Saturday, January 29, 2011

Indian Rocks Redux

While on my snowshoes again today, I took an unplanned wander up to see if I could find Indian Rocks again and I did - and I saw it for the first time. Confused?

Matt Pelletier, when he saw my pictures from my hike on Wednesday (see my January 26 blog posting), wondered if I had seen the whole complex of rocks. He noted that there is a segment that faces Bramley Mountain and one that faces the hamlet. Well today, I finally saw the segment that faces the hamlet - and it's also what shows up in the 1888 painting of Bovina. Here's a panoramic picture I pieced together from three photographs (click on the image to see a larger version). The Bramley Mountain piece isn't as tall (though it sits a bit higher) and has some overhangs. This section facing the hamlet is a tall wall of rocks. Very impressive.

And on April 16, I'm planning a 'Historian's Picnic at Indian Rocks.' We'll meet at Russell's Store at 11 am and hike up to Indian Rocks. Bring along any food or drink that suits you and be prepared for brambles and brush. And let me know if you're thinking of coming.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Indian Rocks (Finally)

I feel like I'm about the only Bovina kid never to visit Indian Rocks. Well today, this has been rectified - somewhat unexpectedly, but rectified nonetheless.

In October, fresh from moving to Bovina full time, I decided I needed to track down this locally famous rock outcropping that overlooks the Bovina Center hamlet. I made an attempt then and again in early January and failed both times. Then I checked one of those websites with aerial views of places and viola! I saw exactly where it was located. The snow and cold discouraged me from any further attempts until spring. I didn't want to be lost deep in a snowy wood on a frigid day. Safer to keep my hikes closer to home (and within sight of civilization).

Today I decided to go out on my snowshoes in the fields that overlooked the hamlet. I trekked up and over some fields I had never hiked in before, getting some great views of Bovina Center, including my house. Then, just to make the exercise worthwhile, I started following a snow mobile trail up over the hill and into the woods. At this point, I wondered to myself "Could this be the way to Indian Rocks?" Just a hunch really. I didn't want to get too tangled in blackberry bushes and tree limbs while wearing snowshoes trying to find it. But as long as the trail was there, reducing the risk of an altercation with the vegetation, I decided to plunge ahead.

As I continued trudging along, I began to notice something through the trees. Could it be? Was it? Yes, I had stumbled upon Indian Rocks. Hooray! Here are three of the many pictures I took today, the first being just after I realized that I may have found the rocks. It's rather hard to photograph Indian Rocks in its entirety because of the trees (and the fact that it's quite a long geological feature).

Here's probably the earliest image of Indian Rocks. This is a segment from an 1888 painting now in the Bovina Historical Society's museum of the Bovina Center hamlet. You can plainly see toward the top of the image Indian Rocks. And without the trees, you can get a better idea of its size.

Well, all I can say is that it's about time I got my butt up there! Better late than never...

