A Remarkable Life: Celebrating Hillsdale’s Ernie Santoro

Hillsdale commemorated July 4th in a special way this year. To be sure, we marked the holiday as usual: by hanging flags, attending barbeques, and enjoying a long weekend. But when some local citizens found out that World War II veteran Ernest “Ernie” Santoro would turn 100 that weekend, they decided a different kind of celebration was in order.

The men and women who fought in World War II are in their 90s and older. Of the 16 million Americans who served in that global conflict, fewer than 200,000 are still alive in 2022, according to US Department of Veterans Affairs statistics.

Ernie is Hillsdale’s last surviving World War II veteran.

It all started with this Facebook post on June 11:

With 100 likes, 40 comments and 89 shares, Ernie was assured of many birthday cards.  But when Phyllis Stekson of Stuyvesant Falls posted a comment that Ernie was a World War II veteran, things shifted into another gear.

In no time flat a parade was organized to pass by Ernie’s house at noon on July 1. With horns honking and sirens blaring, vehicles from the Hillsdale Fire Company, the Community Rescue Squad, the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office, the Columbia County Veterans Service Agency and the Hillsdale Highway Department rolled by. Dozens of residents joined the parade, their cars decked out with flags and birthday signs. Kids dressed their dogs in star-spangled bandanas. There was even a horse draped with an American flag, in honor of Ernie’s service in the Army’s 1st Cavalry Division.

During the festivities Ernie received a surprise visit from another veteran, 100-year-old Edwin Odegard of Chatham. The two WWII Army PFCs chatted on Ernie’s deck while Marty Smith, trumpeter with The Ghent Band, played patriotic tunes for the crowd.

Ernie, left, meets Chatham’s Ed Odegard, another WWII veteran.

Hillsdale Town Supervisor Chris Kersten presented a proclamation to Ernie naming July 5, 2022  (Ernie’s actual birthday) “Ernie Santoro Day: Celebrating a Remarkable Life.”

It was a heart-warming tribute honoring a modest man, organized by folks in a small community who know how to get things done. Everybody walked a little taller afterwards. The Hillsdale Historians were able to learn more about Ernie’s life in talks with him and his daughter Maggie.

L-R: Ernie’s daughters Barbara and Maggie, and Ernie

Ernest “Ernie” Santoro was born July 5, 1922, in Mamaroneck, NY, one of nine children. The family was very poor and when his father died, Ernie left school in the eighth grade to help support his mother and eight siblings. He worked at Kentucky Riding Stables, a Harrison, NY equestrian facility still in operation today. Ernie took care of the horses and gave riding lessons; he proved to be a gifted horseman from an early age.

Kentucky Riding Stables, c. 1928

At age 14 or 15, Ernie told his mother he wanted to go to Arizona and “be a cowboy.”  He learned bull riding, a rodeo sport that requires riders to stay atop an animal for a full eight seconds. “Bucking bulls” are usually Brahman bulls and can weigh 2,000 pounds or more.

Ernie in Arizona

 

The Singing Cowboy

Ernie became a champion Brahman bull rider and began winning money, almost all of which he sent home to his mother. Astonished at the amounts, his mother was convinced he’d become a “bandit” and refused to accept it! Ernie solved this problem by mailing his winnings to his older brother and swearing him to secrecy about their origins.

The only bull Ernie couldn’t ride was Big Sid. “No one could ride Big Sid,” said Ernie. “He was very smart; he outsmarted all the cowboys. He’d pretend to go one way, and then whip his head the other way and in two seconds you’d be on the ground.” Ernie tried twice: once as a teenager in Arizona, and a second time after the war, in Madison Square Garden. Rodeo promoters offered Ernie $3000 and the opportunity to be featured as the Marlboro Man on billboards across the country if he was able to stay on Big Sid, but the wily bull tossed him again.

At 17 or 18, Ernie was back in Mamaroneck at Kentucky Riding Stables, training local riders to compete in horse shows against horses from well-funded stables in Connecticut. Ernie wouldn’t put a rider on a horse until she was ready. He insisted that rider and horse learn to trust each other. When he deemed a rider ready, he’d always say, “Bring me back a blue ribbon.” And they did. His reputation as an instructor grew, attracting competitors from all over the area to learn his secrets.

Ernie met his future wife Faye when she came to the stables for riding lessons. After one look at Faye, Ernie raced to Henry, the other riding instructor, and said “wrap up your arm and pretend it’s broken” so Ernie could give Faye the lesson. Ernie noticed right away that Faye had a way with horses, just like he did, and he astonished her by saying, “You don’t know me, but you’re going to marry me.” Faye was an orphan who had been raised as a foster child by caring families, but she had no money of her own. The night before Ernie left for Army combat training in 1942, he and Faye got married. If he were killed, she would receive a $10,000 widow’s benefit from the government.

Ernie & Faye in Mamaroneck

Ernie was sent to Fort Bliss, Texas for training and attached to the 1st Cavalry Division, 12 Regiment, Troop C as a scout and horse-mounted rifleman. The Army had a continuing interest in horse cavalry operations in 1942 because there was no fully developed strategy for fighting the war in the event of an invasion of the western hemisphere. If North America were invaded and challenged on less-than-ideal terrain, for example from western Mexico or the coast of Brazil, there was no guarantee of a network of good roads, amply fuel supplies, familiar terrain, or air superiority. Mounted soldiers using sturdy, sure-footed horses could prove invaluable.

Private First Class Ernest Santoro

 

Ernie with his mother (on his right), Faye (on his left) and sisters Ginger, Carmela, and Margaret

Cavalry units were unpopular with commanders because the horses and equipment required shipping space and logistical support far beyond that of other units. But the dire need for troops in the Pacific led General Douglas McArthur to accept the 1st Cavalry Division, on the condition that they be dismounted.

The war in the Pacific was not going well in 1942. The Allies had agreed that Europe took precedence over the Pacific and, after Pearl Harbor, the Japanese gained control of the air and sea lanes that enabled their armies to advance with surprisingly little opposition in Malaya, Burma and the Philippines. With naval and air superiority, the Japanese controlled Southeast Asia by the end of April in 1942 and had landed on the north side of New Guinea, a prime objective for conquest that would have allowed them to cut off Australia from Southeast Asia and the Americas. McArthur had arrived in Australia in March to take command just four weeks before the worst defeat in U.S. military history, the Battle of Bataan in the Philippines.

By July 1943, Ernie’s unit had been shipped to Australia for intensive training in infantry assault, jungle combat and amphibious landings in preparation to recapture the Philippines, a key strategic step in defeating Japan. After more training on New Guinea, the 1st Cavalry received orders to make immediate preparations to move into combat. From February 1944 to February 1945, Ernie and the 1st Cavalry leapfrogged across the Asiatic-Archipelago in campaigns to take the Admiralty Islands, recapture the islands of the Southern Philippines, and rescue Manila, on the island of Luzon.

The Battle of Luzon was one of the most lethal battles of the Pacific War. Casualties for the Japanese were stunningly high: 217,000 dead, with 9,050 taken prisoners. U.S. losses were far lower, with 8,310 killed and 29,560 wounded. Civilian casualties are estimated at 120,000 – 140,000 dead.

Ernie’s division fought its way in a “flying column” to Manila, arriving Feb. 3, 1945. He recalled the battle:

“We invaded Manila and we were going right into the city … and the thing I remember was General MacArthur … I could see this big car driving up the highway, no roof on it, it was just an open touring car.  And there he was standing up thanking us — this was actual combat now — that man was so brave, he stood right up and nothing was going to kill him – he told us not to be afraid, we were doing a wonderful job for him, and to carry on. I can still hear him saying it. We kept taking the city, the city was burning, God – I forget how many days and nights – they [the Japanese troops] were just destroying it, burning it all down, as they were evacuating backwards.”

Badly wounded on Feb. 23, 1945, Ernie was transported to the Walled City field hospital for surgery. Told his leg may be amputated, Ernie begged the doctors to save it. “I told the surgeon I was a horseman and that if my leg was amputated, I would never be able to ride again.” The surgeon leaned over Ernie’s stretcher and said, “I’m a horseman too,” and was able to save the leg, giving Ernie a piece of shrapnel as a souvenir. Ernie spent several months in the Walled City hospital before being shipped stateside to recover. All in all, he spent six months in military hospitals.

While Ernie was recovering in California, he remembers Joan Crawford visiting his hospital ward. Strolling past the beds of wounded soldiers, she picked out Ernie and said, “You’re going to be my date tonight.” Crawford took him to the Hollywood Canteen, where movie stars were serving food and entertaining servicemen.

For his valorous service in World War II, Ernie Santoro received the Asiatic Pacific Service Medal, the Good Conduct medal, the Philippines Liberation Medal, the Combat Infantry Badge, and the Purple Heart.

After the war Ernie returned to Mamaroneck and used the G.I. Bill to study architectural drawing, blueprint reading, and estimating at the Alfred Leonard School in New Rochelle. Ernie said the G.I. Bill allowed him to gain what would today be the equivalent of a four-year college degree in architectural drawing and estimating. “I was actually working as an apprentice carpenter during the day and going to school four nights a week to get my education in,” he explained. “I was getting both field training and the education part.” He marveled at the program’s quality: “The schoolteachers were great.  You were either going to learn or please get out: that was their attitude.” Ernie pursued a lifelong career as a custom builder in Westchester County and raised five children with Faye.

In 1973 Ernie and Faye retired in Hillsdale to the house they had built. He became a member of Our Lady of Hope Church, where he would later construct the bell tower. Faye passed away in 2001 but Ernie still talks about her, and still calls her his “Faye-Faye.”

Ernie and his Faye-Faye

A local woman boarding her horses at Ernie’s barn opened the Horse Haven Riding School in the 1970-80s, and Ernie went back to teaching kids the joys of horsemanship. Ernie’s last ride, against his doctor’s wishes, was at age 80 in the Hudson Flag Day parade, accompanied by some of the children he’d taught at Horse Haven .

The Town of Hillsdale Proclamation puts it best: “Members of the Greatest Generation came of age during the Depression and fought in World War II … persevered through difficult times and ultimately made the U.S. a better place in which to live … Those tumultuous times bred in the men and women of that generation extraordinary character which helped them defeat the Axis Powers of Germany, Japan, and Italy … A generation of Americans has grown to maturity largely unaware of the political, social, and military implications of a war that, more than any other, unified us as a people with a common purpose … Ernest “Ernie” Santoro is an exemplar of the Greatest Generation … the town of Hillsdale and its citizens wish to recognize Ernie Santoro for his extraordinary service to the nation and to the town…”

Thank you for your service, and happy birthday, Ernie.

Interested in World War II History? Don’t miss the terrific exhibit “From the Home Front to the Front Lines: The Roeliff Jansen Historical Society Remembers World War II” open through September 2022, Saturdays and Sundays 2-4.

Sources:

Personal interviews with Ernest Santoro and Maggie Santoro.

Suzanne Mettler, Soldiers to Citizens: The GI Bill and the Making of the Greatest Generation, (Oxford University Press, 2005)

William L. O’Neill, A Democracy at War: America’s Fight at Home and Abroad in World War II (New York: Free Press, 1993), 292-94.

1sr Cavalry Division History/WWIIl Pacific 1941-1945, http://www.first-team.us/tableaux/chapt_02/

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Happy Anniversary Title IX

June is Pride Month, Adopt a Cat Month, Accordion Awareness Month, and (oddly enough) Turkey Lovers Month. And today, June 23, 2022, is the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Educational Amendments Act of 1972, signed into law by President Richard M. Nixon. Title IX of the act was just 37 words:

“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

For the first time, schools and colleges that received federal assistance were required to treat men and women equally – in academics and athletics.  The law is perhaps most well known for removing barriers to women’s participation in athletics. 

We were reminded of the Title IX anniversary when we received a tattered issue of The Roe-Jan News, the school newspaper of the Roeliff Jansen Central School, from Cynthia (Cyndi) Soule Levesque of Texas. Her father, Herbert, had grown up in Hillsdale and the issue, dated Friday, June 3, 1938, announced, in a banner headline, Herbert’s election to Editor-in Chief for the 1938-1939 school year.

