Rent Riots, Rebels and Revolution: How Hillsdale Helped Win the American War for Independence

At the southeast corner of Routes 22 and 23 stands Hillsdale’s Revolutionary War memorial, which was erected in 1977. Compared to the imposing Soldiers and Sailors monument in the town square, it is modest in size and design. It’s likely that many people drive by without ever noticing it. Many who pass it regularly may have forgotten it’s there.

But Hillsdale played a dynamic role in the country’s transition from the colonial era to the Republic. In the town’s 15 known cemeteries lie the remains of 61 American Revolutionary War (ARW) veterans. There are likely more, whose stones have been lost to time and neglect. Austerlitz, formed in 1818 from a chunk of Hillsdale and smaller parts of Chatham and Canaan, has another 52 ARW interments, bringing the total to 113. Columbia County records 588 ARW veteran burials, meaning that almost 20 percent of all known ARW veterans in the county are buried in what was once Hillsdale.

Why did Hillsdale send so many men to war? One reason may have to do with the area’s pre-revolutionary history.

Back in January 2018, we wrote about the history of Nobletown, the forerunner of Hillsdale. In that post we noted that for many years the boundary between New York and Massachusetts had been in dispute. While the English-ruled Bay Colony contended that its western boundary was more than a mile west of today’s state line, the wealthy and powerful Van Rensselaers claimed that their New York manor lands included the thousands of acres of Rensselaer County and the land between the Hudson River and the Housatonic River (today’s Columbia County, extending into what is now Berkshire County). Much of this disputed territory had been acquired from the Mohican Indians through opaque land deeds that only further muddied ownership claims. The dispute lasted well over a century. (For an excellent history of the land disputes and border wars that followed, see Gary Leveille, Eye of Shawenon: A Berkshire History of North Egremont, Prospect Lake, and the Green River Valley, 2011)

The Van Rensselaers ruled their feudal-like patent by renting land to tenant farmers (leaseholders), quite different from the concept of individual land ownership (freeholders) prevalent in New England. The Van Rensselaers had little luck convincing their tenant farmers to settle in the hill country borderlands. The land was hilly and less attractive for farming, unlike the richer soil closer to the Hudson River. Also, the “distance from the Hudson River appeared to make commercial farming unfeasible and …[several years later] because potential settlers … were afraid of controversy with the New England colony over the land.” (Sung Bok Kim, Landlord and Tenant in Colonial New York, University of North Carolina Press, 1978, p. 283) Thinly populated, the area became a takeover target for Massachusetts, which was eager to push its border westward and encouraged its citizens to settle in the region. “Boston officials welcomed New York Dutch farmers if they supported Massachusetts’ territorial aspirations. It was a win-win situation for both the Bay Colony and for New York tenant farmers looking to escape the feudal system and enjoy actual land ownership.” (Gary Leveille, Eye of Shawenon, p. 71)

The Van Rensselaers (and the Livingstons to the south) resisted the encroachment vigorously, attempting to subdue the rebel tenants and Yankee squatters with force. In January 1755 the Nobletown rebels declared publicly that they owned their land under the authority of Massachusetts, provoking Van Rensselaer to form a posse to capture the rebellious tenants. Instead, they found themselves surrounded by the tenant militia and beat a hasty retreat. In May 1755 Van Rensselaer tried again, unleashing a company of armed men to clear out the Nobletown squatters. Robert Noble wrote “…our Houses have been torn down about our Ears, burnt before our Eyes, our Fences thrown Down, our Corn Fields laid waste we have sown but others have reaped, Husbands and heads of Families Carried to Gaol [jail] without Law …Wives and children left in the Wilderness unprovided for as the Ostrich’s young … You Don’t wonder If our hearts faint…” (Massachusetts Archives, Volume 6, pp. 615)

Hostilities intensified with retaliation on both sides. Finally, in June of 1766, Van Rensselaer assembled a band of about 140 experienced British soldiers led by the Albany sheriff to drive the interlopers out. Nobletown went up in flames and its residents fled to Egremont and Great Barrington.

This passage, from John L. Brooke’s Columbia Rising: Civil Life on the Upper Hudson from the Revolution to the Age of Jackson, describes the enduring impact of that event on the people in the border districts that included today’s Hillsdale:

“The peoples of the disputed hill districts north of Livingston Manor and east of Claverack were staunchly whig, and in their story lay a great lesson in the Revolutionary balance of consent and civil society. The inhabitants of Nobletown and Spencertown were still in contest with the Van Rensselaer family over the title to their land, and, since the Van Rensselaers supported the patriot cause, this struggle could well have drawn the hill people to tory allegiances. But the people of the east Claverack hills were the least touched by loyalism in the region and the most militant and united supporters of American Independence. In the summer of 1766 the settlers at Nobletown had lost everything at the hands of British troops called in by the … Van Rensselaers … Their accounts of the violence in 1766 must have underlain the militancy of the … hill town settlers against both the British and the claims of the Van Rensselaers to regional authority. The Nobletown-area militia regiment, the Ninth Albany, was clearly one of the most dependable in the county and was called up time and again to march to Kinderhook, to the Manor, across the river to the Helderberg hills, and up the Mohawk Valley to overawe suspected tories and to defend the state’s western frontier.”

After the war, many of these veterans settled in Hillsdale, accounting for the town’s high percentage of AWR graves. The veterans became leading citizens of the town, opening stores and businesses and serving in local government. Town fathers Parla Foster and Ambrose Latting were veterans, as were others whose names are now commemorated by town road signs: Collin, Hunt, and Rodman.

The relatively small Revolutionary War memorial belies the outsized role that Hillsdale residents played in our nation’s fight for independence. We owe them a debt of gratitude, on July 4th and every day.

(For a list of known ARW veterans buried in Hillsdale and Columbia County, see DAR Volumes I & II in the Roeliff Jansen Community Library Reference Room.)

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Rent Riots, Rebels and Revolution: How Hillsdale Helped Win the American War for Independence

At the southeast corner of Routes 22 and 23 stands Hillsdale’s Revolutionary War memorial, which was erected in 1977. Compared to the imposing Soldiers and Sailors monument in the town square, it is modest in size and design. It’s likely that many people drive by without ever noticing it. Many who pass it regularly may have forgotten it’s there.

