Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Green Pastures and Still Waters of the Sanctuary Below

I'm going to be away the next week and so I'm bringing up an item I wrote for the Bovina UP Church Bicentennial celebration and presented on October 10 at the site of the original Bovina Associate Presbyterian Church. I used Bovina Pastor John Graham's autobiography for quite a bit of this presentation.

* * * * * * * * * *

You are standing on the site that for 34 years, the Associate Presbyterian Church of Bovina, the predecessor to the UP Church, called home. The meeting house was built on May 10, 1815 and was 36 feet by 30 feet. It was a pretty simple building, with no steeple and, for about a decade, without any kind of pews, making do with rough boards and blocks. Where it stood is somewhat of a guess, but it obviously was somewhere in this area where there are no graves. And since Rev Laing, who is buried right over there, was buried within feet of his old pulpit, I would hazard a guess that the church stood back some ways, allowing for a large front lawn. That lawn would be important – for dealing with the crowds that came to church and as a place, at least in mild weather, to eat between services.

Bovina’s second pastor, John Graham, has left us vivid descriptions of Bovina in the 1830s and this site. He noted that “Our old Meeting-house was built on the top of a bank, along whose bottom murmured, over its smooth pebble bed, the pure, sparkling, and never-failing waters of the Little Delaware.”

Graham noted the challenges of getting to church, as the mountains were steep and covered with timber. People had to go far round to get down to the Meeting-house. Many elected to go on foot rather than a horse or wagon. And for many, the only option was foot, since there were few horses or wagons. He went on to note that “In the summer time you would have seen them coming down the sides of the mountain in groups of men, women, and children; the men carrying their coats over their arms, (some having left them behind,) and the women their shoes and stockings in their hands, tramping along and conversing together, then wading the Little Delaware, and sitting down on the other side putting on their stockings and shoes and otherwise fixing themselves up, and afterwards climbing the bank, and appearing in the house of God, clean, healthy, and happy…”

During the summer, at least in Graham’s time, there would be an intermission between the morning and afternoon services. The men would gather under the hemlocks tending to horses, talking, smoking and eating bread and cheese. The women sat in groups on the grass with the children around them eating from a basket they prepared. He said that “once-in-a-while you would have seen puffs of smoke rising from among them, indicating that they were taking a whiff of the pipe.”

Graham vividly recalled the challenges in the wintertime, with two stoves trying to keep things warm. People would sometimes huddle around the stoves to keep from freezing. He remembered one day that the stove pipe came down “with a crash, and out poured the smoke and filled the house.” He noted that no one was hurt except one gentleman who had his hat driven over his eyes (on cold days, except during prayer, they wore their hats). Graham sat and waited for the confusion to subside, then said “I make no doubt most of you are expecting I am going to say something about the conduct of the trustees, in not attending to their duty so as to prevent such unpleasant occurrences during the time of public worship. But I am determined not to say one word about it…” Graham then resumed his sermon.

As the 1840s progressed, the meeting house continued to cause problems, requiring frequent repairs. On windy days, it would shake and crack. It was uncomfortably hot in the summer and freezing in the winter. This fact, and the fact that the Methodists had just built a meeting house in the hamlet, led the congregation to build a new church in the hamlet in 1849.

But however ramshackle the old meeting house was, the congregation and pastor did not find leaving it to be an easy task. As Graham noted, “There are associations connected with old friends and old places.” He himself had been preaching for nearly 20 years. He noted that the old church had been “where we had held sweet fellowship and communion with God; where parents had devoted themselves and their offspring to His service…” He also noted that the grave-yard was much fuller than when he first arrived – so much so that a few years later, a new cemetery was established.

Graham had “strange indescribable feelings when for the last time I came down from that high old-fashioned pulpit, which when I first entered in December 1831 I was vigorous and in the prime of life, and newly come from my native land; but now my hair was becoming silver-gray, and my strength was beginning to fail me, both in body and mind. Such are some of the changes to which we are subjected in this transitory world.”

