Little quick bits of history number four

A 1911 Matheson Touring Car, such as Albert Steele drove the day he accidently hit ten year old Donald Wilson, courtesy of www.earlyamercancars.com. (Photo courtesy of Peter Betz)

Readers state they enjoy these occasional collections of accidently-discovered short items, so here’s another collection.

The May 8, 1911 Amsterdam Evening Recorder reported an unfortunate item. “The first fatality ever caused by an automobile in Gloversville occurred at seven Wednesday evening when Donald Wilson, 10-year-old son of John Wilson of 9 E. Center St., was run over and killed by an auto driven by Albert Steele of the Steele Brothers firm at the corner of Washington and South Main St. From bystander’s accounts, Mr. Steele was blameless. The accident was the result of the boy’s carelessness while riding zig zag across the street, he swerved in front of the large Matheson car, was struck and fell to the pavement. He was hurried to Littauer, but died within a few minutes of arriving. Mr. Steele hastened to police headquarters and was released on $5,000 bond pending examination. While those who witnessed the accident declare Mr. Steele in no way to blame, he is quite agitated.”

A very early item from a March 1814 NY Herald is headlined, “Melancholy Accident.” “During a late thaw, the Schoharie Creek rose to an unusual height and ice, lodging against the bridge at Fort Hunter, carried it away, except for two abutments. Unfortunately, Mr. Christian Service of Florida, returning home from a journey at about 8 o’clock in the evening of the 24th and not having heard of this, drove off with his sleigh and was drowned. The horses by some means got separated from the sleigh and swam ashore. It is about 30 feet from where he drove off to the water. His body has not yet been found. He leaves a wife and several children to mourn his loss.”

A humorous tale of youthful adventure appeared in an 1883 Gloversville Intelligencer. “Two little boys were stopped here the other day. One carried an old pistol and the other had four table knives stuck in a belt around his waist. They said they were going west to fight the Indians and become scouts of the prairie. They had just seen Buffalo Bill’s wild west show.”

The August 17, 1875 Rome Sentinel announced, “A Fulton County pauper has two robust husbands, both of whom are anxious the other call her his own. The Superintendent of the Poor doesn’t know what to do.”

Although familiar with various Adirondack hermits, this person was unknown to me. The December 8, 1900 Plattsburg Republican reported, “John Kinney, ‘hermit of the Sacandaga’ is taken to the Fulton County Poorhouse. For many years he lived in a hut on the Sacandaga River about a half mile south of Northville, sustaining himself by fishing and what he could raise on a small patch of land. As far as is known, he never took a bath.”

When supervisors visited our poorhouse for their annual dinner on Nov. 18, 1875, the Fulton County Republican’s reporter attended. “It was a magnificent dinner, where everything was cooked as if old hotel hands were at the business. The county authorities ate to their hearts content.” Perhaps inmates got left-overs, if there were any.

We know less than we’d like about early local bridges, beyond the fact that none built before the successful 1853 metal suspension bridge linking Tribes Hill and Fort Hunter lasted long. One colossal failure was an earlier attempt at building a suspension bridge constructed entirely of wood, reported in the Oct. 8, 1850 Schenectady Cabinet, reprinted from the Montgomery County Whig.

“Mr. William Kellogg, bridge builder, is constructing a ‘Remington Bridge’ across the Mohawk at Tribes Hill, in this county. It will be a single span of 450 feet, supported by 14 chords of white pine 9-inches wide and 3-inches thick, resting upon 2 abutments elevated 30 feet above low water mark. It is estimated it will sustain, without injury or danger, a weight of 600 tons. It will be in all respects a magnificent triumph of genius and skill, credible to inventor and builder. The Fort Hunter & Albany Plank Road, 32 miles in length, intersecting the turnpike 10 miles from Albany, terminates with this bridge.”

Alas, John R. Remington’s self-promotional abilities greatly exceeded his engineering abilities.

The Jan. 29, 1851 Semi-Weekly Courier & N.Y. Inquirer announced, “The Amsterdam Intelligencer states the bridge built last season and recently finished across the Mohawk at Tribes Hill on the Remington Plan went down last week, being unable to sustain its own weight from its immense length. We understand the cost to the company in erecting this and another bridge that fell last year is about $12,000.”

Would-be inventor Remington — no relation to the Ilion Remingtons — was a flamboyant self-promoter. Visiting England in 1847, he conceived and built his first bridge and also invented a much-improved coffee pot. Remington left a revealing, probably half truthful account of his English adventures printed in the Nov. 17, 1848 Lowell Daily Journal & Courier, in which he boasted that both he and his bridge design were greatly lauded by the English press, but that he made little money there and escaped England deeply in debt. Returning to America in 1850, he persuaded investors to back erection of several Remington Bridges, including that at Fort Hunter. All opened to much fanfare and all soon collapsed. Deeply in debt, he died of yellow fever in Texas in 1854, a rather extreme but effective answer to escaping creditors.


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