Family histories have fluidity. In cases like the Amrods of Saugerties (as well as Red Hook, and many branches throughout Dutchess and Ulster counties), they also have elements of the utmost solidity.
Local engineer Ablen Amrod shares the name of a great-grandfather who founded and ran a Sawyer community institution for decades. Amrod’s Department Store started off renting space in the Curry Building on lower Partition Street, where the Brine Barrel is now. Eventually the Amrods bought and moved into 123 Partition, currently home to Mirabelli’s and other businesses.
The place was old-school, a window into an earlier world, said Hudson Valley historian and Saugerties native Vern Benjamin. “It was a wonderful place, musty but packed full of stuff,” he said. “For a young kid, to go in to that store was something. There were stacks of pants and shirts, but they always knew exactly where your size was. And you were always welcome.”
Ablen Amrod, the engineer, told a family story about how his great-grandfather met his great-grandmother Mary on the ferry that used to run between Tivoli and Saugerties. They’d each come to America from Lebanon, he from a village, Zwar el Hoss, she from the region known as El Bauar. Family legend had them pass through Beirut and maybe Paris to New York City and then to Kingston, though apparently without knowledge of each other. Ablen found work as a peddler, at first with a backpack and eventually with a horse and cart. Mary’s mother also peddled, as her great-great-grandson put it, moving to Tivoli to service customers there. Her name was Bridget Lahoud.
But then Ablen started to look at dates from an account by Mary’s sister, Helen, as well as old photos and ferry accounts. Maybe his great-grandparents visited each other for several years using the ferry.
“Helen was interviewed at one point, and there’s a transcript of what she remembered,” the current Ablen said. “They were all Catholics. Mary and Ablen had eleven children, including Paul, VIncent and Francis. There was a boy, Milhelm, who died young, around 17, diving off a rock at a Saugerties swimming hole and smacking his head. When they were in Kingston, much earlier, they lived downtown.”
When the names of Rondout, Ponckhockie and Wilber get raised, all seem familiar. His family, he added, grew up in Red Hook, where his grandmother still lives. His grandfather’s now in Florida.
“It’s ironic, given that it took us so long to track my great-grandmother back to Tivoli,” he added.
Back then, what was known as the village was down by the river, and not where it is these days. In the early 1900s, what is now Tivoli was called Madalin.
Benjamin talked about the store’s heyday running from the 1920s into the 1960s. He recalled a Petey Amrod, “a kind person with a club foot” who worked with all the local families who needed uniforms for the school at St. Mary’s of the Snow. “He’d help out the children from Cementon, sometimes taking clothes to them, or making deals for those families that couldn’t afford anything. My mother thought he was a saint.”
Ablen Amrod wondered a bit who Benjamin was referring to. Then he remembered family members noted that the original Ablen’s son Francis was known as Petey. He and his brother Vincent, who ended up in New York City while keeping a second home in Saugerties, worked at the store with their father for years.
Ablen also brought up an “Uncle Beshir,” a peddler friend of his great-grandfather whose family, the Fadouls, married into the Amrods. Eventually, the family morphed further into McCartneys, Feldmanns, Lawlesses, Lahouds and Keeleys, including the famous Saugerties Athletic Association co-founder and sports aficionado Jack Keeley, who helped push through the town’s renowned sports complexes before his death in 2005. His mother was an Amrod, according to Benjamin.
They all get together every few years now, he said, for large family reunions. Occasionally, everyone they rent the American Legion Hall. The tendency has been more towards get-togethers in warmer climates down south, Ablen noted, where many of the extensive clan have relocated.
There are images of Ablen Amrod and his three sons in World War II uniforms, plus a daughter on the eve of her marriage, standing in front of the Amrod store. He told how there were ladies’ and men’s entrances. Helen Amrod Keeley, who lived into her nineties and had a big home at the corner of Main and Market, had kept numerous “treasures” from the old store in her basement. Her daughter, Joan Feldmann, had cared for such items as piles of buttons, department store hats, and Amrod flags. Now “no one knows what happened to that stuff.”
Joan used to run Joan and Eddie’s cafe and deli, “the local hotspot for conversation and coffee,” as he put it.
Vern Benjamn seemed to recall it being in the back of what had been the department store, which later became a laundromat.
Ablen Amrod talked about his great aunt Helen’s talk about how her mother’s family came to America as girls in their teens. After enough was raised for passage, one family member would be sent with a younger sibling. Some ended up in the Hudson Valley. Money would be sent back to back to Lebanon and again an older sibling would come across with a younger sister or brother.
“Bridget Lahoud, my great-grandmother’s mother, had four children in Lebanon who she got over here, and then more once she was in Kingston and Tivoli,” Amrod said. There were huge differences in age within nuclear families, as well as across the whole lot tied together as Amrods, Lahouds, Fadouls, McCartneys, Keeleys, and Feldmanns. Someone born in 1907, or before the turn of the century, could have a sibling raised in the 1920s.
After several generations the size of families grew smaller.
“In the end, my great-grandfather Ablen had a stroke in his late seventies,” Ablen the engineer said. “That was 1961. Mary, his wife, lived on until 1970.”
The Amrods live on.