Sunday, December 27, 2009


 This painting is in the collection of the Greater Oneonta Historical Society museum and is published with their permission. It was painted by James Dietz, a son of the massacred Johannes Dietz, so he would have known what the house and barn looked like.

I have just created a new Facebook group Dietz / Deitz Families of Berne and Schoharie for descendants of the children of Johan Peter Dietz of Germany, all of whom eventually settled in Schoharie and Albany Counties in the first half of the 18th Century. This group will make it easy for us to stay in contact with distant cousins, and allow us to exchange information and ask questions about our common ancestors.

You do not need to be a member of Facebook to look at the site, nor will you be spammed. You would have to join if you want to participate. 

The images on this page are of the Dietz massacre in Sept. 1781, the only intrusion into Berne during the Rev. War.

This engraving of the Dietz massacre is from "Stories of the Revolution,” by Josiah
Priest, 1836. The chapter "The Captive Boys of Rensselaerville - John and Robert Brice" tells how they were captured in the massacre and taken west by the Indians. John lived out the war in an Indian village. Robert was sold to the captain of a boat on lake Erie. The story is the remembrances of Robert.

Thursday, December 17, 2009


Fox Creek Falls, Nov. 2009, by Charles Sloger

Years ago NYS stocked trout in Berne; but that stopped because there is no legal public access. Not that it matters, since neither the Foxenkill nor the Switzkill are good habitat (both are too warm, and some pollution in the Foxenkill) to support a healthy population of trout. There is also a bank erosion problem. Planting of trees and shrubs along the banks would help prevent both bank erosion and cooling the waters for trout, as would establishing a cut line. When do you think that will happen? It took ten years of so for the sewer system in Berne to start to be built. Maybe its not too early to push for creekside rehab?

Here are proposals for
  • A trail along the Fox Creek from the Long Path to Berne Town Park.
  • An expansion of Fox Creek Park to include ruins of historic mills and factories on the opposite side of the creek.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Law Office > Select School > Fire House > Post Office > Garage

The photo to the right is of the 1929 Model T Ford called the "Village Queen", still the pride of the Berne Fire Dept.

A small building in Berne served many functions since it was built in the mid 19th Century:

  • Law office of Edward Vincent Filkins, Esq.
  • The Select School in 1882 of his daughter Carrie Filkins.
  • Berne Post Office in the 1920's. The post master from 1915 - 1928 was Clarence Haverly, husband of Carrie Filkins.
  • Berne Volunteer Fire Company was organized in 1929 it became the first fire house.
  • It is now a private garage.

This photo is from about 1977 and was published in Our Heritage.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


Newcomb's Farms, East Berne

I have just updated the Berne Farms, Natural History, and Outdoor Recreation page on Albany Hilltowns to include a lot more farms. Here is the current listing:

  • Alpaca Shack Bob Rowe and family, Berne. - High quality, eco-friendly alpaca clothing. Visit the farm and pet the Alpacas.
  • Beaver Dam Farms - Breeding Stock, registered Polled Herefords, feeder cattle, hay. Open year round, hours vary; 2032 Helderberg Trail, tel. (518) 872-0256.
  • Busch Farm - Quality hay. Busch Ln. By appointment (518) 872-1664.
  • Crosier's Sugar Barn - Open year round; Spring 7 days a week, Weekends rest of the year. Offering hay rides, maple tours, custom pig roasting, chicken barbecues, brush hogging and farm drainage work, firewood. 353 Filkins Hill Rd. Tel.(518) 872-2213.
  • Elk Hill Winery - built by the Primiano Family, the only winery in the hill towns, is at 125 Prim Lane, off of Rte. 156 Berne, a couple of miles north of the hamlet of Berne. Call 518-872-2314 for directions.
  • Ever Flowing Springs Farm - Grass fed beef. 73 Francis Rd. Open year round by appointment (518) 872-0426.
  • Helderberg Alpacas 331 Saw Mill Road, East Berne, New York; phone number is (518) 872-9053. - Alpacas for sale, boarding, yarn and fiber for sale, farm visits.
  • Mcauliffe's Mountain Farm - All natural meats and organic veggies. 60 Mountain View Ln., Tel. (518) 872-2041
  • Morning Fog Farm - High Quality Food, Sustainable Farming Methods: Local, Naturally Raised Beef, Pork, and Chicken; Organic Produce; Organic Herbs; Farm Products; Unique Gifts. On-Farm store is open Friday 3 - 6 PM, Saturday 10 AM to 4 PM and always by appointment. We'll have: Beef, Pork, Chicken, Honey, Maple Syrup, Milk Soaps. 1207 Switzkill Rd., Berne. Please call us at (518) 872-1772 between 10am and 6pm Monday through Saturday for more information. We accept MasterCard and Visa. Email:
  • Partridge Run Farm and Apiary, 484 Ravine Road, Berne, New York - Open daily for honey and related products (e.g., candles, soaps).
  • Newcomb's Farms 1498 Thacher Park Road. - Farm stand open May-November 9am-8pm. and a Community Supported Agriculture program[1] with fresh produce, fruit, local honey & syrup, flower greenhouse, hanging baskets, annual and perennial bedding plants, herbs and vegetable bedding plants. On Saturdays throughout the season home made pies & bread. A member of Local Harvest. Email
  • Mountain Winds Farm - operated by Randy Grippen, sells all natural farm raised chicken and eggs, maple syrup. Email
  • R6 Livestock Co. - Cattle, hay. 1119 Switzkill Rd., Berne; Tel. (518) 872-0344
  • Shale Hill Farm - Freezer beef, hay straw, fence stakes and firewood. 617 Cole Hill Rd.; Tel. (518) 872-2533
  • Tim Lippert's Grass-fed Beef - Berne, to order Email or call the farm 518 797 3610
  • Windy Hill Farm - Wool blankets, sheep skins. Call for location (518) 872-1386. 

