Passiflora Pentimento




In November 2020 we wrote about the history of the Hillsdale Post Office in “Post Office Pentimento.” In painting, pentimento is defined as earlier images that have been changed or painted over and are no longer visible to the naked eye but still exist, under the surface, like ghosts.

Buildings also have these hidden elements and we are always on the lookout for clues in old photographs. Over the past two centuries many structures in Hillsdale have been added to, renovated, or reconfigured for modern use, yet retain elements of their original selves.

One of the buildings in the center of town – specifically 2638 St. Rt. 23 – is home to Passiflora, the unique gift shop opened in 2009 by Ken Davis and Kevin Draves. We were curious because someone recently sent us an undated photograph of a building in the same location that appears strikingly different from the building that is there today. We wondered if it is even the same building.

We started digging around old newspaper coverage, and deeds from the county clerk’s office (available online). Then we sought out some of Hillsdale’s lifelong residents for their recollections.  Eventually, we began to piece the story together. 

Around 1920, Arthur Closson uprooted the icehouse from his family’s farm and set it down next to the Hillsdale House. (By 1920, electric refrigeration was becoming widespread, making icehouses obsolete.) Arthur opened a small shop which can be seen in the picture below.  It was what we would now call a newsstand and sold newspapers, stationery, and candy. Arthur also acquired a supply of “popular fiction” — novels he would rent out for five cents per week.

Arthur also sold ice cream, as you can see in the photo below, which made the store a swell hangout for kids like the two schoolgirls posing at the door.

Arthur was also listed as the “local reporter” for the Hillsdale Harbinger, which he sold in his shop. (Today, we might question the possible conflict of interest:  the more sensational the news, the more papers are sold and the more money the news dealer makes.  But having spent many hours perusing the pages of the Harbinger, we can attest there was never anything sensational in that paper – ever.) Arthur died in 1922 at the age of 40. His widow, Lila, took over his local reporter role for the Harbinger.  

Lila sold the store to J. D. “Johnny” Quick, who owned and operated it for about 40 years.

 It appears the old icehouse was expanded to include a garret.  We don’t know when.

Johnny added a butcher case to his store.  It is said that Will Mallery, who had owned a foundry near the rail depot, would dispatch his dog, Jack, to Johnny’s store alone to fetch and return (uneaten) a pound of hamburger for Will’s dinner. That’s not the only trick Jack could perform. 

Will Mallery and Jack, balancing on Will’s foot while wearing a hat and clenching a pipe in his teeth. Who’s a good boy? (Photo: Lynne Colclough)

Jack on a less precarious perch.

The Village Square Era

We have had some difficulty sorting out what happened in the store in the 1950s and 1960s, but we have uncovered some clues, if not a definitive timeline of this period.

We know that at some point, Johnny Quick’s store closed. We also know that in 1970, the Berkshire Eagle published an obituary of Edward Navin.

As you can see, it says that he and his wife ran the Village Square.  Did they buy it from Johnny Quick? Did they name it the Village Square? We can’t say. 

But in 1967, this classified advertisement ran in the Eagle.

Based on the timing suggested in the Navin obituary (“Until his retirement a few years ago”we surmise that the Navins placed this ad.  

We also know that Stuart and Marion Keough bought the Village Square because we know when they sold it.  Is it possible that the Keoughs responded to the ad in 1967, or perhaps later? We don’t know.

What we do know is that the Keoughs sold the Village Square to Jerry and Jeanne Chiavelli in 1974.  They owned it for just a year, and in 1975, Lyle and Louise Hatch bought the store. They then proceeded to provide Hillsdale with some drama we think of as the Great Coffee Cup Controversy. 

In 1975, Mr. Hatch erected a huge Coffee Cup sign on what is now Cullin Park.  He claimed that it doubled his business. The town cited him for a zoning violation. What ensued was a major battle with Mr. Hatch claiming the town was harassing him and the town claiming that he had erected his sign on town property, the aforementioned Cullin Park. 

Opinion in town was mixed: Some thought he was encroaching on town property and defacing the Civil War monument. Others thought he should be able to advertise his business. 