Monday, January 24, 2011

Bovina Earmarks

No, I'm not talking about something in Congress that directs tons of money to Bovina (unfortunately). What I am talking about are earmarks that Bovina farmers used to make sure they could identify what sheep belonged them. These earmarks were registered with the town clerk. In the records of the Town of Bovina there is a book of these earmarks dating from the town's creation in 1820 to 1836. There were more farmers in Bovina than this list demonstrates. In 1821, there were probably 150 farmers, while this list, covering a 16 year period, shows 68 farmers (and some are on here more than once). So why only some Bovina farmers show up here is anyone's guess. It could be these were the larger farms or maybe the farmers not on this list always kept their animals securely penned, negating the need to distinguish their sheep from others. Here are the 68 earmarks registered with the town clerk from 1820 to 1836:
  • Bailey, William - Swallow fork on the left ear and a square crop and a hole through the right ear
  • Balentyne, Robert - A half penny on the under side of each ear
  • Bassett, Francis - Swallow fork on the left ear and a half crop on the right ear the upper part cut out
  • Brush, Alexander - A crop on the left ear and a slit in the same and a half crop on the foreside of the right ear
  • Brush, Joel - His sheep mark two half pennys under side of the right ear
  • Cambers, Dan H. - Square crop on each ear & a halfpenny on the underside of the right ear
  • Carman, Joshua - A crop on the right ear
  • Carman, Sr. James - Three halfpennys on the underside of the right ear
  • Cline, Adam - A square crop off the left ear and Halfpennys on the right one on the upper and the other on the lower part of the same
  • Conor, Francis - A crop on the right ear and a hole in the same
  • Croziers, Walter - A half penny on the upper side of the right ear
  • Davis, Alban - One hole through the right ear
  • Davis, Benjamin - A slit in each ear
  • Davis, Samuel - Two half pennys on the underside of the left ear
  • Dean Jun, John - A crop in the Left on a slit in the Right ear
  • Doolittle, William - Sheep mark is a crop on the Right ear and a slit on the left
  • Elliott, John - A crop on the left ear and halfpenny on the underside of the right ear
  • Erkson, John - A halfpenny on the underside of the right ear
  • Halstead, William - A crop of the left ear and a half penny on the underside of the same
  • Hamilton, Robert - A crop on the left ear
  • Hamilton, Thomas - Letter T branded on their face or forehead
  • Hastings, John - A slit in the left ear
  • Hilton, Nathan - Sheep mark is a slit in each ear
  • Jones, George - Half crop on both ears
  • Jones, George - his brand on the head of the sheep mark I between the eyes
  • Jones, George - His sheep mark a crop of the Right ear and a hapenny under side of each ear
  • Jones, William - Crop on the right ear and a halfpenny on the underside of the left ear
  • Jones, William - A half crop on the upperside of the left ear and a halfpenny on the underside of the same ear
  • Ladd, John - Swallow for on the left ear
  • Ladd, Thomas N. - Hole through the left ear and a swallow fork on the right ear
  • Landon, Thomas S. - Two slits on the right ear and a crop on the left
  • Landon, Jr, Thomas - A swallow fork in each ear and a half penny on the foreside of the Right Ear
  • Leet, Charles - A crop on the right ear and a half penny on the underside of the left ear
  • Light, Close - Sheep mark is a crop on the left ear and a halfpenny on the front on upper part of the right ear
  • Ludington, Henry - his cattle mark is a slanting crop of the left ear
  • Maynard, Elisha B. - a swallow fork in each ear
  • McCumber, Christopher - A square crop on the left ear & a half crop on the underside off the right ear
  • McFarland, Thomas - A slit in the right ear
  • McNaught, Duncan - Swallow fork on the left ear and a half crop on the upper part of the right ear
  • McNaught, Hecter - his sheep mark half crop in each ear and a hole in each ear
  • McNaught, John - Mark is altered to a half crop on the lower part of the right ear and a crop on the left ear
  • McNaught, John - A half crop in the right ear and a hole in the left
  • McNaught, Malcom - A crop on the right ear and a hole in the left
  • Minzee, Robert - a half crop on both ears and branded across the nose
  • Mitchell, Robert - Sheep & cattle mark is a swallow fork over the right ear & a crop on the left
  • Nelson, James R. - A hole in the left ear
  • Nesbitt, George - Sheep mark is a swallow fork on the left ear and a crop on the right ear
  • Paterson, Joseph - A half crop on underside of the Right Ear and the upper side of the left
  • Purdy, Frederick - A square crop on the right ear and a half crop on the under part of the left ear
  • Raitt, John - Swallow fork on each ear
  • Renwick, James - A half penny on the underside of the left ear
  • Reynolds, Daniel - A slit in the left ear and halfpenny on the underside of the same
  • Reynolds, John - Two half pennys on the upper side of each ear
  • Reynolds, Stephen - A crop on the left ear and a nick in the side of the same
  • Rider, John - Sheep mark is a crop on the right ear and halfpenny on the upper side of the same
  • Russell, Jr., James - Sheep mark is a hole through the left ear & a swallow fork on the right ear.
  • Rutherford, John - A slit on the left ear and a halfpenny on the underside of the right ear
  • Scott, John - Sheep mark a notch under part of each ear
  • Scott, Robert - Farmer, A half penny on the upper side of each ear
  • Scutt, Jonathan - A crop on the rear or left ear and a slit in the right ? Ear
  • Sopers, Peleg - Crop on the right ear and an oblique slant on the left ear on the front part thereof
  • Storey, Widow Mary - A crop on the Right ear and 2 halfpennys on the underside of the left ear
  • Thomson, James - a half crop on the left ear
  • Thomson, John - Sheep and Cattle mark is a crop on the right ear & a halfpenny on the underside of the same
  • Tuttle, Solomon - The left ear half cut off
  • Wooden, Orrin - Sheep mark is a crop on the left ear and a half penny on the upperside of the same ear
Here's one of the early pages from the register of sheep marks. After about three pages, they stopped including the drawing of the sheep's head noting which ear had the mark.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Train that Never Came

