History as it should be
by Roy Vail
Amity, New York
The Appalachians a few miles from Amity are older than the Rockies. The volcanic upthrusts which formed them and Mts. Eve and Adam 10 million years ago, brought brought to the surface some of the oldese rocks visible in North America. They were fromed about two and a half billion years ago.
Fresh and salt water covered those rocks. Ancient animals died and sank into sediment which hardened into stone tombs above the bedrocks.
The Appalachians and Mts. Eve and Adam were much higher than today. Glaciers advanced in the valley at least twice carving the cracking the sides and levelling the tops, depositing silt and gravel all over the valley. Huge lakes were formed - most of them washing through the hills and mountains like the Delaware Water Gap. Then came the worms about two hundred and sixty million years ago, the fishes and trilobitas, clams and crocodiles, the giant wolf and tiger and smaller prehistoric animals, some of which are with us today such as the snapping turtle, opossum, eels, the whale and many fishes.
About this time the larger land reptiles evloved despite their huge size and slow movements at first on two huge legs and feet and later on four with small forelegs, which it is presumed they held their food. Some of these species attainted enormous size form 12 to 22 feet. Some had rows of sharp conical teeth which they used to capture and crush the numerous Ammonites fish and shell fish upon which they lived. In this period or a little before, as the galciers melted and the climate became milder, lush vegetation covered the land. This was food for the largest of the creatures - the mammouths and dinosaurs, strickly vegetarians, whose skeletons and gastroliths (gizzard stones we find today) that they used to grind their food. These stones are highly polished and have a peculiar feeling, perhaps from being imbedded in the gastric juices. Dr. Philhower and I found four of these in the Wickam Lakes area and I found two on my great grandfater Edsall's farm at Amity.
Three of the mines are argilite, one quartz and one quartz and one jasper. The quartz is solid, not crysalized, and has a thousand tiny pits over its entire surface that I presume are from the acid in the gastric juices. The argilite ones are a black grey; they show small depressions where other harder one have been rubbing against them.
These prehistoric monsters were so huge and bulky they had to spend most of their time in the water for buoyancy. They weighed tons and like snakes were cold blooded. If left in the sun too long they would dehydrate and die. Their fossil remains are found throughout Orange County. About a hundred years ago one was found in swampy ground on my great grandfather's farm in Amity.
I have a small eighteen inch section of one of the tusks about 4 1/2 " in diameter. It was an extinct member of the mammal order, Probiscides. They lived in North America during the Pleistocene Epoch (for Ice Age) which began about three million years ago. They were similar to the African or Indian elephants.
When the earth was forming and its caldrons were boiling, it opened and left a fault through the valley from Mt. Eve to Ogdensburg in North Jersey and hundreds of different minerals were formed - iron through the Appalchians and a huge kettle shaped ore body of zinc at Ogenburg and Franklin.
In Amity on my grandfather's farm and at Gabrater as Dr. Young from Edenville and a Mr. Thompson collected many varieties of minerals that Dana lists in his minerology book. Dr. Young's collection was presented to the New York State Museum in Albany. (It is in the State Education Building.)
My brother and I would often spend a week at grandfather's farm in Amity. (ed. Roy Vail's father was Harry Vail, Sr. Harry married an Utter. I think this was the farm of "Honeybee" Utter and the old farm house sits on the corner of Amity Road and Feagles Road.) He'd tale us fishing in the Pochuck or Wallkill at Newort Bridge. We'd go in the evening and fish all night. Set lines were legal then and w'd catch carp, perch and bass and once in a while a big snapping turtle. One had to get him mighty quick or he's straighten out the and be gone. We'd come home with 20 or 30 pounds of fish. Grandfather made bows and arrows for us and always spent at least a couple of hours of his busy day with us. He had no boys.
Grandad had a huge aviary on his farm and did scientic research on bees. A.I. Root, in his volume, The A.B.C. of Beekeeping, gives him credit for his discoveries even to winnng a law suit.
My mother as a little girl recalled Dr. Young's workings and showed me the ledges he worked. He'd come in the morning and would drill a hole in one of the ledges and about noon fill it with black powder and blow it. Then he'd sit down and eat his lunch while the fumes blew away, and then go look over the specimens he'd brought to light. Garnet, granite and zinc spinels, purple ones, Corundum, Edinite, pink and white dolomite and about 15 others. There was a seam of Black Jack which miners hated as it would take the edge right off a drill it was so hard. I have a pink Corundum crystal imbedded in granite. As a boy I spent many hours looking for Indian relics with my grandfather Utter. There was an Indian cave in the ledge and one day I found a Folsom Point. These date ancient man to 8,000 B.C. Then some years later I found a Folsom knife and a scraper.
