Saturday, November 17, 2018

A. W. Becker

It is funny how things often come together in my little world as Bethlehem Town Historian.

While giving a cemetery tour at Elmwood back in September, a descendant of the Becker family approached me to say he had some old pictures of the family including the homestead on Bridge Street and of A.W. Becker himself (you might recognize that name from A.W. Becker school.)  We finally got together and what a treasure trove of family history he has! 
A. W. Becker 

Anna Haswell Becker (wife of A.W.)

The Becker homestead on Bridge Street, Beckers Corners (Selkirk today.)
The people in the photo are playing croquet.

The Becker barns. 

In the mean time, someone else approached me with old photos relating to the Comstock and Degenaar families. That included some great info about the old toll gate building at 9W and Feura Bush Road that was moved to the Bethlehem Historical Association back in the 1980s.  (You'll have to wait for my next Towne Bethlehem article for more info on that.) 

That conversation got me talking with the folks at BHA and in their collection is a ledger book from the tollgate keeper that begins January 14, 1883.  And guess who takes up the most pages and owes the most money?  A. W. Becker of course!
This is the first page of the book. 
On the left you can make out the names Jolly, Gallup and Lasher.  All from Bethlehem.

While the title page does not specifically say Bethlehem Center, all of the names are Bethlehem Center/Selkirk/Glenmont specific including A.W. Becker, Jurian Winne and Widow Babcock.  All of the charges are listed by date and are in cents, the vast majority 2 horses 2 ways for 12 cents.  Most individual pages add up to a couple of dollars that are then marked off as paid.  Then there is A.W. - Albertus Walter Becker. He was going through the gate 4 or 5 times a week and by the end of this particular book, an 18 month period from January 1883 to August 1884, he owed $108.95.  Granted, $45.71 was  brought forward from another book, but still that is a lot of trips at 12 cents each!
A.W. Becker is on the left. 

And then the questions begin.  Where was he going so often?  Was it just him or other family members? Why didn't he pay the bill?  Why was it allowed to go so high?  The next highest amount in the journal is for E. C. Hallenbeck at $13.25 and it is marked as paid. Is it because Becker was so prominent in town? I will say A.W. Becker did get his house foreclosed upon by Adam Winne in 1897.

And there is another mystery.  All of the pages are journal entries with columns of numbers.  The only bit of prose is on page 40.  "Wait until the vaporous body now in the air above us has resolved itself in the distance"  How is that for a bit of poetry?  In my imagination, the lonely tollgate keeper is looking out his window, over the gate, along the road into the distance, waiting for the next horse and carriage to come along.  There is a story here, I just wish I knew what it is!
The line of prose is on the left side running top to bottom. 

And who is the tollgate keeper who kept this journal?  Again, another mystery. Allison Bennett reports that the first keeper was Mrs. A.M. Babcock (this is in 1851 when the South Bethlehem Plank Road opened.)  She also mentions  Joseph Lasher serving in 1870.  I searched on "Gate Keeper" in the 1880 census and found two (amongst a plethora of other types of keeper including  house, hotel, book and saloon.)  One is Renselaer Raynsford serving as gate keeper on the New Scotland Plank Road. 

The other is really fun because it brings us back to A.W.!  The census is listed by "dwelling houses in order of visitation" and then "families numbered in order of visitation."   On June 1, 1880, census taker L. C. Tuttle visited his first house and family, that of A. W. Becker.  House 1, family 1. Just a few lines down, at house 3, family 3 is the household of Samuel Hoag, gatekeeper, which includes wife Josephine (who is of course keeping house!) and daughter Minnie age 7 who is "at school."

Sadly for this story, Samuel Hoag's gate is probably the one that was at Beckers Corners, not the one at the Bethlehem Center.  Leaving the mystery of our journal keeper to remain.


In case you are curious like me, 12 cents in 1883 was worth about $3 in 2018 dollars.  $108.95 is $2727.90.  Thank you

Thursday, November 8, 2018

New York Central train going over the Castleton Bridge in 1929

For your Thursday morning - some video of trains going over the Castleton Bridge into the Selkirk Rail Yard. Castleton/Selkirk starts about minute 1:10, westbound at 2:40.


