Highway Superintendent Toby Chadwick and the Town of Poestenkill

For town of Poestenkill Highway Superintendent Toby Chadwick, it’s all in a day’s work. On the day we met, he and his crew had just finished cleaning up after the latest of many snowstorms this winter. He was still wearing his fluorescent yellow shirt that keeps him visible in a snowstorm.

A lifelong resident of Rensselaer County, Toby and his sister grew up on the outside of Poestenkill, Brunswick and Mountain View. He attended George Washington elementary school and Troy High School. After graduation he served several years in the Army at Fort Dix.

“When I got out of the service I started working at Ackroyd’s & Sons Metal Shop in Albany [now Ackroyd Metal Fabricators Inc.]. I didn’t have any experience but while I was there I learned to weld and fabricate. After that I moved into construction. I ran heavy equipment. First I went to Clemente Sand and Gravel [now Clemente Latham Concrete]. I worked as a heavy equipment operator [HEO] and truck driver. Then I went to RJ Valente Gravel [now RJ Valente Companies]. He had two companies — gravel and excavating — and I was involved with both.”

So how did he end up behind the super’s desk?

“I love this town and I always wanted to be a highway superintendent,” he said. “I started here in 1980 and worked as an HEO until 1989. I left here to work for Clemente and Valente. I ran against the highway superintendent in 1996 and lost by 14 votes. I ran against him again in 1998, that time losing by 34 votes. Then I stopped [chuckling]. I said I’d wait until he retired. I came back in 2000 as highway superintendent. I was appointed by the town board after the previous superintendent retired mid-term with one year left. I submitted my résumé along with some other guys and was chosen. I was just re-elected this past November for another two-year term.”

Married to his wife, Penny, for 38 years, he has a daughter, Shannon, and a grandson, Easton. Toby and his wife live on their 24-acre farm with their horses.

“One is a miniature, who’s about 35 pounds. He’s the boss of everybody. I also used to have nine of the big Belgian horses.”

Toby is a member of the Rensselaer County Highway Superintendents Association and the New York State County Highway Superintendents Association. He served on the board of directors and the legislative commission for the Consolidated Highway Improvement Program (CHIPS) and the Scholarship Commission, all affiliated with the Highway Superintendent’s Association. He is a life association member of VFW Post 7466; a 35-year member of the Poestenkill Firehouse; and an associated member of the Poestenkill Businessmen’s Association.

In his spare time Toby enjoys spending time with his grandson, taking rides in his 1982 Corvette and working on his small hobby farm with his horses.

When he finally does hang up his hat you’ll find him traveling with his wife and going to car shows.

“I told her that before I die I want to buy a 1970 Charger RT like I had when I was a teenager.”

All About the Job

The town of Poestenkill’s Highway Department is spread out among several buildings. In one you will find Toby’s office, a break room and a parts and supplies room. Another has four bays that house the plow trucks and loader and finally, a pole barn for the rest of the equipment.

The salt shed holds roughly 100 tons and it’s usually filled eight to ten times each winter.

“We make our own sand. I bought a straining plant and conveyor and we screen our own gravel for the roads. The town has its own gravel pit on Snyders Corners Road. [The town] bought some property for a land-fill and it turned out that there was nice gravel over there so they used the gravel to cover the landfill. They got mine permits to open it up, closed off the landfill and continued to run the gravel part of the property.

“Making our own gravel saves a lot of money and it doesn’t take a lot of time. During the summer the guys will start screening the sand or scraping gravel. Or I’ll buy some other screens and mix gravel with oil and lay it down on the roads, especially up on the mountain. It becomes a base covering the roads. I also use it for paving.

As the highway department’s “top dog,” Toby is responsible for maintaining the town’s 43.55 lane miles of road; 4 of which are gravel and a few that are dirt. That translates into five plowing routes that take about three to three and a half hours to complete. And that doesn’t include clearing the library, town hall, VFW and firehouse parking lots and maintaining dry hydrants on town ponds.

“During the winter, I get up at three in the morning and check the weather, leave the house by four and start calling the guys out at 4:30. This winter’s below zero weather that warms back up fast is taking a toll on the roads. There are a lot of potholes. We bring the patch material inside and put it by the heater and try and keep it warm. We put a little on the back of the truck and try to fill a few holes to stay up on it.”

