Monday, December 24, 2012

Minnie's Christmas Gift 1897

In the family archives there is a grainy photo of Grandma Minnie as a young girl seated in front of her Christmas tree in December 1897. Christmas Eve was also Minnie's birthday, and that year she turned seven years old. Minnie is surrounded by books  -- our family tradition of giving books as birthday and Christmas gifts is apparently over one hundred years old! There is also a doll or two hanging on the tree, and if you look closely you might be able to make out an object known as a stereoscope and a rattan rack for holding the stereoscopic photos.

Three names are associated with the invention of this device, which is used for viewing pictures, giving an illusion of three-dimensions or depth:

- Sir Charles Wheatstone, an English inventor and scientist who first described the principle of stereopsis, or binocular vision, in 1838: His stereoscope, a rather cumbersome contraption by later standards, used mirrors to enable the eyes to combine two images of the same object, giving the impression of three-dimensionality. As photography had not yet been invented, Wheatstone's device displayed sketches rather than photos.

- David Brewster's device (1849) used lenses rather than mirrors to combine the images, thus allowing for a less cumbersome hand-held version. By this time, photographs could be used, which gave more reality to the pastime of viewing 3-D pictures.

- In 1861, Oliver Wendell Holmes (yes, the "Autocrat of the Breakfast Table"!) created a lighter and cheaper version of the stereoscope, consisting of two prismatic lenses and a wooden or metal stand to hold the cardboard picture cards. Holmes generously did not patent this device, which allowed it to be mass-produced by other entrepreneurs.

It was this version of the stereoscope that Minnie received as a birthday and Christmas gift in 1897. 

By that time, photographers had traveled all over the world to photograph scenes of famous people and faraway places. Minnie's stereocard collection eventually included scenes of the Holy Land, as well as photographs of contemporary politicians and Presidents such as Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft.

As a child, I remember being fascinated by the diminutive world viewed through Minnie's antique stereoscope. I would close my eyes as I fitted each cardboard stereocard into the metal stand, and then open my eyes to the surprise of peering at an image of a long-dead President giving his inaugural address, or of a line of camels in the Middle Eastern desert.

Six decades after Minnie received her stereoscopic viewer, I also received as a birthday or Christmas gift a 1950s version of this device  --  the Model E ViewMaster. As I child, I passed many a happy hour peering at 3-D fairy tales and faraway places. Three-dimensional films also had a heyday shortly afterward, and with new digital technology, more recent films such as Avatar (2009) and Life of Pi (2012) have revived the fascination with 3-D movies.

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Read more about Minnie's early childhood at her father's grocery and supply store along the Erie Canal at: The Lock Grocery in Fort Plain.

Learn more about Oliver Wendell Holmes's role in the development of the stereoscope at:

View samples of early stereoscopic pictures in the University of Washington's digital collections at:

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Minnie's Holiday Fruitcake Recipes

"In making cakes, always use the best ingredients. Flour must be sifted before measuring. Pastry flour is preferred. [. . . ] Add fruit at the last moment. If the fruit sinks to the bottom of the cake, the batter is too thin."

This is some of the advice on cake making from Grandma Minnie's 1915 Larkin Cookbook. I searched this book, as well as Minnie's handwritten notebook of recipes, looking for a traditional recipe for a holiday fruitcake.

Minnie's handwritten book includes two recipes for white fruitcake, one of which she collected from her cousin Gladys on the farm outside of town. Neither recipe tells you how to prepare and mix the ingredients, or at what temperature and how long to bake the cake. As a neophyte fruitcake maker, I needed more details.

Gladys's recipe calls for a pound each of raisins, dates, and figs. Of dates and figs I had none in my cupboard, so I kept on looking for a recipe that I could whip up quickly.

The Larkin cookbook includes a recipe for Christmas or Wedding Cake that calls for one pound of butter, one pound brown sugar, ten eggs, six cups of flour, one tablespoon each cloves and nutmeg, two tablespoons cinnamon, a pound each of figs and dates, not one but three pounds of raisins . . . and on and on to two pounds of almonds, a pint of molasses, one cup of brandy "if you use it . . ."

