Swipe Right If You Like Professor Herman S. Johnson

In last month’s post about Ida Haywood Pulver, we noted that Ida attended the Hillsdale Classical Institute. We were curious because we had not heard of this school and set out to learn more. What we learned about the school turned out to be less remarkable than what we discovered about its founder and principal, Professor Herman S. Johnson.

First, a little background on the Hillsdale Classical Institute. It opened in 1880, a time when most public education served students ended after the eighth grade. Parents who wanted to extend their children’s studies through what we would today call “high school” had to rely on private, tuition-financed institutions. In 1879, Professor Johnson announced the formation of the Institute and it opened the next year. 

Advertisements appearing in the Hillsdale Herald show that the Hillsdale Classical Institute had a rigorous curriculum, offering classes in subjects including math, science, history and six foreign languages. Tuition was $15 per term. Lodging in private homes was available to students for $3 per week. The Institute’s goal was to prepare young ladies to attend Vassar or Wellesley, and equip young men to enter college at the sophomore level.

Among the prominent Hillsdale names listed in the ad’s “References” are Hon. John P. Collin, Dr. H.G. Westlake, Levi Coon, Owen Bixby, Ex-Dist. Att’y C.M. Bell, and George M. Bullock.

The institute also had a vocational course of study: telegraphy. This occupation, considered suitable for both boys and girls, was still a growth industry in the early 1880s. Prospective students were invited to learn to “read by sound.” Instruction was provided by Mr. R. L. Cannon, who in 1885, created a standalone entity called “Hillsdale Telegraph College.” (Diligent readers of the Hillsdale Historians may recall that Richard Cannon was the station manager of the New York and Harlem Railroad depot in Hillsdale and was the first person in town to have a telephone installed in his home in 1880. Read more here.)

In the closing years of the 19th century, the growth of publicly financed secondary schools led to a sharp decline in private academy enrollment and most of them closed in the early years of the 20th century. 

But let’s get back to Professor Johnson. Herman Sidney Johnson was born on May 16, 1846 in Delaware, Ohio. His father, also Herman, had been president of Dickenson College (Carlisle, PA), which no doubt influenced young Herman to enroll there in 1863. He earned his Bachelor’s degree in 1867 and his Master’s in 1870. In the late 1870s, after teaching in Maryland for several years, Herman moved to Hillsdale to work as the editor of the Hillsdale Herald. The owner/publisher Ezra Johnson (E.J.). Beardsley also owned the Philmont Sentinel and maintained a printing press at the office of the Sentinel. (It is not clear if there was a “Johnson Family” connection between the two men, though that might explain Herman’s move to Hillsdale.)

In 1883, Captain John Collin of Hillsdale (noted above as a reference for the Hillsdale Classical Institute) completed his definitive “History of Hillsdale.” It was edited by “Prof. H. S. Johnson” and printed in the Sentinel office by “E. J. Beardsley.”

(That suggests that at least for some period of time, Herman was serving as both the editor of the Herald and the principal of the Institute, perhaps accounting for the plethora of Herald news articles mentioning the Institute. We’d bet the ad space was cheap, too.)

Our research suggests that the Hillsdale Herald ceased publication in 1887, the same year that Henry D. Harvey, a local jewelry store owner, launched the Hillsdale Harbinger. Could it be that Mr. Harvey bought the Herald from Ezra Beardsley and rebranded it? (Beardsley continued to publish the Philmont Sentinel until his death in 1919; the paper ended publication in 1921.)

The Institute was advertised as being “in the village of Hillsdale,” though we haven’t been able to identify its location.  But thanks to an 1886 Sanborn Fire Insurance map of Hillsdale we know the location of the Hillsdale Herald Printing Office, in the structure just east of Dimmick’s store (today’s Hillsdale General Store). It now houses the Gardner Insurance Company.

In the 1880s, today’s Anthony Street was called “Railroad Street.”

“Dwg” was an abbreviation of “Dwelling.” Half of the house was a business, half a residence.

Note the two entry doors indicating there were two separate spaces: the printing press area on the left and and the residence on the right.

In any case, in 1883 Herman Johnson’s Hillsdale Classical Institute was doing well enough, with some 50 students, that Herman embarked on a side hustle.

In the February 25, 1884 edition of the Hudson Daily Evening Register, there was a news item which read in its entirety, “New York, February 25 – Mrs. Mary Stautz jumped out of a window yesterday and died from her injuries. She was insane.”

Right next to that was an article that the Register duly noted it had “clipped” from the New Haven Morning News.

“For some days, the following advertisement has appeared in the New Haven daily papers:

Single ladies and gentlemen who are desirous of forming each other’s acquaintance through corresponding will find it to their advantage to forward their address to (a blank representing a PO Box in New Haven.)

The article continued: “Professor Herman S. Johnson, the organizer of the Hillsdale Classical Institute, is a fair-haired little gentleman, about 43 years of age, whose blond mustache is about as heavy as that of a lad of sixteen. He is a professor of Greek, is a gentleman of varied accomplishments, excellent reputation and a member of a family of high social standing. He is a married man. The ‘professor’ is the prime mover in a matrimonial scheme whereby on a capital of $20,000 he claims a profit of $155,000 could be realized.”

The article quotes the professor stating that he was moved to enter upon this scheme mainly by a desire to happily unite in marriage couples who without his aid would be destined to become “old maids and wretched bachelors.” 

Johnson’s big idea was to identify down-on-their-heels European nobility and put them together with young ladies of a type:

“As many families in America have in the past 30 years attained great wealth, it has become a society rage among these classes to seek matrimonial alliances with foreign nobility,” said Johnson. “We have evolved a plan whereby numbers of gentlemen in England and on the Continent, whose titles of nobility are genuine, shall become members of our bureau, and with whom alliances can be secured by ambitious American ladies.”

Johnson then explains his fee structure ($1 to apply, 50 cents per letter sent or received) and noted that should a marriage result, he would collect a sum equal to 1% of the lady’s property.