Friday, December 4, 2009


I have done an extensive update on BerneFarms, Natural History, and Outdoor Recreation to add information on where visitors can eat and sleep. I have also listed the historic cemeteries and family burying grounds that are maintained and easily accessible. I will now be working on listing historic buildings to see.

I have done a similar page for Knox Farms, Natural History, and Outdoor Recreation

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


1) The town of Berne is updating its comprehensive plan.  The Comprehensive Plan committee meets on December 2 at the Berne Town Hall. While they already have a full agenda, they do allow time for public comment. Here are proposals for them to consider:
Whereas increasing the number of travelers to the town would be a benefit to the economy of the town:

  • The planning and construction of scenic trails for use by hikers, bikers, horseback riding, fisherman, photographers, cross country runners, etc is encouraged. In the fall they might be used by hunters; in the winter by cross country skiers and snow mobiles.
  • Landowners whose land a trail crosses or who live within 1000 feet of a trail are encouraged to build facilities along such trails to benefit users of the trails and to charge for their use: tent camping sites, toilet facilities, picnic tables, fire pits.
  • In any district of the town a home owner may operate a Guest House. The definition of a Guest House is a home owner who makes extra bedrooms available in their home for occasional guests. The Guest House is not a business but rather a way to earn extra money for the home owner from time to time. 
  • With special permits, landowners in agricultural districts may build up to five cabins to rent by the day or week, and to build facilities for use by up to five recreation vehicle campers.
Someone from the town would need to present the above proposal for discussion.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


  • This was a beaver dam at one time. Later the State made a small earthen dam to stabilize the pond. A beaver dam is now located just above this pond. New ponds are located in Partridge Run Wildlife Mgt. area along Fawn Lake Road near Berne, New York. Photo by Charles Sloger, Oct. 2008. Here is a link to more of his incredibly beautiful photos.
  • Partidge Run is one of several Berne Natural History areas open to the public in for hiking, photography, picnicking, etc. 
  • Eco-tourism - getting tourists to come to the hill towns for the beauty of the countryside: hiking, biking, caving, visiting old cemeteries, trails to historic ruins, taking pictures, admiring our historic hamlets. It is a low impact way to help the local economy and encourage preservation of farmlands, scenery, historic homes and hamlets. Tourists need guest houses, B & B's, campgrounds, and picnic sites. To further that end I have created a new Albany Hilltowns Ecotourism Facebook Group. You don't need to belong to Facebook to check out the group. While there, click on the "Wall" tab. There are a couple of exciting proposals. If you support our goals, we would love to have you join us.
  • The town of Berne is updating its comprehensive plan.  The Comprehensive Plan committee meets on December 2 at the Berne Town Hall. While they already have a full agenda, they do allow time for public comment. Here are proposals for them to consider:

    Whereas Eco-tourism is a low impact way to encourage tourism in the town and would be a benefit to the economy of the town:

  1. The planning and construction of scenic trails for use by hikers, bikers, horseback riding, fisherman, photographers, cross country runners, etc is encouraged. In the fall they might be used by hunters; in the winter by cross country skiers and snow mobiles.
  2. Landowners whose land a trail crosses or who live within 1000 feet of a trail are encouraged to build facilities along such trails to benefit users of the trails and to charge for their use: tent camping sites, toilet facilities, picnic tables, fire pits.
  3. In any district of the town landowners may take in guests in existing buildings using existing bedrooms and advertise as either a Guest House (no breakfast), or a Bed and Breakfast.
  4. With special permits, landowners in agricultural districts may build up to five cabins to rent to tourists, and to build facilities for use by up to five recreation vehicle campers.
Someone from the town would need to present this proposal for discussion.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


The hamlet of Berne has a lot going for it, but it has not tried to make use of it. It could be like Rensselaerville. It could expand Fox Creek Park to the other side of the creek and make an adjoining historical park of mill and factory ruins. It could have an antique store or two; a bed and breakfast or two; a nice restaurant. Berne has set its sights to low. My class of 1957 high school motto was "Aim High." I wish Berne had the same motto.

Sunday, October 11, 2009



In 1984 the old Berne Conservation Board did a very thorough job of locating every cemetery and small family burial ground in the township. Each of these cemeteries were keyed to a section of a USGS topographical quadrangle. This past summer Dennis and Dave Bernhardt updated that survey and used took GPS coordinates for the 50 cemeteries they could find. Some of these were not found in 1984. They are now updating the descriptions and location information on the Berne Historical Project site

I would like to suggest and request that the current Conservation Board consider making a survey of historic sites to locate and document the conditions of the remains of
any historic sawmills and grist mills, bridge and dam sites. They were scattered all over the town. A starting point would be the 1854 and 1866 maps of the town which showed various grist and sawmills. Like abandoned cemeteries, these abandoned ruins will eventually be lost. It would be good to know exactly where they were before it is to late.

I feel sure I could find some volunteers to help in this project. Maybe even do it under the leadership of the Conservation Board.

Friday, October 9, 2009


I just added a number of "Then and Now" images of the hamlet of Berne on the Wiki site. Included is a series on the World War II Honor Roll that was originally at the intersection of Helderberg Trail and Irish Hill Road in the hamlet of Berne. Look at what a sorry sight the old site has become.