I was on Peg Ellsworth's show on WIOX in Roxbury again yesterday, sharing the mike with Doug Kadow, President of the Ulster and Delaware Railroad Historical Society. We talked about railroads, with my focus being on the attempt to bring the railroad into Bovina in 1898. This effort, by the way, had as its main purpose of connecting Delhi and Andes by rail, but a 3 mile spur was planned to bring it into Bovina. Doug is very interested in this particular railroad that never was.

Over the past month, some research in the newspapers has led to answering some questions about the railroad - and bringing up others. And I learned a lot from Doug about these railroads. I'll be doing a series of blog entries over the next month explaining what I have found about this failed attempt. Did you know that much of the rail bed had been constructed - and in only 7 weeks? Did you know that workers went on strike and nearly rioted when they didn't get paid for their efforts? And what was unusual about the spur to Bovina?

And thanks to Tim Mallery, I now have information on further attempts in the early 20th century to bring the trains to Bovina. The 1898 failure did not end the discussion.

So be ready on the platform for when the next installment of "The Train that Never Came" rolls into your computer (sorry, I couldn't resist a clunky railroad analogy).

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Bovina Celebrates - Celebrate Bovina

I just met this evening with Shannon Shoemaker, a Bovina Historical Society trustee. We discussed creating a DVD of images and videos showing Bovina celebrating -- town picnics, tugs of war, ball games, parades, church celebrations, rock concerts and other ways that Bovina celebrates its heritage and, well, has fun. And we hope to use local musicians to provide the musical track to go along with the images.

We have a number of images but could always use more. Images from the town picnics from the 20s, 50s and 60s are especially desired, but anything showing the different ways Bovina had fun are always welcome. I am happy to scan any non-electronic images you have and return them to you. I also can provide you with an electronic copy. We'd like to have all of our images collected and identified by April 1. Shannon is hoping to use students at SUNY Delhi to put together the DVD.

I'll keep you all posted as this develops. We're hoping to premiere it in the fall and have it available for sale, proceeds to benefit the BHS.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Past and Future of Bovina Farming

Bovina, as any community, has had occasions over the years to review its livelihood. In the late 19th century, the reduced demand for butter, a major product of Bovina farms for much of that century, led to an address by Bovina farmer Thomas Ormiston in 1896. Mr. Ormiston, the father of Lois Davidson and Ruth Monroe, spoke at the annual meeting of the New York State Dairymen's Association in Delhi. He sounded the alarm about the reduced demand for Delaware County butter and suggested some ways to deal with it. Ormiston noted that “the demand for dairy butter is growing less and less every year. Last fall having lost an old customer...I went to New York to try and get another place for the butter. I found that the majority of the stores were overstocked with butter. With this condition of affairs, and the extremely low prices for other farm products, the dairymen of Delaware County are in a bad way.” Ormiston put some of the blame on the farmers themselves for keeping the butter too long before selling it. He also noted that “there are too many persons between the producer and the consumer.” He noted that “there are three classes of men who have been taking from the consumers in the butter trade. They are the creamery man, the creamery supply man and the hocuspocus man." Ormiston had nothing against the creamery man but said that "The second is a shark to do the farmers and the last man is seeking to steal the reputation of the others.”

