No man’s land on the western front: The open attack at St. Mihiel was portrayed by Lucien Hector Jonas.

— United States National Archives and Records

“Dreadful scenes”: In the midst of the Meuse-Argonne Forest Offensive, Major Frank H. Hurst was gassed with phosgene, a compound of carbon monoxide and chlorine, and was carried on a stretcher to a base hospital. This Department of Defense photograph shows a gun crew from Regimental Headquarters Company, 23rd Infantry, firing during an advance against German entrenched positions at Meuse-Argonne.

— United States National Archives and Records

“Dr. F.H. Hurst Is In Thick of the Fighting” was the Altamont Enterprise headline, describing the Guilderland Center doctor helping the wounded in September 1918 after the Battle of St. Mihiel. Hurst in August had been transferred from a British regiment to the American Expeditionary Forces. This Army photograph shows the American Engineers returning from the front at St. Mihiel.

Dr. Frank H. Hurst was a Guilderland Center boy who became a doctor, graduating from Albany Medical College in 1895, followed by two years in Europe where he continued his medical studies. Returning home, he opened his practice in Guilderland Center in 1903 and served as the community’s physician until 1945, except for the years from 1917 to 1919.

August 1914 saw the opening shots of catastrophic World War I in Europe, a war that resulted in millions of casualties, a war in which the United States wanted no involvement. The nation adopted the official policy of neutrality.

When the Germans, who began unrestricted submarine warfare to prevent food supplies and war materiel from reaching Britain, started sinking American merchant ships in early 1917, the United States declared war on April 6. Having only a small regular army and an inadequate medical corps, the nation was ill prepared for all-out war. Many volunteers immediately came forward, including 44-year-old Dr. Hurst.

An early June Enterprise announcement informed everyone Dr. Hurst was leaving that day for Ft. Washington in D.C. where he would become part of the medical corps of the regular army, having been given the rank of lieutenant weeks before. Six weeks later, readers were assured the newly promoted Captain Hurst had reached France safely.

“Dr. Hurst Writes” was a front-page feature in early November 1917, penned in response to an Enterprise request to his wife for information. In a very lengthy letter written directly to the newspaper, Dr. Hurst gave details of his early months in service.

His Atlantic voyage had been uneventful under beautiful weather aboard an ocean liner he couldn’t name due to wartime censorship in a convoy protected by American and British destroyers. Upon landing at a British port he couldn’t name, he took a train to London where his accommodations at the “fashionable Hotel Curzon” in a posh neighborhood were provided by the British.

Free for the next few days, Hurst took the opportunity to “visit haunts of his medical school days” as well as doing considerable sightseeing, all described in detail in his letter.

At week’s end, when his orders came through to report to ------------ (because of censorship, lines replaced specific information) in France, he boarded a troop train to ----------, a seaport on the south coast of England where they embarked on a troop ship. After a very rough voyage across the stormy English Channel when half of the 1,300 men on board were seasick, they landed at ------------, a French seaport.

Dr. Hurst had a few leisurely days for sightseeing and a swim in the ocean at a nearby beach. During that time, the fresh troops were being taught how to wear the protective “tin hat” (Dr. Hurst’s quotes), the helmet worn by British soldiers, and how to wear the gas mask so crucial against German poison gas attacks.

Dr. Hurst, although a captain in the American Expeditionary Force, was assigned to a British regiment and would serve with the British until the summer of 1918 when he was reassigned to an American unit. This came about because, immediately after the Americans declared war, the British sent over the Balfour Mission seeking aid, including at least 1,000 doctors.

In a mutual agreement, Dr. Hurst was one of the American doctors and other medical personnel who would be aiding the British in dealing with mass casualties by filling out their depleted medical corps while at the same time learning from British experience in treating the wounded.

His lengthy letter continued that, after being assigned to a unit, they were loaded on a troop train moving only at night, everything darkened; otherwise German planes would have bombed them. Met by automobile, he was driven to headquarters of the 4th Cavalry Division of the Third Army where he was met by “fine British officers” who were “gentlemen,” fed a big breakfast and enjoyed an after-breakfast smoke.

At first, Dr. Hurst was assigned as the medical officer of the Division Advanced Supply Column, then, after several weeks, he was transferred to a British Field Hospital in charge of six wards and given his own operating room. His promotion to captain had come at this time.

Soon after the 1914 outbreak of the war, the Western front became a stalemate between the British and French against the Germans. Each side dug miles of deep trenches through Belgium and France with a no man’s land between them, the trenches protected by rolls of barbed wire.

For long periods of time, soldiers lived in these trenches often in terrible conditions. The strategy of generals on both sides was to initiate attacks with huge artillery bombardments of the enemy, followed by ordering the men out of the trenches to race across no man’s land through the barbed wire to attack the entrenched enemy in the face of machine gun fire, shrapnel, and after 1915 poison gas.

Casualty rates were catastrophic and by war’s end the British alone counted 487,994 dead. In his references to actual combat Captain Hurst (for the remainder of the war, this is how he signed his letters) refers to “carnage” and “roar of the battle,” additionally mentioning the constant strain from the danger of shrapnel, bombs, shot and shell, and poison gas.

Because his hospital was near an aerodrome, Captain Hurst often treated aviators who were sick or wounded, making friends with many of them. He didn’t hesitate when offered the opportunity to fly numerous times, once to the altitude of 16,500 feet, which he noted in his letter was about the distance from Guilderland Center to Altamont. He claimed the sight of the sky when flying above the clouds was “one of the finest experiences of my life.”

After time on the front line, he was given leave, and always the intrepid sightseer, he visited Paris and Rouen, observing that almost every woman whom he saw was dressed in mourning. He did admit that sleeping in a real bed and enjoying a real hot tub bath was deeply appreciated.

Captain Hurst’s letter ended with his address, giving the folks at home the opportunity to write the latest hometown news. His letter was actually the length of a magazine article, not what you would ordinarily think of as a letter.

New year in a wasteland

The next of his published letters was written soon after New Year’s Day in 1918 to the Guilderland Center Red Cross branch that he had helped to establish before he shipped out, leaving his wife in charge for the duration of the war. Appearing in the Jan. 11, 1918 edition of The Altamont Enterprise, the letter came from “somewhere in France.”

He thanked Enterprise readers for their Christmas greetings, giving assurances he had read and reread them. After characterizing the Germans as “ruthless” and “insidious,” he let the Red Cross members know how much the troops appreciated the items that had been sent over to them.

