— Photo from the Guilderland Historical Society

The adult craze for wheeling came to an abrupt end when the first automobiles began rolling into towns and chugging out past the farms on country roads. This postcard view of Altamont’s Lainhart block tells the story. After that time, bicycles were for children. The Lainhart block, on Maple Avenue, not far from Main Street, burned in the late 20th Century; a public parking lot fills the space today.

— Photo from the Guilderland Historical Society

These three youngsters posed with their bicycles in front of the Dunnsville Hotel’s crowded porch. The photo is probably about the same vintage as the Altamont postcard view.

One September weekend in the mid-1890s found Fred DeGraff of Guilderland Hamlet and four friends mounting their wheels, pedaling over to Pittstown to visit a friend while, on another I.K. Stafford, Fred Keenholts and Andrew Oliver traveled from Altamont to New Jersey to Asbury Park for an extensive cycle tour.

They reported to The Enterprise, “The wheeling in New Jersey was very fine.” As interest and participation in cycling spread, The Enterprise was abuzz with local bicycle news during the decade of the 1890s, often called the Golden Age of the Bicycle.

This craze for wheels, as bicycles were then commonly called, took off in the 1890s as the technological advances of the previous decade came together to create a practical modern bicycle. It began with the concept of two spoked wheels of equal size on a tubular frame followed by the invention of pneumatic tires to provide a smoother ride and propulsion from pedals connected to a chain driven sprocket.

However, early braking systems were less than adequate until the invention of the coaster brake in 1898. Wheels didn’t come cheap, ranging from $25 for a used bicycle in the mid-1890s to over $100 for the finest models in 1890s’ dollars, a luxury for most people at that time.

Advertisements of bicycles for sale showed up in The Enterprise as early as 1890, some inserted by the manufacturers themselves. Monarch Cycle Co.’s appeared frequently, claiming theirs was “absolutely the best” with elegant designs and unsurpassed workmanship using the finest materials.

H.A. Lozier & Co. not only bragged about the Cleveland bicycle’s construction, but added the practical information that its “resilient” tire could be repaired “quicker and easier than any other tire in the market.” Several Albany dealers jumped into the market and, sensing a good business opportunity, some Altamont men began selling wheels and advertising their wares in the paper as well.

“Notes From Gotham,” a July 1893 Enterprise front-page column, noted there was “a growing interest in bicycling as an amusement,” claiming that there was “a popular craze” for the sport, “destined to be the most popular form of outdoor entertainment that has ever engaged the American people.”

While bicycle owners could be found in all parts of Guilderland, by far most cyclists seemed to be concentrated in Altamont, so many that in 1893 sixteen men joined together to organize “The Altamont Wheelmen.” After electing officers headed by I.K. Stafford, plans were made to find club rooms.

Soon they moved into “commodious” and “airy” rooms on the second floor of J.S. Secors new warehouse where a new coal stove supplied not only heat but hot water for the bathtub they installed! It was claimed that they had a “very cozy room and it makes a pleasant place to spend one’s evenings, if they must be spent from home.” A year later for reasons not given, they moved to space over the post office

Immediately after the club’s formation, its members began planning runs to Amsterdam, Albany via Voorheesville, Guilderland Center, Averill Park, South Bethlehem, Slingerlands, and Sloan’s (now Guilderland Hamlet). Remembering the dirt roads of that time, this was an ambitious undertaking but reports in the ensuing weeks indicate that they really did pedal their wheels to these destinations.

As 1894 came to a close, 36 men had been voted into membership, especially once it was made known that actually being a wheelman wasn’t a requirement to becoming a member. The Wheelmen had become not only a cycle club, but a male social club as well.

At the last meeting of 1894, members were treated to an oyster supper, followed by “soft drinks” and cigars, all this hosted for the 25 men present by the club’s president I.K. Stafford and Altamont bicycle dealer Fred Keenholts.

Another dinner the next year mentions an “elaborate spread, merriment and good cheer.” Another type of social function were “smokers” where the men entertained themselves with reminiscences of the past season’s cycling “through columns of smoke.”

“Bicycle Notes,” a sporadic column appearing in The Enterprise, related the latest bicycle chatter from around town, including the names of those who had recently purchased a new or used bicycle. Abe Tygert got a high-grade Niagara while Andrew Ostrander purchased a 22-pound Relay — those were just two of the many proud owners identified over the decade.

If used, the previous owner’s name was also listed: “Lucius Frederick is the possessor of a wheel, having purchased the one ridden by Aaron Oliver last season, and Chas. Stevell who now rides the wheel which J. Van Benscoten rode during 1894.”

