July 4, 1875
by Jean Strong
(Winner of English IV Prize of W.H.S.)
July 4, 1875, may not have been a very important day in the history of our country, but it was a day dear to the heart of every youngster, if not every inhabitant of Warwick. On that day, one of the old fashioned community Fourth-of-July celebrations took place; celebrations which have seldom been equaled in the six decades that have since passed. It seems fitting the an account of this period in the history of Warwick be recorded while people are still living who enjoyed and participated in these events.
The Warwick of 1875 differed greatly from the Warwick of 1935; the railroad track ended at the "depot" which was then a frame structure, but on the other side of the building; the engine house stood near the spot where the freight house is now, while a long wooden platform, where milk cans were unloaded, reached nearly to the main street. Great piles of wood were stacked along the creek, for at that time, the engine burned wood instead of coal. Below the station was another platform and switch where ore from the Raynor mines was loaded upon the railroad cars. The road, which is now called South Street, led to the mines, and carts filled with the ore could be seen plowing up and down the muddy road all day. On Saturday nights, the miners came to town after they had been paid and livened the village with rather noisy carousing.
The Demerest House was then a frame building, while the present "Dispatch" offices housed the Ten Eyck Hotel. The Wawayanda Hotel was situated on the square by the fountain, and along side of it was Randall's Hall, where town meetngs were held; for at that time there was no Village Hall. The Reformed Church was in the same location, but it was a frame building , later moved , which serves as the present Village Hall. Warwick Institute was on High Street, as it is today, but it was also a frame building.
According to an "Atlas of Orange County" surveyed and engraved by F. W. Beers in 1875, the streets in Warwick at that time differed greatly from our present streets. Colonial Avenue, which led to Newburg, and was widely travelled, was called "Hudson Street," Forrester Avenue was named "Lake Street," while Front Street became the High Street of today. Main Street was, as the name implies, the main thoroughfare, and it extended from one end of the village to the other, includig our present Oakland Avenue, Main Street, and Maple Avenue; Oakland Avenue was lined by the same spacious houses, owned by
W.D. Chardavoyne, W.C. Eager, W.S. Benedict, J.L. Welling, and Dr. J.S. Holly. Oakland Court , Welling Avenue, Hamilton Avenue, Campbell Road, Linden Avenue, Clinton Avenue and Galloway Road were entirely undevelped. West Street was short, and Van Buren, Howe, Factory and Division Streets were only open meadows. Welling Place and Wheeler Avenue had not yet been constructed.
With these impressions of the Queen Village, we can now begin our account of the "great day." Everyone participated in the celebration. People came from all parts of the township; from Mt. Eve and Pine Island, from Decker Hill, from the Ridge, from the Raynor mines, and from Florida. They walked or drove horses down the dusty country roads into town, early in the day. The entire family came and brought lunch, prepared to stay all day.
However there was a reason for the enthusiasm, which both proceded and followed the affair. There was a good time for all; there were games and music. In those days there were no automobiles, movies, or radios for pleasure. The only amusement that most people had was reading or playing dominoes by lamplight. As life was very monotonous, they welcomed this day of sport.
Also, there were prizes, which were special inducements, because money was so very scarce in the senventies; a silver dollar looked as large as a cart wheel to many people.
At the annual Fourth of July celebration, the welcoming speech was delivered near the Demerest House. We can well imagine that Charles Cline, who was president of the village, officiated on the upper porch of the hotel. It was from this same place that the program of the day was announced. The first events were of especial interest to the boys of the town. It was indeed an accomplishment to be able to climb up to the top of a greased pole. which stood on the lawn of the railroad station, and it was red-letter day for the boy who suceeded because he won the coveted silver dollar.
Soon after this, a young greased pig was turned loose on Railroad Avenue. A mad scramble ensued, as a crowd of boys dashed pell-mell under the railroad platform after the little pig. It was finally cornered under the stables of the Ten Eyck Hotel, where the unfortunate pig nearly lost its head because of the kicking of the angry horses. But how proud the lad must have been who captured the pig for it might keep it for his very own .
There were many other amusing contests: a race in which the men blindfolded, ran with wheeelbarrows, and a sack race, in which each contestant had his legs tied in a sack, and had to make his way the best he could.
A "washtub" race was held, each year, on a small, very round pond which was situated in back of the store now owned by Cornelius S. Lazear. There was two contestants equipped with washtubs for boats, and shingles for paddles. The race covered a distance of three times around the pond, but on the very first lap, one contestant capsized, and his rival had to finish the remaining two rounds by himself.
