History of the Town of Schaghticoke

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

By Rail through Schaghticoke and beyond

 

 

This fall my husband and I had a wonderful train trip through the town of Schaghticoke. Every year Amtrak runs a fall excursion train one weekend. Train buffs from all over the country ride. This year the trip was from Albany to East Deerfield, Massachusetts…..with the centerpiece of the 10 hour day a journey through the 4.75 mile long Hoosac Tunnel. This was the first time a passenger train had been through the tunnel in at least thirty years. Yes, that was great, but for me as town historian, a trip by train through my town was the high point- twice, actually, as we retraced our journey on the way back.

We boarded in Albany with about 450 other folks early in the a.m., headed for Schenectady on the regular passenger rail. There we diverted to the north, on a freight line, through Saratoga County to Mechanicville, going through the new Intermodal Yard, crossing the Hudson River on the very high bridge to the north of where Route 67 crosses the river. Then we entered Schaghticoke, headed slowly south, crossing route 67 just to the west of Hemstreet Park on the grade crossing, then making a big swing to the east through the woods, crossing under route 40 just south of the village of Schaghticoke. We crossed Electric Lake and headed for Johnsonville, paralleling Route 67 and the Hoosic River. After passing through Pownall, Vermont, we skirted the north edge of North Adams, Massachusetts. The Hoosac Tunnel passes under a mountain of the same name, and we emerged near East Deerfield, Massachusetts, following the Deerfield River through the woods. There is a big railroad yard there, where we could do a three-point turn on the tracks and head back the same way.

hoosac tunnel map

For me the highlights in Schaghticoke were first, crossing the Hudson River on that c. 1900 bridge, and second, following the former right-of-way of the short-lived Albany-Northern Railroad, just to the west of route 40. In 1859 the railroad’s bridge over the Tomhannock collapsed under the weight of a train, killing about a dozen people and really ending that railroad company. Last, it was great to see the views of the Brock Farm, the village of Schaghticoke, and the sites of the old Schaghticoke Powder Mill from the middle of Electric Lake. The most surprising part of the trip was that at least twenty cars full of people followed our train by road, both going and coming, taking photos of the train at every road crossing.

 

Of course the trip through the Hoosac Tunnel was exciting, and very, very dark. It took about twelve minutes to go through. Let’s look back at the construction of this engineering marvel. Ground was broken in 1848, with the route beneath Hoosac Mountain to form part of the railroad from Troy to Boston. There really wasn’t technology invented to be able to dig a five-mile tunnel under a mountain, so the project went very slowly for many, many years. The original railroad, the Troy and Greenfield, finally defaulted in 1862, as the Civil War raged. Post-war, new drilling and explosive technology- this was the first commercial use of nitroglycerin- made it possible to finally complete the tunnel. A violent explosion in 1867 killed thirteen workers and resulted in no work for a year, but finally the tunnel was completed and the first train went through in 1875. It was the second longest tunnel in the world. It is still the longest active tunnel east of the Rocky Mountains.

Hoosac-Tunnel-Poster

By the 1880’s 85-90 trains passed through the tunnel each day. It had been widened to allow double tracks throughout. It was still a dangerous journey as the tunnel was filled with smoke from the steam trains and the air got so bad by the end of five miles that the trains didn’t work well and the operators had to lie on the floor of the cab to get enough air to breathe. The route was electrified, but that never worked well, even as the traffic increased to 70,000 cars per month by 1913, and only the arrival of diesel engines about 1945 resulted in more comfortable and safe passage through the tunnel. Passenger traffic ceased in 1958…until our trip in fall 2015.

hoosac tunnel

I have talked to several people who have walked through the tunnel- they don’t recommend the journey, as it was very dark and dangerous. There are quite a few illustrated accounts online of walks through the tunnel, and lots more information on its construction.   If you would like to see at least the portals of the tunnel, it is possible to drive close to the eastern portal, near North Adams, Massachusetts, then walk to look at it.  As for viewing the railroad in Schaghticoke, I think that if one is careful, one could walk all along the route, with the exceptions of the causeway over Electric Lake, and of course the bridge across the Hudson River!

The Next Chapter of the Schaghticoke Powder Mill

 

It’s time to return to one of the signature industries of Schaghticoke, black powder manufacturing. As I have already written, the Schaghticoke Powder Mill was begun in order to produce powder for the U.S. military in the War of 1812. Josiah, James, and Nicholas Masters, sons of James Masters, who had brought his family to Schaghticoke from Fairfield, Connecticut about 1781, founded the mill. Josiah had been a U.S. Congressman just before the war, and certainly his political connections had something to do with its founding.  The mill was located on the north bank of the Tomhannock Creek, just west of where it crosses Route 40.  If you wish to read more about the Masters and the founding of the mill, I suggest you check out my earlier post about the Masters.

As I begin what will be a very long post, I want to say that I have worked on this opus for a very long time. I began my research with Peril in the Powder Mills: Gunpowder and its Men by Anne Kelly Lane and David McMahon, which gives basic history of the mills. They did lots of great research. I have found out more about the men who led the powder mill throughout its history.

So beginning with the founders of the mill, though I think that all three Masters brothers, Josiah, James, and Nicholas, were involved in the mill, upon Josiah’s sudden death in 1822, the mill was sold to Nicholas for $1059 + $159 interest.  So Josiah had owned the mill in deed. James died in 1828.  Nicholas was 77. The mill remained solely in the control of the Masters family until 1836.  Nicholas died in 1838, so hung on almost until his death.

At the point of Josiah Masters’ death in 1822, the mill was not growing. Josiah reported in the U.S. 1820 census of manufactures that “When we were at war with Britain (1812-1815) gunpowder could not be imported and so a profit was to be made.  At present, owing to the introduction of foreign gunpowder into our country, my business has decreased by more than half.  This can only be remedied by a heavy duty on foreign powder which takes the preference in market not because it is superior in quality but because of the predilection of the American people in favor of foreign manufactures.” (Kloppott )  The Masters owned considerable farm lands, so at least they had other sources of income.

Nicholas Merritt, son of Nicholas, carried on in the family business.  Presumably he had the interest to do so over his brother and male cousins. Nicholas, Sr. and his wife Sally Phelps had had two sons.  Albert Phelps, who was born in 1782 in Schaghticoke, lived in Vermont for the middle part of his life, returned to town by 1840, and died as a farmer in Schaghticoke in 1854.  Nicholas Merritt, born in 1790, became the powder maker. Turning to the other original partners,  James had a daughter, Fanny, who married Munson Smith, a local miller and entrepreneur, and five sons, but four died young, and the other, Robert, was a farmer in Galway, Saratoga County. Josiah, the former owner of the company, also had a number of children, but they all left town. Josiah’s first wife died young, and their children were sent away to school. His second wife moved away after his death with their children, who were very young when their father died. So Nicholas M., son of Nicholas and grandson of James, was left as the one who carried on in the family business.

Nicholas Merrit Masters graduated from Union College in Schenectady in 1812, according to their catalog of graduates.  His son John’s obituary indicated that he graduated from Williams College, but I did not find that to be true. He was educated as a lawyer. He married Ann F. Thomas (b. 1796) of Sandy Hill in Washington County in 1815. They had three children, two daughters who died young, and son John T., who was born in Troy in 1819. John graduated from Union College in 1831.

Besides operating the powder mill, Nicholas was a lawyer, surrogate judge of the county from 1818-1820, justice of the peace in Schaghticoke from 1828-1829, a New York State assemblyman at least twice, supervisor of the town of Schaghticoke in 1841-1842, and in general very involved in politics. After his term as surrogate, Nicholas was always referred to as Judge Masters. While surrogate, Nicholas was nominated as a Republican candidate for State Assembly. He also sat on the central committee of the county party.

As I said, Nicholas served as a NYS assemblyman at least twice, in 1832, as a Republican, and in 1855, as a Democrat or a “Soft Know-Nothing.” He was a Democratic Presidential elector in the 1844 election of James K. Polk.  At a Republican gathering in Troy in 1855, a letter from “the venerable” Nicholas was read aloud, and “received with rounds of applause…every sentence of his letter was loudly cheered.”  He was a delegate to the State Republican convention in 1858. I am not going to try to explain all the changes in those political parties in the 19th century, but suffice it to say that the parties were very different than they are today, and went through many, many changes of names and philosophies.

I have found that prominent men in the 19th century were involved in many activities. This was true of Nicholas M.  Besides working as a lawyer, judge, and politician, he was a trustee of the Presbyterian Church in Schaghticoke for many years. He was one of three commissioners of the Pittstown Bridge Company, established as a corporation by the NYS Legislature in 1825.  In 1848, he and others applied to the county board of supervisors to rebuild that toll bridge, so he remained involved for many years. He held the mortgage on former judge and Congressman Herman Knickerbacker’s property, foreclosed upon his death in 1855. Herman owned water rights on the Tomhannock Creek affecting the powder mill, so this investment may have been both a friendly and a strategic one.  Nicholas, his son, and several other powder mill executives even bought property in Brooklyn in the 1850’s.  Nicholas had his fingers in many local and statewide pies.

Let’s look at Nicholas M. in the census. In 1850, the first census to give much information, Nicholas was 60, with real estate worth $10,000. His occupation was still manufacturer, though there were a number of younger men in charge at the powder mill by this date. I believe that he lived in the house now occupied by Linda and Andy Bunk, just south of the bridge over the Hoosic River on Route 40.  By 1855 he had real estate worth just $3000, and was listed as a farmer. He and wife Ann lived with just one servant.  He had moved, as the 1856 map of the town shows his farm on the east side of today’s Akin Road, to the north of Masters Street. By 1860 he was listed as a “gentleman”, with real estate worth $3500, and a personal estate of $1000. By 1870 he had moved to live with his son John T. in Greenwich. He died in 1872. The railroad put on a special train to take mourners from Johnsonville to Greenwich for the funeral. He is not buried in the family cemetery or in Elmwood.

cath rectory

Before being the rectory, this was the home of at least two powder makers: Riley Loomis and John T. Masters

John T. Masters started on the track to take over from his father at the powder mill, but got derailed by politics and an advantageous marriage. John went to Union College with Chester A. Arthur, the future President, and formed a friendship that was maintained for life. In 1839 he married the daughter of Mr. Mowry, who owned a metal tea tray factory in Greenwich, and moved there, going into business with his father-in-law. He did list “gun powder manufacturer” as his occupation in the 1855 census. The next year, he sold his house in Schaghticoke, later the rectory of St. John’s Catholic Church. I think he left the mill at that point.  Prominent in Republican politics, he was appointed the Internal Revenue Collector for the Washington and Rensselaer County District just before the Civil War, then his friend Arthur brought him into the Adjutant’s office with him during the war. He continued to work for the Department of War, keeping his position even after the death of his patron Arthur in 1888. He died in 1894.

As the Masters left, other men joined the management of the powder mill as the 19th century progressed. All were immigrants to town from New England. The first was Wyatt R. Swift. According to “Landmarks of Rensselaer County” by George Anderson, Wyatt was born in Monmouth, Maine in 1798. After receiving a “good education” Wyatt was “sent” to Schaghticoke to superintend the Joy Linen Mills. Benjamin Joy of Boston built the mill, with his brother Charles as his local agent.  The 1855 census reports that Wyatt had been here for 28 years, which would put his arrival at 1827.  He does not show up in either the 1830 or 1840 census, though he was certainly here. After Benjamin Joy died in 1829, Wyatt left the mill and “purchased a controlling interest in the Schaghticoke Powder Mills and became its general manager,” again according to Anderson. I think this is a little off in date.   Wyatt was still running the Joy Mill in 1831, when Richard Hart conducted a local mill census. According to McMahon and Lane in “Peril in the Powder Mills”, Wyatt joined the powder mill in 1836, and the company was then called Masters and Swift.

Like other prominent men of his era, Wyatt was involved in many aspects of the life of his new community. Right from the start, he was master of the Homer Masonic Lodge, serving from 1828-1834. He also attended state masonic conventions. In 1831 he was a stockholder of the canal bank. He was also involved in politics, acting as delegate to many Rensselaer County Whig Conventions, serving as Supervisor of the town in 1859, and running again in 1860 though he was defeated. At the same time he was a director of the Troy and Boston Railroad and of the Commercial Bank, along with many prominent Trojans.

Also early in his life in our community, Wyatt was extremely active in the Temperance movement. He was the President of the Schaghticoke Temperance Society in 1832 and 1833, and attended State Conventions on its behalf. The local society had 530 members, an astonishing total in a small community. In 1832 he reported “we have much to encourage us to persevere in the cause of temperance; we have had three public meetings at which addresses were made on the subject.”

Like all of the other officers and owners of the powder mill, Wyatt was a member of the Presbyterian Church. He joined in 1839, though he had certainly attended before that. At the same time he became a trustee of the church, a position he held until his death, and also served as chorister- director of the choir, and superintendent of the Sunday school.  In 1846 he was a member of the building committee, charged with constructing a new church on the same site as the old.

I think that Wyatt married at the relatively advanced age of 52, in 1850, to Maria O. Morris, age 25, daughter of Jedediah and Olive Morris of Connecticut. The article about him in Anderson’s “Landmarks of Rensselaer County” gives that date. He states that she and her parents came here from Connecticut about 1824. Indeed Jedediah does appear in the 1830 and 1840 census. His wife Olive was baptized in the Presbyterian Church in 1826 and Jedediah a couple of years later. The record adds that he died in 1841. The 1850 census captures the new family: Wyatt a manufacturer with real estate worth $4000, wife Maria, and her mother Olive Morris, aged 52, plus two Irish servants, one male, one female.  The Swifts lived next door to William Bliss, a bookkeeper in the mill, and his wife Ann, both just south of the Catholic Church on Route 40, across the street and south of the home of Nicholas Masters.

An article in the Troy “Daily Whig” in March 1844 records the next change in the powder mill ownership. The Schaghticoke and Tomhannock Powder Mills, known as “Masters, Swift, and Company”, was now to be called Loomis, Swift, and Masters. The Loomis was Riley Loomis, whom I will discuss later. The Masters involved were Nicholas M. and his son John T. They will “Hereafter keep at their works a constant supply of blasting, sporting, and rife powder in kegs and canisters, which they will sell on reasonable terms.”

 

A big question as far as I’m concerned is just when the powder mills moved from the Tomhannock Creek, west of where it crosses Route 40, to the Hoosic River. I was always told that the move was in 1849, but I have found no primary source that mentions that at all. The “Powder Mill Farm”, located where the powder mill came to be on the Hoosic, south of Valley Falls and north of what is now the Brock farm- then the Myer farm- was purchased before 1835.  The 1856 map of the town shows operations in both locations. Clearly by the Civil War, all powder operations were on the Hoosic, while the keg shop remained on the Tomhannock. A letter written by E.L. Prickett, a 20th century superintendent of the factory, indicates that the company had “ a complete powder plant, a saltpeter refinery, the keg factory, and charcoal kilns,” to make the charcoal needed in the manufacturing process, and that it only produced about 200 pounds of powder per day in 1836. Evidently information on the location of the mills was so well known as not to need comment.

scoke hill 1856

From the 1856 map of the Town of Schaghticoke- powder mill and keg factory on the Tomhannock Creek

One of the constant themes of powder making is the explosions which were inevitable in the process. The buildings of the mill were always very small and located quite far apart from each other. Charcoal needed in the process was made at a distance. The idea was that the inevitable explosions would be as small as possible, and that one explosion wouldn’t go on to cause another. “Peril in the Powder Mills” has a page-long list of fatalities in explosions over the years. An article in the Troy “Times” in 1929 quoted editor of the Schaghticoke “Sun” on his “complete” list of explosions. I have found a few others reported in newspapers all over the country over the years.

