The Lost Settlement of Schohary Kill, Part II

In 1995, I was new to the Pratt Museum. I’d just landed the job as the Museum’s Director-Curator and was looking forward to learning as much as I could about Prattsville’s history. Walking Main Street from Pratt Rock to the former Laraway Inn (currently the O’Hara home), I didn’t give much thought to Maple Lane. It seemed to me to be a quiet rural spur of a once-bustling typical 19th century town. No such thing.
What led me to believe that Maple Lane was merely a sleepy extension of the Town that Pratt Built was the location of the Reformed Dutch Church, which congregation members proudly told me was the oldest church on Greene County’s “Mountain Top;” the other is that someone who knew far more than I did about local history at that time had informed me that the location of the Church, together with the fact that an early grist mill once stood across the road from it, seemed to indicate that this had been the center of Town when Pratt arrived in Prattsville in 1824. At that time, I had no reason not to believe him. After all, the Laraway Inn, was built in 1785, a mere nine years after the American Revolution, by John and Martinus Laraway.
Around that time, a man named Bell built the first tannery in the area, locating it close to Devasego Falls, a popular summer vacation spot in the 19th century that was eventually flooded over by the City of New York in 1928 to make way for the Schoharie Reservoir. Charles Smedberg, a native of Sweden, purchased Bell’s tannery and ran it until 1823, when it was destroyed by a fire, alleged to have been started by Bell, who disappeared from the area, coattails fluttering, shortly after that. Gossip held that Bell was a pirate, who, upon leaving the area, was captured and hung near Philadelphia. Smedberg, on the other hand, built a second tannery on the ashes of the first, but it was not to be. Smedberg’s second tannery also was destroyed by fire, at which time, the unlucky Swede decided to return to farming.
Seizing the opportunity left by Smedberg’s misfortune, Colonel Zadock Pratt built what would become the world’s largest tannery on the banks of the Schoharie Kill in 1825. This tannery was 550 feet long, and 43 feet wide, with 300 vats, conductors under the vats, and 12 leaches, with six heaters, together with three hide-mills, and ball and press pumps. In 1839, a flood seriously damaged the tannery, which Pratt eventually closed for good in 1845. What’s most intriguing about this turn of events is the introduction of “Schoharie Kill” into our story.
Being desirous of settling emigrants in America, England’s Queen Anne, anxious to settle the New World with certain of her subjects, sent her agent to America to purchase land, which he did; about 20,000 acres in the Schoharie valley. Soon after, Queen Anne had a ship fitted out and filled with German emigrants, started from a German port early in January 1710. After a long and difficult voyage, the ship reached the mouth of the Hudson River, June 14th 1712, after two and a half years at sea. Many of the ship’s passengers had died during the Atlantic voyage. Those who remained traveled up the Hudson River to Saugerties, where they put down anchor for the winter. Early in the spring they sailed to Albany, Here some enlisted in the British army while the rest, guided by an Indian trail, walked to Schoharie and settled along the Schoharie Kill, Several months passed and the Queen’s agent was sent to the settlers to offer them the protection of the laws and give them undisputed title to the land they now occupied. Wary of strangers and fearing oppression and taxation, the emigrants resisted his offers after arming themselves with guns, clubs, pitchforks, etc., sought to do him violence. The agent escaped and the land was eventually sold to a private company. The memory of this transaction, together with the punishment of its ringleaders, created ill will in the minds of those who decided to move east.
Eventually, descendants of the Schoharie settlers pitched camp on the flats at what-is-now-called Prattsville. During the War of Independence [Revolutionary War], a band of Tories and Indians, led by a British Officer known only as Captain Smith, attacked the tiny settlement. The settlers fought back valiantly and eventually Captain Smith was killed and buried where he fell, on the bank of the Schoharie, opposite the old battle ground. In time, Smith’s bones were washed away by one of the region’s frequent floods, where, we’re told, an unnamed African-American gathered them together and buried them in a safer place. This skirmish took place north of the village and a short distance below the iron bridge. John Laraway and sons, John, Jonas, Derrick, and Martinus; Isaac Van Alstyne; Van Loan, brothers; Henry Becker, and the Shoemaker family were some of the pioneers who fought and won this small struggle against the Crown.
If you think I’ve forgotten about Prattsville’s picturesque Maple Lane by now, I haven’t. More on that in a few.

Daniel the Cat

i cat

  1. i have a name now so i thought i’d better introduce myself. daniel…at least that’s what she calls me.

i work at the pratt museum…actually I only work in there first thing each morning and last thing each night.

my job title is chief mouser. i run thru the pratt museum each day checking for those wily little furry looking things with the long skinny tails, big soupy eyes and pointy noses that never seem to stay still…i find these little varmints so fascinating, i just become glued to the spot whenever they’re around.

so far this hunting season tho, i haven’t found a single one inside the museum…not that i’m complaining or anything…she says its all because i’m such a big brave mouser catcher, and that those pesky little interlopers get all trembly and scared when they smell mighty me, the great hunter, around…and now that they know for sure there’s a new sheriff in town they’re all finding it so much more copasetic or something to stay out of dodge city…or, er, the pratt museum, that is.

i dunno…she might be just putting me on, tho.

do i really smell><{}K…

i really sorry i can’t type a real live question mark…or capital anything…it’s hard for me to hit the shift key at the same time as another one…i keep slipping off one or the other…

by the way, that previous remark was a parenthetical in case you didn’t realize it…

i started out writing this little post cuz i really wanted to share with you the strange and mythical story about how i got my job at the pratt museum but i’m exhausted…i just typed 284 words and with only 1 paw, which probably counts for double. in any case, i’ll need to get some help…from her, maybe…if i’m ever to be able to continue to share that which looms so large in my legend…ringo said that in ‘a hard day’s night’…and that was another parenthetical. boy, this is fun. i just can’t wait til i can italicize.

well, good night for now…i’ve got to be going on my rounds.

ps…y’know, at least there’s one really good thing about not being able to type a capital and that is you don’t have to worry anymore if there’s an end of a sentence before it.