"This cake fills a pan ten inches in diameter and five inches deep. It should be baked six or seven hours in a very moderate oven."

This certainly sounds like a splendid cake, as described in the book, but it is more than a bit beyond my baking skills, so once again I looked further for something simpler.

I found the ideal recipe on the page following the one with the Christmas cake recipe. It is called Pennsylvania Fruit Cake, and was contributed to the Larkin Housewives' Cook Book by a woman in Kingsley, Pennsylvania:

This recipe seemed doable to me; not only that, but by a stroke of luck I found that I had all the ingredients right at home in my cupboard:

Fruitcake ingredients

The one concession I made to the hundred-year-old recipe was that I used a low-fat baking stick in place of the lard or butter the recipe called for. I estimated that the "very moderate oven" described in the instructions would be equivalent to 325 F. I baked it for 50 minutes, which made it just a bit dry; next time I won't leave it in the oven for more than 45 minutes.

Pennsylvania Fruit Cake

According to the cookbook, "The cake is better if kept five weeks before cutting." It certainly won't last that long in my household without someone taking a bite out of it! Looks like someone has already cut herself a piece.

I'm planning on saving the second loaf as a holiday treat, perhaps a dessert for Christmas dinner.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Over the River

It is 6:30 A.M. on Thanksgiving morning. The sun is coming up over the village of Fort Plain, with a wide wedge of bright pink high in a robin’s-egg-blue sky. It is 28 ยบ Fahrenheit outside, and quiet except for the barking of a dog down the street. As the sky grows lighter, the town clock rings seven times, as it has for over a hundred years.

As far back as I can remember, we used to come over the river and through the woods to feast on turkey and stuffing with four generations of Grandma Minnie’s extended family. This year, those of us who have inherited the old homestead  --  the younger generation that has now become the older generation  --  have decided to revive the family tradition of Thanksgiving at the family home. Brother and Sister are bringing the stuffing and other trimmings, Daughter is bringing pie, and yours truly is cooking the turkey.

Path up the hill
While the turkey sizzles in the oven, I take a walk up the winding path to the top of the hill at the edge of the cemetery. With most of the leaves gone from the trees, I can see over the river to the other side of the wide valley. Thousands of years ago, the spot where I am standing was the bank of the mighty Iro-Mohawk River formed from the melting of the glaciers. Now it is a steep terrace that affords a panoramic view of the neighborhood and the ridge across the river:

View across the river from the cemetery ridge
Along that ridge, Native Americans built their palisaded villages, later Palatine Germans spread their farms, and yet later an early 20th century aviator landed his plane.

Great-Grandpa Fred and horse Maud
I look down at the house and see in my mind’s eye the barn where Great-Grandpa Fred kept his horse a hundred years ago, and the woodshed where fifty years ago my childhood self shed her boots when we arrived for the Thanksgiving feast. The barn and the woodshed are both gone now. Gone as well are most of the people who gathered around the table that half-century ago, buried only a few feet from where I stand as I look down at the house and over the river.

The house seems smaller than it did to me as a child, but of course everything seemed larger when I was small. This home and its earlier inhabitants shaped some of my most vivid childhood memories. Now, coming home to another Thanksgiving has given our family an opportunity to shape some new memories with today’s younger generation. 

The table laid with this year's feast

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Asparagus Dutch Style

Grandma VandenBergh's Dutch cookbook, "Eenvoudige Berekende Recepten," has a recipe for a vegetable dish with white asparagus. We don't see this delicacy much in our part of the United States  --  it's considered a gourmet version of the more usual green asparagus. But the white variety is more common in western Europe, including the Netherlands. Although very bitter when sampled raw, it has a delicate flavor when steamed or boiled.

White Asparagus Recipe

- 2 bunches of white asparagus
- 2 hard-cooked eggs
- 75 grams (1/3 cup) butter or margarine
- grated nutmeg to taste

Cut or break off the hard ends of the asparagus stalks. Scrape or peel the remaining parts (do not peel the tips).

