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Spraker's Tavern

Boater's forcing their way upriver, surmounting the frustrations of Keator's Rift, found a safe haven and a measure of riverbank hospitality at Spraker's Tavern, a short distance westward on the north shore.

In the 1790s, travelers could often stop at any roadside house and beg hospitality, which, of course, varied significantly from house to house. Those close enough to the river served also as de facto river inns: "Along the river road near some of the rapids there were public houses, a share of whose custom24 came from boatmen. Near those inns, as possible, boats often tied up for the night, a lot of Mohawk sailors having their own jolly times.jolly times25 The late Jost Spraker's tavern, near Keator's rift, was one of this class, having, among its many patrons, not a few who came by water."26

Spraker's Tavern from the south.
Spraker's Tavern as it would have looked in the 1790s. The wall in front of the building faces the old King's Road, replaced by modern Route 5 running behind and north of the site.
See picture drawn the same time looking across the river from the Tavern
Click image to enlarge

Built around 1792 to replace an earlier house burned in the Mohawk Valley raids of the closing years of the Revolution, perhaps even by the raiding party that crossed to the north bank of the river on the backs of those wagons driven into Keator's Rift in 1780, Spraker's Tavern was located strategically along the old King's Road [now State Route 5].

Positioned as it was at the head of the worst rapid on the Mohawk, here also was maintained a rope ferry27 that plied between the north and south shore. It was on this southern shore that the later hamlet of Sprakers developed along the old Erie Canal in the mid-1800s, abandoning the river traffic to history.

Although many, such as the boatmen wrecked on Keator's Rift in 1796, undoubtedly found the tavern a welcome sight, at least one company, traveling upriver by batteau in 1794, felt ill-served by the proprietor: "This Spraker who keeps the tavern and ferry, made us pay four shillings for a piece of bread, some butter and a dozen of eggs. I had to pay eight pence a quart for milk, which I found indispensable after the fatigue of the day."28

An 1811 map of the area near Spraker's Tavern.
This survey of the north side of the Mohawk River, done in 1811, shows the relationship between Spraker's Tavern, Keator's Rift, the Noses, and the old King's Road.
Click image to enlarge

This same group had stopped the year before and appeared to enjoy their stay:

We landed at the foot of Anthony's Nose, where the stage road, has only just width enough to pass, and went on foot to Spraker's Ferry and Tavern, a mile beyond. As our boat encountered a head wind, which blew strongly through the gorge of the mountains, we were obliged to wait a long time. Besides this, the great depth of water in passing the place, compelled them to use the oars alone, and after coming through the passage, there were three strong rapids, a little above, that must be overcome before reaching the ferry. We amused ourselves in the meantime, in carving on a face of the limestone rock and marble, at the foot of which Spraker's house is built. We found there some rock crystals and enjoyed a view between the trees of the river the plains and the mountains upon the opposite bank. At the waters edge at the rapids, we observed many stones, sprinkled with large flakes of gold and silver colored spangles.29

As owners of one of the more popular riverside houses that dotted the valley where boatmen and their passengers took their meals and lodging as best they could, the Sprakers must have seen all the best and the worst of boats and boatmen pass by their door.

Their observations, unfortunately, have not been preserved in writing. But perhaps the most interesting anecdote ascribed to this place, and one most relevant in celebrating the origins of the canal age in Philip Schuyler's Western Inland Lock Navigation Company, comes from an obscure nineteenth century manuscript in which are recorded recollections of an eyewitness account of an event that possibly occurred exactly two centuries ago. It is reproduced here in its entirety:

General Schuyler.
Portrait of General Schuyler, President of the Western Inland Lock Navigation Company.
Click image to enlarge

- General Schuyler and the Dutchmen of the Mohawk -

The navigation of the interior waters of the state had engaged the attention of General Schuyler at a very early period. This intimate knowledge of its hydrography revealed to him the practicability of a system of state improvements, which should connect the lakes with the Atlantic. He even then perceived that New York commanded the outlet to the ocean for the produce of the west and long before Dewitt Clinton embarked his fortunes in the Erie Canal, General Schuyler had projected a more feasible plan for attaining its proposed object. His scheme consisted of slack water navigation up the Mohawk to Wood Creek, thence to Oneida Lake, and so through the Oswego River to Lake Ontario. But to complete this chain, a system of locks would be necessary to overcome the descent in the Mohawk at Little Falls. The success of his project depending very much upon the favour with which it should meet from the Dutch settlers on the Mohawk, he proceeded to possess them with his views. They assembled by prearrangement at Spraker's Tavern. There the General met them and opened to them his plans. They perceived the advantage, and were pleased with the prospect of the Mohawk's bearing the commerce of the state past their doors; but they could not understand how boats could ascend the Little Falls. The General explained that they would be carried up by locks; but to no purpose. They liked the General and would take his word for anything, but he couldn't make them believe that water would run up hill. At this, they parted in the night - the Dutch men to their beds, and the General, worrying over his failure, to his. At a thought, however, he arose, and lighting his candle, took his knife and a few shingles, and going into the yard, dug a miniature canal of two different levels, which he connected by a lock of shingles - Then providing himself with a pail of water, he summoned the Dutchmen from their beds, and pouring the water into the ditch, locked a chip through from the lower to the upper level. "Vell, Vell! General," the Dutchmen cried, "we now understands and we all goes mit you and de canal" - The canal was dug and the locks were built - They can be seen at Little Falls to this day - Such was the policy which afterwards shaped the Erie Canal, and such its origins with General Schuyler.30
The Spraker Tavern by Rufus Grider
The Spraker Tavern as it might have looked in its heyday, c. 1795, drawn a century later by Rufus Grider in 1895.
Click image to enlarge

This historic tavern stood until the 1960s, and the site is to this day held by the Spraker family of Canajoharie. Still to be seen is the foundation of the old inn, and, running along its river side, the remains of the historic King's Road. Of all the old river boat taverns that can yet be found, perhaps it is here, at Spraker's Tavern, that one can best recapture a sense of the immensity of history along this section of the river. A short way downstream can be seen the island at Keator's Rift, and the tree-shrouded Noses beyond. If you look carefully, you may still imagine the crews of batteaux and Durham boats struggling to make it up through to the safety and respite of the tavern.

 

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