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The Old State Road (Route 29), in Oppenheim

Hector Allen, Town Historian of Oppenheim wrote the following piece;  Dated 31 Jan 1987. With his knowledge, this article has been transrcibed and posted.

The bulk of this material is taken from an article done about 1903 by Robert L. Jeffers.  In his heading, he states that these are "facts gathered from Personal Observations by the Author, from Research and from Interviews with Aged People Who Remembered Many Incidents of their Youth." 

When I received this article from Mr. Lewis Decker, currently the Fulton County Historian, I went across the "Old State Road" to Mr. & Mrs. Lloyd Brown’s residence and talked to them about it.  The anecdotes I got from them are in parenthesis.

The original article starts in Salisbury and goes East through Oppenheim, Lassellsville, "Grab-all" or Garoga, Johnstown and to Tribes Hill.  I only have copied the parts pertinent to Oppenheim.

The Old State Road passed eastward through Salisbury Center, Herkimer County, and continuing its course about four miles crossed the East Canada Creek at Brockett’s Bridge, now Dolgeville, and entered what is now the county of Fulton. . . . .

Mr. Kibbie kept and owned the Manheim Hotel at Brockett’s Bridge about 60 years ago. The Hamlet derived its name from families of Brocketts who resided in that locality, some of whom were prominent politicians. One of the Brocketts was named as a Presidential Elector by one of the great political parties many years ago. . . . . . Some sixty years ago Mr. Kibbie, keeper of the Manheim Hotel, was about 40 years of age. He was quite a heavy built man and but little given to talking. He had a wife and children and died many years ago. The hotel was quite a large two-story building, with a basement and painted white. It stood on the west side of East Canada Creek in what is now the village of Dolgeville. It has passed through successive hands, been remodeled, but is still used as a hotel. The writer has taken his rations and slept the sleep of the just beneath the roof of that ancient hostelry.

Zephi Brockett kept the Brockett House just on the East side of the creek at Brockett’s Bridge about seventy years ago. He was a very cheerful, pleasant man and a very popular landlord. He was about 40 years of age, and kept the hotel for many years. He was a Whig in politics and a Methodist in religion. He never drank himself, nor would he sell liquor to a person who was intoxicated. He was mammoth in size, as was his wife. They were compelled to occupy separate seats when riding in a buggy or cutter. He had an extensive trade and accumulated lots of money. He had several children and died of dropsy and old age about 35 years ago. At his death he left seven or eight farms and other property to his descendants. Two of his sons are still living who reside in that locality. One of his sons sold Shaker’s Seeds on the road for many years. The Brockett House was a white, two-story wooden building with a long wing. It has ceased to be a hotel, but is still standing and occupied. The barn buildings were also very extensive. The property is said to be still in the hands of the Brocketts.

Robert Higbie ran a hotel on the Old State Road, about five miles East from the Brockett House, some fifty years ago. He was then a tall, heavy built man, about forty-five years of age and slightly gray. He was quite a talker, a Democrat in politics and a Universalist in religion. He was one of the proprietors of the state route running from Albany to Watertown. He had a wife and several children. His youngest daughter married Jacob Stewart of Johnstown. Robert Higbie, who was quite a money-lender, later removed to Little Falls, where he died some twenty-five or thirty years ago. One of his sons passed through college and later became a lawyer at Rochester. The old hotel was a large, two-story wooden structure, painted white, which ceased to be run as a hotel more than thirty years ago. The building is still standing, but the property has passed from the family name.

(There is some confusion as to where this hotel was. Some say it was the house recently occupied by Poke Johnson; others say it was the farm currently owned by Mr. Potoczny. Ma Brown said that she thought that Mr. Higbie had set out the maple trees lining the road near Poke Johnson’s, but she wasn’t sure).

(In recent research, courtesy of Mr. Lewis Decker, I found that the first Town Board meeting in the new Town of Oppenheim was held in the Higbie House. This was May 1, 1839, and was made necessary when Fulton County was taken from Montgomery, resulting in a split in our township. According to the records of the State Legislature, Chap. 332 of the Laws of 1838, Section 4:  "The Supervisor of the said Town of Oppenheim and the Supervisor of the said Town of St. Johnsville shall meet together, at the house of Robert Higbie in the said town of Oppenheim, on Saturday after the first Tuesday of May next, and divide the moneys belonging to the said town of Oppenheim (if any there shall be) proportionably, agreeable to the last assessment roll of said town. All the town officers elected at the last annual town meeting in the town of Oppenheim shall continue to hold their offices the same as if this act had not been passed, except that they shall be officers of the town in which they may at the passing of this act respectively reside." From this, it is quite possible that Mr. Higbie was our Town Supervisor.)

