History of the Town of Schaghticoke

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

Category Archives: Schaghticoke

Parents Pay for Public School in Schaghticoke in 1845

 

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

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

school district with Cambridge 1877

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

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

school district with cambridge records

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

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

 

 

 

 

Schaghticoke in the Late 19th. Century

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

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

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

troy and boston depot beers atlas map

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

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

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

1856 map shows the Albany Northern RR curving through town

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

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

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

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

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

newspaper ad for the Albany Northern

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

albany northern from birds eye view

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

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

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

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

melrose-1876.jpg

Melrose from Beers Atlas 1876 (Baucus is misspelled)

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

bryan-district-1876.jpg

Bryan district 1876 Note the school and the Lutheran Church

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

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

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

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

hemstreet-park-bridge.jpg

bridge across the Hudson at Hemstreet Park

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

valley-falls-1876.jpg

The Schaghticoke portion of Valley Falls, 1876

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

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

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

josiah masters patent

patent by local resident, witnessed by Alphonzo Merrell

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

Daniel H. Tarbell

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

en beale

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

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

richard gunner

Richard Gunner, from an album in the Masonic Hall

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

american house

American House- at the junction of Main and School Streets

 

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

opera-house.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

Collins tub wheel

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

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

Thomas Lape

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

Charles J. Stark

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

Rhoda Brownell Stark

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

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Cable Flax Mills, street side

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

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Cable Flax Mills, river side

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

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

Nathan Gould Akin, from an ancestry.com family tree

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

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Schaghticoke Woolen Mill

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

Schaghticoke Woolen Mill from 1889 Bird’s Eye View

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Schaghticoke Woolen Mill, 1876 map

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

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James E. Pinkham

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

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Schaghticoke Powder Mill From Sylvester 1880

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

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Grant Fan and Cradle Mill from Sylvester 1880

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Susan Lounsberry Wing Button, second wife of William Pitt Button

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

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illustration from Sylvester’s “History of Rensselaer County”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tombstone of John Quackenbush in Elmwood Cemetery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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just one example of Brussels carpet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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New School, village of Hart’s Falls

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

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

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Union Free School, village of Schaghticoke

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

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

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

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

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

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Why a back view of the Episcopal Church?

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marching to Victory

 

 

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

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

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“USS Calamares” transported troops and supplies to Europe

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

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

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Charles Waldron, killed in action April 12, 1918

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

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Frederick Harrigan

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

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

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

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

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

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German U-Boat

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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Giles Slocum, NYS World War I Veterans Service Data

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

4th liberty loan

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

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

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

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Breaking the Hindenburg Line

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“USS Wyoming”, dreadnought battleship

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

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Francis Van Buren, NYS WWI Veterans Service Data

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

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Daniel McMahon, from the Troy “Daily Times”

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

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

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77th Division Victory Parade in NYC

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

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

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

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Inside the Palace of Versailles, signing of the treaty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Schaghticoke in the American Revolution: A New Perspective on the Death of Major VanVeghten

 

How do we accurately know and report what happened in the past? We learned in school that we should consult primary sources- oral histories; diaries; newspaper reporting; birth, death and marriage certificates, etc. – things created by the people who participated in the events.  Of course, we know that everyone experiences an event differently, people’s memories can be faulty, and recorders make errors, so even primary sources can be inaccurate or incomplete. Then historians put together the information in the primary sources and write journal articles and books- creating secondary sources. I know as a historian who does this herself that it is very hard to be totally objective in this process, and I am always worried there is more information to find. In fact, some writers of history have a deliberate bias. As students, we mostly depended on secondary sources of information when we learned history, along with lectures from teachers with different levels of ability and knowledge. So what we know is certainly a fuzzy snapshot of the past.

So a new source of primary information on a long-ago event is welcome, and surprising.  One of the classic tales in the history of Schaghticoke during the American Revolution is that of the murder and scalping of Major VanVeghten.  As the story goes, Dirck or Derrick VanVeghten, a Major in the 14th Albany County Militia, our local regiment, made a trip to check on his farm, near the Knickerbacker Mansion, just before the battle of Saratoga, in summer 1777. The 14th was based at Stillwater, helping transport supplies for the American Army across the Hudson. VanVeghten and his aide, Solomon Acker, were attacked by a group of Indians and Tories. VanVeghten was killed and scalped, but Acker escaped. He returned with help to retrieve the Major’s body. VanVeghten was shot through the tobacco box, which was preserved by his family.

Acker gave a simple version of the tale in his Revolutionary War pension application in 1832, placing it in July 1777, but told a longer story which long outlived him, making it into Sylvester’s “History of Rensselaer County” in 1880 and elsewhere, with some variation.  Acker’s tale is a good example both of traumatic events being seared into a person’s memory for life, and the possibility of a bit of change and embroidery of the tale over the passing years.

Recently, a gentleman named Charlie Frye, who has a blog called “Duty in the Call of Liberty,” wrote to tell me of a version of the story told in the “History of the town of Wilton, New Hampshire,” published in 1888. It includes the narrative of another long-lived Revolutionary War veteran, Joseph Gray. Gray’s narrative had been recorded in 1839. As a youth of 16, he marched as part of the 3rd New Hampshire Regiment to Ticonderoga in May, 1777. They retreated before the British General Burgoyne down the Hudson Valley, destroying bridges to slow the British advance.  Once they reached Stillwater, about the beginning of August, a detachment, including Gray, was sent to Schaghticoke, “a small Dutch village.” This would have been the settlement around the Knickerbocker Mansion- where there was a church- near the junction of current route 67 and Knickerbocker Road- and a small log fort. The “inhabitants being alarmed at the appearance of savages who were lurking about, sent for a detachment of troops to guard them off.” I have read in the pension files of local militia men that they were either assigned to guard supplies at Stillwater or help move artillery from Fort Edward to Stillwater at this time. If they had been at Stillwater, one might think they would have been able to return to help their families, but perhaps not. They were in the Army, after all, and subject to orders. Hence the need for the New Hampshire men, who were not militia but Continental troops.

american indian rev war

Perhaps this is the kind of “white frock” the Indians were wearing

Residents of the farms from the area had gathered together for safety.   Gray was on guard that night, sitting near the Dutch Reformed Church, “on a beautiful level plain,” now the Weir Farm. If the men saw anything moving they were to yell, then if they got no answer, to shoot. They had been told that the Indians were wearing “white frocks”, probably long, loose linen jackets. He saw something white coming towards him in the starlight and shouted, “Who comes there?” No answer. After three hails, he fired, and found he had shot a “meager white faced bull.”

The next day, two of the local farmers, among those gathered near the church, rode their horses to their farms, “about ¾ of a mile distant,” to get some provisions. The soldiers soon heard “the well-known report of Indian fusees (muskets), and were much alarmed for the safety of the men.” One of them soon rode in at full speed, calling for help. His friend had been shot and scalped, his throat cut. The New Hampshire commander, Major Ellis, called for reinforcements, and the militia men escorted the  villagers four miles down the river “to a place of safety,” presumably Lansingburgh. Gray went on to fight in the battle of Saratoga, then on to other battles of the war with his militia.

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In 1840, Gray’s narrative was published in a magazine in New Hampshire, “The Farmers’ Cabinet.” A resident of Schaghticoke, Mr. B.A. Peavey, wrote to the magazine in reply.  Peavey was inspired by the article to speak to elderly residents of town to see if they knew of this incident. Amazingly, Peavey reported speaking to Major Vanvecton(sic), “aged between 70 and 80”, who remembered the man shot by the Indians. “His name was Siperly;” “the man who came riding back was Old Poiser.” VanVecton even showed Peavey where Siperly had fallen, on the “bank of the Tompanock Creek, where a point of the hill presses the road close to the creek.”

He added that “immediately after the death of Siperly, Major Knickerbocker of the settlement sent his negro to the North River…where some of the neighbors were engaged in placing their property aboard of boats to secure it from the enemy.” Major VanVecton’s father and Solomon Ackerth (sic) started for the settlement. They were shot at by Indians, and “Vanvecton received two balls in his thigh, which passed through his tobacco box in his breeches pocket, and he fell…Ackerth shot one Indian and killed him…took VanVecton’s gun and wounded another.”

Major VanVecton had preserved the tobacco box with the bullet hole. His father had lived just to the south of the Dutch Reformed Church.  Another informant, “Black Tom,” presumably an African-American, was 12 at the time and told Peavey he remembered the bull being killed.

So, let’s look at each part of this wonderful statement. Certainly, this account emphasizes how dangerous it was in Schaghticoke in summer 1777. It also confirms the story of Solomon Acker about the death of Major Derrick VanVeghten, and adds the death of another man. It also makes it seem that Derrick VanVeghten and Solomon Acker went to check on the beleaguered citizens of Schaghticoke, probably including their own wives and small children, rather than just checking on VanVeghten’s property.

First, as to the man writing the letter to the “Farmers Cabinet,” there was a Benjamin A. Pevey living in Schaghticoke in 1840. In the 1850 US census, he was a 54-year old laborer, with a wife and many children. He moved to New Hampshire by 1860 and died in Massachusetts in 1864. Second, as to the “Major Vanvecton” who was the informant, I feel this was John, son of the man killed, Derrick VanVechten. John was born in 1773 and lived until 1860 in Schaghticoke as a wealthy farmer. He did serve in the local militia, though I cannot find he was a Major- perhaps there was an exaggeration of his rank. But he could have been Pevey’s informant.

As to the man who died, Siperly, there was one Sipperly, Jacob, on the roster of the 14th Albany County Militia, but he survived the war. But there were other Sipperlys in town. “Old Poiser” could be Piser, I suppose, and there were Pisers in town early on. For example, a Christian Piser is buried in the Lutheran Church in town. He died in 1800 aged 77. There are just not death records, newspapers, nor surviving tombstones from that era. Plus, Sipperly and Piser were Lutherans, who lived in the Melrose/Pittstown area, so would they have been over near the Dutch Reformed Church? Perhaps they too had moved to what was then the town center for protection? We just won’t know, I think.

Returning to the letter, of course, there wasn’t a Tompanock Creek, but Tomhannock, so we know there was an error here. But the Tomhannock is close to the road along Buttermilk Falls Road today, where there is a hill on the east side, making the location a possibility. It is also interesting that Major Knickerbocker’s “negro” was sent to the North River- this was certainly the Hudson River- and the North River was another name for it. He was actually Colonel Knickerbocker, a higher rank. The VanVechtens did live just south of the church.  And finally, “Black Tom” , who remembered the incident with the “murder” of the bull, was certainly Thomas Mando, who began life as a slave of the Knickerbockers, born about 1767, and lived on in town until at least 1850, when he appeared in the census at age 83. So it seems that much of this account is possible, and perhaps probable.

knickerbocker harpers 7

This article from Harper’s Magazine in 1876 was all about the Knickerbockers of Schaghticoke. Was this supposed to be “Black Tom”?

In doing more research as a result of reading Gray’s account, I found that there was lots of confusion about the murder of VanVeghten in the Van Veghten family itself. “Genealogical Records of the VanVeghten Family”, by Peter VanVeghten (1900) tells a wildly inaccurate version.  In this version, Major Derrick was part of a group including a Colonel Solomon Acker, that pursued the party of Indians and Tories who had murdered Jane McCrea near Fort Edward. As you may remember from middle school, Jane McCrea was the fiancée of a Tory soldier in the British Army and was killed and scalped by Indian allies of the British while being taken to him on July 27, 1777. Her fate was one of the rallying cries which brought American militiamen to fight at the battle of Saratoga.

vanvechten bullet pouch

Illustration from “Spirit of ’76”- now calling the tobacco box a “bullet pouch”

This VanVeghten story promotes Solomon Acker to a Colonel, includes a wild image of the tobacco box,  labeled “Major Derrick VanVeghten 1777”, which it states is in the possession of Henry C. VanVechten of Racine, Wisconsin, a great-great grandson. It adds a quote from the “Troy Telegram” of July 21, 1882: “the bones of Lieut. VanVechten were accidentally exhumed at Fort Edward yesterday by workmen…VanVechten was a soldier…and was killed while in pursuit of the party who murdered Jane McCrea.  He was buried on the brow of the hill near the spot where he fell…the ball was still in the skull when found.”  It seems this story really is about a Tobias VanVeghten, who was a Lieutenant in Colonel Goose VanSchaick’s Batallion, the 2nd NY Regiment in the Continental Army. Tobias and some others were based near Fort Edward and were attacked by a group of Native Americans who were rampaging in the area and were probably those who killed Jane McCrea as well. So this happened on July 27, 1777. Tobias was buried near the spot where he fell.

The inaccurate story in the VanVeghten genealogy also appears in “The Spirit of ‘76”, written in 1896, as a part of a longer article about VanVeghten family and memorabilia, and completely shifts the story from Schaghticoke,  to a Derrick VanVeghten who has now become a Major in the Tryon County militia regiment of Cornelius VanVeghten, with Colonel Solomon Acker. The tobacco box remains but now is pewter.  There was a Lt. Col. Cornelius VanVeghten, but he was with the 13th Albany County Militia. I have found no Colonel Acker. One possible source of the some of the confusion could be that the death of Major Dirck VanVeghten of the 14th Albany County Militia on August 8, 1777, is reported in a list of casualties in a Tryon County regiment at Oriskany on August 6   (Documents relating to the colonial history of the state of New York vol XV, Albany 1887- appendix, p 549). Indeed, a photo of the tobacco box was exhibited at a World’s Fair in Wisconsin in 1893, labelled as from Major VanVeghten, who died at the battle of Oriskany.

So I can conclude that the great article in the Wilton history confirms the very dramatic story of Major Derrick VanVeghten and his aide Solomon Acker riding near the Denison Farm on Buttermilk Falls Road on August 8, 1777, when they were set upon by a few Indians. The Major was shot, killed, and scalped. Acker escaped and returned with help to retrieve his body- and his tobacco box- . It adds the information that another local man was murdered the day before and that the settlers of our little town were evacuated to Lansingburgh with the help of the New Hampshire Militia.  Just to wrap up the story, Major VanVeghten’s wife, Alida Knickerbocker, lived on until 1819, his son John reported the events in 1840. Solomon Acker lived in Schaghticoke until 1836, when, at age 83, he moved to Connecticut to live with his son David. He is recorded there in the 1840 census, listed as 90, but died before 1850.