On page three, the Sports Page, baseball, tennis and track were featured.  The coverage was notable for the absence of girls’ sports, although Ursula Pruessman is listed in the Staff box as “Girls’ Sports Editor.” Or maybe she did write something up but there was no more room on the page after the boys’ coverage.

We don’t mean to be critical of the Roe Jan Central School. But whether or not the Roeliff Jansen Central School fielded girls’ athletic teams, most schools of that era eschewed girls’ sports. Girls’ sports teams, if they existed at all, were usually intramural and decidedly second class to boys’ athletics. Boys’ teams were funded in school budgets that covered equipment, uniforms, travel, coaching, and so forth. Girls’ teams had to hold bake sales and car washes to raise money to pay for these things. And girls could not get access to fields and courts if the boys wanted to use them.

Today, female athletes and their sports programs still have fewer teams, fewer scholarships, and lower budgets than their male counterparts. But female participation at the high school level has grown by 1057 percent and by 614 percent at the college level since Title IX’s passage.

Those 37 words changed a lot. 

Here, from their website, are some recent photos of the Taconic Hills Titans competing in women’s Track and Field, Softball, and the 2021 Field Hockey team winning its fourth straight Section IX Championship. THCS offers women’s athletic programs in Alpine Skiing, Basketball, Bowling, Cheerleading, Cross Country, Field Hockey, Golf, Soccer, Softball, Swimming, Tennis, Track & Field, and Volleyball. And, we are happy to report, the THCS athletic budget is divided evenly between boys and girls sports. It’s just awesome!

Title IX came too late, or not at all, for many women of the Hillsdale Historians’ generation. Religious schools were, and still are, exempt from Title IX, which is why the Catholic high school one of the Hillsdale Historians attended in the 1970’s did not have organized athletics for girls. The school didn’t even offer gym class to girls — only to boys. Today we know that the benefits of sports participation go beyond physical fitness. The skills developed playing sports are the same skills required in life: commitment, confidence, discipline, teamwork, tenacity, handling fear and failure, integrity, accountability, and patience. 

Apart from the 19th Amendment, Title IX remains the only law that grants women any kind of equality in America. Happy Anniversary, Title IX.

There were other interesting things in the June 23, 1938 edition of The Roe-Jan News. Our hats are off to Business Manager Howard Dingman, who managed to encircle one entire page with ads from local businesses, including “Germfree Cleaning at Popular Prices.”  Check out the ads from the businesses still serving the Roe Jan community today.

And we wondered how many schools across America actually celebrated “National Air Mail Week?” 

Cyndi also sent us the Roe Jan High School Class of 1939 graduation photograph, which was not in the newspaper but does show a class size of 40 — 23 boys and 17 girls. The beautiful pedimented door the class is posing in front of can still be seen at the sadly decaying Roe Jan Central School on Route 22 south of Hillsdale.

The senior class of 1939. Herbert Soule is in the middle row of the men, farthest to the left.

We also found ourselves wondering if any of these kids imagined that some of them would soon be called to serve during WWII. Thanks to a brand new exhibit at the Roe Jan Historical Society, we know that both Herbert and his older brother Harold did.  Here’s an Honor Roll of Hillsdale’s sons who went off to war.  

By the way, the exhibit is outstanding.  More information here:  https://www.roeliffjansenhs.org

In Memoriam

We were saddened to learn that Hillsdale resident Bob Hopkins passed away on June 18. Bob and his wife Sally have been essential sources for the Historians of Hillsdale since we began writing this blog. Their long memories and deep roots in the community have provided details for some of our most popular posts, such as this one. And if they couldn’t answer our questions, they’d get on the phone to friends and acquaintances and track down missing details. If we could, we’d raise a glass to you at the “Bloody Bucket.” Until we meet again, godspeed Bob. Thank you for all your help, your friendship and your generosity. Read Bob’s obituary here.

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Looking for Lattings: Part II

Curiosity about Refine Latting, Hillsdale’s first tanner, caused us to tumble down a research rabbit hole into the history of the Latting family, which you can read about in our April 2022 post.  We traced the Latting family emigration first from Flanders, then from England to what became Lattingtown near Oyster Bay, Long Island. The great-great-great-great grandson of original immigrant Richard Lettin was Ambrose Latting (1750-1800), who settled in Hillsdale, raising a family west of the village near today’s Craryville Road.

Like his ancestor, Richard Lettin, Ambrose was intent on property acquisition. In 1782, when New York abolished the feudal inheritance system of entail that dealt a fatal blow to the vast estates of the Van Rensselaers and the Livingstons, Ambrose acquired property in Hillsdale at a rapid clip. When we first became Hillsdale Historians, we were given a box full of deeds and indentures, some dating back to that time, showing many of Ambrose’s land deals.  The documents are very fragile and in need of conservation, but from the ones we can read he was the Richard Lettin of his day. We intend to donate the documents to the Columbia County Historical Society in the hope that they can be restored.

1873 Hillsdale home of Ambrose and Joanna (Morehouse) Latting, occupied by their descendants until sold by Richard Rossman Lawrence in 1960.

Researching family histories — which we don’t often do — can turn up some juicy scandals. Ambrose Latting’s widow, Joanna (Morehouse) Latting  (1756-1849), in 1801 became the fourth wife of Reverend Stephen Gano, founder of two Baptist Churches in Hillsdale. They separated permanently in 1803 when she accused him of being a worshiper of the Devil because he was a Free Mason. The Real Housewives of Hillsdale, indeed!

But back to our story. Ambrose and Joanna’s second son, Refine Latting, was the third of their eight children and was born in 1784. He is the Latting we remember today as a man of great enterprise who once owned half of the hamlet.

A note about the name “Refine.” Puritans, from whom the Lettins/Lattins/Lattings were descended, saw common names as too worldly, and sometimes opted instead to name children after virtues or with religious slogans as a way of setting their community apart from non-Puritan neighbors. This led to some lovely names like Felicity, Patience and Hope, and some truly bizarre names like Kill-Sin, Humiliation, and Handmaid (a woman’s name, naturally).

When Refine was not yet 20, Hudson investors in 1799 organized a turnpike company to improve the road to Sheffield MA , along what is today Route 23. Hillsdale hamlet was probably the chief beneficiary of the creation of the Columbia Turnpike, one of the first in the county (Hillsdale hamlet itself was known for many years as “Turnpike”). The movement of large numbers of livestock to market along the Sheffield Road stimulated the tanning industry and Refine Latting, smelling opportunity, established Hillsdale’s first tannery just after the turn of the 19th century. It was located to the west of the village. Tanning leather was an essential trade of the day. Leather, usually from cows but also from sheep and goats, was used in a wide variety of products, including shoes, boots, aprons and clothing, as well as for saddles and bridles and ships’ rigging. Books were often bound in leather.

Tanning cowhide was a long process, generally taking more than a year. The word tanning is derived from “tannin,” a natural substance found in virtually every tree and plant.  Concentrations of tannin are particularly strong in the bark of oak trees. Tanners would extract tannic acid from bark they had collected, in some cases using a contraption like the one shown here to crush the bark.

 

Refine’s tannery would likely have used a process described on the website of Blackstock Leather: “First, the animal skins were cleaned and softened with water. Once cleaned, the tanners still had to pound the hides to remove excess fat and flesh. Next, to loosen the hair follicles, they would either coat the hides with an alkaline lime mixture, leave the hides out to putrefy for months, or soak them in vats of urine before removal of the hair with a dull knife (scudding).

“In the bating stage, tanners worked animal dung or brains into the skins either by beating with sticks or kneading them in a vat of feces and water. The combination of bacteria enzymes found in animal waste and the beating or kneading action fermented the skin and made it supple.”

It should be noted that as desirable a commodity as leather was (and still is), tanneries did not make good neighbors. Tanneries were most often located on the outskirts of a town or village – generally downwind.  According to the website “Colonial Sense,” the smell of decaying animals and manure was very strong.  Tanning was “one of the smelliest and [most] physically demanding and dangerous professions a person could have in early America.”

A 1473 French painting of a tanner “scudding” the hide (removing hair). He does not look happy in his work.

In Looking for Work: Industrial Archeology in Columbia County, New York (published by the Columbia County Historical Society, 2007), author Peter H. Stott cites the 1820 U.S. Census of Manufacturers as listing the Hillsdale tannery, one of nine in the county, as being assigned to Stephen Hadley.

“The name ‘Hadley’ does not appear in the Columbia County deed books, and we have supposed that Hadley may have leased the property from Latting, by that time a successful innkeeper and one of the town’s first postmasters.”

Refine’s profession in the U.S. Census from 1840 through 1870 is listed as “farmer.” A Columbia County business directory published in 1862 also listed him as a tanner. And tanning  must have been profitable. Like his father, Refine invested in real estate and as the map below shows, at one time Refine and fellow Hillsdale resident Parla Foster owned virtually all of today’s Hillsdale hamlet.

Refine Latting owned the property in blue; Parla Foster owned the property in red. Between the two, they owned virtually all of Hillsdale hamlet.

Refine’s first wife was Catharine Rossman (1781-1812). They had four children together before Catharine’s death. One  year later Refine married Anna Esmond Truesdell (1787-1869). Anna was a widow: her first husband, John Truesdell, died in 1806 in his early 20’s leaving Anna with one son, John Truesdell, Jr. Refine and Anna had  six children, only one of whom, Henrietta, lived to adulthood.  From the Latting Family Bible:

Before the advent of modern medicine, one in four children did not survive to the age of five. Refine and Anna lost five children before daughter Henrietta was born in 1830.

Henrietta Latting was born in 1830, when Anna was 43. Refine was a respected citizen and “kept the first post office, about a half-mile west of Hillsdale” hamlet, according to Ellis’ History of Columbia County, New York. At that time, mail was delivered to Hillsdale via the Hudson and Hartford stages.

In 1814, Refine built the Latting Tavern, still standing and known today as The Hillsdale House. The tavern became a stagecoach stop on the Columbia Turnpike. With the exception of a few recent years, the Latting Tavern/Hillsdale House has been in continuous operation since 1814. If you look at the eastern gable end of the building, you can see the contours of the original tavern, which was enlarged over the years.

East end of the Hillsdale House.  The vestiges of the original (brick) R. Latting Tavern are still visible.

We found a reference to the original Latting Tavern sign, which in the 1950s made its way to an antique dealer in Kingston and was eventually sold to an unknown collector.

Henrietta Latting was born in 1830 and married Owen Bixby in 1852. Both are buried in the Hillsdale Rural Cemetery on County Route 22. Interestingly, Refine’s wife Anna, who died four years before him, is not buried with him in the West Hillsdale Baptist Cemetery plot but rather in the Methodist Church/Foster Cemetery on Pill Hill, alongside her parents and son, John Truesdell Jr.

Latting died in 1873 at age 89 and was the last of the Lattings to be  buried in the West Hillsdale Baptist Cemetery, a well maintained  graveyard on Craryville Road. On a lovely spring day it’s worth a visit to pay tribute to an early and enterprising Hillsdale businessman.

 

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Searching for Hillsdale’s Latting Family and Coming Face-to-Face with the Butcher of Flanders

Sometimes when researching early Hillsdale families we find ourselves going down a rabbit hole that can stretch back centuries. The Internet is a time machine: one click and before you know it, it’s 1567 and you’re face-to-face with Spain’s Duke of Alba.

The Duke of Alba

This is exactly what happened when we started investigating Hillsdale’s first tanner and currier, Refine Latting.

What we learned was so interesting we thought we’d take you time traveling with us. This is the first of a two-part post about the Latting family. The story of how the Lattings arrived in colonial America, purchased a good chunk of what is today Oyster Bay, Long Island, and relocated to Hillsdale, is a fascinating one.

When we started The Historians of Hillsdale blog, our goal was to practice the art of studying big issues in small places. The Latting story is a perfect example of this principle: we find them during the Eighty Years’ War when Europe’s Low Countries revolted against Spanish rule, follow them as they crossed the Atlantic at about the same time as the Puritans, and track them as they fought in the Revolutionary War and then helped shape the earliest years of the new Republic.

We all come from somewhere, even if that somewhere was five centuries ago. So let’s begin in the 15th century.

