Tuesday, June 21, 2022

WWII Army Service Patches


Isn't this a great looking patch?  

I'm currently working with the Bethlehem Historical Association on an exhibit about what our town was like in the 1940s.  It will, of course, look at World War II service people as well as the home front. 

If you've got a minute, you can pop over to this blog post for a snippet from that era https://bethlehemnyhistory.blogspot.com/2019/06/a-wwii-story.html

As part of the exhibit prep, the committee is looking for things related to that era in Bethlehem.  I found an Army uniform in an antique shop in Coxsackie and scooped it up for the exhibit.  It had a couple of patches on it but no identifying information about who owned/wore the uniform.  

Various websites concur about the imagery of the patch above.  The thunder bolts are snapping the chains of Nazi oppression. The patch indicates service in the European Theatre of Operations - the ETO. 

One site specifies that it is part of the ADSEC, the Advanced Section, Communications Zone, European Theater of Operations, United State Army.  ADSEC supported the operations of the Army in a myriad of ways including establishing supply dumps and depots, reconstructing railways, repairing bridges and building fuel lines. One newspaper clipping I found reported that "One ADSEC Dump Has Food for 33,000,000 Army Meals" (Brooklyn Eagle, April 5, 1945)

Also on the uniform is the patch below. It has the wonderful nickname of the Ruptured Duck.  This is an honorable discharge insignia that would have been sewn onto the uniform jacket after the veteran left military service. 

With these two patches, we can speculate that the owner of the jacket served behind the lines in Europe suppling and supporting the front (maybe they were an engineer or truck driver or served in one of the ADSEC field hospitals) and that they were honorably discharged after their service. 

If you have 1940s related memorabilia, especially with a Bethlehem connection, I'd love to hear from you.  The BHA exhibit will be installed in the late fall this year - hopefully! We are planning to set up an "office" display and are on the look out for desk top items from that era, like fountain pens and an ash tray (remember when those were ubiquitous? - kind of hard to find these days!) 

Feel free to email me, sleath@townofbethlehem.org

Thursday, June 9, 2022

Too Many James Selkirks

 There are just too many James Selkirks.  All of them are intriguing, but I am having a time sorting them all out. 

My latest Selkirk family research lead me to this wonderful picture (thank you Sharon and Keleigh!)

A note with the photo says it is "James Selkirk who settled in Texas and fought for the south."  But which James is it?

It is certainly not my # 1 James Selkirk (1757-1820), that is the Revolutionary War veteran, memoir writer, tailor, farmer who married Elizabeth Henry (1766-1844) in 1786.*  And it is not his son James who died in 1821 because the image is a daguerreotype probably from the 1840s or 50s. 

The person pictured has to be one of James and Elizabeth's two grandsons that are named James. Both of the cousins went to Texas. 

The first possibility is James Selkirk (1815-1862) son of William Selkirk (1792-1828) and Matilda Hallenbake (1794-1820).  William (son of #1 James) was the first to go to Texas about 1822. This James was born in Bethlehem and went to Texas after his father died out there. 

The second is James Selkirk (c. 1824-1869), son of Robert Selkirk (1797-1872) and Maria Boucher (1802-1881). Robert is also a son of #1 James and a brother to William. That makes these two James cousins.  A genealogist in the family, Theodore Selkirk, compiled an extensive Selkirk family tree and a descendant, Michael Wolf added to that with this paragraph:

"James Selkirk born circa 1824 died April 18, 1869 at Brenham Washington County Texas. Cousin of James Selkirk 1815-1862 and lived in Matagorda with him. Built the dock at Matagorda. In Confederate Army Capt. Co D 6th Texas Infantry. War record in National Archives, visited in prison of war camp at Columbus Ohio by his father Robert."

So there you have it.  Add in the fact that this photo came down through the Willis family who are descendants of Robert and Maria, and I am pretty sure this is the right James Selkirk. 

And just for fun, here's a picture of Robert Selkirk, father of  James.

And here's a picture of his brother John 

And his sister Lucinda Selkirk Leedings.  Hopefully by now you see the family resemblance!

* I'm not even going to deal with the family tree on Ancestry that has my #1 James as the son of James Selkirk (1733-1758) who is the son of James Selkirk (1702-1727). Do you see how those dates don't really line up? 

