The Ruffs go to Florida

The Ruffs averaged 23 cents a gallon on their trip to Florida, probably late 1940s.

As half the Catskills prepares to load up the car to head to the Sunshine State for the winter, it’s fun to look back half a century or more to see what that trip used to cost. A penciled accounting of the pennies spent on the round trip from New Kingston to Orlando was found in a diary believed kept by Florence Cowan Ruff (wife of Howard, mother of Francis and Floyd, the family that ran Ruff Farms for several decades). The diary was written in the early 1940s; it’s unclear when the trip took place, because it would have been difficult if not impossible to do it during the gas rationing war years.
It took three days to travel 1,237 miles to Orlando. The first day they spent $5.20 on gas, $1.08 on the ferry at New Castle, DE, $3.25 for supper (for two), and $4 to rent a cabin on the outskirts of Baltimore. “Froze stiff,” was the terse comment next to that entry.
Sunday’s expenses included $2 for breakfast, 32 cents for cigarettes, $1 for four quarts of oil, three stops for gas at $1.06, $1.14 and $2.83, and $5 for lodging at Rockingham, NC.
On Monday, they had breakfast at the Greyhound stop for $2.30 and “a good fish supper” at Darien, GA for $4.

By the time they got to Florida, the car had consumed 69 gallons of gas, costing an average of 23 cents a gallon. A telephone call made in Savannah ($1.50) actually cost more than the gas they purchased “somewhere in North Florida” ($1.05).
The trip down cost a total of $48.89 and the return trip set them back $45.56. Total: $95.55.
“Reached home Dec.4th, 6 a.m. Amen.”
Thanks to Dave Burrows for donating the diary to HSM.

Fleischmanns businesses, c. 1950

Marilyn Mayes Kaltenborn, author of “An Unconventional Childhood: Growing up in the Catskill Mountains in the 1950s and 1960s,” compiled this list of businesses and shops in Fleischmanns at the mid point of the 20th century. She will be the featured speaker at HSM’s Annual Meeting and Luncheon Oct. 26, 2019.

Businesses in Fleischmanns during the 1950s
By Marilyn Mayes Kaltenborn
with help from Richard Pultz and Ian Cohen
(October 2013)

Open year-around:
– 2 toy/candy stores each with a lunch counter (Gale’s – Max and Shirley Geller, Muller’s – Charles and Luella Muller),
– liquor store (Sid Silberstein),
– small department store (Glen Haderup),
– 2 grocery stores (David Solomon and Sam Lipton and at some point
there was an A&P),
– 2-3 bars (Cat’s Meow, Monahan’s),
– doctor (Abraham Rottkov and Elwin Champlin in very early 1950s),
– dentist (William Cohen)
– attorney (Gleason Speenburg),
– 2 drug stores (Phillip Miller and Kaplan’s) ,
– hardware store (Paul Shaver) ,
– bank,
– post office,
– barber shop (Anthony Cerami)
– plumbing store (Louis Halpern & Sigmund Halpern),
– restaurant (Anthony Cerami),
– Kosher butcher (Meyer Dlasnow),
– lumber yard (Wadler’s: Herman, Bernard & Arthur Wadler),
– concrete and paving company (Sam & Morris Slavin)
– paint store (Izzy Sliverman) ,
– insurance agency (Flisser-DeGrof),
– 4 motels (Meinstein’s Lodge – Julius and Lori Gross, Valkarian Motel – Milton & June Valk, Delaware Court Motel – James & Geraldine Cantwell, and DePitt’s Motel. The Northland was built in the late 1950s – George Smith
– Laundromat (Sollie Darling),
– 4 garages/gas stations (Meyers’ – Ralph Meyers, Todd’s – Otis & Robert Todd, Lerner’s – Sonny Lerner, and Darling’s – Sollie Darling),
– car dealership (Ford dealership – Todd’s)
Summer only (because thousands of tourists came to the area):
– a candy store (Milt Hersch),
– candy store with some clothing (Jack’s was the name of the store, not sure who operated it)
– 2-3 more grocery stores (Klein’s, Progressive Market, Canned goods and pickles – Nat Israel),
– fish market (Charles Barrett),
– hair dresser (Diane Mathes),
– 2 taxi services,
– antiquities store (Robert Lustig – opened in late 1950s – had items from ancient Egypt, Rome and Greece),
– department store (Schwartz),
– theater opened (name was Onteora Theater),
– 2 -3 restaurants (Bel-Air, Elsie’s on the Green, Sugar Bowl (a teenage hangout)),
– lake opened,
– many hotels (some very large, e.g., The Takanassee Hotel’s pool was so large it had a raft and The Grand Hotel had its own golf course), rooming houses and bungalows opened.
There was passenger train service to Fleischmanns until the mid-1950s.

