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Guilderland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, September 22, 2011
“I Remember Altamont”: As old-timers share memories on Sunday, newcomers will learn village history
By Melissa Hale-Spencer
ALTAMONT How many villagers know that New York’s governor came to Altamont over a half-century ago to congratulate volunteer firemen for averting a water disaster?
Residents can hear the details from a handful of those firemen, now elderly, at a session on Sunday titled “I Remember Altamont.”
“In the 1950s, Altamont was in a crisis for lack of water,” said Cindy Pollard, an organizer of Sunday’s event. “Firemen came to the rescue. They laid hose from Thompsons Lake to the reservoir and manned it 24 hours a day for a month. The ladies’ auxiliary cooked meals to keep the men going.”
The memory is personal for Pollard. She was dating a volunteer fireman at the time, Jack Pollard, the man who would become her husband. “I never saw him for a month,” she said. “Averill Harriman came out to commend them on their work.”
For more than a decade, Pollard has wanted to give villagers a means of sharing their memories and passing them on to newcomers. She has hosted events at her eatery, the Home Front Café, where World War II veterans have shared their memories with schoolchildren.
“I’ve wanted to do this for a long time,” said Pollard of Sunday’s get-together, which will be held at the village hall on Main Street. “I wanted to have an informal night where people could share memories,” she said.
When Altamont celebrated its centennial in 1992, James Caruso, who was the mayor at the time, supported a committee that would collect oral history of the village. “We all went out to tape people,” said Pollard. Through a series of illnesses, though, the project languished and the tapes were lost. Pollard battled thyroid cancer, and the project was passed to Bryce Butler, features editor at The Altamont Enterprise, who succumbed to cancer; his partner, Marilyn Mowry, took up the task but then died of cancer herself.
Pollard’s current committee is healthy and vibrant. The Pot-Belly Stove Planners, as the group calls itself, in addition to Cindy and Jack Pollard, is made up of Everett Rau, Judi Dineen, Edward Frank, Vall Pulliam, Fred Crounse, Marijo Dougherty, and Mayor James Gaughan.
“Our committee gets things done,” said Pollard. “I came up with sheets and sheets and sheets of ideas.” That was narrowed down to several central themes the volunteer firemen, Altamont High School, and local businesses for the first session. After each segment, there will be a chance for those in attendance to ask questions and share recollections. After two hours of mutual sharing, the fire department will serve refreshments and there will be time for casual chat.
“I just want it to be relaxed so people will be themselves,” said Pollard.
A series highlighting other topics is to follow; the next session will probably be in the spring, said Pollard. “We want to have it while the snowbirds are here,” she said.
Old-timers will relish sharing memories on Sunday, Pollard believes, and newcomers will enjoy learning about the community. She recounts how she and her husband recently went to an event at the Bozenkill Park and thought, “We don’t know anybody here.” Someone new mentioned where she lived and Jack Pollard was able to tell her the history of her house. “Then, he was like the Pied Piper,” said Pollard; people clustered about, eager to learn the history of their homes.
Ed Frank, a long-time first responder, will lead Sunday’s discussion on the volunteer firemen. “With the recent storms and with the tenth anniversary of 9/11, it seemed like a good time for that,” said Pollard of discussing the firefighters.
The second topic will be the Altamont High School, which was built in 1902 and torn down in the 1950s when the Guilderland School District centralized and built a new high school.
Students from as far away as the Hilltowns and Schoharie would commute by train to the Altamont High School, some of them boarding with local families during the school week.
Pollard planned Sunday’s event to coincide with her husband’s 60th class reunion for Altamont High School. About a dozen of his classmates will be in town.
Pulliam will lead the discussion on Altamont High. “It won’t be focusing just on the academics,” said Pollard. One of the stories that will be told involves a Halloween prank where students took one shutter from each house in Altamont and put them in the village park. “If kids did that now,” said Pollard, “everyone would end up in jail with charges.”
Rau, whose family has farmed on Settle’s Hill for generations, will start off the talk on Altamont businesses; he’ll focus on the importance of the trains. The village was built around the train station, which carried visitors to Altamont from Albany and, in turn, carried villagers into the city to work and shop.
“Ev remembers how important the train was and how all the salesmen would ride the train and come with their samples,” said Pollard. “He remembers how his father took him on the train to the State Capitol to see the Civil War flags.”
Judy Freeman, née Armstrong, will talk about local farming. Her family had a dairy and sold ice cream and dairy products on Brandle Road, using the honor system. “You’d take your milk and leave money in a jug,” said Pollard.
Dougherty, the village archivist, will talk about a mid-20th-Century Altamont pharmacist with a fascinating past. “Marijo found a huge box labeled ‘Stephen Venaer.” He was a legend…He was a hero to the Russian people, a medic,” said Pollard. “He married a woman we just found out was a Russian princess.”
Porter Bidleman will share memories of Altamont’s funeral home, and Fred Crounse will talk about Helen Becker who ran a candy store and shoe repair shop on Maple Avenue.
“Her father was Minton Becker, a harness and shoemaker,” said Pollard. “All the kids used to love to go to her store. She was a poor person. She didn’t dress well. She didn’t have much, but she loved what she was doing. She sold penny candy and all the kids loved her.”
It wasn’t just because of the candy, Pollard said; it was because Becker never rushed them and never made light of their small purchases.
Pollard tells her own story of Becker’s thoughtfulness and generosity. “My kids were picking out candy there and I bought six ears of corn. I didn’t have enough money with me and asked if I could come back later with the money. She said that was fine.” When Pollard got home and emptied her bag, she discovered that Becker had put in a pound of bacon and a dozen eggs.
“She must have misunderstood and thought I had no money at all. I didn’t want to hurt her by telling her,” said Pollard. “I made it up to her in other ways.”
Altamont residents can share memories with their neighbors in the first of a series of “Around the Pot-Belly Stove” events on Sunday, Sept. 25, from 4 to 6 p.m. at Altamont’s village hall on Main Street. The event is free and open to the public.
Also on Sept. 25, a curated exhibition, “Then and Now: Images of Altamont’s Past and Present,” opens at 3 p.m. in the village hall exhibit gallery and continues through December, open weekdays during village office hours.