaghticoke, and his occupation was listed as “census taker,” with a note that he had been unemployed for five months the previous year.  Son Edward, 15, was working in a woolen mill, and son John, just 13, was working in a paper mill, probably that of Frederick Wiley, the Masters’ next-door neighbor. The family certainly wasn’t impoverished, perhaps Edward had just retired? Edward and Alice had sold a “steam mill”, perhaps the piece of property labelled as his on the Hoosic River near the farm, and as late as 1877 were listed as owners of the home farm. Edward definitely continued to be prominent in local politics. I found him mentioned in the newspapers a few times- once in 1888, elected Overseer of the Poor on the Republican ticket of Supervisor Frederick Wiley. Sometime after that, he and Alice moved to Montrose, Colorado, I think with son Marshall.  He died in 1896, she in 1904. Quite a change for an elderly couple.

In the 1880 census, Josiah Rising was listed as a boarder in the family of Melvin or Melville and Kate Sherman, who had a farm of less than 100 acres. He died in 1895 and is buried in the family cemetery on Master Street. I was hoping to find obituaries for both Edward and Josiah Rising, inheritors of a long tradition in the town, but did not.

A number of farms in the northern section of town were owned by descendants of Jabez Buckley (1753-1827), who came to town from Connecticut in 1785, much like the Masters family, who were his neighbors. Unlike the Masters, from what I have found, most of the Buckleys stuck to farming, not getting much involved with either politics or industry. Jabez and his wife, Phebe Frost (1768-1847) had seven sons, several born after they came to town, six of whom stayed and farmed in Schaghticoke: Joel, Tertullus, Moses, Stephen, Ezra, and Samuel. Several of their farms were on today’s Kardas Road, and Buckleys were buried in two small cemeteries on the west side of the road, one of which still survives. I have already mentioned that Jabez’ daughter Lois was the first wife of William Pitt Button, who had the farm valued highest in the 1870 census.

By 1870, my time period here, several of the Jabez’ sons had died, and their sons were working their fathers’ farms. The 1870 US agricultural census listed five Buckley farms. One belonged to a Henry Buckley, but I don’t think he was related to the others.  All of the farms grew a variety of grains. I will just give the animals and value of farm products for each. All were different from many of their neighbors in that they either raised sheep or grew flax, both strictly commercial crops aimed at the local mills.  Ezra and Samuel were the two surviving sons of Jabez. Ezra, 68, and wife Mary, near the ends of their lives, had a farm worth about $10,000, with just 92 improved acres of land, two horses, two cows, and 32 sheep. They sold $1263 of farm products in 1869. Living with them were one serving girl and two farm laborers. Brother  Samuel, 58, a widower with seven children at home, lived on Kardas Road, on a much larger farm worth $30,000, with 250 acres of improved land, six horses, five milk cows, and 125 sheep. He grew 1600 pounds of flax and produced $3663 worth of farm products. His wife Angeline Burch had died in 1863.

William H. Buckley, 38, was Ezra’s only son. In 1870 he was listed as “farmer and manufacturer” in the census, and served in various town offices through the years, mostly as an assessor. According to “Landmarks of Rensselaer County” by George Anderson, William attended Greenwich Academy and Poultney Seminary. He married Frances Talmage, daughter of another prominent local farmer, James Talmage. William and  Frances and five children lived on Masters Street, just upstream from where it is crossed by the Wampekonk Creek.  He had flax, cider, saw, and planing mills on the creek.  As of the 1870 census, he was listed as “farmer and Manufacturer”, reflecting a brief partnership with uncle Samuel and Thomas Lape in a straw paper factory, in addition to his other milling activities.  His farm consisted of 178 acres, with six horses, five milk cows, and 125 sheep. In 1869 he grew 1600 pounds of flax and sold $2552 worth of farm products. Unlike the other Buckleys, he served in various town offices through the years, mostly as an assessor.

William processed flax in a mill on the Wampekonk or Powampaconke Creek, preparing it for sale to the Cable Flax Mill in the village of Schaghticoke.The creek crosses Master Street just after Ridge Road.  An ad in many local papers in 1863 discussed the Patent Flax Brake of the firm of Mallory and Sanford in New York, used by William to process 4410 pounds of flax straw grown by J.B. and L.L. Weeks, yielding 365 pounds of dressed flax per ton, an improvement on the old flax brake used by William’s neighbor Nathan Akin, who had a yield of 120 pounds per ton less. This ad lets us know that William was definitely processing flax from other farms and that there was competition among flax mills.

Cornelius Buckley, 23, had inherited his father Stephen’s farm, worth $22,600, along with the care of his sisters Adelade, Edna, and Melissa, who was mentally ill. He had five horses, and five milk cows, and grew 7500 pounds of flax, selling $2608 worth of farm products.

Returning to Ezra Buckley (1803-1874), when he died he left very interesting probate documents.  First, I think the whereabouts of his children at the time of his death illustrates typical movement West at the time. Daughters Ann and Sarah had married and moved to Iowa; daughter Amelia had married and moved to Michigan. Daughter Phebe and husband lived in Hempstead, Long Island. Just son William H., inheritor of the farm, had stayed in town.

Second, it took some time to settle Ezra’s estate, so one of the probate documents lists all the purchases executor William had had to make to maintain the farm during that time. Of course he was also maintaining his future inheritance. He bought livestock: one red cow for $30, one light red cow for $35, and a yearling for $10, plus five shoats (young pigs) for $7.50 and a sow and five pigs for $10, and a rooster for $.38. He bought building materials: 112 gallons of white lead for $11.20 and eight gallons of green paint for 1.92, plus 14 days of painting and glazing by A. Rheinohurt, painter, for $35, along with 68 pounds of nails and 1065 pounds of plaster.  Of course he bought seed: 60 pounds of clover seed, 2 ¾ bushels of flax seed, five bushels of timothy seed.

The probate file also included an inventory of the contents of Ezra’s house.  I would like to highlight a few items which reflect the technology of the time. There was a washstand and a toilet set of sixteen pieces. Although indoor plumbing was possible beginning about 1830, it was not common for many years after that. In the bedroom or a small room nearby, there would be a washstand- a wooden piece of furniture, sometimes with a hole to fill in a china or metal wash basin. A pitcher of water would be carried in to fill the basin. Other pieces of a china toilet set would be that pitcher, a soap dish, a slop bucket or pot for used water, and perhaps a lidded chamber pot for under the bed. I can’t imagine what a set of sixteen pieces would include.