Charcoal making

Most of the explosions occurred in one of the wheel mills, where the ingredients of black powder, charcoal, sulfur, and potassium nitrate, were mixed together and there was the greatest chance of sparks from friction. Wheel mills weighed up to eight tons and rotated in large cast iron pans with the addition of some water. This could be a very volatile process. Then the powder went to the press house, where it was squeezed into one-inch thick cakes. The powder was extremely flammable in this state. It then went to the corning mill, where the hard cakes were ground to smaller pieces.  This was occasionally a site of trouble as well. The powder was sorted by sifting through screens, glazed with graphite, and packed into kegs or cans. There was a need for extreme care all along the way. One explosion at Schaghticoke was of powder stored in a railroad car.

black-powdermill-b

Wheel mill

The earliest report of an explosion at the mill that I have found was in March, 1840, when the St. Lawrence “Republican” stated, “ About 3 o’clock on Monday morning last, the powder mill of Messrs. Masters and Swift of Schaghticoke blew up. No lives were lost. It contained about 60 kegs of powder.”

The November 28, 1848  Oneida “Morning Herald” reported, “The cylinder mill of the Tomhannock Powder Works, owned by Messrs Loomis, Swift, and Masters, of Schaghticoke, exploded, says the Troy Budget, on Thursday morning last at about 4 o’clock. The building contained 64 kegs of powder in an unfinished state. Loss from $1000 to $1500. The building was blown to atoms. Fortunately no lives were lost.” This indicates that the mill was still on the Tomhannock. I would assume that the cylinder mill was another term for the wheel mill.

powder

Reproduction casks of powder at Fort Stanwix

The first explosion listed in “Peril in the Powder Mills” was in 1849, when John Kewley and John Gallagher died. I cannot find any mention of this explosion in the newspapers of the time. I wish I could as this might have indicated where the mill was.   I know that John Gallagher left a family: wife Roseann, 34, born in Ireland, plus five children aged 10 to 3, all born in New York. And John Kewley left wife Jane Kane Kewley, born on the Isle of Man, aged 35, plus five children aged 14 to 2 and his mother-in-law, Margaret Kane. He had been in town since at least 1840, according to the census. His family stayed in town. Margaret Kane died in 1879 and Jane Kewley in 1900. John and both women are buried in Elmwood Cemetery.

The Powder Company had grown tremendously since the 1830’s.  When the Crimean War began in 1854, Great Britain and its opponent, Russia, both turned to the U.S. to supply gunpowder. Hazard in Connecticut, DuPont in Delaware, and Schaghticoke were all sources of powder. The 1855 NYS census captures the volume made here. The real estate at Loomis, Swift, and Masters was worth $22,000, the tools $2000. In 1854 they had used 700,000  (or 70,000- unclear writing) pounds of saltpeter, worth $49,000; 95,000 pounds of brimstone (sulfur), worth $2850; and 400 cords of wood, worth $1800, to produce 38,000 kegs of blasting powder worth $76,000. The mill operated by water powder and employed 15 men, paid $33 per month. This was a high wage, based on the danger of the work.  A separate operation, definitely on the Tomhannock, made the kegs. It had $3500 worth of real estate and $1000 worth of tools.  200,000 feet of lumber worth $2500 and 456,000 hoops worth $1375 very naturally made 38,000 kegs, worth $6,500. The mill was also powered by water and employed six men who made $24 per month.

In the midst of the war production, on November 17, 1855, there was another explosion. The Troy paper reported that “The principal grinding mill was greatly damaged by the explosion, which was supposed to have been caused by friction. One of the employees was fatally injured, having been struck upon the head by a large piece of stone.” According to “Peril in the Powder Mills,” two men died: Benjamin Neal and Edward Delaney.  I haven’t found either of them in the census. The diary of William and Frank May records that Delaney and a man named Peter Cook or Coon died in an explosion on May 7, 1859, and that a man named John Burdick died in another explosion in October 1859. These details vary with the source, so I guess the message is that there were frequent explosions with one or two fatalities.

In 1856 there was another change in ownership of the powder mill. Riley Loomis and “Masters” left the masthead, and the new firm was Swift, Bliss, Greeley, and Company. I will discuss Bliss and Greeley later. John T. Masters, son of Nicholas M., was still involved in the company, though he sold his house in Schaghticoke that same year, and had married a girl in Greenwich. I would say that his absence from the title of the company indicated that his involvement in the mill was decreasing.

The Schaghticoke Powder Company was incorporated in 1858, with Wyatt Swift as its President. This meant that it was now owned in stock shares. I think these shares were closely held, by just the officers of the company.  By the 1860 census Wyatt’s occupation was just listed as “gunpowder”, and he had $19,000 in real estate, with a personal estate of $600. He and his wife had adopted Jeanette P. Russell, then age 11, a girl from Hoosick Falls. Still next door was William Bliss, now listed as a gunpowder manufacturer, with another owner of the company, Paul Greeley, just a few doors away.

A newspaper article in the Burlington “Free Press” on August 19, 1859, speculated about the cause of a big explosion the day before as being a powder mill blowing up, before concluding it was a meteor strike. In the speculation it reported “fourteen wagons loaded with powder had started from Schaghticoke that morning.” This gives us a glimpse both of quantity and transportation, as the powder could have gone by train. Wagons were safer. It must have been quite a procession.

With the start of the Civil War, business was booming (no pun intended) at the powder mill. I have written before that it was the 4th largest supplier of powder for the Union, and about the terrible explosion at the mill in 1864 when four workers died. The plant produced 3600 pounds of powder per day. The company used about 600,000 pounds of saltpeter and brimstone to make $206,000 worth of powder in 1865.

President Wyatt R. Swift must have been busier than ever with the demands of war production. In addition to his church, political, and other business involvement- in banks and railroads- he was elected County Superintendent of the Poor in 1860.  He would have been familiar with the job as he had been a member of the County Board of Supervisors in his role as Schaghticoke Town Supervisor. Wyatt died March 12, 1863. This must have left a big void in the company. I have not found out why he died, but it must have been unexpected as he was so active.

In his will, Wyatt left $5000 in trust for his adopted daughter, to his wife the house, furniture, horses, carriages and sleighs, plus $10,000, which she could take in stock of the Schaghticoke Powder Company at $1000 per share. If his wife died before his mother-in-law, the latter would get the use of his house, best horse, carriage, and furniture plus $600 per year. He also left bequests to a few nieces and nephews, and money to care for his mentally ill and institutionalized sister Harriet.  His partners Paul Greeley and William P. Bliss were executors, along with his wife. Final disposition of the will did not occur until 1900.  The Troy “Times” reported that Wyatt’s funeral was April 3, 1863 at the Presbyterian Church, attended “by a large number of townspeople, though few were present from Troy.”  The Swift plot was one of the first in the new Elmwood Cemetery in Schaghticoke.

I’d like to return to 1844, and the renaming of the powder company from Masters and Swift to Loomis, Swift, and Masters. While Nicholas and John Masters had gotten into the mill by inheritance, and Wyatt Swift transitioned from textiles to powder, Riley Loomis was an experienced powder maker who apparently bought into the mill just before retiring.

Riley Loomis was born about 1790 in Southwick, Massachusetts, one of twelve children of Ham and Elizabeth Loomis. He married Roxana Atwater of West Springfield in 1815. The couple had a daughter, Roxana Marie, born in 1817, and a son, Riley Atwater, born in 1818. Though the son lived until 1854, I have not been able to find out anything more about him. Around 1820, Riley Sr. and the brothers Winthrop and Walter Laflin moved to Lee, Massachusetts and began manufacturing powder as Laflin, Loomis, and Co. The Centennial History of Lee states that they provided powder for the excavations on the Erie Canal, and soon had to begin a second mill in town, manufacturing 25 kegs (2500 pounds) per day. However, “explosions were frequent, causing fires and death…In September 1824, the mill at the north end of the village exploded. Five tons of powder burned, damaging many houses in the neighborhood and producing consternation throughout the town. Mr. Loomis was near the mill and came near losing his life from the falling timbers.” There was lots of local protest against rebuilding the mill, and it did not rebuild.  The History reports that the men converted to making paper bonnets and wire. As papermaking from wood pulp did not really begin until the 1870’s, this would have to be paper made from rags.  The 1820 “Berkshire Sun” reported that Laflin and Loomis had white flannel for sale, so perhaps the men also did textile manufacturing as well.

The Lee history does not mention that the Laflin family had been manufacturing gunpowder in the region since just after the Revolution. Matthew Laflin, whose wife was Lucy Loomis, began making gunpowder about 1790. His sons and grandsons continued after him. While the mills at Southwick closed, the Laflins moved their operation to Orange County, New York.  Laflin, then Laflin and Rand, became second only to DuPont as a maker of powder in the U.S. Laflin will come back into the story later. The famous Hazard Powder Company in Enfield, Connecticut grew from a company founded by Allen Loomis. I think he was Riley’s brother.  One of the early histories states that Laflin bought out a powder operation operated by the Loomis brothers. It seems clear that Riley came from a powder background, though at this point I haven’t been able to figure out all of the details.

rileyloomis

Riley Loomis

Whichever the case, Riley moved to Schaghticoke after 1830. The first time I found him in the records was in the July 1, 1834 “Troy Budget,” when he attended a meeting of the Republican Young Men at the house of Colonel B.K. Bryan, along with Isaac T. Grant. Bryan lived on the Tomhannock near the powder mill. Riley was on a committee to draft resolutions. He had served as a representative in the Massachusetts legislature in 1831, so had political experience. Though Riley did not hold town or county office thereafter, he was very involved in politics through town and county committees. For example, the April 1840 “Troy Budget” reports on a meeting of the Democratic Republicans of Schaghticoke to nominate candidates. Riley Loomis was the chairman. The November 6, 1848 edition stated he was a Presidential elector for the Free Soil party, “known through the county as a uniform and consistent democrat and a generous true-hearted man.”  Riley’s obituary states that he “started as a Jeffersonian Republican,” staying true to the tenets of the party as its name changed over the years. “He contributed liberally for party purposes, but although often urged to do so, he could never be induced to accept a party nomination for office.” The Loomis’ also joined the Presbyterian Church. In 1836 he was elected a trustee of the church, along with fellow powder maker Nicholas M. Masters. Wyatt Swift served as a trustee about the same time.

Of course Riley had come to Schaghticoke for business. One wonders why he stayed with powder, a much more dangerous business than textiles. I found him in the 1840 census for town, with a family of one male and one female between 50-59- presumably he and his wife, though they were five years younger than that, one male from 20-29, presumably their son Riley, one female from 20-29, presumably their daughter Roxana Maria, one female from 10-14, and two free blacks from 10-23, one male and one female. Two of the household were in manufacturing, father and son. In 1839 Riley bought for $1500 property on the north side of the Tomhannock Creek from Herman Knickerbocker, along with 1/3 of the water from Knickerbocker’s dam. The property description records that the land abutted property Riley was already leasing from George Tibbits, and that this piece was on the highway. Riley was also constructing a dam, and had the privilege of “flowing” onto Knickerbacker’s land- creating a mill pond. Riley also had a right of way from the highway to the mill. The powder mill and its keg shop were just downstream from this, so it sounds like Riley was adding to the mill property. The name change of the powder mill didn’t occur until 1844, so perhaps at this point he was setting himself up as a competitor? His obituary states that he first was in business in his own name, then with Masters and Swift, so perhaps this is an indication of that.

Riley also built a home in Schaghticoke.  The January 3, 1851 “Troy Budget” describes a “valuable house and lot” for sale by Edwin Smith, on the south side of the Hoosic, next door to the residence of N.M. Masters, and “erected and formerly occupied by Riley Loomis.” “The location is elevated and healthy and the scenery unusually fine. The buildings…are large and commodious. On the premises are a good fruit and flower garden, extensive pleasure grounds, a well of pure water and two cisterns, in short everything necessary to render it a desirable country residence.” I think this is the former rectory of St. John’s Church, just south of the bridge on route 40.

Ironically, just as Riley became the first name in the Powder Mill partnership in 1844, he moved from Schaghticoke to Troy. His obituary states he moved in 1842, and indeed, the Troy “Budget” of October 5, 1842 lists him as the chair of a meeting of the Democrats of the First District over the Washington Market in Troy.  He apparently had moved seamlessly from Schaghticoke to Troy. Troy was a booming city, and perhaps he felt he needed to be part of it, and its society. He maintained his ties with the Schaghticoke Presbyterian Church, however, serving on a committee which studied building a new church in 1845-1846, and only being removed as a trustee in 1850. I think he also kept a home for some time locally.

riley loomis home

The Loomis “cottage” on Washington Park in Troy

At first Riley and his family lived at 30 3rd Street in Troy.   He joined the Presbyterian Church. In November 1844, daughter Roxana Marie married John Wentworth.  The 1850 census records Riley, at age 55, as a manufacturer. Roxana was also 55. Daughter Roxana Marie, here called Mary Wentworth, age 30, and her son John Wentworth, 8 months old, were living with her parents at this point. The household also included three young Irish serving girls and a young Irish laborer. The 1855 NYS census shows just Riley and Roxana in the house, described as brick and valued at $12,000, along with three different Irish girls and a different Irish man, the driver. I am not sure if this was the old house, or the new one described below.  The listing of Riley as a manufacturer indicates to me that he continued to run the powder mill.

As I said earlier, the next change in Powder Mill ownership was in 1856, when Loomis and Masters left the title, and the company became Swift, Bliss, Greeley & Co.  Certainly this is when Nicholas M. Masters retired. This may reflect Riley’s retirement as well. At that time he built a house on 3rd Street on Washington Park in Troy, described in his obituary as “the unique, spacious, semigothic homestead.” Washington Park, between 2nd and 3rd Streets, is accessible only to those residing on the park. This was one of the most fashionable places in Troy to live. The house was very different from the several- story brownstones being built on the park by the captains of Troy industry. It was a one- and- a- half story cottage with a large yard on either side. It had just four bedrooms, a parlor and dining room, bathroom and kitchen on the main floor. (illustrated)

The 1860 census records Riley Loomis and wife Roxana, both 69, living there, with just one Irish servant girl. His occupation was listed as “gentleman”, further confirmation of his retirement. Riley listed his real estate as worth $125,000 and his personal estate as $100,000. I find this incredible. This is far more in both categories than anyone I can find in Troy that year. The whole powder mill property was valued at $22,000 in 1855, and Riley’s house sold for $32,000 ten years later.  I can’t account for it. The 1865 NYS census lists the couple living alone, with Riley as retired. He died the following year.

john wentworth

Long John Wentworth, Mayor of Chicago, husband of R. Marie Loomis

Returning to the daughter, Roxana Marie, or R. Marie, as she was most often referred to, married a wealthy Chicagoan.  John Wentworth, known as “Long John,” was born in New Hampshire in 1815 and graduated from Dartmouth College in 1836. He was first a newspaperman in Chicago, but got into politics. At the time he married Marie, November 13, 1844, he was in his first term as a U.S. Congressman. I don’t know why John stopped in Troy or how he met Roxana Marie. If the Loomis’ had moved to Troy to get their daughter out into a wider society, they achieved their goal. The marriage was reported in both the local and New York City newspapers.   I assume that she was living with her parents at the time of the 1850 census as she did not want to live in Washington, D.C., was in the middle of having babies, and knew no one in Chicago. John served until 1855 in Congress, then again in 1865-1867. In between, from 1857-1858 and 1860-1861, he was Mayor of Chicago. Meanwhile he amassed a fortune. The 1860 census for Chicago listed his real estate as worth $300,000, and his personal estate as $30,000.  It lists his family as “Mrs. Wentworth, 21, and Rosinda, 5.” This must have been R. Marie, really 43, and daughter Roxana, who was 5 or 6.

