Tales from the Crossing
Historical stories from the Schoharie Crossings colorful past
GLOVERSVILLE — The history of the Erie Canal at the Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site goes back more than a century and includes a sometimes dark and tragic history.
The crossing has many tales to tell from its rich and long history.
But on Wednesday, Schoharie Crossing Education Coordinator David Brooks had an interesting proposition for those in attendance at a presentation on the crossing at the Gloversville Public Library: Could they catch the untruth among his stories of many true stories of years gone by?
“It’s a little bit of history and a little bit of mystery,” Brooks said. “I’m going to be honest with you, at some point during this presentation, I’m going to lie to you.”
One of the tales told was completely made up. At the end of the evening, the audience got to guess which one of the stories was false, with a pair of audience members from Gloversville correctly identifying the fib.
The Leader-Herald will not be revealing the untrue story to protect the secret for future presentations Brooks gives.
During the presentation, Brooks took attendees on a virtual tour, using a Power Point presentation featuring historical and current pictures of the site.
A brief history
Schoharie Crossing is a New York State Historic Site and park located at 129 Schoharie St. in Fort Hunter. Portions of the site are listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Brooks said the state began purchasing property in the towns of Florida and Glen to create the Historic Site in March 1966, during the time of then Gov. Nelson Rockefeller.
“There was a renewed interest in some of the historic features in New York state and there was a push to protect them through legislation,” Brooks said.
Historic sites at the property span all three eras of the Erie Canal: the original Canal, the enlargement, which includes the Schoharie Creek Aqueduct; to the current “Erie Canal,” the Mohawk River.
The virtual tour Brooks presented Wednesday started at the Visitor’s Center. The property use to feature a variety of buildings including a barn, stable and carriage house that were destroyed by a fire likely caused by lightning.
“The local newspaper said the sky for several miles around was brightly illuminated,” Brooks said.
Brooks said the Schoharie Crossing has an interesting pre-Erie Canal history as well.
He told the audience there use to be a British Colonial fort at Fort Hunter that was built in the 1710s. It was garrisoned up until the American Revolution and was built next to a Mohawk village right where the Schoharie Creek and Mohawk Rivers meet.
Brooks said there weren’t any major battles at the fort during the time it was garrisoned.
In the 1730s and 1740s, the reports show mundane duties, but every now and then records show that Capt. Scott, who headed the fort, would sometimes go up river to parties and get to dance with various ladies.
“I guess frontier life is what it is, so any chance you get to go dance with anybody you might as well,” Brooks said.
American forces took over the fort during the American Revolution.
“The closest it comes to any kind of attack is in the 1780s when the British came back through and torched some parts of the valley, but they skirted around it noting there is no point in hitting the fort since they are on a scorched earth policy. They are just kind of hit and run,” Brooks said.
Much of the history discussed during the event was on the darker side, including murders and arsons.
“There is all sorts of death and mayhem in this,” Brooks said.
In 1896, a young man shot and killed his wife as she held their infant. The alleged reason was because the wife was “well known” in the area.
The man was sentenced to death, although in the 1910s a petition went around asking that his life be spared.
Brooks said it is unknown if the man was ever put to death.
Many of the stories coincided with sites that can still be seen at the crossing today. Brooks used the stories to give more insight into both the Crossing itself and the communities that surround it.
One example is a tale from the 1880, in which a couple coming back from a social function on the towpath barely made it out of their carriage when their spooked horse kick, bucked and fell into the canal, taking the carriage with it.
Brooks explained that the towpath was used a main travel thoroughfare, connecting communities across the state.
“If wanted to walk or ride, you could use this to get there. It is going to be well-maintained. It is far superior to any of the streets in your local town,” Brooks said.
Lock 30 use to be situated near the site of the old Fort Hunter firehouse. Parts of the lock still exist, while others have been filled in and covered to create a roadway.
The lock was next to the Browns Cash Store, which burned down in a fire shortly before the enlarged Erie Canal was discontinued with the decision to use the Mohawk River. The property contained a saloon, slaughterhouse, post office and canal store.
The Brown brothers, who owned the business, were looking to sell the property prior to the fire.
“Within 10 years, after a series of robberies and the canal going into the river, Brown’s Cash Store burns to the ground and they do not rebuild it,” Brooks said.
The end of April to early March of 1889, a man named Charles Sable fell off a bridge abutment at the site and sustained a traumatic brain injury.
Brooks said within a couple weeks, it became apparent that Sable was not doing well. He was kept home with his family and began experiencing hallucinations in which animals spoke to him or chased him.
“He acquires a revolver and begins shooting at his family,” Brooks said. “He chases his family out of the house — two sons, two daughters and his wife — and beings a journey on the towpath toward Amsterdam. He heads east shooting occasionally at teamsters.”
Brooks said the local constable grabbed a few people and waited until Sable — who luckily struck no one with a bullet on his journey — ran out of ammunition and tackled him.
Sable was sent to the Utica Asylum after being declared insane.
“The story gets a little bit weird. Within a couple of weeks Charlie Sable shows back up in town. He seems to be doing much better. Nobody is concerned with the fact he escaped from the asylum,” Brooks said.
Brooks said Sable actually ended up living out the rest of his life between Fort Hunter, where he was a shoe salesman, and Gloversville, where according to newspaper reports there were several incidents of fire, some related to burglaries, at his shop.
The virtual tour included looks at the Aqueduct, which is on the Preservation League of New York’s “Seven to Save” list by nomination of the Canal Society of New York; railroad and the Woodchuck Walk trail. Stories that went along with them ranged from fires to illegal fishing.
The Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site Visitors Center is open from May 1 to Oct. 31 Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. and Sunday’s from 1 to 5 p.m. There is no general admission fee.
The grounds are open from dawn until dusk year round.