The Vietnam War Exhibit features a selection of memorabilia and collections to remember the 130 Little Falls service members who fought in the Vietnam War.
Additional Historical Highlights
Massacre at the Little Falls gristmill
by Louis Baum
Little Falls has had its share of catastrophes.
Foremost, of course, is the 1940 Gulf Curve train wreck that resulted in 33 fatalities and well over 100 injuries. Then there was the 1896 explosion of the pleasure steamboat the Hon. Titus Sheard on its way to Taylor Driving Park one mile west of the city. Twelve lives were lost. Almost forgotten today is the massacre at the Petrie gristmill in 1782.
The Revolutionary War had “unofficially” ended the year before in October 1781 with the British defeat at the Battle of Yorktown. However, the Treaty of Paris, officially ending the war, was not signed by emissaries of King George III of Great Britain and representatives of the United States until September 1783. Between these events, when for all intents and purposes the was over, hostilities in the upper Mohawk Valley continued unabated.
When the war began in 1775, the loyalties of the Anglican British settlers in this area were evenly divided between loyalty to the Crown and the demand for independence, freedom and the formation of a new country. It is open to conjecture if this would have been the case had Sir William Johnson, British Superintendent for Indian Affairs in North America, had not died in 1774. While he was alive, a majority of the Mohawk Valley inhabitants thought well of him, however, this was not the case with son John Johnson. He was disliked, despised and not trusted by many of the Anglicans and almost of the Palatine-Germans. The Palatines were farmers and not village dwellers. With divided loyalties, families were split apart as well chronicled by Jeff Gressler in his article “Neighbor Against Neighbor.” It was father against son, brother against brother, cousin against cousin. Most of the settlers in our area — the Sons of Liberty and the Palatine Germans — were in favor of a new found freedom and country.
Early in the conflict, most Loyalists were driven from the area and resettled to Canada in the vicinity of Kingston, Ontario. Others moved to Niagara Falls. This exile did not prevent some of them from frequently returning to the valley with their Iroquois allies, mostly Mohawks and Senecas under Joseph Brant, along with British regulars and Hessian mercenaries, to burn and ravish. Most settlers lived in constant terror of Loyalist and Indian raids. The massacres of men, women and children at Cherry valley, Wyoming and Andrustown live in infamy.
The name of Loyalist Walter Butler was synonymous with terror, death and plundering. The villain in the well-known novel and movie “Drums along the Mohawk” by Walter Edmunds is patterned after Butler. This area began to be known as the Bloody Mohawk. This sets the stage for our tale.
The Mohawk Valley was considered the bread basket of the colonies during the American Revolution because of its fertile soil and the skill and hard work of the Palatine German farmers. Wheat and other grains could be grown in abundance, but it had to be ground to flour to become a foodstuff.
The gristmill in Little Falls, built between 1722 and 1725 by Johan Joost Petrie, was one of the very first mills along the Mohawk River. It was located on a site near the confluence of Furnace Creek and the Mohawk River, in the general area of the powerhouse on West Mill Street once owned by Forbes Whiteside. At that time there was a long island in the river, and Furnace Creek emptied into the channel just north of the island. It should be noted that in the history of Little Falls, the outlet of Furnace Creek has been moved three times. The Petrie gristmill was the first “industry” in Little Falls.
With the destruction of mills in German Flatts in 1781 and 1782, the gristmill at Little Falls was one of the few remaining near the end of the war. It was an important source of much needed wheat to feed Washington’s Army. Live taverns, gristmills were gathering places in the sparsely settled upper Mohawk Valley.
On a warm, early summer evening in June 1782, more than 20 people had thronged together in the log gristmill. Included were the two millers, Gresham Skinner and Frank Cox, the owners of the gristmill, Jacob and Daniel Petrie, both descendants of Johan Joost Petrie, and eight farmers who had brought their grain to be ground: Peter Wooleaver, Christian Edick, Frederick Getman, Mark Rasback, John Rasback, Thomas Shoemaker, Lawrence Hatter and Peter Orendorf. Guarding the mill were seven militia men under Captain McGregor. Also at the mill were an unknown number of women and children who had accompanied the farmers, most likely their wives and offspring.
Unknown to the occupants of the mill, a large war party of nearly 300 Loyalists and Iroquois Indians surrounded the mill hell bent on revenge. They had bypassed Fort Herkimer when they misinterpreted a noisy wedding party as being a large garrison of militia. They moved on the wagon path to the Little Falls gristmill a few miles further east. The Tories must have been former residents of the area as they called out the mill occupants by name to surrender and save their lives. Surrender was not on the mind of the patriots! Flaming arrows from the Indians set the log building on fire and the overwhelming enemy force quickly forced the brave patriots, most of whom were unarmed, into submission.