Annual meeting features Fleischmanns talk

Speaker Marilyn Mayes Kaltenborn, age 6

The Historical Society of the Town of Middletown (HSM) will hold its annual meeting and luncheon Saturday, Oct. 26 at noon.
Marilyn Mayes Kaltenborn will be the featured speaker, with a talk on “Growing up in Fleischmanns in the 1950s and ‘60s.”
Space is limited. Reserve your spot by October 20 ($20 per person) by calling 845-586-2860 or emailing
The luncheon, catered by Anna Blish, will be followed by a business meeting that includes the annual HSM Executive Committee election. HSM members will be asked to approve officers Diane Galusha (President), Bill Blish (Vice President), Marilyn Pitetti (Treasurer) and Amy Taylor (Secretary). Pat Moore is up for re-election as a trustee, and Doris Warner is also a trustee candidate. Both are for three-year terms.
In her illustrated presentation, Marilyn Kaltenborn says, “I hope to give the audience a sense of what it was like to live within an hour’s drive of nearly all of my living relatives, to be distantly related to many of the year-around residents of Fleischmanns, to attend Fleischmanns High School, to work on Saturday mornings at my father’s veneer mill, and to live in a village that became a small city every summer when thousands of tourists (for whom English was a second language) came to town from New York City.”
Kaltenborn, daughter of Murray and Bertha Cowan Mayes, graduated at the top of her class at Fleischmanns High School in 1967, the year before the school merged with Margaretville. She earned a B.A. in mathematics at William Smith College and a law degree at Albany Law School. She worked at the NYS Tax Department for over 30 years.
Upon retiring, she started to write true stories about her Fleischmanns upbringing which resulted in a 2013 memoir An Uncommon Childhood: Growing up in the Catskill Mountains During the 1950s and 1960s. Copies of the book will be available for purchase on October 26.
For more information on this and other HSM activities, visit where you can become a member and donate to the Campaign for a Middletown History Center.

Autumn History Stroll is Oct. 6 in Margaretville

A leisurely walk in the Village of Margaretville on Sunday, Oct. 6 will combine the season’s colors with some local history at an event to benefit the Historical Society of Middletown (HSM) Building Fund.
The Autumn History Stroll from 1 to 4 p.m. will be an easy walking tour covering about a half mile with stops to visit interiors of three distinctive homes and a church.
Hear architectural and family histories at Gail Lennstrom’s 1926 kit-built house with its arts and crafts sensibility; Phil and Carol O’Beirne’s 1939 stone house built by a local mason for his daughter; a sumptious 1896 Victorian owned by Tom and Connie Jeffers, and the venerable Presbyterian Church, dedicated in 1895.
Church pastor Shirley Davis will talk about the evolution of the Presbyterian congregation while visitors view a display of photos and artifacts. Then they’ll go downstairs for a quick tour of the Catskill Mountain Model Railroad Club’s impressive HO train layout featuring some local scenes and buildings.
At the last stop, the Jeffers’, tour goers will get to see all three floors of this beautiful home, as well as one of the most well-equipped woodworking shops in the area. Guests will enjoy a delectable buffet of finger foods prepared by the four homeowners.
Between stops, HSM tour guides will share anecdotes and stories about some of the Village’s other landmarks.
Space is limited. Reserve your spot ($25 per person) by October 1. Reservations and info: 845-586-4973;
For more information on this and other upcoming programs, visit where you can become a member of HSM and donate to the Campaign for a Middletown History Center.