How about another one?  (Added 11-27-18)

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Onion Soup and Hozi Moi

"Onion Soup and Hozi Moi" How is that for a crazy name of a blog post?

I will get to those two intriguing topics, but first...

It has been a while since I posted here! A bunch of stuff has been going on, mainly I was working on my new book, Bethlehem People and Places, which might (might!) make it out by Christmas.  I am publishing with Troy Book Makers and will certainly keep you posted!  Also fermenting in my mind  is the proposed development in Slingerlands at the former Mangia property.  Fermenting is a good word because the topic is stewing around in my head.  The best way I can handle that is to write something up, which I will do soon and post here as well as send to the Planning Board.

Now for some fun...

Ever heard of the Lyons Avenue Onion Soup and Marching Club? Nope me neither! 

This funny inquiry came to me via Justin in the Building Department.  He happened to notice the above on a Delmar building plan.  It turns out that the Lyons Avenue Onion Soup and Marching Club Incorporated is recognized by New York State having been formed June 13, 1958.  In fact, the NY Department of State database currently lists them as active!

A group of neighbors on Lyons Avenue got together in the 1950s to purchase three acres of land adjoining their homes. They created a recreation space that included picnic facilities, a basketball court and baseball field.  There was even ice skating in the winter.

As the article below states, the name of the club "radiated" from its members.  "The entree to our picnics is always onion soup, and our kids enjoy marching and carrying the flag on July 4."

I'm not sure when the club disbanded.  As late as 1985, when the above survey was made, the group still owned the land.  A check of current property records indicates that the land is now in the hands of abutting property owners.

This clipping is from the Albany Knickerbocker News, July 22, 1964.
Neighbors are upset about a proposed development.  Somethings never change.   

Now what about Hozi Moi?

This caught my eye when a friend posted the announcement  below on Facebook asking if anyone had heard of Hozi Moi.  Of course, I had to see what I could find out.  Google was stumped and I finally found some info at the Old Fulton newspaper website. 

In the 1930s, the Albany County Bar Association hosted outings to Picard's Grove in New Salem. The above invite highlights the clambake and SPORTS: Base-ball, horse shoe pitching, races, guessing contests and the celebrated Japanese game of Hozi Moi. 

What is hozi moi? Everyone was curious, but the attorney's of the Albany bar were less than precise in their answer. As the article below says...

Edward N. Scheiberling, clambake chairman, was asked and he said, "Ask Bob Poskanser. He has the rules."
Bob Poskanser, president of the County Bar Association spoke right up like a hostile witness.

It's not a breakfast food, a new disease or germ." he says. "Per se, its a game.  ipso facto, we're going to play it.  Nolle prosse, there'll be 40 men on a side.  Hear ye, hear ye, there are 37 pages of rules."

Are we all clear yet?  Subsequent articles (there were only 7 of them on the website!) imply there is a large, dry playing field and in subsequent years it was cancelled because of wet conditions.  In that article, the attorney's also tossed out the idea of having parachute jumping contests.  Methinks the attorneys are making stuff up and having fun folks.

Are there any Albany County old timers out there that remember the Bar Association outings? I would love to hear from you!
Albany TU  June 22, 1933

Monday, September 3, 2018

History Happenings in Bethlehem September and October 2018

Wow - there are lots of local history events this month and next!
Here's a listing with links to more info.


Sundays in September and October
The MUSEUM of the Bethlehem Historical Association is open from 2 to 4 PM. The Cedar Hill Schoolhouse Museum is at 1003 River Road, Selkirk.

Sunday, September 16, 9:30 AM
Bethlehem’s Magical History BICYCLE Tour – part of the 2018 Hudson River Valley Ramble.  Contact John for more info and to sign up – or call 518-225-4209. Meet at the municipal parking lot at Four Corners in Delmar.  Yours truly will be meeting the group and sharing some history - and no, I will not be riding a bike!

Tuesday, September 18 and 25, 3 PM until closing
A FUNDRAISER to benefit the Friends of the Slingerland family Burial Vault. The Garden Bistro 24 in Slingerlands has pledged a portion of all sales after 3 pm on the 18th and 25th.  There is a special 3 Course Menu featuring locally sourced ingredients and an extra special Restoration Burger!  Stop in and enjoy some wonderful food (or do take out!) and help support the restoration of the vault.

