The Enterprise — Melissa Hale-Spencer

Chits covered expenses for Guilderland’s poor, including for coal, boots and shoes, hospital stays, telephone messages, horse keeping, doctor’s services, and coffins.

GUILDERLAND — In the beginning days of the town of Guilderland, there was no Medicare or Medicaid for the ill, poor, or elderly.  Individuals had to rely on their neighbors or persons cited by the town as "Overseers of the Poor" to perform such duties.

Early documents also reveal that the town's "poor" residents received medical attention from doctors who lived in Guilderland, and the services of those doctors were paid by the town.  Listed as doctors who were given a $12 annual fee for attending to the sick residents were:   Thomas Helme M.D., Abram DeGraff M.D.,  George Squire M.D.,  R I Barton M.D.,  Jesse Crounse M.D. and Frederick Crounse M.D.

In addition, several residents also performed such services.   Town archives hold many receipts of the handling of those cases.

In March of 1893, Albany Hospital presented a bill for two weeks’ board at $5 a week for a Guilderland resident that included the "washing of a dozen pieces at $1.00 per dozen,” services of a special nurse, medicine, and extras.

In May of 1898, another chit was received from H.A. Vosburgh, Overseer of the Poor, for 12 weeks’ board for a child.  In that same year, in November, a bill was presented to the town for $3.50 for a coffin for Mary Bent's child. And later still, Prospect Hill Cemetery was paid $1.50 for the internment of that child.

In 1896, Mr Vosburgh presented a bill for $10.25 for 41 pounds of coal for a poor family.

Chits were turned in by "Overseers of the Poor" in 1897 for "horse keeping  $.65 and for "horse hire" in regards to Jacob Smith's mule for $1.20.

Dr. Thomas Helme turned in a receipt for professional services up to the date of Jan. 12, 1896 for $25. “Boots & Shoes” cost $4 and were purchased at M. Mandelbaum at Washington Avenue, a wholesale and retail dealer of footwear, for a needy Guilderland resident.

Many groceries were listed next to Guilderland residents’ names as the "Overseers of the Guilderland Poor" took good care of buying food for the medically ill and the needy in the town.  It was a far simpler method than today apparently.


— Photo by Mark Huggins

Feathery grain: Panels under each Gothic window at the Schoolcraft Mansion have a delicate etching.

In dealing with the Schoolhouse Mansion restoration, this historian has learned many new things about that subject and new words concerning it.

"Plinth" is this week's new word.  Webster's dictionary calls it "the slab at the base of a column or pedestal."

I call it a six- or eight-sided beautifully carved piece of wood that terminates window or door moldings at their base, enhancing the structure.   Pictures accompanying this article will attest to that.

Mark Huggins, a Guilderland town employee who has been "enhancing" the Schoolcraft House for some time, has been instrumental in designing the Gothic-style interior woodwork. He has carved about 18 plinths that adorn the windows and door moldings in the two front rooms of the house.

They are beautiful and show the house in its rightful aspect of time. Baseboards are also being installed with a Gothic-era flair, adding to the grandeur of the house.

This work is time-consuming, producing outstanding features that will bring the restoration work to a fine conclusion.

Do visit the Schoolcraft Art Fair on Saturday, June 6, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and check out the finishing plinths.

There will be artwork to view and purchase if you like, chamber music by guitarist Marcello Iaia and flutist Caitlin Ippolito to appreciate, and a cool beverage and sweets to enjoy.  See you there!

Plinths in place at the bottom of Gothic doorway moldings are among the finishing touches at the Schoolcraft Mansion. — Photo by Mark Huggins.


— 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

The Sill Coat of Arms includes a Latin motto, which translates as “Equally faithful as steadfast.”

A one-time landmark at the corner of South Pearl Street and Norton Street in Albany held the law offices of Aaron Burr and Richard Sill in the rear of the building where Burr started a practice in the fall of 1781. Sill joined him the following year. The old two-story Dutch era building had a tiled roof. Several residences and businesses were in the site. It was demolished when the Benson Building was erected.

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.

Castle-like, the Schoolcraft Cultural Center glows in the evening from its luminous Gothic windows. Restoration efforts are bringing the 1840s mansion back to its original beauty. Watch The Altamont Enterprise for coming events.

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.