History From America's Most Famous Valleys
of Saint Johnsville
The Town of St. Johnsville's early pioneers have left a rich heritage which we should pass on, strengthened, for future generations.
This Sesquicentennial history has been researched and compiled to restore our pride in the Town of St. Johnsville and its people. It is essential to preserve the traditions, records, deeds of valor and public spirit of the early pioneers and of those who have followed in their footsteps.
A series of maps have been used to illustrate the growth patterns of commerce, industry, travel and the resulting construction of each time period in the town's history.
We are indebted to the late Howard Shaffer whose series of articles "The Township of St. Johnsville 100 Years Ago" were printed in the local Enterprise & News from April 13, 1938 to February 8, 1939. His research of the early town, Averell family and post office records have provided valuable information for a major part of this book.
A special thank you to the 1988 Town of St. Johnsville Board for their support and assistance.
Thanks also go to the many others who have donated information and photographs. Their clear memories of the past seem almost more important to us than to them, for we have borrowed the memories which they have lived for this book.
We appreciate the assistance of Anita Smith, Betty Bilobrowka, and Dianne Smith in the preparation of this book.
At the opening of the 18th Century, the Mohawk Valley was a wilderness. The Mohawks had refused to allow any white settlers to come into their valley, only traders (called Bos Loopers) were welcome, for they brought many necessary items for the Indians. The Indians traded their furs for guns, steel traps, cooking pots, blankets, beads and run. Men carrying these items could come and go in safety but settlers were absolutely forbidden.
By 1700, the Mohawks were very weakened by their constant wars and from the French raids upon their villages. The four villages on the north side of the Mohawk River were abandoned and the Indians settled at three new sites at Fort Hunter, Fort Plain and Indian Castle on the south side of the river. This was a very important event, for it led to the development of the Mohawk Valley by the early settlers.
There was a road along the north side of the river as early as 1703. The records of this road can be found in the highway law of Albany County. Montgomery County was still a part of Albany County at this time. By 1721, the road had extended as far as Fonda. This road was known as the King's Highway.
Indian names for the town of St. Johnsville area are Decanohogo, Tvenindoke, Tionondoge and Teonontoge. I believe the last three are the same and are just three different phonetic spellings. The Indian castle of Tionondoge (1689-1693) was on the eastern end of Fort Hill. This is west of the present west St. Johnsville and in an area to the southwest of the bus garage along the gravel ridge of the valley.
Decagjoharow (East Canada Creek), At-he-dagh-que (Zimmerman Creek) - All of the Indian names can be found on early maps and deeds.
The Palatine Germans were the earliest settlers and were of the same importance to New York State as the Pilgrims were to New England. They chose to be the farthest outpost of white men in this country.
The English governors were always glad and willing to use the Palatines as a buffer against the Indians and the wilderness.
Jacob Zimmerman, Pioneer
The first settlement of the town was probably before 1720 by Palatine Germans. Many of the town's present inhabitants have descended from these pioneer families. The first settler was Jacob Zimmerman (Timmerman). Family tradition has it that Jacob, the pioneer was married a second time to an Indian princess named Anna Marragrieta. They had two daughters, Christina and Eve.
Their home, a typical fortified farmhouse, was built on the site of the present Methodist Church parsonage. Their home was also used as a public house, or turnpike tavern in later years. The home has an interesting, story for in the mid 1800's it was divided in half and moved 300 feet to the east. These homes are now #11 and #13 Washington Street.
In 1722 Jacob paid 200 English pounds for Harrison patent lots #15, 16 and 18. He was a man of great ability and stamina and the owner of vast tracts of land. He cleared the land and had a prosperous farm- in what is now the village of St. Johnsville and built a grist mill on the creek which still bears his name.
In 1729 he was an important landowner and was appointed as a Commissioner of Highways. Sir William Johnson also accepted such an appointment on several occasions, so one can surmise the status of such an appointment.
Jacob and his family lived in what the Indians called Tyenindoke (or Tionontoge) for some years prior to 1734. This was in the vicinity of the castle of Tionondoge.
On March 12, 1734, Indian Chief, King Hendrick, and the other Sachems (leaders) of the Kannajoharie Castle conveyed a large tract of land, on the north side of the Mohawk River, as a gift to Anna Marragrieta Timmerman of Tyenindoke.
The Palatine Germans were very fortunate to have as their friend King Hendrick who did so much to keep the peace between the pioneers and the Indians.
King Hendrick was the great Chief of the Mohawk tribe. He was a Christian who directed his life by Christian ideals, believing that friendship rather than war must settle tensions between his people and the white race. In all his relations with the, at times, none-too-scrupulous aliens he always kept his word, always acted with wisdom and dignity in seeking to protect his people. The Palatines were fortunate to have a man of King Hendrick's stature living intimately among them in their early difficult days. His name is closely associated with theirs in the history of the Valley.
The British Crown map of 1757 proves that a mill was built in the St. Johnsville area at a very early date and by 1757 the little hamlet was called Timmerman's Mill.
King Hendrick Deed of Gift
DOCUMENTARY PROOF OF EARLY WHITE OCCUPANCY OF PRESENT SITE OF ST. JOHNSVILLE.
Copy of Original Indian Deed Drawn in 1734 by King Hendrick and Other Mohawk Indians Giving Land Now Occupied by St. Johnsville to Marragrieta Timmerman. Cut Loaned for Publication by Manley Timmerman of Fort Plain, N.Y. who Owns Photostat Copy of Original.
Several translations of this deed have been published all varying in both language and meaning, and the one given herewith which has never been published is believed to be the most reliable. It was recently translated by Mr. A. J. F. van Laer of the State Historical Department. Mr. van Laer translates not only Dutch but also Dutch of the period in which written and we must recognize that there has been many changes in the language since 1733.
Mr. van Laer's translation with certain foot notes which have been gathered through correspondence follows:
Timmerman Indian Deed
We, the undersigned, sachems of Kannajoharie, in the county of Albany, in the province of New York, in the seventh year of the reign of his Majesty King George the Second, acknowledge that out of pure love and affection with the consent of the entire Castle of Kannajoharie, both Indian men and women, we give and make over, in the name and on behalf of his majesty King George of Great Britain, to our friend Anna Marragrieta Timmerman of Tyenindoke, spinster in the county of Albany, for her and her heirs, executors, administrators and assigns forever, a parcel of flat land and the woods belonging thereto; the land being situated on the north side of the Maquasse River (Mohawk River), in the county of Albany, commencing at a kill called *Athedaghque, and a farm on the south side of the said kill, and thence upwards along the river to a tree marked with the bear, wolf and turtle, thence northwards from the river into the woods about three English miles, and then eastward, keeping the same distance from the river, to another marked tree, and thence toward the river to the cast and of the farm which formed the point of beginning, which land we acknowledge has been given by us to our beloved friend Anna Marragrieta Timmaremans for herself, her heirs, executors, administrators and assigns, forever. In witness whereof we have signed these with our hand and fixed our seals this twelfth of March in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and thirty three, thirty-four.
Signed and sealed
in the presence of
Hendrick (bear) Pieters mark his
Seth (wolf) mark
Marragriet (turtle) mark
* I wish to state in reply to your inquiry that as far as I can determine, the kill call Athdaghque is Zimmerman Creek. The only reference I can find to the Indian name of Athdaghque is in William M. Beauchamp's "Aboriginal Place Names of New York," p. 119, in which it is noted as being a place in St. Johnsville in 1733.
HOWARD F. ROWSE Head, Manuscripts and History Section, State Department Education.
**Teowalt Young of Canajohare.
Letters of administration granted to his wife, Margaret, November 5, 1771. (See Abstracts of Wills, 1766-1771, 7:471 NY Hist. Soc. Collections 31.)
The Palatines were Christians and always seemed to have done something about a place of worship soon after they were settled in a new area.
It is assumed that there was a place in St. Johnsville where the early settlers gathered to worship not too many years after 1725. Certainly a church stood east of St. Johnsville in 1756. It was built through the efforts of Christian Klock, George Klock, Jr. and Colonel Jacob Klock and was on lot number 13 of the Harrison Patent. The land was owned by George C. and Jacob Klock.
In 1787 there was a record of incorporation and the trustees named were Jacob Klock, Jacob Fehling, Jacob G. Klock, Peter Schuyler and Christopher Fox. The church was called the Reformed Calvinist Church of the upper part of Palatine in the County of Montgomery and was known as Klock's Church. According to historian Jeptha Simms, the log church had neither a steeple nor bell but had a sounding board over the raised pulpit. Benches were used for seats and some were always reserved for Christian Indians.
The first pastors of the church were probably Reverend Van Driesen, Reverend Schuyler of Stone Arabia, and Reverend Rosenkrantz of German Flats, who also supplied other valley churches. Reverend John Henry Dysslin was the second preacher from 1788 to 1812. He also supplied the German churches at Manheim and Indian Castle. For the first two years, his salary was $117, with the use of the glebe (church) lands. The third year he received $119. A receipt dated June 12, 1810 shows that he received $120 in salary with additional payments in wood, wheat and labor to plow the land.
Reverend Dysslin lived in the Klock Church parsonage or house which his wife, Anna, had inherited. In 1798 Colonel Jacob Klock gave his land, lot number 13 of the Harrison Patent, to his two granddaughters, Anna Dysslin and Eva, the wife of Christian Klock. It is believed that the church parsonage was the former home of Colonel Jacob Klock. There is same speculation, though, that the Klock's Church parsonage still stands and is now number 17 Kingsbury Avenue, next door to the Reaney Library.
A German school was also taught at Klock's Church by Henry Hayes (Hees) at an early date. Lot Ryan, an Irishman, taught the first English school here in 1792.
Montgomery County was formed from Albany County March 12, 1772 under the name of "Tryon County," in honor of Governor William Tryon. Following the signing of the Revolutionary War Peace Treaty, the name was changed to Montgomery County on April 2, 1784 in honor of Major General Richard Montgomery, who was killed in the attack on Quebec in 1775. All the territory west of the Stanwix line was then added to Montgomery County and extended west to Lake Erie. This district was called Whitestown in honor of the pioneer Hugh White.
Tryon County was the 11th county to be formed under the English Law. Montgomery and Washington Counties were the first to be named under the Laws of New York State. The other counties retained their original names.
The ten original counties were Albany, Dutchess, Kings, New York, Orange, Queens, Richmond, Suffolk, Ulster, and Westchester and they were formed under the English Laws on November 1st, 1683.
Tryon County was divided into the Caughnawaga, Mohawk, Palatine, Canajoharie, German Flatts and Kingsland Districts. In 1775 another division or district was made, known as the Old English District.
There was a rapid development of New York State after the Revolutionary War and as the population of certain sections increased, it became necessary to erect a new county. This was done in order to have a supervising body brought nearer to its actual administration territory.
Travel in the early days was slow and expensive as well as toilsome and hazardous. It was often very difficult for people in the western and northern parts of the State to travel all the way to their county seat at Johnstown for legal and governmental business transactions.
Thirty-seven counties have been formed from the original Montgomery County and now Montgomery County is the smallest county in New York State. The town of St. Johnsville is situated in the northwest corner of Montgomery County.
In 1776 Jacob Zimmerman, Jr., was the owner of his father's grist mill. He and his wife, Magdalena Polly Hager, built their home along the King's Highway about 1790. This Georgian style home had a Palladian window on the second floor and was probably the grandest home in the village at that time. In the mid 19th century, the home was modernized in the Victorian style. The home is now owned by Milford Decker and is located at the corner of West Main and John Streets.
The late Milo Nellis, a noted local historian, believed that because some of the Zimmerman's -married Klock daughters that this helped to influence the selection of Zimmerman land for the new location of the Reformed Church. Klock's Church had become old and when the Mohawk Turnpike was built in 1800, it left the church 20 full rods from the highway. Mr. Nellis felt this also encouraged the selection of a new site for the church in the village.
Local tradition was that the lot owned by Jacob Timmerman, Jr. (or Zimmerman) was donated to the church. However, further research of the church treasurer's account book reveals the following: the church land was paid for either partly or wholly by a note to Jacob Zimmerman, the owner of the land, given by the trustees and dated March 5, 1792; the note was for $49.52. The note was purchased by John L. Bellinger, treasurer, and charged off by him in his accounts of money expended towards building the new church. Jacob Zimmerman practically gave the land to the church for the payment was very small. His home was in the center of the glebe (church) lot.
The 7 acre glebe lot extended from Church Street to Zimmerman Creek and from West Main Street to the hill. In 1803 work was started on the new church and it was completed in 1804. The church parsonage still stands on Cottage Street and was the home of the late Donald Lenig. The church cemetery was on both sides of Zimmerman Creek along what is now West and William Streets, near the bridge. All bodies interred here were removed to the St. Johnsville Cemetery on the hill in 1874. I've been told that some homes along West Street have gravestones in their cellar walls.
On August 1, 1874 the church trustees had sold the glebe lot to William H. Saltsman and Clark H. Markell for $6,025. These monies were used to build a new parsonage of brick facing Main Street and to pay off other notes.
The second church of the Palatine pioneers was demolished in early 1881, the same year that the present, or third, church edifice, also of brick, was built.
The King's Highway, for the remainder of the 18th Century, was in constant use and the revolutionary history of the Mohawk Valley is connected with it.
As the century closed, there was a great demand for a better road. New York State granted charters to 88 turnpike companies and 21 bridge companies. In 1800 the Mohawk Turnpike and the bridge over East Canada Creek were one of the first to be completed.
To raise funds for the turnpike company, there were eight tollgates along the whole 80 mile length of the turnpike. In our area, there was a toll house at Palatine Church, another near Nellis Tavern and a third at the East Canada Creek bridge.
Along the turnpike rolled stage coaches and great freight wagons which could carry 4 or 6 tons. These were drawn by 4, 6 or 8 horses. Many people traveled the turnpike on horseback and there were also great herds of cattle and other livestock.
Here are some of the rates of toll
The turnpike was not constructed so much for the stages as for the transportation of the immense quantities of cattle, grain and produce from Albany to Utica and beyond to the west.
To accommodate this great traffic, houses were built along the way and those already built were utilized for toad houses, as they were called, for the accommodation of man and beast. These were equipped with a bar, a few beds and large sheds.
The farmers in those days would drive their own teams and take along provisions for themselves and their horses, and by paying a sixpence for a bed and buying a quart of whiskey would find a place under the shed for their teams.
There were many taverns (or wayside inns), probably one about every mile. Here the thirsty wayfarer could buy the best brandy, gin, rum, scotch, ale, flip, punch and many other concoctions. Each tavern prided itself on the good and abundant meals they provided their guests, and many of them were known for a special dish.
One of the travelers was Thurlow Weed and he wrote of his experiences along the turnpike. In 1824 he made a trip from Rochester to Albany. He mentions stopping at East Creek in the following words: "We dine at East Canada Creek where the stage house kept by Mr. Couch was always to be relied upon for excellent ham and eggs and fresh brook trout from the creek." In the early 1800's East Creek was a hamlet of considerable size and was larger than what is now St. Johnsville.
Another tavern at East Creek was that of Chauncey Jerome, where you were always sure of venison and trout. A Roof's Hotel was at the four corners in West St. Johnsville.
Watering troughs along the turnpike were a prime necessity for the oxen and horses that furnished the motive power for the carts, wagons and stages, and for the flocks and herds that many New England emigrants drove along the highway to the west. To any property holder who would provide a watering trough with a supply of well water, or better still, spring water deposited by gravity, there was a certain exemption in taxes.
Failing's Tavern at St. Johnsville provided such facilities, as would be expected of a public house soliciting patronage of the traveling public. Speaking of this old hostelry, Mr. Weed continues: "Still further east, we stop at Failing's Tavern to water. Though but an ordinary tavern in summer season, all travelers cherish a pleasant remembrance of its winter fare; for leaving a cold stage with chilled limbs, if not frozen ears, you are sure to find in Failing's bar and dining room 'rousing fires'; and the remembrance of the lively 'hot and hot' buckwheat cakes and the unimpeachable sausages, would renew the appetite even if you had just risen from a hearty meal."
Failing's Tavern was located at what is now the northwest corner of West Main Street and Failing Avenue.
One half mile east of St. Johnsville was Christian Klock's Tavern as well as Nellis Tavern. The next tavern to the east in the township was the Edward's Tavern, at the corner of Fox Road and the turnpike. On an 1853 map, another tavern is shown diagonally across the road. This building today is a pet shop. J. C. Best's Eagle Hotel is also shown on the north side of the road and closer to Mother Creek. The next tavern was out of the township and at Fox's Mills on the Caroga Creek. The building is now the Old Mill Inn.
In 1803 there were 52 taverns or inns in the Town of Palatine. At that time, the present Towns of St. Johnsville, Ephratah, Oppenheim and Stratford were part of the Town of Palatine. While this seems to be a large number of inns, it must be remembered that in 1803 the roads were poor, travel was slow and the roads were full of teams of oxen and horses. Many stopping places were necessary to accommodate the travelers. Also, many people from New England and foreign countries were moving westward with their families, herds of cattle and flocks of geese and chickens and they needed shelter on their long journey. Numerous inns were close together because travel was slow and there were many travelers. Back then it took local farmers a full week to take their grain to Albany and return with their purchases. It often took three hours to go only six miles. A problem was also caused when the winter snows made the roads impassable.
In 1803, $258.50 was the license revenue from the 52 inns. Licenses cost $5.00 or $6.50 each. By 1807, the revenue amounted to $273. In 1808, the Town of Oppenheim, then including the Town of St. Johnsville, was set off from Palatine and the first meeting of the Commissioners of Excise was at the house kept by Jacob H. Failing.
On May 3, 1808, there were 22 licensed inns and the following were the proprietors: John F. Bellinger, James Lee, Jacob H. Failing, Adam Staring, Jacob Timmerman, John B. Klock, Christian Klock, Joseph G. Klock, Clark Bates, Bradock Dickson, Andrew Zabriskie, Thomas T. Ballard, William Aultenburgh, Jacob C. Nellis, Peter W. Nellis, James Johnson, Jacob Best, Nancy Brown, James Billington, Peter Cline, Benjamin Churchill and Ebenezer Ayers.
Andrew Zabriskie opened the first store at Oppenheim Center and was the first Town Supervisor in 1808.
Peter Cline opened the first inn in Oppenheim in 1805. Most of the other inns were probably along the Mohawk Turnpike.
Licenses for Inns
That much thought was given to restrictive measures in granting licenses is shown by the oath taken by the Commissioners of Excise in 1803. The oath was:
"We, the Commissioners of Excise of the Town of Palatine, in the County of Montgomery, do solemnly swear, in the presence of Almighty God, that we will not, on any account or pretense, whatever, grant any license to any person within the said Town of Palatine, for the purpose of keeping an inn or tavern, except when it shall appear to us to be absolutely necessary for the benefit of travelers; and that we will, in all cases, while acting as Commissioners of Excise, do our duty according to the best of our judgment and ability, without fear, favor or partiality, agreeable to law."
The Commissioners of Excise on concluding their labors made the following certificate:
"We, the Commissioners of Excise, have examined and find the hereunder named persons of good moral character, and of sufficient ability to keep inns or taverns, and that inns or taverns are absolutely necessary, at the several places where they now reside, for the accommodation of travelers."
In securing a license to operate an inn or tavern, the landlord was required to give a bond, the penalty of which was due to be forfeited for the benefit of the people in case of any violation of its terms. The restrictive provisions of the bond are interesting as reflecting the attitude of that early day. The bond was 3 by 7-, inches in size, indicating economy in the use of paper for public business.
The following is a copy of the bond license granted to Christian Klock in 1818:
COUNTY 0F MONTGOMERY, ss:
Be it remembered, That on the fifth day of May, 1818, came before me, Ezekiel Belding, Esquire, one of the Justices of the Peace for said county, Christian Klock, who acknowledges himself indebted to the People of the state of New York, the sum of one hundred and twenty-five dollars lawful money of the state aforesaid to be levied on his goods and chattles, lands and tenements, to the use of the said People, if default shall be made in the condition following.
WHEREAS, the above bounden Christian Klock is licensed to keep an Inn or Tavern from the present fifth day of May, until the first Tuesday of May next, in the house where he now dwells, at Oppenheim, aforesaid: NOW the condition of this recognizance is such, that if said Christian Klock shall not, during the time he shall keep an Inn or Tavern, keep a disorderly Inn or Tavern, or suffer or permit any cock fighting, gaming or playing with cards or dice, or keep any billiard table, or other gaming table or shuffle board, within the Inn or Tavern, by him to be kept, or within any outhouse, yard or garden belonging thereto-then this recognizance shall be void, otherwise to remain in full force and effect.