No doubt Johnson had been encouraged by the spate of Gilded Age marriages arranged by the ambitious wives of newly-minted millionaires. One such was Alva Vanderbilt, wife of second-generation railroad magnate William Kissam Vanderbilt, who engineered a match between her teenage daughter, Consuelo Vanderbilt, and Charles Spencer-Churchill, 9th Duke of Marlborough. The heavily indebted duke received an impressive dowry from the Vanderbilts, and when we say “impressive” consider this:  There was an upfront payment in cash and stock in the family railroad worth $2,500,000 in 1895 — $75,000,000 in 2020 dollars — and $100,000 per year for life, $3,000,000 per year in 2020 dollars. In return, the Vanderbilts’ connection to British royalty immeasurably elevated their status in New York high society.

We have found no evidence that Herman’s stud farm for slightly shabby European nobility was successful. In fact, after the article about it appeared in 1884, Herman disappeared, only to show up in the 1910 federal census working as a public school teacher in Manhattan. But we’ll probably never know how he got there and what finally became of the man who helped pave the way for online dating and swiping right.

© 2020 Chris Atkins and Lauren Letellier


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The Polymathic Mrs. Pulver

Ida Haywood Pulver at home in Hillsdale in her mid-nineties.

Over the years, there have been a number of prominent women who have had a large and lasting impact on Hillsdale and Columbia County. One of them was Ida Haywood Pulver, a well-educated (for her time) woman whose many professions — photographic hand-colorist, dressmaker-to-the-stars, Parisian milliner, fundraiser, gardener, historical society founder and overall local mover-and-shaker — kept her busy during her extraordinary 101 year life.

Ida Haywood was born in Copake on March 12, 1864. Abraham Lincoln was president and the end of the War of the Rebellion was still almost a year away. Her father, Norman, was the proprietor of the infamous Black Grocery for more than 20 years. Although the Black Grocery had a reputation for attracting “evil scheming men and ladies of easy virtue,” Ida insisted that by the time her father took over the store, it was just like any other country store, with none of the carousing for which it had been known. (This is probably true. Apparently, a lot of the boisterous customers were Irish railroad construction crews who worked bone-crushing jobs all day and wanted a little relaxation at night. But by 1852, the railroad had moved on past Hillsdale on its way to Chatham Four Corners and the wild behavior went along with it.)

The Black Grocery, likely named for it’s creosote “paint.” There’s no way to know, but this could be a photo of Ida Heywood (right) and her parents.

Ida attended private school at the Hillsdale Classical Institute (more on that in a future post) and found work with a Hudson photographer of some renown, Frank Forshew. Forshew instructed Ida in the techniques of inspecting photographic plates and, eventually, the art of hand coloring photographs.

Frank Forshew

Forshew operated a summer shop in Saratoga Springs and for several years, Ida summered with her aunt in Saratoga so that she could continue developing her skills. In June of 1885, Ida accompanied a Forshew employee named Baker to the Mt. McGregor home where Ulysses S. Grant, 18th president of the United States, was staying with his family. Grant, who was dying of throat cancer, wanted a family photograph. Ida recalled how members of the family carried Grant onto the home’s large front porch. Grant was sweating profusely in the summer heat. He died less than a month later.

In 1887, Ida married Dewey Almstead of Copake. Dewey had secured a position at the fashionable St. Denis Hotel in New York City and Dewey and Ida moved to Manhattan.

A postcard showing the St. Denis Hotel at Broadway and 11th Street, New York City, circa 1908.

Sadly, Dewey passed away a few years later, when he was in his mid-thirties. To make ends meet, Ida opened a dressmaking shop in her East 48th Street home. She ran the shop for 12 years, eventually employing some eight women, and was said to have had an “A-List” clientele. Along the way, she became an agent for a French millinary company and spent six months living in Paris, learning about French fashion and buying cotton fabrics to bring home.

It’s not clear why, but Ida returned to the Roe Jan area sometime during the first decade of the 20th century. She settled in Hillsdale and in 1917, she became the second wife of Freeland Pulver. Freeland was a very successful merchant and ran a store in what today is the Roe Jan Brewing Company. (Read about Freeland and the brewery here.)

While Freeland toiled away at his shop, Ida soon became one of Hillsdale’s most prominent movers and shakers. She founded and served as the first president of the Hillsdale Garden Club and organized the first of many annual flower shows. (Fans of Downton Abbey will appreciate that, like Violet Crawley, Ida almost always took first prize for her entries.)

“The Furness trophy, a lustre bowl, went to Mrs. Freeland Pulver for winning the largest number of firsts in home shows for the year.”

Ida also had a passion for local history. In addition to founding the Hillsdale Historical Society, she was a board member of the Daughters of Columbia County Historical Society, later to be known as the Columbia County Historical Society (CCHS). She frequently participated in events and fundraisers to raise money to establish the “House of History” in the Vanderpoel House in Kinderhook. It’s now owned by the CCHS.

The Vanderpoel House in Kinderhook, a/k/a “the House of History.” It is owned by the Columbia County Historical Society.

Freeland died in 1939, and Ida devoted the rest of her life to gardening and beautifying her beautiful home at what is now 25 Anthony Street. She also organized chorale recitals and other events to raise money to improve Hillsdale, such as planting trees and shrubs in the park across from the Methodist Church.

In 1942, Ida began spending the winter with friends in Delray Beach, FL. In 1954, on her 90th birthday, Ida took her first airplane trip to Florida and then flew many times between New York and Florida until her last trip in 1958.

Ida remained in Hillsdale until 1963, when she moved to Canandaigua, NY to be near her daughter-in-law, Louise Leonard. Ida Pulver passed away in Canandaigua on March 14, 1965, just two days after her 101st birthday. She was active and alert until just a few days before her death. She is buried in the Hillsdale Rural Cemetery.


© 2020 Chris Atkins and Lauren Letellier


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From Plymouth Colony to Silicon Valley, With a Stopover in Hillsdale

We get genealogical inquiries from people all over the country in search of their long-lost Hillsdale ancestors. As Town Historians, we’re not supposed to do individual genealogical searches. It says so, right here, in the official Duties and Functions of New York State’s Local Government Historians. 

But every now and then an inquiry comes in that connects to some larger historical issue — like mid-19th century westward migration  — or hints at a tantalizing historical thread from early colonial times.

