Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Those Who Left Us This Year

As the year closes, I received news today that Clarence Burns, a lifelong resident of Bovina, passed away yesterday. He had just been honored in October as a 76 year member of the Bovina U.P. Church. He also had served as an elder of the church, first installed in 1943. Clarence and his wife Frances were very generous with their memories and shared a number of wonderful old pictures of Bovina with me. He will be missed. [Update: view the obituary at]

Some other Bovina residents, former and current, passed away during the year, including lifetime Bovina resident Anna Lounsbury (see my May 1 blog for my reflections about Anna), 50 year resident Imar Mondore, Bovina native Rae Storie Vandenbord, and Anna Schabloski, who farmed with her husband on Pink Street. Bovina's oldest resident, Josephine Huggans Noonan, also passed away this year at 101.

Rae Vandenbord, a first cousin of Ed and Dick Davidson, was the 'guardian' of the 'Bovina Families' files created by her great uncle, Davey Hoy (transcribed by Fletcher Davidson and later put on-line by me). I appreciated the care she provided for these files.

To all who left us this year, rest in peace.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Reluctant Reverend, Part II

This is the second and final installment about Bovina Pastor John Graham, taken from my presentation on Saturday evening, October 10 at the Bovina UP Church as part of its Bicentennial celebrations.

* * * * * * *

Graham accepted his fate and was received warmly by the congregation. He soon became accustomed to the rocks, the stumps, and the rough and narrow roads. He received a salary of three hundred dollars (worth about $7,000 today), along with the use of a dwelling-house and barn and Sixty acres of land. The house was erected by the congregation on Coulter Brook. This was likely located about where Jill LaFever Craver lives, though I am not sure if it is the same house.

Graham’s 21 years in Bovina were an eventful time for the Associate Presbyterian Church and the community. During this period, he joined in marriage about two hundred couples. Graham himself was married in June 1834 to Mary Small. He also baptized some four hundred children, likely including some or all of his nine children, all born while he was in Bovina. And it was during Graham’s tenure that the current church was built.

What was Graham like as a pastor? He was a product of the strict Scottish Presbyterian Church. He saw himself as the Lord’s tool in reproving in public or in private when he thought that people were acting inconsistently with their Christian character and profession. People were criticized for sleep¬ing in church, coming without their Bibles, and per¬mitting their dogs to follow them into the Meeting-house. There were numerous cases of members brought before the session to answer for inappropriate conduct, whether it be swearing, drinking, working on the Sabbath, or other behaviors not really unmentionable. Some members had to confess in front of the whole congregation to get back into the good graces of the session.

Dancing, or promiscuous dancing, as it was always referred to in the session minutes, was another example of inappropriate conduct. Graham was appalled to discover a young man trying to start up a dancing school in the hamlet. He was particularly galled that the young man was going around during Sabbath intermission trying to get people to subscribe to the school. Though not by name, Graham very publicly from his pulpit reproved the young man -- “There is a certain spruce young man who worships with us pretty regularly … I am informed on good authority he was busily engaged last Sabbath during intermission soliciting subscriptions with a view to start a dancing-school in the village. I hope he will see his sin and turn from it, and no more be found acting as one of the devil’s recruiting sergeants.” The dancing school was not attempted. There are numerous references in the session minutes during Graham’s tenure concerning people accused of dancing. There was a group that ultimately refused to give up dancing, citing scriptures to back up their case. But Graham did not yield and they were expelled.

Reverend Graham was not ecumenical. He particularly railed against the Bovina Methodist Church in 1849 when he and the congregation were invited to the opening and consecration of its new edifice (where Gert Hall’s house is now). He read the invitation to his congregation, but then reminded them that the consecrating of churches, grave-yards and other things was heathenish and popish in its origin. He then said “As for the invitation for me to go, and request you to follow, and give countenance to such popish mummeries, [I’d] rather … let this right hand forget its cunning, and my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth.”

For a man who was quite lame, Graham was a very active pastor. Not only was he preaching in Bovina, but also he worked with several other local congregations. This work beyond Bovina may explain why the Bovina session minutes, so detailed in the 1830s, are rather sketchy in the 1840s.

Another reason the minutes were sketchy may have been that Graham also was a farmer. In 1841, he bought a farm, with help from members of his congregation, about a quarter of a mile from the original church. He wanted the farm because he wasn’t comfortable totally relying on the congregation for his housing. With his growing family, he was worried that if he became ill or died, there would be no livelihood for his wife and children.

And Graham’s health did break down in 1851 when he had a stroke at the age of 58. He blamed this in part on all the time he had to spend indoors writing his two sermons for each Sunday – sermons that could each last an hour or more. He struggled for two more years, paying to have supply ministers for the pulpit from his own pocket, but determined that a minister should be healthy enough to carry out all of his duties. Graham resigned in 1853. It wasn’t until 1856 that Reverend James B. Lee was installed as pastor. By then, Graham had left Bovina and was settling down in Iowa.

Graham and his family had spent three years debating what they should do. With nine children, they determined there would be more opportunities for each son to have a farm if they went west. Graham was concerned that his health wasn’t really up to the task. He felt he “was too old and too weak a tree to be pulled up and to be transplanted in a new soil.” Was he ready to face bears, wolves, rattlesnakes, and Indians? But he decided to give it a try, so in March 1856, Graham and his family left Bovina, crossing the Mississippi a month later. Graham and his family finally settled near Winterset, Iowa. The family found themselves homesick, but that soon passed and, contrary to expectations, Graham’s health improved considerably in Iowa.

Though he no longer had a pastorate, he was often called upon to preach to tide the congregation over between pastors. Graham was active in the Underground railroad in which he was a “share-holder and office-bearer.” Three of his sons and a son-in-law enlisted in the Civil War. It was an uncomfortable time for the Graham family remaining in Iowa, since they were surrounded by, in Graham’s words, ‘northern rebels.’ Graham was much relieved that his sons and son-in-law all came back from the war unharmed. He also rejoiced in the emancipation of the slaves.

In 1869, Graham wrote his autobiography, its full title being Autobiography and reminiscences of Rev. John Graham, late pastor of the Associate, now the United Presbyterian congregation of Bovina, Delaware co., N.Y. With an appendix containing some interesting and important letters to the author from Rev. Dr. McCrie...and other eminent ministers of Scotland of a former day. To which are added a few of his sermons. It was published in 1870. Graham died April 22, 1870 and is buried in the Winterset Cemetery. His wife, Mary, survived him over 30 years, dying in 1903.

It is because of Graham’s autobiography that I can tell you so much about him. And his book is an invaluable source of information about Bovina in its early days.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Bovina in Winter - Pictures

I uploaded some pictures I have in my collection of Bovina images that I and others have scanned of Bovina winter scenes. They all happen to come from the Bovina Center hamlet and date from the late 19th to about the mid-20th century. At some point, I may add some more recent winter scene pictures. And I always welcome winter scenes from other areas of Bovina, so send them along.

Go to to see this 'set' called 'Bovina in Winter.'

These pictures come from three main sources:

Bovina Historical Society, Cecil Russell family photographs
Christine Hilson Batey
Bovina United Presbyterian Church.


Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas

In the spirit of the season, here are three images from Bovina from the Hilson Family. [Click on each image and you'll get a larger and clearer view of it in a new window.]

Christine Hilson Batey graciously let me scan some of her family's albums last year and there are some gems. This first image to the left dates from probably the late 30s. The gentleman in the foreground is Alex Hilson. His younger brother Jack (and Christine's father) is in the chair at the left.

This is a view of Hilson Brother's store, probably also from the 30s, though not necessarily from Christmas. Note the 'vehicle' at the left in the picture is a horse drawn wagon with milk cans.

This winter scene, also not necessarily dated to Christmas, shows Scotts Bridge, which was at the 'lower' end of the hamlet. Noted as one of Delaware County's 'crookest' bridges, it was determined to be a safety hazard in the 50s. At one point, school buses crossing the bridge had to unload their passengers and have them walk across the bridge, with the bus following. It was replaced with a modern bridge, located a bit further down the river. When the new bridge was done, the old bridge was torn down, despite afforts by Frank and Stella McPherson to save it.
A Merry Christmas to all, and best wishes for the New Year.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Bovina Day 2009 DVD

Back on July 19, I reported in my blog about Bovina Day 2009. Well, during my brief visit to Bovina today, I bought a DVD of Bovina Day, produced by Chris Ingvordsen and presented by the Bovina Historical Society. It opens with yours truly making some of his remarks at the town picnic. Don't worry, it gets better from there! The DVD includes excerpts of the Bovina Dairymen baseball game, the parade, the pie eating contest, and the tug of war. And I finally got to see snippets of the famed "Brushland Melodrama," presented the evening before, featuring Brent and Kent Tremble, Snidely Jeepers and a previously unknown branch of my family tree, Lily "Lips" LaFever. The DVD is available at Russell's Store for $10, proceeds to benefit the Bovina Historical Society.

