LF Historical Society Writing Series dedication to Hector Allen


The writing was on the wall. Since there was no way of getting out of debt, much of it a result of illegal activities, Hadley Jones had a choice of, most likely, going to prison or to flee from Little Falls to parts unknown. His choice was to get out of town fast, with as much as he could. The exit was well planned.

Before everything “exploded,” Hadley went to Albany to meet an old friend from college days, Frank McLoughlin owner of the Globe Hotel at the corner of State and South Pearl streets. A letter from Jones to McLoughlin indicated that he needed money to leave the country and that he never could return to Little Falls again. In need of money, on April 11, 1901 Jones signed a bill of sale with McLoughlin for $1,350 ($46,500 in 2021) in exchange for his law library, personal effects, household goods, and his home on East Gansevoort Street. Additionally, McLoughlin received a bill of sale for $1,000 ($31,000 in 2021) in exchange for Hadley’s accounts against clients. When Jones’s foibles came to light, McLoughlin immediately went to Little Falls, collected what was legally his, returned to Albany and sold them at a significant profit.

With the new-found money, Mr. and Mrs. Jones went to New York City where they stayed at the swanky Grand Hotel in mid-town lower Manhattan. While in New York City, Hadley sent his wife, Emily, on a whirlwind trip back to Little Falls to collect their belongings. She arrived in Little Falls late at night and departed by train back to New York City early the following morning with two large trunks of personal belongings in tow, never to be seen again.

To add insult to injury, when they checked out of the Grand Hotel, Hadley paid the bill with a check drawn on the Little Falls National Bank for $169 ($5,200 in 2021.) The check bounced – Hadley had no money in his account

How did the people in Little Falls react to this big-time thievery and subsequent flight? Not as bad as what one might think! The city was initially in an uproar over the disappearance of the ex-mayor under uncomplimentary circumstances. There was general regret in the city over the matter.

From the beginning, Hadley’s warmest friends felt he would return to Little Falls and clear up the mess. They were of the opinion he was “a good fellow.”  However, after two weeks on the lam, and the appearance of more forged mortgages, public opinion began to turn against him. His close friends remained staunch in their support – he had not “hurt” the general populace or the local banks.

As far as Emily was concerned, it was a completely different matter. She was never scorned. She elicited the greatest admiration by all, especially the women of Little Falls and Herkimer County, for her devotion and loyalty to her husband. She had lost her home and her fortune, yet she stuck by her man. No one really knows her part, if any, in the scandal. It was said she only found out about it after their flight to New York City. Was she merely the obedient wife?

Hadley Jones was disbarred from the office of attorney and counselor-at-law in proceedings in Rochester in late 1901. His mother, Maria Grove Jones, filed for bankruptcy in 1902, with much of her indebtedness due to her having endorsed several of her son’s fraudulent mortgages.

The Sunny Caribbean

Bankers from throughout the country, who had lost staggering amounts of money on the fraudulent loans, flocked to Little Falls to get a better understanding of the saga, and try to recoup as much of their losses as possible. A safe expert was brought in from New York City to open the safe in the National Bank of Herkimer County on South Ann Street. It was there the remaining counterfeit duplicate stock certificates were found.

But where had Hadley and Emily gone?  The National Banking Association hired the famous, world-wide Pinkerton’s National Detective Agency to find them. Their motto was: “We Never Sleep.” Reports filtered in that they had been sighted in Europe, South Africa, Argentina, and various countries in Central America. It appears though that Hadley had made his way from New York City to Honduras, a country in Central America that had no extradition treaty with the United States. He was untouchable!

Honduras was home to an infamous group of about one hundred swindlers, con-artists, scallywags, ex-bank presidents, former county treasurers, brokers, and municipal officials, all of whom were members of the notorious “Defaulters’ Club.” All had robbed lots of money. Although the members were well known by the Pinkertons, they could not be arrested for crimes committed in the United States.  Most of the fugitives lived in the capital, Tegucigalpa, while others lived in the smaller city of La Pimienta.  They lived lives of luxury. It was rumored, that while living there, Hadley was involved in the exporting of cocoa.

What about Emily? Local newspaper accounts on June 19, 1903 recorded that she was granted an absolute divorce from her husband, Hadley Jones, whereabouts unknown. The report went on to say she resumed her maiden name, Emily E. Neff. Problem is the initial report was in the Detroit newspapers without a mention of Hadley Jones. To bring more closure, it was widely reported that Hadley Jones died of a deadly “tropical jungle fever” in Honduras in 1903 – some say 1905.

End of The Story – Not Quite

Spokane, Washington is 2534 miles from Little Falls, New York, and 2892 miles from Tegucigalpa, Honduras (as the crow flies) and further away by boat. It was about as far away as one could get in the continental United States from Little Falls, New York. Spokane is where Emily E. Hughes moved to in 1903, soon to be followed by her husband, Richard H. Hughes. Richard had worked, in some capacity, in the booming mining communities of Rossland, British Columbia, Canada and Thunder Mountain, Idaho looking for gold. Some reports had him there as early as 1901. Think back to Hadley Jones’s interest in West Virginia mines back in the 1890s.