The Buckleys had “50 yards of Brussels carpet (old)”, worth $10. Brussels carpet was a very colorful woven woolen carpet, which came in many, many patterns and was used for stairs and rooms. It is impossible to know what pattern they had, nor what “old” means- how old was that carpet?

brussels carpet

just one example of Brussels carpet

The rooms in the home were heated with coal stoves. A parlor coal stove worth $5 had “8 lengths of pipe and 1 elbow”, plus a piece of oil cloth for underneath it. The dining room was furnished with a “cherry” table, and dining utensils included 18 “black handled” knives and forks, and 13 plated forks (that would be silver-plated), plus ten goblets, one platinum tea pot, and 2 wine glasses.  Typifying the Victorian fashion for special-use utensils, there were silver mustard spoon, butter knife, and pickle fork, a gravy turrine (sic) of 4 pieces- (how?),plus 1 pickle dish and a crum (sic) ladle. The Buckleys also had a china tea set consisting of a sugar bowl, tea pot, milk cup, slop bowl, 24 cups and saucers, twelve preserve dishes and two cake plates, the whole worth $3. This set is quite a luxurious item. And all of the preceding items indicate current fashion and technology.  In the midst of the listing of dishes and silverware, one entry was 40 old books worth $2, 1 checkerboard worth $.05, a framed “family portrait”, and “family record.”

In the kitchen, the cook stove was worth $10. I feel it would have been a cast iron free standing stove, perhaps usable with either coal or wood. Mrs Buckley also had many gallon jars, a wash boiler, cast iron and brass cooking pots, wooden bowls- all of which except for the wash boiler- would have been at home in a kitchen of 1850 or even 1800. There was also a clock.  The house also contained lots of bedding: 20 sheets, 14 quilts, 10 woolen sheets, over 30 pillowcases, and lots more. There were several mirrors, and a razor, strop and leather box. In the barn, there were basic tools and harness, plus an “old rifle”, plus animals.  The appraisers were S.S. Congdon and Alphonzo Merrell. Congdon was the local insurance man and Merrell the prominent local lawyer.

I’d like to look at a few of the smallest farms in town, valuewise, chosen at random on the 1870 US Agricultural census list. All were owned or leased by immigrants. Thomas Barton was born in Ireland in 1830. In the 1865 NY Census, he and his wife Johanna, also an Irish immigrant, lived in Troy and he was a laborer. But by the 1870 US Census they were farming in Schaghticoke, with children Mary, 11; Margaret, 9; Thomas, 5; Ellen, 3; Johanna, 1; and Eliza, 2 months. They had 14 improved acres, worth $1000 and $25 of tools, one horse, one milk cow, two sheep, and one swine. Thomas grew twenty acres of oats and 400 pounds of Irish potatoes. He got just ten pounds of wool from the sheep and 200 pounds of butter from the cow. And Thomas also produced 400 pounds of flax and twelve pounds of flax seed. The total value of his farm’s products was $562. I think it was very enterprising for a small farmer to produce the two common local commercial crops, flax and wool.  I found Thomas and family in Pittstown in the 1880 US Census, but I’m not sure if he was the progenitor of other Thomas Bartons in our town.

William and Catherine Tobin were also Irish immigrants. As of the 1860 US Census, they lived in Brunswick, where William was a farm laborer. By the 1870 US Census, they were farming on the east side of Stillwater Bridge Road, almost into Washington County, where they stayed, at least until 1910. William, 37, and Mary, 39, had two children that year, William, 4; and Alice, 1. Their six acre farm was worth $600. They had $50 worth of tools, one milk cow, and three swine. William grew 300 pounds of potatoes and produced $125 worth of orchard products. They made 200 pounds of butter and William grew three tons of hay. The total value of their farm products that year was $280.

And Florenz and Catherine Miller were German immigrants. As of the 1860 US Census, Florenz was a farm laborer on Peter Wetsel’s farm in Schaghticoke. He must have married Catherine Kleiber shortly after. The 1870 US Census showed them as farmers in Schaghticoke: Florenz, 33; Catherine, 31; and children George, 7; and Anna, 5. They had 15 acres of land, worth $2,200, plus $100 worth of tools. They had one horse, and one milk cow, from which they made 100 pounds of butter. They grew just 100 pounds of potatoes and six tons of hay, and sold $25 worth of orchard products. The total value of farm products in 1869 was $285. So it seems that Thomas Barton’s wool and flax made a big difference in the value of farm products he produced.

David G. Button had 83 acres of land worth $5,500. He was a newcomer from the town of Brunswick, where he had farmed his father Anson’s property. I include him here as he died in 1869 and his probate inventory includes a good list of the tools of a farmer of the time. The 1865 NY Census stated that the tools were worth $175. In 1864 he had grown 150 bushels each of oats and rye, 687 bushels of potatoes, but no flax and only 90 pounds of wool from 25 sheep. He had five cows, which produced 300 pounds of butter, three horses, and six pigs

When he died, widow Emily retained a “one horse buggy wagon”, and a “cutter”- a sleigh- plus their accoutrements. One different item was a “wolf robe.” The estate also included four other wagons: a “four spring market waggon”, valued at $175; a “two-seated light spring waggon”, a “lumber waggon”, and a hay wagon, plus a pair of bob sleighs, and a long sleigh, and the harnesses for them.  There was also a saddle and halter for riding horses.  There was also an ox yoke, implying he had owned oxen.

Agricultural equipment included a mowing machine, two corn plows, a side hill plow, a cultivator, a shovel plow, a “new iron beam plow,” potato hooks, a “lot” of corn cutters, a fanning mill, three grain cradles,  and a “hog hook.” There were hoes, a straw cutter, potato and manure forks, shovels, a hay knife, and scythes.  There were also carpentry and wood tools such as saws, hammers, augurs, a draw knife, a crosscut saw, ladders, a shaving horse, and axes and wedges. There was a grind stone for sharpening, a steel trap for catching varmints, and an umbrella! In the midst of the listing of the equipment were one pig, one cow, seven sheep, and fifteen fowl, presumably resident in the barn.

The inventory really reveals the bulk storage methods of the era. There were a half barrel of pork, and an empty pork barrel plus five cider barrels,21 barrels of planting potatoes, a barrel of buckwheat,  and a barrel of vinegar plus three grain casks, a lot of baskets,  one of “good baggs,” and one of “old baggs.”

