Beaver Dam (Berne)

From Helderberg Hilltowns of Albany County, NY

Before the Town of Berne was formed in 1795 the area was called the Beaverdam after a large beaver dam that was near the where the Switzkill joins the Foxenkill, a very short distance west of the current day intersection of Cannaday Hill Road and Switzkill Road. It could not have been on either the Foxenkill or the Switzkill because annual floods would have washed it out. So obvious; we should have thought of that before. And the beaver dam must have been a very large and seemingly permanent structure to have the community named after it.

Since the Beaverdam Reformed Church took its name from the prominence of the dam, the dam had to have been very near the site of the church. The history of the Reformed Church says the original log church building was on the knoll in what is now the Beaverdam Cemetery. The 1787 Van Rensselaer survey map, shows a drawing of the church to indicate its location; and it is not on the knoll. Rather, it is on the north side of the Foxenkill, just east of the confluence with the Switzkill. In fact, the church is where the house and barn of the old church farm is located.

According to church history, the original log building was replaced by a frame structure in 1786. So, although the survey map is dated 1787, the survey must have been done before then. There are a number of leases dated 1774, including one for Johannes Ecker on Lot 594. His lot was on the south side of the Foxenkill, across from the church. The lot is bisected by the Switzkill at its juncture with the Foxenkill.

It makes sense that the survey would have taken many years from start to finish. Since the survey shows the log church on the bank of the Foxenkill, it probably was done by 1774. (An aside: the reason the graves of the family of Johannes Dietz, who died in the 1781 Dietz massacre, has never been found in the Beaverdam Cemetery, is that they were buried alongside the old log church in a now lost location.)

The beaver dam had to have been on a side stream flowing into one of the two creeks near their intersection and the church. In fact, the beaver pond is shown as a marshy area on the dividing line between lots 576 West Part and 576 East Part, the lot just to the west of that or Johannes Ecker. The dam was on a small stream that flows into the Foxenkill just west of the confluence with the Switzkill.

A US geological survey map shows lot 576 as being very flat. The beaver pond would have flooded what is now Canaday Hill Road. In fact, the geological survey map shows Canaday Hill road crossing a marshy area.

Van Rensselaer 1787 survey map, New York State Archives

This small section of the survey map is centered on the log Beaverdam Reformed Church. The Switzkill flows from the southeast to the north and into the Foxenkill. The beaver pond is lower left of center and Swizkill Road is to the lower right of center parallel to the Switzkill. The Cannaday Hill Rd. dead ends into Switzkill Road because beyond to the west is blocked by the beaver pond. The house of Joannes Ecker is across Switzkill Road from the house of Jim and Maryellen Hamilton where the barns are or were. It is marshy and becomes very small after about 50 feet from the Foxenkill. It comes in from a southwest angle It is between the first island from the east bridge over Rt. 1 and the mouth of the Switzkill. It is shallow. There are still some wetlands in that area.