by KATHARINE FITCH VAN VALKENBURGH WILLIAMS
Submitted by JANE WOOD – 29 September, 2002
As written by Katharine Williams and printed in the Chatham courier in November 1927.
Of course in the beginning we were part of Kinderhook in the county of Albany and are entitled to our share of their history until 1786 when Columbia County was taken from Albany and to 1795 when the town of Chatham was taken from Kinderhook.
The eastern part of Chatham seems to have been called New Britain as a deed of 1784 gives as a boundry line" the road running easterly to New Britain". This probably included the hamlet we know as Old Chatham, once called "The Corners" and during the war of 1812, "Federal Stores".
In 1784, Cornelis Schermerhorne deeded meadow land, house barn, fences, and other buildings to Peter Van Alen, for the consideration of $259. Schermerhorne occupied by virtue of an indenture made to him by Jockum Van Valkenburgh of Kinderhook, dated 1729. "This 13 th day of August, in the 8 th year of the reign of our sovereigh Lord George, 2 nd ,by the grace of God, King of Great Britain and Ireland; King Defender of the Faith, etc". This land was described as lying on the east side of Hudson's River and on the east side of a kill or creek known as the Kinderhook Cree, "above Pompoonic", the bondary line began by the rock where the wagon road runs through the creek. No bridge was here in Chatham Center at that time. The first bridge seems to have been made to expedite the transfer of ammunition during the war of 1812. That bridge fell into the creek one Sunday morning while a drove of cattle was passing over. The second covered bridge was built in 1842 and lasted until 1926. This deed also gives as part of the eastern boundary the "potash Farm". In the early times potash was one of our few exports and our forests were burned to produce it.
Twenty years later, Peter Van Alen deeded this land to his son Adam. It was described as "flats, woodland, house, barn and other buildings". And the full included 22nd part of lands with the patent of J. Van Alstyne, Lambert Huyck, and others. In the time of Adam Van Alen the little house on the corner of the lane, was built for "Aunt Vischer". She was the sister of Adam's wife and came here from Albany to end her days in quietness.
In 1790 Adam deeded his land to his son Geisbert or Gilbert. The description now included an orchard and grist mill also the right to graze on the common. Geisbert rebuilt the log house making a new one of stone. There were now neighbors and the block house, made to protect the first settlers from the Indians, was converted into a dwelling. Colonel Van Alstyne had built his house( our brick house) of brick from Holland, on the west side of the creek and the mill stood opposite on the east side. Early in 1800 a post road had been made from Albany east. After crossing the creek, it divided, one part south through Spencertown to Hartford, the other branch climbed the hills into Massachusetts.
That part of Chatham has been settled principally by English people, coming usually from Connecticut. The Sutherland family was nearby and beyond them the Giffords and Wilbors, and there was a colony of Friends including the Riders, the Powels and the Roys. Naturally the people followed the Post Road and there was soon a general store kept by Timothe Oakley, who lived in the brick house now occupied by John Spath. His store was well patronized and he had several sons who went out into the world and prospered greatly. He also had two beautiful daughters. One Polly, married Reuben, the son of Gilbert Van Alen. The other Sally, married Dr. John Vanderpoel and became the mother of noted men, Judge Aaron Van Der Poel and Dr John Van Der Poel.
Mr Oakley sold his property to Dr. Dorr, whose brave widow brought up a family of many children in a manner that commands our utmost respect and admiration. Among the was the Hon. Seneca Dorr, whose wife was Julia Ripley Dorr, a gifted author and poet, Joseph Dorr, who settled Hillsdale and another was Miss Bessie Peck of North Chatham is grand daughter of this courageous and capable woman. My own dear little grandmother had to climb all those long hills with her dinner pail and her primer to go to school, for the nearest schoolhouse was near Sutherland's pond, now called Staat's Pond.
About 1830, there were enough people here to warrant the building of a church. Colonel Van Alstyne donated a suitable piece of land to be used both as church and for school purposes. All denominations were to have the right to use the pulpit. This church stood where the house of Mrs. McNamara is now and it served its purpose well for many years. After the new church was built, it continued to be used for the public school until the present school building was completed.
A Mr. Brinner, Or Brimmer, with his wife lived first in the house between the brooks. Mrs. Brimmer was the daughter of Judge Van Ness. This house was afterward occupied by Dr. John Sutherland. After his death, his son Samuel, sold to Milton Sutherland and went west. We know it best as the Burne Hicks House, The large place on the Hartford Branch of the turnpike, now owned by Frank Curtis, was once a roadhouse kept by one of the Sutherlands. The Beckwith house, was also an inn, known as Tobias' Inn, where the horses were changed and the horns blown, as the stage rolled gaily on its way.
John Jay Van Valkenburgh had married Katy Van Alen and bought her brothers interest in the new store on the village green. He purchased a piece of land from Colonel Van Alstyne in 1814 and built the house which is called the John Wilbor House, it was built by the Ray Brothers of Old Chatham and modeled after the Pratt House in New Concord. He also had the well dug, which for more than a hundred years had supplied the whole village with pure cold water in spite of draughts and state road engineers. That well is John Van Valkenburghs most fitting monument.
Then came the railroad. The engineer in charge of this section was a Mr Inches of Boston. He is described as a most capable and charming man. His work still remains and Chatham Center became modern.
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