Bovina in Winter

I'm at the Bovina Public Library on a very brief visit to Bovina. Because of possible snow issues, I've decided I can only stay a little while. I've gotten to an age where if I don't have to drive in the snow, I don't. The main reason for my visit was to resolve issues concerning a freeze alarm I bought. I think it finally works. Since my last visit just after Thanksgiving it had gotten down to zero outside and 49 inside the house. I was a bit surprised that it hadn't gotten any colder. It usually seems that whatever my temperature in Cohoes in the winter, that Bovina is close to 10 degrees colder - it had gotten to 4 in Cohoes, so I expected it to be maybe 4-5 below zero. Ok, not a big difference, but still....

So I'm off to brief stops at Heaven on Main Street and Russell's Store before heading back to Cohoes.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Reluctant Reverend, Part I

Another blog sharing the text of presentations I made during the Bovina UP Church Bicentennial. This is part one of a two part entry covering some of my presentation about Bovina UP Church pastors on Saturday evening, October 10.

* * * * * *

In December 1831, a lame Scotsman hobbled into Bovina. What sounds like the start of a bad joke actually is the start of one chapter in the busy life of the Reverend John Graham. Graham had traveled up from New York City by steamboat, stage and sleigh to get to Bovina. And he was not impressed with his surroundings.

Graham had only arrived in New York a few weeks before this trek from New York after a nine-week voyage from Scotland. Graham had been sent to Bovina specifically as a preacher for the Associate Presbyterian Church congregation, having only recently received his appointment to preach for the Associate Synod of North America. The Bovina congregation had been without a regular pastor since the presbytery had removed its first pastor, Reverend Robert Laing, 8 years earlier in 1823, for reasons not totally clear.

Graham did not intend to become the second pastor. The people he met really wanted and needed his services. His first sermon in Bovina took place during a storm, but he still filled the church. But Graham wasn’t interested in staying. He had just come to America and wanted to review his options. He was not in love with the steep, nar¬row, rocky roads nor with the cold climate and the high mountains Bovina offered. And he thought some of the people he encountered had habits inconsistent with their religion. He felt he had neither the strength of body or mind to take on the job.

So Graham left Bovina, never expecting to return. He spent a relatively comfortable winter in Hebron, NY, in Washington County. Late that winter, he was appointed by the Synod to go to the Guinston Presbyterian Church near York, PA. He headed there in March of 1832, traveling via Albany, New York and Philadelphia. Graham liked what he saw. He saw people that were well trained in their religion and were at peace among themselves. And the congregation liked him - an elder went with Graham in May to the Synod meeting in Philadelphia to put forward their request that Graham spend a year as a supply pastor, with the idea of then putting out a formal call to him.

But upon arriving in Philadelphia, Graham was instead met by a representative from the Albany synod with a unanimous call from Bovina. Graham was stunned and staggered by the news. Before he had left Bovina, he had made it very clear that if they did put out a call to him that he would not accept it. He reviewed this turn of events. He really wanted to return to the people in Guinston. He liked them and they liked him. And he was certainly going to be more comfortable in an area that was more urban and near one of the largest cities then in America, not to mention a somewhat more comfortable climate. Bovina’s rocks and mountains and that cold weather were not inducements to head back north.

But in the end, Reverend Graham realized that he had to accept the call from the Bovina congregation. After all, it was the call in hand. He reflected on how often they had been disappointed and that they needed someone to “warn and instruct them, and keep them from falling in with the erroneous doctrines abounding.” So, with some fears of his ability to do the job, he reluctantly trudged back to Albany to prepare for his ordination. Graham was installed as the pastor of the Bovina Associate Presbyterian Church on October 31, 1832. He ended up staying as pastor for 21 years. His residency in Bovina was the longest of any place he lived throughout his 76 years.

Graham was born in 1793 in Montrose, on the east coast of Scotland. Living on the North Sea, he had the sea in his blood. When he was fourteen, he decided he wanted to be a sailor. Though his parents disapproved of this, Graham forged ahead spending some time at sea. After a few narrow escapes falling into the sea, his parents were able to convince him to go take the safer occupation of working for a farmer. Ironically, it was while farming that he received the injury that made him lame the rest of his life; while herding cattle one day, he was running, fell, and dislocated his hip. He spent a year recuperating at home and when he was able to go out, he needed crutches.

This farming accident limited him in what he could do as an occupation. By 1815, he was in Edinburgh working for a businessman. He spent a successful five years there but found the city detrimental to his health. He decided to go to College, then to Theological Seminary. He went to Crosshill, Ayrshire in the southwest of Scotland in 1825 to teach on the estate of Lord Alloway. Graham spent several comfortable years in this community as a teacher. He would have stayed longer, but one of the frequent splits and unions of the Scottish Presbyterian Church led to a need for more preachers and Graham was approached. He agreed to be trained as a preacher in the ‘Original Seceders’ branch of the church.

After his ordination, he spent a year traveling the length and breadth of Scotland and Northern Ireland preaching. It was not always easy – Graham often found himself short of funds. And remember, he was lame.

Everything changed in 1831 when Graham’s father died. He had often thought that he would like to travel to America, but his father was against this. With his father now gone, he decided to act on this desire. In May, he notified the Synod of his plans to emigrate. He preached his last sermon in Scotland in Glasgow that August and then traveled to Liverpool where sailed on September 1, 1831. Graham arrived in New York after a stormy nine-week voyage. He was in New York for a brief time before making his first trip to Bovina. He had been in the United States a little less than a year when he found himself somewhat reluctantly settled in Bovina.

Stay tuned for the conclusion of Reverend Graham's story in a future blog posting.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Bovina Historical Society Holiday House Tour

The Bovina Historical Society presents a Holiday House Tour this Sunday, December 13 from 1-4 pm. Self guided maps are available for $5 at Jan Bray's, right next to Russell's Store. The society also will be hosting its annual soups, desserts and beverages, served at the Mountain Brook Inn Restaurant. Goodwill donation. Help the BHS match a $5K grant from the O'Connor foundation to help make Russell's Store more energy efficient.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

History of Site of the Original Bovina Associate Presbyterian Church and Cemetery

In reviewing my October blog, I noted that I promised to share some of the information I provided during the celebration of the Bovina UP Church's Bicentennial. I'm a bit late doing so, but if anyone noticed, they didn't say. The following was provided on the program created for the Saturday, October 10 events during the Bicentennial celebration.

* * * * * * * * * *

In 1815, the Associate Presbyterian congregation in what is now Bovina built its first church and established its first cemetery on about an acre of land. On May 10 of that year, the congregation erected a simple building 36 feet by 30 feet with a gallery. A cemetery grew around the building immediately, with the first burial, that of Adam Scott, taking place that same year. It is possible that burials took place even before then, as some records indicate that Moses Burns, who died in 1811, is also buried in the churchyard (though the grave has no stone).

Eighteen years later, in October 1833, this triangular piece of land was legally conveyed to the congregation by Francis Coulter. Coulter was leasing the land from the Livingston Family, as were most Bovina farmers. For $15, he sold his rights to the land, while the congregation committed to continue paying rent on the acre at a rate of 18 bushels of wheat per one hundred acres.

The building was used by the congregation for 34 years before a newer and larger church was built in the hamlet of Bovina Center in 1849. In the early 1850s, the church was dismantled, with the frame donated to the what we think was the Delancey Presbyterian congregation, though there still is some debate about whether it went to Delancey or Hamden (and I'm still working on this issue).

Burials continued in the original graveyard even after the move to the new church, but in 1852, the congregation purchased two acres on Coulter Brook for a cemetery. There is evidence that some graves were moved from the ‘old’ graveyard to the newer one but burials continued in the old one until 1893, when the last three burials (Anna Graham White, James Thomson and Jennette Black Thomson) took place.

Other burials in this cemetery included many of Bovina’s original settlers: William Ormiston (1779-1864) and his wife Jane Graham Ormiston (1784-1856), and the original owner of the property, Francis Coulter, along with his wife Nancy Glendenning Coulter and his father-in-law James Glendenning,

Also buried in this cemetery are a number of people closely connected to the Associate Presbyterian Church. Original members Isaac Atkin (1763-1844) and his wife Jennett Wilson Atkin (1764-1848), Walter Doig (1767-1839) and his wife Elizabeth Murdock Doig (1766-1843), John Elliott (1774-1841) and his wife Christina Mabon Elliott (1782-1831) and Thomas Hamilton (1774-1853) are all buried here. Also buried in the cemetery, only feet away from where he preached, is Reverend Robert Laing (1750-1839), the Associate Presbyterian congregation’s first pastor. The gravestone was added 20 years later, purchased by the congregation.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Bovina UP Church Bicentennial and 1946 Aerial Photos Now on Flickr

I've uploaded two sets of images onto the Bovina (NY) History Flickr page. It's been a challenge to do so - I'm having some problems moving images around - a problem with Flickr, I think.

The first set is 71 photographs taken during the Bovina UP Church Bicentennial celebration in October. You can access these at Thanks very much to Sonya Farrell for taking so many pictures during the celebrations and for letting me share them with you on Flickr.

