Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Our Towne Bethlehem November 2019: Tobacco and Cigars

Pop over to Our Towne Bethlehem for the digital version - my article is on page 12.

Tobacco and Cigars
November 2019

Search on Google Images for "cigar vintage daguerreotype" and you find find plenty of 19th century
 men and their cigars.  This gentleman came from the Flickr group Vintage People with Dogs. 

Tobacco and Cigars. What a strange topic I know. Here’s how it came up. Not too long ago while talking about the hamlet of Slingerlands, I used the quote below that describes the village in 1886.

 “The village contains 44 dwellings, 50 families, 230 inhabitants; a commodious brick school-house and M.E. Church, printing establishment, hotel, marble and monumental works, store, 2 blacksmith shops, wheel wright and paint shop, shoe shop, cigar manufactory, R.R. station and several fine residences….Being near the city, it affords many conveniences to those who seek for rural pleasure and the quiet of home life.”

Very nice right? But then, someone asked, “Where was the cigar manufactory?” I had no idea, but my curiosity was piqued. The question also brought to mind the ad for Pigaback Cigars with its cute picture of a pig with four little piglets on its back. The image was used by Dearstyne Brothers of Albany in the early 1900s and catches my eye every time I am researching in the Altamont Enterprise. The question also reminded me that tobacco was a very big deal in the early colonial times in what was to become Bethlehem.

Tobacco use has a long history with the native peoples of the Americas. European explorers of the 1500s encountered it and brought the practice of smoking tobacco, and the seeds to grow it, back to their home countries. It is said Sir Walter Raleigh introduced smoking tobacco in pipes to England’s elite. Tobacco use spread quickly fueled by belief in its curative powers and it became entrenched in the American and European economies.

You might have heard of Albert Andriessen Bradt, the Norwegian? Often recounted is the story that he was the early settler for whom the Normans Kill was named. Bradt signed a contract in August 1636 with Killian Van Rensselaer to leave Amsterdam, travel to Rensselaerswyck and start a sawmill venture with two others. Van Rensselaer described the 29-year-old Bradt as a tobacco planter meaning he probably managed one of the tobacco plantations in Holland. There were tobacco farms there as early as 1616.

There is much documentary evidence of tobacco farming in general and Albert Bradt in particular in what was to become Bethlehem, especially in the correspondence of Killian Van Rensselaer. For example, in a letter dated May 10, 1638, Van Rensselaer writes Bradt, “This will serve to advise you that I duly received your letter in which you wrote that the tobacco looked fine…” The following May, Van Rensselaer writes to Bradt, “Now as to the tobacco which you sent me, it is a great loss to yourself and to me that the tobacco in these barrels was so poor and thin of leaf that it could not stand being rolled, which must be due to your having left too many leaves on the plants; furthermore the weight was short.” It must be noted that Bradt engaged in a number of activities in order to make a living in Rensselaerswyck including trading in furs, cattle raising, grain farming and sawmilling. By 1646, Bradt had left the tobacco farm to concentrate on his other money-making ventures.

Northern tobacco soon fell out of favor as the supremacy of Virginia tobacco grew. I did find evidence of one Bethlehem farmer raising tobacco in the Agricultural Schedule of the 1880 Census. Usher Otman, on his 34 improved acres, amidst the many bushels of corn, oats, rye, wheat and potatoes, produced 30 pounds of tobacco. He is the only one in 39 pages of records, reflecting approximately 200 farmers.  

And what about that cigar manufactory in Slingerlands? It was owned by Samuel Dickson. Dickson turns up as early as the 1870 U.S. Census where he is listed as a “segar maker.” At that time, he lived with his uncle and aunt, Alexander and Elizabeth Dickson McGilva. He was still making, and one assumes selling, cigars in the 1880 census and by the 1892 NY census he is a listed as a merchant. The 1900 census has him as a grocer. All this time he was living in Slingerlands with members of the McGilva side of his family. As a side note, Dickson was active in Republican politics, winning election as Collector in 1872 on a ticket topped by Albertus Becker for Supervisor.