In their personal lives, the Wentworths and Loomis’ suffered many tragedies.  On July 14, 1846, while on a visit to his paternal grandparents in New Hampshire with his mother, Riley Loomis Wentworth, their only child, died of croup at age 10 months. He had been born at his maternal grandparents’ home in Schaghticoke. Another child, Marie, was also born at her grandparents’ home in 1847, and died there of cholera on August 29, 1849. And a third child, John, born in Troy in November 1849, died there of lung fever on February 23, 1852, while his parents were in Chicago. And Riley Atwater, the only son of Riley and Roxana Loomis, died in Schaghticoke in September 1854 at the age of 35.  The fourth Wentworth child, Roxanna Atwater, was born in Troy on October 28, 1854. This was surely a happy note coming so soon after her uncle’s death.  But the fifth child, John Paul, born in Troy on October 18, 1857, died there on March 27, 1858 of congestion of the brain. A biography of John Wentworth, “Chicago Giant,” states that Marie “was always a shadowy figure in (Wentworth’s) life, and her demonstrable influence upon his career was so slight that one easily forgets he ever deserted bachelorhood.” I wonder if Marie was tied down through much of her marriage by her five pregnancies and ill children, and preferred to have the support of her mother and father in Troy.

When Riley died in 1866, his obituary in the Troy newspaper said “his health had been failing for years and his death was not unanticipated.” Unfortunately for us, it does not include many details of his connection with the Powder Mill. Of course, Mrs. Loomis inherited from her husband, but the city directory reveals that she moved to 102 3rd Street. Daughter Marie Wentworth died in February 1870 and Roxana Loomis the following month. Riley and Roxana Loomis, Roxana Marie Wentworth and her four children who died young are all buried in Oakwood Cemetery.

The elegant home on the park in Troy, which had already been passed to the Wentworths, was sold that same year at auction for $31,250 to Reverend A.T. Chapman. The inventory of Roxana’s estate is relatively modest, but does include a diamond jewelry worth about $1500, plus quite a lot of silver plated ware. Roxana had just seven dresses, but also a Russian sable coat and muff worth $1000. There was some pricey black walnut and mahogany furniture in parlor and bedrooms. At the auction of the property,   an elegant “Clarence”, a type of carriage, made new for $2500, sold for $725, and a barouche sleigh for $180. Granddaughter Roxana Wentworth and her father John Wentworth were the only remaining heirs. The Loomis home was torn down in 1916, and is now the site of apartments made from St. Mary’s School.

As I said above, with the retirement of Riley Loomis in 1856, the Powder Company’s formal name became Swift, Bliss, and Greeley. I have talked of Wyatt Swift, who died in 1863, now on to Greeley. Paul Greeley was born in 1814 in Salisbury, New Hampshire, the son of farmer/tanner Moses Greeley and his wife Hannah Eaton.  He was about five years younger than Wyatt Swift, seven than Bliss.

According to the Greeley genealogy, Paul went to Savannah, Georgia in 1836 and worked as a bookkeeper there until 1843, when he went to Hazard Powder Company in Connecticut as a bookkeeper and “general assistant.”  Hazard had been founded in Enfield, Connecticut by Colonel Augustus Hazard in 1835. Paul married Caroline Woodworth of New York City in Albany the next year. She, the daughter of Martin and Abigail Woodworth, was just 19.  One wonders how they met and why they married in Albany.  They had a son who died at birth in 1846. A daughter Emily died at age seven months in 1848, but a second Emily was born in 1854. The 1850 US census found them in Enfield, Connecticut. Paul was listed as a 35-year-old manufacturer of powder.  Wife Caroline was 23.  According to “Peril in the Powder Mills,” Paul started another company, Enfield Powder, in 1849, with several other investors. This company was taken over by Hazard in 1854, perhaps leading to the Greeley’s move to Schaghticoke. The Greeley genealogy states that he was the Superintendent of the American Powder Company in South Acton, Massachusetts at that time. Whichever it was, Paul was able to amass some capital.

Paul became one of the owners of the Powder Mill when the Greeleys moved here in 1856.  He would have been a mature man of 42. That year Caroline joined the Presbyterian Church. The following year son Edward Allen died at age six and a half.  Paul joined the church in August 1858, when he was immediately elected a trustee of the church, joining his fellow powder makers. Their final child, Emma, was born that year.

Paul and Caroline lived near partners Wyatt Smith and William Bliss in his new town, on the current route 40 just south of where the bridge crosses the Hoosic River.  The 1860 US census captured the family at its largest: Paul, 46, a gunpowder manufacturer with a personal estate of $15,300; Caroline, 35; Ellen, 6; and Emma, 2; plus mother-in-law Abigail Woodworth, age 70; and a 25- year-old Irish domestic servant, Bridget. Paul must have been instrumental to the operations of the mill during the great demand of the Civil War years, especially with the death of Wyatt Swift mid-war. The family seemed to have been warmly welcomed into the community.

Unfortunately Paul’s tenure at the powder mill had a very tragic end. The Troy “Times” reported his death on May 22, 1866. Paul, John T. Masters, the last of that name associated with the company, and several others had gone to Pennsylvania on business. They arrived at a station near Hazelton, Pa., where they had to change trains. For reasons unknown, Paul “stepped from the platform (onto) the track,” into the path of an oncoming train. “He hesitated for an instant, considering on which side of the track he should jump in order to escape,” but was hit by the tender, “which was in advance of the locomotive.” It knocked him down, leaving his legs on the track to be run over by the train.  “He was immediately picked up, still conscious as ever and not even fainting.” His companions put him in a train car and took him back to Hazelton. Looking at his mangled feet, he said, “I am ruined. But is it possible this is death? It may be. If so, am I prepared? I think I am.” The next day both legs were amputated below the knee. He died several days later, before his family was able to reach him.

According to the paper, the village of Schaghticoke was in shock.  “Mr. Greeley was no ordinary man. He possessed a benevolent heart; he delighted in doing good. He had the means, the will, and the executive talent to accomplish his purposed and those purposes were always beneficent.” Paul was doing a great job as a principal owner of the mill and had just been ordained a deacon of the Presbyterian Church, where he was also chairman of the board of trustees. Would the Schaghticoke Powder Company have been taken over by Laflin in 1871 if Greeley had survived? Impossible to know.

greeley grave 4                            Greeley Plot in Elmwood Cemetery, Schaghticoke

Paul was buried in the Greeley plot at the brand new Elmwood Cemetery, where there are also tombstones for his children who had died young. He was the neighbor of co-owner Wyatt Swift even in death. Widow Caroline Greeley was still in Schaghticoke in 1870. She had an estate of $8000. The family included daughters Ellen and Emily plus one domestic servant. Ellen married a man named Charles Durfee a couple of years later and by 1880 had moved to Geneseo. They already had three sons. Mother Caroline and sister Emma lived with them.  By the 1900 census, they had all moved to Oberlin, Ohio.  Ellen was a widow, who had had five children, four living. Emma had been married for fifteen years and had two sons, though the census does not list her husband in the family. Caroline lived with her daughters and grandsons until she died in 1902. She is buried beside Paul in Elmwood Cemetery.

Just after Nicholas Masters and Riley Loomis got out of the Powder Mill, in 1858, William P. Bliss became Secretary, and was listed in the company name.  It’s time to look closer at this man. William Porter Bliss was born in 1807 in Stockbridge or Lee, Massachusetts, son of Joshua and Grace Porter Bliss. Joshua was a carpenter.  William married Ann Jane Goodrich in 1833 in Sheffield, Massachusetts. I have not been able to learn anything about the early training of William. He lived in the same area of Massachusetts as Riley Loomis, and it is tempting to think he worked for him and followed him to town, but I just don’t know.

The Bliss’ moved to Schaghticoke in 1837. In August of that year, Ann joined the Presbyterian Church, followed by William in May 1838.  In July 1839 William was elected a trustee of the church for the first time.  He was involved in the church for the rest of his life. In 1854 he was a member of the United Church Board for World Ministries, and in 1858 a member of the Board of American Commissioner for Foreign Missions, carrying his religious commitment to a national level. He was chorister at Schaghticoke Presybterian from 1837-1874, leading the choir for an amazing 37 years.

The 1840 census for Schaghticoke listed William and Ann, plus one male and one female aged 15-19. William was reported as working in manufacturing. A Bliss genealogy states that William and Ann had no children, so I’m not sure who the teenagers were. I also can not be sure that he worked at the Powder Mill.  The 1865 census reports that at some point Ann had had one child, which evidently did not survive. By the 1850 census, the first to list names, William, 42, was listed as a bookkeeper, with a personal worth of $3000. Wife Ann was 35, and an 18-year-old name Allace L. Bacon, lived with the couple. She was also born in Massachusetts. The Bliss’ are listed next door to fellow-powder maker W.R. Swift, living just south of the Catholic Church on the same side of the street. Riley Loomis and N.M. Masters lived almost across the street. Again, I’m not sure that William worked at the Powder Mill, but I’m betting he did.  The powder makers stuck together in residence and worship, as well as business.

Unlike the other powder makers, William was not involved in county and national politics and county committees. He did serve as a trustee of the village of Schaghticoke in the first years after its incorporation in 1867, but not beyond that. He also dabbled in real estate. He and the other powder men had bought a parcel in Brooklyn which was foreclosed upon in 1853. He also bought lot 9 in the village, on the west side of Main Street, near the current VFW. But this was foreclosed upon and sold at auction in 1854.  At the time of his death, he also had a perpetual lease on lot 3 in the village.

It seems that William focused on the Powder Mill more than Masters, Swift, or Loomis.  His promotion within the powder company is revealed in the 1855 census, when he is listed as a powder manufacturer, now worth $4000.  He and Ann lived alone. By the 1860 census, William, now 52, had real estate worth $12,300 and a personal estate worth $3000. He and Ann, now 49, had a domestic servant, Eliza Dobson, a 20-year old Irish girl. Anderson’s History of Rensselaer County states that William was elected President of the powder company in 1868. As former President Wyatt Swift died in 1863, I don’t know who served in the interim. Perhaps the election was a mere formality.  I will return to William later.

There is much more to say about the Powder Mill, but I will return to its history later. The following bibliography is for the whole series- already written.

Albany”Argus”, March 1819, 1863

Report of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, 1858

Anderson, George, “Landmarks of Rensselaer County.”

Berkshire “Journal”, 1831

Berkshire “Sun”, 1820

Burlington “Free Press”, Aug 19, 1859

Fehrenbacher, Don E., “Chicago Giant”, 1957

Find-a-Grave.com, Chauncey Olds

Greeley, George Hiram; “Genealogy of the Greely-Greeley Family”, 1903, Boston, Ma.

Klopott, Beth, “History of Schaghticoke.”

McMahon, David, and Ann Kelly Lane, “Peril in the Powder Mills.”Infinity, 2004.

“Minutes of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church,” 1852

Munsell, Joel, “Catalog of Graduates of Union College”, 1868

NYS Assembly, “Report of Stockholders in NYS Banks” 1831, 1832

NYS Society for the Promotion of Temperance, 3rd and 4th annual reports, 1832 and 1833

Ogdensburg “Journal,” Jan. 17, 1877.

Olds, Edson, “Olds Family in England and America”, 1915.

Oneida “Morning Herald” Nov 28, 1848

Pittsfield “Sun”, 1854, 1870

“Proceedings of the Grand Chapter of Freemasons in NYS” 1829

Rensselaer County deeds, book 48 p 327

Rochester “Republican” Nov 23, 1844

Schaghticoke Presybterian Church records, in historian’s office

St Lawrence County “Republican”, March 1840.

Syracuse “Evening Chronicle” Oct 18, 1855, Nov 20, 1854

Sylvester, Nathan, “History of Rensselaer County”, 1880

Troy “Budget”: Sept 1840, Oct 7, 1843, Oct 27, 1846, Nov 4, 1844, Sept 27, 1847, Sept 24, 1858, June 1847, July 17, 1853

Troy “Daily Times” Sept 27, 1845, Mar 28, 1872, Oct 1855, Nov 15, 1859, Mar 9, 1860, Oct 11, 1854, Apr 4, 1863, July 27, 1861, Oct 17, 1888, May 23, 1866, May 1893, Sept 29, 1892, Feb 3, 1896, Jan 20, 1877, Oct 16, 1889

Troy “Daily Whig” March 11, 1861, Mar 12, 1844, Feb 1837, Apr 12, 1849, Mar 6, 1860, Nov 12, 1860, Jan 24, 1856, Nov 17, 1855, Sept 1, 1874

Utica “Gazette” Nov 12, 1854

Utica “Morning Herald” Oct 24, 1879

Valente, AJ, “Rag Paper Manufacture in the US, 1891-1900”, 2010

Washington County “Post”, Jan 19, 1894, Oct 4, 1892

Wentworth, John, “Wentworth Genealogy”, A. Mudge, 1870.

Will of Wyatt Swift, Rensselaer county book 64, p 36

 

 

St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church

I wrote the following about three years ago, but somehow failed to post it on this blog. A  recent query about the church made me go back and review…and make the discovery.

Several years ago, I wrote about the Schaghticoke Dutch Reformed Church, not only the first church in the town of Schaghticoke, but also the first church north of Albany in the colony of New York.  Most of the early residents of town were of Dutch descent.  By the time of the Revolution, many people from the Palatine section of Germany had moved to the area.  They formed their own church, the Gilead Lutheran church in Brunswick, perhaps as early as 1745. The St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church followed in the town of Schaghticoke, originally located at the junction of North Line Drive and Valley Falls Road.  Just when this church began is something of a puzzle- and has been misreported often over the years.

I have a transcription of a record book of the church beginning in 1829, which states that the church was founded in 1776, and that Reverend. Joseph Wichterman was the first pastor, from then until 1793. Some years ago, a Lutheran church historian wrote to tell me that was impossible, as Rev. Wichterman didn’t arrive in this country until 1790. He included the passenger list of the Brig Mary, from Amsterdam, Holland, arriving in Philadelphia on Oct 4, 1790. The first on the list was George J. Wighterman, a Lutheran minister.  The History of the Gilead Evangelical Lutheran Church, written in 1881 by its then pastor JN Barnett, confirms this, recording that Rev. Georg Joseph Wichterman began as preacher there on August 31, 1795, and served until 1801. The book includes the contract of the church with the pastor, which does not mention any other church besides Gilead, but the author records that he preached at West Sand Lake in 1800, and perhaps at Schaghticoke at the same time, as the three churches were afterwards linked.

Gilead Lutheran Church

Gilead Lutheran Church

Gilead Lutheran church

Gilead Lutheran church


I hope that Rev. Wichterman did preach at Schaghticoke, as he sounds like a colorful person. The Gilead history gives this description: “In stature he was short and correspondingly slender.” He was so short that a special box was built for him to stand on while he preached, “because those in the front seats could barely see his face over the top of the pulpit. ..he occasionally disappeared from view of his audience.”  He had to yell at the young men of the congregation for their levity for “they would laugh when the dominie fell off the box.” He is further described as “impassioned, pompous, opinionated, and magisterial.” He persisted in wearing a three-cornered hat while he preached, long after it had gone out of style. He both preached and wrote in German, which tells us that his congregation was bilingual as late as 1800.

After a short gap, the next minister at Gilead Lutheran was Rev. Anton Theodor Braun, who began preaching about 1802. Unlike Rev. Wichterman, he had lived in the area: Schoharie, West Sand Lake, and East Greenbush, before coming to Gilead. According to the Gilead History, Rev. Braun preached at West Sand Lake or Greenbush, Gilead, and Schaghticoke, “which it is to be supposed that he organized.” The first surviving tombstones in the St. John’s Lutheran Cemetery are from 1800, 1803, and 1805, which confirms that Rev. Braun was probably the first to preach in Schaghticoke- in what sort of building is not known.  The congregation at Gilead became smaller, as the 2/3 of it which came from outer areas began to attend their own churches.  Rev. Braun is described as “indefatigable, mild, and forgiving.” He died in 1813, his otherwise solemn funeral ending with lots of drinking of rum!

