By Dan Weaver
On July 8, 1929, Gov. Franklin Roosevelt and his family arrived in Amsterdam via the Barge Canal in a glass roofed canal boat, the Inspector. According to the Recorder, “Governor Roosevelt was enthusiastic over the beauty of the Guy Park manor lock. Over and over again, he remarked, ‘this is a mighty pretty spot,’ ‘isn’t it beautiful,’ and ‘what a pretty setting for historic Guy Park manor.’” Both Franklin and Eleanor signed the Guy Park Manor guest register before continuing on their upstate boat tour.
Guy Park’s beauty was even greater in its early days. When first built, there was no canal lock or railroad tracks nearby. It sat on a parcel of land that ran from the river nearly to Van Dyke Avenue and from near Northampton Road to Dove Creek along Steadwell Avenue. Often travelers noted the place in their journals.
Richard Smith of Burlington, N.J., passing through the valley in 1769, described the manor. “Guy Johnson’s house is of Stone 2 stories high, neat and handsome; the Garden behind runs down to the River and is accommodated with a pretty Pavilion erected over the Water.” On May 19, 1776, Captain Joseph Bloomfield of the Third New Jersey Regiment stationed in the Mohawk Valley, wrote, “At 8 passed by the elegant Buildings of Col. Guy Johnson & Col. Claus.” Simon Desjardins, on his way to the Adirondacks to create a haven for refugees of the French Revolution, passed Guy Park Manor on Oct. 4, 1793, and wrote, “Reembarked at eleven o’clock and a mile beyond came to the house of Colonel Johnson … This house was built of stone and is the finest we have seen since leaving Albany.” Desjardins also said the property had a “fine orchard.”
A real estate advertisement in a 1789 newspaper described the property in more detail, stating it had a stone dwelling, a brew and malt house, a large stone Dutch barn, a coach house and a pigeon house and included two islands. It also described “50 acres of lowland under the highest cultivation; and nearly as much upland newly cleared and fenced.” It further stated the meadows produced 100 loads of hay per year.
Guy Park Manor was built in 1766 for Guy and Mary (Polly) Johnson, who married in 1763. Polly was the daughter of Sir William Johnson. Guy was her cousin and a deputy of Sir William Johnson’s in the crown’s Indian Department. The first house burned in 1773 after lightning struck it, according to a footnote Smith added to his journal. By describing the original house as stone, Smith contradicts historians’ statements that it was wood. The house was rebuilt in 1774.
Guy Park was originally the Hoofe Patent. Henry Hoofe received two land patents on Dec. 12, 1727, one for 539 acres and one for 544. One was on the south side of the Mohawk and eventually became Port Jackson. At some point, Sir William Johnson purchased the patent on the north side of the river, and it became Guy Park.
Guy Park Manor’s importance is often overshadowed by Old Fort Johnson and Johnson Hall. Nevertheless, a number of historical events took place there, including four Indian Congresses in 1768, one with the Chippewas, during which an all night dance was held on July 11. Guy Johnson met with 22 Mohicans on May 9, while Sir William was attempting to recover from an illness at the seashore and Lebanon Springs. Their spokesman, Keewahal al Arie told Johnson that “ — we were formerly well clothed, we now come poor, & naked before you, but we cannot help it. — our Women also are in the same plight, their Nails are of their fingers to the Bone, by endeavoring to raise Bread for their Familys.” The Mohicans asked for guns, clothing and some liquor.
On May 12-17 and 24-27, Guy Johnson met with a group of Mohawks. One of the purposes of this last meeting was to settle the disputed Kayadarosseras Patent, which had been a sore point with the Mohawks for almost 70 years. Some of New York’s leading citizens attempted to defraud the Mohawks of 250,000 acres. Sir William managed to get the acreage reduced to about 23,000 acres. Final settlement of the purchase was not sent to parliament until the end of 1769. Since most of what is now the City of Amsterdam was part of the disputed patent, permanent settlement east of Guy Park was hindered until near the end of or shortly after the Revolution.
Dan Weaver lives in the Town of Florida and operates a business in downtown Amsterdam.