Saturday, Aug. 21 History on Wheels

A tour of Denny Herzberg’s vintage car collection, with the intriguing stories behind the vehicles. Refreshments.  HSM fundraiser. $30 donation, two for $50. 92 Halcottsville Mtn. Road (end of Walker Road), Denver, 12421. 2-4:30 p.m. Rain date August 22.

Sat., Sept. 25 Cauliflower Festival

Food, farms, music and family fun! Tractor Parade at 11, Catskill Conquest Endurance Run vehicles on display, History Tent with exhibit on one-room schools. Margaretville Village Park. Free admission. 10-4.

Sat., Oct. 23 Annual Meeting and Luncheon

Guest speaker Chuck D’Imperio, author of Unknown Museums of Upstate New York. Reservations required. $20. 845-586-2860. 12-2:30.

 

HSM seeks historic materials

Are you moving, downsizing or simply cleaning house? Not sure what to do with the interesting old stuff you’ve found in boxes, desks or in the attic? Don’t toss it! The Historical Society of the Town of Middletown (HSM) welcomes donations of historic materials to add to its new archives in Margaretville.

The interim archives, located in the garage behind Fairview Public Library, will accept items Monday, Oct. 12 from 10 to 2, by appointment only. Email history@catskill,net or call 845-586-4973 to confirm a time.

Going forward, the archives will be open for donations on the first Monday of the month (Nov. 2, Dec. 7), between 10 and 2. Call to make an appointment. If Monday is inconvenient, arrangements can be made for a different date and time to deliver materials. Please do not leave items outside the garage at any time.

Donors will be given a Deed of Gift form listing contributed items and will have the satisfaction of helping to preserve local history.

HSM collects books and manuscripts, including diaries, store ledgers, memoirs and published genealogies; maps; photographs; paintings created in or depicting the area; memorabilia related to personal, commercial, institutional and community history, and other items that have been created or used in the Town of Middletown or contiguous areas of the Towns of Roxbury, Hardenburgh, Shandaken, Halcott and Andes.

Middletown includes the Villages of Margaretville and Fleischmanns, and the hamlets of New Kingston, Halcottsville and Arkville as well as Clovesville, Kelly Corners, Millbrook, Dry Brook, Red Kill, Hubbell Hill, Dunraven and outlying areas.

Marker to be unveiled at ag history site

The annual Cauliflower Festival in Margaretville will not be held September 26 due to the Covid pandemic, but the weekend will nonetheless feature the unveiling of a historic marker at the site where the region’s cauliflower industry first took root.

The Historical Society of the Town of Middletown (HSM), in collaboration with Margaretville Mountain Inn, invites the public to a short ceremony Sunday, Sept. 27 at 2 p.m. The Inn is located about two miles up Margaretville Mountain Road which begins as Walnut Street in the Village of Margaretville. This important site in Catskills’ agricultural history was the former William and Thankful VanBenschoten farm overlooking the East Branch valley.

In the mid-1890s, twenty years after cauliflower began to be grown commercially on Long Island, William F. VanBenschoten, obtained 100 cauliflower plants from acquaintances there. His wife, Thankful Sanford VanBenschoten, reportedly nursed the first plants in flower pots in her kitchen. They did so well the couple set 200 plants the following year and peddled the fresh cauliflower to boarding houses in Fleischmanns.

The year after that, they put in 2,000 plants, and began shipping the crop in iced barrels on trains to the New York City market. Soon, other local farmers began planting cauliflower and by the 19-teens the Catskills became renowned for its fine quality ‘white gold.’ This was a major industry here through the mid-20th century.

The Van Benschotens also kept a boarding house. They built their lovely Victorian home in 1890 to accommodate summer visitors. Listed on the state and national registers of historic places, Margaretville Mountain Inn still welcomes tourists and hosts weddings. It has been operated by Carol Molnar and family for 30 years.

This will be the eighth brown and yellow marker erected by HSM to designate historically significant sites in Middletown. Visit mtownhistory.org to learn more about local history and to become a member of HSM.

