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Our Old Times

Sir William Johnson, Johnson Hall, and historical fake news

Having served as a docent (visitor guide) at Old Fort Johnson, I’ve heard some far-fetched stories about Sir William Johnson related as absolute truths coming from the uninformed lips of visitors. Worst-case scenarios are tourists who believe Robert Chambers’ historical fiction but have ...

When berry picking turns deadly

Watch out whose berries you pick. While picking wild blackberries in my own neighborhood — I won’t tell you where — I couldn’t help recall another berry-picking expedition back in 1860 that went very wrong for Meco farmer Horatio Grant. In attempting to keep these articles timely, it ...

Our Old Times: Mayor Gideon Green and the Soft Drink War of 1933

There it was on page three of the June 22, 1932 Morning Herald, a large headline stating, “Police to Receive Orders to Treat Unlicensed Vendors of Beverages as Violators of City Soft Drink Ordnance.” Mayor Gideon Green reminded Common Council members that the law had already been on the ...

Scams are nothing new

Scams aren’t new. They existed long before the telephone, computer, and internet were dreamed of. Probably the most common, most successful 19th- and early 20th- Century scams involved selling lightning rods, and this was usually practiced against farmers whose livelihood centered around ...

Steenburgh — A really unpleasant man

April 19, 1878 is very likely the only day in New York state history when the public school of a village was closed due to a hanging, but closed it was in Fonda that fatal day when Samuel Steenburgh, who murdered Amsterdam Minaville resident Jacob D. Parker the night of Nov. 18, 1877, was sent ...

Betz’s odd bits of history number 7

Here we present yet another collection of accidently-rediscovered news bits, too short for a complete article, but still worth sharing, from the days of our old times. The March 1, 1894 Gloversville Daily Republican informed readers, “Horatio Grant Sr. was found guilty of abusing his wife ...

Innocent Santa letters caused post office problems

While grade school and even younger children grimace at writing an essay, they exhibit no qualms writing their annual ‘gifts wanted’ letters to the jolly man in the red suit, Santa Claus. Exactly when this seasonal activity began and such letters were first published in local newspapers, ...

Shining some light on World War II blackouts

This time of year, drivers sometime worry about whiteouts, but at least they don’t have to deal with blackouts, those World War II civil defense exercises during which residents of entire cities and even counties turned off every light in their house, business, or factory and temporarily sat ...

Walter C. Porter, Gloversville’s disappearing drummer

If younger readers immediately wonder what an old-time drummer was, that’s no surprise considering the only drummers drumming these days drum in bands, but in our old times, although a ‘drummer’ made little noise unless he laughed or sneezed, he was still an essential component in ...

Keystone Hotel fire gave Gloversville a sad Christmas

It was December 21, 1909 and happy Gloversville citizens, like those of other cities across America, were engaged in the usual holiday preparations. What could go wrong? Unfortunately, the vibrant city was about to be hit by a double-whammy of misfortune, including loss of life. To quote ...

Odd bits of history collection number five

Although well-preserved today, Sir William Johnson’s 1749 stone mansion, referred to now as “Old Fort Johnson,” has endured more than one threatening experience. Besides being flooded several years ago, the July 21, 1936, the Amsterdam Recorder headlined, “Ice House Damage Set at ...

Edward Earl was impatient to be hung

When I’m asked why there haven’t been more old-time murder stories lately, I’ve replied truthfully that we’ve already visited so many, the list of those remaining is getting slimmer. Yet the story of Hamilton County murderer Edward Earl is certainly unusual: He is the only murderer ...

The ‘revolutionary’ downfall of our first sheriff concluded

To explain how Alexander White, Tryon County’s first sheriff, lost his position when the Revolution began, it’s necessary to refer to contemporary documents. The previous article closed with White under Sir John Johnson’s protection, languishing within fortified Johnson Hall following ...

Technology could beat crime even long ago

It was Thursday, Dec. 5, 1929, a dark and snowy night roughly two months after the great stock market crash. But whether that disastrous financial event influenced three Amsterdam men to burglarize Samuel ‘Sammy’ Betor’s Broadalbin furniture store is anybody’s guess. But burglarize ...

Be glad to see those big snowplows this winter

In an article surveying travel conditions when a heavy gale blanketed the Mohawk Valley on Feb. 14, 1923, the Gloversville Morning Herald described the storm’s aftermath. “In Gloversville, the Street Department got out its snow-fighting apparatus early and the streets were kept open. ...

180 years of law and order in Fulton County

When Sheriff Richard Giardino mentioned to me last March that 2018 marks the 180th anniversary of Fulton County, I hadn’t remembered this, nor apparently has anyone else, as no celebration has taken place. Sheriff Giardino was interested in the history of his own office and the sheriffs ...

When the deputy postmaster left no address

On Monday, Jan. 14, 1907, startling news made headlines from one end of the Mohawk Valley to the other when newspapers revealed that St. Johnsville Deputy Postmaster Alexander Turnbull and postal clerk Harry F. Stichel had suddenly disappeared from their jobs and families, and more shocking ...

Veteran’s club preserves historic treasures

When you think of organizations that house and preserve important history, historical societies, libraries, and museums usually come to mind. Hardly anyone would add veteran’s organizations, but omitting them could be wrong, at least in the case of Broadalbin’s Robert Lee Walsh American ...

Avery’s Hotel once a Fulton County ‘go to’

Although this column seldom features locations beyond Fulton or Montgomery counties, if one mentions Avery’s Hotel in Arietta, Hamilton County, to older Fulton, Montgomery and Hamilton County residents, it will no doubt elicit memories of fine dining, plus good hunting and fishing or all ...

Being Robert W. Chamber’s son wasn’t much fun

One would think being a wealthy author’s son would be nice, but for Robert Edward Stuart Chambers, life with or beyond father became pretty much a series of hard knocks. More approachable to Broadalbin citizens than his father who generally secluded himself, Robert Jr. at least tried to ...