The Political Equality Club of Valley Falls

 

2017 marks the 100th anniversary of woman’s suffrage in New York State. In November of that year, the state’s men voted to give women the right to vote. The 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which extended suffrage to all eligible women in the country, was not adopted until 1920.

The Woman’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, NY in 1848 is often marked as the start of the woman suffrage movement. A group of like-minded women issued their “Declaration of Sentiments”, a listing of their goals, at that event. It was authored by one of the best-known leaders of the movement, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, of Johnstown. Of course the other leader of the movement was Susan B. Anthony, who spent her formative years near Greenwich. Women were prompted to begin working for their own rights after participating in two other reform movements of the 1800’s:  for the abolition of slavery and for temperance.

The Civil War derailed the woman suffrage movement, and when the war was over, the abolitionists, who had been partners with the suffragists, abandoned the women to call only for black men to get the vote, which occurred with the passage of the 15th amendment in 1870. This was the first time the word “male” appeared in the U.S. Constitution. Suffragists were very bitter at this development. They had worked hard for abolition, but the men must not have truly supported their wish for women to get the vote.

There was some national progress: the territory of Wyoming adopted woman suffrage in 1869, Utah in 1870, Colorado in 1893, and Idaho in 1896. New York adopted a measure to allow women to vote in school elections in 1892. There were a couple of national organizations working for woman suffrage, but not much progress was made. The movement was divided. Some women concentrated only on getting the vote, while others advocated for the vote plus other woman’s rights, such as equal pay for equal work.

After 1890, the various organizations joined into the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony were still among the leaders, though by this time getting to be quite elderly.

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the elderly superstars of woman’s suffrage, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton

At the same time, people in the U.S. started to have more and more free time, as there was increasing mechanization of work. Both men and women responded by forming and joining clubs and organizations of all kinds. Many organizations were formed within churches; men also had both the Masons and the Odd Fellows; men and women began card playing clubs, etc. etc.

The national woman suffrage organization encouraged women to form Political Equality clubs. There were at least thirty around New York State by 1906. The earliest area club was in Easton, formed in 1891. Susan B. Anthony’s sister Mary influenced the formation of the club and encouraged it over the years. One of the members of the club was Blanche Stover Clum of Schaghticoke and Valley Falls. She was active in Easton until 1902, when an article in the Schuylerville “Standard” reported her giving the prayer at a meeting.

 

 

Who knows what the spark was, but Blanche and other women in the Valley Falls/Schaghticoke area formed their own club on May 13, 1903. The first President was Lucy Thompson, followed by Blanche. Lucy Allen, the main force behind the Easton club, described them as a “large and influential group of women.”

Let me tell you a bit about the first President of the Political Equality Club and about its guiding light.

Lucy Larkin Thompson

                Lucy was the second wife of mill owner James Thompson, Sr. James came to the U.S. from Ireland as a grown man, experienced in textile manufacturing. He began the Thompson Mill in the village of Valley Falls about 1875. This was the biggest employer of local residents for many years. James’ first wife, Isabel, had died in 1879.

According to the marriage certificate, Lucy was born in Joliet, Illinois in 1853, the daughter of Benjamin and Ruth Larkin. She lived in Jonesville, Michigan when they were married in 1882. I have no idea how they would have met. They had one son, Leslie. James died in 1899, aged 66. As of the 1905 census, Lucy, age 51, and son Leslie, 21, lived in the village of Valley Falls. Her stepson, James, who took over the mill from his father, lived next door with his wife Carrie, and five children.

I can only imagine that Blanche Stover Clum would have asked Lucy to become involved with the new Political Equality Club as she was one of the most prominent women in the village and might inspire others to join. Lucy was the first President of the group, from 1903 to 1906. She was also one of the first trustees of the Valley Falls Library Association, formed in 1905. The first village library was in a room at the Thompson Mill.

Lucy moved to New York City about 1910. Thereafter she made frequent visits to Valley Falls, and traveled to Europe.   Lucy died in 1934, age 81. I believe she was interred in Elmwood Cemetery with her husband, though her death date was not added to the stone.

Now let me move on to the real force behind the Valley Falls Political Equality Club, Blanche Stover Clum.

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She was the daughter of farmers Daniel and Anna Bryan Stover of Pittstown. Her sisters Edith Stover Gifford and Lois Stover Bassett were also involved in the club as was her sister-in-law Lora, wife of her brother Peter Stover. Lora was President for many years.

Blanche was born in 1867. The first thing I ever heard about Blanche was that when the new bridge across the Hoosic River at Valley Falls was completed in 1891, she rode her horse across the bridge first, by-passing the assembled dignitaries. I have not found any written account of this; the Troy paper notes that farmer Charles Sherman, who had provided much of the wood used in the construction, was by chance the first to drive his horse and wagon across the bridge; but the story is a very important one to Blanche’s descendants, and it marks her as a woman meaning to stand apart from the crowd.

Blanche married farmer Frank Clum in 1893. He was also born in 1867,  the son of Ira and Susan Clum of Brunswick. By 1880 he lived with his grandparents, farmers in Pittstown, following the death of his mother. Blanche and Frank had two children, Paul, born in 1896, and Daniel, born in 1898. They farmed on Master Street in the town of Schaghticoke. Neighbors included Ella Fort and Jennie and Hattie Stark, who would become charter members of the Political Equality Club.

As I said earlier, at some point, Blanche became involved in the Easton Political Equality Club, and in May 1903 she was the moving force behind the formation of the new Political Equality Club in Valley Falls. She was the second President, and always held some sort of office in the club. She also represented the group at county and state conventions of suffrage organizations and of the State Federation of Women’s Clubs. She was very active in the Methodist Church in Valley Falls, a founder of its Women’s Home Missionary Society. In addition, she was very involved with the construction of the Valley Falls Library from about 1906-1913.  It is widely acknowledged that without Blanche, there would have been no club.  A further measure of her importance is that the four volumes of “A History of Woman’s Suffrage” by Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Matilda Josyln Gage, were presented by Susan B. Anthony to Blanche in 1905, inscribed to her by name. Susan intended the books to be used as sources of information and education at meetings of the Political Equality Club.

book

Blanche wrote this poem, first read at the 15th anniversary meeting of the club in May 1918, which is still included in the program booklet of the Woman’s Club:

 

Poem: “Our Voyage” by B. Clum

Listen my friends and you shall hear

Of a Suffrage Club we hold so dear.

It was on May 13, 1903

When we organized for Equality.

Many are here who remember that date,

When we sailed off in our ship of state.

Rev. Anna Shaw gave us the lead,

And Rev. R.A. Dearstyne bid us God speed.

Our sailing, my friends, was not all fair.

We met with obstacles everywhere.

The antis tried our ship to wreck,

But we cleverly swept them from the deck.

They followed us in every zone.

To tell us “Woman’s place is home.”

But this is past, I’m glad to relate,

And we’ll all make good in the Empire State.

We soon joined the Federation fleet,

Which made our journey more complete,

To be a part of this great crew,

Gave us courage and life anew.

For 15 years we weathered the blast,

13 charter members held fast.

15 youngsters, we’re proud to say

Came to cheer us on our way.

On November 6, 1917,

Our longed for pact was plainly seen.

We landed our ship “Democracy,”

In the land of the brave and the home of the free.

Our aim accomplished, we now change our name,

But to work for humanity just the same.

Ready to do our bit when duty calls,

Long live the “Woman’s Club”

Of Valley Falls and Vicinity.

 

Returning to Blanche’s biography, in February 1911, she and husband Frank Clum had an auction. In March, Blanche’s sister Lois and her husband Clarence Bassett, newlyweds, moved onto the farm. Blanche and Frank moved into the village of Valley Falls where he ran a garage. They may have moved closer to school for their growing boys; Frank may have been ready to quit farming; or perhaps the move was to put Blanche closer to the action. At the same time, the Clums joined Blanche’s sister Edith and her husband Frank Gifford in Orlando, Florida for the winters. The Giffords had a hotel there. I think that Blanche was increasingly unwell, but the newspapers are full of her activities with various organizations in Valley Falls. Once the U.S. entered World War I in 1917, she was active in war work as well.

Blanche died of heart disease in August 1919 at her sister Edith’s home. Her obituary called her “a woman of exceptional ability.” While she saw New York State adopt suffrage in 1917, sadly, she did not survive to see the passage of the national amendment in 1920.

 

 

Returning to the club itself, the idea of a Political Equality Club raises a number of questions for us today. Who were these women? What were their goals? Did their husbands support them? What did they do? What were their meetings like?

I have already spoken about the first two Presidents of the group. I found in general, that the founding members either lived near each other- on Masters Street in Schaghticoke, or in the village of Valley Falls; or were related to each other- sisters, sisters-in-law, cousins; or shared membership in the Methodist Church, in Valley Falls or Melrose. A number were among the early members of the lineage organization, the Daughters of the American Revolution. Most were married, but a few were spinsters. A few were exceptionally wealthy, like Lucy Thompson, most were comfortable, like the Stovers, a few were wives of laborers.   I have written brief biographies of all of the charter members and those listed in the first surviving program, from 1906-1907. It is a bit difficult to find out lots of information about some of the women, as they are hidden by their married names.

So what were their goals?  Lucy Allen of Easton said, “Let no man or woman be mistaken as to what this movement for woman’s suffrage really means. We, none of us, want to turn the world upside down or to convert women into men.  We desire women, on the contrary, to continue womanly in the highest and best sense…and to bring their true women’s influence on behalf of whatsoever things are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, and of good report, to bear upon the conduct of public affairs.” She added, “the elevating of women means the elevating of humanity.” “The majority of us farmers’ wives here in Easton and our husbands are perfect…our tendency is to forget that Easton isn’t the whole world, and there are other women not as we are.” “We want to get rid of this fallacy that marriage is a state of being supported…he begins and she completes the making of their joint wealth. Their dependence is mutual. “I would think that women in Easton and Valley Falls would have the same thoughts.

The Troy “Times” reported extensively on the Second Annual Meeting of the Rensselaer County Political Equality Club, which was held at the Melrose Methodist Church in May 1907. Apparently there were attendees from just Troy and Valley Falls/Schaghticoke. The speaker was Reverend Anna Howard Shaw, M.D. Having Rev. Shaw speak was like having Governor Cuomo come to a Pittstown Town Board meeting. She was the President of the National Woman’s Suffrage Association. This was certainly a measure of the importance of the group in the area. In her remarks, Rev. Shaw stated, “When we women are going out into the world with the men, what we want is justice, and we will let the hand-kissing chivalry go.”

Mrs. Anna Snyder of Melrose delivered the address of welcome at this event. She declared “it would not be long before a Declaration of Independence would be adopted which would include women as well as men.” She thought it unfair for women to be compelled to pay taxes and not be given the privilege of voting.  “Under the present laws, women have no more rights than children.”

The archive of the Political Equality Club, located in the Valley Falls Library, includes notes on the resolutions adopted by that convention:

  • Women workers need the ballot to work for better working conditions for themselves and their children, also working
  • There should be equal pay for equal work for women and men
  • Taxation without representation is tyranny
  • Congress needs to pass an amendment to the constitution enfranchising women

The following October, there was a convention of the Political Equality Clubs of Rensselaer and Washington Counties at the Methodist Church in Valley Falls. Lucy Allen, founder of the Easton club, stated, “the old saying, ‘Man works from sun to sun, but woman’s work is never done’, is literally true. The farmer pays his man $30 a month …How is it with the woman this farmer employs, if he employs any? He pays her $15 per month, just half…..You all remember the picture of an ideally happy home circulated by our opponents (the anti-suffragists) It showed the father and husband reclining at ease in a chair with feet elevated, reading the evening paper; the older children clustered around the piano, enjoying their music, while the mother and wife jogged the cradle wherein lay the sleeping baby with her foot, while her hands were busy darning her husband’s socks. This picture was intended to illustrate the general beatified state that ensued when woman stayed at home where she belonged…but our opponents…showed plainly the subjection of woman in the household.“ Of course her point was that the woman was still doing two jobs at once while everyone else relaxed.

And Mary Holliday, of the Valley Falls club, described the progress that women had made over the past half century, gaining entrance to colleges and some professions, and gaining more rights as married women among other items. She summed up what seemed to be the goals of the club: to get the vote and to defend other women less fortunate than themselves, with a goal for general equality of men and women in education and pay.  I have to say that the speeches sound very modern to my ears.

And what about the husbands? Most of the women in the club were married, some with children. A few were very wealthy and had servants. Some of the others had a hired girl. So there would be some access to child care. But most were middle class. The ones with children would need support to attend meetings during the day. And all would need to have their membership in the club supported by their spouses to be happy in their marriages. The fact that they did attend ..and stay married…is proof of that to me. But I also found reports in the newspaper of some evening meetings of the group where attendance was reported at fifty or sixty, many more than the usual numbers of members. One of the reports, from October 1914, reported on an evening “banquet” at the home of Mr and Mrs George Lohnes.  Members and their husbands were entertained, a total of sixty people.  This was not just an evening of entertainment.  There was a full meeting of the club, with a report on the recent convention of women’s clubs, readings on suffrage, an outline of the work for suffrage in the state, plus singing by several women and “parlor pastimes.”  Mary Lohnes and Mrs. Schuyler Hayner prepared the food. I want to know what they prepared and how they managed to seat sixty people for dinner.

The club’s program for 1912-13 included a “social” at the new Valley Falls library in December with “gentlemen invited.” One particularly interesting- sounding event was a “birthday evening.” There were tables for each month of the year, and members and their husbands were seated at the table decorated for the month of their birthdays. What a great way to socialize with different people than usual! This was so popular that it was repeated. I think that a birthday club grew out of it, which existed just to celebrate the birthdays of the members.  But my point is that these events show that the husbands were clearly partners in the effort for suffrage.

So what did the women do? Well, they met at least monthly on the second Wednesday of each month, sometimes at members’ homes, sometimes at the Valley Falls Methodist Church. They elected officers yearly, with a lot of change from year to year. The “order of exercises” at club meetings given in the programs was singing, prayer, reports of committees, and business. They often had a roll call of members, which was answered in a different way each month: from giving a quote of a famous person, like Susan B. Anthony, or a poet, like Longfellow, to reporting a current event or suffrage fact. This was followed by suffrage news, a bit of entertainment, for example a recitation of a poem or a song or piano solo, and some sort of speech, designed to educate the members on something- for example, “Historic Lake George,” “How Christmas is Celebrated in Different Countries,” “Prison Reform,” etc.