In Mechelen, Flanders (today the Dutch-speaking northern portion of Belgium) lived Pierre Lettin, the earliest ancestor of the Hillsdale Lattings that we could find. Pierre’s descendants were, for three generations, high ranking officials of the Superior Court: some of them are buried in the 13th century Cathedral of St. Rombout.

13th century St. Rombout Cathedral in Mechelen, today a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Mechelen gained wealth and power during the Late Middle Ages and even became the capital of the Low Countries (the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg) in the first half of the 16th century. Anne Boleyn completed her education at Mechelen from 1513-1514 in the court of Archduchess Margaret of Austria.

 

Anne Boleyn

But the Eighty Years’ War created tremendous upheaval in Europe. The Duke of Alba, a Spanish nobleman named Don Fernando Álvarez de Toledo, established the Council of Troubles (soon to be nicknamed the Blood Council) in 1567, which conducted a campaign of repression against suspected heretics and imagined insurrectionists, usually undertaken by the Duke’s ruthless son Fadrique, nicknamed “The Butcher of Flanders.”

Fadrique, son of the Duke of Alva, nicknamed “The Butcher of Flanders”

Many high-ranking officials were arrested on various pretexts and executed. Many others fled into exile. In 1567 John Lettin, descendent of Pierre, fled Mechelen for Norwich, England. Seventy-one years later, in 1638, his descendant Richard Lettin left England with his wife and one or more children for the American colonies, settling first in Concord, Massachusetts. Unhappy with the land granted to him by the Bay Colony, Richard applied in 1643 to the General Court of Massachusetts for a land grant in the northwest part of town, complaining that the land he had been allotted was “very barren and the meadows very wet and unuseful.”

His petition apparently denied, Lettin and a number of other Concord settlers relocated the following year to Fairfield, Connecticut. The records of the General Court of Connecticut show Richard as the owner of lands in and around Fairfield. He seems to have been a litigious guy: between 1647 and 1653 he was a frequent plaintiff in lawsuits over money, including an action against Roger Knap, husband of the unfortunate Goodwife Knap who in 1653 was tried, convicted, and executed at Fairfield for witchcraft.

At this time the war between the English and the Dutch for possession of New Amsterdam, Connecticut, and Long Island was heating up, and all able-bodied men were called to train for the anticipated conflict. Richard, complaining that his deafness made him “incapable of trayning,” petitioned to be released from service, and very soon afterwards relocated to Hempstead, Long Island with his 12-year-old son Josiah. His wife and the rest of his family apparently remained in Connecticut.

Between 1653 and 1669, Richard bought land in Hempstead, Huntington, and Oyster Bay, including a 130-acre  tract of Matinecock land from Thomas Francis, described in the deed as a “Seataucut Indian.” This tract covered part of the present site of Lattingtown, today a village within Oyster Bay. Richard and Josiah sold marsh reeds for use in thatched-roof houses and also engaged in farming. In 1658 Lettin’s name appears on a list of “Hempstead townsmen” entitled to pasture cattle on “the Neck.” He managed to excite the jealousy of his neighbors by buying land in towns where he did not reside, and some went so far as to file a grievance against him in 1668, which prompted the Colonial Governor of New York to send the following “friendly” epistle:

“Whereas I am informed by ye inhabitants of ye Towne of Huntington that you having a lott in yr town and living in another place, do not only neglect, and out of a vexatious humour do refuse to manure or fence yr lot which proves to the great damage and. molestaens of yr inhabitants … such uncharitable and unchristian practices may be restrained I have thought fit to give you this advice and notice …

Google map showing the location of Lattingtown

We don’t know if Richard continued such “uncharitable and unchristian” practices as refusing to manure or fence his lot, but we do know that his wife died at about this time. Whether she ever came to Long Island or stayed behind in Fairfield is unknown. In 1670 Richard married the widow of a friend and continued to annoy his neighbors, who reported him for allegedly speaking too freely, and perhaps disloyally, against the Duke of York. A warrant for his arrest was issued but, on account of his advanced age, he was never prosecuted and died in 1672,

Over time the Lettin name evolved into Lattin, and then to Latting.  The family remained mostly on Long Island until 1772, when Richard Lettin’s great-great-great-great grandson, Ambrose Latting (1750-1800) moved to Dutchess County, married Joanna Morehouse and eventually resettled in Hillsdale.

A carpenter and housewright, Ambrose was  a member of the Second Regiment of the Dutchess County Militia during the Revolutionary War and later served as a captain in the Hillsdale Militia, formed in 1786. He was a founding member of the First Baptist Church of Hillsdale and was elected its first clerk. He also built the church, which was consecrated in 1798 in “the west part of the town.”

After the Revolutionary War, men in Columbia County joined in a wide-ranging scramble to acquire land on the western frontier of New York State. Thanks to relentless population growth competing with the land claims of wealthy feudal landlords like Van Rensselaer and Livingston, land was a scare commodity. Revolutionary fervor was still hot, and tenant farmers who before the war had toiled on the great estates began to demand land of their own. Failure to meet the demand threatened to reopen Revolutionary violence.

The New York State legislature began to work on a policy to carve up western lands occupied by native Iroquois and estates forfeited by British Loyalists. Men of wealth and position like Philip Schuyler, Alexander Hamilton’s father-in-law, began to engage in land speculation in western New York, foreseeing how canal projects would be the key to opening up the west. But Schuyler was ahead of his time: the Erie Canal, first proposed in the 1780s, was not completed until 1825.

Impatient men of ambition and capital began to form quasi-military “Companies of Adventurers” to bypass the state and negotiate land sales directly with native tribes. Ambrose Latting became a shareholder in the New York Genesee Company of Adventurers, which negotiated two 999-year leases with the Six Nations and the Oneidas. The document below reads that Ambrose Latting paid $220 to the Genesee Company for his portion of the Six Nations land deal. But by 1788 the state legislature, claiming jurisdiction over any transactions with Indian Nations, had annulled the leases and the Genesee Company’s plans were in shambles.

Genasee Company Shareholder Document

So the men of Hillsdale turned their eyes hungrily back to the vast estates of the Van Rensselaers and Livingstons, land which area farmers had cultivated, improved and lived on for decades. When New York abolished the feudal inheritance system of entail (land going to the eldest son) in 1782, and the deaths and estate distributions of John Van Rensselaer and Robert Livingston were divided equally among the surviving children, it set off a land struggle in Columbia County. Hillsdale residents began to petition the legislature for rights to the lands of “East Claverack,” as Hillsdale was known before 1782. Specifically, they challenged John Van Rensselaer’s 1773 patent for those lands, claiming it was awarded by a corrupt former colonial official paid off by the Van Rensselaers. Ambrose Latting, along with more than 200 other men, signed a petition against the Van Rensselaer claims in Hillsdale.

In November 1790, Catherine Van Rensselaer inherited a large portion of her late father’s estate in Columbia County, prompting her husband, Philip Schuyler, to publish an open letter to the occupants of his wife’s claimed lands.

Philip Schuyler and Catherine “Kitty” Van Rensselaer in their wedding portraits in 1755

Schuyler notified readers that at “considerable sacrifice to my interest” (cue the tiny violins!) he was prepared to sell farms on his wife’s estate to current occupants and offer mortgages to be paid in full, with interest, by May 1796. He also proposed reopening leases for tenants as long as they paid past due rent back to 1789 and for the ensuing years. Schuyler gave tenants a March 1, 1791 deadline to respond.

But Hillsdale residents were not prepared to abandon their challenge to the Van Rensselaer claim so quickly. Anonymous committees published their opposition in local newspapers and pledged to defend themselves at risk of their lives and fortunes, unless an authentic and undisputed title to the lands was produced by the Van Rensselaers.

Resistance resulted in a spectacular act of violence in October 1791. A judge ordered a constable to seize the “effects” of a local Hillsdale farmer, Jonathan Arnold, who was delinquent in payments to the Van Rensselaers, and to hold a public auction with the proceeds going to the Van Rensselaers.

The Columbia County deputy sent to hold the sale was harassed by an angry crowd and driven back to Claverack. The following week, Sheriff Cornelius Hogeboom rode out to hold the sale. A band of seventeen men “painted and in Indian dress” appeared on Arnold’s signal and fired a volley of shots, mortally wounding Hogeboom.

Even before the Revolutionary War, Hillsdale had a long reputation as a violent place “not safe for a man to ride through.” In his 1883 “History of Hillsdale”, John Collin recounted this anecdote:  “In my boyhood I made the acquaintance of an aged great-uncle, living in Palmyra, in Wayne County. New York. I found it difficult to make him comprehend where my native town of Hillsdale was located, and when informed that it was formerly called Nobletown, he exclaimed with emphasis, ‘Misery! I knew it when it was not safe for a man to ride through it.'”

Hillsdale’s residents were described as a “rough and somewhat lawless people.” Two days after Hogeboom’s murder, Henry Livingston wrote to his brother Walter in New York City that the “matter” of the Van Rensselaer claims in Hillsdale “will be brought to a crisis.” Rewards for the capture of the named rioters and a special commission was established to open proceedings against the suspects. Up for reelection and determined to look tough on crime, Governor George Clinton chose to capitalize on the event in his January 1792 opening message to the new legislative session in Albany, calling the Hillsdale murder “a daring outrage … against the laws and authority of government.”

“Cornelius Hogedom[sic]  … inhumanely murdered in the due execution of his office by several persons in disguise…”

But the defendants had many friends and sympathizers on the jury. Five members of the 29-man jury pool had signed petitions against the Van Rensselaer land claims. When the jury returned a verdict of “not guilty” for all seven defendants, the trial was condemned as a “great and mighty rumpus” and Hillsdale was branded as an uncivil place on the margins of law and government, a “scourge and terror” to civil society.

Ambrose Latting was supposed to have been on that jury. He failed to attend — maybe because he had been one of the five who signed a petition against the Van Rensselaers? — and was fined. But he became a leading figure of resistance to the great landlords, and a persistent thorn in the side of Henry Livingston. In September 1797 Henry Livingston was trying to discount rumors that “Mr. Lattin of Nobletown” had hired men to drive off his tenants “and to injure me.” A year later he was certain that Latting had led “a large meeting of those rascals at Peter Pulver’s.” Ambrose Latting continued to pursue land acquisition perhaps because, like his ancestor Richard Lettin on Long Island, he was shrewd enough to understand that land ownership was the key to prosperity in the newly formed state of New York.

After an eventful life Ambrose died in 1800 at the age of 50, having played an active role in the collapse of New York’s feudal landlord system and the great land redistribution in Columbia County. He is buried in the First Baptist Cemetery on Craryville Rd.

But is was Ambrose’s second son, Refine Latting (1783-1873), whose impact on Hillsdale  is still visible today. We’ll discuss Refine Latting next month, in Part Two.

Primary Sources:

The Latting Family, John J. Latting (Jan. 1871), Vol. I, Genealogies of Long Island Families, The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record 1987.

Columbia Rising: Civil Life on the Upper Hudson from the Revolution to the Age of Jackson, John L. Brooke, University of North Carolina Press, 2010

History of Columbia County, New York, Captain Franklin P. Ellis, 1878

Thanks to the Columbia County Historical Society for providing us with Latting Family correspondence (c 1950) that included transcripts from the Latting Family Bible.

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© 2022 Chris Atkins and Lauren Letellier

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Revisiting Slavery in Columbia County

It’s February, Black History Month, and we’ve revisited and updated our 2021 post about slavery in the Hudson Valley. New sources helped us to better understand not just how widespread and tenacious the institution of slavery was in the Hudson Valley, but also to greater appreciate the magnitude of the struggle for freedom fought by those held in chattel slavery. We highly recommend the book, “In Defiance: Runaways from Slavery in New York’s Hudson. River Valley 1735-1831.” It compiles hundreds of fugitive slave notices from 18th and early 19th century newspapers and creates a portrait of the courage, ingenuity, and resourcefulness of those who fled for their freedom. It is available at the Roe Jan Community Library. Below is our original blog annotated with new information and images from “In Defiance” and from the 1790 US Census.

