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SCHENECTADY DIGITAL HISTORY ARCHIVE

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Flint House Archaeological Report, 2002 — 2003:
Tales from the Glenville Woods

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[This information is from pp. 9-15 of Flint House Archaeological Report, 2002 — 2003: Tales from the Glenville Woods by Stephen D. Jones, Ph.D., RPA, and others, and is reproduced here with his permission.]

V. History

As with many other old places, the history of the Flint House has been largely anecdotal up until now. At least some of the anecdotes originated in the research done by Ms. Flint herself. She passed on her findings orally to, among others, the house's current curator, Michele Norris. This word-of-mouth is virtually all the remains of her work, since her materials were discarded by her relatives. (Here is perfect example of how, not only our architectural and archaeological resources, but also our archival resources are greatly endangered species.)

Ms. Norris has assembled a chronology based on the findings of Ms. Flint and other sources. It starts with the site being part of the Hook Farm, named after "Claus Graven's Hook," the peninsula jutting south into the Mohawk River; the owner was a Claas Andriese DeGraff (one of very numerous spellings — here I standardize this as the spelling, unless quoting from documents). In 1735 a Guysbert Marselis (also spelled variously, standardized here in this spelling) is said to build the present Flint House as the homestead for his farm on "Guise" (Guysbert) Island, the largest adjacent island in the Mohawk River. ("Guise Island" again gets many spellings, as well as many names; I will generally use its current name, "Big Island.") The next noted purchase is in 1820, when Fredrick Rees owned this property, the neighboring Hook Farm, and 250 acres on two neighboring islands. ("Rees" endured two or three spellings, as did "Fredrick"; my policy is to refer to the first local Reese as "Fredrick Rees," subsequent Reeses as "Reese," and Fredrick's like-named grandson as "Frederick Reese.") By 1856, the Reeses owned nearly all of the buildings in Reeseville. After the deaths of Fredrick Rees (in 1833) and his son David (1867), and financial problems of David's son Frederick , the properties here and on the Hook were purchased by Philip Becker (1871). In 1887 David Reynolds acquired the properties at a foreclosure sale; this included Big Island, for a total of over 200 acres. Mr. Reynolds was murdered in 1901 in a large barn behind the house. (The crime was never solved.) From 1902 J. T. Schoolcroft took over care of the properties for the court; around 1915 Clarence Van Slyck and Lizzie Garnsey bought the properties (along with much of the area); in 1916 John C. Ulrich and Lizzie I. Ulrich took possession; and finally Lillian Flint bought the property around the house from the Ulriches in 1952. In 1994 Ms. Flint died and left the house and 4 acres to the Village of Scotia.

The evidence from available deeds, mortgages, and maps supports parts of this chronology. Indeed, it should be stressed that these documents (even the maps) are anything but clear about the parcels that are being discussed; therefore the documentary account should not be considered superior to Norris's chronology. The documents do supply information about additional owners. They also, unfortunately, indicate that various parcels here were constantly changing ownership, whether or not the residents actually moved. The major discrepancy between the documents and Norris involves Marselis's homestead. The major problem (but one of many) is that we have found no document prior to the time of the Reeses that clearly refers to the Flint House property.

A few words on the problems. Parcels on the mainland are almost always described according to relation to other people's lands. At first it seemed possible to figure out the properties assuming the Sanders to the east, the Tolls to the west, and (eventually) Becker to the north. Unfortunately this key did not always make sense of the descriptions, and soon it became apparent that the local landowners were periodically selling each other slivers of their lands. This meant that, for instance, the comment "east of property held by John Sanders" might mean east of Sanders's main farm or just east of one particular sliver. In addition, there were many Sanderses involved in these transactions, and local families intermarried constantly so that, for instance, a property bought by a Sanders might eventually be sold by a DeGraff (with no sale intervening). Our best bet seems to be family archives of the Sanders and/or Tolls, who might have kept records of their dealings. At present I don't know if such records even exist, but one lives in hope.

In short, readers of this section must keep in mind: (1) that the archive research is far from completed, and most of the following information needs to be double-checked and pursued further; and (2) that the following information is a very preliminary attempt to make sense of the documents perused so far — this is in no way the final word on property exchanges in the Flint area.