I’d like to discuss just one more farm. Matthias Snyder and his wife Jemima had the farm at the corner of Pinewoods and Gutbrodt Roads in Melrose, now the home of Jean and John Goodman. By the 1870 US Census, Jemima had died, and Matthias, 74, was a retired farmer. His son, John W., 32, was the farmer. The Agricultural Census showed that they had 95 improved and 15 unimproved acres worth $17,500, plus $700 worth of tools. They had eight horses, six milk cows, four sheep, and four swine, valued at $4625. They had sold 100 pounds of wool in 1859 and grown various grains and farm products for a total of $2170. But this description hid a special farm product.

tipu sultan 1750-1799

The Tipu Sultan himself-(1750-1799)- breeder of fine horses and namesake of sires

This is how John W Snyder paid to describe his farm in the 1876 Beers Atlas: Grain, hay, potatoes, etc. Propr. (proprietor) of the Celebrated Stallion, Tippo Sultan.  Tippo Sultan is a dapple brown, 15 ¾ hands high, and weighs 1,150 pounds. For bone and muscle and perfection of form, he is not surpassed by any horse in the country.  Although he has never trotted a race or had any training, he has shown speed and action that has surprised the judges among sporting men.  A bold, proud, stylish driver, good stepper, remarkably kind and gentle in and out of harness; his disposition, perfect mildness. Owners of breeding mares will do well to call and see this noble young Stallion and his get before putting their mares, and judge for themselves.  His stock are good color, and kind disposition, easy to break or handle, showing the good spirit and action of their sire.  Tippo Sultan was raised by the subscriber; his dam got by a Morgan horse, and her dam got by Engineer, 2d and he by imported English Engineer; his sire by the celebrated young Tippo Sultan; his dam a Hambletonian; his sire imported English Tippo Sultan.  Bred by James Sympkins in the township of Tyedinago, Belleville, County of Hastings, Canada West, making a cross of the best bred horses in the State. The season commences May 15th and closes July 15th. Terms- to insure (sic) a foal, $25, and $10 the Season. All mares not regularly returned to the horse for trial will be charged as above with foal or not.  P.S. All persons parting with their mares before foaling will be liable for the sevice of the horse. Pasture on reasonable terms.  All accidents and escapes at the risk of the owner. Insurance money due February 1st 1877; season mares at close of season.  Those paying by March 1st 1877 discounted 10 per cent. Schaghticoke, May 15, 1876.

I find this especially interesting as one of the neighboring farms raises race horses today. The only other mention I can find of this aspect of John’s farming is an article in the “Troy Daily Times” on September 7, 1871 reporting that John won the diploma and $20 at the Rensselaer County Fair that year for Best Stallion, 4 years old. This implies that perhaps this part of John’s business didn’t prosper.

John was married to another local Melrose person, Amelia Doty. They farmed through the rest of the century. Amelia died in 1910 and John in 1919. According to “Melrose Then and Now”, their son Elbridge operated a grist mill on the little stream just south of the Melrose Fire House and built the house next to it, just sold by the Labrums. Their second son, Bert, operated a coal and wood business and lived on Valley Falls Road.

I wrote earlier that the town was very young, and those children needed to be educated. My predecessor as historian left a handout in the files entitled “100 years of Free Public Schools”. It is unsourced and undated, but references 1867-1967, so I think it was put out them. It states that from 1814 to 1867, “most New York State public schools were financed in part from local property taxes, in part from state aid, and in part from “rate bills”, which were tuition charges levied by the local school board against the parents of children attending school. The rate charged depended on how many children the family had in school and how many days each child attended.” How ironic that this is entitled “Free Public Schools,” as school was subsidized, but certainly not free. How difficult it would have been for poor and/or large families to send their children to school. Finally, the NYS Legislature passed a bill in April 1867, signed by Governor Reuben E. Fenton, which made school truly free.

The town had been divided into geographical school districts for years. Each district had a one-room school, where one teacher taught children between the ages of 5 and 21 in grades 1-8 in one room.  In practice, students did not attend beyond age 16.  The town managed the schools and taxes as part of town government, but each district had a sole trustee responsible for his own district. In 1873 the total money to be allocated among the districts was about $2,100, with about $50 specifically for each library.  As of 1873, the town had 18 districts with a total of about 1,100 students. The districts varied widely in size. District one, in the village of Harts Falls, had 139 students, district 6, 14.

Stunning to me as a former teacher, average attendance in 1873 was 375 of the 1,100, only slightly more than 1/3 of the students.  I know from studying the records of a rural school in Guilderland about the same time that students were more apt to attend school in the winter, and that girls were more apt to attend than boys, who were needed on the farm.  In the village of Schaghticoke, a number of students also worked in the mills part time. Mills would be closed from time to time by low water in summer or a frozen river in winter, allowing better school attendance. So there were a number of reasons for low attendance, despite schools now being free.

According to the handout I cited above, the average school year in 1867 was only eighty days, and less than half the children attended the whole time- this is borne out in Schaghticoke. There was an average of sixty students per teacher, and these students would be of all different ages. Less than 3 per cent of the students reached high school- certainly true in Schaghticoke, where students would have to travel elsewhere for higher education. About 2,100 students in all of New York were attending college.

union school3

New School, village of Hart’s Falls

A major development occurred in 1874, when the sole trustees of the three largest districts, all in the village,  district one, with 166 students; 4, with 118 students, and 16, with 168 students petitioned the town to join together and build a graded school.  Students would be divided by age, each grade taught by its own teacher. According to Dick Lohnes’ “Schaghticoke Centennial Booklet” of 1967, “District 1 was on School Street at the Warren Smith residence, District 4 at Earl Smith’s home, and District 16 at a building now torn down near the McGowan home on Chestnut Street.” The new board of trustees included Thomas Doremus, Lorenzo Baker, and Abraham Myers. The new district voted to spend $9000 on a new school building, partially funded by sale of the three old school buildings. A lot was purchased from the Hart Estate for the nominal sum of $500 and the new school was constructed on School Street at a cost of $12,633 and opened in 1876.   According to the “Schaghticoke Sun” of February 8, 1895, it was “one of the finest school buildings in a village this size in the state.  There were four teachers and a principal. Of course the rest of the town continued to be served by the one-room schools.

The  ”Schaghticoke Centennial Booklet” reports that on February 6, 1895, the beautiful new school was destroyed by fire.  The article in the “Schaghticoke Sun” reported that (thankfully) the fire began about noon, when the faculty and students were home for dinner. Workers at the woolen mill spotted the fire, which began in the heating system and spread through the whole building in the flues. As the village still had no fire department, community members gathered despite the bitterly cold day to watch the school burn. Of course all the contents were lost as well.

union school1

Union Free School, village of Schaghticoke

The decision was made to construct a new brick school, under the “Union Free” designation. The old school had been insured for $10,000. The new one cost $16,403 and was finished very rapidly.  Indeed, there was a meeting the week after the fire to plan the new school.   The Union Free school law, passed in 1853, allowed “common schools” to offer secondary education, so this moved beyond a graded elementary school to a high school. This was certainly an advance for the community. For the first time, students could go to a public high school. Previously, a few students went on to higher education, but at private academies away from home.  Not many students made it through all the grades, however. An article in the June 26, 1895 Troy “Times” recorded that “the Schaghticoke union free school held its closing exercises at Eagle hall yesterday. The hall was crowded long before the time when the exercises commenced. There were three graduates: Margaret A. Butler, Fannie W. Ferguson, and Elizabeth R. Walsh.” I wonder if this article is accurate, as the decision was made to go to a Union Free School just in February.

