Swift justice for speeders in Cranesville
If a trooper clocked you going more than 35 mph on Route 5 in Cranesville years ago, you had a very slim chance of avoiding a fine, typically $15. The officer would lead you to the home of Justice of the Peace Malcolm Malpass.
“My father was available 24 hours a day,” said the judge’s daughter, Janet Malpass Beyer. When she was in high school, boys were afraid to date her. True to form, her father once fined her future husband, Donald. Beyer remembered only one occasion when her father suspended a sentence and didn’t impose a fine.
Malpass held court the day he died. Beyer was working at General Electric then. A fellow GE worker said he had been fined in her father’s court and was surprised to read in the paper the day after his court appearance that the judge had died.
Malpass was born in Philadelphia in 1899. The family, including brothers Albert and Clement, moved to Amsterdam’s East End. The Malpasses came from the same part of England as the Shuttleworths, owners of Mohawk Carpet Mill. Malcolm was a member of Amsterdam Boy Scout Troop One, organized before World War I.
In 1920, Malpass married Elizabeth Howitt and they built a home on Route 5 in Hoffmans, below the trolley tracks. The couple had three daughters and a son — Beyer, the late Betty Finkenstein, Beverly Brino and Malcolm.
Like his father, Malpass worked for Mohawk Carpet as a weaver and loom fixer, leaving the mill in 1945. He also worked at General Electric and was a deputy sheriff.
In 1945 the family purchased the abandoned store in Cranesville at Route 5 and Cranes Hollow Road. They renovated the 19th century building and installed indoor plumbing, although an outhouse remained out back. Beyer said wooden pegs held the building together.
The store became a community center.
Residents convinced Malpass to run for town justice because they were concerned about speeding cars on Route 5. First elected in the late 1940s as a Democrat, he later became a Republican.
Malpass also served as a councilman in the town of Amsterdam and was one of the organizers of the Cranesville Fire Department. Beyer recalled her father was incensed when he learned insurance companies were raising premiums for rural homeowners because of inadequate fire protection. The fire department was organized soon after that.
When Route 5 was modernized in 1959, the state took the Malpass store and burned it to make room for the new highway. Malpass moved to Knickerbocker Heights off Route 5.
Traffic violators from the entire town appeared in his court, including those apprehended in the village of Hagaman. Beyer said her father also performed many marriages. Sometimes she and her mother served as witnesses.
Beyer said her father got a job at the carpet mill when he was only 14 and caught rheumatic fever after working in icy conditions in the factory. In 1950, Malpass had part of his stomach removed and received over 50 blood transfusions, more than any other area patient had ever received. He was only 63 when he died in 1963.
“And it’s amazing when you’re in a group,” Beyer said. “Someone will say my maiden name was Malpass and they say ‘Oh was your father the judge?’ And you think, that was so long ago but they still remember that.”
Did this really happen?
On May 17, 1923, Henry Ford, auto manufacturer, stopped in Amsterdam for lunch and parked his car in violation of a local ordinance, according to an online collection of newspaper headlines. More information on this unusual story has not been found.
Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach him at 346-6657 or firstname.lastname@example.org.