It’s hard to tell what actual suffrage work they did from the programs. We know from newspaper articles that some members attended county, state, and national conventions of women’s clubs and suffrage organizations, or even a convention for peace- this just before the U.S. entrance into World War I. Programs sometimes included reports on legislative work, which implies that members might have been lobbying in Albany.  The Easton club members subscribed to the national suffrage newspaper, made items for a National Suffrage Bazaar in New York City, and briefly opened a little shop in Easton which sold ice cream and items the women had made- all to make money to donate to the national suffrage organization for its work. I imagine the Valley Falls women raised money in some of the same ways. Many of them were doing similar things for the Methodist Church, raising money for home and foreign missions, or working against overuse of alcohol as members of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union.

In addition, only a year after its founding, the Political Equality Club voted to use some of the money it had in the bank to begin a library in Valley Falls. There had been some work towards a library for a couple of years, but the club was really the catalyst. In 1906, a small library was begun in Thompson’s Mill. Many members of the club participated in all of the following activities which resulted in the purchase of the lot by the community and the funding of the building by the Gaffney family. It was dedicated in 1915.

The Political Equality Club changed its name as soon as New York State adopted suffrage in 1917, to the Woman’s Club of Valley Falls and Vicinity. It had been associated with the State Federation of Woman’s Clubs since 1906 and the General Federation since 1926.  It became independent in 1996. With the fight for suffrage over, the club moved on to develop a scholarship fund in 1930, and a child welfare program in 1932.  It has been involved in fighting TB and working with public health, the Salvation Army, disaster relief, local churches, missionary work, camps, and the USO in the   World War II.

 

I am the current president of the Woman’s Club of Valley Falls and Vicinity. I can report that it still meets during the day on the second Wednesday of the month, though not every month. The program still features a prayer, a song- though it is always “God Bless America, plus the pledge of allegiance. We always pray for community members who need it. And we have a program designed to educate us. We do not report on current politics, though we have had a number of local office holders speak to us. We do raise money for charity, focusing on the local food pantry, Military Mom in Action, and Ronald McDonald House, and give a small scholarship to a Hoosic Valley student. Our members are mostly married, mostly elderly-though any age woman would be welcome- and of varied backgrounds and experiences. There are still some relatives, some Methodists, and some women who are neighbors, but women live from Melrose to Easton to Johnsonville and Stillwater, a larger area than at the start.  It really is a remarkable survival.

 

 

Centennial of the U.S. Entry into World War I: the Schaghticoke response

WWI statue

the World War I memorial in the village of Schaghticoke. My husband John Kelly imitating it. 

Before beginning this story, I need to urge you to go to the New York State Museum in Albany and see the World War I exhibit there. There are great objects and the posters are incredible. The exhibit will be there through spring 2018.

War in Europe had raged between the Allies and the Axis since summer 1914. By spring 1917 there had been almost two years of fierce fighting in Europe, with thousands and thousands and thousands of soldiers slaughtered on both sides. Meanwhile, the U.S. had stayed neutral. President Woodrow Wilson had attempted unsuccessfully to broker peace. Public opinion in the U.S.was divided on our entry into the war. German immigrants were of course opposed to fighting their former country. Many Irish immigrants did not want to support Britain, which was also fighting the independence of Ireland. This was the height of the Women’s Suffrage Movement, and many women were in favor of peaceful solutions. There were many other pacifists in the country.  But many descendants of British immigrants, industrialists, and others supported US entry into the war on the side of Great Britain. Others were appalled at the atrocities committed by German troops against civilians in Belgium. Through 1915 a “Preparedness” movement developed in the US, with many figuring that we would enter the war on the side of the Allies eventually and should begin the buildup of our military.

hun

1917 found the Allied and Axis Armies entrenched facing each other across the Western Front, which stretched from Belgium in the north, south eastward through France. Who knows what would have happened next, but finally the U.S. declared war on German on April 6, 1917. The Troy “Times”, which would have been the most important local paper here in Schaghticoke reported the debate in the U.S. Congress fully, quoting the text of the war resolution. The immediate reasons for the declaration were German resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare- meaning they would attempt to sink any non-German ship, civilian or naval- and the Zimmerman telegram, in which German offered an alliance with Mexico if she would declare war on the U.S. Mexico would regain the territory lost in the Mexican-American War after their victory.  This almost surely would not have happened, but it was an example of German intentions world-wide that startled the U.S., to say the least.

 

But the declaration of war didn’t mean that U.S. troops would get to Europe any time soon. The Allies wanted U.S. troops to be integrated with the French and British armies, but U.S. commanders resisted that strongly. They had seen the seemingly callous sacrifice of thousands and thousands of young men in meaningless battles and wanted U.S. commanders to have control over their own troops. In addition, in 1915 the U.S. Army only numbered 100,000, the National Guard only 112,000. It would take time to build a military big enough for the war.  14,000 troops reached France by the end of June, 1917, but this was a token force.

Certainly there had been planning in case the US entered the war, but the day after it happened, action began. Locally, the 2nd Regiment National Guard, based in Troy, was called to duty to protect railroad stations, bridges, and canals, which could be sensitive to sabotage. Schools held exercises where children could demonstrate their patriotism and loyalty. The newspaper gave instructions on how to hang the American flag properly. And a preemptive measure called for all German subjects in the country who obeyed U.S. laws to be protected from harassment. There was a Naval preparedness parade to encourage enlistment in that service. People were urged to transform vacant lots into gardens. Very locally, April 13, the Melrose Grange announced a meeting for the following week, with patriotic speeches and music. As many people as possible were requested to carry flags and express loyalty to the country “in every way.”

On April 5, the U.S. Army and Navy requested 3,400,000 men. More realistically the government sought to raise an Army of one million in one year and two million in two years. Part of this would be through filling the National Guard to war strength of more than 500,000 by instituting the draft, unless there were enough volunteers. And part of this would be by drafting men to the regular Army and Navy. The initial goal was to assemble the first 500,000 draftees for five months of training by August or September, then 500,000 more by April 1918.

Front and back of the draft card of Sophus Djernes of Pittstown.

On May 26, the Troy “Times” announced there would be a mandatory registration for the draft of all men aged 21-30   throughout the entire country on June 5. All men of those ages must register that day, unless they were already in the military. Though this was boosted as a PUBLIC DUTY, it was pointed out that those who did not register would be subject to imprisonment. Those absent from home could register where they were and have the registrar mail the card home. The registrars themselves were volunteers. I looked at two in Schaghticoke. John Butler was a 24-year-old cigar maker and auto mechanic. He was a draftee himself, but died of pneumonia on the ship to France. Elbridge Snyder was in his forties, a food merchant in town.  And the National League for Women’s Service supplied 250 volunteers locally to tabulate the results, set to work from June 10 to September 10. (In the event, the task was done much more quickly.) On June 4, the paper printed a sample card, and on June 6 it reported that the draft had gone smoothly.

Incredibly, more than 10,000,000 men registered for the draft on June 5, 1917 across the nation. This was a huge task organized and completed incredibly quickly it seems to me. Of these 1 million would be drafted, with a goal of 687,000 passing the minimal physical and not being declared exempt. The Troy “Times” reported that “several Spaniards in Pittstown refused to register at first,” but soon complied. Who were they??? Meanwhile, there were many voluntary enlistments in the 2nd Infantry, the local National Guard regiment at Troy. 3,455 men registered in Rensselaer County outside Troy. The pre-draft estimate had been about 1,000 more than that.

The June 6 Troy “Times” reported that “registrars came to the County Clerk’s Office last night to file their returns.” The Sheriff provided coffee, sandwiches and salads and cigars. Schaghticoke district 1 had 77 men, District 2, 43, District 3, 54, and District 4, 48, for a total of 227. Pittstown district 1 registered 53 men, district 2, 43, district 3, 27, district 4, 34, and district 5, 15, for a total of 172 men. Half the men who enrolled claimed exemptions. In general men who were married were granted exemptions, but many others were not. I have come across a number of local farmers who asked for agricultural exemptions, which were not granted. Other sons asked for exemptions as the support of aged parents. Those do not seem to have been granted either. Of course some men were rejected for disability of some sort.

The June 7 Troy “Times” announced a further state military census, of all men 16-51, to be taken on June 11. I write about this because the census takers, more volunteers, were women from an amazing list of organizations: the Home Defense League, the NYS Women’s Suffrage Party, the Salvation Army, the National League for Women’s Services, the Troy Auxiliary of the NYS Association Opposed to Suffrage, the Soldiers’ Welfare League, the Ladies’ Catholic Benevolent Association, the Philip Schuyler Chapter of the DAR, the Women’s University Club, and American Society of Civil engineers, and school teachers. Suffrage for women passed in November 1917, hence the presence of the pro- and anti-suffrage groups in the list.

By June 23, the newspaper reported that everyone who had registered for the draft had been assigned a number. The numbers would be drawn in Washington, D.C., and would be telegraphed to the home districts, with men next on the list stepping up in the case of exemptions. The exemptions were to be left up to each draft board. It seems to me that there wasn’t adequate thought behind how this would all work. The draft districts were of vastly different sizes across the country, up to over 10,000 men, so numbers couldn’t be called fairly easily. Not all districts had a number 1000, for example. Finally a very complicated two tier system was assigned, which I don’t fully understand. It took two columns of newsprint to explain.  Numbers were drawn in Washington on July 19 in a marathon 16 hours.

July 28 the first lists of men to be drafted were published. Our district, Rensselaer County outside of Troy, had a quota of 103 men. 206 men were to be called to fill that. Some of the first men from the area to be called were Sophus Djernes, William Engel, Robert Couser, William Roberts, and Charles Madigan of Valley Falls; Earl Cooley of Melrose, and Levi Warren and Walter Ralston of Schaghticoke. Of these men, only Sophus Djernes, Charles Madigan, and Walter Ralston actually served. Earl Cooley failed the physical.  William Roberts had a wife and two children. Charles Madigan claimed a farm exemption but was denied, so he, Sophus, and Walter reported to Hoosick Falls on September 7 and left the next morning by train for Camp Devens, at Ayer, Massachusetts, which had become a military training camp. Wisely, I think, the military started out small, calling only 5% of the quota that first time. I’m sure this let the system get established, and allowed the training camp staff to get used to the process.

Meanwhile, the second contingent of men were being interviewed at their exemption boards day by day. They numbered 40% of the total number to be called in this first draft. This larger group left September 22 from Hoosick Falls, this time with a send-off. A crowd of 3000 gathered at the municipal building in Hoosick Falls, led by the Old Guard Fifes and Drums and other bands. The new recruits paraded to the train station with Provisional Company A of the National Guard in Troy, the members of the Exemption Board, the GAR Post (Civil War veterans), the fire departments, and the Ancient Order of Hibernians.

In mid- August, the “Times Union” began publishing a “Home Reading course for Citizen Soldiers,” developed by the War Department. There were thirty lessons, one a day, designed to prepare men to be soldiers- and perhaps to let their families understand what would be expected of them as well.

The third contingent of men, 100,000 nationally, began to report to camps on October 3. Again there was a big send-off in Hoosick Falls on October 6. Ray Sherman of Melrose was one of two men in charge of the group of recruits, who paraded to the train station watched by 4,000 spectators and accompanied by the GAR, fire companies, the St. George Lutheran Society, the Hibernians, and hundreds of citizens, amid the din of many auto horns, whistles, and bells. The local men were Hamlin Coleman, Charles Rubeck, Francis O’Connor, and James VanDetto of Schaghticoke, and Arthur Turner of Melrose. Arthur was killed in battle the following July.

James Van Detto pic

James VanDetto

Meanwhile, on July 15, 1917, the National Guard was called into federal service, to report August 5. First, the soldiers reported to their armories, then went on to be trained at various forts. Our local National Guard unit, the 2nd Infantry, had already been active as stated above, guarding sensitive locations like bridges and reservoirs. And in 1916 some of the men had been deployed in the Punitive Expedition against Pancho Villa on the Mexican border, so they had a bit of experience. The 2nd, which was renamed the 105th US Infantry, was to be sent to Camp Wadsworth, South Carolina, as part of the 27th Infantry Division.

In what may have been the first local fatality of the war, James B. Davis, a new recruit in the 2nd Infantry- soon to be the 105th– was killed in a cannon firing on the lawn of the Valley Falls House for the 4th of July. Though the cannon was not loaded with a cannon ball,  the powder keg was left in the path of the cannon, and when he jumped to move it, the cannon fired, the wadding hit him and the keg, and it exploded. This story appeared in the July 5 Troy “Times.” I repeat it, but cannot find a trace of a man by that name in the records. I don’t doubt the event occurred, I just think that the paper got the name wrong. Certainly the second local fatality was Paul Speanburgh of Pittstown, one of three brothers who served in the Army. Paul also enlisted in the 2nd in June. On July 11, he was guarding a bridge in Ballston Spa when he was hit by a passing freight train in the middle of the night and killed. He left a young widow, Grace Lohnes Speanburgh, who lived on until 1979. Paul is buried in Elmwood Cemetery in Schaghticoke.

As August 1917 wore on and the 2nd Infantry prepared to leave for South Carolina, the city of Troy finally organized a parade to say good-bye. By this time the men had reported to a temporary camp in Schenectady, which had planned its own parade. The parade in Troy took place August 26, just two days before the men left for South Carolina.  It started at Union Station, where the men got off the train from Schenectady, and took a very back- and- forth track from there to the main school. Residences and businesses were urged to fly the flag and other patriotic decorations. Families with men serving displayed service flags like we use today, with one star for each man in the family serving. Just the soldiers, about 600, marched in the parade. At the school, the Women’s Auxiliary of the Soldiers Welfare League and the National League of Women’s Service served sandwiches, cake, ice cream, soda and cigarettes. Some of the men went home for the night, others stayed on to attend a baseball game and dance in State Street. Officers were treated to a vaudeville show at Proctor’s. The next day the men returned to Schenectady and departed for the south.

On August 28 the regiment reached a temporary base near Marble Hill in Brooklyn, passing the train ride with a “continuous round of pleasure: singing, reciting, playing jokes,” with food, but, the only problem, no water supplied. On August 30 they participated in a grand parade of the whole 27th Division in New York City. It took them six hours to march from 110th Street to Washington Square. “5th Avenue was packed with humanity” cheering them. All of this was reported in the Troy “Times.”

