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.