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Thinking about Bethlehem Barns

I am often thinking about barns as I drive around town. Have you noticed them tucked in here and there? 

Barns, and the many other structures that are needed to run a farm, speak to Bethlehem's agricultural past and I really worry about them, especially when I notice a hole in the roof.  

If you own a historic barn, the New York State Historic Barn Rehabilitation Tax Credit might be able to help. It is a New York income tax credit for up to 25% of the cost of the renovation.  Find more details here : https://parks.ny.gov/shpo/tax-credit-programs/  

And, if you want to learn more about what all those barns and out buildings are used for, check out this book.  All of your barn questions will be answered! 

Barns of New York Rural Architecture of the Empire State by Cynthia Falk. 

All of the Bethlehem barn pictures in this post are stolen from google street view  -  just so I wouldn't have to go driving all over town :)

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Judge Hurlbut Historic Marker



Thanks to the William C. Pomeroy Foundation and the researching and grant writing efforts of Bethlehem Historical Association Trustee Chris Philippo, Bethlehem has a new historic marker.  Many thanks to the town's Highway Department for installing it at the corner of River Road and Halter Road in Glenmont.  


New Historical Marker installed in Bethlehem

 Honors Judge Elisha Hurlbut

 Elisha Powell Hurlbut was highly influential in the Woman Suffrage movement. His persuasive essay “Rights of Woman” was published in 1841 when he was a young attorney working in New York City.  In 1847 he was appointed Judge of New York Supreme Court. That same year he married Catherine Van Vechten, a daughter Teunis Van Vechten and Catherine Gansevoort, both prominent Albany families.  The couple would go on to have four children together.

 Due to his ill health, Hurlbut and his family moved to the country. By the 1860 U.S. Census they were living in Bethlehem, just outside of Albany on the River Road. Inspired by the landscape of his property, he called his estate “Glenmont on the Hudson” originating the name of the modern-day Bethlehem hamlet of Glenmont.

 While living at Glenmont, Hurlbut continued to think and write about the issues of his day including civil rights, religion and phrenology. His life long interest in Woman Suffrage is indicated with his tenure on New York’s State Suffrage Committee from 1880-1882, some 40 years after his essay was published.

 Judge Elisha Powell Hurlbut died in 1889 and is buried at Albany Rural Cemetery.

 Chris Philippo of the Bethlehem Historical Association was instrumental in researching Hurlbut’s life and career.  Working with Bethlehem Town Historian Susan Leath, the pair were able to identify the exact location of Hurlbut’s former estate.  Philippo, on behalf of BHA, applied for to the William C. Pomeroy Foundation for historic marker grant in connection with the National Votes for Women Trail.  The grant was approved and the new marker was recently installed at the foot of Halter Road, the former drive up to the Hurlbut mansion. It is at the corner with River Road in Bethlehem. 


Read more about the Hurlbuts here: 


Read more about the William C. Pomeroy Foundation here:


Read more about the National Votes for Women Trail here: 


Tuesday, March 29, 2022

The adventures of John Selkirk


Turns out this clipping is from the September 3, 1931 issue of the Knickerbocker News

If any of you have spoken to me lately, you know I am currently obsessed with James Selkirk (Revolutionary War veteran, memoir writer, tailor, farmer) and his wife Elizabeth Henry (homemaker, mother of ten.)

I recently came across this newspaper clipping, an obituary for John Selkirk.  What immediately caught my eye was the headline, Once Custer Aid. Then these phrases: "During his youth he prospected for gold.  He abandoned this pursuit and enlisted in the Seventh U.S. Cavalry, which Custer commanded. He was mustered out before the battle of Little Big Horn... for many years he fought Indians in the west with Custer."

I was immediately reminded of the Niver brothers of Bethlehem (the hamlet of Selkirk to be exact), both of whom went West. One with the 7th Calvary - Custer's regiment -  where he died at Little Big Horn.  The other prospected for gold, had adventures in the Wild West, settled in Illinois and eventually returned to Bethlehem.   

Take a minute to read my other blog posts related to these two:

Bethlehem NY History: Our Town Bethlehem February 2021: John I and the Niver Brothers

(You can also look for my articles on John Eddy (aka Conrad Niver) who purchased the old Hurlbut estate.)

