History From America's Most Famous Valleys
Naming of The Village of St. Johnsville
compiled by AJ Berry
The Village of St. Johnsville was named after the surveyor Alexander St. John.
The Village of St. Johnsville was named after the church, St. Johns.
Which statement is correct?
This controversy has swirled about the naming of St. Johnsville for many years. It was one of those historical mysteries that never seemed to clear up. At last, there seems to be a definitive answer. With most historical puzzles, the answer was out there, but in pieces and needed to be put together. My conclusion is that both of these statements are correct -- to a point.
Two people helped a great deal with the research. Buzz Flanders, who knows land patents and old roads and Anita Smith, who knows the history of St. Johnsville.
In 1804, Klock's Church (which was located just outside the eastern end of the now village of St. Johnsville), moved into Zimmerman's (where St. Johnsville is now located) and changed its name to St. Johns Church. The local populace began referring to the settlement as St. John's Church.
More than 14 years later, the name St. Johnsville first appeared. Alexander St. John came into the area to lay out the New Turnpike to Johnstown in 1811. When the new post office in what we now know as W. St. Johnsville was begun in 1818, it was named after Mr. St. John. The larger population at the time, was located in the then village of St. Johnsville (W. St. Johnsville), St. Johns Church had very few people. One factor in locating the Post Office in W. St. Johnsville at Mill Road was Sanders ferry crossing which was available in (West) St. Johnsville. Another factor was -- originally the road before 1800, (Mohawk Turnpike, now Route 5) did not go along the north side of the river to Little Falls; it crossed the river and went along the south shore of the Mohawk River. In 1800 the bridge over the East Canada Creek was completed and the road to Little Falls went on the north side of the river.
The area around the church was known for many decades as St. Johns Church. There are records of men or their widows applying for war pensions stating they lived or were born at St. Johns or St. Johns Church, which was puzzling until more references were found to fill in the pieces. So, for many years this area had a place named St. Johnsville by Mill Road and a settlement to the east called by the local people, St. Johns Church. What we now call St. Johnsville did not attract a lot of residents until the Erie Canal was completed in 1825. The shift in population began towards the area called St. John's Church.
Here are the first three postmasters for St. Johnsville
I. Lloyd . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .February 27, 1818
Jabez Lewis . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .December 21, 1824
Horatio Averell . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . January 16, 1826
The name Averell is a familiar one even today, we have a street named after Mr. Averell. On East Main Street which was then known as the Mohawk Turnpike, the "Old Stone Store," was built by the Averells in 1831.
The St. Johnsville Post Office, somewhere between 1826 and 1831, was moved to the larger center of population, and since the Post Office was named St. Johnsville, the name of the village became St. Johnsville. So in a way the village was named after the surveyor, sort of by default. In 1838, the Town of St. Johnsville was formed and the Village of St. Johnsville (once known as St. John's Church) was incorporated in 1857.
St. Johns Reformed Church 150th Anniversary (1920) booklet has a reference to land donated for a church at East Creek, to be built by Rev. Peter VanDriesen.
Inter-Centenary Celebration of Saint John's Reformed Church (1920) In 1722 we find Petrius Van Driessin, who served the first church at Albany for nearly a quarter of a century, applying to the crown to establish a mission among the Mohawks. This was granted to him and in 1732, the three tribes of the Mohawks, Bear, Wolf and Turtle, because of their love and in appreciation of the labors of Petrius Van Driessen and Johannes Ehl, gave a considerable grant of land on the North Bank of the Mohawk. Ehl was co-missionary with Van Driessen, and the Ehl family are yet residents of Palatine district.
Rev. Van Driessen served Albany's First Reformed Church from 1712 to 1738. Apparently, the reverend was nearing the end of his life, and died before he could carry out his plans. There is no evidence a church was ever built at East Creek, it is not on old maps, nor are there any references to a church in any other writings. Here is an excerpt from Sir William Johnson's Indian Journal, dated January 26, 1762.
"We formerly gave a piece of land to a minister, on condition he should build a church for us, which was never done. This minister whose name was Van Driessen deceived us. We are now without any persons to instruct us in the Christian Religion, excepting three or four visits in each year from the Rev. Mr. Ehle; and we are informed that Van Driessen being dead, his heirs have sold the land which we intended for so good a purpose. If the clergy are thus to deceive us, who can we rely on? If he performed his promise we should now have been better people and our children would become good Christians, but as it hath fallen our otherwise, we beg you will take this likewise into your consideration, and procure us justice therein."
History of Montgomery Classis, R.C.A. by W.N.P. Dailey, Recorder Press, Amsterdam,
St Johnsville Church: The Francis Harrison patent of 12,000 acres was obtained of the Indians in 1722, and a year later the entire tract was partitioned off, the first church having been built on Lot No. 13, owned by George C. and Jacob Klock (cf Bk. Deeds 48, 213).
Church was located, to the east of the present Village of St. Johnsville.
The Frontiersmen of New York by Jeptha R. Simms, Albany, NY 1883; Volume I, Page 285.
The First Church at St. Johnsville.-- In this connection I should mention the fact that a German Reformed church was erected at St. Johnsville, then known as "Zimmerman's," in 1770. This structure was built of wood, was of good size, and stood not far from its burying ground, yet to be seen about a mile eastward of the village. It was finished with a sounding board, as were nearly all churches at that period. When erected it was intended also to benefit the Indians in the neighborhood, having seats for them and the slaves of the white citizens. This edifice was demolished about the year 1818, near which time a church was erected to subserve its purposes within the present village. Who first labored in this church I am unable to state. Rev. John Henry Dyslin, a man of good repute, was its pastor form 1790 to 1815, (wrong date, he died in 1812, ajb) when he died. The Rev. David Devoe was its pastor from 1816 to 1830, during which time the old church was demolished, and the one in the village erected. The second edifice gave place to a new one constructed of brick in 1881.
