Requiem for "Building G"

NORTH GREENBUSH NOTES by Jim Greenfield  Town Historian 518-283-6384

The Country Grove Inn has recently been demolished.  Located across from Hudson Valley Community College, it was affectionately nicknamed “Building G” as if it was one of the campus educational facilities.  To many students it really was.  People have told me they spent many a hour sampling the beer selection at “The Grove”.

The history of the Country Grove Inn goes back to 1949 when Michael and Kate Filuta bought the property from the heirs of Madison Younghans who in turn purchased this 1797 farmhouse from the Vandenbergh family early in the 20th century.

The Filutas were the proprietors of the Madison Grill in Troy and wanted to expand their operations to include clam steams.  The name has an interesting origin.  Anything outside of the City of Troy was deemed the country and there were at least 15 fruit bearing apple and pear trees in the “grove” of the property-hence the “Country Grove”.

 One of the first things the owners did was to build a pavilion for hosting claim steams.  These were very popular over the years.  Robert Lasky, a relative of the owners, remembers working there in the 1960’s when more than 25 events per year would be held.

Besides clam steams, the Grove hosted church picnics, wedding receptions, political meetings and dancing.  I have a news advertisement announcing “Moonlight Dancing every Friday night featuring polkas, rhumbas and waltzes.”

The Grove building celebrated its 200th birthday in 1997, but in the early 2000’s there was a bid to replace it with a Walgreens.  Although this failed, the Grove was purchased by Hudson Valley Community College and entered a period of “benign neglect” until December 2016 when it was taken down for commercial development.

 Several architectural pieces were saved and will be displayed in the new building along with photos.  If you have any pictures of the Grove which the developer will display in new building, or mementos, or simply wish to share stories, please contact me.

The Last Vandenbergh House

NORTH GREENBUSH NOTES by Jim Greenfield  Town Historian 518-283-6384

I recently wrote about the Country Grove Inn’s history.  However the building had a much older pedigree dating back to 1797 when a recently married Garret Vandenbergh built a house for his bride.

The Vandenbergh family resided here since the early 1700’s.  The will of Cornelis G. Vandenbergh in 1714 mentions property in Albany City, New York City, and a home farm on the east side of the Hudson River, one mile back into the woods.  Family tradition says it contained over 600 acres.

In 1749 two Vandenbergh brothers made an agreement to divide up the land owned by their father who died in 1745.  The agreement mentions earlier “destruction of all the buildings of the estate by the enemy.”  I believe this was the result of French and Indian raids in the area.  The time frame is about when Ft. Crailo in Rensselaer was attacked.

The southern part of the property was located on land which is the present day North Greenbush Plaza at Glenmore Road and Route 4.  The northern property extended to about where Burdon Pond in South Troy is.

I suspect that young Garret Vandenbergh left the old house in the northern part of the property near Burden Pond and built his 1797 home.

At one time, Garret’s property contained 170 acres.  There were several barns, a grist mill and a brickyard which supplied bricks for later additions to the house.  Besides being on a busy commercial path between Troy and the river crossings from Rensselaer to Albany, residents in the house witnessed soldiers marching off to fight in the war of 1812.

In 1921, the family sold the property to Madison Younghans whose heirs eventually sold it to the Filutas and it became the Country Grove.

Elements of the building were saved and given to the Historic Albany Foundation for reuse.  A mantelpiece will be incorporated in the new commercial building.

The Vandenbergh houses in North Greenbush are now gone but I would hope their family history lives on.  If interested, contact me.

The Story of Betsy Doyle - A Woman of Courage and Strength War of 1812

Compiled by Bobbie Reno, East Greenbush Town Historian from research of Catherine Emerson, Niagara County Historian

Betsy Doyle was born around 1790. She is listed in few documents.  Those found so far, she has different given names of Betsy, Mary or Fannie.

Betsy’s husband, Andrew Doyle was born in St. David’s, Canada in 1788.  An interesting note regarding Andrew’s residency is found in a letter from Colonel Simon Larned to the Adjutant General in Washington, and appears as follows in a publication by Catherine Emerson titled An Industrious and Worthy Woman: The Chronicle of Betsy/Mary Doyle and Her Husband Andrew, “Mrs. Doyle, who lived near Niagara Fort, had her husband Andrew Doyle taken prisoner & sold to England being born in Canada but not residing there since he was 4 years old.”

