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

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

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.   (This one is for the Altamont Enterprise)    (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: