Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A Portland sleigh for a snowy day

I often get genealogy inquires that lead me in all kinds of directions. The latest comes from a woman in Florida looking for a record about her relative Edith Van Wie who was born in 1804 and married Lucas Burnside.

While looking through a file of Van Wie papers in the town's archive, I came across this fascinating item:

(Sorry - tilt your head - I can't figure out how to make Blogger turn it right side up)

It is a receipt from John Wemple, Albany County sheriff dated October 7, 1879. It reads

"Received of John Van Wie Thirty-One Dollars and Eighty-five cents which is in full of all Demands for one Portland Sleigh."

What is a Portland Sleigh you may ask? You can purchase this one from the Frey Carriage Company for about $900.

It looks a lot like this one from South Bethlehem.  The house pictured still stands on South Street.

And just to make your day extra fun, here's a picture of my modern day "sleigh" in my snowy driveway. 

Enjoy you snow day - and safe travels in whatever your sleigh may be.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Legs Diamond and Bethlehem

The world works in mysterious ways.  My next Then & Now article for Our Towne Bethlehem will be about the Mansion at Cedar Hill, the former Elks Club, the former home of Daniel H. Prior, and the former summer home of Gov. Martin Glynn.  (See my previous blog post for a picture of the house and some thoughts on Glynn.) 

And lo and behold, there is this wonderful article in yesterday's Times Union by Paul Grondahl about Legs Diamond's trial in Troy. 


There is a brief mention of Daniel H. Prior, Diamond's chief defense attorney.  He's been described as the "greatest trial attorney of his time." See this web page article:


 Here's the picture from the Times Union.  Prior is sitting at the defense table with his head resting on his hand.   Hop on over to the TU for the full article. 
(I just re-read that sentence and looked at the picture and realized everyone at the table has their head in their hand.  Even the judge. Below is the caption from the TU)
Trial of Jack "Legs" Diamond in Rensselaer County Courthouse, Troy, on Dec. 16, 1931. Diamond is seated at the center table left of the white-haired attorney, co-counsel Abbott Jones.To Diamond's left is chief defense attorney  Daniel H. Prior of Albany. The witness testifying is Grover Parks of Greene County, who is being questioned by Assistant Attorney Gerneral John T. Cahill. Justice F. Walter Bliss of Middleburgh, Schoharie County, presides. Diamond's wife, Alice, is seated in the front row, far left.  (Photo courtesy the Jones law firm)

"Trial of Jack "Legs" Diamond in Rensselaer County Courthouse, Troy, on Dec. 16, 1931. Diamond is seated at the center table left of the white-haired attorney, co-counsel Abbott Jones.To Diamond's left is chief defense attorney Daniel H. Prior of Albany. The witness testifying is Grover Parks of Greene County, who is being questioned by Assistant Attorney Gerneral John T. Cahill. Justice F. Walter Bliss of Middleburgh, Schoharie County, presides. Diamond's wife, Alice, is seated in the front row, far left. (Photo courtesy the Jones law firm)"

Saturday, December 7, 2013

A lovely Rehab

So, I am feeling bad that the last couple of posts might seem a little negative about historic properties in town.  There are folks doing wonderful things with their old homes, preserving and protecting and making them shine.  How about that wonderful Victorian on Feura Bush Road near Colonial Acres?  How about a drive along New Scotland Road in Slingerlands?

How about this before picture...

Here's the after.  The photo is from 2008, and it still looks great in 2013!

This is the home on New Scotland Road where scenes from the movie Ironweed were shot.  The movie people were looking for an untouched house.  And as you can see from the before picture, they got it. After filming, the home was sold and renovated into the gem it is today.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Winter Scenes

I just got back from hanging a new grouping of historic Bethlehem winter scenes at Town Hall (outside the Receiver of Taxes office - head over and take a look.)

This is one of my favorites.

The photograph is almost painterly with an air of that still silence that comes after a snow fall. 

