Ye Olden Time - Introduction
Historical Sketches of the Town of Coxsackie
Transcribed by Arlene Goodwin. From the book entitled, "Ye Olden Time, as compiled from the Coxsackie News of 1889" written by Robert Henry Van Bergen, together with notations by Rev. Delber W. Clark, and edited by Francis A. Hallenbeck, 1935
The stage is set, the music for a distant past is in our ears and we sit tensely awaiting the drama of "Ye Olden Times" which is about to carry us backward, into a period few of us remember today. We travel, we view through the pen of our Author, Robert Henry Van Bergen, Coxsackie as it existed in more than a century ago. We view with Mr. Van Bergen as our guide, scenes of the waterfront, of the bustling brickyards, of the ice business and of the varied industries as well as the men who conducted those businesses when they were flourishing locally.
The editor, working directly and continuously with Rev. D. W. Clark, the present rector of the Christ’s Episcopal Church, has found among the scattered fragments of newspaper files published throughout the years 1890 and 1891, a complete set of the original group of installments which were written by the author, Mr. Van Bergen.
Knowing that at this time, there is undoubtedly not over one other set of such articles in existence---knowing that the original copies which are a tangible part of the files of the Union-News, are in a bad state of disintegration, and knowing that the precious articles hold some of the most authentic and undoubtedly most interesting details, concerning a Coxsackie few of us today realize ever existed, it had been no more than the bounden duty of one who has this information in his possession, to pass it on, before conditions make it impossible to do so.
In compiling and printing the book, "Ye Olden Time", we have not limited ourselves to the articles by Mr. Van Bergen but have also included many short stories, incidents of the past and reprints from the files of the Union-News which were selected or compiled from their merit as a portion of the reconstructed past.
If you enjoy "Ye Olden Time" from the standpoint of its relation to fiction or if you enjoy it as reference, the editor and his good friend, Rev. Clark will feel fully repaid.
We wish only to instruct our readers that in reading the articles by Mr. Van Bergen, to remember they are an exact reproduction of the writings of the author, written more than forty years ago. It is as if the reader was given an opportunity to read a newspaper published in Coxsackie concerning incidents which happened nearly half a century ago. There will be names which only the oldest will recall but the association of these men with their children or children’s children living today will connect and aid to reconstruct a great portion of the romantic setting of the Coxsackie of yesterday.
F. A. Hallenbeck, Editor.
The Seven Ages of Coxsackie
When one eats a pie, one cuts it into convenient portions. The pie of history can be attacked in similar divisions. The history of Coxsackie is best divided by thinking of the transportation.
The prehistoric age of Coxsackie was that of the Indian Footpath which followed the cliffs from Leeds to Coeymans.
The second age came, first with saddle horses and later with coaches. This is the Colonial period, its great memorial is the King’s Road. The center of our community was then where the road crossed the creek in west Coxsackie.
The third age may be called the river and road age. It began about 1800. At this time the river landings and the turnpikes with their toll gates began to be important. The development of this period was toward the export of agricultural products which were fairly plentiful. The sloops on the river handled the freight and the stage coaches on the turnpikes handled the mail and passengers. During this period the numerous river villages developed. New Baltimore, the three landings of Coxsackie, Athens and Esperanza at old Loonenberg, and Catskill village—which finally took over the name away from Leeds—all grew up in this period.
The fourth age came with the steamboat. The survival of the fittest reduced the river villages of Greene County to three and centered the trade near the steamboat dock. This period in Coxsackie was marked by the development of the brick industry and the growing size of the landing village. From this time date the Second Reformed and Methodist Churches and the Defunct Baptist Church.
The fifth age was that of the "White Elephant" railroad from Athens to Schenectady. It was during this period that the brick business passed its height and the ice business began to develop. During this time came the Civil War. It was then that the present Episcopal Church and the Roman Catholic Church began their regular life.
The sixth age was that of the West Shore railroad. It was the height of the ice business. The High School was built and the industries in the metal business began to assume a large importance.
The seventh period of the life of Coxsackie came with the development of motor transport. The hard surfaced road and the automobile changed the whole course of village life. Technology destroyed the ice business. The local store was brought into competition with the city. The new 9-W which takes the traffic around the town is the distinctive and probably the most permanent structure of this age.