VanBenschoten house and boarding house, c. 1890, is now Margaretville Mountain Inn

Cemetery Drive Tour offers escape

Looking for a reason to get out of the house without worrying about catching or spreading COVID 19? Our self driving tour of 9 cemeteries in and around Middletown is just the ticket. Scenery, history and freedom on four wheels! This poignant memorial to a child can be found at the Bedell Cemetery.

 

 

Win this painting!

Morning Sun, Palmer Hill acrylic on canvas by John Hopkins

This lovely winter view from atop Palmer Hill, Andes looking east towards the central Catskills was painted by the late John Hopkins and is this year’s prize in HSM’s annual raffle. Donated by Meg Hopkins, the acrylic on canvas in white frame measures 9″x12″.Tickets are $1 each, 6 for $5. To receive tickets to fill out and return, email history@catskill.net. Drawing is Oct. 24.

 

Middletown’s Stone School House marks Bicentennial

The Stone School House, a classic one-room school that once rang with the chatter of children, the stern commands of teachers, and the prayers and song of Sunday worship, is celebrating its 200th birthday in 2020!

The Dunraven landmark, which is listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places, is located two miles south of Margaretville on NYS Route 28/30. An Open House will be held Saturday, July 11 when visitors may drop in anytime between 10 and 4.

Visitors will see student benches and desks, the teacher’s desk at the head of the room, a wood stove that was the sole source of heat, the pressed tin ceiling, plaques acknowledging school founders, and familiar portraits of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln above the chalk board.

There will be a display of photos and an opportunity to purchase raffle tickets to win a framed watercolor of the Stone School House by Oneida Hammond. The drawing will be held September 19 at a Bicentennial ceremony and celebration in conjunction with the Stone School Association’s annual meeting at the school.

For everyone’s safety, visitors on July 11 must wear masks. In order to adhere to social distancing guidelines, only a few people will be allowed in the building at a time. Bring a picnic or enjoy a stroll around the grounds. Admire the meticulous stonework, check out the outdoor privy, and imagine the rumbling of the Delaware & Northern trains that once passed directly behind the school several times a day.

Perhaps a site volunteer will ring the original school bell still hanging in the belfry.

The school was built of local stone in 1820 on property deeded to the Town of Middletown by John and Anna Van Wagoner. It replaced a log school that had existed for several years, serving the children of Middletown’s earliest settlers.

Enrollment at the Stone School was as high as 80 students in the 1830s and ‘40s, likely not all attended at the same time.  School was sometimes in session for only a few months, depending on the availability of teachers and the money to pay them.

By the late 1850s the school, measuring only 20 x 24 feet, was in disrepair. In an 1860 report filed with the state Education Commissioner, the school was described as “a torn down building to be replaced with a new one.” The stones were saved and were used to build an enlarged structure, 36 x 26 feet. Local men rushed to complete it before heading off to serve in Company G of the 144th Regiment during the Civil War.

In the decades that followed, hundreds of students attended grades one through eight there. The building was also used for church services, and in later years as a polling place. It was closed in 1940 following school centralization when students began attending class at the new Margaretville Central School.

The school survived several attempts to knock it down: It was deemed ‘too near the road’ in the early 20th century; New York City condemned it along with other properties in the buffer zone of the Pepacton Reservoir in the 1950s; and the Margaretville Central School District tried to sell it in 1963. Community opposition saved the building each time. It is now a protected historic site owned by the town and maintained by an independent Stone School House Association.

For more information, contact Association President Bill Taylor, wtaylor@catskill.net, 845-586-3994.

A detailed history of the Stone School House can be found among Historic Register applications on the Features page of the Historical Society of the Town of Middletown’s website, mtownhistory.org.

Leslie the lamplighter

Among HSM programs and events canceled by the COVID 19 pandemic was the Living History Tour of Margaretville Cemetery. Among the characters who had planned to greet visitors on June 20 was Arthur Leslie Dumond, stone carver, lamplighter and school janitor.

