Displaying items by tag: history

Thursday, 04 November 2021 13:20

The Sacandaga River Steamboats

It has been over 90 years since the Conklingville Dam was completed and the river that flowed through the Sacandaga Valley became the Great Sacandaga Reservoir. When visitors hear of this river that once ran through the area, they likely visualize it as a small meandering creek passing quietly past the picture-perfect farms and tiny settlements that dotted its shore. In reality, the river was wide and strong as it made its way past the long-lost communities of Osborn Bridge, Fish House, Batchellerville, and West Day. For over twenty miles it flowed through the Sacandaga Valley only narrowing when it encountered the Conklingville rapids. As it ran its way through the valley it had the power to carry thousands of logs each spring during the annual river drive to the Hudson River, as well as the depth to allow navigation by the steamboats that are the focus of this story.

In 1848, Albany County native Gurdon Conkling saw the commercial advantages of the Sacandaga Valley and established the Lynwood Tannery along the south shore of the river. This location soon came to be known as Conklingville. Along with numerous tannery buildings, Gurdon also constructed a hotel, stores, and homes on both sides of the river. At the same time as he was building his tannery, Conkling also built two wood-burning sidewheel steamers, the Whip Poor Will and the Colonel, to move lumber, wood, hemlock bark, and other goods to and from his new business interests.

The arrival in Batchellerville on October 30, 1848, of the first of these steamboats, was a day of celebration, with a crowd watching the progress of the plume of smoke off in the distance as the boat headed down river towards the hamlet. When the seventy-foot-long, 15-foot-wide steamboat came into sight it was greeted by a hearty cheer and the firing of a cannon. A few honored guests, feasting on oysters, fruit, and cake, had ridden downstream from the site at Fish House where the boat had been constructed. Soon additional passengers boarded, and the boat headed toward Edinburgh, where this maiden voyage was concluded. 

The Conklingville tannery changed hands in 1863 when it was purchased by leather merchants Henry Poor and Sons. As part of the sale, they also acquired the steamboat Whip Poor Will, the Colonel having been destroyed in 1855 when the steam boiler exploded. In the accident, the captain of the boat, Joseph Greenslete was killed. Don Bowman tells of hearing that the explosion was caused by logs used to fire the boiler that had been filled with gunpowder by disgruntled teamsters, whose teams had once hauled the hemlock bark that the steamboats carried.

Two years after Henry Poor took over the Conklingville tannery he also bought the Croweville tannery on Sand Creek, a tributary of the Sacandaga River in Hadley. With this purchase, the company added another steamboat to the fleet, the L. E. Wait. Named after the supervisor of the tannery, Lewis E. Wait, this boat was also used to move the hemlock bark on the Sacandaga River.

The Sacandaga River was an ideal path for the transportation of the tons of hemlock bark that was required for the tanning of raw leather. From May to August the bark was cut and after being allowed to dry, transported to the river from the surrounding forests and left in huge piles along the shore. In autumn the bark was loaded onto flat bottomed scows and towed by steamboat downstream to the tannery. In reminisces from those who lived in the valley during these early years, it was recalled that these loads were so immense that they resembled small houses being towed down the river.

Along with bark and supplies for the tannery, the steamboat carried products manufactured in the factories along the river. At Batchellerville, Sherman Batcheller loaded wooden measures, barrel covers, and wooden pegs onto the boats and the King-Snow Wooden Ware Company supplied wooded flour pails and buckets. This merchandise was carried to Hadley where it was shipped by rail and sold across the northeast.

Sacandaga River steamboats were also used for carrying passengers. In his memoirs, Ira Gray states that his mother remembered having boat rides in the 1860s on the Whip Poor Will piloted by Captain William Ellis Greenslete, older brother of Joseph Greenslete mentioned earlier. This is likely a reference to Autumn Sunday School trips where two barges were fastened together, and picnickers were taken upriver from Conkingville for an all-day picnic at a grove near West Day.

By the early 1880s, Henry Poor and Son closed their tanneries along the Sacandaga River due to a drastic drop in leather prices and a diminishing supply of hemlock bark in the region. The Whip Poor Will made its last trip in 1883. The L. E. Wait also operated on the Sacandaga River, until 1883, when it sunk in April of that year. While the passengers and crew all got safely to shore, 1,600 logs on barges bound for the woodenware works at Batchellerville were lost.

The 65-year-old Greenslete retired that same year after 35 years running steamboats on the river and passed away October 21, 1887, in Broadalbin, Fulton County, New York, and is buried in Union Mills Cemetery in the village.

