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.