Thursday, September 20, 7 PM
Mohicans in Bethlehem History and Today, a TALK by Bonney Hartley, historic preservation officer for the Stockbridge Munsee Community, at the Cedar Hill Schoolhouse Museum, 1003 River Road, Selkirk.

Saturday, September 22, 10 AM
Historic Cemetery WALK Elmwood Cemetery in Selkirk with Town Historian Susan Leath.  Register with the Bethlehem Parks and Recreation Department.  
Email sleath@townofbethlehem for more info.

Thursday, October 4, 6:30 PM
Beer and Pretzels Fundraiser at the Bethlehem Historical Association.  Come hear Richard Muggeo TALK about Beer, Brewers and Beverwyck and enjoy a cold brew.  Visit for more info.

Saturday, October 6, 10 AM
Historic Cemetery WALK at Bethlehem Cemetery in Delmar with Town Historian Susan Leath.  Register with the Bethlehem Parks and Recreation Department.  Email sleath@townofbethlehem for more info.

Thursday, October 18,
7 PM
 Geology, Landscape and the Iroquois Homeland a TALK presented by Chuck VerStraeten  at the Cedar Hill Schoolhouse Museum, 1003 River Road, Selkirk.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

J. W. Dessert's Delmar Postcards

I just love old postcards and I hope you caught this month's Our Towne Bethlehem where I write a little bit about their history - especially Bethlehem ones of course.

In the process of researching the article, I looked closely at them searching out any small details.  And guess what I noticed....there is a group of Delmar ones that are numbered sequentially and I am 99.9% sure they were all published by the same person! How cool is that? I never made that connection before.

So here they are, in order.  The big mystery - what about number 319?  It has got to be out there somewhere!  Found it thanks to a careful reader!  Scroll all the way down...

A Group of Villas  MII314

Delmar Fire Engine Co. No.1 MII315
Delmar Fire Engine House MII316

Kenwood Avenue MII317

Delmar Public School  MII318

A Few Cozy Residences MII320

Kenwood Ave with M E Parsonage MII321

Adams House MII322

Here's the back of one of them.  Look closly along the left side and you'll see who published it....
J W Dessert "The Druggist" of Delmar N Y.   Because I can't help myself, I had to find out more about him.

Joseph W. Dessert (1873-1968)  of Chestertown, NY graduated from the Albany College of Pharmacy in 1896. For a time he had a drug store in Chestertown, but in  1912 he opened one in Delmar.
This is a clip of a national publication that noted the Delmar opening

In 1912 and 1913 he advertised often, and what pops up the most are ads for Folley Kidney Pills.  Below are some clippings.  I like the one with the motorcycle the best - you could get one in Normansville!  All are from 1912 in the Altamont Enterprise. 

Joseph's first wife was Carrie.  She died in 1909.  His second was Georgia.  Joseph, Georgia and their daughter Alice were in Bethlehem for the 1920 census, but in 1930 and 1940, they were living in Albany.  And that is about it for J. W. Dessert, druggist and postcard publisher!

Update - September 26, 2018

Thank you careful reader Jas Yolles for pointing me in the direction of this postcard!  Below are the front and back of #319.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Bethlehem Bikes!

I hope you enjoyed this month's Our Town Bethlehem about bicycles.  It was intended to be a short summer piece, mostly photos with long captions.  Then I started researching cycle paths and side paths and was totally hooked.  Pop over to  and give it a read.  While you are at it, pop over to  for a great article and map of those local side paths.

One story I did not expand upon in Our Towne is the one about the John Kemp Starley and the Rover safety bicycle.  It is fascinating! 

Starley's safety bike came out in 1885.  I imagine he called it the Rover because one could rove over the roads freely and safely.  He designed it in response the to dangerous Penny Farthing or high wheel bikes.

Top is a high wheel, bottom is the classic "safety" bicycle.

In 1897, J.K. Starley & Co became the Rover Cycle Company.  After J.K.'s death, the company carried on manufacturing motorcycles and Rover motor cars.  One of its first cars was the Rover Eight two-seater, and eventually we have the iconic Land Rover brand of automobile and even the modern day Range Rovers.  While the corporate structure has certainly changed over the years, it still all ties back to the original Rover bicycle!  Pop yourself over to  for more info. And check out these pictures of the Rover Eight

I read about Starley in Carlton Reid's Roads Were Not Built for Cars which expands on the idea that early bicycle enthusiasts lead directly to the take over of the roads by automobiles. (PS I was able to borrow this book through the Bethlehem Public Library's eBooks program.)