Dickson remained single all of his life, passing away in 1900 at about age 68. He is buried next to his aunt and uncle at the New Scotland Presbyterian Church Cemetery.  His cousin Elizabeth McGilva was in charge of settling his estate, and her legal notice in the Altamont Enterprise is fascinating. In searching for heirs and interested parties, the notice begins with a listing of a whole host of people from the Dickson family of Cigarville, Onondaga County, New York.

While I don’t know how Dickson landed in Bethlehem or how he learned his trade as a cigar maker, a large part of his extended family was located in a village so famous for its tobacco product that they called the place Cigarville. One newspaper clipping headlined “Tobacco Farming Lost Onondaga County Calling” describes Cigarville as one of the “liveliest settlements in Onondaga’s tobacco land.” It continues, “a thriving little community which derived its name from its ranking industry, the manufacture of cigars from tobacco cultivated in the surrounding region. In its hey-day the Cigarville factory employed between 75 and 100 men, described as a rowdy, rollicking, quick tempered lot.” With the decline of the industry around 1900, the hamlet of Cigarville became Clay Station.

I don’t imagine Dickson’s operation in Slingerlands was on the scale of the Cigarville factory. He probably had a small business hand rolling cigars and selling them locally. Cigar making in general ranged from large manufacturers, there were several in Albany, to smaller operations such as Dickson’s. One 1886 book reports “The smokers of cigars and chewers of tobacco are as numerous in Albany as elsewhere. Most of the wholesale dealers and manufactures are also engaged in the retail trade… all of the retail stores manufacture to some degree…there are over one hundred firms in engaged in this branch of trade in Albany.” Elsewhere in the book, the writer notes that the Cigar Makers Union was organized in Albany 1879 and included between three and four hundred members.

This exploration of tobacco and cigars does not even begin to look at the history of pipe smoking and cigarettes, or the health consequences we are familiar with today. While I am not at all nostalgic for the bad old days of widespread cigarette use, the smell of cigar smoke does bring back fond memories of my dad. And historically, it is interesting to wonder about the roots of a wide scale industry that is still impacting life today.  If you’d like to read further, check out the book Tobacco How an Exotic Plant Seduced Civilization by Iain Gately. 

Cooke & Nelson’s cigar and soda store can be seen in this snapshot taken September 11, 1924. The building was at the Four Corners in Delmar where the Swifty’s parking lot is today. Cooke & Nelson advertised their confections, smoker’s articles, magazines and periodicals as well as
Syra-Cord tires and tubes for automobiles.

Another handsome cigar smoking gent from Google Images.

Monday, November 11, 2019

A glimpse of Bethlehem in Bennington

Today I had a fun local history moment at the Bennington Museum in Bennington, Vermont.  It involved this map. 

Look close, closer, even closer

Yup there it is, lower left corner


And just below that Normans Kill.  OK, it actually says Normans River.  That's Bethlehem's northern boundary.  Of course we weren't a town yet when this map was drawn, but still pretty cool.

The map, A map of the province of New York, by Simon Metcalf circa 1772, shows what was to become Vermont from a New York perspective.  At the time New York and New Hampshire were wrestling over the ownership of the territory. Hop over here for the full description.


My other fun history fact of the day was how Vermont got its name - just never thought about it before.  Apparently, Frenchman Samuel de Champlain put down Verd Mont on his 1647 map - green mountains - verd mont - Vermont.

The Bennington Museum is a great place - I enjoyed the schoolhouse, "Visible in Vermont: Our Stories our Voices"  and Asa Cheffetz's Vermont engravings.  And not to be terrible, but I can take or leave Grandma Moses.  Lunch at Madison Brewing.  And then a stop at the Big Moose Deli & Country Store because, oh my, why wouldn't you?  It has every kind of "Vermont" item you could possibly want.  What tickles my funny bone is that it is actually in New York!

