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Category Archives: historic site

Another Visit to the Historical Society

Last Saturday I got to introduce some friends to a couple of my favorite places, the Herkimer County Historical Society and the 1834 Jail in Herkimer, NY.  I know I have mentioned  both places before, but I think they rate numerous shout-outs.

My sister Cheryl and some friends had long been interested in visiting the jail, which is not open for tours on a regular basis. I suggested we watch for when the Historical Society holds its Open House in June, because the jail has been open that day at least for the last couple of years, when I have made it to the Open House.

We arrived at the Jail, on Herkimer’s Historic Four Corners on Main and Church streets,shortly after eleven, only to find out that the tours did not start as early as we had thought.  I suggested we check out the Historical Society, which is right across the way.

Of course I had to show off my knowledge and explain that the house had belonged to Dr. A Walter Suiter, although he had only used it for his office. Dr. Suiter provided medical testimony for two of Herkimer County’s most famous murder trials, of Chester Gilette and Roxalana Druse.

As we walked into the Queen Anne style brick mansion, we saw a display about the Gilette  case. We talked about the case and about how Hollywood did not get it right in A Place in the Sun (although that is a highly entertaining movie). I said that Chester Gilette was a player. I’ve read several books about the case.

As we walked around downstairs I pointed out the ornate Remington typewriter. I have a less fancy Remington typewriter myself.. We all admired the doctor’s study with its built-in bookcases and large fireplace. The woodwork throughout the house is beautiful.

Upstairs we noted the old bicycle with the huge front and tiny rear wheels. We marveled over the fact that a man rode it right across the country.

“And that was in the days before highways and Motel 6,” I said.

We also enjoyed looking at the dollhouses and the portraits of local people of note. I pointed out Margaret Tugor, because Cheryl had noticed a picture of the South Side School in a display about immigrants downstairs. Miss Tugor had been principal of that school, which was later named after her.

The third floor, which is not open on a regular basis, holds many artifacts and archives. We especially noted many typewriters, some chairs in need of repair, and a rather delightful baby carriage.

I suggested we go down the back staircase from the second back to the first floor, and that was another experience. The stairs are steep, narrow and curved. I think it is good to know what the servants put up with back in the day.

In the gift shop, I chatted up Caryl Hopson about the play Roxy, which the society is presenting at Ilion Little Theatre (I’ll be writing a lot about that as time goes on). I also ate a couple of cookies, which were from the Heidelberg Bakery. Who could resist?

Caryl suggested we walk a couple of doors down, where another archaeological dig was going on. I had pointed out in the society’s yard where a dig had been going on last year. A glass case in the gift shop displayed many of the artifacts that had been found. Included are a surprising number of intact glass pharmaceutical bottles.

At this year’s dig, a guy was down a well on a safety harness, sending up buckets of dirt and stones. Four people were sifting through them. They explained that they were hoping to find the exact location of Fort Dayton. The house they were digging behind belongs to a member of the Historical Society. She invited them to dig in her back yard, because she knew it was a likely spot.

Making our way back to Main Street, we saw people in front of the jail. We discovered that they were waiting for Jim Greiner to come give the tours. I was pleased to hear that. Greiner wrote the book Last Woman Hanged: Roxalana Druse. He is very knowledgeable about the jail and local history. I’ve taken the jail tour with him and enjoyed it very much.

While we waited we were allowed into the basement and on the first floor. I shared a few of the things I remembered. The lady who let us in told us more, particularly about a house-shaped clock made by a prisoner out of cigar boxes.

I left when Jim arrived, because I did not have time to take the tour. After the jail, my sister and friends were off to Utica to tour the Rutgers Mansions. That’s something I’d love to do next time.


The Beautiful Balloon Farm

Last Sunday, Steven and I were delighted to attend a Wine Tasting and Tour at the Balloon Farm Bed and Breakfast in Frankfort, NY.

The event was a fundraiser for the Herkimer County Historical Society. We had purchased our tickets at a program we attended there recently (perhaps you read my blog post about it).