Taken and acknowledged
the day and year above written, before me.
Ezekiel Belding, Justice of the Peace.
W. Klock also had been granted a license under the Town of Palatine in 1807 the Town of Oppenheim in 1808. This was the same inn licensed by his son, Christopher Klock, in the Town of St. Johnsville where the first town meeting was held in 1838. Other town meetings were also held here up until 1843.
It is believed that the Christian Klock Tavern was northeast of the present town barn and along the base of the Klock's Churchyard Cemetery about midway along the Route 5 turnoff.
From the date of the first settlement at Zimmerman's Mill to March 7, 1788, what is now St. Johnsville was a part of the Palatine District. On that date, the Town of Palatine was created out of the Palatine District. It covered all the land from the "Noses" on the east to Little Falls on the west and northward from the Mohawk River to Canada. This area was settled by people from the German Palatinate. They were known as the Mohawk Dutch (Deutch)
The Town of Oppenheim was set off from the Town of Palatine on March 8, 1808. The German settlers of the area naturally gave the new township a name from their ancestral Rhine valley.
From the establishment of the Town of Oppenheim in 1808 until April 18 of 1838, St. Johnsville was a part of that township and the local history of that time will be found in the records of the Town of Oppenheim.
The northern Town of Oppenheim was practically a virgin wilderness. With the exception of the communities of Crum Creek, Oppenheim Center and Youker's Bush, most of the inhabitants lived in the southern part of the town along the river in the area that is now St. Johnsville.
On April 8, 1808, the first Oppenheim, town meeting was held at the house of Jacob Zimmerman in this village, then known as Zimmerman's Mill. Jacob Zimmerman was the proprietor of a local tavern or inn. Years ago, town meetings were held in a "public house" or tavern. Tradition is that this tavern was on the site of the present Methodist Church parsonage.
Most of the elected town officers were from the most populous area of the town. The list of officers were:
The result of this first town meeting was certified by Henry Beekman and Jacob G. Klock, Justices of the Peace. As no justices appear to have been elected at the first town meeting, it is assumed that the certifying justices had been elected under the Town of Palatine (from which the new town was separated), and became justices of Oppenheim. By virtue of residence and incumbency when the new town was created.
A Pound Master was in charge of stray farm animals. He held them for the owners to prove their missing property and then retrieve their missing stock.
Fence Viewers decided disputes over fences between contending landowners. The duties of Pound Masters were later given to Road Overseers (or Pathmasters) who were appointed by the Commissioners of Highways.. The Justices of the Peace took over the duties of the Fence Viewers.
Andrew Zabriskie, the first Supervisor, built the first store at Oppenheim Center and lived there when elected. Richard Hewitt, Assessor, and Daniel Guile, Highway Commissioner, also came from the Oppenheim area. The other officials came from the St. Johnsville area.
A number of the family names of the officials are not German or Dutch but are English, Scotch and Irish in origin. About 1800, the number of English speaking people in the area had increased. For many years, only German had been spoken in the schools and churches. After this influx of people, both German and English were used in the pulpits on alternate Sundays.
There was still a need for better travel. Something more comfortable and faster than the stage coach was needed. The progressive spirit of the times demanded that some method of transportation be provided that would insure cheapness and speed in the handling of freight. The possibility of a canal from tidewater at Albany to tap the Great Lakes at Buffalo was uppermost in the minds of far-sighted public men and legislators. After much debate extending over a period of years, the State Legislature, on April 15, 1817, authorized the building of the Erie Canal. Excavation was started at Rome on the 4th day of July, that year. In the spring of 1823, the canal was in operation between Sprakers on the east and the western part of the state, and in 1825, it was completed and in successful operation. The canal improved travel and the transportation of freight. This, in turn, gave a great boost to the economy of New York State.
Nathan Brown, an ancestor of Mildred Walrath, owned the Pilot Line Company. It was in his boat, under his direction, that Governor DeWitt Clinton was conveyed from Buffalo to Albany, celebrating the opening of the Erie Canal. By 1830, Brown retired to his farm in the Town of Oppenheim.
The canal was to mean much to St. Johnsville in an industrial way for in 1825 James Averell & Sons located here. They built a distillery and tannery on Zimmerman Creek and took advantage of the Erie Canal's shipping facilities.
This firm, later operated by the sons, Horatio and Lewis, continued in business until the death of the brothers in 1854. After the death of the last Averell, the business was continued by others and as late as 1869, DeWitt C. Cox operated the distillery which had a capacity of 225 bushels of grain per day and a daily output of distilled spirits approximating 900 gallons. In addition, the proprietors of the distillery fattened cattle for market and had accommodations for 280 head.
In 1826, the Legislature granted a charter to the Mohawk and Hudson Railroad to build a 17 mile line between Albany and Schenectady. The work was completed in 1830 and on August 9 of that year the famous locomotive the "DeWitt Clinton" drew the first train over the new railroad.
The prospect of this revolutionary method of transportation fired the nation of other adventurous spirits. In 1831, the Legislature was petitioned for a charter by the Utica and Schenectady Railroad to build 77 miles of track. This line passing through St. Johnsville was opened on August 1, 1836. Because the State had spent so much on building the Erie Canal and they wanted to protect their investment, the new railroad charter limited the company to carry only passengers and their baggage.
The Legislature knew that the Canal wouldn't be used in winter, so in 1844 they granted the railroad permission to also carry freight, but only in the winter. After three more years, they were able to carry freight year-round but the railroad had to pay the State the same rate of toll per ton, per mile for the freight carried.
In 1853, ten railroad companies merged into the New York Central Railroad, business increased and another line of track was laid.
When the Mohawk Valley Turnpike was chartered in 1800, its owners were required to widen the existing read to a width of 60 feet and to raise the center 18 inches above the sides to provide drainage. The center was raised with broken stone and capped with gravel. Four stages operated an schedule, daily, in either direction, and there were also private conveyances to swell the revenues of the company.
The building of the railroads cut into the traffic on the Canal and into the Mohawk Turnpike Company's revenues. The Legislature, with a fine regard for the interests of the turnpike company, decreed that the Utica and Schenectady Railroad, before it could begin operations, must buy all of the stock of the turnpike corporation at $22.50 per share. This was to save the stockholders from loss. On taking over the rights of the road corporation, the railroad assumed the responsibility of keeping the turnpike in repair, as had been required of the original owners, and was permitted to collect tolls. This was done for many years but became unprofitable and the turnpike was finally abandoned by the New York Central Company in 1890. The upkeep of the roads then went to the towns through which they passed.
Moving of the County Seat
In 1835, when the speculative fever was at its height, the Fonda Land Association was formed to build a village, fondly dreamed of as a future city, on the site of old Cauqhhawaga. It was to be called Fonda. Business was flourishing. The Utica and Schenectady Railroad was due to be completed the following year and it appeared that the Legislature could be induced to move the county seat from Johnstown to the embryo city. There was plenty of money to be had and a loan of $25,000 was secured from the Farmers' Loan and Trust Company of New York to aid in financing. The county seat was ordered removed from Johnstown to Fonda. Of course there were persuasive "arguments" advanced by the promoters and their political friends, but the fact remains that the move was a matter of "politics." In 1836 a courthouse was built and the real estate company constructed the Fonda Hotel that for many years was to be a conspicuous landmark of the county capital. This courthouse is now called the old courthouse at Fonda.
The removal of the county seat caused a storm of protest by the residents in and about Johnstown . To repair the damage that had been done, what was simpler than to create another county and restore the heritage that rightfully belonged to the home town of Sir William Johnson.
The Legislature created the County of Fulton with a capital at Johnstown with a full complement of county officials.
Real Estate Boom in St. Johnsville
The real estate fever was not confined to Fonda. A well defined case also developed in St . Johnsville. On December 10, 1835, Plate Potter and Isaac Yates filed a map with the County Clerk (yet at Johnstown) showing the possibilities of city building at St. Johnsville. They had projected a suburban addition to St. Johnsville and proceeded to "put it on the map." The title of the map is "Map of the Village of St. Johnsville in the County of Montgomery and Town of Oppenheim."
The title discloses the fact that the survey for the map was made by R. Higham, in October, 1835 and that the map was printed by Miller & Co., Lithographers, 46 Exchange , New York, New York.
Particulars of the Map
Practically the entire area of the map, showing size and location of the lots, represents territory east of Kingsbury Avenue which was then known as Ferry Street, and shown on the map as crossing the Utica and Schenectady Railroad, and terminating on the north bank of the river.
What is now East Main Street is shown on the map as the Mohawk Turnpike. Facing the turnpike, and on the west side of Ferry Street, the "Old Stone Store," built by the Averells in 1831, is shown . Just south of the store, on Ferry Street, the Averell residence appears. Across the street, three buildings are shown on the east side of Ferry Street. One of them was the old Schram residence still in use as a dwelling.
It is an early saltbox style of architecture and is now #9 Kingsbury Avenue East of Ferry Street, on the south side of the turnpike, before reaching Ann Street, there were two buildings. One of these is now #52 East Main and the other is #56 East Main Street. As disclosed by the map, there were no other buildings on the site of the building project.
Our present Ann Street is shown as Anne Street and Lion Avenue as John Street. Ninety three building lots out of a total of me hundred and forty appearing on the map, fronted on the Mohawk Turnpike and the two streets named. At the point where our present Ann Street swings to the west and joins Kingsbury Avenue, Manheim Street, with eight lots , is shown running due east across the foot of Anne Street and terminating at the foot of John Street. Manheim Street has never been known to any of us. East of John Street was the farm land of James Averell & Sons.
Beginning at a point about opposite the Margaret Reaney Library, and running from Ferry street, to the river bank, was a narrow street called Averell's Road, leading to the "Rope Ferry" which furnished transit across the Mohawk River.
The Eating House
A little farther south on the east side of Ferry Street, just north of the Utica and Schenectady Railroad tracks and covering a greater part of three of the mapped lots, is a diagram of a "Public House." Just across the tracks is the space reserved for the "Utica and Schenectady Railroad Depot," the railroad being due to be completed the following year. From this it will be noted that the first railroad station or depot was just east of what is now Kingsbury Avenue, on the south side of the tracks.
A local historian, Robert Rowland, remarked that the bay window on the house behind 41 Monroe Street was once part of the original depot. It was the extended part of the depot where the station master could view the tracks in both directions.
On a map made in 1837, the space that was being reserved for the "Public House" is shown as "Station House of Messrs. Kingsbury," and indicates that this old time influential family furnished the first proprietors of the station restaurant which was locally called the "Eating House." It was owned by William and Charles Kinsgbury and was the largest and best in the State.
All trains of all classes stopped at St. Johnsville for fuel and water and to give the passengers an opportunity to secure meals at the restaurant. Trains stopped every 20 minutes. This was the practice for many years and the "Eating House," furnished an outlet for the produce of the local farmers which was a considerable asset to the town. Charles Sutherland said that the Lincoln funeral train stopped at the station and that all of the employees of the restaurant, each wearing a mourning badge, were permitted to enter the train and look at the dead President.
Upon the establishment of a station restaurant at Utica, not so many trains stopped here, and the business fell off, and when the building burned in the late sixties, it was not rebuilt. The story is that a spark from the 4 p.m. train set the roof on fire.
Charles Kingsbury was of the firm of the Kingsbury Brothers, who conducted the "Eating House" or restaurant at the New York Central Railroad Station Charles Kingsbury resided in the old Kingsbury home on Railroad Street, now Kingsbury Avenue, the fine old home later being the residence of the late Isaac E. Smith, and later razed for the library park. William Kingsbury built the home that was occupied by Misses Kate and Lena Nellis and is now the Dr. Keba home.
Saw Mill Project
At the foot of John Street (Lion Avenue) and just north of the Utica and Schenectady Railroad a "Basin" is shown, about 150 feet square, to be filled with water.
It was the intention to use this basin for the reception of logs drawn from the north country. They were to be floated through a narrow canal, shown on the map, to the river, and then across the river to a saw mill, the lumber to be transported to market by boats on the Erie Canal.
To safeguard the logs and prevent them from being carried away by the river current, and to facilitate handling in the sawing process, a dam across the river was necessary. The map shows such a dam running diagonally southeast, from the north bank of the river, to a point of land on the south bank where a dock and saw null had been built, or were due to be erected.
Extending from the south side of the right of way of the Utica and Schenectady Railroad, in direct line with the diagonal spillway of the dam, and joining it on the north bank of the river, was a "State Dyke." Just who built this dyke, and for what intended purpose it was erected, is a mystery. However, as early as 1792, there was considerable agitation about improving the river for the use of batteaux-flat bottom boats, propelled by man with spiked poles against the river bottom. They had been used in transportation up and down the river from the early 1700s, and dykes and dams had been suggested as possible aids to navigation in surmounting the difficulties in making headway upstream where rifts or rapids were encountered. At this point there was a rift with a strong current. The "State Dyke" may have been constructed by the State of New York as one of such proposed aids.
The remains of the old dam were in evident until the building of the Barge Canal. The dam site was a famous old swimming place known as "The Rift." Just below, where the turbulent waters of the rift quieted down and the surface of the Mohawk became placid again, was the "Lower Sand Bar," and both were favorite spots with the boys more than eighty years ago. Harry Carter, now over 90, lived on Ann Street when he was young. He said that he and his friends often swam at the rift.
After the lapse of 153 years, we wonder why the building plan of St. Johnsville failed.
It is natural to wonder whether the dam was constructed by the promoters of the real estate venture, and whether they were financially interested in the saw Mill project, or whether a separate company of early industrial planners were the sponsors. One also wonders about what disaster overtook the dam and what was the ultimate fate of the sawmill and lumber enterprise. As to the dam, one who has witnessed the power of the river filled with floating ice can venture a good guess. As to the lumber manufacturing end of the project, there is no historical account, not even tradition, to tell us. Maybe, the devastating "Panic of 1837" swept away the investment of these pioneer business adventurers.
Whatever may have been the fate of these enterprises, the basic idea of a Lumber Mill at St. Johnsville to utilize the timber then abounding was sound and the plan, years later, appealed to another planner, Absalom Thumb. Mr. Thumb and his associates, among whom was a former governor of Massachusetts, formed the St. Johnsville and East Canada Creek Lumber Company with a capital of $100,000 and embarked upon a similar undertaking.
As a source of supply for raw material, the company bought several thousand acres of virgin forest lands on Canada Lake. The plan was to float the logs down the East Canada Creek and stop them by a boom stretched across the river, just below the outlet of Zimmerman Creek. The boom was a series of logs fastened end to end with chains, and anchored to the opposite banks of the river, with support in midstream by artificial islands or piers. The piers were made of heavy framed timbers filled with stone. Just east of the creek was a "basin," the excavation being quite close to the river. The logs were to be floated into this basin from the river and then transported to the saw mill that was to be built a little farther to the north. Unfortunately the current of the river was so Strong when the logs were floated. The boom broke and practically all of the logs were lost, and the company was ruined financially.
The piers and the basin were a favorite swimming place for many years, however they were filled in when the Barge Canal was built in 1912.
Although the personal fortune of Mr. Thumb was lost, he was still instrumental in making improvement in the village of St. Johnsville.
The First Town Meeting
The organization of the Town of St. Johnsville was completed at a special town meeting held at the house of Christopher Klock, the son of the pioneer Christian Klock, on May 1, 1838. The Klock house was a mile below the village and was in the center of the old Route 5 turnoff to the northeast of the present town barn.
At this meeting, the town 's first officers were elected. They were Town Clerk, Barney Becker; Justices of the Peace, Peter Klock, Daniel Ayers and Josiah Loomis; Collector, Daniel C. Fox; Assessors, Peter Radley and Simeon Klock; Commissioners of Highways, Joseph W. Nellis and John F. Bellinger.
The following is taken from the official record of "Election Returns":
May 1, 1838
"At a Special Town Meeting held pursuant to an act of the Legislature, occasioned by the division of the County of Montgomery, in and for the Town of St. Johnsville, said county, on the first day of May, 1838, at the house of Christopher Klock, in said town , Bartholomew Schram, a Justice of the Peace of said town, attended and them being no Town Clerk, John Nellis was chosen by the electors of said town, on the Town Meeting being opened according to Law, voted for the following persons, inhabitants of said Town , for Town offices to supply vacancies, occasioned by the division of said County and which vote is as follows, viz:
Town Clerk- Barney Becker . . 158
Jacob H. Failing . . . . . .113
Justice of the Peace, 3 Year Term
Daniel Ayers . . . . . . . . 145
Peter Klock . . . . . . . . .147
Justice of the Peace, 1 year Term -
Josiah Loomis . . . . . . . 140
Stephen W. Champlin. . 121
Joseph Bauder. . . . . . . . 15
Henry Failing, . . . . . . . .115
Collector Daniel C. Fox. . . . . . .140
Peter Lampman . . . . . . 128
Assessors - Peter Radley . . . . . 147
Simon Klock . . . . . . . . 144
John Klock . . . . . . . . . .127
Moses Davi . . . . . . . . . 126
Commissioners of Highways-
Joseph W. Nellis . . . . . .149
John F. Bellinger. . . . . . .146
David Fox . . . . . . . . . . .126
Jams Billington . . . . . . . .119
The record does not show any vote for the office of Supervisor, but later entries in town records show that John W. Riggs was Supervisor for that year. He was probably elected at the preceding March town meting of the Town of Oppenheim and thus became, our first Supervisor without candidacy at the special town meeting, by virtue of residence and incumbency. Supervisor Riggs was one of our early physicians and built and occupied the building that was operated as a store by Roy W. Sutherland and later was part of Smith's Market. It is #11 West Main Street.
For years, it has been stated that the number of votes polled was 271. However if one reviews the votes for Justices of the Peace, 3 year term, you will find the count was actually 292.
At that time, the two political parties were the Democrats and the Whigs. The Parties were evenly divided in voting strength in the Town of St. Johnsville.
From 1838 to 1905, town meetings were held each year in early February to conduct the town business and elections. The meetings were held for many years at a local "house" (a hotel or tavern) . By 1896, the election records show that the meting was held on February 11, 1896 in the engine house on Center street. At each election, the people voted where they wanted the next town meeting held.
In 1896, 2,146 votes were polled from all of the districts. As the place of the next town meeting, the engine house received 489 votes and 340 people voted for the appropriation of $75 to defray the expenses of a proper observation of the Memorial Day celebration on May 30, 1896.
In 1905, the general election and town meting were combined and held on November 7.
Work on the Highways
One hundred fifty years ago, and for many years thereafter, very little money was raised by taxation for maintaining and improving the highways. The money that was available for roads was mostly used for the purchase of quarry stone, lumber for bridges - culverts, and scrapers. Scrapers were used with horses or oxen to drag dirt from the sides of the roadway to fill depressions and to elevate the center of the mad or "crown" it, to provide drainage. It sometimes happened that the supervisory officers - the commissioners and the road district overseers - had "worked out" the quota of days" labor assessed against them before the season's work was completed. When this happened, they and the other workmen were paid in cash for the extra labor.
Each year, the Commissioners of Highways made out a list of taxpayers assigned to a particular "road district," and after each name was shown the number of days- labor that was required of the individual for that fiscal year The taxpayer named first on the list for the particular mad district was designated "overseer" or "pathmaster." This official had charge of a particular section of the town's roads and at an opportune time in the year "summoned" or "warned" all of the taxpayers in his district to report for work on a given day. Work was done on the roads between the planting and harvesting season and the people were also given time off for haying. If any taxpayer assessed for road duty did not elect to "work out" his assessment, or employ a workman in his stead, he was permitted to pay the cash equivalent to the commissioners. This fund was known as "commutation money," and used for general road purposes. A day's work the roads in 1838 was valued at 50 cents.
Each overseer kept an account to show the number of days' work performed by each taxpayer in his district, in "working out" his assessment, and later submitted this to the Commissioners of Highways. If any delinquency was noted in performance on the part of any taxpayer in working out his quota of days, the Commissioners reassessed the failure against the taxpayer under the head of "arrearage," to be liquidated the following year.
In electing the Commissioners of Highways, three in number, it was the practice to choose one from the western part of the town , one from the eastern part and one from the northern part. Each commissioner had supervision over the overseers and road work in a particular geographical sector. At the beginning of each fiscal year, each commissioner took approximately one third of the cash available for road purposes, and disbursed it. At the end of the fiscal year (end of February) each commissioner gave an accounting, to be verified by the supervisor and justices who were the Board of Town Auditors.