Below is a picture from their website. Above is from Google. https://bigmoosegifts.com/

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

The Town Historian's Web Page

Recently, I updated some items on the Town Historian's web page at the general Town of Bethlehem website, http://www.townofbethlehem.org/  and was wondering if all of you readers out there even knew this page existed.  http://www.townofbethlehem.org/151/Town-Historian 

When I started as Town Historian in September 2007, this web page was the place where previous historian Ray Houghton had posted articles and I soon added more.  When the town rebuilt the website a few years back, the articles were adapted into PDFs and they are now a little awkwardly spaced, and I wish they were properly attributed to their author. They are easy enough to replace (many thanks to the town's MIS department!) but I hate to impose on MIS for minor editing issues. So, they are now something of a historic monument in themselves.  Nowadays, new articles appear here on this blog or at Our Town Bethlehem, or in my books.

Recently, I replaced the article on Bethlehem's National Register listings to include color pictures of each property.

Also replaced is the article Researching a House in Bethlehem.  Resources, especially digital ones have really improved!

Also recently updated is the list of Town Historians on the bottom of the home page.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Our Towne Bethlehem October 2019: Apples and Orchards

With the weather turning to the cool crispness of fall, your town historian’s mind turns to apples as I am sure yours does too. Apple picking is such a quintessential fall activity in Bethlehem and all of Upstate New York.

Apples and apple orchards have a long history here going back to the earliest Dutch settlement era.  The Van Rensselaers urged their tenant farmers to plant orchards of apples, pears, and other fruits. Think about that for a minute. In the 1600s, to European eyes, the land here in what is now Bethlehem was very much wilderness. To plant an apple seed in anticipation of the tree growing and bearing fruit, something that could take 10 years, was an act of faith in the future of the settlement.

In 1682, Albert Bratt, the Norwegian for whom the Norman’s Kill is named, subleased his orchard along the creek to his future son-in-law Teunis Cornelissen Slingerland. The rent was 150 “schepels” a year. If this was the usual ten percent, then that orchard was producing 1500 “schepels” of apples a year. That’s about 1100 bushels in modern terms, and likely over 250 mature trees.
65+ years later, during his stay in the Albany area in June 1749, Peter Kalm noted that each farm had a large orchard. Some of the apples were “very large and palatable” and were “sent to New York, and other places as a rarity.” He also wrote “they make excellent cider, in autumn, in the country round Albany.”

An important word about that cider. We are not talking about the delicious cider we pick up at the store today. We are talking about hard, that is alcoholic, cider. Also delicious, but not the benign cider of today. Orchards in those early days were dedicated to cider apples and the reason is interesting. Apple trees grown from seed do not produce the kind of apple the seed came from. For example, if you plant the seeds from a Golden Delicious apple, watch the tree grow and harvest its fruit, the resulting apple is not a Golden Delicious. It is likely to be sour and look nothing like its parent apple. Sour, inedible apples however, are excellent for pressing into cider. That cider can then be easily fermented back on the farmstead into a drink that, especially on the frontier, is more easily obtained than beer or wine, or even fresh water. 

While seedlings and grafted trees did come from Europe early on, apple seeds were also planted in abundance. You might remember the tale of Johnny Appleseed?

To get a true Golden Delicious, one needs to purchase a grafted tree. And this is interesting too. Apples, in the wild genetic mixing of their seeds, sometimes produce very yummy varieties. Every Golden Delicious goes back to a single apple tree, one found in an orchard on the Mullin’s family farm in West Virginia in 1904. Anderson Mullins sold the tree and propagation rights to Stark Brothers Nursery who first marketed it in 1914. Another example is the Granny Smith. That apple literally goes back to a single tree discovered by Maria Ann Smith in Australia in 1868. And yes, Maria did become a Granny.

The Temperance movement of the late 1800s (which eventually led to Prohibition in 1919) caused farmers and orchardists to wonder what they were going to do with all their apples if they couldn’t make hard cider from them. The answer was to market them for their healthy wholesomeness with the classic “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” This in turn led to something of an apple gold rush where farmers scoured their orchards for the tree that distinguished itself with extra special fruit. Shoots of that special tree could then be grafted onto root stock and the saplings marketed and sold.

