Thursday, December 29, 2016

How do you name a historic house?

WARNING: This blog post contains lots of unanswered questions.

I am off on a tangent this morning thinking about how we name historic houses.  This is because I am helping with a project that will produce a Google map of historic sites in town.  Specifically for bicyclists, but it will be very useful for all.   How do you label all those points on the map?
Is it the Parker-Winne House or the Pieter Winne House?  And what about Mrs. Winne, Rachel VanAlen, surely she had a lot to say about the construction of her home?  Pieter and Rachel were married January 21, 1720 and their oldest son Daniel was likely born in November 1720 (he was baptized at the Dutch Reformed Church in Albany on November 20.)  The house was built sometime in 1720.  Can't you hear Rachel telling Peter to hurry up and get the house built before the baby is born?  Shouldn't it be the Pieter and Rachel Winne House?  And what about Parker?  That's Brian Parker, the current owner! 

I often use the name Pieter Winne House to distinguish it from the nearby Daniel P. Winne House.     This is Pieter and Rachel's son.  And again, what about Mrs. Winne? Daniel married Jannetje Deforest in 1744.  The house was built in 1751.  Already married 7 years, they had two children before the house was built and then had four more.  Surely Jannetje was a vital part of this family too. Pop on over to the Metropolitan Museum site for more on the Daniel and Jannetje Winne House. (Yes, I just changed the name.  Sounds nice doesn't it?)

Is it the Nicoll-Sill House or the Bethlehem House? Nicoll refers to Rensselaer and Elizabeth Nicoll who had the house built circa 1735.  Sill refers to Capt. Richard Sill who married their daughter Elizabeth. The Sill branch of the family were later owners.  I'm kind of OK with using just the last name.  The name Bethlehem House goes way back as well. 

And what about houses that have specific names?  Is it the Cornelius Baker House or Grand View Farm?  This a property that few living today remember by either of those names.  That property is owned by Scenic Hudson.  Should it be the Scenic Hudson-Baker House? 

Here's another, how about the Glynn Mansion?  To be fancy, I sometimes say the Governor Glynn Mansion (sadly ignoring Mary Glynn). It is often identified as the former Elks Club or the Mansion at Cedar Hill. 

I don't have any answers this morning, but I hereby resolve to always look for the women of the family and reference them whenever I can!

Note the title of this report!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Happy Holidays in Bethlehem

Just some shameless self promotion this morning...

Consider buying one of my books - they make wonderful Christmas presents for the local history lover in your family.  I will be doing a book signing on Saturday, December 10 from 10 a.m. until noon time at I Love Books in Delmar.  Stop by and buy!  Remember, all of my royalties are donated to the Bethlehem Historical Association.

George says buy this now!
Both books, Bethlehem and Historic Tales of Bethlehem New York are available at the town clerk's office at Bethlehem Town Hall, I Love Books, the Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce and, of course, online.

Looking to get in the holiday spirit? Stop on by the Bethlehem Historical Association's Cedar Hill Schoolhouse for our annual Silver Tea and enjoy the wonderful decorations.  This year's theme is "Walking in a Winter Wonderland."

The Silver Tea, with a special appearance by Sinterklaas is Sunday December 4
from 1 to 4 p.m.
The Holiday Open House is Monday, December 5 from 4 to 8 p.m.
Both are free and open to the public!

Not enough holiday history?  Stop by the Delmar Farmer's Market on December 3 or 10.  The Bethlehem Historical Association, and yours truly, will have a table with lots of historic photos to look through.

And finally, here's a bit of actual history, a Christmas card sent by the Elsmere Market. Not sure of the date... 1960 maybe??

Friday, November 11, 2016

Aaron Burr's Bethlehem Connection

Hey Yo, I'm just like my country
I'm young, scrappy and hungry
And I'm not throwing away my shot!
Alexander Hamilton

I'm the damn fool that shot him.
Aaron Burr

Thanks to the Daughter, I have been obsessed with Hamilton the Musical for weeks now.  My other obsession, of course,  is local Bethlehem history.  Maybe I can connect the two? Yes I can thanks to Aaron Burr and the Nicoll family of Cedar Hill.   And thanks to Alice Begley, historian for the town of Guilderland, I don't even have to write much of an article.

Pop on over and read this...

According to Begley's article,  Aaron Burr visited the Nicoll family at their Cedar Hill estate in April 1785, just before Richard Sill's marriage to Elizabeth Nicoll (which happened on May 2, 1785.) Elizabeth's parents are Col. Francis Nicoll and Elizabeth Salisbury and their home, known as Bethlehem House, is where Burr was a guest.  It still stands in all of its brick elegance on Dinmore Road.

