Monday, April 16, 2018

The Slingerland Family Burial Vault - HELP

I am one of those people who loves old cemeteries.  To me they are a direct connection to people of the past.  I enjoy walking the rows and wondering about the families there.  What is their story? Who are they? How do they fit into the history of the town or village? How are they remembered?

That's me on the right along with Bob Mullens, Sue Virgilio and Kathleen Bragle at the vault site back in January. 
Thank you Times Union for the photo.  Go to their web page for some great articles... Timesunion.com
Are you aware of the Slingerland Family Burial Vault?  I've known about it since
before I was town historian.  It is tucked away off of New Scotland Road, behind the old Mangia property,  and, when I first encountered it, a wreck, over grown and vandalized.  I was sad to find out the town owned it.  In fits and starts they would go in and hack back the weeds.  But they always grew back. 

Surely you are aware of the Slingerland family?   We've got a hamlet named after them and individuals named Slingerland still live here.  I know lots of stories about them.  Like the fact that John I Slingerland was a raging abolitionist even tho (or maybe because) his family had owned slaves.  Like the fact that the first Slingerland in our area, Tenuis, in the late 1600s got in trouble with both the Mohawk and the Mohican Indian tribes when he tried to buy land here.  Or how about  William H who got the Suburban Water company going?  Or his daughter Grace who was essential to running the company after he died?  Or how about Tunis who fought in the American Revolution while his four sons remained loyal to the British? I could go on and on about Slingerland family connections in Bethlehem.

So, the vault has been on my radar.  Then, quite a few things lined up to make this the opportune time to focus on the vault and get it property restored.  The Mangia property had sold, development proposals were being floated and conversations about the historic character of the neighborhood were happening.  I met Sue Virgilio, a direct descendant of John I Slingerland who is buried in the vault, who was thrilled to discover the vault, but not so thrilled about the condition.  I knew we had a new town administration starting in January 2018.

Now was the time to make a fresh start and focus on the future of the vault.  I helped organize the Friends of the Slingerland Family Burial Vault and we are committed to preserving the vault, making it accessible once again to the public, and keeping the maintenance ongoing into the future.


And we need your help.  It is hard to ask people for money, but I am going to do it right now!

We need your money!  Any amount big or small is greatly appreciated.

Please give to help restore this neglected part of Bethlehem history - the Slingerland Family Burial Vault.  If we all come together as a community, we can make this gem shine.

Pop over to the website for pictures, progress reports, budgets and the all important DONATE  button.

https://sites.google.com/view/slingerlandvault/home

OR

We've got a GoFundMe too!

https://www.gofundme.com/slingerlandvault

Thank you so very much!


Sunday, April 1, 2018

The Railroad Y.M.C.A. at Selkirk

April's Our Towne Bethlehem article focuses on the Selkirk Y.M.C.A.  Pop over to their website for a read.  In doing my research, I came across a booklet called The Story of the Railroad "Y"  by John F. Moore published in 1930.  Inside is a full description of the Selkirk Y that is a wonderful read.  So, quoted below is the whole thing.  The chapter is called "An Inspection Trip."  Enjoy!


     We are at Selkirk, a division point on the West Shore Railroad. Selkirk is a tiny, scattered town with a post office, a small store or two and a few residences. About a mile away, however, is located one of the great freight yards of the continent. Here hundreds of miles of steel rails offer their waiting hospitality to freight cars coming from all directions, those from New England come over the recently opened Alfred H. Smith bridge and here transfer their freight for redirection, or pass through Selkirk to their destination.


Men attend a religious service in a coach near the Selkirk Railroad Y. 
Courtesy of the Bethlehem Historical Association. 
     Through this yard trains carry merchandise to all sections of the land; here hundreds of railroad men spend their "lay-over” hours while their fellows continue to keep open the ways of commerce. We see a Railroad Association building costing nearly $400,000. For, consistent with its general policy, the New York Central Railroad decided upon the erection of such a structure coincident with the opening of the yard.


     This building faces a busy public highway, before it stands a row of fine old trees giving welcome shade, while around it shrubs and flowers bloom in all their beauty. The Selkirk Association is generally known by the title of the lovely poem by Sam Walter Foss—"The House by the Side of the Road.” It is a home away from home, and to the army of railway workers employed at the Selkirk yards, temporarily or permanently, the building is far more than steel, wood and stone—to them it is a living thing, an exemplification of practical Christianity; it ministers to their comfort as a loving mother might. It shelters, entertains and protects them, it fires them with fresh enthusiasm for their tasks, it gives to them new appraisals of life’s values.