In 1813 the new minister appointed for the three churches was Reverend John Bachman. According to the history of Gilead Lutheran church, he was born in Schaghticoke in 1790. I’m not sure of that, but his family, headed by father Jacob, was here by  the 1800 census, with one male under 10, two from 10-16, one from 17-26, one from 27-44, one over 44, plus one female under 10, one from 17-26, one from 26-44 and one slave. The history states that Bachman’s family attended church in Schaghticoke, and that young John prepared for the ministry by living and studying with his predecessor, Rev. Braun.  Unlike Braun and the previous ministers, Rev. Bachman preached in English, though some of his congregation may have preferred German. I find that so interesting, as the Dutch Reformed Church had switched to English about twenty years earlier. Many of the German-speaking families had arrived in Schaghticoke by 1780, and had emigrated from Germany by 1720, so the language proved very persistent.

an illustration from Viviparous Quadrupeds, written by Bachman, illustrated by Audubon

Unfortunately, Rev. Bachman only stayed one and a half years (1813-1815) as pastor of the church.  He felt he was called to go elsewhere, and perhaps moved for his health as well. He went on to greatness. Rev. Bachman went to Charleston, South Carolina, where he was pastor of its St. John’s Church for 56 years. He was an ardent naturalist, who co-authored the book Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America with world-famous naturalist John Audubon. Bachman did the writing, Audubon the illustrations.  Audubon and Bachman were so close that two of the former’s sons married two of the latter’s daughters. Bachman wrote many other books, including one which declared that blacks and whites were the same species, a controversial stand for a Southern resident. Bachman also founded Newberry College in 1856 near Charleston. It is a fine small liberal arts college.  He died in 1874, and is buried in St. John’s Church in Charleston.

Reverend John Molther followed Bachman in 1815. . The three churches cooperated to rent him a parsonage in Troy, which he felt was equidistant from his churches in Brunswick, Greenbush, and Schaghticoke. He only stayed until 1818, having gotten into a dispute with the Gilead congregation over the siting of a new church building.  The author of the History of Gilead continues to describe the ministers in colorful terms. Rev. Molther was known for beautiful sermons, but too long pastoral visits: he, his wife and four children staying with various parishioners for days at a time. The next minister, Rev. William McCarty, the first non-German pastor, just showed up in 1819, claimed to be a Lutheran minister, and was hired. He was known for sobbing wildly during sermons, and racing horses wildly after services.  Fortunately, he left after just a couple of years, and was succeeded by Reverend John Goodman, a very responsible pastor, who stayed until 1828. Reverend Jacob Senderling followed. After a few years, the Greenbush church hired its own pastor.

In my office I have a transcription of the records of St. John’s Lutheran Church beginning in 1829. The records from the 1830’s are particularly interesting. The death records give some commentary on each person. For example, Francessta Sipperly died at age 12 in 1836 of inflammation of the bowels. She was “an interesting girl, religiously inclined.” Mrs. Sebastian Snyder, who died in 1841, was a “good though afflicted woman.” David Doty, who died in December 1847, was “a young man who broke a leg in the flax machine of Colonel Hearman, which resulted in his death,” and John Wolf, who died in May 1849, “in a state of inebriation fell from his wagon and broke his neck.” He had been a member of the church, but was not at the time of his death.  The marriage records are a boon to genealogists, giving not only the names of the couple, but often the names of their parents and of witnesses to the weddings. In general, the weddings took place at someone’s house- either that of the parent of the bride or the groom, or at the parsonage.

1877 Beers atlas: look for Melrose, then up Valley Falls Road to the parsonage, then the church at the junction of that road and the current NorthLine Drive

1877 Beers atlas: look for Melrose, then up Valley Falls Road to the parsonage, then the church at the junction of that road and the current NorthLine Drive


(SORRY THAT MAP IS SIDEWAYS—DON’T KNOW WHY!)
The records of the Schaghticoke church name Reverend Sylvester Curtis as the first pastor for the church on its own, beginning in 1850, though he was pastor for only a year or two. I found his name in the record book for the store in Grant’s Hollow as a customer in early 1853.  As I said earlier, the original church was located near the junction of North Line Drive and Valley Falls Road in what is now Melrose. The large Lutheran Church cemetery is still there.  According to the transcription of the church records, an early building was replaced during the pastorate of Rev. John. Selmser, 1852-1857, and the parsonage was just down Valley Falls Road, on the west side.

Ironically, while ministers can be very important in the lives of people, presiding over the ceremonies for the major life stages, they often served congregations for just a few years, and are hard to document in the public records. The minister following Reverend Selmser is an exception. Valentine F. Bolton arrived in 1858 and stayed until 1872. In the 1865 census, I find him and his family. He was born in Virginia, and only 27 years old- meaning he began as pastor at age 20! His wife, Catherine, was born in Fulton County, and was 29 years old. They had three children: Charles, age 4, Virginia, age 2 ½, and Grace, age 3/12. By the 1870 census, they had added another son, James, age 1.  The next minister was Rev. J. R. Sikes, followed by Rev. George W. Anderson in 1883.

the final location of St. John's Lutheran church

the final location of St. John’s Lutheran church

Reverend C. Diefendorf arrived in 1893 to a church that had dwindled to 48 members. He and his congregation took what I think was a bold step. They dismantled the church from the 1850’s and used some of its wood and stone in re-erecting the new building, at the corner of Church Street and Valley Falls Road. I would imagine that the change of location was because Melrose had become a center of population, but the area around the old church was still very rural. According to the record book, the whole building process, including a barn and sheds, cost $6000. Most churches had sheds where parishioners could park their horses and buggies during services.  A new parsonage was built for $2000 next door to the church on the north side.  The new church and its pastor must have been inspirational, as the membership doubled over the next five or six years, and the debt was paid off.  A former member of the church, Marjorie Poulsen, told me that rehabilitating failing churches was Rev. Diefendorf’s specialty.

In 1905 under the next pastor, Rev. Emmanuel L. Dreibelbis, the entire church building was raised three feet, for $125. The auditorium got a new metal roof and walls, and all new windows.  The men of the church excavated a basement during the winter, and finished and furnished it.  All of the landscaping was redone. The church was rededicated in the spring of 1906, after about $2000 worth of work. The records are unclear as to how long Rev. Dreibelbis stayed at the church. On one hand, the records list T. W. Keller as receiving new members from 1910-1917, Rev. J.C. Trauger in 1919 and 1920, and Rev. C. L. Quinn the following two years. But then Rev. Dreibelbis seems to have returned from 1923-1926.  I did find him in the 1905 census, at age 45, living just with his wife Josephine, age 39, but not in another local census.

During the pastorate of Dorr Edward Fritts, 1926-1929, the church underwent another round of renovations. This included everything from a new electric signboard to hardwood floors in the Sunday School room, an oak lectern and altar secured as gifts from West Virginia, and many memorial gifts of candle sticks, altar vases, new lighting fixtures, a new Bible, and more.

As with other churches, the Lutheran congregation sponsored a number of organizations which worked together for the church and community. The Luther League, the Willing Workers, and the Women’s Missionary Society were all active at least from 1900 on. They were all affiliated with the corresponding state and national organizations of the Lutheran Church, so contributed at home and nationally. They also paid for many of the improvements to the church.  A 1910 pamphlet for the Luther League, which included men and women, lists a year of Prayer Meeting Topics, week by week, with a different member as the leader for each week. The topics were all based on Bible verses, and included “The chances we miss, Secrets of happiness, and How must a Christian be different from others?” The list of committees of the organization included Social, Sunday School, Temperance, Missionary, Flower, Lookout, and Good Citizenship.

In 1969, the church closed, its members joining with Our Savior’s Lutheran Church of Troy. In 1971, Carol and Patrick McCormack bought the church and renovated it to be a home. Some of the interior furnishings were sold at auction. The chandelier and altar table are in a home on Washington Park in Troy. The Goyette family lived in the building for a while, and then Lyn and Scott Whitcomb bought the property and made it into their home and her hair salon, Lyn’s Hairafter.

Groundbreaking for a new church took place in June 1970. The new building, at the corner of Route 40 and Plank Road, was dedicated on April 4, 1971. In 1992 Our Savior’s merged with St. John’s Lutheran of Troy, and was renamed Faith Lutheran.

Of course, the cemetery remains. It has had periodic “clean-ups” by various students and groups, most recently by Justin Frisino as a Boy Scout project. There are about 300 stones in the cemetery, including those of about a dozen veterans of the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. The names of those buried are in the index to Rensselaer County burials in the USGenWeb site, and in my office. The Revolutionary War veterans mostly served in the 14th Albany County Militia, Schaghticoke’s unit in the war: Jacob and Michael Overocker, Christian Piser, Jacob Sipperly, John Snyder, and George Wetsel. There are also Daniel and Hendrick Grawbarger of the Van Rensselaer Regiment, Phillip Coons of the 10th Regiment Albany County Militia, Richard Green and William Myer of the 4th Regiment, Orange County Militia, and George Miller of the 2nd Regiment Westchester Militia. He lived until 1855!

Lutheran Cemetery at the  junction of Valley Falls Road and North Line Drive

Lutheran Cemetery at the
junction of Valley Falls Road and North Line Drive

St. John’s was not the only Lutheran church in the town of Schaghticoke. In 1852 a Lutheran Church was organized at “Bryan’s Corners”, which was located on River Road at the junction with Allen Road. The district was named for the Bryan family, of course. WW Bryan had a grain cradle factory just north of Allen Road, and there was also a school house. Hiram Bryan was one of about forty original members of the church, which was part of the Frankean Evangelical Lutheran Church Synod. The Frankean Synod was socially progressive, with strong emphasis on pacifism, temperance, and abolitionism. In other locations, the Frankean Lutherans were participants in the Underground Railroad, the movement of escaping black slaves to Canada, but the participation of this congregation is unknown. The 1877 map of the area shows a church building just south of the junction of Allen Road, on the river side of River Road. Unfortunately, I know nothing more about the building or the congregation.

look for the Lutheran Church labeled in this section of Beers Atlas of 1877

look for the Lutheran Church labeled in this section of Beers Atlas of 1877

Bibliography:

Records of the St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church

“History of the Gilead Evangelical Lutheran Church”, by JN Barnett, 1881

Records of the town historian

US and state census

Rudy Helmo, Expressionist artist of Rensselaer County

Rice Mountain by Rudy Helmo. On exhibit in the office of Hoosic Valley Elementary School.

Rice Mountain by Rudy Helmo. On exhibit in the office of Hoosic Valley Elementary School.

This past summer, the Rensselaer County Historical Society in Troy had a retrospective exhibit of the work of Rensselaer County artist Rudy Helmo. The star of the exhibit was his large oil painting of Rice Mountain in Melrose in winter.  It is usually very visible but little commented upon in the office of the Hoosic Valley Elementary School. You could see it when you go to vote, or actually any weekday at all.  Warren Broderick of Lansingburgh assisted with the research and compilation of the exhibit. The biographical information which follows is from Rudy’s daughter Joan Helmo Bondy.

Rudy Helmo was born in Germany in 1908. He began painting as a young man, immigrating to New York City in 1929. He worked as a waiter in restaurants in New York and studied in the Art Students League of New York. In 1944 he and his wife moved to Troy. He continued to work in restaurants, but had some exhibits of his work and began to teach. In 1950 the Helmos moved to Pittstown, near Melrose. Rudy was finally able to paint and teach in earnest. He offered classes at schools, clubs, museums, and the Albany Institute of History and Art, plus SUNY at Albany.

Helmo painted in a number of styles, from impressionism to expressionism, and painted portraits, still lifes, and landscapes. He was a very outgoing man, famous for holding demonstrations where he would speak to an audience while painting, explaining his process, finish the work, and auction it off while still wet. He exhibited locally and nationally.

In 1970 he and his wife moved back to Bavaria in Germany. They found they missed the U.S. and returned to Albany in 1975. Rudy’s health began to fail, and while he continued to paint, his teaching activity was reduced. He passed away in 1986.

Cathy Crowley McNulty helped me discover how Hoosic Valley Elementary got its wonderful Helmo painting. Rudy taught art classes at the high school from about 1958-1968. In 1964, Ellen Wiley, art teacher, and her colleagues at the elementary school purchased the oil from Helmo, seeking to increase their students’ appreciation of fine art.

Thomas Cornell Ripley, another now-forgotten prominent citizen of Schaghticoke

thomas ripley

Some years ago, my brother brought my attention to this man, who is in an elite group in Schaghticoke: member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Thomas’ predecessors in this role were Job Pierson and Herman Knickerbacker, both of whom served in the early 1800’s.  All three men were lawyers who served a brief time in Congress, Herman just one term, Job two, and Thomas just a few months. But while Job and Herman went on to become Rensselaer county judges, with busy law practices on the side, Thomas basically was a farmer, who moved to Michigan soon after his service.

Thomas Cornell Ripley was the son of Abner and Ann Cornell Ripley, born in 1807. A couple of sources say he was born in Easton, a couple in Broadalbin, Fulton County, and the 1855 census says he was born in Saratoga County. I feel he had an early association with Schaghticoke, as there was an A. Ripley in the 1810 census of the town, listed near the Masters families in the northern part of town. That indicates Easton as the proper birthplace to me. By 1820, and thereon, the Ripleys lived in Broadalbin, probably the source for saying that Thomas was born there. In any event, Thomas was a good farmer’s son, but clearly smart. He taught school for a couple of winters before going to R.P.I., where he was in the third graduating class in 1828. He returned to Fulton County, where he studied law with Daniel Cady, father of suffragette Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Cady, a firm Federalist, was a lawyer, who served in the U.S. Congress from 1814-1817, and later in life became a N.Y. Supreme Court Justice.

Thomas practiced law in Little Falls in 1833, but moved to Schaghticoke about 1835. He married Ruth Richards, daughter of Dr. William Richards of White Creek, in 1836. Thomas and Ruth settled in Schaghticoke. The 1840 census shows the family, though, oddly, no occupation is indicated for Thomas, nor is he listed in the census category of “learned professors and engineers”, with the other lawyers. I feel that is just an error. By the 1850 census Thomas, now 43, was listed as a lawyer who owned $2500 in real estate. Wife Ruth was 40, and the couple had two children, Juliett, 12, and Sarah, 5. Thomas and Ruth and the girls also appeared in Schaghticoke in the 1855 NYS census. The following year, they moved to Saginaw, Michigan.

In his years in Schaghticoke, Thomas practiced law and got involved in politics. He was Secretary of the Schaghticoke Whig Convention that first year he came to town, and was elected a delegate to the Whig County Convention. He was a constant member of the Schaghticoke delegation from then until his departure for Michigan. Fellow local Whigs included Amos Briggs, co-owner of most of the mills in the gorge of the Hoosic River, and Wyatt Swift, President of the Schaghticoke Powder Mill.

The only office I can find Thomas held before election to the U.S. House of Representatives was as a School Inspector in Schaghticoke. He must have been impressive to his fellow Whigs, however, because when Congressman Richard Herrick of Greenbush died suddenly on June 20, 1846 in Washington, D.C., in the middle of his term, Thomas was nominated and then elected to fill his place. The report of the nominating meeting said he was a “young and able member of the legal profession, a consistent and efficient Whig, in every way morally and politically deserving of the warm support of the whole Whig strength of the County.” Thomas served just from December 1846 to March 1847. Fellow Whigs included Daniel Webster and Henry Clay.

It seems likely that the Ripleys chose to move to Michigan as part of a migration of Thomas’ whole family. His four siblings moved to Michigan as well, along with his mother. His father had died in 1850. Saginaw, Michigan was booming at the time, a center of the lumber industry.

I have been unable to find Thomas and Ruth in either the 1860 and 1870 census for Saginaw, though I know they were there. The non-population portion of the 1860 census lists Thomas along with other farmers. He owned 80 acres of land worth $3000. He had six milk cows and six other cows, and nine swine. The year before the land had produced 100 bushels of wheat, 50 or rye, and 100 of oats. Both of the Ripley daughters married and stayed in Michigan. Thomas did get involved in politics in Michigan, joining the Republican Party shortly after its founding in 1854, according to a history of Michigan. He served as a local school superintendent, and was elected to the Michigan House of Representatives in 1873- 1874. A Wikipedia article says he practiced law in Michigan as well.

