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August 5, 2011

 

Georgetown savors its mythic Muller Hill

Historical Society tour Saturday will explore strange tale of Frenchman’s ‘hideout’

BalloonsPhoto provided by Georgetown Historical Society
This image from the late 1800s shows the home of Louis Anathe Muller, a wealthy European who arrived in what is now Georgetown in 1808 and bought 2,700 acres of land. No one is really sure who Muller was. Many believe he was a French nobleman who had fled Napoleon Bonaparte’s rule. Some have gone as far as to say he was King Charles X of France.

By SCOTT CONROE
Staff Reporter
sconroe@cortlandstandard.net

GEORGETOWN — Louis Anathe Muller arrived in what is now Georgetown, in what is now Madison County, with enough money to purchase 2,700 acres of land and build an estate and a village near it.
In 1808, when he arrived, the location was a hill in what was then the town of DeRuyter, in what was then Chenango County.
Little was known about Muller except that he was wealthy, seemed to be a French nobleman who had fled Napoleon Bonaparte’s rule of France, and had bodyguards and his own pistols wherever he went. There are no images of him but he was described as 5-foot-5 with a penetrating gaze and commanding air.
He married an American woman and they had three children. He returned to Europe in 1814 — without his family — and many people believe he became King Charles X of France.
Historians say he could not have been Charles X, a member of the House of Bourbon who succeeded his older brother Louis XVIII as king in 1824. He was more likely a minor German prince who left as Napoleon united the many German states under his rule, then returned after Napoleon was overthrown in 1814.
But Georgetown residents love the Muller story, whoever he was.
“He came mysteriously and left mysteriously,” said Town Historian Phyllis Evans, who has heard the stories for 40 years from her husband Gerald’s family and other local residents.
The Georgetown Historical Society’s president, Jerry Dale, will lead a tour of what is now called Muller Hill at 2 p.m. Saturday as part of the Georgetown Field Days. People can meet at the historical society’s building off Muller Hill Road’s intersection with Routes 26 and 80, next to the school.
Muller’s name was believed to be an assumed identity, according to histories written in the 19th century. Speculation centered on his being the Comte d’Artois, the Bourbon who became Charles X.
Muller’s mansion was surrounded by legend as well. Descriptions said the walls were made of cherry and were 12 to 14 inches thick, there were two fireplaces and one was made of black marble, and there was a tunnel as well as an escape hatch onto the roof.
Little remains of Muller’s estate, which burned in 1905, or the village he built 3 miles down the hill, called Bronder Hollow, which had a school, a mill and businesses.
Muller Hill is owned by New York state and covered with forest, except at the top, which has a pond. The foundations of the mansion and other buildings might be found among the rocks in the forest. On Muller Hill Road, which is covered with gravel in some sections, a narrow, rutted entrance leads into the land but is blocked by a gate, and a state-erected sign marks the spot.
Down the hill, there is no sign of Bronder Hollow at the intersection of Muller Hill, Chapin and Bronder Hollow roads. Evans said rubble of the school’s foundation remained in the fields years ago.
The historical society owns paintings and a photograph of Muller’s estate, a wooden replica of the building that was displayed for many years at the State Fair’s agricultural history center, and various articles about the mystery.
Syracuse University’s collections include an 1893 lecture by Cazenovia resident Robert J. Hubbard to the Oneida Historical Society, exploring the mystery.
“There was no doubt he was somebody of authority but not a king or prince,” Evans said. “One story says the military tried to draft him and he said, ‘I have been a general who commanded armies and now you want me to be a private?’ He was a small man and a hard task master who demanded a lot of his workers but was good to them, too.”
His wife’s identity has been given as Amy Brown and as a member of the Stuyvesant family.
“We know Muller came back once after he left and found the home in disrepair,” Evans said.
Evans said researchers believe Muller could not have been Charles X because the timelines and other historical aspects do not match. Colgate University history professor Jill Harsin agrees, saying the man who became king lived in Italy, Germany, England and then Scotland, and was highly visible when he was not trying to elude creditors.
“The Bourbons had a lot of money but no access to it after the French Revolution,” Harsin said. “The man who became King Charles had a small allowance from the British, who saw long-term possibilities in supporting him. He certainly was not wealthy.”
Harsin said Muller was most likely German. He spoke French possibly because that was the language of culture, in a time before Germans established their national pride.
Evans began absorbing the Muller legend when she moved to Georgetown in 1968. She taught home economics for 33 years, first at Georgetown High School and then Otselic Valley when that school district formed in 1970.

 

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