As seen earlier, Andrew Doyle lived in Canada until about the time of his joining the 1st US Artillery in 1810.  Did the couple come up with this story to protect Andrew who might have otherwise been looked upon with suspicion as a scion of a Loyalist family?  One cannot help but wonder if he too, helped lead the Americans up the heights of Queenston.  His parents immigrated to the Burford/Blenheim area following the Revolution.  He probably wanted to keep very quiet about his Canadian origins, and with the fluidity of the border after the American Revolution, such a statement would not raise eyebrows.”

As stated, Andrew enlisted as a private in the First Regiment of United States Artillery, commanded by Colonel John Roger Fenwick at Fort Niagara on February 2, 1810 when tensions with Britain were heating up.

The date when Betsy and Andrew married is not known, However, the 1801 Standing Orders established for the United States Army, women accompanying the Army were required to be married to an enlisted man.  Betsy accompanied Andrew to Fort Niagara.  Betsy and Andrew had four children.  The names and fate of their children are unknown at this time.

Accompanying her husband to Fort Niagara, Betsy would have been put to work as a washerwoman or hospital matron, doing most likely the drudge work of cleaning soiled linen, cleaning rooms and preparing food.

In June of 1812 war was declared against Great Britain.  On October 13, 1812, the United States decided to invade Canada resulting in the Battle of Queenston

Andrew Doyle is Captured by the British

On the afternoon of October 12th, Andrew Doyle and 109 other members of the 1st US Artillery marched from Fort Niagara to Lewiston Landing to join the battle in Queenston. The next day on the 13th the Americans came up against the British Army and a fierce battle ensued.  Reinforcements failed to appear. This battle ended with the surrender of the Americans.  In all the British captured 436 US regulars and 489 militia.  The militia and “walking wounded” were paroled back to the American lines.  However, the British detained some men whom the British deemed “Subjects of the Crown.”  Andrew having been born in Canada was one of them.  These men were taken to Quebec and then aboard a British Man O War ship and sailed to England to stand trial as traitors to the Crown. 

Betsy, having no knowledge of her husband’s circumstances at this time, remained at Fort Niagara.

Betsy’s Heroism

On November 21, 1812 at 6:00pm the British stationed at Fort George opened fire with their batteries of guns and cannons on Fort Niagara.  Fort Niagara returned heavy fire.  Among the artillery barrage, the Americans on the rooftops of buildings in Fort Niagara fired “Hot Shot” from cannons.

What is Hot Shot? Hot Shot is non-explosive cannonballs heated red hot for the purpose of setting fire to enemy buildings, ships, or equipment.  The method used to serve the Hot Shot was to heat the shot in fire pits in the ground or in constructed ovens.  But loading hot shot was difficult and dangerous.  The hot iron could cause gunpowder to explode prematurely in the cannon, wounding or killing anyone nearby.

Betsy carried red-hot cannonballs from a fire to the 6-pound cannon mounted on the roof of the mess-hall.  Although one man was killed and five others wounded while loading hot shot, Betsy survived the barrage, and her bravery was mentioned in official reports.  The story of her actions spread quickly among officers stationed in the region.

Betsy’s Heroism is recorded in the Journal of Lt. Colonel George McFeely, Commander of Fort Niagara: One man was killed and four wounded from the bursting of one of our twelve pounders, this was occasioned by a hot ball which had expanded by the heat and got fast in the gun, where a vacuum was formed and when fired burst into ten thousand pieces.  Another twelve pounder went off when the man was in the act of ramming and took off both his hands about the wrist, this was owing to the gun getting very hot and the man at the vent having no thumb stool (stall).

The extraordinary bravery of a female drew the attention of all our garrison:  her name was Betsy Doyle, her husband was taken prisoner at Queenston in the fall under General Van Rensselaer.  She attended and served one of the guns with hot shot during the day of the cannonading.  She would take the ball tongs from any of the men, run to the fire, take up the hot shot, put it in the cannon, and run for another; this she continued for the whole of the day.  I mentioned this circumstance in my official letter to General Smyth.