By the 1880 census for Saginaw, Michigan, Thomas was 73. He was listed as a retired farmer, living just with wife Ruth, now 64. Ruth died in 1890 and Thomas in 1897, aged 90. They are both buried in Saginaw.

Bibliography:

Biographical record of the graduates of RPI, 1900

US and NYS Census

Wikipedia article on Thomas Ripley- see its bibliography

Happy Flag Day!

flag day

We all know the story of the U.S. flag, right? And how to display our flag, right? Well, maybe not everything. Just in case, I’ll run through a bit of history and a bit of law. Flag Day, June 14, celebrates the adoption of the first U.S. Flag in 1777. It is also the birthday of the U.S. Army, which happened two years earlier. President Woodrow Wilson established June 14 as Flag Day in 1919, and the Congress made it official in 1949.  Of course Troy has the largest Flag Day Parade in the country.

The current U.S. flag is the 27th in our history. The arrangement and proportions of the flag weren’t established officially until 1912, so up until then, flags could and did vary in how the stars were arranged. At first a star and stripe were to be added for each new state, but the stripe part got too awkward. In 1818, it was decided that a star for each new state would be added on the 4th of July following the admission of the state to the union. In 1959, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed an Executive Order providing for the current arrangement of stars and stripes, and our current flag has been in use since July 4, 1960, when Hawaii’s star was added.

As to display and use of the flag, the first flag code was adopted in 1923 by a National Flag Conference consisting of representatives of the armed forces and many patriotic organizations. The U.S. Congress didn’t adopt the code until 1942. Though it lists many detailed rules for flag use, it imposes no penalties for misuse. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled on several occasions that it is up to the states to impose penalties.

The flag code states that “the flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing.”  It is a very long document, available online, so I will cite the highlights. The flag may be displayed on a flag staff next to a building from sunrise to sunset…but should only be displayed at night if illuminated. So if you as a private person have a flag on a pole, raise and lower it daily unless you have a light. If you have a flag on a staff angling out from your house, put it up each morning and take it down at sunset. If you find that onerous, display the flag on holidays.

There are very detailed instructions for carrying the flag in parades and displaying it at speeches or ceremonies. In general, it has to be a bit higher than a state or other flag, and to its right. It may not be draped over a car or anything, except a casket. For a burial, the union (stars) go at the head and left shoulder of the casket, but it must be removed before the casket is lowered into a grave.

When hanging, a flag may never touch anything beneath it, and it should never touch the ground. It may never be used as wearing apparel, bedding or drapery, nor as decoration. It may not be attached to anything nor used for advertising, nor be embroidered on anything nor put on athletic uniforms. A flag patch may be put on the uniforms of military personnel, firemen, policemen, and members of patriotic organizations. Anyone may wear a flag lapel pin over the left side- the heart.

“When a flag is no longer a fitting emblem for display, it should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.” Sometimes boy and girl scout troops or American Legion or VFW groups hold flag disposal events. But you could do it yourself, in a dignified way.

So I will merely urge you to follow the code. It is wonderful to be patriotic and display the flag, but to me the patriotism disappears when the flag is allowed to become a rag.  To me, the same people who rant and rave over people who desecrate the flag are doing the same thing when they display a faded, now- pink and gray flag or wear a tee shirt with the flag unflatteringly spread over a bosom or shorts with the flag over a butt or keep a hat on while saluting the flag and singing the National Anthem.

The Catholic Church in the town of Schaghticoke

In previous posts, I have recounted the history of various churches in Schaghticoke. Next up is St. John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church, now Church of the Transfiguration. To step back and look at the big picture for a minute, Dutch- speaking settlers from Albany founded the Dutch Reformed Church in the 18th century in Old Schaghticoke. German- speaking Lutherans from the Palatine region of Germany founded the Lutheran Church at the end of the 18th century in the Melrose area. Incoming New Englanders began the Presbyterian and Methodist Churches in the early 19th century, both in the village of Schaghticoke and Melrose.

And Irish immigrants were foremost in the founding of the Catholic Church around 1840.  They had come to Schaghticoke to work in the burgeoning textile mills in the village of Schaghticoke, and on the thriving farms, some as single men, and others with their families. According to Sylvester’s History of Rensselaer County, the Catholic Church began by sending out missionaries who travelled on foot in the area from Albany to Lake Champlain from 1835 to 1845. During that time, churches were established at Schaghticoke, Pittstown, Johnsonville, and Buskirk’s Bridge, among other places, as a result of their efforts.

In Schaghticoke, Father John Shannahan, pastor of St. Peter’s in Troy, guided local people to form a church in September 1839. The first trustees were Patrick Butler, John Brislan, James Ryan, Daniel Doherty, William Graham, Simon Bogan, James Conety, Anthony Wall, and Edward Ward. Of those, only three were still in town in 1850. They were John Brislan, a tailor born in Ireland; Daniel Doherty, an illiterate manufacturer born in Ireland; and William Graham, a dyer born in Ireland. At first services were held in a school house, located on Chestnut Street just across the street from the old town garage.  Father James Quinn, assistant pastor at St. Peter’s, was the first priest. The parish also included Valley Falls and Johnsonville.

George Tibbits of Troy donated the original 160 x 60’ lot for the church building, which was completed in 1842 at a cost sometimes given as $500, sometimes as $5000. Some members said the new church looked “like a barn,” which might indicate that the lower figure is correct.  According to the deed, the church trustees were to always maintain a good fence around the property.  If the church ceases to be used for religious purposes, the property reverts to Mr. Tibbits or a descendant. The original deed specified that some of the land would be used as a “burying ground, and indeed there was a cemetery next to the church. About 40 Irish immigrants were buried there, in addition to others.  According to Anderson’s “Landmarks of Rensselaer County,” the first priest after the church was constructed was W.P.Hogan.

St. John's Church with the cemetery to the left

St. John’s Church with the cemetery to the left

Over the years, the parish has been served by many priests. Quite a few of the early ones were born in Ireland, and one, Father Meagher, was born in Portugal.  The Very Reverend Hugh Quigley was priest from 1849-1854.  He was born in poverty in County Clare in Ireland in 1819 but was educated at the University of Sapienza in Rome..or  St. Mary’s Seminary in County Cork. The biography posted by the library in County Clare states he was an Irish patriot who was forced to leave Ireland after advocating too strongly for the Irish suffering grievously during the potato famine. After another stint in Rome, he arrived in New York in 1849. The New York diocese sent him here that same year. Indeed, he shows up in the 1850 US Census for Schaghticoke, age 30, living with a housekeeper, Mary Hynes.

Reverend Hugh Quigley, Irish firebrand

Reverend Hugh Quigley, Irish firebrand

Rev. Quigley continued to be a political activist who helped his Irish parishioners organize both civil and military organizations to celebrate their heritage. He agitated until he got the elimination of tolls for parishioners having to cross the bridge over the Hoosic River to attend mass, probably most of his flock.  Quigley wrote articles debunking prejudices against Catholics. He worked on the state level for better working conditions for railroad laborers.

He also challenged the New York State Department of Common Schools over Catholic students being forced to read from the King James Bible in the public schools. The “Brooklyn Eagle” published an account of his complaint to the Superintendent in November of 1853. Rev. Quigley stated that most of the schools in Rensselaer and Washington Counties “interfered” with their Catholic students by forcing them to “join in prayers and to read and commit (to memory) portions of a version of the Bible of which the Catholic Church disapproves.” Specifically, Margaret Gifford, teacher in South Easton, had forced William Callagan, a 12 year old student, to “study and read the Protestant testament” on August 8. When he refused, she consulted with her trustees, then ordered him to do it again the next day. When he refused again, citing the wishes of his church and his parents, she “chastised him severely with her ferrule, and then expelled him ignominiously from the school.” The ferrule would presumably be the hard tip of her pointer. The superintendent of Common Schools, Henry S. Randall, agreed with Reverend Quigley.  A teacher could open school with a prayer, before the regular school hours, but otherwise prayers could not form part of the curriculum. He added that while the Bible could be read as literature in school, no student whose parents objected would have to do so. The behavior of the teacher was called “barbarous” and “repugnant”, and Crandall added, “I cannot think that the local school officers in those intelligent communities would insist on such a narrow and persecuting policy.”

Doing a bit of research, I found many Giffords in the southern part of Easton in the 1850 census. Elihu, 48, a well-off farmer, had a family including wife Mary, 34, (she must have been a second wife), and children including Margaret S., 16, who had attended school in the past year. She was still living at home in the 1855 census, now 21, though she had no occupation listed. Assuming she was the teacher, this would put her as 19 in 1853. Also in the 1850 census was the family of John Calahan, 38, born in Ireland, no occupation given, with wife Ellen, 36, also born in Ireland, and four children born in New York: Eugene, 9; William, 8; Ellen, 4; and Margaret, 1. Eugene, William, and Ellen had all attended school in the previous year. And this William would be the correct age to be the boy in the case.   I did not find them in the 1855 census, though there were a couple of other Calahan families in Easton. The school house in South Easton, district 3, was described as frame, poor, and worth $100 in the 1855 census. It was located up Bell Road, just over the Schaghticoke border into the town of Easton, as was the Elihu Gifford farm. So the Calahans and Giffords were neighbors.

I find this case wonderful to read about for many reasons. I admire many of the people involved, from Reverend Quigley, such a strong advocate for his parishioners at a time when Irish Catholics suffered from lots of prejudice in this country, to the Calahans,- both the parents, who first, travelled a long way to Schaghticoke to go to church, second, had strong beliefs which they imparted to their child, and third, stood up to the Protestant establishment in their new community.- and little William, who stood up for himself.

I also admire Margaret Gifford, granted a young woman with prejudices, but a product of her time. She was probably educated only in the school where she now found herself a teacher. She consulted with her supervisors before carrying out her punishment, and perhaps was merely emulating what she had experienced herself. A young woman teacher in a one-room school could be faced with students of all ages and behaviors, really under pressure to have good discipline. Having one young man succeed at facing her down could set a very bad precedent.

I also am extremely impressed with the NYS Superintendent of Common Schools, advocating for ALL of the pupils. Mr. Randall cited a similar decision of 1838. So in a climate rife with bigotry and prejudice, NYS stood on the side of its Catholic students and the Constitutional separation of church and state.  This is particularly interesting as at some point this ban on prayers no longer held.  Many schools in NYS used opening prayers up until the Supreme Court decision which went against school prayer in 1962. The Regents had even adopted a simple prayer for use in 1955. I remember praying at the start of school in my early years of elementary school, along with saying the pledge of allegiance and singing “America the Beautiful.”

Anyway, returning to the wonderful Father Quigley, by the 1855 NYS census, he was living in a brick building in Lansingburgh, with a housekeeper named Bridget Gallagher., presumably serving at a church there.  He went on to help develop the University of St. Mary in Chicago, and worked among the Chippewa Indians of Lake Superior and the gold miners of California. Meanwhile he wrote many books, fiction and non-fiction.

The New York State census of 1855 records that the value of the Catholic Church in Schaghticoke was $2,500, and that the church also owned other real estate worth $2,500. The church seated 300 people, with average attendance of 500, more than any other church in town. The priest’s salary was $450 per year. The new priest was William Fennelly, a 44-year-old Irishman. Mary Doran, another Irish immigrant, was his housekeeper.  Ten years later, the 1865 census recorded the value of the church as $8,500. The capacity was 400, with average attendance of 400 as well, and the priest’s salary was $600.

In 1859, Bishop McClosky of Albany turned the parish over to the Augustinian Fathers, and Father Lewis Edge became pastor. The Augustinian Order had been in the U.S. since 1796. In 1844 there were only 12 priests and 10 lay brothers in the order. A period of growth followed, and there were 14 Augustinian churches in four states by 1874. Father Edge shows up in the 1860 census in Stillwater. Schaghticoke had no rectory, but perhaps there was a home owned by the Augustinians across the river. He was born in Ireland, 39 years old, and lived with a housekeeper and servant.

Father Edge renovated the church, adding the bell tower, increasing the size of the building, and installing stained glass windows- making it look less like a barn. He also purchased the property fronting on Route 40 from Mr. Tibbits to improve access to the church. It had faced only on the side street.  The original steeple was 150’ tall, but it was lowered in 1939 after a second lightning strike.

this photo also shows the cemetery

this photo also shows the cemetery

Further improvements occurred under Father James Darragh, with the purchase of a Meneeley bell “which had won honors at the fair at Saratoga” in 1866. The history written to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the parish in 1992 states that the bell was rung as a fire alarm and to celebrate national holidays in addition to its normal use to call parishioners to church.  Father Darragh also oversaw the erection of the first rectory, which was located across Chestnut Street from the church. In 1867 Father George Meagher was the first to occupy the rectory, which he described as “miserable.” The building was demolished in 1967 after it was partially destroyed by fire. Though he has an Irish surname, Father Meagher was born in Portugal. The 1870 census for Schaghticoke lists him as 49 years old. Marry Murry, 29, was his housekeeper, and Edward Stearns, 15, his house servant.

Over the years, priests renovated both the church and the rectory.  Another major step occurred in 1872, when Father Timothy Donovan directed the purchase of 14 acres at the corner of Route 40 and Stillwater Bridge Road for a new cemetery. Some of the tombstones were moved there from the cemetery next to the church, some left behind. I have been told that those left behind were tipped over and sodded over to make lawn mowing easier, probably during the 1950’s. I know some tombstones were left as my family and I recovered a bunch of pieces after the new parking lot was installed in the late 1990’s.  In 1890 a vault and a caretaker’s house, now gone, were constructed at the new cemetery. The vault was constructed by Timothy Sullivan. So far, we have not been able to learn anything about him.

The 1880 census recorded the priest as E. Augustin Hala, a 41-year-old Irishman. That is a new surname to me, and I wonder if it was something quite different, just said with quite an accent. There was a second priest, James F. Oriely- actually O’Reilly ,another Irishman, aged 28. They had a housekeeper, Hannah Sweeney, and a man servant, John Madigan.  The parish history skips over Hala to record that during the pastorate of Father James O’Reilly, from 1879 to 1886, the rectory was sold and the home of E.B. Arnold at 6 South Main Street, across Route 40 and now just before the bridge on the east, was purchased for $8,500. It had an ice house, windmill to pump water from the well, and a carriage house. It had been the home of Oliver Arnold, a treasurer of the state of New York and first president of the village of Schaghticoke. I feel it was originally built in the 1840’s by a president of the Schaghticoke Powder Mill, Riley Loomis.  Father O’Reilly also began the construction of St. Monica’s Church in Johnsonville. During the pastorate of the next priest, Father Nicholas Murphy, the missions in Johnsonville, Buskirk, and Pittstown were transferred to the Diocese, and the church in Valley Falls, Our Lady of Good Counsel, was constructed. Anderson’s “Landmarks of Rensselaer County” states that the mission in Pittstown was added during the pastorate of Reverend George Mahar.

the rectory of St. John's showing some of the outbuildings

the rectory of St. John’s showing some of the outbuildings

another photo of the rectory

another photo of the rectory

From 1872 until 1983, the parish often had an assistant pastor, ranging from young men at the start of their careers, to those who were in Schaghticoke as a pre-or partial retirement position. For example, in 1905, Father Edward Flynn and his assistant William Donovan had Anna Walsh, age 29, as cook, and Edward McCasky, age 20, who had arrived two years earlier from Poland-Russia, as a day laborer.  The last assistant, Father John Vrana, served from 1980 to 1983, when he died. He had been a faculty member at Villanova University for thirty years before serving in Waterford from 1971 to 1979, and retiring to Schaghticoke the next year. There were also cooks, housekeepers, and other servants for the priests for many years.

this photo of the church is from a c. 1950 postcard

this photo of the church is from a c. 1950 postcard

The continued growth of the Catholic community in Schaghticoke and in nearby Lansingburgh led to the establishment of a new parish in Speigletown in 1970. Originally parishioners constructed a basement, then a rectory atop it. Finally in 1974 the church of St. Bonaventure’s was completed. A large addition was dedicated in 1991. The founding pastor was Reverend James O’Neill.

