Preserving Farm Land100 Years and Still Growing!
Preserving Our Land
An important mission for Indian Ladder Farms has always been helping to establish a connection between food on our plates and the land. In the age of mega-grocery stores and suburban sprawls, we as a community and a nation are losing our connection with how our food is produced. The Hudson Valley has a long history of farming, with twenty percent of the economy being farm-based. Today, however, farming in the Hudson Valley is in jeopardy. One hundred years ago there were over sixty fruit farms in Albany County; now there are only two remaining. Farm land is rapidly being claimed for housing and shopping developments. We are losing what was once unspoiled farm land. In 1997, American Farmland Trust named the Hudson Valley as one of the nation’s ten most endangered farmland areas.
100 Years and Still Growing
Indian Ladder Farms is now a centennial farm; the farm was founded by Peter Gansevoort Ten Eyck in 1916. The popular orchard and agritourism destination located in Altamont, New York, near Albany, continues on today and is operated by the fourth generation of the Ten Eyck Family and a team of experienced managers and staff.
Founder Peter G. Ten Eyck was born in 1873 to Abraham Cuyler Ten Eyck and his wife Margaret Matilda (Haswell) Ten Eyck. He was the last person to be born at Whitehall a famous farm estate once located in what is now Albany at the intersection of Ten Eyck Avenue, Whitehall Road and Delaware Avenue. The historic home, which served as a Tory hideout during the Revolutionary War, and the 1,090 farm were purchased in 1789 by Leonard Gansevoort, brother of General Peter Gansevoort
When Leonard died he left Whitehall to his daughter Magdalena who married Judge Jacob Ten Eyck of the sixth generation of Ten Eycks in United States. Much of the farmland was sold off but Magdalena and Jacob continued to live at Whitehall for many years. One of their seven children was Abraham Cuyler, Peter’s father, who continued to live at Whitehall with his growing family. Whitehall burned in 1882 when Peter was 9 years old.
Peter was educated at the Albany Academy and studied engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. One of his first jobs was as a civil engineer working on the design of what is today Lincoln Park in Albany.
In 1903 he married Bertha Dederick, daughter of Peter K. Dederick. Bertha’s father, of P.K. Dederick & Sons in Albany, invented one of the first mechanical hay presses in 1843. Peter and Bertha’s only child, Peter Gansevoort Dederick Ten Eyck was born on April 3, 1905.
Shortly after his marriage Peter took a job as chief engineer of Federal Railway Signal Company in Albany, where he developed and patented signal devices, becoming vice president of company in 1907. Peter G. Ten Eyck went on to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from 1913 to 1915 and then again from 1921 and 1923 during which time he served on the House Agriculture Committee.
With the birth of his son, Peter Gansevoort Ten Eyck had begun to recall his youth at Whitehall and pine for a new farm on which to live with his family. His attention may have been drawn to the region by the dedication of John Boyd Thacher State Park in 1914 when land was gifted to New York State by Thacher’s widow Emma Treadwell Thacher.
In 1916 Peter bought the first of the five existing farms beneath the cliffs of the Helderberg Escarpment, he would ultimately purchase, creating Indian Ladder Farms, with an “s” to acknowledge the original farms. To create uniformity he had all of the farm buildings shingled and painted with the classic “Indian Ladder Green” trim.
He combined two existing barns to create a summer home for his family, while maintaining a year-round home on State Street across from Washington Park in Albany. Under Peter’s watch Indian Ladder Farms had its beginnings as an orchard selling thousands of bushels of apples each year to Albany Public Markets and operating a dairy farm with approximately 100 head of Guernsey cattle. The farm also raised large flocks of turkeys and Rhode Island Red chickens.
Indian Ladder Farms was known for its award-winning Guernseys and competed in cattle shows at the Altamont Fair as well as the New York State Fair winning blue ribbons for prize bulls such as Florham Commoner and Indian Ladder Warrior. Milk was bottled in a creamery located on the farm and delivered door to door in Albany. Vintage glass Indian Ladder Farms milk bottles and milk bottle caps remain very collectible today. “A man in his 90s once said to me –‘’Indian Ladder Farms delivered milk to my house in Albany when I was a kid and the breed of cattle was Guernsey.’ That man was Andy Rooney–probably our most famous milk customer.“ —Peter. G Ten Eyck II
Peter worked to introduce a bill to Congress to deepen the Hudson River flowing to Albany to a depth of 27 feet–sufficient to float 85 percent of all the ocean-going ships of the world at that time. The bill passed and was signed by President Coolidge in 1925. Peter went on to serve as chairman of the Deeper Hudson River Commission as well as the Albany Port District Commission overseeing the construction of the Port of Albany.
