Tuesday, March 5, 2019

A North Street then and now

Here's a little then and now for your Tuesday morning in the continuing saga of old pictures that just turn up.  Wish I knew more about the family that owned the house when these photos were taken (probably around 1900 or a little before) - more research needed!

In the foreground are D&H railroad tracks - modern Hudson Ave is not even there.

Seen from North Street

Modern view from Google - the trees have grown up so much you can't really see the house from the North Street side. This is the view from Hudson.
PS If you are really nosy - like me - you can find this house online.  It is for sale!

Monday, March 4, 2019

Bethlehem People and Places

It is finally here!

For my latest book, I have gathered up three years worth of Our Town Bethlehem articles and added info about what inspired each article. As I say in the introduction, curiosity plain and simple is the beginning for most of the articles.  Did you ever wonder about the questions below?  You can find the answers in the book!

Just where is Frazertown?
How did Garret Niver, aka Garret H. VanAllen, end up at the Battle of the Little Big Horn in Dakota Terratory?
Why is Borthwick Ave named Borthwick Ave?
Did Delmar really have a zoo?
Did light keeper William Welch really row out on the Hudson River every day for 52 years?
Does she finally figure out where the name "Delmar" came from?

I would love for you to buy a copy. This time around I self-published with Troy Book Makers.  That means I had to front the entire production cost from my own pocket.  All net proceeds from sales will be donated to the Bethlehem Historical Association.

Available NOW at I Love Books in Delmar, Bethlehem Town Hall, The Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza, and Market Block Books in Troy. And Tattered Pages in Glenmont too!

Or you can hop right over to


Oh and I almost forgot - I am having a book signing at I Love Books on Saturday March 23 from 10 am until noon.  Stop by and say hi! And buy a book of course!

Monday, February 18, 2019

A snowy postcard - Baumes, Mallory and Callanan families

As you must know by now, I love old postcards.  I picked up a few at the DAR antique show this weekend and just had to share.

The snowy day one above was labeled South Bethlehem with a question mark.  While the front could or could not be South Bethlehem, the family names written on the back are all about South Bethlehem.   It was written by Cora Baumes to Helen Mallory and mentions Mrs. Callanan. 

We know the Callanan name from the stone quarry in South Bethlehem, the Baumes family had a large farm on Willowbrook Avenue (Historian Allison Bennett wrote up the Baumes family homestead in an article entitled "1820 Home of good taste.")  Have you heard of Mallory's corners?  It is in the vicinity of the modern intersection of Elm Avenue and Creble Road (the roads in that area have changed a good bit since Long Lane/Creble was re-built.)  Looking at the 1866 map, there were Callanans, Baumes and Mallorys in all three places.

Here's a little bit about the writer, Cora Simmons Baumes:

Cora was born in 1862, the daughter of John M. Simmons and Ella Couse.  The 1870 census has the family including brother Robert firmly planted in Slingerlands. Her dad is a farmer and butcher.  She married John Baumes in 1881.  By the 1900 census the couple lived in Slingelands sharing a house with Cora's mom - who is listed as the head of the household.  Skipping ahead, John dies in 1922 and the 1930 census has the widowed Cora living at 832 Jay Street in Albany in a two family house. She occupies one flat and her daughter Ruth and Ruth's husband George Otis live in the other. I found a great little newspaper snippet from 1931 that noted that Cora and Ruth had arrived home aboard the S.S. Majestic having gone on a nine week cruse to "the foreign countries."

Anyway.... Cora shared her snow view with her friend in Florida Mrs. Helen Mallory writing on the front "Just to let the peoples in the south know what snow looks like"

Cora wrote, "Dear Helen, Glad you are where it is warm but I don't mind cold weather. It has been very icy here so I don't go out much."  I am certainly feeling that today, as it is snowy and icy and I haven't been anywhere except shoveling my driveway today. 

And because I can not help myself, I looked up 832 Jay Street on Google Street View and was rewarded with this fabulous photo.  Look at those kids on the porch! Would Cora approve?