Ladies, too

Appearance and manners were topics once touched on in “Bicycle Notes” when the writer, pleased that more riders were sitting upright, described any rider as “silly” to “hump” himself over the handlebars unless racing. And ladies should always sit upright so as not to “stoop in the slightest degree.”

Noting that pedestrians had the right of way, cyclists were to respect them and, in addition, to avoid running down children and old people. His parting comment was, “There are all sorts of road hogs in the world and it is regretted some of them ride bicycles … Young boys and fresh young men are the greatest offenders.”

A rumor appeared in “Bicycle Notes” that some of the ladies were learning to ride and soon their names began to show up in print. Miss Blanche Warner’s wheel was a “handsome new Remington,” while Miss J. Libbie Osborn chose an Erie. Herbert Winne finally bought a used bike to enable him to accompany his wife, the experienced rider of the family. Unlike the men, women were never mentioned riding any distance from home.

Risky business

Racing appealed greatly to younger, athletic riders and quickly became a popular local spectator sport with the racetrack at the fairgrounds the perfect venue for competition. Independence Day, the Altamont Hose Company’s Field Day and Clam Bake, and the Altamont Fair itself all became occasions for bicycle races.

Prizes were given in cash, objects such as a $5 clock or certificates for merchandise at Albany stores. Often local wheelmen traveled out of town to participate in races. Pity Lew Hart who lost count of the number of laps in a Cobleskill race and missed being one of the winners.

Being a wheelman was a risky business due to inadequate brakes; locally hilly, rutted roads; and in some cases the riders’ own inexperience. One time at the fairgrounds, three entrants tangled during a race resulting in bruises and badly mangled bicycles. During another race, Elias Stafford had his ego rather than his body bruised after a spill at the race track when the paper commented the next week, “The spectacle was too ludicrous for anything.”

Guilderland Center resident John Stewart took a bad spill on the curvy hill at Frenchs Hollow, but the most tragic accident befell an Albany man out riding with James Keenholts near Altamont. He was seriously injured after losing control as he turned his wheel, going down off a bridge near Altamont onto some rocks below.

After Dr. Barton tended to his obvious injuries, he was helped to board the evening train heading to Albany. “It is feared he is hurt internally” was the comment in the next week’s Enterprise.

L.A.W. and order

The League of American Wheelmen, an organization promoting cycling and good roads, had been formed in the 1880s. So many Americans were swept up in the bicycle craze that by 1898 membership in L.A.W. topped 102,000 including some of the Altamont Wheelmen. I.K. Stafford, one of the founders and president of the Altamont Wheelmen, became sanctioned by L.A.W. to officiate bicycle races, which he did at the Altamont Fair for many, many years.

Long before automobiles were traveling the nation’s highways, L.A.W. began to press for improved roads for cyclists, preferably paved. Locally, there was a call for cycle paths, at that time more commonly called sidepaths.

By 1898, pressure from wheelmen forced the Albany County Board of Supervisors to create a County Sidepath Commission. Routes out of Albany were being considered and of course, a route to Altamont through Guilderland Hamlet and Guilderland Center was hoped for by residents here.

A sidepath went out as far as Albany Country Club (now the University at Albany campus) east of McKownville with William Witbeck extending it west as far as his tavern (site of present day Burger King), but it never went beyond that, although sidepaths were laid out from Albany to Schenectady and from Albany to Slingerlands.

The Enterprise reported the discovery that, not only did the cyclists like the sidepaths, but pedestrians found “that it makes a very desirable walk.” In 1902, it was reported the Albany County Sidepath Commission had spent $5,000 building new paths and repairing old ones. License badges — “same price as last year” — had to be attached to bicycles.

Wheeling was difficult enough over the poor country roads, but the lack of signs made finding your way, once out of your own immediate area, maddening. By 1896, The Enterprise demanded that “sign boards should be erected at every crossroad in the town” for travelers and especially the many out-of-town cyclists who passed through.

Within a few months, it was announced that L.A.W. would begin placing in all parts of the state blue metal road signs with raised yellow lettering that would identify the village or hamlet and give the distance to the next one.

As is typical of developments in American technology, prices of wheels came down, the market became saturated, owning a bicycle was no longer so fashionable, and a new technology had arrived to take the bicycle’s place. If he felt there was nothing “to be compared with the exhilarating excitement in riding a light running and responsive wheel,” wait until the wheelman had his first automobile ride!