Apples, and other orchard produce, continued to be a cash crop for Bethlehem farmers well into the 1900s. For example, in the 1940s, Sunnybrook Farm, run by Charles and Virginia Waldenmaier, included a 500-tree orchard with Alexander, Wolf River, Greening, Delicious and Macintosh apple trees. While Bethlehem does not currently boast a large commercial orchard, remnant trees from the old orchards can be found. Recently while walking in the woods near my home, I noticed large apples on the ground, and looking up saw the gnarled old tree they came from. Could this tree have been part of the orchards of the Van Allen family farm that was here before my housing subdivision? You bet!

This article was inspired in three ways. First and foremost, by the iconic Indian Ladder Farms. Second by the book Botany of Desire A Plant’s Eye View of the World by Michael Pollan. Pollan’s article on apples and the real Johnny Appleseed is fascinating. And finally, the collection of the Bethlehem Historical Association has several brass stencils that illustrate the wonderful variety of fruit produced by Bethlehem farmers. Romantic sounding names like Blue Gage, Green Gage, Baldwin, Magnum Bonum, Cranberry Pippin, Louie Honne, Sutton Beauty, and Hubbardston were stenciled onto boxes and barrels in preparation for shipment to market.

All of the apples on these stencils are listed in The Apples of New York published in 1905. Baldwins arose from a chance seedling on John Ball’s farm in Wilmington, M.A. The tree and its fruit were brought to the attention of Loammi Baldwin as early as 1784 who propagated it widely. Sutton and Sutton Beauty originated in Sutton, M.A. The Cranberry Pippin is mentioned only as what it is not, a Scarlet Cranberry. Louie Bonne is either a Belle Bonne or a Billy Bond, two very different apples whose names were mixed up early on. Hubbardston is an apple native to Hubbardston, M.A.

While in my mind Indian Ladder Farm is synonymous with apples, the only pictures I have are set among the pumpkins. Here is my daughter Emma circa 1998. 

Monday, September 16, 2019

Our Towne Bethlehem September 2019: Historians!

Town Historians
September 2019

Quite often your town historian is asked “What exactly do you do?” and “Why do we have a historian anyway?” This month I will explore those questions and next month I will get back to objects. I am thinking about apples and orchards.

100 years ago this past April, Gov. Al Smith signed New York’s Public Historian Law.  Section 57.07 of the Arts and Cultural Affairs Law states in part “A local historian shall be appointed for each city, town or village, and a county historian may be appointed for each county.”  It goes on with a list of duties that focuses on managing and preserving records of historic value and concludes with the statement that the historian shall “carry out and actively encourage research in such records in order to add to the knowledge, understanding and appreciation of the community’s history.” 
And there you have it. What Bethlehem’s town historians have been striving for since the first one was appointed in 1921. To add to the knowledge, understanding and appreciation of the community’s history.
APHNYS, the Association of Public Historians of New York State, sums up the duties of a municipal historian in four straightforward bullet points.
1. Research and writing
2. Teaching and public presentations
3. Historic Preservation
4. Organization, advocacy and tourism promotion
So, who was Bethlehem’s first historian? That would be Mrs. Harriet C. D. Wiltsie of South Bethlehem.  She was appointed by the Town Board on March 26, 1921. Wiltsie and her family show up regularly in local newspapers for their involvement in community life in South Bethlehem, and there is one intriguing item from when a carriage she was riding in was hit by a street car on Pearl Street, but nothing regarding her activity as historian.

Reading through the Town Board minute books, there is no further action on the historian appointment until August of 12, 1926 when the board carried a motion to ask Ruth M. Miner to be the “social historian”. Her letter declining the position was read at the August 27, 1926 meeting. October 4, 1926 brought the appointment of Mrs. Lucius Washburn as “social historian.”  Washburn, the former Anna Holler, turns up often in the local paper for her doings in Delmar, especially with Delmar Reformed Church, but again, nothing regarding her appointment as historian.

