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.