I have also written about the black population of our town in earlier articles. There were just a few black families in town around 1870. The families of Fenton King and Peter Mather had been in town for years. Fenton was a farmer, and Peter was a long-time worker for Amos Briggs, prominent local industrialist.

One new family was that of Anthony Andrew, 35, an illiterate farm laborer born in New York. He lived with wife Jane, 29, born in Vermont, and children Sarah, 13; Chauncey, 11; and John, 8, plus Sophronia VanBuren, 68, born in Connecticut. She was Jane’s mother.   William Andrews, a black barber living in the hotel/inn of Garrett Groesbeck, could certainly have been a brother.  I actually found Sophronia and her husband Franklin in the 1850 US Census for Salem, Washington County, when Jane was just 10. He was a farm laborer. Franklin probably died soon after, as Sophronia and her children appeared in the 1855 NY Census for Lansingburgh, with another daughter, Ellen, as the head of household.  So Jane VanBuren Andrew had lived in the area all her life. Anthony and Jane had moved to Lansingburgh as of the 1880 US census. He worked in a brick yard. Perhaps reflecting the problems of accuracy with census in general, all of the children’s names were different than in 1870: Jane, 22, a step-daughter; Clarence, 20; Edward, 18, Netty, 7, and George, 3. Wife and step-daughter Jane were “laboring”, as was son Clarence. Edward was an apprentice to a barber. Sophronia VanBuren was still identified as Anthony’s mother-in-law. I cannot find the family after that.

Another black citizen in town was Betsey Lee, 50, a cook at Garrett Groesbeck’s inn. She had been in the area for many years, appearing in the 1850 US Census for Pittstown with her husband John and young son Jerome, then in the 1855 NY Census in Schaghticoke living next door to Peter Mather with Jerome. They appeared a second time in that same census, working for Groesbeck.  She and Jerome appeared in the 1865 NY Census for Lansingburgh, living in the family of another black man, Sylvester Mount. Jerome had been away, serving in the 20th US Colored Infantry in the Civil War.   I believe Betsey was working in a hotel in Lansingburgh as of the 1875 NY Census, though she is not listed as black.  So she was back and forth between city and country. She lived until at least 1890, when she began to receive Jerome’s Civil War pension.

Many northern blacks were barbers, and in addition to the young William Andrews, mentioned earlier, the other local barber, George Hunt, 40, was also a black man, born in Washington, D.C. He lived with his daughter Augusta, 7. I can’t find George further. Indeed, as is true now, many folks were transients, only living in our town for a brief time. An article in the January 17, 1872 Troy “Times” reports that “Mrs Mosher (colored) of Schaghticoke was very badly burned the other evening by the explosion of a kerosene lamp, which she was filling on the stove.” I can’t find a record of her in town.


Why a back view of the Episcopal Church?

Residents of Schaghticoke had a number of churches to choose from. The first church in town had been the Dutch Reformed (c. 1715) had been located near the Knickerbacker Mansion, but it burned in 1870 and was rebuilt along current Route 67, near the little private airport. The congregation of the church had shrunk over the years, as the center of population in the town shifted to the village, so this was an attempt to move closer to where its members lived. Turning to the village of Hart’s Falls, residents could choose from the Presbyterian (founded 1803), Methodist (c. 1823), Episcopalian (1846), and Roman Catholic (1841) Churches.  The Episcopalians built a new church, now Vadar, Dave D’Ambro’s company, in 1874. It is a little neo-Gothic gem. There were also the Lutheran Church (c. 1777) at the corner of Valley Falls Road and Northline Drive in Melrose, a Frankean Lutheran Church (1852) in the “Bryan District” on River Road south of Hemstreet Park, the Methodist Church at Schaghticoke Hill on route 40, and the Methodist Church in Grant Hollow. Just outside the border of the town at the time, there was also a “Union Church” next to the district school in Speigletown, plus the Methodist Church in the village of Valley Falls.  I have written about almost all of these churches before, with the articles available at my blog: www.schaghticokehistory.wordpress.com.


I can’t believe I wrote so much about Schaghticoke around 1870 and I can’t believe how much more I could have written. I feel that every person’s story is important, but I couldn’t write about everyone, and worked hard to write about all aspects of the town, but am sure I missed things. I used to think that history was pretty cut-and-dried. Researchers discovered the facts and reported them. I now know that lots of facts go undiscovered and that despite our best efforts, historians bring their own biases, strengths, and weaknesses to writing history. This is why so many fine books can be and are written about the same historical events.

It was a shock to come to the end of the long document I had written about 1870, and a double shock to find that I had not really written a summary. I have been enmeshed in my next topic- Schaghticoke about 1900- for a year. Looking back on 1870, I find that the town was well-connected to the region by two railroads and improving roads, though most people still worked where they lived. 18% of the town’s population of 3,133 was foreign-born, with 70% from Ireland. The Civil War veterans were back home and back to work, variously affected by their experiences.

The southern border of the town was still the Deep Kill, running through Grant Hollow. A factory there continued to make grain cradles and fanning mills.

The population center of the town remained the village of Schaghticoke, which was finally incorporated and named Harts Falls, a short-lived name. The village of 1120 people was thriving, with hundreds of residents working at the two main mills: the Cable Flax Mill and the Schaghticoke Woolen Mill, powered by the falls of the Hoosic River. Other mills made paper from straw, both at the village and on the Schaghticoke side of Valley Falls upstream. Residents could shop for all their needs in the village, as well as go to the doctor or dentist, attend church as Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, or Roman Catholics.  There was a local insurance agent, clothing and shoe store, grocery, undertaker, baker, photographer, druggist, lawyer, plus several saloons, a hotel, and an opera house.  There was still no bank, nor a library. The village population was young, resulting in the construction of the first graded school on School Street in 1874.

The Schaghticoke Powder Mill continued to make tons of gunpowder each year along the bank of the Hoosic River south of the village of Valley Falls.

A new development was beginning in Melrose, where well-off people from Troy were building summer “cottages” or renting.  It was easy for them to commute from Troy by train and a vibrant summer colony began to grow.

There were 215 farms in town.  Farmers grew sheep and flax for the local mills, and a variety of grains for grinding. Farmers grew a variety of crops, selling surpluses on the local market. Each had a few cows, with most of the milk made into butter. A few of the farmers had flax processing mills on the small streams on their properties.