Back in the village of Schaghticoke St. John’s Church added a major addition in 1988, during the pastorate of Father Richard Nahman. It has social space for dinners and religious education, plus rest rooms and a gathering space in front of the church entrance. Until then, the rectory had been used for religious education, as well as living space for the priest. Father Nahman was the last priest to live there. The next priest, Father Alfred Ellis, supervised renovation of the church interior, mostly volunteer work by the parishioners.  In 1997 the Augustinians turned the parish back to the Albany Diocese, and the rectory was sold about the same time. Father Anthony Tomasullo was the last Augustinian pastor.

All but the youngest residents of the town have seen the latest changes in the local Catholic community..  Ironically, in 2001, just ten years after the construction of the parish hall addition to St. John’s, it merged with Our Lady of Good Counsel of Valley Falls and St. Monica’s of Johnsonville, with the closure of the latter churches. The three churches together took the name of Church of the Holy Trinity. In 2010, Holy Trinity and St. Bonaventure’s in Speigletown merged their administrations, and while both churches are still open, they are served by one priest and other administrators. They are now called Church of the Transfiguration, North and South.

Bibliography:  Hart, Mary, letter, 1984.

Lohnes, Richard, Centennial Booklet of the Village of Schaghticoke, 1967.

150th Anniversary Booklet, Church of St. John the Baptist, 1992.

The Augustinians at St. John the Baptist and Our Lady of Good Counsel, 1997.

Sylvester, Nathaniel, History of Rensselaer County, 1880.

Letter, St. Bonaventure’s church.

Anderson, “Landmarks of Rensselaer County”

Federal and state census

The End is Here

No, I’m not predicting the end of the world,  but of the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War. The commemoration is almost over.  Of course the Civil War ended more or less with the surrender of General Robert E. Lee to General U.S. Grant on April 9, 1865. I have not written about the war, or our local regiment, the 125th NY Volunteer Infantry, since the fall. This is because after months of hard fighting and many, many casualties in spring 1864, the tempo of the war changed.  The Union Army was trying to take the Confederate capitol of Richmond, but failing in that, ended up in siege lines around Petersburg, the key Confederate transportation hub just to its south.

The Union Army spent the nine months from the battle of Cold Harbor in June 1864 to April 1865 in siege lines around Petersburg, but the Army didn’t just sit there waiting for spring.  Right at the beginning of that time, the 125th NY participated in a botched Union attempt to cut the Weldon Railroad, south of Petersburg and one of the life lines for the Confederates, on June 22, 1864. Several long-time officers died in the battle, and the regiment found it did not fight as before, with many new and inexperienced recruits. This was a shock to the old-timers.  In the wake of the hard spring campaign, the Union Army took stock of its men, and a number were discharged for illness or disability, including several officers of the 125th. They were just worn down by almost two years of fighting. Throughout the Army, regiments had become so small due to death, injury, and illness, that consolidation was necessary. Four regiments, including the 125th, were made into one, under the command of the Colonel of the 125th, Levin Crandell. This means that what had been 1000-man regiments now numbered 250 or less.

I have neglected Levin Crandell, who became Colonel of the 125th upon the death of George Willard on July 2, 1863 at Gettysburg. I need to tell you about him especially, as he was almost from Schaghticoke. Levin was born in 1826 in Easton. His parents were Otis and Eliza Crandell, of Rhode Island. The little hamlet still called Crandell’s Corners on Route 40 in Easton is named for them. His father bought a farm and the family moved to Milton in Saratoga County in 1836.  Mr. Crandell made sure Levin got a good education.  He was elected Captain of the local militia regiment when he reached 18, surely indicating a strong interest in the military.  He never served, however, as he moved to Troy in 1845, first working as a clerk in dry goods stores, then becoming the bookkeeper at the Central Bank of Troy in 1854. This was a prestigious and demanding job. The 1860 census showed him as a bookkeeper in Troy, aged 34, with wife Caroline, 30. In 1856 he joined the Troy Citizens’ Corps, one of the most prominent local militias, and the 24th Regiment, N.Y.S. Militia., a predecessor of the National Guard.  He was elected Colonel of the 24th when Joseph Bradford Carr became Colonel of the 2nd NY Regiment in 1861. The 2nd was the first regiment recruited in Rensselaer County for the Civil War.

Levin Crandell, second Colonel of the 125th

Levin Crandell, second Colonel of the 125th

When the 125th Regiment, the second Rensselaer County regiment, began recruiting in August, 1862, the Rensselaer County War Committee asked Levin to act as its Colonel. They expected George Willard to become Colonel in the end, – and Levin knew that- but were awaiting his transfer from the Regular Army. So Levin was the Colonel in charge with the tough job of training the new recruits, as Willard didn’t arrive until just before the Regiment left for the field.  At that point, the committee approached Levin again, first asking if he was consumptive- he was so thin- and having learned that he wasn’t, asked if he would become Lieutenant Colonel of the regiment. He did, and served in that position, stepping in to substitute for Willard as needed, until Willard died and Levin finally became Colonel in his own right.

Levin went on to lead the Regiment through many battles.  He was home recruiting during a couple of months in the winter and spring of 1864, but returned in time for the battle of North Anna in May. He was slightly wounded on several occasions, and hit in the face by a shell fragment on June 16, 1864, at the start of the Petersburg campaign. He stayed in service until that December, when he resigned. The Regimental History states that he was a “manly man,” “calm in battle,” and that he resigned “due to home conditions.”

By 1870, Levin lived in Brooklyn, where he was a dry goods merchant with real estate worth $18,000, and a personal estate of $10,000. He and wife Caroline had two Irish servants. She died at some point before 1878, when Levin married another woman named Carrie, who was twenty years younger than he.  The 1880 census showed them still in Brooklyn. He was 53, Carrie 33, and they had two children, Carrie, 8, and Albert, 6 months old. They had a second son later.

Colonel Crandell was very involved in the G.A.R., the Grand Army of the Republic, the Union veterans’ organization, a member of the post in Manhattan. He applied for a pension in 1891. Levin was very involved in the writing of the “Regimental History of the 125th,” and was present and active at the local reunions of the regiment. He and Carrie moved to Jamaica, Queens around 1900, when he retired from the dry goods business. He had a stroke and died in 1907 at age 80, and is buried in Cyprus Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn.

Returning to Petersburg,   July 4, 1864 was the first time the soldiers had heard no gun fire for two long months, and many, many miles of walking and fighting. The 125th stayed in place until July 26th, then marched north, toward Richmond, as part of the 2nd Brigade. Some of General Philip Sheridan’s cavalry accompanied the infantry. It turned out their goal was to distract the Confederates from the detonation of a huge mine, designed to blow a hole in the Confederate defenses around Petersburg, leading to victory by the Union. The Confederates were distracted by the relatively small battle of Strawberry Plain, but the attack around the mine detonation on July 30 turned into a fiasco for the Union- a disaster for this big opportunity for the new colored troops to test their mettle. But that event, called the Battle of the Crater, has been much written about, and I am trying to focus on the 125th.

Shortly after returning from Strawberry Plain, on August 22, 1864, the 125th marched back south, again part of a Union attempt to cut the Weldon Railroad. This time the soldiers destroyed track for two days. The rails and ties were pulled up, the ties burned with the rails on top of the fire until they were hot enough to bend, rendering them unusable. The Confederates moved to attack, at what is now called the battle of Ream’s Station.  As Colonel Crandell was now in command of the larger unit, the brigade, which the 125th was part of, Captain Nelson Penfield commanded the regiment.  After two assaults and a lot of cannon shelling, the Union lines, filled with inexperienced recruits, gave way. In his history of the 125th, the regimental chaplain Ezra Simons is obviously humiliated by this retreat, but it occurred all along the line.  Captain Joseph Egolf, a veteran of the 2nd NY who reenlisted in the 125th, was badly wounded at this time and about ten men of the old 125th were among 2000 Union troops captured by the Confederates, spending the rest of the war in Libby Prison in Richmond.  The old camaraderie of the Regiment was gone, the men didn’t know each other anymore, with each passing day yet another old comrade left the ranks, one way or the other. Perhaps it was this change, more than “home conditions”, that led Colonel Crandell to resign his commission and go home in December of 1864. Chaplain Simon describes the Colonel in his last battle: “..in a fight lasting (all day)- he was in the saddle all the time, directing and inciting, except as he dismounted to creep up near the enemy to better determine their position.  Three times was he shot at while seeking to reach one of our men wounded at the extreme front of the fighting.” Not bad for a man of forty after two years of war.

Now both Armies settled in for the winter, about 150,000 men. For the Confederates, though they had enough munitions, the food supply was patchy. Many of their supply lines had been severed, either by the Army of the Potomac, or by Union victories in other theaters of operation. Men deserted and went home, especially when they found out that their homes had been invaded by Union armies. They needed to know what had happened to their property and families.

siege mortar at Petersburg

siege mortar at Petersburg

While the Union Army had plenty of food and supplies, they were still uncomfortably situated in siege lines. The battles of Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor had introduced the defensive advantages of trenches; now both Armies worked to build the best earthworks possible. The earthworks were trenches, tunnels, and bombproofs- designed to allow the minimum exposure possible to the enemy. Both sides fired mortars and howitzers at each other randomly day and night. When a soldier could hear that a mortar shell was going to land nearby, he would run for a bombproof, a shelter dug into the ground and covered with sandbags, to make it fulfill its name. Soldiers also built winter quarters. The correspondent for the Troy “Daily Times” in the 125th (H.S.- I’m not sure who he was) stated that the troops made “winter quarters” several times. They would just get settled, then be moved again, for reasons they never understood. Each time they would cut down the once-plentiful Southern pine and make 7’ x 11’ log cabins, with walls about five feet high, a small doorway, and a chimney. The roofs were of canvas, the heat source either a fireplace or a small cast iron stove. Four men lived in each cabin. They had adequate space only because two of them were usually on picket duty at any time.  Sometimes there was enough firewood and decent water to drink, sometimes not, but the newspaper correspondent seemed quite content.

But not all soldiers were “comfortable.” Some years ago, my mother came across the probate file of a soldier of the 16th NY Artillery, also besieging Petersburg. Lyman Brimmer of Troy had named his sister as his heir in his will, which his father contested. In the file was a letter he wrote home to his sister on September 12, 1864. I have corrected the spelling. “We are now right in front of Petersburgh, one mile from it. The shot and shell fly over my head every day as thick as hail stone and if you raise your head above the parapet, a small ball will take it. There is men killed and wounded every day. I have been out on picket five days. I got in last night. I have to lay on the ground with my rubber blanket over me rain or shine. …My hand trembles so I can hardly write.”  Lyman didn’t add that the trembling hand was because he had had fever and ague for a month. On October 7, he was shot “in the bowels,” and the doctor told him he could not live. A fellow soldier reported, “He appeared to be suffering great pain, hollering all the time.” Thankfully, he died that night and was buried.  The story has even a sadder end. Though his sister won the probate fight, the legal costs ate up most of the inheritance. And Lyman was a Union soldier, living in better conditions than the Confederates, before winter chill had really set in. So I guess the conditions depended upon the unit, the situation of the camp, and the original health of the soldier.

reconstruction of siege lines at Petersburg.

reconstruction of siege lines at Petersburg.

reconstruction of siege lines at Petersburg

reconstruction of siege lines at Petersburg

While the Confederate headquarters was naturally in Petersburg, the besieged city, the Union Army under General Grant built an extensive headquarters at City Point, on the James River to the northeast of Petersburg and southeast of Richmond.  During February, Grant extended the Union lines westward, around the southern side of Petersburg. His Army now numbered 110,000, while the Confederate Army was reduced by desertion to 60,000. In March, General Lee made a last attempt to break the Union line at Fort Steadman, one of the closest Union strongpoints to City Point. The Rebels were initially successful, but the Troy “Times” reported that the Rebels began looting food and equipment as soon as they entered the fort, so that the Union was able to retake it quite quickly, the Rebels then surrendering.”

NPS sign with illustration of Fort Steadman

NPS sign with illustration of Fort Steadman

Meanwhile the other Rensselaer County regiment, the 169th Volunteer Infantry, was in North Carolina.  In Mid-January they had participated in the amphibious Union attack that captured Fort Fisher and closed the last Confederate port, Wilmington, North Carolina.  From there they were in the force that captured Wilmington itself in mid-February.  The war ended in that region when General Joe Johnston’s Confederate Army surrendered to General William T. Sherman and his Union forces on April 16, 1865. The 169th was part of the garrison that stayed in Wilmington. They were mustered out there on July 19, 1865.

Returning to our other local boys, the 125th broke camp at Petersburg on March 29, 1865, and marched westward around the southern end of the siege lines. The Confederate loss at Fort Steadman had gotten everything moving. The 125th’s new Colonel was Joseph Hyde. The 125th was part of the final Union push, which forced the Confederates to abandon their trenches in Petersburg and try to escape westward.  In the Regimental History, Chaplain Simons describes some days of on and off advances, with pauses to entrench, intermittent fighting, and walking on.  By April 2, after the tired soldiers he was with were able to force Confederates to abandon good fortifications with ease, Simons writes that the men began to realize that the end of the war was near.

They heard of the surrender of Petersburg, and of victories elsewhere. The Confederates were running in disorder, abandoning equipment, or surrendering. Walking west about thirty miles over the next four days, the 125th was in the reserve at the battle of Sailor’s Creek on April 6, though Simons says they captured the supply wagons of the retreating Confederates. This was the last real battle for the Army of the Potomac. Sailor’s Creek is about 45 miles east of Appomattox Court House. There was more fighting on the 7th and 8th, though on the 8th Simons says the men knew that a letter had passed among the generals of the opposing armies. We can only imagine the excitement and anticipation among the men. The 125th marched some more on the morning of the 9th, but paused at noon. According to the National Park Service Ranger at Appomattox Court House, they were about two miles northeast of that hamlet.  Appomattox Court House was and is the name of a small settlement, not of a building. The whole settlement is now a National Park Service site, with the small, more modern town of Appomattox about a mile away.

the courthouse at the hamlet of Appomattox Courthouse

the courthouse at the hamlet of Appomattox Courthouse

Meanwhile the newspapers at home were following developments very closely. On April 7 it was falsely reported nationally that Lee had surrendered. Celebrations began immediately in Troy, and probably everywhere, with disappointment following. News of the real surrender, on April 9, was reported almost as it happened to the waiting populace of the North.

McClean home, site of Lee's surrender. In the hamlet of Appomattox Court House

McClean home, site of Lee’s surrender. In the hamlet of Appomattox Court House

Chaplain Simons wrote of that day,” We could scarcely believe the rumors that came to us of the surrender by General Lee of the rebel army; but about four o’clock the glad news was given that it was really true….Soon General Meade himself rode along the line, with head uncovered, and such cheers as went up to the skies we never heard before, lasting over an hour without any interruption.  Thus, with cheers, and waving banners, and also with booming cannon and playing bands, was greeted this greatest triumph of the war.  …the 9th of April, 1865 will always be remembered by our men…The writer has seen ..that General Grant ordered that there should be no demonstrations of joy; but, if the orders were delivered, they came too late to prevent the spontaneous expression of gladness just described.”

The 125th marched from Appomattox to Burksville, Virginia on April 13. There they heard of the assassination of Lincoln. At the end of April, they headed north, marching via Richmond and Fredericksburg to Arlington Heights, opposition Washington. They participated in the Grand Review on May 23, 1865 when 80,000 men of the Army of the Potomac marched through Washington, D.C., then left for home on June 5. Finally, they were on a train, rather than walking. They reached New York on the 7th of June. Word of this arrival was telegraphed to anxious relatives and friends in Troy.