Black History Month spurred us to investigate the institution of slavery in the Hudson Valley and, more specifically, Hillsdale. Like most Americans, we’d been inclined to think of slavery as largely a Southern institution. But it was hugely important in the colonial North. From the earliest days of Dutch occupancy right up to the Civil War, much of New York State’s bustling economy benefited directly from traffic in enslaved humans.

In the 17th and 18th centuries New York was second only to the southern states in its number of enslaved people. In 1703, 42 percent of New York City’s households had slaves, much more than Philadelphia and Boston combined. Among the cities of the original 13 colonies, only Charleston, South Carolina, had more.

In the Hudson Valley, the first enslaved men were brought to Fort Orange (Albany) in 1626, only two years after it was settled by the Dutch West Indies Company. By the mid 1600s Dutch ships were bringing thousands of men, women, and children in chains to New Amsterdam, many of whom were trafficked to upstate landowners to work on the vast farms and manor holdings of the Anglo-Dutch elite.  Enslavement was not only a source of cheap labor (since settlers were hard to come by in the Hudson Valley) but also cheap capital.

In colonial Columbia County, the majority of enslaved people were concentrated in the older river towns of Kinderhook, Clermont and Claverack (which included today’s Hudson), held for the most part by the Dutch, the Germans, and Anglo-Dutch landholders. In 1790 Kinderhook, roughly a quarter of the white households held humans in chattel slavery. Robert Livingston, the third lord of the Manor, ruled a literal plantation where 44 enslaved people worked at his Ancram ironworks. In 1786 there were more than 1,300 enslaved in Kinderhook, Claverack, and Clermont, comprising 10 to 13 percent of those towns’ total population.

In sharp contrast, the Yankee-settled hill towns of Hillsdale and Canaan along the Massachusetts border had far fewer enslaved people. In the first Federal census of 1790, enslaved Africans counted for less than one percent of the population of Hillsdale and Canaan. It is tempting to imagine that the hill town Yankees – emigres from Massachusetts, which had abolished slavery in 1784, and Connecticut, which had passed an act for Gradual Abolition in 1784 — were more high-minded than their riverfront neighbors. But more likely they were just poorer, working as tenant farmers on the Livingston or Van Rensselaer manors, a condition of servitude unlikely to enrich them to the point where they could afford to buy enslaved people. Those who weren’t tenant farmers were considered “squatters” by the Van Rensselaers and Livingstons and were in constant danger of being chased back over the border by British troops at the behest of the great landowners.

Americans won their freedom from Great Britain in 1785 but did not extend that freedom to African Americans held in slavery (or to women, for that matter). The first halting steps toward abolishing slavery in New York were being taken as early as 1785 but were heatedly contested. Columbia County was split on emancipation. The anti-abolitionists were rooted in the riverfront Dutch/German communities where slavery was a fundamental part of the agricultural economy. The pro-abolitionists encompassed the populist Baptist militants of the eastern hill towns of Canaan and Hillsdale, where slavery was much less entrenched, and the thriving city of Hudson, settled by Quaker whalers from New England (although ads placed by Quaker “Proprietors” Seth, Lemuel, and Gilbert Jenkins are to be found in In Defiance).

That is not to say there were no enslaved people in Hillsdale. The first US Census in 1790 recorded 29 in Hillsdale, comparatively fewer than the riverfront towns of Kinderhook (978) and Claverack (386). The chart below lists Hillsdale slaveholders and the number of enslaved persons in their households.

Source: 1790 US Census

 

In the early 19th century Charles McKinstry, a prominent Hillsdale figure and member of the NY State Legislature, held five in enslavement, and Ambrose Spencer (of Spencertown) held three. But both men, conscious of evolving anti-slavery sentiment, voted against their financial interests to support the abolishment of slavery in New York.

After nearly 15 years of State Legislature squabbling, New York passed a gradual emancipation act in 1799. It freed no one immediately; only children born to enslaved people after July 4, 1799, would be liberated, and only after they served a lengthy indenture of many years. Practically, the system amounted to a form of remuneration for lost slaves since freed children were often bound back to their former masters. An 1817 law went further, freeing slaves born before July 4, 1799, but it did not go into effect until July 4, 1827. And children born to enslaved mothers before July 4, 1827, would be indentured for 21 years. These two laws reflected compromises with pro-slavery financial interests and were intended to protect slave owners by drawing out emancipation over generations.

Nevertheless, New York became a destination on the Underground Railroad for escapees fleeing slave states in the Mid-Atlantic and South. The Underground Railroad in Columbia County had stations in Hudson, Chatham, and Austerlitz and hid fugitives coming up the Hudson River seeking freedom in British North America (present-day Canada).

In Defiance: Runaways from Slavery in New York’s Hudson River Valley 1735-1831, collects 607 advertisements from newspapers across the Hudson Valley that offered rewards for fugitives fleeing enslavement. The book documents not only how established slavery was in the Hudson Valley, but also to what lengths the enslaved went to gain their freedom. The dangers of fleeing and the consequences if caught must have struck terror into the hearts of those contemplating escape. And yet, they tried. Men, women, children, and whole families fled bondage to reach freedom.

The book contains ads from Ancram (1), Canaan (1), Chatham (1), Claverack (6), Germantown (1), Hillsdale (1), Hudson (7), Kinderhook (5), Livingston (1), and New Lebanon (1). Slaveholders described the runaways in the most dehumanizing detail, “as if enumerating the winning attributes of … prized farm animals.” Tables in the appendix catalog the escapees by gender, coloration (Black, Brown, Copper, Gray, Mulatto, Light Mulatto, Yellow, “Appears White,” Native American, and “Mustee”), age, month of escape, languages spoken (many Columbia County enslaved spoke Dutch as well as English), and skills (blacksmith, brewer, butcher, farmer, fiddler, spinning, sewing, housework, cooking, etc.),

Physical features are noted, such as height, build (“stocky,” “bandy-legged,” “one anckle having been out of joint … a good deal thicker than the other and bends in”), appearance (“thin-visaged,” “very wooly haired”), missing teeth, moles, and other more tangible marks of enslavement (visible scars, missing fingers and toes). Aggrieved language and low rewards speak to the state of mind of the enslavers, who viewed the runaways as mere property.

“Matsey … talks good English and is artful enough to deceive Satan himself.”

 

“The conduct of this servant is peculiarly ungrateful; I had owned her about two months, during which time she had never been put to hard service, or ill treated …”

 

“One Cent Reward”

“Walked away (for I never knew him to run) …”

Prominent in almost every ad are descriptions of the clothing escapees wore, and what garments they took with them, down to the color, fabric, style and cut. It was essential for runaways to have an adequate supply of clothing for the weather, and to change into to pass as a freeman or freewoman. And clothing was a clue to slave catchers hunting down runaways. “Had on when she went away, a blue stuff Gown, a homespun Pettycoat, a black Hat or Bonnet, a lightish colour’d Broad-cloth Cloak, a Pair of Calf Skin Shoes.”

“Had on … a white paper hat trimmed with green ribbon, and a cap, a dark petticoat and light short gown, though it is supposed she will change her dress as she took away a number of clothing with her.”

The number of female runaways averaged about one-third of the males, no doubt due to dependent children. But instances of women fleeing, often with children, were not uncommon.

The humanity of the fugitives – who are listed only by first name – comes through indelibly in the ads. Fifteen-year-old Kate, forced to wear an iron collar around her neck as a mark of her enslavement, used a clever ruse to cover her run for freedom. The notice read: “in all Probability will equip herself in Men’s Cloths, and inlist for a Soldier, as she did once before, but was detected.” “Caesar … about twenty-two years of age … has lost his upper fore-teeth, a tolerable trim made fellow, his hands are remarkably small, plays on the violin.” “The NEGRO Man Mink, about 23 years old, near six feet high, and very black – he has a scar above the right eye and laughs generally when he speaks…”

Frederick Douglass wrote, “I prayed for twenty years but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.” During the American Revolution, many enslaved men took matters into their own hands and self-emancipated by running away to join the British Army. Harvard historian Maya Jasanoff writes in her book Liberty’s Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World, that approximately 20,000 Black enslaved men joined the British during the American Revolution on the promise of freedom. And an estimated 100,000 enslaved people across the American Colonies sought to escape, lured by the promise of freedom.

But when Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown in October 1781, he returned many African Americans to their captors. Ultimately, about 3,000 formerly enslaved African Americans left New York and headed to Nova Scotia with the British in 1783. Some Black Americans settled in Caribbean colonies, like Jamaica and the Bahamas (some ended up back in slavery). Approximately 400 sailed to London, while in 1792 more than 1,200 emigrated to Africa in a new settlement in Sierra Leone. Among the newly relocated was Harry Washington, who had escaped enslavement under George Washington—the new U.S. president.

The federal Fugitive Slave Law in 1850 nullified New York’s personal liberty laws and required state officials to help slave catchers and punished those who helped escaping slaves. Free blacks had to be on guard against gangs of kidnappers who would seize free men and women, falsely claim they were escaped slaves, and ship them south to be sold.

As pro- vs. anti-abolition sentiment roiled the country in the run up to the Civil War, Columbia County stayed largely in the anti-abolition column. Kinderhook native Martin Van Buren, the 8th President, was called the quintessential “northern man with southern principles” by a Black newspaper correspondent passing through Kinderhook, with Washington allies who were on a par with “the sultan of Constantinople, or the autocrat of St. Petersburg.” More interested in holding on to power than in resolving the question of emancipation, Van Buren lasted only one term in office. By 1840 the black communities in Hudson, Troy and Albany began to publish publications like the Northern Star and Freeman’s Advocate, the National Watchman and the Clarion, mobilizing African Americans in New York State galled by their nearly total disenfranchisement.

The Black population in Columbia County was stable or declining between 1820-1860 as freed African Americans left farms for cities or struck out, when the Erie Canal opened, for more fertile western lands. When the Civil War finally came, Columbia County was ambivalent, and efforts to raise a regiment failed in 1861. But Blacks in the county took the first opportunity to join the fight. Early in 1863 Colonel Robert Gould Shaw of Boston raised the first regiment of Black soldiers for the Union Army, the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts, largely from Berkshire County. All told, twenty-five Black Columbians served in the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts.

Hillsdale has a somewhat tenuous connection with one of the founders of the NAACP. Thomas Burghardt (born in West Africa around 1730) was enslaved by the Dutch colonist Conraed Burghardt in the Housatonic Valley. Thomas briefly served in the Continental Army during the American Revolution, which may have been how he gained his freedom during the 18th century. His grandson Othello in 1811 married Sarah Lampman, who was remembered by her grandson as “a thin, tall, yellow and hawk-faced woman” originally from Hillsdale. That child, born in 1868 and brought up in his Burghardt grandparents’ Great Barrington household, was William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (W.E.B. Du Bois), the famed civil rights activist, prolific writer, scholar, sociologist, educator, and a co-founder of the NAACP.

W.E.B. DuBois (1868 –1963), one of the founders of the NAACP, was an American sociologist, historian, civil rights activist, author, writer and educator.

On Dugway Rd. in Austerlitz, a marker denotes the approximate location where Peter Wheeler settled circa 1825. Born into slavery in 1789 and freed as a child in the will of his owner, Wheeler was re-enslaved at age 9 and endured unimaginable brutality until escaping in 1806 for a life at sea. He wrote his autobiography, Chains and Freedom; or The Life and Adventures of a Colored Man Yet Living, a Slave in Chains, a Sailor on the Deep, and a Sinner at the Cross, in 1839. You can read it online here.

 

References:

https://humanitiesny.org/people-not-property-exploring-the-legacy-of-slavery-in-new-yorks-hudson-valley/

New York State Museum http://www.nysm.nysed.gov/research-collections/archaeology/historical-archaeology/research/archaeology-slavery-hudson-river

Columbia Rising: Civil Life on the Upper Hudson from the Revolution to the Age of Jackson, John L. Brooke, University of North Carolina Press, 2010

https://hvmag.com/life-style/history/african-american-past-hudson-valley/

1790 Census: https://nesri.commons.gc.cuny.edu/dashboardresult/?CountyBoro=Columbia&Locality=

In Defiance: Runaways from Slavery in New York’s Hudson River Valley, 1735-1831, by Susan Stessin-Cohn and Ashley Hurlburt-Biagini, Black Dome Press Corp., 2016

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The Hillsdale Family That Put A Man On The Moon


Sometimes a topic for a blog post comes to us through sheer luck. This happened recently, when we received an inquiry from Lance Fromm, an Andover, MA antiques dealer.