A few years later, the old meeting house was dismantled and the frame was donated to the Hamden Presbyterian Church. It is not clear what is meant by the frame – did the whole building go or just the structural insides. However much of it went to Hamden, it still stands today behind the current Presbyterian church there, used as the church’s community center.

The cemetery continued to be used sporadically until the last burials in 1893. For many years, its condition was poor. In the 1880 Munsell’s history of Delaware County, it was noted that while the new cemetery was tended to, the old ones showed “evidences of shocking neglect, the briars and weeds growing on the sunken graves where, ‘Each in his narrow cell forever laid, the rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep.’"

Today the old cemetery is the responsibility of the town and is in much better condition than what I can remember as a child.

I close these remarks by going back to Reverend Graham, our authority from the early days of the church, with his memory, written 15 years after he left Bovina and 1000 miles away about the stream that ran below the site: “Glide along, thou pleasant stream! on whose banks I spent many happy days, and where rests the dust of those with whom, in former years, I walked in company by the green pastures and still waters of the sanctuary below…”

Saturday, January 23, 2010

What Happened to Adam Easton - More Information From the 1860 Census

In my last blog entry, I reported on some statistics from the 1860 census as part of a small project to report on Bovina 150 years ago. I noted that noted under occupation, Bovina had 185 farmers, as well as 50 servants and 22 ladies.

From there, the number of people in each profession drops into the single digits. The census recorded eight merchants, including two recorded specifically as grocers - Alexander Kinmouth and Robert Sloan. The six merchants were James Adee, William Archibald, James Elliot, Thomas E. Hastings, John M. Murry, and Walter Telford.

Bovina also had eight shoemakers. Some of the shoemakers appear to have been in close proximity to each other. Three families enumerated in a row had four shoemakers. These included father and son Sloan and David Orr, as well as John Downie and Richard Smith. Other shoemakers in Bovina included John Halsted, Charles F. Smith and William Boggs. Listed in the census as a tanner, William Lull was also listed in the 1860 industrial census as also being a shoemaker and owning his business. Boggs also was listed in this industrial census.

Bovina's six blacksmiths were George Frelts, John Johnston, Bartholomew McFarland, Almeron McPherson, Patrick Murphy, Robert Penell. George Frelts was living with Almeron McPherson, likely in an apprenticeship (and Frelts is only a guess - the handwriting was very hard to decipher). Bovina also had four carpenters, two millers, two harness makers and two cabinet makers.

There were a few professions for which there was only one representative each. These included a bookbinder (Thomas Georgia), butcher (John Thompson), clothier (Thomas H. Johnston), innkeeper (Dorcas Hamilton), milliner (Margaret Jones), seamstress (Margaret White) and tailor (John Phyfe).

914 of the 1241 Bovina citizens enumerated in the census were not listed with any occupation noted. This would include many of the wives and almost all the children.

One other occupation in the 1860 was that of laborer. Bovina recorded seven such workers. Laborer might simply have been a way to explain someone in the house. Sometimes they were related, other times they were not. One laborer stood out because he was only 9 years old - at least if the census taker can be believed. While many of the children in Bovina certainly worked on the family farm, this is the only child specifically given that as an occupation. He was living with William and Rachel Rutherford with two teenagers also seemingly unrelated. The 9 year old, Adam Easton, does not show up in any future Bovina censuses. So we don't really know what happened to little Adam Easton. If anyone does, let me know. I hate to have him disappear from history!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Bovina in 1860 - What's With All Those Ladies?

150 years ago, the federal government conducted the decennial census of U.S. population. The results from Bovina were fairly typical for the area, but some interesting little tidbits caught my eye. Bovina's population in 1860 was 1240 people, occupying 220 dwellings. Bovina had 644 men and 596 women. The oldest person in Bovina that year was 86 year old Jennet Gordon, who was living with Alexander and Martha Gillie (if they were related, I cannot find how). Bovina also had 64 children aged one or less.