Emily worked as a secretary/clerk in the Spokane Department of Health. She must have had a responsible job since there are newspaper accounts of her appearing in court cases testifying on behalf of the department. She worked at the Department of Health from 1903 to 1912.

Richard H. Hughes, then nicknamed “Bliz,” had a varied career in Spokane. We do know that in 1907 he had a small insurance policy made out with Nelson Rust Gilbert of Little Falls as beneficiary. The Federal 1910 census shows him renting a home in Spokane at 430, Pine Street with Emily, his wife of 13 years. He was the assistant secretary of the Spokane Chamber of Commerce. Prior to 1910 he had worked on the news staff at the Spokane Daily Chronicle. Emily was still with the Health Department. He next went into a business partnership with Roscoe Couper to form the Northwest Storage & Transfer Company.  He sold his share of the company to Couper in 1912. Around this time Richard and Emily had a shop, “The Acme Letter Shop,” someplace in Spokane, most likely attended to by Emily.

The 1920 census lists Richard and Emily, still renting in Spokane, but now with a boarder. Richard was once again in the mining business in Thunder Mountain Idaho. In 1930, Richard was appointed a bailiff in Federal Judge J. Stanley Webster’s court, a position he retired from in 1933 at age 75. How ironic, a man who was a thief and evaded the law most of his life, retiring as a federal law enforcement official.


Richard H. Hughes died in Spokane, after a three-day illness, at age 80 on Monday, March 21, 1938. His obituary said he was a native of New York State, and had come to Spokane around 1901. He was buried (some say cremated) from the Smith Funeral Home and the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Spokane, Washington. His obituary said he was widely known in Spokane, then a city of 120,000 people.

Emily E Hughes, widow of Richard H. Hughes, passed away in Spokane on May 24, 1941 at age 69 after an illness of three months. Her obituary indicated that she was born and reared in Philadelphia and was educated abroad. As with her husband, she was buried from the Smith Funeral Home and the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist. No children or near relatives survived.

Searching the Spokane cemeteries on-line, I was not able to find where Richard and Emily Hughes were buried. I had the Smith Funeral Home in Spokane check through their records, but they could not find any burial location(s) for Richard or Emily Hughes. It turns out that they were not buried. A further check with the secretary at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Spokane revealed that Richard died of “angina pectoris” (heart attack) and Emily of a “cerebral hemorrhage” (stroke). The church records indicate that both Richard and Emily were cremated with no records of how or where their ashes were disposed. A search of unclaimed cremains handled by the Spokane County Medical Examiner’s Office since 1911 showed no entries for Richard or Emily Hughes. So where had their ashes gone?

What about the ashes ending up in Little Falls? A thorough check of the Church Street Cemetery records showed no Hadley Jones or Richard Hughes. The Jones family plot only has the remains of father Dewitt Jones (1912,) mother Maria Grove Jones (1917,) and brother Eugene Jones (1916.) A mystery continues.

The End

Was Richard H. Hughes really Hadley Jones?   All indications are the answer is definitely “Yes.” All the names and dates and places fit. Once he was in inescapable debt, Hadley devised an elaborate scheme to avoid jail, and pulled it off. His wife, Emily Neff Jones, remained true to him through thick and thin – loyal to the end. They died not wealthy, but people of modest means. And most telling that Richard Hughes was indeed Hadley Jones was his obituary. Richard H. Hughes’ parents are listed as Dewitt Hughes and Maria Grove Hughes. Hadley’s parents were Dewitt Jones and Maria Grove Jones!  Not a coincidence – he honored his parents. And finally, the picture of an older Richard Hughes in his obituary in Spokane, and one of young Mayor Hadley Jones in the Little Falls Evening Times are strikingly similar.

Did the people in Little Falls know what was really going on? Again, it appears that some of his closest friends and business acquaintances were aware of the situation, and they were in contact with him in Spokane. However, there was no mention in the Little Falls newspaper regarding Richard H. Hughes’ (Hadley’s) death.

Why would Richard H. Hughes in Spokane, Washington have taken out a $1,000 insurance policy ($27,000 in 2021) with the beneficiary Nelson Rust Gilbert in Little Falls, New York who was Hadley’s (Richard’s) former law partner and the best man at his wedding in 1897, if they had not been close friends at some point in their lives? Gilbert passed away in 1927, eleven years before Hughes (Jones), and the insurance policy passed on to his wife Mary Annette Gilbert and later to his daughter, A. Lillian Gilbert. Nelson Rust Gilbert, in his life-time, had become one of the wealthiest and most influential men in Little Falls, and was himself mayor of the city in 1920-1921.

Certainly, Hadley never came back to Little Falls, but I wonder if any of his friends ever visited him in Spokane?

What would Hadley’s and Emily’s lives been like if the Sutcliffe Brewery saga had not played out the way it did?

Was Hadley Jones a saint or a sinner?  You be the judge.

