History From America's Most Famous Valleys
Forts & Firesides of the Mohawk Country
by John J. Vrooman, 1951
Published by Baronet Litho Co., Inc., Johnstown, NY
ARENT VAN CURLER, after seeing the Mohawk Valley in 1642, wrote to Killiaen Van Rensselaer in Holland that "a half day's journey from the Colonie, on the Mohawk River, there lies the most beautiful land that the eye of man ever beheld."
Someone has said that "landscape without tradition is beauty unadorned." Tradition is a child of time and romance grows with it. But the time must be measured not in months or even years but rather in centuries, so slowly does tradition mature. Over three hundred years have passed since Van Curler wrote his letter and so it is that tradition and romance have entwined them selves about the sturdy old houses, the venerable churches and the ruined forts scattered up and down the length of the Valley. Many of these spots, rich in natural beauty as well, have been made the scene of some of America's most popular historical novels.
The old Palatine Church is in the very heart of the Valley. Here stood the little settlement known as Fox's Mills on the banks of Caroga Creek. The inhabitants were Palatine Germans who had come thousands of miles to find a quiet place where they might live in peace. This was during the period from 1720-1725, when Heinrich Frey and Harmanus Van Slyke, the Indian traders a few miles to the eastward were their closest neighbors. There was another small settlement made also by Palatines on the hills of the northern Valley slope at Stone Arabia some ten miles farther east.
Fortunate indeed was the period of peace which followed the early years of this settlement, for it allowed time for a more permanent establishment of farm homes and buildings than were their primitive log huts and "dug-out" dwellings. The need for a church was answered by the good Domine Ehle, under whose leadership a simple log structure was built in 1729.
The French and Indian raids which had been so horribly cruel and devastating to the Valley just above them did not extend below the outpost stronghold known as Fort Herkimer. But this does not mean that the inhabitants of Fox's Mills did not suffer. They enlisted in the militia which defended that section of the Valley. But when this war was over there came another period of peace and with it a greater growth and development that carried the settlement of Fox's Mills to its peak of prominence exceeding that of Amsterdam, Fonda, St. Johnsville, Fultonville, Canajoharie, and Fort Plain, all thriving settlements at that time. During this prosperous interval the present Palatine Evangelical Lutheran Church which, as the tablet reads, was "Erbaut in Yarhe Christi 1770," largely through the generous donations of a few parishioners, at a cost of $3500. The principal donors were the Wagner, Nellis, Reber and Hess families. The church is one of the most famous landmarks along the entire Mohawk Valley Turnpike. There was no bell in the steeple. The worshipers were called to church by a huge steel triangle two inches square and three feet on each side. The noise and peculiar resonance of its tone when struck carried for miles up and down the Valley.
Then came the Revolution and any horrors and sufferings the settlement at Fox's Mills were spared during the previous war was balanced by the almost total destruction of the place. Those familiar with the novel, "Drums Along the Mohawk," may recall this quotation: "Both Lana's parents had been killed in the wiping out of Fox's Mills. Only her married sister was left alive of her whole family."
This is the church in which Lana is supposed to have been married. Only the church, and the little tavern beside it, were spared and this through the fulfillment of a promise made in friendship. When the war broke out a son of Hendrick W. Nellis, the man who had generously given the plot of ground on which the church was built, joined the British Army along with a grandson of old Nellis, and together they went to Canada. Some years later when the raiders were about to burn the church by shooting a flaming arrow into the steeple one of the British officers remonstrated, saying he had pledged his word to his friend Nellis in Canada that the church should be saved. It seems Nellis contemplated returning to his farm adjacent to the Church after the war was over. And so the church was saved and with it the little tavern still standing alongside. But unfortunately for Nellis the outcome of the war was not as he had anticipated. His lands were confiscated and sold by the American Government. He never returned to reap the benefits of his kindly act.
The building remains much as it was built, as viewed from the exterior. But the interior has unfortunately been "modernized" by removing the old elevated pulpit with its pendant sounding-board and the original surrounding galleries. (Note: the church as since been restored and has the elevated pulpit once again.)
On the grounds of the church the Army of General Van Rensselaer encamped on the night of October 19th, 1780, when in pursuit of Sir John Johnson and his army. A little further up the valley and to the northward of the Church is the site of one of the early Indian fortified "Castles," and still further on is the old Fort Klock farmhouse near which the Battle of Klock's Field took place.
The old weathercock atop the church steeple has witnessed a panorama of destructive events beyond the wildest dreams of those who put him there nearly two centuries ago. Yet true to his legendary powers of protection, the building has endured through nearly two hundred years under the care of his roving, watchful eye.
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