The mostly honorary appointments of Harriet Wiltsie and Anna Washburn were followed by a gap of 19 years.  Then a new, and very active, historian came on the scene.  Ruth Dickinson (often referred to in the records as Mrs. Paul Dickinson) was appointed March 14, 1945 and annually thereafter until she resigned in December of 1965. Researching Dickinson in the newspapers turns up many articles and mentions of her work on Bethlehem’s War Council during World War II, her work on the Civil Defense Council during the Korean War, and especially, her work as town historian. 

Dickinson’s annual reports highlight her work including the many talks she gave to local groups of adults and children designed to educate about, in her own words, “the back ground and history” of the town. She answered many questions from citizens and students, was a founding member of the Bethlehem Historical Association, chaired Bethlehem’s participation in the Hudson Champlain Celebration/Year of History in 1959 and was particularly concerned with preserving the records of Bethlehem’s service men and women.  
Ruth Dickinson

Then there was the “drab” and “arduous” work of newspaper clipping.  Dickinson, and historian’s that followed, spent hours clipping articles out of daily and weekly papers in order to document “all phases of Bethlehem’s daily growth” and then organized them into 50 or more categories.  Thankfully, in our digital age, historians no longer do this work.  There are, however, two boxes of carefully filed, and now brittle and crumbling, newspaper clippings in the town’s archive.

Each and every historian on the list below brought their own interests and strengths to the work of town historian adding to the knowledge, understanding and appreciation of Bethlehem’s history. Your current historian seeks to do the same.

1921 Mrs Harriet C. D. Wiltsie
1926 Anna Holler Washburn (Mrs. Lucius H. Washburn)
1945-1965: Ruth A. Dickinson (Mrs. Paul Dickinson)
1966-1974: Allison Bennett (Mrs. William D. Bennett)
1974-1976: Thomas E. Mulligan
1978-1977: Lois Dillon (Mrs. Edward Dillon)
1979-1983: Thomas E. Mulligan
1984-1987: James E. Morgan
1988-1990: Valerie Restifo Thompson (Valerie J. Restifo, Valerie Thompson)
1991-2005: Joseph Allgaier
2005-2007: Raymond C. Houghton, PhD
2007 to present: Susan E. Leath

Standing at the Bethlehem Historical Association’s Cedar Hill Schoolhouse Museum about 1975 are, from left to right, William D. Pompa (president of BHA from 1975-76), Ruth Miner (attorney and active Bethlehem citizen), Bertram Kohinke (supervisor from 1960 to 1974), Grace Waldbillig (BHA member) and Thomas E. Mulligan (town historian 1974-76 and 1979-83.)

The editorial staff for Bethlehem Revisited: A Bicentennial Story published in 1993. From left to right, Town Historian Joe Allgaier, Chuck McKinney, Floyd Brewer, Hugh Hewitt, and Peter Christoph.

That's me doing my best to do a pubic history presentation while aboard my kayak. Fun times!
Thank you Sharon Askew for the picture.

Frederick Becker Landers

"At age twelve, he was thrown upon his own resources"

It is often the random historical inquires that keep this historian's job interesting.  Not too long ago I was asked about the Landers family in Bethlehem, specifically Frederick Becker Landers. You'll notice right away the Becker name, locally famous at Becker's Corners and the Becker Elementary School. It turns out there was another group of Becker family farms near where modern day Elm Avenue and Rt 32 cross. There was also a Becker family burial ground there which has been subsumed by 32.  But first some maps.

Here's a crop of the 1866 Beers map of Bethlehem.  Can you find the Beckers, especially F. R. right in the middle?

To get you oriented, below are the modern google map and the 1866 map with two intersections circled.  At the top is the intersection of Elm Avenue and Murray Avenue near the Luthern Church.  At the bottom is the 4 way stop at the intersection of Elm Avenue and Feura Bush Road.  Can you follow the triangular shape of Elm, Murray and Feura Bush?  The By-Pass cuts right thru the middle and Elm Avenue was rerouted near the park.

Ok, now you know the area we are talking about, look at the page below from "Records of the People of the Town of Bethlehem" about the Becker Family Burial Ground.

