— Photo from Polly Schoolcraft

The Portsmouth Naval Memorial was built after World War I to commemorate members of the British Royal Navy who had no grave. Oliver J. Schoolcraft, a wireman aboard the HMS North Star, is listed on one of the memorial’s plaques: Oliver J. Schoolcraft — the son of Oliver J. Schoolcraft and the grandson of John Lawrence Schoolcraft of Guilderland — was born on Feb. 19, 1895 and died at sea on April 23, 1918, at the age of 23.

GUILDERLAND — The Schoolcraft House is coming into its own!   Many residents that attended the Holiday Event at the House in December checked out the restoration of the historic Gothic mansion. The house is becoming beautiful and usable.  Now we have another facet of its history.

A week ago, this historian received an email from Southhampton, Hampshire in England.  An email from Mrs. Polly Schoolcraft Bell, a direct descendent of Congressman John L. Schoolcraft!  She is also the great-granddaughter of Oliver J. Schoolcraft, Congressman Schoolcraft's first son.

What a surprise that was.

Polly Schoolcraft Bell and family have been searching their ancestors online and found the Altamont Enterprise story written by Melissa Hale-Spencer, editor, telling of  this historian's book called "Congressman John L. Schoolcraft...and his House."  It has become a small world through the Internet.

We were able to fill Polly Schoolcraft in on some of the history of Oliver J. Schoolcraft, her ancestor.  We will fill in readers also.

Oliver J. Schoolcraft was born in 1854 to John and Caroline Schoolcraft whose house we know in Guilderland.  Congressman John Schoolcraft died in 1860 upon returning home from a Chicago convention where Abraham Lincoln had won the presidential nomination over William Seward, Schoolcraft's best friend.

Two years later, Caroline Schoolcraft sold the house and moved to Richmond, Virginia with her three children.  She then married Dr. Joseph Gilmore Beattie.

Wedding portrait: James Bell married Polly Schoolcraft at Highcliffe castle last August. — Photo from Polly Schoolcraft


Oliver J. Schoolcraft grew up in Richmond after his mother married and became an editor of that city's paper.  He married Mattie Ould in Salem, Virginia in 1876.

The "Famous Belles" magazine profile of Mattie Ould Schoolcraft states that she sang for guests at her wedding in her father's house.  "Under the Daisies" was a melody with prophetic lyrics, a sad forecast of events to come.

Mattie died in childbirth in 1877, and the sad lyrics, "She lies through all spring and summer beneath a bed of daisies, and near sleeps the infant whose life closed her own," formed her epitaph.

Oliver, after a short attempt in the United States Navy, went to England in 1880.  After several years, he became a priest in the Church of England, married, and had five children. In his later years, he returned to the United States and died of paralysis in Lexington, Virginia in 1911 at the age of 58.

The obituary in the Virginia paper mentions that Oliver was the son of John L. Schoolcraft, of Albany N.Y., "prominent banker and man of large business interests.

Polly Schoolcraft Bell of England sent this historian the photos that accompany the article. Filling out part of the legacy of Guilderland's Gothic mansion on the Western Turnpike is of premier importance to this historian.


— From the Bethlehem 1976 Bicentennial Calendar

The Nicoll-Sill House, representative of post-Revolutionary architecture, was built around 1736. It was built by Rensselaer Nicoll for his bride, Elizabeth Salisbury of Catskill

This entry was written 30 years ago in this author's journal of Sept. 6, 1984.

"I would never have believed I could spend so many hours going through old micro-filmed letters at the archives in the New York State Library.  When I found a connection between Aaron Burr and a great-great (seven times) grandfather of mine it was like being handed a million dollars.”

Aaron Burr had a brilliant career as an officer in the Continental Army as a lieutenant colonel and made a name for himself engineering several battles. Later, he was in the New York State Legislature and lived in Albany on  “Washington Street” near the State Capitol where the Fort Orange Club is today.

Major Richard Sill was from Lyme,  Connecticut.  Sill delivered the valedictory oration when he graduated from Yale University in 1774.  Six months later, he joined the Connecticut Regiment of the Continental Army.

Sill's reports concerning events of several Revolutionary battles, the siege at  Boston, and the disastrous winter at Valley Forge are on file in federal records.

After his military career, Sill lived in Cedar Hill, Bethlehem just outside of Albany after his marriage on May 2, 1785 to Elizabeth Nicoll, daughter of  Colonel Francis Nicoll of that place.  From that wedding, he became the seven-times great-grandfather of this author.