“Hello … I have come across a walking-stick with a silver engraved cap on top that reads ‘J. B. Collin Hillsdale NY.’ A Google search for that name and location turns up information about a Civil War Union Major of that name, with family connections to Hillsdale, NY … If you know of any descendants of Major Collin in your area I would appreciate your telling them about this; and if they would like to have this item to keep in the family they can contact me.”

 

We’ve long been curious about the Collin family, early Hillsdale homesteaders descended from French Huguenots who had immigrated to Narragansett, RI in 1685. The original Collin emigrant was Paul Collin, born on the Ile de Ré off the coast of La Rochelle, a French Huguenot stronghold that was one of the last places to fall to the forces of Louis XIII and Cardinal Richelieu in 1628 during Catholic France’s attempt to rid the nation of Protestants. After five years, the Huguenot Rhode Island colony broke up and families dispersed to other Huguenot communities in Boston, New Rochelle, New York City, and Milford, CT.

Paul’s son, John, was the first Collin born in Colonial America, probably in Milford CT, in 1706. He worked as a ship captain until 1746, when he disappeared and was presumed lost at sea. His son, John II, married Hannah Merwin of Duchess County in 1758 and moved his family to Hillsdale in 1788. In 1790 he bought a farm located near the intersection of today’s Collins Street (the “s” was added later) and Collins Street Extension, where he lived until his death in 1809.  The farm stayed in the family for seven generations. 

The location of the Collin farm is marked by a large rock with a bronze plaque that reads:

 

SITE OF THE

JOHN COLLIN II

HOMESTEAD FARM

THIS FARM WAS SETTLED IN 1790 BY JOHN COLLIN II AND HIS WIFE SARAH ARNOLD. IT REMAINED IN THE FAMILY FOR SEVEN GENERATIONS.

COLLIN (1732-1809), AN EARLY AMERICAN PATRIOT, WAS COMMISSIONED A CAPTAIN IN 1777 BY NYS GOVERNOR GEORGE CLINTON, SERVING IN SEVERAL REGIONAL REGIMENTS AND WAS A PROMINENT MEDIATOR IN THE MANOR TITLE CONFLICT OF 1795, THE ONGOING RESISTANCE TO LEASEHOLD TENURE IN COLUMBIA COUNTY.

HIS GRANDSON, JOHN FRANCIS COLLIN (1802-1889), WAS ELECTED TO THE NY STATE ASSEMBLY IN 1834 AND LATER SERVED IN THE 29TH CONGRESS U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES.

THE COLLIN FAMILY DESCENDED FROM THE FRENCH HUGUENOTS WHO EMIGRATED FROM THE ISLE OF RÉ TO NARRAGANSETT IN 1685.

The Collin Farm in the mid-1800s

As with all Town Historians in New York State, we don’t do genealogical searches. But with the walking stick being such a treasure, how could we not try to track down a living descendant of  J.B. Collin? We asked Sally Laing, a Hillsdale resident with a vast array of historical books, documents, and knowledge of the town, if she knew of any living Collin descendants. Sally loaned us a Collin family genealogy she’d found online which took us from 17th century France to 1980’s Hillsdale. It is a fascinating timeline of a family whose accomplishments span three centuries, and in this blog we highlight only a few of  the extraordinary members of the Collin clan.

First, to the owner of the walking stick. 

J.B. Collin was John Bingham Collin, the great-grandson of John II’s younger brother, David Collin. Born in 1840, he graduated from the Hudson River Institute in Claverack and worked on his family’s farm until 1861 when, at the age of 21, he enlisted in the Union Army, Company H, 91st Regiment, New York Volunteers. 

Collin served in the 1863 Siege of Port Hudson Louisiana. At 48 days — from May 22 to July 9 –it was the longest siege in American military history. The siege was part of the great struggle for control of the Mississippi River and pitted 40,000 Union troops against 7,400 Confederates defending fortifications on an 80-foot-high river bluff. In 1863 Port Hudson and Vicksburg, Mississippi, 150 miles to the north, were the last remaining Mississippi River strongholds in Confederate hands.

Both sides suffered terribly from the fighting, the summer heat and disease.  One soldier wrote home: “The mosquitoes give us the devil of nights, & … do what the roar of the enemy’s cannon has not been able to do—keep us from the embrace of tired nature’s sweet restorer balmy sleep.” By late June, the Confederates had begun to run out of food. “We eat all the meat and bread in the fort…eat all the beef–all the mules–all the Dogs–and all the Rats around us.”

Heavy losses were sustained: between 4,700 and 5,200 Union men were casualties, and an additional 4,000 fell prey to disease or sunstroke; Confederate forces suffered around 900 casualties from battle losses and disease. Soldiers who fought there would never forget their harrowing experiences. 

It is said that John Bingham’s health was ruined by the war and only with the constant ministering by his wife, Lucy, was he able to maintain a somewhat normal life. After the war, he started a business in New York City and he and Lucy lived in Rutherford, NJ. Summers were spent at the Bingham Collin farm on Hunt Road, which John Bingham inherited from his father. They retired to the farm in 1888. John Bingham Collin died in 1894 at the age of 54. He is buried in the Collin Family Cemetery on Hunt Road, where his headstone reads:

(Despite his youth and inexperience, John Bingham must have demonstrated significant talent as he served most of the war as a captain. At the end of the war, he was named a Brevet Major, a strictly honorary rank that came with no increase in pay. )

We’ll never know how John Bingham’s walking stick came into the possession of an Andover, MA antique dealer, but thanks to Sally’s book, we were able to peer deeper into the Collin family tree, which boasts an astonishing number of accomplished descendants. One is John Francis Collin who compiled A History of Hillsdale, a historical resource we rely upon extensively. Published in 1883, it presents a detailed history of Hillsdale’s first 130 years.  

A lifelong resident of Hillsdale, John Francis was born in 1802, the son of John Collin III and Ruth Holman (Johnson) Collin.  In 1869, John Francis and his sister, Jane, erected a monument in the Hillsdale Rural Cemetery to honor their great-grandfather, the first John Collin, who had been lost at sea.

Monument erected 1869 in honor of Capt. John Collin by his great grandson, John Francis Collin and great granddaughter, Jane Miranda (Collin) White.

John Francis had eight siblings. One of them, Henry Augustus, was the progenitor of a Collin line of great distinction. More about him later.

In his youth, John Francis had been educated at the local “common” or public school and then attended Lenox Academy for a year. Beyond that he was largely self-educated.  It is said that he was a voracious reader.

John Francis Collin

In the summer, he labored on his father’s farm. In 1827, he married Pamelia Jane Tullar of Egremont, MA., who bore him five children. Pamelia died in 1870, and John married  Jane Becker in 1871. In 1872, at the age of 70, John sired a son, Frank Becker Collin.

Jane Becker Collin

John held various local, state and national offices: in 1834 he was elected to the state legislature representing Columbia County, then elected Town Supervisor of Hillsdale from 1837 to 1843.  In 1844, he successfully ran for Congress and served from 1845 to 1847.  

In his later years, John toiled on his A History of Hillsdale. Prior to his death in 1889, he was a frequent (and acerbic) contributor to the forerunner of the Hudson Register-Star.

Politicians, physicians, and scientists were plentiful in the Collin family tree.  Frederick Huntington Bartlett (1872-1948), one of John Francis’s grand-nephews, was a noted New York pediatrician whose 1932 book Infants and Children: Their Feeding and Growth was so influential it earned Dr. Bartlett a six-page Brendan Gill profile in The New Yorker in 1944.

Frederick Huntington Bartlett

 

Another of John Francis’ grand-nephews was Frederick Collin (1850-1939), who served for two terms as Mayor of Elmira, NY before embarking on a distinguished career as a judge on the New York State Court of Appeals.  

Judge Frederick Collin

Still another of John Francis’s grand-nephews, Dr. William Henry Welch (1850-1934), was a pioneer in the field of of pathology who introduced into this country germ theory as the cause of disease, which revolutionized the course of medicine. In 1884, at age 34, he was chosen as Dean of the medical faculty at the new Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and was responsible for securing the famous first faculty, known as the “Founding Four,” who codified the teaching of medicine based on science and clinical research. In 1916 he embarked on a second career as director of the newly established School of Hygiene and Public Health at Johns Hopkins (today called the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health). He also served as the President of the board of directors of the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research for 33 years. (Incidentally, if you read the cutline under the photo of the Admin Building below, you will learn why post-grad medical students around the country are called “residents.”)

Dr. William Henry Welch, first dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine

“The Founding Four” painted by John Singer Sargent. William Henry Welch is on the left.

The Johns Hopkins Billings Administration Building in the early 1900s. TRIVIA ALERT! It served as a residence for doctors in post-medical school training until the 1950s. As a result, those trainees came to be referred to as “residents.” That’s where the term “resident” for medical post-grads was coined.

Sen. Frederick Collin Walcott (R, CT)

The life of Frederick Collin Walcott of Connecticut  (1869-1949), John Francis’s great-grand-nephew, is worthy of an entire book on its own. A graduate of Phillips Academy and Yale, he had an extraordinary career in banking and public service and was an aide to Woodrow Wilson at  the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, which ended World War I. He held state and federal elected offices, serving as a United States Senator from 1928 to 1935. An ardent conservationist, Frederick Collin Walcott was a lifelong fishing companion of Herbert Hoover.

But it is another branch of the Collin family tree that gives us the title for this post. Henry Augustus Collin, John Francis’s younger brother, moved his family to Mount Vernon, Iowa, in 1856 where for 40 years he served as Treasurer of Cornell College (founded by and named for a distant relative of Ezra, founder of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.)

John Francis’ brother, Henry Augustus Collin

And Henry Augustus’s great-grandson achieved something out of this world.

Henry Augustus’s daughter, Adeline, married James Henry Gilruth of Ohio in 1869.

Sarah Adeline (Collin) Gilruth

Their fifth child, Henry Augustus Gilruth, was born in 1881. He married Frances Marion Rowe in 1909 and in 1913, their son, Robert Rowe Gilruth was born.

Robert Rowe Gilruth

Robert “Bob” Gilruth became an aeronautical engineer at the Langley Aeronautical Laboratory of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (the forerunner of NASA). In 1958, Bob  was selected to be the director of NASA’s Project Mercury.  After the completion of astronaut John Glenn’s historic 1962 mission, in which he became the first person to orbit the earth, Colonel Glenn and Bob were each presented with the NASA Distinguished Service Medal by President John F. Kennedy at Cape Canaveral. 

In 1965, Bob was picked to lead the brand new Manned Space Center in Houston. In this role, he oversaw the entire Apollo program, including the mission of Apollo 11, the first-ever landing on the moon.

 

Our search for a direct descendent of John Bingham Collin was fruitless. He and Lucy had no children. But there’s a happy ending: Mr. Fromm has generously offered to donate the walking stick to the Roe Jan Historical Society, which maintains a collection of artifacts from John Bingham and Lucy Collin. In fact, you can visit John Bingham Collin’s Civil War uniform and boots, and Lucy’s painting of him, which are on loan to the Town of Hillsdale and are on display at the Town Hall.

We are indebted to Hillsdale resident Sally Laing, who loaned us John Collin: Stem and Branches: The descendants of Captain John Collin and his wife Hannah Merwin Collin of Milford, Connecticut by Ruth Collin Stong (Elmira NY, 1980), from which much of this post is sourced. Ruth Stong was John Francis’ great-great grand niece and the great-great-great granddaughter of Captain John Collin. 

If you are ever in Andover, MA, stop by Lance Fromme Antiques.

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Picture This: Hillsdale History in Postcards

We recently discovered that Hillsdale shopkeeper Matthew White has assembled one of the most complete collections of late 19th and early 20th century Hillsdale postcards. It gave us the idea for this blog post and, as often happens, researching the topic led us to explore the history of a humble item that turns out to be richer than we could have imagined. 