On June 8th the Troy “Daily Times” reported in detail the fiasco of their arrival home. People assumed they would be on the “night boat”- the overnight steamship from New York to Troy, and hundreds thronged the dock at 5 a.m. When the “Rip VanWinkle” arrived, the soldiers were not on it. The crowd immediately assumed they were on the train and ran across town to the train station. When the Montreal express arrived, there were still no soldiers. At this point the Captain of the “Rip” reported the men were still at Castle Garden in New York. Apparently commercial steamships were reluctant to transport the regiments as the soldiers got drunk and rowdy (what a shock!) Finally word came that the regiment was on a hired steamship. They arrived in Albany about 11 a.m. and would be marching for home on the Troy Road- up the west side of the Hudson.  The trip up the Hudson was about  8-9 hours, so they must have left about 3 a.m. The West Troy ferry generously agreed to carry them gratis across the river.

Meanwhile feverish preparations were being made to greet them at Washington Square, where the Soldiers and Sailors Monument is in downtown Troy- at the corner of River, Broadway, 2nd, and 1st Streets. A grandstand was built, the alarm of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church sounded, citizens began to hang flags on their houses, Congressman John Griswold got ready to speak, the 24th NY National Guard Regiment made ready to meet them.   Once the men got to Troy, they went to the Armory to have a bite to eat- having had no food since the afternoon before- Evidently the newspaperman was surprised to see only 200 men. At first he explained that some had gone right home, but later in the article realized that the original 1000 man regiment numbered only 214 at this point. Finally 3 p.m. was named as the time of ceremonies.  After the speeches, they were entertained at Harmony Hall, and returned to camp “on the Albany Road”. They were finally paid off on June 15 and mustered out of service.

There are some of the final records of the 125th in the archives of the Rensselaer County Historical Society.  Lt. George Petit prepared the final inventories of the equipment of each of the Companies. Of the original 100 men, he listed just 27 in one inventory of Company K, the “Schaghticoke boys,” and only fourteen in another taken in May, 1865.  I think that the longer list included men who returned in mid-April from imprisonment, hospitalization, and service with detached units, just to be discharged with their original company, plus a few newer recruits. Petit was trying to collect the government’s equipment, but obviously having a hard time.   All but two of the fourteen turned in Springfield muskets, though many were missing parts of the repair kits that accompanied each gun. Most men had haversacks and their half of a tent (two halves were put together to make a whole tent for two men), but no one had a camp kettle or mess pan, and quite a few marks for individual items are crossed out later. Of about 75 men in the original Company K who were from Schaghticoke, seventeen were discharged in June 1865. Others had survived but had changed units, been dismissed for disability earlier, or deserted sometime along the way.

Now the rest of their lives began for the veterans and their families. Nationwide, about 3,500,000 men had served in the war. About 600,000-800,000 had died from various causes. One in thirteen veterans were amputees. Just for comparison’s sake, about 400,000 American soldiers died in World War II.   As with veterans today, some men were improved by their service, some physically and mentally handicapped for life. We are still feeling the political repercussions of the war.

Reading the Troy newspaper just after the war, I am struck by the way the veterans stuck together, right from the start. The paper is full of notices of meetings of the veterans of the 125th to organize attendance at funerals of their fellow soldiers, of men going to call on fellow veterans who were ailing. The official organization of Civil War Veterans, the Grand Army of the Republic, was organized in 1866, but the 125th NY Regimental Association was also active right from the start. There were lots of veterans. I feel at first they wanted to maintain their brotherhood, then to help each other. As time went on, they also flexed considerable political muscle, and erected many monuments to their service, all over the country.

G.A.R. post Hartshorn in Schaghticoke, c. 1910

G.A.R. post Hartshorn in Schaghticoke, c. 1910

The sources of information for this article were primarily Ezra Simon’s History of the 125th,
the Troy “Daily Times”, and National Park Service materials on Petersburg and Appomattox Court House.

Back to the Civil War: Fort Fisher and the Schaghticoke Connection.

I know some of you are ready to be done with my writing about the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War. I assure you that the Union and the Confederacy were more than ready for the war to be over by the end of 1864. General Grant and the Army of the Potomac were entrenched around Petersburg, Virginia, in the midst of what would end up as a nine-month siege. General Sherman had finished his “March to the Sea,” reaching Savannah, Georgia. The key ports of supply for the Confederate States had been cut off one by one by the Union. The only one left was up the Cape Fear River to Wilmington, North Carolina, protected by Fort Fisher.

fort-fisher-comstock

fortfisher 1

Fort Fisher was constructed at the start of the Civil War to protect the Cape Fear River and Wilmington, North Carolina from the Union Navy. The river provided access for blockade runners, which brought vital supplies to the Confederacy. Unlike many forts, Fort Fisher was never designed to be architecturally impressive. It was pragmatically built of dirt, to absorb artillery fire. Finally, in December, 1864, the Union Army- an expeditionary force from the Army of the James- and Navy- a squadron commanded by Admiral David Porter- attacked the fort. The first attack, with the Army commanded by General Benjamin Butler, failed, but in January, 1865, now commanded by General Alfred Terry, they tried again. 56 Union ships bombarded the fort, and 8000 troops, some from the 169th NY Infantry Regiment, were landed. The 169th NY Infantry Regiment was the final regiment recruited in Rensselaer County.  The fort surrendered at night on January 15. About a dozen Union soldiers received the Medal of Honor for valor in the battle, including one man from Troy.  The closure of the Cape Fear River sealed the fate of the Confederacy. It was now just a matter of time.

fort fisher

On January 16, the fort’s ammunition magazine exploded, killing 200 men on both sides. Controversy has swirled around the explosion ever since, with the Union saying that the Confederates booby-trapped the magazine and the Confederates saying the carousing Union victors were careless.  A diligent researcher named Steve Wiezbicki feels it was deliberately exploded by the Confederates

Four members of a Pittstown family were in Company C of the 169th NY Infantry at Fort Fisher: Herman L. Martinett, age 28, his brother John S., age 34, his brother Charles F, age 40, and Charles’ son Frederick, age 18. Thanks to Mr Wiezbicki, I know that Frederick was killed in the explosion of the ammunition magazine.  In addition a local blacksmith named John Bradley was in Company D of the 169th. He lived in Stillwater after the war, where he died in 1913.

I can claim Herman Martinett for Schaghticoke as he lived in the village at the end of his life and is buried at Elmwood Cemetery. There were actually four Martinett brothers, who moved to Pittstown from Pennsylvania about 1850. They were in the axe business. Herman and his oldest brother, Charles, enlisted in the 169th when it formed at the end of 1862. Herman recruited his other brother, John, and nephew, Frederick, on a trip home in January 1864. After the war, Herman came back home. He and his family moved from Valley Falls to the village of Schaghticoke in 1900. He was still working as an axe polisher at the time of his death in 1903. His second wife, Mary survived until 1938.

My husband and I happened upon Fort Fisher, trying a different route from home to Savannah, Georgia, knowing its importance in the war but not its connection to Rensselaer County. The little town on the peninsula just north of the fort is Kure Beach.  We enjoyed touring the fort, a North Carolina Historic Site, and its wonderful museum. Much of Fort Fisher has been washed away by the tides over the years, but the museum has a great collection of items found through underwater archeology, from the fort and from sunken blockade runners.  We were delighted to find a case in the museum featuring the photo of a Troy man, William Freeman, and the Medal of Honor he won in the battle. We recommend a trip to Kure Beach, North Carolina- a beautiful and quiet town, with both Fort Fisher and a North Carolina State Aquarium plus a gorgeous beach.

fortfisher2

The sources of information for this column include the NYS and US census, NYS Civil War records, Civil War pension index, and records of Elmwood Cemetery, plus the newsletter about the 169th by Steve Wiezbicki, and online articles about Fort Fisher.

Schools in the town of Schaghticoke: founding through 1880Sylv

Over the years I have written about settlement of the town of Schaghticoke, Native Americans, early European immigrants, churches, and industry. It’s time to talk about schools.

New York State has provided monetary support for schools since it enacted its first public education law in 1795. Early records of the town of Schaghticoke note the appointment of school commissioners in 1796. They also recorded the “school aid” that was received from the state: 99 pounds in 1797, with 44 pounds from town taxes; 88 pounds in 1798 with the same 44 pounds from the town.  But Schaghticoke had been settled by European immigrants for almost 100 years at that point, and we have no real information about schools during that colonial period. Sylvester’s History of Rensselaer County assumes that there must have been earlier schools, perhaps conducted under the auspices of the Dutch Reformed Church.

I have just found two mentions of schools before 1800 so far. In the Minutes of the Albany Common Council, published in the “Collection on the History of Albany,” Vol. 1, the schoolmaster at Schaghticoke applied for a piece of woodland in 1762. The Common Council granted this as long as he remained schoolmaster and exhibited good behavior. The other mention was in the will of Andreas Weatherwax, who died in 1780.  One of the witnesses was “John Clints, schoolmaster.” Where was he a teacher?At the time there was a group of well-educated men in town as they formed the Schaghticoke Polemic Sociey, a young men’s debating society, in 1797. They met weekly and debated politics, the nature of man, religion, and other weighty matters. The group continued until at least 1820.  Its records are in the New York Historical Society, and once I get there to see them, I will tell you more about the group. We also know that Herman Knickerbocker, born in 1779, a son of privilege, was at the upper end of the range of education: he studied and became a lawyer by apprenticing in a law office in Albany.

Some 18th century immigrants into town were well educated: Ann Eliza Bleecker was a novelist; Colonel Peter Yates wrote eloquent letters to the governor; Dutch Reformed minister Lambertus DeRonde wrote and spoke English, Dutch, and Latin.   But Solomon Acker, who came to Schaghticoke in time to serve as a soldier in the 14th Albany County Militia in the Revolution, signed his pension papers in 1832 with an X, as did fellow soldier Richard Davenport, and the widow of another soldier, Anny Overocker. I know from reading the earliest wills from residents in the Rensselaer County records, (which means they are all from after 1790), that some of the relatives of the dead had lovely signatures, but some signed with an X, indicating illiteracy.  Many times, the males could sign their names, while the women used an X- perhaps indicating that boys had a greater opportunity for education than girls. Of course we don’t know how literate the men were beyond the ability to sign their names.

As I said in the first paragraph, NYS began to support public education in 1795. The universal public education law of 1812 established “common schools”  for all children from age 5 to 21, grades K-8. Under the law, the towns managed schools within their borders. There were two town wide positions: school commissioner and school inspector. At least in the early years, these office holders were among the elite of the town.  They included Josiah Masters, Harmon Knickerbocker, and Job Pierson, all of whom went on to become US Congressmen., and various VanVeghtens,  Knickerbockers, Yates, and Groesbecks, descendants of original settlers of the town, plus well-off and/or educated newcomers like Ezekiel Baker, who was both a doctor and a lawyer.

Troy Female Seminary, later Emma Willard School

Troy Female Seminary, later Emma Willard School

One 19th century non-public school option for girls was the Troy Female Seminary, founded in Waterford by Emma Hart Willard in 1819 and later moved to Troy. I know that the daughters of Herman Knickerbacker, Bethel Mather, prominent local farmer, and Amos Briggs, major 19th century industrialist of the village, attended the school in the 1820’s and ‘30’s. Although I also know that a couple of sons of Congressman Josiah Masters attended a private boys’ school about the same time, and that other sons of wealthy or well-educated fathers probably did as well.  I don’t know which one.

Sylvester’s History reports that the town school commissioners divided Schaghticoke into eleven districts in 1813, following the passage of the common school law the year before.  Districts 1-4 went from the northeast corner of the town, up by Hoosick, west to the Hudson River. District 4 extended south on the Hudson to where the Hoosick River entered the Hudson. District 5 was south of District 3 and east of 4, which extended south farther than No. 3.  No. 6 adjoined 5 to the east.  District 7 was along the Hudson River, and 8 south of that on the Hudson, extending to the Deep Kill. District 9 was in the southeast part of town, near Pittstown and Brunswick. No. 10 was south of the Deep Kill. District 11 began south of the Hoosick River at the “Big Falls”- presumably the falls at the village of Schaghticoke. More districts were added over time. When Lansingburgh annexed the part of the town south of the Deepkill in 1819, that part of town formed school district 3 in Lansingburgh.

The town’s extant school records begin in 1839. The pages are headed “Commissioners of Common Schools in account with the Town of Schaghticoke.”  Tables record the number of children, teacher money and library money for each district in the town, along with the name of the trustee for each district who received the funds.  The Commissioner and Inspectors of Schools were either elected or appointed by the Town Supervisor yearly. The Commissioner appointed the Trustees of the individual districts.  Of course at this point, the southern boundary of the town was the Deepkill, at Grant’s Hollow, so the records do not include Speigletown and Pleasantdale. Half of the funding for the schools came from the county, half was raised in town, from taxation based on property assessment. For example, in 1839, the town and the county each contributed about $415 to the support of the schools. There were 939 students in 17 districts. The county money was apportioned based on the number of students in each district, from $9.57 to district 13 with its 11 students to $166.90 to district 6 with its 191 students. Each district had a one-room school house, built by the residents of the district, probably through contributions of money, materials, and work on construction.

The 1840 U.S. census records the numbers of schools in town, though it differs a bit in its totals of schools and pupils. It also reports that there were only six illiterate people in the town. That seems to me to be an amazingly small number. I would have thought that some of the elderly would have been illiterate, but the six illiterates were in families with Irish surnames, indicating they were probably immigrants. By the 1850 census, when many more Irish immigrants had come to town, there were 55 illiterates. All were born in Ireland except for three English and five blacks. This indicates great success for the common school law in producing at least basic literacy in the population.

Returning to the town’s school records, they also record the names of trustees each year. Interestingly, the names vary greatly from year to year. 1839’s list is almost totally different from that in 1840. Also, one of the trustees, Nicholas Groesbeck, apparently was illiterate, signing his name with an X. Many of the names are familiar to me as prominent residents of the community, including representatives from the founding families like Groesbeck, Abraham Knickerbocker, Derick VanVeghten, and Cornelius Vandenburgh; and new and prosperous industrialists and farmers like Isaac T. Grant, founder of the mills in Grant’s Hollow; William Baucus, of Melrose, Ezra Bryan, of the Bryan District on River Road, and William Pitt Button, of Buttermilk Falls Road.

From 1845-1856, the state instituted a system where town superintendents of common schools were elected, first yearly, then biennially. The first elected superintendents were Merritt M. Wickes, Peter Wetsel, D. Bryan Baker, and Stephen Kenyon, yearly; and Henry N. Wales, Solomon VanRensselaer Miller, and Daniel Groesbeck.  In the 1850 census, Wickes is listed as a  40 year-old merchant with no wife or children; Wetsel was a fairly well-off farmer, with no wife and three children; Kenyon was a 27-year-old postmaster, living in the family of Isaac Hornbrook, a young dentist; Wales was a 42-year old lawyer with a wife and four young children; Miller was a 35-year-old farmer with a wife and one child, and Groesbeck was a 30 year old farm laborer living in the family of Jacob Fort, a wealthy farmer. Baker died in 1847 at age 25, the year after he served.  What a wide variety of backgrounds! I can’t draw any conclusions about who would run for that job or why from that list.

Every year the records include notes where individuals petitioned to have their properties transferred from one district to another. This was important, as school revenues depended on the taxes paid by residents, and of course children had to attend the school in the district where they lived. Apparently an effort was made to make the districts equal in number of children and amount of assessed valuation. Another concern was that the children be able to walk to school relatively easily.