The Selkirk Railroad Y about 1930.
     The secretary, who formerly was a locomotive engineer, and his wife live in the building. It is their only home and they work unceasingly to make it comfortable for the boys of the road. Mrs. Paul shares with her husband in the administration of the work, and to tired railroad men coming in from hard runs she brings a refreshing remembrance of home ties and things held dear. Only a Christian motive leads men and women to service such as this, spending and being spent in isolated freight yards, giving the best of strength and affection to others. As we visit Selkirk we come to understand more clearly the underlying secrets of success in the Railroad Y M C As.


     Some idea of the scope of the work of this association is suggested by items given in a recent annual report. "Y" The membership was 982; more than 217,000 meals were served during the year in the restaurant; the beds were used 51,000 times, nearly 1,000 a week; more than 17,000 bath and 88,000 hand towels were used. At Selkirk cleanliness and godliness walk hand in hand.

    
A crowd watches a baseball game circa 1927.
It is a summer Sunday evening. The spacious grounds are crowded with men, women and children. Farmers and their families have come from miles away, some in automobiles, others driving faithful old Dobbins. The adjacent town has sent its quota; railroad men, some in their Sunday best, others in working clothes, are scattered here and there. It is the vesper service of the Selkirk Railroad Association, the lovely twilight hour in which it pays its tribute to Him whose name it bears. Reverently we stand for a little on the edge of this open air congregation to share in its simple and beautiful worship.


 ****************


Did you catch the reference to the poem - A House by the Side of the Road?  Growing up, I remember wondering about a cross stitch my grandmother had made with the phrase "Let me live in a house by the side of the road and be a friend to man."  Now, all these years later, I know where it comes from!  

The House by the Side of the Road

by Sam Walter Foss (1858-1911)
There are hermit
souls that live withdrawn
In the peace of their self-content;
There are souls, like stars, that dwell apart,
In a fellowless firmament;
There are pioneer souls that blaze their paths
Where highways never ran;-
But let me live by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.
Let me live in a house
by the side of the road,
Where the race of men go by-
The men who are good and the men who are bad,
As good and as bad as I.
I would not sit in the scorner’s seat,
Or hurl the cynic’s ban;-
Let me live in a house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.
I see from my house
by the side of the road,
By the side of the highway of life,
The men who press with the ardor of hope,
The men who are faint with the strife.
But I turn not away from their smiles nor their tears-
Both parts of an infinite plan;-
Let me live in my house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.
I know there are brook-gladdened
meadows ahead
And mountains of wearisome height;
That the road passes on through the long afternoon
And stretches away to the night.
But still I rejoice when the travelers rejoice,
And weep with the strangers that moan,
Nor live in my house by the side of the road
Like a man who dwells alone.
Let me live in my
house by the side of the road
Where the race of men go by-
They are good, they are bad, they are weak, they are strong,
Wise, foolish- so am I.
Then why should I sit in the scorner’s seat
Or hurl the cynic’s ban?-
Let me live in my house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.
 
The cross stitch hangs in my upstairs hallway.  I do like the sassy quote on the bottom piece!





Friday, March 30, 2018

Emmett House on River Road

One of the best parts of my job is when I get to visit historic Bethlehem homes.  Yesterday I got the chance to go through the Samaritan Shelters property on River Road.  Samaritan is closing up shop and they are looking for a buyer.  I, of course, was more interested in the historic house (built circa 1837!) and the families who lived there.

This view is circa 1900 (sorry for the bad quality - it is a snapshot of xerox copy!)

This view is stolen from Google Maps.
Samaritan has been here about 40 years providing a vital service for troubled youths.  They purchased the property from the Schmitt sisters - Claire and Marie. 

Local lore, says the two sisters grew to despise each other and literally walled the house in half, Marie on one side and Claire on the other.   At some point the addition on the rear was made - maybe in the 1950s - in an attempt to run a boarding house for teachers.   Both Claire and Marie were teachers in the Bethlehem Central School District.  Claire from 1931 to 1965 and  Marie taught at St. Anne's School in Albany from 1928 to 1935 and then at Elsmere School from 1935 to 1969.

