Friday, August 16, 2019

Van Liew Family

Sometimes I wonder if I am simply curious or just plain nosy.

Last week I visited a Delmar estate sale on Gardener Terrace.  The house was an interesting bungalow and I could tell right away an older woman had lived there and that she was a cat lover.  As I was checking things out, this photo caught my eye.  Aren't these kids cute?  It was 50 cents, so I picked it up.

Later as I investigated the basement, there was another small pile of pictures. Again, 50 cents each, so I picked these up and wondered isn't that the same kid in the pony picture?




The garage/shed building out back was fascinating too. These drawings on the wall caught my eye.
Turns out these are the plans for the house, dated 1926, and completed for the Van Liew family.  How cool is that?  Unfortunately, the name of the person that drew up the plans was obscured.  Here's a close up of the front elevation and a picture from Google Street View (dated June 2011)



This is where the curiosity takes over. From what I could piece together, this was the home of Roland and Bertha Van Liew.  Roland was an electrician later working for G.E.  They had three children, Roland, Clifford and Thelma.

In the pony picture, I believe Clifford is on the pony, and that is certainly Roland standing next to him.  Clifford died tragically in 1943 at the age of 17 after being hit by an automobile near the Blanchard Post in Elsmere. His father, Roland, was an active member of the post and Clifford was part of the Drum Corps.

Roland, the son, entered the U.S. Army shortly after graduating from Bethlehem Central in 1942.  In the right hand picture above, Roland is shown in uniform and the back of the photo is inscribed "1944 Camp Chaffee Arkansas."  The photo of him at the beach is inscribed  "3 June 44" and he is sitting on a beach chair at Carolina Beach, N.C. Which makes sense because his father's obituary (he died just a few months after Clifford) states Roland was of Fort Bragg, N.C.

The picture of the young man at the rail of the ship is most certainly the father Roland Van Liew. When I took it out of the picture frame, it turned out it was a postcard.  Written on the back is "Taken at sea just after captains inspatection June 10, 1919."  Stamped below that are the words R. VAN LIEW  U.S.S. ZEELANDIA 

One snippet I found about Bertha Van Liew was the fact that she was in a bad car accident in 1950 when the vehicle she was riding in was hit by a train while crossing the tracks at Gardener Terrace.  Two other women passengers were killed, but she survived.  That accident led to the closing of the grade crossing there.

And finally, daughter Thelma graduated from Bethlehem Central in 1949.  Her yearbook says her goal was to become a "comptometer operator."  Which is fascinating because at the estate sale, there was a vintage check writing machine and two boxes of computer punch cards.  I wonder what Thelma did for a living all these years.  Her obituary from February 2019 is very nice but short on details.  "She will be greatly missed for her sweet, friendly disposition, easy smile and concern for animal welfare."  Below is her yearbook picture. Thelma I wish I could have met you.












Thursday, August 15, 2019

Our Towne Bethlehem August 2019: Suffrage

Woman suffrage.  Woman's right to vote.  It seems such settled law, nothing to talk about here.  Yet, it fascinates me to think that my own grandmother, someone I knew personally, was not able to vote until she was 31 years old, simply because she was a woman. 

My grandmother, Ruth Harriet Todd,
 about the time she married in 1922.
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Suffrage.
  What an interesting word. Merriam-Webster simply says “the right of voting.”  The dictionary adds that the word is descended from the Latin word suffragium which can be translated as vote, support or prayer.  Early supporters of the “woman vote” liked the word too. Just by itself, the word suffrage points to suffering and speaks of rage.