White asparagus

Tie the asparagus stalks into bunches of 10 or 12 pieces and cook thoroughly in boiling water with a pinch of salt (about 30 minutes).
Remove with a skimmer or slotted spoon and place on a serving plate with the tips all pointing in the same direction.
Snip off the string. Granish with slices of hard-cooked egg.
Drizzle with melted butter or margarine and sprinkle with nutmeg.

Asparagus garnished with butter and nutmeg

As the Dutch don't like to waste anything, the recipe also suggests using the cooking water and the cut-off ends to make soup. I had run out of eggs, so my version was egg-less. Incidentally, I found a very similar recipe in the bilingual (Dutch & English) cookbook I had bought in the Netherlands last year, which included ham and potatoes to round out the meal. So the Dutch have been eating this white asparagus for at least a hundred years, probably much longer!

Eet smakelijk! Enjoy your meal.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Ceremony in Loosdrecht -- 1949

Some time ago I came across a series of old photos of a military ceremony in my grandmother's hometown, Loosdrecht, Netherlands. Although they were not in attendance, this was a very personal ceremony for Grandma and Grandpa VandenBergh  --  the reburial of their son Jasper, born in Albany, and who with his elder brother Jacob, fought as an American soldier during World War II.

Unlike his elder brother, Jasper never came home. He was killed at the Battle of the Bulge and originally buried near there. After the war, the family decided that it would be more appropriate for his remains to be repatriated  -- not to America, but to Grandma's hometown of Loosdrecht. In a somber ceremony attended by local dignitaries, members of both Grandma and Grandpa's extended families, and other villagers, Jasper was laid to rest in the Loosdrecht-Rading Cemetery. Mom carefully preserved the photos, along with Jasper's Purple Heart. I thought it appropriate to post the photos today, which is Veterans Day in the United States.

Led by the Dutch Commandant, the cortege enters the cemetery

The cortege approaches the grave site

The Dutch Officer Speaks

The Dominie (Pastor) reads from the Bible

Jasper's cousins, aunts, and uncles gathered around the grave site

An official lays flowers at the grave

An official of the Dutch War Cemetery Committee lays a wreath

A salute by the Dutch Navy honor guard

The casket is lowered into the grave

Jasper's uncle (also named Jasper) thanks the attendees for coming

During my trip to the Netherlands last year, I made a point to visit Jasper's grave site  --  the uncle I never knew. Read more about that occasion at the earlier post entitled "Uncle Jasper."

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Dutch Apple Fritters

It's the apple picking season in Upstate New York, and although the apple crop was not as good as usual due to the drought the region suffered during last summer, you can still find your favorite varieties in the supermarket or at farmer's markets during many a weekend.

Try using tart Granny Smith apples for the recipe below from Grandma VandenBergh's old Dutch cookbook:

Granny Smith Apples
Dutch Apple Fritters

- 125 grams (1  1/4 cups) whole wheat flour
- 2 dL. (3/4 cups + 1 tablespoon) carbonated water
- 2 grams (1/4 teaspoon) salt
- cooking oil
- 2 or 3 sour apples

Mix the carbonated water and salt with the flour as quickly as possible, to form a smooth batter.
Core and peel apple; slice into round slices.
Using a long-handled fork, dip the apple slices in the batter and place them in the hot oil.

Sizzling fritters

Fry until crisp and golden brown.
Drain on paper towels and serve warm, sprinkled with powdered sugar.

Fritters are ready to eat!

Take care that the whole process is done as quickly as possible, so that the seltzer water does not become flat, so that the fried dough remains light and fluffy.

 (Are the cored apple slices the origin of our American donuts with holes in the middle? I wonder!)

The next recipe in Grandma VandenBergh's cookbook indicates that you can make the same type of fried "beignets" with a cup of apricots.  In that case, wash the apricots and soak them in water for a couple of hours, then simmer in the same water for about 10 minutes. Drain and coat with granulated sugar before dipping in the batter and frying as for the apple fritters.