The location is right about where F. R. Becker is on the 1866 map.  And low and behold, at the bottom are two members of the Landers family, "C" and "L.W."  We've got a Becker-Landers connection. 

Also recorded in the "People" book is the July 4, 1825 marriage of Laurence W. Landey to Catharine Becker at the First Reformed Church of Bethlehem. This is likely the LW and C listed above - I'm thinking the name was misspelled or mis-transcribed in the church record.

So, how does all this connect up with Frederick Becker Landers? Well, we know he was born October 7, 1829 in Bethlehem, New York. Maybe, just maybe, Catherine and Laurence are his parents but we haven't found any records to attest to that. Maybe he was born on the Elm Avenue farm, but that is just supposition. 

The newspaper clipping above is from his 1887 obituary in the Decorah Republican.  That is Decorah, Iowa. My inquiry came from the folks at the Winneshiek County Historical Society, the proud owners of the Landers-Adams-Bodensteiner House in Decorah.  Did we know anything about Fredierick who left Bethlehem at age 12 to make his way in the world?  No we do not, only the supposition that his parents' burial spot is now under the Delmar By-Pass.  Not a thrilling moment for your Bethlehem historian.

I very much enjoyed reading about Frederick Becker Landers in his obituary. He seems to have led such an interesting life. But the mystery of his Bethlehem connections have to will remain.

The Landers house in Decorah, Iowa
Below is a transcript of his obituary.

Frederic B. Landers

Died Thursday Evening, May 26, in his 58th year.

Again, we are called upon to record the passing away of another old resident and active business man.

When it was written last week that F. B. Landers was “just the same,” it was not exactly true. There seemed to be evidence e that to his family gave some hope.  But it was only the flicker of the lamp of life just before expiring.  Although it has been an event considered probable for weeks it came to those who had been watching by his bedside with unexpected sharpness.

Frederick B. Landers was born in Bethlehem, N.Y., Oct. 7th, 1829.  At the age of twelve he was thrown upon his own resources, and such was his native energy and disposition, he was engaged in business on his own account before he had reached his 29th year.

He was married at Canisteo, N.Y., in 1850 to Sarah W. Mulhollon, who survives him.  To them ten children were born, five of whom are living.  It was noted in the funeral discourse, most beautifully, that in his death the family was evenly divided – one half in this life, and the other in the future.

Business ventures in the east proving unfavorable, in 1854-55 he came west, and for a year he was in the employ of P.H. Conger & Co. of Dubuque. During the year he made arrangements to come to Decorah and entered into partnership with McHenry, Packard & Co.  After a couple of years an association was formed with D. B. Ellsworth, and for long years the firm of Ellsworth & Landers, occupied the leading position in our mercantile life.  Later the firm became that of Landers & Son, remaining such until his business career was terminated.  For over thirty years he had been an important factor in the business life of this city.  During that period, he performed more hard labor than most men crowd into a life of three-score years.  He was a natural trader – a born merchant; possessed of boundless energy, and a love for work possessed by few, he prosecuted his business with remarkable vigor.  At times he carried loads which would have crushed other men; but he did it with a buoyancy and courage which was truly wonderful. He has been known to say that he did not know what tire was.  In his disposition he was liberal and progressive, always willing to bear his share of public burdens.  While always interested in political affairs, he never desired official position.  As a husband and father, he was liberal to indulgence.  The funeral service was held at the family residence on Sunday afternoon, and was attended by one of the largest gatherings ever seen in our city – Rev. Willard officiating, assisted by Rev. J. M. Ferris.  Thus, one by one, the ranks of our oldest business men are being depleted.  The pioneers are going to the long home, leaving vacancies behind them which may not be easily filled.

The Decorah Republican

The Landers house today.  Soon to be the Winneshiek County heritage Center. 

Friday, August 30, 2019

Fun Friday Photos


And a happy Friday to you.  Here are a few "Bethlehem" pictures from around the turn of the 19th century.  They are Bethlehem in that they came out of a house on Willowbrook Avenue in South Bethlehem.  That is all I know about them, but I could make up some fun stories that is for sure.  Enjoy!