And finally, I found this great picture at the Albany Institute website. Now I am wondering about the the connections between bicycles and sewing machines!

Photo circa 1895 from the Albany Institute of History and Art

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Family Dynamics

Just for fun, here's a throw back for your Thursday afternoon...

The little girl is Marge Terrell and that is her mother giving her the side eye.  Circa 1912 - Marge was born in 1907.  The photo was taken at the family farm on Long Lane where Sabic is today.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Delmar Fire Hall postcard

I am always on the lookout for old Bethlehem postcards and found this one a while back at an antique show.  And it is a gem. Until I saw this, I had never seen a picture of the old Adams Hotel with the Delmar Fire Hall sign over the door.  The dealer said the post card itself dates from 1915 to 1920. 

The writing on the back is interesting too.  It is written in pencil and seems old but is not dated or signed.  Below is the transcript.  It certainly leaves one wondering about the who and the why.
This is the building where we go each election day to safe-guard our rights. I wonder how many others like myself have had them taken from them by the very ones who was trusted with them.

PS: The old Adams House is located on Delaware Avenue at the corner with Adams Street.  It is now the Chabad Center.

Friday, April 27, 2018

The Delmar Post Office under construction

In the continuing saga of old things that come my way, enjoy these pictures of the Delmar Post Office under construction.  Be sure to look in the background for some long gone Four Corners houses and buildings. All photos taken by Garret Dillenback of Slingerlands.

June 3, 1939

June 3, 1939

June 27, 1939

June 27, 1939

August 28, 1939

September 28, 1939

October 29, 1939

January 2, 1940


Be sure to check out the website of the Friends of the Slingerlands Burial Vault and help us preserve a little cemetery that memorializes a family that had a huge impact on the Town of Bethlehem.

Monday, April 16, 2018

The Slingerland Family Burial Vault - HELP

I am one of those people who loves old cemeteries.  To me they are a direct connection to people of the past.  I enjoy walking the rows and wondering about the families there.  What is their story? Who are they? How do they fit into the history of the town or village? How are they remembered?

That's me on the right along with Bob Mullens, Sue Virgilio and Kathleen Bragle at the vault site back in January. 
Thank you Times Union for the photo.  Go to their web page for some great articles...
Are you aware of the Slingerland Family Burial Vault?  I've known about it since
before I was town historian.  It is tucked away off of New Scotland Road, behind the old Mangia property,  and, when I first encountered it, a wreck, over grown and vandalized.  I was sad to find out the town owned it.  In fits and starts they would go in and hack back the weeds.  But they always grew back. 

Surely you are aware of the Slingerland family?   We've got a hamlet named after them and individuals named Slingerland still live here.  I know lots of stories about them.  Like the fact that John I Slingerland was a raging abolitionist even tho (or maybe because) his family had owned slaves.  Like the fact that the first Slingerland in our area, Tenuis, in the late 1600s got in trouble with both the Mohawk and the Mohican Indian tribes when he tried to buy land here.  Or how about  William H who got the Suburban Water company going?  Or his daughter Grace who was essential to running the company after he died?  Or how about Tunis who fought in the American Revolution while his four sons remained loyal to the British? I could go on and on about Slingerland family connections in Bethlehem.

So, the vault has been on my radar.  Then, quite a few things lined up to make this the opportune time to focus on the vault and get it property restored.  The Mangia property had sold, development proposals were being floated and conversations about the historic character of the neighborhood were happening.  I met Sue Virgilio, a direct descendant of John I Slingerland who is buried in the vault, who was thrilled to discover the vault, but not so thrilled about the condition.  I knew we had a new town administration starting in January 2018.

Now was the time to make a fresh start and focus on the future of the vault.  I helped organize the Friends of the Slingerland Family Burial Vault and we are committed to preserving the vault, making it accessible once again to the public, and keeping the maintenance ongoing into the future.

And we need your help.  It is hard to ask people for money, but I am going to do it right now!

