Little Journeys Along the Old Mohawk Turnpike
published by Caughnawaga Chapter D. A. R., Fonda, NY, 1923
Part 1 - Intro and the First Day's Journey, pages 1-9


Read before the Chapter
from November 1921
to June 1922

"A message to kindle anew the Mohawk fires and restore
the name and fame of the Valley."
                                            -COL. JOHN W. VROOMAN

 The following was handwritten on the bottom of the page:  "As a Boy Scout Bugler, I was asked to accompany this pilgrimage to play Assembly at each stop to call the people together to resume journey.  At request of John Wyman"

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The Old Mohawk Turnpike.

          Much has been written from time to time regarding the old Mohawk turnpike, but it is only by keeping such things constantly before us that we become familiar with our valley and its many incidents and places of historic value.

          At the beginning of the eighteenth century, the Mohawk valley was a wilderness, as the Mohawk Indians refused to allow white settlers to come up the valley, and cut down the trees or drive away the game.  But traders were welcome, as they brought many things the Indians found convenient and necessary.

          After a time the Mohawks became much weakened, large numbers had been killed in their constant wars, their villages were old and the palisades rotten.  There was great danger in a sudden attack the tribe would be exterminated.

          And so a plan was made whereby they were to abandon their four villages on the north side and establish three new ones along the river on the south side, and at each one the English were to build a fort for the protection of the Indians and settlers and a defense against the French.

          There is no doubt that this plan was the most important event in the early history and development of the Mohawk valley, for now the Mohawks began selling their land and immigration began.

          It is probable that as soon as the Mohawks were settled in their new villages and the forts built that a road was at once begun, running up the valley.  It naturally followed the Indian path or trail on the north side of the river, which was enlarged and made passable for wagons.  This road was known as the King's Highway.

          In the Journal of a French spy who went through the valley in 1757 he speaks of a rod that was passable for carts all the way from Oswego to Schenectady.  It was on the south side until it reached Fort Canachecari, where it crossed to the north side.  The fort mentioned is said to have been opposite the mouth of the East Canada creek.

         For the remainder of the eighteenth century the road was in constant use; many armies marched along it; all the Revolutionary history of the Mohawk valley is connected with it.  But as the century closed there began to be a demand for a better road than the old King's Highway.

          In 1796, a bridge having been built across the Schoharie, a turnpike was opened from Canajoharie to Albany on the south side of the Mohawk river and, with its extensions, called the Great Western turnpike.

          In order to accommodate the tide of emigration up the Mohawk valley efforts were made to improve the thoroughfares, especially from Schenectady to Utica, and on April 4, 1800, a charter for the construction of the Mohawk turnpike was granted.  In 1802 or 1803 Seth WETMORE and Levi NORTON came from Litchfield, Conn., and interested themselves in the turnpike enterprise.  They, with Ozias BROWNSON, Hewitt HILL and three others, formed the first board of directors.

          The Mohawk turnpike was one of the first completed, was 80 miles long and had a capital of $190,000.  It followed virtually the old road from Schenectady to Utica, but was straightened and improved in every way.  Over this road passed a multitude seeking homes both in the valley and in the far west.

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          As the company by its charter was allowed to erect toll gates every ten miles there were eight on the Mohawk turnpike.

          The turnpike was not constructed so much for stages as for transporting the immense quantities of merchandise and produce to and from Albany to Utica and Oswego and subsequently to Buffalo and the great west.

          To accommodate this great traffic, houses were built along the way and those already built were utilized for road houses, as they were called, for the accommodation of man and beast.  These were equipped with a bar, a few beds and large sheds.

          The farmers in those days would drive their own teams and take along provisions for themselves and their horses, and by paying a six-pence for a bed and buying a quart of whiskey would find a place under the shed for their teams.

          For some time past there has been an attempt by persons to have the name of this historic highway called the Onondaga Trail, it being labeled as such on an automobile route map of the state.

          But we who love this valley and cherish its history and traditions will not allow this highway to be called by any other name than the one it has been known by since the charter was granted in April, 1800 ---- The Mohawk Turnpike.

Publication Committee.

The First Day's Journey
(Read by Mrs. Margaret King Cussler, November 17, 1921.)