It was in the capacity as Army officers that Sill met Burr.  Though in different regiments, they were both present at the Battle of Monmouth and the Battle of Long Island in 1776. Major Sill became a law partner with Aaron Burr in the 1780s.

The following letter, on file in the New York State Library Archives dated April 1785 written by Aaron Burr to his wife, Theodosia Provost Burr, tells of one of his visits to the Nicoll homestead on the outskirts of Albany:

"I arrived here on Tuesday evening very late, though little fatigued. Wednesday afternoon I went with Sill to Bethlehem (Nichols) sic, drank tea, supped and breakfasted.  I am pleased with our friend’s choice, of which more next Tuesday evening...  Affectionately adieu, A. Burr.”

Research finds a letter written by Major Sill to Aaron Burr telling him of his marriage to Elizabeth Nicoll that had taken place at the Cedar Hill mansion of her father in Bethlehem.    "Only family in attendance," the letter stated.

Yet, that wasn't quite accurate as the wedding list showed many important people from Albany and surrounding cities had attended.  General Phillip Schuyler, his wife, Catherine, and their daughters were among local notables at the wedding.  Schuyler was Elizabeth Nicoll's uncle.   His daughters, Margarette, Angela, and Betsy were Elizabeth's cousins and close friends.

Yet, a deciding factor in Burr not being invited to the wedding was that Burr had  defeated "Uncle" Phillip  in a close election for State Senator the previous year.   Elizabeth's family —Sills, Nicolls, and Schuylers — were not pleased with Aaron Burr.

Five days after his wedding to Elizabeth Nicoll, Major Sill apparently felt obliged to inform his law colleague of the event. 

In a letter dated May 7, 1785, Sill wrote, “My dear Sir, Before this letter will reach you,  you will undoubtedly have been informed that I have ventured into the world of the unknown;  last Monday, (Rev.) M. Westerlo united our hands but made no addition to the union of our hearts...

“I know you and Mrs. Burr will join with us in the sincerest joy of this occasion — My dear Betsy proposes me in this first instance to tender to you her warmest affections,  she  has for a long time been acquainted with the intimacy of our friendship — and will now meet you as a sister.

“You will congratulate Mrs. DeVisme on this occasion, and tell her that I think I have at length obtained as good a wife as she kindly has wished me...our little family arrangements are not yet made out, however I fancy we do not go to housekeeping before next Fall or Winter — until which time Betsy will divide her time between Town and Bethlehem.  She is now in Town receiving her company.  No one present at the ceremony but the family. 

“Here I have given you a short history of the most material (sic) event which can ever befall me,  as the step has been taken upon the fullest conviction of its propriety and what is infinitely more from the completest unions of heart. I have no doubt you will agree with me that our prospects for happiness are promising — your prayers will I am sure join ours when happiness is the theme.  

“I was very unhappy at not seeing you at court, my heart was full of everything kind and clever.  It would have been a luxury to spend an hour with you, which would have been exceeded only by the society of one person.

“The  friends are as well united with us in sentiment as could be expected considering there is no royal blood on the one side.  The parents receive me with all the affection and tenderness which the connection warrants — and in all stages of the acquaintance have treated the subject with all that candor and frankness which ever flows from honest hearts.

“I am with the finest affection, Richard Sill.”

A postscript refers to a business matter of bankbooks and laws. Then Sill thanked Burr for his previous letter and writes that he and Elizabeth would like to "come down" in summer or fall if it didn't interfere with a proposed visit to New England.

Aaron Burr and Richard Sill remained law partners until Major Sill died of consumption in June of 1792 after a short marriage of seven years to Elizabeth. They had two sons, William and John.

Burr left Albany and moved to an estate on the Hudson River in Richmond Hill, New York with his wife and daughter, both named Theodosia.  He became vice president of the United States under President Thomas Jefferson in 1801.

Historian's note: There are many more interesting tales that can be written from the history archives on these historical figures. Is that this historian's fortune?


John Lawrence Schoolcraft was president of the National Commercial Bank from 1854 until his death in 1860. This portrait, by Augusta Dudley, was donated by the bank to the town of Guilderland and the Friends of the Schoolcraft House. It hangs in Town Hall and will be moved to Schoolcraft’s home once it is restored.

The "Holiday Event" at the Schoolcraft Cultural Center in December was a huge success as almost 200 visitors enjoyed the festive Gothic mansion with the fresh Christmas tree and the Musicians of Ma'alwyck playing seasonal songs from all over the world.

Perhaps a recap of the history of the original builder and owner of the Guilderland architectural gem on the Western Turnpike is in order. The 15-room house has six fireplaces; one very large brick fireplace in the basement has a baking oven on the side of it.