Francis, a stalwart of the Revolution in his own right, is the son of William Nicoll and Anna Van Rensselaer.  And through the Van Rensselaers, the Nicolls are connected to the Schuylers.  Yes those Schuyler Sisters from the musical.  Begley's article notes that Peggy, Angelica and Eliza Schuyler were cousins and friends of Elizabeth.
Aaron Burr, circa 1809. Painting by John Vanderlyn

So now my task is to look for the Alexander Hamilton connection.  He did marry Eliza Schuyler after all.  I bet he was a guest at Bethlehem House as well.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Marcus Reynolds - Hessberg House - Mystery Solved!

I wrote recently about buildings in Bethlehem designed by architect Marcus Reynolds. The article ended with the mystery of the Hessberg's home.  Where was it? Is it still there? What happened to it?

A reader commented about the Hessbergs showing up in the 1925 New York census at their residence in Bethlehem on River Road.  (US Census reports consistently show them at their Albany residence.) In the picture below, you can see Samuel and Rose Hessberg.  Scan down and you'll see William H. Weisheit, chauffeur.  Dawn Pratt of the Bethlehem Historical Association responded to that by calling up her friend Bill Weisheit, grandson of William. And, oh yes Dawn tells me, Bill's grandfather worked for the Hessbergs and passed down many stories.

Where was the house? Turns out it was at the location of today's Job Corps, on River Road, the former Our Lady of Angels Seminary.  The seminary was opened by the Vincentian Fathers in 1961. They built a very modern facility devoted to the training of parish priests. It closed in 1972, and, after much local controversy, Job Corp opened in 1977. Job Corp is a federal operation that provides residential vocational training.

Seminary brochure circa 1962.

Samuel Hessberg died in 1931, Rose in 1953.  I don't know when the property passed to the Vincentian Fathers.  The house was likely torn down to make way for the seminary buildings.

Previous to the Hessbergs, Allison Bennett notes that the Job Corp property had been owned by Van Wie family and that an early, brick, Dutch style house had been there. Her article, dated 1964, says the circa 1732 house was long gone.  A Van Wie family cemetery is still there with 13 interments dating from 1820-1871.

Job Corps circa 1983.
So, thank you Dawn for following up.  She's even got a line on a picture of the Hessberg house - supposedly Job Corp has a photo.   Stay tuned!

Monday, October 3, 2016

Architect Marcus T. Reynolds' work in Bethlehem

It turns out that Marcus Reynolds designed at least 6 properties in Bethlehem.  Four of them I knew about.  One I knew of the house but didn't know Reynolds designed it.  And one is completely new to me.  I love it when that happens!

Here's the list:

1. The Italian villa that is the Glenn house (AKA Gov Glynn Mansion, the former Elks Club, the Mansion at Cedar Hill) built in 1907.

2. The MacDonald chalet in Cedar Hill which I wrote about last month.


3. Reynolds also updated J. B. Lyon's  home at Cedar Hill with a library addition. Glenn, MacDonald and Lyons were all friends who all employed Reynolds for their Cedar Hill summer houses.

4.The Cedar Hill Schoolhouse re-designed and enlarged in 1907.* Now home of the Bethlehem Historical Association.
Cedar Hill Schoolhouse

5. The Patterson house in Selkirk is the one I am aware of but didn't know Reynolds designed it.  It was built in 1901 as a summer home for General John H. Patterson and his wife Grace Learned Patterson.



and finally the mystery house

6. The Hessberg house.   Eugene Johnson in his book Style Follows Function: Architecture of Marcus T. Reynolds, describes a lovely Colonial Revival house built in Selkirk for Samuel and Rose Hessberg in 1909. Let me just quote Johnson:

"Samuel Hessberg, the son of a shoe merchant who immigrated from Germany in 1845, had amassed a considerable fortune as a banker and broker.  In 1889 he became the manager of the Albany office of Bache & Co., stockbrokers and in 1893 he became a member of the firm.  Five years later he married Rose Brilleman, the daughter of a leading jeweler of Albany.  In their Selkirk house the Hessberg's may have used the Colonial Revival style to assimilate themselves, as Jews, into the upper-class WASP culture of upstate New York to which their money and taste, but not their ancestry, gave them entree.  In the late eighteenth and early nineteen  centuries the old Dutch and Yankee families of the Hudson River Valley had built columned mansions on the high ground beside the river."

But where exactly is the Hessberg's house? I have found plenty of newspaper references to the Hessbergs including notes about Samuel Hessberg of Cedar Hill being a founding member of the Albany County Farm Bureau (established in 1916) and a reference to Samuel's "model country estate."  But I still haven't figured out where the house is or was.  Your town historian is frustrated!

Both of these drawings are found in Johnson's book on Marcus Reynolds.
Notice the similarity between the drawings and the Patterson house pictured above. 

P.S. I was going to write a brief bio of Reynolds, but Paul Grondahl has already done an excellent one.  Follow this link to his write up for the Times Union.

