Sunday, November 28, 2010

Bovina Bands

Last night I went to the Andes Hotel to hear Esquela, a local band that includes Bovina native and resident John 'Chico' Finn, as well as other people with Bovina or Delaware County connections (go to their website for more information on the band: Also participating last night was Bovina native Ira McIntosh. The performance was a fundraiser for the Bovina Historical Society.

I enjoyed hearing this 'Bovina Rock' band - it is one of several with Bovina connections. Bovina Records ( features a number of these musicians, including Janet Havens Stewart, Ira and Laurie McIntosh, Future Farmers of America, Pispoure', and College Farm (featuring Andy and Matt Pelletier, the founding fathers of Bovina Rock), as well as Esquela.

And then there's the Bovina Coronet Band. No, you won't find it on the Bovina Records site. It comes from a somewhat earlier time - the 19th century, actually. We don't know much about the band other than it existed. I have not determined when this particular photo (courtesy of the Bovina Historical Society) was taken or who the band members were - though I suspect there are several Coulters. I say that because some of the members bare a striking resemblance to the late Herb Parsons, whose mother was a Coulter.

To raise money, they too held a benefit, as evidenced in this poster. In this case, however, they were the beneficiary. Whether they actually played anything or, as the poster says, were simply in attendance is not clear. Nor do we know how well they did (though a little research in the newspapers from this time might tell us more - it's on my research list).

The Bovina Historical Society seemed to do pretty well from last night's event. The generosity of all those who donated is greatly appreciated. And a big thanks to Chico Finn for offering his time and that of the other members of Esquela to help the society raise funds for Russell's Store.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanksgiving Memories of Grandma and Grandpa

This will be the first Thanksgiving I've spent in Bovina since 2002. This brought back memories of my Thanksgivings in Bovina when I was a kid. Other than my folks, the people I connect most with Thanksgiving are my grandparents, Ben and Anna Bell LaFever. By the time I was old enough to know them, they were no longer living in Bovina but had relocated to Northern New York. Most Thanksgivings, however, they came to Bovina to celebrate with their three sons and their families.

My grandparents both had strong Bovina roots through their maternal ancestry. In fact, they were third cousins once removed through their Scottish Miller ancestors. My grandmother was born Anna Bell Barnhart in 1893 in Bovina, the daughter of Jeremy Barnhart and Kate Miller. Grandma grew up on Pink Street and attended the one room school there through the eighth grade. She continued to live at home after leaving school. Her father died in 1916. The following year she was married, not to my grandfather, but to James Calhoun.

My grandmother's first marriage was not to last long. James had been drafted right around the time of his wedding and after about 10 days together, he went off to war, never to return. He was killed in action in October 1918. (See my blog entry for November 11 for more information on this ill-fated marriage.) Anna Bell continued to live with her mother (as she had done during her brief marriage) until she bought her own house (two doors from the one in which I grew up). Around 1921, she found herself being courted by a man seven years her junior, Benson LaFever.

Ben was born in Bovina in 1900, but unlike Anna Bell, he did not spend his entire childhood there. Grandpa's father, Sylvan LaFever, had his roots in Ulster County (as did my grandmother's father). He came to Bovina to work as a hired hand and married into the well established Burns family. Sylvan tried farming in Bovina, but he soon failed, likely a victim of the economic downturn around the turn of the century. The failure happened right around the time of the birth of his first son, Ben. Because Sylvan had lost the farm, Grandpa was born on the Burns farm up Crescent Valley. His family left Bovina not long after his birth, living in Norwich and then near Oneida Lake. In 1908, his mother, Ella Burns LaFever died, likely in childbirth. Grandpa and his brother Clarence were sent to live with their Bovina relations. Grandpa spent several years off and on in Bovina into adulthood.

In 1921, he was working for Wilford Barnhart, brother of Anna Bell Calhoun. This probably is how Grandpa met Grandma and started dating. In May 1923, they were quietly married in the living room of her home, with only a few family members and friends attending. They moved to their farm about a mile from where I grew up in the late 1920s. They had four children, Howard (who passed away in 2005), David (who died at 18 months), Charles (my dad), and George (my one surviving uncle).