Robert Henry’s Weak SpotsRobert Henry Van Bergen had his failings. One of the worst is "telescoping." The duplicate names of old Dutch families are a snare. There are two places where the families of Wells and Bronk respectively demanded a foot note to unscramble the misleading account which these duplications caused.
His dating is also a bit hazy and some errors have been detected. Probably there are others.
He has his pets among local worthies and some very important people have been neglected. This is regrettable but we are grateful for what we have.
Robert Henry’s Contacts
Robert Henry Van Bergen was, in one way and another in contact with much of the history of our town. His birth-place and lifelong home were near the Indian foot-path. His father was the grandson of Colonel Anthony Van Bergen, of the Revolution. His own grandmother was Sally Conine. This family had its old homestead where the King’s Road crossed the Coxsackie Creek. Colonel Anthony’s wife was one of the Salisbury family of Catskill which traced its ancestry to the same family from which sprang the Anne Boylen, the mother of Queen Elizabeth. Robert Henry’s mother was a Van Den Berg and her mother, a Brandow. This interesting family fled from Germany about the time that Louis XIV seized the Rhineland in the late seventeenth century. Robert Henry’s father was a boyhood pupil of John Witgram, a soldier of the Revolution, whom "Ye Olden Time" mentions. The early death of Robert Henry’s mother, and the later marriages of his father threw him in boyhood into contact with almost everybody worth knowing. His uncle by marriage, Dr. Abraham D. Spoor, was on excellent terms with all the important people of his time.
We may lay his experience alongside the seven ages of Coxsackie and we find that he knew many of the older people who had lived in the King’s Road period. Was born in the river and road period. He grew to manhood in the steamboat period. His college days were in the hectic days of the national expansion which lead up to the Mexican War and the California Gold Rush. He saw the "White Elephant" railroad built when he was a mature man and wrote in his old age when the ice business was at its height. There was no one better fitted to leave us this picture which is primarily one of our community in the nineteenth century.
The Added Material
There are a few added items regarding which a work is in place. The Coxsackie Declaration, which was not available when he wrote has been included as a part of the historical treasures of our town.
The list of Revolutionary soldiers from two sources has been inserted for the convenience of people who wish to have a handy place of reference. The names, so far as possible, have been spelled in their present form. This list has also been arranged in alphabetical order.
The story of the Great Flood gives a very good picture of
life in Coxsackie shortly after Henry Van Bergen wrote. These have been added to
complete the picture of "Ye Olden Time."
"Ye Olden Time", when one first reads it, bears a close resemblance to an overheard telephone conversation. There are allusions which do not waken any association. There are illustrations which do not illustrate. There are reference which bring no thrill of recognition. Your commentator has tried to make these relics of the "gay nineties" have meaning to you. The great and often hopeless task of running down what was familiar forty-five years ago has brought him to a new and pleasant familiarity with his fellow townsmen.
AcknowledgementsAll the credit he claims is for having a vast amount of curiosity and impertinence. Because of this he has shamelessly asked people about what was none of his business. He has pried into the affairs of estimable citizens of an older generation and asked the older people a great many questions. Their courtesy and sympathy was ever greater than his bad manners. What was none of his business is very much yours, and the notes on the text are your harvest from his sowing of inquisitiveness. He wishes to thank about half the present population of Coxsackie for their collaboration in this volume.
There are some whose help was so great that he must mention their names.
Miss Ethel Green placed at his disposal a large amount of old documents and also introduced him to the widow of Dr. Van Slyke.
Mrs. Van Slyke kindly loaned him the scrap book of Mrs. Peter Silvester which had many valuable news clippings of the period, and these, and her set of "Ye Olden Time," in the scrap book had been annotated by Dr. Van Slyke.
Miss Dorothy Mersellis gave valuable assistance by providing access to special material in the Heermance Library.
Mr. Charles Sharp, of West Coxsackie, Mrs. F. A Van Dyke and Mr. August Sbarbora, of Reed Street were especially kind in locating old places of business.
Mrs. J. V. V. Vedder also made valuable hints and Miss Nellie McKnight, of Athens helped in the location of source material.
And time would fail to tell of the host of people who have really made this edition of "Ye Olden Time" almost a production of the whole community.
And to them all—Thanks.
Rev. Delber W. Clark