A word about postcards. The study and collection of postcards is called “deltiology,” and it turns out that, worldwide, collecting postcards is one the top collecting hobbies after such staples as stamp collecting and coin/banknote collecting. Deltiology associations started forming at the end of the 19th century when postcards began to be mass produced. Most deltiologists agree that the concept of the postcard originated at the Austro-German Postal Conference of 1865, although the French will tell you they came up with the idea in 1777.  The British have their own claim (1843).

We won’t belabor the full history of the postcard here, other than to direct you to summaries that can be found on the Smithsonian website, the American Association of Philatelic Exhibitors website, and Google Arts & Culture, among many others. Matt White’s collection contains excellent examples from each of the major “periods” of postcard types and styles: the “Pioneer Period” (1869-1898), the”Undivided Back Period,” the “Divided Back Period” (1907-1915), the “White Border Period (1915-1930), the “Linen Period” (1930-1940), and the “Chrome (Photochrome) Period” (1939-present). We also took advantage of the extensive library of postcards available on the Hillsdale town website to round out this post. 

Congress passed an act in 1861 allowing privately printed cards weighing one ounce or under to be sent in the mail for postage of one cent, and in 1872 approved government production of postal cards. 

The low postage fee was a draw, but because no messages were allowed on the address side, postcard publishers and the public pressured Congress to allow privately produced postcards with handwritten messages to be mailed at the same one-cent rate as government postal cards. Visitors at tourist attractions, as well as immigrants, were anxious to impress their friends and family with their travels, but were reluctant to pay this extra postage to mail a card that already cost a penny or two to purchase. The groundswell of political pressure forced Congress to act  and the passage of the Private Mailing Card Act of 1898  allowed the privately printed cards to be mailed first class for one cent.

As a cheap way to correspond about ordinary things, such as confirming an appointment, postcards were sometimes referred to as “the poor man’s telephone.”  Here is a 1905 example showing Cullin Park (before the Civil War Monument was erected) with this impatient message to Eugene Vosburg of Waterbury, CT from Levi Zeh, builder of the Mt. Washington House: “You said ‘soon’ some time ago.  When will it be. L.V. Zeh.”

An example of an “Undivided Back” postcard, where the back was reserved for an address and the message had to be written on the front.

The entire “Undivided Back” of the postcard was reserved for the address. What a waste of space!

The period from about 1898 to the beginning of World War I is referred to as the “Golden Age” of postcards. The majority were printed in Europe, on top quality presses, with high quality paper and expensive, brightly colored inks, then exported to the U.S. for sale. The postcard transitioned from a simple souvenir of a vacation trip to a collecting fad of almost manic proportions, rivaling stamp collecting.  Postcards were found everywhere: newsstands, drugstores, cutout cards in Sunday newspapers supplements, and as offers on the side of cereal boxes. 

But World War I made the printing presses of Austria and Germany unavailable to U.S. companies, and postcards had to be printed in the U.S., where paper, inks and printing presses were inferior.  The quality and beauty of postcards changed immediately. Coupled with this, other factors, such as high tariffs on imported postcards and changing methods of communication, such as the telephone, brought about the end of the Golden Age.

Nevertheless, towns that had printing or publishing businesses – a newspaper, for example – were often lucky to have their history documented in postcards, and Hillsdale was one such town. Here are some postcards that give a sense of Hillsdale’s past. Some have illustrated previous Historians of Hillsdale posts but some are “new.” Let’s start fittingly with the structure that today is Matt’s HGS Home Chef.

Hillsdale Home Chef is the building furthest left, with the turret.

Looking east on Main St. How beautiful were the trees that once lined the sidewalks of Hillsdale Hamlet?


Next, a view from across the road showing Cullin Park. The absence of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument certainly suggests that this photograph predated 1915, when the monument was erected.

Here’s a card showing the monument as it sits today in front of the Hillsdale House. We wrote about John Cullin and the monument in this post.

Postcards can also provide a “progress report.”  Here are two cards showing the Roeliff Jansen Central School before and after landscaping.  We wrote about the school in this post. 

Look at this card showing the path of the Harlem Valley Highway (a.k.a. Rt. 22) in North Hillsdale. Does it look familiar? It’s remarkable how little that vista has changed over the years. 

This card showing the east side of Anthony Street has a nice view of the post office (the one-story building furthest left) before it was renovated. (We wrote about the possible origin of the name of Anthony Street in this post.) 

Here’s  the post office after it got a major facelift. (We wrote about Hillsdale’s post offices in this post.)

The East Gate Tollhouse was featured on a number of postcards, and here are two examples. When the tolls on the Columbia Turnpike were eliminated in 1907, the tollhouse became a private residence. (Read about it here.). 

Hand-colored postcard showing the East Gate Toll House with the gate lowered.

Here we have a postcard showing the home of George Bullock on Pill Hill Road, just off Route 22.

Or is it the home of Ed Herrington?  It was both.  George Bullock built “Edgewood” around 1880. He was co-owner of Bullock and Herrington, the forerunner of today’s Ed Herrington, Inc.  Mr. Herrington acquired the home from Mr. Bullock (perhaps after George’s death in 1909) and lived in it for several years. Eventually it became the home of the Rip Van Winkle Clinic. (Read more here.)

This is a card showing Park Square and Johnnie Quick’s newsstand and ice cream shop. For many years, it was the Village Square luncheonette until it was remodeled to become the building that today houses Passaflora. (There’s more to read here.)

This dilapidated home deserved a postcard because it was the birthplace of John Bunyan Bristol, a noted Hudson River School artist.  (Here’s our post about it.) The home also turned out to be an old Dutch/Palatine dwelling built in 1760 that’s likely the oldest house in Hillsdale. You can read about that discovery here. 

John’s cousin, Flavia Bristol, left a bequest in her will to build and fund the Hillsdale Library, today’s Town Hall. 

The Holiday House is, of course, still serving lodgers today. 

Meanwhile, the Elmwood Inn, located in one of the oldest houses in Hillsdale, was sold to a succession of restaurateurs starting in 1968.  Today it’s the location of C. Herrington Home + Design.  (More about this fascinating house in this post.)

The Mount Washington House was built by Levi Zeh in 1881. It attracted a classy clientele including artist John Bristol who, after gaining fame and fortune in New York City and beyond, continued to summer at the “Mount.”

The Pine Brook Deluxe Cabins were on Rt. 22 at Tribrook Road, and eventually became the Pine Brook motel, which shows up in newspapers as late as 1982. The top post card is, we think, from the 1930s.  The one below is more recent. 

As one can see, two of the “deluxe cabins” are still standing today. Here is an portion of the old postcard above and a screen grab from Google Maps. 

Catamount Ski Area has attracted skiers since the end of World War II up to today.  A Catamount bus would meet the morning train from Grand Central Terminal and shuttle the city slickers to the mountain for the day.  (Read more about Catamount in this post.)

 

Some of the postcards show what must once have been popular views, but we don’t recognize them. Does anyone know where “The Old Williams Pond” is, or was? 

The hand-colored postcard is captioned “The Old Williams Pond, Hillsdale NY.”

Part of the fun of old postcards is reading the messages on the back. Usually postcards with written messages are of lower value than cards that were never sent, but the messages tell so much about the people who lived in Hillsdale long ago. 

Here’s an unsigned 1940 message, addressed  to “Flossie” in Hartford, CT: 

Am now in Hillsdale NY State. Hudson only a few miles from here. Next week will go to Hinsdale Mass to see ___ and find out if she has considered my last year’s proposition.”

What could the proposition have been?  And why did the author wait a year for an answer?  

Here’s a cliffhanger — the author of a 1911 postcard leaves us dying to know what happened: 

Dear Catherine After leaving Albany this afternoon, I got off at Chatham to get letter I expected from you before coming here [Hillsdale] to play tonight. I just had time in Chatham to go in hotel for your letter so as to catch last train for here.  Dear I did get letter and, well, I can’t say much now, as there is not much need, as I intend to write you a long one Sunday, and this won’t get there before the letter until Monday anyway.  But after reading letter I could not help writing right away. Catherine, it’s awful. [unintelligible] xxxx

Here’s another.  We can’t make out the year, but from the rounded edges on the date stamp and the fact that the card was printed in Berlin, we’d place it in the late 1880’s:

Dear Marion: Expect to be home on flyer. Am feeling fine, but oh as large as a pig!  Love to all X Lillian

The author of this 1909 message, from a postcard with a view of Hillsdale’s Main St., is most displeased about the local weather: 

That air was too bracing.  Perhaps it will not be so strong another time. 

This 1915 correspondent was quite declarative:

Do not forget that suit of mine you borrowed! And I would not advise you to count much on using it while you are here!  

We love the snarky message on this 1907 postcard, labeled “View Near Hillsdale, N.Y.”: 

An artificial pond for the milk stations. Received your card was glad to know you were alive.

“…was glad to know you were alive.”  Oh, snap!  Also, does anyone know where this artificial pond was? Could it be the “Old Williams Pond?”

The message on this 1914 image of the Baptist Church in North Hillsdale (an early example of the “White Border Period” revealed a secret about the building we never knew:

Dear Blanch I wonder if you have forgotten the promise we made five years ago today.  We were some kids in those days.  Does this picture look natural to you? You know they have made it over into a dancing hall.  I have not been to any dances there yet but think I will go Fri. night. Let me hear from you. Lovingly, Hazel Johnson

Was it a scandal when the Baptist Church was converted to a dance hall? Today the former church, minus its steeple lost in a storm, is in private hands.   

When we asked Matt White what led him to his love of collecting postcards, he answered, “No matter where we’ve lived we always collected ephemera of the place, and that was true when we moved to Hillsdale some fifteen years ago. We were surprised at the amount of materials produced, and so the collection still grows. Hillsdale has been a much-admired place for centuries, and of course those of us lucky enough to live here know why. These historic postcards are evidence that Hillsdale has always been a little slice of heaven.”

Today, postcards have mostly been replaced by email, social media, and GIFs.  But they still live on in the collections of deltiologists and are avidly collected by enthusiasts like Matthew White. There is an annual World Postcard Day every October 1 and, in America, National Postcard Week is celebrated the first week of May. Do you have an historic Hillsdale postcard?  Post a picture in the comments below – we’d love to see them.  The Historians of Hillsdale wish you all happy, healthy holidays. 

 

Many thanks to Matthew White for sharing his wonderful collection with us.

 

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How Green Was My River: A Portrait of Hillsdale’s Green River Hamlet

The hamlet of Green River in the northeast corner of Hillsdale has intrigued and puzzled the Historians of Hillsdale for some time. Franklin Ellis’s History of Columbia County (1878) identifies it as “…a hamlet in the valley of the Green river … formerly known as Green River Hollow.” But immediately to the north, in the town of Austerlitz, is another area identified on old maps as Green River. It can be hard to tell, cartographically, where one ends and the other begins.

There may once have been a unified “Green River” hamlet straddling the Hillsdale/Spencertown line, but in 1818 when the town of Austerlitz was created from chunks of Nobletown and “Spencers Town,” the dividing line ran straight through Green River Hollow, separating the “Upper Hollow” from the “Lower Hollow.” The Lower Hollow, where Route 71 branches off from Route 22 on the way to Egremont, is what we identify today as Hillsdale’s Green River hamlet.

This 1851 map shows the line dividing Austerlitz and Hillsdale, with “Green River” prominently marked north of the town line.



Green River is named for the river on which it is located. The Green River rises in the extreme north of Austerlitz on the Canaan line from “No Bottom Pond,” named for the tradition that no soundings, however deep, have ever found the bottom, and flows southeast through Austerlitz, across the northeast corner of Hillsdale, and empties into the Housatonic River in Great Barrington, MA, just north of the Sheffield, MA, border. According to Ellis, when the water is high the river “has a greenish appearance” and was “noted for the abundance of trout it contains.” Ellis describes the hamlet as “… contain[ing] a Christian church, a hotel, a school-house, a shoe-shop, a blacksmith shop, and about a dozen houses, with a population of about fifty.”

 

An 1873 map of the Green River Hamlet shows a Christian Church, a School House (“S.H. No. 10”), the blacksmith (J.E. Taylor BSSh, or Black Smith Shop), the LaPierre House, the Post Office, the Shoe Store, and the W. Van Hoesen house, reputed to be the oldest in the hamlet.


