Monday, January 27, 2014

John I. Slingerland

I had this Bethlehem Moment (that is where I am exploring some sort of history - and suddenly say to myself - but wait - there is a Bethlehem connection) when I first visited the exhibit An Irrepressible Conflict: The Empire State in the Civil War at the New York State Museum.  I finally got back to take a photo of this poster.

Did the Bethlehem names jump out at you too?

John I. Slingerland is the one that really caught me.  His is the family that our very own Slingerlands is named after and his home still stands on New Scotland Road a couple of houses west of the Toll Gate Restaurant.

Here's what my trolley tour notes say about him:

1804-1861 us congressman (1847-49) also NY state assembly, married Elizabeth Vanderzee Several of his eloquent speeches in the House of Representatives contain passionate statements against slavery, "that direful curse of human bondage that must be kept within constitutional limits." later married Sally Hall, his account book is in the archives,died in Slingerlands house.  

I'd often brag that he served in Congress with Abraham Lincoln.  

And then to be walking through the exhibit, taking in the grand sweep of New York's participation in this national event, there at the bottom of the poster is John I. Slingerland, confirming in a primary source document what I had read in Bethlehem Revisited.  A nice Bethlehem Moment for me.

Check out the exhibit on line at
Visit soon, it ends in March.

And if you are curious, I went to this site to verify that Slingerland did serve in Congress with Lincoln.

Friday, January 17, 2014


Another gem from the Ravena Coeymans Historical Society...

Just around the corner to the left as you walk in the museum is a display with three old pictures of the Selkirk Rail Yards.

My favorite is the one of the roundhouse. Seeing a brand-new-to-me old photograph makes my historian's heart go pitter pat.   

There used to be two roundhouses at the yards.   And if you look carefully at the aerial views available on Bing and/or Google Maps you can see the ghost image one of them in the scars on the land. 

Can you see the faint curve of the round house?

Here's a view from further out with the location above circled.

In case you don't know, the Selkirk Yards were part of the Castleton Cut-Off project and are located west of Route 9W and south of Creble Road in Bethlehem.  

The Castleton Cut-Off project, conceived by Alfred H. Smith in the early 1920’s, included the Castleton Bridge that carries the New York Central’s tracks over the Hudson River and the Selkirk Railroad Yards where freight cars are sorted and classified.  The Cut-Off relieved congestion at the Albany Railroad Yards, and the rural setting left plenty of room for expansion.  Completed in 1924 at a cost of 25 million dollars, the yards were said to be the largest of their kind in the world.  

A roundhouse is used to house locomotives while they are being serviced.  It is a large circular or semicircular structure that surrounds or is next to a turntable.  Engines are driven onto the turntable, then the table is turned to line the engine up with the appropriate stall.  I remember years ago being at the B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore, MD and standing on their turntable.  It is so balanced that very little force is needed to turn the heavy locomotive.  

Here's an image of the Mingo Junction Roundhouse in Ohio to give you an idea.  

Below is a picture of one of the Selkirk roundhouses being built. 

Today, the Selkirk Yards are an active, busy place and if you are a railroad buff, or know a young fan of Thomas the Tank Engine, a road trip is in order.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Medical Liquor

Last week I finally visited the Ravena Coeymans Historical Society's museum.  If you are a lover of small, quirky, local  museums like I am, this one is definitely worth the trip.

Among the many interesting displays was one about McCulloch's Pharmacy. During the Prohibition era, this was the place to go to get your prescription filled for medical liquor.

Here's a a closer view of an actual prescription for Mr. Smith to take 1 tablespoon of whiskey 3 times a day.

And here's a closer viewof McCulloch's shipping receipt for 1 case of whiskey (pints) and wine gallons 3. I love how is says For Non Beverage Purposes.

After reading about Prohibition, it is such a pleasure to come across actual local records that document the oddities of the era. Now if only they were from Bethlehem...

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Bethlehem's Ice Industry: Help in the Harvest

With the recent frigid weather and an inquiry today (someone was wondering if I had info about their relative who was an "ice handler") I was reminded of this wonderful graphic image from the Library of Congress.

Bethlehem had many ice houses and many farmers earning income in the winter months during the harvest.

And while we're on winter images from the Library of Congress, I just love this one:

New Amsterdam of course is the early Dutch settlement at the tip of Manhattan.  150 miles up the Hudson River was Fort Orange/Beverwyck which is today's Albany.  Both were settled in the early 1600s as part of the Dutch territory of New Netherlands.

Monday, January 6, 2014

The Lions at Cedar Hill

The January Then and Now article for Our Towne Bethlehem about the Mansion at Cedar Hill (AKA The Governor Glynn Mansion - see previous blog posts) was one of the hardest ones for me to write.*  There are so many stories related to this property and house from the Cooper, Lyon, Glynn and Prior families.   The Prior family tenancy during the Prohibition era was especially rich - horses in the living room, payments in Great Danes, contraband liquor stored in the ice house, trees painted white to show up intruders after dark.  Wonderful stuff, but is it true?

So instead, for this post I am going to talk about the lions.

I am often asked about these lions and for years I had to say "I just don't know."  They mark the entrance to the old Lyon estate. There used to be a pair on River Road near the Cedar Hill Schoolhouse but these have been moved in recent years.  The ones below are on Barent Winne Road on the way to Henry Hudson Park.  

Photo by John Berninger c. 2009
I recently found this newspaper clipping from the May 26, 1899 issue of the Altamont Enterprise:

Apparently, J.B. Lyon purchased the lions from the old Delavan Hotel. As the Altamont Enterprise so succinctly, and rather grimly, puts it in their January 4, 1895 issue:  "The Delavan, the largest hotel in Albany, was discovered to be on fire about 9 o’clock Sunday evening, and though the alarm was immediately given all efforts to save it proved unavailing and the building burned to the ground.  Fifteen persons, mostly help about the hotel, were burned to death."

A quick Google search on the fire also turned up some photos at the Museum of the City of New York.  Check it out here:
Interestingly, the lions in these photos are standing up, ours are sitting down.

The big mystery is why did Lyon inscribe Guy Park on the pedestals.  Obviously it is the name of his estate in Cedar Hill, but is there any connection to the Guy Park in Amsterdam, New York?

I have a few tantalizing clues that John Taylor Cooper (he's the one who purchased the property from the VanRennselaers and later sold it to Lyon) was related to the Johnson family in Amsterdam through his mother, Margaret Taylor (daughter of Lt. Gov of NY John Taylor - there is an interesting story about a table at the Albany Institute that belonged to Sir William Johnson that was purchased by John Taylor after Johnson's property was confiscated after the American Revolution - but I digress).  The Georgian colonial house at Guy Park in Amsterdam was built in 1774 for Guy Johnson, nephew and son in law of Sir William Johnson.

In my search for facts, I came across this article from The Knickerbocker News dated March 5, 1969 which just served to further muddy the waters.

Given that I know James Fenimore Cooper did not at any time own the estate, the other story about Lyon naming it Guy Park after a place in England seems suspect as well.

Oh the mysteries, isn't history fun?

*Check out the complete article at

Note: I apologize for all the fonts - I could wrestle with Blogger all day trying to fix it, but need to get on to other things.