Local Lights is a series of reflections by Bethlehem Historical Association members and friends.
Slingerland Printing Company
By Susan Leath, BHA Member and Town Historian
A binder of old postcards was recently donated to the Town Historian’s office. Here are some favorites of the Slingerland Printing Company. Its large building, now converted to apartments, is a prominent feature at the intersection of New Scotland Road and Kenwood Avenue in Slingerlands. The company was established by Cornelius Slingerland in the 1870s and continued as a printing company through the 1940s.
And old truck is parked in the front of the printing company’s central wooden frame building. In the background can be seen an Italianate style home that stills stands on Mullens Road. Also note the railroad signal.
“This shows a small part of the place here. When you have seen this and the post office you have seen the place all over. Hope to get home end of week.” Signed only B.W., this card was postmarked in Slingerlands on August 20, 1920. New Scotland Road with its newly constructed railroad underpass is in the foreground.
We wish we knew the identity of this printing company worker.
Postmarked at Slingerlands on February 25, 1907, this card was mailed to Mrs. Alfred Golding of Cobleskill. On the front it reads, “Dear Maud – Does this look familiar to you?” Marjorie. The tracks on the right, formerly the Delaware & Hudson Railroad, are now the Albany County Rail Trail.
Cold Case: A Chilling Tale of a Community Business
By BHA Trustee John Smolinsky
Bethlehem residents have often come together in response to community needs – we see it today in our numerous volunteer efforts as well as with many municipal initiatives. Let’s turn the calendar back to a time when a cooperative effort helped residents manage food shortages and rationing during the 1940s.
Established in 1942, the War Production Board (WPB) was responsible for allocating scarce materials, establishing priorities in distribution of materials and services, prohibition of nonessential production and rationing of certain commodities. They also administered a program to approve construction of local freeze lockers for food preparation and storage. Refrigeration had long displaced the ice box, but food freezers were not a common household appliance. The war efforts encouraged recycling, limited many food products, promoted Victory Gardens and other efforts on the home front to help cope with the war effort. Food shortages stimulated an interest in new ways to prepare and store meat and produce.
The WPB planned to authorize construction of 10 freezer lockers in the N.E. US, among them 4 in New York State and only one of those in the Albany area. In February 1944, several community leaders, led by Harold H. White, proposed a cooperative management structure for a freeze locker in Delmar. Initially the goal was to raise $40,000 by selling 1600 shares of stock. Each share of stock would be sold for $25 that entitled the shareholder to the rental of a freeze locker. Multiple meetings were held at local churches and fire halls to inform residents of the proposal and to generate interest in buying a share of stock. A corporation was formed and named the Bethlehem Cooperative Freeze Locker, Inc. But before the cooperative idea could be approved by the WPB, a substantial number of agreements had to be secured for the future rentals to assure the financial success of the proposal. Complicating the matter was a second proposal from a private entrepreneur, Milfred J. Cass, an Elsmere contractor for a similar project that he alone would finance. Ultimately, the Cooperative gathered the necessary locker agreements and prevailed over the privately funded proposal.
Bethlehem Cooperative Freeze Locker, Inc optioned and purchased property that was “within walking distance of the Delmar shopping district.” The site was subdivided from the Oliver Earl’s Socony Gas Station at 317 Delaware Ave. which today is a Mobil Station. The new lot was behind the gas station and extended to the railroad. The address of the Freeze Locker was 300 Salisbury St. (one 1950s source listed the address as 7 Salisbury St). In 1975, the street name was changed to Howard Place and the address of the current building on the site is 2 Howard Place.
The cooperative sought approval for a structure housing 500 freeze lockers but the WPB approved a 400 locker facility and stipulated that used lumber should be used for construction. A building was designed by Albany Architect, Walter P.R. Pember. The one-story building was to be 37 feet by 87 feet. General Electric freezer equipment would be used and used lumber would come from a large building in Slingerlands. The structure would have a basement and contained a locker room, cold freezing room, chilling and preparation room, meat and vegetable processing room, reception room and office, lobby, and restrooms. Cork, “the finest insulation available” was used but ultimately, the building was constructed completely of cement block. There is no known explanation of the change from wood to cement block, but “delays” and “priorities” are mentioned in one of the cooperative’s newsletters. The building was completed in September 1944.