The apple recipe is somewhat similar to the Apple Fritter recipe in Grandma Minnie's handwritten notebook. Interesting that both of my grandmothers may have made similar treats for their families. Although the method of preparation was quite different, the result must have been similarly tempting.

Eet smakelijk! Enjoy your meal.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Education Building Turns 100

New York State Education Building

A feud between a Commissioner and a Bishop, a colonnade of massive marble pillars, a cardinal entombed in stone  --  these are the mythic elements of the New York State Education Building's genesis, which is celebrating its centennial this month.

When my grandparents arrived in Albany in May 1911, the building was still under construction. Nestled behind its over-sized frame, the Episcopal Cathedral of All Saints appeared small by comparison. Therein lies the first drama related to the building's construction.

Nave of Cathedral of All Saints Cathedral
Bishop William Doane, first Episcopal Bishop of Albany, dreamed of creating an English cathedral community complete with school, hospital, convent and church. In the spring of 1882, the Bishop announced a competition for the design of a cathedral, having acquired the site on which the the church now stands. However, he was unable to persuade the church trustees to purchase the adjoining land on Washington Avenue, where he hoped to place the other elements of the cathedral community.

Enter Andrew Sloan Draper, first Commissioner of Education, who had his own dream: a government building entirely devoted to education, and on a grandiose scale such that it would impress the population with the importance that education should hold in the Empire State.

Both men had their eyes on the same piece of prime real estate across from the Capitol Building. Both men played important roles in the community's life, and both had a plan and a vision for the use of the land. But only one won out: Commissioner Draper.

Rotunda of Education Building
And then the competition was on to select the design that would stand as a symbol of the importance of education. Sixty-three architects submitted plans. The winning design was that of Henry Hornbostel, who had studied architecture in Paris. If you ever have a chance to tour the building, you might notice that the second floor room that was originally the reading room of the New York State Library was pretty much copied after that of the Biblioteque Nationale (National Library) in Paris.

 Construction was begun in 1908, and continued for four years.

The most impressive exterior element is of course the block-long colonnade of 36 massive marble pillars. But let me tell you a secret: they are not solid marble; they are constructed with a Vermont marble facing over steel shafts. Although it was probably the impressive design of the fluted colonnade that won Hornbostel the contract, there was some controversy involved. The columns are of Corinthian style, but Hornbostel modified the classical design by adding some reverse volutes not used by the Greeks.

Reading Room Vaulted Ceiling

The building was scheduled to be completed by January 1, 1911, but as with many large-scale construction projects, the work took longer than expected. Unfortunately, if the building had been completed on time, the State Library, housed at the time in the State Capitol across the street, would have been spared the terrible losses it incurred when the Capitol caught fire in March of 1911.

Rotunda Chandelier
And what of the legend of the cardinal entombed in the building's stone? The cardinal in question was a pet bird with a broken wing. In fact, I have heard this story a couple of times, and at least once it was a robin, not a cardinal, that belonged to a stonemason who worked on the construction of the building. The bird died during the winter, when the ground was frozen and the mason could not bury it. Instead, he chipped a hollow space in a block of stone, laid the bird's body in it, and mortared the stone into place. No one knows the exact location of the tiny sarcophagus, but it is said to be over the front entrance or in one of the hollow columns.

Sculpted Electrolier
There is much more to learn about this magnificent example of architecture, including the sculpted electroliers by Charles Keck, the paneled room where the Board of Regents holds their monthly meetings, the seven levels of book stacks under what was originally the State Library (the Library and Archives are now housed in the Cultural Education Center, along with the State Museum), the Auditorium, now known as Chancellor's Hall, a replica of the Liberty Bell, and a series of mythically inspired murals painted by William H. Low when the building was brand new.