Dave Waite is a resident of Blue Corners, Saratoga County and has written many articles on upstate New York history. When not researching or playing with his cat Gus, he and his wife Beth seek solitude on remote ponds in the Adirondack wilderness. Dave can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Published in History
Thursday, 28 October 2021 15:39

The Gold Star Mother Pilgrimage

On May 13, 1930, two Saratoga County women set out on an all-expense paid dream trip. Sailing from New York City harbor on the S.S. Republic, they would be welcomed in Paris by French and American officials and put up in one of the most expensive hotels in the city. After visiting the sites in and around Paris, they would stop in London on the way home where they received the same first-class treatment.

It should have been one of the finest times of their lives, but it wasn’t. They were going to visit the graves of their sons who had died during the Great War. In 1921, the government had offered to bring home all of the fallen and the families of about 40,000 agreed. But about 30,000 families choose to let their loved ones rest where they fell with their comrades. 

In 1929 Congress enacted legislation that authorized the secretary of war to arrange for pilgrimages to the European cemeteries “by mothers and widows of members of military and naval forces of the United States who died in the service at any time between April 5, 1917, and July 1, 1921, and whose remains are now interred in such cemeteries.” By October 31, 1933, when the project ended, 6,693 women had made the pilgrimage. Almost all of the participants were mothers, rather than widows, so the trips came to be known at the Gold Star Mother  Pilgrimage, the gold star being the symbol hung in the windows of those families who had lost a family member in the service of their country. 

The Saratoga mothers were Mrs. George Gurtler from Saratoga and Mrs. Caroline Cady from Greenfield, both of whom lost their sons in October 1918 as the war was ending. Mrs. Gurtler was the mother of Corporal William and Private George Gurtler Jr., both of whom served with the National Guard on the Mexican border prior to World War I and with the 105th Infantry, 27th Division during the War. On October 20, 1918, as the Division was attacking the Hindenburg Line, both were killed in action and are buried together in the Somme American Cemetery. The Saratoga Veterans of Foreign Wars Post is named in their memory.   

Mrs. Cady’s son was Private Melville Cady who served with the 1st. Division. In July, 1918, the 22-year-old soldier was wounded by shrapnel but returned to action in August and was killed on Oct. 14, 1918. He is buried in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery. 

There were nine American Cemeteries in France and Belgium, so the women were divided into groups and bused to the appropriate site.  They visited the cemeteries for several days in a row, for approximately an hour each day for a grave site visit. 

Three other mothers from the county – Mrs. Alice Perkins, Mrs. Clarence Walton and Mrs. Clancy Record were too ill to travel. 

From 1930 until 1933, 6,500 mothers and widows were reunited with their loved ones for the last time but in 1933 the government was forced to end the program due to the Depression. 

Paul Perreault has been the Malta Town Historian since 2009. He served as principal in the Ballston Spa School District from 1978 until 1998 and as a history teacher at Shenendehowa High School from 1967 until 1975. He is a member of the Association of Public Historians of New York State, the Saratoga County History Roundtable and the Ballston Spa Rotary Club. Paul can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in History
Thursday, 23 September 2021 12:46

Donald K. Stewart, the Man Behind the Ice Cream

This summer Brookside opened an exhibit: “Century of Ice Cream! The Dake Family and Stewart’s.” One might wonder why this successful business, with almost 350 convenience stores is named “Stewarts” and not “Dake’s” Actually, the original founder of Stewarts had a strong reputation for high-quality dairy products, long before the Dake family purchased the business.

Technically, Donald K. Stewart was not a Saratoga County native. He was born in Austin, Minnesota on May 26, 1897. However, he lived most of his life in the Ballston Spa area, where his father, Thomas F. Stewart, was in the grocery business. Stewart’s grandfather, A. B. Stewart was a farmer in the Town of Ballston, per the 1880 census. So, the Stewarts' had been in Saratoga County for a while. The father of Donald’s mother, Lizzie, was from Minnesota, so Lizzie likely went there to be with her parents during her pregnancy.

Donald, at age 18, was already working as a retailer. The 1915 state census gave his occupation as “Salesman, Tea and Coffee Wagon.” Details of this business can be gleaned from an ad in the Saratogian in September, 1915: “Wanted: Man to take the tea and coffee business of D. K. Stewart, covering Galway, Milton and Greenfield.” Another ad, placed by Stewart, offered for sale a “kind and gentle” horse—perhaps the steed that had hauled him around.