We need your money!  Any amount big or small is greatly appreciated.

Please give to help restore this neglected part of Bethlehem history - the Slingerland Family Burial Vault.  If we all come together as a community, we can make this gem shine.

Pop over to the website for pictures, progress reports, budgets and the all important DONATE  button.


We've got a GoFundMe too!

Thank you so very much!

Sunday, April 1, 2018

The Railroad Y.M.C.A. at Selkirk

April's Our Towne Bethlehem article focuses on the Selkirk Y.M.C.A.  Pop over to their website for a read.  In doing my research, I came across a booklet called The Story of the Railroad "Y"  by John F. Moore published in 1930.  Inside is a full description of the Selkirk Y that is a wonderful read.  So, quoted below is the whole thing.  The chapter is called "An Inspection Trip."  Enjoy!

     We are at Selkirk, a division point on the West Shore Railroad. Selkirk is a tiny, scattered town with a post office, a small store or two and a few residences. About a mile away, however, is located one of the great freight yards of the continent. Here hundreds of miles of steel rails offer their waiting hospitality to freight cars coming from all directions, those from New England come over the recently opened Alfred H. Smith bridge and here transfer their freight for redirection, or pass through Selkirk to their destination.

Men attend a religious service in a coach near the Selkirk Railroad Y. 
Courtesy of the Bethlehem Historical Association. 
     Through this yard trains carry merchandise to all sections of the land; here hundreds of railroad men spend their "lay-over” hours while their fellows continue to keep open the ways of commerce. We see a Railroad Association building costing nearly $400,000. For, consistent with its general policy, the New York Central Railroad decided upon the erection of such a structure coincident with the opening of the yard.

     This building faces a busy public highway, before it stands a row of fine old trees giving welcome shade, while around it shrubs and flowers bloom in all their beauty. The Selkirk Association is generally known by the title of the lovely poem by Sam Walter Foss—"The House by the Side of the Road.” It is a home away from home, and to the army of railway workers employed at the Selkirk yards, temporarily or permanently, the building is far more than steel, wood and stone—to them it is a living thing, an exemplification of practical Christianity; it ministers to their comfort as a loving mother might. It shelters, entertains and protects them, it fires them with fresh enthusiasm for their tasks, it gives to them new appraisals of life’s values.

The Selkirk Railroad Y about 1930.
     The secretary, who formerly was a locomotive engineer, and his wife live in the building. It is their only home and they work unceasingly to make it comfortable for the boys of the road. Mrs. Paul shares with her husband in the administration of the work, and to tired railroad men coming in from hard runs she brings a refreshing remembrance of home ties and things held dear. Only a Christian motive leads men and women to service such as this, spending and being spent in isolated freight yards, giving the best of strength and affection to others. As we visit Selkirk we come to understand more clearly the underlying secrets of success in the Railroad Y M C As.

     Some idea of the scope of the work of this association is suggested by items given in a recent annual report. "Y" The membership was 982; more than 217,000 meals were served during the year in the restaurant; the beds were used 51,000 times, nearly 1,000 a week; more than 17,000 bath and 88,000 hand towels were used. At Selkirk cleanliness and godliness walk hand in hand.

A crowd watches a baseball game circa 1927.
It is a summer Sunday evening. The spacious grounds are crowded with men, women and children. Farmers and their families have come from miles away, some in automobiles, others driving faithful old Dobbins. The adjacent town has sent its quota; railroad men, some in their Sunday best, others in working clothes, are scattered here and there. It is the vesper service of the Selkirk Railroad Association, the lovely twilight hour in which it pays its tribute to Him whose name it bears. Reverently we stand for a little on the edge of this open air congregation to share in its simple and beautiful worship.


Did you catch the reference to the poem - A House by the Side of the Road?  Growing up, I remember wondering about a cross stitch my grandmother had made with the phrase "Let me live in a house by the side of the road and be a friend to man."  Now, all these years later, I know where it comes from!  

