Sunday, August 12, 2012

Memories of Mindenville

Minnie's younger brother Frederic recorded a series of reminiscences in 1976. Here is an excerpt, which deals with his visits to both sets of grandparents in Mindenville, just west of Fort Plain:

Frederic and Jonas in Mindenville 1912
When I was quite young, Mother and I used to go and visit my grandparents frequently. We’d get up in the morning and go over to the West Shore Railroad and ride what was called the milk train, catching it at Fort Plain, and it was about a twenty-minute ride up to Mindenville.

It was at Mindenville that both my mother and dad grew up and were married. Grandpa and Grandma Van Slyke (Jonas and Margaret) had a house which was very near the right-of-way of the West Shore Railroad, and Grandpa John and Grandma Barbara Fineour had a farm which was about a mile farther up the dirt road from the little hamlet of Mindenville.

Once in a while we stayed overnight, and I can remember lying in bed in my grandmother’s house just a few feet from the railroad tracks, and hearing the big freight trains come roaring down the tracks. Sometimes it sounded as though they were going to go right through the middle of the house, and actually the house shook with the vibration of these passing trains.

Jonas & Margaret Van Slyke, 1912

Usually we only stayed during the day and in the afternoon, we’d walk up the dusty path alongside the road and visit Grandma and Grandpa Fineour, and then coming back, we’d catch the train, which came along about half past five, and we would be home in time for my mother to get supper for the family. 

John and Barbara Fineour, ca. 1911

These were nice trips, and I looked forward to them as a youngster with a great deal of anticipation. Mindenville was a nice little hamlet in those days, and it was characterized by a big platform along the railroad track. The farmers came down from all directions in the morning and unloaded their cans of milk onto this platform. The milk train started somewhere west, probably up near Rome, and came through and picked up the cans of milk and took them eastward to the metropolitan areas, where it was processed and eventually consumed; and in the morning, the train came back the other way and stopped at all the towns and picked up passengers and freight, and it usually had one or two coaches for passengers at the rear of the train.

My mother used to tell of the construction of this railroad in the early 1880’s when she was a rather young girl, and how the contractors imported Italian labor and housed them in labor camps, one of which was just a little west of Mindenville. The Dutch- and German-American natives were very impressed as the bands of Italian families came walking up the railroad tracks, many of them playing concertinas and singing, and with a type of dress that was new to the old residents of that area. They were somewhat afraid of these newcomers for a long time.

The opening of the West Shore Railroad was a spectacular affair because a westbound train and an eastbound train collided head-on at a curve near what is called Dievendorf Hill, west of Fort Plain. One of the engines toppled into the Erie Canal, and there were quite a few injuries. I can’t remember exactly whether my mother was on that run or not, but it was a big celebration and maybe she just was told about the incident or accident by some neighbors, because many people flocked to get a ride on the first train. At least one of the engineers was killed, and it was a very unfortunate and spectacular opening of that particular section of the railroad.


The 1870 census of Mindenville lists John Fineour as a 44-year old farmer. Barbara, ten years younger, is listed as "keeping house." Their place of birth is listed as Bavaria. Their three children are John, Jr., age 14; Fred, age 8; and Mary, age 4. The two boys are attending school, while little Mary is still "at home." Other records indicate that John Sr. was born in Neustadt, Germany, on August 27, 1825; he is buried in Prospect Hill Cemetery in Canajoharie. Barbara was born on March 27, 1837. The census lists the value of the Fineour farm as $7000, a considerable sum for the time, and twice as much as the second most valuable piece of property listed on the same page. 

The 1880 census of Mindenville lists Jonas Van Slyke as a lock tender, age 39, living with his wife Margaret, also 39; their three daughters and a son; and Jonas's parents, David and Sally. For more about Jonas and his father, see The Family Bible, Part II

In Fort Plain-Nelliston History (1948), historian Nelson Greene cites the train wreck described by Frederic. This happened in 1883 upon the completion of the West Shore Railroad. The railroad was so named because it came up from the southern part of the state along the west shore of the Hudson River. 

For additional excerpts from Great-Uncle Frederic's reminiscences, see:

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