Up until now, I have been waiting to add content to my blog until it has already been published in my newspaper column in the Mechanicville “Express”. But this article is extremely long- I have been posting it in the newspaper 500 words at a time for months now, with lots more to go. So I am going to put in what I have published so far here.
I covered some of the time right after 1850 in writing about local veterans of the Civil War from 1861-1865. But 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.
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.
train about to reach the depot at Schaghticoke from 1889 bird’s eye view
The Troy and Boston Railroad was not immune from fatal accidents. An article in the Troy “Daily Times” on October 5, 1869 reported that the 5 o’clock passenger train going north ran into a freight train between Lansingburgh and Speigletown. Cars were derailed and three people were injured. Fortunately the trains were going slowly. The freight train should have stopped in Schaghticoke to let the passenger train pass. The track was quickly cleared and the passenger train went on. At 10 o’clock the same day the rails gave way between Hoosick Junction and Hoosick Falls and the same engine, tender, and one car went down an embankment in the Hoosick River. Three people were killed. Talk about a cursed train!
The Troy “Daily Times” of May 2, 1887 reported the consolidation of the Troy and Boston Railroad with the Fitchburgh and Boston, Hoosac Tunnel and Western Railroads. I think that this move would have finally resulted in the track conformation that we became used to- with the station at Melrose, the railroad crossing route 40 just north of that, then crossing the town to a small bridge over the Tomhannock on Madigan Road. And the rails went west, with a stop at Reynolds, near the junction of Howland Avenue and Route 67, then on over the Hudson to Mechanicville.
Boston and Maine (former Troy and Boston) RR Station at East Schaghticoke
So by 1870, people in Schaghticoke could travel easily to Troy or Hoosick Falls, or indeed to many other places by train. There was a daily stage connection from the express train at 1:30 from Troy at Schaghticoke to Easton, and north (Troy Daily Times April 10, 1867). I have found a few mill operators, for example Edwin Hartshorn, G.P. Mealey, and Sydney Spicer, who commuted to town, but most people still worked near where they lived. The town, which had the same northern, western, and eastern boundaries as today, ended at the DeepKill in Grant Hollow, as it had since 1819. So Speigletown and Pleasantdale- which were not really built up- were part of Lansingburgh politically. The centers of population in the town were almost as they had been for many years: Grant Hollow, Schaghticoke Hill, the portion of Valley Falls in Schaghticoke, and the village of Schaghticoke. Grant Hollow, also called Junction, was the site of the agricultural machinery factory, begun about 1830, and its associated store. There was also the Methodist Church, and a school, up Mineral Springs Road, and a post office. The Methodist minister served this church and the one at Schaghticoke Hill.
Melrose from Beers Atlas 1876 (Baucus is misspelled)
The new competition for Grant Hollow was Melrose, where by 1877 there were a new railroad depot, a post office, a hotel, and a store. This was where the Troy and Boston Railroad crossed the main road, a better place for a train depot than Grant Hollow. An article in the Troy “Times on March 31, 1874 reported “The Troy and Boston Railroad Company will build a new station here. GW Sinsabaugh of Troy is putting up an elegant summer dwelling. Melrose is growing rapidly and eligible villa sites are much sought after.” Mr Sinsabaugh was a very successful confectioner in Troy. The Sinsabaugh home is now the home of Denise Hegarty, at the base of Church Street. And Avenue A was the street of “villas”, built after his. The convenient railroad depot made it easy for wealthy Trojans to travel to the “country”.
Looking at the map in Beers Atlas of 1876, there were high hopes for Melrose. 61 building plots were laid out on both sides of Avenue A, plus a parallel Avenue B. There was just one home built on Avenue A, about midway along the west side. Of course, most of these plots were never developed. The map shows a wagon shop on the east side of the main road, just south of where Valley Falls road veers north, a store and post office next to that, and the Park Hotel in the vee of Route 40 and Valley Falls Road.
The historical pamphlet written about Melrose by Patricia Crandall for the U.S. Bicentennial in 1976 reports that Mr Schoonmaker, a resident, decided that Melrose, which had been called “Checkered Shed”, should have a nicer name and called it Melrose after Melrose Abbey in Scotland about 1870. I can find no mention of Melrose before 1874 in the newspaper, but it is definitely called that in Beers 1876 atlas.
C.C. Schoonmaker owned the land at the corner of Church Street and Route 40, where the Esquire Pharmacy, now the Ercswma warehouse, is. Christopher C. Schoonmaker appears in the 1875 NY census for town, age 43. He was a photographer, born in Albany, and lived with his wife Eleanor, 44, plus a farm laborer named Daniel Gardener, age 21 and a servant named Mary Piper, 18, born in Germany. Christopher may have only lived in town a short time. He appeared in city directories in Troy as a photographer almost until his death in 1906. Of course, he could have maintained a summer home in Melrose. This short-term or part-time resident had a long-term effect on our town, for sure, if the name Melrose did come from him.
Schaghticoke Hill, where the Tomhannock Creek crosses Route 40, continued to be the site of the keg mill, associated with the Powder Mill, plus the Evans Grist Mill, several other mills, a Methodist Church, school, and Hurley’s blacksmith shop. The Powder Mill was now on the Hoosic River across from the village of Schaghticoke. The “Rensselaer County Directory” for 1870 notes it had “a Methodist Church, two stores, a saw mill, a grist mill, and twine and cordage mill, a scutching mill, the Schaghticoke Powder Keg Mill and about 150 inhabitants.” Scutching is part of processing flax.
Bryan district 1876 Note the school and the Lutheran Church
There was another small concentration of population along the Hudson River south of Hemstreet Park, at the junction with Allen Road, called Bryan’s Corners. At this spot there were the WW Bryan Grain Cradle Factory, a Lutheran Church established in 1852, and a school. Hiram C. Bryan originally had a farm in the area. His father Elijah, born in Connecticut, had come to town after the Revolution. He died in 1842. Around 1850 Hiram and his sons William Ward and Amos began to dabble in making agricultural machinery. Hiram helped to found a Lutheran Church there, and there were enough children for a school, which stood at the junction of River and Allen Roads.
While I think that Amos returned to farming, William W. continued as a manufacturer- and an inventor. William had at least two patents. One in 1856 was for an “improved mode of securing braces in the snath of a grain cradle.” Another in 1870 was for grain fork improvements. In 1876 he exhibited a “fanning mill of his own manufacture” at the NYS Fair in Albany (Troy “Times” September 14, 1876). He also displayed barley forks and “one of his patent self-oiling axles, which can be used one month with one oiling.” He had introduced the axle the year before.
Through examination of the census over the years, it seems that Bryan always had a “mechanic” or two living with his family, or a blacksmith or a “cradle maker” (referring to grain cradles.) In the 1880 US Census, William, 53, and wife Maria, 54, had their sons N. Visher, 23, and Eugene, 18, at home, working in the agricultural shop, plus two blacksmiths, George Brodt, 26, and John Buckley, 19. When William W. Bryan died in 1898, the Mechanicville “Mercury” (September 10) reported he was “one of the best known residents of the town” He was the “manufacturer of the Bryan grain harvester machinery and of late employed by Westinghouse as an attorney, his territory covering the western states.” This last phrase is a great surprise to me. I can’t find how Bryan became a lawyer!
Around 1880, the focus of population and activity shifted from Bryan’s Corners to the junction of the Boston, Hoosac Tunnel and Western Railroad and Allen Road, near Howland. This was named “Reynolds “. Newspaper articles of the era mentioning the Bryans were datelined “Reynolds.” It first was a train stop, but there was briefly a post office there. It also became a milk stop, where dairy farmers could bring their milk to be shipped.