Describing the devastated countryside as being in complete ruin, there were few comforts for the troops in the trenches, “just the bare necessities of coarse food, scant shelter from the elements and only enough fire to keep from actually suffering in the wintery atmosphere and when in actual fighting not even that.”

While giving no specifics of the recent fighting on the front lines, he let his correspondents know by telling them if they had followed the activities of the cavalry from Nov. 19 to Dec. 6, they could get an idea of his surroundings.

Those who followed the war news would realize that it had been the Battle of Cambrai in France where the British Third Army bombarded the enemy’s Hindenburg Line firing 1,000 pieces of artillery, and then had ordered thousands of men and 476 tanks to attack the Germans along a five mile front. There had been huge losses on each side with little gain.

Captain Hurst’s dedication to the cause was clear when he wrote, “I am not complaining, for before I offered myself for the common cause, I knew full well all the privations and hardships and suffering that were before me.”

Brush with death

March 1918 saw a note in The Enterprise that Captain Hurst, while with the British army 10 miles back from the firing line, had had a close brush with death, when just after dismounting his horse, as he turned to speak to someone, a shot killed the horse.

Also recently he had been under fire on the front line when tending to a wounded soldier in a shell crater where he was trapped from early morning until after dark when he was able to crawl through the mud back to British lines.

The front page headline of May 3 read, “United States Medical Unit Was Captured,”  “Captain Frank H. Hurst of Guilderland Center Says Only Self and Major Escaped Somme Fight — Was Wounded in The Hand.”

Mrs. Hurst had notified the editor that Dr. Hurst and the major were the only two in their medical unit who weren’t killed or captured. He was wounded in the hand while evacuating wounded under shell fire on March 23 and by the 24th all had been captured or killed except himself and a major.

This attack was part of General Erich Ludendorff’s huge offensive to reach the English Channel by breaking out between the British and French armies. At first, the Germans successfully managed to push the British back 12 miles, hence the need to evacuate British wounded from the onslaught of the Germans. The German strategy was unsuccessful and their desperate attempt failed.

Soon after the offensive came to an end, Captain Hurst wrote to Mr. and Mrs. John Scrafford in Altamont on April 6, thanking them for cookies he had received the day before after having been without mail for 16 days dues to the German attack. Cookies were a real treat after all those days of eating nothing but hard tack and corned beef.

With an apology for writing the letter in pencil, Captain Hurst explained, “Please excuse my using pencil, for I cannot hold a pen, having been wounded in my right hand by a piece of bursting shrapnel, as we were evacuating our patients while under fire from the enemy as he was advancing on_____________, where our hospital was located. We were under fire the entire time, and as I was directing the loading of patients in next to the last car, a shrapnel burst just as my side, and one piece hit me.

“It is fortunate it was no worse. I held my wound with my left hand until I had finished loading, then jumped on the last car, and as we drove away, I applied First-Aid Dressing to myself and it was 10 o’clock at night, after we had all our patients under canvas on stretchers, that I found time to go to a CCS [Casualty Clearing Station] near our new camp to have my wound treated. But we had saved all our patients. Next morning we had to evacuate again as the enemy was still advancing, and my Colonel sent me to No.2 Stationary Hospital.”

After five days in the hospital, Captain Hurst requested he be sent back to his unit and was happy to report the Germans were being pushed back.

Joining other Americans

Captain Hurst was finally transferred to the American Expeditionary Forces in a different part of France in August 1918. His wife assured the Enterprise editor that her husband was pleased to be with American troops.

“Dr. F.H. Hurst Is In Thick of the Fighting” was the headline describing another letter shared by Mrs. Hurst. Writing in mid-September, he had been reassigned to the 89th Division’s 314th sanitary train, after having first been ordered to the 2nd Cavalry to “get their medical equipment in shape.”

Explaining that the 314th sanitary train corresponded to the field ambulance he had been attached to with the British, Captain Hurst went on to relate his first experience of battle with American troops.

Amazingly, he was writing on “Boche” paper left behind in the German field hospital his division had just captured, following “so closely on their heels that they left practically everything — even the water was hot on the stove in the sterilizer.”

The 89th had been part of the American army’s advance and capture of the St. Mihiel salient, a bulge in the German line held for four years of German occupation. This offensive from Sept. 12 to 16 was the first for the green American soldiers involved.

Captain Hurst’s wife was told not to worry about him if he didn’t communicate for a time, he was so busy dressing wounded that he barely had time or eat or snatch a little nap, noting, “I have been in the thick of it.” He had had no mail and hoped to send this letter out with an ambulance driver. He claimed to be well, and feeling fine, only very tired.

Captain Hurst sent a second letter a few days later, this time on a German officer’s stationery, unsure if she had received his earlier letter. He was terribly upset that, while he and others were fighting in the St. Mihiel offensive, thieves had entered the barracks they left behind and had ransacked it.

“I have lost my trunk and all my souvenirs and postcards, as well as my two good and almost new uniforms, everything I had except my old uniform I had on last spring when I was in the British retreat,” wrote Captain Hurst.

He also complained of losing his shaving kit and bedding roll. However, his most regretted loss was his diary. The two letters appeared in the Oct. 25, 1918 edition of The Enterprise.

Within a month, the 89th Division was relocated to the Verdun sector where they were heavily engaged in the Meuse-Argonne Forest Offensive, one of French Marshal Ferdinand Foch’s efforts to force the Germans to retreat from their defensive Hindenburg Line. Combining forces, the United States and France threw in 37 divisions but, while the Germans were pushed back, their line held and no breakthrough was achieved.

Major Hurst is gassed

In the midst of this battle, Major Hurst was gassed by phosgene, a compound of carbon monoxide and chlorine, and was carried on a stretcher to a base hospital where he lay for three weeks.

“Major Frank H. Hurst of Guilderland Center Tells How He Was Gassed” was the headline in the Dec. 13 Enterprise, updating readers about his promotion in rank and his latest news from the battlefield.

Unable to lift his head from the pillow for three weeks, and overcome with faintness if he tried, his heart had been weakened from the effects of the gas. According to his doctors, it would be a month before he would feel stronger.

Having been wounded twice previously, Major Hurst commented, “Nothing compared to this, the Huns nearly got me this time.”

His letter says that he had actually been gassed twice, the first time light enough to keep tending the wounded, but the second time weakness overcame him and hemorrhaging began from his lungs. Now that he was in a hospital bed away from the sound of guns, the quiet came as a relief after having been in constant warfare for over a month.