An email from Scott Norris of San Jose, California, was just such an inquiry: “One of my distant ancestors, Dr. Zachariah Standish (1763–1804), is mentioned … as surgeon of  the Hillsdale regiment of militia. I am wondering it you could provide me with some historical context about this regiment.”

We found a brief mention of “Zachariah Standish, physician” on page 64 of Franklin Ellis’s History of Columbia County in reference to a probate matter.  Because most of Hillsdale’s town records were destroyed by fire in 1849 we were not able to find documentary evidence of his having served in the (presumably peacetime) Hillsdale Militia after the war.  But the name “Standish” was intriguing.  We wondered — and asked Scott — if Zachariah was any relation to Myles Standish of Mayflower fame?

When the reply came, “Yes, Miles Standish is my 10th great-grandfather!” we knew we had to invite Scott to guest-blog this post. How many Americans can trace their direct ancestry to the Mayflower? What follows is the result of Scott’s diligent family tree tracing, a mission he began five years ago after finding an old packet of genealogical work started by his maternal grandfather, who did his research (without the aid of computers) by digging through numerous archives, church records, and by making trips to a local San Francisco Bay Area Family History Center. If you have any information about the Zachariah Standish/Hillsdale connection, you can contact Scott at scottnorris2@mac.com. Here’s his story:

San Jose, California is in the heart of what is known as Silicon Valley, so-called because it is a major center for high technology, including manufacturers specializing in silicon-based circuit chips. I am certain that when Myles Standish, my 10th great-grandfather (10th gg), stepped off the Mayflower in 1620, he never would have imagined that one of his 10th great-grandsons would end up living in a strange and distant land called “Silicon Valley.”

Myles Standish (born c. 1584) was an English military officer hired by the Pilgrims as military adviser for Plymouth Colony. He accompanied them on the Mayflower journey and played a leading role in the administration and defense of Plymouth Colony.

The Plymouth Colony militia elected him as its first commander and continued to re-elect him to that position for the remainder of his life. Myles was also one of the founders of the town of Duxbury, Massachusetts.

My 9th gg, Alexander Standish was born to Myles in 1627 and died in 1702 in Duxbury, in what had by then become the Province of Massachusetts Bay. Alexander’s second marriage to Desire Doty produced my 8th gg, Thomas Standish, Sr. (1690-1774).

His son and my 7th gg, Thomas Jr., and his wife Martha had a son, Hadley Standish in February of 1759. In June of that same year Thomas Jr. was killed during the French and Indian War.

Hadley was my 6th gg and was a private in John Cushing’s regiment during the American Revolution. In 1780, Hadley married Abigail Gardner in Pembroke, Province of Massachusetts Bay. (Massachusetts didn’t officially became a part of the newly formed United States of America until 1788.) Sometime between 1787 and 1789, Hadley and Abigail moved their family to Vermont and by 1802 the family had moved to the town of Bristol, Ontario County, New York, where Hadley died in 1813.

Hadley’s cousin Dr. Zachariah Standish (1763-1804), himself a descendant of Myles’ son Alexander, also moved from the Massachusetts area to New York. He married Mary Scott (born May 24, 1778, probably in Spencertown, where her father was born). [Editor’s Note: Mary Scott’s maternal great-grandfather had the incomparable name “Thankful Parsons.”]

Zachariah was a surgeon in the Hillsdale regiment of militia. He held this post until 1797, about seven years before his death. Zachariah was buried (“with Masonic honors”) in Spencertown Cemetery, where his headstone is still somewhat legible.

Colonel Matthew Miles Standish, Sr., son of Zachariah and Mary, distinguished himself as an officer of the cavalry in the Battle of Plattsburgh, also known as the Battle of Lake Champlain, which ended the final invasion of the northern states of the United States during the War of 1812. He died at age 72 and is buried in Riverside Cemetery in Plattsburgh, Clinton County, New York.

His son, Matthew Miles Standish, Jr. (born in 1833), was in the 1st Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment during the Civil War.

My 5th gg, Thomas Standish, was born to Hadley and Abigail in 1782 while they still were living in Pembroke. He was a twin with his sister, Sarah. In 1805, Thomas married Martha Farnsworth and they had several children, including my 4th gg, William Farnsworth Standish. William would be the first of this ancestral line to move beyond the Northeast.

In 1850, William Farnsworth Standish was a farmer in the town of Alabama, Genesee County, New York with a wife and family. By 1870, the family had moved west to Quincy, Michigan. By 1880, the family moved even further west to the village of Evansville in Rock County, Wisconsin. William died in 1884 and is buried in Winooski Cemetery which is in, of all places, the town of Plymouth, Sheboygan County, Wisconsin. William and his wife, Maria Hoskins, had several children, including my 3rd gg, William Morgan Standish.

William Morgan Standish was a farmer who enlisted in the Civil War on 15 August 1862 at the age of 32. Assigned to the Union’s Company F of the 27th Regiment, Wisconsin Infantry, William survived the war, mustering out in 1865 with an unknown disability. He died in 1867.

Sometime prior to 1853, William married Sarah McCormack. Among their children was my 2nd great-grandmother, Laura Bell Standish, born in 1858 in Manitowoc, Wisconsin.

A decade or so after the Civil War, Laura Bell married Sanford D. Elliott. Sanford had been a young Civil War fifer in Company A of the 51st Regiment, Wisconsin Infantry. Laura and Sanford settled down to a life of farming and raised a family in Wisconsin. One of their children, Grant Elmer Elliott, born in 1875, was my great-grandfather.

Grant, who was also a farmer, married Lizzie Morris in 1897 in Racine, Wisconsin. By 1911, Grant and Lizzie had moved west to Minnesota, and by 1920 they had five children, including Lillian, my paternal grandmother


In 1930, Lillian was working as a practical nurse in St. Paul, Minnesota. By 1940, she was living in Grosse Pointe Park, Michigan with her husband, Dr. Edgar Norris, and their three sons, including James, my father. When Edgar passed, Lillian moved back to Minnesota and my dad attended high school in Minneapolis where he met my mother.