Within a few years membership fell so low that L.A.W. and the Altamont Wheelmen were disbanded and bicycles were relegated to children.

Location:

 One September weekend in the mid-1890s found Fred DeGraff of Guilderland Hamlet and four friends mounting their wheels, pedaling over to Pittstown to visit a friend while, on another I.K. Stafford, Fred Keenholts and Andrew Oliver traveled from Altamont to New Jersey to Asbury Park for an extensive cycle tour.

They reported to The Enterprise, “The wheeling in New Jersey was very fine.” As interest and participation in cycling spread, The Enterprise was abuzz with local bicycle news during the decade of the 1890s, often called the Golden Age of the Bicycle.

This craze for wheels, as bicycles were then commonly called, took off in the 1890s as the technological advances of the previous decade came together to create a practical modern bicycle. It began with the concept of two spoked wheels of equal size on a tubular frame followed by the invention of pneumatic tires to provide a smoother ride and propulsion from pedals connected to a chain driven sprocket.

However, early braking systems were less than adequate until the invention of the coaster brake in 1898. Wheels didn’t come cheap, ranging from $25 for a used bicycle in the mid-1890s to over $100 for the finest models in 1890s’ dollars, a luxury for most people at that time.

Advertisements of bicycles for sale showed up in The Enterprise as early as 1890, some inserted by the manufacturers themselves. Monarch Cycle Co.’s appeared frequently, claiming theirs was “absolutely the best” with elegant designs and unsurpassed workmanship using the finest materials.

H.A. Lozier & Co. not only bragged about the Cleveland bicycle’s construction, but added the practical information that its “resilient” tire could be repaired “quicker and easier than any other tire in the market.” Several Albany dealers jumped into the market and, sensing a good business opportunity, some Altamont men began selling wheels and advertising their wares in the paper as well.

“Notes From Gotham,” a July 1893 Enterprise front-page column, noted there was “a growing interest in bicycling as an amusement,” claiming that there was “a popular craze” for the sport, “destined to be the most popular form of outdoor entertainment that has ever engaged the American people.”

While bicycle owners could be found in all parts of Guilderland, by far most cyclists seemed to be concentrated in Altamont, so many that in 1893 sixteen men joined together to organize “The Altamont Wheelmen.” After electing officers headed by I.K. Stafford, plans were made to find club rooms.

Soon they moved into “commodious” and “airy” rooms on the second floor of J.S. Secors new warehouse where a new coal stove supplied not only heat but hot water for the bathtub they installed! It was claimed that they had a “very cozy room and it makes a pleasant place to spend one’s evenings, if they must be spent from home.” A year later for reasons not given, they moved to space over the post office

Immediately after the club’s formation, its members began planning runs to Amsterdam, Albany via Voorheesville, Guilderland Center, Averill Park, South Bethlehem, Slingerlands, and Sloan’s (now Guilderland Hamlet). Remembering the dirt roads of that time, this was an ambitious undertaking but reports in the ensuing weeks indicate that they really did pedal their wheels to these destinations.

As 1894 came to a close, 36 men had been voted into membership, especially once it was made known that actually being a wheelman wasn’t a requirement to becoming a member. The Wheelmen had become not only a cycle club, but a male social club as well.

At the last meeting of 1894, members were treated to an oyster supper, followed by “soft drinks” and cigars, all this hosted for the 25 men present by the club’s president I.K. Stafford and Altamont bicycle dealer Fred Keenholts.

Another dinner the next year mentions an “elaborate spread, merriment and good cheer.” Another type of social function were “smokers” where the men entertained themselves with reminiscences of the past season’s cycling “through columns of smoke.”

“Bicycle Notes,” a sporadic column appearing in The Enterprise, related the latest bicycle chatter from around town, including the names of those who had recently purchased a new or used bicycle. Abe Tygert got a high-grade Niagara while Andrew Ostrander purchased a 22-pound Relay — those were just two of the many proud owners identified over the decade.

If used, the previous owner’s name was also listed: “Lucius Frederick is the possessor of a wheel, having purchased the one ridden by Aaron Oliver last season, and Chas. Stevell who now rides the wheel which J. Van Benscoten rode during 1894.”

Ladies, too

Appearance and manners were topics once touched on in “Bicycle Notes” when the writer, pleased that more riders were sitting upright, described any rider as “silly” to “hump” himself over the handlebars unless racing. And ladies should always sit upright so as not to “stoop in the slightest degree.”