While a single Superintendent of Highways can handle the supervisor of all road maintenance and repairs today, in the earlier day of mud roads and slow transportation, the three commissioners seem to have been justified from an administrative viewpoint.
The First Commissioners of Highways
The first commissioners were George Chawgo, who had been elected the previous March under the setup of the Town of Oppenheim, and Joseph W. Nellis and John F. Bellinger who had been elected at the special town meeting on May 1, 1838 : When the special town meeting was held on May 1, the plowing, planting and sowing season was just opening and there was no time to spend on public business for some weeks to come . The first formal meeting was delayed until the 25th of June, just before the haying season. The record reads:
"The undersigned Commissioners of Highways of the Town of St. Johnsville having met at the house of Christopher Klock, in said town, on the 25th day of June, A.D. 1838, do hereby order that said town be and hereby is, divided into mad districts as follows, to wit:
District No. 1
Commencing at the Mohawk Turnpike on the line between the Town of St. Johnsville and Palatine, running north to Eygabroat's orchard. Then Palatine takes the same to a jog in the same. Then No. I takes the same and goes halfway down the hill north of John I. Nellis's.
District No. 2
Commencing on the Mohawk Turnpike near Nancy Markle's running thence northerly to the New Turnpike near Christopher Fox's. Then commences again on the road near Joseph W. Nellis's, thence northerly to the road leading to Peter Radley's.
District No. 3
Commencing at John C. Nellis's, thence easterly to the town line comprising .It is commonly called the New Turnpike, also to include the private road of Jacob J. Klock, running from said New Turnpike to Jonas Klock's.
Commencing near Jacob C. Nellis's on the Mohawk Turnpike, thence northerly to the Potash Road, thence easterly to Abram Powell's.
District No. 5
Commencing on the Mohawk Turnpike near Barry Caldwell's, running thence northerly to the Town and County line. Also the Potash Road commencing on the line between John A. Vedder and Joseph G. Klock, running thence northwesterly to Harmanus Vedder's.
District No. 6
Commencing at Henry Failing's store on the Mohawk Turnpike, running northerly to the Town and County line.
District No. 7
Commencing on the Mohawk River at Sanders' Ferry, running thence northerly across the Mohawk between Daniel Leonard's and George Lake's thence northerly to the Head Line road near James Wilson's.
District No. 8
Commencing at the Mohawk Turnpike and running northwest to the Town and County line
District No. 9
Commencing at the Mohawk Turnpike and running north across Zimmerman's lands, intersecting District No. 8.
District No. 10
Commencing at the Mohawk Turnpike near John Staring's and running north till it intersects the Billings and Borst roads.
District No. 11
Commencing at the north end of No. 10 and running northwest to the head line of Henry I. Klock, Jr.
District No. 12
Commencing on the head line of Henry I. Klock, Jr. and running thence north to the town and county line.
District No. 13
Commencing at the southeast corner of Tefft's farm and running to the East Creek and running from thence north to a brook.
District No. 14
Commencing at the highway near Elijah (Elisha) Easterbrooks and running thence east across the bridge at James Wilson's.
District No. 15
Commencing at the east side of the bridge at James Wilson's and running east to the Town and County line.
District No. 16
Commencing at the Town and County line and running thence south until it intersects the highway commonly called the Klock Road.
District No. 17
Commencing on the north at the Town and County line on the west and running east to the highway running past Joseph I. Nellis's.
District No. 18
Commencing on the north at the Town and County line and thence running south to Sharp's Corners and east to Peter Radley's and thence south to the school house on the New Turnpike, including the Edwards Road.
Residents in 1838
In the absence of a census of a hundred years ago, the foregoing lists of taxpayers assigned to particular districts, give the names, and, excepting those who resided in the village or lived along the turnpike approximate locations of the property owners and those paying poll tax. This will be of value to those interested in genealogy and local family history. In the interim of one hundred fifty years, there have been many changes in ownership and many families have disappeared from our midst. The opening of new roads; and the discontinuance of others adds to the confusion. It is difficult to get a correct picture of the road map of our township as it was in 1838, but some of our older residents who are acquainted with the country roads and the and the old family homesteads may find some satisfaction in the lists.
The Road Districts
It will be noted that in numbering the road districts, the commissioners started the line between St. Johnsville and Palatine and followed the Mohawk Turnpike westward until the first ten districts had been laid out, the residents of East Creek and vicinity being included in District No. 10. In view of the fact that the Mohawk Valley Turnpike Company was obligated by the terms of its charter to maintain the turnpike for its entire length through the township, no inhabitant of the town was assigned to work on that road. All of the districts were entirely north of the turnpike, with the exception of No. 7 which began at Sanders' Ferry on the Mohawk River. All of the residents of the then hamlet of St. Johnsville were assigned to Districts 5, 6, and 7. The first district that included any taxpayers who resided in what is now our village was District No. 5, which began "on the Mohawk Turnpike, near Barry Caldwell's." Caldwell Creek runs through the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Park and forms the eastern boundary of the village.
The Caldwell house is the present John Rockefeller home. The outline of old Kringsbush Road dugway ran up along the eastern side of Caldwell Creek. Traces of this road can still be seen in some places. The Potash Road is now called Vedder Road. The Widow Lasher's barn was at the present comer of East Main and Averell Streets.
District No. 6
The Henry Failing's store was at the corner of Church and West Main Streets and was later the residence of the Allter family. The road to the north is now Church Street.
The Sanders' Ferry starting point was on the Mohawk River. It was located at the foot of Mill Street, now west St. Johnsville. Mill Street is now called Mill Road. At one time it crossed the Mohawk Turnpike and ran to the river.
The ferry was probably serviced by someone named Sanders who may have kept a canal grocery on the opposite bank of the river, and fronting the canal. Canal groceries were numerous before the building of the Barge Canal and their owners did a thriving business with the boatmen. They furnished hay, wood and groceries as well as whiffle trees and repair parts for harnesses, because horses and mules provided the power for the canal boats.
District No 7
For years, there was also a canal grocery at Countryman's Lock, one mile east of the village, kept by Joseph Kyser (not the Kyser House proprietor). There was another at Mindenville Lock, kept by Henry (Buckeye) Winnie. There were several others between here and Little Falls and all along the canal.
Under date of March 28, 1839, James Klock, Jacob H. Flander and Benjamin Groff being commissioners, an entry reads: "Application by persons residing in said Town of St . Johnsville, and liable to be assessed for highway labor therein, having been made to the Commissioners of Highways of said town, for the laying out of the alteration of the highway leading from Messrs. Leonard & Curran's grist mill to the Mohawk Turnpike, and thence to Sanders' Ferry, across the Mohawk River. " Then follows the surveyor's technical description of the road in which he mentions "a stake and a stone in the ground in the Mohawk Turnpike in front of Daniel Leonard's dwelling house." From this it is clear that Daniel Leonard lived at the four corners and that the grist mill of Messrs. Leonard and Curran was what was later known as Beekman's Mill and then McCrones Mill. Mr. Curran lived on the farm which now belongs to Stanley Shuster.
The highway records for 1839 definitely establish the partnership of Leonard and Curran in the operation of the old grist mill, but from 1838 to 1841, inclusive, the assessment of highway labor on account of the joint ownership appears to have been against the partners as individuals. In other words, the assessment against each represented the assessment on his home property, plus his tax liability on the mill property. In 1838 Daniel Leonard was assessed 40 days, and James Curran, 26 days. In 1842 and 1843, the partnership is recognized by the commissioners and the property assessed accordingly. In 1844, there is no partnership assessment, and the name of Daniel Leonard disappears from the list, and an assessment against James Curran and Samuel Sadler indicates joint ownership of the mill. That same year, the name of Anthony Beekman (1798-1864) is listed and in 1845 the firm of Anthony Beekman & Co. appears to be in possession of the property. Anthony Beekman was succeeded by his sons, Noah W., Benjamin and John Groff, under the firm name of Beekman Brothers, who also conducted a grocery and feed store in St. Johnsville for many years.
In June, 1884, A. E. Seaman took possession of the old mill and operated it until October 1, 1921 when it passed into the ownership of McCrone Brothers. Mr. Seaman operated the mill for 37 years, the longest period under one management.
On acquiring the property, Mr. Seaman learned the history of the ancient structure, and recalls that it was built by Leonard and Curran, and that a memorandum made by the original owners, or by some workmen, showed that the mill was completed in February, 1835. Mr. Seaman also recalls that Samuel Sadler was the first miller employed and that his home was at Ingham's Mills, to which place he returned when Beekman Brothers entered into possession of the mill after the death of their father. Loami Beekman, another son of Anthony but not a member of the firm of Beekman Brothers, was employed as the miller by his brothers, until the property passed into the hands of Mr. Seaman.
The mill, at the time it was built, was regarded as me of the finest and best equipped flouring mills in the State. In the early part of the last century, wheat growing was one of the most important products of agriculture in the Mohawk Valley. Local flour had a fine reputation for its quality and was in great demand.
The milling of wheat was a profitable business. In the early days, when money was scarce, the farmers paid for the grinding of their grain by giving the miller one-tenth part of the grain offered for processing. Each mill had a measure holding exactly one-tenth of a bushel which was used in the tithing process and the portion deducted by the miller Was known as "toll."
In Mr. Seaman's day as miller, most of the farmers paid cash for the grinding. During this same period the local farmers stopped growing wheat and became dairy farmers. The shortage of local wheat forced Mr. Seaman to install roller machinery for the grinding of buckwheat flour . Farmers had begun to raise this grain and it was milled in large quantities at the old mill. The shift to dairying also made it necessary to grind other grains for cattle.
The Old Water Wheel
One of the outstanding mechanical features of the old mill was the large overshot water wheel that furnished the power for grinding. It was 30 feet in diameter and 8 feet broad, built around a shaft or axis that was a foot and a half thru, all poised on metal bearings. Along the face of the wheel were wooden pockets that filled as water was admitted from the raceway. When the weight of the water was sufficient, the wheel began to revolve and transmit power to turn the heavy "upper and nether millstones" to produce the flour.
Because of the severe winter weather in this section, the wheel was enclosed in a wheel house. Even with this precaution, ice did form on the wheel in very cold weather.
When Mr. Seaman displaced the old mill stones with the roller machinery, he also removed the old mill wheel and installed a modern turbine. This furnished greater and more dependable power.
Opposite the name of each listed taxpayer was entered the number of days of labor required of the particular person. For the year 1838, 261 names of taxpayers were listed with a total of 1966 days of work to be performed. Out of the 261 names appearing, 126 taxpayers were assessed one day only, the latter representing small property owners and those subject to the poll tax only. Of the one day assessments, there were 72 days assessed on Districts 5, 6 and 7 which were in the village and represented local employees who didn't own property. In 1839, only 253 names appear on the lists with 2146 days of assessed labor.
Just what formula was used in arriving at the number of days of labor to assess is unknown. Later boards of commissioners stated that the assessments were according to "the last assessment roll of said town" and that the number of days labor assessed were "at least three times the number of taxable inhabitants in said town."
As the road lists were based upon "the last assessment roll of said town the days labor assessed would represent the relative values of the taxable properties. A few of the largest assessments listed show the holdings of the more opulent landed class, and there is also a list showing the comparative holdings of several of the public officials, in 1838:
District .......Days assessed
Commissioners of Highways -
John W. Riggs. . . .5 ..............4
John C. Nellis seems to have been rated the wealthiest man in the town, even overshadowing the Averells, who had a farm of 250 acres besides a distillery and tannery. Christopher Klock, the keeper of the tavern or inn where the first town meeting was held, was attached to Road District No. 5, and assessed 6 days of labor in 1838.
A clue to values may be found in the assessment of a parcel in District No. 14, owned by Jacob Bates, valued at $360 and assessed at one day of labor. On the basis of this assessment, the value of John C. Nellis's holdings were $15,120. On January 21, 1854,an entry in the Horatio Averell day book journal shows the taxes for assessment on $13,000 for 1853 in the amount of $65.65 had been paid.
Although the Utica and Schenectady Railroad was completed and in operation on August 1, 1836, the town records do not show any assessment of highway labor until 1839. By the terms of its charter, the railroad company was obligated to buy all of the Mohawk Valley Turnpike Company stock and was compelled to keep the turnpike in repair, but the company was permitted to collect tolls, which it did until 1890. In view of the fact that the railroad company maintained the turnpike, any assessment against it was for the benefit of mad maintenance on other roads in the township.
In 1839, Jonas Klock, Benjamin Groff and Jacob H. Flander, Commissioners of Highways, added two road districts to the eighteen original district. That had been created by the first Board of Highway Commissioners. A total of 861 days of highway labor had been assessed against the Utica and Schenectady Railroad and the total days assessed were parceled out to the twenty road districts, except Districts No. 6 and No. 20.
The basis of assessment and the use of the days assessed is set out in the record by Christian, Vedder, Melchoir L. Bauder and Henry Kennedy, the commissioners for 1844, by the following entry:
"We, the undersigned Commissioners of Highways of the Town of St. Johnsville, on the 5th of March, 1844, in our assessment of the highway labor for the said town have assessed the U. & S. Railroad Company 1388 days according to the last assessment roll of said town. Of which we have distributed among the several road districts in said town, 960 days. The rest of the days we intend to apply to the improvement of the reads generally in building and repairing bridges."
In submitting their account to the Board of Auditors on February 4, 1845, the three commissioners named state that the total of highway labor assessed in the township mounted to 3,116 days, which included the 1,388 days assessed against the railroad company.
A day's labor on the highway was valued at 50 cents in 1844. The railroad company was required to furnish laborers to the several road districts as required by the overseer of the particular district, or was permitted to pay cash in lieu of the number of days assessed. Furnishing laborers was an inconvenience to the company, and later the company paid to the commissioners the total mount of cash involved, the commissioners, in turn, disbursing it.
The final accounting of these commissioners shows that a small sum was raised by general tax for highway purposes. This money was spent for materials, for the payment of any mount due laborers ever and above the highway assessment charged against such individual, for the amount due surveyors, and sums paid for damage on acquirement of land for highway purposes. Their final accounting reads:
Received of Daniel Hyde (District No. 19). $193.75
Received of Benjamin Lampman, collector... 242.50
Received for plank belonging to the town......... 3.00
We have paid out and expended for said town and road purposes $409.12
$ 30.13 Remaining on our hands
The Town of St. Johnsville was formed at the division of Montgomery and Fulton Counties on April 18, 1838. At the division of Montgomery and Fulton Counties, the Town of St. Johnsville was eliminated from the Town of Oppenheim.
Colonel Jeremiah Nellis, a member of the New York State Assembly from 1837 to 1839, was from this area and it is said that he introduced the bill into the New York State Assembly.
Jeremiah was the great-grandson of Christian Nellis, who was born in 1697 and was one of the Palatine German early pioneers of the Mohawk Valley. Jeremiah born in 1809 to Jacob and Lany Keller Nellis in the Neillis farm house east of the village. He was prominent in the New York State Militia, held the rank of Colonel, was in charge of militia training in this area and was well liked by all. Colonel Jerry (as he was called) held many political offices at the State, County and Town levels.
Jeremiah married Margaret Fox, and their children and grandchildren lived on the Nellis farm+ for many years, This farmhouse is called Nellis Tavern and is now owned by the Palatine Settlement Society. The Society plans to restore this historical building and site and to preserve the history of the early Palatines.
A copy of the act to erect a new county from a part of the county of Montgomery, by the name of Fulton appears next in the book. It is not included in this copy.
The Town of St. Johnsville Commissioners of Common Schools ledger dates from August 1, 1838 to November 1918.
It is a record of setting up the original school districts in the new Town of St. Johnsville, and establishing each district's boundaries. The first entry records the transfer of funds from the Town of Oppenheim.
In the ledger, each district is listed along with teachers wages and teachers names, as well as the amount for the library (school books) . Teachers wages and the amount for the library were computed by the number of children m each district and the number of days they attended school .
In the early years of the town, citizens petitioned the commissioners to join or leave certain districts. I surmise that this was done in order to have their children attend the school which was closest to their farm or home.
There were also combined school districts such as the Manheim and East Creek district, Oppenheim and Ephratah district, and an Oppenheim and St. Johnsville district. The names of residents in the school districts are familiar to me for they are the names of those I have just studied on the 1838 town road district lists. It would be interesting to compare the two lists and thus locate each school and district.
The following information is from the first page of the ledger. Because it is interesting to compare the wages and costs of books with today's school expenses, I have also included the statistics of one hundred years ago. Before free schools were established in 1867, each parent or guardian had to pay a "rate bill , at the end of the school year for the pro rata cost of the instruction given to the children of the particular family.
1838 - Copied from the Superintendent of Common School's first ledger
To the Superintendent of Common Schools of the State of New York
We the Commissioners of Common Schools of the Town of St. Johnsville in the County of Montgomery in conformity to the statute in relation to common schools and report that the number of school districts in our town is three and number of parts of school districts is six.
(To condense the information I will give the figures for District No. 2
The school was open 12 mo, received Monies of $38.41, 101 pupils, Amount paid teachers besides public monies, $140.00.)
Parts of district 1 were combined with Manheim, parts of district 2 were combined with St. Johnsville and Oppenheim, parts of district 4 were combined with Oppenhein and Ephratah, and parts of district 14 were combined with Palatine and Ephratah.
$597.82 was paid out for teachers wages.
We the said commissioners do further certify and report that the whole amount of school money received by us was given as a part of the Town of Oppenheim and was distributed by our predecessors in office for the use of common schools down to the year ending on the date of this report and since the date of the last Oppenheim school commissioner's report. The books most in use in the Common Schools in our town are Biekhams English Grammer, Church Huntingtons & Woodbridges Geography, and Marshals Elementary Spelling Books.
August 1, 1838 George Lake ................Commissioners of Common Schools
A. R. Groat
The names on the road and school district lists are mostly German and English. Eight families of Palatine Germans, with a vote of 65, accounted for 25% of the electorate. Under the following family names are the number of individuals by that name who were taxed: Klock 20, Nellis 12, Fox 8, Helegas 6, Walrath 6, Vedder 5, Flander 4, Zimmerman 4.
The record of "Election Returns" for the Town of St. Johnsville, beginning with the first Town Meeting in 1838, is confined entirely to the vote at Town Meetings, until 1847, when the first returns for General Elections for state and county officers were entered, and there is no record of the vote in Presidential campaigns until 1860.
March 5, 1839
The second Town Meeting was held on the above date at the public house kept by Christopher Klock, and the vote for Supervisor was as follows:
John W. Riggs 141
William Clark 131
Doctor John W. Riggs served through the previous year as the first Supervisor of the newly established town.
This Town Meeting was the first in which candidates appear for the office of Commissioner of Common Schools and a related office, Inspector of Common Schools. This was before the day of free schools (established in 1867) and each parent or guardian was required to pay a "rate bill" at the end of the school year for the pro rata cost of the instruction given the children of that particular family. Each district had its own trustee.
It was the practice to ballot for the hotel or inn at which the next Town Meeting was to be held, and the vote for the favored place was about in the same proportion as for individual candidates for office, showing the same partisan division. On this occasion the vote was: Christopher Klock 147
Alonzo C. Bentley 119
February 11, 1940
The vote for Supervisor was:
Daniel F. Nellis 197
Jennison Giles 102
Jenison Giles owned the farm that is now the property of Charles Knox, two miles west of the village. Mr. Giles was succeeded in ownership by John A. Shaffer in 1846. This home was once a turnpike tavern and was noted for its unique stone wine cellar.
For the office of Commissioner of Common Schools, Abner Powell received the highest vote, namely 188. For Inspector of Common Schools, Azel Hough, an old school teacher, was the favored candidate, receiving 186 votes. Azel Hough was the great-grandfather of Gilbert Hough.
At this meeting, a Town Sealer of Weights and Measures was chosen in the person of Alonzo C. Bentley who received 108 votes. Mr. Bentley also received 107 votes for his hotel as the next "Town House," but was defeated by Christopher Klock who received 177 votes. As there was no opposition for the office of Sealer of Weights and Measures, it looks as though the office was given to Mr. Bentley as a sort of consolation prize.
February 9, 1841
The vote for Supervisor was:
Daniel F. Nellis 153
Jacob H. Zimmerman 133
Bartholomew Schram I
The vote for "Town House" was 29 for Christopher Klock. There was no opposition. Evidently Landlord Bentley had gone out of business or considered the race futile.
