Our guest blogger is Tim Belknap, a former Hillsdale resident. Tim contacted the Historians of Hillsdale in search of information about James Donald “Don” Bell, who practiced law in Hillsdale in the early 20th century. When we heard about his family history and saw the photographs below, we knew it would make for an interesting post. Here’s Tim in his own words:
My grandparents, Robert and Elsie Green, had only one child, Lisa. She married Robert Belknap in Hillsdale while both were on leave from the service just before the atomic bombs ended WWII. So instead of having to take part in the invasion of Japan, which seemed my dad’s destiny at the time, he was able to take his new bride back to the Far East and resume his pre-war work as a young oil company executive. Between 1946 and Dad’s retirement in 1969, my parents lived overseas. In 1949, while my mother was on leave visiting Granny in Hillsdale, I was born in Great Barrington.
Our family — three boys, Mom, Dad and Nanny (who became part of the family and a much loved figure in Hillsdale) lived in London, Indonesia, and Kenya. Because of leaves granted to my parents, I spent part of my kindergarten and sixth-grade years at Roe Jan and my entire junior and senior years. (I attended last summer’s class of ‘67 reunion at the Mt. Washington House.)
I graduated from Syracuse with a journalism degree in 1971 and worked steadily in that profession until 2008, including eight years at the Detroit Free Press and 14 years at Business Week.
After my parents came home in 1969, Mom became the first director of the new Hudson Day Care Center and then worked for many years for Columbia County child services. Dad was one of the first professors at Columbia-Greene Community College, teaching economics and business. He died in 1976 and Mom sold the house in Hillsdale in 1985 — I think it just about broke her heart but she needed to downsize.
My wife, Susan, wanted to move to western NY to help take care of her parents, and after 9/11, I was ready for a change of scenery from NYC. Having both retired now, we enjoy our ministry as Jehovah’s Witnesses. We live up by Lake Ontario in orchard country, and our family includes two beagles and Kara, our grand-daughter.
A Little Girl’s Summer Paradise
Imagine stinking hot summers down in the metropolis in the 1920s, with no air-conditioning, the heat baking the asphalt and bricks, soot-stained sweat on your clothes and swimming pools few and far between. Those families who had the means bought summer retreats up in the Berkshires or Catskills that offered everything a kid could wish for: swimming holes, brooks, big lawns, woods to explore, cool nights, dogs to play with, and long, long days.
Such idyllic summers were enjoyed by a certain little girl, Lisa, born in 1920, who would grow up to become my mother, and her cousin Edward Underhill. Lisa’s grandparents were Robert and Elsie Green and their summer place was one mile north of the traffic light in Hillsdale on what is now Route 22 and then was the White Plains Post Road. Their house was just north of where a bridge takes 22 over a brook before the Hunt Road intersection. The house, which is still there though enlarged, is on the east side of 22, which was closer to the house then, having been slightly rerouted a few decades ago.
Robert Green would come up on the Friday night train from his job as a heating engineer in Manhattan and rejoin his family for the weekend. My grandmother stayed up in Hillsdale all of the summer and most of the fall. Eventually, she became a full-time resident and knew just about everyone in Hillsdale.
Both Lisa and Edward are gone. I hope these photos evoke what a wonderful time a kid could have on a summer day in Hillsdale.
My grandmother’s house was a converted barn, moved to the site around 1908 from elsewhere on the property’s original nine acres.
The Post Road in the 1920s had little traffic, but there were plenty of trout in the brook.
A cool breeze through the window, a fishing expedition: Robert and Elsie Green knew the ways to please a child.
Plenty of water, plenty of shade — back then there were still elm trees.
A setter seems to look off into eternity. Actually, something has his interest on the driveway. Behind him are the maples lining the road, and behind them is the slope of the old Renwick place on Hunt Road.
Edward and Lisa were lifelong friends. Five decades later, two of their offspring would marry in the orchard not far from the spot where this photo was taken.
Young members of the Hendrian Clan come up from the city for a visit. Bait is dispensed, the catch recorded.
Shunned work and a walk in the woods.
Elsie Green, a stalwart of the Hillsdale Garden Club, could name every bird, flower and tree found on the property.
Kids grow up.
With the 1940s came the Second World War. Edward was decorated with the Silver Star for valor on D-Day, Omaha Beach. Mom was literally sworn to secrecy — I have a copy of the order — for her service in Naval Intelligence. After the war, Edward and his wife had two daughters, my mom and dad three sons. They got together again in Hillsdale at various times over the years, and their children enjoyed the brook and the woods as much as they did.
The Historians of Hillsdale are grateful to Tim for sharing these memories.