Ormiston noted that "there are a good many farmers who are very sensible as producers, but who would utterly fail as salesmen in working up a trade." He suggested working cooperatively. "Cooperation in producing, cooperation in selling, cooperation in buying." In this way, he hoped to avoid the middle man.

Ormiston suggested a cooperative creamery, though with caveats. He noted that at the 1893 World's Fair, "old fashioned dairy butter (i.e. butter made at home) was proven to be the best." His remedy for that was to have each cooperative member still make butter at home, but follow rules for its production. In this way, butter from Delaware County would be of a uniformly good quality.

Six years after Ormiston's speech, the Bovina Center Cooperative Creamery was established. Milk was processed and contrary to Ormiston's advice, the butter was made at the creamery by a butter maker. In 1905, the butter maker was paid a salary of $800. The creamery operated until 1973.

Over the past few years, Bovina farmers and those interested in the future of the town have again looked at cooperation as a way to save Bovina farming and thus preserve the community's rural and agricultural flavor. In Tom Ormiston's time, and well before and after his time, Bovina's primary farming activity has been dairying. Today, farming in Bovina has a more eclectic mix. While there still are three dairy farms in the town, there also are farmers dealing in beef, pork, eggs, Christmas trees, organic vegetables, maple syrup, hay and agri-tourism.

On Saturday, January 15, I attended a meeting organized by Evelyn Stewart at which the creation of a not-for-profit organization to help farmers in Bovina was discussed. The goal of this effort is to keep the over 200 year old tradition of farming in Bovina going well into the 21st century. This new cooperative venture is following the historic footsteps of people like Thomas Ormiston. Come back to this blog for updates on Bovina's rich farming history - and its farming future.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Bovina in the Civil War - The Sesquicentennial

It was 150 years ago this April that the United States Civil War began with the attack on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. The impact of the war was nationwide, even in states where no actual engagements took place, such as New York. And the war had its impact on Bovina. Over 90 men from Bovina served in the war, with 11 of them dying in the conflict. Thirty-three men eligible for military service applied for an exemption from such service. Bovina taxpayers in 1863, 1864 and 1865 were asked to ante up money for bounties to meet the town's quota of men. The minister of the Bovina United Presbyterian Church took a leave from the church to serve as a chaplain - and suffered serious illness as a result.

Over the next year, I will be doing monthly blog entries related to the impact of the Civil War on Bovina. I'll look at what was going on in Bovina when the war started, the various reasons men gave for exemption from service, those 11 men who died in the service (including two brothers), what happened to those soldiers who survived, and how Bovina voted during the war.

Here's the headstone of Solomon G. Coulter, one of Bovina's Civil War casualties. There are several headstones like this in the Bovina Cemtery. Photo courtesy of Ed and Dick Davidson.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Annual Town Meetings

Tonight is the organizational meeting of the Town of Bovina. All towns in New York are required to hold such a meeting at which certain appointments are made (including that of the town historian). The town board, made up of the supervisor and four town council persons, meets monthly.

Things were different in the 19th century. Towns usually held only one meeting a year and did not have a town board as we know it today. Bovina held annual town meetings for almost 80 years. They were held in March until 1840, when they changed to February. At the annual meetings, town officials were elected and resolutions passed. Resolutions covered a range of issues. At the annual meeting held Tuesday, March 6, 1827, for instance, it was voted that “John Johnston, a town pauper, be sold to the person that will keep him the cheapest.” He was sold was sold to John Bennet for one year at the rate of nine shillings and six pense per week. The following year, he was sold to Robert Johnston, who was “allowed one dollar per week" for his support. Whether or not Robert was a relative is not clear.

