Nestled in the woods off of Slingerlands’ New Scotland Road lies the tomb of the family whose name graces the sleepy hamlet.
It’s sleepy, in the sense that a leisurely drive or walk through this corner of Bethlehem reveals a land that time forgot. Victorian and Greek Revival homes, with white columns and wrap around porches are still as vibrant as they were in the 19th century. It was then when politicians, bank executives and heads of the D&H Railroad called it home. It was the Slingerland family who surveyed the path for that railroad. It was a Slingerland who represented New York in Washington, D.C. The first water district, too, was established by the Slingerlands. It was even a Slingerland who served as the hamlet’s first postmaster. It’s no wonder the hamlet is named as it is.
That tomb serves as a reminder to residents for a number of reasons. There is the memorial to the family who built this section of town into what it is today. It’s stone obelisk still stands upon a hill, albeit under the overgrowth of trees that has overcome the property since. It’s that neglect that brings us to the next lesson it teaches: Forgetting the past.
At the point where Kenwood and New Scotland avenues meet resides the vacant Mangia’s restaurant. In the past several years, the local eatery has gone by many different names. But, before it was built so many years ago, there stood one of those Victorian homes, one of the many Slingerland homes peppered along New Scotland Avenue. The home was sold and demolished to make way for the commercial storefront. And, for the decades that followed, residents and surviving family members were severed from visiting the Slingerland’s family tomb. No right of way was preserved. As customers parked their cars, a studied glance into the woods would reveal something that merely looked out of place.
This past weekend, the volunteers under the Slingerlands Historic District gathered at the Bethlehem Public Library to celebrate five years since its recognition. But, as cake and refreshments were passed around, there were many who recognized there is little time to sit back and enjoy sweets while much work is still needed to preserve their neighborhood’s character. The right of way to the Slingerland tomb has since been rectified by the town, but it was ever so apparent that no one in the room possessed an ounce of apathy that would allow such history to repeat itself.
Bethlehem’s town and planning boards need to remain conscious of this unique historic district, and those that are certain to crop up in the near future. The town’s Master Plan needs to designate zoning regulations that ensure new construction does not contrast with with the surrounding aesthetics. Slingerlands has held onto its history and maintained its character throughout the years. But, its residents need help continuing on with that effort. With the attraction of the new rail trail, it truly is in everyone’s best interest.
Michael Hallisey is managing editor of Spotlight Newspapers.