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History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925
Chapter 123: The Village of St. Johnsville.

[This information is from Vol. II, pp. 1741-1752 of History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925, edited by Nelson Greene (Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1925). It is in the Reference collection of the Schenectady County Public Library at R 974.7 G81h. This online edition includes lists of portraits, maps and illustrations. Some images have been relocated to the area in the text where they are discussed. As noted by Paul Keesler in his article, "The Much Maligned Mr. Greene," some information in this book has been superseded by later research or was provided incorrectly by local sources.]

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Settled about 1725 by Jacob Zimmerman and his wife, Anna, his Mohawk princess — Zimmerman Creek at St. Johnsville and Timmerman Creek, at upper St. Johnsville, named from first pioneer — Sketch of Zimmerman settlement by L. D. MacWethy — Probably named from St. John's Reformed Dutch Church, removed here in 1804 — History of St. Johnsville, 1725-1925 — Industries and location.

St. Johnsville is picturesquely situated along the base of a steep hill and on the Mohawk Turnpike, the New York Central railroad and the Mohawk river (Erie section Barge canal). The West Shore R. R. station, on the south river shore, is known as South St. Johnsville, here connected by river barge. A Barge canal terminal dock is located at St. Johnsville. The highest nearby elevation is Kring's Bush Hill, one mile northeast of the village and one-half mile north of the Turnpike, with a sea level elevation of 1,000 feet and 698 feet above the Mohawk River, being the highest river hill point between the Noses and Fall Hill.

Picturesque Zimmerman Creek here enters the Mohawk, its water power being the cause of the original settlement made here by Jacob Timmerman, who located a mill on its banks. It rises 11 miles northeast (airline distance) at the foot of Royal hill (sea el., 1,880 ft.) and a mile west of the Garoga. Timmerman or Kloch Creek, enters the Mohawk at the western suburb of Upper St. Johnsville.

The outcrop of surface rock at St. Johnsville is of Trenton limestone. There are stone quarries here as well as available building sand and clay deposits, suitable for brick making.

At St. Johnsville is one of the great geological "faults" of the Mohawk valley running southeastward along a range of high hills to Garoga Creek at Garoga.

Industrial and Farming Center

St. Johnsville's principal manufactures are (1924) knit goods and felt shoes, agricultural and textile machinery, silk dyeing and weighting, player pianos and records.

It is a trading and shipping center for a rich farming and dairying section. The village has sewers, electric power and lighting service and municipal water works. Electric power is derived from the East Creek plants. St. Johnsville has the Margaret Reaney Memorial Library.

Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Park

[Photo: Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Park, St. Johnsville]

In 1921 the village dedicated a handsome Soldiers' and Sailors' Memorial park, created as a memorial to the village military heroes of all American wars.

It has a swimming pool, playgrounds, athletic field, baseball grounds and other features of public interest. It lies to the south of the westward bound tourist just before entering the business center of St. Johnsville and reflects great credit upon the village.

The heroic cobblestone approach, so greatly admired by all who drive past, was the gift of the St. Johnsville Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution.

The village of St. Johnsville and the park authorities invite motorists to visit and rest in this park which adjoins the Turnpike in the eastern part of the town. A free parking space is also available to motorists and a hearty welcome is extended to all tourists along the old Mohawk Turnpike.

The Old Mohawk Turnpike, St. Johnsville's Main Street

[Photo: The Mohawk Turnpike Through St. Johnsville]

The Mohawk Turnpike forms St. Johnsville's Main Street. In the Turnpike's six mile course through St. Johnsville village and township it is paved with brick and macadam.

Roads northward run to Dolgeville and into the Adirondacks. An upland road from Johnstown here reaches the Turnpike.

Jacob Timmerman was the founder of St. Johnsville, probably settling here about 1725. The name was at first Zimmerman. Also, some members of the family spell the name Timerman while others write it Timmerman. It is also erroneously written Timberman, probably by English clerks who endeavored to Anglicize many of the Palatine and Dutch names — as, for instance, when they wrote the name Wormuth, "Wormwood." These self-sufficient English clerks of Colonial days have added to much of the historical confusion in the Mohawk Valley.