Thomas had left the grocery business by this time. A notice in the Troy Times of October 15, 1912 said that he’d moved from Ballston Spa to a farm west of the village. Ill health had induced him to seek an outdoor occupation. Probably his son gave up his tea and coffee route and went to help with the farm. The 1920 census listed the occupation of Thomas as “farmer,” and Donald, living in his father’s Town of Ballston household, was a “milk dealer.” He had been at this for a while, because a 1919 article about increased milk prices mentioned several dairies, including D. K. Stewart’s. In March 1920, his firm, the Milk Depot, had a telephone installed at the store on Bath Street.

About this time, Thomas sold his farm, and moved into the village. The Stewarts, in Ballston Spa, mostly seem to have lived in the Ballston Avenue/McMaster Street neighborhood. Donald earnestly pursued the business of selling dairy products. The 1930 census showed him and his wife, Pearl, in Ballston Spa, with his occupation given as “retail merchant, milk and cream.” Stewart had married Pearl Jones at her parents’ home in Rock City Falls. Their honeymoon plans included touring the Adirondacks.

Cleanliness was important at the Stewart dairy business. The “Kleen Kaps” on the bottles were touted in advertisements, and customers could join the “Kleen Kap Klub.” Reliability of delivery was also a priority: a 1929 ad promised bottles would arrive on porches “regardless of the weather.” In 1932, the firm received an award from a state agency. Stewart’s milk scored high on aspects such as bacteria content, flavor, sediment, odor, butter fat, and temperature.

The year 1934 was eventful. Stewart was appointed justice of the peace, and he also purchased the Westcott garage on Church Avenue, and converted it to “one of the most modern milk dealer’s plants in this vicinity.” This was the first Stewarts shop (though the Milk Depot had been operating for quite a while before this). The site still is the location of a Stewarts store.

Stewart apparently kept up with developments in the dairy trade, as, in 1936 he graduated from a program at the Massachusetts Agricultural College. This interest in improved techniques for managing a dairy firm characterized his concern for his business. He made a modest expansion by opening a store in Saratoga Springs: an ad from 1944 warned customers that the Stewarts Ice Cream store on Church Street would be closing for an indefinite period. Pearl Stewart was identified as the proprietor. It seems there were just the two shops then.

That year, a trade publication noted P. W. and C. V. Dake, of Saratoga Springs had acquired Stewart’s milk and ice cream business. It stated that he’d started the firm in 1917, and had run it for 27 years. The Schenectady Gazette of October 4, 1944 specified that the Ballston Spa and Saratoga Stewarts stores had been purchased by the Dake brothers, but that Stewart would stay on for a short time as an advisor.

His time as an advisor may have been quite short, since in mid-October, employees gave him a surprise farewell party at the Church Avenue shop. Two days after the party, employees visited Donald at his Ballston Avenue home and expressed regret at his departure. But there were refreshments and games, so it was not totally a sad occasion. The Dakes started expanding the business, adding new stores over the years, eventually becoming the chain we know so well today.

After parting ways with the business. Donald took an interest in the Ballston Spa Village Cemetery, which was not far from his house. He was a sales agent for Temple Brothers, Inc. of Rutland, Vermont, who were. “builders and designers of cemetery memorials.” In the 1950s and 1960s, he was a director of the nearby cemetery.

Stewart died on October 31, 1971, while visiting his son, Donald K. Stewart, Jr. in Florida. Pearl died the following year, also in Florida. Both are buried in the Village Cemetery, as are their son and daughter-in-law.

Published in History
Thursday, 09 September 2021 14:00

Poultry Entrepreneur of Corinth

century ago, Corinth was home to some of the top Rhode Island Red chickens in the state.  Backyard hens have become popular in recent years but poultry breeding was a big business in our region in the earlier 1900s.

Charles August Diedrich was born in 1877 to German immigrants, who came to Corinth in the last half of the nineteenth century.  He married Agnes Judge and opened a grocery store in Corinth in the fall of 1900.  Less than a year later he took his brother-in-law, Clifford Bush, as a partner.  The Diedrich and Bush Grocery store was located on Palmer Avenue where the current Dollar General now stands. 

The progressive grocery store later took orders and made deliveries by automobile, a first in this community.  In 1906 they were “dealers in groceries and provisions, fruit, candy, tobacco and cigars, also hardware, tinware, drugs and patent medicines.”  Seven years later they advertised the store as “leading grocers, dealers in grocery and provisions, salt and smoked meats, poultry foods and poultry supplies.”  They were also agents for Prairie State egg incubators.  This increased emphasis on their poultry line of goods corresponded directly with Mr. Diedrich’s second endeavor – the Adirondack Poultry Yards.  This part of the business was located at his home on the corner of Sixth and Pine Streets, a few blocks from the store.  Here he worked to breed some of the finest stock of Rhode Island Red chickens in the area and eventually the state. 

