The passages below are from the classic "The History of Montgomery County" by Washington Frothingham. Together spanning a time period of about 150 years, both articles highlight the entrepreneurial spirit of the early settlers and their descendants. "Early Traders of Minden" focuses on the role of particular men in bringing the niceties of 'civilization' to the small population of isolated residents of Minden. "Prominent Business Establishments" jumps ahead to the time of and after the Industrial Revolution, when Fort Plain became a prosperous, more self-sustaining canal town, and people started to leave the land to earn wages in the factories.
The first German settlers came into this town between 1720 and 1725, and probably no local tradesman was found among them for the next twenty or more years; the merchandise they must of necessity have being procured at Schenectady, when not brought to their doors by Indian traders and pack-vendors. Their wants, however, were few, and luxuries were unknown among this honest, hospitable, and from necessity, illiterate people; for the reader must know that as yet they had no schools, few books and no newspapers. To every kind of luxurious indulgence they were strangers, and as for envy, they could hardly have known the meaning of the word; for their fashions were not looked for from either Paris or London. They were almost strangers to Asiatic tea and coffee, but they did substitute for the latter beverage roasted peas, sweetened with sugar the forest maple afforded them. They spun and wove their own flax and wool, and made their own clothing principally, bringing into liberal requisition deer skins and other peltries. Native genius, with them as with the Indians, enabled them to bridge over many of the ruts which are found in fashion's pathway. And yet who shall say these people were not happy? for they had neither the care of accruing interest on government bonds to reinvest, nor the fear of a sheriff's attachment on either a baby carriage or a mortgaged piano to keep them awake nights - saying nothing about the bedraggled condition of several yards of trailing silk.
The first store in the town of which we have any positive knowledge, was established near the Sand Hill church, by William Seeber, a German, at the place where for years Adam Lipe has resided. His store was opened about 1750, and he traded here during the French war. He was a major of militia in the Oriskany battle, where he received a wound, of which he died one hundred and twenty-six days after, at his own home. Two of his sons were also in that conflict, Audolph who was slain there, and Capt. Jacob W., who fell with a broken leg, and died shortly after the limb was amputated at Fort Herkimer.
Isaac Paris, a brother-in-law of Washington Irving, was the first merchant in the town after the Revolution. In 1786 he erected a large house, in which he resided and traded for several years, boating his goods up the Mohawk. This building, which was heavily timbered, is still standing in Fort Plain, and has long been known as the Bleecker house. It had four large chimneys, and one of them, in which no fires are made, is the summer residence of great numbers of chimney swallows; their hovering over and entrance to it at night being an interesting spectacle. Mr. Paris was a very fair, as well as a very extensive dealer, and his kindness became proverbial. Says Spafford in his Gazetteer of 1824, speaking of the town of Paris, Oneida county, evidently in the language of a correspondent: "This town was named in honor of a Mr. Paris, at the request of the inhabitants. In 1789, 'the year of scarcity', which some of us well remember, when the settlements in this quarter were in a feeble, infant state, Isaac Paris, then a merchant at Fort Plain, on the Mohawk, supplied the inhabitants with Virginia corn on a liberal credit, and took of us in payment, ginseng, and anything we could get, supplying our necessities in the kindest manner, for which in gratitude, when the town was erected, we requested to have it named Paris." "Traits of this character," added Spafford, "I love to record." Ginseng, a medicinal root indigenous to this country, at that period entered largely into our foreign exports; indeed, great quantities of it before the Revolution wre procured by the Indians, which, with furs, they bartered with early traders.
Conrad Gansevoort was the next Minden merchant. He came from Schenectady, as believed, before 1790; as we suppose him to have been established here in business prior to his marriage, which took place Nov. 12, 1791. He was then married to Elizabeth, a daughter of John Roseboom. Esq., who had previously moved from Schenectady, and settled on the late Abram N. Van Alstine's place, below Canajoharie. Gransvoort erected a dwelling with a store in it on a knoll at the foot of Sand Hill. The building stood on the present farm of Seeber Lipe; and within a few years has been moved further back from the road, and converted into a double dwelling. After nearly twenty years of successful trading, Gansevoort, who was a man much respected in the township, retired from business and returned to Schenectady.