A second letter penned a few days later was also included in the paper. Now reporting much improvement, he was now able to sit up in a wheelchair, but was not yet allowed to walk.

As soon as his heart was stronger, he was going to be transferred to Cannes on the Mediterranean for further recuperation. As it was, the current hospital’s location was peaceful and beautifully located, one of 10 hospitals 40 miles from Dijon able to accommodate 20,000 patients.

A letter written Nov. 1 brought news that Major Hurst had walked the length of the ward, gaining strength so rapidly that, by the following day, he had walked around the pavilion outside. He expressed a wish that peace would come.

Armistice brings joy

The Armistice ending the fighting was to take effect at 11 a.m. — the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month: Nov. 11, 1918.

In Major Hurst’s next letter, written 11 days after the armistice had been signed and peace had come to the trenches, his expression of relief was obvious. “When I am well again,” he wrote, “I will not have to go back to those dreadful scenes.”

He followed this with a description of the rejoicing following news of the armistice in the nearby small village of Allavey, where there were parades and flags, singing and shouting, guns being fired off from the fort on the nearby mountain and from ships in the harbor while ecstatic Frenchmen shook hands and the women, weeping tears of joy, handed out flowers and kissed them, all in gratitude for American aid in winning the war.

The celebration went on far into the night. Now that he was in Cannes in southern France, Major Hurst felt the balmy climate was restoring his health. The time spent on the beach under the palm trees or sailing and fishing with other officers was just what was needed.

Early in January 1919, orders had come through for Major Hurst to report to the commanding general at Bordeaux who ordered him to take command of the 500-bed Camp Hospital No. 79, situated in a beautiful 600-year-old chateaux at St. Andre de Cuzal. He was feeling well, but still coughing at night, fearing it would be some time before embarkation home.

His next letter, written on Easter morning, mentioned his disappointment at not being sent home and discharged in spite of putting in for it, but he was hoping he’d be home by July or August.

He proudly related that, “General Noble, the Commanding General here at Bordeaux, told me I have established the finest hospital — large or small — that he’d seen in France, and he wants me to keep charge of it. We take care of the boys who are taken sick while here in the area awaiting embarkation; we get them in shape and well, to send them home to their people healthy.”

Finally released from active duty, Major Hurst sailed on the liner Saxonia, leaving Brest for the United States and finally reaching American shores in July. After getting his final discharge, he resumed his medical practice in the Guilderland Center area immediately.

However, his military career wasn’t over quite yet. In early January 1920, it was announced that he had been promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in recognition of his faithful and distinguished work for medical services while in the war zone. He then served in the Army Medical Corps Reserve and during the next few years periodically reported for duty. He finally retired from the reserves in 1925.

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— From the Guilderland Historical Society

Written in pencil on the reverse of this photograph is: “Baldwin apple tree on farm of Martin Blessing, Fullers, N.Y., yield in 1903 ten barrels of apples.”

— From the Guilderland Historical Society

Leininger’s Cider Mill on Carman Road, north of Old State Road, was an autumn destination for large numbers of cider lovers until 1989. Today a medical building occupies the site. This photo was taken in about 1942.

“Hank Apple’s tap” was immortalized by Henry Rowe Schoolcraft in his Anti-Rent War narrative poem “Helderbergia” when he has innkeeper Apple “replace the feast, while gin its reign resumes.”

The local men, travelers, and drovers frequenting one of Guilderland’s many late 18th- or early 19th-century taverns did imbibe gin, brandy, rum, and whiskey. However, it was also very likely that cheap, locally-made hard cider or applejack flowed from the “taps.”

An 1814 bar book from the Severson Tavern, once located at the base of the Helderberg escarpment in what is now Altamont, recorded that Wm. Truax owed 9 pence for 1½ mugs of cider; Lot Hurst drank 1½ mugs of cider at a cost of 9¼ cts.; Jacob Zimmer spent 18¾ cts. for 3 mugs of cider; and Evert Barkley downed 1 cider eggnog, an extravagance of 12½ cts.

The drink of choice among all age groups during these years, cider was widely produced by local farmers from the plentiful apple trees thriving in Guilderland and wherever farmers had settled in New York State. Although Esopus Spitzenburgs, Northern Spy, Yellow Newtown, and Lady Sweet were among the apple varieties that could be found at that time in the state, most early farmers had little concern about named varieties or their apples’ attractive appearance as long as the trees on their farms produced flavorful fruit.

During these early year,s most apples not eaten fresh were crushed into cider by family members or they dried slices chiefly for their own use. However, sometimes they bartered these for goods or services.

According to John Winne’s account book of 1810-1818 recording the transactions of his Dunnsville store and tavern, local families could barter one bushel of dried apples for $1.50 worth of merchandise at his store or one barrel of cider for the value of $1.00. A day’s labor for Winne earned only $.50 credit, illustrating the economic importance of apples at that time.

Knowersville’s Dr. Frederick Crounse was willing to accept a barrel of cider in exchange of $1.50 worth of medical treatment and for that price would “excise a tumor.”

The cider those hardy folks drank was not the pasteurized stuff we drink today. In those days, the sugar content of the pressed apple juice rapidly fermented, creating the low alcohol content of “hard cider.”

The hard cider could further be distilled into potent apple brandy or applejack. Old timers could put out a pail of hard cider on a bitterly cold winter’s night and, come morning, the water content would be frozen, leaving a small amount of highly alcoholic applejack.

Later in the 19th and early 20th centuries, local farmers could make their families’ cider supply with inexpensive cider mills such as “The Little Giant Cider Mill” for $7.65 that could be ordered from the 1897 Sears, Roebuck Catalog. Or they could buy a barrel of cider already pressed from W. D. Frederick for $2.88 as noted in his 1888 account book or at other cider mills in the area.

Another product of cider was vinegar. In the 1880s, A.V. Mynderse was a “manufacturer of and wholesale and retail dealer in cider and vinegar” in Guilderland Center.

Cider and vinegar producers advertised in The Enterprise, urging farmers to bring in their apples at what were much lower prices than for high-quality fruit. However, for drops or a farmer with only a few trees, it was a way to earn ready cash even if the price per bushel was under $1.

During the last years of the 19th Century, larger scale apple production had turned into an important source of cash income for town farmers. Paying calls at local farms, out-of-town buyers sought good quality fruit to be shipped out by rail to big-city markets.