It is of the Sager farmhouse on New Scotland Road right near the Slingerlands Post Office, Price Chopper and the roundabout.  I don't think it is quiet there now - even after a snowfall.

Here's a snap from Google's Street View. On the left in the trees you might recognize the large American flag draped over the front of the house. 

And, just for a chuckle, here's an aerial view from Bing.  It brings back memories of Pre-Roundabout Era Slingerlands.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Gaping Holes in the Roof

So, I've been thinking about this barn on Feura Bush Road. It is not an exciting barn.  Just a utilitarian barn, but it was once an essential part of farm life.

This view is from Bing.

Lately, this is how it looks.

This view from Google.
(Love the airplane in the foreground.)

Notice the gaping holes in the roof?  This just makes me sad.  Another piece of Bethlehem's agricultural heritage will soon be gone. 

On the plus side, driving home along Meads Lane the other day, for some reason the old stone house on nearby VanDyke Road popped into my head.  Literally, I thought to myself, "I hope it is still standing.  I haven't been by there in ages."

A quick detour, and yes it is still standing, and looks to be undergoing some renovations.  And the roof looks just fine.  Hopefully I'll get a picture soon. 

When did passenger service stop? UPDATED!

People often ask me about passenger service on the railroads in town. 

By 1900, Bethlehem had five railroad stations.  Elsmere, Delmar and Slingerlands (with a flag station at Font Grove) were along the D&H. South Bethlehem and Selkirk were on the West Shore (aka the New York Central). There were stops at Wemple and Glenmont, altho I don't know if they had an actual station or were flag stops.

By 1935, all of the passenger stations on the D&H in Bethlehem were closed. *** SEE BELOW
By 1959, South Bethlehem and Selkirk closed.

Here are some interesting figures - when the D&H approached the Public Service Commission in 1934 to close the Delmar Station (Elsmere and Slingerlands had closed the year before - partly because Delmar Station was just a mile and a half away) they presented these total passenger figures for Delmar:

1930  8,515
1931  1959
1932  493
1933  392

Talk about a dramatic drop in ridership.

So what happened? 

Automobiles and bus service were taking off and much more convenient.   Personal cars provided door to door service, and bus service with its many stops came close.

Nationally, Henry Ford introduced his Model T in 1908 - it was soon the most popular and affordable car.  Locally, Frank Hungerford introduced his Tri-Village Bus Service in 1915.  In 1943, Hungerford sold his business to the United Traction Company, a forerunner of today's CDTA.

Mr. & Mrs. Davidson of South Bethlehem pose with their auto.
Any old car buffs out there who can tell me what kind it is?
***I Stand Corrected***

After posting this blog, a friend of mine pointed out that in the 1960s he boarded the D&H in Cobleskill and got off at Adams and Hudson.  He also remembers his sisters riding the train to the Altamont Fair in the 1950s. 

A follow up article in the Altamont Enterprise (September 21, 1934) has the following headline.

So, I believe the D&H made it a Flag Station - meaning - I think! - that it was not staffed. 

So, now I am thinking passenger service continued but the actual physical stations were closed. 
What say you my friend?

Monday, November 18, 2013

Flap and Doodle

In reading about the Prohibition Era, I was caught by the wonderful phrasing of H.L. Mencken.   He is describing the oratory powers of President Warren G. Harding:

"a string of wet sponges"
"dogs barking idiotically through endless nights"
'It is rumble and bumble.  It is flap and doodle. It is balder and dash."
"It is so bad that a sort of grandeur creeps into it."

Harding on the campaign trail in 1920.
(Courtesy of Wikipedia.)
Hopefully my writing is better than that!

Harding was president near the beginning of Prohibition; from his inauguration on March 4, 1921until his death on August 2, 1923.   His Justice Department under Attorney General Harry M. Daughtry was legendary for its level of corruption.  They were known for soliciting and accepting bribes to "secure appointments, prison pardons and freedom from prosecution" especially for bootleggers and rum runners.  In deed, Mr. & Mrs. Harding were known for their alcohol fueled after dinner parties.

