Book shows Chatham through long-ago lenses

CHATHAM–If you ever wondered what Main Street here looked like in the mid-1800s, open a copy of Images of America: Around the Village of Chatham, a collection of old photos of and around the village, with detailed captions that address village history. Village Historian Gail Blass Wolczanski, who collected the photos and wrote captions for the book, said that the hardest part of creating this book was stopping her research.

The book came about after the Historical Society got a call “out of the blue” from Arcadia Publishing, which wanted someone to write the book about Chatham, said Mrs. Wolczanski’s. And her first question was: “Which one?”

The company, which recently issued a book called Railroads of Rensselaer and filled with photos from the rail yards of that Hudson River city, originally wanted a book about the Town of Chatham. But Ms. Wolczanski said that after she submitted a proposal for a book on the just the village, the publisher realized how much history there was in the smaller area.

She said she submitted over 300 pictures and worked with the publishers, going back and forth about which ones would end up in the book. Ms Wolczanski credits many private citizens with photos, as well as the village and county historic societies, the New York State, Hudson and Chatham libraries and the county Agricultural Society. “I wanted the captions to be as detailed as possible,” she said.

A Chatham resident until 6th grade, Ms. Wolczanski said her family moved out of the area once her father’s railroad job ended. “My dad rode the last train into Chatham,” she said of the end of passenger service to the village.

After teaching elementary school in New Hartford for 33 years, she retired and “came home” to Chatham. She now lives in the house her parents left in 1962.

She says the charm of Chatham is how much it has stayed the same over the decades, a point underscored by the photos of Main Street and many other streets in the village, which still have many of the same buildings they did in the mid-1800s. In her research Ms. Wolczanski found that there were once seven crosswalks across the unpaved Main Street. The “crosswalks” were just boards laid out as a way to keep mud off the long skirts worn by women of that era. At one time the village also had three turntables for the trains and horse hitching posts in front of every house on Kinderhook Street.

All the profits for the book and a DVD of vintage footage of the train going through the village go to saving the Blinn-Pulver Farmhouse on Rt. 66. Ms. Wolczanski says that Historical Society hopes to make the brick house a museum and welcome center for the village. The house, which is on the state and national historic registers, will be 200 years old in 2011. Ms. Wolczanski says “We’ve got a heck of a lot done” so far on repairs to the house, but the society still has more to do, and funding is tight.

The book and DVD are for sale at Video Visions and Handcrafters with 100% of the sales going to the Blinn-Pulver Fund.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email .  

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