Rafting down the Delaware — audio history

Bill Horne’s presentation at the HSM Annual Meeting Oct. 23 gave us a chance to hear voices from the past, namely Mike Todd, legendary hunter and woodsman, and Orson Slack, a former raftsman on the Delaware. Horne’s book, The Improbable Community: Camp Woodland and the American Democratic Ideal, chronicles the relationship between the youngsters at the Phoenicia summer camp (1939-1962) and culture keepers like Todd and Slack. Camp Woodland documents and recordings are preserved with the papers of Norman Studer, the camp’s founder and director, at The M. E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives at SUNY Albany. Give a listen to Studer’s 1944 interview of Orson Slack as he described the process and experience of poling rafts of logs and lumber from Arena to Trenton. He made the trip as a teenager, following his father, Richard Slack, who made more than 50 trips despite wearing a wooden leg, a souvenir of Civil War service.

Middletown in the Civil War now online

The Historical Society of the Town of Middletown (HSM) is pleased to make available a new online collection detailing the lives and service records of 242 Civil War veterans from Middletown.

Visit Projects/Middletown in the Civil War on this website. The five-year project to document all Middletown Civil War veterans was begun in 2012, the 150th anniversary of the start of the war, and was completed and posted on Veterans Day 2017.

The collection features an alphabetical spreadsheet with names, birth and death dates, parents’ names, military units and other information on the veterans, as well as what happened to them during and after the war. Further details are provided in individual profiles. An introduction explains the project. A gallery of photographs and a list of sources rounds out the collection.

The individual profiles were compiled using information from census records, online and published family and community histories, pension files, newspaper accounts and other sources. The backgrounds of 306 men that were shown in various accounts to be Middletown veterans were researched and their profiles are included, although just 242 turned out to have significant enough connection to Middletown to be listed on the spreadsheet.

HSM requests that additions, corrections or omissions be sent to history@catskill.net.

Research conducted by HSM President Diane Galusha with assistance from volunteer Jim Goehlke showed that 38 Middletown men were killed in the war, or died of disease. Many are buried in national cemeteries near where they fell.

Forty-two men were wounded or disabled, and several endured months in Confederate prisoner of war camps. A few were shown to have deserted, or simply disappeared from the record.

The war was a family affair; 39 sets of Middletown brothers served. Two families (Close and Morse) sent four young men; five families sent three siblings, and nine fathers went off to war with their sons. Four fathers did not return.

A number of Middletown veterans were natives of other countries – Ireland, Scotland, Germany, Prussia and England. While the majority of veterans returned to raise families, resume farming or run shops or businesses, many ex-soldiers left Middletown after the war to settle in Kansas, California, Texas and other states. A number of local men ended their lives in veterans’ homes from Ohio to Maine.

Explained Galusha, “Each of these names has a story behind it that reflects both the price paid by this one small town, and its ability to nurse the wounds and carry on after the most divisive and destructive war in the nation’s history. We are proud to share what we’ve learned about these men, their families and Middletown’s role in the Civil War.”

Margaretville’s finest

This photo, donated to HSM by Ed and Janet Vermilyea, shows the Margaretville Fire Department at the 1909 Hudson Fulton Celebration in Kingston. Identifications penciled on the back of the photograph by Ed’s mother included, front, l to r., Nealy Ackerley, Harry Eckert, ?, Chan Squires, ?, Earl VanValkenburgh, ?, ?, Charles Boyd. Rear: John Dickman, ? Froman, Ralph Mungle, Tom Edwards, Jay Gulnick, Stanley Bussy, Homer Shaver, Don Stewart, Will Delameter, Dr. Allaben, Harold Baker and Pete Cramer. (Click on the image to see the full width.)

Local legends and a remarkable camp


Orson Slack demonstrates a tool for Camp Woodland youngsters

A grizzled Mike Todd was a favorite of Camp Woodlanders

The Historical Society of the Town of Middletown (HSM) will hold its Annual Meeting and Luncheon Saturday, Oct. 21 at its meeting hall, 778 Cemetery Rd., Margaretville.

The luncheon, catered by Anna Blish, will begin at noon. Seats are $20; reservations may be made by calling 845-586-2860.

A brief business meeting and annual report will start at 1 p.m.