Thursday, February 7, 2019

A History Mystery: A Delmar Piano

Do you love a good history mystery?  Can some piano lover out there help solve this one?
A gentleman from Peyton, Colorado sent me the pictures below.  We are thinking that this is a brand of piano.  It certainly wasn't made in our hamlet of Delmar, NY.  But who made it? Where was it made and when?  Thoughts anyone?

Monday, February 4, 2019

Mrs. Eliza Alexander

Child’s 1870 Gazetteer of Albany County is a fascinating window into Bethlehem and I am working with the Bethlehem Historical Association to mount an exhibit focusing on the various professions, trades and occupations listed.

Per usual, I am always fascinated by the women.  If I counted correctly, there are 582 entries and only 21 of them refer to women.  One of whom is Mrs. Eliza Alexander, tailoress and farmer.  What is her story?

I’ve been able to piece together a little bit from census records and especially the book Records of the People of Bethlehem.

Eliza Hutchinson was born in 1828. When she was about 30 years old, she married Thomas Alexander. Their marriage on April 8, 1858 is in the records of the First Reformed Church of Bethlehem. 

The Alexanders were a fairly prominent Bethlehem family.  Thomas Alexander, born November 15, 1809, was the son of James Alexander (1767-1850) and Jennet Jolly (1766-1844.)  James Alexander appears to have been residing in Bethlehem as early as 1797 and served as supervisor from 1831-1832. Thomas married Barbara Hutchinson on May 7, 1845.  The couple had at least 5 children, Josephine, Mary, Henry, Eleanor and David.  David, born in March of 1847 died that August.  His mother Barbara had died a month earlier in July.  The following April, Thomas married Eliza Hutchinson.  It is unknown how, or if, Barbara and Eliza are related.  Sisters? Cousins?  We do know that Thomas and Eliza had two children, Hester and John. Thomas died in 1865.

The 1860 U.S. Census is revealing.  Thomas (a farmer with real estate valued at $2000) and his wife Eliza (a tailoress) are living with four children between the ages of 6 and 13.  I believe these are Barbara’s children. In 1870, after Thomas’ death, Eliza is said to be keeping house. Her real estate value is $2500.  In the household are 3 of Barbara’s children, plus Eliza’s own Hester and John.  The accompanying 1870 Agricultural Schedule reports that Eliza Alexander’s farm (23 improved acres including one milk cow and one pig) produced 30 tons of hay. I would say that Eliza is keeping house and farming. According to the 1866 Beers map, Eliza’s farm was located just south of the First Reformed Church.  In today’s geography, that would be near the intersection of Church and Clapper Roads just off Route 9W.

Ten years later in 1880, Eliza and daughter Hester are the only ones in the household with Eliza again keeping house.  Interestingly, Hester is listed as a seamstress. In the agriculture schedule, the farm only produced 4 tons of hay.  By the 1892 New York Census, Eliza and Hester are living in Albany and Eliza would die the following year, 1893.

What does it mean to be a tailoress, or a seamstress? Or a woman farmer in the 1870s? What occupations were available to women?  Eliza was certainly recognized as a prominent person to be listed in the Gazetteer. Yet, I find no remarks about her in the local newspapers. 

During this period Hugh J. Alexander had a 47acre farm over on the corner of Wemple and River Road.  His family is mentioned in the newspapers. Records indicate this might be a cousin of Thomas Alexander.  His listing in the Gazetteer is just below Eliza’s.

NOTE:  The women in the photo are from the right time period, 1860s or 70s, and they are from Bethlehem, but they are NOT Barbara or Eliza Hutchinson.  They are unidientified members of the Adams-Blanchard family.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Parcella Post by Bill Ketzer

Another great post by Delmartian Bill Ketzer.  Enjoy!