I could not find a specific Bethlehem connection for Harding. You can read local reports about him in the Altamont Enterprise including a transcript of his nomination acceptance speech.  http://historicnewspapers.guilpl.org/

Or, read more in Edward Behr's Prohibition Thirteen Years that Changed America and, of course, Wikipedia.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Bethlehem Votes Dry

So did you vote this week?
On September 14, 1918 you would have had the chance to vote on the local option of New York State's Liquor Tax Law.  Essentially, should Bethlehem be wet or dry?
Here's the official notice:
Voters responding with a resounding NO on all questions, essentially voting the town dry. 
This is actually the second vote taken on the issue.  The year before a similar election was held but was declared invalid by the State Court of Appeals on a technicality.  In response, Bethlehem's drys rallied their supporters to petition for another election, and then rallied the town's people to get out the vote. 
Here's how the Altamont Enterprise described the scene:

“Men and women in this village kept their automobiles running throughout the day, from the time of the opening to the closing of the polls, conveying voters to Bethlehem Center, where the election was held.  Never has an election been held in this town where such marked interest was displayed by both sexes as this one.” (September 20, 1918)

The 18th amendment to the U.S. Constitution was passed in December of 1817, ratified by the states in 1919 and took effect January 1920.  After a disastrous run of 13 years, national Prohibition was repealed in 1933.

So now my question, when did Bethlehem go back to being wet?  Even today in 2013,  as per NY liquor laws, a town can vote itself dry. 

Read more in Allan S. Everest's enjoyable book Rum Across the Boarder the Prohibition Era of Northern New York.  Read about bootleggers, rum runners, and our very own Route 9 otherwise known as the Rum Trail from the Canadian boarder to Albany and points south.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Eliphalet Nott, Spontaneous Combustion and Bethlehem

Believe it or not, this article stems from my further investigations into prohibition era Bethlehem. 

While reading the book Prohibition Thirteen Years that Changed America by Edward Behr I had a "oh that has a Bethlehem connection" moment.

The first chapter deals with early temperance movement leaders and their concerns about the evils of liquor consumption.  Besides "dyspepsia, jaundice, emaciation, corpulence, rheumatism, gout, lethargy, palsy, apoplexy, melancholy, and madness", we have the always fascinating "spontaneous combustion."  Where people simply burst into flames.  Then the author quotes Dr. Eliphalet Nott, president of Union College "an expert on spontaneous combustion who firmly believed that
these causes of death of drunkards by internal fires, kindled often spontaneously in the fumes of alcohol, that escape through the pores of the skin, have become so numerous and so incontrovertible that I presume no person of information will now be found to call the reality of their existence into question."
So what is the Bethlehem moment?

Hidden down a long driveway on Glenmont Road is a large and charming old brick home.  The property came into the Nott family in 1841. Judge Benjamin Nott, who lived there with his wife Elizabeth Cooper, is the son of Eliphalet Nott and his first wife Sally Benedict.  See the excerpt below from New York Genealogy for a poetic description of Nott.

As a side note, Elizabeth's sister Margaret Cooper married Benjamin's brother Joel B. Nott.  I believe they also lived in Bethlehem for a while.

And, interestingly, Benjamin Nott also spoke out on temperance issues.  According to the Howell and Tenney's Bicentennial History of Albany County, on July 4, 1841 "the temperance societies of Albany joined in procession to the Second Presbyterian Church where an oration was given by Benjamin Nott."

Now I am wondering if any one in Bethlehem every spontaneously combusted. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A ghostly image on the Normanskill

I purchased this stereo card off EBay a little while ago - mostly because of the figure on the upper left.   Is it the Sasquatch of the Normanskill?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

HABS is habit forming

Recently I had the chance to take a tour of the Van Schaick Mansion in Cohoes.  It is a wonderful Dutch colonial home built about 1735.  While in the front hallway, the guide pointed out a certificate from when the home was surveyed as part of the Historic American Building Survey, otherwise known as HABS.  Which got me thinking about Bethlehem and HABS.