Sketch of Settlement of Jacob Zimmerman about 1725, by L. D. Macwethy

[Photo: View of St. Johnsville]

L. D. MacWethy, editor of the St. Johnsville Enterprise-News, writes as follows of the settlement of St. Johnsville. Due to Mr. MacWethy's initiative, a bicentennial celebration of the settlement of St. Johnsville was arranged for 1925.

History places the date of the settlement of St. Johnsville at 1725 — 200 years ago. The first settler was a Palatine German named Jacob Zimmerman [or Timerman].

Fea traces a deed which seems to clinch the matter so far as the title and location is concerned for the land traced in the deed is the land on which the village now rests and the deed conveyed the land to the children of Anna Zimmerman who is supposed to be the wife of the first Zimmerman. This deed bears the date of 1733 so that land was being transferred at this early date. We are indebted to Mrs. William Wilsey for the facts covering our early history which follow. In 1710 there came to this country five brothers, Theobald, Lawrence, George, Henry and Jacob Zimmerman or Timmerman. They came from Switzerland. Jacob Zimmerman became a trader with the Indians and married a princess of the Wolf clan residing at what is now Fort Hunter. She was christened Anna Margaret receiving her name from the chaplain of Queen Anne's Chapel at Fort Hunter. Queen Anne's Parsonage stands today. This was built in 1712 and was about the date of the marriage of Jacob Zimmerman to Anna Margaret, daughter of a chief of the Wolf clan of the Lower Mohawk Castle. The date of their marriage is fixed by Simms roughly at between 1713-19. Just how it came about that Jacob Zimmerman located here, at present St. Johnsville, and from whom he purchased the land is not made clear. Possibly it was a grant from the Mohawk Indians or it might have been purchased from the owners of Francis Harrison Patent who acquired all the land from East Creek to Palatine Church by purchase for 700 beaver skins in 1722.

The first enterprise installed here by Jacob Zimmerman was that of a grist mill where corn and wheat were ground for the bread makers, both red and white, who must have found this method preferable to the mortar and pestle. Jacob Zimmerman's descendants are still here and some of them occupy the original land.

The original Mohawk Valley Timerman or Zimmerman, Jacob, Sr., had five sons, Henry, Adam, Frederick and Jacob, Jr., and one other. Jacob and Lieutenant Henry fought at Oriskany as the others probably did also. Henry was there so seriously wounded that his life was despaired of for several months. He recovered and lived to a good old age. Jacob Jr., is considered as the founder of the present village of St. Johnsville, of which his father was the pioneer settler.

In 1753, Jacob Timerman, the pioneer of present St. Johnsville, and Johan Jost Schnell of Stone Arabia, secured a grant of the Mohawk River section in the present town of Manheim, Herkimer County, extending from East Creek westward to a point opposite the home of "Johan Nickoll Herchheimer (Nicholas Herkimer)", and running a considerable distance inland. It embraced 3,600 acres of land, then largely virgin forest. The Indian deed was signed by "Hendrick Peterson" — King Hendrick. In this patent, East Creek is called Tegahuharoughwhe.

Jacob, son of Jacob, was born in 1758. As before noted his father built a grist mill on Zimmerman Creek, in the present village of St. Johnsville. Jacob, Jr., married Madalina Polly Hagar. Both are buried in Prospect View Cemetery, St. Johnsville. Jacob Timerman, Jr., died in 1835.

Jacob Timerman Sr., and one Veeling held lots 14, 15 and 18 of the Harrison patent of 1722. Lots 14 and 15 comprise the central part of the present village of St. Johnsville, Lot 18 was at upper St. Johnsville, Zimmerman Creek at St. Johnsville and Timmerman Creek at Upper St. Johnsville probably take their names from the same man — Jacob Timerman. Lieut. Henry Timerman died in 1807, aged 69 years. He is buried in the Snell Bush Cemetery where his headstone reads "Henry Zimmerman." The foregoing is taken from the list of property owners in the present town of St. Johnsville after the Revolution, when the lots may have been owned by Jacob Timerman, Jr. Veeling is the spelling of the modern name of Failing.