Betsy’s Trek

In December of 1813, Fort Niagara fell to the British.  In a letter dated April 5, 1814 written by Colonel Simon Larned, Commander of Greenbush Cantonment, he stated the following account: “The day before the Enemy took the fort (December 19, 1813), she encouraged the militia who was rather timid, by putting on the dress and arms of a soldier and went on Guard and stood her turn through a very dark and rainy night. She, the next day, continued at her House until the Enemy British and Indians had almost surrounded her, when she fortunately escaped with four children, the eldest about 14.”

On December 19, 1813 Betsy and the children fled with whatever they had on their backs heading east to escape the British forces.  Having nowhere to go, certainly not to her in-laws in Canada, she headed to the hub of the US Army at Greenbush Cantonment…a 310 mile walk in the winter!

 

Betsy Arrives at Greenbush Cantonment

Betsy and three children (It is unknown at this time what happened to the fourth child) arrived at Greenbush Cantonment in April, 1814.   

She is listed in the “Return of Women in the Cantonment Greenbush Their Present Situation N Children.”  Betsy’s entry names her as “Mary Doyle”. 

After arriving at Greenbush Cantonment, it was evident the long winter trek had taken its toll on Betsy. Colonel Larned wrote: “She is now in my Kitchen and convalescing from a fever.  She appears to be an industrious and worthy woman.”  Betsy knew her husband, Andrew, was prisoner of the British and taken to England.  After the war ended she stayed on at Greenbush Cantonment working in the hospital and awaiting the arrival of her husband and, at one point, it was wrongly determined that Andrew had died in the harsh conditions of the British prison.

Andrew Doyle was never tried, however, and was released from prison in 1815 and returned to America; but he was unable to find Betsy.

The Known Fate of Betsy and Andrew

Andrew arrived back in the United States through Castle Island, Boston, MA on August 14th 1815. Unable to locate Betsy, he assumed she was dead.  On January 17, 1819, Andrew married Nancy Sherman of Connecticut.  Together they had a son and daughter.  Nancy Sherman Doyle died in Providence, Rhode Island on December 31, 1861 at the age of 81.  Andrew Doyle died on July 29, 1875 at the age of 87.

Betsy Doyle died at Greenbush Cantonment on April 2, 1819. In a letter written by Lt. Henry Smith of the 2nd US Infantry Regiment, Acting Post Commandant of Greenbush Cantonment to Brigadier General Daniel Parker on April 4, 1819 stating: “…You will perceive that Mrs. Doyle the nurse has not been paid in a year.  During the whole of that time she has been in the faithful discharge of her duty at this Post, and to my knowledge, nearly the whole of that time Maj. Worth, (late commandant here) has been endeavoring, by correspondence with Paymaster Albright, Dr. Le Baron, the Paymaster General plus others to procure it for her, in vain.  On Major Worth leaving the Post, I enclosed a copy the Muster rolls, A. to Surgeon General Lovell, stating the case plus requesting his attention to the business---Since then, nearly three months have elapsed and the Doctor has not favored me with an answer of any kind, nor attended, as I can hear to the business.  About a month since, Mrs. Doyle was confined by illness to her bed, and the day before yesterday she died and I am sorry to say, her death was accelerated by the want of those necessities which her pay would have procured—She left a daughter whose father (a soldier) is also dead and who is now left friendless on the world without any possible means of support and it is on her account I have to request your interference to procure, for her the pay so hardly earned and so justly owed her mother. ----Independent of the calls of humanity, duty compels me to make the above statement.

Bath - Our Former Village

North Greenbush Notes by Jim Greenfield Town Historian 283-6384          

Recently I had a disagreement with a man about an area in the City of Rensselaer that used to be named Bath.  He claimed it had always been a part of the City.  I countered that it had once been a village in North Greenbush.  At the time, I couldn’t convince him otherwise but perhaps if he reads this, it will change his mind.

