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Gallows, jail cell on display at Fulton County Museum

September 29, 2012
By LEVI PASCHER , The Leader Herald

GLOVERSVILLE - At least six people condemned by the legal system in the 1800s were hung in a portable gallows that was based at the old jail in Johnstown.

Despite the years that have gone by, the hanging gallows still exist. The original top beam and hook from the gallows are part of a new exhibit at the Fulton County Museum. The exhibit also includes an old jail cell.

The cell and gallows previously were at the former Fulton County Jail on East Montgomery Street in Johnstown. The building now is the Fort Johnstown Annex, which contains county offices and has been undergoing renovations.

Article Photos

Fulton County Museum volunteer George Streeter shows the jail display at the museum recently. The display was moved to the museum in April.
The Leader-Herald/Levi Pascher

Fulton County Board of Supervisors Chairman Michael Gendron brought the idea for the exhibit to the attention of museum President Mark Pollak and county Planning Director James Mraz. The county officially donated the cell and portable gallows to the museum, run by the Fulton?County Historical?Society, in April.

The jail cell was on the second floor of the county jail, which was once the oldest county jail in the country, museum volunteer George Streeter said.

The cells were installed in the county jail in 1913 and held thousands of jail inmates while they were used. Because of space restrictions at the museum, the display of the jail is shorter than the actual size of the cell, Streeter said.

Fact Box

If you go...

Exhibit: The hanging gallows and jail cell are on display at the Fulton?County Museum in Gloversville.

When: The museum will remain open until Oct. 31, but will have group tours available during the offseason upon request. The museum is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from noon to 4 p.m.

Tickets: Admission is free.

For more information, call 725-2203.

"This cell has such a deep history," Streeter said. "The people that served time in this cell were both good and bad, and it had so many people pass through its doors."

The history of the portable gallows is more somber. The gallows were used to execute at least six people in Fulton County. Since the gallows on display at the museum is portable, it was used for public hangings in Johnstown and other places, Streeter said.

The first person to be hung at the gallows was a slave owned by Elijah Mount, who was from Montgomery County. The slave, named Cato, was executed for the murder of Mary Atkins on April 22, 1803, when he was 17 years old.

Over the next 43 years, five more residents would be hung at the gallows, including the final one, Elizabeth Van Valkenburgh. She was sentenced to execution for poisoning her husband, John Van Valkenburgh, with arsenic she had on hand to take care of a rat problem at their residence, according to former Fulton County Historian Lewis G. Decker's 1989 book "Fulton County: A Pictorial History."

Mrs. Van Valkenburgh mixed the arsenic with tea and it caused her husband to immediately turn ill. When he began to recover, she poisoned him again, this time with decoction and brandy, resulting in her husband dying a week later.

Following her husband's death, she attempted to flee from the sheriff and broke her hip while trying to get away. Due to the fact that she couldn't walk, Van Valkenburgh, a citizen of West Perth, was hung at the gallows on Jan. 24, 1846, in a rocking chair. She was 50 at the time of the execution.

She was buried at the Johnstown Colonial Cemetery on the corner of Market and Green streets. Her grave was previously marked twice before, but people from the area stole her tombstone, said Streeter. He said her unmarked grave is about 45 feet in from the corner.

 
 

 

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