I usually saw my grandparents two or three times a year. They would come for Thanksgiving and Christmas and we would usually go up to Massena once a year to see them (they were very successful strawberry farmers). By the time I knew my grandmother, she was in a wheel chair, the effect of her rheumatoid arthritis. Getting her in and out of any house was a bit of a production, but she always took it with good humor. She managed to do a lot in that wheelchair. I don't really remember thinking of her as an invalid. She made beds, fixed meals, and cleaned house, all from that chair, And if you needed a little swat in the rear or a cuff on the ear, she could easily deliver that too. We have a home movie clip that shows her taking a rather hyper little Ray and making him sit down for a photograph!

Thanksgiving 1971 was memorable for all the snow we got - around 20 inches. I had to shovel at my parents and at Russell's Store, where I worked. And I had to shovel a special path so my Grandma could get to their car. It had to be wide enough for her chair and for the people on each side to move it along. At one point, we debated putting skis on the chair! I burned the calories that Thanksgiving.

During Thanksgiving 1974, my grandparents stayed with my Uncle George up on Mountain Brook in Bovina. One of the first drives I made as a licensed driver was to drop in on them. My sister Diane came along and took this picture - the only picture of just me with my grandparents. It's one of my favorites - it has an 'American Gothic' feel.

One of my most vivid and precious memories of my grandparents and their trips to visit at Thanksgiving happened in 1977 and, again, at my Uncle George's. Dad had just been elected Town Supervisor of Bovina. He didn't think his parents had given much thought to his election, but when Dad bent over to greet his mother in her wheel chair, she put out her arms and bursting with pride said 'Hello there Mr. Supervisor.' I was pleased to see that it had indeed been 'on their radar.'

This Thanksgiving was to be their last in Bovina. My grandmother's health prevented any further trips. She passed away in March of 1980 and Grandpa died two years later in 1982. The Thanksgiving smells and tastes always evoke images of my dear old grandparents - Grandma's yummy rolls (which I bake each year) and Gramps sitting with his knife and fork in hand waiting for his piece of pie. Gone but not forgotten.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Bovina, the Almost Deathless

The January 23, 1903 issue of the Catskill Mountain News reported that Bovina was "a good place to live but a poor one to die in." This article originated from L.B. Gleason, the journal clerk of the State Senate, who wrote to the New York Sun. He had seen in a local paper, probably the Delaware Republican, the list of deaths in Bovina for 1902. What struck him was the age of the 11 people from Bovina who died. The oldest person was 92 (Marie A. Storie) and the youngest two were Margaret James and Frank R. Coulter (both 62). William D. Thompson was 90 and Margaret Thompson was 84.

Gleason went on to note that the "Town of Bovina is as remarkable in other matters as in the longevity of its inhabitants. Founded, not like Rome, on seven hills, but upon thirteen, it is especially adapted for dairying purposes, and was selected by the State Dairymen's Association as the proper place to take a 'cow census,' by which it appears that the average production of butter for the whole town was 241.8 pounds per cow, while in one herd of twelve cows the average was 365 pounds."

It was noted that 'a license to sell liquor has never been granted in the town.' This is not totally true - Bovina was granting licenses from the 1820s through the 1870s. Bovina did not go dry until around 1880. The article also stated some other facts, such as
  • the town had only one pauper in the county house;
  • Bovina's population in 1900 was 932, of which 248 voted in the 1900 Presidential election (McKinley received 132 of these votes).
Gleason concluded that Bovina was the acknowledged "garden spot of the world, where the average at death in 1902 was a trifle over 65" and that it "is truly an ideal place in which to live, and a difficult place to die in."

It wasn't just in the New York Sun and Catskill Mountain News that this praise of Bovina made its appearance. It later showed up in at least two other papers - the January 25, 1903 Richmond (Virginia) Dispatch and the February 1, 1903 issue of The Ranch from Seattle, Washington. It appeared in both papers under the title "Bovina, the Almost Deathless." Bovina's reputation for longevity had gone nationwide.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

James Calhoun and the Great War

November 11 started out as Armistice Day, marking the day that the first World War ended in 1918. There were several Bovina boys who served in the Great War. One of them was James Calhoun. James was born in 1889 in Andes but grew up just over the border in Bovina. On November 14, 1917, he was married in Bovina to Anna Bell Barnhart. That same day, James received his official draft notice. So after only 9 days together, James left his new wife and was shipped off to Fort Dix, New Jersey. After a couple of weeks, he was shipped further south to Camp Greene in Charlotte, North Carolina. In late March, he came home to Bovina for a 30 hour furlough. In early April, he was shipped off to France.