Louis Baum is a member of the Little Falls Historical Society

A Star is Born

Everybody enjoys a “rag to riches“ story especially if it involves a local boy or girl. Think about John Riccardo. John was the son of hard-working Italian immigrant parents. His father had a shoe store on John Street in addition to working long hours in a local bicycle factory. John rose to become president and chairman of the board of Chrysler Corporation. His brother, Dr. James Riccardo, was a professor at Utica College. But this story is about another local school-boy, Hadley Jones, who was the son of poor farmers, Dewitt and Maria Grove Jones, of Newville, a hamlet just southeast of Little Falls.

Born on November 12, 1857, Hadley was one of three sons. He must have showed promise as a youngster since he was sent into town to attend the Little Falls Academy; from which he graduated. He continued his education and went on and graduated from Albany Law School in 1882. Hadley then returned to Herkimer County to practice law. He was said to be quite brilliant, a great orator, and skilled in all aspects of the law. He was a mover and a shaker. Much was expected of him, and by shear force of character he was about to make himself into a social and political leader in the community.

A Rise to Power

Jones first read law in Herkimer in the office of Hon. Robert Earl, former Chief Judge of the New York State Court of Appeals. He was a favorite of Judge Earl, and in 1882 he married the judge’s niece Henrietta Wilkinson. That same year, he moved to Little Falls which was fast becoming the manufacturing center in the upper Mohawk valley. He joined with George Crumby to form the firm of Crumby & Jones with offices on Main Street at the current location of Van Meter & Van Meter. The firm was quite successful, and Jones was earning the reputation, not only as a great lawyer, but as being a shrewd real estate investor. His talents were not overlooked by the owners of the major businesses and factories in Little Falls. Hadley also had talents outside the practice of law. In 1886, he was one of fifteen original members of the Elks Club in Little Falls, the first village in the United States to be granted an Elks charter.

Things began to unravel a bit when George Crumby died a premature death in 1887. Jones continued practicing law on his own, retaining the name of the law firm. His marriage to Henrietta Wilkinson ended in divorce in 1888. Jones, now a single man, pushed on with his practice, and met with continuing approval by the aristocracy of Little Falls’ business, social, and political community. He was elected a supervisor in 1889.

As the “Gay ‘90s” arrived, Little Falls was a vibrant place to live and work in. With the arrival of immigrants from Europe to man the factories, the population increased to nearly 9,000 people, an increase of 27% in just a decade. Visitors to Little Falls included former heavyweight boxing champions John L. Sullivan and Jack Dempsey who appeared in plays at the Chronkite and Skinner opera houses. The first hospital opened in Little Falls, Homer Snyder produced his first bicycle, the first automobile went through Little Falls, and David H. Burrell shipped his newly invented dairy processing equipment to New Zealand.

A symbol of Hadley Jones’s increased stature in the community occurred in 1893 when the steam launch “Victor Adams” was set afloat on the Mohawk River renamed as the “Hadley Jones.” The twelve-passenger launch would ferry partygoers on pleasure excursions to picnic grounds up and down the river.

The Sutcliffe Brewery Saga

It is said that Hadley Jones’s money problems began shortly after he was appointed “receiver” to oversee the 1894 bankruptcy proceedings of the Sutcliffe Brewery in Auburn, New York. The property was valued at $150,000 ($4.75 million in 2021,) but on the day the brewery was to be sold he formed a syndicate and bought the property for $60,000 ($1.9 million in 2021.) Expectations were bright since the brewery was a big money maker. He applied his receiver fee of $6,000 toward his share of $35,000 ($1.1 million in 2021) of the purchase price and borrowed the remainder of the money from well-heeled friends in Little Falls.

The business reopened with the former owner, John Sutcliffe, hired as brew master. Having lost his sanity because of the bankruptcy, Sutcliffe placed chemicals in the brewing vats, which was not discovered until 30,000 barrels of beer had been distributed to customers. The good will of the company was destroyed, and the newly formed concern was ruined. However, Jones still owed the money he had borrowed at high interest rates. Although Jones owned significant real estate in Little Falls, all this property was highly mortgaged and could not be turned into ready cash to pay his creditors. As judgements began to accumulate, Jones filed for bankruptcy protection and had to conduct business in his mother’s name.

A Way Out of Debt

As an axiom – it is probably easier to get into debt than it is to get out of debt. Hadley Jones found this to be true. There are several ways to get out of debt. One is to work hard, expand your financial horizons, be frugal and gradually pay the debt down. Jones teamed with Nelson Rust Gilbert, the son of a prominent Little Falls factory owner, to form the law firm of Jones & Gilbert. A venture in Old Forge then put Jones in union with the corporate elite of Little Falls. Business and income improved, but he was still in the need for money.

In 1895, a group of Little Falls tycoons, headed by Victor Adams, purchased significant parcels of land in and around Old Forge and the Fulton chain of lakes under the name of “The Old Forge Company.” They named Hadley Jones as the secretary of the conglomerate. Others involved included J. J. Gilbert, H. P. Snyder, Albert Story, Capt. John Crowley, and Titus Sheard, all familiar names in Little Falls. To cement their interest in the venture, the group appointed two Little Falls cronies as general business manager and superintendent to run everyday activities. The Old Forge investors thought so much of the Little Falls people that they named streets in their village after Adams, Gilbert and Sheard. It is interesting to note that Hadley Jones did not issue any reports for the annual meetings of the company in 1897, 1898, and 1899. Was he hiding something? Despite a step upward in status, Jones was still in need of money.