One year, Fullers farmers were visited by a Utica buyer purchasing apples to be sent to Philadelphia. A.M. LaGrange, a farmer living in that part of town, sold 100 barrels in 1889. He had “the reputation of growing some of the finest apples in this locality.”

Each of the town’s four railroad depots were the scenes of the departure of carloads of apples destined for East Coast cities. Reporting from Guilderland Center in 1901, “The first installment of apples purchased here…was shipped from this station to New York last Saturday.”

Prices for either grade of apples varied, depending on scarcity and demand. In 1892, farmers received $2.25 for a bushel of fine quality apples, but it was unusual to receive that much per bushel. In 1896, The Enterprise noted, “Apples are cheaper this year than ever before in our recollection, prices ranging from $.50 to $.75 per barrel for nice choice fruit.”

After 1890, area apple-growing farmers found a steady market for their apple crop when Charles H. Burton and A. Elmer Cory of Albany opened up a cider and vinegar manufacturing plant near the D&H tracks in Voorheesville capable of crushing 9,000 pounds of apples daily. Named the Empire Cider and Vinegar Company in 1891, it was eventually known as Duffy-Mott.

It was an immediate success and, within a year after opening, several 1,000-gallon tanks were added to the operation. Advertisements in The Altamont Enterprise urged farmers to bring their apples to the Fullers and Altamont railroad stations for shipment to the new processing plant.

By 1900, three-thousand bushels were pressed daily during a 70-day season. In later years, apple juice and applesauce were added to the product line. Duffy-Mott closed down the plant in 1955, striking a serious economic blow to farmers who lost a ready market for their apple crops.

At first, the variety of apples didn’t seem to matter much for individual farmers. In 1895, apple trees of no particular variety could be purchased very inexpensively from Jas. Hallenbeck of Altamont when he offered 5½- to 7-foot trees for only $.15 each.

This casual attitude changed as buyers grew increasingly picky about quality. Diseases affecting trees and fruit such as scab and codling moths and by the 1920s the “skeletonizer” disease had appeared, making “arsenical applications” necessary to save the apple crop.

Until the mid-1950s, extensive acreage in and around Guilderland Center was devoted to apple orchards. A wildfire that threatened the drought-stricken hamlet in 1947 succeeded in destroying the 1,000-tree fruit orchard of Edward Griffiths on the western end of the village.

However, a 1950 aerial view of Guilderland Center appearing as part of a Knickerbocker News article revealed row upon row of apple trees on the site where today stand the firehouse, the school bus garage, the high school and its playing fields, and houses — all once owned by A.V. Mynderse, the vinegar-maker.

With the closing of the Duffy-Mott plant and the pressure of development, all of Guilderland’s orchards are gone now except one. Altamont Orchards remains to carry on our town’s apple tradition.

The original orchard was planted by Dr. Daniel H. Cook, a prominent Albany doctor who used the land as his summer home and gentleman’s farm. He was a serious agriculturalist who planted 3,000 apple, pear, and plum trees, considered a very fine orchard in 1899.

In 1967, the Abbruzzese family took over the property, opening up a farmstand in addition to running the orchards. Operating a profitable apple orchard today is a tremendous challenge, requiring the owners to do more than tend the trees.The competition from other states and countries is fierce.

State health regulations control the making of cider, now requiring it to be pasteurized. There is no more amateur hard cider, although professionally produced hard cider has had a revival recently.

Today, in addition to their farm stand and orchard, the Abbruzzese family has established a golf course and restaurant on the property in order to stay in business.

Solely depending on income from an apple orchard is not practical these days for a farmer in Guilderland unless other avenues of profit are explored. The time may come when Guilderland’s apple history is all past history.

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This bell not only rang for classes, but was reputed to ring mysteriously on Halloween. Here it is visible in the cupola atop Guilderland District 4 School on Willow Street. The empty cupola remains on the building now housing a New York State Police substation.

Many decades ago, peals of bells housed in cupolas atop local schoolhouses signaled dawdling children that classes were about to begin. Once standard equipment for old-time schools, most school bells have disappeared along with most of the school buildings where they once hung. Fortunately, a few of Guilderland’s historic school bells have survived.

In 1900, Guilderland’s several common school districts were scattered throughout the town to be within children’s walking distance from home, offering education up through eighth grade.

With district numbers in parenthesis, they were: Settles Hill (1), Dunnsville (2), Parkers Corners (3), Hamlet of Guilderland (4), Wormer School (5), Guilderland Center (6), Altamont (7), Gardner Road School (8), Osborn Corners (9), Cobblestone School on Stone Road (10), McKownville (11), McKownville Annex (11A), Fullers (13), and Fort Hunter Bigsbee School (14).

District 12 had disbanded in the 1890s, followed by the closure of the Wormer School in 1906. By 1902, Altamont had become a Union Free District and had opened its high school.

Early in the 1930s, New York State began to urge rural areas with many small local districts like Guilderland’s to merge into centralized districts, doing away with old-fashioned, one-room schools and offering modern high school education.

In 1941, the Voorheesville schools centralized, including Guilderland districts 5, 8, and 10. That same year, Guilderland Center residents voted to pay tuition, enabling their children to attend Voorheesville schools even though they didn’t become part of that central district.

Eventually, Guilderland’s remaining districts plus North Bethlehem voted to form the Guilderland Central School District in 1950. Once modern Fort Hunter, Altamont, and Westmere elementary schools opened in 1953, the old one-room schools were auctioned off.

Whatever became of the school bells?

Parker Corners bell to inspire modern scholars

Hidden away in a grass-covered courtyard at Guilderland High School rests the bell that once warned the little scholars attending the Parkers Corners District 3 School that classes were about to begin. The three-foot high bronze bell, cast in 1864, is inscribed in raised lettering, “Joy and gladness shall be found therein, Thanksgiving and the voice of melody.”

The bell is 33 inches in diameter and originally called worshippers to the Old State Road Methodist Church. Charles Parker, a wealthy New York City man who lived for a time in the area, donated $4,000 in 1864 to build a Methodist Church near his home. At that time, a church bell was purchased from Jones and Company Bell Foundry of Troy, a foundry in operation from 1852 to 1887. By the late 1930s, the dwindling congregation forced closure of the church.

Nearby on West Old State Road stood the Parkers Corners one-room school where one November morning in 1942 fire erupted just as pupils were arriving. While desks, books, and the adjoining wood shed were saved by neighbors’ immediate action, the building was a total loss.