Monday, October 5, 2009


  • The Rensselaerville Historical Society has 52 “Genealogy books”, 12 “Cemetery books”, and 7 “Deeds and Leases books” that are available to researchers at the old Grist Mill in Rensselaerviller during the warmer months. At their last monthly meeting I submitted a proposal that they scan these handwritten records and post them on the Albany Hilltowns site. They have agreed to have a Rensselaerville Pilot Scanning Project this winter to see how much time it takes, and how the results look on line. The Society currently has an old desk top PC at the Grist Mill that does not have the capacity to store the scanned files, so they need to buy a new one or upgrade the one they have. They also need a laptop computer. A scanner has already been donated. Please contact me if you can contribute hardware, or hard cash.

photo by Allen Deitz 2005
photo by Allen Deitz 2005
  • Knox is having their monthly meeting Tuesday, October 6
  • The Berne Historical Society annual meeting was held Tuesday, Sept. 28. Ralph Miller, Historian, Town of Berne, was elected President. His wife, Jan Miller, is the new Secretary. At this time I do not have the names of the other officers.

Sunday, October 4, 2009


While doing research for an upcoming book on the Hilltowns particpation in the Civil War, I find that with the start of the war there was tremendous enthusiasm in Albany, and especially in Berne. In the first year Berne contributed from their taxes more than two thirds of the amount raised in Albany County. In the second year they contributed almost half. What was there that caused the folks of Berne to be such strong supporters of the Civil War? Any suggestions?

The photo is of Reuben L. Weidman who was in the 15th Cavalry during the Civil War. He was born in Berne, enlisted in the Town of Wright and was buried in Westerlo. That is what I mean by the Hilltowns are interconnected. We are all family.

Thursday, October 1, 2009


I just found that the bridge that was once across the Foxenkill on the old road from Berne to Knox was called a king post truss bridge. Wouldn't a reproduction bridge be a great addition to the Fox Creek Town Park! It would make the ruins of the old mills on the north side accessible to the public. Speaking of access, how about a trail along the south side of the Foxenkill connecting Fox Creek Park with the Town of Berne park on the west side of town. It would give students walking access to BKW School. It could be used by not only school kids, but also strollers, hikers, joggers, fisherman, and bicyclists. It would give access to the beautiful creek whose only access now is below the brige in the center of town. Despite the serene beauty of the creek, it is asset the town has turned its back on. The presence of a trail could increase property values.

Friday, September 18, 2009




Not having enough to keep me busy I have created a new blog for Albany Hilltowns. My thinking is that this way people can subscribe, and I will only be sending out updates on Albany Hilltowns genealogy and history who have an interest in that subject.... Take a look and be the first to subscribe.

It is my intention to keep this blog going also for things having to do with just the history of Berne as opposed to the Hilltowns in general.

Photo is Old Water on the Foxenkill, by Allan Deitz

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


We have a few very active volunteers adding old photos and articles to I have just done an extensive update of our main page to highlight some of our new projects, one of which in "Then and Now" photos of buildings in the Hilltowns. Thanks to Marty Duel for posting the first set of photos.

We also have completed the inventory of the hundreds of men from the four Hilltowns: Berne, Knox, Westerlo and Rensselaerville, that served in the Union Army during the Civil War. While we have begun biographies for each of them, much remains to be done if we are to meet our deadline of 2011 for a book on the Hilltown men in the CW and their families. Help is needed and appreciated. If any of you have Hilltown ancestors, we would invite you to visit our site and contribute to it.
Three weeks ago on I posted images of Wm. Cockburn's 1787 survey map of the Western Manor of Stephen Van Rensselaer III. Since then I did an extensive rearrangement of the images and updated the key to the images so they were more readable. I also rearranged the order of the images so they are in the same order as the key. And I made separate maps for Knox and Berne. I have started to annotate the map of Berne to make it easier to understand. See images 3, 7 and 11 to see where I am headed. I have also started an index for Berne and Knox. The index was already done for Rensselarville, and hardly anyone lived in Westerlo. (must be the same is true today, at least I am not aware of anyone there who is interested in the history of the town.)

  • 1787 survey map gives and interpretation of the overall 1787 map (needs to be revised).
  • 1787 map of Knox has images of the Knox section of the northern half of the map
  • 1787 map of Berne has images of the Berne section of the northern half of the map
  • 1787 map of Westerlo has images of Westerlo and eastern third of Rensselaerville
  • 1787 map of Rensselaerville has images of the western two thirds of Rensselaerville

From Nancy J Curran:

--32nd Annual Rensselaerswijck Seminar Oct 2 and 3 in Albany New York


Russell Shorto, noted author, will speak on “Oh, Henry: What Has the Hudson Year Wrought?” at the opening reception of the 32nd Annual Rensselaerswijck Seminar, Thursday, Oct. 1, at 5:30 p.m. at the NYS Museum, Albany. Admission is free.

Oct. 2 and 3 the Rensselaerswijck Seminar, “Kiliaen van Rensselaer’s Colonie: The Beginning of European Settlement of the Upper Hudson,” will be in the New York State Museum’s Carole Huxley Theatre. Registration is at 9 a.m. both days.

Genealogy and history will be twin themes in the analysis of the history of the Van Rensselaers, both from the aspect of their place in history and the succeeding generations of the family.

Click here for more information about the seminar.

Early morning mist on Flickr - Photo Sharing!

Photos courtesy of my High School classmate Charles Sloger, who still hangs around Berne. Yes, that is Berne, by the dawn's early light. I never get up that early myself, but am glad he did.