Hatch pointed out that his deed extended to Rt. 23 and that the State Highway Department had elongated Cullin Park by 50 feet two years earlier with neither permission nor compensation.  

As these things will, the matter went to court and in 1977, Town Justice Raymond Edwards ruled that the sign was not illegal. was not on public property, and did not deface the Civil War Memorial. The town vowed to appeal but the matter was rendered moot when Mr. and Mrs. Hatch sold The Village Square to Anna Salenovich in 1979 and the sign came down.  

Ms. Salenovich apparently ran The Village Square free of controversy and in 1985, she sold out to Diane Shadic.  Ms. Shadic operated the store until 1987, when she sold it to Peg and Brian Farratto. Ms. Shadic was gracious enough to purchase an ad in the Roe Jan Independent thanking her customers and wishing the new owners success.

The Ferratto purchase was notable for two reasons.  First, the couple changed the name of the restaurant.  The Village Square would now be known as Marguerite’s at The Village Square. (Marguerite was Peg Ferratto’s full given name.)

The second reason was that the Ferrattos, who ran Marguerite’s for three years, were the first owners to sell to a real estate investor instead of a restaurateur.  Edward Fanter of Tuckahoe, NY bought the building and after Marguerite’s decamped, leased the space to John and Tina Anderson, who opened Partners Restaurant and “Village Square” was relegated to the history books.  (Or blog post, if you prefer.)  

John and Tina Anderson

Partner’s was open until 1993, and that year, Hui “George” Chen opened the Main Moon Chinese restaurant, bringing Cantonese, Hunan and Szechuan cuisine to Hillsdale for the first time.

Main Moon operated for several years before closing around 1998, and for a number of  years, the building sat empty.  Then, in 2004, it was purchased from Edward Fanter by an architect named Julius Traina, who promptly transferred the title to an entity he owned called Yodi LLC in Bedford Hills, NY. According to lifelong Hillsdale residents, Traina Architectural Associates undertook a major renovation that transformed the old icehouse into the building that Passiflora occupies now.  

Quite a change, but the old bones are still there.

Mr. Traina passed away in 2008, but according to the Hillsdale tax rolls, Yodi LLC still owns the building to this day. 

As we noted in our Post Office post, towns change, buildings are built, and businesses open and close in them. But you don’t have to look far to find bits of the past, like pentimenti, still present in the space between old and new.

The Historians of Hillsdale are grateful for the assistance provided by Scott and Regina Cooper, Lynne and Jim Colclough, Sally and Bob Hopkins and Craig Norton.  If you know anything that would help us fill in any blanks, please comment in the box below.

Remember, click on the box at the top to subscribe to our (mostly) monthly posts!

© 2021 Chris Atkins and Lauren Letellier


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Close to Home: Slavery in Columbia County

Black History Month spurred us to investigate the institution of slavery in the Hudson Valley and, more specifically, Hillsdale.  Like most Americans, we’ve 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 sold 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, held for the most part by the Dutch, the Germans, and Anglo-Dutch landholders. In Kinderhook, roughly a quarter of the white households owned slaves in 1790. Robert Livingston, the third lord of the Manor, ruled a literal plantation, with some of the forty-four slaves working at his ironworks at Ancram. In 1786 there were more than 1300 slaves 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 people of color (or to women, for that matter). The first halting steps toward abolishing slavery in the state were being taken in New York 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 both the thriving city of Hudson, settled by Quaker whalers from New England, and the populist Baptist militants of the eastern hill towns of Canaan and Hillsdale, where slavery was much less entrenched. 

That is not to say that there were no enslaved people in Hillsdale. The 1790 census shows a total of 66 enslaved people in Canaan and Hillsdale, compared to 978 in Kinderhook and Claverack, and 386 in the south-county Livingston towns. Charles McKinstry, a prominent Hillsdale figure and member of the NY State Legislature, held five, 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 for 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.