Dad then attended Colgate University in Hamilton, New York, after which he returned to Minnesota and eventually applied to graduate business school. His first choice was Harvard, but he was not accepted; if he had been, I would have grown up in Massachusetts, back in the land of the Pilgrims and Myles Standish! He was accepted to Stanford, so we headed out west to the land soon to be known as Silicon Valley.

Myles Standish has been memorialized in books and with monuments. There is even a Massachusetts state forest named in his honor. I think he would probably be pleased with this recognition. I am not sure, however, what his reaction would be if he was told that more than 400 years after his birth, people would be able to Google him.


Scott Elliott Norris and his wife Cheryl, a paralegal, live in San Jose, California. Scott worked for many years in the market research field, most recently as a market and financial analyst at El Camino Hospital in Mountain View, California. He is a long-term (21 year) brain cancer survivor.

© 2020 Chris Atkins and Lauren Letellier


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The Man Behind the Mountain

John “Jack” Falconer Fisher III

The Taconic Mountains extend about 180 miles from southern Dutchess County and northwestern Connecticut up through Berkshire County, Massachusetts and on to Brandon, Vermont. The Taconics afford a number of spectacular views of the Hudson Valley; some feel that there is no finer view than that from the summit of Mt. Fray.

Mt. Fray rises to an altitude of 1893 feet, less than half that of the highest peak in the Taconic range, Mt. Equinox (3816 feet) in Manchester, VT. But it was high enough to attract the eye of John “Jack” Falconer Fisher III, who built a ski resort on it and called it Catamount.

The view from Mt. Fray

This isn’t a history of Catamount — you can read a terrific history from the Roe Jan Independent here. It’s the man behind the mountain we find interesting.

Jack Fisher was born in Atlantic City, NJ in 1914, the son of John F. Fisher, Jr., and Hannah Marter. Not long after Jack was born, his family moved to Salisbury, CT.

When he was 16, Jack became a licensed pilot. Over the years, he loved to fly over the Taconics, always on the lookout for a suitable spot for a ski area or a golf course. A farm on Mt. Fray caught his eye and in the late 1930s he bought it. With some friends, Jack began hand cutting a number of trails and Catamount opened for business in 1939.

Skiers getting on the bus to Catamount

Unfortunately for Jack, World War II caused the shutdown of Catamount from 1943 to 1945. By then Jack was in the military, putting his extensive flying experience to work as an instructor at the brand new Ryan School of Aeronautics in Tuscon, Arizona, which was then operated by the U.S. Army Air Corps. Incidentally, Jack’s draft card lists him as 6′ 3″, a lanky 145 pounds and possessing brown hair and a “sallow” complexion. (One might have thought that the latter would have been grounds for being unfit for service, but perhaps it was an error.)  Note that he lists his employer as “Catamount Ski Tows, Inc.”

Once the war ended, Jack reopened Catamount. Apparently, it didn’t occupy all of his time and, looking for something else to do, he bought land near Pittsfield, MA and built the Jiminy Peak ski area.

Jack had a number of enthusiasms beyond flying and skiing. One of them was motorcycles; one nearly proved the end of Jack. According to news reports, on July 1, 1933, Jack and a second rider, Dolan Garrity, crashed “at high speed” into a car driven by Mrs. Carrie Landon. Although both riders were catapulted into the air, and Mrs. Landon’s brand new LaSalle was pretty beaten up, nobody was seriously injured.

Not suprisingly, another enthusiasm was sports cars. By 1955, Jack had acquired an MG-TC convertable. Jack lived near the Vaill family farm in Lakeville, CT. The farmer’s son, Jim Vaill, would invite Jack over in his roadster and the two of them would bomb around in the farm’s gravel pit. In a 1997 Hartford Courant interview, Jim remembered “beating that poor little car to death.”

Vintage MG-TC

Before long, folks were hearing about Jack and Jim and their exploits in the pit. At the suggestion of the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA), Jim and Jack dreamed up Lime Rock Park, and just two years later on April 20, 1957, the track held its first event, an SCAA-sponsored driver school. The event attracted some 6,600 spectators and 152 drivers, among them famed news anchor Walter Cronkite.

A race at Lime Rock Park

Also during the 1950s, Jack had a chance encounter on a Manhattan sidewalk with an advertising executive from the Leo Burnett agency. Burnett had the Marlboro cigarette account and was scouting for someone to serve as the “Marlboro Man” in print ads. The exec thought that Jack had the right “look,” and Jack became one of the earliest Marlboro men.

A “Marlboro Man.” It could have been Jack Fisher.

Jack sold his remaining share of Jiminy Peak in 1969, and sold Catamount in 1973. He eventually settled in Waitsfield, VT, (ironically, the home of the Sugarbush Ski Resort) to be closer to his daughters. Jack died in Vermont in 2011, at the age of 97, but his legacy is all around us. 

© 2020 Chris Atkins and Lauren Letellier



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The Parla Foster House: A Brief History

At the corner of Rts. 22 and 23 sits an imposing brick house built circa 1783-1790 by a man named Parla Foster.

Although the house is listed in the Historic Hillsdale Resource Survey as being in the Federal style, it does not exhibit strong Federal characteristics. David Gallager, a local decorative arts expert and amateur architectural historian, considers the house to be a classic example of the Georgian style, noting “The Palladian windows are typical Georgian features, seen in many Columbia County grand homes such as the Ludlow house in Claverack, 1786, and other houses including frame examples.” 


Parla Foster (1759-1852) was born in Connecticut and served as a private in “Colonel Ashley’s Berkshire (MA) Regiment” during the Revolutionary War. At some point, either before or just after the Revolutionary War, he made his way to Hillsdale, in the disputed border lands between Massachusetts and New York, when the town was still commonly known as Nobletown. He purchased land in the hamlet of Hillsdale from the Van Rensselaers after Massachusetts yielded to New York all claims for the contested land. Foster built the house as both a family residence and inn, and it served as a coach stop along the Columbia Turnpike (1799). Its barred basement was sometimes used to quarter prisoners on their way to the county jail in Claverack. Foster was also a lay preacher: in 1811 he donated land and financed the construction of Hillsdale’s first Methodist church, which stood just behind the house. The church was lost to fire but its adjacent cemetery is still there, today known alternately as the Pill Hill Cemetery, Methodist Cemetery or the Parla Foster Cemetery. Foster is buried there, as are many of his descendants.