Here are more of his photos:


The year 2011 is the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War. Several hundred Hilltown men served in the Union Army with a casualty rate of maybe 25% killed or injured. It had an big impact on the Towns and their families. We are writing biographies on each soldier. Information from the biographies will be used to produce a book on the lives and families of Civil War veterans. Publication is targeted for 2011.

The book will be in three parts:
  • The events leading up to the war with emphasis on why the men in upstate NY seemed compelled to join the army of Father Abraham.
  • The history of the units and their battles.
  • Biographies of the Hilltown men. Individual biographies could be authored by family researchers.
Thanks to many people, especially Betty Fink and Pam Molle, a list of Hilltown men in the Civil War is complete, and biographies have been started for each of them. Right now some of the biographies consist of just the basic facts gleaned from Civil War Records.

Help Needed

We need one or more volunteers for each of the towns to flesh out the biographies. If you see something below you think you might be interested in, contact me before beginning so I can coordinate who is doing what and prevent duplication.

  • One of the sources would be the Hilltowns Genealogy posted on the Berne Historical Project web site. This can be done by anyone familiar with how to update biographies in this project. It is not difficult and I can help you learn.
  • If the men lived until the latter part of the 19th C. or longer, I would like on line newspaper archives, such as the Altamont Enterprise, or Albany papers posted on the Fulton History] site, searched for additional information, such as obituaries.
  • We also need someone with access to census data, such as that posted on and other sites, to add census information for the Civil War men.
  • Family researchers are asked to write or contribute information on their ancestors who served. We need copies of photos, letters written home from the soldiers, death notices, pension requests, military papers, medals, pictures of tombstones, family stories, etc.
  • An article needs to be written about each of the units in which Hilltown men served including the history of the unit and the major battles in which the unit fought.
  • A list of Hilltown men by unit is needed for the appendix. It should also have a summary of each one's fate (KIA, wounded, captured, died in prison, died as a result of wounds, life-time disability, unrelated death, unknown). All of the information for this assignment is in the biographies as currently written.
  • We need someone to take photos of the headstones of Civil War veterans to add to their biographies so we will have them available for our book. This should be done by cemetery. Volunteer to do a cemetery and I will try to get you a list of the CW men buried there.
The book editor will be Michael Grant Hait Jr.. Michael lives in the Washington DC area and has access to the National Archives; he is currently writing a book on Civil War soldiers and is experienced with an on-demand publishing.
Go to our Civil War pages to see what information we have collected so far.

Friday, August 7, 2009


Switzkill Valley settlement in 1787>

About 1785 Stephen Van Rensselaer III hired William Cockburn to survey his Helderberg wilderness in preparation for leasing the vacant land in the hills. The resulting 1787 survey map shows roads, churches, mills, and streams, gives the lot number and name of each leaseholder that were already there at the time of the survey.

The northern half of the map is of Berne and Knox. The southern half of the map is of Rensselaerville and Westerlo. The map is in the NYS Library Manuscripts and Special Collections Division in Albany. In the 1930s or 40s they made what they call "photostats" of the original map.

The photostat copies of the northern half of the map is on 14 sheets. Basically it is 3 sheets wide and 4 sheets high for the first two rows, and 5 sheets wide for the southern two rows. The southern half map is divided into two sets, SE and SW. The SE set of photostats includes all of Westerlo and eastern third of Rensselaerville. The SW set of photostats includes the rest of Rensselaerville. Each of these two sets consists of 12 sheets; 3 sheets wide and 4 sheets high.

When I (Hal Miller) was at the NYS Library the end of June, 2009, I made used my digital camera to make a digital image of each sheet for all three sets. I then cropped the images and enhanced them to the best of my limited ability.

I have just uploaded the images to

1787 survey map gives and interpretation of the overall 1787 map (history and interpretation needs to be revised).
1787 map of Berne and Knox has images of the northern half of the map
1787 map of Westerlo has images of Westerlo and eastern third of Rensselaerville
1787 map of Rensselaerville has images of the western two thirds of Rensselaerville

Sunday, April 12, 2009


This is a followup to my posting of a few days ago on the early beaver dam that gave the community we now call Berne its original name of Beaverdam or Beaver Dam.

I have figured out how to make links to Google maps showing the location of the beaver dam. This link is to a satellite view of the junction of the Switzkill flowing north into the Foxenkill.,+berne,+ny&sll=42.623586,-74.151492&sspn=0.007121,0.015879&ie=UTF8&ll=42.619513,-74.162886&spn=0.003371,0.007939&t=h&z=17

The view shows the Switzkill at the bottom flowing north into the west flowing Foxenkill. To the west of the junction is a small side stream also entering the Foxenkill from the south. At the southern end is a small round pond. The dam would have been where the small streamlet flows into the pond. It would have been easy for the beavers to dam. As the water rose they would have had to widen the dam and make it higher until it flooded a number of acres. Over the years the area behind the dam silted in and became marshy, which is why the 1787 map indicates a swamp rather than a body of water.

Perhaps the wood rotted away at the bottom of the dam, or maybe the settlers killed off enough beavers that the ones remaining could no longer maintain the dam. For whatever reason, the dam gave way in a rush and scooped out a basin at its foot. The silted in area above the old dam remains marshy to this day. In the 200 or more years since the dam burst the pond basin has largely filled in.

The topography map shows how level the land is allowing the a large shallow beaver dam with a wide, low beaver dam. Of course the silting in above the dam only made the land more level.