Noting that pedestrians had the right of way, cyclists were to respect them and, in addition, to avoid running down children and old people. His parting comment was, “There are all sorts of road hogs in the world and it is regretted some of them ride bicycles … Young boys and fresh young men are the greatest offenders.”

A rumor appeared in “Bicycle Notes” that some of the ladies were learning to ride and soon their names began to show up in print. Miss Blanche Warner’s wheel was a “handsome new Remington,” while Miss J. Libbie Osborn chose an Erie. Herbert Winne finally bought a used bike to enable him to accompany his wife, the experienced rider of the family. Unlike the men, women were never mentioned riding any distance from home.

Risky business

Racing appealed greatly to younger, athletic riders and quickly became a popular local spectator sport with the racetrack at the fairgrounds the perfect venue for competition. Independence Day, the Altamont Hose Company’s Field Day and Clam Bake, and the Altamont Fair itself all became occasions for bicycle races.

Prizes were given in cash, objects such as a $5 clock or certificates for merchandise at Albany stores. Often local wheelmen traveled out of town to participate in races. Pity Lew Hart who lost count of the number of laps in a Cobleskill race and missed being one of the winners.

Being a wheelman was a risky business due to inadequate brakes; locally hilly, rutted roads; and in some cases the riders’ own inexperience. One time at the fairgrounds, three entrants tangled during a race resulting in bruises and badly mangled bicycles. During another race, Elias Stafford had his ego rather than his body bruised after a spill at the race track when the paper commented the next week, “The spectacle was too ludicrous for anything.”

Guilderland Center resident John Stewart took a bad spill on the curvy hill at Frenchs Hollow, but the most tragic accident befell an Albany man out riding with James Keenholts near Altamont. He was seriously injured after losing control as he turned his wheel, going down off a bridge near Altamont onto some rocks below.

After Dr. Barton tended to his obvious injuries, he was helped to board the evening train heading to Albany. “It is feared he is hurt internally” was the comment in the next week’s Enterprise.

L.A.W. and order

The League of American Wheelmen, an organization promoting cycling and good roads, had been formed in the 1880s. So many Americans were swept up in the bicycle craze that by 1898 membership in L.A.W. topped 102,000 including some of the Altamont Wheelmen. I.K. Stafford, one of the founders and president of the Altamont Wheelmen, became sanctioned by L.A.W. to officiate bicycle races, which he did at the Altamont Fair for many, many years.

Long before automobiles were traveling the nation’s highways, L.A.W. began to press for improved roads for cyclists, preferably paved. Locally, there was a call for cycle paths, at that time more commonly called sidepaths.

By 1898, pressure from wheelmen forced the Albany County Board of Supervisors to create a County Sidepath Commission. Routes out of Albany were being considered and of course, a route to Altamont through Guilderland Hamlet and Guilderland Center was hoped for by residents here.

A sidepath went out as far as Albany Country Club (now the University at Albany campus) east of McKownville with William Witbeck extending it west as far as his tavern (site of present day Burger King), but it never went beyond that, although sidepaths were laid out from Albany to Schenectady and from Albany to Slingerlands.

The Enterprise reported the discovery that, not only did the cyclists like the sidepaths, but pedestrians found “that it makes a very desirable walk.” In 1902, it was reported the Albany County Sidepath Commission had spent $5,000 building new paths and repairing old ones. License badges — “same price as last year” — had to be attached to bicycles.

Wheeling was difficult enough over the poor country roads, but the lack of signs made finding your way, once out of your own immediate area, maddening. By 1896, The Enterprise demanded that “sign boards should be erected at every crossroad in the town” for travelers and especially the many out-of-town cyclists who passed through.

Within a few months, it was announced that L.A.W. would begin placing in all parts of the state blue metal road signs with raised yellow lettering that would identify the village or hamlet and give the distance to the next one.

As is typical of developments in American technology, prices of wheels came down, the market became saturated, owning a bicycle was no longer so fashionable, and a new technology had arrived to take the bicycle’s place. If he felt there was nothing “to be compared with the exhilarating excitement in riding a light running and responsive wheel,” wait until the wheelman had his first automobile ride!

Within a few years, membership fell so low that L.A.W. and the Altamont Wheelmen were disbanded and bicycles were relegated to children.

Location:

A rainy Memorial Day in 1928 found three very elderly Civil War veterans present at ceremonies being held indoors that year at Hamilton Union Presbyterian Church due to the bad weather.