All across the region the Adirondack Poultry Yards had displays of their fowl – at the Saratoga County Fair, the Washington County Fair held in Hudson Falls, the Mohawk Valley Poultry Show in Schenectady and the Fort Orange Poultry Show in Albany.  Each time Charles Diedrich and his Rhode Island Reds brought home numerous ribbons and cash prizes.  In 1913 at the Saratoga Armory Show he had the biggest class of birds in the poultry exposition.   An exhibit of the birds won top honors at the state fair and he even showed poultry at Madison Square Garden in 1915.  A year later the poultry show in New York City was promoted as an “American billion-dollar industry” and visited by thousands who witnessed the Adirondack Poultry Yards receive numerous ribbons.

Tragedy hit the Adirondack Poultry Yards in the early spring of 1920.  Fire broke out at about 5 a.m., possibly from a defective brooder, a device used to keep young chicks warm.  Forty pure bred chickens and thirty large fowl died in the fire.  It was reported that all of these fowl had won prizes at the state fair the previous year and many of them were valued at more than $100 each.  Mr. Diedrich had no insurance on his poultry business.

Soon he was back in business and shipping eggs to be incubated and hatched throughout the United States.  Ironically, he even displayed pet foxes at the Saratoga County Fair in 1921.  The last mention in the newspapers of the Adirondack Poultry Yards was in 1925.  After nearly 50 years of business Charles Dietrich and Clifford Bush were ready for retirement, closing the store in the summer of 1946.  Their innovative and entrepreneurial ideas made their store a favorite for shoppers in the area.  Mr. Diedrich’s poultry endeavors were recognized throughout the state and beyond.

Rachel Clothier is historian for the Town of Corinth, operates the Corinth Museum, and is retired from Crandall Public Library in Glens Falls.

Published in History
Thursday, 26 August 2021 13:11

A Summer Vacation Suggestion

As the heated term of the year draws near I presume that any number of stationer clerks are asking themselves as to how, when and where they shall spend their vacations.  I want to give them a bit of advice regarding a summer outing.

Everyone knows there is no equal to exercise for a good “walk.”  My advice is to shoulder your knapsack and take a two weeks tramp.  I speak from personal experience.  My brother and I took such a walk last summer.  Taking train from New York to Albany, we made that last named city our starting point.

With fishing tackle and 15 pounds of baggage in our knapsacks, we left Albany on Monday morning and, taking the road leading to Waterford, we made Stillwater for dinner and White Sulphur Springs for supper, (The White Sulphur Spring Hotel[ was a hotel located on the east (that is, south) end of Saratoga Lake) a days walk of 27 miles .After tea we enjoyed the bites of the fish and the mosquitos on Saratoga Lake for an hour or so and then turned in for as sweet a night’s sleep as I ever enjoyed.

The next morning after a good breakfast, we started for Glens Falls, another “stint”  of 27 miles.  Our way took us along the shores of Saratoga Lake for 3 miles, thence up through Union Avenue, Saratoga Village, till we came opposite the racecourse, where we struck off around the base of Mt. McGregor, as fine a bit of country walking as I ever saw.  A fine road, well shaded, with romantic scenery, lent delight to the walker.  We made Glens Falls for supper, having taken dinner at Dow’s Corners on the way.  As the muscles of our legs had been exercised by walking, so were those of our jaws by the mastication of a so-called steak at our dining place.  Had they called it a “shingle” instead of a steak, they would have been nearer the mark.

On Wednesday morning we left the Falls for Lake George, 12 miles away.  We did that last stretch in a heavy rain, but with waterproof coats and lighted pipes we did not mind it.   We put up with mine host Seelye, at Joshua’s Rock, Dunham Bay, and spent a week of fishing and boating - mostly boating - and started back home on Friday, walking as far as Schuylerville, where we struck up with a friendly canal boat captain, with whom we took Passage from Schuylerville to West Waterford, arriving at our destination at 4 o’clock on Monday morning.  We slept on deck with our knapsacks as pillows and our pipes for company, and listened to the choice vocabulary of the drivers, who can outswear any Mississippi pirate.  Stretching our somewhat weakened limbs.we slid off down the towpath for Albany, getting there in time for breakfast, having walked 104 miles in twenty-two hours walking time and having had a glorious time, and all for the modest sum of $15 per man for the two weeks.

If there is any stationery man in the country who is fagged out and doesn’t know what to do this summer, let him throw over his doctor and spend a couple of weeks in the open air, living on country fare, and I will guarantee that by so doing he will double his abilities as a saleman and deserve an advance of salary. 