I previously explained the source of the name “Reynolds” when I wrote about Schaghticoke in 1850. William VanVechten, a farmer in the area of “Reynolds”, was town supervisor in 1850. His daughter Deriah married a man named Noyes Reynolds, a merchant from Troy. VanVeghtens were among the first settlers of the town, and always lived in what became known as Reynolds. Noyes died in 1874 and Deriah in 1888. Their son William VanVechten Reynolds, a graduate of Columbia Law School, inherited his grandfather’s property. Though William was a member of the bar, he never practiced law. He was aide to General Burt when he laid out the track of the Boston, Hoosac Tunnel Railroad, then managed the railroad for a number of years. He also was the Postmaster at what was named Reynolds for him, a milk stop on the railroad. He was prominent in Democratic politics, and, according to his obituary in the Schaghticoke Sun on January 15, 1897, a “Gold man”, who attended the National Sound Money Convention in 1896. William was a prominent local club man, in a couple of Masonic Lodges and the Clover Club in Mechanicville. He was also a director of the First National Bank in Mechanicville.
tombstone of William VV Reynolds in the little cemetery on Route 67
William VV Reynolds died of a heart attack while visiting New York City in 1897. His funeral at the Dutch Reformed Church near his home was attended by many fellow Masons, over 100 of whom came by special train from Troy, along with Doring’s Band, which played at the funeral. William died without a will, leaving debts which were greater than his estate. He had worthless stock in the Hamilton Iron and Steel Company of Canada and the Troy “Press”. He was survived only by his young widow, Estella Knight, whom he had married in Manhattan in 1895. She was not mentioned in his extensive obituary in the “Sun.” She and a physician named Sabbati Ullman named as the executors of William’s estate. William was buried next to his father in the little cemetery on route 67 near the private airport, called the Reynolds Cemetery.
bridge across the Hudson at Hemstreet Park
There had been a bridge across the Hudson at Stillwater since at least 1840, and as Mechanicville grew, I’m sure there was pressure for a bridge there. The Mechanicville Bridge Company was incorporated by the NYS Legislature in 1872 (Saratogian May 2, 1872), but the law authorizing the construction of the bridge wasn’t enacted until 1883, first by the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors. It mandated an iron truss bridge about 1,000 feet long and 24 feet wide, with a railing at least 4 ½ feet high and stone piers. This was to be a toll bridge, and the law established a detailed schedule of tolls, from 13 cents for a two-horse wagon to 3 cents for a pedestrian. The directors of the company were Thomas P. Wilkinson, Charles A. Whedan, Horace J. Medbery, William VV Reynolds, and William H. Leach. (Saratogian, November 16, 1883) Only William VV Reynolds, mentioned in the previous paragraph, was from Schaghticoke. The Rensselaer County Board of Supervisors adopted the same resolution at the same time (Journal of the Board of Supervisors, 1883). The new bridge company issued $20,000 in stock, which was all purchased by November 1887. (Troy “Daily Times” November 9, 1887) The bridge was finally constructed the next year, for just over $21,000 (Dedication Pamphlet, new bridge, 1950). The current hamlet of Hemstreet Park developed after the bridge, and I will discuss it in a future article.
The Schaghticoke portion of Valley Falls, 1876
Another center of population, the village of Valley Falls was and is still divided by the Hoosic River. In 1867, the toll bridge became a free public bridge, to be jointly maintained by the towns of Pittstown and Schaghticoke (Troy Daily Times April 10, 1867). By the Beers Atlas of 1876, the Schaghticoke portion was dominated by the Valley Falls Paper Manufacturing Company. Its mill was located to the north of the bridge across the Hoosic River, with buildings labeled “Mill,” “store house”, and “straw shed.” There was a black smith shop on the south side of the bridge, plus a number of residences. Though the owner of the mill in the 1870 US Census was Thomas Lape, the operators of the mill by 1880 were Charles J. Stark and John Kenyon, who lived just up Bunker Hill Road from the mill. I will discuss these men later in this article.
Of course the major center of population was still the village of Schaghticoke. The village was finally incorporated in 1867 by a joint NYS Legislative resolution that April. It was named “Hart’s Falls.” The Troy “Daily Times” of April 18, 1867 said it was named for Richard P. Hart. In the 1820’s Hart, “early saw the advantage to be derived from the excellent water privileges of that place, and was the first to avail himself of them.” The first half of that sentence is correct, but there had been mills at Schaghticoke for about thirty years when Hart and his local partner Amos Briggs bought up all of the mills in the gorge of the Hoosic. Richard died in 1844, but his widow Betsey continued as Amos’ partner. Actually, as of 1867, Betsey was working hard to extricate herself from partnership with Briggs, who was hopelessly in debt to the company. She actually accomplished this about the time the village was named. And Briggs, as I will explain, was not in favor of the incorporation of the village.
In May 1867 the first election under the new charter occurred (Troy Times May 8, 1867), “the most exciting affair that has happened ..in many months. The two tickets represented charter and anti-charter.” I don’t know what would have occurred if the anti-charter ticket won, as the Legislature had just incorporated the village, but in the event, the “pro-charter” ticket triumphed. O.A. Arnold, who lived in the first house on the southeast side of the current Hoosic River bridge, got 182 votes and was elected President of the village over Amos Briggs, who received only 60. It is so interesting that Briggs, such a long-time prominent citizen was so decisively defeated and that he was an “anti”. The trustees of the village were J.A. Baucus, C.B. Slocum, and S.S. Congdon, with Elihu Butts elected justice. Butts had been a town justice of the peace for many years. Interestingly, one of the anti-charter trustee candidates was Michael McGrath, who ran the saloon across the street from O.A. Arnold’s house.
An article in the Troy “Times” on August 13, 1880 implied that the village was named for one Edward Hart, who had the first fulling mill in the village in 1798. I have done lots of research on early mills in the town and have NEVER heard of Edward Hart before. In any event, the name Hart’s Falls only lasted until about 1880, when the village was appropriately renamed “Schaghticoke”. The Troy “Times” reported on April 19, 1880 that a bill doing that was working its way through the NYS Legislature. An article in the Troy “Times” on August 13, 1880 said the village had 1525 residents. The biggest employers were a paper mill, the new cable flax mill, which it said had 900 employees by 1880, and the woolen mill, with 200 employees. I think in fact the flax mill had 200-250 employees.
The “Rensselaer County Directory of 1870” stated “at this place is one of the finest water-powers on the Hoosick River. The whole fall is about 96 feet, including a perpendicular fall of 32 feet.”
Let’s imagine we lived in the village of Schaghticoke in 1870. What would that be like? First of all, we would probably work close to home, very possible due to the mills and stores. The mills even had some dedicated housing to rent to workers. We could travel easily by train to Troy, but the village really offered all that we would need in the way of shops and services. George and James Beecroft, E. M. Congdon, and Charles Herrick sold meat; Job Viall sold hardware and groceries; Garrett Groesbeck sold groceries; Andrew Sipperly sold groceries and general merchandise; Richard Gunner had a bakery. Miss Mary Penman made dresses; there was a hat shop above the Opera House; Lorenzo and Charles Baker had a clothing store; Moses Wells sold shoes; Thomas Jackson made shoes and boots; Alonzo Doty sold groceries and shoes. Andrew Rexford had a jewelry store. Charles Albro had a hardware store. Where we might have a department store, Woolworth’s or a dollar store, Mary Barker had a variety store and William Bryant and Julius Butts were called “general merchants.”
Where we would have businesses connected with cars, the village of Schaghticoke had James Camfield’s and Jacob Cookingham’s carriage shops, Albert Hurley’s blacksmith shop (Hurley was an ancestor of our current Hurley’s Garage in Melrose), and Peter Denegar’s harness shop. James Nutt had a furniture store. Mrs Mary Richards and T.A. Hayden had drug stores. Hayden also dealt in paint, oils, glass, dye stuffs, perfumery, and fancy articles. There were also the marble shop of Patrick Prendergast, who made tombstones and provided stone for construction; the paint shop of William W. VanSchaick, who painted signs and decorated carriages as well as houses; and the carpenter shop of William Smith. Julius Habersack made cigars in the basement of Searle’s store.
The village also offered a number of services. Alphonzo Merrill (Merrell), Elihu Butts, and E.E. Frost had law offices; Charles Gerhausser a barber shop; S.S. Congdon an insurance agency and telegraph office; Dr. James Hornbrook was a dentist, Hiram Button a dentist and deputy sheriff; P.H. Ragan the undertaker, Drs. E. N. Beale and Tarbell the doctors. Randolph (John Robert) Hinds was listed as physician and surgeon. There was a post office, in Congdon’s insurance agency, and a train station. The 1870 Rensselaer County Directory also included J.D. Comstock a “photographic artist.” His office was over Hayden’s drug store. And there were several “saloons”, upstairs “halls” for meetings, and the opera house for theatrical performances.
Residents could choose among the Presbyterian, Methodist, Episcopalian, and Catholic Churches in the village, and the Lutheran and Dutch Reformed elsewhere in town. The churches were major social centers in town, sponsoring all kinds of events, from theatrical performances to lecture series, to fairs, to offering Bible study and the chance to sing in the choir. The village had three one-room school houses, but if students wanted to go to high school, they would have to travel elsewhere.
