The Old Stone Fort was built as a High Dutch (German) Reformed church in 1772. It was the third building erected by the congregation of the Palatine German settlement of Fuchs Dorf (Fox Town). Builders chiseled parishioners’ names into the stones. They include many of the early families of the valley.
With the coming of the Revolutionary War, the church was enclosed by a log stockade in 1777.
One of three forts along the Schoharie River, it was named Lower Fort, downstream from Middle and Upper Forts. The stockade initially enclosed a half acre, later enlarged to an acre [0.4 hectare]. There were blockhouses mounting cannons at two corners. Huts were built Along the inside of the walls to shelter local families, the roofs of which served as a firing step for the defenders to shoot over the wall. Initially garrisoned by elements of the 5th NY Continental Regiment, after 1778 Albany County militia and NY State levies rotated the duty. On Oct. 17, 1780, a force of about 800 loyalists and Indians under Col. Sir John Johnson and Mohawk Capt. Joseph Brant raided the valley and briefly attacked the fort before proceeding north toward the Mohawk Valley. A cannonball hole may still be seen in a cornice at the rear of the building.
The stockade was removed in 1785 and the building continued serving as a church until 1844 when the congregation split and built the present Reformed Churches in the village of Schoharie and in Gallupville.
In 1857 the former fort was sold to New York State for $800. At this time the belfry was removed and tower height increased by about nine feet (3 meters). A second floor was installed where there had been a balcony gallery. Through the Civil War and until 1873 it was used as a militia/National Guard armory. Then the state turned it over to Schoharie County for preservation.
In 1889, the Schoharie County Historical Society was chartered to operate a museum at the old fort and by 1899 a catalog of 2,500 items was published.
For the past 125 years, visitors have learned about the first Dutch and German settlers in the Schoharie Valley and their Indian neighbors, viewing artifacts that date back to the early 1700s — including a fire engine built before George Washington was born! Stories of the Revolutionary War on the frontier are illustrated with muskets, swords, powder horns, and even the British cannonball that was recovered from a roof beam during renovations in the 1830s. A double-barreled rifle attributed to legendary marksman Timothy Murphy who served here and remained after the war is a highlight. A Civil War Sesquicentennial Exhibit was installed in 2011 recognizing the soldiers from Schoharie County that served from Fort Sumter (literally!) to Appomattox.
The second floor exhibits have changed little over the years and still reflect the eclectic collecting and exhibit methods of the late Victorian era. Thousands of antiques and artifacts from war and peace are on exhibit in this “Cabinet of Curiosities” where one can discover examples of local geological formations such as “turtle rocks” and “clay buttons”, hundreds of household items, toys, firearms, archaeological collections and more.
Don’t forget to visit our well-stocked book and gift store, near the entrance inside the Old Stone Fort. A research library are also available to historians and genealogists interested in learning more about Schoharie County history.