Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Looking for John I. Slingerland

Lately, I've been looking into the background of John I. Slingerland -  scion of the hamlet of Slingerlands, U.S. Congressman (13th District, 1847-49), NY State assemblyman (1843, 1860), husband of Sally, farmer, landowner, anti-renter - and have come up with a few news clippings I'd like to share.

First the Bad News reprinted in the September 12, 1858 issue of the Oneida Morning Herald from the Albany Express about John I's rotting potato crop.  Not that crop failure is funny, just the language amuses my 21st century ears. I am imagining exploding potatoes all over town.

Here's one about John I's appearance at an Anti-Rent rally published in the New York Daily Tribune on December 30, 1857.  The writer is amused by Slingerland's "style of oratory" and the fact that "with a great deal of irrelevant talk he contrived to mingle facts and anecdotes that caught the attention and enlisted the sympathies of his audience."

Here's another that notes how his "firm and manly adherence to the principles of his party will produce a greater effect upon the masses..."

And my favorite so far, A Delightful Drive.  It was published in the Albany Morning Express, Tuesday Augsut 13, 1861.

P.S.I hope you can read the articles from the pictures - I was too lazy to transcribe them all  ;)

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Maria Louisa Kissam and William Henry Vanderbilt

Maybe you've heard of the famous Vanderbilt family?  They are on my mind because of a fun Bethlehem connection.

It started with this little blurb in the T.U.
Published in the Times Union on Jan. 11, 2017.
 about the "Vanderbilt family homestead at Cedar Hill."  I know about the Vanderbilt family connection (more on that in a bit) but a "family homestead'?  Your historian is skeptical!  I can't find a reference or a location, never mind a photo.

Today's poking around on the internet did turn up a very cute story about how William Henry Vanderbilt and Maria Louisa Kissam met.   William is the son of Cornelius - the famous Commodore - and Sophia Vanderbilt.  Maria is the daughter of  Samuel and Margaret Kissam.  Samuel Kissam was the pastor of the First Reformed Church of Bethlehem from 1817-1841. The Kissam family lived in Cedar Hill for those years, possibly at the Nicoll Sill House on Dinmore Road.  One of Samuel and Margaret's children is buried at the cemetery there - little Catherine Matilda who died at age 2 in 1828.

The following story of how William and Maria met is told in a newspaper article published by the Jamestown Evening Journal published January 30, 1899.  The column is forthrightly entitled "Our New York Letter Gossip About A Playwright, A Humorist, and The Vanderbilts."

Here's a transcript of the article:

A Vanderbilt Wooing

            Something in the papers about the approaching marriage of Willie K. Vanderbilt, Jr. to Miss Virginia Fair reminded an old timer this morning of the first meeting between William H. Vanderbilt – the grandfather of the bridegroom to be – and Mary Kissam, from whose last name comes the K., now a fixture in Vanderbilt names for two generations.
            “William H. Vanderbilt was a youngster when he first met the girl he was to marry,” said the old timer, “and was employed at Albany looking after the freight business of the old commodore’s line of boats.  One of the young man’s fads was riding.  He had a magnificent saddle horse and he used to throw his legs over the beast’s back late every afternoon for a wild and furious gallop.  One evening on the return ride his horse took fright at the fluttering white drapery of a young woman on the side walk, reared quickly and threw the rider to the ground.
            “The fall was a heavy one, the rider’s head struck on a pile of jagged stones, and for a little while it looked as if he had been seriously hurt, for he lay as supine as a log, and was a very long time regaining consciousness.  Of course, the girl ran to his assistance, and of course, after he had recovered she insisted on his entering the house of her parents, which stood nearby, that her mother might dress the cut in his head.  Her father was the Rev Mr. Kissam.  He soon returned from an evening prayer meeting or something, and the whole family devoted hours to making their unexpected guest comfortable.  When he was well enough to go to his lodgings, Papa Kissam went with him, and the young man was invited to call at the house.  The young woman being very agreeable to know and every one in the home exceedingly well disposed toward him the scion of the house of Vanderbilt accepted the invitation gladly and repeatedly, and in due time asked her an important question, which she took pleasure in answering ‘Yes.’

            “I’ve always thought the romance of William H. Vanderbilt’s courtship a very pretty one,” concluded the old timer, “though I must confess it seems quite conventional when you come to analyze it.”

Who knows if this story, told by an "old timer" and clearly noted as "gossip"  actually happened, but the events described certainly might have taken place here in our little town of Bethlehem.  We do know that William Henry and Maria Louisa were married by her father on September 28, 1841 at Cedar Hill and the marriage is recorded in the records of the First Reformed Church.  The couple went on to live remarkable lives.

Pop on over to Find A Grave for remarks about Maria Louisa.  She was born in Coeymans in 1821 and died in Scarborough NY in 1896.

Maria Louisa Kissam Vanderbilt portrait by Benjamin Curtis Porter

And get thee to Google for more on William Henry Vanderbilt - he is pretty famous you know.  And be sure to appreciate his epic sideburns!

Photo from the collection of the New York Public Library

Thursday, December 29, 2016

How do you name a historic house?