The House by the Side of the Road

by Sam Walter Foss (1858-1911)
There are hermit
souls that live withdrawn
In the peace of their self-content;
There are souls, like stars, that dwell apart,
In a fellowless firmament;
There are pioneer souls that blaze their paths
Where highways never ran;-
But let me live by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.
Let me live in a house
by the side of the road,
Where the race of men go by-
The men who are good and the men who are bad,
As good and as bad as I.
I would not sit in the scorner’s seat,
Or hurl the cynic’s ban;-
Let me live in a house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.
I see from my house
by the side of the road,
By the side of the highway of life,
The men who press with the ardor of hope,
The men who are faint with the strife.
But I turn not away from their smiles nor their tears-
Both parts of an infinite plan;-
Let me live in my house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.
I know there are brook-gladdened
meadows ahead
And mountains of wearisome height;
That the road passes on through the long afternoon
And stretches away to the night.
But still I rejoice when the travelers rejoice,
And weep with the strangers that moan,
Nor live in my house by the side of the road
Like a man who dwells alone.
Let me live in my
house by the side of the road
Where the race of men go by-
They are good, they are bad, they are weak, they are strong,
Wise, foolish- so am I.
Then why should I sit in the scorner’s seat
Or hurl the cynic’s ban?-
Let me live in my house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.
The cross stitch hangs in my upstairs hallway.  I do like the sassy quote on the bottom piece!

Friday, March 30, 2018

Emmett House on River Road - UPDATED!

One of the best parts of my job is when I get to visit historic Bethlehem homes.  Yesterday I got the chance to go through the Samaritan Shelters property on River Road.  Samaritan is closing up shop and they are looking for a buyer.  I, of course, was more interested in the historic house (built circa 1837!) and the families who lived there.

This view is circa 1900 (sorry for the bad quality - it is a snapshot of xerox copy!)

This view is stolen from Google Maps.
Samaritan has been here about 40 years providing a vital service for troubled youths.  They purchased the property from the Schmitt sisters - Claire and Marie.

Local lore, says the two sisters grew to despise each other and literally walled the house in half, Marie on one side and Claire on the other.   At some point the addition on the rear was made - maybe in the 1950s - in an attempt to run a boarding house for teachers.   Both Claire and Marie were teachers in the Bethlehem Central School District.  Claire from 1931 to 1965 and  Marie taught at St. Anne's School in Albany from 1928 to 1935 and then at Elsmere School from 1935 to 1969.

From census records, it looks like the family landed on the farm as early as 1905 when they show up in the NY census.  In the 1910 US census, they are clearly on the property.  We've got George and Mary Schmitt (both 39 years old married for 10 years, he's a farmer) and four kids: Claire, Marie, George Jr and Eva.   In 1920, they are still there, but baby Eva (who was 2 in 1910) is no longer on the family list.  She probably passed away but I couldn't find a record of that.  Local lore does say that one child died young, and perhaps haunts the place.  Is this Eva?   The 1920 census also indicates that Anna, a daughter aged 5, has joined the family.  Right up to the 1940 census (the last one available to the public) the Schmitt's are living in the house: George and Mary, Claire, Marie and George Jr.  Anna is in the 1930 census but not in the 1940.  By that time, she has likely become the Mrs. Jacob Nester mentioned in the obituaries I found.

Mary died at the house in November 15, 1951 (she was a Dettinger by the way) and George the following March, 1952.  Of the teaching sisters, Claire died in 1976, and Marie hung in there until 1993.

This is the barn that was on the property until about 1980.
A 1916 reports says George and Mary grew hay on the 140 acres that they owned. 

But who owned the house before the Schmitt tenancy? This is where things get murky.  I've been promised a copy of the deed, which goes back to the Patroon era, but I haven't seen it yet.

The 1891 Beers map is interesting because it has a Mrs. Smith on the spot where the house is and there is a an J. Dettinger just around the corner (on today's Bask Road).  Remember Mary was a Dettinger.  The 1866 Beers map has A.E. Sweet, and the 1854 map has  D. Winne.

The house itself has good bones.  It is solid brick. In the basement, great wooden beams, as well as steel ones, hold up the 200+ year old sections.  While the walls upstairs have been paneled over and the floors carpeted, there are plenty of signs of old wood work and moulding including a marble fire place surround.  There is still an old carriage barn on the property, altho the big barn was removed years ago.

All in all, it is an intriguing historic property in Bethlehem!

PS: Samaritan Shelters named the place Emmett House.  As far as I know, there were no Emmetts that lived there.