First, we need to learn some geography.  The City of Rensselaer used to be three different communities:  East Albany was the area just across the Dunn Memorial Bridge from Albany; Greenbush was a village which encompassed what is now central Rensselaer; and finally Bath was the area north of MacNaughton Ave. going north and east to about the I-90 interchange.

Bath was an early settlement in North Greenbush.  Located on the Hudson River, there was a ferry landing where traffic and trade entered the town and led to travel up what is now Washington Avenue.

Even before 1800, travelers remarked about the medicinal springs and baths (hence the name) which would allow the village to rival Saratoga.  Well we didn’t get a spa like Saratoga Springs (heck, we didn’t even get a race track!). Bath did develop into a modest village with some businesses, stores and hotel/taverns.  By the 1880’s North Greenbush town offices were located there.

In the 1890s statewide events forever changed life and the character of Bath.   Citiessuch as New York and Troy were growing and looking to expand their borders.  In 1897 Brooklyn merged into a “Greater New York”. Likewise, there was a successful movement to enlarge Troy by adding parts of Brunswick and the northern part of North Greenbush.

There were also calls for Renssselaer to expand.  Actually, the city had just been formed in 1897 when the village of Greenbush and the community of East Albany had merged into the new city. Pressure began to grow to add parts of East Greenbush and the village of Bath to Rensselaer.

After several false starts, in 1901, the State Legislature took up and finally passed a “Greater Rensselaer” bill allowing for the annexation.  Proponents hailed this as good news for the inhabitants.  They touted an increased tax base and a consolidation of offices.  A citizen claimed that if Bath didn’t annex itself to Rensselaer it would “dry up and blow away.  We have more Rip Van Winkles to the square inch than any other village in the State.”

The arguments against annexation were no less vehement.  Taxes would increase, land values would go down and the State legislature hadn’t allowed the citizens to conduct a referendum to see if they really wanted annexation.

Actually it had all come about due to politics.  The Republican legislature had wanted to dilute the Democrats power in Rensselaer by adding Republican votes from the “countryside.”  Did it work?  Well, Rensselaer and North Greenbush have seen both parties in and out of power.   One thing is sure:  Bath lost its status as an independent community and North Greenbush lost its only incorporated village.  

Murder Most Foul!

NORTH GREENBUSH NOTES by Jim Greenfield  Town Historian 283-6384

Recently I was walking through the Bloomingrove Cemetery and came across the gravestones of four members of the Morner family who died on the same day-Dec. 14, 1911. I was puzzled by this until I remembered that I had been told that there had been a sensational murder in this area in the early twentieth century.  I decided to further research this interesting story.

A local milk dealer became concerned when the Morners had failed to deliver their daily milk to his milk station. When he drove by the farm on Best Road, it seemed deserted and the cows hadn’t been watered, fed or milked. Alarmed, several neighbors searched the house and barn and found Mrs. Morner and her two daughters buried in a manure pit in the barn and later found the son under the barn’s flooring. All the victims had been bludgeoned and stabbed.

Immediately suspicion fell upon Donato, the farm hand who had disappeared. A note, purportedly in his handwriting said “Italian meat and American made sausage imported from Rome, Italy”.  The authorities thought this must be a clue.

Police immediately began a statewide and later nationwide search for the missing hired hand. “Find the Italian!” newspaper headlines screamed.  Several Italian men, having only a slight resemblance to Donato were arrested, released and later re-arrested and released. Bloodhounds were used to track the killer.  A “wet and weary stranger” aroused suspicion in West Coxsackie-but it proved to be another dead end. Rewards were offered “for the assassin’s capture” but to no avail.  Days turned into months and then into years and the crime was never solved.

Jessie Morner, the sole survivor of the family (he was away at the time of the murder) died in 1945, never knowing who killed his family.

 Several theories abound. Perhaps Donato was a victim and not the killer. Others point to the fact that the father, Conrad Morner had been found dead in a field “under mysterious circumstances” four years earlier and that a close family friend had been found shot to death in his barn. Maybe there was an undiscovered killer on the loose. Wouldn’t today’s media have fun covering this story?

DISCLAMER-The Morner farm is actually in East Greenbush, but news reports at the time referred to the family as Defreestville residents.