The Early Village Boomed by the Mohawk Turnpike

The town of St. Johnsville was part of Palatine until 1808 and its early history, both as to events and commerce, is largely that of the older town. The first industry at the village of St. Johnsville was established by Jacob Zimmerman, who built the first grist mill in the town soon after. George Klock built another in 1801. David Quackenbush erected the third grist mill in 1804. This became later the Thumb iron foundry and the saw and planing mill of Thumb & Flanders. In 1825 James Averill built a stone grist mill and distillery. Christopher Nellis kept a tavern at St. Johnsville in 1783 and a store in 1801. The foregoing are the industries that the writer has knowledge of which were located at St. Johnsville prior to the completion of the Erie Canal in 1825.

Henry Hayes taught a German school at an early day and Lot Ryan, an Irishman,, taught the first English school in 1792.

The construction of the Mohawk Turnpike in 1800 boomed the town. This trunk line road formed the main street of the little hamlet from then on to the present day.

As previously stated, St. Johnsville village was long known as "Timmerman's," a name derived from its first settlers, the names Timmerman and Zimmerman being equivalent.

Village Named for St. John's Reformed Dutch Church of 1804

The name of the village and town was taken from St. John's Reformed Church. This local church was formed prior to 1756 and a church erected in 1770 below the village. In 1804 this was removed to its present location. In 1881 the present St. John's Reformed church of brick was erected.

It has been stated that the name of the town and village was adopted in honor of Alexander St. John, who was a pioneer of what is now Northampton, Fulton County, and who was a well-known engineer and surveyor of his time. On April 4, 1811, the New York legislature passed an act authorizing John McIntyre of Broadalbin, Alexander St. John of Northampton, and Wm. Newton of Mayfield, to lay out a new turnpike road "from the house of Henry Gross in Johnstown to the house of John C. Nellis, in the town of Oppenheim," terminating in the Mohawk turnpike near the present village of St. Johnsville. St. John did the surveying and largely superintended the construction of the turnpike. He was at "Timmerman's" a great part of the time and when a postoffice was established there it is said to have been named in his honor, St. Johnsville. It may be that the historic old Reformed church and the capable and popular surveyor both contributed to the adoption of the name, but the subject will probably continue to be a matter of dispute.

St. Johnsville Township, 1838

St. Johnsville Township and village formed part of the town of Palatine until 1808, when the town of Oppenheim, then part of Montgomery County, was formed, the new township including the present town of St. Johnsville. In 1838 Fulton County was separated from Montgomery and the present township of St. Johnsville was formed. The first town meeting of the new town was held May 1, 1838, at the house of Cristopher Klock, one mile east of the later village of St. Johnsville. The number of votes polled was 271. During the Civil war St. Johnsville furnished a large number of federal soldiers, considering its small area.

In 1804 Jacob Timerman induced the congregation of St. John's Reformed Dutch church (organized 1770) to remove to its present site in St. Johnsville, and from this church the village takes its name. In 1811 half the sermons in St. John's church were preached in English and half in German, but English soon thereafter supplanted the German of the pioneers.

St. Johnsville Village, 1857

The construction of the Erie canal in 1825 and the Utica and Schenectady railroad in 1836, boomed the little village and in 1857 the population had grown to 720. On Aug. 1, 1857, the place was incorporated.

Stores, mills, houses and a school were built and a small village was here, and when the Albany & Schenectady railroad was opened in 1836, St. Johnsville became an important station on the line, with coal trestles and a famous railroad restaurant. A ford and a later ferry furnished river crossing until 1852 when a bridge was built. In 1857 St. Johnsville was incorporated as a village. The manufacture of agricultural machinery was begun here about 1870; player pianos and piano actions in 1889; knit goods in 1892.