Let me tell a bit more about some of the more prominent community members of 1870, first the attorneys. The life of one, Dr. Elihu Butts, is easy to report, as he paid for a full page biography in Sylvester’s “History of Rensselaer County”, published in 1880 (p. 442-443). Elihu was born in Rome, Oneida County in 1813. He married Mary Ann Minerva Hartwell, daughter of a doctor in Rome, in 1833. They had two sons, Julius and Charles. He moved to Albany about 1835, and while running a drug store studied medicine at Albany Medical College, graduating in 1848. He moved to Schaghticoke in 1850 and set up his medical practice. The family lived just south of the bridge over the Hoosic River, across the street from the Catholic Church.
Elihu Butts from Sylvester’s “History of Rensselaer County”
Elihu was elected a Justice of the Peace for the first time in 1858 and became interested in the law. He studied law and was admitted to the New York State bar in 1861. Though he continued to be a member of the Rensselaer County Medical Society, he became a lawyer. His ad in the Troy “Times” for March 31, 1863 read “Attorney and Counsellor at law in Schaghticoke: Being furnished with blanks of the most approved form for securing pensions, bounties, etc. also deeds, bonds, mortgages, contracts, etc. with the requisite revenue stamps…is prepared to dispatch business…upon short notice and to the satisfaction of those who may entrust business in his hands.”
Elihu’s bio in Sylvester states “his health became somewhat impaired” and the physical demands of being a physician on-call were too much for him. Over the rest of his life, he served off and on as a Justice of the Peace in Schaghticoke and had a vigorous law practice. He was also health officer and justice of the peace for the village of Hart’s Falls, and elected “justice of sessions” in 1878. I believe this latter would be the highest criminal court in the county. As of 1870, Elihu’s law office was in the Geddis Building, which was on the east side of Main Street, just north of 2nd Street. Elihu seems to have become very interested in criminal law. The Troy newspaper included quite a few articles about his cases both as lawyer and judge.
One of Elihu’s sons, Charles Edward, was a music teacher in the village, and usually lived with his parents. The other son, Julius, married Carrie, the daughter of a local merchant, Charles Stratton. As of the 1870 directory, Stratton was a dealer in dry goods and general merchandise in the “Brick Block”. Sadly, I do not know which building this was, but I am sure it was located on lower Main Street. Julius and his family moved with his –in-laws to Brooklyn in 1874. At that point the Methodist Church minutes record his departure and state he had been organist and choir director at the church for twenty years, and that he would be missed.
Father Elihu and his wife were always active in the Schaghticoke Presbyterian Church. Elihu was director of the choir in his old age. The Butts were certainly a musical family. The newspaper record Elihu’s activity as a lawyer through 1884. 1885 was a very bad year for the family. Elihu died January 3. His cause of death is listed as diphtheria. Wife Mary Butts died January 13. And unmarried son Charles died December 23. All are buried in Elmwood Cemetery.
Alphonzo Merrell was another lawyer in town. He was born in 1827 in Easton to parents Frederick and Loenza Merrell. His father was a tailor. As of the 1850 US Census, the family lived in the village of Schaghticoke: parents Frederick, 47, and Louisa, 39, plus children Jane, 19; Harriet, 11; and Frederick, 4. Where was Alphonzo? Perhaps this is when he was studying to be a lawyer. As of the 1855 NY Census, he was living back at home, at age 28, listed with no occupation. His sisters had married, so the family included his parents and brother Frederick, just 9. By the 1860 US Census, Alphonzo remained in the village as a lawyer, living with Ann Perry and her son Charles, but his parents and brother had moved back to Easton. On June 3, 1868, he married Phebe L. Sherman in the Methodist Church. The 1865 NY Census listed three Sherman sisters in the village of Schaghticoke: Margaret, 32, Louise, 30, and Phoebe, 28. Margaret and Phoebe were milliners. Alphonzo and Phoebe lived in the first house on the west side of Main Street, just north of where the American House hotel stood- now a fenced in yard just beyond the World War I statue. As of 1880, Alphonzo’s law office was upstairs in the Congdon Block, which was on the east side of Main Street between First and Second Street.
Alphonzo served as clerk and treasurer for the new village of Hart’s Falls after 1867, as well as Justice of the Peace for the town, and as U.S. Postmaster in the village. He was involved in the Republican Party, listed as a local representative to the County Convention in 1871. He was also an informant for Nathan Sylvester when he wrote his “History of Rensselaer County” in 1880. He was a prominent member of the Methodist Church, where he was married.
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.
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, 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- at the junction of Main and School Streets
The Schaghticoke House was just one of the eating/drinking establishments in the village of Hart’s Falls. James C. Riley ran a saloon near the current Agway. Gilbert Rice had a billiard saloon on Main Street. Michael Mc Grath’s Brooklyn House was just south of the Hoosic River, now just south of the bridge on the west side of the road. Mr Birmingham had a saloon in the new Kane Block on Main Street. Michael Butler’s saloon was called the Central House. Probably the oldest tavern/hotel was the American House, located behind where the statue of the World War I soldier is now. John Downs was the owner in 1870. A few of these establishments also provided decent housing for people who were in town for a short time, or single men. The I.O.O.F. (Odd Fellows) had a lodge on the east side of Lower Main Street. It featured a large hall, Eagle Hall, upstairs, and meeting rooms for the G.A.R., the Civil War veterans organization, and the village government. The hall was used for many public functions.
Baker’s Opera House, sadly a short-lived building
Baker’s Opera House, built about 1875 about where Sammy Cohen’s is now on lower Main Street, combined a number of functions in one building. It included at least five stores, a millinery shop, the room of the Catholic literary club, and the apartment of Charles Herrick, with the theatre on the upper floor, as was common. Two area survivals of this type are the Troy Music Hall, above the former Troy Savings Bank, and the Saratoga Music Hall, above the city government offices and the police station. An article in the Troy “Times” in 1875 reported 2000 people attending a political meeting there- twice the population of the village, a truly huge crowd.
The opera house was constructed by Lorenzo Baker. He and his brother Charles were sons of Ezekiel Baker, who was the prominent local physician from about 1820 until his death in 1866. I have written about these folks before: (https://schaghticokehistory.wordpress.com/2016/05/17/schaghticoke-in-1840/) Charles first worked for local magnate Amos Briggs and then became a general merchant. Lorenzo was a tailor and sold clothing. Both served in local government. Two of the retail spaces in the opera house were theirs. I will write about them again in a later article, as both were in business through the end of the century.
A devastating fire on September 3, 1880 destroyed the new Opera House plus the Schaghticoke House, where the fire began, and Thomas Jackson’s shoe store, Mrs Richard’s drug store, “the elegant residence belonging to the estate of E. Congdon,” a “tenement” house with four apartments, and Charles Wilbur’s home. The Masonic lodge was on the upper floor of the Schaghticoke House, and they lost everything. One thing the village did not have was a fire department. The Troy fire department was summoned by telegraph, but by the time they arrived, on a special train able to carry a fire truck, the fire had done lots of damage. Members of the Cohoes fire department were in town for a target shoot, and they helped the local bucket brigade.
The Troy “Times” reported “the hotel, (the Schaghticoke House) which was filled with boarders, was the scene of THE WILDEST EXCITEMENT. Women ran screaming into the street…Beds and bedding, crockery ware by the wagon load …covered the sidewalk for a distance of several hundred feet…” The Opera House, described in the newspaper as the finest building in town, burned next. It was not rebuilt.
In the course of my research, I came across a very shocking series of newspaper articles about the village of Schaghticoke in the late 1870’s through 1882. An article in the Troy Daily Times on August 9, 1880 stated that the village was “visited by a scourge which destroyed 1/12 of the population,” three different types of malarial fever. In the first epidemic of diphtheria, which began in June 1874 and lasted 11 months, there were over 475 cases and 120 died. “The effect of this unprecedented mortality was paralyzing. Many people moved away from the pestilential locality.” A letter to the newspaper on August 14, 1880 from Dr. D.H. Tarbell, of whom I wrote above, “the Village of Schaghticoke has for the past five years been a very sickly place. The terrible scourge of diphtheria, which prevailed here in the years of 1875 and 1876 carried to the grave about 125 victims from the village.” There were many cases in 1879 as well, he said.
The articles went on to say that in the fall of 1878 there was “malarial fever of an intermittent” form, confined to the village. Though village officials and the local doctors tried to prevent it, the fever increased, with over 500 cases reported. There was also a variety when “an eruption breaks out over the body” with “intolerable itching” which lasted five days. A final kind was a typhoid malarial fever which lasted from two weeks to a month, with 10% fatalities.
A Dr Ward of Troy stated that the cause of these diseases was the creation of a swamp after the construction of the Albany Northern Railroad. At the time, which would have been about 1855, “the channel of the river was diverted away from the village”, creating an embankment between the village and the river, and hence “a miasmic swamp of fifty acres.” The swamp poisoned the atmosphere. I don’t have any idea if any of this is accurate, and why it was finally written about in 1880, five years after the events.