Realizing that, due to World War II shortages, there was no chance of arranging the transportation of students to another district, residents quickly noted the empty church building in their midst would be the perfect solution. The former church served as the Parkers Corners School until 1953 when students began attending Fort Hunter Elementary School.

After having been sold at auction, the building burned in a suspicious fire, but not before the bell had been removed to be placed by the flagpole near the front of the new Guilderland Junior-Senior High School when it opened in 1954. The bell was to serve as a “symbolic link of the ten former common school districts with the new centralization.” Today, because of the extensive expansion of the high school building over the years, the bell is now in an enclosed courtyard.

Guilderland bell traveled to Greece

The trip from Parkers Corners to the new junior-senior high school was a short one compared to the journey traveled by the bell from the Guilderland District 4 School.

In 1847, the District 4 School became the town’s first two-room school. When the building was remodeled and enlarged in the 1890s, it boasted a “fine” new bell donated by village residents Messrs. Newberry and Chapman, owners of the Guilderland foundry. Because casting bells was such a specialized operation, it is unlikely the bell was cast at their foundry.

After the 1953 opening of Westmere Elementary School, the Willow Street school building served as Guilderland’s first real town hall before becoming a State Police substation.

As Nazi invaders swept through Greece in 1941, they confiscated anything that could be of value to their war effort, including the bell that hung in St. Nicholas Church in the small Macedonian village of Siatista. Communist unrest in that area of Greece during the years immediately following the war prevented the villagers from replacing their cherished bell.

Mrs. F.C. Cargill of Guilderland became aware of the village’s loss and knew that the Society of Siatisteon Siatista, a New York City group of former Siatista village residents, sought a replacement bell. She contacted William D. Borden, president of the Guilderland Board of Education to inquire if one of the district’s old school bells could be donated.

The board quickly approved, giving the bell from the Guilderland District 4 School to the society which took over the responsibility and cost of shipping the bell to Greece. After its arrival, the bishop sent a gracious thank-you for the bell to the board of education saying, “By its sacred tolling it may summon Christians to worship God.”

Dunnsville bell at Town Hall

The Dunnsville District 2 one-room school dated back to 1875 when it replaced an earlier 1820 building. In 1882, a bell cast at the Clinton H. Meneely Bell Company, a Troy bell foundry, was placed in the cupola of the new school where it rang out 15 minutes before classes began, again at class time, and then again at noon.

Viola Crounse Gray, a Dunnsville student in the early 1900s, recalled her father and other local farmers coming in from their chores for their midday meal at the sound of the school’s noon bell. As the last trustee of the school, in 1953 she had the opportunity to purchase any school property not needed by the district.

Sentimentally, she wanted the bell she remembered so fondly from her childhood. In 1982, when she and her husband, Earl Gray, offered the bell to the town, it was placed in front of Town Hall.

Stone Road bell at historic house

Once ringing out from above the Cobblestone District 10 School on Stone Road, today the school’s 320-pound bell rests silently in front of the Mynderse-Frederick House. Because this Guilderland district became part of the Voorheesville Central School District, it isn’t clear when the building ceased being used as a school and became a private residence.

At some point, its bell came into the possession of the Albany Institute of History and Art, later passing into the hands of the Christ Lutheran Church in McKownville. When the bell proved too heavy to place in the church’s bell tower, it languished in a storeroom for 30 years.

Eventually, the church historian got in touch with then-Town Historian Fred Hillenbrand to offer the bell to the town. After Guilderland Highway Department workers refurbished the bell, cast in 1868 at the Meneely Bell Foundry of West Troy (after 1896 renamed City of Watervliet), it was placed in its newest location in front of the Mynderse-Frederick House.

Cobblestone school still has its bell

To have a genuine glimpse of the past, observe the old Cobblestone District 6 School in Guilderland Center with its bell still in its cupola as you drive by on Route 146. The building was erected in 1867 and is still owned by Guilderland Central School District.

During the period of time when these rural schools were built, the cities of the Capital District were manufacturing centers employing countless workers. Among the factories in Troy and West Troy (Watervliet) were bell foundries turning out thousands of bells sold all over the country for schools, churches, and government buildings.

When you pass by the bells at Town Hall or in front of the Mynderse-Frederick House, remember the early system of common-school education they represented as well as the industry that was once so important to this area.

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Now an apartment building at 131 Maple Ave. in Altamont, the District 7 common school building, built in 1879, once stood on School Street (now Lincoln Avenue). After the Altamont Free Union School opened in 1902, James Keenholts bought the old school building at auction for $875 and had it moved to Maple Avenue.

America’s advances in technology and the growth of business activities at the opening of the 20th Century made it obvious that educational skills beyond those offered by the traditional eighth-grade common schools, then typical in New York’s rural communities, were needed.

Altamont’s School Street (later renamed Lincoln Avenue) had been the site of District 7 common school since 1879, but by 1901 many in this prosperous and expanding village were questioning the adequacy of the education received there by the village’s youth.

Calling a meeting of taxpayers in early April 1901, school trustees sought a consensus either to repair the current school building or to choose a different site and erect a new one. The trustees had heard complaints about the poor and limited quality of education available in the District 7 common school, often deterring outsiders from settling in the otherwise up-and-coming village and forcing villagers to send their children to board in the city if they wished them to get schooling beyond eighth grade.

The trustees made it clear they had hopes of winning approval for a new building large enough to allow Altamont to eventually become a union free school district permitting a high school department. Uneasy taxpayers were assured that enough non-resident students would attend a high school, paying tuition to defray any additional expenses.

The special meeting brought out a sizable number including a few taxpayers who were no happier at the thought of higher school taxes than taxpayers a century later. One suspicious attendee demanded to know why the meeting had been called.

In answer, one trustee read to the assembled group a letter received from the State Department “calling attention to the deplorable condition of the school building and grounds.” A resolution was made to raise $500 to repair the old school but, when it was pointed out that the meeting was not called according to a state law that mandated school meeting notices could only be issued by a person who is also a taxpayer, the resolution died.

With that, the meeting became an informal gathering where the talk drifted over to the need not only for a modern school building, but a school that would offer more advanced studies than the common school.  W.S. Keenholts, one of the school trustees who obviously had come prepared, immediately launched into the requirements that applied to a union free district, legally necessary to establish a high school in New York State.

