Willard, Thomas Emmett - Memoirs

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Below is a letter to the editor from Thomas Emmett Willard that was printed in the Altamont Enterprise Jan. 5, 1900. Willard was born 1840 and lived in Berne in the 1850's.[1] This article is about his teacher, Peter A. Youngblood, who was the principal and teacher in a Select School in the hamlet of Berne. The school was in the Hellenbeck building, built by Daniel Wright in 1838 as a furniture store and undertaking establishment. It was a three story building where the Masonic hall now stands. Wright's woodworking shop with coffin specialty was in the basement level. On the next floor he stored lumber, and on the upper level the Odd Fellow Lodge conducted meetings.[2] By early 1855 Daniel Wright had sold the building and business to Isaac B. Hellenbeck (as he spelled it). About that same time the I. O. O. F. became defunct due to diminished membership.[3] In Oct. 1856 Rev. John Cannon Van Liew was called as preacher to the Berne and Beaverdam Reformed Churches.[4] Van Liew started a Select School in the meeting room on the upper level of the Hellenbeck building. After the death of Issac B. Hellenbeck in 1878 the undertaking business went to his son George. In the 1880's there stood several buildings just above the post office in the center of town. One was the large two story buildings owned by George Hellenbeck with his undertaking business on the first floor and a hall above. In 1889 the Hellenbeck building caught fire and the conflagration spread in both directions; all five businesses were destroyed.[5]

Memoirs of Berne.

My Dear Enterprise:

The following clipping appeared in the Evening World of Aug. 4th 1899: "Peter A Youngblood, who has just been buried from the Jerry McCauley Mission house in Water street, was once a New York lawyer, it is said. Through drink he became a tramp. One night eight years ago he wandered into the McCauley Mission attracted by the singing. He became converted and renounced drink. He became an active worker in the mission. Twice in the next two years he relapsed, but six years ago he promised he would never touch liquor again. He never did.”

After the lodge of I. O. O. F. that roomed over Daniel Wright's shop, died of anemia, lack of blood,) the Rev. VanLiew started a select school in the rooms they vacated. I. B. Hellenbeck had become the owner, and Peter A. Youngblood, then about 21 years old was the principal, (and interest too.) He claimed to have been born on a Pacific Island, I have forgotten its name. His father was a missionary. Miss Olivia Settle dabbed him Peter Adam, and the name stuck, altho' the A stood for some other cognomen. He taught for two terms and was a little fellow of a sandy complexion, red moustache and all the charms and conceits those features carry. This was in 1854 or 1855. [Actually Van Liew did not come to Berne until late 1856.] In 1883 I happened into Frank Duffy's, who then kept a saloon on Nassau street, New York, about No. 90. I had known Duffy, who was a character, when he owned a soda fountain on the corner of Grand St. and the Bowery. So as I passed I stopped to say a word to him. At the end of the bar was a shabby, dissipated, little man that I instantly recognized as my whilsome [sic.] pedagogue. I turned my back to him and began to tell Frank some stories of my schooldays! (You remember the school room was three stories up.) And poor Youngblood pricked up his ears and sidled around to see if he could recollect me. After I had confidentially told Duffy of a thrashing P. A. Y. had given me, he blurted ont, "Say thats all right, I did teach school up there, and my name is P. A. Youngblood, now who in the deuce are you." After a hearty laugh I told him who I was. I never saw him or Duffy since. Duffy went to Fort Hamilton, committed a homicide and died in Sing Sing. This notice brings up a host of memories, of coffins on the grand floor, lumber on the second and learning on the third, and the other scholars who attended, some to learn and some for fun. We had more fun than learning. I wonder where that band of scholars is now. The most of them have gone up higher. Some are surely left who can remember poor Youngblood and his select school, three flights up, over I. B. Hellenbeck's morgue, a flight from grave to gay. It was a high school indeed. So many branches taught that the tree of learning bent with the weight of its own fruit, of which that which I gathered wits like dried apples sadly evaporated and easily carried away.


T. Emmett Willard


  1. Census records
  2. Our Heritage
  3. 1900 Letter to Altamont Enterprise from T. Emmett Willard
  4. 200 Years of Church Discipleship, 1765-1965, A History of the Berne-Beaverdam Reformed Churches
  5. Our Heritage