The Balloon Farm is located at 128 Cemetery St. in Frankfort, across from the Herkimer County Fairgrounds. We arrived shortly after the event started at one. A number of cars were already there. A gentleman waved us to a space on the lawn. I was very excited to return to the Balloon Farm. We had attended a similar event there a few years ago, back in my pre-blog days. It is a beautiful setting.

Ilion Wine and Spirits provided the wine. Two Historical Society volunteers were pouring a nice selection. For once I did not take any tasting notes but just enjoyed the samples. We also enjoyed some munchies, including cheese, crackers and mini-muffins.

After greeting some friends and acquaintances, we wandered around the house. The downstairs rooms were all open, and we admired the decor as well as the handsome proportions and woodwork. Collections of dolls and of frogs were scattered throughout. Steven loves frogs. I also enjoyed looking at old family photographs that hung on walls or stood on tables. The lady that owns the house was on hand, telling us who people in pictures were and generally answering questions. I raved over her beautiful house and thanked her for opening it up for the fundraiser.

Most of the rooms upstairs were closed, because the SGT Licari honor guard was staying there. Local readers will know that SGT Licari was a World War II soldier whose remains have recently been returned to his family. I was disappointed not to see the rooms but felt that it was very appropriate that soldiers coming to honor a fallen patriot should be so handsomely housed.

Volunteers were available on both the second and third floor to answer any questions. I remarked to one that I knew what I was saving my mad money for next.

“To buy an old Victorian house?” he guessed.

Actually, I had meant to stay for a weekend at the Balloon Farm, but I liked his idea, too.

Back downstairs we sampled a little more wine and spent some time sitting on the porch. It was a beautiful day for porch-sitting. I especially liked the porch swing. Gotta get me one of those.

We greatly enjoyed our visit to the Balloon Farm Bed and Breakfast and are always happy to support the Herkimer County Historical Society. For more information on the Balloon Farm, visit their website at
. For more information on the historical society, you can visit or Like them on Facebook.

Jail Visit

I left the Herkimer County Historical Society and went to the opposite of the Historic Four Corners, the 1834 Jail. The Jail is not open for tours on a regular basis, so one must seize the opportunity when it is available.

I joined a tour already in progress, but I had not missed much. Jim Greiner was the guide. He wrote the book Last Woman Hanged: Roxalana Druse, about one of the Jail’s most famous inmates. I’ve read the book and heard Greiner speak about it. It’s an excellent book, and he is a dynamic speaker. He is an entertaining tour guide as well, knowledgeable and enthusiastic.

I toured the Jail last year on Museum Day (and wrote a blog post about it). There was not a huge difference in restoration from last year, although the Friends of the 1834 Jail have accomplished a lot since the time they started. Money, as always, is the problem. They are not eligible for many grants, because the Jail can never be fully handicap accessible.

I enjoyed seeing once again the cell which held Chester Gilette, the Jail’s other famous inmate. I was once again sorry we could not go up to the third floor, where Roxalana Druse was housed.

Everybody on the tour seemed to enjoy it as much as I did. One fellow mentioned a murderer from the 1960s who had probably stayed in the Jail. Apparently the guy shot a girl in the Frankfort Police Station. I hope somebody writes a book about that one, if nobody has already. I highly recommended Last Woman Hanged to a lady, but I did not see whether she purchased it.

I don’t know when the 1834 Jail will hold another event, but I certainly intend to watch for it. I may even join Friends of the 1834 Jail and try to help them raise funds. Maybe eventually I’ll get a look at that mysterious third floor.

Surrounded by History

The Herkimer County Historical Society held an Open House on Saturday in honor of Museum Day in New York State. I remember attending their open house last year (I believe I wrote a blog post about it). I was delighted at the chance to repeat the experience.

The museum is about a ten minute walk from my house, but my husband, Steven, was able to drop me off on North Main Street on his way back to work (he had an early lunch). When I walked in the front door a tour was in progress. I felt like wandering, so I sneaked upstairs.