Skinner and Cox, being intimately familiar with the layout of the gristmill, hid under the water wheel and escaped. Getman was discovered hiding in the water raceway and was captured. Wooleaver was able to make his escape and proceeded to Fort Dayton near Herkimer to sound an alarm. Daniel Petrie and several of the militia and farmers were killed in the attack. The others, including the women and children, become captives and were marched off to Canada. Most of them returned to the valley one hostilities ended.
Daniel Petrie met a particularly gruesome death. During the battle, he repeatedly discharged his firearm and fought with the butt end of his musket until being subdued. After being overpowered, he was scalped, bound on the rocks in the Mohawk River and tortured to death by arrows, tomahawks and scalping knives. It was reported that soldiers from Fort Dayton buried the bodies of Daniel Petrie and the other brave gristmill defenders at the scene of the conflict. This skirmish, right here in our backyard, in 1782 — nearly 237 years ago — was one of the last battles or armed conflicts of the Revolutionary War.
In July 1783, nearly a year after the attack, Gen. George Washington made a tour of the Mohawk Valley. On July 26, he stopped at the home of Gen. Nicholas Herkimer to thank the valley residents for their stellar efforts and many sacrifices made during the War for Independence.
To commemorate the noteworthy even of the attack on the gristmill in Little Falls, the Little Falls Historical Society has committed to putting a historical marker in the general vicinity where we believe the gristmill massacre occurred.
Louis Baum is a member of the Little Falls Historical Society.
Little Falls to Rockton to Little Falls
By Pat Frezza-Gressler
How is it that Little Falls residents, when asked from where we hail, answer Little Falls and not Rockton? And how did our forefathers use their First Amendment rights to make that happen? Not sure? Read on.
Most Little Falls residents are familiar with the name Rockton and some know that Little Falls was officially known as Rockton at some point in our past. The purpose of this article is to examine the historic process and events that led our 1850′s era ancestors to decide to change our village name to Rockton and then back to Little Falls while also examining how their First Amendment rights were used in this process.
The catalyst for this reexamination was the discovery of an important 1851 document central to our community identity that emerged from the Little Falls Historical Society Museum’s archives a few months back. This pre-Civil War 500 plus signature petition is part of a 2019 museum exhibit which will be discussed later in this work.
Get the latest stories delivered to your inbox every morning with the Times Telegram daily newsletter: Choose the Daily Newsletter option and pick from five other selections to expand your coverage.
The First Amendment’s protection of free speech and free press and the right of citizens to petition their government “for the redress of grievances” all played crucial parts in this name change history.
How was it that our village government decided to change our name from Little Falls to Rockton and then back to Little Falls again in two short years? A Feb. 28, 1850, Mohawk Valley Courier newspaper article expressed a sentiment that was apparently shared by other Little Falls residents at that time.
This article’s author, identified only as “Q,” made the case for the Little Falls to Rockton name change. This effort coincided with the creation of an updated village charter, an act that required New York State Legislature approval. “Q” presented two major arguments. First was that the name Little Falls had outlived its usefulness. “Q” stated that the historical purpose of the name was accurate and useful geographically as it was traditionally meant to distinguish the major falls or “carrying places” on the Mohawk River. Cohoes, 70 miles to the east of Little Falls, was known as the “great falls” in comparison to our smaller falls.
Secondly, “Q” reasoned that the name Little Falls gave a “diminutive” first impression of the growing prosperous town. “Q” went further by proposing the name “Rockton.” Geographical features were once again cited for that new name. The village’s Mohawk River location surrounded by rock walls would also convey a sense of steadfastness and strength and would neither “begrand” nor “belittle” the image of the village. Extensive research does not reveal how much influence “Q’s” article had or what transpired following its publication, but the charter was submitted and Rockton we became in early 1851.
Low and behold, less than a year later an effort began to return the village name to Little Falls. This effort culminated in the submission of the aforementioned petition to the state Legislature in November 1851 signed by 500 plus village residents.
It is interesting to note that the arguments to both change our name to Rockton and then back again to Little Falls cited the area’s geology. The second group of petitioners adopted a more positive view. Citing our history as a second carrying place around Mohawk River rapids, the petitioners stated that we had been known as Little Falls for over a century in both Europe and America and thus that name should be preserved.