Dr Ward said that making a culvert through the embankment would restore a portion of the river to its original channel and allow the swamp to fill and drain. The problem embankment was outside the bounds of the village, limiting the power of the village to require amelioration. In 1882 (Troy “Times” October 2, 1882) the Governor ordered several entities in Schaghticoke to remove their “malarial nuisance”: John A. Baucus, who had the farm which bordered Electric Lake to the north, the Schaghticoke Powder Company, located just across the river from the village, and the Hart Estate, which owned much of the property in the southern part of the village. No one property or person was held at fault: the state was just trying to target all the possible causes of the problem. After this, the Troy “Times” had no more information about the problem. I also don’t know if the reports of deaths are true, but Dr. Tarbell would seem a reputable reporter. He had begun practicing medicine in the village at this time, and had a young child die of cholera, perhaps as a part of this epidemic.
Two major industries were just developing in town around 1870: the Cable Flax Mill and several paper mills. First, I will discuss the truly new industry, the paper mills. There were two paper mills on the Hoosic River at Schaghticoke in 1870 and one on the Schaghticoke side of the river at Valley Falls. According to “Changes in Print Paper during the 19th Century” by AJ Valente, up until about 1830 paper had been made from rags- mostly from linen or hemp. Rag pickers collected discarded clothing and it was recycled to make paper. Obviously this limited the amount of paper which could be made, and as the demand for paper grew with the development of newspapers, inventors tried using all sorts of fiber to make paper. A family in Pennsylvania developed paper made partly with straw around 1830, others made paper from old manila ropes, sails, etc., then manila and straw was combined. In 1860, a company in Fort Edward patented a method of making paper from straw, filtering out the many impurities of dirt and weeds. We now have paper made of wood pulp, which was developed after 1870. The local mills at this time all made paper from straw, a process which must have resulted in lots of pollution entering the Hoosic River, as the process used caustic soda and bleach to whiten the paper. And the paper was still not really white. The technology used was short-lived, though making paper from wood pulp was no less polluting. I have not tried to figure out where all the straw for the mills came from. Presumably as much as possible came from local farmers, but the agricultural censuses for 1870 and 1880 did not have a tabulation of straw produced on farms.
Lewis Pickett- his father owned the paper mill, but Lewis got stuck in the machinery!
One of the mills at the village of Schaghticoke was owned by Lewis Pickett and Son. I have written about both Picketts before. Lewis was a carpenter and a speculator, listed in the 1850 US census as having gone West to prospect for gold. He returned and lived in the lovely house at 133 Main Street, across the street from Diver Library, with his wife and only son, Charles. He manufactured melodeons there for a time around 1855-60. Charles went off to the Civil War as a Lieutenant in the local regiment, though he did not thrive as a soldier and managed to get out of the Army before the battle of Gettysburg. The 1865 NYS census listed Lewis as a carpenter, but by 1870 he had invested $17,000 in a straw paper mill, with a water wheel producing 60 horse power, and two paper engines. He employed ten men and one woman and in 1869 used 1,150,000 pounds of straw worth $9000 to make 800,000 pounds of straw paper worth $22,500.
Charles, who was Town Clerk in 1869 and Justice of the Peace in 1873, was President of the newly incorporated village of Harts Falls (Schaghticoke) from 1870-1873. Of course he also worked with his dad, hence “Pickett and Son.” An article in the Troy “Times” on August 15, 1870 reported that “while regulating one of the cylinders of the machinery he was caught by the belting and drawn into the machinery and considerably bruised, but no bones were broken.” The mill was quite short-lived, as Lewis Pickett died suddenly in April 1872 (Troy Times, April 11, 1872) of a heart attack. The obituary called him “head of the extensive paper manufacturing concern,” and added that his son Charles was also “confined to his house by sickness.”
At the same time Charles was working with his dad and serving as the President of the village, the Presbyterian Church was citing him for drunkenness, profanity, and unchristian behavior. He was suspended as a member in 1873. Tellingly, Lewis’ will left his money to his wife and his nephew, not to his son. Though his mother continued to live in Schaghticoke, Charles does not appear in the 1875 or 1880 censuses. Sylvester’s “History of Rensselaer County,” published in 1880, states that the paper mill of Lewis Pickett was taken over by John Baucus, John Banker, and John Buckley, then the men who owned the second mill described below, plus David Button.
The 1870 US Census lists the Pickett mill and a second- and different- straw paper mill in the gorge of the Hoosic River at Schaghticoke, this one owned by James W. Baucus and Frederick Wiley. They had invested $18,000, had two water wheels producing 60 horse power, and two paper engines, employing ten men, one woman, and one child. The mill used 1,200,000 pounds of straw worth $9,600 to make 830,000 pounds of paper worth $22,825 in 1869. The 1880 census, which may reflect the two mills which the men now owned, reported that J.W. Baucus and Co. had $33,000 invested in its mill. It employed 18 men, one woman, and one child, who worked 12 hours a day year round and made from $1-$1.20 per day. The mill had been idle one month- this could have been in summer with low water or winter with a frozen river. It had two paper machines, 48 inches wide, and six water wheels to provide power: four tub, one Collins, and one Rich. Collins and Rich were both patented types of wheels. In 1864, 864 tons of straw and an indecipherable amount of pulp made 764 tons of wrapping paper, worth $19,500.
Collins tub wheel
The partners in the mill both lived near the current Schaghticoke Town Hall in Melrose. James W. Baucus, born in 1812, was a son of John Baucus and Maria Wetsel. The Baucus family had been in the town since at least 1800. I believe they were descendants of Palatine immigrants, with their name originally spelled something like Backes. A little booklet about the history of Melrose published in 1976 says they were from Holland on one page, and that they were German on another. It also says that John was born in Dutchess County and came to town as a child with his father William. Indeed William and a different John Backes are both in the census for Schaghticoke in 1800. Most of the Baucus family were members of St. John’s Lutheran Church, located at the junction of Valley Falls Road and Northline Drive. John and Maria had a large family: sons William, Daniel, Elisha, George W., John A, James W., and Joseph, and daughters Eliza, Julia Ann and Hannah Jane. John, who died in 1832, was a prosperous farmer. And his sons were prominent members of the community.
The 1856 town map shows twelve farms in the Melrose area owned by James W., Elisha, William, and George W. Baucus including the land where the town hall is now, plus the farm across the street at the corners of Gutbrodt Road and route 40, and the Wertman farm on Pinewoods Road. James, the focus of my attention here, was a farmer for many years, but the 1870 US Census called him a farmer and paper manufacturer, with real estate valued at the very high figure of $60,566. The figure in the 1865 NY Census had been just $3000, so this helps pinpoint when he got involved in the paper mill. . James was married to Maria Swartout. That 1865 NY census listed the family: James, 52; Maria, 46; and children Francis, 21, Alida, 19, Elizabeth 17, Loretta, 15, J. Irving, 13, and Elva, 9, plus Maria’s father James Swartout, 79. They had in all eight daughters and one son, plus a child who died in infancy.
John A. Baucus, brother of James, was also a farmer, but his farm was the one just at the northeast end of the village of Schaghticoke. The house is just south of Hoosic Valley Elementary School on Pleasant Avenue. John married Elizabeth Bryan Banker, another local person, in 1851. She and John had two surviving children, J. Bryan and Jessie. Besides dabbling in milling, John invested in real estate locally and in Minnesota and Wisconsin. In his 1884 will, he left his piano and about $5000 to his daughter Jessie, plus two houses at the corner of Main and 5th Street and the “Perry Premises,” while son J. Bryan received the farm, and the two children split his real estate outside the town equally. (Banker Family Genealogy)
The Baucus’ were almost all involved in local politics and business. John A. served as town supervisor from 1857-1858 and as a trustee of the village; his brother William was town supervisor in 1863, and his brother Elisha from 1868-70. Brother George was a justice of the peace. Unusually in this town at least, Elisha was a Democrat. He was Chair of the Rensselaer County Board of Supervisors in 1870. Brothers James, John, and William were elected directors of the Rensselaer County Bank in January, 1864, (Troy Times January 8, 1864), three of the five directors on the board. James, the paper manufacturer died in 1899. His obituary, April 6, 1899, reported that he had “at one time been a large holder of real estate, prominently identified with all public matters.” “Landmarks of Rensselaer County” describes him as a “farmer, paper manufacturer, and speculator in real estate.” (p 34)
James Baucus’ son-in-law and partner Frederick Wiley lived and farmed just south of him and today’s town hall on the east side of route 40. Frederick, born in 1833, was the son of William and Anna Herrick Wiley of Pittstown. “Landmarks of Rensselaer County” states he attended Fort Edward Institute and Charlotteville Seminary and taught school for four terms before becoming a farmer.(p 31) In 1861 he married Hester Baucus, one of the eight daughters of partner James. Like James, the census listed him as a farmer in the 1865 NY Census. Frederick, 32, and Hester, 23, had two children, William Elmer, 3, and Clara, 1. He was still listed as a farmer in the 1870 US Census, but as a paper manufacturer in the 1875 NY Census and the 1880 US Census. Frederick’s obituary on March 22, 1896 reported that he had joined the paper-making firm of his father-in-law JW Baucus and moved to the village of Schaghticoke in 1871. After James left the firm in 1878, David M. Button joined Frederick and the firm was renamed Wiley and Button. The factory was still in business when Frederick died.
