August 25, 2007

Riders Mill NY - History of Sam's Grandfather

For many years I have wondered about the early history of my Grandfather, Samuel Fry, Sr....known to me as "Pops" (I am the 3rd). Since Pops died when I was 5, I recall very little about him, except that he loved Christmas, swiming & the water, and flowers. He and my Grandmother, "Momie" raised mums for All Saints Day each year.

My cousin, Dorothy Hebert, "DA" was the oldest of the cousins when Pops was alive, and was very close to him. Over the years DA has maintained a search for the geneology of Pops, and has the best recolection in the family of his early days.

About all she knew before I went on this search, was that he was born December 24, 1883 in or near Manchester, England. He was orphaned along with two sisters, Annie & Selenea and a brother, Ely at the age of 2 when parents were killed in a carriage accident. The children were accepted by the Swinton Industrial School (Orphanage) in Manchester on December 24, 1885.

It is interesting to note that this is one of the Orphanages that Charles Dickens had visited & wrote about.

From his stories told to her (DA), and an inscription in his personal prayer book of common prayers, given to him at his confirmation, while at Swinton, which DA still has! It was givento him in March of 1896 at age 13 she suspects, right before came to Canada via ship, either as a stowaway or sent by the labor unions. She remebered that he worked in Thousand Islands for a man named Shipman, paddling tourist there. He was not satisfied with the job, but while paddling either tourist or perhaps fishermen, met a man named Rider from New York in 1900, who offered to help him get a better job. All she could remember was that last name, and that Pops left Thousand Islands and miraculously found this Rider in New York, and ended up working in his home in Riders Mills, New York from 1901 through 1905 or ‘06. She said he always praised the Riders for taking him in, and making him feel like part of their family. Mr Rider also sent Pops to Cornell, probably to one of their agricultural courses, since years later he would work at a dairy in Louisiana.

This search and subsequent visit to New York, all started when I found this internet link with the phrase "Rider's Mills" in it. After contacting the head of the association last year, I that there was a promenent Rider family presence in the area at the turn of the century, and that it wasn't too far from Thousand Island.

With that info and contact, Kim & I found Rider's Mills, NY and the schoolhouse just up the road from the farmhouse where I thought Pops had been.

The owners of the Jonathan B Rider home were very helpful, and gave us a tour of the home, including the barn which had been a dairy before! This seemed to fit perfectly with what I knew, so far. So intially, I suspected Jonathan B was "the Rider" that had helped Pops.

Kim & I really enjoyed this area of New York, it is near Chatham (picture below), and is pretty much the same as 100 or more years ago! Very quaint roilling farmlands, beautiful winding carriage roads, small hamlets & villages, and very friendly residents. Kinderhook Creek and the remains of the old Riders Mills Covered Bridge are still there. The mills were destroyed years ago by floods, which eventually took out the dam and the bridge.

As the week unfolded, I met the current owner of the Edward W Rider home, across Kinderhook Creek from the 1st home, and actually located nearer to the site of the original mill. Nill (the current owner) was extremely helpful, invited us into his home and pulled out stacks of old records & photos of the house and the area. Bill suggested that Edward Rider (and this home) were a better fit to Pops story. In the end this would prove to be true!

Edward had purchased his Father’s (Thomas B. Rider II) house at 14 Bachus Road in 1900 as a summer or weekend home. He worked in Brooklyn during the week, and commuted to Riders Mills on weekends via train. Edward had two spinster sisters, Helena (Lena) and Jane, who lived in the house until they died (1927 & 19?? Respectively). Here is the house and barn as they look today.

Bill explained that he ahd taken the porch off years ago, because of severe rotting. There was still some uncertainty, but Bill produced a print of a watercolor done by Nathaniel Wyeth of "the Rider's Mills Covered Bridge", which very clearly showed the house in the background. I had recently converted all the old family b&w photos onto DVD's, and that night found this photo simply marked "Farm" that matched perfectly. You can even see the old barn in the back, left...and Kinderhook Creek, just where it still stands today! It was probably taken from the bridge. Over the many years, my Sister & I had no idea of what or where that was from.

After more research, suggested by the town historian, I found Samuel Fry listed in the June 1, 1905 NY State Census* as “Servant”, White, Male, 19 yrs of age, born in England, 4 years in US, and a Citizen, although he did not officially become one until the mid-40’s. The records list Helena as “Head” of house, Jane as “Sister”. No other residents are shown on the record. So, Bill was right, and the story was true...I had found the closest thing that Pops ever had to a home and family during his early years here in this country!

Undoubtedly, Pops lived in the this one, the Thomas B. house, with the two Sisters, and probably also worked in the dairy, across the creek and perhaps helped in the Jonathan B. house also (the first one up above). We went on to discover the gravesites of Edward, Jane & Helena at an old cemetary a few miles away.

With a helpful tip from another resident, and some searching on the internet, we also learned that The Glen House, which is now a well-known vacation complex, was originally opened to fishermen by its owner, Wallace Shipman, in 1897 (a few months after Pops came over from England) and that used young laborers from there as help for the resort.

During the early years, most guests were Americans from Rochester and Syracuse, New York. They would travel to Clayton by the New York Central Railroad and cross the river in the Glen House boat to stay for the summer. The boat used then was the St Lawrence Skiff, which seemed to fit the story told to DA. So, this completed the jigsaw puzzle of Pops early years here.

I suspect Pops attended Cornell due to Edward Rider's encouragement (and financial help) , studied agriculture, dairy related, for a year or so. (probably late 1905-1906 or possibly ‘07)
In short, here is the rest of the story, if which I am writing a long version, which I will glady share with you if you leave a comment asking:

On a bicycle tour or the southern US with friends or classmates in 1907, passing through Baton Rouge, Louisiana he met Sophie Delhomme (my Grandmother) at a Methodist Youth function, fell in love and married her. His first job in Louisiana was at the Cloverland Dairy in New Orleans. They lived on Magazine St. in early ‘08 but Sophie was anxious to get back to the Baton Rouge area. So, later that year they moved back and Pops went to work for the Louisiana State University Diary Division in Baton Rouge. He loved sports and was the “manager” for the National Champion 1908 LSU football team!

He resigned from the LSU job (probably in 1910 or so) to take a job with the new Baton Rouge Standard Refinery (today ExxonMobil).

I do remember my Dad (Sam Fry, Jr.) talking about how much Pops loved the outdoors, especially swimming. I have always had that passion for being on or in the water. This included paddling, which Kim & I do & enjoy often. Ironically, through this research, I learned about the bicycle tour from my cousin, another hobby that I pursue and love. So, I guess the old stories about where we get our interests from are true! The completion of this story will be when I hear back from the only living "Shipman" descendant, who owns a small boat marina near Thousand Islands. I'm hoping to find out more about the Glen House history, and perhaps find an old photo or job record that would document that Pops was there. I definitely want to visit Glen House, and paddle those same Thousand Island waters that Pops did, but that will be another story.