The Van Schaick Mansion

First off, here's a little HABS history from their web site (I couldn't write it better myself)

"The Historic American Buildings Survey was created in 1933 under President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal to provide much-needed work for architects, photographers, and historians, who documented America’s built environment at a key moment in modernization and nationalization. The effort provided an invaluable historical record of sociological, technological, and design development as well as art, information and inspiration for Americans of that time and ours."

HABS continues today, along with its buddies HAER (Historic American Engineering Record) and HALS (Historic American Landscape Survey) through the National Parks Service's Heritage Documentation Program.  They partner with the Library of Congress and private donors to make the images and documents available on line.   HABS is the only New Deal program that is still going today.

When you have a lot of time to kill, check out the LOC Prints and Photographs On Line Collection.  That's where you'll find the HABS items as well as a lot of other cool historic stuff.

Here's a link http://www.loc.gov/pictures/

Bethlehem has several buildings that were surveyed by HABS in the 1930s.  Bethlehem House on Dinmore Road is one. It was also built circa 1735 and bears a resemblance to the Van Schaick House.

Bethlehem House, also known as the Nicoll Sill House

Another is Sunnybrook Farm on Route 32 just past the Elm Avenue Park. It was the center of a cattle holding farm run by members of the Corning family.  In 1943 Charles Waldenmaier and his wife Virginia Elmendorf purchased the property for general farming and improved the land with extensive apple orchards. 

Sunnybrook Farm

There is an old family cemetery on the knoll beyond the barn. Buried there are Frederick Britt and his wife Helena Burhans.  Britt had his sons-in-law Frederick and John Luke build the house about 1801 after his service with the 1st Regiment, Ulster County, New York Militia during the American Revolution.  He died in September of 1811 at age 66.  Helen followed him in October 1838.   Their daughter Leah married John Albert Slingerland.

There are many architectural drawings of Sunnybrook Farm, including the one above.

Other Bethlehem properties include the Haswell Houck Tavern which still stands on Feura Bush Road at the corner with Elm, and the Hendrick Van Wie House, another brick Dutch colonial which was torn down to make way for the Niagara-Mohawk Steam Generating Plant on Route 144 River Road in Glenmont.

NOTE: All of the images on this post are from the HABS website.  If you would like to learn more about the Van Schaick Mansion, visit  http://www.vanschaickmansion.org/

Friday, October 4, 2013

Dry Agents Nab Albany Hotel Man

When I first became town historian, about 6 years ago, I heard a story about the Abbey Hotel from an acquaintance of mine.  It seems his uncle (or was it cousin) was a saxophone player at the old Abbey Hotel during the Prohibition era, and one time the place was raided and he had to jump out the window to escape the law. 
So what might I find when searching for newspaper articles related to the Abbey? Beside references to it as a well known place and  lots of notes about clambakes and dances and Republican meetings, there was this hit with the promising headline noted above - Dry Agents Nab Albany Hotel Man.
And what do I get regarding the Abbey - FAKE dry crusaders shaking down the proprietor for money so they would not tear up his place in their search for booze.  Good grief.  Not what I was expecting.
So, the hunt goes on.  One of these days, I will look up the acquaintance and get the Abbey story again.  Is it just family legend? What is the kernel of truth?


If you are curious, here are the two web sites I use when looking for old newspapers. 

http://historicnewspapers.guilpl.org/   (This one is for the Altamont Enterprise)

http://fultonhistory.com/Fulton.html    (This is a strange site that is kind of hard to search - but oh the riches to find.)