St. Johnsville First Mohawk River Town to Use Hydro-Electric Power, 1898

St. Johnsville is a pioneer in hydro-electric development. It was the first Mohawk River town to receive and install hydroelectric power and light service and it was the second town in the entire Mohawk Valley in this regard. Dolgeville was the first Valley town to put in a hydro-electric power plant, installing it in 1897.

St. Johnsville received its power from the second development on East Canada Creek, that of Beardslee Falls.

Guy R. Beardslee (born May, 1859), a young army engineer, became interested in hydro-electric power. He resigned from the army and devoted his energies to harnessing the water power on his property at East Creek. The first power was turned on March 17, 1898. St. Johnsville village was the first customer. In 1912 he retired in favor of the East Creek Electric Light and Power Company, which was in 1921 taken over by the Adirondack Power and Light Corporation, and the power development carried on to a greater extent by reason of increased capitalization, but in all essential detail the development has followed the lines originally planned by Captain Beardslee and his clear vision has been amply justified.

William Irving Walter of St. Johnsville, in 1913, wrote a very comprehensive article on the development of hydro-electric power on East Creek and its early use in St. Johnsville. It will be found on pages 277-280 of the Author's "[The Story of] Old Fort Plain and the Middle Mohawk Valley." Much of the interesting data of that day is now obsolete. The following is condensed from Mr. Walter's article:

In 1895 the firm of Roth & Engelhardt (whose successful etablishment of the piano action industry at St. Johnsville during a period of phenomenal business depression was attracting considerable attention and placing themselves and the village of their location among the influences to be considered in the business world) added a lighting plant to their St. Johnsville piano works. This Mr. Beardslee purchased of Roth & Englehardt in 1898.

The Union Knitting Company (Wesley Allter & Son) was the first establishment in St. Johnsville to discard steam for electricity and with the present system of separate motors doing away with so much shafting and belting and the consequent waste of power.

The Royal (now Royal Gem) knitting mill founded in 1898 by J. H. Reaney and O. W. Fox in the building later occupied by the extensive music roll business of F. Englehardt & Sons, was equipped from the beginning with electrical motive power, but when in December, 1901, the business was removed to the present Royal Gem Mill on New Street, it had so outgrown the electrical development of East Creek Falls that steam power was installed. Since that time the Union Mills management has installed electrical energy.

Social and Religious Details

Besides St. John's Reformed church the following religious societies have been organized in the village: Grace Christian church, organized in 1874; Union church, erected in 1849 by Lutherans and Methodists and a few other denominations no longer in existence; Methodist Episcopal church, built in 1879; St. Patrick's Roman Catholic church, built 1889; Episcopal.

The following newspapers have been published in St. Johnsville, with the dates of their establishment: Interior New Yorker, 1875; Weekly Portrait, St. Johnsville Times, St. Johnsville Herald, St. Johnsville Herald-Times; St. Johnsville Leader, 1886; St. Johnsville News, 1891; St. Johnsville Enterprise, 1897.

The First National bank of St. Johnsville was organized in 1864 with a capital of $50,000. In 1925 it had a surplus fund of $100,000 and total resources of over $2,000,000. It is now housed in a very handsome brick building which it constructed in recent years. Exceptionally good educational facilities are afforded by the St. Johnsville High and Grammar school. A new school building is now (1925) in process of construction.

St. Johnsville has a fine public library, housing the Margaret Reaney Memorial Library, the gift of Mr. John H. Reaney, in memory of his mother. Like Fort Plain and Canajoharie, its sister villages, it has many social, fraternal, religious and patriotic societies. St. Johnsville Lodge, No. 611, F. and A. M., was organized in 1866, now located in its own fine new Masonic Temple.

The St. Johnsville Exchange Club is a local institution which is an active and progressive factor in the life of the town.

The population of St. Johnsville township was in 1850, 1,627; 1880, 2,002; 1910, 3,369.

