History as it should be .. by Roy Vail
Before I Forget
My first recollections are of going to school - the Long Swamp School at John Drews, Blooms Corner. Mother said she sent me before my fifth birthday to keep my older brother company. It was nearly two miles to the school and mother would walk half way with us on good days. On rainy or snowy days father would provide transportation for us and our playmates, our help's children. I was so small I sat on a big dictionary between Mable Davenport and Cecil Hulse, lovely girls. My teacher, Miss Bertah Wood, who just passed away recently, said I'd fall asleep in the afternoon. She told me she had 30 children and just last year could resite all their names but four. Probably they were the lemons who didn't make an impression or perhaps she wanted to forget them.
After I graduated from college I taught in that small school for a short time. It seemed odd going back to all the memories of my childhood.
Back then a few of us boys would spend the noon hour catching suckers in the brook behind the school and opening soft shell mussels, looking for small pearls that we'd sell to a store in New York City for 25 to 35 cents.
We'd make guns from the swamp alder by pushing out the pitch with a small stick, then tying a string around the end for a plunger. We'd put a small plug in one end witih a tiny hole for the water to squirt out and we'd have squirt gun fights or
contests to see whose gun would shoot the farthest.
There were surpirses. Elsie, a very nice girl who attended school there, walked part way home with me one afternoon. She was about 5 years older than I. Suddendly she stopped in the middle of the road and took off all her clothes. She shocked and excited me with her beauty. I have always regretted that I hadn't been born much older.
We'd make our own kites by splitting white cedar and tying the peices together in the form of a diamond-shaped cross. Then we'd run a string around the outer edge and with flour paste glue newspaper over-all. We'd tie rags for the tails and fly the kites in the wind. I made a parachute out of silk and flew it attached to the kite's tail with a stone tied on for weight. It was fun to jerk kite until the parachute let loose and watch it drift to earth.
I had a pet bullfrog named Charlie and asked him if he wanted a parachute ride. He didn't object so I made a nice soft harness of stout woolen yarn and sent him aloft. I think he was the only animal to go aloft till America sent the monkey on its first astronaut flight.
I was somewhat nervous but Charlie made the flight O.K. and as I released him on his parachute he started to paw his way back to earth. I ran and caught him in a large net I'd made. I never did it again but we were forever after the greatest of friends. Frogs must have a language and he surely told his offspring about his jumping to the clouds, because whenever I came to the spring which was his with extra food, I'd get the greatest of welcomes. "Jug-a-rum, jug-a-rum."
My Uncle Lewis told me many stories about the old families of New Milford and the trades carried on there.
Outside of early scouts or hunters, the official beginning of New Milford and Warwick area was the granting of the Wawayanda in 1702-3 and the Cheescock Patent in 1707 ( which was signed by twelve Indians who put their mark or symbol on the deed to twelve New York land speculators.) Our first settlers were Johannes and Elizabeth Wisner who settled on land in the Wawayand Patent which they purchased from Christian Snedeker of Long Island in 1714. One of their sons, Captain John Wisner (1722 - 1778) named one of his sons Henry Wisner. Henry was tutored by the minister in Amity, Mr. Dolson. He became a Justice of the Peace and settled about a mile from Goshen on the Florida road near the present stone school house. Henry Wisner was a Captain and a member of the Continental Congress. He manufactured gun powder in Ulster and Orange counties which was so desperately needed for the cause. He was one a America's foremost citizens and an early relative of mine. I am grateful for documents of his.
Descendants of Wisner and other historically- minded people called on Congress to award posthummously to Henry Wisner the Distinguished Service Medal because of his contributions to the founding of the nation. He was one of several New York delegates to the first and second Continental Congress who worked so hard for independence. He was alos credited with being a leader for the fortification of the Hudson at West Point. The request was made in a resolution that the proposed Wisner Medal be in the possession of Orange County for one year and then be placed in the Library of Congress. In the Jeffrey Wisner papers there is mention that Henry Wisner was buried on the family farm at Mt. Eve.
One of the oldest houses in the valley was built by Thomas J. Kearns in 1710 practically on the site where Stanley and Marie Ferguson were born. It was part of the Wawayanda Patent owned by Cornelius Christance who sold it to Dedrick Vandenburg in 1704. He was a land speculator like Everett and Gowns who sold 1200 acres to Thomas DeKay and Benjamin Aske in 1724. From studying old maps, the sale certainly seemed to involve many more than 1200 acres.
