From soldier to fish farmer

Research into the lives of Middletown’s Civil War veterans has revealed more than a few intriguing and inventive men behind the uniforms.

One of those was Julius G. Smith. Born in Glen Aubrey, NY May 18, 1840 to George and Achsa Millard Smith, he was also known as Junious, or just plain June Smith. The family evidently migrated to Delaware County (George and Achsa died in the 1850s and are buried in Woodland Cemetery. Delhi).

Twenty-one-year-old June came to Middletown to enlist in Company E of the 3rd NY Cavalry on August 11, 1861. For four years, he saw plenty of action throughout the Carolinas and Virginia, including the siege of Petersburg. His profile in the 1880 Munsell’s History of Delaware County counts 63 combat engagements. He appears to have escaped unharmed, and was discharged in July of 1865.

June was almost 30 when he married Adelaide (Ada) Jackson, daughter of Luther and Martha Jackson of Dingle Hill in the Town of Andes. The couple first lived with her parents, where June worked on the farm before setting up their own household in Dunraven. There were three children, Irving, Chauncey and Millard.

June Smith must have loved to tinker because he invented what became known as the “June Smith Creamer.” Just what it looked like or did is anyone’s guess – perhaps separated the cream from the milk — but It turns up in farm auction notices and in at least one article in the Catskill Mountain News where a 1947 story about a display of old time farm tools at Bussy’s Store in Margaretville described the “June Smith milk cooler, the patented invention of a Margaretville man.”

By the mid-1880s, though, June was more interested in fish than cows. Angling historian Ed VanPut writes in The Beaverkill that June Smith had been a fishing guide since he got out of the Army, and in 1889, traded his Dunraven farm for one carved out of the forest in the Town of Hardenburgh by Asahel and William Bryant. There Smith envisioned a resort to attract wealthy anglers who were coming to fish the nearby Beaverkill.

A partnership with fellow Civil War veteran Charles Odell, a wealthy Pittsburgh steel manufacturer, helped June Smith turn the farm’s Aulder Pond into 55-acre Alder Lake, stocked with native brook trout supplemented with those raised at a hatchery built below the dam. Smith was good at propagating trout, too good perhaps.

Alder Lake with farm house, barn and hatchery

Alder Lake with farm house, barn and hatchery

The partnership between him and Colonel Odell dissolved in 1891, and Alder Lake became the domain of a private club of wealthy Hudson Valley men. Most prominent among them was Samuel Coykendall, a millionaire railroad and steamboat company owner who ultimately purchased the shares of the other owners, built a three story stone mansion in 1900 and enlarged his estate to 1600 acres.

In 1945, the property passed from the Coykendalls to another private club, and then became a Boy Scout Reservation for Nassau County, LI scout troops. Legendary local outdoorsman Niles Fairbairn was the camp caretaker for many years, living in the Coykendall mansion. The property became part of the State Forest Preserve in 1980. The mansion was razed in recent years.

But back to June Smith.

After Alder Lake, he established Orchard Lake Hatchery on a tributary of the Willowemoc Creek in Sullivan County. Owned by tanner Stoddard Hammond, that hatchery too became a private club for a group of New York City sportsmen.

And so June Smith moved on to Liberty, constructing a third hatchery to sell trout to various fishing clubs and landowners. He was well known for pioneering and advancing this Catskill ‘industry,’ assisted by son Chauncey. He entertained anglers and hatchery visitors from far and wide.

In 1902, the Livingston Manor Ensign newspaper seemed prepared to write the trout farmer’s obituary. “June Smith of Liberty was perhaps fatally injured in a runaway near that village yesterday. The team he was driving became frightened and ran away, throwing him out and breaking both legs. The wagon ran over him, injuring him internally.”

But June Smith, survivor of dozens of fierce southern battles in his youth, was made of tougher stuff. He recovered and lived another 20 years. He passed away in the early 1920s in Liberty and was buried in Arena. When the Pepacton Reservoir was built, June and Adelaide Smith were reinterred in the Sanford Cemetery, Dunraven.