The Hudson. City and Columbia County Directory for the year 1862-3 lists the following businesses/owners/proprietors in Green River:

 

Green River businesses and owners/proprietors, 1862

 

When we first started researching Green River, we hit a lot of brick walls. For example, imagine our excitement on reading that the Rev. Timothy Woodbridge (1787-1862), founder of the Spencertown Academy and grandson of American theologian Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), had preached for 25 years in Green River and there established The Green River Academy! Then imagine our disappointment on discovering that the Green River Academy in question was in Austerlitz’s Green River hamlet, not Hillsdale’s.

Or take this 19th-century tool, a product of the Brainard Tool Company, manufacturer of high-quality gauges and bevels. It’s stamped “Brainard Green River” but – you guessed it – the factory was located in the other Green River.

This mortise measurement tool is stamped “Brainard Green River.” But the tool factory was just over the town line, in Austerlitz.

In 1976, local historians recreated what they believed to be the path of General Henry Knox when he transported cannon and munitions for the relief of General Washington at Boston in 1776. They were sure that Route 71 through Green River was part of the “Noble train of artillery” and they even installed a marker at the intersection of Routes 22 and 71. There are at least half a dozen plausible scenarios for Knox’s route and no one can say definitively that Knox passed through Green River at the intersection of Rts. 22 and 71.  For more on this debate, see Eye of Shawenon: A Berkshire History of North Egremont, Prospect Lake, and the Green River Valley by Gary Leveille.  

The 1871-72 Gazetteer and Business Director of Columbia County reports that “Cols. William Tanner and Jared Winslow” were among the first to settle near Green River, perhaps in the earliest years of the nineteenth century. The oldest house in the hamlet may be a circa 1837 dwelling built as part of a 200-acre farm by a W. Van Hoesen.  The house its still identified on late 19th century maps as the Van Hoesen house. Chuck Van Hoesen, a descendent, grew up in the house and remembers his mother making sandwiches to sell to the workers building Route 22. The house is purported to have once been the home of a Revolutionary War General’s nephew, but we couldn’t confirm that, and this is where history becomes hearsay. We should say, though, that “the home of a Revolutionary War General’s nephew” tickled us in the same way that “the name of the Lone Ranger’s nephew’s horse” from “A Christmas Story” always has. (Answer: Victor. Look it up.)


One of the oldest cemeteries in Hillsdale is at Green River. It’s known as the Hatch Burying Ground and is located on the south bank of Cranse Creek. The Hatches were early settlers from Cape Cod and Isaac Hatch for many years kept a tavern house one mile south of William Tanner. The Hatch Burying Ground has been encroached upon by a change in the course of the stream, so much so that in Ellis’s 1878 History of Columbia County the headstones were described as “much broken and defaced.” Ellis records as among the oldest inscriptions “Mrs. Isabel, wife of Mr. Elisha Hatch, died July 23d, 1767, in her 43d year,” “Mr. Elisha Hatch, died. April 15th, 1770,” “Mary, wife of Mr. James Stevenson, died Jan. 1st, 1783,” and “Lieut. Willard Shepard, died March 2d, 1784.” Almost none of the stones  today are legible, save one headstone dedicated to Nathan Rolo, age 11, who died in 1788. 

Dedicated to the memory of Mr. Nathan Rolo who died June 13th 1788 in the 11th year of his age.


A later cemetery, connected to the “Christian Church” identified on early maps, is located directly behind Noble House, a bed and breakfast on Nobletown Road that was formerly the Inn at Green River. The graveyard has 168 interments, the earliest being Katherine Webster in 1807 and the weirdest, it is alleged, being the unmarked remains of Simon Vandercook, murdered by the Austerlitz Cannibal in 1882. It is also the final resting place of nine American Revolutionary War veterans.

For much of the 19th century, the rural, semi-mountainous forests of both Austerlitz and Hillsdale’s Green River were harvested extensively for their charcoal. Hillsdale’s Green River forests supplied the Copake Iron Works, while Austerlitz to the northeast supplied the Richmond (MA) Iron Company.

As late as 1905 colliers were still making charcoal in Green River. That September, a load of charcoal backed under a shed attached to the LaPierre Hotel caught fire during the night, destroying the premises and some adjoining buildings and causing the occupants to escape “scantily attired as they had only had time to grab up some clothing before making a dash from their rooms.” The LaPierre had been a popular destination for New York City visitors and the location of parties and events in the late 19th century. We were told by one local resident that it was rebuilt as “the American Hotel,” but we’ve not been able to corroborate that.



In Looking for Work: Industrial Archeology in Columbia County, New York, author Peter Stott suggests that Green River may have been a product of the 19th century turnpike mania. “A measure of the activity … generated may be seen in Tanner’s turnpike plans. Between 1805 and 1808 [William] Tanner [who opened a tavern here] was named as an incorporator of three separate turnpikes which were planned to radiate from Green River” to the Albany Post Road south of Kinderhook, to the Columbia Turnpike (today’s Route 23) and to Hudson via Harlemville and Mellenville.

Speaking of taverns, a 1845 meeting of the Columbia County Temperance Society on the success of temperance efforts in the county reported “In Green River part of Hillsdale, the cause was retrograding — two or three places there sold [alcohol]. One man had lately died of delirium tremens and if the reform did not progress, more would die; there was much drinking there. It was one of the worst holes in almost any place.” 

“One of the world holes in almost any place.”


In 1913, road placement, and the funds that go along with it, became a hot issue as east county residents argued over four proposed routes for a State Highway running from Hillsdale to Chatham. Proponents of “Route One,” (today’s Route 22) running from Hillsdale to North Hillsdale, Green River, Austerlitz, Spencertown and on to Chatham, fought off a late challenge from residents of Claverack who wanted the road to run through the village of Philmont. Former State Senator Stanford W. Smith, speaking at the hearing, sniffed, “Claverack, with ten miles of state and county highway, has had about all the public money that should be expended there until other towns that have had no money spent for highway purposes get a share of the benefits.”

This might account for why there seemed to be a preponderance of filling stations in Green River in the mid-20th century. We know of three gas stations in Green River and Austerlitz. There was a service station (we believe it was a Mobil station) on the site of today’s Circle Museum on Rt. 22 in Austerlitz.

The 1958 Chamber of Commerce map of Hillsdale (you can see it on the wall of Crossroads Food Shop), shows Creighton’s Shell Station on Rt. 71, about a mile and a quarter east of the “Y” intersection of Rt. 71 south of Rt. 22.

Creighton’s Shell Station

In what appears to be a photo from the 1930s, there was a Tydol station on Rt. 71, but we cannot know for sure where it was located. That a village of 20 houses would even have a gas station at all suggests that a fair amount of traffic regularly moved through the area. 

“Fremont’s Service Station. Rt. 71. Green River, NY”


Deborah Bowen, former owner of the Inn at Green River, kindly shared her knowledge of the Green River hamlet with us. Deborah bought her building in October 1987 intending to restore and flip it but, nine days later, the stock market crash known as Black Monday hit and she had to pivot to Plan B. She opened the Inn at Green River in July 1989 and operated it until March 2020, when COVID shut it down.

Deborah regaled us with stories about one of the previous owners, Henry Murphy, who worked in the New York theatrical industry and hosted weekend house parties with guests like Bette Midler and Rue McLanahan. A practical jokester, Henry would encourage his guests to walk out into the fields after dinner, where, with dusk falling and mist rising off the Green River and the Cranse Creek, he would sneak up on them wearing an old WWI silk parachute sewn into a leather pilot’s helmet. “They thought he was a ghost — it totally freaked people out!” said Deb.

A guest who’d grown up in Green River told Deborah that The Inn at Green River had once operated as a bordello in the 1950’s. “Ma Thorsden,” a resident of Upper Hollow Road, operated three bordellos: two in Green River, and one in Austerlitz. The late Robert Herron, a renown Austerlitz historian, confirmed the truth of this report to Deb. We’d like to find some evidence, like a newspaper report of a police raid, but perhaps Ma was too wily to get caught. Or she bought off the cops. We’re still looking.

Do you have memories of, or stories about, Hillsdale’s Green River Hamlet?  Leave them in the comments section, below. 

Many thanks to Deborah Bowen, Sean Fagan, Rick Rowsell and Ron Harrington for sharing their Green River knowledge with us.

 

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Could You Pass This Test?

Our friend and fellow history buff Sally Laing recently gave us a copy of a news clipping from the April 17, 1889 edition of the Hillsdale Harbinger.  The clipping is of an article listing half of the questions on the arithmetic exam that was given to the students, presumably eighth graders, at the Hillsdale School. We say “presumably” because as we noted in a prior post, Hillsdale did not have a public high school until 1903. In the 19th century, an eighth-grade education was considered adequate for finding work in agriculture, the manual trades, or in a retail establishment.

The article notes that the other half of the exam had been published in the prior week’s Harbinger, but we were unable to locate that issue. In any case, what we do have is, we think, daunting enough.

Here’s the page from the Harbinger with the article, which starts in the third column, about one-third of the way down. (We know you can’t read it.)

Unfortunately, we are not able to provide a clearer view within the limitations of the WordPress platform, but here’s the list of questions, which starts with #31. (We wonder if students who noticed that there were two questions numbered 47 and no question numbered 50 got extra credit.) Keep in mind that students would have had to figure out the answers without the assistance of calculators or smart phones.

31.  Find specific duty on 173 kegs of tobacco, 125 pounds each, at 6 cents per pound; tare 6 pounds per keg.

32.  Define (a) real estate. (b) personal property. (c) taxes.

33.  Amount of taxable property in a school district, $287,590; tax $1,200. Find the rate and the tax on property worth $45,600.

34.  A man owes A. $400. B. $500. C. $500. His property is worth $1,000. What per cent of his debts can he pay, and how much will A. B. and C. receive?

35.  A man said that 2/3, 3/4, and 5/6 of his money was $980. How much money had he?

36.  A post stands 40 feet above the water, ¼ in the water and 1/6 in the mud. What is the length of the post?

37.  Define and illustrate involution.

38.  What are the factors of a number? Illustrate.

39.  In the expressions of 62, 83 etc., what general name is given to the small figures?

40.  Expand 52, 63, 72 and 84, and indicate the process.

41.  Define and illustrate evolution.

42.  What is meant by the root of a number?

43.  In the expressions 6-1/2, 8-1/3 etc., what general name is given to denominators of the fractions in small figures?

44.  Define and illustrate ratio.

45.  What is proportion? Illustrate.

46.  If 40 acres of land cost $540, what will 97 acres cost? Solve by proportion.

47.  If 3/7 of a cord of wood cost $1.35, what will 6/7 of a cord cost?  By proportion.

47.  If 15 men in 12 hours a day can hoe 60 acres in 20 days, how many days of 10 hours each will it take 18 men to hoe 96 acres.

48.  A cistern contains 216 cubic feet.  How many gallons will it hold?

49.   One horse eats 19-3/7 bushels of oats in 87-3/7 days, how many bushels will 7 horses eat in 60 days?

51.  How many pounds Troy weight in 180 pounds avoirdupois?

52.  Reduce (2,9S5,9S4)1/2

53.  Extract the 6th root of 148,035,889

54.  A hhd. of molasses was bought for a certain sum of money; 15 gal. leaked out and the remainder was sold at $2.21-2/3 per gallon and lost 5 per cent on the cost.  What was the cost?

55.  How many feet of boards can be cut from a log 11 feet long and 12 inches square, each board to be 2/3 of an inch thick?

56.  How many acres in a field a K’m long and 15 Hm wide?

57.  The hind wheel and the fore wheel of a wagon are respectively 4 feet and 3 feet in diameter. What is the circumference of each and how many more times would the fore wheel turn than the hind one in going one mile?

58.  A house is 20 feet high, how long must a ladder (placed 10 feet from the house) be to reach the top?

59.  Define and illustrate the terms used in multiplication.

60.  Prove that 1728 divided by 12 = 144.

Some of these questions seem to us to stray from the precise definition of mathematics, like #32. In any case, we’ll leave it to you to pick out your favorite head-banging question, but we feel strongly that our answer to the second #47 would be unprintable in a family friendly blog.