But Hillsdale played a dynamic role in the country’s transition from the colonial era to the Republic. In the town’s 15 known cemeteries lie the remains of 61 American Revolutionary War (ARW) veterans. There are likely more, whose stones have been lost to time and neglect. Austerlitz, formed in 1818 from a chunk of Hillsdale and smaller parts of Chatham and Canaan, has another 52 ARW interments, bringing the total to 113. Columbia County records 588 ARW veteran burials, meaning that almost 20 percent of all known ARW veterans in the county are buried in was once Hillsdale.

Why did Hillsdale send so many men to war? One reason may have to do with the area’s pre-revolutionary history.

Back in January 2018, we wrote about the history of Nobletown, the forerunner of Hillsdale. In that post we noted that for many years the boundary between New York and Massachusetts had been in dispute. While the English-ruled Bay Colony contended that its western boundary was more than a mile west of today’s state line, the wealthy and powerful Van Rensselaers claimed that their New York manor lands included the thousands of acres of Rensselaer County and the land between the Hudson River and the Housatonic River (today’s Columbia County, extending into what is now Berkshire County). Much of this disputed territory had been acquired from the Mohican Indians through opaque land deeds that only further muddied ownership claims. The dispute lasted well over a century. (For an excellent history of the land disputes and border wars that followed, see Gary Leveille, Eye of Shawenon: A Berkshire History of North Egremont, Prospect Lake, and the Green River Valley, 2011)

The Van Rensselaers ruled their feudal-like patent by renting land to tenant farmers (leaseholders), quite different from the concept of individual land ownership (freeholders) prevalent in New England. The Van Rensselaers had little luck convincing their tenant farmers to settle in the hill country borderlands. The land was hilly and less attractive for farming, unlike the richer soil closer to the Hudson River. Also, the “distance from the Hudson River appeared to make commercial farming unfeasible and …[several years later] because potential settlers … were afraid of controversy with the New England colony over the land.” (Sung Bok Kim, Landlord and Tenant in Colonial New York, University of North Carolina Press, 1978, p. 283) Thinly populated, the area became a takeover target for Massachusetts, which was eager to push its border westward and encouraged its citizens to settle in the region. “Boston officials welcomed New York Dutch farmers if they supported Massachusetts’ territorial aspirations. It was a win-win situation for both the Bay Colony and for New York tenant farmers looking to escape the feudal system and enjoy actual land ownership.” (Gary Leveille, Eye of Shawenon, p. 71)

The Van Rensselaers (and the Livingstons to the south) resisted the encroachment vigorously, attempting to subdue the rebel tenants and Yankee squatters with force. In January 1755 the Nobletown rebels declared publicly that they owned their land under the authority of Massachusetts, provoking Van Rensselaer to form a posse to capture the rebellious tenants. Instead, they found themselves surrounded by the tenant militia and beat a hasty retreat. In May 1755 Van Rensselaer tried again, unleashing a company of armed men to clear out the Nobletown squatters. Robert Noble wrote “…our Houses have been torn down about our Ears, burnt before our Eyes, our Fences thrown Down, our Corn Fields laid waste we have sown but others have reaped, Husbands and heads of Families Carried to Gaol [jail] without Law …Wives and children left in the Wilderness unprovided for as the Ostrich’s young … You Don’t wonder If our hearts faint…” (Massachusetts Archives, Volume 6, pp. 615)

Hostilities intensified with retaliation on both sides. Finally, in June of 1766, Van Rensselaer assembled a band of about 140 experienced British soldiers led by the Albany sheriff to drive the interlopers out. Nobletown went up in flames and its residents fled to Egremont and Great Barrington.

This passage, from John L. Brooke’s Columbia Rising: Civil Life on the Upper Hudson from the Revolution to the Age of Jackson, describes the enduring impact of that event on the people in the border districts that included today’s Hillsdale:

“The peoples of the disputed hill districts north of Livingston Manor and east of Claverack were staunchly whig, and in their story lay a great lesson in the Revolutionary balance of consent and civil society. The inhabitants of Nobletown and Spencertown were still in contest with the Van Rensselaer family over the title to their land, and, since the Van Rensselaers supported the patriot cause, this struggle could well have drawn the hill people to tory allegiances. But the people of the east Claverack hills were the least touched by loyalism in the region and the most militant and united supporters of American Independence. In the summer of 1766 the settlers at Nobletown had lost everything at the hands of British troops called in by the … Van Rensselaers … Their accounts of the violence in 1766 must have underlain the militancy of the … hill town settlers against both the British and the claims of the Van Rensselaers to regional authority. The Nobletown-area militia regiment, the Ninth Albany, was clearly one of the most dependable in the county and was called up time and again to march to Kinderhook, to the Manor, across the river to the Helderberg hills, and up the Mohawk Valley to overawe suspected tories and to defend the state’s western frontier.”

After the war, many of these veterans settled in Hillsdale, accounting for the town’s high percentage of AWR graves. The veterans became leading citizens of the town, opening stores and businesses and serving in local government. Town fathers Parla Foster and Ambrose Latting were veterans, as were others whose names are now commemorated by town road signs: Collin, Hunt, and Rodman.

The relatively small Revolutionary War memorial belies the outsized role that Hillsdale residents played in our nation’s fight for independence. We owe them a debt of gratitude, on July 4th and every day.

(For a list of known ARW veterans buried in Hillsdale and Columbia County, see DAR Volumes I & II in the Roeliff Jansen Community Library Reference Room.)

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Don’t Have a Cow!

Over the years, a number of celebrities have lived in or visited Hillsdale. Some were not famous when they lived here but achieved celeb status elsewhere. But Hillsdale was always “home.” A case in point was Hudson River School painter John Bunyan Bristol, who was born in Hillsdale but achieved prominence in New York City. Even after he achieved worldwide recognition, he still spent summers at the Mt. Washington House. We wrote about Bristol in this post.