     New York has close ties to the woman suffrage movement going back to the first women’s rights convention held at Seneca Falls on July 19 and 20, 1848.  The convention and its Declaration of Sentiments was the beginning of the formal movement with well known leaders such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott and Susan B. Anthony.  A road trip to the excellent Woman’s Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls and the Susan B. Anthony Museum and House in Rochester is well worth the effort.
     New York passed its legislation affirming women’s right to vote in 1917.  The 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex passed the House on May 21, 1919 and then the Senate on June 4. The amendment went to the states for ratification. Tennessee became the 36th state needed for ratification on August 18, 1920 making woman suffrage the law of all of the United States.  Mississippi, the 50th state to ratify, did not do so until 1984.
     But what is the local Bethlehem connection to the Woman Suffrage Movement? That is proving frustrating to figure out.  Hints are scarce in the local papers. There are plenty of references to the suffrage movement in general, and the anti-suffragists too, just not truly local specifics.
      For example, the May 29, 1914 issue of the Altamont Enterprise reported that “Mrs. Rosalie Jones of Albany was scheduled to speak at the Methodist Church in Clarksville on the interests of the suffrage movement.”   The News-Herald reported June 5 that at Clarksville “there was a crowded house to greet Miss Rosalie Jones.” Your historian likes to assume that this is in fact General Rosalie Jones.  General Jones was widely known for her suffragist efforts especially her suffrage hikes.  On December 16, 1912, the General and 200 of her followers left Manhattan and walked to Albany. That’s about 170 miles through a cold New York winter.  They marched on the east side of the river, so did not pass through Bethlehem, arriving in Albany on December 28 where they worked to present their petitions and arguments to the Governor. The following February, Jones organized a hike from New York City to Washington D.C. to meet up with the many Suffragist marchers converging on the Capitol.
     It is probable that Jones was here in Clarksville, but who are the local men and women who packed the church in May of 1914?   Similarly, Albany County Equal Suffrage clubs held a convention in June 1915 where it was reported that organizations were thriving in Delmar and that mass meetings had been held in Bethlehem. But who exactly attended? That remains a mystery.   
     And what about the anti-suffragists?  Some of the names in a July 10, 1914 clipping are familiar and local in the sense that Albany is local for us.  A report under the Voorheesville section of the Altamont Enterprise reads “A meeting in the interests of all opposed to the granting of suffrage to women will be held here in the early autumn, should a group of men and women express their willingness to urge attendance.  The Albany Anti-Suffrage society, in which such well known women as Mrs. George Douglas Miller, Mrs. Moneure C. Carpender, Mrs. Robert C. Pruyn, the Misses Fenimore-Cooper, Mrs. John Boyd Thacher and Mrs. George Curtis Treadwell are interested, will send representatives.”
     1914 was a busy summer.  The paper notes that at the Albany County Fair both the Equal Suffrage and Anti-Suffrage clubs “vied good naturedly with each other and were well attended by their adherents and friends.”
     While not all that local, my very favorite clipping is from the June 11, 1915 issue of the Altamont Enterprise.   The left-hand column of page 6 begins with Suffrage Day on the Diamond which was held May 11 during a baseball game between the Giants and the Cubs. “The fusion of suffrage and baseball interests certainly resulted in a great turn-out for the game.” The suffragists were certainly creative in publicizing their cause.
Immediately following that item is an anti-suffrage report where the anti’s make the argument that allowing women to vote will somehow cancel men’s votes. “Women will either divide on issues in proportion that men do. In which case they but double the vote without affecting the result, or they will vote in opposition to men, which case they nullify men’s votes.” (Which to my 21st century feminist ears does not quite make sense.)
     And then the best is the final item in the column.  “Woman Garbage Collector. Garbage in Hastings-on-Hudson is to be removed by a woman, her bid for the contract being lower than that made by any of her male competitors.  She has announced that she expects to superintend personally her men and teams.”  Another paper identifies this woman as Mrs. Mary Eliot.  Here is a successful business woman competing for a contract in a field dominated by men.  In 1915.  I want to know her story.
     And finally, what object inspired this article?  In the collection of the Bethlehem Historical Association is a Votes for Women banner that was donated anonymously in the 1980s.  It was last displayed in the summer of 2017 during their centennial exhibit on World War I and the passage of New York’s suffrage law.  Those familiar with BHA’s collection report no other references or objects related to woman suffrage. Readers, do any of you have family stories about the battle for the vote for women?  Letters, diaries, journals? Anything?  I would love to hear from you!


From left to right, Mrs. J. Hardy Stubbs, Miss Ida Craft and Miss Rosalie Jones in Albany, perhaps on the roof of the capitol.  In the background can be seen the spire of St. Peters Church which is on State Street. (Library of Congress)



Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Our Towne Bethlehem July 2019: Wood Timber Lumber

So many things have lined up lately to get me thinking about trees.

The spring issue of New York State Archives magazine had an article called the "Battle for the Elms."  I happen to live in Elm Estates, where there are no more elms.