A. Precontact Period

The files at the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation mark numerous sites in this area, but give no information on what those sites might be. Many of them are labeled "NYSM" (New York State Museum), which normally means that they relate to Native Americans during the "precontact" (or "prehistoric") period. In any case, none are on the Flint property, the Hook Farm, or the islands. Still, the islands are well known by arrowhead hunters, according to local residents, and Van Epps (1940) claimed that the Mohawk River's "flats" produced "an apparently inexhaustible supply" of Native American artifacts. Indeed, the islands are sometimes named after the five nations of the Iroquois (note Map 2). On the other hand, Van Epps (1929) says that, while the Mohawks claimed the southern part of what is now Glenville, they never lived there and other peoples probably left it unoccupied, as a buffer zone. On the Flint property so far we have found only a single flake through archaeology (in a modern level), and the curator has found a small piece of Native pottery while gardening.

However, it is almost unimaginable that precontact peoples would not have exploited the area. The soil makes for rich farmland and has little-to-no slope (see Location). Despite housing in all directions, the creek and wooded banks teem with wildlife. The islands are in the "floodplain" but both the Hook and the Flint property are well above water level. Since it is closer to the Mohawk River, perhaps the Hook itself might have been more attractive than the Flint property, but at some time during the millennia people must have settled on the latter as well. This remains an important subject for investigation.

B. Historic Period

The map of initial land grants at Schenectady (Map 3) does not present things as we see them today, but the southward bulge of the mainland is already referred to as "Gruen hoek." What is now called "Big Island" is labeled "Krujsbessen Elandt," which may translate as "Gooseberry Island." A westward extension of water in the north-central portion of the map probably indicates the area where Reese Creek originates (see Map 1 for comparison). Land-grant plots are detailed for the southern side of the Mohawk, but otherwise properties seem to be broad. Possibly they weren't being farmed?

It would seem either that DeGraff was already in possession of this area, or that the map-makers thought so; "Gruen" is just one of the creative variants of "de Graaf." Almost all of the other early documents that I've found have also associated the Hook with DeGraff, if they mention it. Moreover, Reid (1979:54) lists "Claus Andrise DeGraff" as one of the "original owners" of the lands along the Mohawk, specifically of "Claus Graven Hoek" — although it is quite possible that he is repeating tradition. I'm not sure if "Krujsbessen" was a person or a fruit, but the earliest documents place Big Island in the possession of Jan de Lawarde before 1690 (Deed IV,140,264-266; cf. Pearson 1883:107). There is no clear mention of the property on which the Flint House sits, nor of the adjacent island ("Hook Island") on the other side of Reese Creek; but these might well have been part of DeGraff's holdings.

After this, the documents are usually unclear about what properties they involve, and sometimes seem to show back-and-forth sales of small parcels. I will present my hypotheses about the chains of ownership according to the four major areas here: Big Island, Hook Island, Hook Farm (the Hook itself), and the Flint property (see Map 1).

Big Island. The largest island along the northern bank of the Mohawk in the area, Big Island (alias "Joris Aertse his Island," "Guises Island," "Isle of the Onondagas," et al.) was clearly sold by Jan de Lawarde to Joris Aertse Van der Baast by 1690 (Deed IV,140). Baast was killed in the Schenectady Massacre of 1690 but the estate wasn't settled until 1698/9 ("1698/9" due to calendar change), when the island was acquired by Guysbert Marselis for farming (Deed IV,264-266). Pearson (1883:80) claims "Nicholas De Graff who owned the neighboring mainland purchased this island of Gysbert Marselis", and a map "About 1750" (Map 4) shows a "Mr Degrave" living on or owning what seems to be Marselis's Hook Farm (see below); however, he may have been leasing it (see Mortgage XII,95). In the 1790s a Henry Marselis was mortgaging and transferring land in this area (Mortgage IX,89-90; Deed H,446-447); my suggestion is that these lands included Big Island, which ended up in the hands of a Simon Schermerhorn and then his numerous heirs. These heirs sold their various parcels to Fredrick Rees then David Reese during the 1830s and '40s (Deed K,574-580; Deed M,270-271; Deed Q,578-579; Deed T,446-449). In 1871 Big Island (minus 82 and 34/100ths acres) was sold by Frederick Reese (David's son, not father) to Philip Becker (Deed 57,177), whereupon it entered into more identifiable history.

