Fort Klock Historic Restoration
Forts & Firesides of the Mohawk Country
by John J. Vrooman, 1951
Published by Baronet Litho Co., Inc., Johnstown, NY
VAN ALSTYNE HOUSE
THE first mention of this name in the Colony is that of Jan Martense Van Alstyne, son of Martin Van Alstyne of Holland, who came to New Amsterdam in 1646. By 1657 he seems to have made his way up to Albany where he owned considerable real estate.
Doubtless some business opportunity presented itself for he sold his property at Albany in 1698 and settled permanently near Kinderhook (about twenty miles below Albany) on the Hudson, where he died. Kinderhook was one of the rapidly growing settlements of that time. His will directed that his son Abraham should inherit the farm, but the other heirs, brothers and sisters, were each to be reimbursed in cash by Abraham for their share.
One of these brothers was named Martin and he it was who went to Canajoharie and there in 1749 built this house and a mill in partnership with Hendrick Scrembling, who had arrived a year previous. The partners were also engaged in the forwarding of freight up and down the river by batteaux, no doubt finding this a profitable adjunct to the milling business, being able to transport their own merchandise in their own boats. Scrembling soon sold his interest to Van Alstyne and it is the latter name which has clung to the old stone house.
The mill was located a short distance above the house on Canajoharie Creek; the significance of the word "Canajoharie" being "The pot that washes itself." The "pot" is a water-worn hole about twenty-five feet in diameter and some eleven feet deep in the bed rock, which at that time was washed clean of dirt and drift by the fall of the water. Through the years the creek bed, which is the bed rock, has been eroded in such a way that a great deal of the flow of water is diverted from the hole which now fills with silt. This mill was a building with massive timbers completed about 1760 and stood until 1814 when it burned under rather unusual circumstances. A Mrs. Isaac Flint, who lived nearby and who was commonly credited with being a witch, was strongly suspected of having something to do with the origin of the fire. That night, on hearing suspicion attached to her, she fastened a rope over a ceiling beam in her house, put a noose around her neck, and standing on a chair tightened the rope and kicked the chair from under her. She was found soon after but too late to be questioned about the fire.
The Van Alstyne house is now owned by the Fort Rensselaer Club of Canajoharie, and is used for social purposes. It has been enlarged, maintaining the original lines and appearance on the street side, the addition being placed at the rear overlooking the creek. The interior has been preserved as far as possible, the alterations being concerned chiefly with the additions. In the upper story under the eaves of the roof a large room extending the entire width of the building has been set apart, without disturbing its venerable framing timbers, for the display of an interesting collection of early Americana gathered almost entirely from the neighborhood.
The house was never palisaded during the war as were so many of these stone houses which answered as forts. It was, however, put in a state of defense and in it many of the meetings of the Tryon County Committee of Safety were held. There were fifty-three Van Alstynes in the service, fifteen being in the First Regiment Tryon County Militia.
The census of 1790 gives the following families of this name in the Canajoharie district:
Abraham Van Altyne -
2 males, 1 male under 16 vrs., 3 females, 0 slaves
John Van Alstyne -
3 males, 3 females, 0 slaves
Martin A. Van Alstyne -
1 male, 1 male under 16 yrs., 3 females, 0 slaves
Martin C. Van Alstyne -
2 males, 1 male under 16 yrs., 4 females, 0 slaves
Abraham C. Van Alstyne -
1 male, 4 females, 1 slave
Cornelius C. Van Alstyne -
4 males, 1 male under 16 vrs., 4 females, 0 slave
Nicholas C. Van Alstyne -
1 male, 4 males under 16 yrs., 2 females, ? slaves
John Van Alstyne -
1 male, 3 males under 16 yrs., 2 females, ? Slaves
Martin G. Van Alstyne -
2 males, 2 males under 16 yrs., 2 females, ? slaves
Philip Van Alstyne -
1 male, ? males under 16 yrs., 4 females, ? slaves
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