Note: The dam was near the end of the small hook shaped low spot on south side of Fox Creek. Google has mislabeled the creeks. The one from the south which is unlabeled is the Switzkill. The label which says Switz Kill is Fox Creek / Foxenkill.

Thursday, April 9, 2009


Before the Town of Berne was formed in 1795 the area was called the Beaverdam after a large beaver dam that was near the where the Switzkill joins the Foxenkill, a very short distance west of the current day intersection of Cannaday Hill Road and Switzkill Road.

I got to thinking about the location of the beaver dam again, as I have done on and off for years, and suddenly realized that it could not have been on either the Foxenkill or the Switzkill because annual floods would have washed it out. So obvious; we should have thought of that before. And the beaver dam must have been a very large and seemingly permanent structure to have the community named after it.

Since the Beaverdam Reformed Church took its name from the prominence of the dam, the dam had to have been very near the site of the church. The history of the Reformed Church says the original log church building was on the knoll in what is now the Beaverdam Cemetery. The 1787 Van Rensselaer survey map, shows a drawing of the church to indicate its location; and it is not on the knoll. Rather, it is on the north side of the Foxenkill, just east of the confluence with the Switzkill. In fact, the church is where the house and barn of the old church farm is located.

According to church history, the original log building was replaced by a frame structure in 1786. So, although the survey map is dated 1787, the survey must have been done before then. I had thought the survey of the West Manor was started in 1786 and finished in 1787 when the map was dated. However, I recently had my attention called to the fact that there are a number of leases dated 1774, including one for Johannes Ecker on lot 594. His lot was on the south side of the Foxenkill, across from the church. The lot is bisected by the Switzkill at its juncture with the Foxenkill.

It makes sense that the survey would have taken many years from start to finish. My conclusion is that the survey that shows the log church on the bank of the Foxenkill was done by 1774. As yet another aside, the reason the graves of the massacred Deitz family have never been found in the Beaverdam Cemetery is that they were buried alongside the old log church in a now lost location.

I now realized that the beaver dam had to have been on a side stream flowing into one of the two creeks near their intersection and the church. I had wondered why it was not on the 1787 Van Rensselaer survey map; well, it is! The beaver pond is shown as a marshy area on the dividing line between lots 576 West Part and 576 East Part, the lot just to the west of that or Johannes Ecker. The dam was on a small stream that flows into the Foxenkill just west of the confluence with the Switzkill.

A US geological survey map shows lot 576 as being very flat. The beaver pond would have flooded what is now Canaday Hill Road. In fact, the geological survey map shows Canaday Hill road crossing a marshy area.

Van Rensselaer 1787 survey map, New York State Archives

This small section of the survey map is centered on the log Beaverdam Reformed Church. The Switzkill flows from the south center north into the Foxenkill. The beaver pond is lower left of center and Swizkill Road is to the lower right of center parallel to the Switzkill. The Cannaday Hill Rd. dead ends into Switzkill Road because beyond to the west is blocked by the beaver pond. The house of Joannes Ecker is across Switzkill Road from the house of Jim and Maryellen Hamilton where the barns are or were.
Response from Allan Deitz:
I was in that marshy stream two years ago with my canoe and a camera. It is marshy and becomes very small after about 50 feet from the Foxenkill. It comes in from a southwest angle It is between the first island from the east bridge over Rt. 1 and the mouth of the Switzkill. I was there on Memorial weekend and it is shallow. It is very possible that was the site of the dam.
Response from Jim Hamilton:
There are still some wetlands in that area, so having it displayed on the old map could mean just that it has been low and wet for a long time, but it sounds good to me that the dam was there someplace. Depending on exactly where the dam was and how large, if there were fewer trees back then, one might have actually been able to see it from the small rise above the Fox Creek where the original church would have been.

Monday, February 23, 2009


At the request of a fourth grade teacher, I dashed this off one morning in April, 2001 to tell her class about ice houses:

I grew up on a farm in the Helderberg Mountains of western Albany County some 60 years ago. Although I am not that old, still, when I was a boy we had an ice house. The ice was harvested from nearby Warners Lake. The lake froze over every winter, and when the ice was a couple of feet thick a group of farmers would gather and use long saws with wide teeth to cut blocks of ice roughly one-and-a-half feet by one-and-a-half feet. They used large tongs to pick up the ice and put it on an sledge. The sledge was like a low slung sled with real thick, dull blades instead of wheels. Horses were used to drag the ice laden sledge across the ice, up on to the lake shore, and along the snow covered roads to home.

Our ice house was the size of a garage but a bit higher then the average garage. The only "door" was a two foot wide opening that went from the ground to the roof. The ice was stacked tight in layers, with a foot or so of sawdust put all around the sides of the pile of ice to act as insulation between the walls of the building and the ice. As the level of ice rose, boards were put horizontally across the door opening from the inside; then sawdust was put between the boards and the ice to keep them in place without nails. There was a ladder built up along side the door opening on the outside of the building for access to the top of the ice. The top layer of ice was covered with a foot or more of sawdust.