In 1928 Peter G. Ten Eyck was chosen as a “Favorite Son” candidate by Albany County Democrats in the race for New York Governor, a contest which was ultimately won by Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In 1935 Governor Herbert Lehman appointed Peter Commissioner of Agriculture. Peter retired from the post in 1937, ultimately passing away in 1944.
In the midst of all this activity Peter’s only son, Peter Gansevoort Dederick Ten Eyck was educated at the Albany Academy, receiving a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Agriculture in 1930. Four years later Peter married Charlotte Ann Suderley. They had three children, Gerritje (married name of Henault), Peter Gansevoort Ten Eyck II, and John Suderley Ten Eyck. Peter served as president of Indian Ladder Farms from 1939 to 1970 as well as oversaw a second family business, the Ten Eyck Insurance Agency. His son Peter went on to run the farm and John the insurance agency, now known as Ten Eyck group.
In the 1930s, during Peter G. D. Ten Eyck’s watch, the enormous barn which currently houses Indian Ladder Farms’ market was erected from a kit purchased from Sears and Roebuck. The barn was used as an apple packing house and cold storage. The fifth and final farm to become part of Indian Ladder Farms was purchased in 1944 and the Locust Grove school house was moved from its original location on Tygert Road to where it sits now on the corner of Meadowdale Road and Route 156.
Sadly, on July 7, in 1949 the dairy barn which housed the milking herd burned. Peter and his wife Anne had left only a few days before on a trip to Alaska, leaving farm manager Robert Meacham in charge. At about 6:30 am Robert’s children, Jim, Don and Tom, awoke to the smell of smoke and alerted the farm crew. The fire, which was believed to have been caused by spontaneous combustion, was discovered in the barn’s hay mow. The cows were saved however the fire, which was fought by volunteers from the Voorheesville, Altamont, Guilderland Center, New Salem and Delmar fire departments, completely destroyed the barn.
Returning to the farm to address the crisis Peter made the decision not to rebuild the dairy portion of the farm operation. The Guernsey herd, including descendants of Florham Commoner, were brought to the Altamont Fairgrounds and sold at auction on October, 8 1949. Indian Ladder Farms’ milk routes were sold to Borden. The following year the farm turned to raising white faced Hereford beef cattle and planting new orchards of apples and pears.
Peter G. Ten Eyck II was born on August, 27 1938. Some of his earliest memories of the farm were of being in “the enormous barn with long lines of cattle in stanchions looking at me with wary eyes,” as well as hiding with the Meacham boys, in the tool shed to watch the heifers being bred. Peter was away at summer camp when the barn burned so he “missed the whole thing.”
Like his grandfather and father before him Peter G. Ten Eyck II went to the Albany Academy. He spent his high school years working on the farm. In 1954 he and Tom Meacham began to sell apples off of the front porch of what was then the apple packing house by the half bushel and the bushel on weekends. They made a 10 percent commission on every sale. Business was good and they were bringing in between $10 and $12 in an afternoon. “After the first season we were fired by my father. He told us we wouldn’t understand but we were just making too much money. The following season he hired a produce manager and allowed us to work under him at $1.25 an hour.”
Peter went on to Cornell University to study pomology. While in college Peter continued to work on the farm during the summer missing one season in 1956 to take advantage of an opportunity to go to Sweden. He boarded the Stockholm to cross the Atlantic only to have his ship, the Stockholm, hit and sink an Italian ocean liner called Andrea Doria. Peter went on to graduate from Cornell in 1961 with a Bachelor of Science degree from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
He married Mary Jane Fryer in 1961 and had three children, Laura, Peter G. Ten Eyck III and Elizabeth (married name of Mitchell), returning to help his father run the farm. Taking on a leadership role in 1966, Peter oversaw the construction of a new apple packing house which enabled him to open the current farm market as retail space to sell apples.