The following sources are a good place to start for more information about the building and its history:

"Celebrating 100 Years: 1912 - 2012 A Guide to the Education Building," The University of the State of New York, The State Education Department; Albany, NY; revised 2012

Celebrating 100 Years, NYS Education Building: Information and History:

Celebrating 100 Years: Video and Slideshow:

For more information about the history of the Cathedral of All Saints, go to:

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Larkin Company - An Early Mail-Order Business

Minnie ca. 1898
When Minnie was a little girl, she used to ride with her father when he delivered wood to the villagers in Fort Plain, in his rig pulled by his horse Maude. When they had finished delivering the supplies, sometimes they would stop at the Larkin Company store and she would buy a list of things that she wanted.

Minnie also mentions in the reminiscences recorded during her later years that her mother had a Larkin chair in the house. Her mother had a Larkin club, as it was called, which would meet monthly. At each meeting, the women would "put names in something and draw them out, and every month they would have a meeting and the person whose name was drawn would have the next month's meeting."

What was this Larkin Company that Minnie mentioned? The Larkin Soap Company was founded in 1875 in Buffalo, New York by a forward-thinking entrepreneur named John D. Larkin. He had started his career in business at the age of twelve by becoming a Western Union telegraph messenger. Larkin learned soap manufacturing while working for his brother-in-law for eight years, then set up his own business.

The Larkin Soap Company's first product was a simple bar of yellow laundry soap that was marketed under the clever name "Home Sweet Soap." This was so successful that the company soon branched out into other varieties of soap, and later to a great variety of products for the home, eventually setting up over 150 chain stores in western New York State.

The real marketing genius of the company was John Larkin's brother-in-law Bert Hubbard, who pioneered the idea of mail-order sales. As an add-on to the direct sales, by offering premiums and bonuses in return for purchases, and to the housewives who hosted the Larkin Clubs, the company was able to do away with middlemen and thus cut costs. The Larkin chair mentioned by Minnie was probably a premium acquired in this way.

The Larkin Clubs were established to enable customers to buy catalog items on the installment plan. Ten housewives would set up a group and each pledge to order a dollar's worth of Larkin products. Each month, one club member selected at random would receive the $10 bonus gift, and the next month another member, and so on.

With the variety of foodstuffs the company offered, it was no surprise that they would soon solicit recipes from across the country based on the foods produced. This was the basis for the cookbook discovered in Minnie's pantry and mentioned in last week's post.

By 1893, the company was sending a semi-annual catalog to 1.5 million customers. "From Factory to Family" was the company's motto. The product line expanded continually as well; 1912, the year Minnie was married, saw 550 products in the catalog; soon an entire home could be decorated with Larkin products, from foodstuffs to furniture, china, rugs, lamps, curtains jewelry, clothing, and tableware. No wonder Minnie wanted to stop at the Larkin store with a shopping list!


"A Brief History of the Larkin Company";, accessed 10/6/2012.

"John D. Larkin - Biography";, accessed 10/6/2012.

"The Larkin Soap Company";, accessed 10/6/2012.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Larkin Cookbook

Another vintage cookbook has turned up in Grandma Minnie's house: The Larkin Housewives' Cookbook from 1915. Minnie wrote her name on the first page, with the date October 27, 1919.

By the line drawings of attractive homemakers and their happy families, the book gives you a window into an era when hemlines were rising and women's hair was bobbed rather than pompadoured.

The book's 140 pages are filled with 548 recipes for everything from soups and sandwiches to pickles and preserves. Imagine purchasing such a compendium of comestibles for a mere 30 cents!

The bulk of the recipes are "prize recipes selected from  more than three thousand submitted by practical housekeepers in the Larkin Recipe Contests."

On the first page of the section on sandwiches, one of the recipes was contributed by a resident of St. Johnsville, only a few miles from Minnie's hometown:

This recipe, the fourth one down on the page, sounds the most appealing to me, although I haven't tried it out yet: cream cheese and Roquefort cheese might make an interesting combination. But I would definitely reduce the quantities of all ingredients listed (and omit the butter!), unless intending to feed a large crowd, as the recipe mentions.

