Friday, December 4, 2020

Our Towne Bethlehem December 2020: Keeping the Peace

This article largely skips over what exactly those 18th and 19th century constables were specifically doing in rural Bethlehem.  If you have some insights, please reach out.  Thanks!

Keeping the Peace
December 2020

 Law and order has been a source of concern for Bethlehem residents since the town’s organization in 1794. That year six constables were elected at the annual meeting: John J. Van Derheyden, Milan Warner, Elisha Wyncoop, Hugh McKnab, Den Dimmick and Claus Karkner. Constables, like modern day police officers, were charged with keeping the peace and maintaining public order.

By the early 1900s, the town board was appointing constables, one of whom, in 1924, was David R. Main. Main served until his death in 1949 becoming well known for patrolling the Four Corners on foot with his white bulldog at his side. His cases were frequently mentioned in the newspapers, from rounding up lost heifers in South Bethlehem to dealing with an aggressive “cat burglar” who was breaking into homes in Delmar, Elsmere and beyond. He described that criminal as the meanest burglar he had ever had to contend with. Missing persons, peeping toms, and fire investigations are all mentioned.

In 1941, the town transitioned from a constabulary to a formal Police Department, with Main appointed the first chief. Also transitioning over were constables, now patrolmen, C. Arthur Blodgett and John A. Hotaling. A police department of three was deemed sufficient by the town board for the growing suburbs of Delmar, Elsmere and Slingerlands, and the more rural Glenmont, South Bethlehem and Selkirk. Officers worked closely with the New York State Police on keeping the proverbial peace. The Bethlehem Police Department has gone on to grow and professionalize. It became one of the first to be accredited by the New York State Law Enforcement Accreditation Program in 1990, a recognition that is still in place today.

Bethlehem residents’ concern for law and order was also realized in two different mutual aid organizations: the Bethlehem Conscript Society and the Bethlehem Mutual Protective Association.

The Bethlehem Conscript Society was organized in 1874 to pursue and recover horses and wagons stolen from members. Founders included former town supervisor Albertus Becker and former town clerk William Kimmey. The Society met for at least 20 years as evidenced by their August 31, 1895 annual meeting announced in the Coeyman’s Herald. At that time William Kimmey was still the treasurer of the group. Such banding together for the mutual aid was not that unusual in rural, upstate New York. The Kinderhook Conscript Society was formed in 1808 for the pursuit of horse thieves. It continued until at least 1934 when one newspaper writer wondered “why the Kinderhook Society did not adapt itself to the changing conditions and start chasing automobile thieves…but there are traditions which gave the society the right or privilege to round up snatchers of horses, while to the police is left the job of recovering motor vehicles.”

The Bethlehem Mutual Protective Association was incorporated in 1909 with the express purpose of guarding against theft, trespass and malicious mischief. At the beginning there were several hundred members, most of whom were farmers, from Coeymans, Bethlehem and New Scotland. A snippet in the October 28, 1910 Altamont Enterprise sums up why someone would join the group. “Mr. Van Wie was unfortunate in having his horse stolen last Wednesday night, but had the good fortune to recover the horse and outfit after considerable trouble and expense. He contemplates joining the Bethlehem Mutual Protective Association”

The group pursued offenders both big and small, sometimes offering rewards, like the $50 award offered in 1911 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the parties who stole the chickens from John Patterson, Glenmont, or the $50 offered in 1914 for the person who stole the horse from the pasture of Elisha Stoff. They were active in the apprehension of Chicken Charlie, Charles Rathke, an unrepentant chick stealer. 1917 brought a rash of “automobile parties with motor cars, cycles and hunters making raids upon orchards and gardens and helping themselves to fruits and vegetables.” Drugstore robberies and blanket thefts are also mentioned in the papers.

Besides pursuing criminals, the group promoted community efforts like “contributing food stuffs to the Empty Stocking Fund” and an effort in 1933 to remove unsightly billboards. The Association met annually to conduct business, elect officers and enjoy a clambake or turkey dinner. They were active at least until the late 1930s.

A word of note, the various newspaper clippings sometimes refer to members of the Bethlehem Mutual Protective Association as officers, even using the word police officer on occasion. This group was a private organization, representing their members, not the Town of Bethlehem. Indeed, at one annual meeting of the Guilderland Mutual Protection Association, after being addressed by Surrogate Glenn who told of the work of the Bethlehem group and “how thievery had compelled the farmers to organize for mutual protection and the excellent results therefrom,” Attorney Barkhuff then spoke at length, and “emphasized the fact that the Protective association stood for Americanism, law and order. He made a plea for the proper administration of justice, rather than take the law in our own hands.” (Altamont Enterprise, October 21, 1921)

The Bethlehem Conscript Society and the Bethlehem Mutual Protective Association are part of a long line of community groups that organized around a perceived need. As Floyd Brewer wrote in concluding the Community Organizations chapter of Bethlehem Revisited, “Looking back over the mass of data on community organizations assembled for this chapter, one is struck by the enduring quality of a large number of Bethlehem groups… many were founded by forceful leaders who left a legacy of group structure to fill varying needs, to resolve problems and to enhance the cultural life of a dynamic, growing community... In short, citizens will find ways of addressing their problems and needs through organizations in every age.”