What are the chances that two young Bethlehem men served with Custer?  More digging in the old newspapers turned up this notice for John Selkirk:

Albany Times Union, September 2, 1931 

After noting the dramatic headline that implies that Selkirk survived Little Big Horn when he wasn't actually there, there is this "...the old soldier and Indian fighter heard taps.  His life-long friend John Eddy of 732 Madison avenue, received the news last night."  

Did you catch it? John Eddy (that is Conrad Niver -  whose brother Garrett also served in the 7th Calvary) and John Selkirk were life-long friends. Serious historian chills here! 

John Eddy, back when he was still Conrad Niver, and John Selkirk grew up in the 1850s and 60s in the area that is now the hamlet of Selkirk (it didn't officially get named until after the railroad came through in the 1870s).  Both likely went to the District #2 one-room school, attended services at the First Reformed Church (both were baptized there), labored on their family farms and probably made their way to the Hudson River to fish.  

And apparently, both went west to seek their fortune.

What is interesting is the only documentation I could find about John Selkirk's military service was from when he registered with the National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers. It says he enlisted at Albany on August 21, 1866 when he was 18 years old. He had grey eyes, auburn hair and a ruddy complexion. He was with the 7th Calvary, company L, and was discharged October 30, 1867 at Fort Reynolds. Colorado. 

So far, so good.  Until you start looking at those dates. He served with the 7th for 14 months. Custer  took over the regiment on February 7, 1867. The battles at the Little Big Horn happened in June of 1876. 

I couldn't find him in the 1870 U.S. Census, but I know he married his first wife Eliza Grimshaw in  February 1870 and their daughter Eliza was born that November.  The 1875 N.Y. Census has the family living in Coeymans. The 1880 U.S. Census catches them in Hoboken, New Jersey where John is a ferryman. The 1892 N.Y. Census has him back in Bethlehem where he remains until at least 1925. The 1930 census captures him at the home of his daughter Iola Jane - known as Jean - in Los Angles, California, where he died the next year. 

So, I'm thinking that John Selkirk was out west from about 1866 to 1869/70.  His friend John Eddy on the other hand,  went west about 1870 and didn't return to Bethlehem until 1906. 

What I am imagining is the two old friends reuniting, kicking back for some cocktails, and reminiscing about their adventures out west. The stories probably grew and grew the more they were told.  I know that John Eddy often spoke of said adventures (ask me about his two dueling obituaries from when he died in 1935, one focuses on his Wild West adventures, the other emphasizes the fine upstanding man he became.)

And I must say, that the Selkirks seem to have produced many an adventurer besides John.  James Selkirk, John's grandfather, wrote a memoir of his Revolutionary War service that is pretty harrowing in places (except for the long boring marches - like the one from Rhode Island to New York).  Even before that, James showed a sense of adventure when he boarded the Gale in 1774 when he was about 17 years old to travel from Scotland to New York. 

One of James' sons, William, went west to Matagorda, Texas (Google the history of Selkirk Island for an interesting read. William was one of Stephen Austin's original settlers). 

And then there is Alexander Selkirk, the buccaneer who sailed for gold and adventure in 1703 and got marooned on a deserted island. His adventures inspired Daniel Defoe's book Robinson Crusoe. I seem to remember that he is an ancestor of our James Selkirk. 

And to conclude todays journey with the boisterous Selkirks, I leave you with this newspaper clipping from October 3, 1880 in the Albany Morning Express where John Selkirk got rowdy at Henry Redderson's saloon. 

I should note that I am pretty confident this is the right John Selkirk - there is however a younger cousin also named John Selkirk. I am amused to think that my John, about age 32 in 1880, who was a Hudson River pilot and ferryman besides a wild west adventurer, was taking a break from his work aboard ship, came ashore to the saloon, got all angry about being short changed, then went back to smash up the place. 


And a PS if you've gotten all the way to the end of this post, I am on the hunt for any and all documentation, old photos, old letters, etc in regards to James and Elizabeth Selkirk and their descendants. Please shoot me an email if you've got a family connection! sleath@townofbethlehem.org

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Remembering Tom, Harr, Robin, Jack, Prins, Dien, Cato and Saar

 Per usual, I am late to the party for Black History Month.  Or any other history month for that matter - look for my Woman's History Month post in April or May ;)

Today, while searching for something completely different, I came across this typed up record of  Tobias Ten Eyck's last will and testament recorded March 7, 1792.

