The controversial politician Theron Akin once used a rope to stop speeders near his home in what is now Fort Johnson.
Born in Johnstown, Akin went to school in Amsterdam and became a dentist and farmer. His father Ethan was a landowner who lived in Old Fort Johnson itself.
In 1909, Theron Akin led the campaign to incorporate the area around the Old Fort as the village of Akin and became the first village president.
Akin was elected as a Progressive Republican in Congress in 1911, telling the New York Times, “I got close to the people and told them the truth.”
“No one can doubt his honesty or his courage and firmness of purpose,” Robert McKeever of Schenectady told the Washington Post in 1911. “Besides being a farmer, Dr. Akin is a sort of town marshal in his village. He is the owner of an automobile, but he doesn’t like scorching, and when the autoists went speeding too rapidly by his house he determined to stop ‘em.
“He served notice that anyone caught going at a greater speed than 15 miles per hour through Akin would be dealt with summarily. The sign didn’t have a bit of an effect.
“Then the doctor early one morning secured a stout rope and stretched it across the road. He waited for the scorchers, and the first one, of course had to stop. It was not long until there were a score of impatient automobilists lined up. All were fined, and if they were caught again they were imprisoned. This put an end to the scorching in Akin, New York.”
The newspaper clipping used in this story was provided by Akin’s descendant, Terry Akin.
Akin served only one term in Washington, losing a re-election bid in 1912. The late local historian Bob Going wrote that while Akin was serving in Congress, his colleagues thought so little of him that they voted to rename the village of Akin as Fort Johnson, over his objections.
Akin was elected Amsterdam mayor in 1919. The Recorder reported he won endorsement of all parties in spirited primary contests that year.
When Akin became mayor of Amsterdam in the spring of 1920, the city made what were called radical changes in local traffic rules on Market Street, a busy downtown thoroughfare.
For the previous 16 years horses were driven on the east side of Market regardless of which way they were going. Apparently this made it easier for deliveries from horse-drawn wagons to businesses on the east side of the street. Motor cars traveling in either direction stayed on the west side of the street.
The new rule was simple: all vehicles, horse drawn or motor driven, had to keep right. Parking was banned on the east side of the street, except for deliveries. Thirty-minute parking was allowed on the west side of the street.
Officer William E. Cline was named traffic supervisor with a post at Market Street and Guy Park Avenue. His job was to educate drivers on the new traffic rules. Another officer was assigned to enforce the new parking restrictions. A third officer handled traffic at Market and East Main Streets.
Historian Hugh Donlon wrote of the Akin years, “It was a time of hatreds, barrages of unparalleled personal attacks, and with pamphleteering innuendos so gross and vicious that some of the campaign literature was later prized as collectors’ items.”
Akin left office at the end of 1923. According to the family website, when he died in 1933 he was “friendless and penniless.” He was buried at Pine Grove Cemetery in Tribes Hill.
Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Anyone with a suggestion for a Focus on History topic may contact him at 346-6657 or [email protected].