Bleecker was once booming community

Bleecker, a town in northern Fulton County, had a population of 533 in the 2010 census, but in 1860

Bleecker, a town in northern Fulton County, had a population of 533 in the 2010 census, but in 1860 it boasted twice that many people, many of them employed in lumbering and tanning.

The town apparently was named after Barent Bleecker, one of three men who purchased a land patent in an auction in Albany in 1793. The other patent holders were Cornelius Glen and Abraham Lansing, and the area originally was known as Glen, Bleecker and Lansing’s patent. Parts of two other patents, Chase’s patent in the north and Mayfield patent in the south, comprise the remaining land in Bleecker.

There is a funnier story about how the town got its name. Two men were lost in the Adirondacks, and one climbed a tree to survey the situation. The man on the ground asked the man in the tree how it looked. His reply was, “Bleak.” The man on the ground responded, “It is bleaker down here.”

The town itself was created in 1831 from part of the town of Johnstown. Some of Bleecker’s land was returned to Johnstown in 1841, and another part was lost when the town of Caroga was created in 1842.

Historian Washington Frothingham wrote in 1892 that Bleecker’s most important industry was lumbering, even though “much of the valuable timber has been cleared away.” The leather tanning industry had largely come and gone by 1892. Hemlock bark was used to tan raw skins into leather.

Farming in the hilly and stony town has always been difficult. One saying goes, “When you buy meat you buy bones, when you buy Bleecker you buy stones.” Also town historian Eleanor Bleyl Brooks said Bleecker is at a high-enough elevation so that its growing season is often shorter than nearby communities. People refer to a mountain ridge that can be seen from Gloversville as Bleecker Mountain.

The Bleecker Historical Society has organized a well-attended speakers program and is creating an artifact collection at the town hall on County Highway 112, where the society meets. The historical group is working on a documentary film based on oral history interviews with town residents.

The town once had four churches and six schools. Brooks, who has lived all her life in Bleecker, said when her father was town clerk, municipal business was conducted around their dining room table, as there was no town hall. Today’s town hall is a former school building.

Town resident Nancy Buyce owns the District Number 3 schoolhouse, sometimes known as the “Factory School” or “Tannery School.” Buyce attended the school, which closed in the 1950s. It’s on Lily Lake Road in what was called Bleecker Village, which in the 19th century boasted a sawmill, tannery and other manufacturing sites. The building still contains children’s and teachers’ desks, even books, maps and schoolwork. Buyce operates it as a private museum, The Old School Museum.

A stagecoach is the symbol of the historical society. Brooks said the phrase “Bleecker Stage” refers to how mail used to be delivered. Mail was shipped to Johnstown and later Gloversville, then dispatched on the “Bleecker Stage” to two early post offices in town, at first by horse-drawn vehicle and then automotive. The last post office in Bleecker closed in the 1930s, after which mail was delivered directly to residents’ mailboxes. Today “Bleecker Stage” has been lost to 911 highway addressing.

Some former city dwellers have found picturesque Bleecker to their liking in recent decades and extended vacation stays into year-round living. All of Bleecker is inside the Adirondack Park. Housing has been developed on the west side of Bleecker around Pecks Lake.

Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach him at 346-6657 or [email protected]

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