People still lived in a pre-electricity, pre-automobile, pre-antibiotic age. They had to work hard to live their daily lives, but they were starting to have some leisure time, much of which revolved around their churches.  They could travel away from home more easily once they reached the train station, but got there by horse and wagon. There were local doctors, but tuberculosis and typhoid fever plus other now preventable diseases claimed many lives. Children had the opportunity to attend school up to age 16, but many worked in mills and on the farm. Would we want to live at this time? Fun to think about.












Marching to Victory



We have reached the point in 2018 when 100 years ago, the fighting on the Western Front in World War I was reaching its peak. After almost three years of stalemate on either side of deep, reinforced trenches, the German and Allied Armies left their defensive positions and attacked. The Germans realized that with the entrance of the U.S. into the war, this was their last chance to win, and launched a series of offensives from April 1918 on. With the addition of thousands and thousands of fresh American troops, the Allied armies were now able to respond with vigor, and they did, leading up to the final push, the Meuse-Argonne offensive in eastern France, which led to the Armistice of November 11, 1918. So it is time to resume my commemoration of the centennial of the war.

My last blog post ended as of March 1918, when the United States was firmly on a war footing. On the home front, citizens were voluntarily restricting their consumption of wheat, meat, and sugar; buying war stamps and bonds to help the government finance the war; and putting on and donating to fundraisers for extras for the troops.  Some workers had missed work when factories closed during the winter’s coal crisis. Everyone watched their friends, neighbors, and sometimes their sons, go off to train for war, and go on to France.

uss calamares

“USS Calamares” transported troops and supplies to Europe

In spring 1918, the U.S. government was under tremendous pressure from the Allies to get its Army to France quickly, as Germany would be able to concentrate all of its offensive power on the Western Front after the collapse of Russia with the Russian Revolution. At the end of March, the U.S. commander, General Pershing, offered all of the resources of the U.S. to Marshall Ferdinand Foch of France, who was to command the combined armies. Pershing insisted on separate American units, however, resisting the call for him to insert Americans into the French army. The focus was on sending infantrymen, and by June, 10,000 U.S. troops were arriving in France EVERY DAY. Let me repeat that, 10,000 soldiers EVERY DAY.  By April 12, there were 500,000 American troops in France. By June 15 there were 800,000, headed for a million by the first of July.  At the same time, as expected, the Germans launched a multi-pronged spring offensive.

In March, the Troy “Times”, which was our major local paper, began to report on U.S. troops in France, but with little detail, due to security concerns. For example, on March 13, an article reported that “American troops are giving the Germans little rest,” but gave no information on what troops. Of course, as American units began to go into combat, men were killed and wounded.  The paper began publishing a daily list of casualties. Still in March, an article said the practice would cease, as it gave valuable information to the enemy, but the lists resumed shortly- people needed to know about their relatives. Then, the lists included just the name and rank of the man, not his address, but soon the addresses were included as the government was bombarded  with calls and letters to be sure which “John Smith” had been killed, for example.  From then on, the Troy “Times” published a daily list of men who had been wounded and killed in the tri-state area until months after the Armistice. Sometimes a more detailed story on a man killed appeared a few days later.

Charles Waldron

Charles Waldron, killed in action April 12, 1918

The cold truth of the war was certainly brought home to our community when a local boy with deep roots, Charles Waldron, was killed in action April 12, 1918. He had been living in Massachusetts when he enlisted in what became the 104th Infantry, part of the 26th or Yankee Division, one of the first U.S. divisions to reach France, in October 1917. The 104th went into combat for the first time at the start of April in the Bois Brule, in the Ardennes forest of France. Charles was killed during hand-to-hand combat with the Germans. The whole regiment later received the French “Croix de Guerre” for its bravery.  The Troy “Daily Times” of April 29 reported that a memorial service for Charles was held at the Presbyterian Church. He was buried in France at the time, and re-interred in Elmwood Cemetery in 1921. The American Legion Post in Schaghticoke is named for him.

frederick Harrigan

Frederick Harrigan

The Melrose Methodist Church had a special service on May 28 to honor local boys in service: Chester Yahn, Eugene Coonradt, George Wetsel, Frederick Harrigan, Raymond Dormandy, Charles Brenenstuhl, and Wilbur Simon. A parade saw off the latest contingent of drafted soldiers in Hoosick Falls at the same time.  Hoosick Falls was the departure point for all local soldiers in the county, outside of Troy. The church service and parade certainly had acquired more seriousness in view of the casualties being incurred by American soldiers.

The 3rd Liberty Loan campaign began April 6, on the first anniversary of the U.S. declaration of war, with a goal of raising $3 billion in bonds sold to U.S. residents. The newspaper pushed the campaign hard, with articles about the progress, activities, and the donors almost daily. A May 3 article stated “subscriptions to the 3rd Liberty Loan flow in like a tidal wave,” and by May 4, the total raised was already over the goal. May 18, the National Red Cross began a campaign to raise $100 million to aid its support of the troops, hospitals and ambulance corps. In Schaghticoke, the “old Post Office building” was refitted for use by the Red Cross, presumably a place for a fund raising headquarters as well as room to store supplies and for women to sew and knit for the troops. In June the Melrose Red Cross made 22 bed jackets, 14 pajamas, 14 sets of underwear, 15 hospital shirts, 50 first aid bags, 3 refugee dresses, 12 petticoats, 10 pairs of socks, one pair of wristlets, 1 scarf, and 2 sweaters. (Troy “Times” July 6) A Junior Red Cross organization recruited student members. The newspaper reported that half of the students in Rensselaer County schools were members. They worked making bed pillows and refugee garments, planting flowers and vegetables. (May 22, Troy “Times”)

As June began, American troops were in combat in a major way, during the battle of Belleau Wood, near the Marne River in eastern France.  Ralph Osberg, the son of farmers in Easton, who came home to live in Easton himself after the war, was one of the Marines there.  In a major lapse in the policy of not identifying individual units, in June the newspapers reported that the Marines had fought well.  Since there were few Marines in France, people knew who and where they were. The Marines had just been part of the men in the offensive, but they got all the credit, leading to jealousies with the Army. More importantly in the long run, the relatively untrained Americans proved their mettle as soldiers. Our very experienced Allies, France and Britain, had had grave doubts about the abilities of the U.S. troops to fight. By June 21, the newspaper reported that the American Expeditionary Force was holding 38 miles of the Western Front.