In 1845, the records have a list of “Local Names of School Districts.”  These are clearly based on what was common knowledge at the time, but a few are rather impenetrable to us now. The list includes the town in which the school house was located, as a number were actually not in the town of Schaghticoke. District 1, called Cotrells, and District 2, called Burch’s, were in Cambridge, at the northeast part of the town. District 3, called Masters, District 4, “Valley”, and District 5, Buckley’s, were all in Schaghticoke, and evidently came down what is Masters Street toward the village of Schaghticoke. District 6, “the Point north district”, must have been at the northern edge of the village, called “Schaghticoke Point”, or “the Point.” District 7 was “Stillwater”, though listed in the town, and must have been over toward the Hudson. District 8, “Old Schaghticoke”, would have been near the Knickerbocker Mansion. District 9 was called “Borough.” I do not know that reference. District 10 was “Grants”, I’ll assume in Grant’s Hollow. District 11 was called “Hill”, presumably Schaghticoke Hill. District 12 was “Wetsels, Northern Turnpike” and listed in the town of Pittstown.  District 13 was “Powder Mills”, in Pittstown. This is confusing, as I thought the mills were still on the Tomhannock Creek in 1845. Maybe this is evidence that they had at least partially moved earlier.  District 14 was “Bryans”. The Bryans lived on River Road, near where Allen Road joins it. District 15 was “New Turnpike, Hayner”. This could refer to the northern end of the modern  New Turnpike Road, though it wasn’t in the town at the time. District 16 was “Point south”, back in the village of Schaghticoke. District 17 was “Pine woods”. I live off of Pine Woods Road in Melrose. I am surprised the name was used so early, and wonder if the large white pines in between Riley and Roe Roads are a remnant of that woods.

The rest of the list was added later, as new districts were created. District 18 was “New Tavern”, District 19 “C. Vandenburgh”, and District 20 “Devols”. I do not know those locations. District 21 was “Middle district, Point,” a third district in the village of Schaghticoke.  The very next pages in the school records describes creation of a new district, number 18, from parts of districts 9,10,and 15 in Schaghticoke and district 3 in Lansingburgh,  in the southern part of town,  and number 19, from part of district 7, in the northwest part of town.  There was quite a controversy about district 19. District 7 had only had 40 possible pupils to begin with, but the record states that because of bad roads and long distances to walk, only half the students were able to go to school. The new district would be small, but all of the children would be able to attend the closer school.   District 20 was created from parts of districts 5 and 14 in 1850.

Schoolhouse at Schaghticoke Hill.

Schoolhouse at Schaghticoke Hill.

another shot of the school at Schaghticoke Hill. In this one the cemetery next door is visible.

another shot of the school at Schaghticoke Hill. In this one the cemetery next door is visible.

In my files is a list of “Schools that became part of the Hoosic Valley Central School”, compiled by long-time teacher, the late Ann Hurley, in 1988 for the 50th anniversary of the district. Ann listed the location of the schoolhouses in each district.  District 1 schoolhouse was at the north end of School Street in the village of Schaghticoke. District 2 school was on the west side of the junction of Stillwater Bridge Road with Brown Road. District 3 school was at the south side of the junction of Master Street with Ridge Road. District 4 was in the village. District 5 school was at the south side of the junction of Hayes and Bell Roads. Mrs. Hurley’s notes for District 6 state “Dorr-Barton-Mead; brick building overgrown with trees.” The Mead farm is up Barton Road, but unlike the others, the school house does not appear on the 1877 Beers Atlas. District 7 school was on the south side of Stillwater Bridge Road, just before the intersection with Bevis Road. District 8 is now the Williams home on Pinewoods Road in Melrose. District 10 school is now a home on the north side of Mineral Springs Road. District 9 school was on the south side of Hansen Road, west of the intersection with Sliter Road. District 12 school was on the west side of Valley Falls Road, north of the junction with Madigan Road. District 14 is the brick building at the north side of the big bend in Verbeck Avenue to the west. Mrs. Hurley did not mention it, but I believe she taught in the District 9 school, which was at the intersection of River and Allen Roads. And there was a school house on the east side of Route 40 at Schaghticoke Hill, just north of the Kingsley Arms apartments.  The 1877 Beers Atlas also shows a school house on the west side of River Road, just north of the intersection of Riley Road. The school house in Speigletown is currently a dentist’s office, on the east side of Route 40, just south of the intersection with Eastover Road. It was in use as a kindergarten in the Lansingburgh School district up until 1964. Of all these schools, just three or four survive. Of course the school at the corner of Route 67 and River Road in Hemstreet Park also survives, but that is a later building and was not part of the Hoosic Valley District.

1845 schoolhouse on Verbeck Avenue

1845 schoolhouse on Verbeck Avenue

Also in my files, I have a history of district 14, on Verbeck Avenue, written by Warren Verbeck, who owned the school house until his recent death. He stated that the first school meeting was held January 15, 1824. Peter VanAntwerp, Seth Bryan, Peter Ackert, Propwell? Curtis, and Benjamin Ketcham? were elected to the board of directors. I know that VanAntwerp, Bryan, and Ackert were farmers who lived in that part of town. I don’t know about the others.  A wooden school house was erected.  The current brick building was built for $355 around 1845.  Mr Verbeck stated that Chester Arthur taught in the original wooden building. If that is true, it must have taken a while to build the brick school, since we know he taught from 1846-1848. Several of Mr. Verbeck’s relatives served as district clerk or trustee through the 19th century. Teacher’s salaries varied from $90-$206 for 34-36 weeks of teaching. In 1919, the trustees voted to close the school. The building was used for community functions for quite a few years after that.

Returning to the story of all the schools in town, we are used to school costs constantly rising, but in 1849, the amount distributed to the schools was actually $150 lower than in 1839, dropping to just under $700, though the number of students remained unchanged at just under 950.The money jumped way up in 1850, to over $1000, with well over half the amount coming from the county. Something happened in the next couple of years to the school population as well. In 1852 there were 1375 students in 20 districts, and the total money was $1320. All but one district showed a big jump in population over 1849. Through all the years, district 6, in the village of Schaghticoke, was much larger than the others. By 1853 in had 391 pupils, and was divided into two districts. By 1874, the total number of students in town had dropped to 1165. A couple of years earlier, one Schaghticoke district was consolidated with a Pittstown district and came under the purview of Pittstown, accounting for a bit of the change. Another possible cause could be the closing of a major cotton mill during the Civil War. Numbers of children in each district varied widely, for example, from 16 in district 2 to 185 in district 16.  Beginning about 1860, the amount of money paid to the schools began to be determined in part by the average daily attendance, just as it is now. There must have been a new state-wide law.

New York State enacted the Union Free School law in 1853. Under this law, common schools could organize to create secondary schools for their students. Before that time, just a few students would have the opportunity to go beyond an elementary school education, in private schools located around the area. The 1840 U.S. Census had a column for “scholars”, presumably students in college. There were none in Schaghticoke in that year, though I know that there were well-off students who attended college, for example John T. Masters, son of Nicholas Masters, graduated from Union College in 1839. His father was also a graduate.

Twenty years later, at the end of 1874, voters from districts 1, 4, and 16, located in the village of Schaghticoke, decided to consolidate, form a new district, and build a new, graded Union school on what is now called School Street. Their sole trustees petitioned the town and county on behalf of the voters to consolidate and create the graded school. They were Sidney S. Congdon, an insurance agent; Charles Albro, a tin smith and recent arrival to town; and Michael McGrath, who ran a hotel on South Main Street, in the house at the southwest end of the bridge. There were over 400 children in the three districts, certainly plenty. The building was finished by August 1876 at a cost of $12,633. McGrath continued as a trustee, joined by Lorenzo Baker, C.C. Hill, and Abram Myers.  Baker was a clothing merchant and Hill a shirt manufacturer in the village. Myers a young farmer,  lived where Brocks do today, across Electric Lake.

According to Sylvester’s “History of Rensselaer County,” the first teachers in the new school were Misses Florence Ogden, Lizzie Gunner, Clara Richmond, and Lottie Munger, and Professor Ira H. Lawton, from 1876-1877, followed by G. W. Gillett, from 1877-1879.. An historical chart of “Schaghticoke Schools” made in 1906 adds Mary Button, Martha Calkins, Sarah Mott, Mary Ackart, Lizzie C. Smith, and Hattie Deming.  In the 1875 NYS Census, I found that Ira Lawton was a druggist in Brunswick.  So he may have begun a new career here. He was gone from Schaghticoke by 1880, and a principal of a school in Rockland County in 1910. Lizzie Gunner was the daughter of local baker Richard Gunner, and just 18 years old in 1880. Miss Munger was probably Charlotte, daughter of local market gardener Morgan Munger. George Gillett, aged 30, had moved on to teach school in Saratoga Springs by 1880. Hattie Deming was from a family in Stillwater. The others I haven’t found in the records as yet.

first Union Free School, 1876, on School Street, village of Schaghticoke. burned in 1895.

first Union Free School, 1876, on School Street, village of Schaghticoke. burned in 1895.

Unfortunately, the new school building was destroyed by fire in February 1895. A new Union Free School was swiftly completed, open for business by March 1896, at a cost of $16,400. The principal was C.W. Dunn, with teachers Misses Delia Barrows, Helen Story, Lizzie Smith, Matie Ackart, and Clara Thompson. In the 1900 census, I found Delia Barrows, 30 year old daughter of Robert and Mary, living with her parents in Canton, NY and working as a school teacher. Clara Thompson was the 27 year old daughter of Samuel and Rose Thompson of Schaghticoke. Samuel was a carpenter and Clara a teacher. They were still a family in the village in 1905. I also found Lizzie A. Smith, age 40, a vocal music teacher living in a rooming house in Pittsfield, Massachusetts in 1900. So again the teachers were a mixture of local and imported people, as is true today.

new Union Free School, built in just a few months from 1895-1896

new Union Free School, built in just a few months from 1895-1896

Let’s go back and look at what the schools were like for parents, students, and teachers.  Children could go to the public school from ages 4 to 21.  The 1850 census, the first to list the names of all family members, also notes if a child went to school in the past year, though it doesn’t say for how long. Most children from age 4 or 5 to about 15 attended school, though many boys were working by age 15 or 16.  Just a few attended school as old as 18 or 19. I’m sure it depended on the need of the family for income.

How long was the school year? Theoretically, children could go to school for nine months, as now. But children who were also working on the farm, or working in a mill, would not go that long. In records of a school in rural Guilderland, Albany County, in 1875, I found that virtually no boy over 10 attended the spring term, when farms would be busy, though their sisters did. In the Schaghticoke records, there is a note that school in district 16, with 148 students, was taught less than six months.  Beginning in 1880, the number of children from 5 to 21 years of age in each district is given, along with the average daily attendance. Shockingly to us today, though the number of children in district 1, the village consolidated district, was 548 , average daily attendance was just over 162, or just about 30%. The next year, the district had 552 children, with average daily attendance up to 225, much better. But other districts in town still had very low attendance. District 13, with just eight children, had just 2 or 3 students attend daily.

From what I have seen in various sources, during the 19th century, children went to school during the winter months, with pupils from age 4 or 5 to 18 all in the same room. All of the schools in Schaghticoke would have been like this until the construction of the Union Free School, a graded school,  in the village of Schaghticoke in 1874.The earliest teachers were young males, and sometimes had not much more education than their students. They made very little money, and lived with the family of one of their pupils. Often teaching was a job for a young man on the way to something better.  The most famous teacher in all of Schaghticoke history was Chester A. Arthur, who taught school in the Verbeck Avenue  during his winter vacations of 1846 and 1847, while he was a student at Union College in Schenectady, and the fall after he graduated in 1848, for $15 per month. Of course he went on to be President of the United States. I will write more extensively about him at another time.

Chester A. Arthur taught at the Verbeck Avenue school during vacations from Union College

Chester A. Arthur taught at the Verbeck Avenue school during vacations from Union College

Sylvester’s 1880 “History of Rensselaer County” quotes an “aged resident” Nicholas Bratt, who moved to the Masters street area in 1790 at age 12. He stated that James Mallory was his teacher, along with a woman who was “a widow who had never married.”  James Mallory was a surveyor in the county, whom I know because he made the earliest map of the village of Schaghticoke about 1825. I would that the woman could have been a spinster who was called “Mrs” as a term of respect. I had colleagues when I taught who were called “Mrs” though unmarried, partly because children were used to calling older women “Mrs.” I’m interested that Nicholas had a woman teacher at that early date.

In summer 2014, the tombstone of Abel Spalding Read was unearthed in the rebuilding of the bridge over the Hoosic River on Route 40. This prompted me to research him. He was born in Massachusetts in 1798, moved to town by 1815, and was listed as a school teacher from at least 1830 to 1850. He’s the first career teacher I know of in town, and breaks the mold of teachers as young men. I would love to know more about where he taught, and if he went beyond being the teacher in the one-room school. While there must have been at least twenty teachers in town in 1850, only Abel Read and one other, Henry Keefer, age 24, were captured by the federal census that year, further indication of the temporary nature of the profession. Henry still lived in town in 1855, when the census listed him as a student. He may have been in the mold of Arthur, attending college and teaching at the same time.

tombstone of Abel Read, part of DiFranzo's front walk. He was a teacher in town for at least twenty years.

tombstone of Abel Read, part of DiFranzo’s front walk. He was a teacher in town for at least twenty years.

According to a PBS article on schools, women began to teach by about 1840.  As the population and the demand for teachers grew, there were just not enough men teachers available. As the following quote shows, there were a couple of motivations for hiring women: “God seems to have made woman peculiarly suited to guide and develop the infant mind, and it seems…very poor policy to pay a man 20 or 22 dollars a month, for teaching children the ABCs, when a female could do the work more successfully at one third of the price.”  This is a quote from the Littleton School Committee, Littleton, Massachusetts, 1849. One of those woman teachers was Susan B. Anthony, future woman’s rights leader, who taught school in the Greenwich area as a teenager. In general, girls went from finishing school at 16 or 17 to teaching the same children a year later. They could face a room of up to 60 children of all ages and behaviors. They usually just taught for a couple of years, until marrying. In fact for many years marriage disqualified women from teaching. In the 1970’s I taught with an older woman who concealed her marriage from her supervisor for a couple of years, until it became accepted for her to be a married teacher.

students at the Melrose school, c. 1901. Just one teacher??

students at the Melrose school, c. 1901. Just one teacher??

The 1855 NYS Census lists five teachers in Schaghticoke, four female, one male, a great confirmation of the preceding paragraph.  The females were Celia Baucus, 21, who lived in the family of Michael Overocker; Mary Wilson, 20, who lived in the family of Lewis Buffett; Emily Gordon, 20, who lived with her widowed mother; and Sarah Harwood, 39, who lived in the family of Edwin Smith. I feel Sarah was a widow. The man was L.T. Hardy, born in Connecticut, who lived in Walter Groesbeck’s tavern. Five years later a L.S. Hardy, now with a wife and infant, was principal of the Union School in Brutus, Cayuga County, New York. This may be the same man. If so, Hardy had stayed in the profession, but advanced to administration.

What did children learn in the mid-19th century schoolhouse? The curriculum was very basic: reading, writing, simple arithmetic, and a bit of geography and history, plus elocution or public speaking, and morals. Most used Noah Webster’s “Blue Backed Speller,” first published in 1783, and McGuffey’s Reader, first published about 1840. Webster was interested in differentiating American from British spelling. McGuffey’s Reader includes simple stories. The goal was basic literacy, to have a populace qualified to vote. As immigrants came to town, they would be “Americanized” by the schools. As the 1800’s went on, classes in art, music, and science were added. By the time the Union Free School law was enacted in 1874, school reform was really under way. There was a recognition that students needed a much better education to succeed in an increasingly complex society. And as the 20th century approached, teachers were better educated, more and better classes were added, and school became more like something we would recognize today.

I’m sure that many readers are saying to themselves, “Where is the information about the schools when I attended them?” I know there is much more to the history of what became the Hoosic Valley Central Schools. I am stopping here for now, as I am trying to write this week-by-week history of the town chronologically, and I’m getting ahead of myself as it is. Also, I have much more work to do on the rest of the story: examining how the centralization happened, doing oral history projects with residents who attended the last one-room-schools and transitioned to the central school, etc. Some of this work was done for the 50th anniversary of the district in 1988. If YOU have photos of one-room schools and their classes, I would love to copy them. Contact me at home: 235-5813 or email historian@townofschaghticoke.org. Thanks in advance!

Sources for this series on schools include: the school records of the town of Schaghticoke, census, Sylvester’s “History of Rensselaer County,” my files, online articles on schools, county maps of 1856 and 1877.

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