The Old Albany and Schoharie Plank Road

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The following is the lead article on the Fourth Section – 48th Anniversary Number of the Altamont Enterprise, August 12, 1932. (Transcribed by Harold Miller, Nov. 8, 2009. For ease of reading, the article has been minimally reformated for the Internet.)


MEMORIES OF THE CAPITAL DISTRICT IN 1849 ARE RECALLED

Altamont High School Girl Chooses for Graduation Essay Topic, “The Old Schoharie and Albany Plank Road” Miss Mary Gregg Writes of Days of Lavender and Old Lace— Her Essay a Valuable Contribution to Local History, Altamont Resident Remembers Old Highway in Use.

(The following introductory is reprinted from the Knickerbocker Press of Sunday, July 24, 1932) [per original article]

Memories of the Capital District in "the golden days of '49" have been brought from their packing of lavender and old lace. A young woman is responsible. To be specific, it is Miss Mary D. Gregg of Altamont who has caused to walk again many of the figures who once made history. Choosing as the topic for her graduation essay at Altamont High school "The Old Schoharie and Albany Plank Road," Miss Gregg made a valuable contribution to local annals. At the same time she pointed out to those of her own generation the swings of the pendulum that took human transportation from the highways to the railroad and then back again to the highways.

Of course Miss Gregg's essay deals in detail with the story of the Albany-Schoharie plank road from its incorporation in 1849 to its abandonment in 1866. But, incidentally, she has brought to life a wealth of forgotten information along the way. Miss Gregg's essay follows:


THE ALBANY AND SCHOHARIE PLANK ROAD

Within a stone's throw of my home is an abandoned road. Grown up with trees and berry bushes, hardly a vestige is left that it was once a highway. Here as a little girl I had built huts in the bushes and listened to the multitude of bird life that finds a sanctuary there. I had no thought of future discoveries and research that would add interest and even romance to this ancient artery of transportation from Schoharie to Albany.

The most authentic historian of Schoharie County, William E. Roscoe, writing of the period about 1849 states: The next object that absorbed the public mind throughout the county, as in other sections of the state, was the building of plank roads. It was not supposed possible to connect Schoharie with the outside world by iron ties after so many efforts had proved failures. The next best improvement was plank roads, in which a large amount of hard earned dollars were invested to be trampled upon and slivered up without returning very flattering dividends.

Articles of Incorporation

The Articles of Incorporation for the Plank Road Association may be seen in the office the Secretary of State. They begin as follows: "Whereas it is proposed to construct a plank road from the village of Schoharie, through part of the town of Wright, in this county of Schoharie, and through the towns of Knox and Guilderland in the county of Albany to the city of Albany, with a branch to Central Bridge in the said county of Schoharie.

The subscribers for the purpose of organizing a corporation to construct the same under the provisions of the act entitled An act to provide for the incorporation of companies to construct Plank Roads, passed May 7, 1847 do hereby associate themselves under the fallowing Articles of Agreement:

  • I The name of the company shall be the Schoharie and Albany Plank Road Company.
  • II This company is to continue thirty years from the date of these articles.
  • III The amount of the capital stock of this company shall be seventy thousand dollars.
  • IV The capital stock shall be divided into twenty-eight hundred shares of $25.00 each.
  • V There shall be nine directors of the company. The following named persons shall be directors, and manage the concerns of the company for the first year until others are elected—to wit, Jacob Vroman, Samuel B. Stephens, Ralph Brewster of Schoharie, John L. Schoolcraft and James Kidd and Samuel S. Peck of Albany, John Slack of Guilderland, Davis Van Auken of Knox, and Jonathan D. Wood of Wright.
  • VI The road to be constructed by the company is to be constructed from the last end of the Schoharie and Cobleskill Bridge in the village of Schoharie, through part of the town of Wright in the county of Schoharie, thence, through the towns of Knox and Guilderland and a part of the town of Bethlehem in the county of Albany, passing through the village of Guilderland Center in the said town of Guilderland to some convenient point in the city of Albany, with a branch running from some convenient point on the main road to Central Bridge in the said county of Schoharie.
  • VII The length of the route as nearly as can now be estimated, with the branch will be thirty-two miles.
  • VIII The subscribers severally subscribe for the number of shares of the capital stock of the company set after their names respectively and severally agree to pay to said company, twenty-five dollars for share of such stock by them subscribed at such times and in such installments as the directors of the company shall require.