Where did we get so much sawdust? Well, our large old farm house was heated with three wood stoves, including the one in the kitchen that my mother cooked on. The wood was from trees my father cut each fall in our wood lot. In those days the trees were cut with a crosscut saw. It was a wide blade saw about five feet long. My father would be on one end of the saw and a hired man would be on the other. They pulled it back and forth between them. The logs were so big it was all two men could do to pick them up and put them on a low sledge. If they were too big, they had to be levered onto the sledge using a long bar of iron for leverage; or chains were wrapped around them and a horse pulled them onto the sledge. The sledge was pulled in the early days by horses, but later by a tractor. The sledge could be pulled over both bare ground or snow. The logs were stacked in the backyard to dry. The smaller branches, which would have been about ten feet long, were stacked vertically like an Indian tee-pee so that air could get in and dry the wood. When the wood was dry enough to burn, the logs were cut into smaller pieces by what we called a "buzz" saw. It was like a large outdoor table saw, and was powered by a tractor. The tractor, which was parked near the saw, had a pulley wheel that turned when the engine was running. The belt, which was like a fan belt used in a car, was about thirty feet long and a foot or so wide. While one end was around the pulley wheel on the tractor, the other was around a pulley wheel on the saw. When the tractor engine was running, the belt went around, turning the saw. The turning of the saw made a buzzing sound, which was why it was called a buzz saw. There was one man on each end of a log, and they moved it against the saw. The sound changed to a loud, high-pitched squeal as the log was cut in two. With all of the noise the old tractors used to make, plus the noise of the saw biting into the wood, it was an awful racket!!

The foot long logs were thrown into a pile. Later we had to split the wood with an ax so the pieces would be small enough to fit in the stove. Then my brother and I had to stack them in the woodhouse that was attached to the back of our house. The wood house was about the size of a garage, and by the time the snows came, it was packed to the ceiling, back to front. Each morning and night my brother and I had to fill the wood boxes in the house next to each stove.

In the summer, to get the ice from the ice house, a hole would have to be dug in the sawdust and the tongs used to get a block of ice out. Then the saw dust was put back to cover the remaining ice. Neither my brother nor I could lift the heavy blocks of ice so we used the tongs to pull the ice along the ground to the house. As the ice house was gradually emptied, the extra sawdust was thrown out the narrow opening in front into a pile below. My brother and I used to love to climb up into the ice house and jump out the opening onto the sawdust pile below.

Instead of a refrigerator we had an wooden icebox to keep food cold. It was kept inside the wood house, just outside the kitchen door. It looked like a wooden refrigerator with two doors. The bottom door was for the ice and the other gave access to the food storage area. The ice sat on a metal drain that allowed the melt water to collect in a metal tray beneath the ice. This had to be emptied often as the ice melted.

On hot summer days the ice was also used to make homemade ice-cream. The ice was crushed and mixed with salt to lower the temperature at which it froze. This made it cooler so it would freeze the cream faster. The ice was put in a wooden ice cream churner. In the center was a metal container with the cream and fresh strawberries or peaches. There was a beater that had to be turned with a handle to mix the cream until it got cold enough to start to firm up. Of course that was the job of the kids. Our reward was being allowed to lick the ice cream off of the beater.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

MEMOIRS OF BERNE, by T. Emmett Willard

Below is a letter to the editor from Thomas Emmett Willard that was printed in the Altamont Enterprise Jan. 5, 1900. Willard was born 1840 and lived in Berne in the 1850's. This article is about his teacher, Peter A. Youngblood, who was the principal and teacher in a Select School in the hamlet of Berne. The school was in the Hellenbeck building, built by Daniel Wright in 1838 as a furniture store and undertaking establishment. It was a three story building where the Masonic hall now stands. Wright's woodworking shop with coffin specialty was in the basement level. On the next floor he stored lumber, and on the upper level the Odd Fellow Lodge conducted meetings. By early 1855 Daniel Wright had sold the building and business to Isaac B. Hellenbeck. About that same time the I. O. O. F. became defunct due to diminished membership. In Oct. 1856 Rev. John Cannon Van Liew was called as preacher to the Berne and Beaverdam Reformed Churches. Van Liew started a Select School in the meeting room on the upper level of the Hellenbeck building. After the death of Issac B. Hellenbeck in 1878 the undertaking business went to his son George. In the 1880's there stood several buildings just above the post office in the center of town. One was the large two story buildings owned by George Hellenbeck with his undertaking business on the first floor and a hall above. In 1889 the Hellenbeck building caught fire and the conflagration spread in both directions; all five businesses were destroyed.

Memoirs of Berne.

My Dear Enterprise:

The following clipping appeared in the Evening World of Aug. 4th 1899:

“Peter A Youngblood, who has just been buried from the Jerry McCauley Mission house in Water street, was once a New York lawyer, it is said. Through drink he became a tramp. One night eight years ago he wandered into the McCauley Mission attracted by the singing. He became converted and renounced drink. He became an active worker in the mission. Twice in the next two years he relapsed, but six years ago he promised he would never touch liquor again. He never did.”

After the lodge of I. O. O. F. that roomed over Daniel Wright's shop, died of anemia, (lack of blood,) the Rev. VanLiew started a select school in the rooms they vacated. I. B. Hellenbeck had become the owner, and Peter A. Youngblood, then about 21 years old was the principal, (and interest too.) He claimed to have been born on a Pacific Island, I have forgotten its name. His father was a missionary. Miss Olivia Settle dabbed him Peter Adam, and the name stuck, altho' the A stood for some other cognomen. He taught for two terms and was a little fellow of a sandy complexion, red moustache and all the charms and conceits those features carry. This was in 1854 or 1855. [Actually Van Liew did not come to Berne until late 1856.] In 1883 I happened into Frank Duffy's, who then kept a saloon on Nassau street, New York, about No. 90. I had known Duffy, who was a character, when he owned a soda fountain on the corner of Grand St. and the Bowery. So as I passed I stopped to say a word to him. At the end of the bar was a shabby, dissipated, little man that I instantly recognized as my whilsome [sic.] pedagogue. I turned my back to him and began to tell Frank some stories of my schooldays! (You remember the school room was three stories up.) And poor Youngblood pricked up his ears and sidled around to see if he could recollect me. After I had confidentially told Duffy of a thrashing P. A. Y. had given me, he blurted ont, "Say thats all right, I did teach school up there, and my name is P. A. Youngblood, now who in the deuce are you." After a hearty laugh I told him who I was. I never saw him or Duffy since. Duffy went to Fort Hamilton, committed a homicide and died in Sing Sing. This notice brings up a host of memories, of coffins on the grand floor, lumber on the second and learning on the third, and the other scholars who attended, some to learn and some for fun. We had more fun than learning. I wonder where that band of scholars is now. The most of them have gone up higher. Some are surely left who can remember poor Youngblood and his select school, three flights up, over I. B. Hellenbeck's morgue, a flight from grave to gay. It was a high school indeed. So many branches taught that the tree of learning bent with the weight of its own fruit, of which that which I gathered wits like dried apples sadly evaporated and easily carried away.


