17th Century farmer in phone book gets sales pitches Town historian keeps settler's home, name alive

December 18, 1998|By ALBANY TIMES UNION

ROTTERDAM JUNCTION, N.Y. -- Check the telephone directory and you'll find a listing for Jan P. Mabee. The phone will ring inside a farm house he built in 1670.

"I get telephone solicitors calling asking for Mr. Mabee and when I tell them he's been dead since 1725 I get silence and then a click," Scott Haefner said with a laugh. Haefner is the town historian who lives in and is caretaker of the historic Mabee Farm in the upstate New York hamlet of Rotterdam Junction.

Haefner's listing of the name of one of the junction's first settlers was not done in jest but out of convenience, along with respect. Town historians come and go, but the two-story stone home with many small rooms and short doorways is open for tours and was built by Mabee to last. The historic plaque out by the road says it is the "oldest home in the Mohawk Valley east of this point."

The floors creak a little and some muscle is required to work the thick drop-latch original entry door. Most of the home is still the way Mabee left it.

Sitting at a table in the rough plank-floored kitchen one recent day, Haefner sorted through the junk mail he has kept that was addressed to Mabee. An antique grandfather clock by the kitchen hearth bonged the half-hour as the sun cast a pattern on the floor made by the wide mullions of the Dutch window that offers a view of the browned reeds along the Mohawk River in the distance.

The Mabee calls and letters are but an amusing distraction to Haefner's real work -- sorting through more than 500 historic photographs of Rotterdam Junction, also strewn on the table, which he wants to compile into a book on the hamlet.

There are pictures of the railroad workers, the roundhouse, trains, buggies, horses, taverns and many graduating classes of the Woestina School (Dutch for wilderness) which is now an elementary school.

Rotterdam Junction was born literally overnight in January 1884 during the railroad steam-engine era when the Boston and Maine and the West Shore railroads opened a huge round house with a 34-track rail junction.

"All the homes have that late Victorian look like they were all built at the same time," Haefner said. "That's because they were."

"It's the way America used to be and isn't any more," he said. "If we don't put together this history, who will?" Pickney added. "The younger generation seems more distant and this will all be forgotten."

Pub Date: 12/18/98

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