WARNING: This blog post contains lots of unanswered questions.

I am off on a tangent this morning thinking about how we name historic houses.  This is because I am helping with a project that will produce a Google map of historic sites in town.  Specifically for bicyclists, but it will be very useful for all.   How do you label all those points on the map?
Is it the Parker-Winne House or the Pieter Winne House?  And what about Mrs. Winne, Rachel VanAlen, surely she had a lot to say about the construction of her home?  Pieter and Rachel were married January 21, 1720 and their oldest son Daniel was likely born in November 1720 (he was baptized at the Dutch Reformed Church in Albany on November 20.)  The house was built sometime in 1720.  Can't you hear Rachel telling Peter to hurry up and get the house built before the baby is born?  Shouldn't it be the Pieter and Rachel Winne House?  And what about Parker?  That's Brian Parker, the current owner! 

I often use the name Pieter Winne House to distinguish it from the nearby Daniel P. Winne House.     This is Pieter and Rachel's son.  And again, what about Mrs. Winne? Daniel married Jannetje Deforest in 1744.  The house was built in 1751.  Already married 7 years, they had two children before the house was built and then had four more.  Surely Jannetje was a vital part of this family too. Pop on over to the Metropolitan Museum site for more on the Daniel and Jannetje Winne House. (Yes, I just changed the name.  Sounds nice doesn't it?)

Is it the Nicoll-Sill House or the Bethlehem House? Nicoll refers to Rensselaer and Elizabeth Nicoll who had the house built circa 1735.  Sill refers to Capt. Richard Sill who married their daughter Elizabeth. The Sill branch of the family were later owners.  I'm kind of OK with using just the last name.  The name Bethlehem House goes way back as well. 

And what about houses that have specific names?  Is it the Cornelius Baker House or Grand View Farm?  This a property that few living today remember by either of those names.  That property is owned by Scenic Hudson.  Should it be the Scenic Hudson-Baker House? 

Here's another, how about the Glynn Mansion?  To be fancy, I sometimes say the Governor Glynn Mansion (sadly ignoring Mary Glynn). It is often identified as the former Elks Club or the Mansion at Cedar Hill. 

I don't have any answers this morning, but I hereby resolve to always look for the women of the family and reference them whenever I can!

Note the title of this report!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Happy Holidays in Bethlehem

Just some shameless self promotion this morning...

Consider buying one of my books - they make wonderful Christmas presents for the local history lover in your family.  I will be doing a book signing on Saturday, December 10 from 10 a.m. until noon time at I Love Books in Delmar.  Stop by and buy!  Remember, all of my royalties are donated to the Bethlehem Historical Association.

George says buy this now!
Both books, Bethlehem and Historic Tales of Bethlehem New York are available at the town clerk's office at Bethlehem Town Hall, I Love Books, the Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce and, of course, online.

Looking to get in the holiday spirit? Stop on by the Bethlehem Historical Association's Cedar Hill Schoolhouse for our annual Silver Tea and enjoy the wonderful decorations.  This year's theme is "Walking in a Winter Wonderland."

The Silver Tea, with a special appearance by Sinterklaas is Sunday December 4
from 1 to 4 p.m.
The Holiday Open House is Monday, December 5 from 4 to 8 p.m.
Both are free and open to the public!

Not enough holiday history?  Stop by the Delmar Farmer's Market on December 3 or 10.  The Bethlehem Historical Association, and yours truly, will have a table with lots of historic photos to look through.

And finally, here's a bit of actual history, a Christmas card sent by the Elsmere Market. Not sure of the date... 1960 maybe??

Friday, November 11, 2016

Aaron Burr's Bethlehem Connection

Hey Yo, I'm just like my country
I'm young, scrappy and hungry
And I'm not throwing away my shot!
Alexander Hamilton

I'm the damn fool that shot him.
Aaron Burr

Thanks to the Daughter, I have been obsessed with Hamilton the Musical for weeks now.  My other obsession, of course,  is local Bethlehem history.  Maybe I can connect the two? Yes I can thanks to Aaron Burr and the Nicoll family of Cedar Hill.   And thanks to Alice Begley, historian for the town of Guilderland, I don't even have to write much of an article.

Pop on over and read this...

According to Begley's article,  Aaron Burr visited the Nicoll family at their Cedar Hill estate in April 1785, just before Richard Sill's marriage to Elizabeth Nicoll (which happened on May 2, 1785.) Elizabeth's parents are Col. Francis Nicoll and Elizabeth Salisbury and their home, known as Bethlehem House, is where Burr was a guest.  It still stands in all of its brick elegance on Dinmore Road.

Francis, a stalwart of the Revolution in his own right, is the son of William Nicoll and Anna Van Rensselaer.  And through the Van Rensselaers, the Nicolls are connected to the Schuylers.  Yes those Schuyler Sisters from the musical.  Begley's article notes that Peggy, Angelica and Eliza Schuyler were cousins and friends of Elizabeth.
Aaron Burr, circa 1809. Painting by John Vanderlyn

So now my task is to look for the Alexander Hamilton connection.  He did marry Eliza Schuyler after all.  I bet he was a guest at Bethlehem House as well.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Marcus Reynolds - Hessberg House - Mystery Solved!