27thDivParade1

27th Division Parade in New York City

The 2nd/105th went on to camp in South Carolina. The men began strenuous training: trench practice; grenade, bayonet, musketry, sniping, and automatic arms schools; use of machine guns, and the Stokes mortar; gas defense and camouflage. Families could visit the men through the winter, and the men enjoyed the music of seven regimental bands. Popular songs were “Pack up your troubles”, “the Long, long trail,” and “Joan of Arc.” Rather than singing while they marched, the men whistled as a group. A correspondent for the Troy “Times” went to South Carolina and gave frequent reports on the men to the folks back home. For example, in October he reported that each tent in camp had a small stove, ready for winter.

At the same time that the country was working to grow the Armed Forces rapidly, it was also acting to pay for the war. One way was through the Liberty Loan program, the first time the U.S. government issued bonds.  The first Liberty Loan Act, enacted April 24, 1917, just a couple of weeks after war was declared, issued $5 billion in bonds at 3.5% interest. These bonds were sold to citizens. Apparently the loan was not subscribed to with enthusiasm by the country, but you wouldn’t know that from the articles in the Troy “Times,” which reported that bonds were selling well. There was a Liberty Loan rally at the Troy Music Hall on June 9, with patriotic speeches and songs.

The Troy “Times” of October 1 announced that Congress had passed a new war tax on incomes and corporations of about 2%. Postal rates were to go up and further fees were expected. A second Liberty Loan campaign was announced at the same time, with the local amount to be raised pegged at over $7 million. Bonds yielded 4% interest and were payable in 25 years.  This time the government realized that a vigorous ad campaign would be needed to fulfill the target. The newspaper was full of ads of all sizes for the loans, and government representatives came out to organize all the businesses and organizations to go out and urge citizens to buy the bonds. Each type of business had a committee to organize sales, which were made at all the local banks. I have been told that Boy Scouts sold Liberty Loans, but I have not found evidence in the newspaper of that. Bond could be bought in very small denominations, making their purchase possible for nearly everyone.

4 minute men

The federal government had a “Committee on Public Information,” whose purpose was to educate the public on important issues of the day- patriotism, the war. We might call it a propaganda arm of the government. It was certainly one more way to inform more people, and out loud rather than in the newspaper.  Part of this was a group of volunteers organized all over the country, “the 4-minute men,” who delivered the desired content in short talks. In Rensselaer County, a group of “4-minute men”, local businessmen volunteers, were trained to go to organizations, meetings, theatrical performances, churches, etc. to give a four-minute talk on the need to buy bonds. The Troy “Times” reported their presence in theaters in Troy, and at regular meetings of organizations throughout the county.

liberty bonds 2

Bonds were even sold to the troops in training camps.  Slogans included “Every Liberty Bond spikes a German gun,” “If you cannot go across, come across,” and “Liberty Bonds + Liberty Bullet = Victory.” One full page ad showed a caricature of Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany in a spiked helmet with a skull and cross bones on the front. On October 14, the newspaper reported that the Liberty Loan was oversubscribed by more than 50% in Rensselaer County.  Valley Falls residents bought $50,000 worth of bonds.

Another new activity for the country was to support the men of the rapidly growing armed forces. There were plenty of people who remembered the unmet needs of the Civil War soldiers for at least the first year of that war, and the organizations which had grown up only gradually to help them with nursing and personal items. Until that happened, U.S. soldiers had suffered horribly. In this new war, almost immediately the main organization which stepped up was the Red Cross, which had been small up until this time. By the start of June 1917, the Troy “Times” reported the Red Cross was raising money to help take care of soldiers, with a goal of $150,000 in Rensselaer County. This goal was exceeded in less than a month. An article on June 23 reported that an entertainment in Melrose had raised $45. The June 27 Troy “Times” listed all the contributors, most of whom gave $3-$5 each, a considerable sum, though Alexander Diver, the town undertaker, gave $25. The money was to be used in part for yarn and needles for knitted items for the troops, comfort kits for new recruits, and hospital supplies.

Besides raising money, the Red Cross sought to grow its membership.   Through August and September, the newspaper reported the plans of the Rensselaer County organization to fan out around the county and recruit.  Many of the members needed to be women, as a major Red Cross effort was to knit for the troops. I’m not saying men couldn’t knit, but most wouldn’t/didn’t.  The Rensselaer County quota was 5,000 sleeveless sweaters, mufflers, socks, helmets (to be worn under the metal helmets), and wristlets, to be sent to France as soon as possible.  Mrs. T. A. Bryson was the head of the Red Cross knitting unit formed in Schaghticoke. The Troy Soldiers Welfare Division of the Red Cross planned to make 700 knitted sets for the men of the 2nd NY (now the 105th US), including a sweater, scarf, helmet, wristlet, and fingerless mittens. They needed funds of $2000 for the materials, but had plenty of knitters. The Valley Falls Political Equality Club put on a number of card parties whose proceeds were to buy yarn to knit for the local boys in France and Camp Devens.

red cross knitting

By October, a group of Red Cross volunteers set off across the county to recruit members. The men were assigned to speak to any gathering of people, the women to make home visits. They were urged to “make plain what this country would face should Germany win the war,” and talk about the “hardships of the troops in the trenches,” pleading “that everything possible be done to alleviate their suffering.” George Patrick and E. Harold Cluett came out and spoke at the Schaghticoke Odd Fellows Hall one Sunday and the Honorable Frederick Filley and Duncan Kaye spoke at the Melrose Grange. (Troy “Times” Oct 5)

Yet another issue for the country as it mobilized for war was food- its price and availability. From the start, the U.S. Government and its Food Administration, headed by Herbert Hoover, the future President, were concerned about proper rations for troops, food for both civilians and allied soldiers in Europe, and both proper food for people at home and its availability at appropriate prices. Price gouging was nothing new. In August 1917 Congress enacted the Food Control Act to address all of the preceding. During the summer, food prices in the country had increased by 100%.    Measures were taken for the U.S. government to buy the whole upcoming wheat crop of the country and to stabilize the price of sugar. Domino Sugar ads suggested using sugar sparingly- not hoarding but not overusing. The wheat crop in 1917 was very small, aggravating the problems of supply and cost. The Food Administration began by suggesting, then mandating substitution of things like corn meal in recipes demanding wheat to make the crop go farther. The emphasis was on volunteer adoption of regulations by producers, wholesalers, and retailers, but as the year went on, more and more of the preceding were licensed and controlled by the Food Administration. Prices were at first suggested- with “reasonable” profit allowed, then set. Canned goods, so important to the troops, were in especially short supply.

wwi food admin

The Food Administration also addressed consumers. The Troy “Times” printed a series of “Menus that Help the Food Administration”.  They were day-by-day menus for a week that would both help local citizens deal with the “high cost of living” and “increase the supply of staples for our allies and famine stricken countries of Europe.” The menus included the awful-sounding dried bean and peanut butter loaf- using less meat- and corn chowder- which sounds good. Posters urged people to “Win the War by Service in the Home,” and “To Save Democracy: eat less wheat.” Advice was given on eating less wheat, meat, fats, and sugar, using perishables efficiently and canning and drying them, and preaching “the Gospel of the Clean Plate Club.”

Of course war could be profitable for many. The US Government still allowed food producers and processors to make a “reasonable” profit. The newspaper reported that Troy and Cohoes companies were making tents, camp stoves, underwear, hosiery, shirts, and engines for the Army. The Watervliet Arsenal planned to add 3,000 new mechanics to their work force from October 1917 to March 1918, making large caliber field artillery, and needed housing for them and their families. Building that housing would also provide local employment, of course. And of course the workers would spend their paychecks locally.

In Schaghticoke, the effects were mixed. The powder mill, in business since 1813, had been a subsidiary of Hercules Powder since 1912.   Hercules was a huge corporation. In an Army publication a history of explosives used in the war, the author explained that the company made two kinds of black powder: B and rifle. The latter, which was made in Schaghticoke, was more prone to explosion. Hercules claimed this was just a superstition, but when the need for black rifle powder for the Army outstripped the capabilities of the Schaghticoke plant, men at their other sites were scared of changing. A few men from Schaghticoke were imported to the plants in California, Pennsylvania, and Ohio to make the changes needed in the process and teach the workers how to make the powder as safely as possible. Clearly, Schaghticoke was working at full capacity.

On the other hand, another industry essential to the local economy, the Cable Flax Mill, in the village of Schaghticoke, essentially came to a halt.  Its supply of flax came primarily from Belgium, and Germany seized the shipments. It had already had difficulties making the change to using electricity rather than water as a power source- which it had had to do following the construction of the G.E. power dam in 1907, and the lack of flax sounded its death knell.

So in six months, the U.S. Government had declared war, mobilized an Army and outfitted it, and gotten the country’s food supply under control, while its citizens had volunteered and been drafted to fight, organized to help the new soldiers, and adjusted to the new reality of limited food. I will leave the story here, and take up the actual fighting of the U.S. troops in France later.

 

 

 

Give up Demon Drink!!!!

The_Drunkard's_Progress_1846

 

I have written a lot about Schaghticoke in the first half of the 19th century: about its industry, agriculture, religion, schooling, government, but not much about its society, about cultural trends.  One of the major movements of the 1800’s was temperance, meaning either moderation in or abstinence from alcoholic drinks. So far I have found little research and writing about the movement, which is surprising given its importance in the history of our country.  In the Troy “Budget” newspaper from 1834-1854 there are almost 3000 mentions of temperance- proof of its prevalence at even such an early date. I must emphasize that drinking alcohol was clearly a part of 19th century society. To begin with, water often wasn’t pure, so everyone, man, woman, and child, drank an alcoholic alternative. I’m sure you’ve heard that men on sailing ships received a daily ration of grog, as did soldiers in the American Revolution. Even in the records of construction of a new cotton mill on the Hoosic River in 1825, rum and whisky were part of the expenses, a regular part of the daily wages of the workers. There were several taverns in the tiny village of Schaghticoke in the early 1800’s, and a number of “houses” throughout the town where alcohol was served. Town meetings and elections were held in different “houses” over the years, which were literally houses with a bar room.

There were several waves of temperance during the 1800’s through the adoption of the 18th amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1919, which prohibited the manufacture or importation of “intoxicating beverages”. This was repealed by the 21st amendment in 1933, which brought to an end the era known as “Prohibition.”   But to go back to the start, one source I read stated that the Temperance Movement began as early as 1794 in New England, with the first supporters advocating moderation in drink. People could see that excessive drinking led men to lose their jobs, abuse their families, and destroy their health. The early movement got lost in side issues, like advocating for better observance of the Sabbath.

 

temperance

But Connecticut minister Lyman Beecher restarted the temperance movement in 1825 with a number of sermons warning of the dangers of drunkenness to our country. The Presbyterian Church was in general the backbone of the movement.   In 1826 the American Temperance Society was founded in Boston. It sent people out through the whole country to preach about the dangers of drink, and the movement caught fire. By 1831 there were over 2000 temperance societies in the country, with over 170,000 members enrolled. Now abstinence was urged rather than moderation.

At first the American Temperance Society preached to moderate drinkers, encouraging them to give up alcohol, making it up to the individual to have self -control. As time went on, people were encouraged to sign “the teetotal pledge,” to give up alcohol entirely, and members began to lobby the government to adopt legislation to limit the traffic in liquor.

In the 1840’s new organizations, the Washingtonians and the Sons of Temperance, preached to heavy users of alcohol, really in an evangelical way, urging listeners to give up “demon rum.” These were more like clubs, supporting each other in abstinence. Speakers traveled the country, encouraging the formation of new organizations, preaching against drink. Some aimed specifically at the new Irish immigrants. The organizations put out publications as well, ranging from newspapers to songs, poems, essays, and novels showing the evils of drink. Women were members of all of the organizations.

 

 

I have found some evidence of the Temperance movement in Schaghticoke.  Apparently New York State had begun its society, the NY Society for the Promotion of Temperance, by 1829, as the group published its 3rd Annual Report in 1832. In this report, I found that Wyatt Swift, President of the Schaghticoke Powder Mill, was President of the local group, which had an amazing 392 members, an increase of 211 over the preceding year. Wyatt wrote, “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.” The group had also passed out literature.  Can you imagine any group in town now with 400 members? By 1833 there were 530 members, and there were three temperance stores and taverns. This would imply that neither the stores nor taverns would sell intoxicating beverages. I can see that a store could make its money otherwise, but I can’t imagine a successful tavern without alcohol- would it then be a tea or coffee house?  The very numbers of those joining the movement seems to indicate that many people must have either been drinking too much alcohol or have been affected by relatives who drank too much.

 

 

Temperance reform continued in the village of Schaghticoke. An article in the Troy “Budget” in 1842 reported that “William VanWagner, a blacksmith from West Troy, has addressed the people on the subject,” with sixty people signing the pledge to give up alcohol after the talk. VanWagner spoke nine times in school houses all around the town, with more and more people signing. “The great mass of temperate drinkers have felt willing to forego the pleasure of occasionally sipping wine, beer, and cider, and take the pledge for total abstinence.” Seven hundred people in the village had signed the pledge- it probably had about 1000 residents at that time, so this was an amazing number.

Catholics had a society of their own, with 137 members in the valley, this only a year after the Catholic Church opened.  The Lutheran congregation in the Melrose area had 100 members of its society.  And Ephraim Congdon, who ran the large hotel in the village, site of many town and other meetings, had changed his tavern to a “temperance house. All intoxicating drinks have been banished,” replaced by hot coffee. Congdon was a very active member of the Presbyterian Church in the village.

Clearly, Schaghticoke mirrored the national trends, with outside speakers coming in to exhort people to give up drink right on the spot. Organizations formed around the churches. The Presbyterian Church had clearly taken the lead. One of its local governing bodies, the Session, acted as a moral court, interviewing and admonishing, then helping members who erred. Its surviving minutes date from a later date, beginning in about 1860, but show that the temperance movement continued. In 1870 the session recommended the formation of a Sabbath School Temperance Society, inviting all area churches to join the meeting. Charles Pickett, who was President of the village of Schaghticoke at the time, was cited for public intoxication and swearing. He did come before the board and promise to reform, but was expelled from the church in the end, not for his drinking, but for not appearing to be judged by the Session.

In the end, the Session went too far. In 1878, one of the members, John Ackart, proposed that “a pledge of abstinence is to be required of all applicants as a condition of membership in this church.” The Presbytery, the body governing local churches, found that this was “unconstitutional.” Instead the session drafted a statement to be read from the pulpit, urging members to abstain from all amusements, as dancing, card playing, attendance at theatrical performances, etc., including alcohol, and urging them instead to attend church more and read the Bible daily.  Clearly not all citizens followed the Presbyterian’s strictest rules. In 1870 there were at least seven taverns of one sort or another in town, and at least one grocery store that also sold liquor.