Arthur Leslie Dumond

Leslie (he went by his middle name) was born in 1860 to Mary Jane Hewitt and Nathan Osborn. He was born in Westchester County, was educated at Delaware Literary Institute and Andes Academy and, like his father, was a schoolteacher as a young man. But he had a love of stone and of making something beautiful out of unforgiving granite, so he went to a ‘bas relief’ sculpture school in Tennessee and became a marble and monument dealer. Many local headstones bear his work.

Nathan and Mary Jane Hewitt Dumond, Leslie’s parents

To make ends meet, Leslie also served as the Village of Margaretville’s lamplighter. Local streets and buildings were first lit by kerosene in the early 1870s. Remembered Catskill Mountain News publisher Clarke Sanford in 1948, “Many an evening I have seen him go along the village street, can of kerosene and cleaning rag in one hand, short stepladder in the other. He visited each lamp post, cleaned the smoked chimneys, filled the lamps, lighted them and went his way. Neither rain nor mud or high wind kept him from his duty.”

Acetylene gas lamps replaced kerosene in 1905. In October that year the Margaretville Gas Light Company began piping the streets. Reported the News, “They have a gang of Italians borrowed from the D&E RR. There are 340 rods (more than one mile) of ditch to dig. Back streets will be ditched first. The work was begun in front of Herman Rottermund residence on Walnut Street. The tank and the generator will be located in front of Byron L. Searles’. The company expects to have the new gas in houses by Nov. 1.”

New iron street lamp posts were installed.  The Margaretville High School, Presbyterian Church, hotels, homes and shops were all piped for gas.

Remembered Sanford, “Then (Leslie) needed only matches, the lamps were turned off at 11 p. m. by small alarm clocks, one attached to each lamp. The clocks had to be wound and set each night.” Leslie soon turned the job over to others, and took a job as the school janitor. He was a much beloved figure in town, and passed away in 1948.

Consider this a preview of the 2021 cemetery tour, when Leslie the Lamplighter will reveal more details about his life.

Return of the Victory Garden

The battle against COVID-19 has prompted the return of an initiative that helped the US get through two previous wars of the shooting kind: The victory garden. Whether fearful of shopping amid crowds at grocery stores, wary of coming food shortages, or desirous of some degree of self-sufficiency, many folks are planning their own victory gardens this year.

1945 poster promoting victory gardens

Home gardens were a mainstay of family farms in the Catskills during World Wars I and II, and all the years before, after and in between. But many villagers heeded the Catskill Mountain News’ plea of April 26, 1918: “Every person that possibly can should plant a war garden. Boost this for all you’re worth!”
A year earlier, just weeks before the US entered the war, Charles Lathrop Pack had organized the National War Garden Commission to encourage Americans to contribute to the war effort by planting, harvesting and storing their own fruits and vegetables so that more food could be exported to our allies in Europe, where farmers had become soldiers and cropland battlefields.
Posters advocated that civilians “Sow the seeds of victory” by planting their own vegetables in “war gardens,” later known as Victory gardens.” Amateur gardeners were provided with instruction pamphlets on growing and preserving crops. The federal Bureau of Education initiated a U.S. School Garden Army to mobilize children as “soldiers of the soil.” Gardens were planted in public spaces, too. More than eight million new plots were planted in 1917-18 and an estimated 1.45 million quarts of canned fruits and vegetables were put up by gardeners.
Victory gardens re-emerged in WWII when commercial crops were diverted to the military overseas and domestic transportation was redirected towards moving troops and munitions instead of food. With the introduction of food rationing in the spring of 1942, Americans turned to growing their own fruits and vegetables in a big way. Eleanor Roosevelt even planted a victory garden on the White House lawn.
By 1944, an estimated 20 million victory gardens produced roughly eight million tons of food, the equivalent of more than 40 percent of all the fresh fruits and vegetables consumed in the US.

Wikipedia was consulted for this article