Foster and his wife Phebe Wills, also of CT, had 11 children: Anna, Moses, Isaac, Simeon, Ely, Seymour, Judson, Deidamie, Sally, Katy and Phebe. The property included tenant houses and barns, which can be seen on this map of the Hillsdale Hamlet Historic District, and remained in the Foster family for about 100 years. It passed from Parla to his son Seymour, then to Seymour’s son Will. In the 1880s, Will sold the property, then known as Elm Park Farm, to Mr. and Mrs. Asher Adams of Massachusetts.

In 1897, the Adams sold the farm to Rensselaer Tenbroeck. Tenbroeck was identified in one newspaper article as a “railroad man.” In fact, he served for more than 20 years as the General Eastern Agent of the Union Pacific Railroad. Students of Capital Region history will recognize both his first and last names and know that Mr. Tenbroeck came from a quite prominent family in New York State. Mr. Tenbroeck remodeled the Foster house, and it is likely that he installed the four bathrooms that served the house’s 17 rooms.

Renssalaer Tenbroeck died in 1918. In 1921, his heirs sold the house to Charles and Myrtle Mallory. The Mallorys sold off most of Elm Park Farm, and opened the Elmwood Inn, which was operated by several different owners until 1968. Interestingly, the 1940 census lists Charles as the building superintendent of the Roe Jan school; Myrtle was listed as a “hotel operator.” An operator indeed! Myrtle energetically worked many angles to supplement the family income. In the summer of 1932 she rented space to the New York State Police for a trooper station. (The troopers installed a teletype machine to stay in touch with the Albany and Stockport stations.) And in 1942, when real estate salesman Donald Mitchell was looking to expand from his Spencertown office to Hillsdale, Myrtle became Mr. Mitchell’s Hillsdale representative, operating out of the inn.

On June 16, 1927, the Mallory’s daughter Marianna Van Rensselaer Mallory was married at the inn. It was a low-key affair, followed by a light supper at the Wayfarer’s Shop, which had opened in 1924 on Route 23 to serve motorists passing through town. 

The Mallorys sold the Elmwood Inn to Mr. and Mrs. Walter Weber of Raleigh, NC in 1947. The Webers operated the inn until selling to William Murphy (exact year unknown). In turn, Mr. Murphy sold it to Mr. and Mrs. Richard Studhalter in 1958.

The Elmwood Inn in undated photos.

The kitchen of the Elmwood Inn

The kitchen at the Elmwood Inn


The dining room at the Elmwood Inn

The Studhalters ran the inn until they sold it to Sara Lehrhaupt in 1963. According to news coverage at the time, Ms. Lehrhaupt had already had a career in hospitality, having owned a large hotel in Asbury Park, NJ. She was also a noted designer of ceramic jewelry and planned to open a studio at the inn and teach classes in ceramic jewelry making. She imagined her primary lodgers would be skiers at Catamount. She also pledged to install four more bathrooms in the house.

Ms. Lehrhaupt also brought another “first” to Hillsdale: its first ever Flea Market. It spanned two weekends in 1965 and attracted more than 50 dealers, who displayed their wares on “the gracious grounds of the Elmwood Inn,” according the a news account. The event was repeated in 1966.

In 1968, Ms. Lehrhaupt sold the building to a restaurateur named Wesley Hall, and that was the end of the Elmwood Inn.  Mr. Hall opened the Dutch Hearth Inn, which he sold to Chef Jean Morel in 1971. Morel was born in France in 1933 and served in the French army. He emigrated to the US in 1961. When he purchased the Dutch Hearth Inn, he and his wife, Madeleine, moved into the small cottage behind the inn. They operated the Dutch Hearth until 1976, when they rechristened it L’Hostellerie Bressane, which they ran until retiring in 1995.

Chef Jean Morel

The Morels sold the restaurant to Chef David Lawson, who renamed it Aubergine. Chef Lawson was a gifted chef with an impressive resume and there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth when he decided to close Aubergine in 2006.

Mr. Lawson sold to property to “Nobletown Corners, Ltd.” That turned out to be the Herrington family. In 2016 Carrie Herrington opened her exquisite interior design store, C. Herrington Home + Design in the old house.

So that’s a quick overview of the 230+ year history of the Parla Foster house. The Historians of Hillsdale have used whatever resources were available to us to research this post. Sadly, due to the coronavirus shutdown, we cannot gain access to the deeds at the county clerk’s office, which could help clear up the house’s ownership during the period from 1947 to 1958. And it would be interesting to know how many acres in Hillsdale Parla Foster owned.  Some references state that Foster and Refine Latting, between them, owned most of the property in the hamlet at one time. We know that as late as 1836 Parla donated land for a parsonage “at the corner of South” (now Maple) “and Cold Water Streets,” and that in 1845 Parla’s son Seymour donated the land that the present First Methodist Church is built on. We welcome any additional information you can provide. Just leave us a comment or email us at hillsdalehistorians@gmail.com.


(The Historians of Hillsdale gratefully acknowledge the new information and corrections provided by Peter Cipkowski, who noted that the Morel’s didn’t live behind the Taconic Wayside Inn, it was just their “local.” And Susan Metz and her husband Gerald,  New Jersey residents, report that they were regular guests at the Dutch Hearth Inn during both the Wesley Hall and Jean Morel eras.  She noted that the four bathrooms Ms. Lehrhaupt planned to add never materialized and each guest room on both floors had to share with the rest of the guests. If you have any information you’d like to share, just email it or leave it in a comment.  Hey, it takes a village…er…hamlet. — HoH

© 2020 Chris Atkins and Lauren Letellier



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Blog for the Common Man

It can be tempting to think of our town history in terms of its founding fathers, historic houses, and seminal events. But like the history of most small towns, those people, places and occasions serve as punctuation marks in the text of otherwise ordinary lives.

While Hillsdale indeed has had its share of larger-than-life figures, it was the citizens who did not make it into the history books who made Hillsdale into the place we love today. A case in point would be Thomas I. White.