Prior to opening, nearly all the lockers were rented. What did a renter get? The 6 cu.ft. lockers were arranged in five tiers; the two bottom tiers were drawer-type and cost $13/ year; the middle two tiers were door-type and cost $12/year; the top tier was also door-type and cost $10/year. There were also several commercial size lockers available for rent. The facility provided more than just the locker space. There was a quick freeze room, a preparation room, for food prepping and aging meat, fruit, and vegetables. Equipment included slicers, grinders, saws, and a tenderizing machine. Packaging materials were also available. Members could also buy and sell meat and produce. Processing was available; for example, meat processing varied from $.02/lb. for aging, cutting, wrapping, and freezing to $.06/lb. for smoking or making sausage. Processing produce and chicken cost #.03/lb. Frozen foods were available for purchase by members and non-members. Wagar’s Ice Cream (Troy, NY) was also sold and “furnished abundantly.” In one year, ice cream sales totaled $2073.70.
A periodic newsletter was distributed to members. It was known as the “LOK’R News” and kept members apprised of food availability, services, and any new developments at the Cooperative. One early issue contained a call for,” …any office furnishings, clothes trees, mackinaws, or heavy winter coats you care to donate to the plant. It’s going to be cold in the locker room.”
Over the 28 years of its existence there had been two managers - Earl “Duke” Ducette from 1944-1951 and Harold Wood from 1951-1972. In its initial search for a “competent and experienced manager”, the Cooperative defined the manager as “a man who really know his meat. The manager will be competent to purchase, package, and process, fruits, vegetables, and other products suitable for freezing. He will also have the incentive to keep members informed as to good buys.” While there is no record of the manager’s salary, in 1946 the Cooperative sought a new bookkeeper and offered a salary of $.65/hour (Yes, that is 65 cents!)
This is equivalent to about $9.00 /hour in 2022.The Bethlehem Cooperative Freeze Locker continued until 1972. There is no known reason for its demise but, in contrast to the war years, food was more abundant and home freezers became more popular and affordable. The Cooperative never showed a profit or paid a dividend to shareholders but was reported that most felt their return was in good service and good food over the years. Shareholders’ investment was returned at least in the amount they invested. All in all, a cold case of success.
After the closure of the Freeze Locker the building was sold and renovated. It became the Aquarius Beauty Salon and Boutique. In subsequent years there were a variety of businesses occupying the building: Eleanor’s School of Dance, the Fred-El Rental Corp., a Dental office, and the property is currently occupied by a neat and tidy office building housing an investment firm. The history of the property is still a bit of a mystery: What did the original building look like? Is it still insulated with cork? Was the Bethlehem Cooperative Freeze Locker, Inc. a social hub of the tri-village area?
Some readers may have clues that might tell us more about the Bethlehem Cooperative Freeze Lockers; Share your photos, stories, anecdotes about this Cold Case!
[Author’s Note: Much of the information used for this article came from the Town of Bethlehem historic files; authorship of the material is mostly unknown. Susan Leath, our Town Historian provided access to those files and the Town Building Department provided information to create the history of occupancy of the building at 2 Howard Place.]
If you have 1940s related memorabilia, especially with a Bethlehem connection, we’d love to hear from you. The BHA exhibit featuring Bethlehem in the 1940s will be installed in the late fall this year - hopefully! We are planning to set up an "office" display and are on the lookout for desk top items from that era, like fountain pens and an ash tray (remember when those were ubiquitous? - kind of hard to find these days!) Feel free to email Susan at firstname.lastname@example.org
By BHA Trustee Chris Philippo
In the heat of our summer, some residents have probably taken advantage of the cooler nights to set up a projector and screen in the backyard to watch movies. The first theater in town was essentially that.
In June, 1914, Theodore C. Paul, a piano tuner, and Ralph Benedict Allen, a printer, opened an "up-to-date moving picture theatre" in Delmar, "of the open-air type." There had been "comfortable benches so arranged that an unobstructed view of the screen may be obtained from every seat" and accompaniment by player-piano.