On October 13, 1918, James was killed in action during the Battle of the Argonne. His wife did not find out until a day after her first wedding anniversary - and four days after the Armistice. Below is the telegram she received notifying her of her husband's death. She later was told that the death date in the telegram of October 14 was wrong and that he died a day earlier.

Anna Bell received several letters with further details concerning James's death. One she received in January 1919 reported information provided by James's Captain:

It happened on October 13 near the town of Cunel. The first battalion was about to attack but there were some German machine guns concealed in the underbrush at the right and it was necessary to clear them out before the advance could be made - so Sergeant Calhoun volunteered to accompany Lieutenant Williams and arrived with hand grenades they bravely started to clear the way for their comrades, and it was while doing this courageous thing that the same shell brought them both instant death.

Anna Bell was widowed for four and a half years. In May 1923, she was married in Bovina Center to Benson LaFever. They had four sons, including my dad, Charlie LaFever.

Grandma had saved all the letters she received from her first husband, along with some of the letters she sent to James while he was still in the United States. We also have many of her photographs. This poignant picture of my grandmother has always been a favorite of mine. I think it was taken after James's death and shows her with what probably was the flag that was on James's coffin. Grandma always remembered and honored the sacrifice her husband made - and we also remember and honor the sacrifice she made in the Great War.

Monday, November 8, 2010

1911 Bovina UP Church Cookbook - Blackberry Cake

Ok, I'm in a baking rut with this cookbook, but I find that easier. I'll attempt a main course soon. In the meantime, I tried another cake.

Blackberry Cake

One cup sugar, 1 egg, butter, size of egg; 2 cups flour, 1 cup canned or fresh blackberries, a little salt, 1/2 teaspoon each cinnamon cloves and nutmeg. Bake in layers - Mrs. J.M. Miller.

I used canned blackberries, including the liquid. Butter the size of an egg was about 4 tablespoons. I went easy on the cloves, with only 1/4 teaspoon, and left out the nutmeg because, well, I didn't have any! And I added one critical item that I think was missing - baking soda.

It took two attempts. My first try was ok but the seeds were noticeable while the berries were not. I made a mistake by mixing the berries with everything else. So for my second attempt, I put in everything including the blackberry liquid, but not the berries themselves. I had to carefully fold them into the batter before baking. With the second attempt, you could at least recognize and taste the berries. That was an improvement, but while edible, I wasn't bowled over by this. Sometime, I'll try fresh blackberries - but I'll then need to add more liquid to make it so the berries can be folded into the batter.

The contributor of this recipe was my great great aunt, Bertha Anderson Miller. She was born in 1857 and married John McCune Miller in 1886. She was widowed in 1920 and died in 1938. The Millers lived on what later became Suits-Us Farm on Pink Street.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Status of Bovina History Calendar - Mea Culpa

Sorry to report that once again there will not be a Bovina History Calendar for the coming year. As I mentioned in a November 29, 2009 posting, much of it is done, but it needs some final design work and we need to line up printer. These final steps did not happen. This was partly due to my situation in rather suddenly retiring from my full time job and moving down to Bovina. There also were circumstances simply beyond my control. I have met with the Bovina Historical Society and we are developing a plan to ensure that in 2012, there will be a calendar. My being full time in Bovina will help considerably.

It has been some time since the last calendar and I am sorry for this. Here's hoping that there will be a 2012 Bovina History Calendar.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Help the Bovina Historical Society

A local government historian can't do it all alone. He or she has to have partners who have similar goals of preserving a community's history. In Bovina, I have the Bovina Historical Society. Founded in 1974 (I was a charter member), the society works tirelessly to save Bovina's history.