 

 

 

 

(“Temperance Movement.” Dictionary of American History. 2003. Encyclopedia.com. 4 Jan. 2016<http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Schaghticoke in 1840

 

 

I have been blogging about the history of Schaghticoke  since July 2011, mostly chronologically, and ,with some detours, have reached about 1840. At that point, we can see elements of our modern town, together with holdovers from its colonial past. The town had a population of 3,400, not that different from now, as the town was smaller physically. The southern border of the town was the Deep Kill, which crosses route 40 at Grant’s Hollow. The population skewed young, with 1315 people under 21 and only 129 over 60. 2% of the population, or 76 people were free blacks. 28 of them lived in fifteen families, with the rest living one or two apiece as servants in various white families. I will write about the black families later.

The town government of 1840 was similar in some ways to that of today, with a supervisor, town clerk, and town justices. But there were no town councilmen. There were a couple of election inspectors, four assessors, and a commissioner of highways, similar to today, but  there were 32 highway overseers, as men were in charge of maintenance of the road abutting their land. The town also had a couple of poundmasters, as one of the problems in town was animals getting loose and harming crops. Early town laws mandated when cattle could be “free commoners,” in other words, run free. In 1842, the law read that hogs could never be free commoners, but cattle were from May 15 to October 15. The town also had its own sealer of weights and measures and overseer of the poor, both functions done by state and county governments now. There was only one town meeting per year, versus monthly meetings and other special meetings now.

The town also had its own police force, the officers called “constables.” These men were ordinary citizens appointed to fill the positions yearly. In 1844 there were five constables. Town records through the 1840’s show various citizens applying to make new roads. The same thing happens now with a new development, but just less frequently.   There already was a lot of the road system that exists now, though the roads were dirt or plank, the main road, route 40, a toll road. The bridges over the Hoosic River, at Valley Falls and Schaghticoke, and the Hudson, at Stillwater, were privately-owned toll bridges. There was a ferry across the river at Hemstreet Park.  People traveled by horse, horse and wagon, and on foot for private transportation. Public transportation was by steamboat or canal boat on the rivers and canals, by stagecoach from town to town. Railroads had begun to be built, but hadn’t reached our town yet.

melroseschool

current photo of the Melrose School on Mineral Springs Road

The town was divided into fifteen school districts, each with a one-room schoolhouse, with a total of 840 students.  Unlike today, the town oversaw the schools, providing part of the funding, but each district had a local school superintendent. There was no public education beyond about 8th grade available in town. A few children of wealthier families were sent to private schools in Troy, Greenwich, Fort Edward,  and elsewhere, and fewer went on to college. The census states that only six people were illiterate. I wonder what the definition of illiterate was. I feel that number is definitely less than the reality, just from the wills and documents of the period I have read where people were unable to sign their names, using just an X.

grain cradle

Grain cradle of the kind patented by Isaac Grant and Daniel Viall

As today, there was just one village, then called Schaghticoke Point, grown up around the bustling mills in the gorge of the Hoosic River. There was a small settlement in Grant’s Hollow, where Isaac Grant had an agricultural machinery factory and store. It had a school house, church, and post office. There was another settlement at Schaghticoke Hill, on route 40 just south of where the Tomhannock Creek crosses. It grew up because of the grist, textile, gun powder, and keg mills on the stream, and had a school, church, blacksmith shop, and at least one small store. Where we might have auto repair shops, there were blacksmiths, who shoed horses and repaired wagons and other items made of iron. There were a number of inns, some more like bars, others more like hotels. Sometimes a home would have one room that would be a general store or a tavern. Residents of Schaghticoke had some choice of churches in 1840: Dutch Reformed, Presbyterian, Methodist, or Lutheran. The Catholic Church was founded in 1841. Outside the hamlets, the land was divided into farms, large and small. The farms were divided and bounded by all kinds of fences: stone, rail, board, with gates of all sorts.

In the 1840 federal census, 491 people worked in agriculture, 454 in manufacture and trade, and 16 in commerce. Some of those in manufacture and trade were women, but this census lists only the names of the heads of household and numbers of people in the occupations, so it is possible to tell only by inference. For example, if three people in a family worked in manufacture and there were only two males, one of the females must have been working in a mill. The same would be true for female farmers, of course.

I had always thought about 19th century Schaghticoke as an agricultural community with a little industry, but this even division of occupations proves that wasn’t so.  I have written before about the industrial revolution in Schaghticoke. Besides the mills listed in Grant’s Hollow and Schaghticoke Hill, there were textile, saw, and grist mills in the gorge of the Hoosic River at Schaghticoke, and at the falls between Schaghticoke and Valley Falls. There were also seasonal flax processing, saw, cider, and grist mills on the Tomhannock Creek and other small streams throughout the town.

The census also listed nine “learned professors and engineers” in town, and in a connection to the past, five Revolutionary War veterans. I thought it might be interesting to learn a little about those folks. I’ll begin with the Revolutionary War vets.  They were Peter Ackart, 84; Elisha Phelps, 82; Nathaniel Robinson, 82; John L. VanAntwerp, 80; and John Welch, 77.   By the way, there were only six men over 80 in the whole town, and four of them were Rev War vets.

All I can find out about John Welch is that he was the head of a household, probably including his wife, plus 1 male aged 20-29, one female aged 10-14, and three females aged 15-19. They young people are young enough to be grandchildren rather than children. As the household includes four people working in manufacturing and trade, this means that at least two of those people were women, if John was still working, if not, then three.

 

I also know very little about Elisha Phelps. His wife was Clarissa Phelps. She was a sister of Dr. Ezekiel Baker, the prominent local doctor until his death in 1836. According to Ezekiel’s probate file, they had lived in Cambridge. By the 1840 census, Clarissa had died, and Elisha was living with Freeman Baker and his family. I am not sure how Freeman was related to the many other Bakers in town, but I don’t think Elisha and Clarissa had any children, so he was probably a nephew or great-nephew. The family included 1 male under 5, 1 26-29, 1 30-39, Elisha, and 1 female under 5, two from 5-9, and 1 from 20-29. Two people worked in agriculture, probably Freeman and the other young man. There is an Elisha Phelps in the pension roll for NY for 1833, but I have not found his pension file online.

Nathaniel Robinson, 82, lived in town with just his wife, Susanna Hamblin, as of that 1840 census. However, his son Samuel, born in 1809 here in Schaghticoke, lived next door, with a large family, so at least the old people had some support.  According to his pension application, Nathaniel was born in Peekskill in 1759 and enlisted there in 1777   as a member of a Connecticut regiment of the line.  This means he was in the regular Army rather than the militia. He was a full-time soldier, while militia men were only called out as needed.  His commanding General was Anthony Wayne. Nathaniel was in the battles of Germantown, Monmouth, and Stoney Point, serving for three years. He was wounded in the leg at the battle of Monmouth, and apparently was lame for life.

I first find Nathaniel in the census for Schaghticoke in 1810, though by the evidence of Samuel’s birth in 1809, he had arrived a bit earlier. Ancestry.com family trees indicate Samuel was the youngest son of a large family. By 1819, at age 61, Nathaniel applied for a pension. He was fortunate to have the help of local resident and first judge of the county Josiah Masters. Masters added a note to the application saying, “I am personally acquainted with Nathaniel Robinson and he is very poor and in want of assistance from his country. Indeed both his revolutionary service and poverty is (sic) a matter of common notoriety in this part of the country.”  Nathaniel was awarded $8 per month, about $150 per month today. At the time, his two youngest children lived with him and wife Susan. They were Sally, aged 15 and Samuel, aged 10.

As part of the pension application, Nathaniel submitted an inventory of his possessions. He didn’t have to include his bedding and clothes as they were considered essential. He had no real estate, but had vegetables in a hired garden worth $10. He had a 12-year-old cow worth $15, three pigs worth $6, four chickens worth 50 cents, one axe, one hoe, two pails, one iron kettle, four knives, three iron spoons, one pot and a tea kettle, one basin, three bowls, two jugs, one bottle, one tumbler, one churn, one griddle, three cups and saucers, one small spinning wheel, one loom, two shuttles, one broom, two baskets, one shovel and tongs, four plates, one spider, and one iron crane. A spider is a frying pan with legs, for use over an open fire by placing it on a crane. The total value was about $50, and Nathaniel owed about $60.  The Robinsons must have led a very basic existence indeed.

spinner

perhaps Mrs Robinson made a bit of money spinning yarn.

Nathaniel died in 1843, wife Susanna the following year. They are buried in the Brookins Cemetery, on the west side of Route 40 in the Melrose part of town. I am sure they lived in that part of town. Three wives of Samuel Robinson are buried there as well. Samuel lived on in the area until his death in 1891. He is buried in Elmwood Cemetery.

The last two Revolutionary War veterans in the 1840 census had actually been members of the local militia, the 14th Albany County. Sylvester’s “History of Rensselaer County,” published in 1880, records Peter Ackart as one of the few Revolutionary War veterans remembered by residents to that day. I find this ironic, as I have been able to find out so little about him in the public record. He was definitely born here, probably the son of another Peter Ackart. I feel he was the Peter Ackart, Jr., who was born in 1767.  He was a very young soldier, and served with his father in the 14th Albany County Militia. I have found him in the local census from 1790 until his death. As of 1803, he had real estate worth $948 and a personal estate of $157. He was a farmer, and probably lived in the area just to the north of Stillwater Bridge Road, where several Ackart families lived in the 1850’s.

This Peter married Maria Benway, a local girl, born in 1789. Their first child, David, was born in 1807. The couple went on to have seven children in total baptized at the Schaghticoke Dutch Reformed Church, the last in 1826. At least two died young. Peter died in 1845. His tombstone is in Elmwood Cemetery. He must have been buried elsewhere first and reinterred as the cemetery opened in 1863. The 1855 census lists the families of three of his sons: David, Jacob, and John, who all lived next door to each other. Peter’s widow Maria, then 66, lived with Jacob and his family. She died in 1866 and is also in Elmwood Cemetery. So this wife of a Revolutionary War veteran survived through the Civil War. No wonder locals remembered her husband Peter as a vet of the earlier war when Sylvester wrote his history.

John Lewis VanAntwerp, 80, was the final Revolutionary War veteran listed in the 1840 census. He was also listed in Sylvester’s “History” as a known veteran. He lived with one of his sons, Peter Yates VanAntwerp.   John was born in Albany in 1760, but moved to Schaghticoke by age four. He enlisted in the local militia regiment in March, 1776, another very young soldier. He served off and on until 1780, rising in the ranks as Ensign, Corporal, and Sergeant, and according to one record, to Lieutenant. When the war started, the Colonel of the 14th Albany was John Knickerbacker, prominent local man. In 1778 John VanAntwerp married Catlyna Yates, daughter of Peter Yates, in Albany. Peter and his family had moved recently to Schaghticoke, and he became the Colonel of the 14th after John was wounded at the battle of Saratoga at the end of 1778. So John L. VanAntwerp must have been quite a guy, becoming an officer and marrying the daughter of the new Colonel before the age of 20.

In his pension application, John described his Revolutionary War service. He served until 1780, “employed in watching and pursuing hostile Indians at Schaghticoke and Stillwater.” He also marched to Lake George, Fort Edward, Fort Ann, and Whitehall. About October 1, 1777, he was part of a company attached and volunteered to General Gates, in Camp at Stillwater. He was there until the surrender of Burgoyne. In 1778 he guarded different forts on the northern frontier. At one point he marched to Fort Ticonderoga to look at British shipping. This matches what I have read of the experiences of quite a few other local men. They served a month to six weeks each year of the war, as needed.

John and Catlyna had a number of children. Five were baptized in the Schaghticoke Dutch Reformed Church, starting with Alida and ending with Peter Yates in 1794. Catlyna’s father, Peter Yates, the Colonel, died in 1808. He was a wealthy man with a number of children. Catlyna received household items from his estate, plus a silver table spoon, a silver ½ pint cup, a mare, a cow, and a bushel of salt. She also received 200 acres of land in Montgomery County, and 100 pounds.  Unfortunately John does not appear in the early New York State assessment rolls, from 1799-1804. I would love to know if he used his wife’s inheritance well. What happened to the property in Montgomery County?   I feel the family lived in the area north of Stillwater Bridge Road, near the Ackarts. John was a farmer. Catlyna died in 1810, not long after her father, leaving John as a widower with several teenage children at home.

When John finally applied for a pension, in 1832, he seemed to have to go to very great lengths to prove he had been a veteran. This would seem ironic for the son-in-law of the Colonel of the Regiment. Herman Knickerbacker, son of John, former Congressman, and judge of the county, testified on his behalf, along with the pastor of the Dutch Reformed Church, Peter Ackart, and Wynant Vandenbergh, who with his father tended the ferry over the Hudson River at Stillwater during the war. Wynant said he had seen John take the ferry on many occasions while on duty during the Revolution. Despite all this support, John was dropped from the pension rolls for a couple of years.  Job Pierson, another local former Congressman and judge, helped John re-apply and obtain his pension again, in 1837, at which point he was owed $320. When John died in 1848, he left two sons, Peter and John, and two daughters, Sarah and Maria. John and Maria died by 1851, but Peter and Sarah continued to receive their father’s pension. As of the 1855 census, Peter, then 61, was a farmer with wife Mariah and five daughters. He and Sarah both died in 1860. He is buried in Elmwood Cemetery.

So the 1840 census lets us know quite a lot about most of the oldest residents in town. We find that they were well-known in the community. The most prominent residents were ready to speak up for them and the veracity of their life stories. One of them was a destitute old man, despite living near his son, but the others were at least able to live comfortably, and all had family nearby, if they didn’t live with them.

The 1840 census also identifies eight men who were “learned professors, and engineers.”  I feel this is a euphemism for people with a college education or the equivalent. The fact of singling out these men, for they are all men, from those working in agriculture and manufacturing and trades, the other two categories, indicates how rare this was in the U.S. in 1840. At least in Schaghticoke, there were no engineers. There were three doctors, three pastors, and two lawyers. At least one lawyer, Thomas Ripley, was not included in the list- he was assigned no occupation in the census, so perhaps there was an error there. Thomas was a graduate of R.P.I. who became a U.S. Congressman a few years later. He certainly was a “learned professor.”