Russ Vandervoort is the Waterford Town Historian and leader of the Waterford Canal and Towpath Society and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

For those researching the history of writing instruments, copies of The American Stationer (later, The American Stationer & Office Manager) are an invaluable resource. Many of the issues have been digitized and are available through Google Books. The article was published in the American Stationer on May 1, 1890 under Communications.

Published in History
Thursday, 08 July 2021 15:40

The Bell with a Story to Tell

Hundreds of cars drive down McMaster Street in Ballston Spa on a daily basis, but few may notice the beautiful old bell that sits silently on display in front of Building 1 of the Saratoga County Complex.

This bell hung in Saratoga County’s third Courthouse which was erected in 1890 and stood on the location where Building 5 is today (50 West High Street). The bell was purchased from the Clinton H. Meneely Bell Company in Troy, New York for just over $800. The inscription on the exterior reads:

Saratoga County Court House


Equal Justice to All

Nullus Liber Homo Capiatur 

County Building Committee

George L. Thompson

William W. Sweet

Stephen C. Medbery

The Latin phrase “Nullus Liber Homo Capiatur” means “Let no free man be seized.” The pealing of the bell was most likely a common background noise in the village, though it seems not everyone was thrilled with its melody. A small mention in The Schuylerville Standard published shortly after the bell was installed noted, “People who have been in the habit of hearing the cheery sound of the old court house bell at every session of court, are now called together by the lugubrious tones of the new bell.” (The Schuylerville Standard October 28, 1891) Like it or not, the bell rang frequently. Besides being rung when court was in session, it was almost certainly used on special occasions and may also have signaled the time.

Thanks to newspaper articles, we know it was also used to alert village residents of danger. In December of 1892, accused murderer Martin Foy used a fake revolver consisting of a tin foil-covered stick to threaten the jailer into handing over the keys. Foy was able to unlock the door and escape onto High Street. According to the Buffalo Currier, “County Clerk Grose, who saw the escape, at once rang an alarm on the courthouse bell and over 100 men started after the fleeing desperado up Remsen Street and across lots to McDonald’s grove, half a mile south of the village, where he attempted to conceal himself in the brush.” (Buffalo Currier, December 16 1892). Thankfully, he was captured in short order. Incidentally, he was found by none other than Tommy C. Luther, well-known proprietor of the White Sulphur Springs Hotel.

On an early morning in August 1894, the courthouse bell rang feverishly to let villagers know that four prisoners had escaped the jail and were loose on the streets of Ballston Spa (Niagara Falls Gazette Aug 17, 1894). They had filed the lock off their cell door and tied bed sheets together to slide down the wall and run away.

Over time, the bell was probably used less and less, being replaced by more modern means of communication and time pieces. By 1961, the stately courthouse building over which the bell hung had begun to show its age and there was concern over the strength of the walls in the bell tower. The county decided to remove the 2,500 pound bell to ensure the safety of the public in making sure the structure did not fail. A contractor from Saratoga Springs was hired to remove the bell and as part of his payment, he would be allowed to keep it for salvage. Ballston Spa residents, nostalgic for the sounds of the old bell, disagreed with this plan and came up with their own solution. The Ballston Spa Village Board paid the salvager $500 to save the bell from being scrapped and decided to display the bell within the village. A fundraiser collected $400 which was to be put toward purchasing a base or pedestal once the location question was settled.

While awaiting that decision, the bell was removed and stored on the second floor of the Ballston Spa Village garage on Thompson Street. In 1968, tragedy struck. On Friday, March 8, the village garage caught fire and was completely destroyed. However, the bell fared far better than the highway equipment stored inside. It was a bit worse for wear but still in one piece.

Then Director of Planning, Larry Gordon, had the bell removed from the rubble at the site of the garage and put plans in motion to finally give the tired old bell a place in the sun at the new Saratoga County Municipal Complex on McMaster Street. Two years later the 1891 courthouse bell was unveiled and dedicated on July 4, 1970. The Ceremony included Town of Charlton Supervisor Fred Hequemburg as Master of Ceremonies and several
other speakers.

This year marks the fifty-first anniversary of the bell’s relocation to McMaster Street where it still resides, despite a massive fire and the threat of the smelter’s pot, thanks to a group of citizens concerned with its preservation.

Published in History
Thursday, 01 July 2021 12:46

Corinth German - American Club Fire

In the early morning hours of July 4, 1919, a fire alarm was sounded in the village of Corinth.  Many residents believed it to be some boys celebrating Independence Day a bit early.  However, when the International Paper Mill fire whistle sounded everyone knew it was not a prank.  The popular German-American Club on Pine Street was ablaze.  The local fire companies fought the fire and kept it from spreading to other buildings, but the large clubhouse could not be saved.

