Thursday, February 1, 2018

Slingerlands' Suburban Roots

Oh my how times have changed.  Or not.  That is the thought that crossed my mind when I stumbled upon this article while looking for something else.

It was published in the April 21, 1911 issue of the Altamont Enterprise, 100+ years ago when the word suburban did not have the negative connotation of "suburban sprawl" attached to it.


Albanians Seeking Homes Here - Lots are Being Sold and Several Houses Will be Erected at Once - Advantages Unexcelled as an Ideal Suburban Locality.

In 1911, Slingerlands is described as an "ideal suburban residential section with numerous advantages being but eighteen minutes from Albany by steam...village water, electric lights...paved sidewalks...telephone and telegraph service..."

It goes on to note that several properties have come on the market at reasonable prices "thereby giving outsiders the opportunity to locate here... to take advantage of this welcome."  Of note was the Blessing Land Improvement company that was developing the Blessing farm by selling building sites, laying out streets and sidewalks to make the "most desirable location to build homes."  (This is the area around today's Union Street)

Sound familiar?  The tone of the article is pure rah, rah booster-ism.  And yet, the last line...

"The boom is on in Slingerlands! It's up to our citizens to help push it along.  Don't knock - Boost! with a big B"

The implication is that someone was knocking all this development. Perhaps fighting it, desiring to preserve open space and the old farms.  Sound familiar?

This is still an issue for modern day Bethlehem to wrestle with. Personally, I recognize the tension between the rights of property owners and my desire to preserve every, single old house, barn, and landscape setting.  Every one.  Well, I am realist enough to know that that is not possible, nor is it fair to the owners of these properties. We've got an excellent planning department that enforces zoning codes and provides an open process on development.  We've got a  new conservation easement program.  But most importantly we have a committed citizenry that keeps these issues on the forefront working towards an equatable balance that preserves the quality of life in our town.

And while we are on the topic of Slingerlands, how about this poem that mentions its brief time known as Ruxton. (Thank you Chris P. for passing along this gem.)

"Old Slingerlands, is a lovely place
And the people we prize very dearly,
For we always find them running over with grace
And that is why we live here yearly.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Oh Delmar, Your Name is Mystery

Bark, bark, bark.  That is me, your town historian barking up the wrong tree for years now!
Did you see the article in today's Times Union about the name Delmar? Hop over and take a look.

The author Larry Rulison and I have exchanged several emails about the name Delmar.  I'm convinced of the railroad angle, he proposed a name after a California resort.  Well, I got another email this morning that introduces the U.S. Post Office into the mix, and I must confess, the evidence here is pretty convincing!

Check out the link below about nineteenth century U.S. Post Offices.  The article makes a pretty clear declaration:

Adams Station - Delmar
Established: April 22, 1868
Name changed to Delmar" September 28, 1885.

Then there is this newspaper clipping from the Albany Times dated Friday evening, October 2, 1885.

"The postoffice "Adams Station" has been changed to "Delmar" which name it is supposed will also take the place of "Adamsville" as a railroad and express station."

There is also this bit from John R. Adam's obituary published in the Albany Evening Journal in February 18, 1905:

It says in part, "Nathaniel Adams, his father,...owned a great  deal of property where Delmar now is and the place was named in his honor.  About twenty years ago the name was changed to Delmar, as there was an Adamsville in Jefferson county and another in Washington county, and mail addressed to residents of these places often was miscarried."

So there you go folks, the name Delmar is the post office's fault.  Thank you Chris Philippo for helping us set the record straight!

But did you notice, we still  haven't answered the question, "why Delmar?" 
Larry, maybe it was California!!!

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Bradt-Oliver House

For the October 2017 issue of Our Towne Bethlehem I wrote about our area's old stone houses, especially those of the Onesquethaw Valley Historic District.   Illustrating the story, and gracing the cover, was this image of the Oliver-Bratt house on Van Dyke Road.

My caption for the photo simply said "The Bratt – Oliver House on Van Dyke Road has undergone many architectural changes over the years.  It is now part of the Spinney community and was once part of the Leonard Farm."