One bit of data collected included the person's 'profession.' The single most common profession recorded, as you may have guessed, was farmer. 185 men were reported as farmers. And yes, it was all men. No women were recorded as being farmers (though many of those 185 men listed as farmers were married and you can bet their wives were farmers, too). The second most common profession was a bit of a surprise to me. Bovina had 50 people listed as servants.

And the third most common was a real surprise - and a bit of a puzzle. Bovina had 22 women who were recorded as having 'Lady' as their profession. A list of these women is at the end of this post - one of these 22 ladies included Bovina's oldest resident, Jennet Gordon. As I went through the data, I found it slightly perplexing and maybe a bit quaint, but as I kept finding these ladies I did see a pattern. They always were the head of the household, which meant there was no man in that position. It dawned on me what I was seeing - these ladies were likely widows. After a bit more research, my hypotheses was proven - for the most part. Not all of these ladies were widows. I found one woman who was single (Hannah Halstead) and another whose husband was still living. Nancy Erkson was the head of her household in 1855 and 1860, but by 1865, her husband, Archibald, was back as the head of the household, as he had been in 1850. There could be quite a story there or just a matter of some sloppy census taking.

I was curious about the use of 'lady' in census records. I have not seen it in any other Bovina census rolls. Did it show up in other communities? A quick scan of 1860 census records from Delhi and Andes revealed no one labeled as 'lady.' What I did find were at least two examples in each town of a woman as head of the household and as a farmer. Not a lady in sight. This identification of lady as an occupation appears to have been somewhat unique to the 1860 Bovina census - though further research might find other towns using this term.

Most of these Bovina ladies likely were farmers - the census taker in Bovina just didn't want to call them that! Did he think he was being kind, or was he a male chauvinist pig? Was it an honor or a pejorative? Since this was 150 years ago, we really can't be sure of his motive, if any. Maybe he just misunderstood his instructions. I would like to think that these women would have been proud to be called farmers and would have preferred that to being called 'lady.'

Look for a future blog posting on some of the other things noted in the 1860 census.

And here are the names and ages of those 22 Bovina 'Ladies'

Adee, Harriet - 56
Douglas, Catharine A. - 64
Erkison, Nancy - 41
Gordon, Jennet - 86
Halsted, Hannah - 58
Hobbie, Sally E. - 50
Hogaboom, Elisabeth - 48
Johnston, Mary - 66
McCune, Catharine - 64
McFarlan, Elisabeth - 75
McKenzie, Margaret - 79
McNaught, Margery - 55
Pherdon, Charlotte - 60
Purdy, Anna - 68
Seacord, Ann - 38
Sloan, Jane - 63
Snooks, Mary - 47
Storie, Mary - 75
Thompson, Jennet - 40
Turnbull, Margaret - 35
Tuttle, Sarah - 64
White, Jane - 55

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Bovina Business, 1855

This entry first appeared in the Bovina UP Church Community Newsletter in February 2008. I will be doing other entries about Bovina businesses during the year, so I thought it made sense to repeat it here. And I'm submitting this while once again sitting in Russell's Store!


Bovina for much of its history has been known as a farming community. But one cannot live by bread (or for most Bovina farmers, milk) alone. Farmers and non-farmers alike needed clothing and shoes. They needed materials to build houses and barns. And they needed some way to make some of their products useful. The 1855 New York State Census included a census of local businesses, providing a look at the kinds of businesses Bovina had in its 35th year of existence.

Bovina had abundant water power, allowing for a number of mills. Mills for grinding grain into flour and cutting lumber into boards. In 1855, Adam Scott and Thomas W. Dennis had grist mills. Each had on hand about 4000 bushels of grain worth about $3000 in 1855. The grain was converted into about 4000 pounds of flour and meal annually. Not wishing to use their water power just for making grain, Mr. Dennis and Mr. Scott also had lumber mills. Dennis’s grist and saw mills were located about where the town sheds are today, across from the residence of Pat and Hugh Lee. This was the site of the first mill in the hamlet, erected about 1800 by Alexander Brush.