The population of St. Johnsville village was 720 in 1857, 1,376 in 1870, 1,071 in 1880, 1,263 in 1890, 1,873 in 1900, 2,536 in 1910, and 2,469 in 1920. The 1925 population is estimated at 3,000. There has been much residential building between 1900 and 1925 and the village of St. Johnsville now extends two miles along the Mohawk Turnpike, its western limits reaching Upper St. Johnsville, a picturesque and pleasant section.

Barge Canal Lock No. 16, Dam No. 12, at Mindenville

Barge Canal lock No. 16 and dam No. 12 is located at Mindenville about two miles west of St. Johnsville. Here a land cut begins which runs westward to a point west of the Rocky Rift feeder. This four mile land cut is the first artificial channel going westward. The Barge Canal in its eastward course, for a distance of 70 miles to Waterford, follows the bed of the Mohawk River. The Mindenville lock has a rise from 302 ft. water level sea elevation below, to 322 ft. above, the Mindenville lock. This level runs 8 miles west to the Big Lock at Little Falls and its first reach constitutes the first land channel in the Mohawk River section of the Barge canal, westward from its beginning at Waterford, on the Hudson. Here the Mohawk, in its original undammed channel, shows small "rifts" and other characteristic features.

Three miles west of St. Johnsville is the mouth of the East Canada Creek.

Fort Klock, 1750

About three-quarters of a mile east of the St. Johnsville village limits stands Fort Klock built in 1750 and an important Revolutionary fortification. The battle of Klock's Field was fought close to this ancient and well-preserved stone house. It was so named from the fact that it was fought on a field of the Klock farm, the line of battle extending northward from the Mohawk River to the present Mohawk Turnpike.

The Americans, pursuing the British, Tory and Indian raiders came from present Nelliston along the King's Highway, which then ran on the site of the present New York Central tracks.

Fort Klock lies close to and fronts on the Central and is a familiar landmark to travelers over the railroad. Fort Klock was built by Johannes Klock, the pioneer Palatine German settler.

On the east wall of Fort Klock is the inscription: "Erd. Willem Pick, 1750," meaning "Erected by William Pick, 1750," Pick probably being the master mason.

A palisade was built around Fort Klock in the Revolution and it formed a neighborhood defense and refuge in time of danger. Fort Klock overlooks the scene of the American Revolutionary victory of Klock's Field, Oct. 19, 1780, the battle taking place on the Klock farm, at which time Fort Klock was filled with neighboring families and defended by the farmer militiamen. During the battle one of the defenders took a long range bead on a passing British officer and shot him from his horse, which, strange to say, came galloping up to the palisade, where it was secured. On its back was the officer's camp kettle, which became an heirloom in the Klock family.

The cellar door opens into a stone walled chamber, surrounded by stone bench work, which served as a dungeon for the confinement of Revolutionary prisoners.

In 1924 Fort Klock had been in the possession of the Klock family for over 170 years, which had owned Klock farm for nearly two centuries. It has been the scene of many Klock family summer reunions.

In the late afternoon of Oct. 19, 1780, Gen. Van Rensselaer's .army of 1,500 pursuing American militiamen finally caught up with Johnson's war party of 700 footsore raiders, who were arrayed in line of battle, near Fort Klock, from the river up to about the present Turnpike route. The Americans charged the enemy who, after a sharp skirmish, fled in utter rout, the pursuit probably extending into present St. Johnsville. The Mohawk chief, Joseph Brant, was here wounded in the heel, but escaped.

The region about St. Johnsville is rich in historic lore. The village and township is largely composed of the descendants of the early Palatine settlers. They have greatly contributed here to the development of an American community and neighborhood which treasures the cherished traditions of the early days of its heroic pioneers. These same sons of Revolutionary sires have built here a thriving village and cultivated an important agricultural territory. Both village and countryside reflect the sterling qualities of the frontiersmen who here wrested civilization from the wilderness and whose blood helped gain America her liberties.

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