Language from the petition itself is also of interest. Citing practical reasons, it states: “During the past year since the name was changed many of our citizens have suffered inconvenience in their business by having … their letters mis-sent to the post office at Rochester, it is believed that the same difficulty will continue so long as the village shall retain the name of Rockton.” In other words, the frustrations resulting from the use of the new name resulted in citizen inconvenience. Mail was being sent to Rochester rather than to Rockton.
This 1851 petition along with a number of other “Rockton era” artifacts are part of a new exhibit at the Little Falls Historical Society Museum. One artifact is a very rare 1850′s era puzzle map used to teach New York state county locations; Rockton, rather than Little Falls, is shown on the Herkimer County puzzle piece. Another beautifully preserved 1850′s era artifact is a framed advertisement from a Main Street tailor named J.P. Nellis stating that the business offered both draper and tailor services. The exhibit also includes an Aug. 13, 1851 copy of the Herkimer County Journal newspaper with Rockton in its byline. Collectively, these nearly 170-year old artifacts preserve a most unique part of our community history.
Other items of interest from this same era have also recently come to light. Holy Family Parish records from the 1850s contain a page listing St. Mary’s Parish priests serving in Rockton and an 1869 Village Directory lists an advertisement for “Rockton House — Thomas Flanagan — Opposite Train Depot.”
Although “Rockton” is part of our past from the 1850s, the name has endured into present times. The current Fall Hill Bead and Gem Shop is located in the building that earlier housed both Walt’s Grill and The Rockton Café. And, of course, Rockton Plaza is the prominent nine-story residential structure on Albany Street.
Furthermore, in 2007, Little Falls native Cal Courtney established two businesses connected to his funeral home business in Walton, New York. The first was a laser-engraving business named “Rockton Equipment Co., LLC” and the other was “Rockton Real Estate, LLC.” Courtney recently stated: “I used these names because I thought that it would be kind of cool to reach back to my roots.”
And so, these events of over a century and half ago have been given new life by both the museum exhibit and this article. This author extends a note of gratitude to top researchers Louie Baum and David Krutz for their assistance. Additionally, First Amendment rights and protections played a key role. “Q” used freedom of speech and the Mohawk Valley Courier used freedom of the press.
Although the previously mentioned petition may be quite different from the online petitions for various organizations and causes that we encounter and sign, the spirit and purpose remain the same. The right “to petition government for a redress of grievances” is central to a democratic society in order to make our names and wishes known to elected officials to help them faithfully fulfill their roles as representatives of “We the People.”
The spirit of confidence and citizen involvement that motivated our 1850′s era ancestors to seek a new name and identity continues to exemplify our community.
Little Falls, rock on!
Pat Frezza-Gressler is a member of the Little Falls Historical Society.
Little Fall’s five state championships
By Jeffrey Gressler
Between 1930 and 2019, Little Falls athletes and teams captured five New York state championships, the last one in 2001. Eighty-nine years, five championships. These five championships are front and center in a new 2019 Little Falls Historical Society Museum exhibit.
The first, and arguably greatest, of these championships was brought home by the Wilbur Crisp coached boys’ basketball team in the 1929-30 season. Following tournament victories over Syracuse Central, Oswego, Binghamton and Kenmore, the championship game was played in Syracuse’s Archbold Gymnasium where the local five emerged with a 25-9 victory over Cohoes. Sam Mucica was the team captain, leading scorer and all-state center.
Other team members were Garner Beck, Chick Bowen, Leland Clark, Daniel Delvecchio, John Fogarty, Jimmy Kane, Sam Maddaloni, Milan Paracka and George Mucica.
A seven-minute vintage home movie captures the ghost-like images of both the parade that greeted the victors at the city’s western entrance and a student and faculty assembly in Eastern Park (Ward Square) honoring the team that included a simulated jump ball being tossed in the air by Coach Crisp. Copies of this classic video are on sale at the museum.
Crisp was inducted into the New York State Coaches Hall of Fame in 1979; the Benton Hall gymnasium had been earlier dedicated to Crisp in 1968.
This state All Class championship was all-the-more remarkable in that there was no allowance for school size in the state tournament in 1929-30; schools of all sizes competed in the same tournament. Remarkable!
Fifty-two years later in 1982, the Ted Schoff coached boys’ baseball team defeated Norwood-Norfolk 4-3 in the regional final. The local nine then captured the New York State Class C-D championship on their home field at Veterans Park by defeating Bishop Coleman 2-0 in the semifinal game and then Wilson 12-5 in the championship game later that same day.