By December 1914, Paul and Allen's theater in Delmar had moved indoors to "Allen's Universal Hall." That seems to have been a space they rented in what is now the Masonic Hall at 421 Kenwood Ave. When that building had first been built in 1907, the plans had included leaving the second story "unfinished, save the floor, so that the room may be used as an assembly hall."
Paul and Allen offered dancing and films three nights a week, though what movies were shown by them over the years wasn't stated. If the hall's name is any clue, perhaps they were ones from the Universal Film Manufacturing Company. If so, possibilities could include Olympic swimmer Annette Kellerman's Neptune's Daughter (1914)
Theodore Paul’s death evidently spelled the end; in early 1919, the Knickerbocker Press carried a short classified likely associated with their venture: "MOVING picture machine and piano for sale. Call Delmar, 109-M."
During those years of operation, the Albany Methodist Preachers' association tasked Rev. Harold Metcalf and Rev. T. H. Reinhardt, of Delmar and Coeymans, respectively, "to work for the elimination of posters in front of local motion picture houses as well as the pictures they advertise," as they found them "vulgar." It sounds rather blue-nosed of them, though a poster like one for Neptune's Daughter would today certainly be panned for its degree of objectification of its star, describing her as having "measurements that almost surpass belief" and listing twelve different measurements, comparing each to Venus de Milo and Diana.
The Delmar Theatre, opened in 1929 by Samuel F Jarvis and Felix T. Wright, first showing the Paramount picture The Wolf of Wall Street starring George Bancroft. All that's known to survive of the film is a remarkable ten-second composite sequence by Slavko Vorkapitch. The Theatre's last showing, according to the website Cinema Treasures, was on April 4, 1958: The Bravados and The Fly. The building still stands at 333 Delaware Ave, the 1929 datestone still visible.
Explore more with these links:
Read about Albany’s open air movie theaters here
Read about one of the oldest known free open air theaters here:
Watch fragments of the 1914 movie Neptune’s Daughter
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YoNvoKpcx3A and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1916).
See Neptune’s Daughter movie poster
Watch a sequence from 1929 film The Wolf of Wall Street
A “strawride” to Delmar, Altamont Enterprise, March 19, 1915
Neptune’s Daughter showing at the Star Theatre in Ravena, The News Herald, May 11, 1917.
Delmar Theatre weekly program, Altamont Enterprise, May 3, 1929
Historic marker for the Open Air Theatre located in Schoharie
The Stained Glass Windows of First Reformed Church of Bethlehem
By member Dawn Pratt
The church was organized in 1763 on what is today the corner of Route 9W and Church Road in Selkirk. Unfortunately, the records from 1763-1791 were lost. Current records are from 1792 until present. The second church erected on site was built in 1821 and destroyed by fire March 9, 1890. The church was rebuilt that same year and has had several additions over the years.
In the large chapel there are 12 large stained-glass windows that were given in memory of members of the church. Each window has the name of a member in the stained glass at the bottom. The following is a list of those names:
Maria K. Lasher
Elizabeth B. Van Derzee
Mary Ida F. Niver
Elizabeth A. Niver
Agnes V. Schoonmaker
Dr. William Van Derzee
Hester J. Seger
William H. Wilkie and Agnes A. Wilkie
Elias N. Osterhout
Charles N. Baker Jr. and Cornelius V. Baker
George N. Best
Mary Houtaling Mead
Judy Selkirk, an artist and member of the church, painted copies of the medallions from the windows and attached them to the front panels near the floor of the dais at the front of the room. During church the children are asked to find the medallion that matches a window.
The windows that were originally in the rebuilt 1890 church were saved and moved to the outside wall during renovations.
The church has been in continuous use since it was originally built to the present day.
The Forgotten School
This month, BHA member Linda Schacht reflects on the schools she attended.
I attended school in the Ravena Coeymans Selkirk School district starting in 1953. I attended six different schools over the following years. The schools I attended by grade were as follows: Kindergarten-South Bethlehem School, 1st and 2nd grade at Selkirk School, 3rd and 4th grade at Cedar Hill School, 5th and 6th grade at Weisheit School, 7th and 8th grade at Jericho School, and 9th grade and on at the new senior high school in Ravena.
