Reminiscences of Leeds

Reminiscences of Leeds

John Vedder, M. D.
Saugerties, Jan. 1, 1898

Newspaper article. Newspaper in which it was recorded was not stated. Transcribed by Arlene Goodwin.

The village of Leeds (Old Catskill) is about four miles West of the village of Catskill, in Greene Co. The town is the most Southerly in the county, bordering on the Hudson River on the East and Ulster Co. on the South. The Valley of the Hudson was settled mostly by descendants of immigrants from Holland.

Previous to 1732 the only Dutch Church on the North was at Coxsackie and on the South at Kaatsban. Those who were religiously inclined were obliged either to go to Coxsackie or Kaatsban. These two Churches were from 15 to 18 miles apart, making it quite inconvenient to many of the inhabitants to attend divine services. Those living in the vicinity of Leeds, North, South and West, including the greater part of Kiskatom, concluded to form a Church whose place of worship would be in the vicinity of Leeds, which was done, as the following extract from a letter furnished the writer through the courtesy of Miss Ann Van Orden of Catskill will show:

"The Reformed Dutch Church of Leeds was organized on the 25th day of February, 1732, under the named of The Reformed Low-Dutch Church of Katskill and Kochs-Hacky."

The first church edifice was built on the land of Martin Van Bergen, just North of his house, on a hill South of the Catskill Creek, three-fourths of a mile from the site of the present village of Leeds. It was dedicated on the 25th of November 1733, by Dominie Van Driessen of Albany. In 1787 a parsonage was built, which is still standing, on the South side of the creek, nearly opposite "The Fall," as the village of Leeds was then called. On the 4th of May, 1814, the Consistory passed a resolution to collect money for the purpose of building two churches, one at Leeds or Madison, as it was called, and the other at Catskill Landing.

In December of that year Consistory passed another resolution, "That for the encouragement of subscriptions for the building of a new house of public worship, they resolved to build said house." But it was not till April 27, 1818, that the present stone church was completed.

The first object of interest or note that I remember distinctly was the first house of worship. It was a vary plain, unattractive frame building. It stood on an elevated plateau of perhaps two acres of land. The old Cauterskill road, as it was called, passed along its base, on the East side.

It was at that time, 1821 or 1822, an old, dilapidated shell, windowless and doorless; only the frame, siding and roof, two windows facing the East and three to the South, a door near the South-East corner, and a ventilator on top of the roof; floor timbers, but no floor. The pulpit had been removed and put in the barn of the parsonage for safe keeping, where I saw it some years after. At this time I was about five years of age, but I remember it as vividly as if I saw it but yesterday. It, the church, stood only a few rods North of the residence of Van Bergen, whose house was built in 1729, as recorded on a stone over the front door. The roof of this house was of tile, probably made in Holland. The house was a stone building, as most all farm dwellings were at that time.

The old church I am speaking of was "beautiful for situation," built on an eminence overlooking a fine section of farming land, acres and acres of Madison flats, worth now over $100 per acre; mountains in the West and on the North, the Catskill Creek on the East, a small hamlet along its borders. Among the oldest dwellings, I remember the Wessel Salisbury house, the D. Kyes’s, the Sparling, Nehemiah Smith’s, Uncle John Osterbout’s the Griswold house and others, apparently a very old one, with double doors, as the custom was in those days. The old church has long since disappeared, but the magnificent scenery has wonderfully grown.

In what year the old church was vacated, or when religious services were discontinued, I do not know, but the stone church in the village was completed April 27, 1818, at which time I was not quite three years old. In 1817 the Rev. I. W. Wyckoff was called to the pastorate. He was the first minister, that I remember.

It may be of interest to some who now living to know the names of the pastors who served the Church, the years of their incumbency, of which the following is a list: The Rev. Mr. Weiss, from 1731 to 1736; the Rev. Mr. Schuneman, 1753-1794; the Rev. Mr. Labagh, 1798-1800; the Rev. Mr. Ostrander, 1810-1812; the Rev. P. S. Wynkoop, 1814-1817; the Rev. I. W. Wyckoff, 1817-1834; the Rev. J. C. Van Liew, 1832-1833; the Rev. Mr. Hoff, 1835-1842; the Rev. James Romeyn, 1842-1844; the Rev. Mr. Betts, 1845-1850; the Rev. Mr. Minor, 1851-1856; the Rev. S. T. Searle, 1857-1869; the Rev. Benj. Van Zandt, 1869-78.

The first church edifice was probably erected during the pastorate of the Rev. Mr. Weiss.

I have often been told by my grandmother that the trial sermon preached by the Rev. I. N. Wyckoff was from the words found in Acts, 10th chap. and 29th verse, "Therefore came I unto you without gainsaying as soon as I was sent for; I ask, therefore, for what intent have you sent for me?" He struck the right key. The Church gave him a call. He accepted, and was their pastor for 17 years, longer than any the Church ever had, excepting Dominie Schuneman.

