History From America's Most Famous Valleys
Thanks to Elizabeth Bilobrowka for contributing information on Nellis Tavern.
How the Tavern Was Saved.
From the Palatine Settlement Society Newsletter, Summer 1998.
The Palatine Settlement Society is not the first group of individuals who have attempted to save the Nellis Tavern from destruction, although we have been the most successful. Over the last thirty years there have been many schemes to preserve the structure, not the least of which was a fantastic plan to float the Tavern down the Mohawk River to the Ft. Plain Museum. As the desperate ruin of the Tavern fast disappears through careful restoration, we thought it might be interesting to record the recollections of those still living who participated in those early efforts. Editor of the Newsletter, Robert E. Smith.
P. O. Box 183
St. Johnsville, NY 13452
It started like any other day in the summer of 1978. Roger Johnson, lifelong resident of St. Johnsville, was just coming over the hill at Vedder Road on Route 5, headed for Woodstock, Vermont, when he saw the bulldozer parked up against the wall of the west end of the abandoned Nellis Tavern. The New York State Department of Transportation had parked one of its construction trailers in the brush along the road embankment, and the workmen had left for lunch. Roger parked his car and went to speak with the engineer on the site. "I asked the guy what was going on, and he replied that the state had taken a temporary easement around the Tavern so that it could be demolished as part of a plan to straighten the curve in Route 5 at that point. I asked if I could look around and the man said fine, but that the men would be back at 1 P.M. to begin the demolition." The time was then 11 A.M. Roger recalls the tavern being a total mess. On the floor of the east room he found wallpaper on the floor, and where it had fallen off, the richly colored stenciling was revealed.
Roger recalls leaving the building, finding a telephone, and calling the New York State Historical Association in Cooperstown, the Ft. Plain Public Library, and a Mrs. Kruger in Poland, New York who was then associated with the American Decorative Arts Society, all of whom were interested in seeing the Tavern saved at least temporarily for the purpose of recording the stencil designs.
"I went back and told the DOT engineer that people wanted the building saved; he was unsympathetic." I said to him, "See that tree over there? Did you ever see a hanging?" He responded that he had not. "Well, you might today!" Further calls to the DOT offices in Utica resulted in a one week reprieve. Roger left for his appointment in Vermont not knowing what he would find upon his return.
A week later, driving over the same section of Route 5, Roger neared the crest of the hill. "I was terrified as to what I might or might not see. I looked for the peak of the roof gable and there it was."
One week led to another, and another. The rest as they say, is history!
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