The Abbey Hotel was located on River Road in Glenmont, just north of where Glenmont Road comes in.  It began in the late 1700s and burned down about 1960. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Historic Photos at the Library

I've got a new exhibit at the Bethlehem Public Library with lots of then and now style photographs of historic Bethlehem. Included are the hamlets of Cedar Hill, Delmar, Selkirk, Slingerlands, and South Bethlehem.  Plus a section about the Delaware & Hudson Railway and the West Shore Line.   It is up for the month of October.  Check it out during regular library hours. 

Folks couldn't wait to check out the photos!

Wicked Albany - Wicked Bethlehem?

How is that for a provocative blog title?

After writing about the Home Lawn Hotel for Our Towne Bethlehem's October issue I have been thinking about what was Bethlehem like during the prohibition era.

I just finished the book Wicked Albany: Lawlessness & Liquor in the Prohibition Era by Frankie Bailey and Alice Green. Piled on my coffee table are Rum Across the Border The Prohibition Era in Northern New York, Prohibition Thirteen Years that Changed America and Retreat From Reform The Prohibition Movement in the United States 1890-1913 (thank you Bethlehem Public Library!).

I often wonder how national issues like this one come down to the local level.

This headline caught my eye in November 16, 1917 issue of the Albany Evening Journal


The Altamont Enterprise reported the same story with the more staid headline


Both report about G. Kilmer moving from a series of hotel leases as successive towns passed dry laws.  He moved from New Baltimore to Ravena to West Coxsackie ending up at the Home Lawn Hotel in Slingerlands. The articles notes he "took possession of the Home Lawn Hotel last month and at the recent election this town was voted dry and therefore he will lose his license here after Oct. 1, 1918."

So, Bethlehem was voted dry in November 1917.  Hmmmm,one of these days I am going to look through the minutes of the Town Board meetings from that era and see what turns up. 

Here's a link to the Our Towne Bethlehem article:


And a terrible copy of the Altamont Enterprise article:

Friday, September 20, 2013

Hotels and Taxes

Hotels and Taxes.  A strange combination, but that's what I have been thinking about this week in Bethlehem history. 

First, my school tax bill came in the mail.  Then, while looking for info about the Home Lawn Hotel in Slingerlands (it will be featured in the October Our Towne Bethlehem) I came across this item in the Altamont Enterprise.

One hundred years ago, I would have had to saddle up and head to a local hotel in order to pay my property tax, and hand over my payment to Mr. Beeten.  If I showed up at Zelie's on the 14th, I could bend the ear of supervisor Charles D. Niver.
(Note: I am not sure about the school tax bill.  In our town, where the school districts are separate from the town, we pay two different tax bills.  I'll have to do a little more digging on where the school taxes were paid.) 
Where are these old hotels and gathering spots?.
Snyder Hill Hotel still stands, sort of, on today's Martin Drive off of Rt 32.  Here's a pair of then and now photos of Snyder's (now being 2009 - the building probably is in worse shape in 2013.) 

The Hurstville Hotel  was probably on New Scotland Road near Whitehall Road, a section of town that was annexed by Albany in 1967.
Dunn's in Delmar is a mystery.
Cedar Hill Hotel was on River Road just  north of Beaverdam Road. I believe it burned down in the 1960s.
Zelie's is the Home Lawn Hotel in Slingerlands which was run by Rufus Zelie from 1897 to 1917.  It is on the corner of New Scotland Road and Mullens Road.
Klemp's is another mystery.
Store in South Bethlehem was probably located near the intersection of Bridge and South Streets.
Hinckel's in Normansville was on Mill Street (now in the City of Albany) opposite the lower bridge over the Normans Kill.
Store at Selkirk is another mystery, probably in the hamlet on Maple Avenue near where it crosses the railroad tracks.
The Abbey Hotel was located on River Road in Glenmont just north of the intersection with Glenmont Road.
NOTE: Blogger is being a pain about uploading photos - will try again later.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Reflections on the River

 “Who looks upon a river in a meditative hour, and is not reminded of the flux of all things?”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