Most of these schools are well known with the exception of the Weisheit School which seems to be forgotten except by those who attended school there. You would think being named the Weisheit School it would be on Weisheit Road. However, that is not the case. The school actually was located on the triangle between Rt 9W and Church Road in Selkirk. It was an unassuming white frame building that looked like any normal apartment building.
The building was built in 1941 with two show rooms downstairs and three apartments upstairs. Records show it was owned by David H Weisheit in 1944 where he operated an International Harvester show room from 1948 thru 1949. It appears the show rooms were vacant after that.
In 1955 there was a redistricting of the schools and, with a growing population, more room was needed to accommodate all the students. The two vacant show rooms at the Weisheit building were available so the district leased them for the 5th and 6th grade students. Thus, the Weisheit School was formed. We students had to learn how to spell the schools name so we were taught to spell it as We-is-he-it. To this day that is how I remember to spell it!
The school was used until the new AW Becker School was built in 1962-1963. Perhaps, as it was only open for eight years, that is the reason not many people remember it existed. In 1987 David Weisheit’s widow sold the building to Charles Emery and his wife who lived there until 1996 when she sold it to Wayne Seabridge and his wife who still live there and run it as an apartment building.
Bread and Benefits -- Items in the BHA Collection
This month, Nancy Newkirk, our Collections Committee chair, shares two interesting items that BHA owns.
PUT IN ALL LIQUIDS FIRST THEN FLOUR
TURN 3 MINUTES
RAISE IN PAIL
TURN UNTIL DOUGH FORMS A BALL
TAKE OFF CROSS PIECE LEFT OUT DOUGH WITH HANDLE
This pail is a manually operated tabletop dough mixer, kneader and raiser. It does everything your modern bread maker does except bake!
It is a recent donation from a former Bethlehem resident. The donor described how his mother would make bread with it once or twice a week. He would get to operate the crank. The smell of fresh baked bread is a pleasant memory for him. He and his wife tried making bread in it and they had plenty since it makes enough for 4-6 loaves at a time.
The Knights of the Maccabees (K.O.T.M.) began as a fraternal benefit association of a type extremely popular in the U.S. in the late 1800s. A related but separate organization, Maccabees of the World, was also established. The two organizations merged under the title Knights of the Maccabees of the World in 1914, later shortened to The Maccabees.
Fraternal benefit organizations were quite prevalent in the late 19th century. Many insurance companies were not interest in sales to ordinary people, and there was little in the way of safety nets. Groups like the Maccabees provided a margin of protection against catastrophic events along with opportunities for pleasant social meetings and other gatherings.
Originally it operated on an assessment basis: whenever a member died, each living member was assessed 10 cents to go into a pot to provide the widow with $1000. After reorganization in 1881, it became much more sophisticated, collecting monthly assessments based on payouts. By the 1890s it provided not only death benefits but also sick benefits, disability benefits and funeral benefits.
Our Changing Streets!
TOP: Two views of the Delmar Four Corners about 1957.
BOTTOM: Delmar streets in 1942 (left) and c. 1975 (right). Notice how the blank areas have now filled in with new streets.
This month’s article is presented by Vicki Folger, BHA member and Trustee.
I'm always wondering about roads, where they come from, where do they go, and the origin of their names. As I wander through the Town of Bethlehem, I remember some of the roads which have been straightened since my childhood. Route 9-W and Elm Ave. have had many changes over the last seventy years.
Many of the roads still remains and some have completely disappeared. Some roads were cut in half by new highways. For me it is fun to figure out where a road came out and then continued.
I was curious about Delaware Ave. which I've learned was an old Indian Trail. In 1805 New York State chartered the Albany and Delaware Turnpike Company to build a road connecting Albany to Otego which at that time was in Delaware County. Thus it was called Delaware Turnpike.
New Scotland Rd. is more obvious as it leads to the Town of New Scotland out of Albany. New York State chartered the Albany, Rensselaerville and Schoharie Plank Rd. which erected a toll gate in 1861 near the site of the famous Toll Gate Ice Cream store in Slingerlands.
Elsmere Ave. is clearly named for the hamlet as it extends south from Delaware Ave. The Delaware and Hudson Railroad had a station there and named it Elsmere for a popular novel of 1888 called “Robert Elsmere”.
