Fort Johnson transformed by road work
The changes that highway and urban renewal construction brought to the city of Amsterdam have been far reaching. But the village of Fort Johnson also changed drastically in the early 1960s when 2.26 miles of two-lane Route 5 was converted into a four-lane limited access highway.
The cost estimate for the Fort Johnson project was $1.88 million. The 5.72-mile Tribes Hill Route 5 project to the west was estimated at $1.64 million. The new road skirted Tribes Hill and relatively few buildings were destroyed. The road project eliminated many curves and narrow stretches that had caused accidents over the years.
A series of 18 Recorder newspaper clippings from a collection kept by the late Francis Dodds of Amsterdam shows vanished Fort Johnson landmarks. Dodds’ parents’ home in Fort Johnson was one of the houses taken.
Contractor Henry Butler tore down 35 homes and 20 other structures in Fort Johnson, most of them on the south side of old Route 5. The village of Fort Johnson and town of Amsterdam lost $160,000 in assessments from the property tax rolls.
An Atlantic auto service station, fuel tanks and the popular Tollner’s ice cream stand on Route 5 were among the first buildings torn down. Reporter and historian Hugh Donlon wrote, “When the warm summer nights come again and demand returns for cooling confections, including the very popular ‘brown cows,’ many former patrons of the curb service will become increasingly aware of the big changes that are taking place in the village.”
Also demolished were the Kanches Sunoco service station and the Shepard Homestead, also known as the Sweetstone or Bennett Convalescent Home near Old Fort Johnson historic site at the intersection with Route 67. The Old Fort itself, built in 1749, was spared. However, an imposing stone wall and stately walnut trees in front of the historic building were torn down for the new highway. A house and a series of garages to the west of the Old Fort were taken down to provide room for historic site parking.
West of the Old Fort, another business that was demolished was Mohawk Lodge, a long-established eating and drinking establishment, operated in its last years by Harold Philip and his wife. Philip relocated to Bordentown, New Jersey.
The 100-year-old Pepper residence in the west end of Fort Johnson also fell to the wrecking ball in the early 1960s. Walter Pepper and his family moved to Tribes Hill but apparently delayed the move as long as possible. In the rear of the Pepper residence in the 1960s was well-preserved stonework used by the electric trolley line of the Fonda, Johnstown & Gloversville Railroad to cross a creek.
Donlon wrote, “Route 5 had been narrowest at this point because the engineers of other years had a tight squeeze in getting the highway through the very limited space between the old home and the railroad tracks. A high retaining wall in front of the (Pepper) home added to the traffic hazards as motor vehicles became more numerous.”
A Sinclair gas station at the corner of Brant Avenue was among the last buildings torn down. It was used as the engineering headquarters for the construction project.
Lepper Creek near the city of Amsterdam and Kayaderosseras Creek near Old Fort Johnson were routed underneath the new Route 5 by way of new culverts installed by Collins Brothers, contractors from Mechanicville.
As the 1960s continued, next in view of the contractors was Amsterdam itself. A grassy plot and stately trees at the city’s west end were sacrificed for the highway, the first of many landmarks to disappear in the city in years to come.