16th Annual Cauliflower Festival is Sept. 21

The 16th Annual Cauliflower Festival will be held Saturday, Sept. 21 from 10 to 4 in Margaretville’s Village Park, sponsored by the Central Catskills Chamber of Commerce.
This family-friendly festival features a tractor parade (11:30 a.m.), a tent full of farmers and local producers, a petting zoo, pony rides, kids activities, history exhibits and music all afternoon. Funders include Pure Catskills and the Delaware County Tourism Grant program.
New this year will be a Quilting Tent where visitors can learn about traditional and contemporary quilting techniques, watch demonstrations by skilled practitioners and try their hand at collage quilting and rope bag making. The quilting tent is coordinated by Lori and Katie Rosa of Bloom Quilts and Retreat shop in Margaretville.
The winner of a quilting retreat for six at Bloom will be drawn at 3 p.m. Winners of five Catskills Getaway Giveaway stay and play packages will also be announced. To register for these prizes, visit the News/Updates page at
Another fresh addition to the festival is the music of John Holt and Jon Light. Their acoustic-based Americana sound features the distinctive voice of vocalist/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist John Holt accompanied by pedal steel guitarist Jon Light. The Ulster County performers’ repertoire runs the gamut from lonely mountain ballads to stone cold funk. They will perform from noon until 3pm.
The 3rd Annual Catskills Conquest Endurance Run for vintage automobiles will make the Cauliflower Festival one of the stops on the route from Mt. Tremper to Unadilla. Festival-goers will have an opportunity to view these fine vehicles and talk with their owners. The run commemorates a 1903 test of endurance among early car makers and drivers who traversed the Catskills along what is now NYS Route 28 – the Catskill Mountains Scenic Byway. Cars are due to arrive mid-day.
Agricultural and community history exhibits can be found in the History Tent. This year’s featured display is about the Grange and its impacts on farms, families and national agricultural policies. The Historical Society of the Town of Middletown will also share photos and artifacts from the cauliflower growing industry which flourished in the Catskills from the 1890s through the 1950s.
The Pure Catskills Tent will be filled with members of this valuable organization. Purchase maple syrup, spirits, farm made cheeses, honey and honey products, naturally made dog treats and more.
Businesses, artists, craftspeople and non-profit organizations will be on hand. From green energy purveyors to craft distillers, alpaca products to home décor, there will be lots to learn and to explore.
Food of all sorts will be offered for sale, and of course cauliflower will be sold (get there early, because it sells out quickly!) For more information, call the Central Catskills Chamber of Commerce, 845-586-3300.

Vendors, tractors sought for Cauliflower Fest

The 16th Annual Cauliflower Festival will be held Saturday, Sept. 21 in Margaretville’s Village Park, and there is still room for vendors! Tractors, too!
Businesses, artists, craftspeople, food purveyors and non-profit organizations are welcome. Find vendor forms at The festival runs from 10 to 4 and traditionally attracts hundreds of people. For more information, call the Central Catskills Chamber of Commerce at 845-586-3300.
Tractors of all makes and ages are also sought for the Tractor Parade which starts at11:30 a.m. at the school parking lot on Academy Street. The route is up Main Street to the festival grounds. Contact Sally Fairbairn if you are interested in participating. 845-586-2813.

Cruise-In, BBQ, Music and a Free Movie August 30!

Main Street, Margaretville will be rocking Friday, evening, August 30 when a Cruise-In, a benefit chicken barbecue and a free movie launch the Labor Day Weekend with a bang.
The event, co-sponsored by the Business Association of Margaretville (BAM)and the Historical Society of the Town of Middletown (HSM), will take note of the 50th anniversary of the Woodstock Festival. Music from the era by The Fishercats will get folks dancing in the street, which will be closed between Bridge Street and NBT from 5 to 8 p.m.
Several shops will stay open, some with sidewalk sales. The Margaretville Fire Department will hold a chicken barbecue with proceeds to benefit Skip Jester, long time MFD member and Main Street barber, who is recovering from a serious leg injury. Sales will take place in front of Home Goods at the corner of Main and Bridge Streets. Take dinner home or eat it on tables to be set up in the street.
Owners of vintage cars are invited to show off their vehicles. All makes, models and years are welcome; those from the 1950s-70s are especially encouraged. Call 586-4177 for more information.
Parked near the HSM tent will be the 1968 Mustang “Demon,” which was painstakingly restored by owner Mike Ondish and friends Eric VanBenschoten, Mike Harrington and others after languishing in mechanic Ondish’s Margaretville garage for more than 35 years.
The story of the car and its drag-racing, rum-running driver and pals was the subject of “Demon on Wheels,” a documentary which will be shown upstairs in the Commons building at 7 p.m. Admission is free. Donors of $25 or more to the HSM campaign to build a Middletown History Center will receive a free “Demon” DVD.
A ‘60s costume contest will be held with prizes awarded at 6:30. Wear your grooviest and grubbiest. Did you go to Woodstock? Stop by the HSM table and let us record your memories.

“Ghosts on the Land” is August 17 program

Presenter Jennifer Kabat chats with Rudd (left) and Burr Hubbell, descendants of Anti-Rent farmer-protestors

“Ghosts on the Land: How Hardscrabble Farmers Changed History,” will be the topic of a program presented by the Historical Society of the Town of Middletown, 778 Cemetery Road, Margaretville on Saturday, Aug. 17.

Admission is by donation.

Essayist Jennifer Kabat of Margaretville will be the speaker and guide of this two-part exploration of the Anti-Rent War of the 1840s, its local impact and its connections to international social movements of the time.

Kabat will share some surprising findings of her research into the history of the land upon which she and husband David Rainbird recently built a home on Bull Run Road near Margaretville. The project led to the article “Ghostlands,” published in March 2019 by the British magazine Granta.