Another way to get out of debt was to marry into money. In January 1897 Hadley Jones became engaged to Emily E. Neff from Philadelphia. Emily was the daughter of Seymour Neff a wealthy Philadelphia merchant. Her mother Sarah Story Neff had ties to Little Falls – Sarah’s father was Albert J. Story Sr. the long-time president of the National Bank of Herkimer County. Quite possibly the couple had met during a visit by the Neff family to Little Falls.

Emily’s mother died in 1893 and left her $40,000 ($1.25 million in 2021) including shares of stock in both the National Bank of Herkimer County (70) and the Little Falls National Bank (24.) She was an extraordinarily rich young lady. Emily was a fixture on the society pages of the Philadelphia newspapers, and made trips to Europe.

Hadley and Emily, fourteen years his younger, were married on June 2, 1897 at St. Mary’s Protestant Episcopal Church in Philadelphia with his law partner, Nelson Rust Gilbert, as best man and J. J. Gilbert II and Lorenzo Bucklin, Little Falls friends, as ushers. Nelson and J. J. were sons of J. J. Gilbert possibly the richest man In Little Falls. The married couple made their home in Little Falls where they were quite popular.

In 1898 the Republican party drafted an increasingly popular Hadley Jones to run for mayor of Little Falls. The party was quite hopeful since the strong Republican districts in the city had shown the greatest gains in registration since the last election. On November 7, 1898, Jones was elected mayor defeating Dr. Charles H. Glidden, local physician and Health Officer, 1137 to 986. At that time, Little Falls mayors were elected for a one-year term.

Unrelated to his public service, in the same year he constructed a building at the southwest corner of Albany and Second streets to house the Little Falls police and fire departments under a long-term lease agreement with the city. To get the money for construction he committed his first forgery. Hadley forged the names on mortgages of several elderly, wealthy, female clients who lived in distant cities throughout New York State.

His term in office seemed to be otherwise uneventful. It was reported that Jones spent much of his time in New York City, involved in the settlement of the various claims against Alfred Dodge. In 1900 he returned to his law practice and married life, living with Emily at 616 East Gansevoort Street.

The Film Flam

From outward appearances everything seemed to be going quite well with the Joneses. However, what was being seen by the public was the tip of the iceberg. What was not seen what was “below the surface.” Hadley Jones, for various reasons, was greatly in debt. Later reflections showed he liked to gamble, play the ponies, and had made bad investments. In order to get out from under this debt he had speculated, and then invested heavily, in coal mines and oil fields in West Virginia which proved to be worthless. At this point in time, Jones was essentially penniless.

The question was how to get out of debt and still have the appearance of affluence? His solution was with his wife’s stocks which they had on deposit in both the National Bank of Herkimer County and the Little Falls National Bank. He did not want to use the money from the stocks deposited in the banks, but he had an ingenious ruse. Taking the good certificates, he had a fake stock certificate book made by a printing house in Buffalo, New York. It was exactly the same as the original, including the stock numbers.

Hadley then used seventeen of the fake certificates as collateral for loans from banks from Providence, Rhode Island to Ashtabula, Ohio, and several small banks throughout New York State. On these fake certificates he forged the names of William G. Milligan [President] and Albert Story Jr. [Cashier] who was Emily’s uncle. When these banks called the Little Falls banks they were told “Yes, we do have these stocks in our possession as collateral.” The cash loan from the Rhode Island bank alone was for $8,000 ($250,000 in 2021,) and a Troy, New York bank another $5,000 ($155,000 in 2021) both backed up by bogus stock certificates. All told, the value of the forged certificates was estimated to be as high as $100,000 ($3.1 million in 2021.) It is interesting to note that none of the forged certificates were against the two Little Falls banks. So, in one sense, the people of Little Falls were not directly hurt by Jones’s bank transgressions.

However, there were still another scam. Upon investigation, it was found that Hadley Jones had issued fraudulent mortgages for many properties in and around Little Falls which he controlled in various ways. Jones took out second mortgages, issued with forged names, on property to obtain cash without the property owners being aware until they received payment requests from the city treasurer’s office. Property owners blamed the county clerk’s office in Herkimer for not noticing the forgeries on the second mortgages filed by Jones.

Jones was also a heavy debtor to many individuals including those who had loaned him money going back to the failed Sutcliffe Brewery days. He continued to pay interest on the “loans” and mortgages promptly to all holders of the numerous notes so as not to cause alarm. These false mortgages, and Jones’s personal loans amounted to another $20,000 ($620,000 in 2021.) Unlike the forged certificates for loans from distant banks and personal loans from friends, these misdeeds did hurt a small number of people in Little Falls. In unescapable debt, what to do next?

While driving down Flint Avenue in my hometown of Little Falls the other day, I happened to look to my right and for no apparent reason, my mind flashed back to the 1950’s.

Ray Lenarcic at the Veterans Memorial in Ward Square.