I was reading a book called The Overstory: A Novel by Richard Powers, a writer with a powerful way with words.  An early chapter introduces a character named Nicholas Hoel, but the true star of that chapter is the American Chestnut tree.  Powers goes on to weave people and trees and nature into an incredible story.  Sadly, the magnificent American chestnut tree is also no longer around either.

And lets not get into the ash trees and the emerald ash borer.  It is just too depressing.

Happily about this time the Town of Bethlehem introduced their street tree survey project, and continues their efforts to conserve open spaces in town.  Which I have to remind myself that open spaces include forests - not just fields.  Open and free from development is more the idea.

Anyway... here's the article, which opens with another inspiration - the beauty that can be created from the wood of all those trees.

Wood – Timber – Lumber

The inspiration for this article is a magnificent tool chest in the collection of the Bethlehem Historical Association. Plain painted gray on the outside, inside are exquisite wooden inlay designs that include a walking frog, a woman hanging laundry, and a compass rose. The chest was made by Richard Coleman for the practical purpose of holding his tools, but also to show off his skills as a cabinet maker. Born about 1860, he learned his carpentry and cabinet making skills from his father and uncle while growing up in Albany. Later in life, and certainly by the 1910 U.S. Census, he lived in the Normansville/Elsmere area of Bethlehem. His son donated the chest to BHA in 1971.





That beautiful wood came from trees of course. Trees are often romanticized, but there are more trees in Bethlehem now than when we were primarily a farming community. Fields for pastures and meadows, corn and oats, needed to be cleared of trees. However, most farms did set aside land for a wood lot. Trees, timber and lumber were important for building and heating.

Often logs from those wood lots were taken to the local mill to be cut length-wise into planks of various useful sizes. The rough boards could then be planed smooth. Charles Coonley’s Slingerlands operation is one local example of these steam powered mills. Another is Aussem’s Mill in South Bethlehem. In addition to sawing and planing wood, both used steam energy to grind grain for feed and flour, and to press apples for cider. Aussem’s also generated electricity for the hamlet.


Aussem's Mill burned to the ground in 1907 and was not rebuilt.


Charles Coonley opened his mill about 1899 just off of Kenwood Avenue then known as the Delmar and Slingerlands State Road. The steam boiler, fueled by scrap wood, was definitely a fire hazard. A 1912 newspaper article reports that Coonley’s saw and cider mill was destroyed by fire. The fire was generated when a spark from the engine room landed on some wood shavings. The village bucket brigade was able to save the nearby house and barn but not the mill. The article reports that this was the third fire at the location. Even Coonley’s 1932 obituary remarks about the danger of fire. “He was the owner and operator of the Slingerlands mill, which, until several years ago, had always been run by steam generated at the plant. Since then the installation of electricity has so revolutionized the business that all chances of the mill being regarded as a fire hazard were completely removed.”  It goes on to note that Coonley had a “very quiet and unassuming manner, and those who knew him always held him in the highest esteem.”


Coonley’s mill was in operation, in one form or another despite the many fires, from about 1899 to at least 1938. After Charles Coonley died in 1832, others continued on the Coonley name for a few years. The overhead bridge depicted on the postcard carried Kenwood over the railroad tracks where it connected with modern day Bridge Street.


Charles Coonley and the Aussem brothers ran small scale, local operations.  Bethlehem’s neighbor to the north, the City of Albany, was a major player in the lumber industry in the mid to late 19th century. The Albany Lumber District was known far and wide, and was the largest lumber district by value in the United States in 1870. The industry was facilitated by Albany’s connections to the Erie Canal and Hudson River. Most dealers were wholesalers wheeling and dealing to make the most profit possible. The district was located between Broadway and the Hudson River close to where, today, Nipper looks out from his roof top perch. Did you know that Erie Blvd. (where Huck Finn’s is) was literally where the Erie Canal used to run?

Getting back to Bethlehem, and thinking about all those trees sawed into lumber, I wonder about today’s trees. How old is the oldest? How big is the biggest? How do you even tell how old a tree is without chopping it down to count the rings or invasively taking a core sample? Google helpfully supplied a link to various Tree Age Calculators. I used the one provided by CliftonParkOpenSpaces.org and estimated that the pin oak tree in my backyard, at 84 inches around, is about 80 years old. That puts its sapling days in the 1930s, right about the time the Van Allen family sold their farm. That farm eventually became my neighborhood of Elm Estates.