There was a parade, a band, and an orator. The speeches and music took place near the green of the Old School Baptist Church. The people thronged from one event to the next, and from one part of town to another.
Horseracing was a very popular sport in Warwick, and every Fourth of July celebration had at least one race. This race was on the Berry flat on the New Milford Road. It started at the Samuel Pelton farm and ended at the old Sanford school house. On this occassion the race was won by a good old sorrel mare, belonging to a Mr. Ferguson, who was the owner of the mill at New Milford.
However, we have yet to hear of the bit event of the day - a balloon ascention. In a day when airplanes and even automobiles were unheard of, we can imagine the impression made by such a daring feat. It was announced with great gusto, although there was at least an hour's wait before the actual accent, which took place in the open space just south of West Street. Inflating the balloon was a long and tedious task. A trench was dug and a fire was built in it, so that the gas and black smoke might be conducted to the gas bag without igniting it. The balloon gradually filled and the exciting moment arrived when the gaily bedecked aeronaught appeared on the scene. He made his bow, and stepped forward to supervise the final steps of the inflation. He ceremoniously grasped the dangling trapeze, then he ordered the ship cut loose. It quickly rose to what seemed an alarming height at the time possibly eight or nine hundred feet.
At this point, the daring acrobat performed some thrilling stunts, while the balloon headed for the open fields, which are now the golf links. From there it drifted toward the hill on Welling Avenue, where the old high school stands. The crowd immediately hasten to the spot because it seemed a feasible place for him to land. In the hope of making a safe landing, he had already pulled the ripcord, relaesing the valve which allowed a dense volume of thick black smoke to escape.
But "the best laid schemes o' mice and men, gnag oft a gley." The ship in its descent gradually drifted toward the center of town, and precipatated the unfortunate aeronaught into the top of a large elm tree, just south of the Elm Street bridge, where many such trees were then to be seen. After a great deal of scrambling about on the limbs of the tree, the aeronaught was reported to be safe, but his ship was badly damaged.
There are other intersting stories about similar balloon ascensions, for there were several of these old fashioned celebrations. On one occassion the balloon landed in the square where the fountain is now. Miss Fanny Cowdry, who lived adjacent to the spot, immediately seized the opportunity to ascend in the balloon. Mrs. W. C. Eager did likewise on another occassion. In the basket of the balloon, was a man who was very unpopular in the village. When the ship had gone up as high as the rope would permit, the people cried, "Cut the rope, and let old skinflint go." Then they saw Mrs. Eager and her baby in the basket, and so they allowed the passengers in the balloon to land safely.
The most regrettable thing about these affairs was that they were attended with more "hilarous" celebrating in the evening. This usually brought forth an argument and a rash boost of one's proficiency with one's fists. However, these encounters did not go far because a fellow could be fairly certain that his friends would intervene, and he could still retain his pride, and felt what would have happened to that other fellow, if he had been allowed to do his worst.
There was usually an encounter between the town boys and the boys who came down from the mountain. Some Ashley boys had acquired the reputation of being bullies, and it was a well known fact that all the town boys would wait for them on the steps of the "Valley Hotel," where a free for all often happened.
In the evening there were fireworks, and after the last rocket had sputtered away, the people hitched up their teams, gathered their tired little ones and left for home by the light of lanterns.
Thus ended what appeared to have beena perfect day in milling about the town, in the company of good old friends, and perhaps, in the eyes of Doctor A.W. Edsall, Miss Fanny Cowdry, alnd Mr. George F. Ketchum, who were young at the time, we can really see and appreciate the Warwick of 1875.
NOTE - the date 1875 is not the exact date of this celebration, but since very similar ones took place all throuth the seventies, the people who gave me the information say it is entirely correct.
This is a transciption of an article from the Warwick Valley Dispatch, dated July 3, 1935.
Many of the transcriptions found here are now in published form. They have been published by the Orange County Genealogical Society (in Goshen, New York). Volume 3 includes my Volume 3 and Volume 5. Volume 4 includes my four parts of New Milford history. There is a planned Volume 5, which will include my Volumes 6, 7, and 8, Part 1, which is about 250 transcriptions. They can be purchase through the Genealogical Society. Just Google them and print out the order form. Or they can be purchased from the Warwick Historical Society. They are also on sale at the gift shop at Baird's Tavern. I would like to thank the Genealogical Society and Dan Burrows for their efforts. Started a new blog for images of Warwick. Go to: www.imagesofwarwicknewyork.blogspot.com.