I recalled in vivid detail searching for diamonds on a rocky hillside behind the Ave with my buddy Rog Kopp. The city is known for the diamond-like quartz located within its boundaries. Later that day, we changed into our uniforms pursuant to performing in the marching band’s halftime performance during another losing football game. These memories, and others to come as I drove on, reminded me of my incredibly blessed childhood-truly halcyon days. Blue skies and golden sunshine but for one black cloud which continues to hover over the city, and always will.

I was born on September 11, 1942, a date that lives in infamy (not the year, the day-month). Actually, another date living in infamy occurred about the same time I was conceived, December 7, 1941. Pearl Harbor. The days when I was learning how to walk and, to everyone’s later chagrin, talk, were not so golden or blessed for the “Boys of ’43.”

I’m sure that one of the times my Aunt Mary was pushing my stroller down West Main Street, Phil Spine Jr. passed us by on his way home. That Halloween, while hundreds of kids were trick-or-treating or dunking for apples at Roa’s backyard party, the handsome, debonair, gregarious kid whose ‘43 yearbook quote read “write me as one who loves his fellowmen” was killed in Italy. His father was my dad’s boss.

Upstairs from Phil lived Marion Bailey, my wonderful, kind fifth grade teacher at Church Street Elementary School. Her only child, Vernon, a star on the gridiron, was a low-keyed kid whose yearbook quote stated “A manly chap if ever there was one.” Mrs. Bailey’s Christmas Eves could never have been the same after her beloved boy was killed in Belgium on December 24, 1944. Sadly and ironically, he wouldn’t be the only victim of warfare from the city to die on that date.

One of my fondest youthful memories is playing first trumpet with high school band director Don Musella and the incredible Leo Potrikus in the Little Falls Military Band’s Wednesday night concerts in our two beautiful parks.

Included in those reminiscences is the legendary master of ceremonies, Mr. Bow Tie, Clarence Hotaling, along with clarinetist Joe Vespasiano, arguably Mohawk Central’s most popular teacher. Joe V, who served in and survived the war, was good friends with Nellis Jones. When my mother grocery shopped at the American Store she inevitably passed by Jonesy and Joey V stacking shelves. A gifted thespian, musician and class officer, Nellis’ “last will and testament” in the yearbook read-“I leave with my Klock.” That’d be his fetching fellow grad, Helen Klock. During the summer of ’43, when I was splashing around in my “baby pool,” they were married. Shortly thereafter he embarked for England. Christmas would never be the same for the Jones and Klock families and the brown-eyed beauty; Jonesy’s ship was blown up on December 20 on the English Channel.

Eddie Wroblewski grew up in the “Gut,” Furnace Street. He and his buds played games in the same park that me and my buds would a few years later. Edzu was an extremely intelligent, personable kid. According to his niece, Fran Teall, he could recite poetry in Polish at the age of three. The yearbook tells us that he belonged to the band, orchestra and Glee Club. His quote-“Had I been present at creation, I would have given some useful hints for better ordering the universe .” On January 12, 1945, somewhere in France, Eddie W’s bright light was extinguished.

Walter “Tapir” Sheehan’s picture never appeared in the yearbook alongside his former classmates because he dropped out of school. According to his niece Patty Sheehan Vail, a former schoolmate of mine, after the Tape convinced his mom to sign for him, he enlisted in the Marines. He joined up to “help get the war over.” In making his valiant contribution to that end, he earned a Purple Heart for wounds suffered on Gilbert Island, wounds which didn’t slow him down. In June of ’44 on Saipan, Walt was hit again- this time suffering wounds which would still his noble heart. On September 24. His birthday. He was 21.

The early 1950’s were important years for me in many ways.

While I was enjoying a particularly memorable birthday—big surprise party-on 9/11/50- the city was mourning the loss of Tommy Ochar, KIA in Korea the day before. In the late spring and early summer of 1951 when I was experiencing the joy of playing my first organized baseball in the Grasshopper League with the Jantosciak brothers, Jim Waltamath and “Shammy” Krchniak, Clinton Avery and Bill Grogan were making the supreme sacrifice in that same war. For me, Christmas 1951 was especially memorable as we welcomed to the family our first puppy, a red-haired Cocker Spaniel we unoriginally named Ginger. Five days later, Walt Bobak was KIA. The first highlight of my baseball career occurred in the summer of ’55 when my VFW team won the coveted Little League championship, defeating our archrival Orioles in extra-innings. Six months earlier, Milan Mosny’s plane went down. The West Point grad’s brother, Danny, graduated with me. Two wars, ten sons of the Rock City gone and, but for family and friends, too soon forgotten.

Unfortunately, that “ole debil war” wasn’t done wreaking its havoc upon the hearts and minds of the city’s residents. It had two more kicks in the gut left. Marine SSgt. Joseph “Stash” Zawtocki, Jr. Stash was one of the Furnace Street Gang. The blond-haired, blue-eyed, rosy-cheeked kid was a tough, never-give-up fireball who endured the playful abuse of us elders, often coming back for more. While I was reaching my adulthood, learning the ins and outs of the teaching profession, my friend was dying by inches while fighting in a war which never should have been fought. Given his nature, I wasn’t surprised when told that he suffered 684 days of torture at the hands of his captors in South Vietnam before his noble heart finally stopped beating on Christmas Eve, 1969. If you’re ever in Washington, D.C., stop by that resting place of heroes, Arlington National, and pay him your respects. Cpl. Donald A. Coffin. The wife of my late best friend and HCCC colleague Gary Wayne Ruff, Karen, was first cousins with Donnie. She remembered him for his strawberry-blond hair, good looks and rambunctious nature. Little Falls Historical Society member Dave Krutz played football with the Murphy Road resident who, like Walt Sheehan before him, had his mother sign the papers enabling him to enlist in the Army. After basic, the personable fun-lover set off for Southeast Asia to “do his duty to God and country.” On January 18th, 1968 his duty, tragically, was done. He was 18.