The team capped off their amazing tournament run despite not winning their league championship. The hitting stars in the semifinal and final games were Gary Mizerak, Corky Demeree and Brian Rohacek, while Joe Morrotti’s pitching heroics, including being the winning pitcher in both the semifinal and championship games, earned him tournament MVP honors.
Other team members were Scott Blumberg, Rich Bucenec, Chris Connolly, John Douglas, Matt Liddon, Bob Matus, Eric Pelli, Mike Pohleven and Mark Rose. Donny Simmonette was team batboy.
The home team dugout at Veterans Park is named for Coach Schoff and he is also a member of the Mohawk Valley Baseball Hall of Fame.
Let’s switch from the basketball hardwood and baseball diamond to the track and field oval for two individual Little Falls New York State Class C-D champions, Tess Malone and Brian Mosher. Both athletes were exceptional sprinters for the purple and white.
Malone captured the 1997 girls’ 400-meter championship in 58.03 seconds and finished third in the 200 meters in 26.00 seconds at the state championship meet in Kingston. Malone placed third in the 400 meters in 57.2 seconds and fourth in the 200 meters in 26.5 seconds in other state meets. Monica Tooley was Malone’s coach.
In 2001, Mosher won the boys’ 400-meter championship in 49.52 seconds and placed second in the 200 meters in 22.61 seconds at the state championship meet in Uniondale, Long Island. The previous year, Mosher placed second in the 400 meters in 49.01 seconds and fourth in the 100 meters in 11.39 seconds at the 2000 state championship meet in Liverpool. John Raiello was Mosher’s coach.
And in 2000, Little Falls native Brett Wehrum and German foreign exchange student Florian Andreas teamed together to capture the New York State All Class tennis partners’ championship at the U.S. Tennis Complex in Flushing on Long Island. The Dave Talaba coached partners won a straight sets (6-2 and 6-2) victory in the semi-final over a pair from Garden City, a much larger school from Long Island.
In the finals, the unseeded Wehrum and Andreas were matched against the tournament number one seeded pair from Manhhasset. The Class C Mountie tandem ground out a 6-1 and 7-6 (7-2 tiebreaker set) victory over the top seed from another much larger Long Island school.
Between 1930 and 2019, five New York State championships were brought home by some of Little Falls’ finest athletes, most competed on teams, two as partners and two as individual performers; Little Falls’ most decorated athletes and teams.
Most recently, the Sal Marchese and Tim Failing coached 2018 Little Falls girls’ soccer team almost captured the state Class C championship in Cortland, losing in the state finals to a team from Stillwater. A community takes pride.
The Little Falls Historical Society has included these outstanding athletes and teams in a new 2019 museum exhibit entitled “Little Falls Athletics.” The exhibit also honors other Little Falls athletes and teams that competed in New York state tournaments. The exhibit also has a section on St. Mary’s Academy sports teams, and another on Little Falls town and independent teams that competed in various athletic contests between 1890 and the 1950s. Vintage photos galore.
The 319 S. Ann St. Old Bank Museum is open on Tuesdays through Fridays from 1 to 4 p.m. and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon. There is no admission cost. Please stop by and enjoy these and other exhibits.
Jeffrey Gressler is a member of the Little Falls Historical Society.
Brave soldiers buried in Yellow Church Cemetery
By Pat Stock
The Yellow Church Cemetery is about two and one-half miles north of Little Falls, on a portion of an eight-acre parcel granted by the British Crown to Palatine settlers about 1722. The four churches built there are long gone, so it is the cemetery that is the focus of this piece.
There are about 50 veterans of the War for Independence buried in Yellow Church Cemetery. A monument erected in September 1926 by their descendants names and commemorates those brave and hardy soldiers as not all have an existing headstone.
Listed here are Pickerts, Vanslykes, Kellers, Petries, Windeckers, Louckses, Feeters, Bellingers, Kaughmans, Keysers, Nellises and Starings among others.
In the 1730s, the area around the cemetery was called Rheimensnyder’s Bush. It was a fairly successful community and had a gristmill, a few log homes, farms, a blockhouse and a church built by second generation German Palatines.
The sturdy Germans living there were ready to defend the Continental Congress’ July 4, 1776 Declaration of Independence, even though they were on the frontier. It was not an accident that these German families were given this land so as to be in a position to buffer potential Indian attacks on larger localities to the east. There was a primitive fort built by Henry Rheimensnyder to protect the all-important gristmill that was necessary to grind the community’s meal or flour.