Still, New York became a haven for slaves escaping from Mid Atlantic and Southern states. The militancy of the hill towns may have helped shaped the operations of the underground railroad in Columbia County, where stations in Hudson, Chatham, and Austerlitz hid fugitives coming up the river from New York. Advertisements offering rewards for escaped slaves tell a sad story.




Then came the federal Fugitive Slave Law in 1850, which 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 for more fertile western lands when the Erie Canal opened. 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 against slavery. 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 held in enslavement 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. 

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

Peter Wheeler, author of Chains and Freedom; or, The Life and Adventures of Peter Wheeler: A Colored Man Yet Living, a Slave in Chains, a Sailor on the Deep, and a Sinner at the Cross.



New York State Museum

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

© 2021 Chris Atkins and Lauren Letellier
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The Possible Origin of Anthony Street

One of the things we really enjoy about being the town historians is finding a particular facet of Hillsdale history and learning everything we can about it, and then sharing it with you. We select our topics in either of two ways: we see something and wonder about it, or someone asks us about something and we try our best to answer the question.

Susan B. Anthony

Not long ago, a reader speculated that Anthony Street was named for celebrated abolitionist, temperance crusader and suffragette Susan B. Anthony. We have often wondered how Anthony Street got its name and set out to see if we could make the SBA connection.

First of all, things get renamed all the time. Idlewild became Kennedy. Waterloo, Texas is now Austin. And Railroad Street in Hillsdale became Anthony Street. But who was Anthony?

A warning: the rest of what follows might be described best as “informed speculation.” “Informed” because we have spent quite a bit of time delving into the matter, and “speculation” because we can’t provide definitive proof of the hypothesis. Carry on.

In November 2018, we published a blog post called “What’s In a Name” that traced the source of some of the more interesting names of streets and roads in and around Hillsdale. In researching for the post, we did our best to identify Hillsdale residents through the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries named Anthony who might have been prominent enough to deserve such an honor and came up dry – no farmers, merchants, politicians or preachers. (The one person in Hillsdale named Anthony — George Anthony — did jail time in 1903 for stealing chickens, so it is unlikely that he was honored with a street name.)

Then we started looking into the history of Susan herself, to see if there might be a connection. And, well, there just might be.

Susan Brownell Anthony was born in Adams, MA, in 1820. She was the second of seven children. When she was six, the family moved to Battenville, New York, not far from Saratoga Springs. When they lost the Battenville house during the Panic of 1837, they moved to Rochester, where in time they purchased a 32 acre farm along the Erie Canal.

The Anthony farm in Rochester, NY

The Anthony farm became known as a meeting place for anti-slavery activists (we don’t know specifically why), and Susan met a number of prominent abolitionists, including John Brown, Horace Greeley and Frederick Douglass. In 1851, she met Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who was already emerging as the leader of the women’s rights movement.

There is, of course, much more to say about Susan B. Anthony, but for our purposes what is notable is that both she and Elizabeth Cady Stanton crisscrossed New York state for several years, arguing for women’s rights and in particular women’s suffrage. Jim Benton, librarian of the Columbia County Historical Society, confirmed that Susan B. Anthony spoke at least twice in each New York county during the suffrage campaign.

We also know that Anthony was mentioned in the pages of the Hillsdale Harbinger, in some cases with no explanation of who she was – an indication that she was well-known in the area.

“Susan B. Anthony is a vegetarian.”


“Miss Susan B. Anthony advises young women to study law.” (The next item notes that 23 states allowed women to practice at the bar.)

Susan B. Anthony died on March 13, 1906. Here is a portion of her obituary as it appeared in The New York Times.

Susan B. Anthony’s New York Times obituary

Our last two pieces of circumstantial evidence are a Sanborn Map Company fire insurance map of Hillsdale, dated 1904. It clearly shows that today’s Anthony Street was then called “Railroad.”

Sanborn Map Company fire insurance map showing a street named Railroad.

The Sanborn Seal

Finally, here is another clipping from the Hillsdale Harbinger, dated January 3, 1908. It is the earliest reference we have found to “Anthony street.”

