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.