Here are some of the stories of the veterans buried in Yellow Church Cemetery:
William Feeter is well known to many in the Mohawk Valley. The Daughters of the American Revolution chapter in Dolgeville is named in his honor as a patriot. During the Revolution, he served as a private in the colonial army and therefore was an outcast from his family. His father’s second wife’s maiden name was Serviss and was related to Sir William Johnson’s first wife, hence most of his family were Loyalists.
William was educated in his native Stone Arabia amongst Germans who disliked Sir William’s feudal ways, and who particularly disapproved of his air of importance. These Germans were in favor of casting their lots with the Continental Congress and held Committee of Safety meetings in response to the growing tensions between Tories, Indians and colonists.
In the spring of 1776, William Feeter enlisted in Captain Emmanuel DeGraff’s company and scouted the Johnstown, Canajoharie and Saratoga River areas for the enemy. This began his long service during the Revolution. He was in the ranks of Captain Abraham Yates’ force blocking Wood Creek to stymie the enemy near Fort Stanwix. He joined with Colonel Klock to fight at the Battle of Oriskany. William later escorted prisoners to Stone Arabia and Schenectady and was at Fort Herkimer when it was attacked. He helped bury the dead following the Cherry Valley massacre and helped carry needed supplies to Fort Stanwix. In 1779, he joined the Clinton-Sullivan Campaign to destroy the Indians menacing Western New York.
In November 1779 Feeter was back in Stone Arabia during the Battle of Newton where, according to family tradition, he met his younger brother Lucas who was fighting for the British. He later joined Marinus Willett’s troop, continued to scout and helped defeat Jacob Klock, a former militia officer turned Tory. During that fight, firearms were captured and once scalp was taken.
When the war ended, William Feeter fought to gain some of his Loyalist father’s land which had been confiscated when the Feeter family fled to Canada. He sold that land and purchased land just northwest of Fort Rheimensnyder. He married a Bellinger girl and hand 12 children. He led a prosperous and charitable post-war life. Feeter contributed to the building of the Octagon Church in Little Falls and pledged support to the Stone Arabia Church as well as his own Yellow Church. He enjoyed German holidays and opened his home in Little Falls to friends and family. Feeter became a colonel in the New York militia which he commanded during the War of 1812.
John Windecker is another veteran buried there. He was captured near Rheimensnyder’s Bush in 1780 when a Tory and Indian group, 60 strong, raided and burned the gristmill. John, along with six others, was taken to Canada. He returned after the war relating that the Indians treated him fairly, but the Canadians did not. The Indians taught him how to starve by pulling his belt tightly around his chest. His brother Nicholas is also buried in Yellow Church Cemetery. John Windecker was a member of the Tryon County Militia.
Lieutenant Adam Bellinger is also buried here. He started as a private and was present at the Battle of Johnstown. He also served with the Rangers and the Tryon County’s Second Regiment under Colonel Jacob Klock.
Philip Nellis, another veteran, fought and was wounded at Oriskany. He lived a short life dying at age 44.
Joseph Newman served under General George Washington while he was in Massachusetts. He was captured by Indians at Hubbleton, Vermont, and later escaped. He made his way to Manheim and joined Captain John Keyser’s company. He helped build two blockhouses and spent time scouting in Jerseyfield and Andrustown. Joseph was to be ready to serve at all times and was frequently called out for a day, a few days or a week or two. He was captured again and taken to Canada. Along the way, he ate bark and small twigs to survive. Joseph Newman was first taken to Carleton Island and then on to Niagara, where he was kept for three years before being exchanged at Saratoga. He mentioned that Henry Ritter was with him some of the time. Newman was reimbursed back pay at $6.66 a month.
There are but a few of the men buried in Yellow Church Cemetery whom we honor for their gift of liberty.
I will finish with a quote from Chancellor Haven at an Oriskany ceremony:
“The men who fought his battle were good specimens of a peculiar people. They had been sifted out of Europe by a process of natural and gracious selection. They came across the ocean — or their fathers or mothers did — not for money, but for liberty and religion. They lived in log houses, but they went to log churches and their children to log school houses. They ate from wooden dishes and were clad in homespun, but they read the Bible and governed themselves. They had wooden plows and used sickles instead of reaping machines, and their only sewing machines were their mothers and wives and sweethearts; but these could put a music into their rural life far better than the noise of a modern machine. They were the happiest and best people on earth. Such a people fought the Battle of Oriskany — nay, the battle of freedom for all mankind.”
Pat Stock is a member of the Little Falls Historical Society.