Like the Baucus men, Frederick served his town as well. He was town clerk from 1875-76 and town supervisor from 1885-1888. An article in the Troy “Times” on March 4, 1888 reported that he was a candidate for his third term as supervisor – each term was just one year- In a “triangular fight”- presumably there were three candidates- “he received a plurality of 157 over the Democratic opponent. He did not seek the office. He was chosen because he was considered to be the very best man to fill it.” Later that year, Supervisor Wiley swore out a complaint against George Beecroft, the tax collector of Schaghticoke and a butcher, who had failed to pay the full amount of taxes to the county treasurer, having kept about $1600! Beecroft had been found in front of the American House (located behind the World War I statue in the village), where he was watching a circus parade. (Troy Times May 31, 1888). I love this article as it tells us that governmental malfeasance is nothing new, and that there was a circus in town!
Frederick also served as President of the village of Schaghticoke, a Justice of the Peace, and was on the board of the Methodist Church and the Union Free School District. During his term as President of the village, he worked with the town to get a pedestrian walk added to the bridge over the Hoosic River at Schaghticoke.
The third paper mill was at Valley Falls, with buildings located on both sides of the bridge crossing the Hoosic River on the Schaghticoke side. The mill was owned by Thomas Lape in 1870. The 1870 US census reports that he had $30,000 invested in his mill, with a water wheel generating 75 horse power, plus two paper engines. He employed ten men and four women, and used 1,600,000 pounds of straw worth $9000 and 800 barrels of lime worth $750, plus 500 tons of coal and oil worth $1000 to make 1,300,000 pounds of straw paper worth $34,000 in 1869.
The 1880 US census, at which point C.J. Stark and John Kenyon operated this mill, reported that the mill had $24,000 invested in it, twelve male employees and five female, and no children, who worked twelve hours a day year round, making $1-$1.50 per day. The mill had one cylinder paper machine, 58 inches wide, and used three water-powered American turbines to produce 90 horsepower. In 1879 it used 864 tons of straw and an indecipherable amount of wood pulp to make 642 tons of wrapping paper worth $16,050. This was slightly smaller than the Baucus mill in the village of Schaghticoke.
Thomas Lape was instrumental in the development of both the villages of Valley Falls and Schaghticoke. He was born in 1828 in Greenbush, Rensselaer County, attended the Lansingburgh Academy, and taught school in Speigletown for one year. Thomas went into trade in Lansingburgh in 1851, selling lumber, plaster, grain, and straw for five years, then began to manufacture flax yarn and twine with a partner there. Thomas moved operations to Valley Falls around 1858, where he built a paper mill. It made “straw board and wrapping paper.” The 1860 US census for Schaghticoke lists Thomas, 32, as a flax and twine manufacturer with real estate worth $15,000 and a personal estate of $5,000. This implies that he retained his interest in the flax mill. And he lived in the town of Schaghticoke.
By the 1865 NY Census Thomas was living in the Pittstown portion of Valley Falls. He bought the property called the Promised Land, to the east of State Street in the village of Valley Falls. In 1863 and 1869. It was meant to be developed as an extension of the village of Valley Falls. The 1877 Beers Atlas shows the layout of the Promised Land, with Thomas’ home at the eastern end. The 1870 US census for Pittstown shows his growing prosperity. At 42, he had real estate valued at $80,000 and a personal estate worth $40,000. Showing that desire of businessmen to be farmers, his profession was listed as “farmer.” An article in the Troy “Times” in July 1872 reported that he had invented a new potato digger, “the plan of which is different from any machine of the kind.” Thomas sold his controlling share in the Hoosic Valley Paper Mill around 1872, because he had bigger fish to fry. The mill continued. An article in the Troy “Times” in 1888 reported that the Valley Falls Paper Manufacturing Company was running full time, with twenty men making 7000 pounds of straw wrapping paper per day.
Meanwhile Thomas Lape was very active in the Prohibition or Temperance Party, running for NYS Assembly and US Congress as a candidate of that party. Thomas was married three times. He and wife Martha had five children, three of whom died young. She died in 1861 and he married Emily Stover Hamblin, widow of Myron Hamblin. They had two children, who died, and she herself died in 1867. He then married Nellie Stickles in 1869. They had twins Clarence and Clara, but Clara also died young. A street in the Promised Land was named for each of them.
Thomas sold his share in the paper mill as he organized the Chicago Stove works in 1872, building a foundry in that city. He also purchased the old Schaghticoke Linen Mills, which he reorganized as the Cable Flax Mills. A note in the Troy ”Times” of September 8, 1871 had advertised “For sale or to let: the Schaghticoke Linen Mill.” Thomas had had experience with flax in Lansingburgh, and bought the mill. He served as President of the company, E.A. Hartshorn as Secretary, and EE Starks as Treasurer. Starks was replaced by CC Hill shortly after. An article in the Troy “Times” on October 19, 1872 reported that “work has been resumed in the cable flax mill. It has been suspended for nearly five weeks on account of the putting in of a new water wheel and flume. The wheel was manufactured by Geo. W. Eddy of Waterford, and is of 75 horse power. It stands beside the old wheel and the machinery of the mill is now propelled by the force of both, which is about 165 horse power. The flume is of chestnut, 22 feet wide. The work has been done by CJ Starks of Valley Falls.”
Charles J. Stark
CJ was Charles J. Stark. It seems like he had been preparing to be a mill owner for a long time. He was a son of Silas and Susan Stark, born in Raymertown in 1821. As of the 1850 US Census, he and wife Rhoda Brownell were farmers in Pittstown, but the 1855 NY Census called him a mill wright, the 1860 US Census a flax dresser, the 1865 NY Census a farmer and miller. In 1868 he bought the 250 acres of what had been the Isaac Tallmadge farm, still the Stark farm, for $33,500 from Isaac’s son William. The house for the farm is at the corner of Bunker Hill Road and Master Street. He bought 32 more acres, bordering Lape’s Paper Mill lot, for $6,750 later the same year. (Book 137 of deeds, p. 238, 406)
Rhoda Brownell Stark
The 1876 Beers Atlas reflected this purchase, showing the Starks lived in Schaghticoke, just up the road from the Lape paper mill on the Schaghticoke side of Valley Falls. The 1870 US Census for Schaghticoke listed Charles, 48, as a farmer. He and wife Rhoda, 49, had children Charles B., 15; Helen, 19; Emily, 18; and Isabel, 13. Next door was John Kenyon, 41, who was a bookkeeper, and his wife Harriet Slocum, 37. Both John and Harriet were local people, John the son of farmer Benoni Kenyon, and Harriet of farmer Lewis B. Slocum. The 1875 NY Census listed Charles Stark as a mill wright. Son Charles Byron had moved into his own home, next door, and was listed as a paper maker, as was John Kenyon, next door to the Starks. I thought I would find a deed with the Valley Falls Paper Company passing from Thomas Lape to Stark and Kenyon, but I did not. Perhaps the men leased it, perhaps I missed the deed. The Beers Atlas of 1876 lists Charles as the President and John Kenyon as the Secretary of the Valley Falls Paper Company. Charles J. took another step common for important local men and served as Supervisor of the town in 1879. Sadly, Charles died of heart disease in 1880, wife Rhoda of pneumonia the following year, ending a promising career.
Cable Flax Mills, street side
Returning to the village of Schaghticoke, or Harts Falls as it was at the time, the Cable Flax Mills, which made all sorts of twine and woven tape, became its economic powerhouse. An article in the Troy “Times” on March 20, 1874 reported that the mill made flax twines and shoe threads, with 200-250 employees using 6000 pounds of raw material per day to make 5000 pounds of finished goods per day, “supplying largely the markets of the world” with offices in New York and San Francisco .” A further article in the Troy “Times” on August 13, 1880 stated that it employed 900 employees, a very large number in a village of under 2000 people, and I think exaggerated. The 200-250 estimate was more accurate, I believe.