Following the meeting, Bill Horne, author of The Improbable Community: Camp Woodland and the American Democratic Ideal, will provide an illustrated talk, “It ain’t nice fer purty: Tales from the age of homespun.”

The talk will focus on Orson Slack of Arena and Mike Todd of Dry Brook who became close friends of Camp Woodland, a remarkable summer camp near Phoenicia that operated from 1939 to 1962. Young urban campers came to know many of their mountain neighbors through a program of collecting songs, lore and local history.

In the mid-1940s, camp director Norman Studer drove a group of campers along the East Branch of the Delaware River to meet and learn from residents who remembered the homespun era. Orson Slack welcomed them into his carpentry shop and related tales about lumber rafting on the Delaware and winters in the woods. Mike Todd captivated campers with stories about bear hunting and his woodsman’s skills and entertained with harmonica tunes accompanied by the rattle of hardwood maple bones.

Once, when someone complimented Mike on a tool he had forged, he said, “It ain’t nice fur purty, but it’s hell fur stout.”

Annual Folk Festivals organized by Studer and music director Herb Haufrecht were held nearly every summer of the camp’s existence, and featured storytellers, fiddlers and artists from the Catskill region. In 1948, Orson Slack told stories and recited his poems alongside folksinger Pete Seeger and many others. Mike Todd appeared at the 1954 festival, held at Simpson Ski Slope.

The Margaretville program will include audio recordings of the period. An Improbable Community will be available for purchase.

Bill Horne is an attorney who practiced in Washington, DC and Boston. He grew up in Queens and was a camper at Camp Woodland from 1950 to 1960.

For information on HSM programs and to become a member, visit www.mtownhistory.org.

Echoes of industry

What today is known as the Woolheater house, on Maple Street across from the fire hall was once located on Main Street where Suites on Main (formerly Royal Cleaners) stands. In the 1880s it was Will Mungle’s harness shop, situated above the Binnekill between the shoe shop of Asa Akerly and the home of Mary Jane Ballard. Masonic Lodge #389 met on the second floor, according to Richard Connell’s book, “An Oyster Stew: A History of Freemasonry in Middletown Township 1796-1996.” Will Mungle, a native of Scotland, sold his leather and harness shop to his brother James and got into the insurance business. He died in 1911. When and why the building was moved up the block is a question that requires further research.


Cauliflower Festival is Sept. 23!

The Fourteenth Annual Margaretville Cauliflower Festival will be held rain or shine Saturday, Sept. 23 from 10 to 4 in the Village Park, Margaretville.

This free festival, sponsored by the Central Catskills Chamber of Commerce, is focused on the agricultural heritage of the region, once known for its outstanding cauliflower.  The festival is a Catskill Mountain Scenic Byway annual event.

Callie, the Cauliflower Spirit, will again appear in the tractor parade, which rolls out of the Margaretville Central School parking lot at 11:30 a.m., headed for the festival grounds. Do you have a tractor you’d like to show off, new or old? Call Lauren Davis, 845-586-4661 to register and meet at the school at 11.

New this year will be two events for foodies.

A Cauliflower Cookoff will be sponsored by Home Goods of Margaretville on the morning of the festival. Contact Jessica Olenych, 845-586-4177 for details.

The Catskills Folk Connection will have a booth under the pavilion focused on “Catskills Foodways from Farm, Field and Forest.”  Traditional family dishes will be showcased in “pop-up” presentations that will include cauliflower and/or cabbage, jams and jellies, cheese and milk-based desserts such as custard and bread pudding. Forest products like pickled leeks and wild horseradish will also be highlighted.

With your appetite whetted, peruse the food vendors who will serve everything from pulled pork to lamb burgers and of course lots of dishes featuring cauliflower, including soup, pizza and empanadas.

Mike Herman and Jason Starr, perennial crowd favorites, will return with their distinctive musical styles – Mike’s a blues man, Jason’s a folk musician — and they will perform alternate sets on the hour from Noon until 3:30 p.m.

Children will enjoy games like a cauliflower bean bag toss, crafts assisted by MCS art students, Woodchuck Hollow’s petting zoo and pony rides, a dress-up station at the History Tent and other fun activities.