The three men, members of M.H. Barckley Post, No. 198 and the last of what had once been a sizable contingent, had been accompanied by a number of World War I veterans from the Helderberg Post American Legion and joined at the church by members of the public.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, which included a local judge’s patriotic address and music performed by the Clarksville band, American Legion members escorted the three veterans to Prospect Hill Cemetery to decorate the graves of the Civil War dead.

In 1862, while the Civil War was churning out its endless casualties affecting every community in the country, both North and South, the Prospect Hill Cemetery trustees set aside a section to be known as the Soldiers’ Lot where fallen Union soldiers could be interred without cost. Six years later, $650 was spent by the trustees to erect a memorial monument of a stone shaft surmounted by a bronze eagle in the midst of the Soldiers’ Lot.

As an Enterprise article noted in 1898, “A goodly number of those who fell in battle or died in service were brought home and their remains interred here so that today upwards of one hundred veterans are sleeping under its sod.”

Civil War deaths from both sides, the combined result of battle and diseases, especially dysentery and measles, totaled approximately 620,000. Surviving Union veterans, who often returned home suffering from physical or psychological effects of the conflict, began banding together, beginning in 1866, for support and fellowship in a veterans’ organization that became known as the Grand Army of the Republic. In the years that followed, thousands of veterans formed hundreds of GAR posts across the nation.

Chartered by local veterans on Jan. 24, 1881, Altamont’s new post was called the M.H. Barckley Post, No. 198, following GAR tradition of naming a post in honor of a local soldier who had fallen in battle. Lieutenant M.H. Barckley, a Knox resident who had served in the 7th New York Artillery Regiment, was wounded at the Battle of Cold Harbor in 1864 and died shortly after having his leg amputated. Post members included not only men from Guilderland, but Knox and other nearby towns and at its peak counted 49 members.

In 1868, Major-General John A. Logan, first national commander of the GAR, issued Order No. 11 proclaiming that May 30 should be observed annually as Memorial Day to remember and honor those who met death in the war with the words, “Let us gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with the choicest flowers of springtime … .”

Because Union regiments were recruited from local areas, many men from the same vicinity would be living and fighting together during the war. Twenty-five men from Guilderland and 14 from Knox served in the 7th with Barckley along with others from nearby towns.

Visiting cemeteries where the war dead were interred was a deeply felt emotional experience for the living because the dead men frequently had been the veterans’ schoolmates, friends, neighbors, or perhaps one of their relatives. Early Memorial Day ceremonies had real meaning for both veterans and community members who also had grieved for these losses as well.

The first Memorial Day service at Prospect Hill Cemetery was held in 1868, the year of Major-General Logan’s proclamation, but details of early observances aren’t available. Once The Enterprise began publication, a record of activities on Memorial Day (or Decoration Day as it was sometimes called) provided accounts of how the day was observed.

In the 1880s, with the newly organized Barckley GAR Post and the formation of community bands, more elaborate ceremonies could be staged. Each year in mid-May, the GAR post inserted an announcement in The Enterprise to solicit donations of flowers to decorate the graves.

Taking 1887 as a typical example of Memorial Day in Guilderland, in early morning a crowd began gathering in front of Sloan’s Hotel in the hamlet of Guilderland, waiting for the veterans to arrive. In the meantime, the GAR veterans had left Altamont with their flowers, stopping along the way at both Fairview and Guilderland cemeteries to decorate Civil War graves there, and then proceeded to Sloan’s.

That year, the Knowersville Band accompanied them, though in the years ahead many different bands played at the event. When they arrived in Guilderland, a parade was organized with a grand marshal in the lead, followed by both the Fullers and Knowersville cornet bands, the veterans from the Barckley Post, and lastly members of the public.

Marching along the Turnpike to the sounds of the bands that “discoursed excellent music,” the parade reached the cemetery where a large crowd had already gathered.

Entering the cemetery, their first stop was the Soldiers’ Lot where the proscribed ritual of reading aloud Major-General Logan’s Order No. 11 and strewing the graves with flowers opened the day’s ceremonies.

Next, the veterans, bands, and the crowd that had marched along the Turnpike moved to another section of the cemetery where dignitaries were seated on a platform and a much larger crowd awaited them to begin the program. Later, the estimate was given that there were 2,000 people present that day.

Once in place, as the combined bands played “America,” the crowd burst into song. Next, accompanied by an organ, a choir sang “We’ll Dress the Graves Today,” followed by a prayer offered by Rev. H.M. Voorhees.