I am pleased to report that a member of the Leonard family, Brian Leonard of North Carolina, reached out to Our Towne with more photos and remembrances of growing up in this home on Van Dyke Road.   I like Brian's way with words, and with his permission, here's his whole letter.  Enjoy!
Circa 1940

Dear John and Marjorie,

      A couple of weeks before today, Thanksgiving 2017, I was visiting with my dad, Richard Leonard, and he shared a copy of the October 2017 issue of Our Towne that my aunt Barbara had sent to him. What a pleasant surprise to see my childhood, ancestral, home on the front cover.
     As is usual for a couple of old men, that led us down a path of reminiscing about the [Leonard] farm. Not that it makes me any more special than anyone else in this world, but the thought of that farm, and how my family’s history was so closely tied to it, always makes me feel like the I am the luckiest man in the world.
     Lucky me, I’m the last in line. Quite literally, arguably, the last of my family to be born and raised at 246 Van Dyke Rd.  While the farm only carried the name Leonard for a brief time, beginning around 1920 when my great grandfather Ralph Irving Leonard bought the farm from his sister in law and ending with the sale to the owner’s of Spinney Preserve, it has been part of my larger family’s heritage since the Van Rensselaers were the prominent landholders in the area.
     The house, now called the Bradt-Oliver house, (both names show up in the Leonard genealogy) was an absolutely idyllic place for a boy to grow up, and even though I didn’t understand its personal historic significance, I relished the fact that the house I was raised in wasn’t your typical modern home. Add a little over one hundred acres to the scene and it becomes obvious why that place is special.
Circa 1940

     The old stone part of the house, the original house, caught my great grandfather’s eye and he spent a long time turning it into his dream home with his wife, Lillian Salisbury. Prior to buying the farm he had been a carpenter for the NY Central RR and used those skills, and timber harvested from the farm, to more than double the living space during the 1950’s and early 1960’s. I have heard a few rumors over the years that there are stories of an even older cabin having been on, or near, the house site but no one that I’m aware of has presented any real evidence.
     The original part of the house was, as you noted, built some time before 1768, and was a fairly typical pre-colonial Dutch influenced home. A simple rectangle with stone walls almost 2 feet thick chinked with a combination of mud and horse hair. It was built as a single living level split into two rooms, with a haymow above and a cold cellar below.  The floors are all hand hewn tongue and groove with beams that measure better than a foot across. One of my favorite things about “the front room” (our term for the old house) were the twelve over twelve windows. I’ve visited the house a few times over the years since moving away and am sad to see those windows have been replaced. To my own discredit, however, I personally may have had a little to do with that, having broken and repaired several panes during childhood activities.

     I don’t recall the details but I do recall seeing names and dates here and there on the old woodwork. Though I’ll add the most notable date to me, 1807, was carefully carved in a beam of “the big barn” that once stood on the other side of Van Dyke Rd.
     I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that, as youngsters, we all tend to be too busy growing up to notice, or care about, these things. But as I’ve aged I’ve come to see that is something almost all of us look for. Our place. Where we are, where we’re going, where we came from, who our people are.  And that is one of a myriad of reasons why I feel so lucky. Last in line or not, I was given a rare chance to grow up steeped, literally, in my peoples history.
     I could go on and on, boring you with stories of life at that end of Van Dyke Rd. Such as how songbirds nesting in the stone walls surrounding my bedroom would wake me, literally, every day an hour before sunrise, or snowshoeing the snow covered fields on a pair of bear paws that “are older than I am” according to my dad. Plus other rites of passage, like the sunny summer morning of my seventh year when my grandfather, Irving Ralph, stuck me on the Ford 8n his father bought new in 1947 and taught me to drive. And for you romantics things like first kisses in the barn’s haymows.           But I digress.
     I will close with this thought. I believe we honor our ancestors, near and far, by remembering them. Thank you for taking your time and remembering some of mine.

Brian Leonard
Circa 1988

Monday, November 27, 2017

A Slingerlands Postcard

(Seeing as how I haven't posted in a while - here's two in one day!)