I’m researching a story about Frank Houser and his story. Please call me at 283-6384 with any anecdotes, memories or other information.

Slavery in Greenbush

NORTH GREENBUSH NOTES by Jim Greenfield  Town Historian 283-6384  

It may be disagreeable to think about, but at one time, there were many African-American slaves in our town.  Slavery began during the time the Dutch controlled what is now New York.  As early as 1626, records show slaves being brought into “New Amsterdam” as laborers for the Dutch settlers. 

 Nothing really changed when the English wrestled control of New York from the Dutch in 1664.  In fact it wasn’t until the end of the American Revolution that the movement for emancipation began.  In the late 1780’s politicians led by Aaron Burr tried but failed to pass emancipation laws in the State Legislature.  The Quakers stoked public pressure to ban slavery.  However it was demographics and economics that finally tipped the scales.  A booming birth rate and the rush of white laborers from other states, who were willing to work for low wages, made slavery economically obsolete.

In 1799, the State passed an act for gradual abolition of slavery.  Note the word gradual. Every child born after 1799 to a slave living in the state would be free, but would remain with their masters until they were 28 (males) or 25 (female).  Blacks born before 1799 were slaves for life (although they were reclassified as “indentured servants.”)  It wasn’t until 1827 that this latter group was freed.

I’ve done some research in the Census records which give a better picture of the number of slaves in this area.  North Greenbush, East Greenbush and Rensselaer are counted together in these early records.

In 1790 there were 570 slaves living in 171 families; in 1800 there were 195 slaves in 66 families; in 1810 the numbers were down to 152 slaves in 56 families; in 1820 there were 61 slaves in 30 families.  By 1830 the slaves were free.

As a rule, it was the families with Dutch and German pedigrees not the settlers migrating from New England who owned slaves.  Sad to say, but prominent families including the Defreests, Witbecks, Van Alens, and Van Rensselaers all had slaves.

In his 1793 will, John E. Van Alen, our first congressman and a local surveyor, left his “negro girl named Dinah” to his widow and “my negro man named Gus, and my Negro woman named Mol” to his nephew, with the provision that they be “manumitted” (freed) after his wife’s death.  Some of these former slaves may be buried in the Defreestville area.

The 1855 State census for North Greenbush lists only a few African-Americans.  However, this area was active in the Underground Railroad at that time.  Some slaves who made their way North went from Troy out through Sand Lake into Massachusetts (and some eventually to Canada.)  I suspect some runaway slaves may have come through Rensselaer and then east on Route 43 to Sand Lake and beyond.  That would mean there were stops on the Underground Railroad near Geiser and Peck Roads.  Does anyone have any information that would confirm my theory?

The Mohicans in Greenbush

NORTH GREENBUSH NOTES by Jim Greenfield   Town Historian 283-6384          

When I think of the Mohicans who inhabited our area when the Dutch arrived in the 1600’s, I envision massive cornfields.  Crops of maize stretching from Troy through North Greenbush and on past Rensselaer County’s southern boarder.  Miles and miles of land were cultivated by the Mohicans for centuries before the Europeans came.  This all changed starting in 1609 when Henry Hudson sailed up “his” river.

During the next few years, Dutch fur traders began making contact with local Indians and promptly found themselves in the middle of a series of wars between the Mohawks and the Mohicans.   In 1626, the Mohican leader Monemin was killed in battle and the Mohawks became the chief trading partner of the Dutch.  More importantly, the Mohican defeat set the stage for land sales to the Dutch.

Unlike the English and Spanish governments, the Dutch did actually pay for the land they obtained.  The problem was that the Mohicans had a different view of what a land sale meant.  They continued to hunt and fish on the land and would reoccupy any farmstead that became vacant.

By studying recorded land transactions, we can determine approximately where some of this property was located.  In 1651 the Dutch purchased the Wynantskill, a creek south of the farm of Thomas Chambers, with the surrounding wood, and the adjoining land extending to an Indian castle (fortified village).  This tract included present South Troy and some of North Greenbush.  Another transaction in 1678 was a farm in today’s North Greenbush described as “behind Jan Ooms, five English miles from the river.” Jan Ooms path is today’s Washington Avenue and five English miles would place it just south of the intersection of Routes 43 and 4.