I will begin with the three doctors:  Ezekiel Baker, Zachariah Lyon, and Simon Newcomb.  Simon Newcomb was born in Nine Partners, near Poughkeepsie, in 1779. He had moved to Pittstown by 1800 with his parents and family.  He married Sarah Follett in 1802. They had children William, Nahum, Nomina, Wesley, David, Simon, and Sally, who died as an infant. Sarah died in 1820 and he married Hannah Stover in 1821. They had four daughters:  Sarah, Elizabeth, and twins Louisa and Mary. According to “The Genealogy of the Newcomb Family”, written in 1874, Simon lived in “upper Schaghticoke” for about eleven years. The 1840 census captured him in our town during that time, but he was back in Pittstown by 1850. That census found Samuel (sic), 70, with real estate of $3500; Hannah, 57; Eliza, 24; Louisa and Mary, 20. By 1860 they had moved to the Speigletown area, part of the town of Lansingburgh at the time. Simon made it into the 1870 census, aged 91. He had real estate worth $5000, and a personal estate of $11,500. His daughters Elizabeth and Mary lived with him. He died later that year and is buried in Tomhannock. The genealogy notes that he was healthy in body and mind right up to his death.  Several of his children lived locally, and his son Wesley also became a doctor. He was a founder of Albany Medical College and an internationally known conchologist (expert on mollusks.)

simonnewcomb

Simon Newcomb

The family genealogy describes Simon in glowing terms. As I have found with many prominent men of the era, he was active in all aspects of the life of his community: financial, political, and religious, as well as professional, as a doctor. He began his career as a teacher in the local school in Millertown at age seventeen. He joined the Methodist Church about the same time. Unlike the other doctors in the census, he studied medicine with several local doctors, rather than going to college. He apprenticed a year each with Ezekiel Baker, the uncle of the Ezekiel Baker in the 1840 census, David Doolittle, Nehemiah King, and John Hurlburt. He volunteered with the local regiment for the war of 1812, though the men  never got to fight. In addition to being a doctor, he was the first postmaster at Johnsonville, a justice of the peace for 27 years, the town supervisor in Pittstown for three years, U.S. assessor for two years, plus town clerk, commissioner of deeds, and overseer of the poor. He was described as being a stern man of firm decision, great integrity, and unpretentious dignity.

Zachariah Lyon was the second doctor in the 1840 census. He is mentioned in several 19th century histories of Rensselaer County as an early doctor in town- but without elaboration. I have pieced together his biography from census and a couple of newspaper articles. He first appears in the local census in 1830, with a family of five, including two immigrants.  Presumably the count included him, his wife, Sarah Lavinia, daughter Anna, and perhaps two servants. The 1855 census indicates he and Sarah had been in town for 27 years, which would put their arrival in 1828. That census lists Zachariah as 62 years old, born in Connecticut. Sarah, 65, was born in Vermont, as was daughter Anna, 40. She was born in Sunderland, Vermont, a small town in southwest Vermont.  This would indicate that the Lyons moved here from Vermont when Zachariah was 34, Sarah 35, and Anna 13.   All of the other censuses indicate Zachariah was born in Massachusetts.  Presumably Zachariah came to town as an experienced physician, having practiced in Vermont. Zachariah had arrived at a good time, businesswise, as the established doctor, Ezekiel Baker, was elderly, and died in 1836. In 1837, he and Baker’s nephew, another Ezekiel and doctor, were the two doctors called to examine murder victim Herman Groesbeck, to determine the cause of death, an indication that he was firmly established here.

As with Simon Newcomb, Zachariah was involved in politics. I found him as a delegate to the local Whig conventions in the 1840’s. He was the town supervisor of Schaghticoke in 1854. He was also involved with his church, as one of the founding vestrymen of the local Episcopal Church in 1846. During the Civil War, the government imposed new taxes, and these showed that Zachariah paid 12 cents in tax for four pieces of silver- presumably silverware- plus $1 each for two one-horse carriages. He paid on income of $235 in 1864. To me this indicates a comfortable but not wealthy family. The census consistently shows one household servant. At least one carriage would be necessary for his job as a doctor.

Daughter Anna appears in the census with her parents in all but one census. Sometime between 1855 and 1860, she married Embree Maxwell. He was a farmer from Saratoga County, just a couple of years older than her father. He died in 1863 and is buried near the Quaker Meeting House in the town of Saratoga, according to an article in “The Saratogian” in 1940. Anna and Embree had a child, Frank, probably about the time his father died. The 1865 census found Anna back with her parents, with Frank, aged 1 8/12.

The family was together for the last time in the 1870 census, which listed Zachariah as 78, with an estate worth $18,000, still working as a physician. Sarah was 80, Anna, 52, and Frank 6. Sarah died in 1872, and Zachariah in 1873. This left daughter Anna as his only heir. She received his house and lot plus the income from the rent of a brick store, sheds, and a yard next to his home. This indicates he had lived in the village of Schaghticoke. The Lyons are buried in Elmwood Cemetery. Frank died at age 13, and Anna died in 1892 of tuberculosis. Both are in Elmwood as well. I would love to find out where Zachariah was born, where he was educated, how they ended up in Schaghticoke, how the couple felt when their only daughter married an elderly Quaker farmer, how they felt when they finally had a grandchild.

The third doctor in the 1840 census was Ezekiel Baker. Researching him has caused me all kinds of frustration. At this point, I think that there were three men by that name in Schaghticoke in the first 35 years of the 19th century. The eldest Ezekiel was been born about 1730 in Connecticut. An ancestry.com researcher says he was here as of the 1790 census, with a family of 2 males over 16 and 3 females over 16, but moved on and died in Herkimer County in 1800. His son Ezekiel was born in 1761, and travelled with the family to Schaghticoke, but stayed on, as did his son Truman. I don’t have any way independently of that researcher to be sure of that father and son. But for sure, a man named Ezekiel Baker was in the 1790 census, and then in  the 1800 census, Ezekiel shows up with a family of one male from 10-16, 2 from 17-26, one from 27-44, one female under 10, 1 from 17-26, and one from 27-44. I’m not sure who all of those people were, as this Ezekiel and his wife Rhoda had no children. Ezekiel Baker was also one of the first school commissioners of the town, before 1800, and one of the organizers of the Homer Masonic Lodge in 1799.

The Ezekiel Baker of the 1800 census was a doctor. As of the 1803 NYS assessment, he had real estate of $1950 and a personal estate of $257. That same year, he was one of the founders of the Schaghticoke Presbyterian Church and an original trustee. This church was founded by the incoming New Englanders to town, and was THE church of the local mill owners, movers and shakers. When the church was reorganized in 1820, Ezekiel was still a trustee. He purchased pew 18 for $33. Pew purchase and rent was the way the church was financed.

Ezekiel continued to be a pillar of our community until his death in 1836. The more I look at early deeds for the town, the more land I see that he owned. For example, the 170 acres of the current Howard Gifford farm was sold by Ezekiel to Josiah Masters before 1815.Of course he continued to appear in the census. Interestingly, in 1810 and 1820, his family included one female slave. I would love to know why Ezekiel and his wife purchased a young black girl (she was from 18-26 in the 1820 census). She remained with the couple in the 1830 census, though by then, of course, she was free.

The probate file of Ezekiel listed his many heirs: his brothers Lyman, Truman, and sisters and their many children. The most important one for us is Ezekiel, a son of his brother Truman. Ezekiel stayed on in Schaghticoke. I’m sure that to avoid confusion, he was always known as Ezekiel 2nd. to differentiate him from his uncle. He was the doctor of the 1840 census. Incidentally, that census entry includes one free black woman of the age to be the same who had been his uncle’s slave.

Ezekiel Baker 2nd was born in 1795 in Pittstown. He attended Williams College from 1810-1814, and was listed as M.D. in the class of 1810, though apparently he did not graduate. Perhaps he mentored with his uncle Ezekiel to become a doctor as did Simon Newcomb, another of the 1840 census doctors. According to Anderson’s “History of Rensselaer County,” he was a local doctor for fifty-one years.

Ezekiel picked up right where his uncle left off, becoming a pillar of the Presbyterian Church. He was secretary of the meeting when it reorganized in 1831, was a clerk of the trustees for many years, and first president of the Sunday School. Ezekiel was also involved in local politics, attending Whig conventions in the county. He ran for state assembly and county coroner in the 1840’s and 1850. Anderson states that he was a strong abolitionist, and that his home was a stop on the underground  railroad in the 1850’s.  And he got involved in business matters as well.  Apparently he was one of a group of investors who held the mortgage on extensive mill properties of Ephraim Congdon on the Hoosic River. Ephraim defaulted in 1834, and the investors sold the property at auction.

Ezekiel was married to Harriet Bryon Bryan of Schaghticoke. They had six sons. David Bryon Baker, born in 1821, attended both Union and William Colleges. He was a doctor, but also town clerk of Schaghticoke as a young man, in 1843-1844. I’m sure he was tapped to be his father’s successor as town physician, but he died in 1847. He was married to Jenette C., and they had two small children. One of them, Calot, lived with his grandparents for a number of years.

The Baker’s second son, Charles, was born in 1823. Charles became a general merchant, and worked for local mill owner Amos Briggs. He was in business in Schaghticoke until his death in 1896. Third son Robert was born and died in 1825. The fourth son, Lorenzo Dow, was born in 1826. Though he became a merchant like brother Charles, he was also a tailor and concentrated on selling clothing. He must have been a bit more outgoing than Charles, or maybe more successful, as he rated a biography in Anderson’s “History of Rensselaer County.” Thus I know that he attended both the Greenwich, NY, and Manchester, Vt. Seminaries- the equivalent of high school- and then went on to work in Troy for a few years. Lorenzo returned home to become a clothing merchant and tailor in the village of Schaghticoke for the rest of his life.  He was also the town clerk in 1853-54, and held various positions in the government of the new village of Hart’s Falls (Schaghticoke) after 1867, as did brother Charles. Lorenzo was very successful, building the Baker Opera House about 1875. It had retail spaces on the first floor- including his own and his brother’s- and a theater upstairs, and was located where Sammy Cohen’s is today. Unfortunately it burned in a huge fire in 1880. Lorenzo survived until 1904.

Fifth son William Henry was born in 1829. He was listed in the 1850 census for Schaghticoke with his parents, and brothers Lorenzo, and John as a merchant, age 21. By the 1855 census he was gone, probably to Racine, Wisconsin, where he was listed in the 1860 census as a bookkeeper, with wife Mary and two small sons. He died before 1866, as he was listed in his father’s will as deceased.

Youngest son, John Ezekiel, was born in 1831. Though John studied medicine at Williams College, he also attended Union Theological Seminary in 1858 and became a Presbyterian Minister. I wonder if there was pressure for John Ezekiel to become a doctor as his oldest brother David Bryan had died. If so, John evidently persisted in the career for which he felt called.  He moved to Rochester, where he was a minister and prominent member of the community, living until 1894.

Father Ezekiel lived until 1866, long enough to see the death of two of his sons, and the success of the rest. Widow Harriet survived until 1872. All of the Schaghticoke Bakers are buried in Elmwood Cemetery.

Returning to the 1840 census, it also included three ministers in the list of “learned professors and engineers.” They were Hugh M. Boyd, Hawley Ransom, and J. H. Noble. I will begin with Hawley Ransom, as I know the least about him. He was born in Vermont in 1809. According to Sylvester’s “History of Rensselaer County,” he was an original member of the Troy Conference of Methodist Ministers in 1834, at which point he was serving at Schaghticoke Hill. That is the little community on Route 40 just south of where it is crossed by the Tomhannock Creek.  Hawley served as the justice of the peace in the town of Schaghticoke in 1843.He and wife Lucy moved to Northumberland in Saratoga  He must have felt quite a tie to the place, as when his first wife, Lucy, died in 1858, he had her buried in the little cemetery next to the church, even though he had moved to Northumberland in Saratoga County. The couple had stayed in Schaghticoke for a long time- at least from 1834 to 1855, as the 1855 census for Northumberland states that Hawley and Lucy had lived there for just two months. Oddly, Hawley, now 50, was listed as a shoemaker. Wife Lucy was also 50 and their two daughters, Margaret, 24, and Drucilla, 15, lived with them.

By the 1860 census for Northumberland, Lucy had died, and Hawley had remarried Catherine Strong. Hawley was again listed as a clergyman. He and Catherine, 35, lived with Abby, 20- presumably Drucilla called by a different name, and Harriet Strong, 40. She was Catherine’s sister, a milliner. The 1865 census shows the birth of a daughter, Josephine, to the couple, then 11 months old. This census lists Hawley as both farmer and minister- and this was probably the case in the censuses where he was listed as a shoemaker and farmer alone. Hawley died in 1873 and is buried in the Reynold’s Corners Cemetery in Moreau. Wife Catherine died in 1896 and is there as well.

Hugh M. Boyd was probably born in Schenectady in 1795. He graduated from Union College in 1813. He is listed in a book of the graduates of Union as a clergyman from Schenectady. As would befit a man from very Dutch-oriented Schenectady, Hugh was a Dutch Reformed minister. I don’t know where he was from 1813 to 1830, but I think he was in Saratoga as of 1830, based only on a census listing.  Hugh was the pastor at the Schaghticoke Dutch Reformed Church from 1835-1841. During that time he and his wife Mary Dorr had two daughters. Margaret was baptized in 1835 and Martha was born in 1836 and baptized April 30, 1837. This was a time when the church, the oldest and once the largest congregation in town, was shrinking.  He did marry 23 couples during that time, including one black couple, and baptized 25 children. After he left in 1841, it was seven years until another baptism was recorded. I don’t know where Hugh went after he left Schaghticoke, but he died in 1847 at age 52 and is buried in Vale Cemetery in Schenectady.

The third minister in the 1840 census is Reverend Dr. Jonathan Harris Noble, known in the records as “J.H.”  He was the minister at the Schaghticoke Presbyterian Church from 1837-1869. He was born in Vermont in 1804, the son of Obadiah, whom I think was also a minister. Jonathan was a graduate of Williams College in 1826 and the Princeton Theological Seminary in 1829. I’m not sure where J.H. was in the years before he came to Schaghticoke, though his interment record states he was in Tinmouth, Vermont at some point,  but he arrived here as an experienced minister. This was good for the church, as it had been suffering through schism in the previous ten years. J.H. brought stability. Unlike other prominent local men, J.H. stuck to his job, not getting involved in politics. This included participating in the larger Presbyterian synod and the national home and foreign missionary societies. Mrs. Noble participated as well. I found her listed in several publications of the American Tract Society in the 1840’s, for example, which published the pamphlets used by foreign missionaries.