Another of the old log houses in the area was owned by Cornelius Lazear on the site where John and Sue Bradner now live which is also where Lazear later built a tavern in 1790 called Lazear's Tavern. There was another log house across from our house on Route 94. We think it was built by Ellis before the early part of our house was built. Up our lane was an early blacksmith shop.
Some of the names of those early families were Davis, Lazear, Wood, McCamley, Ellis, Clauson, Ryerson, Edsall and many more. My mother's Aunt Harriet Edsall who married Gilbert Drew lived in a house Edith and I now occupy and we are fortunate to have their Grandfather clock and other pieces of furniture.
There were a lot of sheep raised by the early settlers in and around Jockey Hollow since woolen clothing was in great demand. There were two fulling and carding mills which were kept busy - one run and owned by John Kiernan and the other by E.L. Davis who also had a distillery. Another distillery was run by John Ryerson.
Distilleries were bad in a community as they sapped the mental and physical strenght of an innocent family, whose husband or father spent the money on whiskey instead of food and clothing and education.
In 1802 John Lazear built a grist mill on the site of the one now standing and in connection with it had a factory for the manufacturing of hickory axe handles and hickory and ash shovel handles. Second growth hickory was the choicest and strongest. The grist mill was later destroyed by the flood of 1859 and a larger more modern one was built by O.W. Ferguson in 1861. It was later sold to Juidethan Day, a fine person who had just returned from the gold fields of California. Day ran it together with a saw mill until his death in the late thirties.
The grist mill was purchased by my sister Emily Vail in 1936 and later purchased by Allen Vail and me in 1974. We are now restoring it. All of the machinery is there as are 8 grist stones. These stones are not of Shawanga Conglomerate as most mill stones around but of French Burr from the Pyrenees - superior because of the hardness of the stone and the superior sharpness or cutting holes.
Mr. Day, a tall slim man, had one of the early cars, a Hupmobile. It was a streamlined job and a beauty.
He showed me a gold nugget he'd brought back from the gold fields of California. He turned it into the government when Roosevelt illegally called in the gold from the American public. Roosevelt gave us $20 an ounce for it in paper money and let the rest of the world have it for $35 an ounce. Congress passed a law that we couldn't buy it. Then in 1975, Congress passed a law we could buy gold. So England and France sold some of it back to us at $175 an ounce - it was undoubtedly our property in the first place.
Further down the stream was a feed mill, a saw mill, a wool carding mill and a tailor shop.
West of Highway 94 David Demerest built a clover hulling mill, a plaster mill, and a large saw mill. When the flood came in 1903 it wiped out all the lower mills and changed the stream bed in places. It was a terrible flood as all of the dams broke which added to the destruction.
Clover hulling stones are very rare. Clover has a hull around the seed somewhat like a hickory nut. In order to sprout that shell must be cracked or broken or the seed will not germinate. At times, with dampness and freezing weather, nature will crack the husk and take over. The old timers liked to have a week or two of this weather so they'll have a good clover crop. The same was true of a late snowfall in the spring, especially if the ground had thawed and the farmer plowed it under. Clover returns nitrogen to the soil. It is known as the poor man's fertilizer.
Change of Name
About the time of the Revolution the farmers around Jockey Hollow raced horses on the green and sold them to the Continental soldiers. The place was then called Jockey Hollow. As a child we'd go to Jockey Hollow 2 or 3 times a week to pick up the mail and shopping.
The little red house on the corner of Iron Mountain Road and Route 94 was originally a harness and shoe shop built by Clauson in 1869 in connection with the tannery which was just above it. When Morris Bahrman, a fine gentleman and soldier, returned from the Civil War he purchased it and enlarged it and ran it until 1921. The home and one of the buildings is still standing, now owned by Lewis Stage (ed. I think John Stage). Mr. Bahrman made some of the choicest leather around and people would come from Patterson and Newark to have fine harness made. He employed 8 to 12 men.
Later after the arson fire of 1898, the red building was New Milford's second Post Office and store run by Jacob Stanaback, a fine trusting gentleman. Edith and I purchased it so it would always be preserved. (ed. I have record from Warwick's two papers about a fire in 1900. I can't find records from the paper of a fire in 1898 because there is no microfilm records for that year. Either there were two fires or someone got the date wrong. I think the later.)