The earliest reference we have found: “Clyde Harvey removed his household goods to his new home on Anthony Street this week but will not occupy it permanently for a couple of weeks yet.”

It should also be noted that due to the sometimes emotional response to the causes she championed (Abolition, Temperance and Suffrage), for much of her adult life Anthony was reviled by many.  However, by the end of the 19th century, her reputation had been rehabilitated and she became a revered figure who in 1900 celebrated her 80th birthday with a dinner in the White House.  Less than two months after her death, she was the subject of a glowing tribute at a meeting of the Columbia County chapter of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union Institute. And 13 years later, Anthony was still so beloved that the 19th constitutional amendment granting woman the right to vote came to be known as the “Susan B. Anthony Amendment.”

One more consideration:  Railroad Street was called that because it stretched from the Columbia Turnpike (aka Main Street, aka Rt. 23) to — you guessed it — the New York and Harlem Railroad, which was still making daily trips between New York and Chatham.  If the name change had occurred in, say, 1974, it could be explained by the fact that rail service north of Dover Plains was abruptly terminated in 1972. But Railroad was changed to Anthony sometime between 1904 and 1908 while there was still rail service, so to us it seems likely that something of significance happened that people felt should be commemorated.  Could that be the 1906 death of Susan B. Anthony? 

Our circumstantial evidence says it is certainly possible. Meanwhile, we haven’t found any evidence that it’s not true.

What do you think? Let us know in the “Leave a Reply” section below.

© 2021 Chris Atkins and Lauren Letellier


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And Now, For Your Holiday Shopping Pleasure…

The Historians of Hillsdale spend quite a bit of time delving into old newspapers to research people and places.  A great resource is the Roe Jan Community Library website, which offers the digitized issues of the Hillsdale Harbinger, Hillsdale Herald, and the various incarnations of the Independent. Unfortunately, there are gaps — the 1960s are nowhere to be found. Nevertheless, it is a treasure trove of Hillsdale history. Often, we set out to find something specific and look up two hours later having lost ourselves in stories and advertisements from the 70s and 80s. If you — like us — did not live here in those decades, it’s hard to picture Hillsdale as the bustling hub of commerce it was.  

This first batch of ads is from the December, 1984 issues of the Roe Jan Independent.  Do you remember any of these stores?  Did you ever wear a dirndl next to a gargantuan wheel of Swiss cheese? How about that Hot Lips sweater from the Hayloft? 

Step back through the mists of time and look at the December 1974 issues of the Independent.  And consider the likelihood of cramming a refrigerator-freezer into a Christmas stocking.   


Finally, we venture into ancient history.  As you can see from this advertisement from a December 1896 issue of the Harbinger, Freeland Pulver turned his dry goods store into a Christmas emporium.  


But by 1910, as children were writing notes to Santa, Mr. Pulver claimed to have received a message from the big man himself. Apparently, St. Nick, in a nod to modern times, ditched the sleigh and reindeer in favor of an airship for his journey to Hillsdale.  Must have been a sight to see.

This Historians of Hillsdale wish you the very best of holiday seasons in this most unprecedented year. Stay healthy and safe.

© 2020 Chris Atkins and Lauren Letellier


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From Solstice to Santa Claus: How Christmas Became Christmas

Tomorrow, December 21, is the Winter Solstice, the longest day of the year and a holiday observed since the late Neolithic and Bronze Age. The Winter Solstice was immensely important in agrarian societies. In December, farmers enjoyed a period of leisure. The harvest had been gathered, the deep freeze of midwinter had not yet set it, and most cattle were slaughtered so they would not have to be fed during the winter. It was almost the only time of year when a plentiful supply of fresh meat was available. The majority of wine and beer made during the year was finally fermented and ready for drinking. It was a time to let off steam, and to gorge.