Why don’t you measure a tree in your yard and send me the results? I’m sure we have 100+ year old trees in town. How about 200 or more? I’m sure there is a tree out there that can beat my oak’s 84-inch circumference. Please get measuring and email me the results at sleath@townofbethlehem.org.   Use the calculator below to figure out how old your tree is.

http://www.cliftonparkopenspaces.org/treecalculator/

If you would like to see Richard Coleman’s tool chest in person, the Bethlehem Historical Association’s Cedar Hill Schoolhouse Museum, 1003 River Road, Selkirk, is open Sunday afternoons from 2 to 4pm. Free. Stop by and take in the exhibit All in a Day’s Work.


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PS I have no idea why the font changes. Not being all that tech savvy, I am not going to spend all morning attempting to figure it out.  Sorry.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Local Brevities: Slingerlands Underground Crossing

While looking for information on Charles Coonley, I came across these "Local Brevities" in the Altamont Enterprise's Slingerlands Bulletin.  It touched on so many interesting aspects of building the "Underground Crossing" that I just had to share.

August 2, 1912, Altamont Enterprise

The Underground Crossing about the time it was completed.

One item that really stood out for me is this one: The work of cutting off one corner of the Frazier house, next to the post office was commenced this week.

Last year I was able to take a walk through this house - not knowing anything about it except that it was now owned by Albany County.  It is very strangely laid out inside with very few architectural details remaining.  It also looks odd from the outside and has no access from New Scotland Road, only from Kenwood and across the railroad tracks - now the rail trail. Based on the snippet above, I bet some of those oddities are explained by the house having a corner cut off and being so near to the digging out of the underpass.  Just look at the picture below - that fancy second story window certainly looks pasted on the front of a nondescript house.


Of course I did some research.  Here's what I wrote last year:

From 1954 through 2005, the property was owned by members of the Flansburg family.  Luther and his wife Ruth lived there for many years.  They first show up in the Tri Village directory in 1945 at 1538 New Scotland Road. A deed recorded in 1993 (when Ruth transferred the property to Gary Flansburg) notes that this is the same premises that was conveyed to Luther Flansburg and Ruth Flansburg by Odd Fellows Home Association of Eastern New York by a deed dated March 11, 1954.

This mention of the Odd Fellows was intriguing because I have long been curious about the location of the Odd Fellows hall in Slingerlands.  Such a hall is mentioned often in the Altamont Enterprise Newspaper, for example the November 16, 1917 issue reports a Boy Scout meeting at the Odd Fellows and the January 4, 1929 issue reports it is a polling place. Could the house be the former Odd Fellows hall?

Further research turned up the connection to the Odd Fellows runs though Jesse Guernsey.  Jesse and Hattie Guernsey, along with son Louis, moved to Slingerlands as early as 1902 and Jesse seems to have joined the Odd Fellows shortly thereafter.  He appears regularly in the Altamont Enterprise under a report on the installation of officers from 1904 right on up to when he moved to the Odd Fellows Home in Stuyvesant, NY in 1933. His obituary (he died December 28, 1952) notes that he was a “past grand of Friendly Union Lodge, I.O.O.F. of Slingerlands and took a deep interest in the affairs of the organization.”  (IOOF = Independent Order of Odd Fellows)

Regarding the house, this snippet also turns up in the newspaper April 22, 1924, Jesse Guernsey has purchased… the Frazier cottage on the New Scotland Road in this village.”  This is reflected in the deeds to the property.

In 1924 various heirs of Catherine Frazier sold the property to Jesse Guernsey.  Associated with that deed, is another (dated 1926) in which Leah Haswell releases any rights or interest in the property.   Both Leah Haswell and Catherine Frazier are daughters of Albert and Katherine Slingerland, whose names turn up in many, many deeds to property in Slingerlands including this one.  

Things get a little fuzzy before that for the property.  It appears to me that this little triangular piece of property was part of land owned by the Slingerlands in 1878 when they transferred to Albert T. Eaton, after that, in 1908, is a transfer to Catherine Frazier from Edward Van Slyke.  How Eaton and Van Slyke fit in is unclear to me.  