Dad would give us two cents to go to the store. We were poor and two cents was a lot of money in those days. My parents had purchased the Underdunk place of about 40 acres in 1889. Then, in 1900, they purchased the adjoining farm, the Dr. Sutton farm, for $5,000 dollars which was a lot of money back then.
The greatest shopping went on with those two cents, to get the most and largest candy for the money. There were Necco wafers in a roll about 6" long and the size of a quarter, licorice pipes, marshmellow bananas that smelled like bananas, chocolate covered peanut butter pillows, candy cigarettes, lollypops and much more.
Stanaback ran a general country store and also sold boots and shoes, and canned red salmon, sardines, dried cod fish, prunes, cloth, calico and some hardware.
The people of Jockey Hollow tried very hard to get the railroad to come there instead of by Covered Bridge(later named New Milford). They were unsucessful however, and that failure along with its diastrous flood and fire, was about the end of Jockey Hollow.
The blight was killing the chestnuts off when I was a small boy. There was a large tree on the outer fringe of our back woods that was blight-free and it produced for several years after most of the chestnuts were gone. I gathered them every year the tree produced and mother alwasy included them in the Thanksgiving turkey dressing. They were also delicious roasted or boiled to eat out of hand.
Some years when there were no acorns, chestnuts or hickory nuts due to late freeze or off-year, father didn't want us to gather many nuts so the squirrels could winter through. We'd shoot quite a few squirrels in those poor nut years in order to help the remainder through the winter. I gave all the squirrels to a family named Elliston who had 6 or 7 children and never enough to eat. I stretched the skins, salted them and took them to Mr. Bahrman to have them tanned. Mary, his daughter, made them into a scraf for my sister who wore it a great many years. Mary was a very fine seamtress and could work in furs also. Things weren't thrown away or wasted as they are today.
When there were plenty of nuts I'd send them to the commission merchants in the city and get from $2 to $4 a bushel. People made their own salted nuts seasoned with real creamery butter which were real tasty. They were as different from today's oiled nuts as day and night. There were also butternuts and black walnuts which had their own distincitve flavor.
I think I should retrace my steps and give a partial history of the old New Milford.
The original log school just off the north side of the church was organized in 1783. As it deterioted a new school was built in 1830 at the corner of Covered Bridge Road and Route 94 on 1/4 of an acre, a former corner of my farm which is now nearly covered by roads. Then in 1870 a new site was chosen about 100 yards north on slightly higher ground containing one acre purchased from David Demerest for $800 - a school for 30 pupils which burned in the twenties when the present school was erected.
Jockey Hollow was larger than Warwick until the railroad came and bypassed the Hollow and made Covered Bridge, later named New Milford, the station half a mile away.
My father, with a few other farmers, the Demerests, Bahrmans and Drews, got Borden's Creamery to come and build at New Milford.
Shortly after the Creamery came they built a little lake on the Drew farm but it cost more to get ice and haul it by wagon or sleigh to the Creamery than it did to get it off the Wawayanda Creek. For a great many years the boys around would look forward to gathering ice during Christmas vacation. According to the thickness, which depended on the time it took to fill the
house we would get from $25 to $35. After a few years the New York City Board of Health gave orders (because of the pollution in the creek) that no more ice was to be harvested from the creek. So they filled the ice house half from the lake and half from the creek. Then for many years they went back to using the ice entirely from the creek. It was not unusal to see rubber goods frozen in the ice, cigar butts and all manner of floatable items.
We raised ducks, turkeys and chickens on the farm. Duck or goose down was the deluxe filling for pillows. Uncle Lewis's mother saved up duck down for pillows and swapped 4 or 5 bags full for a large brass kettle that has come down through the family.
Uncle Lewis was a carpenter and built the house across the street from the high school that is still standing. When they built the railroad he worked on the Covered Bridge section. Later when the railroad came it was called New Milford. About 25 men with wheelbarrows wheeled dirt from the bank opposite the bridge down around Ryerson Bend which was and is now low ground, to fill in for the tracks.
His father remembered the McCamleys in New Milford who owned slaved who were freed in New York state during the Revolution but most of them refused to leave us they were well taken care of and were treated as part of the family. McCamleys owned long stores that joined a hotel where the Dittons live. In back of it on Ryerson Road there was a cheese factory run by them. The butter and cheese was trucked to New Windsor and went to New York by boat. Orange County was known for it sweet butter and it brought a premium price.