Dated May 5, 1849.

Subscribers

John, Slack, Guilderland; Elizah Spawn, Guilderland; Samuel S. Peck, Albany; Jacob Vroman, Schoharie; Samuel B. Stephens, of Schoharie; David Van Auken, Knox; Jonathan D. Wood, Wright; Fred K. Crourneh, Guilderland; Ford Grant, Albany; Jacob Mesick, Guilderland; Alex Ogsbury, Guilderland; Jacob Ogsbury, Guilderland; Christopher Crounse, Guilderland; Christian Houck, Guilderland; Jacob C. Crounse, Guilderland; Henry W. Ward, Guilderland; Egbert M. Gaige, Wright; John Gage, Wright; Daniel Davis, Guilderland; George D. Warner, Wright; Philip Snyder, Schoharie; Peter M. Snyder, Schoharie; J. Houck, Jr., Schoharie; John Armstrong, Wright; Isaac Rollings, Wright; Hiram Swan, Knox; John Miller, Wright; Benny C. Crounse, Guilderland; Peter Veeder, Guilderland; John Rollins, Wright; Wm. Saddlemyer, Wright; Peter Crounse, Guilderland; Peter J. Grant, Guilderland; Peleg Chesebro, Knox; P. J. 'Dietz, Schoharie; Geo. Lawyer, Schoharie.

John G. Gebhard, Jr., Schoharie; Chas. Goodyear, Schoharie; Jonas Kilmer, Schoharie; Ralph Brewster, Schoharie; Peter Osterhout, Sr., Schoharie; Archwald Beller; Schoharie; Benjamin Pond, Schoharie; S. Hosack Mix, Schoharie; J. H. Lintner, Schoharie; Wm. H. Davis, Schoharie; G. W. Briggs, Schoharie; Tobias Bouck, Schoharie; O. B. Throop, Schoharie; Wm. Winters, Schoharie; Wm. Osterhout, Jr., Schoharie; Napoleon Clark, Schoharie; Gideon Shafer, Schoharie; W. S. Gates, Schoharie; Ried Orcutt, Schoharie; Stephen, Maham, .Schoharie; Aug. L. Willard, Schoharie; James W. Roberts, Schoharie; Peter S. Swart, Schoharie; J. Henry Settle, Schoharie; Jordan Wilber, Schoharie; Abram Van Tuyle, Schoharie; R. C. Martin., Schoharie; Trat Durand, Schoharie; Jacob Fisher, Schoharie; Elizah Lawyer, Schoharie; John & Hiram Schoolcraft, Schoharie; Philip B. Lawyer, .Schoharie; Coty Dietz, Schoharie; Peter Dietz, Schoharie; Seneca Bergh, Schoharie; Aristides Underwood, Schoharie; Jacob G. & Peter G. Main, Schoharie; James S. Waterbury, Schoharie.

Peter J. Mann, Schoharie; Abram Mann, Schoharie; Christian C. Mann, Schoharie; Peter Dietz, Jr., Schoharie; Lorenzo Huff, Schoharie; Nancy Dietz, Schoharie; John Davis, Schoharie; Jacob Dietz, Schoharie; Jacob H. Houck, Esperance; Wm. F. Shout, Esperance; Jacob P. Enders, Esperance; Peter Enders, Esperance; John Enders, Esperance; David Enders, Esperance; Geo. Taylor, Esperance; Christina Lawyer, Schoharie; Peter J. Enders, Esperance; Herman' Gardiner, Esperance; Chas. G. Kenyon, Carlisle; D. & J. McCullock, Carlisle; John G. Young, Carlisle; John Young, Carlisle; Wm. Taylor, Carlisle; Adrian Bradt, Carlisle; Daniel Larkin, Schoharie; Smith Youngs, Schoharie; C. H. Van Dyck, Schoharie; Thos. Robinson, Schoharie; Catherine E. Mann, Schoharie; Martin L. Schaeffer, Schoharie; Jacob H. Schaeffer, Schoharie; Storm S. Baker, Middleburg; Jeremiah Borst, Schoharie; Isaac Wood, Schoharie; Jacob Hollenbeck, Schoharie; David Dietz, Schoharie; John D. Schoolcraft, Albany; James Kidd, Albany; Nathan Brewster, Schoharie; Elizabeth Gallup, Schoharie; Eliza A. Root, Schoharie; Orson Root, Schoharie; John G. Gebhard, Jr., Schoharie; Robert R. Earls, Cobleskill.