The second set was just uploaded tonight but dates from 1946. It is comprised of 50 aerial photographs taken by Bob Wyer, noted Delhi photographer and photojournalist, in 1946. His plan was to then sell the photographs of individual farms to the property owners. The Delaware County Historical Association holds the negatives from Bob Wyer's collection, including the negatives for these aerials. Director Tim Duerden and Archivist Helen Casey very graciously allowed me to scan the Bovina related ones in 2006 and 2007. Fourteen of these were used on the 2008 Bovina History calendar. Go to to see this set of images.

I hope to continue uploading more images, but I need to sort out some of the issues with Flickr first. Stay tuned.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Status of Bovina History Calendar for 2010

I'm doing this brief blog entry once again from Russell's Store. I'm unhip enough to still be fascinated that I can actually blog from Russell's.

Ok, the calendar. Briefly, it's not happening this year. Things had progressed well. The content was completed in the summer and the design was pretty much done in early fall. The Bovina Historical Society was set to handle the sales. Ultimately, my busy fall prevented me from getting the final details worked out. The calendar needed one more review and we still had to sort out where it would be printed. By the time I was ready to do this, it was into November and I was away for about a week about in the middle of the month. That likely meant it wouldn't get to the printers until about now. That simply was too late, so I sadly concluded that the calendar would have to wait.

The good news is that the calendar will be pretty much ready for 2011. With any luck, we'll have it available in September/October of 2010. So stayed tuned.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

How Did Bovina Get Its Name?

I've been a bit behind on this blog lately. I'll blame a brief trip to Ireland last week and the impending holiday season. This brief entry speculating about how Bovina got its name was written a bit ago but not posted - until now.

I've already explained in a past blog how Bovina got its name, but the story has always struck me as a bit off. The information in some of the old histories says that Bovina, created in 1820, got its name from the fact that it was a pioneering town in dairying. And yes, Bovina did become a noted dairying community in the region. In 1875, Bovina produced more butter per acre than any other town in the Delaware County. But that was later. In 1820, Bovina did not have much dairying other than what was needed for the farmer's immediate needs. At Bovina's founding, it appears that the main money making livestock was not cows but sheep. And it stayed this way into the 1850s.

My speculation is that the term 'bovine,' the root of 'Bovina,' was not meant to refer to dairying but to a more generic term akin to 'pastoral.' One of the earliest references I can find to how Bovina was named comes from the 1860 Historical and Statistical Gazetteer of New York by J. H. French, LL.D. In its entry for Bovina, the gazetteer said that General Erastus Root, who came up with the name, noted the area's fitness for grazing as the reason his suggestion. No reference was made to dairying. Bovina at its founding had many more sheep than cows - and people. Maybe General Root was being rather forward thinking and saw the potential of the area for larger scale dairy farming, but I suspect it was all those grazing sheep that put the idea into his head.

Now one can speculate as to whether or not the naming of the town helped to set its destiny as a dairying community, but keep in mind that the surrounding towns' farmers also saw dairying as their main livelihood. Still, it can't have hurt Bovina's butter industry to have such an appropriate name - maybe it gave Bovina butter makers a bit of an edge in the marketplace.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! And as prepare your holiday meal, whether it's the stuffing, rolls, or that yummy homemade apple pie, think of Bovina butter!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

I Walk the Line

On Sunday, November 8, I had another chance to meet with Mike Kudish (see my blog entry for May 12), who has been researching the railroads in and around the Catskills, as he has already done in the Adirondacks.

Today we walked three segments of the rail bed for a railroad that would have brought the trains into Bovina. The Delaware Railroad Company was founded in 1898 to connect Andes and Delhi, with a spur to Bovina. The main use of the railroad would have been for transporting milk from the Bovina creamery. After maybe about a year of preliminary construction, the project was abandoned. This likely was caused by a combination of the economic downturn that hit the country just around the turn of the century and the use of trucks to transport milk.

Finding the rail bed in the vicinity of the Bovina creamery has proven challenging. During Mike's hike last spring, he found what appeared to be a rail bed but it was too far up the bank to have allowed a train to get to the creamery. He now thinks this bed is just a farming road. We aren't sure, but we think we did find a rail bed at a lower level that would have brought trains to the creamery.

Then we drove to Route 28 to find another section of rail bed by a ravine that some maps call the Bovina Gorge, not too far from the Clarence Burns farm. As Mike pointed out, it's no gorge, just a ravine. It is where Silver Lake drains down to the Little Delaware. The rail bed comes to the ravine, where it would have needed a trestle for the train to cross it.

From the ravine, we walked a ways up Route 28 towards Andes. We climbed up the bank not too far from the turn off for Tunis Lake. There we found a trail that was marked on a topo map from the 60s as a hiking trail. This turns out to have been the rail bed for the line that was to run from Andes to Delhi (the trail is not heavily used since it all goes through private property, we think). We hiked that toward Delhi until we found a newly dug pond (two actually) where a development is being planned. It was right above Burgin road where my car was parked, so it worked out well.

Mike still wants to find where the Bovina line was to have met up with the Andes/Delhi line. We think we identified the spot and also suspect the bed for that part was never constructed, but we need to make another visit - hopefully next spring - to find that and to walk the bed further along towards Delhi. So stay tuned for the further adventures of the Delaware Railroad Company.

Murder Most Foul and Unnatural - Part II

In my entry for November 4 related a possible case of a murder in Bovina in the early 19th century. The result of a coroner's jury, convened in late April 1821, was the arrest and jailing of Cornelius McDonald and his sister Jane Post for the murder of their father John McDonald three years earlier. During the inquest, they had accused each other of having committed the crime. The case caused a stir not just in the local press but in papers around the United States. Cornelius and Jane were excoriated for committing an abominable crime.

The case did not show up in the newspapers again until early August when there was a major development. In late July, Cornelius confessed that he lied about his sister having killed their father. Since Cornelius' evidence accusing his sister was recanted, Jane was released from jail. And while Jane did accuse Cornelius of the crime, she provided no direct eye-witness evidence of the fact. The grand jury came back without an indictment for murder. There simply wasn’t enough evidence. Cornelius was convicted of perjury, however, and sentenced to three years and one day in prison.

At least one newspaper expressed the following:

"Whatever might have been his guilt is best known to himself and his God: the testimony, however, was insufficient to convict him of the murder. We cannot but rejoice for the honour of the County, that we are relieved from the truly melancholy task of recording the ignominious exit from this world of a fellow creature upon the gallows. Innocence frequently pays the last debt of nature upon the gibbet. In this case, though his guilt had been ever so black, what a spectacle would it have been to the contemplative mind – with what horror would the feeling heart be filled, to witness a fellow mortal (but to say a son) launched into eternity with the indelible print of Murder stampt upon the catalogue of his sins with the blood of a father!

"We hope that all ruling Providence will see fit to send forth the conciliatory decree of his Divine will, to check the progress of crime of every description with which our country is at this time cursed, and which every day’s Herald adds to the list."

The rest of the story of the McDonald family can only be speculated. The last record related to the case was when Cornelius was hauled off to prison in New York City – probably Newgate (Sing Sing had not been built yet). A couple of pages away from Cornelius’s indictment, on file at the Delaware County Clerk's office, is that of Barber Stafford. Stafford was hauled off to the same prison for robbery. At some point, Stafford and McDonald became brothers in law when Jane married Stafford. It would appear that Jane must have visited her brother and maybe met Barber while in prison.

The names of Jane Stafford and Cornelius McDonald occasionally show up in various records, but whether or not they are the same ones accused of their father’s death is not completely clear. Jane is easier to identify in the records. A Barber Stafford shows up in Roxbury in the 1840 census records and the ages of the household correspond with Barber, his wife Jane and their son Barber, Jr. There’s also another teenager in the house – maybe a daughter. Barber, Jane and Barber, Jr. show up in Gilboa in the 1850 census and are back in Roxbury in 1860. Jane does not show up in the 1870 census, but whether she was missed, had moved or was dead is not clear. She apparently is buried in Bovina at the old RP cemetery but no death date is available.

It likely is that her son Barber Stafford was one of those convicted during the anti-rent war shooting of Osman Steele in 1845. It was reported that because of his youth, he was not imprisoned. Jane already had a son from her first marriage to Robert Post, also named Robert. This son likely was born around the time of the death of John McDonald. And it appears that this son stayed in Bovina – there’s a Robert Post living up on Cape Horn Road in the 1850s, 60s and 70s.

Cornelius is harder to trace. There’s a Cornelius McDonald in Middletown in Delaware County in 1830, with what appears to be a wife and five children. In 1860, a Cornelius McDonald is living in Roxbury with his son John and his family. This Cornelius died of fits on June 11, 1863, age 68. This likely is the same Cornelius – the age and circumstances seem to fit, including the fact that he had a son named for his father.

So did Cornelius do it? Did he kill his father? All the evidence is circumstantial, but you can make a pretty decent case it was Cornelius. His testimony is inconsistent. If Jane pushed her father down the stairs and broke his neck, then how was it that he was then able to go to bed and get up in the night to ‘make water’ the night of his death? And why did he lie about his sister’s role in their father’s death, unless it was to point the finger away from himself? But the grand jury ultimately did not feel it could bring down an indictment for murder. The fact that they went after Cornelius for perjury maybe was seen as a way to at least punish him a little.