          One Sunday morning about the year 1791 the first Judge of the Court of Common Pleas, Judge STARING, saw a man on horseback coming along the Mohawk Trail.  Presuming that no one would venture openly to violate the laws of the state by Sunday riding, unless justified by the exceptions named in statute, he asked the man to stop and inquired of him why he was disregarding the law.  The stranger, who is said to have been a New England Yankee, did not excuse his conduct to the Judge's satisfaction, so the Judge exacted the payment of the fine of six New York shillings imposed by the statute.  After paying his fine the traveler asked the judge to give him a certificate to that effect, urging the necessity of it to protect him against being called to account by some other magistrate.  The judge had no doubt heard of dispensations and indulgences, and thinking the request reasonable, told the traveler to write one and he would sign it.  This was done and the stranger went on his way.  Some few months afterwards the judge having occasion to visit the Messrs. KANE, merchants at Canajoharie, he was requested to pay an order of $25 which he had several months before drawn on them as appeared from the date.  He was very much surprised by the demand and at first denied having given the order, but finding his signature in his writing and asking as to the appearance of the man presenting the order he came to the conclusion that the paper presented to him for payment was no other than the one he had signed which allowed the traveler to continue his journey on Sunday after paying his fine.  It was called the "Yankee Pass", on the supposition that no one except a native of New England had the audacity to practice so keen and grave a joke.  I am thinking what a busy time the Judge would have if he stood on the corner at the Burtch Block within sound of the invitation of the church bells on any Sunday morning from the 1st of June to November collecting fines

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from travelers on the Old Mohawk Turnpike in the summer of 1921.  But let us travel a little, not indeed on horseback or on the river by the first freight and passenger boat, the birch bark canoe (which was succeeded by batteaux and finally canal boats) but by the Old Mohawk and Hudson Railroad.  The Baltimore and Washington was older as a road in actual operation than the Mohawk and Hudson.  The subject of railroads for practical purposes originated in Schenectady with Mr. FEATHERSTONHAUGH.  As long ago as 1811 Chancellor LIVINGSTON (who was associated with Robert FULTON in the invention of the steamboat) received a letter from some wild hair-brained individual asking his opinion of practicability of railroads.  After giving the matter due consideration, the worthy Chancellor replied that beside being too dangerous it would be impossible to build rails that would sustain so great a weight as you propose moving at the rate of four miles an hour on which.  It so happened that the hair-brained individual was George W. FEATHERSTONHAUGH of Schenectady, the gentleman who was honored by the countries of Europe and the United States for his work in science, literature, exploration, and his ability as a diplomat.  It was in August, 1831, that the locomotive "DeWitt Clinton" and a train of coaches made the first trip from Albany to Schenectady.  Of the fourteen passengers who made the first trip, one of them Mr. John MATTHIAS, lived to celebrate his one-hundredth birthday anniversary, in Schenectady, in November, 1913.  Let us examine the Mohawk and Hudson time table:  "Carriages will leave the head of the inclined plane, three-fourths of a mile from the city of Schenectady at the following times:  One-half past four in the morning;  eight o'clock A. M.; twelve ditto noon; 2 o'clock ditto P. M.; four ditto P. M.  Leave Albany at the head of Lyden's Street, two miles from the Hudson River, at the following times:  One-half past six o'clock A. M.; ten o'clock ditto A. M.;  one-quarter past four ditto P. M.  The locomotive engine DeWitt Clinton will depart in the following order:  (then follows the time)  Note -- Passengers taking the carriages at Schenectady at one-half past four in the A. M. will arrive at Albany in time for the seven o'clock steamboats.  Also those taking the locomotive at two P. M. will arrive at Albany in season for the four o'clock boats.  Price including stage fare .75.  Signed John T. CLOCK, Agent of the Hudson and Mohawk Railroad Company.

          The New York Central Railroad, the child of this parent, with its ten thousand miles of tracks, its influence in the affairs of the wealthiest state of the Union, it is difficult to believe, could be the offspring of a parent which was in such a condition in 1839 that its stockholders requested a statement by the management of its possessions, its earnings and its ability to meet its obligations, yet such was the fact.  Since we have ambled down by the Mohawk and Hudson River Railroad from Albany to Schenectady, let us stay here and examine some of the old land-marks.

The Origin of the Word "Schenectady."

