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.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

An Adams Street Deed

A friend of mine let me borrow the abstract of title/deed to her property on Adams Street.  It traces her small suburban plot back to two large tracts of land leased by the patroon.  One is 162 acres leased by Stephen Van Rensselaer to Garrit Walley on March 8, 1793.  The other lease is dated May 9th, 1803 and is between Van Rensselaer and James McKie.

The McKie lease was assigned to Nathaniel Adams (a familiar Delmar name) in 1854. "thus Nathaniel Adams became seized of the parts of said land lying South of Delaware Turnpike and West of New Scotland Road, and as he acquired also the leasehold title, the leases were extinguished, and he became the owner in fee of said premises."

Are you with me so far? The deed describes the tracts with links, chains and a pitch pine tree. It cites the annual rent for both properties in bushels of wheat, fat foul and a day's service with carriage and horses.  All pretty straight forward stuff.

This is the Walley lease, only 16 bushels of wheat.  The larger McKie tract requires "27 bushels of wheat and one-half bushel of clean merchantable winter wheat." Both required four fat fowl and a day's service.

But did you notice the really intriguing bit? McKie's lands are west of New Scotland Road. Moreover, the first line of the abstract (this section was completed in 1912 by E.W. & E.B. Rieck, Attorneys at Law.) states "I am informed that the distance from the center of the New Scotland Road to the West side of Adams Street on the South line of Delaware Turnpike, Delmar, N.Y. is 584 feet."

And then there is this map.

What isn't New Scotland Road in Slingerlands?!

Apparently, back in the day, what we know as Kenwood Avenue, was New Scotland Road. I did not know this - a new history fact!

I think the Riecks were confused as well.  Otherwise why start with that info about the distance to New Scotland Road?  On Google maps, you can measure the 584 feet and it puts you pretty squarely on Kenwood Avenue.  Very cool!  Sadly, the old maps do not have a lot of street names.  I did look in the Family directory of Delmar, published in June 1913, and there is no New Scotland Road in Delmar, just Kenwood Avenue so I don't know when the switch over took place.

Another fun aspect of this document is the restrictions placed on the lot when it was subdivided out by the heirs of Nathaniel Adams in 1912.

"Subject to restrictions that the parties of the second part will not sell or permit to be sold upon the premises and spirituous liquors, wine, beer, ale, porter, cider or any other intoxicating drinks, nor use the premises for any other purpose than for a residence or dwelling, and to erect a house to cost not less than $2000 and to set same at lease 32 ft. from Adams St. and to set outbuildings not nearer than 50ft. from Adams Street. "

What a fascinating glimpse into Bethlehem history!

Friday, July 21, 2017

Along the Delaware Turnpike

My next article for Our Towne Bethlehem is about the old Albany and Delaware Turnpike.  (You might be sitting in traffic there a lot this summer.) I came across this little article, and it made me smile.  Watch out! Mr. Scrafford's horses were on the loose in Normasnville in 1897.

 I think "a new Osborne Marker" is some sort of road sign, maybe a mile marker.  Google, however, is stumped.

The article is from the June 11, 1897 Altamont Enterprise.