I wrote recently about buildings in Bethlehem designed by architect Marcus Reynolds. The article ended with the mystery of the Hessberg's home.  Where was it? Is it still there? What happened to it?

A reader commented about the Hessbergs showing up in the 1925 New York census at their residence in Bethlehem on River Road.  (US Census reports consistently show them at their Albany residence.) In the picture below, you can see Samuel and Rose Hessberg.  Scan down and you'll see William H. Weisheit, chauffeur.  Dawn Pratt of the Bethlehem Historical Association responded to that by calling up her friend Bill Weisheit, grandson of William. And, oh yes Dawn tells me, Bill's grandfather worked for the Hessbergs and passed down many stories.

Where was the house? Turns out it was at the location of today's Job Corps, on River Road, the former Our Lady of Angels Seminary.  The seminary was opened by the Vincentian Fathers in 1961. They built a very modern facility devoted to the training of parish priests. It closed in 1972, and, after much local controversy, Job Corp opened in 1977. Job Corp is a federal operation that provides residential vocational training.

Seminary brochure circa 1962.

Samuel Hessberg died in 1931, Rose in 1953.  I don't know when the property passed to the Vincentian Fathers.  The house was likely torn down to make way for the seminary buildings.

Previous to the Hessbergs, Allison Bennett notes that the Job Corp property had been owned by Van Wie family and that an early, brick, Dutch style house had been there. Her article, dated 1964, says the circa 1732 house was long gone.  A Van Wie family cemetery is still there with 13 interments dating from 1820-1871.

Job Corps circa 1983.
So, thank you Dawn for following up.  She's even got a line on a picture of the Hessberg house - supposedly Job Corp has a photo.   Stay tuned!

Monday, October 3, 2016

Architect Marcus T. Reynolds' work in Bethlehem

It turns out that Marcus Reynolds designed at least 6 properties in Bethlehem.  Four of them I knew about.  One I knew of the house but didn't know Reynolds designed it.  And one is completely new to me.  I love it when that happens!

Here's the list:

1. The Italian villa that is the Glenn house (AKA Gov Glynn Mansion, the former Elks Club, the Mansion at Cedar Hill) built in 1907.

2. The MacDonald chalet in Cedar Hill which I wrote about last month.


3. Reynolds also updated J. B. Lyon's  home at Cedar Hill with a library addition. Glenn, MacDonald and Lyons were all friends who all employed Reynolds for their Cedar Hill summer houses.

4.The Cedar Hill Schoolhouse re-designed and enlarged in 1907.* Now home of the Bethlehem Historical Association.
Cedar Hill Schoolhouse

5. The Patterson house in Selkirk is the one I am aware of but didn't know Reynolds designed it.  It was built in 1901 as a summer home for General John H. Patterson and his wife Grace Learned Patterson.



and finally the mystery house

6. The Hessberg house.   Eugene Johnson in his book Style Follows Function: Architecture of Marcus T. Reynolds, describes a lovely Colonial Revival house built in Selkirk for Samuel and Rose Hessberg in 1909. Let me just quote Johnson:

"Samuel Hessberg, the son of a shoe merchant who immigrated from Germany in 1845, had amassed a considerable fortune as a banker and broker.  In 1889 he became the manager of the Albany office of Bache & Co., stockbrokers and in 1893 he became a member of the firm.  Five years later he married Rose Brilleman, the daughter of a leading jeweler of Albany.  In their Selkirk house the Hessberg's may have used the Colonial Revival style to assimilate themselves, as Jews, into the upper-class WASP culture of upstate New York to which their money and taste, but not their ancestry, gave them entree.  In the late eighteenth and early nineteen  centuries the old Dutch and Yankee families of the Hudson River Valley had built columned mansions on the high ground beside the river."

But where exactly is the Hessberg's house? I have found plenty of newspaper references to the Hessbergs including notes about Samuel Hessberg of Cedar Hill being a founding member of the Albany County Farm Bureau (established in 1916) and a reference to Samuel's "model country estate."  But I still haven't figured out where the house is or was.  Your town historian is frustrated!

Both of these drawings are found in Johnson's book on Marcus Reynolds.
Notice the similarity between the drawings and the Patterson house pictured above. 

P.S. I was going to write a brief bio of Reynolds, but Paul Grondahl has already done an excellent one.  Follow this link to his write up for the Times Union.


*Another history mystery is that Allison Bennett reports in her book Times Remembered that the Cedar Hill Schoolhouse was originally designed as a one room school by "Mr. Van Guysling" in 1859.  Bethlehem Revisited expands this saying it was Walter Hunter Van Guysling.  Well, Walter Hunter Van Guysling, Albany based architect and apprentice to Marcus Reynolds, wasn't born until 1878. And it wasn't his father, Walter Franklin, because he worked for the New York Central for eons - his obituary from 1944 implies that he started with the railroad when he was 11 years old!