The German-American Club was constructed about 1890 on lower Pine Street next to a creek.  Many German immigrants had come to Corinth to work in the Hudson River Pulp and Paper Company, (which became part of International Paper Company in 1898), in the last quarter of the nineteenth century.  Settling along Pine Street near the mill, the Germans created a stock company that provided health insurance for their members as well as establishing the club house.  The three-story wooden structure housed an opera hall, bowling alleys, billiard parlor, basketball court as well as rooms to rent.  It became the social center of the community – picnics were held on the spacious lawn under the nearby pines. 

In 1896 dancing instructions were offered with both stage and ball room lessons given on Monday afternoons and evenings. Participants could ride an omnibus to and from the club house. Bowling and shooting matches were held here, too, with prizes ranging from oil painting to boxes of cigars and beer.  Both a Germania Glee Club and Germania Quartet gave grand concerts.  Other community organizations used the club house for events including the Republican Party which had a grand rally here in support of William McKinley.  The local fire companies held dances and festivals at the club house, too.

The property was later acquired by Pat Brady and by the time of the fire Edward Flynn owned it with William Flynn managing it. By 1914 it was known as the G.A.Club House since Germans were becoming unpopular leading up to the First World War.  The Irish immigrants that lived on nearby lower Palmer Avenue (known as Cork Town) frequented the club house where Fitzgerald’s Famous ale and lager were on tap. 

In November 1917 John Flynn was arrested for serving two men who claimed they were looking for work at the paper mill.  The men asked for something to drink and were given “near beer.”  When they asked for something stronger, they were provided with liquor.  At that point the two men identified themselves as state troopers.  Flynn was arrested and charged with a violation of the liquor tax law of New York. 

On the evening before the fire William Flynn had locked up the empty building before going to Glens Falls Hospital to be with his wife and sick infant.  It was suspected the fire had begun in the stock room from a defective electric wire and spread to the rest of the building.  The loss was estimated at about $15,000 and there was some insurance coverage.  The fire showed the community that new fire fighting equipment was needed and a new system to alert the volunteer hose companies had to be created.

Rachel Clothier is historian for the Town of Corinth, operates the Corinth Museum, and is retired from Crandall Public Library in Glens Falls.

Published in History

In 1845, Amasiah Ford, of Ballston Spa, wrote a multi-page manuscript for his application seeking a veteran’s pension. The account of his military experience 30-plus years earlier would be used 150 years later as references in several books on the War of 1812.

Amasiah was born on June 24, 1796, the third son of Revolutionary War veteran Sanbun Ford and his wife Ada. While farming was certainly a part of his early life in Saratoga County, at the age of 16 he enlisted in the U.S. Army at the outbreak of hostilities with Britain in 1812. Like his patriot father before him, Amasiah answered the call to arms to defend America at an early age.

He would see action at places such as Fort George, Ontario; Sackets Harbor, N.Y.; Chippawa Creek, Ontario and Lundy’s Lane, Ontario.  At Lundy’s Lane (on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls) he noted that he was advancing with comrades when the British rose up and ambushed his company. Amasiah was one of just eight U.S. soldiers to escape the slaughter. He recounted how during another action he leveled his gun at an enemy soldier and they both discharged their guns at the same time. A musket ball passed through Amasiah’s cap under his cockade and he never saw that soldier again.

Amasiah’s pension records reflect forced marches in cold and inclement weather with little or no protection from the elements. In some spots, the soldiers were in mud up their knees. Another account relates how they had no food, but the officers procured a cow which was shared by all.  With no bread to eat, they roasted pumpkins as a substitute.

His wartime deprivations while on campaign would be one of the main reasons why Amasiah sought a pension from the federal government. He stated that those years in which he served his country ended up giving him rheumatism which stopped him from working in his trade as a shoemaker. Two physicians from Ballston Spa would attest to this affliction.

Amasiah stated in pension papers for his older brother Simeon that they saw each other at Fort George in Upper Canada (Ontario) in June of 1813.  Their paths crossed again in January of 1814 at Shadagee Four Corners, now present day Chateaugay, N.Y and finally in Plattsburgh, N.Y. in April of the same year.  What joy there must have been at each of these encounters so far from home. 

With his war years behind him, Amasiah met and married Selina Whitford July 4, 1818. They would have three boys and a girl. None would live past the age of 11, his second son dying in 1829 followed by his only daughter and youngest son in 1830. In 1831, his oldest child, 11-year-old Sanborn, was killed by a horse-drawn gig near the Sans Souci Hotel in the village of Ballston Spa.  He would sue Col. James Monroe (nephew of President James Monroe), whose servant was driving the gig, and win a settlement of $200.