From A History of St. John's Reformed Church, Formerly The Reformed Calvinist Church of The Upper Part of Palatine In The County of Montgomery, by Norman Edwin Thomas, Minister.
The congregation continued to worship at Klock's Church, however, for some years before action was taken. About 1802 John L. Bellinger was elected treasurer and he took the lead in promoting the enterprise. Work was started and after the expenditure of $1861.05 1/2, a great sum for those days, the new building was ready by January 2nd, 1804, for its first Congregational Meeting, at which Conrad Hellicoss, Andrew Zabriskie, John L. Bellinger, Jacob Zimmerman, Adam A. Walrath, and Henry Beekman were elected trustees; and the eventful step of adopting a new name for the new church was taken. Its official title now became the "Dutch Reformed Congregation of St. John's Church in Palatine Town, Montgomery County."
Buzz Flanders went to the Department of History and Archives in Fonda and put the final piece of the puzzle in place. In the archives..."found in the Highway/Road records that the area was referred to as Zimmermans' Mills in the late 1790s. One particular road running from Zimmermans north was referred to as 'The road starting at Zimmermans or Failing will run north to Denis Flander's being seven gates between.' The same road was to be widened in 1832 and was described as 'starting at St. Johns Church and running north to Denis Flander'......"
From Pension papers -- excerpts pension of Dennis Flander, 1832.
He was in the battle under Gen. Van Rensaleer against the British and Tories and the Indians near the Mohawk River at fording place that the Indians and Tories were under the command of Sir John Johnson, said battle was fought at now town of Oppenheim near the house of Richard Failing about three or four yards from the now village of St. John in said town that the British force after a slow start on the day of the battle crossed the Mohawk River from the north to the south side that during that time he served Hess Co. that he was drafted out of said Co. into Christian Houses Co. and went to the Royal Grant for a few days and after a time for 14 days or about ? it as before stated.
Further states that he had no documentary evidence to any claim whatsoever to a Pension or Annuity except this present and declared that his service is not on the Pension Roll of the agency of any state, that he was born 15 October 1757 at the now town of German Flats in Herkimer County has no evidence of his age seventy four, resided in St. Johns of Palatine in the now County of Montgomery that he served as before mentioned and has lived since the revolution in the same place where he now resides that he enlisted twice as a boatman as before mentioned each time for nine months, but served one time three months.
The St. Johnsville Post Office was established on February 27, 1818, according to records of the Post Office Department. The following is a bit of history leading up to this event.
Excerpts from Town of Saint Johnsville, Sesquicentennial History, 1838-1988
On March 4, 1811, the Legislature named three commissioners "to lay out a new turnpike road from the house of Henry Gross, in Johnstown, to the house of John C. Nellis, in the Town of Oppenheim." This road terminated in the Mohawk Turnpike, and is what is known as the "New Turnpike," just east of our village. Johnstown was then the county seat of Montgomery County and this new road provided a shorter route from this section of what was the Town of Oppenheim to the county seat. It also furnished a highway for the convenience of the farmers in a rich agricultural section then being developed.
One of the three commissioners named in the act of the Legislature was Alexander St. John of the Town of Northampton (now in Fulton County). Mr. St. John was a surveyor by occupation and surveyed the new road and acting as one of the commissioners charged with its construction, was actively engaged in building the thoroughfare. In this way, Mr. St. John became acquainted with the leading citizens of this locality, then a hamlet known as "Zimmerman's" named for the original settler, Jacob Zimmerman.
Mr. Zimmerman built the first pioneer home within the limits of St. Johnsville and soon after built the first grist mill along the creek which bears his name.
Mr. Shaffer believed that Mr. St. John made so favorable an impression on the residents of this locality, that when a post office was established, the name of St. Johnsville was chosen as a token of esteem for the surveyor and commissioner who had so much to do with building the new road. However, later facts indicate that it was named after the St. John's Reformed Church which was the pioneer church in this area.
Location of Post Office
The highway records of the township show that Henry I. Lloyd, our first postmaster, was a resident in the township in 1838, and was assessed four days of labor on the highways that year. His name, appears on the records, each year, to include 1842. He was assigned to Road District No. 7 which was described as "commencing at the Mohawk River at Sanders' Ferry, running thence, northerly, across the Mohawk Turnpike, between Daniel Leonard's and George Lake's, thence northerly, to the head line road, near James Wilson's." The road described is what is known as "Mill Road" in west St. Johnsville, so named from the fact that it led to Leonard and Curran's grist mill, later, "Beekman's Mill." The fact that 42 taxpayers were, assigned to this particular road, indicates that there was a large population at the 4 corners of the Upper Village and naturally that particular locality would appeal as a good location for a general store.
With the known facts, and with no tradition to the contrary, it is not unreasonable to conclude that our first post office building was located at the Upper Village in the store operated by Henry I. Lloyd. This assumes that Mr. Lloyd conducted the store at that point in 1818, in the Town of Oppenheim, twenty years before his name appears on the records of the new Town of St. Johnsville. In locating post offices, the Post Office Department requires a reasonably central location for the convenience of the patrons to be served. In 1818, the Upper Village my have been that logical location. At that time the hamlet at "Zimmerman's" was small in size and there was a thriving little community at East Creek, far outnumbering the future village of St. Johnsville in population. Locating the post office at Upper St. Johnsville in Lloyd's store would be for the convenience of a greater number than at "Zimmerman's," when the hamlet at East Creek was considered.
Henry I. Lloyd was appointed in 1816 under the administration of James Monroe, our fifth President.
Post Office, St. Johnsville
Established February 27, 1818"
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