Three Oothout brothers, Garret, Jonas, and Volkert, came from Schenectady near the advent of Gansevoort, some say just before and others just after; and on their arrival they erected a large two-story building some fifty feet long for a store, with a dwelling in its easterly end. It stood on the lower side of the river road, about a mile and a quarter west of the village of Fort Plain, near the present residence of James Polluck; one corner of it being afterwards undermined by the construction of the canal. Of the Oothout firm, it is remembered that Garret, the oldest, and who was a bachelor, was blind, but remarkably shrewd, with a sense of feeling so keen that he could readily distinguish silver coins, so that no one could pass a ten cent piece on him for a shilling, or a pistareen for the quarter of a dollar. [Note: see definition below] For a number of years Gansevoort and the Oothouts had quite a large trade, the latter firm wholesaling to some extent. Both of these firms purchased considerable wheat, as no doubt their neighbor Paris did while in trade, which they sent to Albany, much of it, we conclude, going down the river to Schenectady in their own boats. Jonas Oothout, who lived in the store building, and who married Maria Fox, had two daughters, Lydia and Maria. The latter died young, but the former, who was born in that building in 1801, was married in it in 1823, to Peter J. Wagner, Esq. Her father had died a year or two before. Mrs. Wagner is remembered as a most estimable lady. After her death, Mr. Wagner married Margaret Oothout, daughter of Abram Oothout, whose wife was Gazena De Graff. Abram Oothout was a younger brother of the tradesmen and settled on the farm adjoining their store, and in the now Polluck dwelling, his daughter Margaret was born in 1811. Thus it happened that the cousins whom Mr. Wagner married chanced to be born in adjoining dwellings.
Robert McFarlan is said to have been the next Minden merchant, and to have come into the town from Paulet, Vt., about the year 1798. He was a remarkably smart business man, and established himself in trade on the opposite side of the road, a few rods from the Sand Hill Reformed Dutch Church. He married a daughter of Major Hause, of the neighborhood, which proved a stroke of good policy, since he not only got a good wife, but also the trade of her host of relatives and friends. He is said to have run an ashery near Hallsville, in connection with his business. He at once became an active member of society, filling the position of justice of the peace, as also that of colonel of militia; and he is said to have been not only a fine looking, but a very efficient officer. At a general parade he saw one of his captains a little distance from his men, and said to him, "Captain, go to your post!" Not exactly comprehending the nature of the order, he walked to his company and stated to some of his men in German the colonel's command, which was in English, wondering as he said, what the latter meant. The reply of his men was, "Go to the head of your company!" As he is still remembered by the aged, perhaps no man was ever more highly esteemed and respected in the community, than was Col. McFarlan. On a marble slab in the old graveyard attached to the Sand Hill church may yet be seen - although it is half down - the following inscription: "In memory of Robert McFarlan, Esq., who departed this life July 14, 1813, in the 49th year of his age."
About the year 1808, Conrad Gansevoort returned to Schenectady, when Henry N. Bleecker, a young man from Albany, who had long been his clerk, succeeded him in trade, doing, as believed, his share of business. At the end of a few years he retired from business, went to Canajoharie, and there married Betsey, a daughter of Philip R. Frey, and grand-daughter of Col. Hendrick Frey. She is said to have been the prettiest of three fine-looking sisters. Bleecker, after his marriage, remained on the Col. Frey farm, where he died at an early age. His widow married, for her second husband, John Cumming, Esq., then of Esperance, N.Y.
David Lipe and Rufus Firman succeeded Bleecker in trade, but how long they were in business we cannot tell, though it is believed it was not very long. They are supposed to have been the last merchants to occupy the Gansevoort store.
A year or two after the death of McFarlan, say about the year 1815, John A. Lipe and Abraham Dievendorff began to trade in the McFarlan building; but, not harmonizing, they soon separated, when Henry Dievendorff joined his brother in trade at that store, and Lipe fitted up a store on the same side of the street, though a littler nearer the church, which was occupied by his son Conrad, for whom it was erected, until about the year 1819, when he died. John A. Lipe continued to do business here for some time after his son's death. About the year 1820 the Dievendorff Brothers, Henry and Abram, erected a store near the canal, then being constructed, to which they removed, hoping to be benefited thereby. This building stood near the present premises of William Clark, Esq., and will be remembered by old people as a long, yellow, two-story building, the upper floor being used for a public hall. Preaching was heard in this room, and so were the tones of a violin, for in it was held many a social dance. One such affair was in honor of the marriage of Peter J. Wagner, Esq., in 1823. In connection with their business, the Dievendorffs ran a distillery. They finally failed in trade, and were succeeded by David Dievendorff, a son of Henry, who had long been a clerk for his father and uncle. He was in trade for several years, but his business, like that of his predecessors, finally proved disastrous. About the year 1828, as the business part of the young village was destined to be lower down, the Dievendorff building was removed to the present site of the brick stores of the Dillenbeck Brothers and Walrath & Dunckel.
John R. Dygert and John Roth succeeded the Dievendorff Brothers on Sand Hill, and after a little time Solomon H. Moyer bought out Roth. A few years later Dygert & Moyer removed to a store erected by Dygert, where Wood, Clark & Co. are now in trade, at the canal bridge. This firm finally failed.
John Warner came into Freysbush as a successful Yankee school-master, and after a while, about 1810, he opened a store. In 1825 he erected the store now occupied by Walrath & Dievendorff, the second dry goods store erected in what is now the village proper, Henry P. Voorhees having built the first the year before on the bank of the creek, in the rear of the Peter G. Webster block, in which is the crockery store of the Lipe Brothers. Boats from the canal could then load and unload merchandise and grain at the Voorhees store.
