Saving History

I recently tried contacting a local historical society or two regarding the possible salvage and protection of some old historical remains I found.  Due to money or lack of enthusiasm I have not heard back.  My initial reason for trying to locate this place for myself was to document an otherwise forgotten piece of local history.  My story about this site  is still being written, but I am delaying its possible publication out of respect to the first people who lived here. 

What the locals have nearly forgotten and historians seem less devoted to  is the need to document and keep the important histories of local places like this one alive.  The role which the 6 or so lives associated with this site played on local history is very symbolic in nature and must not be forgotten.  This  local family is one of a kind.   Following their deaths by 1850, they became an attraction for travellers during the late 1800s and early 1900s.  During the 1930s, these people became important to the local community because of the Great Depression and the events taking place on their property during FDR’s time.  Since then, especially during the last 50 years, this important part of our local history has been forgotten.  Little is done to save what remains of this important piece of several generations of our local heritage. 

In the years following their deaths, I have come to realize that these people did have a considerable impact on locals over the years, enough that this story is in need of retelling.  During the years prior to their local fame to early 20th century tenants and boarders, the fact that their remains were in a fairly old cemetery led to a summer recreational site being built.  This site was designed to watch over their memories, with their remains serving as the major attraction for tourists driving their old Model T Fords and “Overlanders”. 

To people travelling through this region during the 1920s and 1930s, this was a trip into the past.  That old tree that George Washington probably slept under was not here.  Nor was there the hotel and dining facilities once used by the famous Marquis de Lafayette.  Only after the deaths of the Shekomeko Indians who lived here up until about 1850 did this place become the important piece of our local Native American heritage that it is today.   

The evidence for this importance is quite clear, on one of the more recent buildings at this site.  This was one of the places where Franklin Delano Roosevelt would test his New Deals plan in 1933.  We know this by the sign of FDR’s presence which appears at this site, a series of letters and a year chiseled into the corner stone of a building sitting on these premises – “FCW 1933”.   The fame of this site led FDR to provide financial assistance to these people, probably through the 1933 Farm Credits Act, with the hopes of assisting them in maintaining the farm that was developed here, one which consisted of tilling the ground by hand, using  a device pulled by a horse and guided by a farmer walking alongside it.  There were no tractors at this location.  Only the cars driven by tourists who came to this site constituted the best forms of transportation that were here.   

Due to its heritage, it is important to salvage the remains of this place instead of simply revealing its location thereby allowing uncontrollable  scavenging to ensue.  Once historians, hikers, travellers and treasure hunters start frequenting this site due to its history, its numerous relics will disappear.  Therefore, my goal for now is to simply document some of these remains before they are lost forever due to local land re-use and development.

In the middle of the Spring of 2011, I discovered this historical site (rediscovered it perhaps in the eyes of others).  I had been trying to locate it for about a year.  According to some old papers I read, there was this place back in the woods, not sure what county it was in, that had some very important remains of people whom I studied back in 1994 or 1995.  There were just 6 of them, playing an important role in New York history between 1800 and 1840.  They were neither patriots nor loyalists during the Revolutionary, just bystanders who lost out when it came to living the life of peace, with the local respect from neighbors that any good Christian family of these earliest of times in the United States that local residents came to expect.  They were the last of the local Indians, converted to farmers–the true “Last of the Mohecans” some might say.

My initial intention was to document the family’s culture and history.  This meant that I had to get a glimpse of  the kind of place this family chose as its place of stay.  Like most of my projects, my original intention was to determine if there was any sign of domestic plants, gardens, herbal medicines, unique trees or shrubs growing wild on their property.  Along the way, I included in this endeavor the search for any other remains I could photograph, such as old buildings, farming equipment left in the field, an old apple tree, a garden with an old rose bush, things that would  provide me with a little more insight into their life experience.   These relics are usually items that are too big to lug away or items you wouldn’t want to leave with.  They would still be there, more as symbols of this old and abandoned property, like the Studebaker I found in the woods behind Osborn Hill road, or the old hay rake that reamins in a fairly young woods over by the pond a mile back from Baxtertown road.  Then there are the remains of a shed and latrine I once found as a kid near some campgrounds in Rhinebeck, the 8 feet diameters 1 to 2 ton millstone resting in the tidal zone on the edge of the Hudson River somewhere south of Rhinecliff.   Based on what I have found still searching for the remains of our past, I was very much wrong this time.  This place was filled with light and manageable, hand-sized “antiques”.