Together, Toby and his six-man crew serve the town’s 4,350 residents. His staff includes working foreman Dennis Knauer, and motor equipment operators/laborers Kevin Dorr, Art Whitney, Tim Sluus, Bruce Moody and Dave Ruppert.

“We’re down a man right now. He went out on total disability and I have to wait one year from the last day that we paid him before I can hire someone. It’s not because he’s on disability. We have to hold a job open for one year in case the employee wants to come back. I have a gentleman I want to hire but I don’t want to pull him away from his job in case the other guy returns so I’ll just wait until spring.”

The highway department also is responsible for maintaining the town’s four bridges. Three of those were reconstructed in 2005-2006 and the fourth underwent a facelift in 1999.

Toby also is in charge of Brookside and Hillside cemeteries.

“It’s not through the town. The residents asked me to help out. They didn’t want to give up the cemeteries. If they did, the town would take over and not sell any more lots because it can’t make any money on them.”

The town doesn’t have a “cast in stone” number of road miles to pave each year.

“Since I’ve been here we’ve widened a lot of dirt roads. Some of the residents don’t want to get rid of them. They don’t want the traffic. They want to keep it ‘country’ style. In the winter the dirt roads start to soften up so we try and keep the bigger trucks off them. Residents are used to that. It’s not like a city person coming here and driving on them and going “AHH!’”

Under Toby’s guidance, the town of Poestenkill’s highway department runs on a total operating budget of $1,211,838 that includes salaries, employee benefits and an annual CHIPS allocation of $88,970.

To fulfill its responsibilities the department uses a convoy of equipment comprised of:

• Six plows

• Two loaders

• Two chippers

• Two ton and five ton rollers

• International tractor with a boom

• 1997 Volvo dump truck tandem for hauling sand

• 1998 Gradall

• Two Elgin sweepers

“I bought one of the sweepers from the village of Voorheesville about nine years ago for one dollar. They didn’t want it and were trying to auction it off but nobody took it. I was going to use it for parts but it ran so well we use it all the time. You can’t beat that. I certainly got my dollar’s worth.”

If that wasn’t a good enough deal, Toby was able to pick up a generator for free.

“I got a call from a woman wanting to know if I was interested in a generator to run the town garage. A heating and cooling company had taken it out of a camp in Lake George and were told to donate it to a municipality. About a month later she told me to come pick it up. I hooked it up and it runs this whole building and it didn’t cost me anything.”

Every year Toby tries to put a certain amount of money in his budget for purchasing new equipment.

“I try and replace the trucks every 15 years. It’s longer with the bigger equipment because it’s so expensive. Generally we buy new and used but one year we bonded two trucks. It depends on the interest rates and if we have money in our general fund. If we don’t use all our money at the end of the fiscal year it goes into a general fund. While that money can go to anyone, the town board does its best to keep it in my fund as a cushion.

“Recently we bought an excavator for $94,000. Instead of going out on state bid, I piggybacked off the town of Stillwater’s bid. I want to jump on Onondaga County’s bid for a dump truck. You can piggyback with any municipality throughout the state or country. That’s because the state isn’t putting bids out so we have to look around for ourselves and put things together. Last year no one put in any bids for oil. Sand Lake and Poestenkill joined forces and we each saved about $18,000.”

Toby and his crew are responsible for their own vehicle maintenance.

“We all work together. A couple crew members are mechanics and another is a pretty good welder and fabricator. If we can’t do it, we look around for someone who can. There are some local guys who work on heavy equipment. Red Rock Enterprises and Saint Germain Automotive are up on the mountain in Averill Park. We try and keep things in town.”

While Toby agrees that today’s vehicles are better made, he’s not so sure they’re easier to use.

“It’s all computerized but what happens when it get wet? You need another computer to work on it. We can do some work on the more modern equipment but not all of it. With some of the newer trucks you can dial in on the steering wheel and get the code for what’s wrong. Then you call up [the manufacturer] and match up what the code means and what you have to look for. It’s crazy. I just bought a new mini-excavator that each person has to program themselves for the way they want it to work.”

Toby is the first to admit he likes almost everything about his job — except the paperwork. That’s easy to understand, considering the highway department doesn’t have a computer or a fax machine.