T. Emmett Willard

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


This was the basis for the Article on the history of Berne from the Knowersville Enterprise, 1884

Bern entry in the Gazeteer of the State of New York, By John Homer French, 1860

Bern[1] - was formed from Rensselaerville, March 17, 1795. Knox was taken off in 1822. It lies near the center of the western border of the county. The Helderbergh Mts., 1200 feet above tide, form the eastern border. Grippy and Irish Hills, two broad mountains, with steep declivities and rolling summits, 900 to 1000 feet above tide, occupy the center. The s. and w. arts are hilly, and the N. rolling. The principal streams are the Foxen Kil and the Switz Kil. These streams flow N. W. through narrow valleys bordered by step hill sides. Werners and Thompsons Lakes, in the N. E., are small sheets of water. In the lime rock, in the N. E. part, are numerous small caves and sink holes.[2] There are several sulphur springs in town. The soil is a sandy and gravelly loam interspersed with clay. Bernville (Bern p.o.) contains 50 houses;[3] E. Bern[4] (p.v.) 15; S. Bern (p.v.) 15; and Reidsville (p.v.) 12. Peoria is a small village on the line of Knox. Settlement was begun about 1750 by a few German families. In 1777, a company of 85 militia were raised in this town, of which the captain and 63 men joined the British, and the remainder the Americans at Saratoga. Bernville, then called “Beaver Dam,” was fortified during the war, and sentinels were posted at night to prevent surprise by the Indians.[5] The place at one time became a rendezvous for tories.[6] The Ref. Prot. D. Church of Beaver Dam was formed in Jan. 1763. The first settled pastor was Johannes Schuyler, in 1767.[7]

Footnotes (from original)

  1. 1. Named from the native place of Jacob Weidman, first settler and mill owner.
  2. 2. In one of these caves, during the [Revolutionary] war , a notorious tory and spy named Salisbury was concealed for some time, but was at last arrested. The place is still known as ‘’Tory’s Hole.’’ Simm’s Schoharie, p. 525.
  3. 3. In 1825 an extensive axe factory was erected here; but it was soon after removed to Cohoes.
  4. 4. Formerly called ¨Philadelphia, and still locally known as “Philla.”
  5. 5. The family of Johannes Deitz, consisting of 8 persons, were murdered by the Indians. – Simm’s Schoharie, p. 499
  6. 6. Cornelius Schermerhorn kept a tory rendezvous, and at one time an abscounding paymaster from Burgoyne’s army is said to have been murdered at his house.
  7. 7. A parsonage farm was given to this church by S. Van Rensselaer, midway between Bernville and Peoria and a church was erected upon it. In 1835 the society was divided, and a new edifice was erected at each of the villages, the farm being held in common by both societies. The census reports 13 churches in town: 4 M. E., 3 Ref. Prot. D., and one, each, Bap., Evang. Luth., and Friends.

Monday, February 9, 2009

HISTORY OF BERNE, from the Knowersville Enterprise

Article on the history of Berne from the Knowersville Enterprise, 1884

From Albany Hilltowns

From the Knowersville Enterprise, forerunner to the Altamont Enterprise, Saturday, Sept. 20th, 1884.



Berne was formed from Rensselaerville, March 17th, 1795. Knox was broken off in 1822. The village lies near the centre of the west border of the County. The Helderburgh Mountains rise to the height of one thousand two hundred feet above the tide. Grippy and Irish Hill occupy the center. They are broad mountains with steep declivities and rolling summits from 900 to 1000 feet above the tide. The south and west parts are hilly and the north rolling.

The principal streams are the Foxen Kill and the Swiss Kill passing though the town from the south past to the north west and forming a junction near the south-west corner. They flow through narrow valleys, bordered by steep hillsides.

Thompson's Lake in the north-east corner partially in the town, and Warner's Lake near East Beme, are small bodies of water. These waters, and especially Thompson's Lake, attract many people to the place, and in order to accommodate the people through the hot sultry weather of summer, two large and commodious boarding houses have been built, one by Mr. Hart and the other by Mr. Livingston.

Although they can accommodate about 80 to 100 persons, there are many who have to get accommodations among the farmers.

The town comprises five small villages the names of which are Berneville, Peoria, (West Berne) South Berne, Reidsville and East Berne.

Berneville in 1777 was called Bever Dam. It was fortified during the war and sentinels were posted at night to prevent surprise by the Indians. The place at one time was a rendezvous for Tories.

The family of Johannes Deitz consisting of eight persons were murdered by the Indians.[1] Cornelius Schermerhorn kept a Tory rendezvous and at one time an absconding paymaster from Burgoyne's army, is said to have been murdered at his house.