Some believe that one of Hillsdale’s celebrities was Elsie the Cow, the famous mascot and logo of the Borden Milk Company. We’re sorry to report that the real Elsie the Cow never made her way to Hillsdale, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t some Elsie history here in town.

Our story begins in Norwich, NY, where Gail Borden was born in 1801.

After a few years, the family moved to Kentucky, and then to Indiana. In his early 20s, Gail followed his brothers south, eventually working as a surveyor in Mississippi. By 1835, Borden – now married – had settled in Texas, working first as a surveyor and then as a newspaper editor, which is interesting since his only formal education took place during his two years in Indiana, and that was spent learning to be a surveyor. How he ended up editing a newspaper is still a mystery.

Borden was an inventor, although not always successful. One of his inventions was a “terraqueous machine,” a kind of sail-powered amphibious wagon that could both thunder across the plains and glide into the waters of the Texas coast. Accounts of his first – and only – journey are not kind.

In 1849, Borden turned his attention to meat. Specifically, he created a meat biscuit similar to Native American pemmican. The meat biscuits were immensely popular during the California Gold Rush because the 49ers needed compact, lightweight, non-perishable supplies and Borden’s meat biscuits fit the bill. Borden actually travelled to the 1851 London World’s Fair, where his biscuits were well received despite the fact that they looked like an old pop tart and from all reports tasted like the box the pop tart came in.

Doesn’t this look yummy?

(A lot has been written about Borden and we commend our readers to the library or Internet for more comprehensive study.)

Sailing back from London, Borden was horrified to see that several children aboard the ship had died from drinking tainted milk. He wondered if there was a way to preserve milk indefinitely, and found inspiration from the Shakers with whom he had spent some time, possibly in Kentucky. He recalled that the Shakers had developed a process of evaporating fruit juice by vacuum and making it “shelf-stable,” as we would say today. Borden used a similar process and invented condensed milk. In short order, he founded the New York Condensed Milk Company.

Borden opened factories across New York State, including in Craryville, Copake and Ancram.

By 1858, Eagle Brand Condensed Milk was a trusted brand and selling briskly. During the Civil War, the Union Army supplied the troops with Eagle Brand, an enormous windfall for Borden.

Borden died in Texas in 1874, but the New York Condensed Milk Company lived on and in 1899, the company renamed itself Borden Milk Company in his honor.

Still with us? Here’s the Hillsdale connection:

The cartoon logo of Elsie the Cow was created by Borden’s director of advertising, Stuart Peabody, in 1936.

Peabody was a lifelong Hillsdale weekender with a farm on Taconic Creek Rd., off of West End Rd.

(Some sources credit New York advertising agency maven David William Reid with inventing Elsie. It’s often said that “success has a million fathers; failure is an orphan.” In any case, if Reid did indeed come up with the idea, it most certainly would have been at the direction of his client, Stuart Peabody. So we give Peabody credit, and so does Advertising Age. However, a New York Times obituary states that a Borden illustrator, Walter Oehrle, actually drew the cartoon, again at Peabody’s direction.)

In a few years, Elsie became the most popular company mascot ever. The logo can still be found on Eagle Brand cans in stores across the country, and the Elsie logo is considered to be an icon of advertising history.

In the 1930’s, Borden Milk Company invented a new-fangled milking machine called the “Rotolactor” , which it proudly displayed and operated at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. During one demonstration, it is said, a girl asked the Borden representative, “Which one is Elsie?” Thinking fast, the Borden man looked around for the friendliest looking cow and selected a Jersey named “You’ll Do, Lobelia,” born in Brookfield, MA in 1932. Rechristened and festooned with a necklace of daisies, “Elsie” became the biggest hit of the World’s Fair.

Elsie began making celebrity appearances throughout the Northeast, but demand for Elsie extended throughout the nation, and it soon became clear that there was a need for a few more Elsies, strategically located around the country. Sad to say, “You’ll Do, Lobelia” died in a tragic accident in 1941 and is buried in Plainsboro, NJ. Here’s the headstone.

“You’ll Do, Lobelia
A pure bred Jersey cow
One of the great Elsies of our time”

You can go see it if you happen to be in Plainsboro and find yourself with absolutely nothing else to do.

The remaining ersatz Elsies soldiered on, appearing at War Bond rallies, store openings and fairs across the country.

But did Elsie ever grace Hillsdale with her bovine charm? There is no evidence that she did, although some residents recall visiting “Elsie” at the Peabody farm. Obviously, anyone can name a cow Elsie, and perhaps Stuart Peabody did.

But just like George Washington, the real Elsie the Cow never slept in Hillsdale.

 

 

(The Historians of Hillsdale thank Peter Hazzard, Jamie Carano and Peter Cipkowski for providing photos and info for this post.)

Image | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

New Life for “The Old Agway”

Kathy and Steve Bluestone

If you have passed the intersection of Anthony Street and White Hill Lane in Hillsdale Hamlet, you have probably seen the flurry of activity happening at the old Agway building. Owners Steve and Kathy Bluestone are restoring the three-story structure and plan to open the Roe Jan Brewing Company on the site.

The  building dates to about 1851, when it was built by Joshua Bulkeley. Bulkeley was born in Connecticut about 1819 and moved to Hillsdale with his wife, the former Mary Halland. They took up residence in a boarding house owned by Nellie Brown and in 1857, Joshua and Mary had a son, Henry Halland Bulkeley.

In the early 1850s Joshua and other local merchants opened the Hillsdale Mercantile Association which sold, among other things, patent medicines and clothing. Early photographs show mannequins wearing shirts. The mercantile was in business into the 1880s and appears to have been a competitor of Dimmick’s store (today’s Hillsdale General Store), which opened at Cullin Park about 1855.

In 1865, 14-year-old Freeland Pulver was given a dollar by his father and dispatched on the train from Copake Iron Works to Hillsdale to start his first job working for the Mercantile. His first year salary was $75, plus room and board. He boarded at the home of Abram Decker.