“I have a secretary down at the town hall who I share with the town supervisor. If I need some support when she’s not there the town clerk helps out. All my recordkeeping for my roads and CHIPS money is still done on paper.

Surprisingly, it was paperwork that saved the day after Hurricane Irene caused $584,000 worth of damage in 2011.

“When we were hit, I had to get some contractors in here to help because we had so much damage. We paid it all out and then were reimbursed by FEMA. The biggest thing with FEMA is paperwork so when Irene struck I put one of my guys in the office to keep track of what everybody was doing each day. He kept a log on everything. Everyone had to sign in with him and tell him what they were operating, where they were. All that paperwork saved us.

“They couldn’t believe our records and how organized we were. After two previous situations and because there was so much damage from Irene, I knew I needed someone in the office writing it all down. It was a fulltime job and I had to be outside. It worked out great. We had our money within four to six weeks. They sent us an additional $18,000 for our gravel. We used some of the gravel from our own pit to fill some of the washouts. FEMA figured they didn’t give us enough money per yard.”

Like most highway supers, when it’s all said and done Toby wants to be remembered for “doing a good job, helping people and keeping the town roads safe.”

About the Town

The town of Poestenkill, established in 1848, is a vital and prosperous community that is rural by choice. Residents have pledged to protect its rich rural heritage, assets and scenic beauty. The hamlet is comprised of a mix of small, locally-owned businesses, stores, professional services and community facilities. In addition, many of the farms are family operated, being passed down through generations.

Approximately 37 percent of the town is assessed as residential and 7 percent are agricultural. The remainder is made up of commercial, light industrial, community services and lands assessed as wild or in conservation.

Convenience to employment in Albany and Troy is a factor which has influenced a steady growth of new homes.

The town of Poestenkill is governed by a town supervisor and a four-member town board. It provides municipal services, including fire protection, snow removal, road improvements and maintenance. Other town officials include town clerk, two justices, superintendent of highways, assessor and code enforcement officer/building inspector.

To assist administering and enforcing land use regulations, a Zoning Board of Appeals and Planning Board were appointed. The Zoning Board interprets law and considers variance applications based on the town’s ordinances. The Planning Board acts in an advisory capacity on policy related to development, existing or proposed comprehensive plans and land use ordinances. A Conservation Advisory Committee focuses on conservation issues within the town.

How It All Started!

The town of Poestenkill takes its name from the Poestenkill, one of the most important streams in Rensselaer County, from an industrial standpoint. It is located just south of a line running from east to west through the center of the county and is bounded on the north by Brunswick and Grafton, on the east by Berlin, on the south by Sand Lake and on the west by North Greenbush. It is one of the smallest towns in the county and the youngest. Poestenkill was formed from Sand Lake on March 2, 1848. The boundaries have remained the same since then.

The western part of the town is hilly and the soil fairly well adapted to agriculture and grazing. The central and eastern portions are rocky and mountainous and not productive, except in a few localities where the husbandman, by years of toil, has succeeded in bringing the naturally sterile land up to a fairly productive state. The most prominent elevation is Snake Bill, near the center of town. The principal stream is the Poestenkill, which rises in the eastern portion of the town and flows northwesterly through Brunswick before emptying into the Hudson in Troy. The town has several ponds, the most important being Hicks’s Pond, south of East Poestenkill; Hosford Pond, in the northeastern section and Cooper and Vosburgh Ponds, in the western section. These drain nearly all the town’s creeks.

About five years before the War of the Revolution the first settlers moved into Poestenkill from Troy, Lansingburgh, Greenbush and other portions of the Hudson Valley. Among the first persons to found homes within the town limits were the Whyland, Ives and Lynd families but it’s not known for sure if they were the earliest inhabitants. Archelaus Lynd located near Poestenkill village about 1770 on land leased from the patroon. He had four sons, three of whom, Archelaus, John and Leonard, remained in Poestenkill. About the same time Jacob Whyland located a short distance east of Poestenkill village. Four of his sons, John, Leonard, Jacob and Barnard, settled in the town. Lazarus Ives, who came from Connecticut, settled about a mile north of Poestenkill village as early as 1770. He leased several hundred acres of the patroon and immediately engaged in agriculture and raising stock. Christopher and Lazarus, two of his sons, remained in town and became prosperous farmers. The settlements were made in the western part of the town first but once the wilderness opened up others rapidly pushed their way into the country to the east. David J. De Freest, S. Barringer, Frederick Barringer, John Barringer, Jacob Fosmire, Gideon Reed, Jacob Moul, Peter Moul, John Polock, John Clint, Vincent Castle, William Plass, Bernard Weatherwax, Jacob Muller, Stephen Muller, Henry W. Koon, Stephen R. Himes, William Cooper, Philip Simmons and Samuel Delamater were early settlers in the northwest part of the town, at or near Poestenkill village. South of them, in the southwestern portion of the town, were Peter Minnick, Philip Strunk, Peter Link, John N. Liphite, Stephen Uphite, Coonradt Snyder and Thomas Blewer.