A second national draft was held on the anniversary of the first, June 5, 1918, only registering the men who had turned 21 in the intervening year. Draft regulations were revised to say that every man must work or fight. Professional baseball had until September 1 to adjust to this new order. So all players had to either seek essential employment or go into the military. This affected 327 players. Nationally, one million men registered. Meanwhile, men registered the previous year were still being called up, 200,000 between June 24 and 28. In Schaghticoke, the law office of Arthur Case was the draft registration location (Troy “Times” May 31).  By the end of the month, the draft numbers had been assigned, and the newspaper listed the men and their numbers. Men from our town included Leo McCloskey, Arthur Strope, Paul Campbell, and Otis Slyter of Melrose, none of whom actually served.

As the summer went on, new restrictions were placed on folks on the home front; new requests made of the population. People were urged to plant gardens: “If you can’t go, hoe!” There was a ban on use of pleasure boats. New York Telephone announced it would not answer phone requests for the time of day for the duration of the war. There was voluntary (for now) conservation of shoe leather, with shoes not to be over 8” high and available in only four colors. 25,000 student nurses were wanted. Recommended consumption of sugar was 3 pounds per household per month, reduced to 2 pounds in July. The newspaper gave advice on how to preserve fruits with less sugar and how to dry fruit at home. On August 30 a ban on pleasure driving of gasoline engines was imposed.


German U-Boat

The U.S. faced German attack at home for the first time, as U-boats menaced the East Coast in June and July. The June 3 Troy “Times” reported that as many as 15 merchant ships had been sunk off the Jersey coast. As a result, all display lights in New York City were banned. Observation balloon and seaplane stations were to be established to guard the coast against the threat, in addition to the already existing coastal artillery. Throughout June, the paper reported more U-Boat sightings off Sandy Hook, and Virginia.  Three barges were sunk within view of shore off Cape Cod. The peak of this action was the attack by German U-156 on the coast at Orleans, Massachusetts in July. At the same time, the Allies were destroying the U-boat fleet as a whole, drastically limiting their impact on US convoys of men and supplies. As late as September, a German U-boat sank a troopship with 2800 aboard when it was 200 miles from the English coast. Thankfully, the men were transferred to the destroyers escorting its convoy and none were lost.

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Photo sent by Arthur’s parents to the NYS Veterans Service Data, collected by local historian Alex Banker

Another local boy, Arthur Turner, was killed July 28, 1918. He and his family lived on Turner Road, which goes east from route 40 in Melrose. Arthur was in the 165th Infantry Regiment, part of the 42nd or Rainbow Division, still based in Troy today. The 165th was part of the French 4th Army in the Champagne region and fought in the battle of Chateau-Thierry beginning July 18. This summer, men from the current 42nd Division went to France to commemorate this battle.  Arthur’s mother was told that Arthur survived the battle only to be “killed by a bomb shell the day following the battle…while carrying a wounded comrade.” Though I could find no confirmation of it, she said he had been studying to be a missionary before becoming a soldier. A memorial service for Arthur was not held until October, at the Lutheran Church. He was reinterred somewhere in the area in 1922.


A further draft was conducted in August, pulling in those who had turned 21 since June. And August 31, a new national manpower bill was adopted, extending the age for the draft from 18-45, from 21-30.  It was estimated that 13 million more men would register on September 12. The new law would allow more industrial and agricultural exemptions, as the government realized the need to keep production going to supply the military.  The freshman class of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in September 1918, 300 strong, were all to be Student Cadets, training to be in the Army as they attended college. The previously mostly volunteer members of draft boards all over the nation were now to receive compensation of $50-$200 per month. The U.S. was preparing for the long haul.



Folks in Schaghticoke had sons and husbands serving in all branches of the military, based in various places in the U.S., and in a number of Army units that went to France. I’m sure they read the newspapers carefully. Their soldier sons and husbands could write letters, but those from France were heavily censored. The largest number of local men in one unit were in the former 2nd NY National Guard Regiment, now the 105th NY Infantry Regiment and part of the 27th Division.   They were:  Walter Barber, Charles Brenenstuhl, Ralph Clark, Clyde Heer, Giles Slocum, Clement Subcleff, Francis VanBuren, Richard Ward, Raymond Warren, and Leo White. They had been training in Camp Wadsworth, South Carolina since September 1917. Those men finally went to France in May, for further training with the French.  The Troy “Times” ran periodic reports from men in the 105th, which was really the local regiment. On July 24 it reported that the 105th was finally in the trenches, as of June 24, five miles behind the front. Sgt. Thomas Norton reported “we are all fine over here…we are attached to an English company…It certainly is hell up there (at the front)…the whole of France is pretty well war worn and filled with deserted villages.”

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Me at the monument to the 27th Division near Mount Kemmel

Soon enough, the 105th was doing its own fighting. August 31-September 2, they went into action near Mt. Kemmel in Belgium, along with the 30th Division, probing an area the Germans were said to have evacuated, aiming to seize the heights. This battle wasn’t reported in the local paper until September 26, probably for security reasons.

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Giles Slocum, NYS World War I Veterans Service Data

Giles Slocum from Schaghticoke served in the Battalion Headquarters of the 105th in the mounted orderly section. He would have been in charge of delivering messages from one headquarters to another, riding a motorcycle in what would have been challenging circumstances to say the least. Sometime around this time, Giles got to meet the King and Prince of Belgium, who visited with American troops in the trenches. Giles spoke with Prince, later King, Leopold and “instantly admired him.” The Troy paper reported in 1935, just after the death of King Leopold’s wife, Queen Astrid, that Giles was inspired to write a letter of sympathy to the King, based on that long-ago meeting. He received a lovely reply, in French, from the secretary of the King’s cabinet, of which he was very proud.

4th liberty loan

As fall began, there were a number of new developments. The 4th Liberty Loan, with a goal of $6 billion, was launched and doing very well. The Valley Falls Committee to canvass for the loan included Mrs Rufus Halliday, Mrs Peter Stover, Mrs Emma Carpenter, Mrs George Lohnes, Mrs Joseph Bedell, and postmaster Mark Sweeney. The ladies were all members of the Woman’s Club of Valley Falls and Vicinity.  The goal was reached by October 21, and the newspaper published the long lists of the donors. The drawing of draft numbers for the new draft was completed. As of October 5, 1,850,000 US troops had reached France.


Sadly, the paper also reported the progress of another cause of many, many deaths in fall 1918: Spanish influenza, a world-wide epidemic. At the end of September, military training camps in the U.S. were riddled with flu. Frank Lewis, a local man, was drafted at the end of July, 1918, and died of flu on September 29 at Camp Meade, Maryland. He was in training there. New recruits were kept at home rather than go to training camps filled with disease. Another local man, John Butler, a Private 1st Class in an Ordnance department, actually died on the ship on the way to France, on October 15. Though the records say he died of pneumonia, it could have been that, or the flu. His body was returned home on the same ship. John, who had been working as an auto mechanic for D.E. Seymour in Schaghticoke before the war, was buried at St John’s Cemetery. The flu spread through the troops abroad as well.

