Odd bits of history collection number five

Although once flooded, twice scorched by major fires almost next to it, and even threatened by a fire from arching electrical wires after a severe storm, Sir William Johnson’s 1749 Fort Johnson mansion remains safe and welcoming to tourists each summer. (Photo courtesy of Peter Betz)

Although well-preserved today, Sir William Johnson’s 1749 stone mansion, referred to now as “Old Fort Johnson,” has endured more than one threatening experience. Besides being flooded several years ago, the July 21, 1936, the Amsterdam Recorder headlined, “Ice House Damage Set at $12,000,” a burning issue causing the loss of considerable liquid assets.

“An ice house located at Fort Johnson holding about 2,000 tons of ice, the property of William Barber, was destroyed when fire swept the structure Sunday morning about 1:45. At one time the old stone mansion was threatened, and one side was scorched.”

People occasionally ask what became of our Colonial jail and courthouse during the period between 1836 when the county seat was moved from Johnstown to Fonda and 1838 when Fulton County originated, and both buildings were needed again.

The Nov. 14, 1939 Morning Herald, based on information probably obtained from County Historian Dr. Palmer, reported that in 1836, “Joseph W. Farmer of Rockwood and Elisha Prindle of Johnstown bid off at auction the courthouse and clerk’s office for $1,650 and the jail and lot was bid off by Thomas Reid of Johnstown for $390. The 1838 Fulton County Creation Act mandated the buildings be repurchased, which was done at the same price paid by the purchasers.”

Both Farmer and Prindle were prominent Johnstown citizens and were involved in rebuilding St. John’s Episcopal Church after the great fire of 1836. Perhaps they intentionally acquired these buildings as a holding action, anticipating a new county would shortly need them again.

On a more humorous note, the February 1872 Gloversville Intelligencer reported, “Mrs. Veeder, residing near Fonda, accidently swallowed the contents of a plate that had four false teeth on it. Dr. Cameron was called and found the teeth so far in her throat it was impossible to get them out, therefore he was obliged to push them down. It is hoped no serious results will follow.” Surprisingly, no follow-up notice occurs informing readers how things came out.

A chilling story from Feb. 26, 1914’s Morning Herald relates, “Yesterday morning, wood choppers of Bleecker wading through snow on the tract known as “Fifty Acres” heard shouts in the distance. Investigation proved the cries came from a man whose legs were entirely encased in ice lying helpless in the snow, identified as Charles Poyfair. Poyfair left here Monday to walk 10 miles to a camp on Woodworth Lake. He arrived at Mountain Lake before dark and friends endeavored to dissuade him from continuing. He was persistent and started out. He soon lost his way in deep snow. The temperature was twenty-five degrees below zero. He failed to find the trail and fell into a creek hidden by snow. Exposure was fast weakening him when found. He is now in Littauer Hospital where physicians are doing all in their power to avert amputating both legs.”

A subsequent article reported Poyfair did lose both legs, nor could he sue his doctors for failure to save them, since he didn’t have a leg to stand on.

The unfortunate Mr. Poyfair wasn’t the only person experiencing snow-related trauma that winter. The same Morning Herald issue reported, “Mr. & Mrs. Charles Heckert, Arietta Hotel proprietors, started driving to this city, a distance of fifteen miles. They reached here only after most trying experiences. About a half mile down the road, their sleigh tipped over in a large drift. Mrs. Heckert lost both shoes and walked back to the Fuller home in her stockinged feet, suffering great ague from the cold. Mr. Heckert remained with his horse until J.R. Bradt of North Bush arrived and lent aid. Heckert’s hands were both badly frost bitten. Nevertheless, it is thought nothing serious will develop. The Heckerts were brought to the Empire Hotel to recuperate.”

A more amusing winter’s tale occurred on Christmas Day 1935 when the St. Johnsville Enterprise reported, “Patrick Ryan of New York was arrested yesterday in Little Falls by Chief Long for vagrancy. Ryan admitted he has spent much of the last four years in various jails. Judge Donovan decided such a perfect record shouldn’t be spoiled, so he played Santa and gifted Ryan to ninety more days.”

The April 4, 1891 Daily Leader reported an incident all too common before modern heating systems arrived. “Last week Dr. Finch of Broadalbin was called to the home of Andrew Fosmire on North Street where he found the whole family suffering from partial asphyxiation due to coal gas. Remedies were at once given and the effects of the deadly gas shortly removed. A coal stove was carefully examined, and it was found that the cover of the stove had only been partially shoved on, leaving a small hole through which the deadly gas escaped.

Speaking of noxious fumes, the Aug. 10, 1957 Leader reported, “Ralph Gazzillo of Academy Place noticed a strange odor about his house. Fearing escaping gas, he investigated, ultimately entering the back yard, where he discovered his dog had cornered an angry skunk. He hasn’t allowed his dog inside the house since.”

Lastly, the November 21, 1872 Gloversville Intelligencer made a prediction still unfulfilled 146 years later. “The abolition of the electoral college will be advanced this coming session of Congress, and it is expected that before another presidential election, the Constitution will be changed so that people will vote directly for the President.”


By Kerry Minor

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