Although the Bible nowhere mentions the date or even the season of Christ’s birth, Solstice celebrations were so entrenched that early Christians opted to celebrate the Nativity at the same time, in the hope of attracting converts. Celebrating, lubricated by alcohol, could easily become rowdy troublemaking and in medieval and early modern Europe Christmas was a season of “misrule,” a time of raucous excess, flouting norms, aggressive begging and home invasions of the well-to-do by the poor. Celebrants often elected a “Lord of Misrule” to preside over these annual revels. In 1637 England, a crowd gave the Lord of Misrule a wife in a public marriage service conducted by a fellow reveler posing as a minister. The affair was consummated on the spot!

The Lord of Misrule

How this celebration of excess evolved into the domestic, family-centered tradition we know today is an interesting story of how a bawdy bacchanalia was tamed by 19th century Victorians.

In The Battle for Christmas (1996, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.), Stephen Nissenbaum writes that during much of America’s 400-year history, Christmas was observed as a holiday of misrule, a time of raucous excess.  God-fearing New England Puritans set about trying to suppress this wickedness, declaring celebrating Christmas to be a crime in 1659 and “purifying” 17th century New England almanacs of any mention of the holiday.

“The Observation of Christmas having been deemed a Sacrilege, the exchanging of Gifts and Greetings, dressing in Fine Clothing, Feasting and similar Satanical Practices are hereby FORBIDDEN with the Offender liable to a Fine of Five Shillings.”

But despite the Puritans’ best efforts, Christmas in America became a drunken street carnival, a raucous combination of Halloween, New Year’s Eve, and Mardi Gras. In New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and other cities, the poorest residents (mostly, but not exclusively, men and boys) drank to excess, fired muskets wildly, and engaged in “mumming,” costuming themselves in animal pelts or women’s clothes. Local bars actually serviced drinks gratis on Christmas Day, a holdover from an old English custom. The poor would demand entrance into the homes of the well-off and aggressively beg for food, drink, and money. Celebrants formed Callithumpian parades, disturbing the peace by beating on kettles, blowing on penny trumpets and tin horns, and setting off firecrackers.
Sometimes things would escalate and there would be break-ins, vandalism, and sexual assault. In 1828, a particularly violent Christmas riot in New York led the city to create its first professional police force.

Callithumpian Parade

We could find no records suggesting that Christmas was observed this way in Hillsdale in the 18th century. Possibly the Yankee New Englanders who founded the tiny squatter settlement of Nobletown (today’s North Hillsdale) were too busy feuding over land claims with the powerful Van Rensselaers to the north, who constantly threatened the hill town settlers along the Massachusetts border. In 1766 the Van Rensselaers hired British troops to evict the Nobletown settlers and burn the settlement to the ground.

But there are hints that after the Revolutionary War Hillsdale residents remained an unruly bunch. In 1799 the Columbia Turnpike Directors had to draft a “Hillsdale Exception” permitting gate hopping by Hillsdale residents at the East Gate Toll House: “Whereas certain inhabitants in the town of Hillsdale have become excited upon the subject of the eastern gate on the Columbia Turnpike … for the purpose of allaying said excitement [we] do agree to give to such inhabitants as will be satisfied and will cease to be excited themselves and will avoid fomenting excitement in others the following privileges …”

In other words, everyone should just calm the hell down.

“The Hillsdale Exception”

In larger communities, late 18th century seasonal celebrations were male rituals that excluded women and families. At the end of 1784 Theodore Sedgwick of Stockbridge wrote a jocular letter to Henry Van Schaack of Claverack calling him a “drinking devil” and promising that when the two met they would “eat & drink & be merry.” It wasn’t until the mid-1810’s that the Sedgwick children began to wish one another a merry Christmas and a happy New Year.

In the early 19th century, the Industrial Revolution overtook the agrarian economy and there was no longer a lull in the demand for labor: employers insisted on business as usual all year long (think Ebenezer Scrooge). As farmers moved to towns and cities in search of work, the appearance of an economic underclass brought an explosion of poverty, vagrancy, homelessness and public violence. In the eyes of “respectable” citizens, cities “appeared to have succumbed to disorder … and seemed to be coming apart completely.” Christmas misrule had become such an acute social threat that respectable residents could no longer ignore it or take it lightly. Something had to be done.