On October 4, the Troy “Times” reported “a few” flu cases in Troy, plus Petersburgh, Berlin, and Grafton. By October 9, all places of amusement in Troy plus all area sporting events were cancelled, to prevent the spread of the flu. As of October 11, schools in Watervliet, Troy and Lansingburgh were closed for the same reason. The peak of the epidemic seemed to have been shortly thereafter. There were 100 cases of flu in Hoosick Falls on October 19.


Breaking the Hindenburg Line

The “Times” reported German peace feelers as fighting intensified. September 30, it said “the western front is aflame for 100 miles with a huge battle.” September 29 the 105th Infantry and its 27th Division participated in the breaking of the major German defensive position, the Hindenburg Line. This was a huge development both physically and psychologically for both sides. Bernard Taylor, an English immigrant who lived in Pittstown, was in Company M of the 105th and was killed September 27 by a shot fired from an enemy airplane. The Troy “Times” didn’t report this until November 25. Bernard was reinterred in St. John’s Cemetery in 1922.

As of October 7, Germany made its first formal offer of peace as Germans were “in full retreat between Rheims and the Argonne.” (Troy “Times”)  Any proposals were rejected by the Allies as long as the Germans continued to occupy territory in France and Belgium.  From here on, most of the American fighting and dying of the war occurred, especially in the continuous fighting from the end of September to the Armistice on November 11- called the battle of the Meuse-Argonne. 26,000 of the 53,000 American combat deaths of the war occurred during those weeks.   First cousins Augustus and John Madigan both died during that battle. Augustus was killed in action October 26. John died October 31 of wounds suffered just a few days earlier.

Tombstones of the Madigan cousins in St. John’s Cemetery

Augustus was the son of James and Mary Madigan, and served in the 311th Infantry, part of the 78th Division. He served with two other local men: Wilbur Simons of Melrose and Sophus Djernes of Pittstown. The 78th, or Lightning Division was the “point of the wedge” in that final offensive, and lost over 1000 men. Augustus had just been made a Sergeant a few days earlier, and died “leading his company against machine gun nests.”

John was the eldest son of John and Ellen Madigan. He was in Company K of the 23rd Infantry Regiment, which had arrived in France in September 1917 and been in some fighting in July. The Regiment was in the lead at the battle of St. Mihiel in September, then in continuous fighting in the Meuse-Argonne offensive in October. John was wounded in the midst of the battle and died soon after. Buried in France at the time,  the cousins were reinterred the same day in 1921 at St. John’s Cemetery in the biggest funeral the area had ever seen.  Nephew Bill Madigan told me the cortege, made up of cars and horses and buggies,  reached from the Stover house in Valley Falls to the cemetery, about two miles.
I wonder how people at home were feeling, continuing to prepare for more war, but knowing that the Allies were pushing the Germans back, the newspapers full of talk of peace. Turkey, a German ally, surrendered on October 31, Austria on November 4. The headline that day was “Germany’s Military Doom Approaches.” On November 5, the Hoosick Falls draft board listed draft classifications for six more local men, including James Beecroft of Schaghticoke and Charles Hare of Melrose. It announced that Harold Simon of Melrose would leave for training camp between November 11 and 22. On November 7, there was a false announcement of an armistice in Washington, D.C., with people celebrating for two hours before they realized that there was no peace.

Finally on November 11, the headline was “The Greatest War in History Ends. The Long Awaited Dawn of Peace.”  “Troy Delirious with Joy.”  All schools and businesses closed immediately so everyone could celebrate.  The draft calls of 250,000 men in November and 300,000 in November were cancelled at once. There were still 1 million men in training camps in the U.S, plus others on duty, for a total of nearly two million troops.  Already on November 12 it was announced that the U.S. would do police and guard duty in France and Belgium, and that Germany was asking for the same. And ads began to reflect the end of the war. In late October, the regulations for sending Christmas packages to the troops had been announced, and an ad on November 12 encouraged people to purchase items to send to the troops, “Your boy won’t be home for quite a while. Send him an Xmas package.”

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“USS Wyoming”, dreadnought battleship

The German fleet in the North Sea surrendered on November 21. 20 U-Boats, the German submarines, had surrendered the day before. Fred Haner, who lived with his wife Jessie in Easton after 1940, served on the “USS Wyoming”, a dreadnought battleship, which worked with the British North Sea Fleet, during the war. He may have been present for the surrender. James Kinisky, the son of a Polish immigrant who worked on the Quackenbush farm on Stillwater Bridge Road at the time of the war- now the Corn Maze- was definitely present at the surrender. He served on the “USS Texas”, another dreadnought, which received the German surrender for the U.S. Navy. The “Texas” is the only surviving World War I battleship, and is a museum near Houston. James also served in the Navy in World War II at age 52, and lived to be 99. All the capital ships in the U.S. Navy headed for home soon after the surrender, though the sailors were discharged from service over a period of months.

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Francis Van Buren, NYS WWI Veterans Service Data

In the midst of the joy, word came on November 22 that two more boys from Schaghticoke were dead. Frank VanBuren of Schaghticoke died of flu in France on October 26, at the peak of that epidemic.  Frank was in our local 105th Infantry, and had been in combat right up until his fatal illness. His dad was the local pharmacist.  Daniel McMahon died of pneumonia in a training camp in the U.S. on November 19. Daniel was an orphan as of the 1905 NY Census, when his brother Frederick, 26, headed a farm household consisting of Daniel and his siblings. Though he had not made it to France, Daniel had done well in the Army, which he evidently intended to make a career, as he died in Officers Training School in Virginia. Frank is buried in Elmwood and Daniel in St. John’s Cemetery. Though John Madigan had died in October, his photo appeared in the November 25 Troy “Times”. Indeed, the daily casualty list was published in the Troy “Times” for a couple of months after the Armistice.

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Daniel McMahon, from the Troy “Daily Times”

War-connected fund raising in the U.S.  turned to “Fill the War Chest!” this time for war relief agencies, serving the civilians in Europe affected by the war, but also the Red Cross, YMCA, YWCA, and Knights of Columbus, which would sponsor activities to keep the troops occupied. The goal of $650,000 in Rensselaer County was reached by November 21, showing the continuing support of the country for its fighting men. A 5th Liberty Loan was launched by the federal government on November 27, with a modest goal of $600 million.