One likely user of the lumber was John Johnston, who made wagons and sleighs. And since a wagon could not be constructed totally of wood, Johnston also was a blacksmith. Johnston had some competition, in both blacksmithing and wagon making, from Stephen Russell, William M. Miller and a Mr. McPherson. Bovina also boasted a wheelwright, Andrew Boyd. For harnesses, one could go to Charles R. Lee, where a harness set would cost about $27.

Transportation wasn’t the only need of Bovina residents. In 1855, Bovina had a number of people to help supply clothing and footwear needs. Mary Johnston had a woolen factory, where she had two men earning $20 a month and one woman (possibly her) earning $5 a month. The factory included a carding mill for preparing the wool, a fulling mill for its weaving, and a woolen mill for making the garments. It appears that this later became the Bovina Woolen Mills, under the proprietorship of her son, Thomas H. Johnson. Johnson’s factory was at the Butt End, located where Robert Scott built for Matthew Russell a grist-mill in 1801. Charles R. Lee was a clothier and also supplied cloth and carded wool.

One possible user of all this wool was John Phyfe. Phyfe was the local tailor, producing annually about 100 each of coats, vests and pantaloons. For finer articles, such as hats, bonnets and the like, there was a milliner, Mrs. Phyfe, probably the wife of John Phyfe. To protect the feet, Bovina had several shoemakers in 1855, including William Boggs, Robert Sloan and William Lull. They made both boots and shoes. Boots tended to outsell shoes by more than two to one. Mr. Lull didn’t have to go far for his leather. He also operated a tannery, which required some water power. Mr. Sloan’s shoe store was in present day Bovina Center, kitty corner from Hilson’s Store.

This 1855 census did not reflect stores, but in 1869, the hamlet of Bovina Center, then known as Brushland, had three stores, run by J. Elliot, T. M. Hastings (what is now Russells Store), and J.K. Hood.

Given that Bovina’s population during this time was only about double what it is today, it may seem surprising to see so many more businesses. One must keep in mind that during the mid to late 19th century, Bovina had no railroads and that the roads were mostly rough dirt. Travel was by horse, wagon or foot. Citizens of the town were not too likely to go very far to purchase clothing and footwear or to have their grain made into flour. They had to rely mostly on their local businesses. It would be several decades before transport and roads would allow Bovina residents the option of going to Andes, Delhi, Oneonta or beyond for their purchasing needs.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Welcoming the New Year -- 1886

This article comes from the January 9, 1886 Delaware Express. It's an 'anonymous' review of an event in Bovina, a New Year's Night event held January 1, 1886 at Hastings Hall, which I believe is now Russell's Store. So here's a look at an event in Bovina from 124 years ago:

Bovina is a town of steady habits; her people always move along in the even tenor of their ways, undisturbed by any of those great events which ruffle the social life of her sister towns, such as lecture courses, opera houses, skating rinks, etc. You can hardly imagine the surprise it created when it was announced that the Y.P.C.A. of Bovina, would give a lecture and entertainment course this winter. Some laughed at the idea, a good many shook their heads and said it would be a fizzle; why, they said, we have had some of the best lecturers here that can be found on the platform, and they did not draw a corporal's guard. But the managers of the Y.P.C.A. had their course tickets printed and went to work to sell them, with a determination that was bound to succeed. Now what has been the result? Why every course ticket they had printed has been sold, all the single tickets that were offered for sale were taken in less than an hour after they were placed on sale and many more could have been sold but the seating capacity of the Hall was exhausted. One of the posters we saw in the Post Office excited our curiosity; we give it as a novel method of advertising.

Hastings Hall, New Year's Night. Bovina String Band. College Boys' Orations. Music - Acting Charades - Tableaux - International Quartette.

Come and See, Hear, Laugh.

