Writing Series

  • Vietnam War Era

    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.

  • World War II and Korean Conflict

    As the United States began to emerge from the nightmare of The Great Depression, the start of World War II brought about a whole new set of obstacles.

  • Myjava, Slovakia

    In the late 1800s, economic conditions were dire in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, where present day Slovakia was located.

  • Little Falls Music Exhibit

    The 1950s-60s brought America rock and roll, West Coast surfer music, Motown, the British invasion and later, anti-war protest and psychedelic music; local rock and roll bands provided us with an exciting “in person” ride on the same soundtrack.

  • Little Falls Waterways

    The Little Falls Historical Society 2017 exhibit focused on the bicentennial of the groundbreaking of the Erie Canal and the evolution of our waterways.

Additional Historical Highlights

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.

This Writing Series was first published on the Times Telegram on September 25, 2017.

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!

The Case for a Mohawk Valley Patriots Day by Jeff Gressler was published on 5-22-2010

Little Falls Historical Society Museum Exhibits

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Little Falls Historical Society Museum
319 South Ann Street
Little Falls, NY  (Get directions)

(315) 823-0643

For appointment or in case of emergency please call:
Jeffrey Gressler at (315) 823-2799
Louis Baum at (315) 823-0620 or (315) 867-3527