While preparing for tomorrow's history hike at Henry Hudson Park I came across the quote above. For some reason, the quote reminded me of this photo I took at the park in 2007. The Vlomankill merging with the Hudson in winter. Even though it is early fall, even though the leaves are still green, I am reminded of the coming winter. The seasons of the earth, the seasons of our lives, marching on, always in flux.
Here's another quote that comes to mind...
"Enjoy every sandwich."
Waren Zevon did an interview on the Late Show with David Letterman following Zevon's having been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Letterman asked Zevon if there was anything he understood now, facing his own mortality, that he didn't before. Zevon replied, "Just how much you're supposed to enjoy every sandwich." (Thank you Wikipedia)

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Gov Glynn Mansion on Willett Street, Albany

This sign caught my eye Sunday while walking on Willett Street in Albany.

It is on this house which is the Gov. Glynn Mansion.

And here I thought this was the Gov. Glynn Mansion

It turns out both are Glynn Mansions. 

The one in Bethlehem was his summer home.  The estate on River Road in Cedar Hill was purchased by Glynn in 1907 from J.B. Lyon. Glynn engaged noted architect Marcus Reynolds to design the house.  Glynn later sold the place to Daniel Pryor who made it a year round home. Pryor was a prominent lawyer.  One of his clients was Jack "Legs" Diamond, the notorious prohibition era gangster.  Some might remember the days when the house was the Elk's Club.  It is now known as the Mansion at Cedar Hill and hosts private functions.  

Follow this link for more info on Glynn.


Here's what the plaque says: 





Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Bethlehem moments on Willett St in Albany

Last Sunday I attended the First Presbyterian Church of Albany and had a couple of Bethlehem history moments.  First off, check out this web page with beautiful pictures of First Pres' Tiffany stained glass windows.


Did you notice the one of Joseph Henry?

Courtesy of First
 Presbyterian Church of Albany 

Joesph Henry taught for two years at the Selkirk School (District # 2), probably around 1820.  Henry had family there.  His aunt Elizabeth Henry married James Selkirk in 1786. Elizabeth and James farmed and raised a family of 10 in the hamlet which would soon bear the name Selkirk.

Joseph Henry (December 17, 1797 – May 13, 1878), as noted in the stained glass above, was a Master Scientist and highly regarded during his life time. He served as the first Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution.  While studying and building electromagnets, Henry discovered the electromagnetic phenomenon of self-inductance and developed the electromagnet into a practical device. (Thank you Wikipedia).

The other Bethlehem history moment came while walking to our car on Willett Street.  There at #30 is a plaque marking the location of the Governor Glynn Mansion.  Well, Bethlehem's Governor Glynn mansion in on River Road in Cedar Hill. 

More later about Glynn when I can get photos...

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The view from the parking lot

While waiting for the Daughter yesterday afternoon, I got to thinking about this house. Do you recognize it? 

Here's another view.

(True confession time: the barking German shepherd and the Beware of Dog sign prevented me from getting a really good picture)
This is one of several old Haswell homes in the Town of Bethlehem.  John Haswell and his wife (either 1st wife Mary Miller or 2nd wife Mary Haliday) and 10 children arrived from England in November 1774 and rented 300 acres from the Patroon. This is the land near the Haswell Farms development on Feura Bush Road. 
Son Henry Haswell built the house shown here about 1800. The Albany-Bethlehem Turnpike (chartered in 1804) soon ran in front of his house.  Today, busy Route 9W rumbles away out front.  Take a look at Kenwood Avenue on a modern map (go ahead, pop over to Google Maps).   Kenwood used to make a straight shot over to 9W ending up just south of this house.   Today, Kenwood ends at the Delmar By-Pass and the house sits just south of where the By-Pass connects to 9W.
For a time, the house served as a tavern for weary stage coach travelers and farmers carting their produce to Albany along the plank road.  Allison Bennett in her article Barracks-barroom on the plank road notes "the oak panelled dining room has replaced what was once the bar room of the tavern." (You can read the whole article in her book Times Remembered.) 
Sitting in the Panera parking lot, I tried to imagine the days when the local Bethlehem militia trained in the fields surrounding the house.  As early as 1812, soldiers trained here and Col. John Moore trained troops in these fields during the Mexican War in the 1840s.  The Civil War era brought military activity as well with the 16th New York Infantry and the 28th New York setting up camp here in June of 1861.  The site came to be known as Camp Morgan after NY Governor Edwin Morgan.  Read more about life in the Bethlehem encampment in Military Heritage chapter of Bethlehem Revisited written by William F. Howard.
Take a drive out to 9W and glimpse this wonderful old house and see if you can imagine the day when it was a farm surrounded by fields.
Below is the house about 1980.
(Courtesy of Lois Dillon)