Affirmed by 3 directors — Ralph Brewster, Sam. B. Stephens, Jacob Vroman, May 14, 1849, that $20,000 had been actually subscribed and 5 per cent had actually been paid in cash according to law, etc.

Articles filed—May 23, 1849.

Route

Thus was the idea sold to the public. The next consideration was the mapping of, a route to Albany. An executive board was formed consisting of several of the prominent men from Albany, Schoharie, Knowersville (Altamont), and Hamilton (Guilderland). The road as stated in the Articles of Incorporation, was formerly meant to extend to Albany, but later an agreement was made to have it meet, the Great Western Turnpike at Hartman's Corners near Guilderland. From there it ran west through Guilderland Center and ; Knowersville, turned right at the present house of Jesse Branson in Altamont, and connected with what is now a town road up the hill, across the Albany-Susquehanna railroad tracks, through East and West Township, Gallupville, Shutters Corners, and thence to Schoharie. This entire route, with the exception of a strip in the village of Altamont, is in use as a highway today. (Maps of route in 1866 - State Highway Dept.)

A survey recorded in the Schoharie County Clerk's office, Nov. 18, 1851 gives the exact length of the road;

  • That section lying in Albany Co., 13 mi. 23-22|25 rds.
  • That section lying in Schoharie Co., 10 mi. 72-24|25 rds.
  • Branch to Central Bridge, 2 mi.279-13|25 rds.
  • Total, 26 mi. 59-9|25 rds.

Jacob Vroman, Pres. Richard J. Grant, Sect'y."

Construction

The actual structure of the road was not complex. As a base, six parallel stringers, 3 by 4 in. timbers, usually of hemlock or birch, were laid in the ground end to end. Planks then were laid cross-wise as close as possible, but never nailed. Dirt and stones were used for banking and ballast.

The road in itself was nine to ten feet wide but would not permit the passing of large vehicles. Along the left side of the improved road ran a dirt road, part of the original one and it was the duty of the driver on the left to turn off and give the vehicle approaching him the right of way though when a heavy carriage and a light one met, courtesy was usually extended to the heavier. Driving across one of the few remaining covered bridges, one hears the hollow rumble made by the loose boards. So it was with the old plank load All day long, a rumble as of distant thunder sounded across, the countryside, as the wagons, coaches and herds of stock traveled up and down.

Toll gates

At an average of five miles apart toll gates were located. At the side of these gates, and connected with them, were the houses where the keepers lived. The passage was sufficiently large to allow a good-sized load of hay to pass through. At night the gates were dropped and locked and it meant awakening the keepers to get through. There were five of these gates along the Albany-Schoharie plank road.

  • Gate No. 1, just beyond the Schoharie bridge, below the Old Stone Fort, controlled both the branch road to Central Bridge and the main road east.
  • Gate 2 was five and one-half miles farther on above Gallupville.
  • Gate 3, six and one quarter miles farther at the eastern end of the settlement of East Township.
  • Gate 4 was located four and one-quarter miles farther, opposite the present summer estate of Attorney P. C. Dugan.
  • Five and one quarter miles farther on was Gate 5, at the top of the hill leading down to the "Bunker Hill" or Normanskill bridge.

original schedule of tolls

The following is the original schedule of tolls used; later on these rates were raised from two to three cents:

  • Vehicles drawn by 4 horses for passengers: Gates 1, 2 and 3, 28c; 4, 20c; 5, 10c.
  • Vehicles drawn by 2 horses for passengers: Gates 1, 2 and 3, 15c; 4, 12c; 5, 6c.
  • Vehicles drawn by 2 horses: Gates 1, 2 and 3, 10c; 4, 8c; 5, 4c.
  • Vehicles drawn by 1 horse: Gates 1, 2 and 3, 5c; 4, 4c; 5, 2c.
  • For any additional animal: Gates 1, 2 and 3; 3c; 4, 2c; 5, 1 l-2c.
  • For any horse led, drove or ridden, Gates 1, 2 and 3, 3c; 4, 2c; 5, 1 1-2c.
  • For any score of meat cattle: Gates 1, 2 and 3, 10c; 4, 8c; 5, 6c.
  • For any score of sheep or swine: Gates 1, 2 and 3, 7c; 4, 6c; 5, 3c.

There was no charge for funerals or persons going to church.

Coach lines

Completion of the road was followed by the establishing of coach lines. The coaches utilized were much like the lumbering ones of Washington's time, swung on leather straps and drawn by four horses. They were high, had four seats and held from ten to twelve persons. The baggage was strapped to a small railing around the top and when necessity demanded as many as ten persons could also ride there. Behind was a boot for mail and express.

A system of changing horses was devised so that when the coach rolled up to the half-way house, a fresh four was waiting and before the driver could return from the bar-room, everything was ready for an immediate resumption of the journey.

Invoices of 1855 show that it cost $1.25 to go from Schoharie to Albany by stage, $.25 to send a hat box, $.25 for a box of snuff and $.75 for a barrel of tobacco. Heavy shipments were carried by regular freight teams.

Likewise, with the advent of stage coaches, taverns increased in numbers, and it seems that almost every other farmhouse along the way was at one time or another thriving a hostelry. One old man who traveled these roads claimed that they were as plentiful as gas stations and full every night, with some even sleeping on the floor wrapped in blankets.

The favorite stop of Albany-Schoharie coaches was the Hotel of James Keenholts in Knowersville, and it was there also that many of the directors meetings of the Association were held. This is now the residence of Albert Scrafford. Running in opposition was the Crounse Hotel across the way, later remodeled into the three houses that now stand there.

personal recollections of Webb Whipple

134th Reg. N. Y. S. V. goes to war

It was in the surrounding fields [of the two hotels in Knowersville (now Altamont)] that the 134th Reg. N. Y. S. V. camped over night when they marched down the plank road from Schoharie enroute to Albany and Gettysburg.

It may not be amiss to relate here some personal recollections of the old plank road told to me by "Webb" Whipple, who as a little boy lived in old Knowersville. He states,

that on the 22nd day of Sept. 1862 I was down at Cold Spring near the Bozenkill gathering butternuts where you kids do today. Suddenly I heard a sound of music and hurrying up to the old plank road saw the soldiers from Schoharie coming over the hill. There were about 80 less than their full 1000 for a regiment. With them were their ambulance and commissary trains. Behind followed riding in every conceivable conveyance their women folks and children. In the fields about Knowersville they camped for the night. Everyone in the neighborhood depleted his larder to feed the Schoharie soldiers. As dark came on they simply rolled up in blankets all over the fields as the weather was quite warm. I can remember how my mother's heart went out to the women and children who had come thus far to be with their loved ones and now were crying and sobbing. Some of the men were stoic. Quite a few got drunk and eight men deserted. In the morning they marched down the plank road to Albany and from there by boat to New York. The tears of the women at old Knowersville were indeed prophetic and the fields of Chancellorsville, Gettysburg and Missionary Ridge ran red with the blood of their husbands and fathers.

the wounded return

A few months later, the stage stopped one day and they lifted out a young man back from the war with both legs shot off. They set him on a table in the Crounse Hotel where he laughed and joked with everyone. At dinner time he was carried up to the "White House" as the dining room was called, now the home of Mr. Clinton Luckey. Later the stage came and he was carried to his seat and taken home to Riehmondville.