Plaster crown decorative molding adorns the ceiling in what was originally called the “ballroom.”   Appropriate chandeliers and sconces have replaced original candle lighting.

The kitchen is workable with handmade cabinets and a farm type of sink.  Tall Gothic ceiling-to-floor windows with sliding indoor shutters have been sanded and are ready to be finished this year.  The house is a remarkable and wonderfully beautiful structure of Guilderland's history.

In a small pamphlet titled "Portraits of Presidents," published by the National Commercial Bank and Trust Company in 1970, John Lawrence Schoolcraft is listed as the third president of that institution, serving from 1854 to1860.

The pamphlet also has this information on him.

“John Lawrence Schoolcraft was one of Albany's most substantial businessmen and a noted figure in Albany County politics first as a Whig and later as a Republican.  He was a close personal friend of Thurlow Weed and William H. Seward, the Civil War Secretary of State, and represented the Albany district in Congress from1849 to March 1853,  defeating Erastus Corning in one of the most hotly contested congressional fights in the history of the county.

“He attended the Republican National Convention in 1860 at which Abraham Lincoln was nominated for the presidency but was taken ill on his way home and died at St. Catherines, Ontario, Canada.

“He began mercantile life in Albany with W. and H.B. Cook and subsequently became a partner in the distinguished firms of Cook and Schoolcraft, and Schoolcraft, Raymond & Company.  He was a director of the Albany, Bennington, and  Rutland Railroad Company and also served as a director of the Albany City Bank.  He became president of Commercial Bank in 1854, holding office until his death in 1860."

Schoolcraft's portrait was painted posthumously by artist Augusta Dudley. It now hangs in the office of Guilderland town Supervisor Kenneth Runion.  It was donated by KeyBank (formerly the National Commercial Bank) to the town and the Friends of the Schoolcraft House.  The portrait will be moved to Schoolcraft's home in the Schoolcraft Cultural Center in the near future.


— Guilderland Historical Society

To meet the great demand at the turn of the century by hotels and homes for blocks of ice to cool iceboxes for food, hired men cut ice from Black Creek near Tygert's sawmill. After being cut, the blocks were hoisted out by a drag. This scene shows blocks being loaded on a cutter to be transported to a nearby icehouse and packed in sawdust.

The following incidents were recorded in the village of Altamont's Enterprise after the New Year 100 years ago.  A column "From Our Files," captured by newsman Shorty Vroman in the late 1970s tells the tales.  It is quite a change from what will be the Altamont 2015 year community events.

Saturday, Jan. 2nd, 1886

“Where are the new building sites for the next season to come from in our village? This is a question of some importance to those who are expecting to locate themselves in the near future. Without considerable grading, no further improvement can be made on Prospect Avenue.

“Church Street, with the exception of Lockwood Square, is now on Maple Avenue across from the present Enterprise building; where the Masonic Temple now stands is already taken. School Street [now Lincoln Avenue] could be made a popular thoroughfare if Jacob Crounse were to open the same.

“There are some desirable building sites on Grand Street. There are also projected openings in the VanAuken Square on Main Street. Let us be permitted to give a suggestion to those parties who have large tracts of land to dispose of, to have your streets graded and trees planted, will give added value to the adjoining property."

Saturday, Jan. 9, 1886

Knowersville Station:  "The great importance of our station on the line of the D & H road is far from being appreciated.  Our reporter called Mr. Smith Philley, the agent who furnished us with the number of passenger tickets sold during 1885 — 10,115 tickets sold.

“This does not include school tickets or commutation books. A large percentage of summer travel is by Albanians who purchase return tickets.  The actual amount of cash received for the year, exclusive of express and telegraph receipts is $11,532.69.  This indicates somewhat the sources of our prosperity."

Saturday, January 16, 1886

“The day car made the employees of the railroad happy Thursday.

Parties were drawing ice from Tygert's Pond Thursday for Mel VanAuken, which measured 14 inches.

"The thermometer here ranged from 12 to 18 degrees below zero Tuesday morning and from 18 to 22 degrees below on Wednesday morning."

Saturday, January 23, 1886

"We learn that John H. Pangburn intends putting in a full line of hardware in his projected new store and that there will also be accommodations for a meat market in the same building.  He has already commenced the erection of an ice house."

 Saturday, January 30, 1886

"A carload of apples was shipped from here Tuesday.”

"Sand's Mill commenced sawing for the first Wednesday afternoon."

South Bethlehem:  "An old colored gentlemen by the  name of  Lot Van Deusen died Jan. 21. His funeral was held at the church on the Sunday following.  According to the best authority, his age was 112 years."