One of old lady nature’s more unusual phenomena is the sun shower-a veritable contradiction-bright sunshine and pouring down rain-at the same time. As I was passing by a sacred piece of ground in Eastern Park which Hunger Coalition leader and former City Treasurer Dave Petkovsek calls The Shrine, an area where inside a protective fence stand four small stone monuments donated by Herkimer County Community College students and a larger one graced by the incredible artwork of another local, Mark Verri, each honoring veterans, including combat nurses, a sun shower suddenly began raining down. And in the context of that trip down memory lane I’d just taken, I thought-how appropriate. The sun and blue skies representing the joys of life, and the raindrops symbolic of its sadness.

“These are the times that try men’s souls.” So begins Thomas Paine’s December 23, 1776 epic treatise “The Sunshine Patriot,” written at perhaps the darkest point of the American Revolution, George Washington’s half-starving, dis-spirited troops were in their Valley Forge winter quarters.

The Battle of Oriskany was some eight months in the future, the crucial alliance with France further off still. The suffering, death, and destruction endured by our Mohawk Valley ancestors began when the British launched their 1777 three-prong campaign.

To further quote Paine: “The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country, but he who stands by it now deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”

Our Patriot ancestors were neither sunshine patriots nor summer soldiers. The purpose of our local Patriots Day observance is to honor their memory on the third Saturday in May each year.


Acting on a recommendation from the Little Falls Historical Society, then Mayor Robert Peters issued a 2010 City proclamation establishing a Patriots Day observance in Little Falls. Paired with Memorial Day, Patriots Day thus establishes a period of time each year honoring the memory of those who served.

Patriots Day was first established in Massachusetts in 1938 to be observed each year on the third Monday in April in commemoration of the 1775 Battles of Lexington and Concord, the first clashes between British and American forces in the Revolutionary War. This is a regional holiday in New England.

Anyone who has attended Patriots Day activities in Boston can attest to the emotions that are raised. The viewing of the somber bagpipe-led procession as it snakes its way through downtown Boston paying tribute at cemetery gravesites of Revolutionary War heroes with rifle salutes is a moving experience.


When the war began, there were around 10,000 people living in the Mohawk Valley; during the war, between 2500 and 3000 Loyalists left our region, mostly for Canada. Around 3000 Patriots abandoned their farms to seek safety elsewhere, and around 1000 others were killed. Only 3000 stuck it out. No sunshine patriots or summer soldiers in that number!

American school children should learn about Lexington, Concord, Bunker Hill, the ride of Paul Revere, and the signing of the Declaration of Independence, but they should also know about the all-important role that the Mohawk Valley played in the Revolution.

Our area was at greater risk from 1777-81 than any other region of the country. In fact, the Tory and Indian attack at the Little Falls gristmill occurred in 1782, some eight months AFTER the war had ended. More on that later.

The case for a local Patriots Day is compelling. Our region experienced a vicious civil war during the Revolution often pitting neighbor against neighbor and even relatives against one another. Hatred and vengeance ran deep. The stakes could not have been higher. The massacres at Cherry Valley and Andrustown provide stark testimony.

Loyalists or Tories remained loyal to England, fighting to keep their land and protect their families. Patriots also fought for land, family, and freedom and independence. The most basic of human instincts drove these divisions.

The primary British goal in conducting destructive military raids in the Mohawk Valley region was to wipe out one of the major food supply regions for American forces. Dozens of grain-filled buildings and gristmills were destroyed throughout this five-year period. Our area was  the breadbasket of the colonies.


Each year, the Little Falls Historical Society honors Patriots Day by hosting an event at a local historic site. These events have the twin purpose of honoring the service and patriotism of our ancestors and drawing attention to some of our oldest and most important local historic structures and burial grounds.

Each Patriots Day program includes a series of short addresses about key local events and people from our Revolutionary War period. The Astenrogen Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution places a cemetery wreath. Dr. Oscar Stivala plays “Taps” and Robert Schmelcher adds musical accompaniment.

The first ceremony in 2010 was held in Yellow Church Cemetery where approximately fifty Revolutionary War veterans are buried. Many of these veterans fought at the pivotal Battle of Oriskany under General Nicholas Herkimer. A little time spent in this cemetery induces a sense of awe and gratitude.

In the late 18th century, the small settlement at Riemensnyder’s Bush was clustered in the area near where Yellow Church Cemetery is today; a gristmill and fort stood nearby. On April 3, 1780, some sixty Tories and Indians raided this settlement, burned the gristmill, killed some number of Patriots, and took nineteen prisoners away. Survivors sought safety by moving southward into the valley. Revenge-filled hatred drove both sides.