As it had taken months to transport the troops to France, it would take the same amount of time to get them home. At least the public was now informed where the 35 overseas divisions were based, and soldiers were allowed to write letters home without censorship. The newspaper speculated about which troops would be sent home first, but in the end, a number of divisions composed the Army of Occupation in Germany. Those troops not in Germany were sent to staging camps in various locations in France. Gradually they were moved to French ports for transport home. They were deloused and given new uniforms just before boarding the transports. Therefore, almost all surviving uniforms saved by veterans were not the ones they wore in battle.

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77th Division Victory Parade in NYC

The first troops arrived home from France on December 2, but others didn’t get home until summer 1919. Once their troop ships arrived in the New York area, our local boys were released to go home within just a few days. For example, Arthur Brundige of Schaghticoke, who served in the 305th Infantry, part of the 77th Division, was wounded on November 4, but recovered enough to march with his unit on a “15-day hike back from the front line”  after November 11 to a camp in France. He was kept busy drilling until it was his turn to go home. “The “cotties”, cooties or lice, were “our friends”, and he was happy to be deloused. He boarded the “SS Aquitania” on April 19, 1919 in Brest, France and arrived in Hoboken, New Jersey on April 24. He participated in the victory parade of the 77th Division in New York City on May 6 and was home soon after.

One of the results of this long time with many young men in camps with little to do was the formation of the American Legion in March 1919 by officers in France, including Col. Theodore Roosevelt, son of the former President. The men were anxious to preserve morale, mostly through having many organized physical activities and lots of entertainment for the men. They had seen the benefits of the Grand Army of the Republic to the veterans of the Civil War, and emulated that organization as well. Chapters of the Legion were formed all over the U.S. right away, including the Charles Waldron Post in Schaghticoke.

Even the almost 2 million troops based in the United States couldn’t be released at once. About 30,000 men were to be demobilized per day, with each getting a one- month salary bonus, plus the right to wear his uniform for three months, and the cost of his transportation home. Bureaus at the army camps attempted to find jobs for the soldiers being released. Our country unwound from a war footing as rapidly as possible.  Wartime rules for the home front were cancelled, from ending restrictions on sugar and wheat to restarting sports teams. The Student Training Corps at R.P.I. converted to regular students on December 10.

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Inside the Palace of Versailles, signing of the treaty

President Woodrow Wilson went to Europe in December. While the Treaty of Versailles was signed in June 1919, the U.S. Senate did not ratify it, and did not formally end its involvement in the war until 1921. I am not going to get into Wilson’s 14 Points, the idealistic plan for peace which he first elucidated in January 1918, and the formation of the League of Nations, which was intended to avoid future war. We know that World War II followed in 1939.

So what did this war, The Great War, mean for us locally? I found that most of the men who were soldiers and sailors were able to reintegrate. Our Civil War soldiers were sometimes away for three tough years, and many were definitely disabled in some way by the experience. These World War I soldiers were away for a year at the most. Sailors were sometimes gone for two years, but few saw combat. Some of the men wrote of their experiences for local historian Alex Banker in 1921. A couple wrote quite long narratives, but one, Harry Yates, wrote, “I don’t like to think about it.” He had been drafted in May 1918, in France in the 52nd Pioneer Infantry by July, and served through the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. He died of tuberculosis in 1929.

A couple of local veterans really suffered from their experiences. Adrian Gutbrodt, who lived near our town hall, had been drafted into Company D of the 305th Infantry in February 1918 with several other local men: Julius Hansen, Walter Ralston, and Arthur Brundige. Adrian was gassed on October 5, 1918, at the start of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. He recovered enough to go home with the regiment in April 1919. He married his neighbor Beatrice Williams on January 10, 1920. Their child Frank was born November 20, 1920 and baptized March 27 at the local Lutheran church. Adrian died on May 17. Certainly he had never recovered from being gassed. He was buried with a full honor guard from the new American Legion plus a firing squad from the Watervliet Arsenal. Beatrice and Frank moved in with her parents. Frank and his best friend Malcolm Douglas were killed by a drunk driver in 1934. Beatrice lived on in a little house on Route 40 until 1993, having been a widow for over 70 years.

Sometimes a disability is harder to discern. Sophus Djernes, a Danish immigrant who lived in Valley Falls, served in the 311th Infantry with local men Wilbur Simons and Augustus Madigan. In fierce fighting in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, Augustus was killed on October 26 and Sophus “severely wounded.” In this case, it means he was gassed, like Adrian Gutbrodt. This was mustard gas, which would devastate the lungs. Sophus was listed as 10% disabled on his NYS Abstract of Service card. However Sophus came home and went to work first as a farm laborer. He married Florence O’Connor in 1926 and they had three children. Sophus worked at the Watervliet Arsenal for over 20 years as a tool grinder, but was hospitalized in Veterans’ Hospitals several times through the years, evidently for extended periods, as the newspaper reported that his wife and children visited him during his confinement. Sophus died in 1973 and is buried in our Elmwood Cemetery.

Local men joined together at once to form the American Legion. The Troy newspaper has many articles over the year showing the support of that group for its members, especially in officiating at their funerals. The organization was definitely a social focus for the village.

Some men were able to use the skills they learned in the military through their lives. For example, Theo VanVeghten of Hemstreet Park stayed in the Army Air Force as a test pilot. Several men learned auto repair and stayed in that field. Raymond Dormandy was an electrician in the Navy and for life. Most men came home and went back to what they had been doing. Those who had been abroad certainly had an experience they would remember for the rest of their lives, as well as a different view of the world, having been not only away from home, but out of the country.

World War I enmeshed the country in the affairs of Europe like never before. The major newspaper stories had been the war for at least four years.  Citizens had joined together to support the troops, buying war stamps and bonds, donating to the Red Cross, giving up flour, sugar, and recreational use of gasoline. Partly due to the skills they exhibited in helping the war effort, women had gotten the right to vote in New York State in 1917, nationally in 1920.  The U.S. government increased its penetration into the daily lives of its citizens. The draft had touched all men in the country aged 18 to 45, who all provided personal data to their government. The government had its first propaganda arm, The Committee on Public Information, which had built patriotism and shaped public opinion. The United States Food Administration, headed by Herbert Hoover, controlled food at home and for the troops.  We truly entered the modern age.

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Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium, inscribed with the names of 90,000 soldiers who died in the vicinity. The whereabouts of their bodies is unknown.

Of course we in the U.S. were and are isolated from the devastation of land and people suffered by the citizens of Europe. Parts of France and Belgium are still roped off due to unexploded mines, and bodies of soldiers and still being discovered. Cemeteries and monuments dot the landscape of the Western Front. It is impossible to know how many people were killed during the war- perhaps 18 million dead and 23 million injured in total, civilian and military. The U.S. had 116,000 military deaths compared to its major allies Great Britain, with 744,000 and France, 1,150,000; and foes Germany with 1,800,000; and Austria-Hungary 1,016,000.