Some of the early invading European settlers after Folsom man about 8,000 B.C., and the Amerindians, around Amity were Henry (Weesner) Wisner who settled at Mount Eve on land he purchased from Christian Sendicore in 1715. Wisner was a member of the Continental Congress and one of America's foremost citizens. He made gun powder in Ulster and Orange counties that was so desperately needed for the cause. Other early names around Amity were Blain, Alsop, Ecott, Luckey, Shepard, Holley, Walling, Hamill,Edsall, Dolson, Bailey, Wood, and later in my day, Trusdell, Doty, Pioch, Rhodes, Utter, Masker, Feagles, Caten, Noonan, and more than I can remember.
There was a big spring between my grandfather's house and Amity where a cheese factory was located. They made cheese and sent it by wagon or sleigh to New Windsor to go to New York on the boat. An old settler in Amity told me about a girl who worked in the cleaning room. She became pregnant and said the man who worked with her there was the quilty party. The lye vats were over waist high. Suddenly one day she fell in the lye bath and was scalded to death. Of course there never was any investigation in those days. One of those cases where one falls up into a tree instead of down out of it. Amity was rather backward at that time and probably hadn't heard of Newton's law of gravity or perhaps Congress hadn't gotten around to passing it into law.
The factory started before the Civil War and grandfater didn't know why it closed. Perhaps when the railroad came to Pine Island in 1869 or 1870 it closed. In the later days they raised a great many peaches. "Nick" Walling had large peach orchards and others that I do not recall. His daughter Anna studied art in Paris and had a studio in Middletown when she returned and was very successful.
In my day there was a blacksmith there named Jim Carr. My brother and I were so fascinated we'd watch him work by the hour. He made wagon bodies and did repair work at his forge.
A Jewish peddler named Jakey lived with his wife just beyond the blacksmith shop. He'd carry huge packs of dry goods and notions about the country and unstrap the pack on one's floor and display all his goods - stockings, socks, shoestrings, underware, shirts, etc. Like people in general, some peddlers were very ethical and made out real well.
I once bought two shirts . One was real good and the other very shoddy. The shoddy one would fit a small boy after two or three washings. Some of the socks were the same way. Some of them made bad names for their people and some were very ethical and made great names for themselves like Altman's in New York and Levi in the West and thousands of others.
When my father was in his late teens, with the backing of a Mr. Lovett, in Amity, he started the Amity Telephone Company and had about seventy subscribers. It was quite a thriving company at that time with quarying at Welches and Mts. Eve and Adam. Tammy of New York sent hundreds of Irish workers to get granite stone for the streets of New York and large stepping stones for horses and carriages.
There were two saloons in Amity at that time and bloody fighs every Saturday night.
Father and Lovett later sold the Amity Telephone Company to the Warwick Valley Telephone Company for a small pittance.
My father had a meat market in Amity before he purchased the Sutton farm a mile from New Milford.
We'd go to Amity Presbyterian Church. The first one was built in 1796; the second one in 1868. John Wilcox was the janitor. The church had a large pipe organ, one of the first ones around and still there today. Wilcox asked me if I wanted to pump the bellows one Sunday. The bellows had a lot of air holes and it was real work, as about as much air came out of the holes as went up the pipes. I got the experience and he got a good rest and I presume had a good laugh.
The steeple on the church was architecturaly beautiful. The bronze bell which weighed over half a ton had made the belfry a little shaky from its constant ringing over the years. Instead of fixing it with proper supports to strenghten it they decided to tear it off. It took them a month or more to dismantle the steeple. It was so well built and would have lasted another 100 years. Then they built the present low monstrosity that is there today and to add insult to injury they had the church stuccoed.
The Sunday School was in the basement and spring, summer, and fall it was very damp down there and certainly not comfortable.
"Ed" Waterbury bought a Maxwell touring car and drove it to the church about 1909 or 1910. After that other families started coming in cars. We were just about the last family to have a car. It was a Model T Ford. It looked out of place parked next to the Chandlers and Hudsons, Olds, E.M.F. Hummobiles and Cadillacs and Reos. It seemed to me some would try to outdo the others.
Every year they'd have a big clam bake at the church sheds. "Bob" Doty was the chef. A large pit was dug about 8 to 12 feet in diameter and filled with stones. He get up at 2 A.M. and build a huge fire on top of stones and keep it roaring until about 11 o'clock. Then they'd cover the red hot stones with woven wire and heap the washed clams on. Over that would come the partly husked corn and sweet potatoes and quartered chicken and fish wrapped in cheese cloth. The whole heap several feet high would be covered with damp hay with buckets of water poured over the whole to produce steam and finally whole sheets of huge canvas weighted at the edges with stones to keep the steam in. As dessert, hundreds of watermelons were served. It took about two hours to bake and was delicious. I think they charged a dollar and later a dollar fifty and it was something to look forward to until the horrible World War came and put an end to it forever. And in many ways with the high wages and silk shirts, the war changed American life and ruined many families with loss and hardships.