Other questions that come up include where did this crime happen and where is John McDonald buried? Unfortunately, I have not found the answer to either. My main evidence that the crime even happened in Bovina is the fact that the coroner's inquest took place in Bovina. It seems likely that it would happen where the crime took place. And while Bovina has very detailed information on its burials (see the cemetery listing on the Delaware County Genealogy website at the McDonald family does not show up.

So this crime that put Bovina in the papers around the country probably can never be proven as such. But it makes an interesting tale to tell.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Murder Most Foul and Unnatural - Part I

In the small hours of January 21, 1818, Mrs. Henrietta McNaught was awakened by someone pounding on the door of her home in what later became the Town of Bovina. There she found Cornelius McDonald, the son of her neighbors Mr. and Mrs. John McDonald, standing on her doorstep with the news that his father had died. He asked if she would come over. So she did, guided by a candle carried by Cornelius. When she arrived, she found a clean and dry house with a good fire – and the body of John McDonald lying in the middle of the bed.

The neighbors didn’t think much of the McDonald family. They quarreled often and the old man freely complained to anyone who would listen about how badly he was treated at home. He would go to neighbor’s homes to get a decent meal, claiming that he was being starved. Once, he ate so heartily at a neighbor’s to make up for the lack of food at home that he got sick. A visitor to the McDonald home during breakfast noted that the old man was outdoors and when he came in to ask for something to eat, he was given a piece of bread about the size of two fingers and told to go away, since he had already had breakfast. John McDonald also complained that his daughter Jane misused him and that he was scared of Cornelius. He claimed that Cornelius knocked him down and once held him so close to the fire he thought he would burn up. So when the old man did die, it started a run of gossip.

The gossip did not abate during the lying in and funeral. Several of the neighbors noted the odd angle of the John McDonald’s neck. One neighbor later testified that “the men nearly all withdrew from the house to consult relative to the funeral.” There was some debate about going through with the burial but they finally concluded to carry it out, trusting that at some point justice would prevail. Jane later reported that her brother Cornelius became quite nervous at this withdrawal of the men.

So the funeral took place and John McDonald was buried – but he did not rest in peace. Over the next three years, the surviving family members continued to quarrel and exchange accusations. It appears that much of it came to a head when their sister Lydia died in 1820. This led to accusations between Jane and Neal concerning the death of their father.

Exactly what triggered the coroner’s inquest is not clear, but obviously there was enough information to order the exhumation of the body of John McDonald in April 1821. And while McDonald was buried in Delhi, he was dug up in Bovina, the town having been created a little over two years after his death. His body was brought to the Bovina home of William Neish on April 27, 1821 where a corner's jury was convened. The report of the jury stated that "The body [was] laying on his back the head inclined on the left side. The membranes nearly decayed and a quantity of bloody matter about half way from his head to his shoulders attached to the neck bones. The other part of the Body (we suppose) as used as other persons which has been buried as long as the J. McDonald has been.

The result of the examination of John McDonald’s body bore out the comments about the odd angle of the head. The jury concluded that his neck had been broken before he died. It then adjourned until the next morning, meeting at Thomas Landon, Jr’s house in Lake Delaware. Over the next two days, testimony was taken relative to the death of John McDonald.

A number of the neighbors testified. Many of them reported the quarrels in the McDonald family and noted the odd angle of John McDonald’s neck at the funeral. None of them mentioned having witnessed any specific threats made by either Neal or Jane to their father, though the father had told neighbors he was scared of them.

Lewis Halstead reported a conversation with Mrs. McDonald in which she told him that when she was awaken by a noise the night John McDonald died that she found Cornelius outdoors walking and found the old man dead on the hearth. Halstead also testified that Mrs. McDonald said that she believed Cornelius had thrown his father down the stairs during the night, then carried him back upstairs to bed.

Cornelius and his mother and sister had differing viewpoints of the old man’s situation from that of the neighbors. And they also differed widely from each other in what happened. At times, the testimony almost reads as the transcript of a family argument happening right in court.

McDonald’s daughter, Jane Post, felt the family was taking good care of her father, but she did testify that her father was afraid Neal would kill him. She also claimed that Neal expressed a desire to have the “old man out of the way.” He had said that if his father worked as hard as he ate, he might be worth something. Jane also testified, though, that she never heard her brother directly threaten their father. And though she thought her brother had killed their father, having said so to her mother the day her father died, Jane never produced direct evidence of having seen her brother attack her father.

She did testify, however, that “I have heard Neal tell my mother that she should say nothing about breaking his neck and likewise has told me that he would thrash me if I should say anything about it.” She went on to say that “Cornelius has threatened my life and to wash his hands in my hearts blood” if she said anything.

Cornelius had a different story and testified not only that his sister had done the deed but that he saw her do it through an 8-inch crack in the floor. He claimed that his sister and father had quarreled that evening and that he saw her push him down the stairs or down a ladder. Neal said he carried his father upstairs. But according to Neal’s testimony, his father was well enough to request a bed by the hearth and wanted help later in the night to go to the bathroom.

Cornelius claimed the night his father died that the old man was not feeling well and after being put to bed got up and asked for a bed by the hearth. During the night he needed help to go out and ‘make water.’ Neal said later that night that he heard his father make a heavy breathing noise and so he asked ‘Dadda are you asleep.’ That’s when he thought he might be dead.

Jane and Cornelius’s mother, Christian, says she heard some kind of noise where her husband was sleeping and called up to her son, who was sleeping with his father that night, to find out if everything was all right. Cornelius called down that he thought his father was dead. She testified that she never saw Neal use any violence against his father other than to keep his father off him.

So the three family members in the house the night John McDonald died had conflicting stories. Jane reported that her mother thought Neal had done the deed, but Mrs. McDonald denied this. She also denied having said that she wanted her son back to face the gallows. When Jane was asked by the court why Cornelius was testifying against her she responded “I do not know, I supposed he wants to clear himself.”

After all the testimony, the jury decided that there was enough evidence of foul play, stating "[T]hat one Cornelius McDonald late of the town of Delhi but now of Ulster County … having the fear of God before his eyes and being moved and seduced by the instigation of the Devil … with force in and upon the body of the said John McDonald then and there being in the peace of God and the said people feloniously, violently and of his malice aforethought made an assault and that the aforesaid Cornelius McDonald with his hands or by some other violent means did dislocate the neck of said John McDonald of which said dislocation the said John McDonald then and there instantly died, and so the said Cornelius McDonald then and there feloniously killed and murdered the said John McDonald against the peace of the people of said State and their dignity.

The jurors went on to say “Jane Post of Colchester in the County of Delaware spinster was feloniously present at the time of the felony and murder aforesaid and was an accessory to the felony and murder aforesaid in manner aforesaid against the peace of the people of the said State and their dignity.”

Both Cornelius and Jane were carted off to jail in Delhi. The story of this alleged parricide was published in the Delaware Gazette in Delhi. It then appeared in numerous newspapers in places such as New York City; Saratoga; Pittsfield, MA; Woodstock, VT; Maine and even in Baltimore.

So what happened to Cornelius and Jane? Did they swing from the gallows, go to the hoosegow, or beat the rap? Stay tuned to this blog for the concluding installment of this story.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Hamden or Delancey - Where did the old Bovina Church go?

Historians can be wrong. They try very hard to have all of their facts in a row, but sometimes mistakes happen. It's very possible that the recent history I wrote for the Bovina U.P. Church has an error. The error revolves around what happened to the old Associate Presbyterian Church of Bovina building when the congregation moved into its new structure in 1849. My history states that it was moved to Hamden and that the building still exists behind the Hamden Presbyterian Church, used as its community center. But it is more likely that it was moved to Delancey to become the Delancey United Presbyterian Church. That building burned down in 1896, to be replaced by the current structure.

At the time I was working on the history, I had some confusion and debate about whether the Bovina building went to Hamden or Delancey. Part of this confusion is the confusion people sometimes have about these two locations, which are both hamlets in the Town of Hamden. I ultimately assumed the building went to the hamlet of Hamden for several reasons:

-The community center for the Hamden Presbyterian Church does appear to fit the footprint of the old Bovina church.

-The autobiography of Bovina Pastor Reverend John Graham, who was instrumental in establishing the Associate Presbyterian congregation in the Town of Hamden, specifically said the building for that congregation was NEAR Delancey, not in it. If it was the Delancey church, why didn't he say Delancey?

-The congregation Graham established was called the Associate Presbyterian Church of Hamden - so I assumed that meant the hamlet, not the whole township.

Well, I should have done a bit more digging. I think part of me simply wanted to be able to say that something of the original Bovina church still existed - so I may have ignored information that I shouldn't have. A phone conversation with local historian Dorothy Kubik has forced me to review my sources. She is pursuing this mystery after seeing references in the local newspapers about the Bovina church moving to Hamden. She is pretty convinced that it was Delancey, not Hamden, and had several facts to back up her case. So checking some of those and other sources I had, here's what I found:

-A history of the Delancey U.P. Church by Louise Little, available on the Delaware County Genealogy website (, states that the congregation's original building burned in 1896. That would explain why the current structure does not at all resemble the description of the old Bovina church. This history also mentions the role of Reverend Graham in establishing the congregation - another important clue.