The Historical Society of the Town of Middletown will display photos of cars, trucks and tractors from back in the day to complement the Catskill Conquest Pilot Rally whose participants will be stopping at the festival. There will also be a cauliflower history exhibit, and a vintage wooden barn, believed built as a toy by Francis Ruff of New Kingston. A sales table of glassware, home decor and other items will beckon bargain hunters.

The artisan’s tent will feature pottery, jewelry, sewn goods, knit items, hand-made dolls, wood bowls, art prints and cards, outdoor driftwood furniture and more.

Pure Catskills members will sell fresh produce and local products like maple syrup, jams, cheese and soaps. Union Grove and Kymar Distilleries will sell their specialty beverages.

The festival is supported by Freshtown; WIOX Community Radio; HealthAlliance of the Hudson Valley; Directive, Inc.; the Watershed Agricultural Council and Pure Catskills.

For regular updates on the festival, visit www.facebook.com/margaretville

History of Highmount recounted Sept. 9

“Before Belleayre: A History of Highmount,” the presentation that packed the hall in June, will be offered again Saturday, Sept. 9 by the Historical Society of the Town of Middletown (HSM).

The program will begin at 2 p.m. at the HSM hall, 778 Cemetery Rd., Margaretville. Admission is by freewill donation. Come early to be assured a seat; there was standing room only when this program was held during Headwaters History Days weekend.

The program reveals tales of the rich, famous and forgotten of Highmount, a community that straddled two towns, two counties, two watersheds, and in many ways, two cultures: old, established families whose lives centered around farm, forest, quarry and stream, and wealthy city dwellers who created a Highmount of extravagant summer homes and opulent hotels where art and music reigned.

Several area elders provided first-hand recollections of early to mid-20th century Highmount. Newspaper accounts, memoirs, family histories and other sources were also mined to create an informative historical tour that includes some 100 rarely seen images.

The talk will also feature two short film clips – a 1906 train ride around the famous double horseshoe curve on the Ulster & Delaware Railroad between Pine Hill and Highmount, and a 1930s spring outing by intrepid skiers who first had to climb up the Peekamoose Trail on Belleayre Mountain before schussing back down through the trees.

Meet Civil War soldiers and shopkeepers, artists and musicians, speculators and industrialists in this lively presentation. The talk will introduce viewers to wealthy summer residents like shipping executive John Munro, his fellow Scotsman and neighbor, physician Alexander Skene, newspaper publisher Herbert Gunnison, brewer George Jetter, and Manhattan real estate tycoon Harris Mandelbaum.

Opera diva Amelita Galli-Curci and Shakespearean actress Julia Marlowe were among the celebrities who built homes in Highmount. Others spent time at local hotels, including the magnificent Grand Hotel, which dominated the side of Summit Mountain (Monka Hill) for more than 80 years.

The program will also discuss the little known history of a once-prominent summer camp for boys, the Weingart Institute, whose alumni included future composers and lyricists Oscar Hammerstein, Richard Rodgers and Larry Hart. The property is remembered by later generations as the Highmount Country Club.

Oct. 21 Annual Meeting. Luncheon and Program

Oct. 21 Annual Meeting. Luncheon and Program

Sept. 23 Cauliflower Festival

Welcome to the 14th Annual Cauliflower Festival! Held on Saturday, September 23 from 10 until 4 in the village park. Free Admission!
Celebrating farming, cooking and culture in the past, present and future of the Catskill Mountains.

Visit Chamber Event Page
Fun for the entire family including:

Cauliflower For Sale
Scores of Artists and Craftspeople
History Tent-Sponsored by The Town of Middletown Historical Society
Traditional Music throughout the day
Rides and petting zoo
Children’s hands-on crafts and entertainment
much, much more!
Hay Bale Demonstration at Davis Farm

Where is the Festival :
Village of Margaretville Pavilion
Bridge Street (Behind the supermarket)
Margaretville, NY 12455

Sat., Sept. 9, Before Belleayre (repeat presentation)

Sat., Sept. 9, Before Belleayre (repeat presentation)

An illustrated talk by Diane Galusha on the rich, famous and forgotten of Highmount, a railroad resort community before two ski centers made it a winter sports destination. 2 p.m. HSM Hall, 778 Cemetery Rd., Margaretville. Freewill donation