Thomas White was born on March 13, 1829 in Charlottetown on Prince Edward Island. Prince Edward Island was then a part of British North America, and under the rule of King William IV. (The British North America Act of 1867 created the Confederation of Canada.)

As a young man, Thomas moved to New York City, where he worked as a carpenter for seven years. In 1852, the New York and Harlem Railroad arrived in Hillsdale, and not long after, Thomas did too.

Thomas put his carpentry skills to use immediately, opening a wagon maker’s shop. Over time he expanded, adding a livery and blacksmithing services. In 1859, Thomas, age 30, married Miss Mary Jane Haywood, age 24. The following year they had a son, Allen.

Thomas made a practice of driving his wagon to the Hillsdale depot to meet every train. He would take arriving passengers to their destinations, in effect serving as Hillsdale’s first taxi service. But Thomas also had some exciting moments in his wagon.

In 1893, as reported in the Hillsdale Harbinger, Thomas was unloading gravel for road maintenance when something spooked his horses.  They bolted and ran in the direction of Pulver’s clothing store (today’s Roe Jan Brewing Company), with Thomas holding on for dear life. As the horses approached the store they turned sharply, flinging Thomas out of the wagon and against the building, which cut his left hand badly. The horses then returned to their stable without further incident.

The Whites were prosperous and well known and liked in the community. Thomas and Mary Jane counted among their friends Mr. and Mrs. Freeland Pulver, Freeland being the noted Hillsdale clothier.

In 1903 the Hillsdale Harbinger reported that Mrs. White had received a visitor – her nephew, Parla Foster of Port Chester, NY. It seems likely that Parla was a descendent of another Parla Foster, a Hillsdale founding father.  After the war, Foster had settled in Hillsdale and went on to serve as Town Supervisor. He built the first Methodist church, and also the handsome brick house that today is the home of C. Herrington Home + Design. It’s not clear how Mary Jane White was related to the Fosters, but we do know that at the age of 19, she lived in a boarding house in Hillsdale that was owned by and lived in by William Foster and a whole passel of Fosters.

On Friday, April 22, 1907, 78-year-old Thomas met all the trains as usual. He went home, newspaper in hand, but complained of a severe headache. His vision was impaired and he could not make out the words in the newspaper. He went to bed but succumbed to a stroke and died before morning.

From White’s obituary in the Harbinger: “He will be greatly missed by the traveling public here to whom he had been a familiar figure for years. He was a straightforward, conscientious man, one who, while not taking a large part in public affairs, lived his life in a quiet way, doing all that he did as well as he knew.”

As important as the contributions of people like Parla Foster and Refine Latting (whose tavern is today’s Hillsdale House) were in founding our town, it was people like Thomas and Mary Jane White who made it a community.

© 2020 Chris Atkins and Lauren Letellier


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The Millionaire Next Door: John K. Cullin

Most residents of Hillsdale probably drive right by the Civil War monument in the center of town without even noticing it anymore. But the “Soldiers and Sailors Flag Bearer” memorial is worthy of notice because it is the sole Civil War memorial in Columbia County. That seems odd because although Hillsdale sent more than its share of men off to the war, so did many other towns in the county. In all of Columbia County, only Hillsdale erected a monument to honor their service and only then because of the generosity of one man.

On the front of the monument’s pedestal is the following inscription:

1861 – 1865

The monument sits on what was once known as the Village Green. Today, that triangle of grass is known as Cullin Park, although hardly anyone knows that since there is no sign. (More on that later.)

The Soldiers and Sailors Flag Bearer Monument

In honor of the dedication of the monument, Thomas B. Evans (aka “The Bard of the Berkshires”) wrote an ode to Cullin that included these lines:

“The flag that John K. Cullin defended

When he marched from his old native town –

That Grand Army veteran departed,

Who donated that granite and crown,

Two statues of bronze so heroic

Of the soldier and sailor we love

The American free soil beneath them

The American blue sky above.”

And then (big finish here),

“John K. Cullin will long be remembered

He fought not for Glory or Fame,

He fought for his Flag and his Country

And well may we honor his name.”

We’ve always wondered about John K. Cullin. Who was he? Where was he from? And how did he become a man of such means that he bequeathed $10,000 (about a quarter of a million dollars in 2020 money) to fund the monument?

John K. Cullin

John Cullin was born in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, in 1837, where his mother was visiting her parents. The Cullins lived in Glasgow, Scotland, where John’s father ran a business. After Cullin Sr. passed away, 10-year-old John and his mother emigrated to America and settled in Hillsdale. It’s not clear what brought them here but it may have been a relative who was already in Hillsdale.

John learned the harness trade from harness maker James Doherty, but at the outbreak of the Civil War, he enlisted in the Fourteenth New York Volunteers. (It’s worth noting that he would have been mustered into the army on the village green, the very site of the monument he made possible.) According to “New York in the War of the Rebellion,” by Frederick Phisterer, the Fourteenth Volunteers joined the Army of the Potomac, and was heavily engaged in the Battle of Gaines Mill, where the regiment experienced some 225 casualties.

John was mustered out in 1864 and returned to Hillsdale. He was immediately hired as a clerk at the Hillsdale Mercantile (now the RoeJan Brewing Company) on Anthony Street, where he became close friends with Freeland Pulver, also a clerk. Pulver eventually bought the Mercantile and reopened it with his brother. John worked at Pulver Bros. for eight years before relocating to Troy in 1872 to work for George Bristol & Company, a dry goods firm. (George’s sister, Flavia, was herself a prominent resident of Hillsdale and in 1918 bequeathed $30,000 to build a public library, housed in what today is the Town Hall.) So close were George and John that John held power of attorney of the Bristol estate until he died.

To describe John Cullin as parsimonious is to be way too kind. He could, as they say, squeeze six cents out of a nickel. In middle age, he would declare, “I cannot afford to smoke.” But it paid off. Despite working as a retail clerk for most of his life, he managed to amass a considerable fortune, which he distributed liberally in his later years and posthumously through his estate. For example, in his latter years John, a lifelong Mason, donated the funds to build Hillsdale’s Masonic Hall. (It was lost to a fire in 1927.)