Poking around in the two dollar postcard box in an antique store in Cohoes (shout out Dennis Holzman) this weekend I came across a few wonderful finds for my own collection.  The Indian Ladder at Thatcher Park, Albany at Night, and these Bethlehem beauties.

The top and bottom ones are familiar, I think they've both made an appearance on this blog, but it is fun to have my own copies.  The one in the middle is a new one to me.

I immediately wondered about the West Main Street part.  I have never heard or seen New Scotland or Kenwood referred to as Main Street, never mind West Main Street.  Maybe it is a stock photo, but maybe it is our Slingerlands.  When blown up in a larger view, the houses visible in the trees on the left could be ours. So I am calling this one plausible. 

What I really enjoyed was the message on the back and Mother Birdswell's comment about her "nice auto ride last night, the longest one I ever had."  The card is postmarked July 19, 1915.

Bethlehem Downs

I've been hanging out at the Delmar Farmer's Market the last couple of Saturdays with the good folks of the Bethlehem Historical Association.  I enjoy talking about our history and  listening to people reminisce about growing up here.  I'm often asked if I know anything about specific houses and wish I had old photos of each and every one. Sometimes, people like to play stump the historian, which I must confess is often too easy to do.

One gentleman handed me this card and asked me if I had ever heard of the racetrack off of 9W near the Raven/Coeymans line.  I've written about horse racing in Bethlehem before, but had never heard of the Bethlehem Downs. 

So of course, this afternoon I had to do a little newspaper sleuthing. 

Turns out in 1972, Charles Russo and his son Peter proposed the Bethlehem Downs quarter horse track.  They said it would be the "plushest" in the racing industry. They held a ground breaking in June of 1973 and one newspaper reported plans for a $200,000 purse.  Unfortunately, the Russo's plans don't seem to have come to fruition. The Ravena News-Herald, in February 1974, reported that Dawn Branstrom was enjoying her new quarter horse, a Christmas gift from her parents.  They go on to say, "We don't know if she is getting ready for Bethlehem Downs when and if it opens, but we do know she is going to be one of Selkirk's most ardent horsewomen."  The latest newspaper article I found is from March 1976 when the Jigger Sports columnist (in the Leader-herald of Gloversville) reported on the Down's financial struggle and complications of getting the track off the ground.

Seeing as how this is an article about quarter horse racing, hop on over to the American Quarter Horse Association website for some info on quarter horse racing.  As they say, "Quarter Horses are traditionally short, stocky horses that are specialized sprinters.  They are the dragsters of the horse racing world."  Pretty different from the long legged darlings of Saratoga!

PS Thank you Bill S. for this fun round of Stump the Historian!

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Delaware Avenue photos at the library this month!

Stop by the Bethlehem Public Library now through October 31 and you can see my exhibit Delaware Avenue: A Look Back. It has some great old photos of the Delaware Avenue corridor.

Since I don't always have my act together,  I haven't taken a snap shot of the actual show yet.  So here are a couple of views of a Delaware Avenue building that just came my way yesterday.  They aren't in the show, but might inspire you to stop by!

Love the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company sign.  That would be more commonly known as the A&P. 

A close up of the corner entrance for Woods 5 and Dime.

P.S. This building was at the corner of Delaware and Kenwood where Key Bank is today.

P.S.S. Did you spot the random dog who just happened to be walking by?

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

LJ Mullens Pharmacy and Dempf's Bakery

I can't believe it has been over a month since I posted here! Rest assured I am still thinking history thoughts!  In the mean time here are a couple of old photos that have come my way recently.


Wilbur Rhenow standing at the door of the L.J. Mullen Pharmacy.  He grew up in Delmar, graduating from BCHS in 1936.  He married fellow BCHS grad Elizabeth Wordon.  The 1940 census says Wilbur worked at the pharmacy 57 hours a week and was paid $780 per year.  The building still stands on Delaware Avenue at the corner of Groesbeck Place/Elsmere Avenue. 

Louis Dempf operated his bakery (center)  on Delaware Avenue from 1927 to 1954.  The center, brick building and house on right are long gone, the one on the left still stands near the underpass. 

Here it is in the process of coming down in 1995.