The main river road of the 1790s on which the Kanes located is today a narrow lane south of
Route 5S. Along its north margin the old Erie Canal, the West Shore Railroad (now abandoned), and
modern Route 5S all sliced their rights-of-way through the Kane's Store complex.
That remnants of the Kanes' canal and their dwelling were still visible at the turn of the century
led to the rediscovery of this previously unknown site in 1989.48 Using the works of Rufus Grider, a
Canajoharie art teacher who, in the 1890s, captured scenes of historic significance throughout the
Mohawk Valley in dozens of detailed drawings49, it was possible to relocate the exact position from
which the artist sketched 100 years earlier. It was then possible to discover the archeological remnants
of the sites he drew, already a century old when he saw them.
Archibald and James Kane, brothers, established themselves in the
mercantile business on the Mohawk about the year 1795 locating between the
Rosebooms and the present village of Canajoharie, where one of their buildings,
having an arched roof, is still to be seen. The Kanes were, for a time, the heaviest
dealers west of Albany.50
...Ere long they erected a stone dwelling with an arched roof, one mile east
of Canajoharie village, where had been established "Martin Van Alstine's Ferry..."
At this place James and Archibald Kane continued to trade until about the year
1805. It is believed no firm in the valley ever before became so widely known. In
1799 their purchases of potash and wheat amounted to $120,000.51
The Kane dwelling, which came to be called the "round top," having a
modern hip52 in the roof, is still  standing. Its roof, when erected, was covered
with sheet lead. It is to be hoped that this relic may be suffered to remain. A little
canal which lead from the Kane store to the river is still visible, though nearly filled
up and lined with willows.53
The Kane Firm was known was John Kane & Brothers. At the end of a year
or two, they erected not far from Van Alstine's ferry, a stone dwelling with an
arched roof covered with lead, and near it a store and several small ware-houses.
The house, or the most of it, is still standing, although the roof has lost its lead and
taken on a hip. They continued to trade in this place until about 1805 or 1806, and
became celebrated through the entire Mohawk Valley, as the heaviest dealers in it.
Much of their business between Canajoharie and Schenectady, was done in river
boats, for the accommodation of which they cut a canal across the flats to the
Construction of the Thruway in the 1950s filled in and built over the old river channel through
which the Kanes brought their boats in the 1790s, but pre-construction maps for that highway clearly
show its location. The suspected site of their warehouses still exists on a fragment of the old river
terrace north of Route 5S, now preserved on state lands and protected for future archeological study.
South of Route 5S, and cut into the side of the escarpment along the old river road, stands the ruin of
old Round Top, the stone dwelling house that distinguished itself with a hipped roof sheathed in lead.
This pair of
watercolors by Rufus Grider shows the Kane's store as it might have
originally looked (left), and as it looked at the time he saw it (right).
Click image to enlarge
It also was distinguished as perhaps one of the first "casinos" in the valley, complete with all the
flavor of the "Old West":
The "Round Top" came to be a favorite place to resort for card playing for
the elite of this part of the valley at that time, and its night scenes of dissipation
were of constant occurrence. Although rivals of the Kanes in trade, Roseboom and
his partner were often inmates of the Kane dwelling on the occasions referred to.
Petty quarrels at the gaming table were usually amicably adjusted, but one
originating here would not down...55
In April of 1801, one of these card games erupted into an argument over a gambling debt. As
the snow fell, a duel with pistols was fought in a pine grove just west of the house between Archibald
Kane and his neighbor, Roseboom. Kane, who had previously lost his left hand to some unspecified
accident, was shot through the right hand. But that did not prevent the combatants from returning to
Round Top to resume their game of cards.56
Around 1800, as the centers of settlement shifted westward, the canals of the Western Inland
Lock Navigation Company opened up the Mohawk to the big Durham boats, and the newly completed
turnpikes made Utica the hub for western transportation. Merchants that had begun establishing
themselves there in the closing years of the 1790s started to compete successfully with the Kanes at
Canajoharie. Intercepting produce coming down from the west to the Mohawk, these Utica merchants
could reduce the distance to market just as newly established railheads diverted the cattle trade in that
other "Old West" beyond the Mississippi a hundred years later. Happy not to have to draw their goods
all the way to Canajoharie, farmers and rural producers quickly adopted Utica as the market center for
shipment to Schenectady. The Utica merchants also began to run their own boatloads of imported
merchandise up from Schenectady and to sell at cut rate prices, undermining the Kanes' monopoly on
the valley trade. Thus in the early years of the 1800s, the Kanes shifted the bulk of their operations to
Utica as the firm of Kane and Van Rensselaer. With another brother, John Kane, located strategically in
New York City, the network of import and export held onto its share of the market until a monetary
crisis after the War of 1812 caused the collapse of John Kane's firm in New York and with it the
businesses in Canajoharie and Utica.
One of the Education Department lantern slides showing a man
examining the ruins of Kane's Store, c.1911.
Click image to enlarge
But for a decade, 200 years ago, the quiet solitude east of Canajoharie was transformed into
one of the foremost commercial centers in the Northeast. Now all that is left of this once great
enterprize is a forgotten ruin along the old road to Sprakers. Rarely has so much history, and so much
of it unique, been embodied in so small and seemingly insignificant a foundation hole. Had it not been
for the dedication of Canajoharie teacher Rufus Grider to the visual recording of local history a century
ago, this site might never have been discovered. Now, through the cooperative efforts of local
historians and the landowner, this site will be protected and preserved for generations to come.
For more on the discovery process