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


  1. A most interesting blog,thanks Susan. So glad you pointed out the people playing croquet - I love that game and read about a similar lawn game played in Victorian times, but can't remember it's name. Are these Beckers related to Ben Becker the veterinarian and Ben Becker Camp?

  2. 1860 Census Bethlehem- Philip Winne - Gate Tender