That man was James Tanner, who later was present as a stenographer in Lincoln's death chamber, who was Commander of the G. A. R. of New York State, who was Commissioner of Pensions under Harrison and appointed by Cleveland, Commissioner of Titles in Washington. He died only a few years ago, a much respected, a much honored man but I remember him only as they carried him out at old Knowersville."

Jay Gould, financier

I'll never forget the night too, I talked to a young man, who pushing a little instrument like a wheel barrow, registered at the Keenholts Hotel. He was measuring the roads and making maps, stopping at every home to ask who lived there or who owned, the place. The hotel register showed his name was Jay Gould. That was many years before he had met Jim Fisk and made his millions in railroad enterprises."

Bank robbers

At the Crounse Hotel was a pump where I picked up many a 3c piece for watering horses. One morning in '64 a carriage with a team of horses drove up early to the pump and one of the two men riding called, "Johnnie, can you uncheck these horses?" I jumped up on one side and unchecked one horse and was handed 50c; then on the other side, unchecked the other horse and received 50c more. So excited I could scarcely pump, I finished watering the horses and away they hurriedly drove. A few hours later the news came by riders from Schoharie that the bank had been robbed in the night and they were after these men, whom they never caught."

Drunken driver

Drivers of the stage often ran into generous traveling men who shared their flasks with them. This driver had imbibed freely, and while the horses were being changed took several more "hookers" at the Keenholts bar. When he came out and was handed the lines, he gave the horses a crack. The coach lurched ahead and caught the wheel against a hitching post. Over it went with the result that one passenger had her shoulder broken while the rest were bruised and the coach smashed. I hurried up to old Dr. Fred's (Crounse) to get him to assist and after a while another coach was started on its way without that driver who never drove again."

demise of the road

And now you've seen the building by the side of the road opposite, the estate of Mr. P. C. Dugan. That was made by my father from toll gate No. 4 which he purchased for $300 when the plank road was abandoned. Two roads run into Mr. Dugan's from the Altamont road, just as they did years ago when a Mr. Winnie lived there, with the toll gate between them. A favorite method of beating the gate was to pretend some errand at Mr. Winnie's only to drive around the gate. Later at the request of the Association, a gate with a padlock was put at the entrance of both roads and that leak was stopped. For many months after we moved into the gate house, people would stop to pay toll and when we said, "There ain't no more toll" they would invariably answer "Well, there oughtn't to be. The road's rotten enough to go over it for nothing."

Running the business

Here, too, were held the majority of the quarterly meetings of the Board of Directors. On Nov. 6, 1861 with the following directors present, viz.: James D. Wasson, John M. Batterman, David Dietz, Anthony M. Strong, Richard A. Grant, O. B. Throop, the Supt. is authorized to contract for 300,000 feet of plank. On motion of Mr. Strong that the directors be allowed passage through all the gates on this road at all times free of toll, same was carried by one vote, Batterman and Grant dissenting.

It is very evident from the records, that the President, James D. Wasson spent much time and thought on this association. The present generation will be interested to know that he was the grandfather of the Misses Mary and Jennie Wasson of Mira Vista, Altamont. From them I learned that as a boy of 14, he walked from his home in Duanesburg to Albany in search of work. He became one Albany's most prominent and influential men, identified with leading interests. At his death in the spring of '66, the following resolution was passed, "Whereas since the last meeting of the Board' of Directors of the Schoharie and Albany Plank Road Association, the President, James D. Wasson has died, therefore resolved, that this Board record the expression of their sincere sorrow in the sad event, recognizing in their late President, a faithful, upright, attentive officer and honoring his memory as a good and useful citizen."

closing down

But all this time the association was having its troubles. The cost of lumber to replace the boards that were constantly wearing out, and finally the coming of the railroads were pushing the road toward its ultimate downfall. After the first few successful years, financial reports and minutes show that many times the cost and income barely equaled each other. There appears this resolution: Whereas, the building of the Albany-Susquehanna Railroad has greatly reduced the traffic, and the high cost and scarcity of plank, labor, etc, considerably increased the current expenses of the Albany-Schoharie Plank Road rendering the income insufficient to keep said road in good and sufficient order, Therefore, be it known that said roadway lying east of Gallupville be sold or disposed of so as to terminate all interest and liability of said association in the same.

