December 1993

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The Williamson Road

A Woodchoppers Tale


John Rezelman

Index of articles by John Rezelman

A ghost appeared at some activities celebrating the Bath Bicentennial and hung around awhile. Said his name was Heinrich or Reinhold or something like that. He did a bunch more talking before he left. So John Rezelman claims. According to John, what follows here are his exact ghostly words:

"People used to ask 'How do you get to Bath?' and the usual answer was 'You take Route 15.' Now they call it 415 here, but I call it 'The Williamson Road.' I know plenty about it—cut that path, opened it up from the woods the very first time. Stand you still a minute and I'll tell you how it was.

"This Dr. Berezy, he got a bunch of us together in Germany in 1792, two hundred of us in families, with women and children, and he said 'I'll take you to the Genesee Country; there is good land cheap, all you want and you can have a good life.' Well, we couldn't have been much poorer in Germany than we were and it sounded pretty good, so we said 'Ja, we'll go.' We got on a ship in Hamburg and crossed the water, then we went to a place, Northumberland, Pennsylvania, where we met Colonel Williamson. We startled him. I saw him suck in his breath and shake his head when he first saw us. But he was a fast-thinking, fast-talking salesman. He recovered himself quick and went to telling how good it would be for us when we got to this Genesee place, how nice the land was and so rich. We walked a ways up this creek and we said 'Where is the road?' He said 'Right in front of you, you're looking at it, You're going to cut it.'

"All there was there was dark, dark woods, big grossen trees. I took one look and, ach, how I wished 1was back in Germany. But we had nothing, not even one day's food. What could we do?

"In charge of us they put Ben Patterson who was a hunter and guide. He spoke German. To help him he had seven young men like him. They were rough, like wild men, and there was nothing they couldn't do in those woods. I got to say this for Patterson: There was never one day we didn't have plenty of the best deer meat to eat. That was a good thing, the way we had to work.

"The axes they gave us to use, you should have seen those things. Nine pounds they weighed. Never in Germany did we work with anything like that. Swing one for an hour and at first you could hardly lift it then. They laughed at us, 'You don't chop good,' they said, 'your stumps look like they was cut by beavers.' That was what they called this animal that cut trees. Well, maybe so, but we did cut trees and every day we cleared a little farther.

"Oh, it was schwehr arbeit in those woods—all kinds of bugs swarmed around us and bit and stung, and those ugly snakes—whirrrrr! They bit three or four of the children and them poor little fellows all swole up and turned black and was sick a long time. One of them died.

"Day after day we worked like that. We moved ahead, but it never got any better. Finally we said, 'This is no good. We will end up dead in here. Better we do what you now call "go out on strike."' We told Ben Patterson. He backed himself up against a tree and pulled out his tomahawk. 'You get back to work damn quick,' he yelled, 'or I will kill every man of you.' He was rubbing his thumb on the edge of that tomahawk while he hollered. We had seen what he could do with that thing. We didn't say anything for a short minute. Then we went back to work.

"It came October and we was yet in Pennsylvania, down below what is now Mansfield, they call it Canoe Camp. We ran out of flour and we ran out of coffee and we thought we would just lay down and die for sure, right there. Patterson yelled awful and threatened us, but this time he couldn't move us. We just didn't care. So he left deer meat for us and said he and his men would go to Painted Post and bring back boats to take us there. They left. After a while they came back up that Tioga River.

"When we saw those boats we felt worse than ever. They was little skinny things made out of tree bark and we didn't want to get in them. The only thing worse was to wait for what Patterson would do if we didn't, we knew that already. So we got in. Gott in Himmel, what a ride we had! We kept our eyes shut half the time and why nobody died from fright I don't know; we was scared enough. Down the Tioga we raced and finally we came out on quiet water where was the Painted Post. There was flour and coffee and cabins and beds and it seemed just like heaven. We rested a few days and then we felt better.

"It was getting late, winter coming, so Patterson took only the strongest men, I was one of them, and we cut to Dansville by December. On the way we went through a place they called the Pine Plains. They said 'This will soon be Bath.' Hah! Some Bath! It was nothing but some big rock cliffs and woods and more woods, nothing but woods. Us strong ones, we kept on cutting all winter while the rest of us stayed at Painted Post.

"Come spring they come back with us and we finished cutting and reached that Genesee Country. They gave us some land all right. But we wasn't farmers, really. We was city people, tradesmen. We didn't know what to do with land and how to do it, so it all come to nothing in the end—except the road.

"Now I want you, when you travel Route 415, to think of us and how we made that road once. Now I got to go—danke for listening. Auf Wiedersehn!"

Next thing, he was gone. Rezelman observes that it is noteworthy how closely his account checks, for a first-person story, with that of Guy McMaster covering the same episode.

© 1993, John Rezelman
Index to articles by John Rezelman
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