John Cottrell, whose descendants, like himself, became influential citizens, came from Roxbury, Mass., and located about three miles east of Poestenkill village. He was the father of nine children. One of his sons, George Cottrell, remained on the homestead. James Cottrell and William L. Cottrell also located in the town. Elder Alderman Baker was another prominent pioneer of the eastern section of town. He was a farmer and local Baptist preacher for many years at the old church in East Poestenkill, known for many years as Elder Baker’s church. Other early settlers in the eastern part of town were Joseph Amidon, a pioneer tavern keeper at East Poestenkill; Simon Dingman, who came from East Greenbush around 1819; Henry Searles, Solomon Cady, Josiah Hull, John Stevens, David Horton, Samuel Cottrell, Reuben Babcock, Levi Trumbull, Royal Cady, Frederick Cramer, Edmund Wheeler and Coonradt Colehamer.

Poestenkill is not a large town and because of its location was not a very important thoroughfare for stage traffic in its early days. Consequently, the number of taverns was limited. The earliest tavern in town of which there is any record was located at Poestenkill village and was owned by Samuel Delamater. It later became known as the Blewer Tavern, or Union Hail, having passed into the hands of Stephen V. R. Blewer. Among the proprietors before the latter were Jacob Clark, Henry Ensign, Leonard Lynd and Darius Allen. William Barber built an early tavern and Ebenezer Barringer followed him with the third or fourth in town. Later tavern keepers were Ed Streeter, Henry Lance, George Kilmer, Isaac Allen, Wait Winchell, Benjamin Barber, Reuben Babcock and David Horton Jr. Reuben Babcock’s tavern was located near Barberville as early as 1810. Twenty years later Reuben Babcock also had a tavern at Ives’s Cortiers.

Abram Newman is reported to have been the proprietor of the first store in Poestenkill village. About 1852 Jeremiah L. Becker started a store in Poestenkill. In connection with his tavern Samuel R. Delamater also ran a store, which for many years afterward was run by his successors in the tavern. Near East Poestenkill Cyrus Amidon was one of the earliest storekeepers. Eliphalet Himes engaged in trade there as early as 1847. Other early tradesmen in the town included John Rockenstyre, Gregory & Fonda, Coonradt C. Cooper, George Barber, Dennis Amidon, John King, George Henderson, Miles Clark and others.

Dr. Matthew Moody, who was in practice at Poestenkill village for many years, was probably the earliest physician. Dr. Elmer was an early practitioner at Barberville. Dr. Peter F. Westervelt and Luther H. Barber were other early practitioners who enjoyed an extensive career. Early lawyers who had a large practice were George Davitt, Eleazer Wooster and his son, Albert E. Wooster, who moved to Troy and served as Rensselaer County district attorney from 1876 to 1879.

The town’s first school was established in 1788 or soon after, in Poestenkill village. The land was donated by General Stephen Van Rensselaer. It later became the site of the school house in District No. 3. Another early school house was located near the old Poestenkill hotel. About 1840 a more pretentious building was built in the village and from 1855 to 1865 the Poestenkill Academy was maintained by Prof. Martin. The common schools in the town now have a high standing, and some of the best known educators in the county have taught there.