More about the Larkin Company next week!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Back to the Future in Loosdrecht - Part 2

Last September I posted some slides of Loosdrecht, Grandma VandenBergh's hometown in the Netherlands, that my mother took on a trip there in 1971. I have come across yet some older images of the village in the notebook that Mom's cousin Jasper put together for her many years ago. These photos date back to the first decade of the 20th century. Jasper's commentary accompanies the pictures:

"Old postcards have their charm, especially if you know the region. So it is with the cards on this and the next page. They were printed in 1904, and quite accidentally my father got them from the man who made them, and who is still living. Above you see the NieuwLoosdrechtse Dijk [New Loosdrecht Dike]. Just at the corner left stands the house of Jasper Daams Sr. Sr. The road is better now, but for the rest nothing has changed. This road is still very picturesque in the neighbourhood of Oom Kees' [Uncle Casey's] house.

Loosdrecht - the North Road
At right some views along the same road, which our parents knew very well as they walked it daily to school or on Sunday to church.

The old dilapidated house below stood next to the old school, the old prison type building, where I too spent six years in a time when everybody still went on wooden shoes, which was very convenient in fights. We did not like, however, that on Saturday we had to brush and whitewash the wooden shoes.

View of New Loosdrecht, 1904

I lived for the first eight years of my life in our grandfather's house. I still remember the rustic atmosphere of the old smithy with its roofing frame. On the other side of the road was the old-fashioned workshop of a cart-wright and coach builder, crafts that have completely disappeared in our era of plastics. 

A View of New Loosdrecht

Some newer postcards below show the old castle Sijpesteijn and the beautiful Gothic church in Nieuw-Loosdrecht. The castle is a museum now and contains a wonderful collection of antique furniture and porcelain. Loosdrecht porcelain is rather famous and very expensive now. In 1770 a Dominee de Mol [Pastor de Mol] started a porcelain factory to help the unemployed peatworkers. It lasted only a few years as the dominee was no businessman, but his ware was magnificent. 

Sijpersteijn Castle, New Loosdrecht

The castle looks very old, but it is not so old. Originally built in the 13th century, it has been destroyed many times in noisy meetings of the old masters. Completely pulled down by the French in 1672, nothing was left of it, till a descendant of those old warriors rebuilt it completely with medieval bricks and other materials. It contains now a wonderful collection of antiques.

Dutch Reformed Church, New Loosdrecht
The old church dates back to the 15th century. It is late Gothic style. Of course built as a Catholic church, it came into the hands of the Protesants (even the priest converted) around 1570.  

The Daams family were members of the Ned-Hervormde Kerk (the Dutch Reformed Church) until 1886, when they left this to establish the Gereformeerde Kerk, because they did not agree with the tendency in the Reformed Church. 

The church is a beautiful example of late Gothic style. It offers a delightful silhouette from the lakes. 

In our youth those were important days for us, when Oom Freek [Uncle Frederic] took us with him, to put out the flag on national festival days."

One last postcard shows a view along a canal in the area around Loosdrecht, similar to the scenes painted by the old Dutch masters.

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For other excerpts from Jasper's red notebook, see the following posts:

- "The Red Notebook"
- "Back to the Future in s'Graveland"

In an earlier post showing slides of Loosdrecht in the early 1970's, you can see an aerial view of the old Gothic church: "Back to the Future in Loosdrecht, Part 1."

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Mabee Farm Historical Site - A Photo Essay

Mabee Farmhouse
We tend to think of our pioneer ancestors as living in log cabins carved out of virgin forests. But rather than wood frame houses, many early Dutch settlers on the 17th century frontier in what is now Upstate New York may have lived in stone houses such as the one pictured above. This house stands on the Mabee Farm Historical Site just west of the city of Schenectady, New York. It is described as the oldest house still standing in the Mohawk Valley. The house has survived 300 years of floods and wars that constitute the vagaries and vicissitudes of history.