-Munsell's 1880 history of Delaware County says that the Delancey United Presbyterian Church was created in 1849 as the Associate Presbyterian Church of Lansingville (the former name for Delancey). This church was created by combining the Associate Presbyterian congregations of Hamden and Delhi, both of which had just been created a few months before with the help of Reverend Graham. It was the Hamden Associate congregation he established that he said used the timbers of the old Bovina church.

-Munsell's history goes on to explain that the Hamden Presbyterian church was created in 1855. This would be two years after Graham had resigned as pastor in Bovina due to ill health, and about three years after the Bovina church timbers were said to have been moved over the snow to build a new church. The fact that the Hamden Church was never known as the Associate or United Presbyterian Church but simply as the Hamden Presbyterian Church is another telling fact in favor of Delancey.

-The 1886 Manual for the Bovina UP Church, which includes a history of the congregation, has in a footnote that the old church's frame was moved to Delancey to serve as the Delancey U.P. Church.

-Checking maps confirmed that the Delancey U.P. Church's location fits more closely with Graham's description that places it on the east side of the river. The Hamden church, by contrast, is on the west side.

Dorothy and I are going to try and find old newspapers from 1896 to see if the report of the fire that destroyed the Delancey church provides any further information as to whether or not the old Bovina church timbers were used in its construction. Unfortunately, the one source we don't have are original records from the 1840s and 50s from Hamden, Delancey or Bovina that specifically state when and to where the old Bovina church timbers went. This certainly has added to the on-going confusion.

This cannot excuse the fact, however, that I very likely got the wrong end of the stick on this one. There was plenty of evidence in existence to indicate it was Delancey and not Hamden that got the old Bovina church timbers. I hate to admit I was wrong, but I want the history I present to be accurate. Stay tuned for further developments.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Don't Forget the Murder Most Foul and Unnatural

I've been rather quiet on this blog since wrapping up the celebration of the Bovina UP Church Bicentennial, taking a breather. One activity since the celebration has been to review the database of all the members of the church - I've already added about 60 names that were missing.

But now I'm gearing up for my talk at the Bovina Public Library this Saturday (October 24) at 10 am on what appears to be Bovina's first (and from everything I know right now, only) murder. I continue to review the testimony recorded during the coroner's inquest into the death of John McDonald and continue to find it rather confusing. The handwriting is a challenge and I cannot figure out the sequence of the testimony from neighbors and family members - there are no page numbers and the sheets were not attached in any discernable order.

Nonetheless, I have enough information to fashion together a story of a family whose squabbles led to accusations of parricide. So come and find out about this murder most foul and unnatural.

PS - When I searched Google images under the phrase 'murder most foul and unnatural' to find an appropriate image for a handout for the presentation, one of the pictures that came up was of me! It came up from my previous blog entry about this presentation. Oh dear....

Monday, October 12, 2009

Doing My Quasimodo Act

Got your interest? I'm just back from a visit to the attic and base of the belfry of the Bovina U.P. Church, thanks to the help of church trustee Mark Schneider. The attic was a bit of a challenge to walk around, but I was able to walk along the floor beams while holding on to the roof rafters. Mark had brought up a couple of portable lights to make that chore easier. I think I now have figured out where the 1859 addition to the church was made (towards the back).

We then climbed into the bottom of the belfry. Unfortunately, the bell tower itself is only accessible from the outside, but seeing the base was still interesting. We found a bit of graffiti, but not enough to figure out what it said. I'm hoping playing with the pictures on the computer will bring things out. We noted that there have been several repairs over the years to the belfry - we found plywood in some spots. We also saw what the original roof looked like.

Back in the attic Mark found this 24 x 36 wooden box that turned out to have four panels of stained glass. I wanted to try to remove one or two of the panels in the attic but Mark was concerned about attempting that in a space without a real floor. He managed to get the whole thing down the ladder so we could have a closer look in a space with a full floor and better lighting. It appears to be two sets of glass, two panels each. One set was intact but the other had one broken piece. We didn't attempt to take the other half of that panel out of the box. I have some contacts who can give us a better idea of how best to care for these. It is likely that these panels once graced the choir loft, where plain glass now resides. I suspect the main reason for the change was that simply they needed more light in the loft.

The one casualty of my visit was my camera. I had just got into the attic and heard something fall. The camera fell about 20 feet. Mark retrieved it and amazingly, I was still able to take photographs - as long as I held the battery cover tight. I was disappointed about damaging the camera but if it had totally failed I would have been really bummed out being in that attic without the ability to take pictures.

A big thank you to Mark for arranging this little adventure - and for single handedly getting that glass down from the attic. It was all greatly appreciated. And thanks to my neighbor Luke Dougherty for supplying the ladder.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Bovina U.P. Church Bicentennial - Sunday

It's after 3 pm and I'm at Russell's catching up on the blog. Today was the 10 am Bicentennial service at the Bovina U.P. Church. There still is some debate on the crowd, but likely at least 200 came for the service.

I started thinking about the centennial celebration in 1909 and though I didn't have the program handy, I was pretty sure that the role of women then was minimal. A check later of the old program showed that for the actual service, all the main parts were by men, though there were women in the choir and the pastor's wife, Mrs. H. B. Speer did a solo.

Today's service saw as the main celebrants Lay Pastor Judi Gage, former pastor Rev. Karen Green, former elder Enid Carter, and the Rev. Cheryl Ann Elfond, who is the Interim Executive Presbyter of the Susquehanna Valley Synod. The soloists were all women too. But the service did not lack men - former Bovina pastors Grunstra and Hammer participated.

I'll be thinking about posting some pictures on my Flickr and Facebook pages to summarize the event, but everyone was highly pleased with how well the weekend went. It was fun catching up with folks. And I got a couple of great leads for pictures and some more information about the first Bovina pastor, Robert Laing, from a relation of his. Some interesting stuff I'll share on the blog at some point. But I'm ready to go home and take a nap!

Bovina U.P. Church Bicentennial Saturday wrap-up

A final entry from yesterday – the history program commemorating the Bovina U.P. Church’s Bicentennial was held last night. We had a respectable crowd. The competition of a major wedding and the fact that it was cold last night didn’t make the crowd overwhelming, but it was decent. Two more former pastors of the Bovina Church showed up for this event. Maynard Grunstra and his wife Betty came and I was pleased how quickly I recognized him after not seeing him in 40 years. But before I could say hello to him, I got a big hello from somebody else and when I said ‘And you are?’ it turned out to be Grunstra’s successor as pastor, Bob Hammer. Given that I knew him probably the best of all our pastors and that he was easily recognizable, I was ever so slightly embarrassed.

I got very kind reviews for my presentation “The Reluctant Reverend Graham and other Stories of Bovina Pastors.” One feature of the presentation not planned was learning how to soldier on as one young attendee rather loudly expressed his displeasure at something – probably me, but who knows? Ministers are very familiar with doing that. Bob Hammer said I did fine dealing with it, but it did throw me a bit. As I’ve mentioned before, I will be putting at least parts of the talk on my blog. One part of my presentation was about Mason W. Pressly, and I’ve already blogged about him.

My cousin Colleen Burns Heavey then presented a very lovely 17 minute slide show, with music and pictures about the Bovina church over the years. That was all followed in the great tradition of the church, a dessert reception with a variety of homemade goodies. Then home to bed after a long day reminiscing.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Bovina U.P. Church Bicentennial so far...

I'm actually writing this in the 'upper rooms' of the Bovina U.P. Church, where everything right now is quiet. The events of this morning and afternoon went off well, in spite of the continuing cloudiness for the outdoor events (of course, it's sunny now). The bell ringing went off mostly as planned, but we were minus one bell. We were chagrined to discover the bell of the old fire house didn't function. We did get Carver Farrell to ring the bell from the old school and after a few rings, that was my cue to start ringing the town's largest bell, the one in the church. I took a video of my ringing and I really had to put my whole body into it, but I managed just under a minute and a half and it sounded respectable. Note: While Carver was ringing the school bell, the rope broke, so Bovina is down to one functioning bell!

A brief ceremony was held to unveil the historic marker that was just put up yesterday (see my previous blog posting). Pastor Judi Gage and 80 year member Agnes Burns did the unveiling. We had good press coverage (there was an article in today's Oneonta Daily Star: We had photographers from the Catskill Mountain News and the Delaware County Times. Attending this ceremony were past pastors John Kloepfer and Karen Green.

The ceremony was followed at noon by a service, history talk and picnic at the site of the original church, about a half mile from the current building. So of course, it was about the coldest and windiest part of the day. None-the-less, 40 hardy souls, including Agnes Burns, came for the brief service, a brief talk by yours truly, and some reminiscences by Rev. Kloepfer. I'll provide some information about the original site in a day or so. We visited some of the old graves, including that of Bovina's first pastor, Rev. Robert Laing.