I went to this site expecting to see evidence for a time frame of somewhere between 1800 and 1840, the years they resided on this property.  I was searching for an intact slate foundation wall, with some old decaying logs, a couple of holes dug here and there, one for the outhouse, all the remains of a homestead falling into such a state of disintegration and disrepair that you would never anticipating discovering anything else.  What I instead found was quite a surprise.  This site is saturated with hundreds of clues telling us all about its history.

During my first several trips trying to locate this site, I missed the location because it is not immediately apparent and there is no evidence that anything is there. You could drive past this part of the country and back woods and not realize this was a place where a motel was built.  All you can see are the rock escarpments interspersed with densely packed trees and shrubs.   Even while driving at 20 mph, keeping your eyes on the road and road edge itself due to its crazy winding nature, it was very easy to just drive past this site.   Topography prevents you from finding this site most of the year.  It has no obviously visible landmarks, and few clues to its existence visibile from the road.   

Once I was there, here is what I found . . .   

When I finally found the place, and realized what I had found, I realized I had not seen such a place so intact since the late 1960s.  The household relics were all there.  The original cast iron stoves, lanterns, tools, and farming equipment.   

The most recent owner of these lands and homestead left all these relics untouched.   She left behind enough treasures to fill a local history museum.  This is where they should be, safe from local scavengers and money-hungry antique dealers.  So I hope and fantasize.

Now I know there are bottle-hunters and antique lovers out there who would jump at the opportunity to explore this place, which means that in the archeological sense, what they desire has more meaning attached to it than just the next 3 to 10 dollars one might pay to purchase one of these relics at a local yard sale or flea market.  It is the collection of these relics that tells the story, not each individual piece on its own.   

Fortunately, 95% of these former heirlooms are unattractive and unsellable.  You can find plenty of less rusty farming tools at any of the larger antique stores common to this region.  These items are of little value on a flea market table, except as miscellany and bric-a-brac wired to some old barn derived scrap of wood, something you’d mount on the wall for display in your restaurant or home setting.   But there are a few antique souvenirs still in this area that have the meaning attached to these items, even though these items are broken and dreadfully rusty.   

One of the first questions that came to me when I saw this place was ‘how could this have happened?’  The answer is simple–no one visits this site any more.  There are fewer and fewer locals who know about our local history, fewer and fewer locals with an interest in saving the local history. 

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“Frank C. Walker, 1933” or “Farm Credit Workers, 1933”?

One thing I could tell you about this site for the moment is it had a varied history.  I saw a chiseling of stone at this place that resembled other work at other sites from the Great Depression Era that I have visited over the years.  This single clue told me that this site was probably visited by FDR himself, since it is so close to his home.    FCW could refer to “Federal Coalition of Workers”, “Federal Conservation Workers” or “Farm Credit Workers”, in reference to any of a group of programs organized during the depression like the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), Works Progress Administration (WPA), Civil Works Adminstration (CWA), Federal Writers Program (FWP), or the Farm Credit Administration (FCA), groups formed as a result of the Farm Credits Act passed in 1933 for suffering rural farmers (see http://www.fca.gov/about/history/highlights.html).    This latter option very much fits this scene at hand for this location.  There is a small to moderately sized field in the back, and a lot of evidence supporting the possibility that farming too place here, at least for hay used to feed the horses kept on these premises. 

There is also some ambiguous evidence out there suggesting that “FCW” could refer to the owner who constructed this building during the peak of the depression, or even possibly Frank C. Walker (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Comerford_Walker), who worked under FDR during the first months of the “First New Deal.”  As of yet, there are no details on the history of ownership of this building so I cannot confirm or negate the first possibility.  If the latter was the case, it meant that this site was one of the first of such programs improved as part of the New Deal, which due to some set backs and problems with the 1933 New Deal, caused FDR to rewrite it making 1934 the “Second New Deal”.