Now a property of the Schenectady County Historical Society, the farm was originally settled by Daniel Janse Van Antwerpen, who received the land via a deed from the English Governor Francis Lovelace in 1671. Its location on the river, just west of the village of Schenectady (founded ten years earlier) made it an idea spot to build a trading post to welcome Mohawks carrying their beaver skins to sell at Schenectady or Albany. This was indeed the frontier in that long ago era, the last outpost of European settlement beyond which lay the Mohawk villages scattered along the river that bears their name.

View along the Mohawk River
Yes, the river  --  before there was the Erie Canal, there was the river, which had been a major corridor linking the Atlantic coast to the interior of North America for thousands of years before Van Antwerpen built his stone house. How many Native Americans chose to make their way to Schenectady and Albany (earlier known by its Dutch name, Beverwijck) by way of the paths through the forest, and how many came by way of the river in birch bark or hollowed-out log canoes we cannot now know. What we do know is that the Mohawk River originates in the valley between the Adirondack Mountains and the Tug Hill Plateau. It flows 140 miles eastward, to where it plunges over the Cohoes Falls before emptying into the Hudson River just north of Albany.

The river's watershed drains 3,460 square miles in Upstate New York; it includes all of Montgomery County, most of Schoharie County, and parts of twelve other counties. Along most of its trajectory, the river is lined by hills, some steep, some sloping, that are the remnants of the banks of the mighty Iro-Mohawk River formed by the meltwaters of mile-high glaciers as they retreated 10,000 years ago. Later, it was the highway into the interior, rich with beaver, bear, and mink waiting to be captured and bartered for trade goods at a venue such as the Mabee trading post. In our era, the river is now the purview of pleasure boats quite different from the canoes and bateaus that plied this route a few hundred years ago.

I have seen bald eagles soar above its banks and perch on trees waving in the gentle wind. They were long absent from this valley, but in recent years have returned to their old haunts along the river.

Open hearth
How did the house's original inhabitants prepare their meals? In an open (jamb-less) hearth, which was typical of Dutch houses of the era. Our guide pointed out the wooden beams that frame the hearth. Although most of the smoke and much of the heat generated by a fire here was sucked up the chimney, this fireplace was the only source of heat in the large room where the family cooked, ate, and carried out other daily activities such as spinning wool from the farm's sheep.

The wide hearth allowed the lady of the house to have several pots simmering at once, and perhaps a turkey or slab of meat roasting on a hook over the flames. For some ideas about what dishes the family may have learned to prepare from their Mohawk neighbors, go to A Taste of the Iroquois Harvest.

Table at the Inn

A small inn was added to the original stone structure early on. Travelers along the river or road could stop to rest, or refresh themselves before continuing on their journey. The table is set as if a group has just abandoned their card game to move on toward their destination. Won't you sit down and enjoy a pint of home-brewed beer?

There is some debate about whether the house originally had a cupboard bed, which was typical of Dutch houses during the era when it was built. The bed displayed in the house today is from a later era in colonial America, with a rope mattress and homespun coverlet.

Bathed in sunlight, the whitewashed walls and china wash basin form a stark counterpoint to the highly polished dark wood. Three hundred years ago you might have peered out this window to see a group of Mohawks approaching, laden with beaver skins.

A circle of gravestones marks where the Mabee clan rest among the trees. Many of the graves date back to the 18th century. May they rest in peace among the trees.

Mabee Family Graveyard


- Dunn, Russell: Mohawk Region Waterfall Guide. Hensonville, NY Black Dome Press; 2007.

- Gehring, Charles T. and William A. Starna, trans.: A Journey Into Mohawk and Oneida Country. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1988.

- NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation: Mohawk River Watershed: ; accessed 9/20/2012. For a detailed map of the watershed, see:

- Snow, Dean R., and Charles T. Gehring, eds.: In Mohawk Country. Syracuse, NY; Syracuse University Press, 1996.

To view a webcam photo of the Mohawk River at the Cohoes Falls, go to this link provided by the US Geological Survey (updated three times daily).