During Bovina’s early years, the town justices, supervisor and clerk would meet as a board when there were issues to be resolved between Annual Meetings. Occasionally, issues were deemed important enough to hold an extra meeting to get a public vote. At a special meeting on April 5, 1821, the following items were resolved:
• that hogs are not to run at large unless yoked according to law said yoke to be four inches above and below the neck;
• that rams shall not be permitted to run at large from the first day of September until the fifteenth day of November following under the penalty of twelve dollars and fifty cents per head;
• that the collector have ... three percent for collecting the Taxes of the town;
• that the town raise by tax Ten Dollars for Compensating the Clerk of said Town for his services in the years 1820 and 1821;
• the vote taken at the annual Town Meeting of paying John Seacord the Collector Thirty Seven Dollars and fifty cents be rescinded.

Bovina’s last annual meeting was held on February 8, 1898 at Strangeway’s Hall. On February 14, 1899, Bovina started holding Biennial meetings. These meetings were essentially held to vote for town officers. The town board was meeting regularly by then. In 1903, the time of the Biennial meeting was moved to November to coincide with Election Day. The Biennial meetings ended in 1921.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Who Am I?

When I walked into Russell's this past Friday, Bea saw me and said 'Ray LaFever, just the guy I want to see.' Oh dear, what question would she hit me with this time?! She then presented me with this picture of a baseball player from Bovina and wanted to know who it was. She got it from a gentleman in Harpersfield. Unfortunately, I was not able to answer her question. Maybe he is one of the players in the turn of the century games I reported on in my August 16, 2010 blog entry. Because we don't know anything else about where the picture was found or why it ended up where it did, I cannot even fathom a guess. Of course, nothing was written on the back and we don't even know what studio did the photograph. And I don't recognize the face. So if anyone has any thoughts, please pass them along to me. And yes, I have already passed this image on to Tim Harlo Bray, who got the Bovina Dairymen vintage baseball team going last year. Help us get this gentleman identified so he doesn't join the legions of those unidentified persons staring out at us from old photographs.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Bovina Historian on the Wireless

Tomorrow (Saturday the 8th) I'm going to be on WIOX in Roxbury from 9-10 am talking with Peg Ellsworth about Bovina, local history in general, the role of the local government historian and how to research Delaware County's history and genealogy. You can listen on your wireless (an old British word for radio) at 91.3 or listen on your wireless or wired internet at

This radio was once owned by Cecil Russell - he used to listen to Yankee games on it. I bought it at the Russell auction in 2000. Unfortunately, I can't listen to WIOX on it, but it's a great conversation piece.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year!

Early on in life, I've had this penchant for documenting things - by my diary and by taking photos (digital photography has allowed me to photograph just about everything in my life these days). I started my journal in June 1970 and that same month, got my first camera, a Polaroid Swinger.

Forty years ago today, I started a tradition of taking a photograph out of my bedroom window each New Year's Day. Well, the tradition lasted until 1978 when I moved away. I never picked it up in any place I have lived since. Today was my first New Year's Day spent in Bovina since 1978. So I decided to commemorate the 40th anniversary of that first photo by taking one out of the same window today.

The weather 40 years ago was a lot different than today's unusually mild day (I was able to ride my bike this morning). As you can see from the photo below, we had quite a snowfall for the start of 1978. I noted in my journal that I "had to shovel at Russels (sic). There was quite a bit of snow." The snow that fell New Year's Day was washed away by rain within a few days.

It wasn't easy lining up the shot to match the one from 40 years ago. You'll note that a number of landmarks, including the barn and garage, are gone. The tree still stands, though it is going to have to be cut down sometime this year. We're sorry to see it go, but it's starting to drop branches with some frequency, so it's time.

Since the 1971 photograph was taken in a snowstorm, I've also included the picture from 35 years ago (1976) to provide a clearer idea of what the view looked like a few decades ago.

Happy New Year to all from bucolic Bovina.

January 1, 1971

January 1, 1976

January 1, 2011