General Nicholas Herkimer historic site cemetery with obelisk on left.

General Nicholas Herkimer historic site cemetery with obelisk on left.

General Nicholas Herkimer Home (1764) was the site of the 2011 program, its cemetery’s 60-foot obelisk (1896) provided the backdrop. Revolutionary War reenactors fired off rifle salutes.

Fort Herkimer Church (1753-67), the oldest still-standing building in Herkimer County, and its cemetery were the sites of the 2012 Patriots Day event. The building stood as a fortress where locals often sought refuge during both the French and Indian and Revolutionary Wars.

School children learn about the April 18, 1775 midnight ride of Paul Revere warning residents of Lexington and Concord about the approach of British troops. The next day produced clashes between those troops and Massachusetts Minutemen.

It is but a minor stretch to compare Adam Helmer’s September 16, 1778 thirty-mile heroic run from South Edmeston to Fort Dayton with stops at Schuyler Lake and Andrustown warning all where he passed about the approach of Joseph Brant and 200 Tories and Indians with Paul Revere’s midnight ride. Many fled to safety at Fort Dayton; Helmer’s heroic run with Indians in hot pursuit saved an untold number of Patriots.

In 2013, Patriots Day was observed at Indian Castle Church (1769), the pre-Revolutionary War Anglican missionary church built by Sir William Johnson for Mohawk Indians.  The church is backdropped by old cemetery tombstones. The fact that this structure survived an arson’s attempt to burn it down in the 1970’s is a great story itself.

During this ceremony, Little Falls Historical Society members were the surprised recipients of a New York State Legislature proclamation presented by then Assemblyman Marc Butler and then Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney honoring the Society for its ongoing efforts promoting the contributions of our ancestors towards our nation’s independence.

In 2014, Patriots Day was observed at Snells Bush Church and cemetery in Manheim. The present church (1850) is the third structure to sit on this site. The first church (1757) was burned by Loyalists during the Revolutionary War.

Each year on July 4th we celebrate the 1776 issuance of the Declaration of Independence. After affixing his name to the Declaration of Independence in 1776, Benjamin Franklin stated: “We must all hang together, or assuredly we will all hang separately.”

The same fate awaited the members of the Palatine Committee of Safety after drafting and signing their Declaration of Independence-like document on May 21, 1775 at Louck’s Tavern in Stone Arabia fourteen months earlier. Franklin, his fellow Founding Fathers, and these like-minded Palatines were all traitors in the eyes of the British.

New York State historic marker nearby Yellow Church Cemetery.

New York State historic marker nearby Yellow Church Cemetery.

Patriots Day 2015 was observed in Little Falls at the former Masonic Temple (1915). This French Medieval-like building dominates a three-street intersection where both the Old Stone School House (1796) and Octagon Church monument are also located. This intersection is saturated with local historical significance.

Our 2016 Patriots Day observance was at the Herkimer Reformed Church (1835). The burial grounds alongside the church contain the remains of a number of Revolutionary War veterans.

The Battle of West Canada Creek took place in September 1781 on the eastern creek rim between present-day East Herkimer and Kast Bridge. Patriot forces under Lieutenant Solomon Woodworth set out from Fort Dayton which was located near the present Herkimer Reformed Church and stumbled into a trap set by a much greater number of Indians and Tories; the short battle left twenty-two dead Patriots and nine more were taken prisoner.

Historic Trinity (1807) in Fairfield was both the first Episcopal Church constructed north of the Mohawk Valley and the site of the 2017 Patriots Day observance. The nearby cemetery  contains the remains of early Fairfield residents, including some Revolutionary War veterans.

Retreating Tory forces under Major Ross and Walter Butler would have passed only a few miles to the north of Historic Trinity in October 1781 after conducting their final raids in the Mohawk Valley and battling Patriot forces at Johnstown. One day later, Butler met his fate at the hands of Patriot forces under Colonel Marinus Willett where Hinkley reservoir is presently located.

Paines Hollow United Methodist Church (1840) was the site of the 2018 Patriots Day observance.  Adam Helmer’s run with Indians in constant pursuit passed nearby this site and the 1778 Andrustown Massacre occurred only a few miles to the south.

For the tenth Patriots Day observance in 2019, the Historical Society returned the event to Little Falls at Emmanuel Episcopal Church (1835). The church was the first single denominational church in Little Falls and it is the oldest still standing church in the city.

To further underscore the Revolutionary War long period of Patriot v. Loyalist conflict and death, the 1782 attack at the Little Falls gristmill in June 1782 occurred some eight months after the British surrendered to American forces at Yorktown on October 19, 1781.

The gristmill was attacked and destroyed by some 300 Loyalists and Indians; some number of Patriots were killed. Gristmill owners Gresham Skinner and Frank Cox survived by hiding under the water wheel, Daniel Petrie died a gruesome death at the hands of the attackers. Local hatred still ran deep even after Revolutionary War hostilities had ended elsewhere.

The Little Falls Historical Society installed a NYS blue and yellow historic marker in 2020 near the site of this attack. The marker is located at the end of West Mill Street.