Whole families worked for the mill. For example, in the 1880 US Census, widow Mary Johnson, born in Ireland, did not work, but her son Robert, 21, and daughter Mary Ann, 14, worked in the woolen mill, and daughters Jane, 20, Elner, 19, and Martha, 13, and son Mathew, 17, worked in the linen mill. In the 1875 NY Census, father Michael Shaunnesy (sic) worked in the powder mill, but children Ellen, 16, Michael, 14, and Margaret, 13, worked in the linen mill. Yes, this is child labor, very common at the time.
The Cable Flax Mills had an almost immediate impact on the housing stock of the village. An article in the Troy “Times” on September 28, 1872 reported that “the row of tenement houses on the West street of the village is not completed….named Hill Place after CC Hill of the Flax Mills…the houses are…so neat and tastefull (sic) as to much improve that part of the village and reflect credit on the architect Mr Cummings of Troy and the carpenter Mr Dodd of Cambridge and the painters VanSchaack and son of this place.” This article has, I believe, a critical error. What came to be known as the “Cable Flax Mill Tenements”, were in fact on East, not West Street, and are now called “the brick row.” The architect was Marcus Cummings, designer of a number of buildings in Troy, including the Ilium Building. The painters were William and Chauncy VanSchaack. William, who had been a Sergeant in the local 125th Regiment in the Civil War, was also a carriage and ornamental painter. And the financer- and namesake- was Calvin C. Hill, an interesting guy. I will talk about him more below.
Cable Flax Mills, river side
Thomas Lape stepped down as the President of the Cable Flax Mills in 1881, with Edwin A. Hartshorn being promoted to the job. I spoke of Thomas last week. He lived in the village of Valley Falls and attempted residential development of the area east of State Street, the “Promised Land.” Thomas had a number of other businesses on the Hoosic River in Valley Falls. For example in 1885 he traveled to purchase machinery for his pulp mills in 1885 (Troy Times July 15, 1885). “The old wheels at Mr Lape’s red mill were replaced, the wheel pit enlarged.” An article in the paper in 1888 reported on the flour, grist, pulp, and plaster mills of Thomas Lape at Valley Fallls. The pulp mill processed two to three tons of wood pulp daily.
Thomas was also active in his community of Valley Falls, chairing the building committee for the new Methodist Church in 1882 (Troy Times Dec. 23, 1882), speaking at the Farmer’s Institute in 1889 (Troy Times, Nov 16, 1892), serving as the President of the Valley Falls Musical Association in 1889, (Troy Times Jan 14, 1889), running as the Prohibition candidate for county judge in 1890 (Troy Times Nov 12, 1890). Thomas died on November 6, 1898 (Troy Times Nov. 7, 1898), reported as “one of the best known men in the county. …He was an active promoter of several industries and interested himself in the development of the pretty village of Valley Falls.”
Edwin A. Hartshorn had been involved in the Cable Flax Mills from the start. He was born in Petersburg in 1841, a teacher by age 19, and enlisted in August 1862 as the 1st Lieutenant of Company E of the 125th NY Infantry Regiment in the Civil War. He was promoted to Captain shortly after. He was discharged from the Army in November 1863 after months of illness, but despite his relatively short and uneventful time in the Army- he missed all of the battles of the 125th- he plunged himself into the activities of the veterans of the war. I don’t know what experience or acquaintances led him to be named Secretary of the Cable Flax Mills when they were founded in 1871, at the tender age of 30. The Secretary was not a note-taker, but one of the chief executive officers of the company. Though Edwin never lived in Schaghticoke, he obviously had great influence here. The local post of the Grand Army of the Republic, the Civil War veterans’ organization, was named for him.
Edwin was also very active in Republican politics, becoming friends with future President William McKinley and serving on the Common Council in Troy, where he lived. He was a national leader in the American Protective Tariff League, working hard to get the products of the Schaghticoke mill protected by tariffs from competition from such places as India, where wages were tiny. (There’s nothing new under the sun!)He also worked hard to boost growth of hemp and flax in the area, through the Flax and Hemp Spinners and Growers’ Association of America (Washington County Post Nov 15, 1889). The Cable Flax mill did buy foreign flax- an article in the Troy “Times” on August 18, 1874 reported “E.A. Hartshorn off to Europe.” Hartshorn implied that it was foreign competition which led the mill to produce twine and tape rather than fabric, which could be made so much more cheaply in India. I will report more about the Cable Flax Mills in a separate article in the future.
There were several mills in Schaghticoke which provided materials to the Cable Flax Mill. Local farmers grew the flax, had it processed at these mills and then sold it to be made into twine and woven tape. These were seasonal mills on small streams throughout the town. One was that of Smith Cass. The 1870 US Census shows he had $1600 invested in a flax dressing mill, plus a saw and cider mill. Eleven men worked in the flax mill, processing 450 tons of flax worth $15,730. Smith Cass is separately listed in the 1870 US Census as a flax manufacturer with real estate worth $7000. Smith, 36, and his wife Helen, 32, had two children. Five of their employees lived with them. I don’t know where his mill was. He appears in no other census in Schaghticoke, and was a farmer in the Cambridge area by 1880.
Nathan Aiken had a much bigger investment- $24,000 – in his flax dressing mill on the Wampaconk Creek. A 40 horsepower water wheel and 12 employees dressed 600 tons of flax straw worth $21,000 and made 90 tons of flax lint worth $28,800 and 22 tons of flax tow worth $910. The tow was a by-product which could be made into rope. W.H. Buckley, a neighbor of Aiken, also had a flax dressing mill on the Wampaconk. More about him later.
Nathan Gould Akin, from an ancestry.com family tree
Nathan Gould Akin (1823-1886) was another well-off local farmer. Unlike the others I have written about, he did not get involved in local politics. Nathan’s mother was a Gifford, another prominent local family. He married Phebe Hoag in 1849. They began married life in Pittstown, living in his childhood home with his recently widowed mother and his sisters. By the 1855 NY Census, they had bought a farm in a bend of the Powampaconk Creek on what would become known as Akin Road. They had four children: Hoag, Ella, Armenia, and Arthur.
By the 1870 US census, Nathan valued his farm at $29,500. He had 166 improved, and 20 unimproved acres, seven horses, five milk cows, two oxen, 16 sheep, and ten swine. Nathan grew similar items to his neighbors: rye, Indian corn, oats, and buckwheat, and a rather large amount of potatoes: 1600 pounds. He grew more flax than most of his neighbors: 3200 pounds and produced 64 bushels of flax seed. Different than his neighbors, at least for part of his life he had his own mill on the Wampaconk Creek to process flax. Nathan would have had a ready market for this flax locally. A letter from shortly after Nathan began farming in Schaghticoke, 1851, showed him selling $918 worth of flax to Amos Briggs, who was then running the flax mill on the Hoosic River. An 1853 letter recorded a $1000 purchase. Amos bought flax locally, but also from Belgium and Ireland, not able to buy enough for his needs in this area.
The 1880 US census showed Nathan growing a bit less flax: 2400 pounds, but listed 7 tons of straw- was he growing straw for the local paper companies? Several of his neighbors also grew flax and straw. Nathan died suddenly in 1886 at age 60, the newspaper said of heart disease, but if it was sudden, it may have been a heart attack.
There was another small mill in Schaghticoke about 1875, with a tangential connection to the Cable Flax Mills. This allows us an interesting snapshot of both the vagaries of the textile business, and of a man who made just a brief impact on our town. The 1870 US Census for Troy shows Edwin Hartshorn, twine merchant and future President of the Cable Flax Mills, living next door to Calvin C. Hill, another twine merchant. Calvin was just E.A. Hartshorn’s age, 28, with a wife, Eliza, and a son Walter, 1. And though C.C., as he was called, was born near Watertown, NY, his mother was from Petersburg, as was Hartshorn. Perhaps the men had known each other before. They must have gotten on well, as when Hartshorn came to work in Schaghticoke the next year Hill followed, becoming Treasurer of the mill a year or so later. Hartshorn and family continued to live in Troy, but C.C. moved his family to the village. They lived just south of the Picketts on Main Street, almost across the street from Diver Library today. He built “Hill Place,” the housing for the mill workers described above in 1872. An article in the Troy “Times” that fall reported that the housing was already all rented.