Many of the smaller roads are named for the farms of that community. Clapper Rd. is in front of the Bethlehem Historical Association’s Museum, the Cedar Hill School. There is an exhibit there about Anna Clapper who lived on that farm. Lasher Rd., LaGrange Rd., McCormack Rd., Murray Ave. are also examples of farm roads. Creble Rd. is named for the Creble's who lived in the oldest house of the town and descended from the Winne family. There is Winne Rd. in Delmar as well.
Many roads are named for natural sources such as trees or for their destinations. Maple Ave. in Selkirk, Cedar Hill, Elm Ave, Font Grove. Kenwood Ave. lead to a small hamlet called Kenwood which now is mainly the port of Albany. Some follow the creeks, Onesquethaw Rd., Krumkill Rd.
This is just a short observation. There is so much more.
What if Anna Clapper Had Gone to Wyoming?
This month’s is presented by Susan Leath, BHA member since 1995(!) and also Town Historian.
While taking in the newest exhibit at the museum, the one about Anna Hoffman Clapper, a small item caught my eye. It is a letter dated September 12, 1899 appointing Anna to the position of Seamstress in the Shoshone School, Wyoming. How independent she was to seriously contemplate a move to Wyoming!
At that time, Anna was about 26 years old. She was an accomplished seamstress, trained in the T. Taylor System and already running a successful dressmaking business sewing for well to do women in Selkirk. Interestingly, she would go to live with the family charging a dollar a day plus room and board.
The Shoshone School to which she was appointed was located on what is now the Wind River Reservation which is shared by two Native American Tribes, the Eastern Shoshone and the Northern Arapaho. The Eastern Shoshone have been living in the area of the Wind River Mountains for 12,000+ years.
If Anna had accepted this position, she would have traveled a long way by rail, leaving Albany for Chicago where she would have caught a Union Pacific train to go further west. As the letter directs, she could ride the Union Pacific to Rawlins, Wyoming and then take a 145-mile stagecoach ride to the school (believed to be in the area of Fort Washakie) or opt to take the train to Casper and then take a stage to Lander (155 miles) and another stage to the agency (only 15 miles). Phew – I get tired just thinking about that journey!
When she arrived, Anna would have met H. G. Nickerson, the U.S. Indian Agent. Herman Gould Nickerson was born and raised in Ohio, served with the 186th Ohio Infantry during the Civil War and achieved the rank of Captain. After the war, he headed out to try mining for gold in the western territories. He ended up in South Pass, Wyoming where he established a mining interest, as well as farming and ranching, near Lander. He served in many public capacities included school commissioner, county justice of the peace, and was appointed Indian Agent in 1893. He and Harriet Kelsey married in 1874. She was a school teacher for several years in South Pass as well as “taking an active interest in the welfare of the young commonwealth of Wyoming” (as one death notice states.)
Most importantly, Anna would have met the Eastern Shoshone people. She certainly would have heard of Washakie, renowned Chief of the Eastern Shoshone. Washakie, who died February 20, 1900, saw his tribe through the difficult years of Western expansion and conflict.
What would Anna Hoffman Clapper, a sharp and independent woman, have made of the people and places of the American West at the turn of the 20th Century? We will never know because she turned down this opportunity and stayed in Bethlehem. But I find it fun to speculate!
Here are some links to read more about the people mentioned here.
Read more about Washakie here:
More about the modern tribe here: https://easternshoshone.org/about/
Read more about H.G. Nickerson here: http://genealogytrails.com/wyo/fremont/fremontbios2.htm
More about Harriet Nickerson here:
Here’s a link to one of H.G.’s Indian Agent reports: http://images.library.wisc.edu/History/EFacs/CommRep/AnnRep02p1/reference/history.annrep02p1.i0026.pdf
And because the internet is a wonderful thing (sometimes!) here is a link to “Esther Hobart Morris, Justice of the Peace and Icon of Women’s Rights” that includes this cool picture of H.G. Nickerson installing a monument to Morris in 1920. Morris was appointed justice of the peace in South Pass City in 1870 when it was a rowdy mining town.