Focus on history: Roping the scorchers in old Akin

Using a rope to stop speeders.

The controversial politician, farmer and dentist Theron Akin once used a rope to stop speeders near his home in what is now Fort Johnson.

What we call Fort Johnson was known as Akin in 1911 when the Washington Post carried an account of Theron Akin’s antispeeding campaign, quoting Robert McKeever of Schenectady, who apparently was visiting Washington.

Born in Johnstown, Akin went to school in Amsterdam and became a dentist and farmer. His father, Ethan, was a landowner who lived in Old Fort Johnson itself. In 1909, according to historian Hugh Donlon, Theron Akin led the campaign to incorporate the area around the Old Fort as the village of Akin and became its first president.

Akin was elected to Congress as a Progressive Republican in 1911, telling The New York Times, “I got close to the people and told them the truth.” The Washington Post interview described Akin as an insurgent Democrat.

“No one can doubt his honesty or his courage and firmness of purpose,” McKeever said. “Besides being a farmer, Dr. Akin is a sort of town marshal in his village. He is the owner of an automobile, but he doesn’t like scorching, and when the autoists went speeding too rapidly by his house he determined to stop ’em.

“He served notice that anyone caught going at a greater speed than 15 miles per hour through Akin would be dealt with summarily. The sign didn’t have a bit of an effect.

“Then the doctor early one morning secured a stout rope and stretched it across the road. He waited for the scorchers, and the first one, of course, had to stop. It was not long until there were a score of impatient automobilists lined up. All were fined, and if they were caught again they were imprisoned. This put an end to the scorching in Akin, New York.”

McKeever also told the Post that Akin had connections to Iowa, owning several large farms there that had been in his family for years.

“He does not have to work,” McKeever said. “For several years, he has spent a large part of each year in Iowa, and is as well-known in that state as he is in his own town.

“When he was in Washington a few weeks ago, Rep. Hubbard of Iowa laughingly declared that in the next Congress the Iowa delegation would be increased to twelve, because Akin could not consistently claim to be a citizen of any state but Iowa.”

Akin served only one term in Washington, losing a re-election bid in 1912. Former Amsterdam city attorney Bob Going wrote that while Akin was serving in Congress, his colleagues thought so little of him that they voted to rename the village of Akin as Fort Johnson, over his objections.

Akin was elected Amsterdam mayor in 1919. The Recorder reported he won endorsement of all parties in spirited primary contests that year. He served two tumultuous terms, leaving office at the end of 1923.

According to the family Web site, when Akin died in 1933 he was “friendless and penniless.” He was buried at Pine Grove Cemetery in Tribes Hill. The newspaper clipping used in this story was provided by the late mayor’s descendant, Terry Akin.


Shirley Rzeznik of Hagaman was pleased to see her grandparents’ name in a recent column, and pleased the name was spelled correctly.

A 1930s era City Directory listed Joseph and Anna Mruczek as residents and grocers at 38 Crane St. in Amsterdam.

Rzeznik said she and her sisters used to play with the old cash register from the store and that her grandparents eventually worked at the carpet mills.

Anyone with a suggestion for a Focus on History topic may contact Bob Cudmore at 346-6657 or [email protected]

Categories: Schenectady County

Leave a Reply