After I wrote the above, it did become clear that the Odd Fellows met in the brick building next door - modern day Village Pizza.  Not the house. There is a great article in the January 15, 1976 Spotlight about it - page 14  http://www.bethlehempubliclibrary.org/webapps/spotlight/years/1976/1976-01-15.pdf   I'm thinking Jesse Guernsey willed the house to the Odd Fellows who promptly sold it to the Flansburgs.

And after the Brevity above, I can confirm that it was Catherine Frazier's cottage, at least in 1912.

And finally here is a nice then and now of the area I'm talking about in Slingerlands.

Post Office on left, Frazier Cottage on right.

Street view from Google.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Our Towne Bethlehem June 2019: Ice Cream

This was the hardest article to write.  I was constantly craving ice cream!  Plus, as noted in the previous blog post, would someone please open an Ice Cream Saloon at the Four Corners.
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One of the best things about living in Upstate New York is the many soft serve ice cream stands that open up come the spring. A delicious reward for withstanding our awful winters.  The history of ice cream, however, is surrounded by myths and marketing. 

Did the ancient Romans really have ice cream? Probably not.  They are known to have brought ice and snow down from the mountains for their drinks.  But that is flavored ice, not ice cream.  Slushee anyone?

Did Marco Polo really eat ice cream during his Silk Road travels, and bring that idea back to Italy in the 1300s?  History.org makes the convincing argument that if he experienced ice cream in China, he certainly would have written about the novelty.  But he did not.  The website goes on to theorize that what really came out of China in those early days was the knowledge of how to freeze things using salt and ice – the endothermic effect.  As the article says, “Ice alone only makes things cold.”  You need the endothermic effect to get ingredients cold enough to actually freeze and make ice cream.

How about Thomas Jefferson? Did he introduce ice cream to America? He enjoyed it enough during his 1784 trip to France to jot down a recipe (2 bottles of good cream, 6 yolks of eggs, 1/ lb. sugar to be flavored with vanilla).  How about Martha Washington? She didn’t invent it, but she did serve it at Mt. Vernon.  Martha and George acquired a “cream machine for ice” in 1784, and built an ice house on the estate that year.  Keep in mind, during those Colonial and early National years, sugar was expensive and only the wealthy could access ice year-round.

When the ice industry kicked into high gear in the mid-1850s, ice started to become more readily available. Sugar prices came down and inventors patented hand-cranked ice cream freezers. Delicious ice cream was coming for the masses.

It is no surprise that ice cream was popular locally. In the 1840s Charles Anderson was advertising his Ice Cream Saloon and Confectionary on Broadway in Albany.   In the 1870’s, you could travel down to Coeymans and visit J. Wiggins’ Ice Cream Saloon on South Main Street. Wiggins promised to keep a choice selection of flavors constantly on hand. Strawberry and ice cream festivals were very common. One page of the June 21, 1893 Altamont Enterprise lists seven different ones happening including the ladies of the M.E. church in Clarksville whose literary entertainment included an ice cream social with “patriotic songs and appropriate speaking.”  Nor did they limit their ice cream to summer time.  New Year’s Night 1893, the M.E. ladies served a chicken supper and ice cream encouraging anyone who “favors their appetite” to attend. In the 1930’s Wager’s Ice Cream, Helderberg Creamery’s Ho-Maid Ice Cream and Fro-Joy Ice Cream were all popular brands.

Getting back to the present day and delicious soft serve, Bethlehem boasts several establishments. Ross’s over on New Scotland Road has been in existence as early as 1954 when Ross’ Picnic Stand advertised in the Spotlight.  In the late 50s and 60s it was known as Ross’ Road Stand.  The website for Jim’s Tastee Freez on Delaware Avenue says it started out in 1963 as Bill’s Tastee Freez and became Jim’s in 1980.  Intriguingly, there is an ad in the 1954 Tri-Village Directory for “Tastee Freez – America’s Soft Ice Cream, Delaware & Grant, Elsmere 9-3912.”  That is the same location and telephone number for Jim’s. (By the way, Tastee Freez the brand got its start in 1950 when Leo Moranz invented a new soft-serve pump and freezer. He partnered with marketer Harry Axene in a system where franchisees could use the name Taste Freez in exchange for renting the equipment.)  Over at Jericho Drive In on 9W, Twist Ice Cream Shoppe opened in 2007.