A solo “The Empty Sleeve” was sung by Rev. J.C. Fisher, followed by a lengthy patriotic address given by Rev. T.J. Yost, Altamont’s Lutheran pastor, printed complete in the next week’s Enterprise. The program concluded with Henry Swann, the “conductor” of the exercises, making remarks, the choir singing “Tread Lightly on Their Graves” and finally a benediction was given by Rev. Dr. Belden.

     The program varied little over the next several years, but one addition in 1890 was the presence of the popular local poet Madelene LaGrange who probably brought tears to the eyes of many when she read her sentimental poem “The Tried and True,” which began:

We come today, remembering the loved, the tried and true,

To deck the place where lie in peace the boys who wore the blue;

Our boys who died that we might live in rest and peace today,

Who shouldered arms at war’s alarms and marched to join the fray… .

This ceremony became the pattern followed as long as the Civil War veterans were alive. After a few years, the address would be given by a political figure instead of a minister and the participating bands varied, but ministers always continued to play a part.

Choirs were usually from one of Guilderland’s churches. There were a few years when the Barckley Post went to Knox or stayed in Altamont for village Memorial Day ceremonies and Albany GAR posts participated instead, but most years Barckley Post members were an important feature of the Prospect Hill Memorial Day observances.

Large numbers of people poured into the hamlet of Guilderland and the cemetery itself for this annual event with no indication of what facilities were available for a crowd of that size. The traffic jam created by all those horse-drawn vehicles hauling spectators and the mess left by the horses must have been quite a sight.

An announcement came from the trustees in 1897 indicating a railing on study posts would be running the length of cemetery property along the Turnpike “for the purpose of tying horses.” In the later 1890s, it became possible to shelter your horse in either of the church sheds or in the hotel shed where for a moderate price a man would feed and water your horse.

Rain could interfere as it did in 1892, driving people indoors to Hamilton Union Presbyterian Church. Cemetery trustees took the preventative step of acquiring a tent that would shelter 1,000 people from inclement weather, making it known that spectators should not stay away because of rain or threat of bad weather because they would be kept dry under the big tent.

The GAR’s political power was such that Memorial Day was quickly made a national holiday after its initiation. From the beginning, most people considered it not only a day for solemn remembrance, but also an opportunity for leisure and recreation, something obvious from the columns of The Enterprise.

Traditionally, a baseball game was played in the hamlet of Guilderland on the Iosco team’s ballfield either before or after the ceremonies. An especially popular leisure activity that day for many people was visiting friends or relatives.

Some of the fellows went fishing. For others, taking one of the excursions offered by either the D & H or West Shore railroads or cruising on a Hudson River dayliner to Kingston Point for the day was a delightful way to enjoy the holiday.

One group of people who had little chance to relax were the women and the few men involved in putting on strawberry festivals or serving dinners, all to raise money. The strawberry festivals were held in the hamlet of Guilderland by the ladies of the Methodist and Presbyterians churches and the Templars at Red Men’s Hall. After the turn of the 20th Century, the church ladies began serving lunches or suppers instead of strawberries and ice cream.

The best food event was in Frenchs Hollow where, depending on the year, the Guilderland Center women from either St. Mark’s Lutheran Church or from the Helderberg Reformed Church alternated offering meals with fanciful names and entertainments in the late afternoon and early evening of Memorial Day at the empty old factory building there that had been used many years for community events.

For a modest price, people returning from the cemetery ceremonies could stop on the way home to dine and relax. In 1887, the Lutheran ladies served a supper with the additional attractions of the Knowersville Band’s music and a broom drill performed by a brigade of 12 young ladies in “appropriate” costumes, described the next week as “an interesting feature of the entertainment, each one performing her part admirably.” Seeing that the proceeds of the evening totaled $268, the supper must have been well patronized.

     The Japanese and Pink Tea Party, Orange Tea Party, Chocolate Tea Party, Rainbow Supper, Columbian Entertainment Supper, and New England Supper were samples of Memorial Day events at the old Frenchs Hollow factory sponsored by one or the other of the two churches. Finally, in 1901, the annual supper was to be held at Helderberg Reformed Church parlors in Guilderland Center instead of what had become the very rundown old factory building.

The comment was made, “There is general satisfaction that the Supper has been removed from the dangerous factory in French’s Hollow.”

The ladies of the two churches continued to offer Memorial Day suppers and entertainments for many years.

That time was creeping up on the veterans was indicated when, in 1899, The Enterprise commented “… the ranks of the old ‘vets’ have been materially thinned of late, some seven in this vicinity having answered the roll call and joined their comrades in the spirit world during the last year… .”