In 1983, the Roe Jan Independent published a 1934 recollection written by Freeland Pulver. In it, Freeland noted that on his first day he sold two pounds of “very dark sugar” for 25 cents a pound and one pound of chewing tobacco for $1.25.

Around 1890, Joshua Bulkeley closed the Hillsdale Mercantile Association and Freeland Pulver and fellow clerk Henry Best opened a general store — Pulver and Best — in the building. When Henry retired, Freeland and his brother, Wesley, renamed the operation Pulver Brothers, which sold a variety of goods including food and clothing. When Wesley retired, Freeland simply named the store Freeland Pulver, as you see in the advertisement below:

The original Masonic Temple sat on Cold Water St. Hillsdale High School had no gymnasium, so the basketball team practiced at the Masonic Temple until it burned down in 1927. According to an 1987 article in the Roe Jan Independent, the basketball team thereafter practiced in a gym they constructed on the third floor of Pulver’s store. That must have been pleasant for the customers below.

The boys recalled that there were side rooms adjacent to the basketball court, in which were held meetings of the Modern Woodmen of America, the International Order of Odd Fellows and (it was rumored) the Ku Klux Klan.

Pulver’s Store in 1890

Posing on the porch of Pulver’s Store (left to right) are Joshua Bulkeley, Philip Becker, Levi Zeh, William Murray, Lorenzo Gilbert, Allan Foster, Chauncey Hutchinson,Henry Best (seated on railing) and Freeland Pulver (with hand on post)

Over the years, the multi-purpose old building housed a shirt factory and, interestingly, a beer distribution company. The John Baines Bottling Works bottled beer in the basement (the beer was brought in from elsewhere, as the building had no brewing capacity or, for that matter, plumbing). In the late 1920s, George Steuerwald took over the building and opened GLF Feed and a John Deere dealership. GLF was an acronym for Grange League Federation and there were a number of GLF locations across the state.

Until 1931 the Hillsdale Fire Department, founded in 1918, garaged its Model A fire engine on the first floor in what later would become the “scale room.” Steuerwald installed a huge scale in the floor of the first story, and farmers would drive wagons full of grain to the store to be weighed, ground and bagged. The hopper and conveyor system used in the grinding process are still in place today.

Mr. Steuerwald sold the building to Ralph Burlarley in 1957. Mr. Burlarley then opened Hillsdale Farm Supply. In 1964, after GLF merged with the Eastern States Farmers Exchange to form Agway, Mr. Burlarley stocked Agway products and over time people came to refer to Hillsdale Farm Supply as “the Agway.”

Hillsdale Farm Supply remained in the building until 1987, when Mr. Burlarley sold a majority share of the business to Robert Edelman. Mr. Edelman subsequently moved Hillsdale Farm Supply to the building that now houses Taconic Valley Lawn & Garden on Route 23. As you can see in this portion of a 1988 Agway ad in the Roe Jan Independent, it was still commonly referred to as the “Hillsdale Agway.”

Hillsdale Farm Supply sold the building to Marilyn Herrington in 1987 and she used it as a storage facility until 2008. In 2009 a group of artists lived and worked in the building. Since then the building, still referred to as “the old Agway building,” has been unoccupied. In 2017, Hillsdale resident and shopkeeper Matthew White purchased the building, eventually selling it to the Bluestones in 2018.

The three-story post and beam building was in rough shape. Thanks to some shoring up by the Herringtons, it remained standing but needed a new foundation.

Shoring up by the Herringtons saved the building from collapse

The Bluestones raised the entire structure by about three feet and built a new foundation. Elevating the structure means that the full first floor will be above grade for the first time in decades; repeated paving of Anthony Street over the years had raised the road surface above the northeast corner of the building.

They also reinforced the structure to keep the building safe and intact.

Steve and Kathy are committed to preserving and restoring the old building’s historic architectural features. For instance, the building originally used traditional board-and-batten siding, which can be seen on the barn’s north and south facades. During the Agway era, the battens on the east and west facades were removed and horizontal “novelty” siding was installed. That siding has been removed and new battens are being installed.

The original roof brackets had rotted and new replicas were made and installed.

The Bluestones rebuilt the long-gone first floor balcony that wrapped around the south and west sides of the original building. About half of the original glass windows were salvageable.

Attractive new stonework and ramps make the building accessible to all.

The bar of the brew pub will wrap around the old grain hopper, and other historic artifacts from the building’s past will be incorporated into the décor.

The brewing operations of the Roe Jan Brewing Company will be in the old building’s basement, while the restaurant/pub will occupy the first floor. The restaurant, featuring an open kitchen, will focus on wood-fired cooking using local and sustainably sourced ingredients. The two upper stories will house several studio and one-bedroom rental apartments.

It’s very exciting to see such an historic building re-imagined and reinvigorated.

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 9 Comments

What’s In A Name?

Recently, we came upon a 1976 article from the Roe Jan Independent about the origin of some of the more colorful road names in the Roe Jan area. Ironically, the author of the article was Tim Belknap, who was a guest blogger last year.

Also last year, we wrote about how Pill Hill Road got its name. But that’s not the only curiously named road in the area. Cold Water St. is supposedly named after a brook that has since been paved over.  Belknap noted that residents of the street said their water was good, “but they have to drill deep to get it.”

Black Grocery Road in Copake is named for the general store that Hezekiah Van Deusen built to sell whiskey, chewing tobacco and rock candy to the Irish railroad workers building the New York and Harlem Railroad in the 1850s. According to legend, lacking his preferred red paint, Van Deusen painted the store with the “black paint” used by the railroad. Actually, it was probably coal tar creosote, which the railroad used to preserve railroad ties (see Susan Bachelder’s comment below). It was called “black paint” because it is black when first applied but over time, it fades to brown. In any case, the store is long gone (along with the railroad) but the name lives on.

The only known photograph of the Black Grocery, which inexplicably is brown.

Shunpike Road was named after the rutted path that some travelers took to avoid paying the toll at the East Gate toll house. Cakeout Turnpike is the corruption of Kijk-Uit, a Dutch word meaning “a vast, beautiful view,” which is afforded by the nearby Kijk-Uit Mountain. We’re not sure why it is called a turnpike, since it’s only about four miles long and there is no evidence that tolls were ever collected on it.

