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Johnstown doctor turns his life around
Published on: 2014-11-22
Johnstown doctor “insane” from cocaine
By Bob Cudmore, Focus on History, Daily Gazette, 11-22-14

A doctor and coroner from Johnstown, Sherman S. Kathan, was described in several 1893 newspaper accounts as becoming suddenly insane from eating cocaine. Kathan was a native of Conklingville and a graduate of Union College and Albany Medical College.

The Oswego Daily Times reported, “He ran along the streets looking in people’s faces and in and out of stores. He has long been addicted to the habit, but it had been kept quiet by his friends. He ran into his office and was caught standing on guard with a large revolver. He was taken to his home in Ballston Spa.”

After the incident, Kathan moved to Aitkin, Minnesota, according to newspaper accounts there, where he may have had family. The newspaper references a Reverend Kathan as being a pastor in that community.

In 1896 it was reported in Aitkin that Dr. Kathan’s health again had been shattered and his medical practice ruined. He agreed to undergo treatment at a hospital in Fergus Falls, Minnesota. He returned from Fergus Falls in a few days and he and his wife went back to New York.

He turned his life around. The Ballston Spa Daily Journal reported, “About 1900 he went to Conklingville where he has practiced ever since, greatly endearing himself to everyone in that region for miles around.”

Kathan’s Conklingville medical practice in the 1920s benefited from the construction work being done for the Conklingville Dam and Sacandaga Reservoir, known today as Great Sacandaga Lake.

His first wife, Carrie Bell Witbeck Kathan, died in 1921. About four years later he married a widow, Nellie Costello of Saratoga Springs.

In May 1929 the doctor died at age 64 in a car crash in Colonie. Historian Christopher Philippo, who researched the story, said that Kathan “had the misfortune to be in the rumble seat” when the car driven by a younger man skidded and overturned. Kathan is buried at Ballston Spa Village Cemetery.


A beautiful woman with an un-amiable disposition was sent back to her native Ireland in 1901, according to an Amsterdam Recorder account.

Mary Agnes Conway, described as “a bonnie Irish maid of Limerick,” had come to Amsterdam by herself “to seek her fortune.” She had had trouble with a male admirer in Ireland.

Conway worked as a domestic in a household on Division Street but in March 1901 she was fired and sought care at the Montgomery County almshouse.

The newspaper stated, “Her disposition was anything but an amiable one and Superintendent (William B.) Smeallie decided to report the case to the state charities, with the result that he was instructed that inasmuch as she had been in the country less than a year, she could be deported.”

To save the county money, Conway was put on board a steamship in New York City by Superintendent Smeallie.

Montgomery County originally had an almshouse or poor farm outside Fultonville but in 1898 moved the operation to the farm of Snell and Heath in Randall. County historian Kelly Yacobucci Farquhar wrote that a year later the county bought the Schenck farm across the river in Yosts for an almshouse for $12,500.

The location in Yosts was near the railroad main line and consisted of 200 acres, There were 80 acres along the river flats that were excellent for farming.

Farquhar wrote, “The County Farm was sold in the early 1990s to a community of Mohawk Indians. Today, the Kanatsiohareke community operates the farm and hosts a number of festivals along with running a bed and breakfast.”

There is a cemetery there once used for residents who died while at the county farm.


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