Parcella Post. Who knows the story?
Located in the Town of Bethlehem until annexed by Albany in 1870, Graceland Cemetery on Delaware Avenue offers more land than meets the eye when driving by. Its manicured grounds wander far south of what can be seen from the road, its bordering woodlots rising high above the banks of Normanskill Creek and Bethlehem’s quiet hamlet of Normansville beyond. In one of the farthest lots down that expanse is a handsome, unassuming little headstone with a carved lamb adorning its top. In its remoteness, it is rarely visited by anyone, but the tranquility of the space is almost indescribable despite the perpetual swoosh of automobile traffic nearby, like waves crashing on a nearby shore. There, the calm presence one feels is almost like carefully holding a baby bird in your palm for the first time.
On November 20, 1922 – a Monday afternoon – a mailman came to the front door of the A. B. Kiernan Funeral Home at 38 Grand Street in Albany’s South End (now where South Mall Towers apartments stand across the street from CafĂ© Capriccio) and delivered a package, as he did every day. The parcel was 20 inches long and seven inches square at the sides, and he handed it to Thomas Kiernan, the proprietor’s uncle, who in turn asked an employee to open it, thinking it was probably a delayed doll prize he'd won at a club carnival the week before.
However, the employee drew back abruptly after opening on end, then ripped its dirty white string and the rest of the wrapping away to reveal the nude body of a tiny baby girl. On her body lay a $5 bill. The funeral home immediately called the police and Dr. Morris Bellin (who was summoned by Albany County Coroner John E. Mullin) reported the child had been born alive, in perfect health, but had been smothered a day or two later by an adult given the telltale marks on the child's face. “It was the first Instance in the history of Albany that parcel post been used for such a macabre purpose,” the Times Union reported in 1946. The only mark on the outside of the package was the almost Illegibly-scrawled Grand street address in blue pencil.
Police began an intensive search to discover who sent the parcel – to this day one of the strangest and most heartbreaking objects ever sent through the U. S. mail. Early evidence indicated that the package couldn’t have travelled very far, judging by the date used on the newspaper used to wrap the infant and that it had the brown mark of a flat iron on it, indicating it had been used around the house for a day before it was used as wrapping. The cancellation on the postage stamps was a smudge of concentric rings of ink, revealing that it was sent from a small post office (by that time larger POs were already sending larger circle stamps with the date and time included). Detectives interviewed postal clerks, hospital staff, doctors’ offices and midwives in the city to no avail.
Then, on the third day of the investigation, they learned the parcel had been sent from PO Substation 23 at 119 Madison Avenue – just three blocks away from Kiernan’s funeral parlor (now the vacant lot next to Lombardo’s Restaurant). Unfortunately, 74-year-old Postmaster Gennaro Pisarri was unable to identify the girl who posted the package, other than that she was a “neatly-dressed, typically American 16-year-old girl.”
The aged postmaster recalled asking the girl why she didn't deliver the package herself instead of mailing it, but she responded that it was laundry and she didn't have to take it over. This account was verified by a co-worker, Maria Tarezzi, and also by G. P. Baccelli, Albany’s Italian consul in Albany who had offices located just above the substation. According to Baccelli, the girl gave the parcel to the postmaster on Saturday, November 18, between 4 and 4:30 PM and he overheard Pisarri asking her why she wouldn’t just carry the package to the funeral home, since it was a short walk away. “No, I want to mail it,” he reported her as saying. “It is a package of Laundry.”
Ultimately – for reasons never explained fully in news reports – the police believed this young woman was an unwitting accomplice in the crime and not the perpetrator. Pondering the societal conditions of the South End in that era (my Irish and German ancestors lived there, as did many immigrants from those countries at the time) it seems very strange that the police so quickly dismissed the possibility of the girl being the killer (or the daughter of the killer), as she was a teenager, almost certainly Catholic, and did not want to risk being identified by the funeral director.
But the newspapers did announce, rather bluntly, that the infant would be buried in Potter's Field (there were several near New Scotland Avenue and Hackett Boulevard) unless someone came forward to help the nameless babe. By then however the story had caught the interest of many Albanians, who began to take personal interest in the tale and demand that the infant be given services and buried with “all proper reverence.” By the weekend following the awful discovery, more than 200 women had filed into the funeral parlor to view the tiny child.
Mr. Kiernan subsequently announced he would hold “simple, but impressive” funeral services for the baby, but those plans soon became more elaborate. Instead of a cardboard coffin, the funeral home provided a little, white, glass-covered casket, with silver handles and nameplate. Instead of discarded newspapers, the undertaker’s wife sewed a tiny white satin burial dress. Two men offered to loan large cars to carry the mourners to graveside, and Stephen O’Hagan of Black Taxi Company loaned a hearse to lead the procession. Neighborhood women collected donations for sprays of flowers, and the plot where the baby girl rests today was purchased at Graceland Cemetery. The superintendent of Graceland provided the plot in a far corner of its infant's section. A volunteer subscription was started to raise money for the tiny headstone in this picture, which carries the name Parcella Post – her namesake given by either Dr. Bellin or the coroner (news accounts conflict here) since the way she was sent to the undertaker was the only clue to her origins… and the only clue there would ever be.
On Monday, November 27, 1922 – just a few days before Thanksgiving – three carloads of mourners went to the graveside to say a final goodbye to Parcella, whose gravesite was overrun with beautiful scores of cut-flower blossoms. It was indeed quite a different funeral than had been anticipated by the person who placed the little dead girl in the mail with $5 for burial expenses! At the grave, city detectives hovered in the background, keeping close watch on all visitors with the hope that some small act would provide more information as to the mother’s identity, but the watch proved futile. Soon after, the little girl was left to rest in peace, and no superintendent or groundskeeper moving forward indicated that anyone ever visited the grave.
So that was the lore until 1960, when a single pink flower was left on Parcella’s stone sometime around Memorial Day. This was huge news even 38 years after her death. It was an artificial blossom, designed to last a long time in outdoor weather, and the Knickerbocker News felt that “it seemed to give warmth with its glow.” This week in September 2018 – approaching 100 years since Parcella’s journey into eternal mystery – a pink flower still adorns the stone.