It makes sense that this site has some sort of involvement with the New Deal.  Numerous genealogical and family heritage programs were developed due to the New Deal.   Some of the best work we have ever been the readers of as historians and genealogists came from this program.  This site may have been included due to its locality.  It was convenient to follow up on by FDR, should he or his workers wish to document its success and the success of the local farm workers.  FDR may have even himself had personal reasons for including it, visiting perhaps as some form of retreat from his numerous other highly stressful workplaces. 

During the time of the Great Depression, this place like others was perhaps failing to remain a successful summer retreat frequented by people from the city in search of comfort and rest.    With the Great Depression in full force, the Farm Credits Act would have made it one of the first of many facilities to be supported as part of the recovery program.   

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Walking around the cobblestone building, trying to determine why it was there, I walked over to this object lying by its side which was a bathroom cabinet.  Approaching the cabinet, I stepped upon some slightly higher sloping ground on its northern side.  Each step that I took felt and sounded like walking on a pile of crackly beach debris at the high tide line, more than just leaves and pebbles.  When I brushed the leaves aside, I noticed it was the remains of an exceptionally large pile of coal, about 10 feet in diameter, the size of the building.  ‘Why so much coal so far from the main dwelling and retreat homestead?’ I asked.   Then I realized, this site was possibly established to heat the water that either fed the home itself or this hotel.  This made its selling point a’ place where hot baths could be taken.’  That would be a valuable marketing feature during the Great Depression Era.

Continuing around the site, I next realized that some parts of this site’s history could be fairly accurately dated based on its relics, like the 1925 Nature Magazine cover found lying on the floor of its shed. 

This shed, made of corrugated sheets of galvanized metal, was the garage for the farming equipment.    The next piece of evidence was a more recent publication, a Funk & Wagnalls dictionary dated 1953, found in the stone building next to the coal pile at the other end of the site.   

Adding further to this evidence was a can found in a workshed.  It was for a brand of rolling tobacco produced by Phillip-Morris.  It ends up a can of this type was for sale on the ebay; the advertisement dated it to around 1940. 

The site is rich in its original history of 1800-1840, along with several periods of history from which I can begin to pull together its story.  I was unable to date the coal burning stone with a “Pyramid Heat Inc.” stamped label.  There were a number of other items adjacent to it that appeared to be dated to the 1950s, including the coal burning household heater and an old exercise bike.

My initial impression was that following the death of its first owners, what events if any took place at this site between 1840 and 1910/1920 are uncertain.  It was probably resided in by another local family.  During which time, the condition of one of its major historical features remained attractive to potential visitors.  The people who resided here were locally famous.  This site is noted on my 1850 map of the county, probably marketed during the late 19th century as a retreat in the woods for people in need of a break from urban life.

But there was also a health-related value attached to this place.  The public attitude about life in the city was that it was riddled with filth due to the population density and the large amounts of waste and unhealthy sewage being generated.  By the late 1800s, it was believed that you could avoid diseases and improve your chances of recovery by spending the summer in a backwoods country setting, the environmental setting of which resulted in exposure to clean air.

By the 1890s, this was a common selling point for backwoods motels for those with consumption or tuberculosis.  The public and medical attitude about consumption between 1895/1900 to 1925/1930 was that spending the summer in the Hudson Valley made you healthier.   As the popularity of using this type of camp setting for tuberculosis dwindled once by 1920, the Catskills became the next preferred retreat location, its uses reverted back to what it was just a few years before.  This place became a simple summer retreat, in particular for hunters, fishermen and equestrians, with numerous dirt roads, ponds and lakes all around the region for anyone interested in simple outdoor recreation to take advantage of. 

I made an attempt or two to alert historians about the need to salvage this site’s remains for local prosperity.  In no way should this site be pilfered by people looking for their next pile of relics to get rich on through the internet.  Due to the history of this place, these relics should be transferred to the right place. 

A harness, shop tools, and a scythe

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Original Patent, Addie Doe, Dow Plows, Vasselboro, Main, invented ca. 1820-40.

Thanks to developers, this kind of knowledge and the advertising these sites provide for our local history are getting demolished.  Fortunately, the likelihood of this place being rebuilt seems unlikely; it may even be fully protected.  The likelihood that any of its treasures might survive the next decade or two though is very poor.