*Another history mystery is that Allison Bennett reports in her book Times Remembered that the Cedar Hill Schoolhouse was originally designed as a one room school by "Mr. Van Guysling" in 1859.  Bethlehem Revisited expands this saying it was Walter Hunter Van Guysling.  Well, Walter Hunter Van Guysling, Albany based architect and apprentice to Marcus Reynolds, wasn't born until 1878. And it wasn't his father, Walter Franklin, because he worked for the New York Central for eons - his obituary from 1944 implies that he started with the railroad when he was 11 years old!

Thursday, September 1, 2016

A Swiss Chalet in Cedar Hill - updated!

I bet you didn't know we had a Swiss chalet tucked away in the Cedar Hill section of Bethlehem.   The current owners have done a wonderful job restoring the house to its Arts & Crafts glory.

It was built in 1905 (probably designed by Marcus Reynolds, but possibly by Walter H. Van Guysling - a debate for another day) for Dr. Willis Goss MacDonald as a summer home.  MacDonald was pals with J. B. Lyon and Marcus Glynn, prominent Albanians who also had summer  homes nearby.

MacDonald is an interesting character.  He was a famous surgeon in the Albany area.  His obituary ran in the New York Times on December 31, 1910.  Born in Cobleskill in 1863, he graduated from Albany Medical College in 1887 and also trained in Berlin in 1889 and 90. His surgical expertise was widely noted.  Doing a newspaper search online, I turned up an abundance of hits referring to Dr. MacDonald attending to his patients.

His life was cut tragically short.  MacDonald died December 30, 1910 at the age of 47.  His obituary is oddly specific.  "Dr. Willis G. MacDonald, one of the noted surgeons of this country, died to-night after five days illness from pneumonia contracted at a dinner given him at the Orange Club last Saturday night to members of a committee pf physicians having in charge the construction of new medical college buildings."  That snippet makes me wonder who else got sick at the dinner.

Anyway, MacDonald only enjoyed his chalet in Bethlehem for a few years.  After his death, the home came into the hands of J. B. Lyon's children.  They made it into a year round residence.

After his death, a sculpture of MacDonald was erected in his home town of Cobleskill. **

Dr. W. G. MacDonald **

Many thanks to the folks who posted these pictures on the FindAGrave website!  Visit it here

And many thanks to the current owners for giving me a tour!!


November 3, 2016

Just found the pictures below.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Four Corners from the Albany County Post

A friend let me borrow his November 21, 1952 edition of the Albany County Post.
Here are some clippings.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Joe Allgaier, Bethlehem Town Historian from 1991-2005

Joe Allgaier passed away not too long ago and I've been thinking about his contributions to Bethlehem's local history.  And I just don't know where to start the list is so long.

Editorial team for the 1993 publication "Bethlehem Revisited" from left to right: Joe Allgaier, Chuck McKinney, Floyd Brewer, Hugh Hewitt and Peter Christoph.  
  I probably met Joe when I attended my first Bethlehem Historical meeting in September of 1995.  He was an approachable guy always willing to share his expertise and encouragement.  His legacy as town historian is long and includes the book Bethlehem Revisited for which he served on the editorial team and wrote two chapters Business and Industry and Will of the People. Bethlehem Revisited is a book I refer to constantly - go read it if you haven't already!

Another legacy I use everyday is the database Joe created for the town's archival records. That database stemmed from a re-organization that I am sure was a huge project.  He collaborated closely with then Town Clerk Kathy Newkirk and others to assess, inventory and properly store the records.  The resulting searchable database really is awesome.  99% of the time when the database produces a hit and I go looking for a specific document in a specific folder in a specific archival storage box, it is there just like it is supposed to be.

Joe took me in hand when I was first appointed town historian in nine years ago, giving me the tour, giving me the keys to the database, answering my many questions about how to be a historian and encouraging me to make the position of historian my own.

Bethlehem and its history are the richer for having been served by town historian Joe Allgaier.  Personally, his influence on how I do my job has been profound and deeply appreciated.

Rest in Peace Joe!

Monday, August 1, 2016

Delmar Four Corners

Here are some circa 1970 photos of the Delmar Four Corners for your rainy Monday.

The first two on the roll of film capture an emergency response at the Four Corners.  Notice the background.   Anyone remember the Delmar Department Store and the Delmar Bootery?

And how about this one.  Again there is the emergency on the right.  But notice how much gas was back then. And notice that there was even a gas station where the mini park and clock are now.  And notice that Peter Harris used to be where the sub shop is today.

The rest of the pictures seem to be documenting the large brick building that was on the corner of Delaware and Kenwood where Key Bank is today. It was taken down in 1974, so that gives an idea of the date of these snapshots.   Enjoy!

Looking east on Delaware.  The Delmar Corner Store on the left is where Swifty's tent is today.