At this Town Meeting it was voted:
"Fences to be four feet, eight inches high."
"Each Path Master to be a Pound Master, and that his Barn Yard shall be a public pound."
A public pound was an enclosure in which stray farm animals were kept until claimed by their owners, or otherwise disposed of in accordance with law. There were 20 Road Districts in 1841, each in charge of an Overseer or Path Master, and therefore, there were 20 public pounds.
From time to time, resolutions were adopted at Town Meetings, with no vote stated in the record. It is evident that some time during the Town Meeting, with one of the Justices of the Peace presiding, and with the Town Clerk present to keep the minutes, the meeting was resolved into a deliberative assembly, and questions of public concern not appearing upon the ballot were acted upon. This was a fine example of legislation in the simplest form of a pure democracy.
February 8, 1842
The vote for Supervisor was:
Jesse R. Curran 196
John A. Shaffer 2
Jacob H. Zimmerman 84
Jesse R. Curran's home was on the property once owned by Horace M. Hyde.
There was no opposition to Christopher Klock for the next "Town House" and 201 votes were recorded in his favor.
Resolutions voted were as follows: 'That there be but three constables in and for the town. "That Chauncey Nellis be Town Clerk for the time of this Town Meeting (the present Town Clerk, Andrew R. Groot, being absent)." (Signed) Chauncey Nellis, Town Clerk
February 14, 1843
The vote for Supervisor was:
Jabez Butler 117
Christopher Bellinger 93
Jesse R. Curran 86
Without knowing the political affiliations of the candidates, it seems a good surmise that factionalism had developed among the Democrats at this Town Meeting Jesse R. Curran who polled 196 votes the previous year was the victim, and the Whig candidate was the beneficiary of the intra-party quarrel.
At the previous Town Meeting it was voted to reduce the number of constables to three, and at this particular meeting it was voted that the number should be five. It may have developed that with the reduced number authorized the previous year, same sector of the town had been left unprotected from horse thieves. This possibility was evidenced from the fact that on August 27, 1870, an Anti-Horse Thief Society, with a large membership, was organized at Rural Grove, N.Y. Today this type of marauder is interested in the best automobiles.
In voting for the next "Town House" for the next Town Meeting, the vote was 170 for the "House lately kept by Christopher Klock," and Peter W. Saltzman received 116 votes. From this entry, it seems that Landlord Klock had abandoned his proprietorship and that Landlord Saltsman had succeeded Alonzo C. Bentley who had been conducting the opposition hostelry.
February 13, 1844
The vote for Supervisor was:
Jabez Butler 154
John Wilson 148
February 13, 1844
John Peck succeeded in the proprietorship of the "house lately kept by Christopher Klock," and he received 145 votes as against 121 for Peter W. Saltzman for the next "Town House."
A resolution was: "And the collector is to have three cents on the dollar for collecting the taxes for the ensuing year.
This resolution looks as though the compensation for collecting taxes at (probably) one per cent was not at all attractive and an inducement had to be made to secure suitable candidates, or perhaps it was worth three per cent for the collector to hear the 'kicks' registered by the taxpayers.
February 11, 1845
This seems to have been a year when the Democrats were determined to capture the office of Supervisor and nominated a real vote getter. Jabez Butler had a narrow escape the previous year when the Democrats had reconciled their differences and he had no taste for candidacy against an "unterrified, militant and triumphant Democracy. The Whigs made no nomination.
The vote for Supervisor was:
Joseph W. Nellis 296
John Knickerbocker 2
William B. Hall 1
Lewis Averell 2
Jeremiah Wait 1
Jabez Butler 1
Some of the Whigs didn't intend to have anyone gain the impression that they had all gone over to the Democrats and so "wrote in" a few names.
Dr. Alexander Ayres received 221 votes for Superintendent of Common Schools, against 92 for Noah Yale. The record also shows that in the interest of simplification, the offices of Commissioner of Common Schools and Inspector of Common Schools had been merged into the one office of Superintendent of Common Schools.
At this same meting, it was voted:
"That the collector have five cents on the dollar for collecting the present year." Seemingly, the boost to three per cent the previous year did not bring out a sufficiently large flock of candidates and a greater inducement was in order to sustain this necessary function of government.
February 10, 1846
At this Town Meeting, it would seem that the Whigs were determined to try conclusions with the seemingly invincible Joseph W. Nellis, and nominated General Lewis Averell for Supervisor. The vote was:
Lewis Averell 180
Joseph W. Nellis 128
And, so, the Whigs won,
February 9, 1847
After the defeat of their candidate, the previous year, the Democrats adopted the strategy of nominating a representative of another well- known family with a large kinship, and cane near winning. They had set out to beat General Averell. The competition was keen and there must have been considerable activity on the part of party workers about the polls that day. The interest in the contest is shown by the large vote polled - a total of 327, as compared with 308, the previous year. The result was:
Lewis Averell 164
Jacob H. Flander 163
The Whigs won again, but had a very narrow escape. General Averell was not a candidate the following year, He ran for and was elected a member of the New York State Assembly in 1848.
February 8, 1848
The vote for Supervisor was:
Charles Kingsbury 265
George Adams 80
February 13, 1849
The vote for Supervisor was:
Charles Kingsbury 172
Enock Snell 92
James Wilson 82
The election of 1848 was a Whig "landslide." The Whigs won the Presidency in 1840 with Harrison and Taylor and in 1848 with Harrison and Fillmore, but after that went into eclipse and disappeared as the dominant party. In the 1848 campaign, the Democrats of New York State had a strong opposition in the Free Soil Party headed by Martin Van Buren, elected to the Presidency by the Democrats in 1836. As the name indicates, this party was opposed to the extension of slavery. Then there was the "Barnburner" faction of the Democrats opposed to the regular Democratic organization on state issues, and the national issue of "Southern domination" in the party. The rout of the Democrats is shown by the vote for President. In even figures it was:
Zachary Taylor, Whig 218,000
Martin Van Buren, Free Soil 120,000
Lewis Cass, Democrat 114,000
February 12, 1850
The vote for Supervisor was:
Alexander Ayres 172
Jeremiah Nellis 164
February 11, 1851
The vote for Supervisor was:
Alexander Ayres 241
Jeremiah Nellis 141
In June of 1848 the "East Creek Road" was opened along the east bank of the East Canada Creek.
Doctor Ayres resided at East Creek on the turnpike, and the record shows that the new road, running north and south, was laid out through his cultivated lands. In the Town Meeting contests of 1850 and 1851, Doctor Ayres was the candidate of the Democrats and Jeremiah Nellis was the Whig candidate. Jeremiah Nellis resided an a farm just east of the village, on the south side of the road. This farmhouse is called Nellis Tavern today. Jeremiah's son, John C . , and grandson, James Nellis, were later residents of this Nellis farm.
Jeremiah Nellis was known as "Colonel Jerry." He was a very friendly gentleman of a commanding presence. Colonel Jerry was very prominent in the general training days of the State Militia. He was elected to the State Assembly in 1837.
The taverns or inns at which Town Meetings were held, beginning with the first Town Meeting in 1838, were under the direction of the following landlords:
Christopher Klock 1838-1843
John Peck 1844-1846
Abner Powell 1846-1848
The 1837 map of the village made by the Averells shows that the land on the south side of East Main Street, from Bridge Street, to a point quite near the "Old Stone Store" was owned by Powell. This plot of land probably was the site of the hotel conducted by Abner Powell.
This is the area where the Central Hotel and American Legion are today.
The following February 15, 1854, Town Meeting resolution will give the reader an idea on how bad the road conditions were .
"WHEREAS, on or about the 25th day of February, 1853, Jacob C. Nellis lost one of his ox team, by reason of a deficiency on the public highway leading from the village of St. Johnsville, north, by way of Averell's Tannery,
THEREFORE RESOLVED, that the Commissioners of Highways of the Town of St. Johnsville are hereby authorized and directed to pay to said Jacob C. Nellis, the sum of fifty dollars, out of any monies in their hands not otherwise appropriated, and that the Supervisor be directed to raise the same fifty dollars for such purpose."
The record does not show the outcome of the resolution, nor do the records of the Highway of Commissioners throw any light upon the outcome.
At the same Town meeting, another resolution involving the expenditure of money was voted upon as certified by M. Walrath and Enoch Snell, Justices of the Peace, and Jacob Chawgo, Town Clerk. The election certificate reads:
"Also, the number of votes taken at the last annual Town Meeting was two hundred and five in favor of paying the county debt and the whole number of votes taken for disposing of the County Poor House Property was two hundred and four. "
The total vote cast for Supervisor at this Town Meting was 338 and the smaller vote cast for the resolution indicates that voting was restricted to holders of real estate.
The idea of paying-as-you-go seems to have met popular approval and at the next Town Meeting, February 13, 1655, a somewhat similar resolution was introduced having to do with town finances. Jacob Chawqo, Town Clerk, concludes the record, as follows:
"There was a motion made and seconded that the Town of St. Johnsville raise as additional sum of money to pay up all demands in arrears against said town, and it was carried. "
There was no local bank at which money might be borrowed by the town officers to liquidate all claims against the town at the conclusion of services rendered or for supplies furnished. It was the practice for creditors of the town to claim interest on unpaid balances due, That this was the accepted practice is shown by the report of John Staring, Hiram Bixby and Daniel Failing, commissioners, under date of February 7, 1843. In concluding their report, the commissioners said:
"The Commissioners of Highways further report that they owe for overwork, building of bridges, etc. $188.66 to the following:"
The names of ten creditors of the town are next listed with the amount due each, varying in amount from $4,00 to $50.00 and the final paragraph following the tabulation reads:
"For which the several creditors above named will claim interest in addition to the principal, and the commissioners have on hand and unexpended the sum of eighty eight cents, which they are ready to pay over to their successors in office."
The report of the commissioners shows that the only money available for highway purposes for the fiscal year 1842-43 was the sum of $556.87 ½ , paid to the commissioners, June 14, 1842, by the Utica and Schenectady Railroad Company, as "commutation money."
Commutation money was paid in lieu of labor on the highways according to the assessment on railroad property.
That the road in the vicinity of Averell's tannery was not the only one not measuring up to the standard of safety is disclosed by a resolution in the "Election Returns," entered by Jacob Chawgo, Town Clerk, under date of February 12, 1856. It reads:
"Resolved that fifty dollars be raised by the Town of St. Johnsville and paid to William E. Van Allen of said town, in satisfaction of all damages sustained by him on the 9th day of February, 1855, by reason of injuries to his horse and cutter, occasioned by obstructions in public highway near the saw mill then occupied by Morris Klock, and for which said town is liable.
PASSED, February 12, 1856: That the Supervisor raise fifty dollars, the ensuing year to pay the said William E. Van Allen, as compensation for the injuries sustained to his horse and cutter."
Morris Klock was the father of Dr. Charles M. Klock and Attorney George S. Klock. He lived in west St. Johnsville in the home that once belonged to Carrie Kilts. The saw mill was located down the creek to the south of Beekman's Mill on Mill Road.
New Roads to the North
The laying out of new highways, alterations and extensions of existing roads are a necessity as the population increases, and as agriculture and industry develop. This phase of progress was true in the Town of St. Johnsville in the first few decades following its establishment in 1838. From the fact that the main artery of travel - the Mohawk- Turnpike - is quite close to the river, new roads were, of necessity, to the north of that arterial highway.
East Creek Road
Ten years after the establishment of the township, some of the residents in the western part of the town, near the hamlet of East Creek, thought it desirable that a new road be opened along the east bank of the East Canada Creek. It would run northward from the Mohawk Turnpike to the Montgomery-Fulton county line. They petitioned the Commissioners of Highways, Daniel Tefft, George Chawgo and William Nellis, that the thoroughfare have official sanction and action. At that time, transit to the north, in the Western part of the township, was confined to the road that is next east to the projected highway, over the "sand flats," called Clay Hill Road today.
An affidavit regarding the road reads:
"In said town, on the 16th day of June, 1848, the said commissioners having met and deliberated on the subject matter of this order, on the application of George G. I. Klock, a resident of said town and liable to be assessed to work on the highways, therein, for the laying out of the highway, hereinafter described add after obtaining consent of the several persons over whose land said road is laid out, and notice in writing of at least three days, having been given in due form of law, to Alexander Ayres and Isaac B. Pine and Mary Pine, George G. I. Klock, John G. Klock (and) Schuyler and Vedder, occupants of the lands, through which the highway, hereinafter described is to run, that the undersigned would meet, at this time and place, to decide on the application, aforesaid, and the undersigned having heard the reasons offered, for and against laying out said highway, it is ordered, determined and certified that a public highway shall be, and the same is, hereby, laid out, pursuant to said application, whereof a survey hath been made, and is as follows : To wit:"
"Survey of a road leading from the Mohawk Turnpike northerly, along the East Bank of the East Canada Creek, in the Town of St. Johnsville, Montgomery County, to the north line of said town and county, which survey was made on the 15th and 16th days of June, 1848.
Beginning at the Mohawk Turnpike at a pine, six links from the northeasterly comer of the bridge across the East Canada Creek, in the range of the north side of said turnpike bridge, and then runs thence, (as the magnetic needle now points):"
Then follows a detailed description of the mad as surveyed by Peter W. Plantz, who concludes the description as follows: "the line described by the foregoing survey is the center of the road which is three rods in width."
Surveyor Peter W. Plantz filed a memorandum to show that the land appropriated from the premises of Doctor Alexander Ayres amounted to one acre, one quarter (of an acre) and 16 96/100 square rods. The land of Doctor Ayres was just north of the turnpike as the first item in the surveyor's description shows the measurement as "North and 3 ½ links and Westerly of the southwest comer of Doctor A. Ayres' barn. "
The memorandum concludes with the statement that land taken from the holdings of George Hellegas amounted to one quarter of an acre and 33 2/10 square rods. The memorandum furnished by the surveyor was for the information of the officials who would be called upon to assess the damages due the two parties named. Other interested parties signed releases for "all claims to damages by reason of the laying out and opening of a highway through my lands." Releases were signed by Aaron Vedder and R. F. Schuyler, possibly joint owners, Isaac B. Pine and Mary Pine, Administratrix, George G. I. Klock and John G. Klock.
To determine the amount of damages sustained by Doctor Alexander Ayres and George Helegas, a commission consisting of one of the Commissioners of Highways and two of the town Assessors adjudicated the matter as follows:
Montgomery County ss:
"We, the undersigned, a Commissioner of Highways and two Assessors of the Town of St. Johnsville, in said county, being duly sworn to assess the damages sustained by Alexander Ayres, by reason of the laying out and opening of a road through his enclosed land, in pursuance of the order of the Commissioners of Highways of said town, bearing date (of) the sixteenth day of June, in the year 1848, after having viewed and examined the premises, determined and assessed the said damages of the said Alexander Ayres at one hundred and twenty five dollars.
Given under our hand at St. Johnsville, aforesaid, this 6th day of July, 1848."
George Chawgo, Commissioner
Leonard Crouse, Peter Flander, Assessors
A similar affidavit was made to cover the claim of George Hellegas who was awarded twenty five dollars damages. From the awards made, it is clear that the land was valued at approximately $100.00 an acre.
On October 7, 1851, the Highway Commissioners, Jonathan Mosher and Jonas Klock, petitioned to Samuel Belding, Jr., County Judge, for the appointment of commissioners to assess damages for the opening of the same East Creek road. The court granted the petition. The claimants were Richard and Henry Kennedy. The commissioners and the highway commissioners took a view of the premises on October 21, 1851 to assess the cost of damages and then met at the house of George Klock to deliberate over their findings. It was decided that 2 1/4 acres had been taken for the road for which $30.00 an acre was decided to be a fair price. It was also necessary to remove and rebuild 82 rods of stone wall fence and 20 rods of rail fence. For the stone wall, 87 ½ cents per rod was deemed full compensation and 50 cents per rod for the rail fence was declared a fair amount. The awards totaled $149.25. We no longer see these types of fences being made. It must be remembered that 50 cents a day was considered good wages at that time.
In laying out new roads in a new country if the land is at all hilly, it is the general practice to follow the water courses to take advantage of the flat or bottom lands along the streams for easy grades or in case the valley is so narrow as to offer little or no flat Surface for a roadway, then to plat the road along the hillside and make "dugways" in the sides of the hills for a roadbed. This was the plan followed in building the first road from the Mohawk Turnpike, northward to the Krings Bush section. It was built along Caldwell Creek, at the present eastern village boundary, and was in use prior to the organization of our township in 1838. The outline of the old road can still be seen in spots running northward over the property owned by the late William Gravenstein and now the home of John Rockefeller. Its upper courses along the hillside can be clearly traced from points on the upper part of Averell Street.
The old road, for some reason, was not satisfactory, and the question of authorizing a new road had been agitated. On January 2, 1852, Jonathan Mosher and Jonas Klock, two of the Commissioners of Highways, signed a formal order for the building of a new road. George G. I. Klock, the third commissioner, was not signatory to this order.
From the order, as recorded by Lewis Snell, Town Clerk, it appears the location of the road was made on application of J. H. Stewart and many others. It was "laid out, commencing on the North side of the Mohawk Turnpike, one chain and 5 links, easterly, from the southeast corner of Widow Lasher's barn." After giving the detailed directions and distances as recorded by the surveyor, the order continues "it is further ordered that the above described line be the center of said highway and be the width of three rods, and it is further ordered and determined that the highway in said town, over the lands of H. and L. Averell, commencing near the house owned by said Averells, commonly known as the Caldwell house, on the Mohawk Turnpike, and thence running northerly to the road known as the Potash Road, be annulled and discontinued.
The Potash Road is now called Vedder Road.
In due course, the Commissioners of Highways filed a petition with the County Court asking for the appointment of "Commissioners to Assess Damages" and the Hon. Samuel Belding, Jr., County Judge, on March 2, 1852, named Henry I. Crouse, Sylvester Yoran and Rollin Hawn, as commissioners. They were all residents of the Town of Minden. The commissioners assessed the damages after viewing the premises and listening to the property owners.
The new highway would go over the lands of Messrs. H. & L. Averell and they were awarded $615.68 for damages. The new road was not opened until the following year and for many years was called the Krings Bush Road. Just when it was officially designated as Averell Street is not known.
The charges incidental to the surveying of the new road and the assessing of damages seem so uniquely small that the items are listed as a matter of interest:
John A. Mitchell, drawing order to appoint appraisers .$3.00
Sylvester Yoran, appraising damages . . . . . . . . . . . . . $2.50
Webster Smith, surveying, . : . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $1.50
Jas. H. Egan, swearing appraisers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 37 cents
W. J. Butler, carrying chains . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 50 cents
Jacob H. Stewart, carrying chains . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 50 cents
Sylvester Yoran was the only appraiser who was paid prior to February 1, 1853. Henry 1. Crouse and Rollin Hawn were each paid the same amount during the next fiscal year.
In 1825, the firm of James Averell and Sons was established in business in the village, engaging in distilling and tanning on the site occupied by the Palatine Dyeing Company, and for approximately thirty years, was the most important industrial concern in our midst. The Erie Canal was completed in 1825 and without a doubt, the firm located here to take advantage of the transportation facilities offered by the new waterway. During the life of the firm, they were regular patrons of the canal in the receiving of shipments of grain by water and in transporting their manufactured products to market in New York City and elsewhere. However, in later years as their records show, some of their freight was carried by the Utica and Schenectady Railroad which was later merged in the New York Central consolidation.
The writer has no data on the father, James Averell, but there is considerable available material relative to the sons. The two brothers who constituted the firm of H. & L. Averell and signed the release for damage claims as given above, were both destined to pass out of the picture the following year, Lewis dying on January 13, 1854 and Horatio on August 27, 1854. Horatio was born in 1801 and Lewis in 1803. Both are interred in the church yard of Christ Episcopal Church, Cooperstown, N,Y., directly in front of the vestibule of the church. The church was erected in 1810.
The Averells passed from the scene many years ago and there is nothing left to remind us that they were the foremost businessmen of their day m the life of the village, other than their name.
One of the outstanding businessmen of St. Johnsville, through a period dating from the early 1850's, and extending into the 1880's was Absalum Thumb (1817-1889). Throughout this period, he was extensively engaged in lumbering enterprises and owned and operated the old saw mill on Zimmerman Creek in the locality known as "The Hollow." This plant was last owned and operated as a lumbermill by the Z. R. Klock, the father of Helen Klock Glenar.
