Niskayuna

GLEANINGS FROM THE CORN FLATS: The musical Mesicks of Niskayuna

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NISKAYUNA Known originally as the “Vedder Homestead,” the house at 2421 Troy-Schenectady Road is today commonly called the “Mesick House.” Jacob Mesick purchased the property in 1853 and for several generations the farm remained in the Mesick family with farming as the primary family occupation.

However, another tale can be told about cultivation, not of farm produce, but of the love of music, which became particularly prominent in the lives of Jacob’s great-granddaughters, Sara and Elizabeth Mesick.

After Jacob Mesick died in 1861, his son Thomas moved his family, including his son, Conrad, from Guilderland to Niskayuna. Thomas had married Anna Barbara Ogsbury in 1843 and, according to her obituary in 1918, she was “in her early days … a great lover of music and often took part in music festivals.” Their son, Conrad, the father of Sara and Elizabeth, likewise appreciated music and he “gave his children a complete musical education.”

Sara Mesick was born on July 16, 1886, and at the age of 14 graduated from the Union Classical Institute, the secondary school for the city of Schenectady before the opening of Schenectady High School. Because she was too young to be admitted to Vassar College, she spent an extra year studying at the Classical Institute before entering Vassar; she graduated in 1906,

After graduation, having decided to devote her life to music, Sara continued her studies in New York City under the tutelage of Wilbur Greene, the founder of the Metropolitan College of Music in New York. He also founded the Summer School of Singing in Brookfield, Connecticut, where Sara taught for several years after she returned from studying music in Europe.

In September 1911, Sara and her mother, Julia McChesney Mesick, sailed, on the White Star Line ship Celtic, from New York City to Liverpool to continue her music studies in London and Berlin. They returned in May 1912.

Sara then taught in New York City and at the Brookfield School before her first hometown performance as a professional musician in March 1913. Under a Schenectady Gazette headline which proclaimed, “Miss Sara Mesick Charms Audience,” the gathered friends welcomed the daughter of a local family and praised her voice, which was described as “a beautiful contralto” with lower notes “like cello tones.”

For the next five years, Sara maintained a teaching studio at 610 Carnegie Hall, where she became “one of the best known of the younger teachers in New York City.” Additionally, on many weeks she returned to Schenectady to teach on Thursdays and Fridays at the Schenectady Conservatory. She also had students in Philadelphia and Reading, and spent her summers teaching in Brookfield.

Unfortunately, what appeared to be the beginning of a successful musical career was sadly cut short. Sara Mesick succumbed to the 1918 Influenza pandemic at her parents’ home on Troy Road on October 14th. She was remembered as someone who “possessed a vivid magnetic personality,” enjoyed a reputation “as a teaching genius,” was blessed with many friends, and believed to be “on the way to fame.”

Sara’s sister Elizabeth was 12 years her junior but, in many ways, followed Sara’s lead. She attended Schenectady High School and then graduated from Vassar in 1918. Before her graduation, she studied singing under her sister’s direction at the Carnegie Hall studio and made her debut as a soloist at the Philadelphia Choral Society. After graduation, the sisters toured together before Sara’s death in October. Later, she studied with Sara’s mentor, Wilbur Greene, and replaced her sister as a teacher at the Schenectady Conservatory of Music.

After her marriage to Marcus Youmans, she and her husband toured together during 1920 and 1921. She also appeared in opera as Marguerite, Mimi, and Madame Butterfly; however, her true strength was on the concert stage.  Between September 1922 and February 1923, Elizabeth, accompanied, as was her sister, by her mother Julia, studied singing in Paris and Berlin.

A son, Peter Noel Youmans, was born in 1927, and family obligations appear to have limited Elizabeth’s musical career. In 1932, her father became quite ill; he died in 1933. Elizabeth and Marcus moved back to Niskayuna and took over management of the Mesick family farm. She continued to teach music from their home at “Stop 13 Troy Road” but traveling for concerts was over. In 1943, she died “at home” leaving behind her husband, Marcus and three children, Peter, Mark, and Serena.

Elizabeth and Sara shared one final thing: each died in the place where they were born. From the beginning, home and family had nurtured their talent and supported their careers and at the end welcomed them back. May we all be as fortunate.

Author’s Note: We encourage any past or present town residents to contact the Niskayuna Town Historian, Denis Brennan, at [email protected] regarding any information, resources, or stories they might like to share about Niskayuna’s distinctive history.

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