Quite a test for an eighth grader. In fact, if you take math majors out of the picture, we suspect that the average college freshman of today would have considerable difficulty passing this exam! We know a couple of  town historians who would. For our own dignity, we’d like to point out that it’s not fair to compare how an adult might fare after being out of school for decades versus eighth graders who have spent the last year studying and being drilled on the concepts in this exam.

Still, when Dictionary.com revealed to us that in mathematics, involution is “a function that is an inverse of itself,” we had to take a short lie-down.

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© 2021 Chris Atkins and Lauren Letellier

 

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Spare Parts

Every now and then, we set out to research something, and while we may uncover some interesting facts and anecdotes, there isn’t enough to warrant an entire blog post.  So, we chuck what we have found into a folder and stash it, like a jar of old screws and bolts, on a shelf in our digital “garage.” You never know when something might turn out to be useful. This month, we decided to build a blog post out of these “spare parts.” Perhaps they will someday end up in a Hillsdale Trivia Night.

H. D. Harvey

(H. D. Harvey pops up from time to time in our research because of the Harbinger connection. Most recently, we mentioned him in our post about Hillsdale High School.)

Henry Dudley Harvey died in 1928, according to his extensive obituary, which was published on the front page of the Hillsdale Harbinger. That this grandiloquent account of Mr. Harvey’s life was so prominently displayed is not surprising since he was the founder and publisher of the Harbinger in 1887.

Volume 1, Number 1, Friday, October 28, 1887

Henry was born in Austerlitz in 1851. Harvey Mountain is named for his family. After graduating from Spencertown Academy, he attended Eastman Business College in Poughkeepsie. He moved to New York City and became a clerk at the Hygienic Hotel (and honestly, where else would you want to stay?) before moving to Florence, MA to become a bookkeeper for a large mercantile firm.  In 1879, he returned to the area and opened a jewelry store.  (It’s not clear how he acquired his jewelry repair skills, but that was the bulk of his business.)

The jewelry store and Henry and his wife, Abigal. Abigal (not Abigail) served as the Harbinger’s proof reader for more than 20 years. Just a small fragment of Henry’s effusive obituary.

In 1887, he acquired the assets of the two newspapers serving Hillsdale at the time:  The Hillsdale Harbinger and the Hillsdale Enterprise. He apparently felt that these two papers did not do an adequate job and he resolved to make an improvement. In October 1887, the first issue was published. Henry was the first to admit that he knew nothing about the newspaper business, but he hired an editor and typesetter.  Here’s a picture of Henry, age 36, leaning on a printing press he had no idea how to run.

Readers of this blog may recall that in our post about Hillsdale High School, we noted that Henry also had a franchise to sell high-wheel bicycles, sometimes known as penny farthings. Henry rode one himself and was often seen in the far reaches of Hillsdale, Copake, Ancram, Taghanic and Austerlitz, as well as Alford, MA and Egremont, MA. He sought to meet as many people as possible (and sign them up for a $1.50 annual subscription). It was also his way of gathering news for the paper. In the early days, he would often accept apples, potatoes and other commodities as payment, so the paper was not an immediate financial success. (How he managed a sack of potatoes on his high-wheel remains a mystery.)

Henry was a bit of a jack-of-all-trades.  To quote his obit, “There was scarcely a phase of human activity to which he could not turn his hand. He had been a carpenter and builder, photographer, jeweler, printer, and plumber. He has left a number of pen and ink drawings and several oil paintings which are prized by his family as showing the diversity of his attainments.”

He died at the age of 77, “having the respect of a community which had benefitted by his living in it.”

May that be said of us all.

Hillsdale Community Day

(Much of our research starts off by looking at old newspapers like the ones that can be accessed on the Roe Jan Library’s website. This was just an ad we spotted while we were looking for something else.) 

It’s always exciting when a new shop or restaurant opens in town but we’ve got a long way to go before we experience the greater Hillsdale business environment as it was not too long ago.  Here’s an ad from the July 29, 1993 Independent announcing Hillsdale Community Day. (Sorry the map isn’t more legible. You can see the full-page ad in situ here.)

It maps out 76 establishments, many of them retail stores. Today, most are just a memory. How many do you remember?

  1. Ultimate T’s
  2. Campbell’s Hillside Driving Range
  3. Cyn-Phil Craryville Inn
  4. Birch Hill Log Homes and Sunrooms
  5. Louvers Unlimited
  6. Random Harvest Farm Market
  7. Energizer Automotive
  8. Dutch Treat Restaurant
  9. Fado Associates
  10. L & M Masonry
  11. Taconic Telephone
  12. Hillsdale Country Realty
  13. Ed Herrington, Inc.
  14. Herrington Fuels & Service
  15. Country Collections
  16. Distinctive Metalwork
  17. Daley & Baldwin
  18. Kathy Quinby Unlimited
  19. Hillsdale Supermarket
  20. Gilbert & Dorman
  21. Washington House Hotel
  22. B & G Liquor
  23. Hillsdale Barber Shop
  24. Hillsdale House
  25. Main Moon Chinese Restaurant
  26. Hillsdale Electronics
  27. Watercare by Chambers and Sons
  28. Gardner & Gardner
  29. K & K Quilted
  30. Craig Norton Cabinet Maker
  31. Agway
  32. R & L Edelman
  33. The Independent
  34. Pax Antiques
  35. Carmen Barbato, Inc.
  36. P. Landscape & Nursery
  37. L & J Farm
  38. Countrytown Marble & Tile
  39. Hillsdale Farm Market
  40. Four Brothers Pizza
  41. The Creek at Hillsdale
  42. Berkshire Pottery
  43. Taconic North Superette
  44. Hillsdale Animal Clinic
  45. Audio Plus Electronics
  46. Sheldon Glass Service, Inc.
  47. Swiss Hutte
  48. Linden Valley Lodging & Tennis
  49. Catamount Ski Area
  50. Celerohn Motel
  51. Lucene’s Beauty Shoppe
  52. White Oak Farm
  53. Bridlewood Arabians, Inc.
  54. Scott Decker Construction
  55. Rodgers Book Barn
  56. Little Rainbow Chev’re Farm
  57. John Cottini Carpentry
  58. Hillsdale Tree Service
  59. Pine Lane Country Store
  60. The Inn at Green River
  61. Whitetail Sports
  62. Georges Auto and Truck Repair
  63. Cathy’s Yam Shoppe
  64. Taconic Beauty and Gift Shoppe
  65. Joel Weinberg
  66. Headhunters III
  67. Roeliff Jansen Ins. Agency
  68. Valentino Associates
  69. Pastrami’s
  70. JaLin Crafts
  71. Create-A-Book
  72. Underhill Inn Restaurant
  73. Herbert Schmeichel Electric
  74. Woods N’ Things
  75. D. B. Answering Service
  76. Little Schoolhouse

 

Ambrose Morandi

(Andy Morandi’s name pops up from time to time, most recently in our research for the post about the Village Scoop.)

Ambrose “Andy” Morandi was a serial entrepreneur who had extensive real estate holdings in Hillsdale and Valatie, and in Great Barrington and Alford, MA.  Born in Alford in 1911, Andy was working as the manager of the Great Barrington Coffee Shop in 1933, when he enlisted in the Navy.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Andy began acquiring property. In the mid-1970s, Andy built and operated the highly regarded Morandi’s Restaurant and Pub, which today is the Hillsdale outpost of the Four Brothers chain of restaurants.  He then built an extension attached to the restaurant called the Morandi Shopping Center, attracting the Hillsdale Sport Shop, Roe Jan Insurance Agency and The Butternut Tree, which was, according to the Roe Jan Independent, “a specialty shop with a variety of apparel for misses and juniors.” In the early 1980s, Larry Weinrab moved his Step & Style shoe store from Great Barrington to the Morandi center because New York State law allowed him to be open on Sunday; Massachusetts law did not.

The Hillsdale Sport Shop before relocating to the new Morandi Shopping Center

Larry Weinreb at Step & Style

Andy also owned the Hillsdale meat packing plant, housed in what today is the office of Herrington Stone and Masonry, where he processed and sold a variety of aged and smoked meats. One of his best customers was the Hillsdale House — after all, for a while he owned that, too. Other land holdings included all of what became known as Pill Hill. When a friend wanted to buy a parcel of land from Andy, Andy told him that the parcel was already in contract with another buyer.  “But,” said Andy, “I suppose I could just not show up for the closing.” And that’s just what happened, and his friend bought the land.

Not all of Andy’s ambitions came to fruition.  At one point, he announced that he was going to open a drug store in the shopping center. It never happened. Neither did the bank branch or the grocery store.

In 1985, Andy moved to Meriden, NH, to be close to one of his daughters.  There he managed Garfield’s Smokehouse until 1996. In 2000, Andy died at the age of 89 from injuries sustained in a car accident.

And, of course, we all know what became of the former Morandi Shopping Center in 2020.

 

1957 Hillsdale Milk Strike

(When we stumbled on these photos, it was the first we’d heard of the 1957 Milk Strike, but there’s nice real estate surprise at the end that we wanted to share.)

There’s no question about it:  Dairying is hard work. Dairy cows need to be milked at least twice a day, 365 days a year. Dairy farmers have always been hard at work in the most frigid winter weather and on the hottest days of summer. And their reward for this toil often was selling their milk to a dairy co-operative for a break-even price or even a loss. Dairy farm failures were regular occurrences.

Milk is produced in two grades: the highest quality milk is Grade A and is sold as drinking milk.  Grade B is used to make other products like butter and cheese. In the 1950s, the dairy co-operatives like the Dairymen’s League Co-Operative Association had the power to set pricing. Farmers who delivered Grade A milk often did not get the stated Grade A price. Instead, they would get a “blended” price, essentially an average of Grades A and B. And because dairy co-operatives were known as monopsonies, the co-op was the only place the farmers could sell their milk.

Not surprisingly, from time to time a group of frustrated farmers would organize a strike by refusing to deliver their milk to the co-op and preventing others from doing so.  In August 1957, a milk strike was declared across a wide swath of the New York “milkshed,” including in Hillsdale.

“STOP HAULERS, TEAMSTERS, DRIVERS
RESPECT THIS PICKET LINE
DAIRY FARMERS ARE ENTITLED TO THE SAME
STANDARD OF LIVING
AS INDUSTRY AND LABOR”

The Dairymen’s League (which was eventually shortened to Dairylea, in case you remember that brand) crushed the strike in one day.

One columnist of the day summed it up succinctly: “[Dairymen] do not favor the strike method. But on the other hand, they face the need of higher prices for their milk if they are to stay in business.” The problem with strikes? “A machine or a production line can be turned off.  A cow cannot. In other words, a dairyman on strike does just as much work but can strike only by dumping his milk into the barnyard.”

The power of these dairy cooperatives has been challenged in court more than once, and the co-ops have paid big bucks to settle class action suits against them by their own members.  After decades of consolidation, the Dairy Farmers of America has emerged as the largest co-op and stands as the poster child for the movement to break up Big Ag.

One more strike photo:

This is a shot looking up Anthony Street.  That’s the old Hillsdale Mercantile building on the left (now the Roe Jan Brewing Company). Seems like everybody’s having a good time. But what captured our attention was the very top of the photograph.

This is the only photo we’ve come across of the two houses that sat at the intersection of Coldwater St. and Anthony St. The closer house was Vincent’s Printing.  According to Bob Hopkins, the Italianate house above Vincent’s Print Shop was long owned by George Porteous. It was a barber shop, antique shop, Doc Bowerhan’s office and finally an apartment house. The building was sold to James Fox and was vacant when it burned in the 90’s.

And for you car buffs, the tail of the car in the lower right of the photo is a 1956 Chevy Bel Air. Chevy only used that paint scheme in 1956.

Finally…NY Route 71

At 2.30 miles in length from Rt.22 to the Massachusetts state line, NY 71 is the shortest two-digit state highway in New York.

We hope you have enjoyed our tour of our digital garage. Enjoy the rest of your summer.

(Special thanks to Bob Hopkins, Lynne Colclough and Kelly Sweet for their corrections to our original post.)

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© 2021 Chris Atkins and Lauren Letellier

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