Amasiah’s older brother Simeon would name his youngest son, my great-great-grandfather, Sanborn. Was it to honor his brother’s loss?

In May of 1843, Amasiah was indicted for conspiring to defraud. Amasiah, along with Samuel Welden and Benjamin Howd, had conspired to defraud William P. Green by falsely reporting lawsuits before the justice of the peace in both Malta and Clifton Park. They were charged with procuring the issuance of a summons against Green and had Howd, a Clifton Park constable, serve the papers to a person impersonating Green. They later would get a judgment in default when the real Green didn’t show up. The evidence against Amasiah and Welden was so compelling they were both sentenced to three months in county jail and fined $250 each. Howd escaped judgement because it wasn’t clear if he was a willing participant or a duped official like the two town justices.

Amasiah died 13 days before his 57th birthday on June 11, 1853 and is buried in the Ballston Spa village cemetery next to his son Sanborn. He would reach out across time and establish his legacy by the pension papers he wrote over 175 years ago. His widow Selina received half of Amasiah’s pension after attesting to having run herself down taking care of her husband. Selina would live out her life with her sister and brother-in-law in Henrietta, just outside Rochester, N.Y. There she would join her husband and children, reunited for eternity, on February 11, 1873.

Published in History
Thursday, 17 June 2021 14:02

Prominent Sons, Prolific Inventors

Although no trace remains today, the Glen Paper Collar Company was a visible presence in Ballston Spa 150 years ago. It was located in the famous Blue Mill building on the north side of Milton Avenue, built as one of the area’s first grist mills. Many may have heard of the collar company, which was one of the largest of its kind in the country. But few know that the company’s owners, Horace Medbery and Henry Mann, were also prolific inventors.

Horace Medbery was the son of Stephen and Sarah Medbery, proprietors of the hotel in Ballston Spa which still bears their name. He was one of those rare individuals who was able to put his inventions to practical use in his various business ventures in Ballston Spa, Mechanicville, and elsewhere. Henry Mann was the son of Henry Mann Sr., a prominent local businessman and Saratoga County treasurer. The Mann family lived in the former Aldridge’s Hotel, now the home of Brookside Museum, just down the street from The Medbery Hotel. Horace and Henry were neighbors while growing up in the village.

During the 1870s, a peculiar clothing fad swept the country. Disposable cotton-based paper collars were introduced to the upper classes as a way of maintaining a fresh, white collar rather than attempting to clean soiled cloth collars. Some of the first paper collars in the country were manufactured two miles north of Ballston by Lindley Murray Crane, a paper mill owner and holder of three patents. Henry Mann’s father also manufactured paper collar materials in nearby Factory Village for some years under the partnership of Mann & Laflin.

Horace and Henry recognized their business opportunity even before the fad hit its peak, and rented space at the Blue Mill to establish the Glen Paper Collar Company. In their first year, the partnership produced nine million collars. Profits were poured back into the business by purchasing the glazing works of Rand & Edwards located below them in the Blue Mill. Soon they occupied the entire building, so in 1871 they were forced to build a five-story, 60 foot by 40 foot addition, reportedly constructed in twenty days. They rented the old Waverly Hall for use as a packing station and salesroom.

Shipments of collars increased year after year. At its height in 1875, the factory was producing 21 million paper collars and five million paper cuffs per year and employed 150 people.

At this time, Medbery submitted his first of many patents. He, along with Henry Mann and Simeon Drake, perfected a new steam drying wheel for use in the collar factory. The machine was developed, as the partners put it, “after much study and reflection, and expenditure of money in purchasing machinery which did not meet our wants.”

On the same day as the drying wheel patent was filed, Medbery submitted an improvement for cutting paper collars, the object of which was to rapidly cut collars from long rolls of cloth-faced paper by passing it between two rollers. One of Ballston’s more unusual inventions was developed by Henry Mann, who patented a shipping box for paper collars that could be converted into an ornamental lampshade.

The three patents listed above would be the only inventions that related to the Glen Paper Collar Company. Despite becoming one of the largest paper collar companies in the world, the fad died out in the mid-1870s, forcing the partners to shut down the collar factory.  Henry Mann went on to invent and patent an envelope-making machine. Local inventor Samuel Day constructed nine of the machines which were set up in the Blue Mill. The Mann Envelope Company operated for several years before closing down for unknown reasons.

In 1879 Horace Medbery moved to Mechanicville and rented the Howland Paper Mill, operating it for three years before organizing the Hudson River Water Power & Paper Company. He erected an 800 foot-long dam across the Hudson River using an estimated 3.5 million bricks. In this endeavor, Medbery is credited with establishing a valuable new industry for the city. Other businessmen noticed the success of his project, and soon permanent brick yards were established such as the Mechanicville Brick Company and the Best Brick Company.