          The five nations occupied chiefly the middle portion of New York.  This confederacy was composed of the Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas and Senecas.  Their territory extended from the Mohawk River and Schenectady on the east to Niagara River on the west and was spoken of in their picturesque and figurative language as the "Long House."  The location of the Mohawks on the river flats between the high hills of what is now Glen-

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ville and Rotterdam was called the "Door of the House."  As the Mohawks were the most powerful of the tribes and were the furtherest east it was to them that ambassadors from other tribes or the white settlers were sent.  To the west of the Mohawks, at about the center of the state, were the Oneidas, Onondagas and Cayugas, while at the extreme west on Niagara River were the Senecas.  The attention to form and ceremony was shown when the Governor of Canada attempted to make a treaty with the Senecas directly instead of by way of the "Door."  The Mohawks resented this as an indignity and a slight, so they sent word to the Governor that while they were the "Door of the House" he had entered by the chimney and he would better look out or he would get smoke in his eyes.  It is a tradition that for many generations, perhaps centuries, the site of the chief village of the Mohawks was the spot where Schenectady is and their location being the "Door of the House" they called their village S'Gaun-ho-ha, meaning "the Door."  When their chief village was moved to the west, where Fort Hunter now is, their old site was no longer "the door" but "Without the Door", so ho-ha was dropped and hae ta-tie meaning without, was added to the first syllable, making S'Gann-hae-ta-tie -- "Without the Door."  The men who settled Schenectady were unique in the New World as settlers.  Their largeness of mind was equalled by their unselfishness.  Their pronouns, it appears, were We and Our, not I and Mine.  Led by Arent Van CURLER, a man of such honesty, justice and fearlessness that his name became a synonym with the Indians for all that appealed to them as being the best.  The acres laid out as a village by the fifteen original proprietors of Schenectady, included about twenty acres.  Among the prominent names beside Van CURLER, and which we recognize as names appearing in our county today, were Alexander Lindsey GLEN, Philip BROWER, Simon Volkert VEEDER, Gerrit BANCKER and others.  Alexander L. GLEN in 1684 gave the first Dutch Reformed Church building in Schenectady.  The first minister of the church was the Rev. Petrus THESSCHENMACKER.  The French and Indian raid of 1690, which resulted in the burning of Schenectady, was the first heavy blow to the congregation.  Not only was their church building burned but their faithful minister was horribly killed.  Then followed a time of great dangers, until the peace of Ryswick, in 1697, began a new era for the people of the settlement and for the church.  I am filled with amazement at the bravery of these pioneers but in one instance one of these early settlers must have considered discretion the better part of valor.  This was none other than my predecesser in the parsonage, Mrs. ROMEYN the wife of the first pastor of the Old Caughnawaga Church.  Her husband being absent word was brought her that the Indians were coming, so taking her two small children with her she fled up the hill back of the church for safety.  The Indians saw her but made no move to run after her and injure her, only they gave a few extra war hoops which so frightened her that she stumbled and fell with her two children.  They were so pleased with the result and filled with merriment that they let her go.

          In 1700 the Rev. Barnardus FREEMAN became the second minister of the Schenectady Church.  Mr. FREEMAN was, in addition to being the minister of the church, missionary to the Mohawk Indians.  Mr. FREEMAN was a man of mature years and of studious habits.  When he found how necessary it was to be

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able to preach and talk to the Mohawks in their own tongue he set himself to learn the language.  This he did and could write as well as speak it.  He gained such a strong hold upon the Indians that after he had been away from Schenectady five years (his pastorate ended in 1705) they asked the Governor to appoint him to be located at their Castle.  The minister of Schenectady received a salary of $250 a year, in those days, with house and garden and pasture for his cows and horse free.  There was also a donation of sixty cords of fire-wood.  As there were not more than 250 inhabitants in 1700 it will be seen that the pay of the minister was large when their number is considered.  We will leave Schenectady now with but a reference to the locomotive manufacturing begun here in 1845, and the enormous General Electric company which was located here in 1886, and the railroad air-brake invented here in 1869, and speak briefly of Union college and Dr. NOTT.  Union college, founded in 1775, was the first American non-sectarian college.  Although the college had been in existence for nine years before Eliphalet NOTT, D. D., became its president, the real life of the college was entirely due to Dr. NOTT as its president of sixty-three years of untiring effort for its good that the history of the institution and the life of the man are almost identical.  My father, who was a graduate of Union in 1848, the oldest living graduate, had a great admiration for Dr. NOTT and I never tired of hearing him speak of his ability in teaching and guiding the students.