Sgt. John Van Nosdall is seen here in April 1965 with Calico, Bethlehem’s very own police cat. Calico took up residence in town hall, bedding down in Police Headquarters, patrolling the various offices and attending town board meetings. She was known for her diet of cat food and fish. The occasional mouse was consumed, according to Capt. Robert Foster, “Only if they violated the law.”

Police Chief David Main, left, is seen here at a 1942 Lincoln Day dinner at the Ten Eyck Hotel along with Bethlehem Judge William Comstock and his wife. Next to her is Arthur Blodgett, a Bethlehem police officer, who served as chief after Main, and retired from the force in 1959.

Sgt. Pat Dorsey places his cap on on Meg Lierheimer, March 25, 1973


Members of the Bethlehem Mutual Protective Association posted signs as a warning to would be thieves and trespassers.  

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Bethlehem views from the Studio of the Eastern Illustrating Co

Back over the summer I was obsessed with postcards from the Eastern Illustrating Company of Belfast, Maine and kept meaning to write up a blog post.  Then I got distracted by the 1898 assessment roll.  

Now, I am back to it. First, a little background, then a whole bunch of photos that you will spend hours poring over.  Believe me, I have.

So, I have seen the logo above on several postcards in the town's historic photo collection.  It got me to wondering about what a company in Maine had to do with Bethlehem.  Googling around led me to the website of the Penobscot Marine Museum and the most astonishing collection of "real photo" postcards and the glass plate negatives they were created from.  Basically, from 1909 to 1947, the Eastern Illustrating Company sent photographers all over the northeast to take pictures of notable local sites that they then turned into postcards.  Go to their website and read all about it.

In searching their database, I found that photographers visited Clarksville, Delmar, Elsmere, Feura Bush and Selkirk. Interestingly, there are several cards from Slingerlands that are in the town's collection, but not in the online database. They've also got a couple of Delmar places listed as Elsmere and vice-versa.  I'm also wondering about Glenmont, South Bethlehem and Cedar Hill. So, I emailed the curators.  I'll let you know what I find out. 

The images I found on website are awesome, many of which I have never, ever, seen before.  I could write whole blog posts on each one of them. Like this one about Piney Rest which I wrote without even knowing it was an Eastern card until it popped up on the database.

All of the pictures below are taken from the Penobscot Marine Museum website and are inscribed with the museum's watermark.  You can purchase clear copies from the museum, and please do! They've got 50,000+ images to archive and they could use the money.

And without further ado I give you the postcards that are on their website. Enjoy. 
(PS - I tried to put them in some semblance of order, note that most pictures are numbered.  It looks like the lower numbers are of an earlier date.)




Feura Bush


Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Swing Albany, and Bethlehem too!

Pop over to this website for a "swinging" read about Albany's vibrant musical scene in the 1930s and 40s.

The articles include South Bethlehem's own Horton Family.  I wrote about them a while back.


Our Towne Bethlehem November 2020: The 1898 Assessment Roll Continued

Tavern Stands, Blast Furnaces & Telephone Poles

Last month we focused on the farms and house lots in the 1898 Assessment Roll for the Town of Bethlehem. This month, as promised, we look at some of the commercial ventures mentioned in the ledger.

Tavern Stands

Ten tavern stands were evaluated in the 1898 Assessment Roll for Bethlehem including those of William Hurst, whose Log Tavern was the anchor of Hurstville, Henry Parr, proprietor of the Abbey in Glenmont, and William Schoonmaker, owner of the Cedar Hill House which at the time was run by William Crum.

These tavern stands were just what you think they are, a place to eat and drink, not unlike our modern-day restaurants and bars. They also served many other functions. Most offered lodging to those traveling on the turnpike road, and they were often stage coach stops. Besides a tap room, many had a second-floor ballroom for dances and other events. Sometimes the Post Office was located there.

Taverns and inns served as polling places as well as places where you could go and pay your taxes. For example, in 1913, James W. Beeten, Bethlehem’s Collector of Taxes, advertised the schedule for when he would be at various locations, including the Hurstville Hotel, Cedar Hill Hotel, and the Abbey Hotel, “for the purpose of receiving taxes.” One wonders when the collector of taxes became the receiver of taxes.

Cedar Hill House Hotel (courtesy of Bethlehem Historical Association)

Sketch from the 1854 Gould Map of Albany County.

The Abbey Hotel used to be on River Road near the intersection of Glenmont Road.  The Abbey had a long history, going back at least to the American Revolution when it was run by Hugh Jolly. Henry Parr took it over in the early 1880s. 

Blast Furnaces

Bethlehem’s assessment roll only hints at the holdings of P. J. McArdle whom one newspaper dubbed “the millionaire junk dealer of Albany.” There are four entries: the Albany Blast Furnace ($,8000), an ice company ($4,000), an old blast furnace ($5,000) and J. D. Pappalow ice house ($3,000). All of these properties are listed as “isl” or island, referring to Westerlo Island aka Van Rensselaer Island, modern day Port of Albany, and not really an island anymore. The island was in the town of Bethlehem until 1926.