Hook Island. This land is more difficult to track, partly because it may be called "mainland" in some of the deeds. Certainly it is now connected to the peninsula, "Claas Graven's Hoek," making that even more of a hook than before; moreover, none of the maps that I've found show a separation. However, it is referred to as "Hook Island so called" in Deed K,576 (in 1834) and as "Hook Island" in Deed 60,341-342 (in 1909), and it was apparently cut off from the Hook by Reese Creek until fairly recently (Norris pers. com.). In any case, it is not clearly indicated in documents prior to the Reese period. It may be part of the 16 morgens of "Woodland (formerly so called)" conveyed from Henry Marselis to Simon Schermerhorn in 1796 (Deed H,446-447); it seems likely to be the island owned by John S. Schuyler in 1826 (Deed G,217-219). A glimmer of revelation may be obtained from Deed H,446-447, which says that Sheriff John Scuyler [sic?], acting against "Guysbert Merselis" in 1801, transferred some "piece of land" to Simon Schermerhorn; but the phrasing is not helpful, and the deed does not claim that Sc[h]uyler owned the property. In 1830 "that certain parcel of Woodland" was conveyed from Schermerhorn's heirs to Fredrick Rees (Deed H,446-447). When Fredrick Rees's widow passed along his holdings to son David in 1834 (Deed K,574-580), these included "Hook Island so called", and the island is mentioned explicitly again at the end of the Reese tenure, when in 1873 it was sold by Reese descendants to Annie Collins, in lieu of mortgage (Deed 60,341-342). Collins sold this to John Ulrich (for $1) in 1909 (Deed 60,341). I have not managed to ascertain the present owner.

Hook Farm. This is usually identified as the "Hook" or "Hoek" in Deed IV,264 of 1698/9 and thereafter, so it is easier to track. Still, it is probably involved in a number of documents without being named, so the following chronology is not certain. In brief, I suggest that DeGraff was the first European to acquire it (explanation above). Although Van Epps (1998:435) claims that Claas Andriese DeGraff came to Schenectady in 1688, some time during or before 1690 DeGraff sold part of the Hook to Baast (in a transaction yet to be located) while retaining the rest; around 1700 Baast's holding was conveyed to Marselis, while the DeGraffs retained the rest (Deed IV,140,264; see Pearson 1883:80). In the later 1700s the DeGraffs sold their part to a Schuyler (per E. Z. Carpenter's notes on the Flint House — I've found no such deed), while the Marselises sold their part to Schermerhorn (Deed H,446-7). Some time later Schuyler sold his part to Seaman Carpenter (again per E. Z. Carpenter papers, again no such deed found at County Records) while Schermerhorn retained his part. And between 1826 and the 1840s Carpenter and Schermerhorn's heirs sold their holdings to the Reeses (Deed G,217-219 for Carpenter; Deed H,446-447, Deed M,270-271, Deed Q,578-579, Deed T,446-447 for some of the heirs' transfers).

After 1871 mortgages and foreclosures complicate the picture, but all of the Reeses' holdings were sold to David Reynolds by the court in 1887 (per Mortgage 43,1 — although I have yet to locate this document, it is referenced in Deed 132,185-187). After Reynolds's death, his property went to Clarence Van Slyck and Lizzie Garnsey (Deed 132,185-187). I've seen no documentation of their sale of it to John Ulrich, but the 1901 Saturday Globe article on Reynolds's murder refers to "Mr. Ulrich, who lives between the Hook farm [the Globe's name for the Flint House] and the Mohawk [presumably the river not the avenue]"; also Deed 241,335 (dated 1915) notes the sale of the Flint property and refers to a southeast boundary "along the lands of John Ulrich", which would seem to mean the Hook Farm. In 1976 the property was in the hands of an Ulrich (Karis 1976).

There is one crucial point here, in terms of the Flint House. In 1698-9 Baast's attorney conveys 3 morgens or 6 acres "upon the main on the other side of the River [from Big Island] abutting on the East Side of the Land Caled Claes Gravens Land … for a hoffstede or place to Build house Barn upon orchard gardin" (Deed IV, 264). This should be either on Hook Island (although that would not seem to have been "upon the main[land]") or on the Hook, specifically an eastern portion, leaving the western portion for the DeGraff ("Graven") family. The 1750 map (Map 4) puts Mr. Degrave in possession of three buildings on the bank of the Mohawk River in roughly this position; this could be taken to represent the Hook Farm (although it is currently separated from the Mohawk by a broad stretch of low land), and my supposition is that Nicholas DeGraff bought or leased Marselis's farmhouse sometime during the 1700s. So the map and deed appear to place Marselis's farmhouse where the original Hook farmstead was. Alternatively, Marselis's farmstead could have been demolished by 1750, and the buildings on the map could be in the DeGraff's western portion. Neither map or deed support the notion that Marselis's farmstead was much farther from the Mohawk, on the Flint property.