I had seen the display of dollhouses before, but, goodness, that was a year ago. These things are often worth a second viewing. I also looked once again at the portraits on the wall, making special note of Margaret Tugor, a local educator of note. I would love to write a biography of Tugor, if only I had any idea how to research such a thing.

Back downstairs the tour had reached the Remington typewriter. I have a minor collection of typewriters myself, but nothing truly antique. I wandered over to the gift shop. I didn’t see any post cards I haven’t purchased previously, and I didn’t see anything good for a Father’s Day gift (for my father at least; I’m sure there were many things of interest to other fathers).

The third floor was open in honor of the day. This is where they house items not currently on display as well as archives. I walked along shelves of books and collections of papers. I felt surrounded by history. Some volunteers were around, but I did not have any questions.

I did chat up a volunteer and another patron about a bicycle on the second floor. It was one with the giant front wheel and tiny back wheel. A card said somebody local had ridden it all the way to the west coast. We marveled at the feat. Not only no chain and no gears on the bike. No highways. No Motel 6 or KOA Kampgrounds. What an adventure!

As always I enjoyed my visit to the museum. Wherever I’ve lived, I’ve always enjoyed checking out local history. I continued my Museum Day wanderings across the street (kitty corner, actually) at the 1834 Jail. That will form the topic of tomorrow’s post (barring accident). Stay tuned!

Rhubarb, Rhubarb, Rhubarb

I love rhubarb. I’ve never been called upon to do that stage trick where everybody says, “Rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb,” so sound like a crowd talking (I’m told it works), and that is just as well, because it would make me hungry. When I saw a Rhubarb Festival scheduled for Sunday at Nellis Tavern in St. Johnsville, I made immediate plans to attend.

The newspaper said it was the 16th Annual. How did I miss fifteen years of rhubarb? Scandalous. I suppose it is because I was not really familiar with St. Johnsville or the 1747 Nellis Tavern.

I had heard of the tavern, a not for profit historic site, but had never been there. We were not sure exactly where it was, but we drive through St. Johnsville on the way to visit Steven’s family, so we felt fairly confident of finding it.

As it turned out, we had to stop at a Stewart’s to ask directions. We were on the right road and hadn’t gone far enough. Imagine my surprise to learn that we have driven by Nellis Tavern many times. In fact, at least one time I saw it and said something to the effect of, “Ooh, there’s a tavern. Let’s stop for a drink.”

The tavern is very cool. We went through all the rooms, which are restored and furnished. We picked up a Tour Guide, but did not consult it much. Sometimes we like to just look around. The guide includes a history of the tavern with a timeline from 1725 to 2010, so I was glad we picked it up. We also picked up a flier and newsletter of the Palatine Settlement Society, which owns and is restoring the tavern.

We sat and had a cup of rhubarb punch, which was very refreshing. The man serving it showed us the recipe and mentioned it was also in the cookbook offered for sale. I naturally decided to purchase the cookbook. We got some rhubarb torte, which we sat on the porch to eat. Light and yummy. A rhubarb pie baking contest was to begin at noon, but we did not stay for that.

I would definitely like to return to the tavern for future events. St. Johnsville is a bit of a drive from Herkimer (although I suppose some might say, “Bit of a drive? Amateurs!”), but it’s a lovely drive. We went through Little Falls, always a fun spot; past Beardslee Castle, possible subject of a future post; and by some beautiful views.

For more information on the 1747 Nellis Tavern and the Palatine Settlement Society, you can visit their website at

(NOTE: I just tried for the first time to add a link. Let’s see if it works!)

Go Directly to Jail

When I read the paper Saturday morning I discovered it was Museum Day. I love museums! I further discovered that Herkimer’s 1834 Jail would be open for tours. I love the 1834 Jail! I had a number of other things I was “supposed” to get done on Saturday. I put them on hold and headed for the Historic Four Corners.

I felt a little guilty walking there without my dog Tabby. I always feel guilty walking without my dog, but especially walking toward Herkimer’s Historic Four Corners, because she always pulls me there when I let her decide which direction to walk.