From census records, it looks like the family landed on the farm as early as 1905 when they show up in the NY census.  In the 1910 US census, they are clearly on the property.  We've got George and Mary Schmitt (both 39 years old married for 10 years, he's a farmer) and four kids: Claire, Marie, George Jr and Eva.   In 1920, they are still there, but baby Eva (who was 2 in 1910) is no longer on the family list.  She probably passed away but I couldn't find a record of that.  Local lore does say that one child died young, and perhaps haunts the place.  Is this Eva?   The 1920 census also indicates that Anna, a daughter aged 5, has joined the family.  Right up to the 1940 census (the last one available to the public) the Schmitt's are living in the house: George and Mary, Claire, Marie and George Jr.  Anna is in the 1930 census but not in the 1940.  By that time, she has likely become the Mrs. Jacob Nester mentioned in the obituaries I found.

Mary died at the house in November 15, 1951 (she was a Dettinger by the way) and George the following March, 1952.  Of the teaching sisters, Claire died in 1976, and Marie hung in there until 1993. 

This is the barn that was on the property until about 1980.
A 1916 reports says George and Mary grew hay on the 140 acres that they owned. 

But who owned the house before the Schmitt tenancy? This is where things get murky.  I've been promised a copy of the deed, which goes back to the Patroon era, but I haven't seen it yet. 

The 1891 Beers map is interesting because it has a Mrs. Smith on the spot where the house is and there is a an J. Dettinger just around the corner (on today's Bask Road).  Remember Mary was a Dettinger.  The 1866 Beers map has A.E. Sweet, and the 1854 map has  D. Winne.

The house itself has good bones.  It is solid brick. In the basement, great wooden beams, as well as steel ones, hold up the 200+ year old sections.  While the walls upstairs have been paneled over and the floors carpeted, there are plenty of signs of old wood work and moulding including a marble fire place surround.  There is still an old carriage barn on the property, altho the big barn was removed years ago. 

All in all, it is an intriguing historic property in Bethlehem!

PS: Samaritan Shelters named the place Emmett House.  As far as I know, there were no Emmetts that lived there.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Slavery In Bethlehem: Remembering Names

     Have you caught the Times Union's recent series called Slavery Unearthed?  Pop over to their web page and put Slavery Unearthed in the search box for a variety of articles on the topic.  Look for Amy Biancolli's very well written articles including "New York's slave past unearthed" subtitled "Trove of records detailing state's era of bondage, and lives of the enslaved, accessible in database"
     Part of the impetus for the article is the release of the New York Slavery Records Index, a searchable database put out by John Jay College of Criminal Justice.  It contains "Records of Enslaved Persons and Slave Holders in New York from 1525 though the Civil War."
     So of course I had to search for Bethlehem related stuff.  You can too, pop over to https://nyslavery.commons.gc.cuny.edu/  and search away your afternoon.
     I couldn't find a huge amount for Bethlehem.  Just two "records of enslaved persons" which came from Albany's Manumissions and Registrations. That would be Tom and Gin.  Tom was registered in 1801 when he was about 57 years old by his holder John D. Winne of Bethlehem.  The 1803 record for Gin says she was sold to James Sinacre for $30 for a term of 21 years. Her holder was Jurian Hogan.
     I've written previously about Bethlehem's own record of slaves book.  (Shameless plug - the article is Chapter 32 in my book Historic Tales of Bethlehem New York.)   The handwritten account book dates from 1799 to 1827 and records births and manumissions of slaves right here in Bethlehem. I even made a spreadsheet of all the names of both slaves and owners.
     One wonders about the story of Jack, Nat, Dick, Charity and Sally, all slaves manumitted and set free by Francis Nicoll on December 26, 1814.  Earlier in the year, on May 1, he set free Dian and Tim. Or the story of Bett.  The births of her three children, Mink, Deyann and Gin, were recorded by John Hogboom October 6, 1821. The children were born in 1813, 1817 and 1820.
     To get another look at slavery in Bethlehem, I turned to the 1800 census.  Basically, it has four main columns: Free White Males, Free White Females (these two are further divided by age brackets), All Other Free Persons except Indians Not Taxed, and Slaves.  The very first entry is for Maria V Rensselaer whose household had 6 white males, 2 white females, 0 other free, and 6 slaves.  That very first page also records the household of Cezar Wood a "free Negro" which had three people.



This is the start of the Bethlehem page of the 1800 census.




     Going to the very end of the Bethlehem section we find the totals for the whole town (remember that at that time Bethlehem was twice as big as today and included all of the town of New Scotland.)
1769 free white males, 1692 free white females, 13 other free persons, and 254 slaves.  Don't you wonder about the stories that lie hidden in those numbers?