After being unused for any purpose for a number of years, the old mill was razed and is now only a memory. In addition to the saw mill for the production of rough lumber, Mr. Thumb operated a planing mill and manufactured matched flooring for the general market. He installed the first machine in the county for producing this item of manufactured lumber. Mr. Thumb also operated a general store across the road from his mill properties and enjoyed a large patronage from his numerous employees, the farming population and woodsmen.
Mr. Thumb, during his active business career, was an energetic and forward looking planner for the future of St. Johnsville. A leader in all progressive movements, he was in the forefront of the agitation for "Free Schools" in the State of New York, which became an accomplished fact in 1867. Mr. Thumb was instrumental in crystallizing public sentiment for the construction of the old High School building, "on the hill" (1867), and was the actual builder of the structure under contract.
Mr. Thumb owned a considerable tract of land in the center of our village, north of the Mohawk Turnpike, which mad is now our Main Street, and a large acreage of farm land on the hills to the northward. What is now our village cemetery was part of this farm land. Mr. Thumb was one of the leading spirits in forming the St. Johnsville Cemetery Association and later sold part of his land holdings to the Association for the intended purpose.
Prior to 1853, Mr. Thumb lived on a farm north of the village, but in that year he sold his farm and purchased what was then known as the Wilsey property. This property is now the site of the Central National Bank.
At that time, the only road from the village to "The Hollow" and north country was the country road that is now our present North Division Street. The upper part of this highway or street could be reached, then, as now, by leaving the Mohawk Turnpike by a still older road that is now Church Street.
Mr. Thumb after he took up residence in the village, built the brick store(now 10 West Main Street) near his home.
Realizing the inadequacy of streets to the north, from the center of the village to his properties in "The Hollow" and to points beyond, and for the purpose of opening a tract of land centrally located for sale for residence purposes, Mr. Thumb petitioned the Commissioners of Highways to open up a highway to connect with North Division Street at the present intersection of that street with Center Street. In addition to opening the new road, the petition involved a change in the then existing highway, beginning just below the bridge across Zimmerman Creek. The commissioners that year were Jeremiah Nellis, Hiram Bixby and Daniel Campbell. The following is part of the official record;
County of Montgomery
Town of St. Johnsville
"Whereas due application according to law has been made to us, the undersigned Commissioners of Highways of the Town of St. Johnsville, aforesaid, by Absalum Thumb, a resident freeholder of said town and liable to be assessed for highway labor therein, for a new road to lead from the Utica & Schenectady Turnpike the new brick building (erected) by said Thumb in 1855, northerly to, and intersecting, the highway leading from the store of Charles McAllister, northerly, past the tannery lately Owned and Occupied by H. & L. Averell. Also for an alteration of the old road, commencing about four rods below the present bridge crossing the creek, above the tannery, aforesaid, and running northerly on the west side of the old road until it intersects the lands known as the furnace building."
Then follows a detailed surveyor's description of Center Street and the alteration in the road above the creek bridge. As described by the surveyor, the road or street was laid out from the "Utica and Schenectady Turnpike in the village of St. Johnsville between the dwelling house Occupied by Absalum Thumb and the new brick building erected by said Thumb in the year 1855." The description shows that the center of the road or street was one and one half rods "west of said brick building" and that the width of the road or street was three rods, except that for a distance of two and one half chains from the turnpike, the width "is to be only the width actually allowed by the buildings and fences now erected by said Thumb." From this it would appear that the initial width of Center Street was less than 3 rods for the distance stated, a disparity in width that was evidently later corrected.
The action of the Commissioners of Highways in laying out this street and the release signed by Mr. Thumb bear the date of June 7, 1856 and there is an entry under the same date to show that the sum of $2.50 was paid to Zinan Green for his services as surveyor.
At one time, there was a stone crosswalk across Center Street at its junction with Main Street (heavy limestone possibly four feet in width) and a somewhat narrower crosswalk across Main Street near the junction of the two streets. It used to be said that both walks were provided at the expense of Mr. Thumb. The Charles McAllister store was the old Allter block.
The official papers covering the alteration in the road above the creek bridge mention the stone building commonly known as the furnace building" and this suggests the possibility of a foundry at that point. The 1853 map of the Town of St. Johnsville shows an iron works opposite Flanders & Co.
After the building of Center Street, Mr. Thumb became interested in a water supply for the village. His idea was too far ahead of local sentiment and financial ability to be successful. At his own expense, he built a small water system to supply drinking water for horses and other animals on the comer of Center and Main Streets. This was our first village fountain.
Mr. Thumb owned a considerable tract of land north of the school house on the hill and by a series of blind ditches carried the surface water from that area to a reservoir near the cemetery and laid a line of pump logs through Center Street to the vicinity of Min Street, providing a small fountain that supplied a water trough.
About 20 years ago, when the village Highway Department did repairs to the water system in front of my house (7 Center Street), they dug up one of these hollow log pipes.
About 1872, Mr. Thumb became involved in financial difficulties due to the collapse of the St. Johnsville and East Creek Lumber Company. He had placed his personal fortune in this company and after his loss retired from business in 1878. This was a sad time for St. Johnsville because Mr. Thumb had proved himself to be an unselfish friend to the village. He donated the land for the High School and for the cemetery to the village.
The Fork Factory
The fact that another business enterprise was located in "The Hollow" at the time of the opening of Center Street is found in a resolution of the Commissioners of Highways, dated January 27, 1857 in which they discontinued Road District No. 11, to which Alzinor Clark and Christian Vedder were the only taxpayers assigned, and annexed that district to Read District No. 6 which included a large part of the village residents. This resolution relates to "the new road passing by, or near, the factory known as Clark's Fork Factory, in said town ." The conclusion is that Alzinor Clark operated a factory in "The Hollow" for the manufacture of forks for farm use.
The opening of the road leading from the residence of Henry Vedder (now the Triumpho home) by way of "The Hollow" in 1855 locates this Fork Factory at the site where Charles W. Scudder operated his "fifth wheel" factory until the 1890's. Martin Williams later manufactured threshing machines at this same site. This is on the area adjacent to High Falls (or Scudder's Falls). From the description of this new mad, it shows that William D. Hudson was the probable predecessor of Alzinor Clark in operating the Fork Factory.
The official record reads, in part:
"Beginning at the county line, between the Town of Oppenheim, Fulton County and St. Johnsville, Montgomery County, at the southerly termination of a new highway recently laid out by the Commissioners of Highways of said Town of Oppenheim, running from the State Road, at a point therein, near the residence of Emmanuel Thumb, in a southerly course to the said county line, aforesaid, and runs along on the easterly side of the Zimmerman Creek, until it comes to a point, a little northerly of the Fork Factory of William H. Hudson at the High Falls on said creek, thence crossing said creek and continuing on the westerly side until it intersects the highway now leading from the village of St. Johnsville to Oppenheim, passing the dwelling house of James Wilson." (The point of today's Crum Creek Road and Lassellsville Road.)
Being a Commissioner of Highways in the early days wasn't easy because they often had to settle disputes about line fences.
In November of 1847, there was a cloud upon the horizon in the western part of our township. Two neighbors with farms adjoining could not agree upon a line fence. There is no evidence that there was any dispute about the simple geometric line that separated the two properties. The divisional line was satisfactory and while each admitted his obligation to build and maintain one half of the fence, they just couldn't agree which half each was to build and keep in repair. So they appealed to the commissioners.
In 1847, Daniel Tefft, George Crouse and William Nellis were the commissioners. The decision in the matter was made by the two commissioners named last, Daniel Tefft not appearing in the proceedings. Just why Mr. Tefft did not participate is an open question. He was a resident of the western part of the town, and while not an immediate neighbor of the two in dispute may have sensed the fact that, probably, only one of the disputants would be satisfied with the decision.
The commissioners were also kept busy correcting line fence encroachments upon the highways.
In 1841, the Highway Commissioners were Jonas Snell, John Staring and Hiram Bixby. In 1844, Henry Kennedy, Christian Vedder and Malachi L. Bauder took over the highway affairs. As soon as the mud roads had dried off in May, they traveled and then found many fence encroachments. They made the property owners correct the fences.
In July, the commissioners made a tour of the town roads again and found and measured more encroachments. Hannible Fox, Town Clerk, prepared orders addressed to eight property holders demanding that they remove the road encroachments,
The order in each instance was the same, showing that the commissioners had met "on the road in Road District No. __________in said town" and that they had "ascertained and determined that the said road has been encroached upon by A at the distances and points named, to wit:"
"It is therefore ordered by the said commissioners that the said fence be removed within sixty days by you, the said A, so that the said highway has the width of 4 rods - the breadth originally intended."
The encroachments varied from one foot to 37 ½ feet. This was quite an invasion of the public rights.
It would seem from the old records that eternal vigilance on the part of the Commissioners of Highways was the price exacted to insure full width to the roads for the "travel of the public." Now, all the fences seem to be anchored a proper distance firm the center of the highways and the Highway Commissioner has nothing to fret about along the line of "encroachments."
Henry Kennedy (1813-1893), one of the commissioners in 1844, and his brother Richard (1817-1898) resided on the farm that is now the property of the Stowell family on Kennedy Road. Their sister, Nancy (1812-1902), also unmarried, lived with them. They were highly esteemed by all and regarded as moderately wealthy. They were a very conservative family, not given to innovation, change or extravagance and lived in a very small house on the old farm.
The Kennedy brothers were "gentlemen of the old school, "precise in dress, always coming to the village in their old type broadcloth garments, with white collar and black cravat. They were formal in speech and salutation. Both were forceful characters and neither would have condoned the imposition of anyone's fence crawling out into the highway and trespassing upon the rights of the public. Possibly this characteristic of Henry Kennedy had much to do with the action of the Commissioners of Highways in 1844 in forcing fences back to their proper mooring places.
An Unusual Balance
Jonas Klock, Daniel Tefft and George Chawgo were the Commissioners of Highways for the fiscal year beginning February 13, 1849 and ending February 12, 1850 and the record shows that they assessed a total of 2,127 days of labor against the property owners and voters paying poll tax, for work to be performed on the roads during that fiscal year. Of the total number of days, 900 were assessed against the Utica and Schenectady Railroad Company. From the final report of the commissioners dated February 5, 1850, it is evident that the railroad company elected to "work out" the 900 days, using their own employees or gangs of men hired for the purpose, rather than pay the equivalent "commutation money" to the commissioners. The record shows that the only "commutation money" received was $1.63. The total cash received for the year was $438.13, made up of $10.10 received from predecessors in office, $426.40 received from the supervisor (evidently raised by general tax) and the $1.63 "commutation money." The cash used each year by the commissioners was for building bridges and culverts, paying supervisors and buying general supplies, such as road scrapers, plows, etc. (Road scrapers with freight added, bought in numbers of ten, cost $5.61 a piece.) During the year , $431.31 was expended, leaving a balance of $6.82 in the hands of the commissioners.
In stating the balance, the commissioners mentioned a balance, other than cash, in the form of a memorandum, due and accruing to their successors in office, namely, 71 days of labor due from one taxpayer and 32 days due from another, indicating a degree of leniency on the part of town officials in forcing the performance of labor assessed or payment of its equivalent in money. Personal illness, or some other good reason may have been in evidence and satisfactory to the commissioners, who kept "arranged" accounts, to show labor assessed but not performed. As information for their successors in office, this item appears:
"During the said year, Road District No. 13 requires work, say, at least, 71 days, which number of days are due from AB, which he agrees to pay in work on said road during the year 1850."
From the establishment of the town in 1838, to, and including 1845, the rate of wages for common labor used on the highways was "four shillings," or 50 cents a day. In 1845, the Utica and Schenectady Railroad Company paid "commutation money" to the commissioners at that rate. In 1846, wages had advanced to "five shillings" or 62 ½ cents a day. The country was prosperous in those days and there was a definite upward trend in wages beginning with that year. In 1849, it would appear that there was another advance as the commissioners accounts shows payment for a total of twelve days of "overwork" (work performed in excess of the number of days assessed) which was paid for at the rate of "six shillings," or 75 cents a day. Henry Borst, Benjamin W. Nellis and Levi Fox were the taxpayers who worked in excess of the assessed number of days. This year the railroad company did not elect to pay money for their assessment and it is a fair conclusion that laborers employed by the company were not receiving the advanced wage of 75 cents. Wages in those days were very small and men were expected to work "sun to sun" to make a day.
In the early days of the township, there were many private roads which were used by the general public. In laying out private roads, the services of the Commissioners of Highways were requested in a formal application. A case in point involves a right of way to one resident over the property of another and it may have been thought wise to have the grant a matter of official record to avoid possible misunderstandings between the parties and their heirs.
In 1848, Henry Borst and Isaac B. Pine were neighbors with adjoining farms in the northwestern part of the town and on June 3, Mr. Borst filed a formal application with the commissioners requesting them to lay out a private road for his own use over the lands of Mr. Pine who had given his assent to the plan.
That same day, George Chawgo and Daniel Tefft, two of the commissioners, met at the office of Azel Hough to consider the application and after "deliberating on the subject," found it "necessary and proper to lay out a private mad for the use of Henry Borst, pursuant to his application, through the lands of Isaac B. Pine, and the said Isaac B. Pine gave his consent in writing, to the laying out of the same, and released all damages in consequence thereof. It is, therefore, ordered and directed by the said commissioners, that a private road be laid out for the use of the said Henry Borst, pursuant to his application, commencing at the bars near a soft maple tree on the line between said Henry Borst and Isaac B. Pine and runs thence across the lands of said Isaac B. Pine, westerly to the public highway and that the said road shall be the width of two rods, and that by the agreement of the said Henry and Isaac. Henry is to build and keep in repair, a gate on the easterly end of said private road, and Isaac is to build and keep in repair, a gate at the westerly end of said private road. The said Isaac, his heirs and assigns are to have, at all times, the mutual right with
Henry, his heirs and assigns, to the use of the private road."
Azel Hough was a witness to the release for claims for damages and as he functioned as a Justice of the Peace as late as February 9, 1848, it is presumed that Mr. Hough drew the legal paper and probably wrote the formal order for the establishment of the private road, for the commissioners.
"Working" Private Roads
The town records show that there were a number of private roads and that the general public used the roads, in all probability, for the commissioners' records are endorsed to show that some taxpayers were permitted to "work out" part or all of their road assessments on their own private roads. This evidences an interest of the general public in keeping the roads in repair. In making up the "road lists" for 1849, the commissioners agreed to allow three of the taxpayers to apply all, or part, of the days labor assessed against them to work on their own private roads. An entry following the list of names for Road District No. 3, reads:
"We, the Commissioners of Highways, have agreed to have Jacob L. Klock apply 25 days of his assessment on his own private road."
Mr. Klock was assessed a total of 26 days of labor for the year.
"Working" Village Streets
Although the village of St. Johnsville was incorporated on August 1, 1857, it appears that the village streets were "worked" under the township system with assessed labor for some time after the village government began to function. Evidently no Department of Streets had been created with a Street Commissioner in charge, The records show that the commissioners on occasion would assign several taxpayers to "work out" their assessed number of days on a particular street. The work would be done either by the taxpayer in person, or by some substitute employed by him.
On March 10, 1858, David Fox, Van Vechten Vedder and Daniel Campbell entered this order in the record:
"We, the Commissioners of Highways, of the Town of St. Johnsville do order and allow the within assessment of Elijah Bauder, William Crouse, William G. Kelley, Christian Shunk, John Blair, David Winney, Henry Whyland, Henry Hanreys arid George H. Lampman to be worked by them on Mechanic Street.
The total number of days assessed against the taxpayers named was sixteen. All we assessed one day each, except Henry Whyland and George H. Lampman who were listed for three days each, and Elijah Bauder who was assessed for four days.
Just what work was done on the streets at that time is a matter of conjecture. The village streets probably received the same treatment as the country roads, extending farther than removing the accumulation of soil in the gutters and placing it in the center of the roadway to "crown" the road, and, perhaps, level off some gravel.
How surprised the old residents would be to see the street today and to learn that in the interest of safety, Mechanic Street is now "One Way." Incidentally, this street was known to old time residents as "Gun Barrel Avenue" because of its narrowness.
It is a question whether all of the nine taxpayers who were assigned to work on Mechanic Street in 1858, actually resided on the street, or resided elsewhere and were arbitrarily so assigned. All may have been residents of the street at that period, and it is certain that George H. Lampman was such a resident, having a store and residence at the western corner of the intersection of the street with West Main. Street.
Cross Street was named prior to February 27, 1862. On that date, Augustus Smith, John H. Nellis and John R. Carpenter, the Highway Commissioners, met at the Franklin House kept by Jacob Sneck. (Now the site of the Post office.) The record entry reads, "We, the Commissioners of Highways, hereby order that Cross Street be annexed to District No. 6.
On March 8, 1864, Augustus Smith, Charles Loadwick and Nathan Nellis, the commissioners, entered an order on the record, directing David H. Moyer, Jacob Sanders and John Dettinger, assigned to Road District No. 5 to apply their assessments, a total of 12 ½ days, "to work the street running from Railroad Street to Bridge Street." Mr. Moyer was assessed 7 ½ days, Mr. Sanders 3 ½, days and Mr. Dettinger 1 ½ days.
Railroad Street is now Kingsbury Avenue and the entry indicates that our present New Street was unnamed as late as 1864. Mr. Moyer resided in the residence was the home of Joseph H. Reaney and is now the home of Mrs. C. Curtis Lull.
What Mr. Moyer's occupation was in 1864 is unknown. In 1869 he held the position of teller in the First National Bank (established 1864). in the late 1880's , Mr. Moyer was associated with his son, William J., in the drug business under the firm name of W. J. Moyer & Co. Mr. Seward Walrath purchased the store in 1888. This is now Walrath's Pharmacy owned by Thomas Mowrey
Mr. Dettinger lived in a house which was later razed to make the private park adjacent to Mr. Reaney's house. Mr. Sanders lived on the south side of the river but owned property on Cross Street for renting. The property on the south side of the street was owned by the railroad company.
St. Johnsville Post Office
The St. Johnsville Post Office was established on February 27, 1818, according to records of the Post Office Department. The following is a bit of history leading up to this event.
On March 4, 1811, the Legislature named three commissioners "to lay out a new turnpike road from the house of Henry Gross, in Johnstown, to the house of John C. Nellis, in the Town of Oppenheim." This road terminated in the Mohawk Turnpike, and is what is known as the "New Turnpike," just east of our village. Johnstown was then the county seat of Montgomery County and this new road provided a shorter route from this section of what was the Town of Oppenheim to the county seat. It also furnished a highway for the convenience of the farmers in a rich agricultural section then being developed.
One of the three commissioners named in the act of the Legislature was Alexander St. John of the Town of Northampton (now in Fulton County). Mr. St. John was a surveyor by occupation and surveyed the new road and acting as one of the commissioners charged with its construction, was actively engaged in building the thoroughfare. In this way, Mr. St. John became acquainted with the leading citizens of this locality, then a hamlet known as "Zimmerman's" named for the original settler, Jacob Zimmerman.
Mr. Zimmerman built the first pioneer home within the limits of St. Johnsville and soon after built the first grist mill along the creek which bears his name.
Mr. Shaffer believed that Mr. St. John made so favorable an impression on the residents of this locality, that when a post office was established, the name of St. Johnsville was chosen as a token of esteem for the surveyor and commissioner who had so much to do with building the new road. However, later facts indicate that it was named after the St. John's Reformed Church which was the pioneer church in this area.
Location of Post Office
The highway records of the township show that Henry I. Lloyd, our first postmaster, was a resident in the township in 1838, and was assessed four days of labor on the highways that year. His name, appears on the records, each year, to include 1842. He was assigned to Road District No. 7 which was described as "commencing at the Mohawk River at Sanders' Ferry, running thence, northerly, across the Mohawk Turnpike, between Daniel Leonard's and George Lake's, thence northerly, to the head line road, near James Wilson's." The road described is what is known as "Mill Road" in west St. Johnsville, so named from the fact that it led to Leonard and Curran's grist mill, later, "Beekman's Mill." The fact that 42 taxpayers were, assigned to this particular road, indicates that there was a large population at the 4 corners of the Upper Village and naturally that particular locality would appeal as a good location for a general store.
