WIDENED ROUTE 7 TO ERASE THE PAST

Michael Lopez Staff writer
Section: LOCAL,  Page: B1

Date: Monday, March 11, 1991

The rusting front gate of Elizabeth Shaver's homestead opens into a far different world than the one she knew as a child.


Mere feet from the simple Colonial house, cars whiz by on four-lane Route 7, stirring up road dust that has dulled the home's white clapboard and causing a din that seems at odds with the eerie quiet of the vacant house. Route 7 was once a ribbon of road that cut through the hamlet of Verdoy, where Shaver's grandfather farmed and legends were born in ancient roadside taverns.


When the state begins widening Route 7 this spring, a large part of Shaver's life - and local history - will disappear.


In one fell swoop, the expansion will level the house where she was raised, the house she lived in as an adult, her father's old general store and the office her grandfather used as town clerk.


Shaver, now a Troy resident, often drives by what was once a family compound.


At 72, she is matter-of-fact about the wider highways, motels and clothing stores that have replaced simple country living.


"You have to accept that times change."


The state Department of Transportation plans to add a 12-foot center turning lane to Route 7 between St. David's Lane in Niskayuna and Wade Road in Colonie. The 6.4-mile widening will level nine homes, two businesses and several vacant properties in its path.


A history buff, Shaver on Sunday spread out a 125-year-old Beers' Atlas on a marble Victorian table in her Troy home.


The inset shows Verdoy when it was called Watervliet Center, a bustling community of about 25 homes, three blacksmiths, a hotel, harness shop, tavern and school.


Some of the buildings kindle the imagination because of their part in local legend and their eventual sad endings.


Shaver offers several tales surrounding a still-standing ancient tavern where Old Niskayuna Road snakes along Route 7, across from her former homestead.


In the 1800s, it was Yearsley's Public House, a stopping point between Troy and Schenectady for weary travelers.


There, the lovers Elsie Lansing Whipple and Jesse Strang rested during a storm, ordering drinks for themselves and hay for their horses. They visited the inn just before Strang would murder Whipple's wealthy husband at Cherry Hill mansion in Albany, according to Louis C. Jones in his book, "Murder at Cherry Hill."


The inn later became home to colorful characters Shaver knew as a child.


Minnie was a barefooted, haggard old woman who was delighted to eat the woodchuck Shaver's family would bring after a hunt.


The woman's son carried on the tradition of eccentricity in a house without running water or utilities. His neighbors persuaded him to install electricity when they tired of him coming over to watch television.


Vacant for about 30 years, the tavern's green shutters sag downward, its backyard barns lean to one side. Ravens feed in the yellowed grass surrounding the house.


Shaver's father, C.E. Denison, ran a general store in the building that recently housed the "Country Miss," a fashionable women's clothing boutique condemned because of the road project.


He delivered groceries to the nearby Shaker community, and later was postmaster in Niskayuna.


The house her grandfather built, where Shaver lived as an adult, will vanish with the road widening, as will her childhood home next door. A versatile man who farmed strawberries and asparagus, her grandfather, B.F. Zeh, also built an office he used as Colonie town clerk.


It is slated for demolition.


Shaver, who married and raised her own family in Niskayuna before returning to the Verdoy hamlet in 1971, finally moved to Troy six years ago when Route 7 traffic and noise from the county airport drove her out.


She knew the move was inevitable, given her home's proximity to the road.


Recalling the close path of the winter plow, she said, "the slush would hit the windows."