For the next four years, Medbery acted as secretary and general manager of the paper mill. During that time, he patented two machines for molding tubes from paper pulp. In 1891 he patented a conduit for underground trolley wire using material that he claimed was water-proof, gas-proof, and “practically indestructible.” Later that year he submitted a patent for a pail-making machine, which manufactured pails using paper pulp. There is a reference in Sylvester’s History of Saratoga County that the Glen Paper Collar Company produced and sold these pails, so this patent is very likely based on that endeavor.

Over the next few years Medbery put several more of his inventions to good use. In 1892 he established the Fiberite Company, which manufactured fiber pipes for interior conduits used to wire buildings. The technology he developed in his seamless tube patents no doubt was applied to this line of work. He also began producing fiber pails using his pail-making machine, and later developed a substitute for hard rubber and celluloid. Medbery will go down in history as possessing more 19th century patents than any other Ballston native.

Published in History
Thursday, 10 June 2021 13:19

Walking the Horses to Saratoga

Born in 1826, Stephen Sanford worked with his father John and then on his own to create the Sanford carpet mills in Amsterdam. He went to West Point, served in Congress and was a friend of Ulysses S. Grant.

In the early twentieth century, thoroughbred horses owned by Sanford were walked each summer to Saratoga from Sanford’s Hurricana Farm. Racing Hall of Fame trainer Hollie Hughes, who served three generations of Sanfords, recalled the annual trek in Alex M. Robb’s book, “The Sanfords of Amsterdam.” 

The trip began at the Sanford horse farm on what is now Route 30 in the town of Amsterdam.  Efforts are underway to preserve remaining buildings at the complex, originally called Hurricana Farm but later known as the Sanford Stud Farm.

“First, we’d go up to Hagaman, a couple of miles away, and then we’d head for Top Notch, or West Galway, as it’s called,” Hughes said.  “That would be about five miles.  Then we’d go three miles straight east to Galway village.  Then we’d go to West Milton, about seven miles farther east, and there we’d stop at the old Dutch Inn and feed the horses and men.  My, those breakfasts tasted good!  By that time, it would be close to daylight.  On the way over, half the horses would be under saddle with boys up.  After breakfast the saddles were put on the others which had been led by the men up to this point, and we’d walk the remaining ten miles to Saratoga, coming in by Geyser Spring.”

In 1901, Sanford built his own stable on Nelson Avenue in Saratoga.  He had as many as 35 horses at a time.  When asked why he kept so many horses, the industrialist replied he was not in the horse racing business for “margin,” in other words for profit. 

From 1903 through 1907, the Sanfords invited the people of Amsterdam to the Sanford Matinee Races at Hurricana on the Sunday closest to Fourth of July.  Trolleys ran continuously up to Market and Meadow Streets.  From there, horse drawn wagons took people to the farm.  Some automobiles went to the farm as well but were not admitted to the grounds.  There was food, drink, music and, of course, horse racing. Some 15,000 attended the event during its last year.

New York State outlawed betting in 1907 and racing stopped at Saratoga.  Temporarily, the Sanfords sold most of their horses to out-of-staters and Canadians, according to Robb.

Stephen Sanford was blind the last five years of his life. The old gentleman doted on his grandchildren, in particular his namesake, born in 1899.  He gave the boy a Shetland pony almost before the youngster could walk.  Young Stephen called the pony Laddie.  The grandfather bestowed the nickname Laddie on his grandson as well. Sanford died on February 13, 1913.  Six months later, racing resumed at Saratoga along with the first running of the Sanford Memorial. 

Stephen’s 62-year-old son John continued to head the carpet mills and racing stables created during his father’s lifetime.  According to Robb, John Sanford inherited $40 million at his father’s death. 

Robb wrote, “Hollie Hughes recalls Stephen Sanford as a man with a magnetic personality, one to whom your eyes would turn instinctively, even though he was but one of a hundred men in a crowd.  Hollie describes him as tall, thin, straight as a ramrod, his chin (and the chin whiskers) carried high, his right arm across his back.  He had a dry wit.”

Bob Cudmore writes the weekly Focus on History column for the Daily Gazette. He is author of three Amsterdam area history books: Lost Mohawk Valley, Hidden History and Stories from the Mohawk Valley. Bob is the host of The Historians, a weekly podcast heard online at www.bobcudmore.com and on several area radio stations. He lives in Glenville and is a native of Amsterdam.

A version of this story first appeared in the Daily Gazette.

Published in History
Page 1 of 3