A committee was appointed to dispose of the road and to amend the charter. But the committee was not successful at this time. To compensate for this, they raised the toll, but still were unable to meet expenses.

An interesting comparison in the diminishing receipts is shown by those of Mar. 4th, 1861 and of Mar. 4th, 1865, Lincoln first and second inaugural days.

  • Mar. 4, 1861—Gate No. 1, $191.19; 2, $137.47; 3, $176.98.; 4, $216.41; 5, $144.42. Total, $.866.47.
  • Mar. 4, 1865—Gate No. 1, $208.53; 2, $15.91; 3, $20.48; 4, $30.01; 5, $66.85. Total, $341.78.

Bridge collapse

There were still other troubles. In 1865 the "Bunker Hill" bridge over the Normanskill which demanded continual repairing, collapsed, with a man, injuring him and bringing on a lawsuit. It was settled as shown, by the following order: Berne, Sept. ,11, 1865, O. B. Throop, Esq., Treas. of the Albany and Schoharie Plank Road Association pay the bearer, Hiram Wolford, one hundred and fifty dollars, this being a settlement for injuries sustained by the bridge falling with him and injuring him, known as the Bunker Hill Bridge, on June last.

Simon Morgan, Director.

Toll "dodgers"

Then there were the "dodgers" as they were called, who were continually running the toll gates.

A letter from one who reported seeing such a deed appears at this time.

Schoharie, N. Y.

Schoharie and Albany Plank Road. Co.

Sir:

I hereby notify you that I have seen today Mr. Henry Becker of this town run the toll gate in going from his residence on the plank road to the courthouse crossing Foxes Creek on horseback, striking the road again at Peter Riccard's and returning the same way. I believe that he is in the habit of so defrauding the company.

Yours respectfully,

F. Baere

railroad competition

Meanwhile, the faster, more comfortable railroads had pushed their way up the valley; despite the prophesies of the farmers along the way who claimed that “their fields would be filled with dirt, their fences torn up, and left that way.” Later, it was necessary to sue the Root-Haskill Stage Company for unpaid toll of five hundred dollars. This company was at the time running ordinary carriages on its' route, for their business had likewise suffered.

disolvement

Records show the continual effort to abandon the road and sell the gate houses. All this road east of Gallupville was abandoned in May '66 and the consent of about 840 stockholders to abandon the remainder of the road was received at the same date but it was not until April 2, '67 that the papers were filed in the office of the county clerk in Schoharie, dissolving the corporation so far as holding any title to said roadway." We find the bills were paid and an 8 per cent dividend declared to the stockholders. Thus, they went down with flying colors.

Referring again to Roscoe's History published in 1882 we read:

The old [plank road] turnpikes are little traveled at this time, and the rattling stage coaches have vanished. And in their stead, the screeching, puffing iron horse before long trains of moving palaces wind round the hills, occasionally crossing the old road but unblushingly pass on without paying toll, at a rate of speed that would leave "jehus"[1] of other days far back in the shade wondering what will come next. The grass covers the old road bed, gloom is written upon the crumbling mile stones, and small hamlets along the turnpike lanes, that were once so busy, are growing green with the moss of inactivity."

How little did he suspect that in one short generation, these turnpikes would have their revenge. Clothed in a new dress, we find these same roads with their buses and trucks pushing "the puffing iron horse," from the map, and the small hamlets alive with gas stations and lunch stands.

Sources

  1. A "Jehu" is a fast driver of a coach or cab, especially one who is reckless (from the phrase to drive like Jehu. II Kings 9:20). Jehu was a Ninth century b.c. King of Israel who, according to the Bible, slew Ahab, Jezebel, and the prophets of Baal. He is proverbially known for his swift chariot driving.