Dr. Fred C. Sabin: His life and service
We love, honor and cherish the special people in our lives, but memories fade and good people and deeds are forgotten. This year as we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the United States entering the Great War, we can also acknowledge the 50th anniversary, this month, of a veteran of that war’s death, through the remembrance of his life and deeds.
Dr. Frederick Collins Sabin was a “Person Worth Knowing,” according to a newspaper article in 1957. He was born on Oct. 12, 1893 to an English father whose ancestors had landed in Massachusetts around 1641. As a 13-year old, he lost his mother, Nellie A. Lawson Fairchild Sabin, 40, to cancer and his father, Peden (Peter) James Sabin, a conductor for the railroad, was killed five years later in a train accident. Maybe it was these tragedies that provoked him into the medical profession, but his father had, as a single parent, legally appointed a brother to be a guardian for his three children, perhaps invoking a selfless caring for others in his son. This caring for others would be a major theme in Dr. Sabin’s life.
Fred C. Sabin entered medical school in Maryland. When the United States entered World War I, he asked for an exemption from the draft, but volunteered to work for the Navy at the hospital as an apprentice first class. The brown haired and blue eyed man served from Dec. 7, 1917 for 339 days, then continued in the Reserves for three years. He finished medical school, interned a year at Faxton Hospital in Utica, married Esther Chapman on Aug. 11, 1923 and immediately moved to Little Falls. Their life in Little Falls was one of selfless serving the community and tragedy.
Dr. and Mrs. Sabin became members of the Presbyterian Church, and the American Legion and Auxiliary. They had three children and lived at 23 N. Ann St., with his office in the back of the house and the entrance on Church Street.
Dr. Sabin’s concern for the community had begun almost as soon as he located here. In 1923, he was a member and officer of the Exchange Club, now known as the Civic Club, participating on its committees and promoting to the Common Council recreational facilities in the city to include playgrounds and tennis courts. The club also sponsored a third Boy Scout troop.
As a member of the Presbyterian Church he presided over the Herkimer County Older Boys Conference held in Little Falls in 1936. There were meetings and a main speaker from the New York State YMCA. One reverend spoke on “What Should Be Our Attitude on War,” another’s topic was “Citizenship That Counts” and Supreme Court Judge Abram Zoller spoke of “The Challenge of Youth.” Those were important topics in the United States as Europe seemed to be on a road to war.
As a legionnaire, he worked on committees for a feather party dinner and entertainment for the Legion members. At one time he commanded the post and was awarded a lifetime membership in 1962.
He was assigned by the Board of Charities to serve as city poor physician for $500 a year, and led a joint effort with Fire Chief Cooney and firemen to provide boxes of toys, candy and oranges for 80 needy families, including 400 children in the winter of 1935.
He was concerned about safety at schools, movie theaters and those driving on city streets. A safety drive week was held, with Dr. Sabin’s leadership, in which state police tested brakes and local police concentrated on drivers obeying traffic devices. Three years later at a Civic Club meeting, Dr. Sabin questioned the effectiveness of police in the enforcement of the traffic laws. He was supported by Dr. Tanzer about the 90-minute parking law on Main Street not being enforced, but Mr. Ernest Sheldon, at an open meeting discussing civic issues, defended the police and said more one-way streets might help solve some problems.
Tragedy came again to Dr. Sabin when his wife Esther, a member of the Rock City Chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star Mothers’ Club, and having just completed her presidency of the Church Street School PTA, suffered a cerebral embolism on the evening of May 13, 1936. She had complained of a headache previously and her husband had administered a sedative. She was rushed to the hospital where Dr. Vickers directed crews from the Utica Gas and Electric company through the night, using their inhalator and pulmotor to ventilate her but to no avail. At age 40, she too, left three young children, Fred Chapman Jr., and five-year old twins, Robert and Marion. Dr. Sabin married Gertrude Moynihan, a nurse, in 1937.
Dr. Sabin added to his civic responsibilities by becoming one of four county coroners. He dealt with many tragedies while verifying deaths. There were attempted suicides with jack knives and guns, successful love lost suicides by poison, drownings in East Canada Creek and young drivers or passengers killed because a tire blew and the car hit a tree. He even examined a man from Kentucky, as a vagrant picked up by the police and taken into custody, who claimed to have kidnapped the Lindbergh baby. Mr. Harden Lavender was committed to Marcy State Hospital for 30 days on questionable sanity.
He examined a watchman who was killed with a blunt object while working at Gilbert’s Knitting Mill, but no perpetrator was ever found. When Senator Patri, 61, died suddenly alone in his home in Dolgeville, Coroner Sabin ruled it was due to Angina Pectoris. He, also, recommended the elimination of the Gulf Curve in his report on the train tragedy of 1940.