That 1840 census includes J.H., and his wife Octavia, plus one other female aged 30-39, probably her sister Emily, plus one female age 10-14, presumably their daughter Mary Louisa. The 1850 census shows Jonathan, then 46, with his wife Octavia Porter, 43, her sister Emily, 50, and their mother Aurora, 85. I don’t know where Mary Louisa was. She appears in the 1855 census, aged 22. She had joined her father’s church the year before.   Emily and Amanda Porter continued to live with the family.  Johnathan also appeared in the 1855 NYS census as a farmer. He had twenty improved and ten unimproved acres worth $4000. He had grown seven acres of oats, two acres of corn and ten acres of potatoes the preceding year. He had 23 fowl, one cow, and one pig. So he primarily grew what his family needed.  Mary Louisa was also left out of the 1860 census, when J.H. and Octavia lived just with a servant, and in 1865, when the church records indicate she moved to Elizabeth, New Jersey.

Around the same time, in October 1865, the Albany Presbyterian Synod held its meeting in Schaghticoke. This must have been a real feather in J.H.’s cap. Unfortunately, his wife was ill and dying at the time. An article in the Troy “Daily Times” records that J.H. was amazing, being the good host of his fellow ministers while tending to his ill wife. Octavia is buried in Elmwood Cemetery. J.H. remarried, to a woman named Caroline, by November 1866, when she joined the Presbyterian Church.

The minutes of the Presbyterian Church session reveal that Rev. Noble proposed to resign in fall 1868. It took until the following June to find a replacement. This is reflected in the 1870 census for Schaghticoke, when J.H., now 65, and wife Caroline, 45, were living in the inn of Garrett Groesbeck, rather than in the brick manse.  But J.H.  did not retire. He went to Johnsonville by 1871. The Presbyterian Church had begun there in 1856, but I found J.H.’s name in a Presbyterian record of home missions in 1874. I’m not sure why the assignment in Johnsonville would be considered a mission, when it was already established. I did not find the Nobles in the 1880 census, but J.H. was still listed as being in Johnsonville in a newspaper article of 1882.

Sometime later, J.H. and Caroline Noble moved to Perth Amboy, New Jersey, presumably drawn by Mary Louisa living in that state, though there was a Ministers’ Home there, for retired pastors. J.H. and Caroline were living there when he wrote a letter to the local Synod, meeting in April 1896.  J.H. died later that month. He was buried from the Presbyterian Church in Schaghticoke, with seven fellow ministers taking part in the service. The 1900 census found Caroline in the Westminster Home in New Jersey. She died in 1901. Both are buried in Elmwood Cemetery.

Returning to the 1840 census, there were two lawyers among the “learned professors and engineers.  I have already written extensively about one of them, Herman Knickerbacker. He is one of the most famous residents in the history of the town. Unfortunately to me, this is because he was the model for Diedrich Knickerbacker in Washington Irving’s “Knickerbocker’s History of New York.” But he was also one of the first lawyers in town, U.S. Congressman from 1809-1811, Rensselaer County judge, and local businessman and mill owner. Virtually every deed involving Schaghticoke in the first forty or so years of the 19th century has Herman’s name in it somewhere, either as the lawyer handling the deal, a witness, or judge.

The second lawyer in the census was Nelson Moshier. He was born in 1806 in Dutchess County. He married Catherine Tice of Brunswick in 1833 at Gilead Lutheran Church.  He was the Schaghticoke Town Clerk in 1841 and a school commissioner about the same time. I have found Nelson as the lawyer in probate files and wills of the era.  By 1850 the family had moved to pioneer in Michigan. According to a biography on the find-a-grave website, he practiced law there and was a circuit court judge, and the first prosecuting attorney when Isabella County, Michigan was formed.  Nelson died in 1872 and is buried in Isabella County. I would love to talk to Nelson about his motivations for moving West. It was certainly becoming more and more common at the time.

So now I’ve written about some of the more prominent people in town. How about the others? Let me turn to the nine black families.  New York State’s gradual abolition of slavery had ended in 1829.  While there were 343 blacks in Schaghticoke in 1790, by 1820 there were 66 slaves and 30 free blacks, and by 1830 there were just 52 free blacks. The total of 76 in the 1840 census is actually a bit of an uptick. In a few cases, freed slaves stayed on in the families where they had been owned. For example, the elder Dr. Ezekiel Baker had had one female slave in 1820 and had one freed black female in 1830.

The nine black families in the 1840 census amounted to just over a third of the blacks in town. Interestingly, none is listed with an occupation, though they certainly all worked! As you will see, in most cases I was unable to find out much, if anything, about the families. This is partly because they were often illiterate, they were not taxed, and were not active in politics.  They also moved a lot, and lived in poor circumstances. They just weren’t much in the public record. The heads of household of these black families were Thomas Mando, Prince Jackson, Peter Williams, Thomas Robins, Peter Baker, James Hornbeck, James Franklin, Stephen Calvin, and Joseph Winney.

I do know a bit about one of the families.  There is a legend that Thomas Mando, who was listed in the census as over 55, with a female over 55 and one male under 10 in his family, may have been “Thomas Mandolin”, a former slave of the Knickerbacker family. He got his surname because he played the mandolin.  What is true is that he and his wife had also been a family in the 1830 census, right after the final abolition of slavery. At that point they had four children living with them.  It is possible that the young boy in the 1840 census was a grandchild. The couple was still in the 1850 census: Thomas, 83, and wife Hannah, 60. Thomas still listed his occupation as laborer, and they had a black girl named Margaret Fonda, 8, living with them.   One of their sons, also Thomas, and his wife Catherine and family were still in town as well. Their youngest child, Albert, then 4, became a composer and orchestra leader in New York City. I do not know where the elder Thomas Mando and his wife are buried, but the younger Thomas, wife Catherine (Katie), and several children, including Albert, are in the Methodist Cemetery at Schaghticoke Hill.

mando illo (1)

Prince Jackson and his wife were also in both the 1830 and 1840 census. In 1830, he was between 24-36 years old and she, 10-24.  In 1840 they were both listed as between 35-55 years old. In 1830, there was a second black Jackson family, that of Richard, with a family of four, but he was gone by 1840. And Prince and wife were also gone by 1850. Prince is a fairly common name for slaves, as was Jackson, so there were a half dozen men with that name in the New York area in 1850. I don’t think any of them was our Prince. So I will have to leave his story there.

Peter Williams is another black man who also appeared in the 1830 census. At that time, his family consisted of him, age 24-36, his wife, age 10-24, and a son under 10. The 1840 census listing is similar, with one male 24-36, one female 10-24, but this time one female under 10. There are definitely some issues with the accuracy of their ages. The Williams stayed on in town, and the 1850 census lists them as Peter, 45, a laborer born in New York, illiterate; his wife, Diana, just 23, also born in New York; and their son John, 3. This clearly was a second wife for Peter. That census also included Harriet Williams, a black girl aged 16, who worked for the family of Ormon Doty, and Nancy Williams, a black woman aged 27, who worked for the family of John Groesbeck. They could have been daughters of Peter. Nancy was still working for the Groesbecks as of the 1855 census, though her age was then listed as 41. She was born in Rensselaer County.

I did find that Peter and Diana moved to Waterford by 1860. Peter, now 55, and Diana, 28, had a daughter Sarah, 9.  Peter was a laborer, with a personal estate of $15. But I could not find them after that. It seems like a number of children passed in and out of the census listing for the couple. It is so difficult and frustrating to trace these people, handicapped by their race and their illiteracy, when we would love to know the whole story.

Thomas Robins was the last black man who appeared in both the 1830 and 1840 census. In 1830 his family included two males under 10, and one 36-54- that was Thomas- plus one female under 10, one from 10-23, one from 24-35, and one from 36-54. One of the older women was certainly his wife, but there must have been another woman who was neither child nor wife, plus perhaps three children. By the 1840 census, the family was reduced to just Thomas and his wife, both listed as over 55.

There is quite a twist by the 1850 census, when there was a Peter J. Robbins, a black man aged 35, working as a laborer on the Kenyon farm. Peter stayed on in town and served in the Civil War, returning by the 1865 census, when he was now listed as a 55 -year -old laborer, with a wife and young son. Peter could certainly have been one of the sons of Thomas. I cannot find Thomas and his wife for sure elsewhere in the 1850 census, as there are several couples with Thomas Robins as the head of household of the correct age in New York State.

Peter Baker was another black man with a family in the 1840 census, though not in 1830.  He was aged 24-35, and had a wife in the same age range, plus one daughter under 10. I feel this family had left town by 1850 and moved to Lansingburgh. In that census there was a Peter, aged 35, with wife Susan, aged 33, and daughter Mary, aged 14. I could not find them in the 1860 census, but in the 1865 NYS census, they were in the 1st Ward of Troy. Peter was a coachman, who had been married three times. His wife was now Sarah, aged 43, listed as a mulatto, while Peter was black. She was born in Maryland, and this was her second marriage. Interestingly, a 40-year-old  black man named Ebenezer Williams, a barber aged 40, lived with them. Could he have been another son of Peter Williams, our previous subject?? And another black family which had lived in Schaghticoke, the Hornbecks, lived next door. Unfortunately, I can’t find Peter past 1865.

James Holenbeck or Hornbeck, also black, had a family of four in the 1840 census. He was from 24-35 years of age, his wife the same age range, plus one son and one daughter under 10. There are graves in the old Methodist Cemetery at Schaghticoke Hill- the same cemetery where the Mandos are buried- for Emeline, died May 8, 1847 age 7; and Henry, died May 12, 1847, age 18, both children of James and Susan Hornbeck. What a tragedy for the family. I feel that they moved to Troy soon after.  Though I have not been able to find him in the 1850 or 1860 census, a James Hornbeck is in the Troy City Directory from 1857 on, listed as a porter who lived at 38 Fulton Street. The August 20, 1856 issue of the Troy “Daily Times” reported that James Hornbeck assisted the chairman of a “meeting of colored persons” at the Liberty Street Presbyterian Church in Troy. The meeting discussed propositions for blacks to get to right to vote, among other issues, reporting on a larger convention held recently in Seneca Falls.

There is  also a Joseph Hornbeck in both the 1850 and 1855 Schaghticoke censuses. In the former he was a 12-year-old black boy, who lived in the family of Nathan Overocker. In the latter, he was a laborer in the family of William Brown. He could have been a son of James.  As I mentioned above, I did find James Hornbeck and his family living next door to Peter Baker in Troy in the 1865 census. James, 65-years-old, was a laborer. He had a wife, Susan, age 64, born in Rhode Island, who had had eight children. A black couple, Thomas Moore, 26, born in New Jersey, and Rebecca Moore, 27, born in Saratoga, lived with them.

By the 1870 Troy directory, James had died. Mrs. James Hornbeck lived at 119 Church Street. A Joseph Hornbeck lived in Troy as well. This listing for Mrs James is interesting as an obituary in two local newspapers reported the death of Susan Hornbeck in 1864. A post on the webpage of the Lansingburgh Historical Society quotes:  “A centennarian with ten years to spare, died at Lansingburgh yesterday. Susan Hornbeck, better known as “Aunt Susan,” was her name. She had attained the age of one hundred and ten years. The deceased was a colored woman—born a slave in Saugerties [Ulster County], and held by the family of John Brown in Lansingburgh for many years—only being released when New York became a Free State.”Schenectady Daily Evening Star and Times. April 9, 1864: 3 col 2.
Albany Morning Express. April 11, 1864: 3 col 3.

James Franklin and his family also lived in town in 1840. James, aged 24-36, and his wife, aged 24-36, had two daughters, one under 10, one aged from 10-14. He was still here in the 1850 census: James, aged 40, a laborer born in New York, with wife Betsey, aged 28. If the ages are correct, this could be a different wife. What happened to the children? I have been unable to find James after this date.

I have been unable to discover anything more than their listing about two of the black families in the 1840 census. Stephen Calvin, a black man aged 36-55, and his wife, the same age, also lived in Schaghticoke as a family in 1840. The last black family in the 1840 census was that of Joseph Winney. Joseph was from 24-35 years old. He and his wife, the same age, had three small sons, under 10 years of age.

Unfortunately this census doesn’t indicate foreign born citizens, which would have been helpful to fill out this story of life in Schaghticoke in 1840. I know that the population of foreign born increased rapidly during this period, mostly due to an influx of mill workers and of Irish immigrants. There were enough Irish Catholics here for the Albany diocese to begin a church in 1841.

Now that I’ve discussed some of the individual families in town, I’d like to move on to discuss how people lived. Beyond generalities, I will use inventories of their estates from probate files to try to figure that out.  The problem with this method is that inventories can be more or less complete, but I can’t think of a better way.  In 1840 as now, there would be quite a range of prosperity. Earlier in this article, I gave the inventory of Revolutionary War veteran Nathaniel Robinson, whom we would hope was at the poorest end of the range. He owned no land, possessing just a few animals, a few dishes, and a few cooking utensils. Tellingly, his wife had a spinning wheel and a loom. She could process her own wool and make fabric, either for home use or to sell, impossible to know from the information given. The Robinsons certainly lived simply, cooking their food in the now old-fashioned way, over a fire outdoors or in a fireplace, getting water from a well, lighting with a candle or oil or grease lamp. They grew their own food as much as possible, and lived a simple life with no books, pictures on the wall, curtains at the windows, or rugs on the floor.

At the other end of the scale, was Munson Smith, a prominent local businessman and mill owner, who died in 1842. I have written of him before- it’s on my blog at www.schaghticokehistory.wordpress.com. Using the inventory of his estate in his probate file, we can intuit that the Smiths lived in a carpeted home, with curtains at some of the windows and inside shutters on others. A lot of the furniture was mahogany, with matching chairs at the dining table. They had large sets of matching dishes (39 plates in one set!!), with specialized dishes for gravy, custard, fruit, and other foods. While there was some plain glassware, some was cut glass, and they had specialized wine glasses. Some of the silverware had ivory handles, some was silver.

astral lamp

astral lamp

Several bedrooms were furnished with maple, mahogany, and cherry beds, small tables, chairs, and dressers, with a mirror on each wall, and lots of bed linens of different types. This was in the pre-bathroom era, so there were several wash bowl and pitcher sets, for washing in the bedrooms. While there were fireplaces, the rooms were also heated with cast iron stoves, probably set into the fireplaces and using their flues.  There were candles on the mantelpieces, but they also had the latest Astral lamp. There were also several clocks. The inventory lists the kitchen stove, plus pots and pans of brass, tin, and iron.  The kitchen range with a cook top was a relatively recent advance over open hearth cooking. It may have been either coal or wood burning.