A handful of wealthy, politically conservative New Yorkers was primarily responsible for creating a new kind of a Christmas. In 1809 Washington Irving, who had long lamented the absence of distinctively American holidays, published the satirical Knickerbocker’s History of New York in the guise of a “history of New Amsterdam” during old Dutch times, and forged a pseudo-Dutch identity for New York that became a cultural counterweight to the “misrule” of the early 19th century city. Writing as “Diedrich Knickerbocker,” Irving described fictional St. Nicholas Day celebrations in Manhattan where “Santa Claus” (an Americanization of the Dutch Sinterklaas, or St. Nicholas) would distribute gifts to children. These celebrations were wholly invented, but the book was read by many as serious history and became a best seller, not only in the drawing rooms of New York City but in log cabins on the frontier.

Jan Steen, “Hes feest van Saint Nicholaas,: 1666

Fourteen years later Clement Clarke Moore, a prominent Protestant theologian (and slave owner) became famous for a 56-line poem written solely to amuse his children. Moore described St. Nicholas as a jolly miniature elf with a sleigh full of toys and eight flying reindeer. He set St. Nicholas’s visit on December 24, not December 5, the eve of St. Nicholas’ day, and mixed a number of European legends together: the gift giving of the Dutch St. Nicholas, the Norse god Thor’s sleigh pulled by flying goats, the chimney descent of “house spirits” in Germany, and the French and Italian practice of hanging stockings. A Visit from St. Nicholas was first published (anonymously) in the Troy (NY) Sentinel in 1823.

Clement Clarke Moore (1779-1863)

But it was political cartoonist Thomas Nast, the terror of Tammany Hall and creator of the Republican elephant and the Democratic donkey, who developed the visual image of Santa Claus. Nast gave Santa his familiar shape: fat and jolly, with a stocking cap and a long white beard. Nast’s first Santa Claus appeared during the Civil War in 1863 as a morale booster for Union soldiers.

Thomas Nast’s vision of Santa Claus, 1881

Over the course of the 19th century, the rude revelry of Christmas misrule was gradually channeled towards domestic felicity. The rowdy Christmas season did not simply disappear: to read newspapers in mid-century is to see upbeat editorials about Christmas shopping and the joyous expectations of children juxtaposed with unsettling reports of holiday drunkenness and rioting. But newspapers began to relegate coverage of revelry and riots to the police column. Celebration moved from the street to the parlor. The temperance movement, spearheaded by women, promoted sobriety and pushed coffee as a substitute for alcohol during the holidays. Merchants began turning their stores into holiday emporiums full of tempting toys and gifts. Christmas was declared a federal holiday in 1870. In 1913, Hillsdale’s own Freeman Pulver promised a “Grand Display of Holiday Goods” … “The most extensive line in town.”

Pulver’s Grand Display of Holiday Goods

In 1931 the Coca Cola Company debuted the Santa Claus image that persists today. Originally a marketing gimmick to get people to drink Coke year-round instead of just during the summer, the campaign was so successful that Coke ran it until the 1960s.

Ad appearing in The Saturday Evening Post. Santa was painted by artist Haddon Sundblom

All of this is to say that the modern family Christmas is not a timeless tradition. It was invented less than 200 years ago, largely to prevent an impoverished underclass from upsetting the social order ushered in by market capitalism.

There are still some modern holiday observances that retain an early anarchic spirit. SantaCon, the annual pub crawl, started as “joyful performance art” in San Francisco but has devolved to a “reviled bar crawl” of drunken brawling, vandalism, neighborhood terrorization, public urination and disorder, especially in New York City where it has resulted in fierce community resistance. The 2017 SantaCon in Hoboken NJ resulted in 17 arrests and 55 hospitalizations.

For most Americans, the holidays of 2020 will be a quiet affair, more like Victorian family-centered celebrations than the pagan-inspired revels of the country’s early years. Perhaps we will use this fallow time to create our own holiday traditions, ones that value connection over commercialism, and giving over getting. In whatever way you celebrate the end of year, the Hillsdale Historians wish you peace, prosperity and good health.