We accepted the invitation and started for the Hall. The door keeper passed us in on our good looks and we settled down in a seat ready to take notes. The first thing we saw was a Bovina company of young people. It is evident if the famous lecturers can't command an audience in this place, the young people of Bovina can. The programme was well rendered, well received, and at a late hour the company left the audience - not the audience the company. Every person who took part deserves honorable mention; but space forbids us only to give a brief report. The music was well received judging from the moving of the feet in keeping time to the same. The songs sung by Misses Maggie Coulter and Maggie Miller, were among the best we ever listened to. A character sketch of Mark Twain by E.C. was received with ripples of laughter, which plainly said, the writer had hit his mark. The acting charades were plainly represented. Misses Bena Gow and Libbie Miller, represented their part remarkably well. A laughable scene in French pantomime was given by Miss Bena Gow and Mr. Wm. Ormiston, representing the first attempt of a green country boy at 'Sparking,' when from behind the scene was heard that song, "One night I went to see her - O how ashamed I was." There was only two persons in the Hall who were not convulsed with laughter and those were the actors. The International Quartette deserves notice; their gestures were immense. One of the best efforts of the evening was a recitation - The Polish Boy, by Miss Gussie M. Hastings. Miss Hastings is gifted with a remarkably fine voice, and the easy and graceful manner in which she gave this recitation won the deserved applause which she was received. Then came the college boys. Mr. J.B. Lee, Jr., has often spoken in Bovina, and the audience expected a fine oration from him, and they were not disappointed. Mr. Lee is a fine speaker, in fact it is hard to find a better orator on the platform today; his oration was extracts from a speech of Senator Fry, and was delivered in a manner that held the audience all the way through. The orations of Messrs. Doig and Young, were a surprise. This was the first time they had ever spoken in Bovina. Mr. Doig is a young speaker but he is a natural orator he has a fine heavy voice and he carries his audience with him; we only hope that we may be favored to hear from him again in the future. Mr. Young gave us Garfields's speech at Chicago, when he nominated John Sherman for the Presidency. I could see the fire of enthusiasm gleam in the eyes of many in the audience as he rolled out those fine sentences of Garfield. Thus closed the first entertainment on the course. One peculiarity of this course is that it is Bovina all the way through. The next entertainment will be by the Y.P.C.A., assisted by home talent. The third entertainment will be a lecture by a Bovina boy, Rev. J.J. Dean. And the fourth will be a literary paper by the Bovina girls and a debate by the Bovina boys.

Yours, X.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Review of 2009 in Bovina History

Municipally appointed historians in New York State are required each year to submit an annual report to their appointing board and to the State Historian. I will be doing that in the next week or so, but I wanted to do some form of a report here.

I've been town historian since the spring of 2004, succeeding my late father, Charlie LaFever. This year was a milestone year as town historian as I started taking advantage of web 2.0 technologies, utilizing Facebook, Flickr and this blog.

I've blogged over the past year about Russell's Store and Heaven on Main Street, the attempt to bring a railroad into Bovina, how Bovina got its name, and a possible murder that took place in the early 19th century.

And I did do things beyond blogging. Bovina did a lot of celebrating this year, and I was very flattered to be asked to participate during Bovina Day in July and Bovina Farm Day in September. The biggest celebration of the year revolved around the bicentennial of Bovina's oldest institution, the United Presbyterian Church. As well as a display, I wrote a new history of the church and participated as a member of the church's Bicentennial committee. And, of course, I reported on all of these celebrations via the blog.

I would like to thank a few people for their support during this past year:

The Bovina Town Board and Town Clerk;
Marjorie Miller, Bovina Town Librarian;
Bovina Historical Society;
Pastor Judi Gage and the Session and Trustees of the Bovina U.P. Church;
Ed and Dick Davidson;
Evelyn Stewart and Donna Weber, Bovina Farm Day coordinators.

So what is coming for 2010? I still have questions to resolve, such as where did the Bovina Associate Presbyterian Church go to? Was Bovina butter served at the White House? Where would the Bovina spur of the Delaware Railroad have gone? I'll keep digging up the answers to these and other questions in the new year, as well as exploring new topics such as Bovina businesses, the town in 1860 and 1910 and Bovina highways. And I'll share it all via this blog.

Thanks to everyone for their kind words and their support in 2009.

Happy New Year!