Whippoorwill Road is named for a poem by Wallace Bruce which first appeared in Harper’s Magazine in November 1887. You have probably seen the historic marker at the location of the farm where Bruce was born. Mr. Bruce was appointed United States consul in Edinburgh, Scotland, July 1, 1889, by President William Henry Harrison. While in Scotland he was instrumental in securing the erection in Edinburgh of a statue of Lincoln to commemorate the service of Scottish-American soldiers in the American civil war.

The marker on Whippoorwill Road

Even some of the streams in the area have peculiar names. The story goes that a Hudson man was hauling a wagon of whiskey in Ancram, possibly along today’s County Route 3. According to Belknap, he was sampling his wares along the way and managed to upset the wagon. A cask of whiskey shattered on the rocks of the nearby stream, which was ever onward called “Punch Brook.”

Punch Brook runs near the Pond restaurant

Tory Hill Road in Hillsdale sounds like it should have a significant Revolutionary War connection. Alas, according to Belknap, it does not. Someone apparently just thought it was a nice-sounding name.

On the other hand, Orphan Farm Road in Copake does have historical significance. “It was named in the 1940s after a farm there whose income was to be used to provide money for European orphans of World War II,” Belknap reported.

The article noted that there was at the time no explanation for how Texas Hill Road got its name, and we haven’t been able to find one either.

If you know the origin of other interesting area road names, please tell us in the comments section below.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Hail to the Chiefs: 100 Years of the Hillsdale Fire Department

 

The Internet is amazing. You start out looking for one thing, only to find something else so fascinating it sucks up the hours you were planning to spend on the first thing.

This happens to us a lot. This week we were researching historic buildings in the Hillsdale Hamlet. No sooner had we typed “Dimmick’s” into Google than up popped “Our History & Past Chiefs,” a page from the Hillsdale Fire Company website. The page was compiled from handwritten notes delivered at the fire company’s 75th Anniversary Open House in 1993, which makes 2018 the Hillsdale Fire Company’s centenary. Happy 100th Anniversary, Hillsdale Fire Company!

The Hillsdale Fire Company is an all-volunteer organization and depends on public support to respond to emergencies, 24/7, in Hillsdale, Egremont, Copake, Austerlitz, and other communities in a 43-square-mile area. A big thank you to Richard Briggs and all the Hillsdale volunteer firefighters and auxiliary members for keeping our town safe.

Here is a link to the history page. It’s a delightful read, full of arcane fire engine facts and gossipy asides. A few of our favorites:

• The Hillsdale Fire Company was formed in 1918, the same year the U.S. entered World War I.

• The company’s first fire truck was an Obenchain-Boyer on a Ford chassis. A February 1919 underwriter’s report said the truck had “no pump, no hose and no nozzles.” What the …?

A restored Obenchain-Boyer Chemical Truck. When new in 1921, it cost $1,648.68, about $21,000 in today’s dollars. A new chemical truck today will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, so the Obenchain-Boyer was a bargain!

• From 1918-1928 the company’s fire alarm consisted of a railroad locomotive metal tire, split and hung from a tree limb by Dimmick’s Store (today’s Hillsdale General Store). A hammer was left conveniently nearby.

• It’s no small irony that during the first half of the 20th century the company lost significant property and equipment to fire. The Hillsdale Fire Company met at the Masonic Lodge on Cold Water Street until it burned down in 1927. The company’s first fire truck was stored at Conklin’s Garage, which burned down in 1940. A drug store owned by first Fire Chief Harry Cornell burned down in 1983.

• A large siren, which could be heard for miles, was mounted on the roof of the second Masonic Lodge (built 1928) on Cold Water Street. Before direct dial phones arrived in 1952, people reported fires by calling telephone operators at the A.M. Johnson Telephone Office on Anthony St. The operators activated the rooftop alarm and firefighters called “Central” to learn the location and type of call.

• A “new fire house” was built in 1931 (today’s Columbia County Sheriff station). Just like today, there was very little parking in the hamlet and many men had to walk to the calls. The building was heated by a coal-burning furnace, which members took turns tending. Wet coiled fire hose that was stuck in the coal bin started a fire in the coal by spontaneous combustion. The cellar ceiling was charred badly, but no other damage was reported.

• In the summer of 1947 a cargo truck flipped on Route 23 and Molasses Hill at the Massachusetts state line. Bystanders looted the truck’s contents while Massachusetts State Troopers arrested the Hillsdale Fire Chief for having unregistered vehicles (fire trucks!) in the state.

• In 1954 Fire Chief Everett “Stub” Shadic, responding to a call from his home across from the Hillsdale Library (today’s Town Hall), commandeered a bike from a youngster to make better time. The bike had hand brakes, which he did not know how to use, and he sailed past the firehouse and through the ball field, coming to rest in a ditch.

• A wild duck was removed from a chimney on Mitchell St.

• Summer grass fires from lightning strikes were frequent. At one grass fire the owner flailed at the fire with a pine branch, which fanned the flames and set his pants on fire.

• One lady got angry at firefighters who trampled her tulip beds to extinguish a grass fire near her barn.

• In the early to mid-20th century, picking up a wet hose in a manure-covered barnyard after a lightening fire at 3:00am was a rite of passage for young fire company volunteers. This tradition declined, along with the number of active farms in the area, in the second half of the 20th century.

We all depend on our local fire company. Whether abandoning their cozy beds in the wee hours, or taking time of from work in the middle of the day, these men and women put their own lives on the line in some cases to save ours. And they do this not for pay, but because it’s necessary and the right thing to do.

This is the season to make end-of-year charitable contributions. We are making a donation to the fire company and urge you to do so, too. There are never enough volunteers. You don’t have to don a turnout suit and race into a flaming building to be a valued volunteer. Check out the Hillsdale Fire Company Facebook page for ways to help.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Envisioning Education for Everyone: The Harlemville Schoolhouse

Almost 140 years ago the tidy, bright green building at the intersection of Harlemville Rd. and County Route 21C was constructed as a public schoolhouse for the residents of Harlemville, a hamlet in northwest Hillsdale.  In 1880 Harlemville numbered 100 people and had two stores and a hotel.  Very little evidence of that community remains, except for the schoolhouse.