Monday, January 14, 2019

The Old Wemple Place and Louise Barkhoff

Below is an article you might enjoy by my friend Bill Ketzer.  He often posts well researched local history  to his Facebook page, and he gave me permission to share them with you.  Enjoy!

Entrance to Gilbert Wemple’s Mid-1800s farmhouse, Glenmont, NY. 
On a high, and long-abandoned hill along Wemple Road sits this resilient Greek Revival home on 112 acres of overgrown pasture and wetlands. This land recently sold for just $250,000, so I expect that soon this majestic ruin is not long for this world.

In the 1860’s, son William worked the farm with him, while his other son John (who served as Bethlehem supervisor from 1875-1876) lived just down the hill toward River Road. By the time John took office, William and his family left his father’s home and started farming elsewhere in the town, and hired a 24-year old servant named Jane Louisa Barkhoff. Louisa never married but at just 17 had a young daughter named Leila, who vanishes from the public record after 1875.
In 1917, Barkhoff bought a large parcel of sandy farmland along Shunpike Road (now Elsmere Avenue) from her aging aunt Emma Bender, whose husband Cyrus was the grandson of Revolutionary War sergeant Christian Bender. It is here the modern history of our home at 116 Elsmere began.
It appears as if Louisa never actively managed our property; she lived in Albany and subdivided a large portion of the parcel just two years later, conveying it to her brother William Barkhuff (he preferred the more Teutonic spelling of their last name, apparently). He and his wife would farm the property and lease portions of it to Albany Sand and Supply Company for molding sand until the onset of the Great Depression. As a young man he worked in the icehouses on the Hudson River and later in life as a florist and caretaker for Bethlehem Cemetery, where he would return to rest forever in 1944. His family home remains intact today at 110 Elsmere, exactly how it looked in his era.
Shortly before her death in 1935, Louisa also conveyed the deed to a smaller parcel of her Bender property to William Gall and his wife. Gall, right off the boat from Germany, ran an auto garage at 124 Elsmere, which no longer exists… but it’s foundation and numerous artifacts are still there in our woodlot.
Interestingly, Louisa retained title to both properties pursuant to a curious stipulation in the 1919 deed, so these lands returned to her estate for probate when she died. She left no will, but another Wemple – Helen Kipp Wemple – was named as her executor CTA to the Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church of Albany. It was the trustees of this parish that sold these lands together to Elsmere Fire Commissioner Carl L. Wehrle, and it was this man that would commission his brother-in-law to clear the merged lot and build the home we live in today.