The original Masonic Hall, lost to a fire in 1927

John died at the age of 78 in 1915. At the time, he was living in Rock Ledge, FL, where he had moved for health reasons. In addition to the $10,000 he left for the monument, he bequeathed a total of 19 gifts to individuals and institutions totaling some $15,300 (or $400,000 today). Included in these gifts were pictures, books and $2000 (today’s $50,000) for the Hillsdale Public Library.

And after all that, probate records how that there was a considerable residue — $3.3 million in today’s dollars —  that he left to his nephew, Herbert Cogswell of New Haven, CT. Interestingly, Freeland Pulver was the executor of Cullin’s will.

The Bard of the Berkshires said it best:  “And well may we honor his name.”

So it seems quite appropriate that just as John Cullin honored his fellow warriors with a monument, we should consider honoring John Cullin and his generous contributions to Hillsdale with a permanent marker identifying Cullin Park and the significance of the monument.

For more information about the monument and its dedication, click here

© 2020 Chris Atkins and Lauren Letellier



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The Bernsteins of Hillsdale

We recently stumbled on an interesting piece of Hillsdale trivia: one of our more prominent residents was the legendary composer/conductor Leonard Bernstein.

Bernstein, of course, was a fixture at the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s summer home, Tanglewood, for some 50 years, starting in 1940. At first, he studied under BSO Music Director Serge Koussevitzky. But within two years, Bernstein was promoted to Koussevitzky’s assistant. And it appears that it was Koussevitzky who introduced Bernstein to Hillsdale.

We’re not sure when that happened, but thanks to a helpfully annotated photograph, we do know that the Bernstein family (“Lenny,” Felicia and toddler daughter Jamie) spent the summer of 1953 in a house in Hillsdale, presumably while he taught at the Tanglewood Music Center. Unfortunately, we have no idea where this house was, or if it still exists and we are hopeful that our readers can shed some light on it. UPDATE:  Since publishing this post, we have heard from Margo Potrzeba, who lives in this house and was told in 1978 when purchasing the home that the Bernsteins had stayed there.  It’s on Ten Broeck Road. At the time, it was owned by Dr. and Mrs. Stone and it was called “Clearbrook.” (Of course Dr. and Mrs. Stone were played by Carl Betz and Donna Reed. Um, just kidding.)

Here they are in what appears to be the Roe Jan Kill, but again, it is hard to be certain. The Library of Congress notes that it is Hillsdale. UPDATE:  Ms. Potrzeba believes that this is the swimming hole across the road from the house.

The Bernsteins moved on after that summer, and it seems they took a house in Lee, Massachusetts, in the ensuing years. But that was not the last of the Bernsteins in Columbia County: Nina, the youngest daughter, owned a home in the Town of Chatham for many years.

If you have any memory of the Bernstein’s time in Hillsdale, or recognize the house, please leave a comment below

© 2020 Chris Atkins and Lauren Letellier


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Looking Back, Looking Forward

As we greet the New Year, the Historians of Hillsdale decided to look back over our first 2.5 years in the role.

We’ve very much enjoyed being the town’s historians. Although we have only lived in Hillsdale for five years, we have been residents of Columbia County for almost 25 years and have always been interested in learning about the area’s history.

Many people are not aware that New York State requires that each of its towns appoint a historian. That means that there are 932 town historians in the state, with 17 of them in Columbia County. In addition, there are a number of local historical societies (such as the Roe Jan Historical Society) that operate independently from the town historians.

New York State actually provides very little guidance as to the functions and responsibilities of the town historian. The New York State Office of State History (who knew?) has published a six-page document that is as detailed about what a town historian is NOT, as it is about what it should be. For example, the document states that the local historian is not:

• An antiquarian. No collecting of artifacts or documents that rightfully should be kept by museums or historical societies
• An archivist. Records management is the Town Clerk’s responsibility.
• A genealogist. We are not authorized to, nor do we, conduct genealogical research. (We can refer people to contract genealogists.)

And so on. What we are charged with includes:

• Research and Writing. This we primarily do through this blog.
• Teaching and Presentations. We have made presentations on historical matters at the Roe Jan Historical Society, the Roe Jan Community Library and to Taconic Hills Central School students.
• Historic Preservation. We serve as trustees of the Friends of East Gate and are advocates for the preservation and restoration of our town’s toll house.
• Tourism promotion. The document notes that traveling history buffs (or “heritage tourists”) are the largest segment of the tourism industry and spend more time and money on their trips than other tourists. Our annotated map of the original Columbia Turnpike is the kind of resource heritage tourists seek.

Each of the 17 town historians in Columbia County has an individual interpretation of the state guidelines. We have chosen to interpret our role as storytellers. Rather than focusing on names, dates, and chronologies, we investigate aspects of Hillsdale’s history that interest us, chiefly through secondary research, talking to people who’ve been around for a while, and a fair amount of Googling. It’s a personal, rather than academic, approach, but it works for us and we hope it works for you, too. We’re partial to the idea that town historians practice the art of studying large questions in small places. Here are just a few of the questions we’ve tackled in this blog:

• Our search for the original location of Nobletown, which led us to an understanding of the century-long border dispute between NY and MA, which wasn’t settled until after the Revolutionary War
• The location of James Agee’s grave, which became an appreciation for the novels, poetry and screenplays of this commanding literary voice from the mid-20th century.
• The dubious Hillsdale claim on Elsie the Cow, which turned into a lesson on branding that advertisers would do well to study today.
• The history of the “Old Agway,” now about to open as the Roe Jan Brewing Company – a textbook example of thoughtful building rehabilitation and reuse.

About a year ago, Austerlitz town historian Tom Moreland convened the first ever meeting of the 17 town historians of Columbia Country. We meet quarterly to discuss issues affecting local historians (resources chief among them – few towns set aside funds to support the work of the town historian) and ways that we can bring our respective towns’ histories to a broader audience.

In recent months, several of the group have had articles on local history published in The Columbia Paper. Hillsdale Historian Lauren Letellier had an article on the McKinstry family burial plot – one of the oldest in town — appear on the front page of the paper – an encouraging indication that history is interesting and important. In addition, Main Street Magazine has reprinted several of our posts on its on-line version.