Today the building houses the Art School of Columbia County (ASCC), a non-profit community group serving more than 1500 Columbia County residents with free and low-cost art programming for all ages.

We’ve always wondered about the the Harlemville Schoolhouse and were delighted to find a lively history of  the building in “Columbia County History & Heritage,” the magazine of the Columbia County Historical Society (Spring/Summer 2018). Written by Kathryn Kosto, ASCC’s Executive Director, “Education and Community: The Harlemville Schoolhouse” is illustrated with period photos that were new to us. It’s a well-researched look at public education in a rural New York community circa 1880. Click on the link below to read the full article.

harlemvilleschoolhouse-ilovepdf-compressed

It’s almost unheard of for a building to retain its original purpose after a century and a half, yet the little green schoolhouse continues to educate and serve the community. The ASCC has been offered the donation of the historic 1880 Schoolhouse and the surrounding 0.81 acres. To receive this gift, ASCC must raise $20,000 by  year’s end to ensure the structure has funding for future maintenance needs.  If you’d like to donate to the Art School’s Capital Campaign, and support its vision of “envisioning art for everyone,” click here.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Lost and Found: The Middle Gate Toll House on the Columbia Turnpike

Martindale Toll Gate aka The Middle Gate

In 1776, the population of New York City was 25,000, second only to Philadelphia in the 13 original American colonies. But that changed quickly. By 1830 more than 185,000 people called themselves New Yorkers.

With growth of that magnitude, it was essential to maintain a steady supply of food coming into the city. This was great news for the farmers of the Hudson Valley and Berkshire regions, who produced an abundance of crops and livestock. And these farmers had, in effect, a superhighway for transporting their goods to the city: the Hudson River.

The only problem? Getting from east to west meant traversing a tree-stump ridden cart path that was icy in the winter and muddy in the spring. In 1799 the New York State legislature passed a bill authorizing the establishment of a corporation whose mission was to build and maintain a road from the Massachusetts state line to the Hudson River. The corporation was funded with $25,000 ($475,000 in 2018 dollars) in investment capital for construction; ongoing maintenance and investor dividends would be funded through toll collection.

The legislature authorized the construction of three toll houses along the 20 mile length of what became known as the Columbia Turnpike. These included the East Gate Toll House in Hillsdale, one mile west of the Massachusetts line, and the West Gate Toll House, 1.5 miles east of the Hudson River in the city of Hudson (the area is now Greenport). Both of these structures still exist. A third toll house, known as the Middle Gate, was built somewhere between the East Gate and the West Gate, but it vanished long ago.

The Historians of Hillsdale took on the challenge of identifying the location of the long-lost Middle Gate. It has been a fascinating puzzle to assemble, and we still may be missing a few puzzle pieces, but here is what we discovered.

Finding the toll house location on old maps was not difficult: it’s plainly shown on 1851 and 1858 maps of Columbia County. (The full-size 1851 map is in the Hillsdale Town Hall, and can be seen on the “History” tab at http://www.hillsdaleny.com.) Interestingly, the 1851 map shows the projected path of the New York & Harlem Railroad, which didn’t actually arrive until 1852. The Martindale Depot wasn’t built until 1854. That’s why the 1851 map does not show the Martindale depot, but the 1858 map does. Here’s the portion of the 1858 map that shows both.

So we knew the location of the toll house, but we didn’t yet know the “location of the location.” It’s almost impossible to transpose features from the 1858 map onto a contemporary road map, such as the 2014 Jimapco map of Columbia County.

To find the Middle Gate Toll House, we first had to find the Columbia Turnpike. Many people believe that the Columbia Turnpike faithfully followed today’s Rt. 23 from end to end. But the original turnpike diverged from today’s Rt. 23 in several places. One of those places included the location of the Middle Gate.

The locations of the Martindale Depot and railroad tracks on the 1858 map were significant clues. The depot was eventually taken apart and rebuilt as a house in Philmont, but the evidence of the railroad, in the form of a track bed, remains.

Harlem Division engineer Vic Westman drew this picture of the Martindale Depot. It was dismantled in 1949 and the wood was used by a railroad employee to build a house in Philmont

As we said, the railroad came through Hillsdale in 1852 and continued on to Chatham. But from Hillsdale to Martindale, the railroad followed the course of the Columbia Turnpike. There is a good reason for this: steep hills are anathema to both turnpikes and railroads. A helpful resource is a topographical map. If you are unfamiliar with topo maps, the brown wavy lines are called “contour lines” and in this map the space between any two lines indicates a rise or decline in elevation of ten feet. The closer the contour lines are to each other, the steeper the grade.

Here is a section of a 1904 topographical map that shows both the railroad and turnpike meandering between steep hills and staying on relatively level ground, following a course that corresponds with the 1858 map.

In 1972, the PennCentral Railroad (successor to the New York Central Railroad, which itself was the successor to the New York & Harlem Railroad) rather abruptly terminated service north of Dover Plains. We say abruptly because there was no forewarning of the closure. People from Philmont who got on the train in the morning to head into the city were gobsmacked to discover that their return commute would end in Dover Plains! No way to run a railroad, we say.

While passenger service ended at Dover Plains, freight traffic continued northward until 1980. Sometime after that, the railroad began the task of pulling up the rails, ties, signals and other equipment. What remained was the track bed, which for a while served as a footpath. Eventually, it became overgrown in most places, but fortunately not everywhere. (Over the ensuing years, a lot of the track bed has been purchased by the Harlem Valley Rail Trail — more on that later.)

One of the minor miracles afforded to historians is Google Maps. Here is screen shot showing the ghost of a track bed:

The vestiges of the old Harlem line are still visible, and they lead right to our next landmark: the Rt. 11 overpass.

This is a picture of the overpass looking north as Rt. 11 continues up to Philmont.