Dominie Schuneman lived on a farm in Jefferson. He had three sons, Martin G., Wilhelmus or William, and John. Martin G. married Miss Goetchius, and settled at Leeds. The place soon grew to a small village. He purchased a large farm, started a tavern, built a store and also a flouring and grist-mill. He soon became popular, and also very wealthy. He was elected to Congress, but in what year I am unable to say. He left two sons and a daughter, William, John and Maria ("Polly," as she was familiarly called.) A daughter of John, Elizabeth, who was a schoolmate of mine, a very intelligent and interesting girl, married a Mr. Orr, from Troy. After a few years of married life, her husband died. Her health failing, she went to Rome, Italy, where she died some years ago. Her remains lie buried in the Holy City.

Of all the oldest inhabitants whom I remember, and the most prominent, was Martin G. Schuneman. He was a typical Hollander and a great smoker. Although a young boy, I distinctly remember him, he was a large man, weighing nearly or quite three hundred pounds. In going from his residence to his store, just as he was about entering the door, he slipped and broke the skin, and bruised the leg between the knee and ankle. Erysipelas set in, followed by blood-poisoning. He lived only a few days, mourned and lamented by a large circle of friends.

Uncle Wessel Salisbury lived in a brick house only a few rods from the stone church. He was a small man, weighing not much more that 125 lbs. He was old, very old, a centenarian nearly. He had been a landlord, having conducted a hostelry in the house where he lived.

My early school days were passed at Leeds, under the instructions of Horatio W. Orcutt, who afterwards became quite eminent in the medical profession. He is dead and buried in Jefferson. During his pedagogical career at Leeds it was the custom for the Rev. I. N. Wyckoff to visit the school once a fortnight and spend a part of an afternoon examining the pupils in the Heidelburg Catechism. He having buried his first wife, in due time married Miss Jane Kyes, a daughter of Dr. Kyes, deceased, and accepted a call to the Dutch Church at Catskill. He served as their pastor a few years, accepted a call to the Second Dutch Church at Albany, where, after a long pastorate, he died.

Before closing my reminiscences I wish to speak of two prominent citizens, Elijah Wells and Thomas Van Schaick. "Uncle Lige," as he was familiarly called had quite a large family of children, all boys but one named Laura. They were all schoolmates of mine, except the oldest, named Almon. One of his sons, Rausford, has for many years been a prominent minister to the Reformed Dutch Church. He was still living a few years since in the Valley of the Mohawk, in or near Canajoharie. A good man and a faithful minister. He was educated by or at the expense of the Rev. I. N. Wyckoff.

It is said of "Uncle Lige" that in his later years he was given to his cups, and on a certain occasion, when he had indulged rather too freely in tanglefoot, on the way from the tavern to his home he passed the stone church and his legs not being under perfect control, staggered up toward the church. A neighbor seeing him accosted him thus, "Uncle ‘Lige." Are you going to join the church?" he relied, "I am leaning that way." Poor "Uncle ‘Lige"! he, too, has gone the way of all the living.

Another conspicuous character was Thomas Van Schaick. He was for many years a fixture of Leeds, highly respected by old and young. A man of African descent, void of all profanity or immorality, a jovial, happy-go-lucky specimen of his race. He, too, is gone, and the place that knew him, knows him only in memory.

Perhaps but very few of the present generation of Leeds people remember the old or first bridge in the village. The side or end towards the East was built of stone, consisting of two arches, one small and one large one extending to very near the center of the creek; from thence to the West shore was a wooden structure inclosed on the side and roofed. It had two tracks, and a side track for pedestrians. This wooden part was replaced by two stone arches, about 1824 or ’25. I distinctly remember when they were built. The contractor’s name was Mr. Stratton.

The name of the village (Madison) was changed to Leeds about 1830 or ’35. It never has been able to boast of many eminent men, with the exception of Martin G. Schuneman, who was once elected to Congress. The only officeholders were one sheriff, justices of the peace and constables. Politicians there were as we find them in most all villages—none that has ever come down in history as having aspired to the presidency, or the governorship of the State. Notwithstanding, Leeds can boast of men of sterling character, always ready for every good word and work.

Now, when I visit Leeds, as I occasionally love to do, and look at the place where the old school have stood (its having long ago given way in the line of improvement) and view in retrospect the happy times I enjoyed with my school companions on the Campas, I sigh and think of the following "One generation cometh, and another goeth." I look for some of the old, familiar faces, but look in vain. Then comes welling up in my mind the sentiment of the poet:

"When I remember all
The friends so linked together
I’ve seen around me fall,
Like leaves in Wintry weather,
I feel like one who treads alone
Some banquet hall deserted,
Whose lights are fled,
Whose garlands dead,
And all but he departed."

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