About a month after Poestenkill was incorporated, the first town meeting was held. It took place at the house of Jeremiah L. Becker on April 4, 1848. John Amid was selected as moderator and David Luce as clerk. Other officers chosen were: Supervisor, James Henderson Jr.; town deck, David Luce; superintendent of schools, Eleazer Flint; assessors, John I. Vosburgh, Benjamin B. Randall and Harmon Vanderzee; commissioners of highways, Barney Weatherwax and Stephen Austin; justices of the peace, George Cottrell, George Barker and Benjamin Wilkinson; overseers of the poor, Christian C. Cooper, Samuel Comidc; constables, John Barker, Alonzo Whyland, William Cooper, John F. Whyland; collector, John Barker; and sealer of weights and measures, James D. Simmons.

The number of inhabitants in Poestenkill at the time of the War of the Revolution was small, nevertheless a fair proportion of the men served their country by carrying muskets during those trying eight years. Among them were Archelaus Lynd, Daniel Peck, William Sluyter, Barent Polock and a man named Windsor. Benjamin Cottrell, who subsequently removed to Poestenkill, is said to have carried the first wheelbarrow load of earth for the entrenchments at Bunker Hill.

The town’s records of the War of 1812 were not preserved but it is known that William C. Cooper, Bugbee Feathers, George Horton, Joel Peck and Thomas Morrison served in that war and joined the Eddy expedition.

The town came promptly to the front with its full quotas of men during the War of the Rebellion. Those who died in the service in this memorable struggle for the preservation of the Union were: Daniel M. Horton, Philip Amidon, Daniel Morrison, John Wagoner, George Bradt, Dexter Randall, William H. H. Wood, Martin Larabee, Willard Bailey, W. L. Robbins. George Simmons, and William H. Mason.

None of the town’s hamlets are very populous. The principal one is Poestenkill, which is located on the Poestenkill in the western part of the town. Its settlement has already been described. At the close of the first quarter of the nineteenth century, the business of the hamlet consisted of a saw mill, a store and a hotel. Earlier in its history several small industries were located there, including a tannery operated by John Beals. There were also several large bath houses for the convenience of those desiring to avail themselves of the mineral springs near the hamlet, which many years ago made the place a popular resort by reason of their supposed curative properties. In 1813 or 1814 a flood, following two days’ heavy rainfall, destroyed the tannery, bath-houses and several other buildings. About 1835 the post-office was established, with Dr. Luther H. Barber as postmaster.

The first regular church organization was the First Baptist Church, which was organized in 1814. Elder Alderman Baker was the pastor, and the church edifice, which was originally a wagon shop standing about a mile west of East Poestenkill, was locally known as “Elder Baker’s Church.” Elder Baker worked his farm six days of the week and conducted the religious services on the seventh. In 1858 or 1859 a new house of worship was erected.

As early as 1820, perhaps a few years prior to that time, a Dutch Reformed society existed at Poestenkill village. The Rev. Henry Bellinger was its pastor for many years. The society subsequently consolidated with Wynantskill.

The Franckean Evangelical Lutheran Church of Poestenkill was organized on Aug. 11, 1833, and was connected with Raymertown and West Sand Lake as a pastoral charge. The first house of worship was dedicated on Nov. 13, 1832, and the second on Christmas Eve, 1865. The first pastor of the society was the Rev. J. D. Lawyer. A parsonage was built in 1860 and numerous improvements to the church property have been made since that date.

The First Free Baptist Church of Poestenkill was organized in 1834 with Elder Miller as pastor. A house of worship was built soon afterward on Oak Hill. Several years later another was erected about a mile west of East Poestenkill.

The Church of the Disciples of Christ in Poestenkill village was organized in 1870 and soon after occupied its own house of worship. Its early membership was small but its later development has been marked.

The Methodist Episcopal Church at East Poestenkill dates from 1872. In the fall of 1871, through the influence of Reuben Peckham of Troy, George Hudson, a local preacher residing at Castleton, went to Dyking Pond (West Berlin) and preached in a school house. Several attendees, mostly Germans, were converted. Soon after the Troy Praying band began holding services, and during the winter a charge now known as the Columbia charge was formed on March 27, 1872. The Troy Conference accepted the territory as a mission and the Rev. E. A. Blanch was appointed pastor. A house of worship was immediately built and on Oct. 11, 1872, Rev. Merritt Hulburd of the Hudson Street M. E. Church of Albany, preached the dedicatory sermon. The edifice cost $6,500, and the parsonage $1,000. A bell costing $350 was placed in the church tower at the expense of Mrs. Seth B. Foster and Mrs. Waterman.

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