          Let us cross now from the then tiny city of Schenectady to the tinier hamlet of Scotia by means of the old four-span wooden suspension bridge.  In 1808, when the people of Schenectady and Scotia decided to cross the 800 feet of the Mohawk river with a bridge, they showed a degree of progress which was most commendable.  For years the means of communication between the north and south bands was the light birch bark canoe, later the flat boat and still later the cable-ferry.  Finally after serving faithfully for a number of years it was found necessary to tear it down.

The Cable-Ferry

          When a farmer with a load of produce or an Indian with a load of pelts drove down for instance to the south bank of the Mohawk he would drive out on the flat boat which was attached to cables on both banks and he would pull himself across by means of these cables which ran over a pully attached to the boat.

          The old bridge was sold for $500 and many of its timbers went to build some of the barns and stables which are standing in Scotia and the surrounding country today.  The contract for the present bridge was given to the Remington Agricultural Company for $29,992.  There is now being constructed just west of the present bridge one of America's longest concrete bridges whose probable completion will be in 1923 and the cost will be in the millions.

          It will be called the Great Western Gateway Bridge.  The fine old colonial mansion at the end of the dike is notable for many reasons.  It was built of material taken from the original mansion built by Alexander Lindsey GLEN the founder of the family in America.  This original Glen mansion was the first house built upon the north bank of the Mohawk river for the entire 135 miles of its length.  Its second point of interest is that it was for many generations the place of safe keeping of Indian.  Colonial and Revolutionary official documents.  It is called the Glen-Sanders mansion.  Two miles west of Scotia we come upon the

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cellar of the old DeGraff house which marks the site of the battle of Beukendaal in 1748 where Schenectady militiamen were ambushed by Canadian Indians.  Five miles west of Schenectady on the south shore highway and West Shore Railroad is Rotterdam Junction.  We must cross here without fail on the river dam bridge to see the oldest house in the Mohawk Valley, known as the Mabie house built in 1670.  This house still retains its windows with small panes of glass, the heavy exposed timbers in the lower story and its outside door in two parts. It is situated on a bluff on the edge of the Mohawk commanding a view of the river in either direction.  It is built of stone with steep roof which gives it the appearance of being one store on its sides and two stories and attic on its gable front.  Hastening on and taking our course to Hoffmans Ferry our course will lie through Wolf Hollow one of the wildest and most charming drives in the valley and here was the site of a great Mohawk Indian battle and victory over the Mohicans in 1669.

          About the year 1710 the German Palatines and some Holland Dutch from Schenectady settled along the Mohawk river.  Even earlier was Geraldus COMFORT who secured a small grant of twenty acres in what is now the town of Amsterdam in April 2, 1703.  On Nov. 2, 1708 the notorious Kayaderosses Patent was granted to twelve settlers conveying about 700,000 acres, which included all the land in the present town of Amsterdam east of Guy Park through Perth, Broadalbin and part of what is now Saratoga County.  This grant was evidently false, as the Mohawks were told that they were only granting enough land for one or two farms when it embraced land five times greater than Manhattan Island.  As soon as this great fraud was discovered by the Indians they resisted every attempt to settle on it.  Those whom the patents were granted, as soon as they discovered how furious the Indians were at the deceit that would deprive them of such a large tract of their hunting grounds, did not try to settled for a number of years, hoping that in time the Indians would be driven from the valley.  During Sir William JOHNSON's residence at Fort Johnson, he took the side of the Indians in their wish to have this Patent annulled.  After a number of years he succeeded in having the grant reduced to 23,000 acres, which is now known as the Town of Amsterdam, east of Guy Park and the town of Perth.  Undoubtedly, the contest over the patent and the hostility of the Indians kept back settlements in Amsterdam for forty years.  Peter Van WORMER is prominent as the first settler in the valley locating on lot 3 of the Kayaderosses tract.  Other pioneers are Cornelius DODD, Victor PUTMAN, James ALLEN, also the name of Joseph HAGAMAN whose settlement at the place now called Hagaman Mills was made in 1777.  The pioneer of Amsterdam was Albert VEDDER who came during the Revolution and built a saw mill and a grist mill and the place became known as Vedders Mills and later as Veddersburg.  Veddersburg was dropped in 1804 and the place was called Amsterdam, but this change was not accomplished without effort for the original names had warm advocates.  In the town meeting when the question was decided the vote resulted in a tie and then the chairman, James ALLEN, cast the decisive ballot in courtesy to the Dutch element in favor of Amsterdam.  In 1766 Sir William erected two commodious stone dwellings for his sons-in-law Col. Guy JOHNSON and Col. Daniel CLAUS.  The first known as Guy Park within the city limits of Amsterdam.  At the outbreak of

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the Revolution Guy Park was fortified by its owner, who drew about him a considerable force of Tories and Indians, but in 1775, headed by Col. Guy, they all departed for Canada and did not return except as mid-night assassins.

