Fort Johnson transformed
By: Bob Cudmore
Fort Johnson transformed by road work
By Bob Cudmore, Focus on History, Daily Gazette, 02-11-17
The village of Fort Johnson changed drastically in the early 1960s when two-lane Route 5 was converted into a four-lane limited access highway.
The road work eliminated curves and narrow stretches that had caused accidents over the years.
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 property tax assessments.
A series of Recorder newspaper clippings from a collection kept by the late Francis Dodds of Amsterdam shows Fort Johnson landmarks demolished for the road work. Dodds’ parents’ home in Fort Johnson was one of the houses taken.
An Atlantic auto service station, fuel tanks and Tollner’s ice cream stand on Route 5 were among the first to go. Reporter Hugh Donlon wrote that people would miss Tollner’s popular “brown cows” and other “cooling confections.”
Also demolished were the Kanches Sunoco service station and the Shepard Homestead, 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, a stone wall and stately walnut trees in front of the historic building were torn down. A house and a series of garages west of the Old Fort were taken to provide room for historic site parking.
Mohawk Lodge, west of the Old Fort, was demolished. This long-established eating and drinking establishment was 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 fell to the wrecking ball late in the process. 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 was stonework that had been used by the 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 taken. It was used as the headquarters for the construction project.
Lepper Creek near the city of Amsterdam and Kayaderosseras Creek adjacent to Old Fort Johnson were sent underneath Route 5 by way of culverts installed by Collins Brothers, contractors from Mechanicville.
Lepper Creek and Lepper Road in Fort Johnson are named for a family of settlers from the German Palatine region who fought in the American Revolution. The original family homestead on Lepper Road is still a private residence.
In the last century, Floyd Ellsworth Lepper, was known for making polishes for cars, furniture and stoves. Lepper inherited recipes for the polishes from his father and made the products in an outbuilding behind his home at 60 Wall Street in Amsterdam.
Furniture polish was a sideline as Lepper was pastor of the Pilgrim Holiness Church in Fultonville for many years. He also was in real estate after his service as a bugler in World War I.
The manufacturing company was called By-Me. A brochure featured testimonials from prominent local citizens, including attorney Carl S. Salmon.
The last bottles of Lepper polishes were produced in the 1950s before the death of Floyd Ellsworth Lepper.