With the known facts, and with no tradition to the contrary, it is not unreasonable to conclude that our first post office building was located at the Upper Village in the store operated by Henry I. Lloyd. This assumes that Mr. Lloyd conducted the store at that point in 1818, in the Town of Oppenheim, twenty years before his name appears on the records of the new Town of St. Johnsville. In locating post offices, the Post Office Department requires a reasonably central location for the convenience of the patrons to be served. In 1818, the Upper Village my have been that logical location. At that time the hamlet at "Zimmerman's" was small in size and there was a thriving little community at East Creek, far outnumbering the future village of St. Johnsville in population. Locating the post office at Upper St. Johnsville in Lloyd's store would be for the convenience of a greater number than at "Zimmerman's," when the hamlet at East Creek was considered.
Henry I. Lloyd was appointed in 1816 under the administration of James Monroe, our fifth President.
Post Office, St. Johnsville
Established February 27, 1818
Postmaster Date Appointed
Highlights of the Postal Service
Early Postage Rates
Under the Continental Congress, and before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, our Postal Establishment had been created. Benjamin Franklin was named Postmaster General, July 26, 1775. Postage rates were adopted, patterned after the schedules of an Act of Parliament, that had governed the Colonial Postal System under the Crown. The rates were somewhat more liberal than under the laws of England which contemplated a revenue for the home Government. The rates were as follows for a letter of a single sheet of paper:
It was Planned to make the Postal Service self-sustaining, but with no idea of profit or revenue to the general government. Owing to an unstable and depreciated Continental Currency, rates were raised from time to time during the Revolutionary War.
In September 1789, Congress provided that the rates in effect under the Confederation should be continued in force, and the schedules held until 1792. In Colonial days, and for several years under the Articles of Confederation, all mail was carried by post riders on horseback. On September 7, 1785, Congress authorized the carrying of the mail in stage coaches.
The first legislation under the Constitution to make a change of postage rates was the Act of February 20, 1792, when Congress decreed the following schedule for letters. These rates would continue for about 50 years.
Up to 30 miles . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6 cents
30 to 60 miles . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8 cents
With graduated charges for intermediate distances up to 400 miles.
400 miles 25 cents
A letter consisted of a single sheet of paper folded in the form of an envelope, with the writing on the inside and the address on the plain side of the folded sheet. Envelopes were not yet in use and the folded letter sheet was sealed with sealing wax.
A letter of two sheets took double postage, and one of three sheets cost treble the single, and so on. The charge for newspapers was one cent. These were the rates when our office was established in 1818 under Postmaster Lloyd.
Jabez Lewis was appointed Postmaster in 1824 by President Monroe . It is not known where he lived and where the Post Office was at that time. It is thought that because of the growth of Zimmerman's after the Erie Canal was built that the Post Office was moved to the site of the present village of St. Johnsville.
Horatio Averell was commissioned as Postmaster in January of 1826 during the administration of John Quincy Adams.
In 1825 the firm of James Averell and Sons came to St. Johnsville and engaged in the distilling business. They also operated a grist mill and tannery. This pioneer industrial plant was located along the creek on the present site of the Upper Mill.
The Averells were residents of Cooperstown. The Otesaga Hotel was built on the site of their home.
The Erie Canal was completed in 1825, and it seems that the Averells came to our village to take advantage of a favorable location for their business, one of the impelling factors being the shipping facilities offered by the new canal. Their Day Book-Journal for 1854 shows that much of their grain for distilling was received by canal, and it is probable that their products were shipped by the same facility.
The Averell records for 1854 disclose that John A. Mitchell was an Attorney at Law and rendered legal service for that concern, and an entry for January 5, 1854 shows that Mr. Mitchell was charged for the occupancy of a building for fifteen months at $65 a year. The space occupied included "upper and lower rooms," that is, the entire structure. A continuing entry shows occupancy of "lower rooms" at $30 a year. Buildings didn't cost much in those days. Rough lumber was $7.00 a thousand feet and the pay of carpenters and masons was correspondingly low.
From the language of the entries it is apparent that this particular building was known to the Averells as "the office," and it is logical to conclude that this building was the first business office of the Averells in St. Johnsville, and was so used until "The Stone Store" was built by the firm in 1831. The building in question is still standing.
It is probable that the St. Johnsville Post Office was located in this building from the appointment of Horatio Averell in 1826 until the building of the stone store in 1831, and that Mr. Averell kept the office in the old store from 1831 to his retirement from office in 1835.
John W. Riggs was appointed to succeed Horatio Averell on May 12, 1835 by President Andrew Jackson. John W. Riggs was Doctor Riggs, one of our early physicians. He built the home that was the Sutherland building. Just to the west of his home, and separated from it by a grass plot, with a large tree in the center, was a small building that was his office. This would be on the site of the former Smith's Grocery at 13 West Main Street. This building was used for years by doctors as an office and was also used by various Justices of the Peace. When Martin Van Buren became President, Dr. Riggs continued to be the Postmaster.
Doctor Riggs was Supervisor when the Town of St. Johnsville was created (1838) out of the Town of Oppenheim. He had been elected Supervisor of Oppenheim the preceding month and by virtue of his residence within the newly created township, became our first Supervisor without being elected to that specific office. On March 5, 1839, Doctor Riggs was reelected Supervisor, receiving 141 votes, as against 131 for William Clark. This was a rather close vote and Doctor Riggs was not a candidate the next year. It will be observed that Doctor Riggs was Supervisor in 1638 and 1839 while holding the office of Postmaster. Holding two offices could be done in those days.
Without doubt, Postmaster Riggs maintained the Post Office in the office of Doctor Riggs, that is, in the little building that was next door to Dr. Riggs home. Years later the building was moved to Bridge Street and was used as the Railway Express office.
In 1789, when the Constitution was adopted, there were 75 Post Offices in the United States. The high point was reached in 1901 when there were 76,945 Post Offices. Since that time, this number has been reduced by the establishment of rural delivery and consolidation. Post Offices discontinued in our vicinity were in Crum Creek, Oppenheim, Middle Sprite, Lassellsville, Ephratah and East Creek.
Lewis Averell was appointed a Brigadier General in the New York State Militia, July 8, 1835 and was assigned to command the 11th Infantry Brigade stationed at St. Johnsville, N. Y. He was promoted to Major General, April 26, 1841 and was assigned to command the 14th Infantry Division. There is no record of the date and cause of his separation from the service, but it is evident from the record that he continued in service until 1847, when he was rendered supernumerary on reorganization that year of the State Militia.
In 1844, and continuing until 1846, the "Anti-Rent" riots or Helderberg War in Albany County and contiguous counties created much excitement. Tenants who were operating farms on the old Dutch "patroon" estates refused to pay their rent and mobbed sheriffs who attempted to enforce the mandates of the Courts in eviction proceedings. Finally, the militia had to be called out to suppress the disturbances. The tradition is that General Averell headed his troops at that time and aided in restoring order in the affected counties.
General Averell ' s Home
General Averell lived in a house on what is now Kingsbury Avenue, second from the rear of the "Old Stone Store." Later, this was the home of Henry Whyland. Just across the street was his barn. It was divided into three parts. One section was occupied by the General's hostler. Another housed his horse and the third part was for the storage of his vehicles. This barn was later remodeled into a residence and for years was the home of Doctor Christian C. Vedder, before he built the residence at the southeast corner of East Main Street and Kingsbury Avenue. Still later, it was the home of Mrs. Frank Anable who occupied it at the time it was destroyed by fire some years ago.
General Averell was a picturesque character and was regarded as the foremost citizen of the village. He was very fond of children and when "the circus came to town " he played host to all of the neighborhood children and took them to the circus. Circuses in those days were called "caravans."
The circus lot was at the corner of Washington and East Main Streets, once the site of the Fox block and Peck building. Now (1988) owned by Ralph Weir and William MacLauchlin, Jr.
In the days of General Averell, each company (probably 100 men) was required to report for "training" on the first Monday in September. This was under the direction of the captain of the company. On a day designated by the brigade commander, each regiment (probably 1000 men) reported for "training" at same designated point. The day named would be between September 1 and October 15, each year. All the officers reported for drills for a two day period, during June, July or August, under the observation of the brigade-inspector. The day following, the commissioned officers and musicians of the regiment met for drill.
Failure to report for "training," without good excuse, resulted in court martial and a fine. If the delinquent was unable to pay a fine, he was imprisoned in the county jail.
New York provided the necessary rifles and other equipment for the training of the citizen soldiers, but some may have provided their own rifles. Mr. Shaffer noted in his 1938 Centennial series of articles that he had a rifle which had belonged to his father.
Just how many years of service was required is a question but the indications are that this term may have extended from the eighteenth year of the recruit, until he reached his twenty-fifth year. Mr. Shaffer's father's warrant of appointment as corporal indicates this term of service.
On January 18, 1854, General Lewis Averell died. The Averell records show that a local undertaker wasn't hired for General Averell's funeral. This is probably because local undertakers used wooden caskets and a much grander metallic casket was purchased in Albany for General Averell.
For many years, John and Hubert Schiffer were in the undertaking business. Both were skilled cabinet makers and also made their own burial caskets. John was located on Bridge Street and Hubert was on West Main Street in a store later used by Mr. Gammond.
John Gammond's store was in a small house at the corner of West Main and Church Street. A section of Zimmerman Creek ran under this house.
There was a large dam and pond behind the Condensed Milk Factory which provided the water power, through a raceway, to the factory. James Christman has a 1905 map which shows this pond, plus two ponds below it. One was the Schiffer pond (or diverting dam) and then a raceway to the Schiffer pond which was located farther down the creek along upper Church Street.
NOTE: The strange part about this map is that it slows many surveyed building lots and streets on the opposite side of the creek. This area has a steep bank so perhaps the drawing was not to scale and these lots were actually supposed to be up on the hill.
For many years, Horne's Mill and the Saltsman wagon factory also used this water power source.
When I first came to St. Johnsville, I was surprised to learn that a Schifferobe was a bedroom dresser of many drawers covered by two doors. I was told that this piece of furniture had been made by the Schiffer brothers.
The Getman Hotel
The Getman Hotel, formerly called the Briggs House, and the site of the post office when Nathan Briggs was postmaster. Over the years, many town meetings were also held here. The Getman Hotel was demolished and the present St. Johnsville Post Office was built on this site.
In 1833, while a resident of Rockwood, Azel Hough was elected Member of the State Assembly, and served during the legislative session of 1834. In 1838 he moved to St . Johnsville and operated a general merchandise store in the "Old Stone Store'" then owned by the Averells. In 1840 Mr. Hough was a member of the firm of Hough, Riggs and Adams, then operating the St. Johnsville Woolen Mills.
Mr. Hough was a good businessman and in the early 1840's built the store that was later owned by the Allters. It was at the corner of North Division and West Main Streets where Stewarts is now located.
James K. Polk, Democrat, was inaugurated President March 4, 1845 and on August 22, that year, Azel Hough (1796-1856) was appointed our sixth postmaster.
Mr. Hough operated the store and the post office was at that location when he became postmaster in 1845. In 1848 this progressive citizen built the residence that was the home of his granddaughter, Miss Katie Hough, at the corner of South Division and West Main Streets. In 1849 he built and operated the grist mill which was sold to Adam Horn in 1864, and is now Case's Mill. Mr. Hough was at one time a local Justice of the Peace and also served as a school trustee before the days of free schools.
During Mr. Hough's term as postmaster, postage stamps first came into use, the first sales being made in New York City on July 1, 1847. Envelopes came into use about 1845, and by 1850, all letters were enclosed. Government stamped envelopes were first on sale in 1853. On March 4, 1849, Zachary Taylor became President, and on June 1, that year, Lewis Averell was reappointed postmaster. The post office probably went back to the "Old Stone Store" at that time.
On March 4, 1853, Franklin Pierce became President and this called for a change in postmasters at St. Johnsville. On July 22, that year, Charles McAllister was appointed. On July 1, 1853, he bought the store that had been built and operated by Azel Hough (the old Allter store). He moved the store back a little toward the West and built an addition on the South side of the structure along West Main Street. During Mr. McAllister's term of office as postmaster, the office was probably in the corner store. Some years later, Mr. McAllister bought the McAllister block on the South side of West Main Street and for many years carried on a dry goods business there.
Mr. McAllister built and occupied the residence at the head of North Division Street that is now the home of the Ralph Palombi family.
After serving a little more than a year as postmaster, Mr. McAllister was superseded by Chauncey Nellis who was appointed on October 19, 1854. Mr. Nellis held the office ten months when Mr. McAllister was reappointed on August 22, 1855. Just why the continuity of Mr. McAllister's service was broken is unknown. Both served under the same Democratic administration. Mr. Nellis was for years a Justice of the Peace and lived in the old Dr. Riggs' house at 11 West Main Street. His office as justice was in the little building that had been Dr. Riggs' office and it is probable that the post office was there during his incumbency.
On April 19, 1858, Mr . McAllister bought the land west of the Kyser House through to North Division Street from Absalom Thumb. On June 11, 1864, he sold this block of land to William H. Hudson, proprietor of the "fork factory," which was just below the saw mill and planing mill operated by Mr. Thumb (later the Z. R. Klock mill). Mr. Hudson manufactured pitch forks and other forks used on the farm. At the time of this property transfer, the North line of West main Street was parallel with the street line on the South side and joined the eastern line of North Division at practically right angles. In selling the land to Mr. Hudson, Mr. McAllister changed the street line so that it ran diagonally to the northwest, making it possible for him to have an unobstructed view from his home on the West side of North Division Street, to the east on Main Street. This diagonal line is noted starting in front of the Kyser House and terminating in the east line of North Division Street. This widened West Main Street at this point for a distance of over 150 feet, and added a triangular piece of ground to the street, which is approximately 30 feet in width at the base of the triangle, the base of the triangle being a continuation of the east line of North Division Street.
Information is that this triangular piece of land (in the street and now paved) has never been deeded to the village. However, the circumstances under which the property was sold to Mr. Hudson, and the street widened, may be considered, in fact, a process of gift of the land to the village for street purposes. If so, what was called "Allter Square," may more properly be termed "McAllister Square.
Lewis Snell was appointed postmaster under President Franklin Pierce on March 21, 1857. His home was on Main Street and is now the Methodist Church Parsonage. He ran a grocery store at the southwest comer of West Main and Bridge Streets and the post office was in his store. A fire destroyed the store about 1880.
Walter A. Hough
On May 20, 1861, Walter A. Hough, a Republican, was appointed postmaster under the administration of President Abraham Lincoln. He was our tenth postmaster and the first Republican to so serve. Mr. Hough built the two stores on West Main Street which later became known as the McAllister block. His store was in the east building now owned by Dr. Murcray.
During the administration of Mr. Hough, our Money Order System was established , primarily as a convenience for the Union armies, to enable our soldiers to remit money from the front to relatives at home . The pay of a soldier in the ranks was $13.00 a month. The system became operative November 1, 1864 at 138 offices selected by the Postmaster General. By June 30, 1865, 419 offices had been authorized to sell money orders, which were limited in amount to $30.00. For the first eight months of the service over 74,000 orders totaling in excess of a million dollars were sold.
The average value of the money orders was $8.59. It is probable that St. Johnsville didn't have the money order facility until long after Mr. Hough ceased to be postmaster.
Mr. Shaffer's research showed that in 1937 more than 246 million money orders were sold at over 51 thousand post offices, branch offices and postal stations, making the system the greatest money exchange medium in the world at that time.
Mr. Hough did not serve throughout the first term of President Lincoln and was superseded by James H. Egan.
Mr. Hough and Mr. Jacob H. Stewart became interested in buying cotton in the southern states at the close of the war. Mr. Stewart had a mercantile business in St. Johnsville in 1865. Mr. Hough probably arranged to give up his office so that he would be free to become a cotton dealer. Mr. Hough, years later, moved to South Butler in Wayne Comfy where his brother, John Edgerton Hough, was in the mercantile business.
Jams H. Egan
James H. Egan, a Republican, was appointed postmaster on January 18, 1865 under President Lincoln. Mr. Egan, a native of New York City, conducted the office in the West side of what was known as the Benny building. Back of the room reserved for the office was Mr. Egan's workshop as shoemaker. His residence was in the East part of the structure. This structure is now the Kyser House.
Mr. Egan was a man of strong patriotic impulses and was always interested in every local patriotic demonstration. At the Fourth of July celebration in 1867, at which Senator Roscoe Conkling was the speaker, Mr. Egan read the Declaration of Independence. He also read the same document on April 30, 1889, in St. John's Dutch Reformed Church at a patriotic meeting commemorating the hundredth anniversary of the inauguration of George Washington as President of the United States.
For the first forty-seven years of our local post office, a small cabinet or " secretary" was used to hold all the mail received for patrons. This piece of furniture was the type of writing desk in use in many homes of the period. Without doubt it was built by some local craftsman. It contained pigeon holes against which two doors could be closed. It was used throughout the years before there were any post office boxes for rent to individual patrons. The cabinet was handed down from our first postmaster to his successor, and so on in succession until it came into the possession of Mr. Egan in 1865. Later, Mr. Egan installed new office furniture to meet the needs of an increasing business but preserved the cabinet.
For several years the desk was owned by Mrs. Bertha H. Dillenbeck who inherited it from her father, Abner H. Klock . Mr. Klock purchased it from Mr. Egan, to use in connection with his work as a Justice of the Peace. When Mr. Klock bought the old secretary, Mr. Egan informed him that it had been in use in the St. Johnsville post office from the days of Henry I. Lloyd, our first postmaster, appointed in 1818. On it is posted a diagram of the Assembly Chamber of the old Capitol, showing seat No. 72 as assigned to Hezekiah Baker and used by him during one of the legislative sessions when Mr. Baker represented us as Member of Assembly. Mr. Baker served in 1853, 1854, 1856 and 1857.
Dorcas Devendorf, the daughter of Bertha Dillenbeck, can remember seeing the old desk in her mother's summer kitchen for many years. The desk was donated to the Margaret Reaney Library many years ago and is now in the corner of the downstairs north room.
Post cards first came into use when Mr. Egan was postmaster. They were invented by an Austrian physician in 1869 and Congress passed an act in 1875 authorizing their use by the Postal Service.
Nathan Briggs was appointed postmaster on April 28, 1879, during President Rutherford B. Hayes' administration. Mr. Briggs operated the "Briggs House," later called the Getman Hotel. The post office is now on this site.
Mr. Briggs cut a door in the front of the hotel at the west end of the building and provided space for the post office. It is interesting to note that While Mr. Briggs was postmaster, the one woman clerk received a salary of $120 a year. This One position at that time was probably the only position of any kind in our village open to women, outside of domestic service, and one or two places for weavers in the Sidney Smith woolen mill.
Martin Walrath, Jr.
Grover Cleveland was inaugurated President March 4, 1885, and was the first Democrat to hold the office for 24 years, or since the beginning of the Civil War. Martin Walrath, Jr., was appointed postmaster under Cleveland's administration on July 23, 1886. Mr. Walrath served as our Member of Assembly in 1884.
John J. Reardon
The inauguration of Benjamin Harrison, Republican, on March 4, 1889 and the appointment of Mr. Reardon was made on March 19, 1891.
The political campaigns of that day were marked by torch-light Parades, pole raisings and the burning of red flares.
Grover Cleveland was again elected President in 1893 and in 1896 he appointed Frank Pickard postmaster.
St. Johnsville & The Civil War
By 1860 the antislavery sentiment had become so strong in the North that the South threatened to secede in the event of the election of Abraham Lincoln. In December, 1860, South Carolina passed the first ordinance of secession and in February, 1861, the "Confederate States of America" organized a government. Shortly after the inauguration of Mr. Lincoln on March 4, 1861,we were plunged into the Civil War.
Lincoln's call for 75,000 troops was answered by over 300,000 volunteers, but it soon became apparent that a long and stubborn war was in prospect and by 1862 intensive recruiting for the army was in progress in St. Johnsville. At that time them - a small "village green" on Main Street, just east of the east line of North Division Street and on the green stood a tent as shelter for the recruiting officers and musicians - fife and drum - who rendered martial music to attract a crowd and stir the patriotic impulses of our town 's people.
As a point of local interest and pride, the names of the recruits who enlisted at St. Johnsville are here given. It is possible that not all were actual residents of St. Johnsville, and probable that the source material used may not include all the names that should be printed, and, if so, this is regretted.