© 2020 Chris Atkins and Lauren Letellier


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Post Office Pentimento


A pentimento, in painting, is “the presence or emergence of earlier images, forms, or strokes that have been changed and painted over.” Even the greats, like Rembrandt, Da Vinci, Caravaggio, and Titian, revised their paintings to eliminate figures, reposition compositional elements, or change backgrounds. The original elements, the pentimenti, survive in the paintings like ghosts, hidden and detectible only by modern X-rays and infrared reflectography.

Pentimenti can also be detected in buildings, notably in older structures that have been expanded when space needs demanded or building fashions changed. A good local example is the 1797 Hillsdale House, where a 19th century expansion of the original brick building is quite visible on its eastern gable end.

Hillsdale House, 2020

Even if you have lived in Hillsdale for 25 years, you have probably never thought of the building at 9245 State Route 22 as anything but the US Post Office. 

When the building’s air conditioners gave up the ghost this past summer, we were surprised to learn that the structure’s electrical wiring was too old to work with a new AC unit and had to be replaced. (So that’s what took so long!) 

But wait, just how old is this building? And what was in it before the Post Office? Even old time residents may not remember all of the many businesses that have occupied the space since it was built.  

In 1953, plumbing contractors George Krauss and Remo “Rip” Gabaccia purchased the land and a building where the Post Office now sits from George Petith. The building they bought was the structure that runs north/south as an “el” from today’s Post Office.

Messrs. Krauss and Gabaccia ran their plumbing and electrical contracting business from that building.  They also built a Quonset hut on the property to serve as garage. It’s still there, easily seen by driving down Maple Street. (Side piece of trivia: Quonset is an Algonquin word meaning “small, long place,” and the Quonset hut took its name from Quonset Point, RI, where the first one was manufactured.)

In 1965, Krauss & Gabaccia added an addition to the original building and this structure now houses the Post Office. It was designed by architect Joan DeRis Allen, an Anthroposophist who followed a philosophy founded in the early 20th century by the Austrian philosopher, social reformer, architect, esoteric spiritualist and (some said) clairvoyant Rudolf Steiner.

Joan DeRis Allan, 2012

Rudolph Steiner developed the philosophy of Anthroposophy, which sought to build a Western approach to spirituality based on the philosophical and mystical traditions of European culture. He inspired the Camphill Movement (and thus the Camphill Villages) and Waldorf Schools, such as the one at Hawthorne Valley. Joan and her husband Paul were committed to the Camphill Movement, both in the UK and the US. There is some reason to think that she designed some of the buildings at Camphill Village in Copake. What we do know is that she designed a home for herself and Paul on Jug End Road in South Egremont. The house, which has remarkably similar features to the Post Office, was featured in a Berkshire Eagle article from 1961. Krauss and Gabaccia probably got to know Joan Allen while they were plumbing buildings at Camphill Village.

Alvastra, home of Paul and Joan DeRis Allen in South Egremont, MA, 1961
Recent picture of Alvastra. Note the roofline and windows. Do they look familiar?

Ironically, Rip Gabaccia, who plumbed what is today the Post Office building, did not appreciate Joan’s approach to architecture, grumbling that she “must not believe in right angles,” so difficult was his task, according to his daughter, Donna.

Messrs. K & G leased the new space to Bob Dodds, who opened Hilco Valley Appliance Store.  Mr. Dodd had previously run Dodds General Store in North Hillsdale for some 26 years. 

Krauss and Gabaccia closed shop in 1973, as did Hilco Valley, but the partners retained ownership of the building until 1986 and leased it to a variety of businesses. The first, in 1973, was a crafts gallery called The Hand of Man, owned and operated by Marvin Gleich. 

Interestingly, Mr. Gleich was a big supporter of the crafts program at Campbell Village (there’s that name again) and set aside a large corner of his gallery to display works by Campbell artisans.

After Mr. Gleich died in 1975, the family closed the gallery, freeing up the space for Town and Country Home and Gift Center, owned by Arnold Smith and specializing in appliances, televisions and various home décor items and knickknacks.Mr. Smith opened Town and Country Home and Gift Center, specializing in appliances, televisions and various home décor items and knickknacks.