Deed G,217-219 does say that in 1826 Seaman Carpenter sells Fredrick Rees a property with boundaries resembling the Hook Farm (to the extent I understand them), which could put the first Reese house here. The E. Z. Carpenter papers (citing as a source the diary of one Abe Veeder, unknown to me) say that the Hook farmhouse was "torn down" around this time; certainly, it is not indicated on the mid-1800s maps (Maps 6 and 7). Therefore it seems likely, to me, that the Reese family moved from this old farmhouse to a new one — on the Flint property — and knocked down the other.

Flint Property. I could find no deed or mortgage with mention of any parcel that clearly related to the parcel(s) that the Flint House currently occupies, prior to the time period of the Reeses, and the pre-1800 maps (Maps 3 and 4) show nothing out here except what seems to be the Hook Farm.

Nonetheless, there are references to land that might include the Flint property. The earliest possible reference is the 3 morgens or 6 acres on the mainland across from Big Island (or "Joris Aertse [van Der Baast] his Island"), "abutting on the East Side of the Land Caled Claes Gravens Land", sold to Marselis in 1698-9 for his "hoffstede" (Deed IV,264). Tradition makes this homestead the Flint House, but the Flint House is not across from Big Island, and it's much more north than east from DeGraff's Hook. The next possible reference is the 1750 map (Map 4) with Mr. Degrave's buildings on the bank of the Mohawk, which would not fit the Flint House; in fact, it wouldn't fit the Hook Farm either, except that its current building is near a bank leading down to mud flats that might have been flooded (or considered irrelevant) at the time the map was made.

Then in 1791 Henry Marselis mortgaged "upland lying between the lands of said Class DeGraaf and John Sanders" (Mortgage IX,89-90). It is reasonable to assume that DeGraff's land was either all or part of the Hook, and that most of the property of the Sanders family was to the east of the Flint House. Therefore it is tempting to suppose that this mortgage included the Flint property. This land is said to be about 16 morgens in size — roughly the same size as Big Island; it could include the Hook Farm and Hook Island, and probably nothing else, or, assuming that Hook Farm (and/or Hook Island) was the aforementioned DeGraff land (and not part of the 16 morgens), it would most likely include the Flint property. Unfortunately, it is unclear if this is part of the land sold by Marselis to Schermerhorn a few years later; that property was also 16 morgens, but was said to lie on the Mohawk River (Deed H,446-447). However, again assuming that the sale did not include the Hook, it might well have involved Hook Island (which does border the Mohawk) along with mainland properties including the Flint property. Those 16 morgens were conveyed to Fredrick Rees in 1830 (Deed H,446-447). I assume that one of these properties did include the Flint property, since David Reese was soon residing on it, but it is possible that there is yet another deed that I haven't located. (But I should mention that I researched "Reeses" of various spellings pretty thoroughly in the County archives.) Note that Deed G,217-9 of 1826 says Fredrick Rees's farm was on the other side of a creek (from the presumed Hook Island), which indicates either the Hook farmhouse or the Flint one — or maybe no house at all but just farmland.

The property distributed by Fredrick's widow in 1834 was delimited as follows: southern boundary on the Mohawk River; northern and eastern boundaries at land of Robert, John, and J. G. Sanders; western boundary at Charles Toll's land (Deed K,574-575). An undated plan of Sanders properties (Map 5) shows land labeled "Mrs. Reese" south and west of Sanders properties, and comparison of the roads to their current locations puts this property on and around the Flint property (not a great surprise); unfortunately the Mohawk River is not outlined in this section of the map, and only the northern and eastern boundaries of Mrs. Reese's land are indicated. Also, ownership by a "Mrs. Reese" could date from one of three separate time periods: the 1830s before Fredrick's widow, Susan, turned the lands over to son David; the late 1860s, before David's widow turned things over to son Frederick; or the late 1870s, after Frederick had died. Still, the Fagan and Beers maps of the 1850s and '60s place only one house in the area, labeled "D.F.Rees" and "D.F.R." respectively, and it is in the appropriate spot vis-à-vis the Mohawk and the Hook to be the Flint House. Since the historic architect also dates the house to this time or before, the Flint House emerges from the archival chaos.

