Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

This souvenir album is published as part of the
St. Johnsville Bicentennial Celebration
Published by St. Johnsville Village/Town Bicentennial Committee, Inc.

A Look Into The Past by Wayne Lenig

Continued from Part One.

If this picture of pioneer life seems idyllic, perhaps we should examine the toils and tribulations which the people experienced in order to obtain this lifestyle. Their homes were built without the benefit of a sawmill. Each beam was fashioned from a tree which was felled and squared-up by a hand ax. Each plank was laboriously sawed out of a log by two men with a pitsaw. Each shingle was individually split from a log by a man sitting at a shingle bench with hammer and froe. Yet these people were not totally self-sufficient. They needed manufactured goods to maintain their style of living. Cooking utensils, dishes, tools, liquor, tobacco, some foods, and to a large extent household furniture were purchased from merchants in Albany and Schenectady. To obtain these things a man needed something which he could barter or sell, and our pioneer settlers chose farming commodities. But to grow crops they had to clear fields of huge trees, often as large as six feet in diameter. Stumps were pulled with the help of horses, and plowing was also done with the help of these beasts. Sowing grain by broadcasting was a long and tedious task, and when the crop finally ripened these were no harvesting machines together the fruits of labor--the crop was harvested by hand. Peas were picked and wheat was cut with the help of a short one-handed scythe, common in western Europe. Threshing was accomplished by beating the stalks with a flail and winnowing was done by hand as well, using a wooden basket to toss the mixture in the air. The chaff was blown away, and, with a little luck, the grain was caught in the basket. Before Jacob Timmerman built he mill, about 1750, the grain was sold or bartered in its unaltered from, and any flour for home use had to be ground by hand with a mortar and pestle, or carried to the closest mill, then located near present day Cranesville. Milled flour was, of course, worth more than raw grain, and with the entire economy of the area dependent upon wheat it is no wonder that Saint Johnsville first industry was Jacob Timmerman's grist mill.

A beautiful sight to behold, the stage of the Wyland Opera House was a terrible loss to St. Johnsville when the entire building burned down in 1914.>

New England Immigration and Population Growth

European immigrants continued to pour into the area around Saint Johnsville throughout the 18th century, and by 1770 there were enough inhabitants to support a little church near Jacob Klock's house just east of our village. The Revolutionary War interrupted the growth of our community for about fifteen years, but by 1790 things were really beginning to boom. Not only were Europeans settling near our village, but large numbers of New Englanders were beginning to move west into the Mohawk Valley. The Beardslee family typifies this "new breed" of immigrants. The pioneer, John Beardslee, moved to east Canada Creek from Sharon, Connecticut, in 1787. He built a grist mill and saw mill and the first bridge across that stream, and from that time forward his family played an important part in the development of industry in Saint Johnsville.

About 1800 a new east-west highway was laid out along the north shore of the Mohawk River. It was known as the "Mohawk Turnpike", and it became one of the main arteries for traffic moving west to the new frontier. The new road ran right through Timmerman's settlement along the path of present day Route 5. In due time, it would become "Main Street" in almost all of the north-shore communities in the Mohawk Valley.

By 1801, the industrial capacity of "Timmerman's" doubled, for in that year George G. Klock opened another grist mill on Zimmerman's Creek. Soon after the settlement added its first general store, operated by Andrew Zabrisk, a newcomer who became quite important as a Lieutenant Colonel in the militia during the War of 1812. In 1804, David Quackenbush built a third mill. The community was becoming prosperous; so prosperous that Jacob Timmerman, Jr. decided to donate land for a new Dutch Reformed Church. The edifice was erected on the same site that the Dutch Reformed Church stands on today. The old church, east of the village, became a "country school" where pupils were taught in their German language by Henry Hase (today spelled Hayes). In 1812 the United States Post Office for the entire town of Oppenheim, of which our village was then a port, was established within present bounds of Saint Johnsville. About this time also, Jacob N. Failing opened his famous turnpike tavern where the late A. J. Bellinger's garage stands today. Other mills began to appear along Zimmerman Creek. James Averill's grist mill was built in 1825 and converted to an iron foundry by Adam Thumb in 1832.

Continued to Part Three.

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