Mr. and Mrs. Arnold Smith

Area residents in the market for a new refrigerator could breathe easier as Mr. Smith arrived just as the other appliance store in town, Ernie Knox, Inc., (located in the building that now houses Hillsdale Fine Wines) was closing its doors. (You could also buy a console television at the Hillsdale Sport Shop, located in the brand new Morandi Shopping Center, next to Morandi’s Restaurant and Pub. Today, the restaurant is called Four Brothers and the shopping center, sadly, went up in smoke in February 2020.) 

Four Brothers Plaza, February 2020

Town and Country closed in 1979.  That same year, the space was transformed into the Hillsdale Pharmacy, owned by Leon and Nancy Silvernale.  Hillsdale native Robert Edelman, a recent grad from Albany College of Pharmacy was the manager.  In addition to serving the town’s pharmaceutical needs, for a while the store served as the Hillsdale distribution point for the Columbia County Office of the Aging “Meals-on-Wheels” program. 

Unfortunately, the Hillsdale Pharmacy closed its doors for good in May 1984.  We can’t say for sure the cause of its demise, but at that time independent pharmacies were facing the double whammy of the rapid expansion of drug store chains as well as severe profit pressure brought on by the emergence of pharmacy benefit managers like National Pharmacies (now Merck-Medco). 

In 1986, Krauss and Gabaccia sold the property to the above-mentioned Ernie Knox, who leased the space to Alan Gurewitz.  Mr. Gurewitz opened Audio Plus Electronics, an authorized Radio Shack dealer. The store was in business until the early 1990s, when Mr. Gurewitz moved the whole operation to West Palm Beach, FL, where it remains in business today. Incidentally, in a somewhat ironic twist, Ernie Knox had owned the old Post Office on Anthony Street for seven years. 

In 1987, Mr. Knox sold the property to the Longobardo family, which owns it to this day. Dr. Vincent Longobardo was a well-known anesthesiologist at Fairview Hospital.  His sons Brendan and Carlo are both graduates of the highly respected Palmer College of Chiropractic and are in practice together today in Worcester, MA. But for a short time, Brendan ran a chiropractic office in the old Krauss and Gabaccia workshop – the sign is still there.   


In 1995, the Hillsdale Post Office had outgrown its space in the building on Anthony Street and requested bids for a larger space in Hillsdale.  

On July 1, 1995, the USPS signed a ten-year lease on the Longobardo building, with four five-year extensions.  The post office opened in August of that year and it is, of course, the post office we use today. 

Towns change, buildings are built, and businesses open and close in them. But you don’t have to look far to find bits of the past, like pentimenti, still present in the space between old and new.

The Historians of Hillsdale note with appreciation the information we received from Donna and Linda Gabaccia, daughters of Remo Gabaccia.  Donna proudly remembers helping her father lay the original floor tile in the new building.  

© 2019 Chris Atkins and Lauren Letellier

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Swipe Right If You Like Professor Herman S. Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In 1884, Johnson’s name disappeared from the Herald masthead, replaced by E. J. Beardsley. The Hillsdale Herald ceased publication in 1887, the same year that Henry D. Harvey, a local jewelry store owner, purchased the assets of the Herald and the Hillsdale Enterprise and combined them to start the Hillsdale Harbinger. (Beardsley continued to publish the Philmont Sentinel until his death in 1919; the paper ended publication in 1921.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2020 Chris Atkins and Lauren Letellier


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The Polymathic Mrs. Pulver

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

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

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

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

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

Frank Forshew

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


© 2020 Chris Atkins and Lauren Letellier


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

© 2020 Chris Atkins and Lauren Letellier


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The Man Behind the Mountain

John “Jack” Falconer Fisher III

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

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

The view from Mt. Fray

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

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

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

Skiers getting on the bus to Catamount

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

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

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

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

Vintage MG-TC

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

A race at Lime Rock Park

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

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

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

© 2020 Chris Atkins and Lauren Letellier



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