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Revolutionary Markers

I was down at the Cedar Hill Schoolhouse this morning and got photos of three historic markers on my way home.

What markers have you seen on your travels in Bethlehem?

This one is on Dinmore Road and recognizes Cornelius Glen, Hugh Jolly, Zimri Murdock, Francis Nicoll, James Selkirk, Richard Sill, Caleb Smith and Arie VanWie.
Interestingly, Glen, Selkirk, Sill and Smith are not on yesterday's list of Bethlehem Revolutiony War veterans from the book Bethlehem Revisited. I know that James Selkirk moved to Bethlehem after the war, maybe the others did too. They certainly ended up buried in Bethlehem.

This one is on Creble Road and commemorates Tunis Slingerland and William Winne.

This one is on Elm Avenue and honors John D. Winne.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Revolutionary Bethlehem

Walking the Freedom Trail in Boston last week got me to thinking about what Bethlehem was like during the American Revolution.

One thing to recognize is that there was no Town of Bethlehem on June 17, 1775 (that's the date of the Battle of Bunker Hill - we had a long, long walk there on Friday).   Our "address" would have been The West Manor of Rensselaerswyck which was part of Albany County. Albany County was much larger than it is today encompassing  what are now Albany, Columbia, Rensselaer, Saratoga and Schenectady counties and large parts of Greene and Washington counties. Plus a bit of Vermont.

The Town of Watervliet was created in 1788 and the Town of Bethlehem was created out of Watervliet in 1793.  During those revolutionary days, folks lived "on the Manor" and paid their rent to the Patroon.  Farms were concentrated near the Hudson River, the Normanskill and the Vlomankill along with the  sawmills, gristmills, coopers and blacksmiths necessary to farm life.  The First Reformed Church of Bethlehem had been established in 1763 with services conducted in Dutch and English. 

Below is a list of men from Bethlehem who served the Patriot cause during the Revolution.  It is from Bethlehem Revisited.  You might recognize some of the last names. 

Dirck Becker
Wouter Becker
Peter Boice
Frederick Britt
Patrick Callanan
George Colenburg
Andrew Conning
George Hogan
Hugh Jolly
Zimri Murdock
Francis Nicoll
David Niver
Aaron Oliver
John Oliver
Solomon Russell
John Sager
Abraham Slingerland
Tunis Slingerland
Conrad Soop
Barent Staats
Gerrit Vandenbergh
Cornelius VanDerzee
Arie Van Wie
John Van Wie
Peter Van Wie
John Winne
William Winne
Take a look around town for the historic markers that are near the final resting place of some of our veterans.  This one is for Andrew Conning, 3rd Regiment of the Albany County Militia who served under Capt.VanDerheyden. It is located on New Scotland Road at Couse Lane.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

August Then and Now Article

Check out the August issue of Our Towne Bethlehem for a story about the Delmar Theatre. 


Have you been bitten

by the genealogy bug?

I've been in and out of town the last week and a half - but that hasn't stopped me from thinking about Bethlehem history. 