I spent the afternoon in the church parlors with a computer and scanner to scan any pictures people might care to bring. My cousin Helen Tyrell brought pictures from Bovina's 175th Brithday celebrations. We also had a number of people look at the list I created of all 2100+ members. I am discovering that the list is not completely accurate, so it's been a chance to start a project I hope to carry out this winter of creating a definitive list.

Ok, I need to head to my house to freshen up and get ready for my biggest part of this - the history program tonight at 7 pm.

Bicentennial Weekend is Here!

I may be posting a series of these throughout the day. Or I may not. Depends on what I'm doing and the status of my internet connection. I'm in Russells but will be going to the church shortly to set up a computer and scanner. Things start with the ringing of all three bells in the hamlet - I'm ringing the church bell. Yesterday, clerk of the Session and I put up the historical marker which will be officially unveiled just after the bell ringing. Here's a sneak peak at the sign. Putting it up was a piece of cake...because I only had to stick it on over the post. I imagine setting the post was a bit more involved.

Well, off to the church to get rolling on things.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Bovina United Presbyterian Church Bicentennial

Next weekend (October 10 and 11) will be the celebration of the bicentennial of the oldest institution in the Town of Bovina, the United Presbyterian Church. Founded in October 1809, with Alexander Bullions from Washington County preaching the first sermon, it was five years before the congregation had a regular minister, Robert Laing. It was another year before it got a permanent home at what is now the intersection of County Route 6 and Reinertsen Hill Road. Though the first church built by the congregation proved to be too small, sweltering in the summer and freezing in the winter, they used it for 34 years before moving into a larger structure located in the hamlet of Bovina Center itself. Expanded 10 years later in 1859, it was renovated in 1889 to basically its current appearance.

In the 200 years of the congregation, there have been 21 pastors, 108 elders and over 2100 members. Bovina's ministers have had varied backgrounds. The first two were Scottish born. A number of them came from the mid-west, including Illinois, Iowa, Ohio and Missouri. One minister was born in the Phillipines, another in Belfast. Ohio born James B. Lee was Bovina's third and longest tenured pastor, serving in the post for 32 years, from 1856-1888.

For next weekend's celebrations, we're heard that four of Bovina's former pastors are expected attend at least some of the events - Maynard Grunstra (1962-67), Bob Hammer (1968-75), John Kloepfer (1976-84) and Bovina's first female pastor, Reverend Karen Patricia Green (1985-1993).

A number of long-time members will be honored at the Sunday bicentennial service. The two longest served are Agnes Burns and Celia Coulter, who both joined the church on October 13, 1929, 80 years ago. Helen Blair Thomson has the distinction of having the longest membership ever in Bovina's church. Dying at the age of 107 in 1997, she had been a member for 0ver 93 years.

Next Saturday, I'll be doing a brief talk at the site of the original church, where a picnic lunch will be held. That evening, I'll be doing my main presentation - "The Reluctant Reverend Graham and other stories of Bovina pastors." I'll be posting these on my blog after their 'premiere.' During the luncheon after the service on Sunday, I'll give a brief history of the church. It's going to be a busy but fun weekend reveling in Bovina's past. Hope to see some of you there.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Murder Most Foul and Unnatural

Early in Bovina's history, in fact, in 1818, before there officially was a Bovina, an old man was found dead in his home. There were some suspicions whispered at the time about how he died. Neighbors noted the family's 'brutal conduct' toward him and his own apprehensions that his life was in danger. During the lying in, comments were made about the unnatural way the dead man's head lay on his shoulder. But nothing was voiced officially at the time. In April 1821, a coroner's inquest was held in Bovina. The inquest was triggered by quarrels within the family of the dead man in which the mother and her son and daughter traded charges of having done away with the old man. The body was dug up, testimony was taken, and the coroner's jury determined that the old man's son had broken his father's neck, with help from the old man's daughter. The son and daughter were arrested for the murder and jailed in Delhi.

So who were these people? And did they really do it? If you want to learn more, come to the Bovina Public Library at 10 am on October 24 to hear the whole story. And if you can't get to Bovina, stay tuned to this blog, where I will, once the official story 'premieres' at the library, fill in all the details (or as many as I've been able to track down....)

Friday, September 18, 2009

Bovina Farm Day video

I put together several of the clips I took during the very successful Bovina Farm Day on September 6 and created a short video for YouTube. You'll see the setting on Crescent Valley Road, some of the livestock, the exhibitors and the people who came, all with my rather inane commentary. The person I'm speaking to at the start of the video about the goats on her truck is Evelyn Stewart, one of the organizers. She shows up later on a video of the hay rides. Enjoy.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Bovina Farm Day

It's a cloudy morning in Bovina as I sit in Russell's Store. Bea is getting things up and running and I'm catching up on a day and a half worth of Internet stuff.

So Bovina Farm Day. What a major success it was. At least 700 people headed up Crescent Valley Road for the day's festivities. The absolutely gorgeous weather (not like today's clouds) certainly helped, but so did the advertising. My role was to have a display about Bovina farming and to scan any pictures people cared to bring. No one brought any pictures, but I got a good amount of traffic from people with questions. And I had some aerial pictures taken in 1946 by Bob Wyer to share. People enjoyed those and were very helpful in identifying a couple of my mystery photos. And a classmate of mine, Marie Menke, noted that one of my pictures in the Cape Horn area was printed backwards!

Here are my semi-raw notes I took yesterday as the day unfolded:

10:45 am. It started out a bit chilly - 45 degrees at the house. I headed up Crescent Valley at 8:30, stopping at the Maynard School to leave off with Jan Bray a notebook of tidbits about the school. Evelyn Stewart, one of the organizers, got me set up in the big tent while others arrived with maple syrup, flowers and herbs (the dill smell is great), corn, onions, eggs, beef, and holiday trimmings. People came with pigs, rabbits, chickens (with some baby chicks), horses, cows and goats.

12:02 pm. The crowds so far have been very healthy. Donna Weber, another of the organizers, is thrilled and somewhat surprised at the numbers. She noted that yesterday, crowds started coming in response to a notice with the incorrect date. So there was some clue that there would be interest, but would they come a second day all the way up Crescent Valley? Yes they did.

1:09 pm. The crowds keep coming. It certainly appears that this has been a runaway success. No two ways about it. I’m not getting heavy traffic, but a fair amount of interest. The scanner so far is inactive, but this isn’t really a problem. There’s plenty to see, do and eat!

1:45 pm. Just had a debate over whether or not the 1946 picture of what was mislabeled the John Burns farm is actually the Draffen farm. We’ve confirmed it’s not the John Burns farm but no agreement has been reached as to whether it is the Draffen farm or where the heck it is. And the crowds continue to come. I’m just totally thrilled for the folks who worked so hard to organize this event.

3:30 pm. It’s actually starting to wind down a bit though folks are still visiting the vendors and I continue to get some traffic. It’s clouded up some, but still is lovely. I’m going to be really tired, but happily so.

3:51 pm. Speculation starts about how many came. It was $5 a car, so the car count is key. The official word from the folks collecting the money was 140 cars but likely more. That means over 500 people. All I know is that the hay wagon taking people down to see the Maynard School has been running almost continuously.

5:00pm Breakdown time. Everyone agrees that this was wildly successful. A final count of the money collected per car indicates that it is likely that over 700 people came. Vendors did a brisk business (including some from yours truly). I made a number of contacts and have already asked to be invited again if they do this next year. Today’s success likely will lead them to give it a try again in 2010.

So now it's on to Columbus Day weekend and the celebration of the Bovina UP Church's Bicentennial. But I'm also already thinking about what I might bring to share for the Second Annual Bovina Farm Day!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Bovina Farm Day is Coming!

Just a quick entry to remind everyone one more time about Bovina Farm Day this Sunday up Crescent Valley Road - once you get to Crescent Valley, just drive until you see all the activity! I'll be there with a display about Bovina agriculture and my scanner. If you have pictures of old Bovina Farms (or not so old Bovina Farms) please bring them to share. More information is at

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Does Ray LaFever Ring A Bell?

Answer - yes he does! Sorry, I'm being slightly silly this morning as I sit in Russells waiting for them to officially open - they are doing the baking right now and it smells great! But I digress.

Yesterday the Committee for the Celebration of the Bovina UP Church's 200th anniversary met to review plans for the celebrations to take place Columbus Day Weekend. The committee includes Pastor Judi Gage, Amy Burns, Colleen Heavey, Monica Gabriel Liddle and Hugh Lee, as well as yours truly.

Saturday October 10th will include the unveiling of a historical marker in front of the church at 11, followed by a service and picnic at the site of the original church at noon. There will be a hike after the picnic for those interested. During the afternoon, there will be historical displays in the church. There will be a history program at 7, where I will talk about Bovina pastors and Amy and Colleen will present a slide show on the history of the congregation. This program will be followed by a dessert reception. A DVD of the slide show as well as a brief history of the congregation that I have just about finished writing will be available for sale that weekend.

Sunday the 11th will include a communion service at 10 am, with a number of participants from area churches and some of Bovina's past pastors participating. A luncheon and a very brief history program will follow the service. I'll have more details on this as October gets closer.