Berneville for the past few years has made no great improvement, yet it can be called a lively little town. It contains about four hundred inhabitants, a post office, three churches, (Methodist, Reformed and Lutheran) two hotels, six stores, two grist- mills, saw mill, furniture and undertaker's store and several other shops and about seventy dwelling houses.

Near the place there are three mineral springs situated on the lands of Jacob Hochstrosser, and said to be valuable for their medical qualities. Mr. Hochstrosser has built a large and commodious building in which he can accommodate at least eighty people, and during the summer months his house is well filled with guests from Brooklyn New York and Albany.

Other places of importance might be mentioned, but for the want of space we will have to pass them by until some future time, when we hope to give a more explicit view of the business as it is now.

Saturday, February 7, 2009


Our Heritage, published in 1977, is a 144 page book on the history of the Town of Berne. It was edited byEuretha Wolford Stapleton, Historian, Town of Berne.

The second page of the book says it was copyrighted by the Berne Historical Society. That is an error; an errata inserted inside the front cover says that there was a publication error and that the book was produced by the Town of Berne Bicentennial Commission, and: ''The copyright should read The Town of Berne not the Berne Historical Society.''

The book includes many early photographs and biographical sketches on the some of the families of the early settlers. It was printed both in paperback and in hardback.

The first chapter, ''The Coming,'' starts:
"As nearly as can be determined from records of births, deaths, and deeds it was 1750 when Jacob Weidman led a small band of settlers along an old Indian trail through the Helderbergs. Weidman, Ball, Bassler, Deitz, Hochstrasser, Knieskern, and Zeh - where or how did they meet? Probably we shall never know."

In fact a study of baptism records of these "first" settlers show that the story of Weidman leading a group in 1850 is not true. The Dietz and Ball families had already lived in Beaver Dam for ten years. The Bassler family was in Philadelphia in 1765. The Hochstrasser's were still in Knox in 1787, The Knieskern and Zeh families had settled first in Schoharie Valley in 1712. Only the Jacob Weidman family arrived about 1750, and that was because the brothers of his wife, Elisabetha Dietz, were already in Beaver Dam. This article, originally published in the Altamont Enterprise, has more information on the early settlers of Berne.

Although much new information has been discovered in recent years on these families, there is still much of value in this very interesting book. Unfortunately it is now out of print.

  • Berne Civil War page at the site has a transcription of a page from Our Heritage with links biographies of the men from Berne who were in the Civil War.

  • Re-printing of ''Our Heritage''?
Perhaps if enough interest is shown in the reprinting of ''Our Heritage'' The Town of Berne could be persuaded to print a second edition. If this is done, it should have a forward or afterword with a brief summary of current thinking about the history of Berne. This might be done by a "Print-on-Demand" publisher using digital copies of the current book.

If you support this idea, please go to the edit tab of Our Heritage page at and add your name to this petition asking for a re-print.

Friday, January 9, 2009


As some of you know, I have recently started a web site for people researching their Albany Hilltowns ancestors from Berne, Knox, Westerlo, and Rensselaerville.

2011 is the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War. Perhaps a hundred or more hilltown men served in the Union Army with a casualty rate of maybe 25%. It had an big impact on the Towns and the families.

Researchers from the Albany County hilltowns history and genealogy group on Facebook are planning a series pf books on the history of the Hilltowns and the families that lived. The first in the series will be on the men from the Hilltowns who served in the Civil War. It will tell how the war affected the towns and their families. Where possible, family researchers will be asked to write, or at least contribute information, on their ancestors who served.

Since there are no Civil War monuments in the hilltowns, the book will be a written memorial to the service of our Hilltown men. This will show that those who served are not forgotten.

We want to collect copies of photos, letters written home from the soldiers, death notices, pension requests, military papers, medals, pictures of tombstones, family stories, etc.

Michael Grant Hait Jr. will serve as the editor for the Civil War book. He lives in the Washington DC area and thus has access to the National Archives. He is currently writing a book on Civil War soldiers.
To help us begin, we ask that all of you who have a Hilltown ancestor who served in the Civil War post their biography to Make sure the biography has a section on their service in the Civil War. Then add a link under the Civil War page reached from the bottom of the Main Page.

I have uploaded a file list of Hilltown Men in the Civil War. It can be accessed by following links from the bottom of the home page at Please look at the list and let me know if one of the men is an ancestor of yours that you can write a biography on. Send me additions and corrections.

It has men with the following surnames:

Allen, Ball, Barber, Barckley, Baxter, Bell, Beller, Bennett, Best, Billings, Blade, Bogardus, Boomhower, Brate, Bronk, Cary, Champenois, Chesbro, Chrysler, Clow, Condon, Cummings, Davis, Dennison, Devoe, Dietz, Ecker, Engle, Filkins, Flansburgh, Flint, Gathan, Gibbs, Haight, Haverly, Hayes, Hinman, Hochstrasser, Hoose, Irons, Jones, Karker, Ketcham, Kilbourn, Lavery, Ludden, Martin, Mattice, McCulloch, McNary, Merrihew, Miller, Newberry, Osterhout, Palmer, Posson, Post, Reinhart, Requa, Resue, Sagendorf, Secor, Shafer, Shay, Shultes, Sinclair, Slade, Smith, Snyder, Stafford, Stalker, Stanton, Steiner, Stonet, Strvell, Stringham, Taylor, Van Vleek, Wagoner, Walden, Warner, West, Westfall, Wilber, Willsey, Wilson, Wnne, Wisegarver, Wood, Wright, and Zeh.