Monday, March 12, 2018

Maria Louisa Kissam Vanderbilt - Revisited

Last night I returned from vacationing in Asheville, North Carolina.  It is a very beautiful place and I had to do all the touristy things including a trolley tour and visit to the Biltmore Estate. And I had an awesome "Bethlehem History Moment" while mixing with the hoards of people touring the famous mansion.

First, here's a picture of the house taken from their website (biltmore.com).  It doesn't show the five million people that were there the day we were. (If you don't like crowds don't go on a Saturday.  Altho I must say, the place is very well run and we had a very nice experience!)


As you go along the self-guided tour, you come to the Tapestry Room.  My eyes were already starting to glaze over a little by this point, but I did turn around to look behind me and saw these portraits on either side of the door.  Who are they?  I wondered.


So I read the tour book, and lo and behold, the woman on the left is our very own Maria Louisa Kissam! She married William Henry Vanderbilt right here in Bethlehem on September 28, 1841. Pop over to this blog post from last year for the story about how they met.
http://bethlehemnyhistory.blogspot.com/2017/01/maria-louisa-kissam-and-william-henry.html

What a fun surprise!

That's Maria Louisa - portrait by John Singer Sargent.
And that's her son George Vanderbilt - who had this whole amazing Biltmore Estate built -
portrait also by Sargent
The portrait on the right is Edith Vanderbilt - daughter-in-law of Maria Louisa.
So, then I started imagining this young woman, who grew up in Coeymans (!) and her experiences in this particular house. Her son's home. 

Below is the whole write up that appeared in the New York Times when Maria Louisa died in 1896. I copied and pasted from Findagrave.com because I really want you to read it!  I don't think she ever forgot her roots and upbringing in rural Albany County. 


Mrs. W. H. Vanderbilt Dead.

Stricken with heart failure at Scarborough.

Mrs. William H. Vanderbilt died suddenly yesterday afternoon at the country residence of her daughter, Mrs. Eliott F. Shepard, at Scarborough, N. Y. of heart failure. She had suffered from a weak heart for several years, but her demise was entirely unexpected. Mrs. Vanderbilt had been at Mrs. Shepard's house for about three weeks, and was present at the wedding of her grand-daughter, Edith Shepard, to Ernesto Fabbri. About noon yesterday she dressed for her daily drive and appeared to be in good health. But just before the carriage arrived she had an attack of heart failure, and decided to abandon the drive. She went back up stairs, and about 1:30 o'clock her heart failed to act and in a moment she was dead. The end came painlessly. Dr. Constant, a local physician, was summoned when the attack came, but his efforts to prolong life were unavailing. Dr. James W. McLane of 51 West Thirty-eight Street, the family physician in New York, was notified by telegraph. He hastened to Scarborough as fast as a special engine could convey him, but Mrs. Vanderbilt was dead when he arrived. The only relatives with Mrs. Vanderbilt when she died were her daughter, Mrs. Shepard, and her sister, Mrs. Bromley, Cornelius Vanderbilt is at Newport convalescing from his recent attack of paralysis. He will be unable to go to Scarborough, but will come to New York for the funeral. William K. Vanderbilt was in New York. George Vanderbilt is at Biltmore, N.C. and Frederick was at Hyde Park, on the Hudson. Mrs. William D. Sloane, another daughter, is at Lenox, Mass; Mrs. Seward Webb is at Shelbourne, Mrs. Fabbri is on her way to England, Mrs. H. McK. Twombly was at Madison, N. J. and Mrs. Harry Payne Whitney, who was Gertrude Vanderbilt, is in Japan. All members of the family who were near New York arrived at Scarborough last evening. Chauncey M. Depew and James Hatmaker, Cornelius Vanderbilt's private secretary, went to Scarborough yesterday afternoon. Dr. Depew said last night no arrangements for the funeral had been made. The body will probably be brought to New York to day and the funeral will be held from the home at Fifth Avenue and Fifty-first Street Monday or Tuesday. Definite arrangements for the funeral cannot be made until the members of the family meet. The body will be buried in the family vault at New Dorp, Staten Island. The life of Mrs. William H. Vanderbilt was one of Aladdin like changes. She passed through every saga from a poor farmer's wife on Staten Island to a palace on Fifth Avenue and the distinction of being the wife of one of the wealthiest men in the world.

