Berne Local


Editor's Note — The following article, written by Inez Shook, appeared in the Sunday Knickerbocker Press, Sept. 16, 1934.

Dust lies like a grey shroud over the interior of a little old church high in the Helderberg hills. It spreads over the huge Bible open on the rough, low pulpit; over the organ with its muted echoes of music that once swelled an accompaniment to the chorus of young voices from choir seats on each side the raised platform; over the twin stoves at the rear of the room, and the sedate rows of square, low-backed pews.
This abandoned church is a monument to a town that died. A town that grew from hamlet to a thriving center of mountain industry, then slipped back to its humble beginnings as time and progress stole its reason for existence. Now, only this crumbling building and vine-tangled quarries in the hills outside remain as testimony to the days when Reidsville was a thriving community of several hundred souls, and could boast two churches, two hotels and several stores.
Augustus H. Salisbury knows the story of Reidsville. Mr. Salisbury lives in a neat grey house on the narrow unpaved road that runs through Reidsville, and can look out his windows at the vacant lots where business places once nourished. He knew as familiar sounds the voices of men making merry in the hotel across the way after a day of toil or during the long winter lay-off. Many times he has watched, the four-horse stage from Albany swing to a whip-cracking halt before William Stoneburner's Inn.
Augustus Salisbury, too, is the man who can tell you about the blue stone Quarries that once kept Reidsville "on the map". He went to work there as a youth of 20, and has watched the in dustry dwindle, from its onetime high peak. And it was he who made the last stand with the quarry industry, to which he was forced to hang up the "out of business" sign a year ago. "Cement did it," Mr, Salisbury observed. Reidsville had the finest blue stone quarries in this section of the Helderbergs, and was the center of the business for over 50 years.
"The men who worked in the quarries around town and in the old Grippie quarry near South Berne all used to live in Reidsville. We had two churches, the Methodist and the Christian - full every Sunday, too- two hotels, several stores and a street lined with houses. "We shipped blue stone from Voorheesville as far away as Philadelphia. Albany, however, was our best market. We also shipped some stone for use as rough boxes.
"But all that ended about 15 years ago. The quarries were kept open until June, 1933, but business was dead."
A. H. Salisbury went to work in the Reidsville quarries nearly 40 years ago. He learned how to blast away top rock, to find the natural seams of blue stone about 10 feet below. Then came the "driving up" with wedges and rolling out of the slabs. "Tracing up" was next, when holes were bored at intervals and the stones cut into required sizes.
This was "quarry cut" stone. Sometimes there would be an order for rock chiseled into smooth edges. Horses crept down over the steep, winding roads into the valley below with their wagon loads of cut stone. It was a 12-hour haul to Albany, and a teamster had many a spare moment for philosophic musing on the journey.
In the early days, the cut rock was loaded into the waiting wagons by hand. Later, derricks were used. Aaron Hotaling and William Brate were the first operators of the 75-year old quarries, as Mr. Salisbury recalls. They were followed by other holders, including John Flagler and the Albany County Blue Stone Company for which Mr. Salisbury worked as a foreman for 21 years. When this company gave up the quarries, Mr. Salisbury took them over. By this time, however, blue stone window sills, curbing and sidewalks were becoming outmoded. Cement and artificial stone usurped its place. For a while, Mr. Salisbury sent truckloads of stone to Saugerties for shipment to New York. He Also kept wheels running over the routes to Bennington, Vt, and Massachusetts towns. Then there was the coping for the Schuyler Mansion and Fort Crailo which he supplied. Blue stone has an antique appearance and is popular in the reconstruction of old stone buildings, he explained.
About six years ago, the Lane Construction Company resurfaced 10 miles of the Rensselaerville road and 10 of the Thacher Park-New Salem highway with rock from the Reidsville quarry. Last year, there was an order for blue stone as backing for the new Trinity Methodist Church of Albany. And from Stockbridge, Mass., came a few orders for blue stone to be used in "crazy walks."
But the groans of laboring derricks died from the quarries, and loaded trucks rumbled less and less on the roads to the valley cities. Quarries that had run from April to November every year closed in the middle of the summer.
In June, 1933, the last wagon load of stone trundled out of the village. Mr. Salisbury turned his eyes toward other fields of endeavor. Cement the material that ruined Reidsville and his own business furnished one job. He constructed over 30 of the cooking fireplaces set up last summer in Thacher Park. And he has found many other places to use the skill developed in the quarry town. But rotting wagon tongues lie half buried in the stagnant pools that fill the abandoned quarries. Reidsville, which offered Frederick W. Conger and William Brate as candidates for sheriff of Albany County, has shrunk into a roadside hamlet once more. Many homes have burned or been torn down to leave gaping vacancies along the road. The hotels and other business places have disappeared. Stone cutters have died or moved away from the village they made. Besides August Salisbury, there are only Adam and Charles Otto to recall working days in the quarries. Coat hooks in the entry of the Christian Church erected in 1821 hang empty, and Wilkins and David Crawford, former trustees, look wistfully upon its crumbling walls and sagging pews.
Belongs to the Past
Services are still conducted in the Methodist Church on the hill. There is a tiny schoolhouse, and there are a few homes to send pupils there. But these houses belong to a new type of Resident: Newcomers who never knew that thriving community which sent wagon-loads of stone down to valley railroads running to great cities of the East.
Reidsville belongs to the past. A surely as the Reidsville Rural Cemetery on the hill sheltering 15 soldiers of the Grand Army of the Republic and that young Clifton Flagler, nephew of A. H. Salisbury, who died on World War battlefield in the 55th Regiment of the United States Marines. That cemetery across which Nathaniel Newberry flung a jest that brought a grim return.
Newberry helped build the cemetery. When it was finished he shook with deep laughter and cried:"Bring 'em on now. Your cemetery is ready for business."
It was Nathaniel Newberry who rested in the first grave.