At that, attendees signed a petition almost unanimously for the trustees to call a second meeting to have an official vote on becoming a union free district. The sentiment seemed clear that Altamont needed a new building offering a higher level of education to keep up with the times.

As the meeting approached when legally eligible voters would decide the question of becoming a union free district, arguments in favor appeared in The Enterprise. “Progressive up-to-date people of the district” not only felt it was a good business proposition, but would give more children the opportunity to get an advanced education.

The old attitude that the eight-grade common school was good enough for my father and good enough for me was “false reasoning.” A comparison between the old common school and the academic department of a union free school made it clear “more extensive book knowledge” was a necessity in “the professional, the industrial, the commercial and the political world” of that day.

The night of the meeting, Mr. Thomas E. Finnegan of the New York State Department of Public Instruction and two other men representing communities that already had become union free districts spoke of the advantages of this type of district.

Advocates of change triumphed when the votes in favor of the new type of district were 124 to 14. A board of education was elected to look into a site and plan for a new building.

By early July 1901, the board of education called a meeting with plans for a new school building and the necessity of raising the sum of $10,200 for construction costs. In addition, $1,800 would be needed for heating and sanitation, and $500 for furnishings in the new building. An additional $800 had to be raised to purchase a two-acre plot on the corner of Grand Street and Fairview Avenue. It was planned to issue bonds to be paid off $1,000 plus interest annually.

The building’s architect was Altamont resident Wilber D. Wright. The notice calling for contractors to submit bids called for an eight-room, two-story school building of solid brick, 50-by-78 feet with a basement. It was to have the capacity for 250 students.

No bid was as low as the figure set by the board of education but, after a way was found to get the additional $3,000, the construction contract was awarded to the lowest bidder, Mr. J.W. Packer of Oneonta.

The old school was auctioned off in 1902 once it was no longer needed, purchased by James Keenholts for $875. Soon after this, he had the building moved over vacant lots to Maple Avenue.

By October 1901, Crannell Brothers, then located in Altamont, had brought in D&H carloads of lumber and Rosendale cement. Work on a foundation of bluestone brought from Fred V. Whipple’s quarry was soon underway.

Many spectators walked over to Grand Street during the next few months to observe the construction progress. Once the exterior was complete, Altamont’s A.J. Manchester installed the heating and plumbing while George T. Weaver put in lathing and plastering. By early summer 1902, the building was completed and formally accepted by the board of education.

The principal of the new school was Professor Arthur Z. Boothby, who had already been hired by the district fresh out of Albany Normal School in 1900. His salary for 1901-02 was $540.40.

Also on the faculty were several women who earned in the $300 range. A janitor had also been hired. The total school budget adopted by the board of education for 1902-03 was $2,495.50.

With the school’s opening imminent, the school board put out publicity, encouraging out-of-town tuition-paying students to attend. Promoting the new school as having “all the latest in equipment in sanitary arrangements and provided with all necessary apparatus for pursuing higher studies,” enrolled students were to be taught by a “competent corps of instructors.”

Tuition rates for non-resident students were given per quarter: academic, $2.50; intermediate, $2.50; and primary, $1.75. For those living along the D&H line, commutation per month was: Delanson, $3.00; Duane, $2.50; Voorheesville, $3.00; and Meadowdale, $2.50. While the costs of construction, personnel, and commutation seem very low, these figures are for 1902 dollars.

A general invitation went out to Altamont’s villagers, urging them to attend the dedication ceremony on Sept. 18, 1902 when the school building would be open for people to wander through. Even though the weather that day turned out to be rainy and unpleasant, a large crowd turned out to participate in opening ceremonies held in the large assembly room.

The program included prayers; scripture readings; and speeches, followed by Dr. Jesse Crounse, president of the Board of Education, who reviewed the rules of the school including one holding the parent or guardian responsible for any damage done by a child to furniture or the building.

School opened Monday with an enrollment of 154 pupils (this number included Altamont’s elementary grades as well) including 10 non-residents. The high school’s first graduating class in 1905 had 11 graduates.

By rights, Altamont residents were extremely proud of their new school, built at great financial cost for such a small village. The school was in use until the centralization of Guilderland’s schools took place in 1950.

By 1953, the new Altamont Elementary School, built on the same plot of land as the old Union Free School, and a year later Guilderland Junior-Senior High School in Guilderland Center were open. The once-modern building in Altamont stood empty.

In December 1955, when it was decided there could be no possible future use for the structure, the board of education of the Guilderland Central School District awarded Jackson Tree Service a contract to demolish and remove the debris of the grand old building for a bid of $3,250.

A New York State Historic Marker stands on Grand Street to indicate where the Altamont Union Free School once stood. It is ironic to think the solidly constructed school was razed, replaced by a lawn and a marker, while the inadequate District 7 common school building is still standing today at 131 Maple Ave. and is now used for residences.

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Just in from the west side of Meadowdale Road, the small Meadowdale Depot stood south of the D&H tracks behind the stationmaster’s house. This photograph of the station appeared on a postcard.

Without a GPS to route them to Meadowdale, Gardner, or Frederick roads, few current Guilderland residents could find their way to Meadowdale, and once there would wonder: What’s Meadowdale?

Although difficult for us to believe today, a century ago Meadowdale was one of Guilderland’s small hamlets with an identity all its own, reflected in its little weekly column in The Altamont Enterprise.

In the 18th and early 19th centuries, the locale was an area of scattered farms tenanted by leaseholders of the Van Rensselaer West Manor. With the Helderberg escarpment rising just to the west and the Black Creek meandering through the fertile farmland, it was a very scenic spot.

A site was chosen here to become the only stop on the Albany & Susquehanna Railroad between Voorheesville and Knowersville when the railroad laid track through that part of Guilderland in 1863.

Within a year, a small passenger depot and freight office was erected in a location where the tracks crossed a dirt road now called Meadowdale Road; the sign hanging from it identified the stop as Guilderland Station.

A few years later, the A&S Railroad was absorbed by the Delaware & Hudson Railroad. A sizable amount of the D&H’s profits stemmed from summer passenger service: group excursions, day trippers off to a scenic spot, urban vacationers either boarding at country hotels or with farm families who took in summer boarders for extra income.

The logic of D&H executives renaming the stop from its original pedestrian name Guilderland Station to the more attractive sounding Meadowdale is obvious. Annually, the company published the “D&H Directory of Summer Hotels and Boarding Houses” where the prospect of stopping at Meadowdale would certainly seem lots more appealing to prospective visitors.