When I moved here in 1995, we were urged to go over to Houghtaling’s Market in Feura Bush for soft serve ice cream.  While not in Bethlehem, it is just over the town line, now serving under the Mauro’s Menu name. There are of course many other summer time ice cream stands in our area.  What is your favorite place?

Be sure to stop by the Bethlehem Historical Association’s Cedar Hill Schoolhouse for their annual Ice Cream Social – a traditional that has been going on for at least 25 years. The date is Sunday, June 9 from 1 to 4 P.M. The location is 1003 River Road, Selkirk.  Enjoy free ice cream courtesy of Stewart’s Shops and the latest local history exhibits.

A vintage view of Jim’s Tastee Freez courtesy of their website. 

An article about ice cream wouldn’t be complete without mention of the Toll Gate Ice Cream and Coffee Shop in Slingerlands.  Established by the Zautner family in 1949, the shop continued in business producing delicious ice cream in house until just a few years ago. 


This tin ice cream scoop with its heart shaped finial is found in the collection of the 
Bethlehem Historical Association. 
It helped inspire this article. 

This undated photo of Ross’s Ice Cream and Hamburger probably dates to the 1970s.  

Thursday, June 13, 2019

A WWII Story - the Nicholson Brothers

Having just celebrated Memorial Day, and the remembrance of D Day having been in the news lately, my thoughts have turned to Bethlehem during World War II.  I have written about the Army Observation Posts that were active here during the war (the article is in my book Historic Tales of Bethlehem.) Bethlehem Revisited lists over 1,200 men and women from Bethlehem who served including 30 that were killed in action.

Which brings me to a story I just heard. Karen B. was down at the Cedar Hill Schoolhouse (home of the Bethlehem Historical Association) and two older men stopped by.  It turns out they had gone to school there in the 1940s.  As they reminisced about where their desks were and the games they played, they shared the memory of when WWII ended.  The superintendent made regular visits to the different schools in the district and stopped by Cedar Hill in May of 1945.  He spoke with the teacher, and then dismissed school early - the students were thrilled of course to get out early.  This is what he told the youngsters - (as remembered by the two oldsters and paraphrased by me) Today Germany surrendered - the war is over.  As you go home stop at every house and knock on every door and tell the news.

Think about that for minute. No tv, no internet, no twitter.  Kid power delivering the news door to door.  Of course it would be all over the radio and newspapers.  Victory in Europe Day, or V-E Day, would be celebrated on May 8 for years and years.

Now, I did paraphrase, the oldsters didn't say it was May, but V-E day is May 8, 1945. The Japanese didn't surrender until August, and Gen. MacArthur didn't formally accept the Japanese surrender until Sept 2.  So I am thinking the kids would have been out of school for the summer then, so it had to be the May European event.  Anyway, it is a nice little snippet of WWII era Bethlehem.

May 11, 1945   Altamont Enterprise
Cedar Hill students in 1938
The above picture shows Cedar Hill School students in 1938.  John Therien (back row, 2nd from right) and Francis Myers (second row from back, 3rd from left) were killed in action during World War II.  Carl Henry (back row, first on right) died from wounds he received while serving.)


Updated 6/17/2019

Just received this pictures of the former students - meet Jim and Jerry Nicholson!


Saturday, June 1, 2019

Our Towne Bethlehem May 2019: Wheat and Bread


Writing this article literally made me hungry for bread and donuts.  Reader beware!


Wheat has long been a part of the Bethlehem story. In the very early days of what was to become our town, in the fall of 1631to be exact, Brant Peelen planted 24 acres of wheat on an island in the Hudson River at the mouth of a creek. The island is now known as Westerlo Island and the creek is the Normans Kill. Peelen had come to New Netherland the previous year along with his wife Lubbertje Wouters, their children Lysebeth, Geert and Gerritje, and other settlers. They were part of Killiaen Van Rensselaer’s grand plan to exploit the resources of his new territory. In the years to come, the Van Rensselaer Manor grew to cover thousands of acres on both sides of the Hudson, including Bethlehem.