On August 17 at 5:30 Kabat will lead a short walk on her property at 1314 Bull Run Road to stone foundations of buildings that were once part of the Clum family farm (directions and info: The Clums were tenant farmers on lands owned by the wealthy Livingstons, part owners of the vast Hardenburgh Patent. They lived, worked and died on the rocky farm that they never owned, yet they apparently did not join their neighbors in the uprising Kabat describes as “violent, radical and profoundly ambitious.”

At 7 p.m. at the HSM hall on Cemetery Road, Kabat will present an illustrated talk about the tumultuous Anti-Rent War, when costumed farmers banded together and used guerilla tactics to overthrow the feudal land-holding system that originated in 18th-century England. She will trace the uprising’s connection to the international economic collapse of the 1830s, which spawned an anti-capitalist backlash. “Utopian alternatives were spun, and socialism spread across the country. People believed in possibilities outside of capitalism. Collective values were more important than the self,” she explained.

Some local Anti-Rent leaders aligned themselves with men like Charles Fourier, the French philosopher who espoused communal property and personal and political liberation, and Robert Owen, a Welsh industrialist turned utopian socialist who moved to the US to create one of the first intentional communities practicing communal ownership.

“What amazes me is how internationalist they were in their ideals,” wrote Kabat of Catskill farmers. “That they were drawing on politics from Europe, that this tiny seeming backwater became tied into much bigger politics.”

Jennifer Kabat’s essays have appeared in Granta, BOMB, Harper’s, Virginia Quarterly Review and The White Review. Her piece, “Rain Like Cotton,” was included in Best American Essays, 2018 and her essay “The Rainmaker’s Flood” was a finalist for Notting Hill Editions’ Essay Prize. She teaches at NYU and the New School and is working on a book about grief and modernism: As her parents are dying, she recreates their home in the Bull Run valley and digs into the larger histories of where she grew up and where she lives now, as well as her father’s work and commitment to rural America.

For more information on this and other upcoming programs, visit where you can become a member of HSM and donate to the Campaign for a Middletown History Center.

Grange is topic of August 23 talk

“The Grange, Revisited,” a talk on the history, organization and activities of the ‘Patrons of Husbandry’ will be presented at the Historical Society of the Town of Middletown hall, 778 Cemetery Road, Margaretville on Friday, Aug. 23 from 5 to 7 p.m.
A simple supper of soup and home-made bread will follow the talk by Amy Taylor, a member of a long-time Grange family and secretary of the HSM Executive Committee.
Admission is by donation.
Former Grangers are invited to attend and share memories and photos of their time in local Granges (Greene Valley Grange in Halcott; Wawaka Grange in Halcottsville, New Kingston Valley Grange and others.) Artifacts and implements from local Granges will be displayed.
The Grange, founded in 1867 and officially referred to as The National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, fraternal organization that advocates for rural America and agriculture. In the 19th and early 20th centuries it debated, and strongly influenced, state legislatures and agencies on topics of interest to farmers. The Grange was also a social organization, hosting dances, dinners and holiday celebrations, as well as talks and workshops on agricultural crops and practices.
Amy Taylor will explain the social and political climate of the country as the Grange came to be and the impacts the Grange had on the nation. She will offer a glimpse into meetings and the rolls of the various offices, and then open it up to folks in the audience to share their experiences in the Grange.
For more information on this and other upcoming programs, visit where you can become a member of HSM and/or donate to the Campaign for a Middletown History Center.

Melodrama brings campy fun to HSM

The Historical Society of the Town of Middletown will play host to some mid-summer silliness on Wednesday, August 14 at 7 p.m. when “It Happened in Middletown” will be performed by a troupe of local thespians directed by Marge Miller.
The playlet will be staged at the HSM hall, 778 Cemetery Rd., Margaretville, 12455. Admission is by donation.
The cast of the campy melodrama, set in the 1890s, includes Burr Hubbell as Reverend Trueheart Bubble, Katie Rosa and Erin Cure as orphaned sisters Aster and Petunia Fairbaby, Grant Cure as Chesterton Goodblood (known as “Chest” due to his renowned muscularity), and Jim Yaekel as odiferous villain Fred “Fartin” McMartin, tavern owner and well-known distributor of distilled spirits.
In this second original HSM melodrama by the prolific Marvella Mueller, whose script was discovered in a locked vault deep within the bowels of HSM’s archives, Aggie Laub will return as the town floozy, Lips LaRouge, a woman of questionable virtue and an even murkier past.
Kent Brown will provide incidental music. Audience boos, hisses and cheers are expected, all in good fun! Running time (depending on how much the cast hams it up!) is approximately 20 minutes.
For more information on this and other upcoming programs, visit where you can become a member of HSM and donate to the Campaign for a Middletown History Center.