115th New York Volunteer Infantry
This regiment was recruited in Montgomery, Fulton, Hamilton and Saratoga Counties. It was mustered into the service of the United States at Fonda, N. Y. on August 26, 1862 and mustered out at Albany, N. Y., July 6, 1865. Originally about 1400 strong, this regiment suffered great losses in the war and fewer than 200 remained in the regiment to be mustered out. Company "B" had the largest representation of recruits from St. Johnsville. It was under the command of Captain John P. Kneeskern, then a resident of the Town- of Minden, but after the war, a resident of St. Johnsville. Following is a list of the officers of Company "B," recruited at St. Johnsville.
Twenty one years after the war, this regiment held its first reunion in our village, on August 26, 1886. The village streets were crowded on that day and the reunion proved to be a very successful and enjoyable occasion for the veterans.
1st Artillery, Company "K"
121st Regiment, Company "C"
13th Regiment Artillery, Company "F"
97th New York Volunteer Infantry
This regiment organized at Boonville, N. Y. and mustered into service February 18, 1862, participated in ten battles among which was Gettysburg, and suffered terrible losses. At the close of the war there were fewer than 100 men in the regiment to be mustered out of the service.
In closing mention is made of David H. Walrath of Lassellsville, N. Y. from the fact that he was also a veteran of the Mexican War. Mr. Walrath was a member of the 97th Regiment, Company 'T". After the war he resided in the western part of our township. His nickname was Mexican Dave."
During the Civil War the servicemen received town and county bounties. The 1864 town records show that the Town Board acted to provide these monies.
The record reads: "At a special meeting of the Town Board of the Town of St. Johnsville, held at the office of the Town Clerk of said town on the 6th day of February, 1864, pursuant to notice 'To take some measures to indemnify the Supervisor of said town, for monies paid out as town bounties and other incidental expenses incurred in raising volunteers to fill a call of the President of the United States, made October 17, 1863.' Made a note against town of six thousand nine hundred and twelve dollars and five cents, payable to George Timmerman, or bearer."
Alex Don, Town Clerk
Doctor Richard E. Sutton of Saratoga Springs, N. Y., regimental surgeon, was one of our local physicians after the war. The Sutton family removed from here to Rome , N. Y. Dr. Sutton had a son who was a Lieutenant in the U. S. Navy and on duty on one of the men-of-war at the time of the hurricane that swept the harbor of Apia, Samoa, and went down with his ship.
153d New York Volunteer Infantry
Seven companies of this regiment were recruited in Fulton, Montgomery and Saratoga Counties, and three companies in the counties of Clinton, Essex and Warren. The regiment was mustered into the service of the United States at Florida, N. Y., October 18, 1862 and mustered out at Albany, N. Y., October 16, 1865. The largest representation of St. Johnsville recruits was in Company "E", which was under the command of Captain Jacob C. Klock who died of wounds received in the Battle of Winchester, Virginia, September 19, 1864. Captain Klock was promoted to the rank of Major, just before his death, which occurred in our village on October 4, 1864. Major Klock is buried in the village cemetery. The only other name listed among the officers of this company associated with Our town was that of George Morey, Musician.
In the 1930's Mr. Klinkhart was the only known survivor of this regiment of over 1,000 men. He then lived on his farm outside of Canajoharie. I can remember seeing Mr. Klinkhart riding in the lead car in parades when I was a young Canajoharie girl.
16th New York Heavy Artillery
Another regiment with a considerable representation from St. Johnsville was the 16th New York Heavy Artillery. The following soldiers were from our town:
George Timmerman, who furnished the money, lived on the farm that was the Hillebrant place and is now the home of Marcia Mumma and her family. Mr. Timmerman was supervisor in 1863 and served until the town meeting of February 9, 1864, when Peter F. Nellis was elected to succeed him.
In the first half of 1863, the Union armies had met a number of serious reverses. Many enlistments were expiring and there were many desertions. The cost of the war was assuming alarming proportions and much opposition to the war was being manifested in the North, and a peace party was demanding that the war be terminated. Taking advantage of the Union disasters and the unrest in the North, General Lee began his invasion of the North which was repulsed at Gettysburg, July 1-3, 1863. The draft law was unpopular and uncertain men were being incited to resist the draft. In New York City "Draft Riots" raged for three days.
In our area the sentiment and support was for the Army of the North. At a special town meeting, held on February 1 , 1866 at the Franklin House where the town's people voted to provide bounty money for enlistees, there was only one vote against the resolutions.
After three years of conflict and unremitting recruiting, greater difficulty was experienced in filling the quota of the town, as the available supply of manpower had been continuously depleted, year to year, and a greater money incentive was offered by the town to meet the situation.
Paying the Bounties
At a special meeting of the Board of Town Auditors, held at the Franklin House, in the village of St. Johnsville, on the 15th day of October, 1864, they examined, audited and allowed, the following sums of money to be paid to each volunteer, that was mustered into the service of the United States Army, and credited to the Town of St. Johnsville.
The War Commissioners appointed by the special Town Meeting, held on the 24th day of August, are allowed one thousand dollars ($1000) by the town for the following named volunteers under the last call of the President of the United States for 500, 000 volunteers, viz.:
Dated, St. Johnsville, October 15, 1864.
Some of the men whose names are listed may have been from other towns, and even from other sections of the state, or from other states. The only objective was to fill the quota. The first four names listed are almost certainly those of residents of St. Johnsville (and there may be a number of others). After the war there was a Bloomingdale family in our village. Addison Bloomingdale kept a grocery in the store which was later operated by Jacob Smith during the 1930's. This was a Grand Union store and was located in the brick block at 10 West Main Street. The name of Billington was a common one years ago. Jacob H. Billington was our village lamp lighter in the 1880's.
During the Revolutionary War, major Jacob G. Klock lived at his farm, east of the village. When the rumblings of the Revolutionary War were first heard, the Tryon County Committee of Safety met at Fort Klock. They took the preliminary steps of organizing the Tryon County Militia on June 16, 1775, for the defense of the Mohawk Valley against the English and their Indian allies. After the Declaration of Independence had been signed on July 4, 1776, the projected military organization promptly organized and all men between 16 and 50 years of age were subject to enrollment in the patriot cause. On August 26, 1776, Jacob G. Klock was elected colonel of the 2d Battalion of the Tryon County Militia. Colonel Klock served at the Battle of Oriskany under General Nicholas Herkimer on August 6, 1777, and was identified with the local troops until the end of the war .
Three generations later, during the Civil War, Jacob C. Klock was Captain of Company "E" of the 153d Regiment. He served in several battles and was wounded at Winchester, Virginia in 1864. He was brought to St. Johnsville and cared for at the home of David H. Moyer, his brother-in-law. This is now the home of Mrs. C. Curtis Lull. He died within a month and was buried in the village cemetery.
For years his grave was a focal point of interest to all soldiers who had served under him and at every G. A. R. memorial service. On Memorial Day, his grave was always decorated by members of Klock Post, G. A. R. of Fort Plain, that post having been named after him. The platform that was used by the speakers on Decoration Day was always erected in the roadway just to the north of the grave and monument.
It was very difficult for the people in St. Johnsville to get news of the war in those days. Daily papers were few and their circulation limited. One of the most reliable newspapers was Horace Greeley's New York Tribune and several copies were received in St. Johnsville, Those who could not afford newspapers (and there were many), gathered nightly in one of the village stores to listen to the reading of the war news by William P. Easterbrooks, and thus they kept in touch with the war situation.
Mr. Easterbrooks, owned the brickyard which was located North of Monroe Street in the area where the Catholic Church parking lot is now.
After the Civil War, large crowds would turn out for patriotic celebrations.
School children and their teachers would march in the Memorial Day parade carrying wild flowers to decorate the graves of soldiers and a high school boy would be selected to deliver the patriotic speech at the cemetery exercises. He always held the place of honor in the parade.
Many events were also held at "the grove, " which was a small group of hickory trees and an old orchard south of West main Street above the Timmerman Creek bridge. This area was about where the Little League Park is today.
Grand Celebration of the 4th at St. Johnsville Exercises to be held at The Grove
The Citizens of St. Johnsville and vicinity will celebrate the 4th of July,
1867 by a
GENERAL SALUTE AT DAYBREAK
At 10 o'clock the procession will form on Main street and march to the grave, where the following exercises will be held:
1st, Music; 2d, Prayer; 3d, Music; 4th, Reading of the Declaration of
JAMES H. EGAN
5th, Music; 6th, Oration by
HON. ROSCOE CONKLING
7th, Music; 8th, Benediction
At 2 o'clock the Utica Commandery of Knights Templar, in uniform, mounted, will parade the principal streets.
GEN. Z. C. PRIEST, COMMANDER
At 3 o'clock LOTS OF FUN, catching of greased pig, bag race, climbing of greased pole, wheel barrow- race, etc., causing those to laugh that never laughed before.
At 4 o'clock Monsieur Adrian of Poughkeepsie, N.Y. will give a grand performance on the tight rope.
At half past four, General Tin Pananian and his mounted "What you call them?" Will parade the principal streets.
At 5 o'clock, Edward Le Mountain of Oswego, N.Y. Will make a Grand Balloon ascension in his balloon "Fearless. "
Comwell & Smith's Band will be present to furnish music.
The whole to conclude with a grand display of fireworks, expressly for this occasion.
Officers will appear in uniform
As early as 1837, the New York State Legislature proposed a bridge for over the Mohawk River at St. Johnsville. There was even an act to incorporate the St. Johnsville Bridge Company with the town officers John W. Riggs, Barney Becker, Christian Klock and Jonas Snell, as well as financiers Henry Adams and George Spraker. They were named as commissioners to select the bridge site between the Towns of St. Johnsville and Minden. The legislature further directed that there be a toll house, that the bridge was to be not less than 28 feet wide and was to replace the rope ferry. There must have been many setbacks, for the bridge wasn't built until 1852 and then, by the St. Johnsville and Minden Bridge Company.
The January 4, 1854, Averell Day Book shows an entry for $57.43 paid to the bridge company for crossing tolls for the 1853 year.
At each end of the bridge was the following notice: "One dollar fine for riding or driving on the bridge faster than a walk or for driving more than 20 cattle over in one drove. Whoever shall break this law shall forfeit one dollar."
And so in proportion for a greater or less number.
If anyone passed the tollgate without paying, they were, charged 8 times the toll and legal action was often used to collect the amount due.
The tollgate was suspended from the roof timbers by pulleys and was lowered at the approach of a toll payer with animals. This was done in order to count the animals and collect the correct toll. Local farmers at that time raised sheep for food and their wool in order to supply the Smith Woolen Mill. Cattle and sheep were both shipped to market on the railroad to supply the meat for the cities of the east.
As late as 1854, the Averells fattened cattle and hogs on the corn mash byproduct of their distillery and there was a large scale in front of the "Stone Store" where the animals were weighed. Their ledger shows that on May 3, 1854, 68 head of cattle, which weighed 97,157 pounds, were sold at 5 ½ cents per pound for a total of $5,100.74. Some of these cattle were very heavy so it's no wonder they limited cattle over the bridges to no more than 20 at a time.
An act was passed in 1866 for a "free" bridge. The bridge company was to sell the bridge to the towns of St. Johnsville and Minden for $7,000. They could also accept $3,000 in voluntary contributions toward the total payment, however no one made a contribution and the towns didn't have the funds. By 1867 funds were available in the Board of Supervisor's budget. St. Johnsville Supervisor, Jacob Markell, made a resolution requesting the sum of $3,663.34 to be assessed upon the town 's taxable property to pay for the bonds and interest issued in payment for the bridge. Supervisor Wagner of Minden made a similar resolution and both resolutions passed. The bridge was then free and the tollgate was sold for $1.00.
In 1879 new shingles were used to repair the roof. William Nellis was Supervisor and Edward Bates was the Commissioner of Highways for that year. Mr. Bate's yearly report shows that Jacob Sanders was paid $116 for the shingles-Ripple and Ingersoll shingled the bridge roof for $60 and lawyer B. A. Ransom was paid 50 cents for legal services. This expense was for only the St. Johnsville side of the bridge.
Being a covered bridge, it was necessary to have the bridge "snowed" so the sleighs could slide ever it easily in winter. Nathan Lasher received $2.00 for snowing the St. Johnsville half of the bridge in 1879. To make travel over the bridge safe at night, lamps were suspended from the roof. Abraham Failing, who lived in the toll house, was paid $6.25 a month in 1881 for taking care, of the lamps and keeping them lighted.
Other covered bridges in this area were ever the East Canada Creek and over the Caroga Creek at Wagner's Hollow.
Dairy farming is the Town of St. Johnsville's leading industry. Several fine farms are located here which produce an abundance of milk. In the 1800's, long before the days of refrigeration and milk tanker trucks, the farmers made butter and cheese with their extra milk. The old maps show the sites of several cheese factories where large quantities of New York State cheese was produced.
The cooper trade is now almost a lost art. In 1879 two coopers were located in St. Johnsville and there was enough work to keep both men busy. Mr. Ripple lived at the corner of West Main and Mechanic Streets and his cooperage was behind his home. Mr. M. N. Russilis was located on Church Street. The coopers made barrels for sauerkraut, hams and salt pork, also cheese tubs and butter tubs which were called firkins. After Pinckney's Manufactory, near Stratford, started making machine-made firkins at a cheaper price and faster, the local coopers were put out of business.
Gebbie-Mohawk Condensed Milk Company
About 1888, H. L. Sutherland sold the old tannery property on upper North Division Street to Edward R. Coker of New York City. Here Mr. Coker started the condensed milk business. The story told is that because of poor business practices, Mr. Coker was forced into bankruptcy within one year.
Mr. Frank Gebbie and Mr. Michael Doyle purchased the condensed milk factory and through their efforts built up a large, prosperous condensed milk business. This occurred in the days before refrigeration was invented and local dairy farmers were pleased to have a ready market for their raw milk. Every day the farmers would deliver milk to the Mohawk Condensed Milk Factory. Each morning long lines of horse drawn wagons would build up outside the factory.
The late Helen Glenar, when shown a photo of the factory, said that farmers would have to drive in back to deliver their milk. As the milk was processed for different companies, one day the Red Cross condensed milk labels would be placed on the cans and the next day the Clover Brand labels would be used.
"It's a wonder that the factory was so successful because us kids would get a can of condensed milk, put a hole in it, and enjoy the good taste," she stated.
"I never wore shoes in the summer, but had to when I went to school in the fall. We lived up the hill past the factory and after school I was always glad to sit on the stone wall in front of the factory and take off my shoes."
The Mohawk Condensed Milk Factory was run by the water power of Timmerman Creek. Z. R. Klock, the father of Mrs. Glenar, owned the Klock Mill and dam on Timmerman Creek and had first rights to the water power. Mrs. Glenar remarked that her father and Mr. Gebbie were both stern men and many arguments arose over the water power. Mr. Klock wouldn't release the water to the downstream mills until he was good and ready. Mr. Klock had built and maintained the dam so he claimed this was his right. At the Klock Mill, they ground grain, cut lumber and made boxes.
Frederick Engelhardt & Sons
The automatic piano which first appeared on the American Market was the Peerless manufactured by Roth & Engelhardt of St. Johnsville. By 1908 the company was known as Frederick Engelhardt & Sons Piano Manufacturers.
The world famous Peerless player piano, built by Frederick Engelhardt & Sons, brought prosperity to St. Johnsville. The company was started in New York City as Roth & Engelhardt, but shortly after its beginning was burned out and the company moved to St. Johnsville. Mr. Engelbardt's wife was the sister of Charles Dolge (Dolgeville, New York) and Mr. Engelhardt knew about the abundance of fine woods available in this area.
The first plant was a modest frame building on Bridge Street and the only place available in 1889. A brick building was soon built on Hough Street, especially adapted for the purpose of making pianos.
Mr. Engelhardt was a master wood carver, having been taught this trade by his father. He soon had ever 100 skilled wood carvers and craftsmen employees at work creating beautiful pianos. The industry grew fast and so did St. Johnsville - many homes were constructed in St. Johnsville from 1890 to 1910.
Fred Engelhardt, the popular and well-liked head of the concern, knew everything about building the piano actions and designing attractive piano cases. He schooled his sons, Alfred and Walter, in the trade and they helped to produce a superior product.
In 1912 the Engelhardt St. Johnsville plant was known as one of the finest equipped plants in the world. Their pianos were shipped to every country in the world. Three thousand automatic player pianos were produced each year, ranging in price from $550 to $2,000 each. Also, 18,000 piano actions were built there. The work force soon was increased to ever 400 persons.
By 1910 this firm was producing 12 models of automatic pianos. In addition to the original model D, there were styles M; 44 (a 44-note piano with no keyboard) DX (which included bass and snare drums, cymbal, and flutes); DM (which included bass and snare drums, cymbal and metalphone attachment); style RR (which used a 20-tune roll), and style A, a large orchestration.
By 1913 the firm was giving fancy names to its machines, and in its line lists the "Cabaret," the "Elite," the "DeLuxe," and "Arcadian" models, in addition to styles, F, V, and the "Trio."
Over the years, the need for player pianos declined and by the 1930's the Engelhardt's were no longer in business. Their buildings are now the Little Falls Footwear Company on Hough Street. The Engelhardt name can still be seen, designed in brick, on the East building.
Knit Goods Industry
In 1892 Joseph H. Reaney got off the train at St. Johnsville seeking a site for a knitting mill that could be run by water power. Soon after, he started the first Union Knitting Mill along Timmerman Creek in a stone building which was formerly an axe factory. The stone foundation of the building can still be seen on upper North Division Street, to the northeast of the bridge near the upper mill.
In 1895 a new factory made of brick was built on Lion Avenue to accommodate the growing industry. A Mr. Taylor joined him in the business here. Mr. Reaney started a new mill in the former Bijou Piano Company building owned by Mr. Engelhardt. This building was on New Street and located adjacent to the railroad. The Union Knitting Mills Company had factories in St. Johnsville, Hudson, Herkimer, Mechanicville and Catskill. The knit underwear industry had over 800 workers in the St. Johnsville plant and this was known as the village's pioneer industry. Five million pounds of cotton yarn were spun yearly on the St. Johnsville looms. At the turn of the century, New York State was the leader in knitted fabrics produced on power machinery and St. Johnsville was the leading producer of knitted underwear.
In 1910 George D. Snell had a factory where knit tubing for glove linings was made and Mr. Allter owned the upper North Division Street knitting mill.
The Whyland Opera House
Charles Whyland owned the opera house which was built on Center Street in 1901 and 1902. William Zeigler constructed the front of the building with brick facing and the other three sides were covered with a brick patterned sheet metal.
There were four apartments on the ground floor, a large auditorium on the second floor, a horseshoe shaped balcony on the third floor, and the fourth floor contained the large stage backdrops. It was the tallest building in St. Johnsville and the largest opera house between Albany and Syracuse.
People from miles around enjoyed the plays, light operas, minstrel shows, dances, movies and concerts held here. Nine hundred people attended the April 10, 1902 grand opening and saw James R. Waite in the play, "Uncle Terry." The opera house burned in September of 1914.
Guy Roosevelt Beardslee harnessed the water power of the East Canada creek to generate electricity. However, he had a very tough time persuading people to use electricity and met with discouraging opposition. Electric power was first offered to Little Falls and was refused. The story is that the village president didn't believe that electricity would travel uphill over wires and that Mr. Beardslee was very visionary. He met with greater success in St. Johnsville and our Main Street had electric lights as early as 1898. Mr. Beardslee had even put the first electric motor into a St. Johnsville factory, at his own expense, to prove that electricity could replace steam power.
In 1910 the power company built the large brick block at the comer of South Division and West Main Streets. The electric company office was located on the ground floor here . This building is now owned by the Robert C. Failing Ford Agency.
As the demand for electricity grew, so did the Adirondack Power & Light Corp. In 1901 Mr. Beardslee surveyed the lands along the Sprite Creek and subsequently purchased four miles of land along the creek to Ingham's Mills. By 1923 the Sprite Creek power plant was utilizing the water from Canada Lake, carried through a giant four mile pipeline, for hydro electric power.
In 1923 and 1924 Over 500 men worked to build the 90 feet high East Creek Dam which would produce even more power. The power company built several cabins for the construction workers to live in and some of these are used as camps today. A large store and a community building were also built.
Harlin "Duke" Devendorf was one of the local men who worked for the power company. It was his job to drive a truck and pick up supplies at St. Johnsville.
The Adirondack Power Company was later purchased by the Niagara Mohawk Power Company.