Just last week, we were interviewed on WGXC in Hudson by Rob Gelles on the role of Town Historian and some of things we’ve researched and written about. You can listen to it by clicking here.

We have also been working with a website called “Hear About Here” to create an interactive version of our Columbia Turnpike map. We’ll note its availability in a future blog post.

In 2020, Hillsdale will have been incorporated as a town for 232 years, and its history goes back much further. That’s why it seems fitting to end 2019 with a quote by the noted Filipino historian and scholar Epifanio de los Santo y Cristobal:

“Today’s events are tomorrow’s history, yet events seen by the naked eye lack the depth and breadth of human struggles, triumphs and suffering. Writing history is writing the soul of the past … so that the present generation may learn from past mistakes, be inspired by their ancestors’ sacrifices, and take responsibility for the future.”

We always welcome suggestions for topics or questions about Hillsdale’s past. Just email us at HillsdaleHistorians@gmail.com. We wish you a happy, healthy and historic 2020.

© 2019 Chris Atkins and Lauren Letellier

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The Writing Life: James Agee in Hillsdale

James Rufus Agee, May 27, 1909 – May 16, 1955

James Agee was a commanding literary voice in mid-20th-century America: an extraordinarily versatile writer who in his lifetime won acclaim as a novelist, poet, and screenwriter. He is buried on a farm in Hillsdale.

That’s not big news. But we’ve also been told for years that he never actually lived in Hillsdale.  That seemed odd.  Why would a person who never lived in Hillsdale decide to be buried here?

We set out to see if we could verify that one way or another.

James Rufus Agee was born in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1909. He adored his warm, nurturing, hard-drinking father, who was killed in an alcohol-fueled car crash when Agee was just 6. Raised by his emotionally distant, deeply religious mother, Agee was enrolled in 1919 at St. Andrew’s, an Episcopalian boarding school for boys on the remote Cumberland Plateau of south-central Tennessee. Although Agee was at best a middling student, it soon became evident to his teachers that he possessed an extraordinary aptitude for language and he was given the run of the school’s library, a rare privilege.

In 1925 Agee left Tennessee for Philips Exeter Academy. Despite his otherwise lackluster grades, Agee excelled in English, earning straight A’s. The strength of his writing was enough to win him a scholarship to Harvard College. At Harvard, Agee began smoking and drinking heavily, habits that became addictions he could never shake, and that would ultimately kill him. While placed on academic probation several times, he still managed to be named both class poet and president of the Advocate, Harvard’s literary journal.


James Agee, 1937

After graduation Agee landed a position as a staff writer at the fledgling Fortune magazine. His poetic gifts and ambitions as a writer clashed with the conventions of business reporting and he lapsed into depression, flirting with thoughts of suicide. In search of a topic to match his literary ambitions, he arranged for a six-month leave of absence from Fortune to report on the lives of destitute sharecroppers in Alabama. He was paired with the photographer Walker Evans, whose work documenting the hard times of Depression-era farmers had made him one of the foremost chroniclers of the era.

During Agee’s long leave in Alabama, the political winds at Fortune shifted rather dramatically from pro-New Deal to conservative right. When the magazine declined to publish the essays it had commissioned, Agee assembled the drafts into the book he had long anticipated writing, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, published in 1941. America, poised on the brink of war, was ill-prepared for such a demanding and provocative work, and it was a commercial and critical failure. It wasn’t until 1960 that critics hailed Let Us Now Praise Famous Men as an American classic.

Agee left Fortune to join Time magazine as book reviewer and film critic. In 1942 he moved to The Nation where his film criticism found a growing circle of intellectual admirers, including W.H. Auden, who wrote “In my opinion, [Agee’s] column is the most remarkable regular event in American journalism today.” As a film reviewer, he brought a level of perceptiveness and curiosity to the analysis of cinema in the 1940s that championed everything from mainstream Hollywood hits to B horror movies to slapstick comedy and eccentric, auteur-driven masterpieces. His film criticism for Time and The Nation was collected posthumously in Agee on Film, which is studied by film students and scholars to this day.

Intent on earning money as a screenwriter, Agee used his status as a film critic to ingratiate himself with Hollywood directors he most admired, such as John Huston and Charlie Chaplin. He eventually wrote screenplays for (among others) The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky, The Night of the Hunter and, most famously, The African Queen.


Agee lived at 172 Bleecker St. in Greenwich Village in the 1940’s and 50’s but in 1948, he and his third wife, Mia, purchased a 130-acre farm on Rodman Road in Hillsdale (the property is now listed as 19 acres). It was in dreadful condition: the roof leaked and the farmhouse had neither electricity nor running water. But to Agee the landscape was reminiscent of the hills of Tennessee, which he had always loved.

Agee did indeed spend time at the farm, beginning in the late summer of 1948 and for several months almost every summer until his death in 1955. During these stays Agee was usually battling deadlines and attempting to stop drinking. He worked furiously on many projects, including articles for Life magazine, two novels (including A Death in the Family, about his father’s demise, for which he was posthumously awarded a Pulitzer Prize) and a bizarre screenplay about nuclear war that he wrote for his good friend Charlie Chaplin, which never saw the light of day.

By 1955, Agee’s health had declined such that he discussed with Mia his wishes for a burial at the farm. He told Mia that he only wanted a simple stone, with an engraving of a bird, the Egyptian symbol of the afterlife.

Agee died of heart attack on May 16, 1955 in a taxi on his way to see his doctor in Manhattan. He was 45 years old. After his funeral in Manhattan three days later, a group of mourners drove to the farm in Hillsdale where the burial took place in the afternoon. The burial site, located a hundred yards behind the farmhouse, overlooks the rolling hills and is marked with a simple stone, which lacks the bird carving he had requested. May 19, 1955 was a beautiful spring day in Hillsdale. Agee’s favorite flower, the lilac, bloomed everywhere, filling the soft air with its sweet scent. His children snipped some of the lilacs and tossed them onto the coffin.

Unmarked stone atop Agee’s grave on his Rodman Road farm



James Agee: A Life, Bergreen, Laurence, 1984, E.P. Dutton, New York

Remembering James Agee, Maddon, David, 1974, Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge, L

© 2019 Chris Atkins and Lauren Letellier


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