Unlike Hartshorn, Hill did not remain with the flax mill. Interestingly, his occupation in the 1875 NY Census was listed as “speculator,” but by the 1876 Beers Atlas, he was listed as the proprietor of the Eagle Shirt Works, housed on lower Main Street in the village, almost across the street from where Tommy’s Tavern is now. The Troy “Times” of May 23, 1876 reported that “not withstanding the general depression of business, the mills (of Schaghticoke) have been running thus far. CC Hill has removed his store and shirt manufactory to Eagle Hall block. He employs a hundred operatives.” I think that many of the workers or operatives made the shirts at home, perhaps with sewing machines purchased from Hill. Beers Atlas described him as “agent for Wheeler and Wilson sewing machines, manufacturer of shirts, overalls, and cottonade pants, machines to be sold, to be paid by easy monthly payments, work furnished to parties to assist with paying for the machines.” But all was not smooth. The Troy “Times” of October 16, 1876 reported that C.C. had bought $1000 worth of boots and shoes from a man and was selling them off, hoping to use the proceeds to pay off his creditors. The shoes were seized by the sheriff when those creditors became concerned that C.C. was keeping the money for himself. But Hill’s business survived: the October 4, 1880 Troy “Times” reported that “the Eagle Shirt Works have just completed an order of 1200 shirts for a Boston firm and have received a new order from the same firm for 5,000 dozen more, necessitating the enlarging of its working capacity.”
At the same time that he was wheeling and dealing, C.C. also was very active in the government of the village of Hart’s Falls, as Schaghticoke was known at the time. He was elected trustee several times, and served as the health inspector. This post could have been very important and controversial in view of the “malarial” problems in the village during those years. But C.C. moved on. He was in the village as late as 1883, when the newspaper reported that he had been ill, but was improving (Troy “Times”January 6, 1883). In 1888, his home was sold for non-payment of mortgage. (Troy “Times” June 2, 1888) His wife Eliza died in 1892. I’m not sure if C.C. and Eliza were still married at the time. She is buried in Troy and at the time of the foreclosure, she alone was mentioned as living in the house in the village. If the 1900 US Census is correct, C.C. married a Sarah Jordan in 1885. A tiny article in the Troy “Times” on September 15, 1892 stated that C.C., a former resident, was visiting Schaghticoke from Texas. He died in New York City in 1908, having been a salesman for the Ostrander Fire Brick Company there for fifteen years. He is buried in Elmwood Cemetery.
Schaghticoke Woolen Mill
The Schaghticoke Woolen Mill was another economic powerhouse of 1870. Like the Cable Flax Mill, it had its origins in the very early years of the village of Schaghticoke, just before 1800, when there were several wool processing and wool spinning mills. Later there were a couple of woolen mills including looms, but they were more or less successful financially and prone to fire.
When partner Betsey Hart finally succeeded in forcing Amos Briggs to close their cotton mill in the village, around 1865, Briggs managed to get backers to open a new woolen mill at the same time. He must have been a very persuasive man, as he was deeply in debt himself. Sylvester’s “History of Rensselaer County” states the mill was founded in 1864 by a company of which Amos Briggs was President and D. Thomas Vail treasurer. “The company erected the present large and convenient buildings, supplying them with the best of modern machinery. The goods made are fancy cassimeres, and 175 hands are employed.” This all sounds fabulous. The 1870 US Census reported that the mills had real estate and fixtures worth $250,000. Two water wheels provided 125 horse power to ten carding machines, 40 looms, and 4050 speeders (part of the spinning process). The mills employed 56 men, 48 women, and 65 children under 16 and in a year used 425,000 pounds of wool plus some silk and 500 tons of dye stuff to make 125,000 yards of fabric worth $375,000.
Schaghticoke Woolen Mill from 1889 Bird’s Eye View
Schaghticoke Woolen Mill, 1876 map
David Thomas Vail became President of the mills in 1868. Amos Briggs was an elderly man at this point; he died in 1874. Vail was the son of George Vail, a very successful Troy man, who began in the dry goods business but ended as the founder and President of the Merchants and Mechanics Bank in 1829, instrumental in the Troy Orphan Asylum and the Troy Savings Bank, plus a founder of the Rensselaer County Agricultural Society. He was also a breeder of cattle. D. Thomas took over for his father as President of the Merchants and Mechanics Bank in 1851. He was also President of the Troy and Boston Railroad from 1854 to 1878- following Amos Briggs in that role-and President of the Troy Union Railroad in 1852- which built the first Troy train depot and connected the various railroads entering the city; etc. He was married to Phoebe Bloom Hart, one of the many daughters of Amos Briggs’ partner, Betsey Hart, the widow of Richard P. Hart. Their son was named Richard P. Hart Vail. So Vail certainly knew the financial situation of Briggs, the whole history of the Hart-Briggs relationship, and the prospects for a woolen mill in Schaghticoke. And amazingly to me, Betsey Hart, mother-in-law of D. Thomas and former disgruntled partner of Amos Briggs, invested in the mill.
I’m sure D. Thomas wasn’t involved in the mills on a day-to-day business. The 1860 US Census listed his occupation as “farmer.” The 1868 Troy City Directory did list him as President of the bank and the railroad, and listed his house as “River View, Mount Ida.” This would have been an estate on the hill to the east of the city of Troy.
After Sylvester’s “History” describes the wonderful woolen mills, it goes on to report that they went bankrupt and closed in 1878! Apparently finances at the mill had precipitously worsened after the Panic of 1873, a world-wide economic dislocation and depression. An article in the Troy “Daily Times” of October 3, 1883 reported on the court case which resulted after the scandalous discovery that the Merchants and Mechanics Bank had concealed from state bank examiners that it was $400,000 in debt- about $7 million today- all of it bad debts from the Schaghticoke Woolen Mill. Of course D. Thomas Vail was the President of the bank…and of the mill, certainly a terrific conflict of interest. D. Thomas died in February 1882, rather conveniently getting himself out of a heap of trouble. Daniel Robinson, the vice-president of the bank, was stuck with the mess and the scandal. The mill had been $156,000 in debt in 1872, which increased to $358,000 by 1876 and over $400,000 by 1878. D. Thomas had duped both Robinson and the head teller- the major financial officer of a bank- into believing that all was really okay. Poor Robinson had poured lots of his own money into the mill, taking over day-to-day operations and trying to make a go of it. The case went on in the courts until at least 1886, though where anyone thought any pay out was going to come from, I don’t know.
A letter to the creditors of the Merchants and Mechanics’ Bank written March 10, 1879 states the basic fact of the bank’s failure due to the enormous indebtedness of the Woolen Mill, and also gives a nice description of the mill: “a valuable mill site and water-power, a large four-story brick factory, in size 180 feet long, by 54 feet wide, with wings, a gas house, and other erections. The buildings are fully furnished with machinery adapted to make the finest quality of woolen goods made in America. The machinery includes 40 looms, 8 mules (spinning machines), drying machinery, washer, &c. all of the most approved style, with the latest improvements, and nearly as good as new. The whole property cost upwards of $250,000.” The point of the description was to get someone to buy the mill for a fair price, thereby ensuring some sort of payout to the creditors of the bank.
A second letter, written by Betsy Hart and dated June 28, 1879, listed the stockholders of the mill and required the 18 who had money- D. Thomas Vail and Augustus E. Masters, Jr., one of the Masters family from Schaghticoke, had none- to each give $216 to pay the salaries due the workers when the mill closed, amounting to $3,700 in total. It seems to me that this was a very generous move by the stockholders towards their poor employees. Of course the focus on all of this high finance should be seen beside what must have been a horrible stress for the poor employees, all residents of the village of Schaghticoke. No wonder the village was named Harts Falls for her for a while. These letters are in the Hart papers at the Rensselaer County Historical Society. Betsey Hart had been partner in a number of mills with local Amos Briggs, and was owner of what is now the Hart-Cluett House, 59 2nd Street, the historic home which is part of the RCHS.
The Schaghticoke Woolen Mills were quickly re-opened in 1879 by J.J. Joslin of Buskirk’s Bridge. Sylvester’s “History of Rensselaer County,” published in 1880 reported “The mills are now doing a large business, running overtime, and finding a quick sale for all their products.” What we would now call a “puff piece” about the mills was published in the Washington County “Post” on January 23, 1880. Perhaps its purpose was to rehabilitate the reputation of the village, after its long siege with diphtheria and “malarial disease,” and then the bankruptcy of the mill. “Along the surface of the adjoining precipitous rocks (of the lower falls of the Hoosic River at Schaghticoke) stretch the massive walls of the Schaghticoke Woolen Mill, its shining towers and pinnacles and picturesque façade calling to mind some ancient castle in Rhineland.” The article describes mill apparatus in similar style, from the “mammoth scourer”, which can clean 4,000 pounds of wool a day; to the design department, “whose sacred precincts the vulgar throng cannot enter”; to the “huge hanks of yarn of all the colors of the rainbow”. The third story is the spinning room, the second the carding room, and the first, the weaving room, filled with imported looms, which can turn out 160,000 yards of cloth each year in 400 styles. 600 tons of coal per year feed the boilers, heaters, and gas house. The towers contain water tanks for firefighting. And “the beautiful water power of a 37-foot fall never fails.”