Based on measurements of both the 1858 and 2014 maps, we are confident that the depot was located on the north side of the overpass and slightly to the east. (If anyone knows the location of that house in Philmont built from the old depot, please let us know.)

Back to Google Maps. Note the beaver pond that sprang up about 15 years ago. Much of the land in Martindale where the railroad (and turnpike) used to run was designated an official wetland by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation in the late 1980s, which may be why no effort has been made to, if you’ll pardon the expression, drain the swamp.

The railroad (and turnpike), however, were there, right on the edge of the land now swallowed up by the pond. We know this because you can clearly see in the photo below the telephone (telegraph?) poles partly submerged in the water. Obviously, they were not installed that way — the beavers had not yet arrived, evidently. But telegraph lines were often placed along a railroad right-of-way. We assume that these wires are no longer in use, since if one came down in a storm it would require a boat to access the pole from which it fell. But getting information from Consolidated/Fairpoint/Taconic Telephone is as difficult as getting good service from them. (Rim shot. We’re here all week.)

The photo below shows a pole and wires mysteriously disappearing into the woods. They are immediately adjacent to the old train bed.

We were denied access to walk the property along the rail bed, where we thought we might come across the foundation of Middle Gate.  Undeterred, we found the December 9, 1891 issue of the Chatham Courier, which had an item on the history of the Columbia Turnpike. The excerpt reads, “Another [tollhouse] at what was once known as “Todd city,” a small settlement of half a dozen houses, a mile east of Martindale.” We believe that the author was generalizing and that Todd City (and thus the Middle Gate) was a mile southeast of Martindale. By the way, this is the only reference to Todd City we’ve come across, and we have found no records of anyone named Todd in the area.

We believe we have located the site of the Middle Gate Toll House to within 100 feet. X marks the spot on this map. It is disctinctly possible that the foundation of the toll house, if it still exists, lies beneath the waters of the beaver pond.

Map reproduced with the permission of JIMAPCO, Inc. Copyright 2014

Look at the dotted line that cuts through the first “a” in Martindale and continues in a southeasterly direction, tracing the route of the railroad. According to the legend on the Jimapco map, it is a “bike path/trail.” Well, we’ve been there and in the words of poet Ron Chappell, “There ain’t no trail.”

Since the 1980s, there has been an association working to build a rail trail from Wassaic to Chatham (46 miles). We rang up the folks at Jimapco and asked if it is possible that Jimapco might have included the projected route of the Harlem Valley Rail Trail in their most recent map (2014), even though the trail does not yet exist in the marked location. The representative said, “Very likely,” especially if the plan for the trail was well along at the time the map was printed (Jimapco maps have a five-year lifespan). “We work with communities and organizations to understand what’s happening or what will happen,” the representative told us. “Otherwise our maps could be out of date as soon as they roll off the printing press.” It is extremely likely that Jimapco inserted the projected path of the rail trail.

The inclusion of the “trail” on the Jimapco map confirms that in the Martindale vicinity, the railroad — and thus the turnpike — were several hundred yards north of today’s Rt. 23. The turnpike took similar diversions in Craryville and Hollowville, then known as Smokey Hollow.

As always, if you have any thoughts or additional information on any of this, we welcome your comments below.

A note on our methods: You may be curious about how we were able to extrapolate locations and distances from the 1858 map to the 2014 map.

The 1858 map includes a scale. Not all old maps do. Modern maps, like the 2014 Jimapco map, always have a scale bar. You can use a ruler to measure distances, but it’s incredibly tedious and the arithmetic can be brutal. Thankfully, we have a device called a map wheel, which has an adjustable scale. One preset scale is 1:63360, or one inch to one mile (there are 63,360 inches in a mile). But it is also possible to simply trace the scale bar and tell the device that (in the case of the Jimapco map) the distance traced is five miles. From there, it’s fairly simple to move from one map to another by constantly adjusting the scale. We wouldn’t use it for surgery, but it’s pretty accurate.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 13 Comments

Of Floods and Picnics: Mysteries Abound

July 23rd, 2018 was 130th anniversary of the Great Flood of Hillsdale. On that morning, a cloudburst dumped 12 inches of rain in one hour on Austerlitz and North Hillsdale, and as far west as Craryville. By comparison, during the worst of Hurricane Harvey in 2017, Houston, TX, received four inches of rain per hour (although obviously for a much longer period). The point is that 12 inches in an hour is a lot of rain, and almost instantly, all of the creeks and rivers in Hillsdale were inundated.

At the time, there were quite a few structures dotting the banks of these waterways, including sawmills, gristmills and other industries that required hydropower. As the waters rose and picked up speed, virtually every one of these structures was washed away. The water carried debris into Copake, where the flood’s sole casualty drowned.

One would be tempted to think that such a dramatic event would be big news. But after searching the digital files of the Hillsdale Harbinger and the Register Star, as well as The New York Times, almost nothing appeared in print about the flood. The only reference we found was an historical mention some years later in a news clipping from an unnamed newspaper on file at the Columbia County Historical Society.

Considering that the Harbinger devoted quite a lot of space to covering whose Aunt was visiting from New Jersey and who was recovering at home from a nasty chill, one might expect that a flood would be worthy of at least a mention. And in fact, floods were covered extensively in the Harbinger. Search the archives for “flood” and you will learn all about the Johnstown Flood in 1889, which admittedly did kill 2209 people, but also of floods in Kansas, Texas, and many other unfortunate places. But not in Hillsdale. Go figure. (If anyone has more extensive information, please add it as a comment below.)

Meanwhile, one of things we enjoy about researching a given subject is that you come upon so many things that are completely unrelated but really interesting.

While digging around for information about the 1888 flood in the achives of the Columbia County Historical Society, we came upon a photocopy of an undated article from an unnamed newspaper with the headline, “Time Has Erased All Signs of Once Popular Hillsdale Picnic Grounds.” The article was written by Hillsdale resident Palmer Vincent, who worked as a postal clerk in the early years of the 20th century. He was also a noted local photographer – a selection of his photos can be found on the Hillsdale town website in the “History” tab.