          According to REID, Mr. Stephen SANFORD is the owner of two of the oldest houses in Amsterdam, the old James ALLEN house and the Thomas house.  About three-quarters of a century elapsed before Amsterdam acquired prominence as a manufacturing center.  Between the years 1830 and 1840 was built and put in operation a number of mills which with the cutting down of the northern forests exhausted the water power.  In 1848 the mill owner, John SANFORD, and others, built a dam across the Chuctanunda and reserved the surplus water for future use.  Later, a reservoir was constructed and later enlarged measuring the area of stored water.  The establishment of this supply has been of immense advantage to the manufacturing interests of Amsterdam, as it has attracted many of the large factories that have been built at various places on the Chuctanunda which has made this place one of the most noted manufacturing centers in interior New York.  Perhaps its greatest industry and most widely known is its carpet industry.  It reads almost as a fairy tale.  Some time about 1836 William K. GREENE, Senior, met with business reverses in Connecticut.  His son was a bookkeeper in Poughkeepsie.  He advised his father to come there and open a boarding house.  Mr. GREENE did so and had among his boarders a man named DOUGLAS, an experienced dyer whose father was a manufacturer of ingrain carpets in Scotland.  Mr. DOUGLAS in his talking of carpets so interested Mr. GREENE that they began to think seriously of starting a factory in a small way.  One day while talking with Mr. DOUGLAS about carpets, being undecided where to locate.  Mr. GREENE picked up a copy of the New York Herald and noticed an advertisement of an old mill and dwelling at Hagaman's Mills offered for rent at $100 a year.  They at once secured the buildings, purchased six hand looms and the necessary apparatus and loaded them on a sloop for Albany.  Then by accident, or fate, the carpet industry was brought to the Mohawk Valley.  From this tiny beginning this immense plant comprises thirty-six buildings whose floor space amounts to 663,000 sq. ft., about fifteen acres.  When we think that this immense floor space is covered with machinery, boilers, together with stock and manufactured products, and that the daily output, says REID, would carpet the road from Amsterdam to Johnstown, or more than 5,000,000 yards in a year, with a pay roll of over $1,000,000 in twelve months, one begins to conceive its magnitude and to feel respect for the men who created and control it.

          Coming now to the end of my journey I realize I have said little of the beauty of the Valley.  Living in my early days in northern Vermont, surrounded by the Green Mountains and later in life where the imposing range of the Catskill Mountains was ever in my view, I was not so impressed with the beauty of the Mohawk Valley which I so frequently heard about.  Prosperous, well kept farms I saw, and realized that the people here were living in comfortable circumstances, but it was not until I took that first memorable ride at sunset from the Old General Herkimer home to Fonda that the exquisite beauty of the Old Mohawk Trail stole over me, but what I cannot express the farmer-poet of Herkimer has said which

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will find I am sure an echo in all our hearts.


(By Will E. KAY.)

There's a path that leads from the wide, rich West
    To the sea where the great ships sail,
Thru a beautiful vale, embowered and blest ---
    The home of the Old Mohawk Trail.

It winds with the river that flows by its side,
    This trail that our ancestors knew.
By blockhouse and fort and church of our pride,
    So old yet so wonderously new.

What joy to ride by the old river's side
    When 'tis eve and the lights are pale,
For you dream as you glide on this wonderful ride
    Of the past of the Old Mohawk Trail.

You dream of the bear in his well sheltered lair,
    The deer with its race and its speed;
Of the feather-crowned man who followed with care
    The chase over woodland and mead;
The swift bark canoe on the river's calm face.

    The wigwam in spring-watered vale,
And you dream of the past and the wonderful race
    That first trod the Old Mohawk Trail.

Some may sing of the beauty of mountain or lake
    Or of valley more scenic than this,
But God threw his wonders around here to make
    This a valley of consummate bliss.
The river, the woodland, the daisy and rose,
    The mountain and deep, shady vale,
The sunbeams of morn and the sunset's warm glows
    Are a part of the Old Mohawk Trail.

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