Seventeenth century maps place other Indian settlements in Rensselaer and somewhere along Red Mill Creek in East Greenbush. Monemin (the Mohican chief mentioned earlier) had a “castle” identified as near Cohoes and later somewhere in the North Greenbush/Rensselaer area.  Cartography was an inexact science in those days.

My favorite geographic place name is “Dickop’s Huis.” Dickop was a Dutch nickname given to an otherwise obscure Mohican.  It translates roughly into “thickhead” or dummy.  Before you assume the Dutch were culturally insensitive, you should know that they used similar impolite nicknames for each other.  Dickop’s minute of fame came during the Mohawk/Mohican wars, when the Mohawks were raiding Dutch farms.  The story goes that Dickop ran all the way to New York City to tell the officials that the Mohawks were killing the livestock.  You marathoners may scoff at the story, but it did earn Dickop and his house a notation on a 1632 Dutch map.  It’s impossible to tell, but I suspect Dickop’s Huis was somewhere on or near the RPI Technology Park.

The end of the Mohican story is sad but predictable.  Disease, losses from war and sale of their lands forced them from this area.  The Mohicans went to Stockbridge Massachusetts and then on to Wisconsin where today they have a 16,000 acre reservation.  One would hope that their oral tradition still recalls those miles and miles of corn fields in Greenbush.

My thanks to Shirley Dunn of East Greenbush whose two books on the Mohicans was my primary source for this article.  There is much more information on this fascinating subject-check these books out at your library.

Trolleys

NORTH GREENBUSH NOTES by Jim Greenfield   Town Historian 283-6384

Nowadays if we want to get from Troy to Snyders Lake, we just hop in our cars and make the trip. However, one hundred years ago people more than likely took the trolley.  From about 1895 to 1925 the Troy and New England Railway Company operated trolley services from the “city” to the “country”. This electric railway was the dream of James K. Averill who wished to establish a transportation link between Averill Park and Troy.  Actually Mr. Averill had bigger plans, he hoped his company could build a line all the way to Pittsfield, but the money ran out - so Averill Park was as far as the trolley line went.

Charles Viens and Sanford Young wrote an article about the trolley stops in Wynantskill, from which I have taken much of the following narrative:

The Troy city trolley line ran up Congress Street hill (except in the very snowy weather) and out Pawling Avenue to Albia.  Its route from Albia was parallel to the Wynantskill Creek, then more or less parallel to the West Sand Lake Road.  Stops that served Wynantskill residents were between Jack’s and McDonald’s; another where the line crossed Brookside Ave.  There was a stop at West Sand Lake Road, at Streamview Lane and another on the flats at Sagendorf Lane.

Three kinds of cars were used.  In summer the cars were open sided; there were five of these.  When the weather turned cold four cars with windowed sides were put into use.  The cars had their own electric motors, powered from an overhead wire carrying 550 volts DC.  Energy was produced at bothends of the line by water-poweredAC turbine generators and converted to DC. For freight there were box cars and flatcars; the latter were towed by the motor equipped box cars or by the passenger cars. Freight consisted of lumber, sand, machinery, fiber, farm and dairy products, and coal.

Since there was only one track, several switching places had to be provided for two-way traffic.  One was between Albia and Wynantskill and another near Worthington’s and one at Snyder’s Lake.  In nice weather as many as five cars made up a “train”.  Cars would be crowded as picnickers headed for Snyders Lake and beyond. 

Children used the trolley for school.  Long time Wynantskill resident Lila Dearstyne recalled taking the trolley to West Sand Lake for Regents exams.  The fare all the way to Averill Park was 25 cents round trip.  Trolleys ran from 5:30 AM to midnight on the half hour.

What killed the trolley service? Some say it was bus service, but probably the biggest reason for its demise was the automobile.

Some hot evening this summer, close your eyes and imagine still being able to take a leisurely ride from the “city” out to Snyders Lake.

Thanks for your many calls and e-mails. All ideas for stories are appreciated. I would like to write about Snyders Lake. Can anyone help me?