The cows were selected for utilitarian purposes - before, during and after production. First milk, beef, hides, tallow for candles, horns for powder horns, combs and other articles. The hoofs, horns and bones were used for glue and then the bones for fertilizer. The intestines were cleaned and used as sausage casings. There were no breeds as we know them today - Ayrshires, Dutch belts, and Red Spotted.
I am reminded of a story about two neighboring farmers. One had Jerseys and the other Holsteins. The Holstein man said, "Your Jerseys give just about enough milk to cover a silver dollar. My Holsteins will give a pail fill." The Jersey man retorted, " When my Jersey milk covers that dollar you can't read the date but with your pail full of Holstein milk you can read the date on that dollar in the bottom of the pail."
Uncle Lewis said when the thousands of passengers pigeons passed over on their migration, the ground was darkened over like a huge cloud. He was of the opinion they a disease which wiped them out. Barrels of them were sent to the city and they sold for 25 cents each. There were so many thousands of them their weight from lighting in the trees would break the limbs off. From what I gather they must have been a very stupid bird.
On Wawayanda known as Covered Bridge there were two grist mills. The green painted one on the northeast side of the bridge I have never been able to find out who built it or ran it. (ed: According to Henry Pelton, it was a Shoemaker mill in 1805. On the 1805 "Map," which was created from Mr. Pelton's writings.) The mill on the southwest side was built and operated by Thompson in the Civil War period. People were trained a millers to run the early mills. A poor miller could soon ruin a set of stones so they had to be separated and the grooves recut with a mill pick of hardened steel. The pick weighed about 3 or 4 pounds and was sharp on both sides. Its cutting edge was about 2" wide. In later years someone invented a tool with a carbon colored diamond which was run back and forth in a steel cradle across the grooves to recut the stones which simplified the process. The stones wouldn't touch and wear down. The miller had to know his business. Thompson's son ran the Ferguson mill for a short time.
There was an old man who lived across from the present store. Fred Crist who to our farm to hunt woodchucks and later in the fall rabbits. He'd borrow my dog Shep. We were as close as boy and dog could be and one day in shooting a rabbit some of the load went into Shep. I never felt so bad in my life. I stayed up all night putting compresses on him and giving him fresh water to drink. Mentally I was as sick as he was physically. In a week or two he pulled through but he was pretty lame for the rest of his life.
New Milford was much larger than Warwick until the flood came in 1898 and the arson fire of 1903. (ed. Dates got reversed.) The reason for its being a large industrial community and business center was due to the three large water power streams cascading down the mountain with excess power to run its mills. The Doublekill was the largest and most powerful. It emptied into the Wawayanda Creek and help to wash away some of the raw sewage Warwick had been dumping in it for two centuries or more. Mother wouldn't let us swim or fish in the Wawayanda.
I'll try to write a little poem while we are talking about the mills.
They say the mill cannot grind with water that has passed -
I'd like to change that fallacy to say the mill can grind again with water that has passed.
As sun and wind evaporate the water to the clouds,
The rains will come to fill the stream, that cascades its power down the mountain.
I must quote from an old account book I have of 1816. I will list just a few prices: eggs - 15 cents of dozen; potatoes - $2.25 a bbl; tub butter 52 1/2 pounds at 20 cts./lb; cheese - 8 cents; bbl dried apples - 110 lbs. at 7 1/2 cts. a pound; pair black leather gloves - 75 cts; to Kirby for repairing a watch - 50 cts; dinner at the tavern - 20 cts; quart of whiskey - 25 cts; 2 pigeons - 25cts; maple sugar - 8cts; cutting hair - 15 cts; paid Rastus for 2 weeks work - $3; taxes on the farm - $3.80. After that I quess I'd better stop.
In this Bicentennial year I sometimes wonder just what we are celebrating. Technically and scientifically we have advanced t greater heights than any civilization, to place a man on the moon. We have made great strides in indrustries and medicine but in other areas our ancestors might be shocked - in our worship of money, the union control of our lives, the low in law and order, and corruption.
I am certain if our ancestors who sacrificed so much to establsh this great nation were to return they would deal rather harshly with our ethics and moral codes which have reached an all time low.
Fortunately there is a very good side - the milliion of unheard from Americans who carry on our ancestors' traditions and standards so America will celebrate her 300th birthday.
NOTE: I hope to have another chapter on New Milford and Jockey Hollow, as one chapter can't cover all the information.
This is a transcription of an article published in the Warwick Valley Dispatch, dated July 21, 1976.
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.