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Fortress on the Hill

Palatine Village Hall has long history

March 16, 2008
BY RICHARD NILSEN, The Leader-Herald

The Leader-Herald

Sometimes, finding history takes some digging.

Although employees at Palatine Village Hall said they enjoyed working in the building, they didn't know what its origins were. Mayor James Post, for example, said he was on the village Board of Trustees since 1985 before becoming mayor, but didn't know the original use of the building.

He said he assumed it originally was a residence.

“The Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts have used the building and Canajoharie Grange used to mmet there,” Post said. “It’s a beautiful stone building.”

About 10 or 15 years ago Post said, the village got a grant to put in energy-saving windows with Pell wood casings which harken back to the original framework to keep the archetectural integrity of the building intact.

Even with the addition of handicapped accessible ramps and railings, he said they were able to incorporate some stonework and black piping to blend in with the building.

“The cellar is dry and can be used for meetings,” he said. “Right now our code enforcement office is there.

David Edwards is the village code enforcer and agreed the building was very nice to work in.

“It’s also well-placed for defense,” he said.

Edwards, a former Fulton County sheriff’s deputy, pointed out the view the building has of the Mohawk River, and Routes 10 and 5 in all directions.

Village Clerk Barabara Millington simply said the building was beautiful and provided a nice environment to work in.

Post said village officials are considering fixing the stonework on the building to coincide with the construction of the new bridge over the river.

Virginia and Oliver Simonsen said they were “imports from Brooklyn” but help out at the village. Virginia did some historical work recording seniors’ verbal memories on tape and Oliver is a trustee.

“I took the items to the Canajoharie Library in case our basement storage in the Village Hall got wet,” Virginia Simonsen said. Ironically, the flood came June 28, 2006.

“Everything was lost in the flood,” she said.

Vernon Wagner was the previous historian for the village, but said he also didn’t know the origins of the building.

“There was a walk-through safe there, but I didn’t have access,” Wagner said. “There may have been records about the building’s origins there.”

Earlene Melious at the Montgomery County Department of History and Archives was able to look at historic map records and find the likely original owner.

“The home belonged to Daniel S. Morrel,” Melious said. “It appears to have been in the Morrel family for some years with a brief ownership by Inman Wessell in 1920 and the village acquired it in 1947.”

Melious also found an illustration of the Morrel home, complete with rooftop cupola which no longer exists, in the “F.W. Beers History of Montgomery and Fulton Counties of 1878.”

A caption below a picture of the village hall in the Feb. 25, 1990 issue of the Mohawk Valley Democrat states the Beers sketch is actually a woodcut showing how the building looked in the early 1800s. In 1990, Town Court also was in the building.

Some details of the building’s past may be found in “A Brief History of Palatine Bridge,” written by Thomas Clayburn in 1976. In his history, he wrote:

“It was 1689 when Hendrick Frey of Swiss decent built his fortified home on the north bank of the Mohawk River for his family and became our first settler.

“Thirty-four years later in 1723 about 60 families of German Palatines left their home on the Rhine and settled in the Palatine Bridge area. It is from these Palatine German settlers that the village of Palatine Bridge and the town of Palatine take their names.

“During 1729, Major John Frey built the now standing stone fort on the original Frey location.

“As population and travel increased, a need for a real bridge was seen. In 1803, the first covered bridge was built across the Mohawk River.

According to the Beers volume:

“On the 7th of March 1788, a town was formed from a large part of the Palatine district of Montgomery County, taking the same name, from its pioneers having been Palatines.

“Palatine Bridge, situated on the north bank of the Mohawk, on the south line of the town, is the principal village.

“It consists of a store, a post office, a hotel, the cider mill and vinegar factory of Beach and Cory, and 50 or 60 dwellings. Some of the business men of Canajoharie, opposite, have residences here.

“It is made a station of importance on the Central Railroad, and is the home of Hon. Webster Wagner, the inventor and proprietor of the Wagner palace or drawing-room cars.

“The first bridge across the Mohawk, west of Schenectady, was constructed here, about 1798, from which fact the village probably took its name.

Article Photos

The Leader-Herald/Richard Nilsen
The Palatine Village Hall, originally a home, overlooks the Mohawk River and the bridge from Palatine Bridge to Canajoharie in this March 4 photo.



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