Each sunny weekend, numerous day trippers came out from Albany to the little depot, planning to hike the two to three miles up the “old road” through Indian Ladder Pass to the top of the escarpment. An Altamont livery stable owner usually would send over one of his wagons to transport for a small fee those who were unable to do the vigorous hike themselves up the escarpment road. At the end of the day, the weary hikers journeyed back to Albany after their day in the country.

Boarding houses on Thompson’s Lake would often send a wagon to pick up expected guests as well. And farmers came by to pick up boarders who were coming to stay a week or more at their farms.

In later years, many Boy Scout troops came to hike up and camp out on top of the escarpment. Local trains were frequent and inexpensive with a 1909 timetable listing fares with the price of a round-trip ticket from Albany to Meadowdale 79 cents while one way was 42 cents.

By 1900, the area around the little depot had become a much bigger railroad complex with a water tower across the tracks, a necessity in those days of steam locomotives. Nearby was a utility shed for storage of track maintenance equipment and across the tracks from the depot was a freight yard where numerous freight cars that brought up coal from Pennsylvania mines could be parked until the fuel was needed to feed the fire boxes of D&H locomotives.

For many years, large quantities of hay was shipped out of Meadowdale, a major profit-making crop for local farmers during those horse-drawn years.

In the 1886 Howell & Tenney History of Albany County, the name is still given as Guilderland Station, characterized as “a hamlet of about 100 people,” with two dealers in cut hay, a blacksmith and a “general merchant.”

A few years later, in 1897, when Landmarks of Albany County was published, rather confusingly Guilderland Station get a one-line paragraph saying it was a small hamlet with no post office with a second one-line paragraph following, mentioning Meadow Dale as a hamlet with a post office in the “extreme southern part of town” — strange since both the store and the postmaster who ran the post office in his own home were only a few hundred feet from the depot.

Soon after the opening of the depot, a Guilderland Station post office was established there in August 1864 and renamed Meadowdale in 1887. While at first the post office was actually in the railroad station, it was later either in the postmaster’s house or more commonly in the community’s general store.

Most of the mail was generated by summer visitors who hiked up the escarpment or were boarding with local farmers. The photograph of the railroad depot appeared on an early 20th Century postcard, one of many sent out with a Meadowdale postmark, though most were of scenes of the Indian Ladder Road or from atop the escarpment.

The general store, for many years run by William Schoolcraft and his wife, not only served folks as the post office, for groceries and other farm necessities, but also as a gathering place to exchange news and gossip. Schoolcraft traveled the area from Voorheesville to Altamont, selling groceries and picking up fresh produce.

School-age children trekked to Gardner Road to the District No. 8 one-room schoolhouse built in 1885 to replace an earlier building. The schoolhouse was not only used for education, but often hosted Sunday afternoon religious services and served as the meeting place for a Christian Endeavor group as well.

A little record book exists labeled “Meadowdale Union Bible School list of membership 1910 – 1912.”  No church was ever built in Meadowdale, and probably most people had membership in either an Altamont or Guilderland Center church, but in the horse-and-buggy era, especially in bad weather, it wasn’t feasible to go that far.

In spite of the population being spread out on farms, having the general store on one road, the schoolhouse on another, and no real center to Meadowdale, the people who lived there definitely identified as being from Meadowdale. The little Meadowdale column that appeared with regularity in The Enterprise listed the births, illnesses and deaths, farm news, social events, and endless visits back and forth.

The appearance of the automobile and the rapid growth of travel by car spelled the end of Meadowdale’s prosperity and identity. People no longer rode the train to board with local farmers or to walk up to Thacher Park as the area atop the escarpment had become by that time.

No longer having a market for hay, farmers had to switch to dairy farming or raising chickens or get out of farming entirely. Meadowdale’s store became obsolete once a short drive to Altamont’s A&P or Grand Union markets became possible. During the mid-1920s, the building that once housed the general store was dismantled and reconstructed in Voorheesville.

In 1925, the D&H Railroad, facing a major decline in profits from passenger travel, went before the New York State Public Service Commission, claiming the year before the revenue generated by the Meadowdale station was $1,424.15 while pay for the station agent there cost them $1,779.03.

In 1924, there were only 17 freight cars forwarded and one received because area agricultural production was declining. The D&H’s chief engineer presented the information that there were only six dwellings and a combination store and dwelling with a graveled road (Meadowdale Road) running through.

Seven residents appeared to protest removing the station agent and only opening the station when a train was expected, but the Public Service Commission granted the D&H’s request.

By 1931, passenger trains no longer stopped in Meadowdale and shortly after the station was taken down and the utility building moved down Meadowdale Road a short distance for someone else’s use. Today there is no trace of the station, water tower, or rail yards, though a single track still cuts across Gardner and Meadowdale roads.

In 1926, the post office was closed and residents began to receive mail delivered by Rural Free Delivery to their mail boxes. The one-room District No. 8 School educated the local children for many years, eventually becoming part of the Voorheesville Central School District.

Farmers continued to hang on in the Meadowdale area, struggling with the changes and competition in farming and the challenge of surviving the 1930s Depression.

May Crounse Kinney, written about by Melissa Hale-Spencer in The Altamont Enterprise, grew up in the Gardner Road area, attending the District No. 8 Gardner Road School until she was 14. She married local farmer Solen Kinney, farming his Gardner Road farm with him until 1949.

Her description of working 365 days a year, running her house and helping with the heavy work on the farm, planting harvesting, getting firewood, caring for animals as well as putting up 300 jars of fruit and vegetables, churning butter and sewing clothes illustrated the lives of Meadowdale farmers and their wives during the early decades of the 20th Century.

All this without electricity or telephone service until the 1940s. The first electrical lines were run out to the Meadowdale area only in 1936 by New York Power and Light Corp.

The Kinneys gave up farming when the price of newer farm machinery cost more than they could possibly afford, which is the story of most of the farmers in our area.

Today, you can drive along Meadowdale, Gardner, and Frederick roads and still see the old farmhouses and cross the railroad tracks, but Meadowdale as a community exists only in memory.

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— 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.

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 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.

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— Photo from the Guilderland Historical Society

John D. Ogsbury, on the far right, is shown here as a much younger man than when he ventured into the Helderbergs to witness General Electric’s experimental long distance TV transmission.

One uncomfortably warm June morning, 82-year-old John D. Ogsbury climbed into Warren Baker’s car for a drive up the hill out of Altamont into the Helderbergs for one of the most memorable experiences of his life.