With the new century and the aging of the veterans, the annual ceremonies continued, but less attention was paid to the events at Prospect Hill. Whoever wrote the Guilderland column in the paper in the early 1900s never even mentioned the Memorial Day event unless it had to do with the church serving lunch or dinner that day.

The veterans who were able continued to solicit donations of flowers, and traveled to the cemetery as always to decorate the graves, where there would be the traditional band and speaker.

Cemetery officials proudly noted in 1915, “Guilderland gave freely of her boys during the Rebellion, many of whom never came home and for forty-six years in succession appropriate exercises have been held in their memory.”

By 1919, only 10 GAR men were present and now they were taken by automobile to the cemeteries while the Altamont Boy Scouts collected donated flowers and did the actual work of placing them on the graves.

In 1923, when only six veterans took part, the Boy Scouts not only decorated the graves, but did the traditional GAR readings. And finally, 1928’s observance saw the last of the Civil War veterans. The M.H. Barckley Post, No. 198 Altamont disbanded shortly afterward, bringing an end to an era.

Location:

— Photo from Guilderland Historical Society

Trained bears and their wandering keepers, very possibly part of a traveling Gypsy group, were photographed as they performed for members of the Cook family, who summered at their farm on Dunnsville Road. Always attracting curious onlookers, the men were hoping for coins to reward their performance.

Any strangers observed passing through Guilderland during the late 19th and early 20th centuries were quickly spotted and carefully observed by the locals who were familiar with their own friends and neighbors. Respectable travelers and salesmen presented no problem, but certain other groups of transients were scrutinized warily: Gypsies, tramps, and thieves.

Gypsies, who today prefer to be called Roma, began immigrating to the United States from eastern Europe in large numbers after 1880. With the arrival of warm weather, bands of Gypsies, moving about in their brightly colored wagons, arrived on country roads, telling fortunes and trading horses.

Local columnists in The Enterprise often noted the presence of Gypsies, signaling to people in nearby communities that Gypsies were nearby and may be heading your way next. As early as 1886, the Guilderland column noted “plenty of Gypsies on the road nowadays.” People living along the Western Turnpike or Schoharie Road, Guilderland’s main roads at that time, were most likely to see outsiders wandering through.

Gypsies were regarded with both fascination and fear. The fascination was fueled by such stories as some printed in the early editions of  The Enterprise with titles like “The Gypsy Queen” (1884), “The Gypsy’s Story” (1887), and “A Gypsy’s Sad Life and Death” (1888).

Their reputation as fortune tellers attracted curious people to seek them out and for a time they set up fortune-telling tents at the Altamont Fair. Their mobile lifestyle, exotic dress, tents, and travel in their painted wagons may have even made local hard-working men and women leading their somewhat dull lives slightly envious of the excitement and constant change of scenery experienced by the Gypsies.

But there was also a dark side that caused communities to be quite wary. This may have been that era’s version of an urban legend, but children were seriously warned to beware of being kidnapped by the Gypsies, especially if there was one of their encampments in the area.

There was also fear of being cheated in sales, particularly that of horses. The story from South Berne of the man there who bargained for a horse from the Gypsies, and only “a few days after found the horse dead in the stable,” was enough to cause area farmers to be reluctant to have any business dealings with the Gypsies. When in 1908 the Guilderland Center correspondent noted that Gypsies were camping just outside the village near Becker’s Bridge, it may have been a coded warning.

Tramps were scorned or pitied

Tramps, the homeless men of that day who made up the second group of wanderers going through town singly or in groups, were greeted by the local residents with varying degrees of pity, scorn, and suspicion.

A Parkers Corners writer questioned, “Who will take care of all the tramps that are traveling the road and stopping at every house? They should be looked after by someone.”

In the opinion of the Fullers correspondent, “The alms house is the place for them.”

In one pathetic case, the body of a man characterized as an “imbecile tramp” who had been wandering in the area acting in a “strange and threatening manner,” was found on James B. Hilton’s farm near Altamont. After the coroner ruled that the unfortunate man probably died in a fit, he was interred in the Potter’s Field portion of Fairview Cemetery.

The Enterprise printed a piece of humor of the day, originating from an outside source written by a man who offered “a tramp suppressing or tramp dispensing device.” He suggested the tramp’s greatest fear is that of soap and water. Forcing a tramp to wash up will cause him to “dance, howl, shriek, and beat against his prison bars.” Once free he’ll make a “beeline” out of town, chalking a mark, warning away other tramps.