In 1941, Dr. Sabin investigated bones discovered in a gravel bed in the town of Danube. He determined that they were at least 200 years old and belonged to an Indian child. That same year he attempted to remove an atomizer top from an asthmatic man who had accidentally inhaled it during an attack. The man was sent to Utica and then Temple Hospital in Philadelphia where a bronchoscope was located and the top was successfully removed from the lung.
During World War II, Dr. Sabin led the county Emergency Medical Committee which allotted supplies of blood plasma to the hospitals then in Ilion, Herkimer and Little Falls. There was much concern in Dolgeville about medical services after Dr. H.F. Buckbee and Dr. Max Leventhal enlisted in the service. The mayor, Raymond Mang, reached out to Dr. Sabin and the County Medical Society for assistance for remedies and to calm the residents. He also served as the medical director of the Herkimer County Draft Board.
After the War, Dr. Sabin, in an attempt to improve conditions for veterans, attended the statewide Medical Advisory Committee that approved a study of the water regime at the newly established veterans’ facility at Saratoga Spa.
Always civic minded, he was in a Memorial Day Parade that honored the last two surviving Civil War veterans in the city, Victor Adams Sr. and Martin P. Durney.
The county cut back to two coroners in 1946, Dr. Sabin then took the county physicians’ job. They were paid $1,200 a year and $.08 a mile for traveling expenses. In the late 1950s and early 1960s he served as city and town of Danube health officer.
Throughout his life, he attended several family reunions in Turin and held one at his camp three miles north of the city. He and his first wife had built a log cabin on what is now Sabin Road. Many Little Falls families and children were able to enjoy the outdoors and campfires there.
An interest in American history led to his involvement in the preservation of an Erie Canal site in Fort Hunter and in being placed on the board of Herkimer Home by the governor of the state.
In furtherance of this interest, in 1951, Dr. Sabin and his second wife, Gertrude, had begun to collect antique industrial equipment, medical and other antiques found in barns and attics from the Mohawk Valley and New England. They gathered these items, preserving history, and shared with friends and historians. They had a country store, a 19th century complete doctor’s office, a dress shop and barn and blacksmith tools.
Dr. Sabin died unexpectedly on June 7, 1967 at Little Falls Hospital after being stricken at his summer home “Three Acres.” He is buried in the Church Street Cemetery in Little Falls.
After his death, his wife felt she could not continue the upkeep of the buildings and artifacts. A huge auction held over several days was arranged. Some items went to collectors and some to museums.
Dr. Sabin had helped many people of all ages, served his community and nation with honor and dignity, while traversing tragedy during his lifetime. A person well worth knowing and remembering.
The Case for a Mohawk Valley Patriots Day
by Jeff Gressler
Presidents Day in February, Memorial Day in May, Independence Day in July and Veterans Day in November are four American holidays paying unique tribute to democracy, freedom and liberty. These are all national holidays, and well they should be. A uniquely New England regional holiday is celebrated each year on the third Monday in April. This holiday is Patriots Day and it commemorates the April 19, 1775 beginning of the Revolutionary War when American Minute Men and British troops skirmished at Lexington and Concord. Perhaps we here in the Mohawk Valley have similar reasons to celebrate our local ancestors’ critical contributions to America’s success in our War for Independence.
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 the streets of Boston on its route to pay proper tribute at the graves of Revolutionary War heroes with rifle salutes is indeed a moving experience. Patriots Day also includes a number of reenactments at key Boston Revolutionary War landmark sites along its historic red line. The running of the Boston Marathon and the Red Sox home opener add to the celebratory mood.
Our local Revolutionary War era patriots may have lacked the formal education and national stage that produced the oratorical eloquence of New England’s John Adams and Pennsylvania’s Thomas Paine or of Virginia’s Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry. But, heroes and patriots they were, our heroes and patriots. Certainly we can safely liken the courage of the Palatine Committee of Safety in drafting its May 21, 1775 Declaration of Independence-like document to the July 4, 1776 decision by our national Founding Fathers in issuing our more famous Declaration of Independence. These were our local founding fathers and they acted more than a year earlier than our national Founding Fathers!
After signing his name to the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Franklin stated: “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.” The same fate would surely have awaited the Palatine Committee of Safety signers if America had not succeeded in gaining independence from England. They were all traitors alike in the eyes of English authorities. The whole nation celebrates July 4 as Independence Day, and this is appropriate. A parallel recognition and celebration of the beginning of the spirit of independence in the Mohawk Valley is here being called for. Possible dates for consideration will be discussed near the end of this article.