In 1924 the silk dyeing industry was started in St. Johnsville by Mr. Lewis Fowler, founder of the Palatine Dyeing Company. He renovated the old condensed milk factory on upper North Division Street into a busy silk dyeing factory. The large building was ideally suited for the new industry with its ample supply of water and a steam boiler with a capacity which was adequate for dyeing material.
Carpenters, machinists, electricians, plumbers and steam fitters had worked night and day to get the plant ready by January of 1924. For years, skilled dyers worked over the vats while others directed the endless ropes of bright colored material onto the great rolls. In the finishing room, workers prepared the silks for shipping. Many kinds of material, both natural and synthetic, were colored in all shades of the rainbow.
As the demand for dyed material grew, the business expanded. Mr. Fowler then purchased the brick building on New Street which had been Mr. Reaney's Gem Knitting Mill. This was known as the "lower mill" and between 500 and 600 people worked in the two mills.
For over 50 years, the dyeing industry brought prosperity to St. Johnsville.
The present post office was built in 1937 and was probably a Works Progress Administration project. Work was provided for many people after the Depression of 1928 through the W.P.A. projects of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration.
A beautiful moral depicting the history of our area, painted by Jirayr H. Zorthian, is on the west wall of the post office lobby.
Postnasters - 1938 to 1988
Men have followed the American flag into battle with unwavering courage for over 200 years. They have sacrificed so that they and their fellow citizens might continue to enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
On April 11, 1945, the dedication of the World War II service men's plaque was held. The large, four-sided plaque was located on the Methodist Church lawn and contained 152 names.
Bits of History
Moses Quimby, a pioneer in honey production, purchased Colonel Klock's house in 1853. He was famous for inventing one of the first honey extractors, a smoker for subduing bees, and the first practical knife for removing cappings from honeycombs. He recorded all his observations about beekeeping and many of his writings are still used today as definitive sources of information.
Mr. Quimby was a Quaker and believed that if God permitted one to make a discovery or invent an item, that it was the inventor's duty to reveal everything to others. He detested patents and taught many about beekeeping. Behind his house he built an orchard, a terraced vineyard, an apiary, and a honey house on the site known as Klock's Churchyard. Mr. Quimby is buried in the West St. Johnsville Cemetery.
Thomas Underhill spent many happy days on his Uncle Moses Quimby's farm. When Thomas grew up, he moved to North Dakota and was chosen as its first railroad commissioner . He held this position for many years until ill health forced him to retire. He returned to St. Johnsville and spent his last year beautifying and building the cobblestone fences and steps at the West St. Johnsville Cemetery. He and his wife are buried there, near the Quimby's.
The first practical electric telegraph was invented by Samuel F. B. Morse in 1835, however he was unable to get the financial backing to make it a commercial success. It wasn't until 1844, after Congress had appropriated funds, that an experimental test line between Washington and Baltimore was completed. The experimental line was a success and seen extended to many other areas. Just when the Mohawk Valley had a telegraph line is unknown. The Averell records show that there was a telegraph line in St. Johnsville in 1854. Among the expenses of General Lewis Averell's funeral was the cost of 50 cents for two telegrams . The first notice of the telegraph company on the town tax records was on March 5, 1863. The Albany, New York and Buffalo Magnetic Electro Telegraph Company was assessed 15 days of labor on the highways.
The village of St. Johnsville was incorporated on August 1, 1857. Its organization was completed at an election held at the "Franklin House" on August 20, 1857. Elected to the Board of Trustees were: William Kingsbury, Elisha Fox, Absolam Thumb, Gordon Hough and Truman Tabor. The officers were: Stom R. Haight (President), Peter Heleger (Clerk), Daniel Youker, Mathew F. Wilson and George Adams (Assessors), John B. Churchill (Collector), and John B. Fisher (Treasurer). At that time there were 720 inhabitants within the corporate limits of the village. By 1879 there were 1500 inhabitants, three churches, three hotels, a grist mill, a woolen and a cheese factory, a bank, three dry goods, two hardware, two drug, three furniture, two clothing, two boot and shoe, and ten grocery stores, plus a number of other stores, shops, offices and professions.
The First National Bank of St. Johnsville was organized in June of 1864 with D. C. Cox as president and A. Zimmerman as cashier. It was located on East Main Street in the building now owned by the American Legion. The present bank building located at the corner of West Main and Center Streets was built in 1912. On January 6, 1945 the bank became the First National Bank of Canajoharie and in 1954 became the Central National Bank.
In 1875 St. Johnsville's first paper, "The Interior New Yorker," was published. It was followed by "The Weekly Portrait" and the "Enterprise and News" which was published by Lou D. McWethy for many years. Mr. McWethy was a noted publisher, local historian, author and genealogist whose research laid the basis for many local history buffs to follow.
Guy Roosevelt Beardslee was nicknamed "Rosey" by his friends and family. Even Theodore Roosevelt called him "Cousin Rosey" when he visited the Beardslee family.
St. Johnsville's American Legion Auxiliary Post #168 was organized in January of 1924 with Mrs. Anthony Beekman as its first president.
Over the years, there have been many clubs and organizations in St. Johnsville, The following is a list of same of these groups and is not all inclusive: Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Library Club, Firemen and Auxiliary, Auxiliary Police, American Legion Post & Auxiliary #168, Auskerada Lodge 4814, Independent Order of the Odd Fellows and Rebecca Lodge #118, Masonic Lodge 4611 and the Macques Chapter Order of the Eastern Star , Knights of Pythius, Women's Christian Temperance Union, the Maccabees, Daughters of the American Revolution, the King's Daughters, Veterans of Foreign Wars & Auxiliary, Grand Army of the Republic, Myrtle ledge #211 of the Ancient Order of United Workmen A.O.U.W., and the H. C. Smith Benefit Club. There were also several clubs and groups in each church. The following club names gleaned from early issues of the "Enterprise & News" were probably social or card clubs: Evening 500 Club, Century Club, Exchange Club, Piout Club and the Whist Club.
Have you ever noticed the large A on the upper front of the Conboy Block, next to the Fire Station? This A is the only remaining letter of the A.O.U.W. Lodge which held their meetings in this building. The Lodge was organized in 1879 with Alfred L. Snell elected as the first Past Master Workman. It was a secret order which belonged to a national Fraternal Beneficiary Society started in 1869. To become a member, you had to be over 21 and under 45 years of age, male, white, God fearing, Christian, hard working and a person who did not sell intoxicating liquors. The society members each paid $3 a month into an insurance fund and listed their families as beneficiaries. Yearly dues were $3 plus a medical examiner's certificate.
In 1860 two and one half dozen of the best cane, seated chairs, with iron rods, were ordered for the Lodge rooms from Charles Shiffer at $16 per dozen. The Lodge members consisted of the businessmen, manufacturers and elite men of the village. At their meetings, they wore a fancy dress uniform, plus a hat covered with an ostrich plume. By 1882 a separate council, called the St. John's Council #653 Royal Arcanum, joined the Lodge.
It is assumed that as these young men grew older and died the society funds were depleted and this brought on the demise of the Ancient Order of United Workmen's Organization. The last entry in their journal is dated 1898.
For many years the St. Johnsville Free Library was in the Hough Block. It had been started by the leaders of the community and their wives. They formed a literary club and each member donated a book and funds. The library moved to the Margaret Reaney Memorial Library in 1909. Mr. & Mrs. Joseph Reaney were active members of the literary club for many years and donated the library to the village.
Miss Katie Hough served the St. Johnsville libraries for over 44 years. She began as assistant librarian at the Free Library and then became the librarian. After that, she served as librarian at the Margaret Reaney Memorial Library.
About 1911 the Fonda, Johnstown and Gloversville Railroad had their field office in the former Free Library reading room. They were raising funds and surveying for the Little Falls to Johnstown Railroad. It is known that they planned to use electric power from Mr. Beardslee 's Adirondack Power Company. For some reason, the railroad was never built. How long the rooms were used as an office for the company is not known. When the rooms were converted into an apartment in 1946, a large safe from the railroad company was still there. It was opened and found to be empty.
All of the maps, grade calculations and records for the railroad company were acquired by Charles McCrone and for years were stored in the old grist mill at West St. Johnsville. When the McCrone property was sold in the 1980's, these records were given to Anita Smith for historical research.
In 1865 Morris Klock became the town's first insurance agent and conducted the business from his West St. Johnsville home. In 1883, after Mr. Klock's death, H. L. Sutherland and Martin Walrath purchased the business. They opened the first fire insurance and real estate office in the village. In 1886 Mr. Sutherland purchased Mr. Walrath's interest and then conducted the business at 11 West Main street.
The manufacturing of cigars was started in St. Johnsville by Don Delong in 1865. Eugene Munier started another shop in 1872 and by 1889, Henry Sneck had six employees making cigars. Ferdinand Briggs also made cigars and James Healey's shop was over the Allter's store. In 1904 Mr. Healey sold to Charles C. Walrath, who in turn sold to Dewitt C. Coleman. Mr. Colemar's factory was in the building behind the former Vinton Pontius home on West Liberty Street. John Burns started in the cigar business in 1896 and one of his employees, Jacob F. Smith, was later in business for himself by 1911. In 1912 the annual local output was 500,000 cigars. The cigar industry drifted away from New York State to the southern states and today there is a large Havana cigar making district, called YBOR City, in Tampa, Florida.
The first business block on East Main Street in St. Johnsville was built in 1858 by the Beekman brothers. Here they operated four stores and sold everything in the general merchandise and grocery line. Mr. Beekman always tried to make a sale and if he didn't have an item, would step into the back room and out the back door to pick up the item at another store and return from the back room with the item.
Many more facts could be told about the Town of St. Johnsville and its people, however at present there are limits of time and space.
We invite anyone who can provide further information to write it out and send your letter to Betty Bilobrowka or Anita Smith. All information will be placed in the town's archival collection.
"Where Our Pioneers Sleep"
Klock's Churchyard, the old burying ground east of the village, is a historic shrine.
About half a mile cast of St. Johnsville and a few hundred feet to the north of the old Route 5 turnoff is the site of the first Reformed Church and the burying ground in which cur early settlers sleep. Here are buried Colonel Jacob Klock , his brother George Klock, Christian Nellis, the Reverend John Henry Dysslin and their families. It is interesting to read the old inscriptions, some are in German and one stone is decorated with a Palatine German heart. Many graves are marked only by limestone slabs and have no inscriptions. On this God's Acre stood Klock's Church and here the first Christian burials were made. Tradition also maintains that in a portion of this ground Christian Indians and the slaves of the early pioneers were buried. Klock's Churchyard was used as a burying ground for ever 75 years.
In 1914 Royden W. Voshurgh edited the old St. John's Reformed Church records and also copied the gravestone inscriptions. The Klock's Church burying ground information was placed in the New York State Library, with the Genealogical Society of New York, and with the St. John's Reformed church trustees.
During the 1780-1980 Bicentennial of the Schoharie and Mohawk Valley Raids, a book was printed to commemorate the Battle of Klock's Field. Mr. Vosburgh's research was reprinted in this book, which is available at the Margaret Reaney Memorial Library. (Also available on this web site. Look for the link.)
On Memorial Day of 1980, the cemetery was rededicated to the early pioneers and the St. Johnsville, Daughters of the American Revolution unveiled a bronze plaque at the site. Hazel Bode, a member of the D. A. R., along with the Klock's Churchyard Preservation Group, promoted the cemetery restoration project. The actual restoration was done by the Town Highway Department and a "Green Thumb" project . Mrs. Bode secured bronze markers from the government to mark the graves of the Revolutionary War veterans.
Revolutionary War soldiers buried in Klock's Churchyard are: George Klock, John Klock, Jacob Klock and Christian Nellis, Jr., as well as Jacob G. Klock of the War of 1812.
Markers were purchased for the pioneer Hendrick Klock, Christian Nellis, Sr., and the Reverend John Henry Dysslin from the 1780-1980 bicentennial book proceeds.
The Battle of Klock's Field
The Battle of Klock's Field, October 19, 1780, took place in the area the west of the present town barn and east of the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Park. Over 1,400 men were engaged in the battle, which was a sizable army considering the date and remoteness of the area.
Sir John Johnson and his men skirted behind Colonel Klock's house and were stationed on the hillside to ambush General VanRensselaer's advancing American troops. About 300 feet west of Harrison's TV, Johnson formed his regulars in a battle line from the knoll, across the highway, to the peninsula in the river.
Van Rensselaer attempted to form his left on the flats to oppose Johnson's right on the river bank. The ambushing Indians on the knoll fired down upon the Americans. Some of Van Rensselaer's troops circled the hill at a higher elevation and then could shoot down at Johnson's men.
The fact that the Americans fought from the knoll overlooking the park has been corroborated by records of the battle. Two small cannon balls, called grape shot, were found on East Main Street and another on Am Street. The Main Street grape shot, along with a larger cannon ball found at Palatine Church, are in the accompanying photo.
The Americans muted Johnson's forms and would have captured them, however darkness fell only 15 minutes after the battle started. Johnson's men escaped by plunging into the water, about near the foot of the present Lion Avenue , and crossed the river in the darkness.
Historic Sites and Homes
There are many historic homes and sites in the Town of St. Johnsville. Most of these sites are along what was called the King's Highway, then the Mohawk Turnpike and today is known as Route 5. There were three Fork Klocks and three Fort Houses.
Palatine Church - A beautiful stone church built in 1770 is but a few yards east of the town line which runs along Palatine Church Read (open to public).
General Cochran Home - built in 1790 by Major James C. Cochran for his father Doctor John Cochran, Director General of Hospitals, through the Revolutionary War (private).
Mother Creek Farm - has a Palatine Dutch barn , a limestone summer kitchen and a huge limestone root cellar built into the hillside (private).
Fort Hess - built in 1736 was on the hill to the west of the Mother Creek Dutch barn. It was used during the French and Indian War and again in 1776 during the Revolutionary War. This fort was also called Fort Harrison and can be found on the 1779 Tryon Map.
Fort Klock - built in 1750 by Johannes Klock, a fortified farm homestead that also served as an early trading post (open to public).
Fort Nellis - At this site there was a blockhouse and log farmhouse, between the highway and the river, which was built by Christian Nellis.
Nellis Tavern - the farm home of Christian Nellis which was built later than Fort Nellis, however parts of this structure date to 1747. It was used as a turnpike tavern in 1783 and also as a store by 1801. The building is noted for its stenciled walls (open to public).
Klock's Churchyard - A cemetery and site of the 1757 Klock's Church, built on land donated by the Klock family (private).
Fort Klock The home of Colonel Jacob Klock, built in 1765. This site was southwest of Klock's Churchyard and was also called Fort House in honor of Christian House , the builder.
Battle of Klock's Field - The site of the 1780 battle in which the Americans almost defeated Sir John Johnson and his Indian and Tory raiders. Indian Chief Joseph Brant was injured in this battle. The battle line was a few hundred feet west of the town barn and Harrison's TV. This is the only Revolutionary War battlefield in New York State which is divided by a state highway.
Fort Timmerman (Zimmerman ) - stockaded home of the pioneer Jacob Zimmerman .
The Methodist Church parsonage is now on this site.
Fort House - A fortified dwelling on the north side of William Street, probably on the hill, named in honor of the builder, or possibly could have been the home of Christian House.
Fort Harrison - The 1905 Montgomery County atlas shows the Fort Harrison site on the western boundary of the village. This was about where the Burgess gravel bed is today.
Teanontoge (1689-1693) - An Indian castle at the eastern end of Fort Hill. This palisaded village was raided by the French in February of 1693. It was on the ridge overlooking the Mohawk River, southwest of the present bus garage. On early land grants, variants, of the spelling are Tionondoge or Tyenindoke.
Fort Klock or Fort House - The home of George Klock, Sr., built in 1760 along the Crum Creek. The present home of Marcia Mumma on Hillabrandt Read (private).
Fort Hill - An Indian fortified village used during the French and Indian War. Crum Creek flows past and around the western end of the hill. This site is adjacent to the mouth of the East Canada Creek. The creek is the western boundary of the Town of St. Johnsville.
People used to say this little rhyme, "R. B. Beekman sitting on a fence, trying to make a dollar out of 980."
In 1867 Lorenzo Clark sold his property to Martin Williams and a Mr. Van Deusen. They started the Williams Agricultural Works and produced grain threshing machines. The plant was located on Zimmerman Creek, near Scudder's Falls. Their threshing machines won many county and state prizes for quality and were known as the best. When the business grew, the company moved to its new large brick building which was built along the railroad. This factory burned in the 1930's.
In 1869 Lorenzo Clark purchased the land across the creek from the Williams Threshing Machine Company and erected a new machine company where he manufactured garden implements.
In 1876 C. W. Scudder purchased the former Clark factory and started producing fifth wheels for wagons. The fifth wheel was a device which made wagons easier to drive and to make turns.
Benjamin Parker Austin was employed by the Engelhardts in their piano factory and had a noted musical background. Mr. Austin composed music, was the chief arranger who made the master piano music rolls, and was the leader of the widely known Peerless Band.
Rush F. Lewis, mayor of St. Johnsville for five terms from 1931-1941, was known as a dynamic personality. He was, elected as District Attorney of Herkimer County and served one 3 year term during the Gillette murder trials. Mr. Lewis was the first field organizer for the Dairymen's League Cooperative (filling hundreds of speaking engagements in the interest of the league), was widely known among the dairy farmers and active in the Grange.
Michael O'Dockerty, for many years, was a local businessman and public official. He was overseer of the poor for ten years and a town welfare officer for eight years. In 1921, after World War I, he put in the shrubs and trees at Veterans Memorial park. This was a commemorative landscape program and people sponsored a tree or shrub to memorialize a member of their family or a friend. The blueprints of the park's layout have been donated to the Reaney Library.
In 1921 the St. Johnsville Daughters of the American Revolution dedicated the entrance gate to the Veterans Memorial Park. The story is that the uniform size cobblestones came from the fields of the farm owned by Kate and Lena Nellis, both charter members of the local D.A.R. .
1938 to 1988
In 1938 the town celebrated its 100th anniversary while the world outside was hurtling madly toward war. The New York World's Fair distracted us in 1939, and locally the American Legion dedicated the soldiers monument in the library park, little realizing that our young men themselves would soon be the armed forces fighting in World War II.
When the war years came, like good Americans we responded. Those of us left at home joined the home defense guard, became air raid wardens or plane spotters, installed blackout curtains, Wrestled with ration books, bought war bonds, and prayed for our men at war.
We welcomed a group of Mexican workers who came to work on the railroads to free the regular workers for war duties and who were housed at Klock Park. We organized a Community Chest, established a youth activities program, began the annual Halloween celebrations, saw the historic mural painted on the Post Office walls and, eventually, thankfully, joyfully, celebrated the war's end with a gigantic welcome home parade for our returning heroes.
The later 1940's saw many events indicative of peacetime progress. A fine industrial arts building replaced the old high school on the hill destroyed by fire in 1945. The new elementary school was dedicated in 1949, the same year our new reservoir was constructed.
The decades that followed saw continued improvements and changes. We became known as the village of light, and thousands of tourists came to view the magnificent Fowler Christmas display. We built a new grandstand at the baseball park. A new bridge was erected across the Mohawk. The fire department began their annual Firemen's Fairs. The town erected a new town barn (so disastrously destroyed by fire as this sesquicentennial year began). The new railroad bridge created the attractive mini-park dedicated to Jacob Zimmerman, founding father of our Community. A monument to honor all our veterans was erected in the memorial park.
Two housing developments, one on the eastern end of the village and another on the western hillside were followed by a third one in the very Center of the village next to the Post Office.
The building of the village barn and the water treatment plant near the Mohawk were accompanied by the development of the river-front marina.
Now Clubs and organizations made their appearance: the Fort Klock Historic Preservation, the Benefit Club, SAVAC, the Youth Center, the Palatine Settlement Society, the Senior Citizen Saints.
New businesses came too: Stewart's, Cumberland Farms, the Pizzeria, Springer's Farm Equipment, Alternate Solutions, Jack Pollitt Welding, Kinney Drugs, Sentinel, and more.
In 1987 we organized and celebrated the first community-wide Christmas festival.
Of course, some things disappeared ever these years too. Gone were the theater, the local paper, the ice-cream parlors, the railroad station, the Old Stone Store, Barca's Bakery, the Community Club, the swimming pool at the park, the old firehouse on Center Street and the police station (complete with cell) there too.
And so we come to 1988. In this sesquicentennial year of the Town of St. Johnsville, truly we can be proud of our past, optimistic for the present, and, best of all, hopeful for our future.
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