This Baltimore still roots for the Yankees Un-Fans: These Pretenders to the name -- at least they wisely call themselves 'New' -- have a very different take on baseball loyalties. But what more can you expect from a town in New York?

October 02, 1997|By Joe Mathews | Joe Mathews,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

NEW BALTIMORE, N.Y. -- When the 3,400 or so residents here say the name of their Hudson River town, many of them drop the New. "Nnn-Baltimore," it comes out. Or sometimes, just "Baltimore."

So, 25 miles south of Albany, with its own rest stop on the New York State Thruway: a Baltimore that roots for the Yankees.

"Wait till the playoffs; the fates won't let the Orioles stay ahead for long," says the Rev. Leroy Suess, pastor at the New Baltimore Reformed Church. "We have a special feeling for Baltimore here, but not enough to stop cheering our team."

There is, nonetheless, a strong bond between this Baltimore and the largest city in Maryland. Folks here have long been especially curious about their namesake, and for good reason. New Baltimore's origins remain a mystery, and there is a widespread belief that the answer might lie 350 miles to the south.

"We don't know for sure why the town is called New Baltimore," says Clesson S. Bush, the town historian. "You wonder if there aren't documents somewhere, or some historian down in Baltimore who knows."

For now, Bush has pinned his hopes on the New York State Museum, where researchers are translating Dutch records that might shed some light. A few years ago, Cliff Baldwin, 81, who represented New Baltimore for years in the Greene County legislature, says he asked around about his town's origins on a trip to Maryland, to no effect.

"There are two or three different stories out there," says Baldwin, a strapping octogenarian who works as a volunteer firefighter. "They borrowed our name or something. Because we got the real Baltimore here."

The "real" Baltimore is now a 69-square-mile bedroom community for teachers and state officials who work in Albany, and for railroad employees who toil in Selkirk. They come for the peace and quiet and the annual August agricultural festival. It is a town of above-ground pools, lilac bushes, too many raccoons and skunks (New Baltimore has an active animal-control officer), and homemade signs that hang on trees and say things like "Honey for Sale."

In the riverside hamlet that is the town's National Historic District, residents chat at the post office, where they all must come to pick up their mail. "People bring in pies to share, or stuff from their gardens," says Stephen G. Myers, the 36-year-old postmaster. While it may not be Charm City, "It's a town with a lot of charm," he says.

It wasn't always that way. New Baltimore was officially founded in 1811, but Dutch sailors began living here in the early 1700s. Before the incorporation, maps listed the town as just "Baltimore." And when John Maude, an Englishman, stopped by on his way to Niagara Falls in 1800, he had a low appraisal.

"Baltimore's a shabby place," he wrote in his journal. "Every other house a tavern. In number about a dozen."

Bush, the historian, says there are two theories about the name of the town, both involving Marylanders. One was that land surveyors from the Baltimore of the Chesapeake ended up congregating here by chance in the 18th century. The other is that sailors thought this section of the Hudson's west bank resembled the outline of Baltimore Harbor.

"That's the legend schoolchildren have always been told," says Barbara Weeks, the town clerk. "Some homesick sailors thought it reminded them of Maryland."

In New Baltimore's early days, the river was the center of life. The biggest industry was shipbuilding. But folks found other ways to use the Hudson, by cutting ice from the frozen river or taking sand off the bottom and selling it to bricklayers. Groves of apples thrived along the Hudson. Hotels flourished.

A couple of centuries later, the hotels, the apples, the industry are gone. The only shipbuilding scenes left in New Baltimore are on Cliff Baldwin's living room wallpaper.

"You might laugh when I say this, but this Baltimore and your Baltimore were similar. We were both water towns," says Baldwin, whose grandfather, William Henry Baldwin, was once New Baltimore's leading shipbuilder. "There are probably a few similarities today, if you look hard enough."

Maybe so. Like its big sister to the south, New Baltimore has a proud fire department, a well-publicized shortage of downtown hotel rooms (though a new hotel is about to go up at the town's stop on Interstate 87), and an overcrowded court system (in session only on Monday nights).

There is even a continuing fight about a waterfront mega-bar, Steamboat Willy's, that residents say won town approval by posing as an upscale restaurant. "This is the kind of honky-tonk place that belongs down on your waterfront in Baltimore, Md.," says Suess. "It's so loud at night, you forget where it is you're living."

Myers understands the confusion.

He is used to getting mail that should go to the nearby hamlets of Climax and Surprise (where the post office closed suddenly a few years back, surprising everyone). But on occasion, he also gets letters destined for New Baltimore, Mich.; New Baltimore, Pa.; and, of course, Baltimore, Md.

"I guess people can't tell the difference." he says.

Pub Date: 10/02/97

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