The BHS is responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of the Old Fire Hall, the Bovina Museum, and Russell’s Store. The society is committed to the preservation of these buildings, historical Bovina artifacts and the colorful and rich history of Bovina, NY.

With the aid of the Mark Project and the O’Connor Foundation, the society continues to restore and renovate Russell’s Store, but more needs to be done. Russell's Store is not only a historic building. Through the efforts of Bea Sohni, the proprietor, it is a viable business that is an important hub in Bovina. With winter coming, the heating bill she faces makes it extremely difficult to get by. There are a couple of ways you can help the society make Russell's Store more energy efficient.

John Finn, and his band, Esquela have offered to play a Bovina Historical Society Benefit on Saturday evening, November 27 at the Andes Hotel at 9pm. A suggested donation of $10.00 is requested at the door, but please be as generous as possible. All proceeds will go directly to the Russell’s Store Renovation project. The Bovina Historical Society is a not-for-profit 501c3 organization and all donations are tax deductible.

If you can't come to the Andes Hotel on the 27th, a donation to the BHS would be most welcome. You can send a check to Box 97, Bovina Center, NY 13740. Some of you may be receiving a mailing soon about this benefit.

And in the spring, I will be working in tandem with the BHS to collect more images of Bovina, still and moving. Stay tuned for further details. And help the society save Bovina history and the important community hub that is Russell's Store.

Cecil Russell in his store, late 60s or early 70s.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Bovina Goes to the Polls

It's election time. 150 years ago was the historic 1860 Presidential election, in which Abraham Lincoln, in a four way race, was elected President. His election precipitated the succession of southern states from the union. In Bovina, only two of the four candidates running nationally received votes. Abraham Lincoln received 179 votes, while Northern Democrat Stephen Douglas received 60 votes. 100 years later, the Republican candidate again carried Bovina. When John F. Kennedy was elected President by a close margin, he received only 65 votes in Bovina, to 238 for Richard Nixon.

But this year is a gubernatorial election year. When Bovina was created in 1820, governors served two year terms, so the elections were more frequent. In Bovina's first year, the choices for governor were Daniel D. Tompkins and Dewitt Clinton. They both were of the Democratic-Republican Party, but of two different factions. Tompkins was a Bucktail while Clinton was a Clintonian. In a close election in Bovina and statewide, Clinton was elected. He carried Bovina by one vote, 37 to 36. Clinton carried Bovina each subsequent time he ran. In 1824, running as the People's party candidate, he got 93 votes, to 43 votes for Democratic-Republican candidate Samuel Young.

When the Whig party came into being in the late 1830s, Bovina regularly voted for Whig candidates. The first time was the 1838 election for governor, when William Seward was elected. In Bovina, he received 131 votes to 87 for William Marcy, the Democratic candidate. The one exception to the Whig trend was in 1848, when the Democratic Barnburner candidate, John Dix, received 204 votes in Bovina, while the Democratic Hunker candidate got only 6 votes and the Whig (Hamilton Fish) received only 13 votes. Fish won statewide. Bovina was back in the Whig column in 1850, when Washington Hunt, running as a Whig and Anti-rent candidate, received 194 votes, to only 30 for the Democratic candidate, Horatio Seymour.

Bovina went firmly into the Republican column in the 1850s when that party came into being. In 1856, the Republican candidate for governor, John King, received 174 votes in Bovina, while Erastus Brooks, the Know Nothing candidate, received 59 votes and Amasa Parker, the Democrat, only 19 votes. Throughout the rest of the 19th century and for the entire 20th century, whether for President, Governor, or for other statewide or national offices, Bovina leaned strongly Republican. Even in years when the Democrats made strong showings nationwide, Bovina generally went with the GOP. When Franklin Roosevelt was re-elected in 1936 in a landslide against Alf Landon, Landon received 319 votes in Bovina to only 79 for Roosevelt. One exception to that trend was in 1996 when, in a three way Presidential race, Bill Clinton carried Bovina.

The trend has started to change in the 21st century. In the 2006 Gubernatorial race, Elliot Spitzer carried Bovina by about 40 votes. In the 2008 Presidential election, John McCain edged out Barack Obama in Bovina, but by only five votes.

Whatever your political affiliation, be sure to take your part in history today - VOTE!