History From America's Most Famous Valleys
Johnsville Bicentennial Celebration
Published by St. Johnsville Village/Town Bicentennial Committee, Inc.
Village Board of Trustees
by Betty Bilobrowka
<- GRAMMAR SCHOOL 1902. Although old, this is not the first school in the village. The first was on South Division Street, just below what is now Failing Ford. It was a long wooden structure. The above was torn down in 1975. Carrie Kilts taught 3rd grade here many years.
In the middle years of the twentieth century, that marvel of transportation, New York Central's famous Twentieth Century Limited train, was the symbol of America's progress. In Saint Johnsville, as elsewhere around the United States, the twentieth century was hailed with great promise. Things were going to be different now; things were going to be better. Yet even the most prophetic of those who lived in 1901 could scarcely have foreseen the changes the next seventy years were to bring, not only to the world at large, but to our own little community of St. Johnsville.
Let's go back seventy years and see for ourselves. A stroll about the village in 1907 reveals some names that are still familiar: the Keyser House, Horn's Mills; Walrath's Drug Store; Lenz Hardware. But many of the names have disappeared from our store fronts: G. H. Lampman, clothier; E. L. Dillenbeck, dry goods; R. B. Beekman, dry goods; the Empire Hotel and the Dempsey Hotel; the Home Telephone Company.
One might get the impression in 1907 that the Foxes run the town. We see these signs: Postmaster, James Fox; Dave Fox, corner saloon; Chris Fox, groceries; Wesley Fox, photographer.
Upstairs over one of the stores we might see a reading room, the forerunner of our spacious library today. On the corner where the bank now stands so imposingly is a beautiful mansion with a colonial front shaded by a towering elm tree, the Markell mansion.
Indeed one of the first things we notice as we step backward in time is the row of lofty elm trees shading the main street, trees that have long since been cut down to be replaced by concrete. Isn't is nice in 1976 to see that trees have once more been planted along Main Street?
In 1907, to cross the street of our village, careful crossers use the elevated crosswalks made of huge blocks of limestone. The rest of the street is unpaved mud, deep and dusty and dirty. Of course the village officials have the streets oiled at intervals to lay the dust, but the housewife who does the weekly washing by hand can never decided which is worse, the mud or the oil.
There are more signs to see in 1907; the blacksmith shop, livery stables, the wagon works, a harness store, and saloons that are called saloons and not bars or grills. The Whyland Opera House, the most modern in the whole Mohawk Valley, is advertising a big scenic melodramas interspersed with musical specialties.
Along the streets we see many horses, several of them wearing straw hats now that summer is here. The newspaper informs us that the Nellis sisters are the proud owners of that wonderful new contraption, a horseless carriage. But on the same page is a story of a runaway team of horses that galloped through the village at a mud pace.
There would be many buildings that we would miss seeing in 1907, for at that time there was no theatre or library or Masonic Temple; no high school, not even the Beardslee Block, or the Shell Gas Station, or Rapacz' store.
But one thing our trip backward to 1907 would show us: that our village, which we sometimes think of as static and unchanging, is constantly growing, changing improving. Each year finds some improvement, small or large, that totaled together make the great changes we see in fifty years of seventy years, or 100 years.
Seventy years ago the railroad men of our village tell of the time they were ordered to paint the railroad tower. They report gleefully that it took a half barrel of paint, and five barrels of beer to do the job. Nostalgically we may sigh, "Those were the good old days!" But let us not forget that when American's Tricentennial rolls around, these will be "the good old days".
And they are good. Look around you at the improvements of the past few years: the re-paving of Main Street, the new railroad bridge, our new mini park, the addition to the high school, the upsurge of Fowler Finishing Corporation, the drive-in window at the bank, our new housing developments, the marina, to name but a few. Look at the citizens who give of their time and talents to make Saint Johnsville a better place to live: the firemen, the H. C. Smith Benefit Club, the mini militia, our ball teams from Little League to Saints, our new Senior Citizens group, our medical center board of directors, and our numerous clubs and organizations, village and town officials, school teachers, tradesmen, the ambulance corps--we could go on and on.
Truly Saint Johnsville may be as proud of its present as it is of its past, and can look forward with hop and confidence to the future. . . . to a truly "twentieth century unlimited".
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