I arrived at the jail shortly after 10. Already some people were there (it was to be open from 10 to 2). A gentleman told me I could just wander or have a guided tour. I thought a guided tour would be fun.

I was very impressed with the progress that’s been made in fixing the jail up. I had last been on a tour there some years ago (alas, pre-blog days). At that time the first floor still looked like part of an abandoned building. Now the walls looked clean, nice and finished, except where they purposely let prior walls show through.

The front part of the jail was the sheriff’s living quarters, I was told. The guide also showed me where the sheriff could peek through at the inmates, since the sections were separate. Two other ladies joined the tour. They asked when the jail had stopped being used as a jail. 1977, our guide said.

“Oh, we would have been here!” one lady exclaimed, and I believe she meant they would have been inmates. They were fun.

We saw some displays on the history of the jail and of its two most famous inmates, Roxalana Druse and Chester Gilette. Jim Greiner, author of Last Woman Hanged: Roxalana Druse was on hand with his book. One of the fun ladies bought the other a copy. I, of course, already have one (must do a blog post book report on it).

Jim offered to take us on a tour of the upstairs. We couldn’t go up to the third floor, where Druse was housed before she was hanged. We admired the beautiful ceiling in the bathroom, which was revealed, Jim told us, when the drop ceiling was removed. It was a high ceiling. It seems like in these older buildings the ceilings are either so high you couldn’t heat the room or so low tall people couldn’t stand up (I never have that problem).

When we went to the section with the cells I remembered it very well from the previous tour and from a couple of haunted houses the jail hosted.

“I remember being here,” I started to say.

“Oh, you were here all right,” one of the fun ladies said, alluding to my evil past (how did she know?).

Of special note in the women’s section was a beautiful claw foot bathtub which could not be removed, because they had built the walls and door around it. Another highlight was the cell which had housed Chester Gilette. Gilette had apparently received some special treatment during his stay at the jail. Pretty nice for a guy that tossed his pregnant girlfriend into the lake.

The fun ladies had to leave before seeing the basement, but I went down with my first guide (whose name I stupidly forgot to ask). I saw the kitchen, where they had uncovered the original fireplace that had been used for cooking.

I was so glad I had noticed the jail was open Saturday. And I’m very pleased that such efforts are being made to preserve such a fascinating piece of local history.

Fun at the Garden Fair

Steven had a rare Sunday off this week. We were delighted that it fell on the day of the 18th Century Spring and Garden Fair at Herkimer Home State Historic Site in Little Falls, NY.

We made plans to get there as soon as it started, 1 p.m., so for once it was no problem getting a parking space. I’m always so pleased at the number of people taking advantage of these events. Not everybody sits home complaining, “There’s nothing to do around here!” We actually arrived a little prior to one, but most of the booths were already set up, and a number of other early arrivals were strolling about.

The tents over most of the tables were a welcome sight. I had sensibly worn one of my crazy old lady hats (the nicer one), but I needed all the shade I could get. We chatted for quite a while with a lady from Glimmerglass State Park. Steven picked up some information on a telescope night they are having in June. That would be a great blog post if we could make it to that.

Moving on to the vendors, we pondered plants, eventually selecting a Toad Lily from Acadian Farm Perennials by Kathy-O of St. Johnsville. Photographs of the blooming flowers were attached to some of the pots. What a great idea! I just have to decide where to plant it now.

We also purchased some natural flea and tick spray from The Mustard Seed & Antiques at Stone Mill of Little Falls. We’ve purchased dip mixes from The Mustard Seed at other events. Good stuff. The lady told us the flea and tick spray would be good for us and our dog. We will utilize it the next time we walk the nature trail at Herkimer County Community College.

Acadian Farm is located at 259 Tillboro Rd, St. Johnsville, phone number 518-993-3967. The Mustard Seed is at 410 Canal Place, Little Falls, phone 315-823-0718. The Herkimer Home State Historic Site is at 200 State Route 169, Little Falls, 315-823-0398.