Mr. Johnson kept the Oppenheim Center Hotel about fifty years ago. He was mild and pleasant in his manners and was the father of several children. He died quite suddenly and his widow removed to Johnstown. The hotel was located on the Old State Road, about one mile East of the Higbie place. The Oppenheim Center Hotel was quite a large, two-story white, wooden building with a long wing. The hotel was also equipped with a spacious ballroom where dances were usually held on the holidays. Later, the hotel passed into the hands of "Aunt Kitty Claus," who owned and conducted the same for many years. The property is now owned by her son, Eli. "Aunt Kitty" was extremely industrious, an expert cook, and a very obliging and popular landlady. She died of old age several years ago.

(Ma Brown said that the hotel burned Sept. 26, 1910.  Eli’s wife’s name was "lib," and Ma was staying there with her when the building was struck by lightning. The lightning struck the barn, which was attached, and the whole structure burned. Ma’s sister Kit and her husband Floyd Stowell lived in the East side, and she had to go and wake them up. They rang the big bell which was on a pole in the front yard, but there was no fire department so it all burned. It took until 4:00 AM for the entire structure to go down. The ballroom was full of furniture, as was the rest of the building. Voting and political meetings, as well as dances would be held in the ballroom, which was l04' long. By the time of the fire, the hotel business was pretty well shot, probably due to the changing patterns of trade and travel caused by railroads. Eli Claus was pretty well deaf, and used a tin ear-trumpet. He had died prior to the fire..)

Mr. Cramer (Solomon, I believe) ran a hotel a few rods East from the Oppenheim Center Hotel, about thirty-five years ago. He was of medium size and had a wife and children. He died several years ago. The hotel was a white, two-story, wooden building. The property has passed to other hands and the building has long since ceased to be run as a hotel.

(This is our house, originally built by Dr. Peter Yost who then sold both the corner store and house to Solomon Cramer. One of Solomon Cramer’s sons enlisted in the Civil War, but joined a regiment raised in the Elmira area for some reason).

Daniel Snell owned and ran a hotel on the Old State Road, some three miles East from Oppenheim Center, about seventy years ago. He was medium in size, good-natured, a Democrat and a Baptist. He had a wife and was the father of several children. At his demise he left many relatives in the Town of Ephratah and the City of Johnstown. The hotel was a large, two-story wooden building with a wing. Daniel Snell died of old age, at the hotel, about forty years ago. After his death the building ceased to be run as a hotel. The property finally passed to the hands of Cyrus Duesler.

(Ma & Pa said that this building was on Carl Smith’s property, at the current junction of Rt. 29 and Bliss Road, and was torn down in the 1940's or 1950's).

(According to Ma & Pa Brown, around 1900 there were still a number of peddlers on Route 29 (the Old State Road). One of these was "Jakey" Metz from Rockwood who walked with two packs full of thread, buttons & trinkets. A woman called "old Mary" also peddled with a pack about 1900, but nothing more is known about her.)

Another prominent peddler in this area was Wolf Jacobsen, probably from Utica. He had a cart full of clothes, and a suit could be bought for $2 or $3, but it might be pretty messed up. He also had tin pans to sell, and he bought rags at ½¢ per lb., (and maybe some people tried to put a brick in the bottom of the bag?).

Ma also remembered gypsy caravans. They would trade horses, and in some cases steal them. They would come through maybe twice a summer, and set up to tell fortunes. Some people would hide their kids! One group was named McDonald; they had 3 or 4 wagons and about 20-30 people. Some were pretty shabby looking. This stopped about 1920.

Other travelling attractions on the Old State Road included a man with a dancing bear (Ma remembered this well), and people with hand-organs and monkies. I guess amusements were simpler then, and you could draw a crowd and collect some money without much of an act or show.)

Linda Kreisher generously typed this piece.   She is researching the FONDA family starting with Douw Jellise b.1640 appx. and the Marlette family starting with Gedeon b. 1624.  Most of her research has been centered around New Jersey and New York, especially Albany, Fultonville, Fonda, Herkimer & Montgomery Counties and the Mohawk Valley.

Copyright © 2000 Hector Allen, Lewis Decker, Linda Kreisher, Jeanette Shiel

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