The Van Rensselaer’s developed a decidedly feudal system whereby settlers could secure land in exchange for annual rents.  Landlords like the Patroon Stephen Van Rensselaer preferred payment in wheat. Besides tenant farmers simply not having any cash money, the value of money could fluctuate wildly.

The collection of the Bethlehem Historical Association has a receipt book kept by Adam Winne from 1769 until 1830 recording his rent payments made to the Patroon. His 300+ acres were located along the Hudson north of the Vlomankill. The very first entry in the journal is written in Dutch and dates to 1769. Another early one records his payment of “thirty five shipel” of wheat, ten fowls, and one day driving. He also paid ten pounds for rent on a grist mill. It is dated February 12, 1776. A shipel, or schepel in modern Dutch, was equivalent to a bushel.

Members of the Degenaar family harvesting cucumbers in 1921. Notice the bushel baskets.
Their farm was located on River Road in Cedar Hill.

During this time, wheat was one of several cash crops for Albany area farmers. Others included peas and hay. Lumber was also an important part of the economy. A 1790 ad in the Albany Register hints at the economics of the time. W. M. McGill, at the North Gate, Albany, stated that he had “just received a neat assortment of dry goods… which he will sell on low terms, for cash or country produce.” He also has on hand “a supply of liquors and groceries… West India rum, brandy, gin…also sugar and tea…cod fish and cider.” The ad ends with this “Cash paid for staves, wheat and peas.” Country produce is just what Bethlehem farmers could barter, and they could receive needed cash for staves (wooden posts or planks), wheat and peas.

The McGill ad from the February 22, 1790 issue of the Albany Register.   Notice the letter f is used for the s sound in the middle of words.  For example, “Suitable for the prefent and approaching Seafon.” 


What happened to all that wheat? Much of it was sent to market in Albany or floated down the Hudson River to New York City. Bethlehem farmers were nicely situated to take advantage of these markets. Bethlehem also had access to the Normanskill and Vlomankill where water powered grist mills to grind the wheat into flour. And what is the best result of all that flour? Bread of course.

Baking on a commercial scale was common early on. A list of inhabitants of the City of Albany compiled by the British army in 1756 for the purpose of quartering troops starts with Saunders Lawnson, baker. Of 329 residences visited within the stockade, seven included bakers. Bakers only slightly out number brewers (wheat is essential for ale and beer.) In 1798, Albany Mayor Abraham Ten Broeck published the Assize of Bread (an ancient method of setting the price for bread) as “a loaf of good common or tail wheat flour, to weigh one ounce eight ounces for 6 d.” 6d would be six pence in the British system.

Mayor Ten Broeck’s announcement of the Assize of Wheat is found in the April 27, 1798 issue of the Albany Register.  The ad above it urges one to contact Obadiah Cooper about renting a new dwelling house and the one to the right is a runaway slave notice.


Over the years Bethlehem has had an assortment of bakeries often featuring home delivery of bread, cakes and pies. One was Dempf’s Bakery on Delaware Avenue. Louis Dempf operated his shop from 1927 until 1954. Down the street at the Four Corners was the Delmar Bakery in operation from the 1930s until the 1960s. A discussion of bakeries would not be complete without mention of Freihofer’s whose home delivery service was extensive in our area. A 1961 ad in the Spotlight highlights batter-whipped Sunbeam bread and a whole host of other items including butter parker house rolls, strawberry rhubarb pie and jelly donuts. The ad ends with a reminder to watch Freddie Freihofer on WRGB on weekday afternoons. I’ll leave it to you the reader to go to YouTube to enjoy some Freddie Freihofer videos.

Louis Dempf operated his bakery on Delaware Avenue from 1927 to 1954. The house on the left still stands on Delaware just before the underpass. The bakery building and house on the right are long gone.

In an ad from the 1940s, Loni Dempf leans out of the Dempf Pastry Shop delivery van. 
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Pop over to http://www.ourtownebethlehem.com/ for the latest issue.

Hop over here for Adam Winne's account book (put Adam Winne in the search bar.)
https://nyheritage.org/#explore

Skip over here to browse that 1756 census
http://exhibitions.nysm.nysed.gov//albany/census1756.html

Jump to YouTube for Freddie!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5C4CocX5MGM