Having been a speaker at each of these Patriots Day observances over the years has been a privilege and honor. Historic structures and cemeteries bring on a combined feeling of historic solitude, awe, and thankfulness. As we stand before the graves of Revolutionary War era Mohawk Valley inhabitants, we are touched by the legacies of our forebears who so impacted the course of both local and national events during the Revolutionary War era.

The Little Falls Historical Society encourages the various groups of dedicated volunteers who caretake these important historic structures and sites to observe Patriots Day each year in whatever manner and fashion that is appropriate to their facility.

NOTE: Unfortunately, due to COVID, no Patriots Day events took place in either 2020 or 2021. Plans are in the works to host a 2022 event at the Norway Historical Museum.

This article was written by Jeffrey Gressler and published on May 10, 2021 for the 2021 Little Falls Historical Society Museum Writing Series.

“For it will not be believed that such a force as Great Britain has employed for eight years in this country would be baffled in their plan of subjugating it by numbers infinitely less, composed of men often times half-starved and always in rags, without pay and experiencing at times every species of distress which human nature is capable of undergoing.”     ~  George Washington ~

(letter from GW to Nathaniel Greene – February 6, 1783)

With all the buzz about COVID-19 vaccines, it brought back memories of vaccines administered when I was in Vietnam in 1971-72.

Schuyler Van Horn with dog Henry in Vietnam in 1972.

I was not a Medic but an intelligence officer stationed in a remote place named An Loc. Not far from the Cambodian border, 70 miles north of Saigon, straddling Route 13 (Thunder Road), I was one of 32 Americans in MACV advisor team 47, next to 2,000 ARVN (Army of the Republic of Viet Nam).

Our province, Binh Long, had a significant population of Montagnards. These were primitive indigenous people, the women were bare-breasted and the men wore loincloths and hunted with crossbows and poisoned arrows. The South Vietnamese called them “moi,” a pejorative term that translated as savage.

But the Montagnards were treated well by the Americans, and in fact, they guarded our small compound.

For some reason, we had four medical personnel on our compound — two Army Medics and two Air Force fellows. The Air Force guys spent most of their time at a leper colony just down the road.

Someone came up with the bright idea of Med Caps for Montagnards.

They lived in really remote villages and there were no roads there. They were only accessible by air — i.e. helicopter. They had no concept of germs. For example, the village’s water supply might have been a stream. A plank across the stream was their latrine. Fifty yards downstream they pulled out their drinking water. Their villages were small, with thatched huts on stilts, their livestock (if any) living underneath. They were slash and burn people, much like the early Iroquois Indians.

Needless to say, disease was rampant. They suffered from diseases such as polio, dysentery, whooping cough, measles, smallpox — all diseases that Americans had conquered and had vaccines to treat these scourges. So, the mission was to fly into the villages, vaccinate them, and we would improve their lot.

That concept was easier said than done. The first time we lined them all up, the medical personnel examined them, but they were scared of needles and no vaccinations were administered. The second time the Medics used small plastic vials of medicine, different colors treating different diseases. However, once the villagers went through the line, they all gathered around a banana tree and traded colors. The third time it was bottoms up and a big success. The fourth time ground fire was so intense we could not land. There were no more Med Caps thereafter.

And so ended my Vietnam vaccine experience.

SCHUYLER VAN HORN is a member of the Little Falls Historical Society.

To anyone who walked the halls of Little Falls High School in the 1960’s, 70’s, 80’s and even into the 1990’s Hector Allen was a familiar and respected figure.

Hector taught “Social Studies” – New York State, United States and World History – at LFHS for 34 years.  Two generations of students – mothers and daughters, fathers and sons – sat in Hector’s classes and learned not only the rote dates, names and events but much more from Hector.  At its essence history is the study of life and his special teaching style brought life to history.  Hector Allen taught history passionately and this passion shown through to his students who more often than not chose him as their favorite teacher.

Hector Allen was born in Troy, New York in 1932.  During World War II his family moved to St. Johnsville, where he graduated from high school in 1949.  After a stint working in a St. Johnsville dyeing factory, Hector was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1952.  A 15 month tour of duty in Korea followed.  Following his time in the service, Hector took advantage of the G.I. Bill and earned degrees at SUNY Oneonta and SUNY Albany.  In 1958 he began his teaching career at Little Falls High School, retiring in 1993.

Even after retirement Hector Allen remained a teacher of Mohawk Valley history.

Teaming with another iconic historian, Ralph Van Horn, he produced an audio/visual historical walking tour of Little Falls, along with a tour of the abandoned Wilcox Cemetery in Little Falls and interviews with area World War II veterans.  Hector was instrumental in forming the Yorker Club at Little Falls High School and the Henry Galpin Civil War Roundtable.  For many years he led this group on tours of Civil War battlefields and other historical sites.  Throughout the area Hector was a much sought after speaker and gave innumerable talks on all manner of local history.  His books, Oppenheim Chronicles, and Oppenheim in the Civil War are seminal works on the history of his hometown, of which he is the town historian.

It is more than fitting that the Little Falls Historical Society’s 2021 Writing Series be dedicated to Hector Allen.