UPDATES - I've got a copy of the deed!
(posted August 30, 2018)

The deed for this property came my way several months ago and it does trace the property back to Hugh Alexander who leased 200 acres on both sides of the river road from the patron Stephen VanRensselaer on September 17, 1792. 

The links and chains descriptions are some of the best I've read in a long time.  The transfer is dated April 1, 1853 between Hugh Alexander (and a bunch of relatives) to Adeline Winne, wife of David Winne. It begins at the "northeast corner of the Brick Dwelling House of the late James Alexander, deceased and runs from said point... E 11.83 chains to a wild plumb tree" And continues with a "marked walnut tree" and "a stake and stones".  But my favorite is " E. 5.73 chains to a point in the Albany and Green Turnpike Road where a butternut tree formerly stood"  You read that right, a tree that used to stand in the middle of the road! 

From Adeline Winne it went to the Albany Exchange Bank and thence to Benjamin Sweet (in 1863 - it is not clear how long Adeline owned the property)   Benjamin Sweet went bankrupt about 1876 and the property transferred to Matthew Read as assignee in the bankruptcy.  From there it went to Thomas Bagley in 1877.  In 1879 it went to Andrew Dettinger and then in 1901 to his daughter, Mary Schmitt, wife of George Schmitt.  Interestingly, Andrew Schmitt's will left the house and property to daughter Mary and a monthly annuity of $65 to his other daughter Anna.  In 1948 it went to Mary's daughters Marie and Claire.

And thankfully, all of the above info from the deed goes along with what the maps and even the house itself told me!

Oh and a final note, there was an easement granted in 1914 to the New York Telephone Company for them run poles  - I am hoping that the Schmitt's had a phone in 1914!

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Slavery In Bethlehem: Remembering Names

     Have you caught the Times Union's recent series called Slavery Unearthed?  Pop over to their web page and put Slavery Unearthed in the search box for a variety of articles on the topic.  Look for Amy Biancolli's very well written articles including "New York's slave past unearthed" subtitled "Trove of records detailing state's era of bondage, and lives of the enslaved, accessible in database"
     Part of the impetus for the article is the release of the New York Slavery Records Index, a searchable database put out by John Jay College of Criminal Justice.  It contains "Records of Enslaved Persons and Slave Holders in New York from 1525 though the Civil War."
     So of course I had to search for Bethlehem related stuff.  You can too, pop over to  and search away your afternoon.
     I couldn't find a huge amount for Bethlehem.  Just two "records of enslaved persons" which came from Albany's Manumissions and Registrations. That would be Tom and Gin.  Tom was registered in 1801 when he was about 57 years old by his holder John D. Winne of Bethlehem.  The 1803 record for Gin says she was sold to James Sinacre for $30 for a term of 21 years. Her holder was Jurian Hogan.
     I've written previously about Bethlehem's own record of slaves book.  (Shameless plug - the article is Chapter 32 in my book Historic Tales of Bethlehem New York.)   The handwritten account book dates from 1799 to 1827 and records births and manumissions of slaves right here in Bethlehem. I even made a spreadsheet of all the names of both slaves and owners.
     One wonders about the story of Jack, Nat, Dick, Charity and Sally, all slaves manumitted and set free by Francis Nicoll on December 26, 1814.  Earlier in the year, on May 1, he set free Dian and Tim. Or the story of Bett.  The births of her three children, Mink, Deyann and Gin, were recorded by John Hogboom October 6, 1821. The children were born in 1813, 1817 and 1820.
     To get another look at slavery in Bethlehem, I turned to the 1800 census.  Basically, it has four main columns: Free White Males, Free White Females (these two are further divided by age brackets), All Other Free Persons except Indians Not Taxed, and Slaves.  The very first entry is for Maria V Rensselaer whose household had 6 white males, 2 white females, 0 other free, and 6 slaves.  That very first page also records the household of Cezar Wood a "free Negro" which had three people.

This is the start of the Bethlehem page of the 1800 census.

     Going to the very end of the Bethlehem section we find the totals for the whole town (remember that at that time Bethlehem was twice as big as today and included all of the town of New Scotland.)
1769 free white males, 1692 free white females, 13 other free persons, and 254 slaves.  Don't you wonder about the stories that lie hidden in those numbers?