One evening, I was in the hotel room ,exhausted, skipping through the TV channels and came upon the TLC program Who Do You Think You Are?  They take a celebrity and do some genealogy research with them. The episode I caught featured Christina Applegate and it sucked me right in with the lure of family ties through the depths of history.  Somehow, knowing where you come from informs our understanding of our selves today and perhaps our future as well. 


the show gave me a lot of giggles as well because it is very unrealistic.  I have no doubts about the accuracy of the research they did, they just made it seem so easy. The kindly archivist just hovering waiting to go search out the right death certificate and of course they find it right away.  The friendly lawyer who comes up with and then explains a series of old court cases.  So neat and easy in their folders on the table. 

The reality check is that those archivists, clerks, librarians and other keepers of the records are busy people.  I have found them all friendly and curious on your behalf, but there are a lot you to help.  Court records or birth certificates or death records don't just magically appear - there are fees involved and then someone has to go physically find them in those boxes in the archival room (one hopes at least that it is an archival room.) Maybe the index is computerized, maybe the documents have been scanned.  You just never know.  It takes time and patience and usually money but sometimes you are well rewarded.  Because when you do find that document with your great grand parents information, you feel an instant connection. 

As Town Historian, I receive many genealogy inquires about people's Bethlehem relatives.  I am happy to look through the town archive database and some of the local history books to see what I can easily find.  The Winne family seems to have a lot of descendants curious about their history.  Pieter Winne came to New Netherland (now Albany) with his family in 1650s and was a tenant in Rensselaerswyck (in what was to become the Town of Bethlehem).  Read more about him at

Once, I was contacted by three different Winne's in short period of time and was able to intoduce them to each other.  Now they had a connection to their distant cousins.  It was a nice feeling for me to be able to help them out.

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Wemp Barn

Yesterday was a lovely summer day, perfect for a ride in the country on the hunt for the Wemp barn.  

After dropping the daughter off at Crossgates Mall, with a vague notion that the barn is off 32 in Feura Bush, I set off on my own cross country excursion on the back roads of Guilderland, Bethlehem, and New Scotland.  There were many historic homes along the way.  I especially enjoyed Bullock Road including this historic marker tribute to Matthew Bullock "Introduced English Short Horn Cattle into Albany County about 1815 and won premiums at fairs" 

Then I made a quick zip through Clarksville on Delaware Avenue (lovely homes and lots of historic markers thanks to the Clarksville Historical Society) and a left turn onto Tarrytown Road knowing that Tarrytown came out on 32. Ended up crossing 32 onto Cedar Grove and somehow ended up in South Bethlehem.  Along the way I saw a pair of nice older homes near the intersection with Blodgett Hill Road ( I think this is Callanan's Corners.) One is an old stone one, the other a large brick structure with a formidable mansard roof.  No historic markers here but they sure deserve one!

Turn around, back to 32.  Taking a guess, I turned on Onesquethaw Creek Road with the idea that I could at least pick up some corn at Stanton's Farm on my way home even if I didn't find the barn.

And lo and behold there it was, and worth the trip.

 The Wemp Barn is a classic New World Dutch Barn.  It was originally built about 1700 in Fort Hunter, Montgomery County by Jan Wemp and moved here in 1990 by the Dutch Barn Preservation Society.  Here's a link to the whole story http://www.dutchbarns.org/dbpsnewsfall90.htm

Here are some adjectives about the barn and its setting: beautiful, rustic, architectural, functional, geometric, awesome, airy, huge, warm, sheltering, spacious, hand made.

And then there was this guy, who gave me quite a start when I rounded the corner....

 And to add to the rural setting, next door to the barn is this....

And finally just over the one lane bridge over the Onesquethaw is this lovely farm vista.  And what looks like another old stone house off in the distance.

I hope you enjoyed this excursion into the country side.  And I will claim a Bethlehem connection for two reasons.  One: Bethlehem has its own Dutch barns, but they are not open to the public.  Two: when these stone houses were most likely built, they would have been in the Town of Bethlehem.  New Scotland was created out of Bethlehem in 1832.  So there.