Additional parallels between local and national Revolutionary War era events and people can also be drawn upon for greater regional recognition.
Once the British military evacuated Boston in March, 1776 and soon after began the occupation of New York City, the physical threat to New England colonists generally vanished. The physical safety of Mohawk Valley residents was threatened for a far greater length of time than other regions of Colonial America, with the possible exception of New York City itself. The Walter Butler and Joseph Brant led tory and Indian raids in our area went on almost as long as the Revolutionary War itself. Perhaps the most notorious of these actions were the September 17, 1778 German Flatts Raid and the November 11, 1778 Cherry Valley Massacre. Death and destruction were a constant presence in patriot life. Our ancestors lived on the western frontier of the Revolutionary War. The threat to local safety really did not lessen until the October 30, 1781 death of Walter Butler on the banks of the West Canada Creek. Some historians refer to this encounter as the last battle of the Revolutionary War. The June, 1782 tory and Indian raid that destroyed the Little Falls gristmill occurred some eight months after Cornwallis had surrendered British forces to George Washington at Yorktown. Indeed, death and destruction were pervasive in the Mohawk Valley for a long period during our quest for independence.
During this extended period, no Mohawk Valley patriot felt safe from tory reprisal. The “Sunshine Patriot” that Thomas Paine condemned in his “The American Crisis,” read to George Washington’s beleaguered and deserting troops at Valley Forge, would seem an appropriate reference. There were few “Sunshine Patriots” remaining in the Mohawk Valley during this time. Incredible courage was exhibited by the individuals and families who took refuge at Fort Herkimer, Fort Dayton and Fort Klock as the war dragged on. Our ancestors were killed, scalped, and generally brutalized for a longer period of time than any other Americans during the Revolution. Perhaps we need to better recognize and celebrate this courage and these contributions. How better to educate ourselves about our collective heritage and to pass this appreciation along to our children than by having more formal annual recognition of these frontier patriots?
It does not require a great leap of imagination to compare Adam Helmer’s heroic run to warn the residents of German Flatts of the approach of 450 tories and Indians with Paul Revere’s more famous Midnight Ride warning the residents of Lexington and Concord of the approach of British forces. Helmer saved dozens of Mohawk Valley residents from brutal deaths.
As we visit historic cemeteries at Fort Herkimer, General Herkimer Home, Yellow Church Road and elsewhere, the emotional grasp of history is powerful. We need to realize that as we stand before the graves of Nicholas Herkimer and Jacob Klock and before the family plots of the Bellingers and the Snells that we are, in actuality, reaching for the legacies of our local founding fathers. Their names were not Washington, Jefferson or Adams, but greater appreciation and celebration would seem to be in order.
Our area already does a great job of promoting much of our local history. Each autumn Fort Herkimer holds its living history weekend and the General Nicholas Herkimer state historic site continues to be one of the finest Revolutionary War sites in the state. Additionally, the Herkimer County Historical Society does a fine job with its ongoing efforts in celebrating our Revolutionary War era heritage. This writing is suggesting more of a focused effort on the annual celebration of a New England-like Patriots Day.
As a member of the Herkimer County Historical Society, the Little Falls Historical Society and the Salisbury Historical Society, this author would urge each of these organizations to petition our county legislature to make this declaration. Local communities and schools could have greater reason for celebration and appreciation for the crucial role that our ancestors played in the outcome of the Revolutionary War. This brings us again to the question of an appropriate date for such an annual observance.
The third Monday in April would duplicate the already existing New England holiday, but this date would seem to be too early in the season for our area. A case can be made for the third Saturday in May as a connection to the earlier discussed May 21, 1775 action of the Palatine Committee of Safety with their declaration of independence. This date would seem to compliment the last Monday in May observance of Memorial Day in that each would recognize the service of patriots and veterans. Another date to consider would be the first Saturday in August to forge a connection to the crucial August 6, 1777 Battle of Oriskany. This author would favor the May choice as it could serve to be an early kickoff to the summer season. Many area residents are away on vacation in early August, perhaps making the later date less attractive.
Boston in particular and New England in general does a wonderful job of promoting their regional significance in our nation’s founding. Saratoga also effectively promotes the critical Battle of Saratoga as part of its vacation destination appeal. Is it not time for us to rival these ranks by taking greater local pride in our own Revolutionary War legacy? Happy Patriots Day!