Ogsbury, owner and senior editor of The Altamont Enterprise, had been born three years before the Civil War on a farm near McKownville. His family moved to farms in Parkers Corners and then Dunnsville where he received his education in the one-room school.

Leaving the farm in 1874, he worked at a variety of jobs, some taking him out of the area as far away as South Carolina and California. On his return, he continued to be unsettled until, in 1886, his new mother-in-law loaned him $300 to buy a part interest in The Knowersville Enterprise.

John D. Ogsbury had finally found his niche! Initially he was in partnership with Junius Ogsbury, but in 1914 he became sole owner of The Enterprise.

A few years later, in 1920, he brought in his youngest son, Howard, to be a partner. Within a few years, his son was in charge of the day-to-day operations while John D. Ogsbury acted as senior editor. After 1933, he began an annual winter sojourn in Florida, and on that June morning he had only recently returned from his Florida hiatus, having first stopped off to attend the opening of the 1939 World’s Fair.

Officially inaugurated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on April 30, the fair had spread out over 1,216 acres in Queens, New York, and focused on the future with an upbeat opening-day slogan: “Dawn of a New Day.”

Emphasizing modern technology, American companies such as General Electric, RCA (Radio Corporation of America), and Westinghouse erected large buildings featuring their products and research. One of the attractions that succeeded in capturing the public’s attention was television, which at that time was called a “futuristic technology.”

The G.E. building included a complete TV studio where intrigued visitors could stand in front of a camera, look over at a screen and see themselves on television, while an actual DuMont television was an eye-catching object in the lobby of the RCA building. There, a sizable display area had been given over to television in an effort to stimulate consumer interest in the new medium.

Schenectady’s G.E. was at the forefront of television research beginning in the 1920s, initiating WRGB in 1928, at first an experimental station broadcasting under the call letter W2XB. Soon after this, G.E. started W2XBS (now WNBC) in New York City.

Even though stations were being established, television programming was extremely limited in 1939. In spite of the decade-long Depression and the European war clouds generated by the aggressive actions of Germany, Italy, and Japan, by the close of the decade, several other American companies were competing with G.E., engaged in research and development to make television an attractive consumer product.

G.E. engineers knew current television transmission that couldn’t reach beyond the horizon severely limited its range, in turn limiting its potential audience and sales of television sets. They began maximizing the area that could be reached by WRGB, considering possibly even receiving transmissions from atop the Empire State Building, chose high elevation atop the Helderberg escarpment to erect an antenna near Thacher Park seeking to expand WRGB’s viewing area.

Then, on Mr. and Mrs. K. Vander Kruik’s Pinnacle Point Road farm in New Scotland, G.E. had constructed a small metal building, variously referred to as a shack or shanty, where an experimental television receiver and antenna poles had been installed.

John D. Ogsbury’s destination that day was this odd little structure where he would be one of a very few invited guests to witness the live television broadcast of Britain’s King George VI and Queen Elizabeth’s visit to the World’s Fair, transmitted from New York City to upstate New York as an experiment to test its feasibility.

As tensions and the threat of war grew in Europe, the royal couple was on an extensive tour of Canada with an American side trip to Washington, D.C.; New York City; and a weekend at Hyde Park entertained by the Roosevelts, all with the goal of winning support and friendship for Britain.

The American public was enthralled with the details of the king and queen’s progress and, when they visited New York City that day, in spite of the early June heat wave, an estimated three- to four-million people turned out to see them at the various places they visited in the city or along the routes in between. G.E.’s plan was to televise their visit to the fair live. At that time, there were only a few hundred sets in the New York City area that would have been able to pick up the broadcast.

In the meantime, on arriving at the location of the G.E. relay station in the Helderbergs, it was necessary for the 82-year-old Ogsbury to climb a steep incline in hot midday temperatures.

As Clyde D. Waggoner, the engineer who had arranged for Ogsbury’s invitation recalled, “At first Mr. Ogsbury felt it would be too much for him, but when I explained world history was being made right here on the doorstep of Altamont he agreed to take the chance.”

Ogsbury described his experience in the June 16 edition of The Enterprise, reporting that the climb was “a fairly steep grade one-third mile to the top.” At the G.E. shack, the doors and windows had to be kept closed so as not to admit light, which would fade the picture on the 8- by 10-inch television screen, creating a very uncomfortable, overheated situation for the cramped audience.

When the royal couple arrived at the fair, late because of the huge crowds en route, Ogsbury and the others were finally able to get a glimpse of them live as they emerged from their car, walking into the Federal Building for lunch. During the time when they were to be inside, scenes of the fair were to be broadcast, but by now the elderly man felt he had had enough, returning to Altamont.

Those who remained in the shanty had a second look at the king and queen as they emerged from their lunch, walking within 10 feet of the camera. Not only did the audience in the small metal structure have the thrill of seeing the royal couple, but by being witnesses of the experiment, they were the first to view long-distance transmission of a live broadcast.

Normally John D. Ogsbury did not write content for The Enterprise, but on this occasion, after being urged by Clyde Waggoner to record his impressions of this historic moment, he summed up his experience with the words, “It seemed impossible that I could be right here on the outskirts of Altamont and see instantly what was taking place in New York, 130 or 140 miles away.”

He recounted seeing the king and queen of England better than the one-and-a-half million people at the fair because he had a “ringside seat.” Telling his readers that he had had a “hot and hard climb up the rough ground of the hill,” and once at the top, he noted that the small metal shanty holding only eight to 10 people became “dreadfully warm inside.”

Then he gave a full description of the royal arrival and with help from engineer Waggoner, was able to give a layman’s version of the G.E. experiment. Ogsbury ended his lengthy article with the enthusiastic comment, “All in all it was a red letter day for me. I had never hoped to see anything so wonderful.”

In June 1939, any local Enterprise reader who wanted to buy his own television could call Television and Radio Service Co. in Delmar, a business that advertised regularly in the paper. At that time when most sets cost between $600 and $700, the average annual income during this Depression year was $1,850.

That same week as the Delmar company was advertising in the paper, there was a tire dealer offering used automobile tires for “$1 and up,” and a large ad to convince visitors to see Knox Cave said admission was $.40 – “See it soon so that your $.40 can be used for payroll and keep men at work.”

It’s unlikely that very many Enterprise readers could have afforded a television in June 1939, as wonderful as it was.

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.

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— 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.

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