When my brother and I would go the Grandad's we played and went swimming in the Pochuck or Walkill with very nice children our age - Herbert Hamill and his sister Mable. The Hamill's mother was a Bloom, daughter of J. Bloom of Bloom Corners near the Long Swamp School where he made fine Windsor chairs, benches and furniture in a small shop. Later when I was in the antique business I purchased a child's bureau and some furniture of hers that he made. And a few years ago I let the New York State Museum have one of his fine labelled chairs where I hope it will always be preserved.
There were two other boys there that we always played with, Herb Bond and Russell Van Ness whose father worked in Truesdell's store. Russell still stops in my shop as he comes to see his sister, Helen, in Warwick.
Albert Phillips from New Milford came around once a week with a team and wagon of meat. Later he bought a truck, a very early one, and he was always getting stuck. Trucks in those days were of very little horsepower and were always getting stuck. They had hard rubber tires about two inches wide which sank down in mud and horses. The boys would all shout, "Get a horse!."
Miss Clute was the teacher there for over forty-five years and when I was young she told me she had over 45 pupils at one time. The school is still standing and has started up again with the new generation in the old country style. It's funny how we run in circles.
Miss Clute's father did plastering about the country. He made walls to imitate marble. On the top coat he'd use plaster of Paris and trowel in powdered graphite. His signature was a horse. I have found it as far away as New Paltz. The Rickey house over the state line has a nice horse at the head of the stairs.
Steve Truesdell was the barber and at one time there were two stores. Truesdell's store was the most popular with the younger group as it had a candy counter running the entire length of the store.
Over Truesdell's store there was a big long hall running the full length of the store where they had grey benches and held the Grange, had minstrel shows and dances and meetings. This was also where the Amity band practiced. About twice a year, the Kickapoo Indian show would come and put on juggling acts and magic. There would be a couple of Indians. One night the juggler wasn't doing too well after imbibing in one of the local hotels too long. Instead of keeping four king pins in the air at one time he had a tough time doing it with two, which I quess most any of the audience could do.
They'd sell rattlesnake liniment and medicine that would cure all ills and I quess if you don't have any it would make one for you. I remember buying a cake of soap, green in color. It had a very pleasant smell and cost me twenty five cents. I don't know why I needed it when I could have gone down in the store and bought a cake of cuticura for a dime. I quess I just wanted to help that Indian out.
A friend of mine bought a bottle of rattlesnake liniment . It was laced with turpentine and red pepper and nearly took the skin off his sore arm. They had medicine for the back door trots or disentary. I once bought a bottle of it. It was in 3 sections in the bottle. Sand on the bottom, ammonia in the center. Not the ammonia that one buys in a drug store but the kind you wash clothes with and old crankcase oil on top. The directions which were written read: shake real well. Well, I did, and before you could pour it out, it all separated into three layers again. So I shook it up good and took a swig out of the bottle. All the breath left me and I thought I'd choke to death but it cured the diarrhea and me, too. I am sorry I didn't keep it and have it analyzed. I'd make a fortune on it. Kill or Cure.
Fourth of July, they always had a big celebration at night. Fireworks. Roman candles. Sky rockets and giant firecrackers and about every half hour, Mr. Truesdell would send up a hot air balloon. One floated over to our farm two miles away. Uncle Lewis found it in our orchard. I never heard of anyone getting hurt with firecrackers, perhaps 3 or 4 in the country compared with today's pleasure car that does in several hundred and cripples and wounds thousands more.
After Mr. "Lou" Truesdell passed on, his beautiful daughter Mable ran the store and Post Office. She'd drive a horse and carriage to Pine Island with the mail and pick up the Amity mail. She ran the store and Post Office a good many years. Post cards were one cent and letters were two cents. Parcel Post cost a few cents more. One didn't have to insure packages; they would arrive without damage or theft.
People were pleased to have a job most of my life; not likely today when a union calls a strike every month or two.
Mr. Favre, the minister, started a Boy Scout troop at the curch. Although I'd been a lone scout for a number of years , I was grateful for the opportunity of joining the Boy Scouts. The camping, hiking and other activities came in handy over the years. There was another minister there before him, a Mr. Hansel, a fine person too.
Perhaps the ultimate feeling Amity instills is that time is like space, and that which has been lived through does not seem to exist any more than a place one has travelled through vanishes because one has left it behind.
This is a transcription of an article published in the Warwick Valley Dispatch, dated March 17, 1976. It is the best article I have found on the history of the hamlet of Amity. Used by written permission of the current owner of the Dispatch.
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.