“This mill is ably officered by its calm, impurturable (sic), self-poised and far-sighted proprietor J.J. Joslin, and the efficient superintendent J.E. Pinkham, a courtly gentleman of the old school…and by its active and polite clerk, J. Whitman Joslin, a nephew of the proprietor. John Jay Joslin (1834-1890) was listed in the 1880 US census as a wool dealer, so he knew that part of the job, at least. Before that, J.J., who grew up in Pittstown, the son of Whitman and Sarah Joslin, farmers, was himself always listed in the census as a farmer. When J.J. died in 1890, his lengthy will begins with leaving $75,000 to his wife, and goes on to list real estate locally and in the western states, so he was definitely an experienced and successful businessman.
James E. Pinkham
James Everett Pinkham (1817-1903) had had the job of Superintendent under the previous management. He was born in York, Maine and got his experience working in mills there. The 1850 US Census found him in Saco, Maine, with wife Sarah. By the 1865 Massachusetts census, they were in Salem, where James was a manufacturer of wool. Sylvester reports that he moved here the next year. He and Sarah had two sons and two daughters. The 1870 US Census found James listed as the superintendent of the woolen mill, son Edward a bookkeeper there, and son Herbert, just 18, an overseer. Herbert and Edward went briefly to Abilene, Kansas, where they were grocers. They moved back to go into business in Schaghticoke, but Herbert died of typhoid in fall 1881, leaving a widow and two children. The 1900 US Census showed James, now a widower, plus son Edward, daughter-in-law Alice and her two children as a household. Edward became the local insurance man. James was mentioned in the lawsuits surrounding the bankruptcy of the mill and the Merchants and Mechanics Bank in 1878, but apparently lasted out all of it. When the law suits around the closing of the mill came to an end after several appeals, around 1888, I think James ended up being held responsible for about $1,800 of the remaining debt, owed to the receiver. (Troy Times Feb.24, 1888)
There is a lot more to the story of the Schaghticoke Woolen Mill, which I will postpone until later. One thing that the newspaper articles about the financial problems of the mill does not include is the effect of it all on the workers. There were many families in the village who depended on the mill for their daily bread, literally, and the off-and-on openings and closings of the mill must have made huge differences in their income from month to month. For example, the 1870 US Census listed five daughters of the widowed Elizabeth Glennon as weavers at the mill. Five younger children lived at home and attended school. The family would have no income without the woolen mill. Many of the families were immigrants, clearly going where the work was.
One more mill in 1870 Schaghticoke was S. A. Spicer & Co., which made bagging or “gunney cloth” and cordage in the village. It was run by T. C. and Sydney Spicer and G.P. Mealy, with an office of Vail Avenue in Troy. The mill was the farthest south in the village, where the Agway mill is today. This factory is not mentioned in the 1880 “History of Rensselaer County,” and none of the owners lived locally. I believe it was a short-lived enterprise. Theron C. Spicer was born in Pittstown in 1820, the son of a farmer. He and his brother went into the lumber business in Troy, and by 1870 Theron had essentially retired from that business and invested in this factory to make bags and cordage of jute. This is an interesting choice as jute had to be imported, whereas using linen would have allowed at least some use of local flax. Sydney was listed in the 1870 US Census as “gunney cloth manufacturer.” I think the real operator of the mill was George P. Mealey, 41, who lived in Lansingburgh in the 1870 US Census and was also listed as “gunney cloth manufacturer.” By the 1880 US Census, he was a worker in the railroad yard and Sydney was listed as a cotton manufacturer.
Schaghticoke Powder Mill From Sylvester 1880
The other major industry in town was a very old one, the Powder Mill, which had been operating since about 1812. The keg factory of the mill was still on the original factory site, on the Tomhannock Creek, near its junction with Route 40, but the rest of the mill was on the south side of the Hoosic River, across from the village of Schaghticoke, and mostly accessible from the village of Valley Falls, though still in the town of Schaghticoke. The owners and managers of the mill now mostly lived in Valley Falls, rather than just south of the Hoosic River on Route 40, where they had been before. President William Bliss was the exception. He and his wife lived in the third house south of the Catholic Church, now Transfiguration North.
The 1870 US Census reported that the powder company had invested $80,000 in its real estate and equipment, had four water wheels which generated 226 horsepower, and made 767,275 pounds of gunpowder worth $92,073 in 1869. This contrasts with over a million pounds made in 1865, the last year of the Civil War. As I have written before, the mill produced ¼ of the black powder for the Union Army during the war. The mill continued to grow, however, and was producing above its Civil War level by 1875. The business had seventeen employees, who made an average of over $1000 per year. Employees of the Pickett and Son Paper Mill made about $450. Powder making was dangerous and its workers were paid accordingly.
The mill had been founded by local men, the Masters brothers, and then owned by men who may have come from outside, but who settled here to run the operation they owned. The current President, William P. Bliss was an example. He had worked for the mill since 1837 and been President since 1868. But according to “Peril in the Powder Mills” by Dave McMahon and Anne Kelly Lane, in 1871 Laflin & Rand Powder Company became the largest shareholder in the Schaghticoke Powder Company. Presumably William Bliss and his Superintendent, Chauncey Olds, would have managed day-to-day operations, but Laflin & Rand would have had overall control. While the mills did a huge business in volume, it employed relatively few men. The community was certainly very aware of its presence- thanks to periodic explosions- but it wouldn’t have had the same economic impact as a mill with hundreds of employees.
In 1870 and 1873, the wheel mill of the Powder Company exploded, with no casualties, but on August 31, 1874, it exploded again, killing George Smith and James McGowan. I think that George had recently changed from a relatively safer job in the woolen mill, but James was the son and grandson of powder makers. He was 29, George 24. Another explosion on February 13, 1875 killed Horace (Maurice) Porter and Arthur (James) Rogers. Horace was 47 years old, and left a wife and son. Arthur was 55, and left a wife and at least six children. I have written about the earlier history of the mill elsewhere, and will go into more detail about it in a separate article.
Grant Fan and Cradle Mill from Sylvester 1880
Another continuing business was the Grant Fan Mill and Grain Cradle Factory in Grant Hollow, just east of route 40 south of current Melrose. This was founded in 1836 by Isaac T. Grant, who with partner Daniel Viall, patented the tools they sold. Isaac died in 1868, but the mill carried on, adding J.P. Leavens and E.B. Banker to the ownership. I have written about Isaac and the factory elsewhere. It also housed a general store and post office. As of the 1870 US Census, the mill employed twelve men and two boys and made $230 of fan mills and $6123 of grain cradles, uniquely using both steam and water power. The 1880 US Census added that the mill worked eight months full time and 4 months part-time. Water power depends on an adequate, unfrozen supply of water, hence the use of steam. The census recorded that the water wheel used was of the turbine type.
Still another factory, the WW Bryan Grain Cradle Factory, located on the Hudson River south of present-day Hemstreet Park, made $1890 of fan mills, $600 of cradles, $600 of wagons, $360 of harrows with its five employees in 1870. This factory had been in business since at least 1855. The NY census for that year recorded that William Bryan and his brother Amos employed ten men to make 12,000 grain cradles. As of the 1880 US Census, there were eight employees. This census records that the mill used an overshot water wheel on a stream that emptied into the Hudson, and that it had operated all year. I wrote about the Bryans earlier in this piece.
The bottom line is that in 1870 the town of Schaghticoke seems to have been prosperous. There was a hiatus after the woolen mill failed in 1878, but new ownership restored that business shortly after. The result was that more and more amenities were available locally. I have written about many of them earlier in the article. Most of these businesses were in the village of Hart’s Falls, with a couple in Schaghticoke Hill and Melrose. There were blacksmiths located all over town, at least 16 in all. Conspicuous by its absence is a bank. The closest one was in Troy. The Rensselaer County Historical Society has many letters written by local manufacturer Amos Briggs to his business partner Betsey Hart in Troy in the 1850’s. Most of them were stating how much cash he needed to pay the workers and acknowledging the receipt of that cash, transported by a courier from a bank in Troy either by road or railroad. 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, and there was an average of 5.4 people per household. The village of Schaghticoke had 1120 people, about 40% under 16. Of that number, 148 were in school and 100 were working. One 6-year-old child was working in a mill.