The farm began to press cider on the front porch where the Indian Ladder Farms Cidery and Brewery Tasting Room stands today and in the mid-1970s brother John Ten Eyck spearheaded the launch of Indian Ladder Farms’ apple Pick Your Own. The farm began doing school field trips and ultimately built an addition on the farm market building to accommodate the cider press, installing a massive window so the public could watch the cider being made. In addition, the Apple Barn, now located next to the farm market, was moved from its original location near the former site of the dairy barn. The original location of this barn was across the street and was moved by Peter G. Ten Eyck in the 1920s!
One of Peter’s signature innovations was to introduce the production of cider doughnuts to the retail market in the early 1970s. He met with resistance. “My father simply could not accept the idea that a fruit farm would make doughnuts and that the cost of machine to do it was $2,500.” But the younger Peter prevailed. The cider doughnuts, and later the bakery and café proved so successful that in the 1990s a new space was constructed for the cider press and its former space was converted into a kitchen to accommodate production.
Today, the growing side of the operation, the orchard consists of about 65 acres of orchard producing over 40 varieties of apples. Some are experimental varieties that are numbered selections as part of variety trials with Cornell University’s fruit testing program. The newest tree plantings are “state of the art” orchards featuring trellised trees spaced only 3’ apart with over 1,000 trees to the acre. (Original farm plantings had only 54 trees to the acre.)
As his father and grandfather before him Peter G. Ten Eyck II has served in many capacities to advance New York agriculture. Besides his farming duties Peter is appointed to the Apiary Industry Advisory Committee and New York’s Apple Research and Development program by the New York State Commissioner of Agriculture. He also serves as: member of the advisory board of the New York Center for Agricultural Health and Medicine; a delegate to the Council of Agricultural Organizations; and a trustee of the New York State Farm Bureau Foundation and co-chair of American Farmland Trust’s New York Council. In 2001 Mr. Ten Eyck was named “Trustee emeritus” after 12 years of service as a trustee of Cornell University
Always at the forefront of sustainable agriculture, in 2000 Indian Ladder Farms joined a group of apple farmers to collaborate with the environmental and public health organization Mothers and Others to produce fruit under the guidelines of an eco-label called “Core Values Northeast” certifying that participating growers use ecology-based agricultural practices that promote soil and tree health, nurture pollinators, and protect biodiversity. Later Indian Ladder Farms went on to partner with Red Tomato of Boston and the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Institute of North America to become one of 18 “ECO Apple” growers in New England and New York operating at the highest standards of fruit production, maintained by 3rd party on-farm inspections.
In keeping with the sustainable values Indian Ladder Farms worked with the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy, the Open Space Institute, the Town of New Scotland and the State of New York’s Farmland Protection Program to place a permanent agricultural conservation easement on the farm that will travel with the deed to the land ensuring that long after the Ten Eyck Family are gone Indian Ladder Farms will be protected from real estate development in perpetuity.
In 2011 Laura Ten Eyck and her husband Dietrich Gehring, spurred into action by New York State’s Farm Brewery Law, began to grow hops and malting barley to supply the growing craft beer movement seeking local products. One thing led to another and they began to experiment with making beer and then hard cider. This year, along with their partner Stuart Morris, they have opened the Indian Ladder Farmstead Cidery and Brewery, featuring a Tasting Room offering beer and hard cider made with ingredients grown right here on the farm.
Throughout their lives Peter’s children and their spouses have worked on the farm in diverse capacities ranging from stocking fruit, sugaring doughnuts, and running the cash register to overseeing the pick your own and retail operation. Many of Peter G. Ten Eyck II’s grandchildren: Emily, Morgan and Taylor Ten Eyck, Wolfgang Gehring and Gretchen and Kate Mitchell, ranging in age from 25 to 15, have had the opportunity to work on the farm as well. As Peter approaches retirement at the end of 2016, his children Laura and Peter G. Ten Eyck III are assuming oversight of the Indian Ladder Farms. Working with experienced managers Tim Albright and Cecelia Soloviev as well as a dedicated staff and devoted customers Laura and Peter are shepherding the farm into its second century. –written by Laura Ten Eyck
The Ten Eyck Family would like to express their appreciation to the following individuals who contributed to the management of Indian Ladder Farms over the last 100 years: Bert Oliver; Al West; Robert Meacham; George Baker; Louis Mousley; Joseph Gatto; May Gatto; Richard Montondo; Kay Montondo; Thomas Hunt; Marge Kropp; Joseph Clarke; Denice Clarke.