Rotterdam

Bill Buell’s Electric City Archives: A 316-year look at Rotterdam Junction’s Mabee Farm

Executive director Mary Zawacki, education director Mike Diana and curator Susanna Fout give the 1705 Mabee House in Rotterdam Junction another coat of white paint.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Executive director Mary Zawacki, education director Mike Diana and curator Susanna Fout give the 1705 Mabee House in Rotterdam Junction another coat of white paint.

When I first visited the Mabee Farm on the south bank of the Mohawk River in Rotterdam Junction, I got a tour from the guy who lived there.

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My second trip a few weeks later to what is often reputed to be the oldest house in the Mohawk Valley was as a volunteer, paint brush in hand, ready to have a go at a white picket fence on the property.

While things have changed dramatically since Scott Haefner and then Kim Mabee introduced me to the site more than 20 years ago, the Mabee Farm remains one of my favorite spots in Schenectady County. Owned and operated by the Schenectady County Historical Society and lovingly looked after by an engaging and knowledgeable staff as well as a host of dedicated volunteers, the Mabee Farm is indeed a special place for history lovers, in particular those who enjoy immersing themselves in the 18th century.

This month the farmhouse on the grounds is getting a fresh coat of white paint, and I can’t help but wonder just how many times such a project has been done in the past three centuries since the structure now there was put up in 1705. Many of you may know the early history of the place, and if you’ve been there recently you can’t help but appreciate what a charming and educational experience it can be for kids and adults.

But I wanted to take a look at the Mabee Farm over the past half century or so and see how it became the place it is today. I came up with a timeline that starts in 1671 and ends in the 21st century, but focuses on the past 50 years. The information, for the most part, is taken from the pages of the Daily Gazette, and any mistakes are mine or the newspaper’s. I think it will hold up pretty well to the scrutiny of most historians, but if anyone sees something that doesn’t look quite right, let me know.

 

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Mabee Farm Time Line

1671 – Daniel Janse Van Antwerpen buys land in what is now Rotterdam Junction from the Mohawks.

1705 – Van Antwerpen sells land to Jan Pieterse Mabee who builds a stone house on his property.

1790 – An inn is added to the house, and in 1792 Philip Schuyler is a guest while surveying the area for his Western Inland Lock Navigation Company.

1905 – Maggie Mabee is the last family member to live in the house as she begins renting out the house to the Crawford family.

1926 – The Daughters of the American Revolution dedicate a plaque that says the house was built “about 1680.” Later research more precisely places the building of the stone house in 1705.

June 20, 1973 – A local group of prominent men, including GE scientist Vince Schaefer and his brother, home builder Paul Schaefer, as well as city/county historian Larry Hart and SCHS president Wayne Harvey, begin talks with owner and Mabee descendant George E. Franchere about turning the Mabee Farm into a state historic site.

June 29, 1976 – The Mabee House is placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Jan. 22, 1993 – Franchere, who had moved to Florida and was renting out the house, donates the farm, its outbuildings, 9.3 acres of land and $17,500 to the Schenectady County Historical Society.

Jan. 4, 1994 – Following questions from the town of Rotterdam, a judge rules that the Mabee Farm is tax-exempt.

Jan. 7, 1996 – SCHS fails to win state grant for Mabee Farm. Fundraising begins.

Nov. 34, 1997 – SCHS is awarded $10,000 grant for the Mabee Farm from the Preservation League of New York State.

Sept. 17, 1998 – Schenectady Chapter of the DAR rededicates the Mabee Farm.

March 7, 1999 – Tours are conducted at the Mabee Farm by appointment only.

May 22, 1999 – Work begins reassembling parts from a barn moved from Route 67 in Johnstown to the Mabee Farm.

Aug. 22, 1999 – Reassembled Johnstown barn is raised.

April 28, 2000 – Town of Rotterdam allows SCHS to open Mabee Farm to the public for tours on a regular basis.

September 2000 – Mabee Farm begins public tours.

Oct. 21, 2001 – Schenectady County Community College Archaeology Program conducts a dig at the Mabee Farm.

September 2002 – Mabee Farm begins offering school tours to fourth and seventh graders.

By 2002 – An authentic, working blacksmith shop is added to the farm. (Ok, this is a bit of a guess, so anyone who can precisely tell us what year the blacksmith shop was opened would be nice.)

July, 2004 – SCHS announces plans to build education center at the Mabee Farm.

June 2007 – A series of concerts offering folk and American roots music, called The Howling, begin in the large barn and continue to this day every summer.

July 18, 2008 – SCHS wins bid to acquire 9.2 acres of land on the Glenville side of the Mohawk River across from the Mabee Farm, preserving the site’s historic viewshed.

Aug. 13, 2009 – Ground is broken on the George E. Franchere Education Center at the Mabee Farm.

Sept. 23, 2011 – The Franchere Education Center opens with an exhibit of Len Tantillo’s paintings.

Oct. 7, 2018 – Work nears completion on a renovation and re-interpretation project on the Mabee Farm, earning the SCHS an “Award for Excellence” from the Greater Hudson Heritage Network.

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Categories: Life & Arts, News, Schenectady County

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