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‘C’est la vie’ I say, mostly to realtors and investors.  I am asking the local historians who might know this site to try to play a more aggressive role in restoring and maintaining our heritage, keeping the local knowledge of this and other important lost pieces of our own local American history alive.

As more and more urbanites make their way up this part of the Valley, we tend to lose not only the local memories that make up the heritage of the Hudson Valley, we see the birth and local dispersal of the members of more and more families disinterested in both local and even their own individual heritage.  They are moving into this region for money and for land, not culture.  The culture they redefine anyway the want to, and unfortunately do so at times.  Like any place with both an important national and local history, that history is lost when people who don’t care about the local heritage become your next door neighbor.   This is exactly the fate that I am trying to prevent for this site.

Jacob’s Ladder, Amelanchier, Spleenwort

Entrance and exit for the original plank and dirt road (according to newspaper articles published and an 1850 map)

Single-handled Dutch Plow method of tilling, originated during the 18th Century

This one posted at http://s951.photobucket.com/albums/ad358/chriscokid/?action=view&current=DSC00353.jpg

For more on these plows, see:   

http://www.alhfam.org/pdfs/FARM_PIG_Info_sheet-1.pdf 

http://www.dutchbarns.org/dbpsnewssp92.htm

Company name noted in 1903 Appleton Register at http://www.archive.org/stream/appletonregister00peas/appletonregister00peas_djvu.txt [“SCOTT & COMPANY, 334 MAIN STREET, Opposite Thorndike … Hard Metal Sled Shoes and Wagon Shoes, Doe Plows, Hussey “]

 Genealogical Notes [poor quality] at http://www.ebooksread.com/authors-eng/elmer-e-elmer-ellsworth-doe/the-descendants-of-nicholas-doe-eeo/page-16-the-descendants-of-nicholas-doe-eeo.shtml

[“III.  ADDIE [Doe] . . . Hiram Doe 6, (Rev. David 5, Nathaniel Jr. 4, Capt.
Nathaniel 3, Sampson 2, Nicholas 1), b. July 29, 1812, at Vas-
salboro. Me. “Manufacturer of Doe plows, invented by his
father. Rev. David Doe. M. 1834, Lydia Pierce, who was b.
June 18, 1811, at Vassalboro, Me., and d. June 22, 1900. He
d. Dec. 18, 1889. Resided East Vassalboro, Me.
Children:”]

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4 Responses to “NEW! Saving A Small Piece of Local History”

  1. kim Says:

    I am so glad you have written this article as I have enjoyed it and hope that you are successful in getting this preserved. Thank you!

    1. altonenb Says:

      Thank you very much for your feedback! I was surprised when I came upon this place and am still trying to determine what to do. It is truly a glimpse into the past that is hard to duplicate in most parts of this country.

  2. kim Says:

    I too wanted to save an old house that hadn’t been altered in a town about 30 miles from Boise. It had been built in 1909 and still had the furniture, wallpaper, original paint on the walls, kitchen with all appliances. It was empty and the 90 year old owner had moved in with a relative. There was even large old crock storage jars in the pantry along with prohibition era liquor bottles. A beautiful home that had been built with old growth lumber from Oregon (the owner owned a lumber mill and was quite successful in his time). He wanted just 95.000.00 for it- about 2900 sq. feet. I tried all the the historical people, private industry- but of course it went to a “house flipper” who went in and “updated” everything to sell it and make money. Have you tried contacting The National Historic Trust? Keep me posted please and good luck!!

    1. altonenb Says:

      The prohibition era bottles sound interesting. I lived in Portland 20 years and researched the forest industry quite a bit so I know thenature of timber businesses back then that you’re talking about. Did you have a name of the owner? Was he a manager perhaps? What kind off wood from Oregon–Western Hemplock and perhaps some Sitka or just the plain hardwoods? I tried the historical society so far. We have a land trust group here I have to call, and was thinking of walking into the town hall to look this place up with the tax assessor. The previous owner may have even donated it to them in some will (cross our fingers), otherwise the town owns it (also good) or maybe a lien holder. It’s not posted so that’s also a good sign–everything here tends to be posted, everything.

      Brian Altonen 81 Bowman Rd Pine Plains, NY 12567 303-505-0845

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