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.