She was married to William H. Vanderbilt in 1841. Her husband at that time was a clerk in the office of Dean Robinson & Co., bankers in Wall Street, at a salary of $16.00 per week. The old Commodore took very little notice of either his son or his daughter-in-law. William was bound to "go to the dogs" anyway, he thought, and he did not intend to waste his substance and energy in trying to prevent the inevitable. The young people did not have sufficient means to furnish a house, so they boarded in East Broadway, which was then a very good part of the city, living happily on their small income. The additional responsibility impelled the young husband to devote greater energies to business. Indeed, the firm was seriously considering the advisability of taking him into partnership, when he was obliged to give up indoor work on account of the failure of his health. His father, realizing that, unless he did something, his son would soon die, purchased for him a little farm at New Dorp, Staten Island, and told him to make the best of it. Thither the young wife accompanied her husband. They found the farm to be seventy acres of unimproved land. They were both ignorant of farm life, but together they undertook a calling which required patience, sagacity, economy, and untiring energy. The motto of the husband was never to attempt what he could not do, and never to fail where work would win. The wife, with a thrift inherited from her sturdy ancestor, aided him in every way. In these early struggles, William H. Vanderbilt often said, her influence was potent for great good, and to that influence he attributed much of his courage at this period of his life. Under the combined efforts of the two the barren little farm was transformed and soon brought in a good income. Life became easier for the young wife. Her husband, by his energy, soon had 350 acres under cultivation. Then came the reconciliation of the father and son. The Commodore at last believed there might be "something in William." From that time there was no more farm work for the young wife. Her husband was soon after made receiver for the insolvent Staten Island Railroad. So well did he handle this property that from on extreme the father went to the other. Nothing was too good for him. Position after position was given him, until, in the old age of the Commodore, William H. Vanderbilt was his father's confidential adviser-at his death the principal heir. During these changes the wife steadily devoted herself to her household and her increasing family of children. She was exceedingly simple in her mode of life. She rose early and after attending to her household duties spent most of her time in the care of her children. After they were married she took the same interest in her grandchildren, visiting them or having some of them brought to her every day. Before she became enfeebled she was accustomed to take a drive in Central Park every afternoon, accompanied by one of her daughters. She always dined very quietly and retired early. Mrs. Vanderbilt was of a religious disposition and very regular in her attendance at St. Bartholomew's Church, Fifth Avenue. She was charitable, but in an unostentatious way. Her name seldom appeared in the list of the leading charities, but it is known that she contributed largely to them in a quiet manner. It is said she generally requested that her name should not be mentioned with her contributions.

From the New York Times November 7, 1896.



And finally,

Further along in the tour, in the Oak Sitting Room is the portrait below.  The guide book says this is "Mr. Vanderbilt's aunt, Mrs. Benjamin Kissam." So a sister-in-law to Maria Louisa.  It was also painted by John Singer Sargent.


Stage Finds

In the ongoing saga of things that turn up on my desk I give you the picture above.

Did you know that they are working on the stage area in the auditorium at Town Hall? (It became structurally unsound, so the space is being renovated to accommodate the food pantry and rework the area where the Town Board sits.)

Do you remember that Town Hall is the former Delmar Grade School?

The items above were all found "under" the stage, a couple of them were actually crammed into the wood work.

As always I wonder what the story was.

This blue tin looks to be a cigarette box.  Edgeworth Extra High Grade Ready-Rubbed was manufactured by Larus and Brother Company of Richmond, Virginia.  Probably from the 1930s.  I imagine kids sneaking a smoke under the stage after school!










The calendar is for the year 1933 and I wish it still had the picture in the middle.  It advertises the Delmar Dry Cleaners, 337 Delaware Avenue.  Dial 9-832.   Love that phone number!









How about this bus schedule from 1926? Catch a ride in Albany at 10 AM and arrive in Delmar 26 minutes later.  I really wonder where the specific bus stops were for Albany, Normansville, Elsmere and Delmar.  Obviously along Delaware Avenue, but where exactly?













This is an envelope from the Home Savings Bank in Albany - wish we could still get the 4 1/2 % interest rate!





And finally, this sheet that looks to be a page of spelling homework.


I would really like to know if anyone remembers Stephen Gates and how his fourth grade paper ended up stuffed in the wood work under the stage!  Let's see, if he was around 9 years old in 1964 that makes him about 63 today. And because I can not help myself, here's his BCSD 1972 yearbook picture.  That's him, top left.



Many thanks to the folks working on the project who rescued these items.  You saved some fun bits of Bethlehem history!

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.



SLINGERLANDS IS SURELY BOOMING
BIG REAL ESTATE DEALS CLOSED

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.