The Delmar Meat Market on the right in the background is where Great Wall is today.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

South Bethlehem and the Horton Sisters

Last Saturday morning was a fine day for a history hike in South Bethlehem.  The group included Alan Baumes, a descendant of the prominent South Bethlehem family. He told wonderful stories about his great aunts who lived on Willowbrook Avenue.  More about the Baumes family in another post.  For now, I want to introduce you to the Horton Family. 

One of my favorite things that sometimes happens during history hikes is when property owners come out to talk.  At first I think they are just wondering about, and maybe suspicious of, all these folks standing in front of their house.   So I always give a cheerful good morning and introduce myself.  If we're in luck, they start telling stories about their home.  

So, walking along Willowbrook, a gentleman comes out and says, "You know, this is where the Horton Sisters used to live."  And I was like, "What!  The Horton Sisters!"  When I first was town historian, nine years ago this September, I came across a flyer for the Horton Family Orchestra from South Bethlehem.  It has been in a file ever since. Forgotten. 

How could I forget the Originators of Real Rhythm and the Horton Girl Unit?!

From what I gather, they were popular in the 1930s and 40s. I've found ads for their performances in Gloversville and Corinth as well as Guilderland and Albany.   Interestingly, I couldn't find them on the 1930 or 1940 US census.  Anywhere.  So, they will remain a bit of a mystery until more research gets done.  

April 12, 1940 Altamont Enterprise

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Slingerlands Elementary School 75th Birthday Party

Calling all alumni of the Slingerlands Elementary School - did you know the Union Avenue school building is 75 years old this year?  It was built in 1941, replacing the old schoolhouse over on New Scotland Road.  I am planning on telling the whole story in my September then and now for Our Town Bethlehem.

In the mean time - the group is planning a celebration on September 25 and is looking for alumni to share their stories.  Yearbooks and snapshots would also be appreciated.  I am told the info is pretty good from the late 1970s onward, but not so much for the 40s, 50s and 60s. 

Visit this website and please help spread the word!

And, just for fun, here are some Slingerlands graduates from 1907. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Thomas and Eliza Pierce

July’s then and now article for Our Town Bethlehem looks at a simple farm house on Old Quarry Road built about 1859.  

Pop on over to to read the article.  

As always, I ended up with more questions than answers.  Here are a few loose ends I am still wondering about. But let's start with a cute dog. The current owners are lucky to have been given a large envelope of old documents and photos after they purchased the home.  I couldn't use them all, but  don't you just love this pup named Fluff? 

Moving along, Thomas and Eliza Pierce, original owners of the property, immigrated from Ireland around 1840.  How did they end up out in the boondocks that would have been Old Quarry Road in the 1860s?  I find it interesting that the 1870 census shows Edwin (age 21) and Elizabeth (age 19) Malone living next door to the Pierces.  They were both from Ireland and married less than a year.  He is working on the railroad as is Thomas Pierce. I imagine a cute young Irish couple – were they relations of the Pierces?  What is the story?!

It appears that Thomas and Eliza were part of the massive waves of Irish immigration that occurred in the 1840s, 50s and beyond.  Between 1820 and 1860 almost 2 million Irish arrived.  The Pierces are part of that story.  

And finally, what is the story of the old quarry on Old Quarry Road?  Love these USGS maps that show where a bite was taken out of the hillside.  

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Delmar Fire Department

Here's a throwback for your Thursday afternoon.  This picture is also part of the continuing saga of things that just turn up on my desk - or in this case in the mail.   Enjoy!

And if you know who any of the gentlemen on the truck are, please let me know.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Morehouse Barn

I received a letter recently from Doug Hauser in which he told many stories of growing up in Slingerlands on McCormack Road.  He lived there from age 1 in 1955 to 1976.  The one I want to share today is about this barn.

The photo, courtesy of the Bethlehem Historical Association, is found on page 52 of my book Bethlehem and here's my caption: 

Today, the intersection of Van Dyke Road and Delaware Avenue bustles with traffic around Bethlehem Central High School, Eagle Elementary, and the district's bus garage.  In this photograph, from May 10, 1953, just before the high school was constructed the following year, the area retains its rural atmosphere.  The Morehouse barn was later demolished, and Londmeadow Drive took its place.

Here are Doug's remarks:

The barn across from the Bethlehem High School was "disassembled" by my father, with help from by brother and me, around 1970, not quite "demolished" as you say.  He took it apart, board by board, beam by beam, to finish the inside walls of his living room on McCormak Road, and to build a "summer house" (screened in detached porch) which hung over the valley.  He brought the wood home, sometimes balanced precariously, in the back of his Volkswagen Micro-Bus.

Isn't it nice to know the barn boards and beams were re-used?  Thank you Doug for the correction and the stories!