Patrick McArdle was born in Ireland in 1848 and immigrated to the U.S. with his family in 1862. His obituary notes that in May 1863 “the young man engaged in business.” He would have been about 15 years old. McArdle’s ventures mainly focused on the iron industry, including a foundry in Peekskill, and later a rolling mill in New York that produced bar iron and horseshoe iron. He came to Albany in 1885 and became extensively involved in the waste and metal business. An article in the Albany Argus newspaper dated November 9, 1887 describes McArdle as “one of the best and most reliable business men in the State. He buys and sells old iron in vast quantities – often $50,000 worth a month from the N.Y. C. & H. R. R. and the West Shore R. R. alone…He is the king in that line of business, and employs a large number of people.”

Besides the iron business, McArdle was also a dealer in rags, paper and other recyclables like rubber rope and glass. He had a large, four-story warehouse complex at the corner of Arch and Church Streets in Albany, as well as facilities in New York and Buffalo. The Albany warehouse burned down in September 10, 1889 in a spectacular fire that spread so quickly employees jumped from the roof. Several were badly injured, and one, Richard Gamble, was killed.

And the two blast furnaces listed in the assessment roll? One is likely the Jagger Iron Works which McArdle acquired during a foreclosure auction in 1889. He was a wily bidder. He signaled a last-minute bid which the other bidders thought was increasing the price by $100,000. But no, McArdle’s increase was $100. The auctioneer closed the bidding in his favor at $30,100. This property, described as 15 acres on Martin Garretse’s island in the Town of Bethlehem, included a blast furnace, buildings, docks, and everything else on the property. In 1892, McArdle acquired the Olcott Iron Works, another blast furnace, that had been idle since 1880. While newspaper articles from the time indicate he was going to re-furbish the Jagger property and create a rolling mill to process the scrap iron he acquired, another resource (an 1894 Directory of Iron and Steel Works) describes the Albany City Iron Works, owned by Patrick McArdle, as “idle for several years and for sale.”  

In the 1900 U.S. Census, McArdle and his wife Mary, were living at 226 Elm Street in Albany with their eight children who ranged in age from 9 to 29. His occupation is listed simply as “iron dealer.”  McArdle, king of recycling and reuse, died in 1915, and, unfortunately for his children and grandchildren, his million-dollar estate was tied up in court for years.

This crop from an 1876 atlas shows the tip of the island where the
Jagger and Olcott Iron works were located. The red line is the city line with Bethlehem.

Telephone Poles

In the section of the assessment roll ledger dealing with incorporated companies, there is this interesting description for the property of the Hudson River Telephone Company: 18 miles poles, 102 miles wire. They were assessed $2,250* for the means by which they connected Bethlehem residents and businesses with the wider community.

The Hudson River Telephone Company began in 1883, and by 1886 had established communication from Albany to the Abbey Hotel, Cedar, Hurstville, Slingerlands, Delmar and South Bethlehem. It became part of New York Telephone in 1910. New York Telephone in turn was a subsidiary of the Bell Telephone Company system. Bell came to monopolize telephone service the U.S. and was broken up in the 1980s.

Other local phone systems include the South Bethlehem Telephone Company (1904-1923) and the Clarksville Telephone Company (1896 – 1914). One newspaper reported in 1909 that enterprising residents of Font Grove in Slingerlands, eager to receive service to their homes, began erecting poles upon which Hudson River would then string their wire. The Hudson River Telephone Company connected with these local companies to provide service, especially long distance. The May 1908 Hudson River Telephone Directory lists only Dr. Hiram Becker as a subscriber to the Clarksville Telephone Company. The South Bethlehem Telephone Company had over 70 subscribers including John Crum and C. N. Baker in Selkirk and five different lines associated with Callanan Road Improvement Company in South Bethlehem.

The Albany-Rensselaer Section of the directory, which covered Hudson River subscribers, nicely ties this article together. P.J. McArdle, at his iron works on Van Rensselaer Island, could call up Henry Parr at the Abbey Hotel. Of course, it was not a smooth connection like we have today. The connection was made manually by switch board operators. Those female operators were sometimes called “hello girls,” a position Miss Emma J. Bradley held at the time of her wedding in July 1905. She worked at the Clarksville central office of the Hudson River Telephone Company.

*You might be curious to know that the top value for an incorporated company is $48,000 for the Delaware & Hudson Canal Company’s railroad. Next is the Union Ice Company ice house at $45,000.

Logo of the Hudson River Telephone Company when it was a subsidiary of the Bell Company.

Next time you are out for a walk, notice the telephone poles.  See if you can find these little badges which combine the bell system logo with the initials of the New York Telephone Company.  This one is on Roweland Avenue in Delmar.  They can also be found on South Bethlehem poles. How about your neighborhood?

Emma Bradley's wedding announcement from the July 14, 1905 edition of the Altamont Enterprise