Robert Hall, one of the earliest settlers of the town of Minden, was born in 1777; moved from Argyle, Washington county, N.Y., about the year 1800, and followed the occupation of a pack-pedlar through the Mohawk valley. He settled about 1810 in the place, now a post office, named, after him, Hallsville. With limited means he, in company with John White and a man named Cooper, built a store and tavern. After a few years Hall purchased the business of his partners, and continued alone. During his residence in this place he had an extensive business, at one time having four stores running in the county, besides a brewery, an ashery and a distillery; he also owned a grist-mill in Herkimer county. General trainings were frequently held at this place, and elections were held at the old tavern. Hall served in the war of 1812 as captain, and was stationed at Sackett's Harbor during the war. He also served one term in the State Legislature, and was one of the chief movers in the establishment of the Fort Plain Bank and one of the heaviest stockholders. During the earlier part of 1800, bands of Mohawk Indians were frequently camped at this place. Hall died December 7, 1841, at Hallsville.. (pp.130-131)
The first banking house in the village was the Fort Plain Bank, organized Dec. 25, 1838, with $100,000 capital. The first directors were J. Webster, J. Reid, Robert Hall, Nicholas Moyer, P.J. Wagner, Wm. A. Haslett, John I. Dievendorff, Daniel Moyer, J.I. Zoller, Jacob Abeel, J.H. Moyer, Adam A. Nestell, H. Adams, J. Cady and Jacob Sanders. In February, 1839, Joshua Webster was elected president, and Peter F. Bellinger cashier. Mr. Bellinger resigned in a few weeks, and was followed by J.C. Dann, who held the place for five years, when he gave way to I.C. Babcock. Mr. Webster resigned the presidency, Aug. 12, 1848, when J.H. Moyer was chosen president, and Livingston Spraker vice president. In January, 1854, the capital of the bank was increased to $150,000. Wm. A. Haslett succeeded Mr. Moyer as president, in January, 1859, and J.I. Dievendorff became vice president. Three years later J.S. Shearer was elected cashier, and these were the first officers of the National Fort Plain Bank, when it was formed by a reorganization of the Fort Plain Bank, in May, 1864, and began business in September of that year. Mr. Haslett died in October, 1874, and was succeeded in the presidency by E.W. Wood.
The Fort Plain Spring and Axle Works were established about nine years ago, and most of the time, until 1876, the business was managed by Clark, Smith & Co. The firm is now Wood, Smith & Co. The factory premises comprise about three acres of land, a short distance from the railroad, bounded in the rear by the canal. The main building is 380 feet by 50 feet, and a central section of it, 75 feet long, is two stories in height. Two wings in the read of the main building are each 50 by 75 feet. The best machinery is used, operated by more than one hundred workmen. One thousand tons of bar iron, five hundred tons of steel and one hundred tons of pig iron are annually worked up. From $1,000 to $1,200 is paid out weekly to the workmen. For protection against fire there is a powerful steam pump connecting with the canal, capable of throwing five inch-and-a-half streams, for which three hundred and fifty feet of hose are always ready. The boilers can furnish steam for an eighty horse-power engine. The forging and blacksmithing department is equipped with six fires, one vertical and three horizontal trip-hammers, and heavy shears, which easily cut three-inch iron. The best Swedish and English steel is used.
Andrew Dunn was born August 9th, 1831, in Kilmarnock, Ayrshire, Scotland, and emigrated to this country with his parents, in 1841. He lived a short time in Fulton, Columbia and Herkimer counties, working at various occupations. In 1847 he went to Amsterdam, Montgomery county, where he learned the watch and jewelry trade. In 1851 he settled in Fort Plain, where he now resides, and where, before attaining his majority, he commenced the watch and jewelry business, which occupation he still continues. In 1855 he united in marriage with Louisa, youngest daughter of the late Nicholas Gross, of Palatine. He has a family of three children, named respectively, Nellie I., David E., and Andrew G. Through honesty, industry and promptness he has been very successful in trade, and is at present connected with some of the leading business interests of Fort Plain.
There are in the village two newspaper offices, two grist-mills, four dry goods, two hardware, one crockery, three drug, about a dozen grocery and provision, half as many boot and shoe, one paper hangings and two clothing stores; two news rooms, two steam saw-mills, four lumber-yards, a furnace for plow and other castings, several carriage and harness shops, six blacksmith shops, several coal-yards and livery stables, and four hotels.
The population of the village is over two thousand. (pp. 134)
Note: According to the New American College Dictionary, 1948 (Random House: NY), a pistareen is defined as 1. (in Spanish America) the old spanish peseta. 2. having little value. In the anecdote above, no one could "short change" Garret Oothout!
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