Tramps were viewed as nuisances, stopping by homes along the roads to ask for food. Their reputation for chalking mysterious symbols on fences or piling rocks a certain way to signal that food was usually available at this or that house was well known. Sometimes camping on farmers’ land, tramps caused problems as the one that occurred when their campfire set Ira Hurst’s woods on fire.

Suspicion was that, if opportunity presented itself, tramps would steal from householders and farmers. People in Fullers got the warning to “lock up your buildings as three or four old tramps are seen on the road daily.”

“A suspicious character” was noticed lurking around Meadowdale’s general store. Harvey A. Vosburgh, Overseer of the Poor, fed a tramp one night who repaid his hospitality by stealing money from the pocket of Vosburgh’s hired man, then sneaking away. In one of the few cases where a thief was actually apprehended, the tramp was taken before Esq. McKown who sentenced him to three months in the penitentiary.

In quest of a good meal, tramps commonly made thefts of defenseless hens leading many farmers to keep a goose or two whose loud honking would give warning if an unwanted visitor entered the henhouse after dark.

Thieves: local or professional

Reports of thefts occurring in various parts of town were noted in The Enterprise’s local columns sporadically over the years. The perpetrators seemed to fall into three categories: tramps, light fingered locals and professional thieves.

 A Meadowdale housewife, upon discovering a tramp climbing out through a window of her home, gave chase only to have him get away with two gold rings. Many of the petty thefts like this from houses and barns noted in local columns were likely to have been tramps who kept on the move and were never caught.

Some of the thefts were definitely pulled off by local neighbors. Someone absconded with a turkey from Keenholts’ Altamont market. The Village & Town column in the next issue of  The Enterprise carried a sharp warning to the mystery person that he was well know and better either return the turkey or $2 by Saturday or “he will be exposed by one who saw him do it.”

When Emmit Blessing’s watch was stolen from his house, suspicion “pointed to a young man living near here.” Then there was the Guilderland Center man who pulled a switch, substituting an old pump for a new one at H. Van Auken’s well. “We know who you are,” was the blunt statement in the next Guilderland Center column, warning the culprit to return the pump to save himself trouble and embarrassment.

The threat of public humiliation and ruined reputation was probably enough of a deterrent to keep most of the neighbors honest.

Major break-ins must have been the work of professional criminals. Petinger’s Guilderland Center general store was burglarized by blowing open the safe, netting the criminals $35 in silver and a large number of postage stamps.

Another time, burglars used explosives to crack the safe at Guilderland Foundry. For all their effort, their haul was a disappointing $8.

W.S. Pitts’ general store in Altamont was broken into through a side window. The three men who did it carried off a goodly quantity of merchandise and, even though witnesses saw them flee, they managed to get away.

Thieves in McKownville hit the jackpot when in one night they managed to enter the Albany Country Club’s Clubhouse, Witbeck’s Hotel, and the schoolhouse, removing $150 worth of valuable silverware, clothing, and cigars.

In the years before World War I, thefts and break-ins targeted chiefly homes, barns, and businesses, but schools, railroad depots, and St. Lucy’s Chapel were also victims at one time or another. Commonly taken were things like cash, postage stamps, jewelry, men’s clothing and shoes, harnesses, and horse blankets.

But who stole the altar wine from St. Lucy’s? Books were carried off from schools on Settles Hill and from Guilderland, while at Altamont High School the most bizarre loot was pilfered — all the drawing compasses in the school! Various general stores and the foundry had been burglarized multiple times over the years.

Townsmen blustered in print about the consequences if the “miscreants,”  “Midnight marauders,” or the “chicken thief fraternity” were to be apprehended. Threats came from all over town that “house revolvers should be kept handy” and “if captured (he) will be summarily dealt with” or “A warm reception awaits the next company of midnight marauders.”

One man stormed, “If he caught the fellow who did it, he would make it hot for him.” Another advised, “Our citizens should oil their rusty revolvers and be ready for business.”

Frank Spurr seemed to be the only man to actually manage to fire off shots at a fleeing burglar who had broken into the barber shop and store in Guilderland. He missed!

Year by year, in those horse-and-buggy days, life in Guilderland was actually very safe and quiet, but every now and again unwelcome strangers caused some excitement, giving the local residents something interesting to talk about over the back fence, after church, or around the potbelly stove at the local general store.  Comfortable with each other, they did not regard unwelcome strangers kindly.

Location:

Tags:

Pages