Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Columbia County's Sleeping Dragon: Part V

This installment of Margaret Schram's series recounts historic landslides in Stockport attributed to Lake Albany clay. It appeared in The Independent on August 4, 1988.

The Stockport Slides
Landslides caused by Lake Albany clay are not like the usual rock slides that start with stones rolling from the top of a hill, which then gather momentum and more debris until they crash at the bottom. Lake clay slides can be sections of up to several acres that suddenly separate from an adjoining hillside and sink or crash to a lower level. In many cases, the water clay interior layer has slid, or been ejected, and the earth above simply collapses.
Many lake clay slides are not as dramatic as the ones described in these articles. For example, parts of the City of Hudson's hillsides are slipping, just a foot or two a year. The potential remains, however, with the right conditions, for a devastating slide.
Difficult Research
There were several weeks just recently when I thought this article on the Stockport slide would consist of pictures and no story. I had been loaned the postcard views but had no details of the slide except that it occurred in 1908.
My usual source of information--newspapers on microfilm at the library at Columbia-Greene Community College--only had the last four months of that year. That was also the case at the New York State Library in Albany. I was denied access to the repository of local daily newspapers stored in the Columbia County Courthouse.
My frustration turned into an obsession. I read the Town of Stockport's records, made innumerable phone calls, and finally ended up in Stockport knocking on doors. I should add that the residents are very friendly, but the dogs are not.
Town Historian
Many people remembered hearing about the slide but had no details. My problem was solved when Viola Williams, the town historian, found and brought to me a newspaper about the event dated March 27, 1908.
The funds for the land and the building of St. John the Evangelist Church and cemetery were given by Joseph Marshall who, with his brother Benjamin, operated the Print Works Mill for making calico cloth. The Marshall brothers built a Methodist church for their workers and also a Presbyterian church, which was later moved and used for a schoolhouse.
In 1845, Joseph Marshall brought plans from England for the Episcopal church, which is known locally as "the Little Brown Church." Later, the cemetery was expanded by a gift of several acres to connect that cemetery with the abandoned Presbyterian cemetery. The donor also hired a famous landscape gardener to beautify the grounds. A lichgate was built at the entrance and a covered seat was erected in the back northwest corner. Residents remembered that the seat was a favorite spot for a scenic view of the valley.
A Crack
A few days before the slide, a rack in the earth was discovered near the bench. It was reported to have been six inches wide, "seemed to have no bottom," and extended along the top of the hill. Sometime during the night of March 26, the land gave way, unseen and unheard. A mill-hand on his way to work the next morning discovered that over an acre-and-a-half of the northwest portion of the cemetery had "dropped nearly out of sight."
Slid 60 Feet
It was determined that the slide had moved from north to south about six or eight feet and then slid nearly sixty feet, carrying fifteen large pine trees with it. Crowds of people came to view the scene. The newspaper mentions that the morning after the slide, "the earth was still in an unsettled condition and much care had to be taken while walking in the vicinity on account of the large cracks about the place."
The newspaper noted that "this landslide is the third that has occurred at Stockport within the last 40 or 50 years and the peculiar soil is no doubt the cause of all of them." It seems that everyone I talked to in Stockport remembered a slide and each in a different spot than the other. One elderly lady recalled vividly combing her hair as a small child in preparation for Sunday School and hearing a loud crash signalling another landslide.
Slides Along Ridges 
Most of the slides were along ridges over the Stockport, Kinderhook, Claverack, and Widow's creeks. They were also common along the embankments near the river.
One occurred on April 3, 1912, just north of Stockport Station. Several tons of clay slid onto the tracks of the Albany Southern Railroad. The clay began to slide at 3:30 the afternoon of April 2. It covered the tracks, which broke under the weight. A gang of men from Niverville and Rensselaer were sent to clear the track, but "as quickly as it was taken away, more would slide into place."
The section of State Route 9 just south of the Columbiaville bridge has been a source of problems since the road began. The final solution for the undermining of the road is now, hopefully, in place. This series is in chronological order of landslides, and that section on the rerouting of Route 9 that took place in 1975 will be included in a later story. 

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