Voorheesville:  "The sleighing is good and many farmers are taking advantage of it by drawing hay and straw to our merchants and logs to the mill."

Saturday, January 22, 1887

"If you want to keep warm during the cold weather, go to the depot where you will always find a rousing fire and plenty of good company."

"The thermometer ranged from 10 to 20 below zero in this locality Wednesday morning which is the coldest weather of the season."

Saturday, January 29, 1887

"Frank Mynderse is filling his ice house with ice 22 inches thick from Tygert's Pond."


With the beginning of the New Year 2015 in the thriving town of Guilderland, it is appropriate to look back on the early years of the town's history for new residents and students.  Long before Guilderland was a town, bands of Mohawk Indians camped and lived along the Normanskill River.

On Feb. 10, 1803, a petition was filed by Nicholas V. Mynderse with the New York State Assembly asking for 58.67 square miles of land to be separated from the town of Watervliet.  That land was owned by Dutch Patroon Stephen VanRensselaer and called VanRensselaer Manor.

The petition was passed by the State Assembly and emerged from the State Senate 10 days later; it declared that the town was to be hamed in honor of the patroon whose homeland in the Netherlands was the province of Gelderland. The Dutch influence remained in Guilderland for many years and still stands with the Dutch barns built by early settlers.

When Guilderland was organized, Thomas Jefferson was president, the Union flag had 15 stars and 15 stripes, the Louisiana Purchase was the first territorial expansion in the new nation, and Lewis and Clark had begun their Northwest Expedition.

Nicholas Mynderse, who had come from the Netherlands, was elected supervisor of the new own of Guilderland.  His family owned many acres of land on the Albany-Schoharie Road, now called Route 146.  The historic house and tavern he built then still stands in Guilderland Center, and is used today by the Guilderland Historical Society and other community groups.

Captain Jacob Van Aernam was called an outstanding patriot during the American Revolution, and Colonel Abraham Wemple was noted for his command of a regiment reported to have been at the Battle of Saratoga.  Descendants with their surnames still live in Guilderland today.

The old Schoharie Road was improved, headed west, and it became the Great Western Turnpike in 1799.  Agriculture replaced forests in Guilderland while turnpikes and railroads cut through countryside.

New farms and small businesses flourished along the turnpike, and the growing township of Guilderland began a school district in 1813.

Guilderland has two main water streams, the Normanskill and the Hungerkill. Water power from these streams enabled industrial complex to begin and thrive. A glass factory, a grist mill, a saw mill, and textile and woolen mills were powered by these turbulent waters.

In 1954, Guilderland's one- and two-room schoolhouses were consolidated, and new large buildings were erected.  Flying over a new town hall, built in 1972, Guilderland's flag boasts an heraldic coat-of-arms of the Province of Gelderland in the Netherlands.

When the town celebrated its 200th anniversary in 2003, its Dutch heritage was acknowledged with a meeting at the Appel Inn where the Town's first meeting was held on April 3, 1803. Parades, historic meetings, and gatherings continued throughout the year.

A group of 11 town residents traveled to Holland to visit  the small village of Nijkerk in the province of Gelderland.  That Hanseatic town became a famous commercial center after the fall of the Roman Empire. It was also the birthplace of Killean VanRensselaer, Stephen VanRenselaer's ancestor, whose land grants by the Dutch West India Company in 1630 served as the basis for today's Guilderland. This was the homeland of the original settlers along the Normanskill or Norman's Creek.

Nijkerk's Mayor Vries welcomed the delegates from Guilderland in his handsome conference room and spoke of our communal ancestors. We were given a guided tour of his town and then arranged for the group to visit Putten, and the still-working farm of the VanRensselaers.

The farmhouse was immaculate. We walked in the back entrance, through an attached barn, between two rows of cows in stalls.  A fireplace and two windows kept the caretaker warm as he could watch a cow giving birth.

A touch of our own Guilderland history enveloped us as we left the VanRensselaer farm in Putten, Gelderland across the Atlantic.  (The complete story of that bicentennial visit is in my book, From The Historian's Desk, on pages 112 to 115.)

Today, Guilderland is a thriving town of 35,000 residents.  Its eastern border encompasses the New York State University at Albany campus, two large shopping centers, growing business complexes and housing developments.  A large school district educates students. New housing developments and businesses are starting to be built at the western end of Guilderland near the town hall.

Watching this development and writing of it has been educational and inspiring. Residents seeking additional information about Guilderland's history or local books on the subject may call me, the town historian at 356-1980, ext. 1050.