Canajoharie has the bones of a rich town.
A century ago, big houses sprouted on Beech-Nut prosperity. The food manufacturer has since packed up and moved away, but the pretty architecture remains.
This weekend, history lovers will have the chance to see remnants of that prosperity as part of a historical home and garden tour.
“I think Arkell and Lipe were in competition,” Sheryl Neal said as she strolled through her backyard — one of the tour stops.
Bartlett Arkell ran Beech-Nut and left a substantial mark on the village — the Arkell Museum still runs on his endowment. Walter Lipe was a top executive for the company, and judging from Neal’s yard, which was once Lipe’s acreage, he gave Arkell a run for his money in the grandeur department.
Neal and her husband, Stanley Phillips, live in the old Lipe carriage house. Tucked behind is a sloping garden of old trees, knee-high stone walls and deep water features. In the center, where a 21st century executive might place a gazebo, Lipe commissioned Bryant Fleming, a famed landscape architect of that era, to design a limestone and copper teahouse.
“They were Christian Scientists,” she said, standing under the blue and gold painted dome of an interior, “so the ladies would sit in here and meditate. They even had copper screens to keep the bugs out.”
Walking with Neal, it’s easy to imagine an ambitious Lipe turning the whole Canajoharie block he owned into a status symbol. She and Phillips have done an extraordinary renovation. When they moved in, back in 1984, it was almost beyond repair. The teahouse was boarded up and falling down, its roof patched with fiberglass.
“The vandals had got in,” she said. “You wouldn’t recognize it.”
Every stone had to be reset, a years-long task. She had the dome resheathed in $25,000 worth of copper.
It was a long haul, but worth it, she said, for the history involved. Much of Canajoharie and neighboring Palatine has similar history, some of it much older. The old Stone Arabia Stone Church on Route 10, another stop on the tour, was constructed shortly after the Revolutionary War. The time period is clearly visible in its design and in the names of churchyard residents.
“That’s were the slaves sat,” said Dolores Jacksland, the Canajoharie-Palatine Chamber of Commerce president and tour organizer, pointing at two parallel balconies running the length of the tall, wood-and-stone church.
A few hundred yards through a mown hayfield is a sparse churchyard of mostly tilting, weathered stones.
Jacksland pointed out the obelisk gravestone of John Brown, surrounded by an iron-gated fence. It’s not the noted John Brown of the 1850s — the fiery abolitionist whose body “lies a-moldering in his grave” in a famous song — but rather a Revolutionary War colonel killed in action on his 36th birthday.
“Nobody knows about this,” she said. “My son Lance is going to be out here Saturday with his musket to talk lore.”
Jacksland planned this and last year’s tours so people could become acquainted with local history. It worked very well last year, with 170 people coming from as far as Saratoga Springs. This year, though, will be the last one.
“We’re moving on to other things,” she said.
The Stone Arabia church is open to sightseers most days, but many of the tour stops are private residences and won’t be open again.
The tour runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. Maps and tickets are available for $15 at the information center by the dummy light in the center of Canajoharie.
A portion of the proceeds will benefit Fort Plain flood victims.