Montgomery County

Focus on History: Amsterdam gold fever and other tales

Tales ranging from a reported local gold strike to the history of broom factories have been coming m

Tales ranging from a reported local gold strike to the history of broom factories have been coming my way.

The deadline has passed for submitting entries to my history essay contest. There are 28 entries and winners will be announced in March. The contest has generated leads for the column and for a second edition of my recent book, “Stories from the Mohawk Valley.”

One contestant, Eric C. Lansburg of New York Mills, drew attention to a May 13, 1856, newspaper account of the discovery of gold in Amsterdam.

Hiram Steel told an incredible story in a letter to the New York Tribune of five children discovering quartz deposits in a cave above the reservoir in the village of Amsterdam. Some of the quartz pieces contained gold, according to Steel.

Steel wrote, “All day the crowd has been increasing, and there has been some desperate fighting. One man is injured past recovery.”

Steel said Amsterdam was in a high state of excitement, “An excitement full of fascination and golden dreams, and which would be decidedly romantic were it not that violence and crime are growing out of it.”

At the end of Steel’s piece, the Tribune printed, “The above letter reached us by mail yesterday. It reads very much like a hoax, and accordingly we advise nobody to set off for the Eldorado of Amsterdam until further advices shall remove all doubts from the tremendous story of Mr. Steel.”

The idea that the letter was a hoax either played on the Tribune or created by the Tribune makes sense. By 1856 the real California Gold Rush, which started in 1849, had mainly come to an end but must have been fresh in people’s minds.

No other accounts have come to light to corroborate Steel’s story. Still, doesn’t it make you wonder?

Broom factories

Theresa Moran of Glenville submitted a contest entry about the broom industry starting with the 1859 creation of Blood & Howard by Ebenezer Howard and John D. Blood in Fort Hunter.

It was the first factory in the country to manufacture brooms from corn.

The Howard family continued in the broom making business. Charles L. Howard, who lived in Fort Hunter, became president of American Broom and Brush in 1902.

The firm’s main factory on Walnut Street in Amsterdam operated until 1934. Howard, who had become president of the Farmer’s National Bank in Amsterdam in 1927, died in 1935.

Moran wrote, “He is fondly remembered by his only surviving grandson, Roger Moran, 93, of Amsterdam.”

Band man

Other stories submitted for the contest include one from Christine Eggleston of Fort Plain. Eggleston wrote that music teacher Jessie Zoller of St. Johnsville was a special friend of composer and band leader John Philip Sousa, who lived from 1854 to 1932.

Sousa once made a train stop in St. Johnsville so he could see Jessie.

John Naple recounted a story from his paper boy days in Amsterdam’s East End. Sam Stratton came on a campaign swing for his first term in Congress in 1958. Stratton was passing out cards to passersby. John offered to put Stratton’s cards into newspapers he delivered that day.

Stratton won the election and later appointed two of John’s brothers to the U.S. Naval Academy.

Grace DeChant was stranded in Canajoharie on a Greyhound bus for two days during a blizzard in January 1966. She was en route to Watertown for a student teaching assignment. DeChant, now in Scotia, wrote, “My memory of that first night includes standing in a long line to use the one available pay phone, and then returning to the security of our bus for a fitful night.”

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