It is not really Bethlehem and the land referenced appears to be in the modern day town of Coeymans.  I don't know where the Cripple Bush Land was or the Narkens Vacten Lot.  I do have a vague idea of where the Coeymans Patent was.  And I do enjoy the reference to the stake in a mudhole and the two rocks near the white oak. 

What really caught my eye, were the bequeaths of his slaves. Yup, his slaves. Eight of them

So, here at the tail end of Black History Month 2022, I would like to acknowledge the lives of these individuals and wonder about their trials and tribulations as enslaved people in Albany County, the Manor of Rensselerwyck and the soon to be created town of Bethlehem. 









Friday, February 18, 2022

The Niver-Strumpf House & The Jericho Drive In

Last year, the Bethlehem Historical Association highlighted all of Bethlehem's individual National Register listings.  There are 12 of them, hop over to their website for the full list.  


This post highlights two sites that were recently deemed eligible for listing on the National Register. This means that while their owners have not gone through the process of actually listing them, SHPO has evaluated them and determined that they are qualified to be listed.  (SHPO is the State Historic Preservation Office)

The first is 977 US 9W, locally known as the Niver-Strumpf House. It is recognized under item C in the Criteria for Inclusion on the National Register, which says that the house: 

Embodies the distinctive characteristics of a type, period or method of construction; or represents the work of a master; or possesses high artistic values; or represents a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction.

In layman's terms, the house has great architecture.

Here's how the Resource Evaluation describes it:

The House at 977 Route 9W is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places under Criterion C in the area of Architecture as an example of late-19th century transitional domestic architecture characterized by a cross-gabled form and side entrance, and blending the earlier Picturesque mantra of architects such as Downing with newer design themes characteristic of the Late Victorian period, highlighted by the Queen Anne style. The house and its associated carriage house outbuilding incorporate vernacular designs elements of the Carpenter Gothic and Stick-Eastlake styles.  The house retains the squared/chamfered porch posts of the Italianate style despite lathe-turned posts and spindle friezes becoming increasingly popular at the time of its circa 1880 construction.

For those of us who like to keep it simple, I'd say it is a  great old Queen Anne Victorian.

I know this house as the Niver-Strumpf house. I've mentioned the Niver family here before, especially brothers Conrad and Garret.  Eugene Niver is their brother who, with his wife Castella, had this house built about 1887.  Members of the Niver family lived here until it was sold by Allan Niver, son of Castella & Eugene, to Edna and Herbert Strumpf in 1952.  It is still owned by the Strumpf family.

And a side note about Edna and Herbert Strumpf, I met them years ago as they were active with the Bethlehem Historical Association.  Both were nurses during World War II.  Pop over to FindAGrave for their excellent obituaries:



The Niver-Strumpf house about 1945

Judy Sutherland and her grandparents Castella and Eugene Niver about 1945. 

The second property deemed eligible is the Jericho Drive In.  This one comes in under Criterion A: Associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns in our history.

This is a screen shot of their website home page.

Here's the first paragraph of the description from the Resource Evaluation form:  

The Jericho Drive-In is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places under Criterion A in the area of recreation as as surviving example of a mid-twentieth century drive in movie theatre - an increasingly rare resource type.  Character defining features of the Jericho Drive-In that remain extant include neon letterboard sign, flat roof concrete concessions stand and projector booth, speaker posts (though speakers are no longer extant) and large screen tower.  Additional research would likely provide further information in support of the Criterion A argument including date of construction, specific dates of alteration, and possible information such as opening showing and related dates. 

(The second paragraph is a long one about the general history of drive-ins)

Here's a clip from the June 14, 1957 Ravena News Herald about the grand opening of the Jericho Drive-In

Here's a fun ad from the May 8, 1959 News Herald showing three drive-ins in a row along Route 9W: Jericho (9W, four miles south of Albany), Albano's (9W Ravena) and Hi-Way (9W Coxsackie).

And finally, if we are being honest here, the news that the Jericho Drive-In is now eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places thrilled the historian in me. But what I am really excited about is the news that the Twist Ice Cream Shoppe is now open.  Love me some soft serve, even if it is February!