But what does this all have to do with a bell? During our meeting yesterday, Colleen wanted the sound of a bell ringing to open the slide presentation. She wondered about recording the carillon, which does tunes and can do a tolling bell. Then we thought, why not try ringing the actual bell, which they do use occasionally. So I volunteered to give it a try. While I knew I might embarrass myself - the rope has to be a good 20 feet below the bell (and totally out of sight of it) and you really have to pull hard to get it pealing away - I just thought it would be totally cool! So Colleen went outside with her video camera and I merrily pulled away for about 2 minutes. People, including Bea here at Russells, wondered what the heck was going on! Unfortunately, my two minute session ringing the bell pointed out that I'm a bit out of shape - I was puffing for about five minutes after! We're going to ring that bell, and we hope the other two in town (the old fire house and the library, which was once a school house) at the opening of the sign unveiling on October 10.

Ok, it's still sunny out - nice after yesterday's rain - so I'm going to have some baked goodies and head out!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Town Historian Fletcher Davidson

With the arrival in Bovina this coming week of Ed and Dick Davidson, two sons of the late Fletcher Davidson, I thought I'd share some memories about one of my predecessors as Town Historian. Fletcher was a life long resident of the Town of Bovina, born there in 1895 and only leaving to attend college and to serve in France in World War I. A more detailed record of that time in his life can be found on the Delaware County Genealogy website at, where his son Ed has placed a transcription of his father's WWI diary.

Fletcher was married to Lois Ormiston in 1921 and they settled in Bovina to raise their family. I more vividly remember Lois in my younger days, since she was the choir director and church organist when I was a child. Lois had a stroke in the 60s and Fletcher was amazingly clever in creating tools for her so she could continue to be active with the use of only one hand. I seem to recall an article in the newspaper about it.

My more memorable encounters with Fletcher happened in my young adulthood. In 1978, I stumbled on the fact that my dad's mother's mom and his father's grandmother both shared the last name of Miller. I had heard that Fletcher had quite a collection of genealogy files for certain Bovina families. I later learned these were the Bovina Families notes created by his uncle David Hoy in the early 20th century. When Fletcher was in Russell's store one day (where I was working), I asked him about the Millers and whether or not he might have any information that would show my grandparents may have been related. He said he might and we talked about my coming down sometime to see what he had.

The next day (April 26, to be exact - the advantage of having kept a diary) Fletcher came into the store with nine sheets or so of handwritten material in which he provided information on all the Millers. So I eagerly took these home, plugged the names into a genealogical chart and I was on my way as a genealogist. During the next few days, I eagerly explored the cemetery near my house and was thrilled to find the graves of so many of my ancestors. I still have those sheets and that first chart. I date my interest in my family tree and in local history from that encounter. And yes, my grandparents were third cousins once removed. It is through the Millers that I am related to the Davidson family.

My dad recalled what a sharp memory Fletcher had. Dad could point to almost any house in Bovina and ask Fletcher who owned it in the past. He would know and often could recite almost the entire history of ownership. He's been a hard act to follow as historian! I usually know where to find the information, but I always have to go to my sources for anything that detailed.

As Fletcher got older, he spent more time with his sons in California, making occasional visits to Bovina. He started a project to transcribe the entire set of the family history notes that he had inherited from David Hoy. It was this transcript that I in turn transcribed into the computer and is now also on the Delaware County Genealogy site at I now have access to the David Hoy materials and have started the very slow process of verifying my transcription and Fletcher's with that information.

As the personal computer age dawned, Fletcher started entering some of the family history information into his computer, and was doing so until just days before his death in California in 1987. All three of his sons, though none were living in Bovina, continued his legacy. Alan, my dad and I had a number of conversations about Bovina history in 2003. Alan passed away only two weeks after my dad in 2004, but his brothers continue their work in verifying all the burials in the Town of Bovina. Because of their hard work, Bovina has the best documented dead people in the state - and that information is readily available on the Delaware County Genealogy website at (just scroll down a bit to cemeteries and see all the material they've submitted).

Continuing a tradition that started in 1998 and became an annual one in 2005, Ed and Dick come East every summer, stay in my house, and continue their work on the cemeteries - oh yes, and they do visit family and friends! So welcome once again Davidson boys, to the bucolic splendors of your home town.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Was Bovina Butter Served at the White House?

When Bovina’s first settlers starting arriving in 1792, they were attracted by what the land agents for Janet Livingston, the then owner of much of present day Bovina, said was an area good for grain and excellent for meadow. What was they didn’t mention was Delaware County’s rather rocky soil – ‘two stones for every dirt.’ In this rocky soil, farmers tried to grow grain. Over the years, Bovina farmers grew a variety of grain, including barley, oats, rye, wheat, buckwheat and corn. Wheat was the predominant grain, as it was the way many farmers paid the rent on their farms to Livingston and her successors.

It became obvious, however, that growing grain was not going to be Bovina’s farming future. When Bovina was created in 1820, Erastus Root suggested naming the new town Bovina in honor of its local dairy farms. This tells us that there were enough dairy farms to cause Root to make this suggestion, though early census data do not tell us the population of cows or the number of dairy farms.

Early records do tell us that in 1821, Bovina’s livestock included 219 horses and 2,299 sheep (Bovina’s human population was around 1200). Bovina’s sheep population reached a peak of 6,700 in 1845, just as Bovina’s population reached its peak of 1,436. That same year, Bovina's wheat production was 2000 bushels and its farms had almost 2000 cows (this first year the number of cows was reported). Within a decade, wheat production had dropped to merely 50 bushels. Bovina's sheep population also dropped, though more slowly. In 30 years, the sheep population was down to ten percent of its 1845 number. The number of cows, however, remained relatively steady throughout this period as Bovina found its farming niche.

Bovina was considered a model dairying community, cited in a number of references for the quality of its product. What was that product? It wasn’t liquid milk – in 1875, only 120 gallons of milk were sold. Before the days of refrigeration and easy access to the railroads, most of the milk had to be converted to butter or cheese in order to not lose the product of the dairies. Bovina favored the production of butter.

Butter production in general was very much women’s work. John Burroughs noted that “Every housewife [in Delaware County] is, or wants to be, a famous butter-maker.” The women skimmed the cream from the milk and churned it, working it into butter. They packed the butter into barrels or firkins. Bovina butter production was at 223,000 pounds in 1845, rising to 380 thousand pounds in 1875. Bovina butter became particularly noteworthy in the late 19th century, partly due to the introduction of the Jersey cow. John Hastings and Andrew Archibald introduced the first Jersey stock into Bovina in 1863. Other farmers were skeptical at first, but the Jersey proved to be superior for the production of butter.

About 1870 William L. Rutherford, whose farm was up Crescent Valley where the Weber farm is located, purchased a herd of twenty head from a Connecticut stock dealer. Not only did he do well producing butter, but the herd proved to be profitable in sales. James Hastings also was successful selling stock, selling to farmers as far away as Iowa and Wisconsin.

The heyday of Bovina butter came at the Chicago Columbian Exposition of 1893. At the New York pavilion at the fair, twenty four percent of all New York farmers exhibiting butter came from Bovina. Bovina had around 120 dairy farms at this point.

So, was Bovina butter served at the White House? And when? The section about Bovina in the Centennial History of Delaware County, New York: 1797-1897 states: “Its enterprising citizens are justly proud of the flattering appreciation of the excellency of Bovina butter, and the reputation it has gained. Upon two occasions Bovina dairies have supplied the tables of the presidential mansion at Washington, being recommended as the finest flavored butter made in the United States.” There are other similar references, but all of them rather vague as to when this actually happened.

Given the high quality of Bovina butter, it is quite possible that some of it found its way, at least a few times, to the tables of the White House. Not necessarily on any kind of regular basis, since there certainly were other butter producers significantly closer to the nation’s capital, but maybe for some special occasion. The President who brought it there maybe had New York connections.

My quandary is finding the documentary evidence of Bovina butter finding its way to the nation's capital. The next step is to see what White House records may be at the National Archives, but knowing under what administration or administrations Bovina butter is supposed to have been served will make the research a bit easier. If anyone has any other evidence concerning Bovina butter, whether in paper form or something heard at grandpa’s knee, please let me know.

Stay tuned for further developments.

And don't forget on September 6 to come Bovina Farm Day, to be held up Crescent Valley right within sight of the farm that very possibly was the source of that White House bound butter. Visit for further information. And I'll be there with a display on Bovina farms and to scan any Bovina farm pictures people care to share with me.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Bovina Day Pictures

Garret Savage has posted on Flickr pictures he took at Bovina Day on July 18 of the vintage baseball game between the Bovina Dairymen and the Fleischmanns Athletic Club:


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Update on the Blog

I'm a bit off my schedule of trying to post at least once a week. Several factors I won't go into, but I expect to have something this weekend.