In the article, Mr. Vincent recalled that White’s Hill, the highest point of land in Hillsdale, took its name from John White, who farmed the hill for many years. At the top of the hill, one was treated to a spectacular vista. A twelve-foot high tower was erected and from its perch it was said that one could see five states.

“A trip to White’s Hill was as exciting to yesteryear’s teenagers as a visit to Radio City Music Hall for today’s sophisticated youngsters,” said Mr. Vincent. “Preparations were made for days as picnics were planned and dad was asked if the Morgan mare and a rig might be available for the Sunday outing.” (Because of Mr. Vincent’s reference to Radio City Music Hall, one can infer that he wrote this remembrance after 1932, the year the Music Hall opened.)

Mr. Vincent recalled that one of the more daring things to do, if you were a boy, was to carve a heart in the wall of the tower with a jackknife and put your initials and those of your girl within its borders. “And that old tower, its sidewalls and benches were well carved!”

Why was the picnic ground abandoned?  In all likelihood, we’ll never know for sure. Alas, the tower and picnic grounds have vanished, but if you or someone you know has any recollections of White’s Hill, please add them in a comment below.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Vanishing Act

Lauren:

We’ve written about Hillsdale cemeteries before, but my imagination has been captured by one in particular: the McKinstry Family Plot on upper Hunt Road. Its beautiful headstones, many still legible, have lain mostly undisturbed for more than 200 years. Many of them date to the American Revolution era.

Reading history, one might be forgiven for thinking the only people alive in America during the 18th century were John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and the other Founding Fathers. The writing of history is asymmetrical. Women, by and large, are not included in historical narratives because history favors the lives of public figures, and women were not allowed to be public figures.

But the gravestones in the McKinstry plot fill in the gaps, a little, about the lives of two women who lived and died in Hillsdale, on the fringes of history.

John and Jane Dickie McKinstry came to the American colonies in 1740 from Ulster County in Northern Ireland. They had five children — Thomas, John Dickie, Sarah, Charles and David – and in 1772 they moved from Blandford, MA to Hillsdale.

John Dickie McKinstry saw service during the French and Indian War, and all four McKinstry sons served during the American Revolution in the Albany County Militia, 9th Regiment. The historical records tell us John was at Bunker Hill and participated in “all the principal northern battles,” only to be captured by pro-British Indians at The Battle of The Cedars in Canada. Bound to a stake, with bundles of sticks piled around him, about to be immolated, McKinstry remembered that the hostile Indian chief, Brandt, was a Mason. John communicated to Brandt using the secret Masonic sign and was immediately released. For the rest of his life John McKinstry hosted Brandt at an annual dinner at the Hudson Masonic Lodge, where the two old combatants retold the story.

John’s younger brother Charles is also found in historical records – as a Lieutenant in the Albany Ninth Militia during the war, as colonel of the Hillsdale militia after the war, as Hillsdale Town Supervisor and New York State legislator, and as the owner of a noted tavern at “the foot of the Cakeout Hills” … where “all the prominent public business of the town, civil and military, was done.”

We know a fair amount about Charles McKinstry’s public life. But we know almost nothing about his private life, except for what can be read on the gravestones:

Charles McKinstry and Tabitha Patterson married in 1774. She bore him eight children and died giving birth to the ninth. Tabitha was 32. This seems shocking to us today, but in the 18th century, on average, a white woman could expect to become pregnant between five and 10 times, and to give birth to between five and seven live children. One in four children died before the age of ten.

In a remarkable biography, Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin, historian Jill Lepore pieces together the small, sorrowful, impoverished life of Jane Franklin Mecom, Benjamin Franklin’s youngest and favorite sister, from letters the two wrote each other throughout their lives. Their paths in life were irrevocably shaped by their gender. Benjamin Franklin ran away from home at 17 to escape an indenture. His life was measured in worldly accomplishments – statesman, politician, inventor and genius. Jane, only 11 when he left, was married at 15 to a mentally and financially unstable man eight years her senior. She bore 12 children, only one of whom survived her. With her husband in debtor’s prison much of the time, she took in boarders and made soap to earn money. She stayed in Boston and buried her parents, then was forced to flee when the British took the town. Her life was measured in a litany of grief she called her “Book of Ages,” a register of the births and deaths of her children.

Benjamin Franklin wrote, in Poor Richard’s Almanack, “One half of the world does not know how the other half lives.” He didn’t know how right he was. From Book of Ages:

“Men waged wars, but for women each birth was another battle. No woman dared imagine herself spared, not by grace, not by wealth; pain was her portion. Even if she survived childbirth, she could scarcely expect that her child would. Queen Anne, who ascended to the British throne in 1702, was pregnant seventeen times. Six of her pregnancies ended in miscarriage, six in stillbirth. One son and daughter died the day they were born. Anne Sophia, not yet one, was carried away by smallpox, along with her sister Mary, not yet two. William reached ten, only to be taken.”

Five of Tabitha’s children – all under 13 – survived her. There was only one thing for a widower with five children to do, and that was to marry again. Major Charles did, in 1790, to Nancy Norton of Farmington CT.

Nancy died delivering her fifth child, who also died. Charles was a widower again, this time with nine children. But Nancy’s headstone reveals something else: Charles was now a Colonel. And town records show he had been elected Hillsdale Town Supervisor. He had lost two wives, but his life went on. His personal sorrows did not define the rest of his life.

Colonel Charles married a third time, to Bernice Egliston of Great Barrington. A stepmother to nine children, she bore two more, one of whom died at 11 months.

Charles’s headstone reveals that he died in 1818 with the rank of General. Bernice lived until 1845 and is buried in Great Barrington.

Unlike military rank and official titles, domestic sorrow is not to be found in a town’s records. Tabitha and Nancy McKinstry lived short, limited lives (by today’s standards) but are still worthy of remembering. Lepore writes, “It’s important to note what gets saved, what gets lost, what gets remembered, what gets forgotten. And what the consequences are of each of those losses.”

This could apply just as well to the McKinstry stones themselves, now vanishing due to age, weather and neglect. What place should they hold in our lives today? With what degree of tenderness will we gather up and preserve their dust?

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments