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What you need to know for 11/18/2017

Cudmore: Tiny village of Ames has interesting past

Cudmore: Tiny village of Ames has interesting past

'Stuart Little' author visited in 1940s

Ames, located between Canajoharie to the north and Sharon Springs to the south, has a population of about 150 people and is one of the smallest villages in New York state.

It was described as a "quaint but active" community by village historian Maude VanArsdale, who died in 2012.

New Englanders settled Ames at about 1760. The village was named for Fisher Ames of Dedham, Massachusetts, an eloquent orator and Revolutionary War patriot. 

In 1835, black slaves owned by Abigail Bingham of Ames constructed a thick-walled stone school on Latimer Hill Road.  The building, now on the National Registry of Historic Places, was built on land donated by the Bingham family.

In 1837, Ames Academy opened as a private school.  In 1859, Ames Academy boasted 305 books, two teachers and 80 students. Students boarded at homes in the community.

Around 1870, the Ames Academy became a free school and later continued as a public school in the Canajoharie district.  

Current Ames Village Historian Dennis Malcolm said that thousands of people lived in Ames and nearby communities of Buel and Sprout Brook during the heyday of harvesting hops to make beer in the late 1800s.  While the other settlements were known for taverns, night life and shopping, Ames had homes and boarding houses.

Ames was once bigger than Canajoharie and had a nail factory, grist mill and paint shop. At one time, the settlement had three orchestras. Residents manufactured pumps, baskets, caskets and feather beds.

The village was incorporated in 1924.  The Ames school closed in 1959. The last teacher was Gertrude Hague. 

Maude VanArsdale and her husband, Leon, then village mayor, were instrumental in turning the vacant school into a museum in 1988.  Malcolm began helping at the museum after he and his wife Sandy moved to the village in 1999 from Pennsylvania.  After Maude VanArsdale died, Dennis Malcolm became curator of the museum and village historian.

Exhibits include a model circus used as a traveling exhibit by Beech-Nut, a voting machine, maps used in the school, period newspapers that can be perused, reproductions of drawings of Mohawk Valley homes by artist Fritz Vogt, a collection of barbed wire and other artifacts.

"Old Home Day" parades in summers past in Ames attracted as many as 15,000 tourists to raise funds for the village Fire Department.  Now the Fire Department raises money with pancake breakfasts in the winter.   

Malcolm said in an effort to “keep Ames on the map” events are being held at the museum.  A summer’s end event featuring crafters and museum tours plus a 5K run or walk for the museum will be held on Saturday, Sept. 16.

STUART LITTLE

Author E.B. White visited Ames in the 1940s, had a sarsaparilla soda at the local store and was so taken with the place that it figures in a scene from White's children's book, “Stuart Little.” Stuart, a talking mouse, loves the "high white houses" and elm trees in Ames.  It is "the loveliest town of all," wrote White, adding that Stuart enjoyed “the feeling of being in a new place on a fine day."

Built in 1883, the building that housed the village store at first was known as Scott's Opera House and later as Winnie's Music Hall. The opera house was on the second floor. The open space later was used for roller skating, basketball and church dinners.

Malcolm said the store used to house the post office, drug store and undertaker.  The building is now vacant but recently a young couple has been renovating the structure and may open the store this fall.

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