More or less. In fact, the Reese deeds do not specify the house, although they note sleighs, wagons, and numerous livestock that are to remain at Susan's house (Deed K,578-579). It certainly isn't specified in the documents relating to the money problems of Frederick Reese the Younger, although it is almost unquestionably part of what they discuss. E. Z. Carpenter's notes claim that Frederick ("and another") obtained a mortgage on both the Hook Farm and the "Reynolds-Ulrich [Flint] property" in 1871, but the deed to which he refers (Deed 82,345-347) is not so specific. Presumably it's part of the Reese estate sold to David Reynolds in 1887 (per same deed), since he subsequently moves into the house.

The unmarried Reynolds was murdered in 1901 (Saturday Globe 1901). At this time the property "consists of a large old-fashioned farmhouse delightfully located on a bank … and commanding a fine view of this city … surrounded by magnificent old elms and a well-kept orchard covering four acres and the great barns and out buildings, covering an area of nearly an acre and a half". (Actually the Globe calls this the "Hook Farm," perhaps because the Hook Farm area didn't have a house on it at the time; there is no question that it is referring to the Flint House.) The article also notes that there were "fields between Scotia and the Reynolds barns." Deed 132,185-187 shows Reynolds's property transferred in 1902 to Clarence Van Slyck and Lizzie Garnsey (who seem to have bought up much of Reeseville). Years 1915 and 1916 see strange doings, because Deed 241,335 shows Van Slyck and Garnsey selling John C. Ulrich the Flint property (for $1), yet Deed 247,253-254 shows the duo selling it to Harriett N. Borden, and receiving it back, both times for $1. Somehow Ulrich ended up with it (by bidding more than $1?), and lived in it much of the first half of the 20th century. His widow sold it to Lillian Flint at the end of 1952 (38-51 parcel 11, Glenville book 674, p. 219). Upon her death in 1994 Ms. Flint passed it on to the Village of Scotia, and in 2002 the Village allowed access to a couple of craggy archaeologists who proceeded to confuse the traditional chronology with chaos masquerading as fact. ("Chaos" refers to the resulting evidence, not our methodology.) Hopefully this is not the end of the story.

Actually, the struggle deciphering the deeds has passed us over the most celebrated part of the Flint House history: the period between the Fredericks. David F. Reese built his father's holdings into one of the most prosperous broomcorn industries in an area that made much of the brooms of the state (Howell and Munsell 1886:147), and he was sufficiently prosperous to buy up much of this part of Glenville. This massive landholding may have been the reason that the area became known as "Reeseville," even though Reese's neighbor to the west, Charles Toll, was said to be "one of the largest cultivators and consumers of broom corn in the world" (Howell and Munsell 1886:191; cf. E. Z. Carpenter papers). Howell and Munsell notably ignore the Reeses, perhaps because the latter did not subscribe to the printing of the book (Haefner pers. com.); their only reference that I could find is: "Reeseville was a suburb of Scotia of seven hundred and twenty-eight houses, and was named after a wealthy gentleman by the name of Reese who moved into that neighborhood" (Howell and Munsell 1886:187). Since Howell and Munsell's tome is the principal history of Glenville, the prosperity of David Reese and family is anecdotal, like much of this history. We do not even know where his production facilities were located, which is one of the things that makes archaeology on the Flint property so vital.

Howell and Munsell (1886:192) note that the broomcorn industry had declined in Glenville by 1877 due to "competition of western lands", so Frederick Reese may not have been alone in his financial problems. The next major owner of the Flint House, David Reynolds, apparently made his living as the town garbage collector, although he either retained or built a number of farm buildings (Saturday Globe 1901; Photo 4). On the other hand, his successor, John Ulrich, did farm both the Flint and Hook properties, although it was apparently during his tenure that all but one of the farm outbuildings were torn down (and the one that is standing may not date back to Reynolds's time, per A. Wolfe pers. com.). An aerial photograph (Map 10) as well as local reminiscences indicate that part of the property held an orchard.

Ms. Flint permitted the Ulrichs to continue to farm the land south of the house, and the Hook Farm continues as a vegetable farm to this day. The part of Hook Island away from the river (and across the creek from the Flint House) has been used to grow corn during the two years that I've known the area.

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