Munson’s office was either in or attached to his house. It contained office furniture, plus a bedroom, furnished, and his library of about 60 volumes. This was a substantial library for the time.  Munson’s wearing apparel is not itemized in the inventory, but was valued at $21. This doesn’t seem like much, but considering that the kitchen stove was worth $12, it is quite a lot.

I’ve been trying to find an inventory of a less wealthy person who was not a farmer to contrast with Munson Smith. This is not easy to do. I did find that of Henry Thompson, who died in town in 1845. He left a widow and five children, two under 21. His widow Sarah stated his “goods and chattels” were not worth more than $250.  Henry left one cow and one swine,  and there was some basic  agricultural material,  a scythe, a straw cutter, a potato hook, a plough There was one horse, two wagons, two “cutters”- sleighs, a saddle and harness of different kinds. This would have provided transportation for the family and his business. He also had the tools of a carpenter: a cross cut saw, grindstone, six planes, an adze, chains, a square, five moulding tools, a set of framing chisels, a hammer, a broad axe, a circular saw, a smooth plane and gauge, plus some wood: two sets of boat plans, a lot of birch planks, and another lot of planks. Was he a carpenter who built boats?

Henry’s widow retained a wagon, two stands, a rag carpet, a bureau, a table, six chairs, and a looking glass as her widow’s portion. The rest of the household furniture consisted of just four beds with their bedding, two stoves, cooking utensils not detailed, one table, six chairs, six knives and forks plus other crockery, one spinning wheel, and library and school books. I’m glad to see the books, as the rest of the furnishings seem basic to say the most.

I did find widow Sarah in the 1850 census for Pittstown. She was 47 years old, born in New York, and had real estate worth $600. In her household were her sons Peter, a 20 -year-old carpenter, Isaac, 10, and Bryan, 6, and a Michael Thompson, 43, born in Ireland, who was a laborer- perhaps her brother-in-law. So I think Henry was a carpenter, and probably an Irish immigrant, who died when his youngest child was just one. She had moved, but not far, and had a place to live.

Let’s look at the probate file of John Baucus, who died in 1832 at 59. He was a farmer who lived near the current town hall. He and his family attended the Lutheran Church, and he is buried in the cemetery at the junction of Melrose-Valley Falls Road and North Line Drive.   In the 1830 census for Schaghticoke, John, age 50-59, had a wife the same age plus one son from 10-14, two from 15-19, one from 20-29, and two daughters from 10-14.  The inventory of his estate gives us insight into a prosperous farm of the period. He had nine horses, seven cows, four young cattle, four calves, and a pair of oxen, plus 50 sheep, 15 pigs, 18 hogs, and one boar, 13 geese, and some chickens. At that time, there was a woolen mill in the village of Schaghticoke, a market for the wool.

Turning to farm equipment, John had  five ploughs, a fanning mill,  two ox carts,  three sleighs, an ox sled, three wagons of different kinds, two drags, five pitch forks, two dung forks, four rakes, a patent rake, a stone boat (for moving stones), four hoes, some shovels, and other miscellaneous tools. John also left large quantities of hay, stored in several different barns, 500 bushels of corn, 300 bushels of wheat, “a lot of oats in the barrack,” potatoes “in the hole” and 100 other bushels of potatoes and 15 bushels of buckwheat. A barrack is a temporary barn structure. I feel that potatoes were stored in a hole constructed for that purpose, like a root cellar.

Plowing-hard work 1830

plowing at the Farmers Museum in Cooperstown

John’s widow was allowed to keep items apart from probate that were essential for herself and her “infant children” to live. There were five children in this category. She kept ten of the sheep, one cow and four pigs, plus the only household furnishings included in the inventory. There were kitchen utensils- pots, a brass kettle, a frying pan- plus two stoves, 25 chairs, six tables, and four looking glasses. There were seven beds, 30 blankets, 15 pairs of sheets, and 15 pairs of pillow cases, plus two sets of curtains, two carpets, four other window curtains,  eight table cloths, one stand (small table), a wooden clock,  and a bureau (dresser). This seems like plenty of chairs, mirrors, and bedding, but too little clothes storage, although there were two chests and two cupboards- but they might have been for food or dish storage.

Mrs. Baucus had two sets of dishes, one fine, one every day, two sets of knives and forks, two decanters, six tumblers, and 15 wine glasses. A stove for cooking is not mentioned, though there is a furnace. I am not sure what was meant by that- certainly not what we would think of as a source of central heat. It could have been a stove for heating flat irons.   The only lighting implements on the list are three candle sticks, though there could have been various kinds of oil lamps. There were also a churn and a wash tub. The inclusion of a loom, two big and one small- spinning wheels-  plus 35 yards of yarn, 44 yards of cloth, and eight pounds of rolls (probably the rolags from which yarn would be spun), suggest household manufacture from the fleeces of those sheep. The family also had two Bibles and twenty other books. To us this would seem like a pretty short list of household goods for a family of eight compared to the extensive inventory of farm equipment, the harvest, and animals, but it was a different time.

Elijah Bryan was another farmer in town. He died in 1842 aged 79. His wife had died the previous year. They lived south of Hemstreet Park, probably near where they are buried in a little cemetery near the junction of River and Pinewoods Roads.  While his inventory presumably reflects that of a couple mostly retired from farming, it does reveal how they lived. And there is a pretty good list of Elijah’s wardrobe. He had nine cotton shirts, four woolen shirts,  three pairs of linen trousers, a pair of pantaloons,  three pairs of woolen drawers (boxers), vests, one coat, a cloak, 15 pairs of stockings, two pairs of boots and one pair of shoes, two hats, two walking canes, and one silk handkerchief. I am not sure of the difference between trousers and pantaloons. This seems like lots of stockings and not enough handkerchiefs. Of course we can’t know the accuracy of an inventory from 150 years ago, and it does lists two separate lots of “old clothes,” which might balance things out.

As to the contents of the house, the inventory includes only candles as the source of light. There are several bee hives and lots of honey on the list, so it’s no surprise that the candles were of beeswax.  There was one stove for heating and one for cooking. Most of the cooking and dining utensils were not described in detail, but there were 15 blue plates and six silver teaspoons. Likewise, most of the furniture was not described, except for one cherry table. There were six fancy chairs and six “flag bottom” chairs, plus 12 old chairs. Elijah and Eunice had one looking glass, a Bible, and “a lot of books”, valued at 12 cents. This is “lot” as in a group, not many. There was the equipment for taking care of the clothing- a clothes basket, clothes horse (drying rack), wash tub,  and irons, plus food storage- baskets and barrels, kegs,  stone pots (stoneware), firkins, casks,  and boxes. The house was carpeted to some extent, but it’s hard to tell how much as the list has “1 carpet the largest,” valued at $2.00 and “1 carpet the smallest,” valued at $3.25.

Flag-Bottom-Chair

flag-bottom chair

The bedding in the house reflected the house when Elijah and Eunice’s children were home: several bedsteads, three feather beds, four straw ticks (alternative mattress, not as comfortable as feathers), plus 30 linen sheets, 17 woolen sheets, and 1 cotton sheet. I think Eunice must have enjoyed textiles, as the inventory includes a number of “coverlids”: two carpets, two blue and white, two red and white, and one black and white, plus three quilts and three comforters.

The couple had just one horse and one heifer, and, interestingly, “one half of a 1 horse wagon.” Perhaps the wagon was shared with a son or daughter? There were just a few tools: a hoe and a bog hoe, a scythe, a cross cut saw, and an axe. As I said, they must have been mostly retired from farming, so perhaps there were more animals a few years earlier. Certainly Mrs Bryan must have had some chickens.

 

Next let’s look at the inventory of Eliphel Gifford, widow of Caleb.  She died in 1838 and is buried in St. John’s Lutheran Cemetery in Melrose.  Caleb died in 1817, so she had been on her own for a long time. She had two cows, a boar and 12 sows, ten chickens- identified as “dunghill fowl”, and a pair of geese- kind of a basic set of animals for daily use. There was hay and corn to feed them. She had some potatoes, vinegar, “a lot of pork in the barrel,” apples, and “a lot of lard,” plus equipment to store and process food: stone jars, baskets, 13 milk pans, pails, iron pots, tubs, hogsheads, a cheese press- needed for making cheese,  and three flour barrels.  She had “a lot of soap”- indicating she made her own, as probably most farm wives did. Eliphel also had both a parlour stove, “one premium stove No. 3”, and a cookstove, plus lots of wood already cut. These stoves place her in the modern world- heating and cooking with stoves, rather than fireplaces.  Her bakeware was made of tin, brass, and iron. She had five wooden bowls and two sugar boxes. There was no detailing of any special dishes or silverware, no mirror, no clock, no carpets, and just three books- a Bible and two others.

We hope her children had already taken the furniture they wanted by the time the inventory was taken, as the furniture consisted of just one rocking chair, one stand, one table, one cot, one bedstead, one set of homemade curtains,  and one lantern. There were no other lighting devices on the list.  There were four cotton sheets, four pillow cases, two calico quilts, one comforter, and two flannel sheets. There was a separate listing of a bed and bedding, valued at $15, the highest valued items on the list outside the livestock.

The appraisers made a list of the “wearing apparel of the dead:” five gowns, three short gowns, three petticoats, two check aprons, three pairs linen stockings, two pairs woolen stockings, nine handkerchiefs, a “bandbox hood ,” five caps, one pair of stays (a form of girdle/bra), one woolen shawl, one velvet cloak, five chemises, and one white cotton chemise. Again, one hopes her children had taken some of her clothes, as there are no shoes on this list, and some very old-fashioned garments- a set of stays, and chemises- which were like today’s slips with sleeves. The short gowns and petticoats would go together, the petticoats being outerwear and not underwear like today. Those are 18th century terms, however. It is possible that Eliphel, as an elderly lady, preferred to wear old fashioned clothes.  I do not know what a “bandbox hood” might be, though there were 18th century hoods with interior hoops that might be stored in a bandbox- what we might call a hat box.

 

The inventory of the estate of Alexander A. Miller, who died at age 27 in 1826, also lists his wearing apparel. This young man, who left a widow and small daughter, was a non-commissioned officer in the local infantry regiment in the New York State Militia. It seems from the inventory that he was a farmer, though it also lists a set of blacksmith tools.  Except for a wagon, the most valuable thing in his estate was a cloak worth $40. His uniform cloak with epaulette was worth $20. He also had a sword, sash, and military hat, plus a feather- probably for the hat. He owned four pairs of pantaloons, three broadcloth coats, and a blue surtout coat (also called a frock coat, probably knee length), an old black silk vest, an old hat, two pairs of old shoes, and another cloak, this one worth $12, also seven shirts and six cravats (like ties), a pair of gloves and a pair of mittens, five pairs of socks and one pair of suspenders. Tantalizingly, he also owned a bass viol worth $8. He also had a silver watch, and two pocket books (like a wallet).

Turning to the business side of the inventory, Alexander had five cows and one calf, seven old sheep and six lambs, eight shoats (young pigs) in the pen, 216 fowls, one mare and her colt. He had fifty loads of manure, ¾ ton of hay, 40 bushels of rye, a lot of potatoes in the ground, lots of wood and coal. The most interesting part of the inventory may be that Alexander had been in charge for the past two years of the “committee of the lunatic” which took care of George Miller, a lunatic. George evidently had an estate to pay for his care, but the estate hadn’t reimbursed Alexander for about $650 he had spent. This is a very large sum for the time. After a lot of research, I’ve concluded that George was Alexander’s father.  Alexander’s untimely death must have caused even more than the usual grief and chaos. He left a young widow and child, plus the problem of who would take care of his mentally ill father. I’m sure he also left friends and family sad at the death of such a promising young father, citizen, musician, and farmer.

So what can we conclude about life in Schaghticoke in 1840 from this admittedly limited sample? Farm families were as self-sufficient as possible. Inventories show equipment to process and store food, make candles, soap and other basics. Most farms had a variety of animals.  Some women processed their own wool and flax at home.  At the least they made their own clothes. Most families had stoves for cooking and heating, having advanced from fireplaces.  Wealthier families had a few special pieces of furniture and glassware or dishes- for example a cherry table or a few silver spoons. Some of this material may have been heirlooms passed down in the family. While people had small wardrobes by our standards, they owned a few more clothes than families fifty years earlier. Most people had a mirror or two, perhaps a clock, and at least a few books. As to farm tools, most were basic- ploughs, wagons, drags, shovels, etc., but a few new items appeared: a fanning mill, for example. Men had blacksmith and logging tools. Farmers grew the feed for their animals and grain to grind for flour. Some farmers specialized, for example growing sheep for the local woolen mills or lots of poultry, presumably for the local market as well.

 

Bibliography

 

Anderson, “History of Rensselaer County”

Baucus, John, probate file, Rensselaer County Historical Society

Bryan, Elijah, probate file, Rensselaer County Historical Society

Find-a-Grave.com

Gifford, Eliphel, probate file, Rensselaer County Historical Society

Miller, Alexander, probate file

Newcomb, John Bearse Genealogy of the Newcomb Family, Elgin, Ill, 1874.

Probate files Isaac Tallmadge 158; Henry P.Strunk 137

Robinson, Nathaniel, Revolutionary War pension application

Schaghticoke cemetery records

Smith, Munson, probate file. In the archives, Rensselaer County Historical Society

Transcript of the Records of the Schaghticoke Dutch Reformed Church, 1903.

Troy  “Daily Whig”, Oct 3, 1837, Oct 15, 1851, June 15, 1860, Feb 9, 1844, Sept. 1848

Troy “Daily Times”- article on Presbyterian Synod in 1865, mention of Noble in 1882, obit 1896,  Aug 20, 1856, Sept 30, 1851, May 5, 1854

Union College, “A General Catalogue of the Officers, Graduates, and students of Union College,

1795-1868, pub. Munsell, Albany, 1868.

Williams College; General Catalogue of the Non-Graduates, 1920.

Williams College; General Catalogue of the Officers and Graduates of Williams College, 1910.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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