On Sunday, I did meet with my high school classmate Donna Weber and her husband, who are among the few farmers still in Bovina. They will be part of the group on September 6 hosting Bovina Farm Day. Bovina Farm Day will take place up Crescent Valley at Sunflower Farm (the corner of Crescent Valley Road and Weber Road). Their website is

The Weber farm has been in the Weber family for over 80 years. This was once the Ruff farm, which was noted for its high quality Jersey cows, which in turn were noted for their excellent butter production. I will be writing a couple of posts during August about Bovina butter. It is said that the quality of Bovina butter was so high that it was served at the White House. Stay tuned to find out if this is a 'rural legend,' fact or something in-between.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

From the Ministry to Osteopathy

I've spent the bulk of my weekend working on a picture history of the Bovina U.P. Church. In the course of research on Bovina's pastors, I wanted to find out what happened to the various ministers after they left Bovina. Most of them took fairly typical paths, continuing as ministers in one form or another, but I stumbled on one pastor who took a different road.

Reverend Mason Pressly, a North Carolina native, accepted the call to Bovina in late 1889 and was pastor until 1892. He went on to equally brief pastorates in Pennsylvania and Ohio before deciding to change careers. Pressly went into medicine, becoming an osteopath. In 1899, he became co-founder of the Philadelphia College and Infirmary of Osteopathy. Pressly had to fight the antipathy of the established medical profession in getting the college off the ground, but he succeeded and the college still exists today as the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. The college still gives out the Mason W. Pressly Memorial Medal each year to a student for outstanding achievement and service to the college, the community and the osteopathic profession.

Pressly did not stay with the college long. He and his co-founder had a disagreement with the college faculty over remuneration and sold their shares, severing their connections with the college in 1905. Pressly remained in Philadelphia after leaving the college. In 1910, the New York Times reported that Dr. Pressly had made a trip to the West Indies and had discovered a new form of hookworm not seen outside the West Indies.

I could find little information about Pressly's later years except that he moved to California sometime in the 1930s. He died in Van Nuys in 1942, aged 83.

In October, during the Bovina U.P. Church's Bicentennial celebrations, I'll be giving a talk on some of Bovina's 19th century ministers. I'll pass along via this blog other tidbits of Bovina church history as things progress with the book and the presentation.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Sitting in Russell's Store Musing on Bovina Day

I'm doing something that 30 years ago I wouldn't have imagined. Not only am I writing a Blog entry (I didn't imagine that either), but I'm doing it inside Russell's store in Bovina. I worked for the Russell family from 1968 to 1978, so it seems slightly odd. But change keeps us alive.

Yesterday was Bovina's annual Bovina Day - it was a bigger event than in past years. It actually started with the Brushland Melodrama on Friday night - an event sponsored by the library and one which I unfortunately missed. Everyone who went thoroughly enjoyed it. Chris Ingvordsen filmed it so I do hope to see what I missed.

For Saturday's activities, the weather, though at times threatening, never carried through with anything, keeping the day pretty much rain free. The fire department provided breakfast and demonstrations and the historical society offered a lunch option. The library held its annual used book sale and a number of families around town had their yard sales.

At noon, an event which hasn't been seen in Bovina since the 1920s took place - a vintage baseball game. The Bovina Dairymen took on the Fleischmann Athletic Mountain Club. In a hard fought game the Fleischmann team came out on top 12-11. I'm not a sports fan, but it was very interesting watching these teams playing in the vintage style - that means no gloves! Ouch! The Bovina Dairymen was just formed this year - the brain child of Tim Bray. I will be doing a future blog entry on ball games in Bovina.

At 4 pm, the fire department's parade started out from Coulter Brook. That start allowed me to watch the parade from my front yard - it's where I watched the parade for the town's Sesquicentennial in 1970. This parade wasn't as large as the 1970 event, but a number of area fire departments showed their support by participating. The Bovina UP Church float was the first in the parade, commemorating the congregation's bicentennial. On the float was a model of the UP Church, first seen in the 1956 Old Home Day celebration and beautifully restored. A group of farmers up Crescent Valley had a float to promote Bovina Farm Day on September 6 ( And there were kids on bicycles and people in period costume.

The evening featured a pot luck picnic, then my talk on the history of Bovina's Town Picnics. It was well received, which I appreciated. The evening ended with a series of pie-eating contests and tugs of war - the girls beat the boys and the women beat the men.

I took a ton of pictures which I will post at some point to add to the historical record. And Chris Ingvordsen continued his filming from Friday night throughout Saturday, so we'll have a good video record to add to all the pictures.

Monica Garbriel Liddle, who, with her cousins Colleen Burns Heavey and Lisa Burns Stanton, was in charge of the town picnic portion, was chatting with me as I wrote this and says we'll definitely do this again next year. So history continues...

Friday, July 17, 2009

Bovina Day is Tomorrow

A quick post as I get myself sorted out for Bovina Day tomorrow. I'm heading down from Cohoes early tomorrow morning. I'll be wandering around taking a lot of pictures. And I've got my talk about as ready as I can get it. Let's hope the threatened rain holds off. Maybe it'll get it out of its system tonight.

For my talk, I have been reviewing what 19th Century newspapers I can find on microfilm at the State Library during my lunch hour. I'm finding a number of references to town picnics reported in the Delaware Republican. I found references to two 'farmer picnics' in 1886 and 1889. On August 31, 1882, there was a "basket picnic" at Dickson's grove in what was then called Brushland. The Stamford band was in attendance and there were several speakers. The paper reported that "Those wishing to join the procession will meet at either of the churches at 10 A.M." In August of 1870, there was a "Sabbath School Picnic of the scholars attached to Rev. J.B. Lee's church [the Bovina U.P. Church] at Brushland..."

So history continues. I'll try to report on Sunday or Monday how Bovina's latest picnic goes. Enjoy your weekend.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Getting ready for Bovina Day

I spent a good chunk of this weekend doing Bovina Historian stuff, about evenly split between creating metadata for all the image files I have (which is going to take months to complete, but at least it's started) and preparing my talk on Town Picnics for Bovina Day on July 18. The latter is taking a lot of effort. There's so much I could talk about, but it is a picnic and I think after a long day of visiting all the yard sales, watching the Bovina Fire Department give its demos, visiting the book sale at the Bovina Public Library, watching the Bovina Dairymen play against Fleischmann's, watching the parade and having a picnic supper, everyone's going to be rather pooped! I think ending the day by putting everyone to sleep won't go down well in the annals of the history of Bovina. But there's some fun stuff to report. What could have Miss Foote, the County Nurse, have had to say at a town picnic in 1919? No, I don't have the answer, but we can all speculate. Hope to see you there.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Bovina Loudly Celebrates the 4th - 1919

NOTE: I still have something to learn about blogs. I wrote this to be automatically posted on July 4, since I knew I likely would not be in 'blogging mode' on Saturday. For some reason, it didn't happen. So technically, this is a day late. I'll get this figured out!


In celebration of the 4th, I want to pass along an article from the Delaware Express that reported a rather loud early morning celebration of the 4th of July in Bovina in 1919:

"What's All This About Bovina? Correspondent Claims the Village Has Been Awake. Wild West 4th of July. No Such Excitement There Since Russ Archibald Moved to Delhi - Not the Bolsheviki

"Most Bovina folks have always been aware that perhaps to a little great degree Bovina ought to be wakened but nobody ever dreamed that she deserved such an extreme and rough awakening as occurred on the morning of July 4th from about 12 o'clock midnight until about 3 o'clock in the A.M. It sounded like the 27th division smashing the Hindenburgh line. It reminded one of the tremendous fury of the American artillery at Chateau Thierry

"At 12 o'clock sharp, the zero hour, the dry-milk plant whistle broke loose and never quit until about 2 o'clock. The dark night air at once began to be pierced with the roar of explosions. Fire crackers were they? Not much they were. Sticks of dynamite sir; fifty pounds on hand for the fray, too, so the people say. Bang, bang! Bang, bang for hours! The midnight celebration wakened everybody not only in the village but for several miles in the country. Somebody from among the midnight revelers, bent upon making still more noise got into the U.P. Church and pulled the bell rope and sounded forth the peels of the big bell that we always like to hear calling us to church. But no villager lying in his bed, waiting until the fury of the celebration should pass so that he might get back into his sleep, ever thought of going to church at that uncanny hour. His thoughts were just opposite of church-going thoughts. The school bell too was run. Someone broke into the firemen's building and rang the fire bell. Meanwhile a truck with dynamite drove up through the village, stopping every now and then, and some one would take a stick of dynamite and set it off. Sometimes the celebrators must have set off several sticks at a time.

"They went up Main Street and then up Maple Avenue and then back down over the same route. Not a soul could sleep for a long time. The charges were so heavy that the occupants of the beds could feel the houses shake. A number of panes of glass were broken and a number of trees were put out of business. Several automobiles ran up and down through the village. In these were wildwest fellows shooting off their revolvers into the night air.

"At last the roar and the blasting and the monotonous bell-ringing began to die out and people fell off into sleep again. But while they slept, several pranks were performed. Some one stole Frank Miller's sheet and put it into Dixon Thomson's bedroom where it caused fright and much confusion to the occupants of the bedroom. All in all it was a great awakening. Who the awakeners were is a matter only of conjecture. Surely it was not done by the women. Surely it was not done by the old men. Then it must have been done by the young bloods. But what young bloods? Are there any Bolsheviks in Bovina?"

Delaware Express, July 11, 1919