Sunday, February 27, 2011

Some February news snippets from the Past

As I continue to review old newspapers, looking for historical tidbits about Bovina, I stumble across little news items about Bovina people. Here's what showed up in February over the past:

The Bloomville Mirror reported in its February 25, 1862 that a "new Post Office has been established near Davis' old stand on the Kingston Turnpike in the town of Bovina, be known as 'Bovina Valley.'" Andrew Strangeway was appointed the first postmaster there. This post office, located at "The Hook," existed until 1903.

The Catskill Mountain News of February 7, 1913 carried a report from the Andes Recorder that a new boiler for the Dry Milk Plant in Bovina had been delivered. The report noted that the new boiler "was unloaded from Delaware and Northern at Andes on to a truck Tuesday and Wednesday was hauled to Bovina. The boiler weighed
six tons and three teams were used. At the head of Delaware avenue the front axle of the truck broke but was fixed by the use of iron plates and the trip was made without further trouble."

The Stamford Mirror-Recorder for February 17, 1926, reported an accident that befell Mrs. Abigail Fuller. The Bovina Center correspondent reported that while Mrs. Fuller "was after coal she had the misfortune to fall and break her arm at the wrist." Fortunately, Dr. Thomson of Delhi was making a call at James Barnhart's and was called to check on Mrs. Fuller. The paper reported that "He took her to Delhi and used the X-ray and set the bone. The arm is doing nicely."

The following week, the same paper reported that: "C. A. McPherson sold his farm to the Gerrys and purchased the farm of Wm. Archibald. He will take possession of the Archibald farm not later than the middle of April." The Bovina Center correspondent also reported that "Mrs. Isaac Mitchell of upper Bovina was operated on for appendicitis in the Delhi Hospital on Thursday of last week."

Damage caused by high winds was reported by the Bovina correspondent for the Stamford Mirror-Recorder on February 8, 1928: "During the high wind last week one of the chimneys was blown off the village school house and on Thursday night an alarm went out that the school house was on fire. This was caused by an overheated pipe and the fire was put out by a fire extinguisher, which was very fortunate. There had been a meeting of the 4-H Club there that day."

Two years later, the Stamford paper of February 13, 1930 reported that "W. G. Coulter of Bovina Center has invented a machine for the spreading of crushed stone in the building of public highways, and he has received word that a patent for same has been granted." W.G. Coulter is Walt Coulter, who was the father of Ruth Coulter Parsons and Celia Coulter.

The following week, it was reported that town road crews "were clearing out the snow to F. F. Montgomery's on Saturday, getting the roads in readiness for the auction which was held on Tuesday."

So that's a small sample of what was happening in Bovina in February of years past.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Bovina Civil War Records update

On the 18th of this month, I posted thirty documents from the Town of Bovina files relevant to the Civil War.  I know they are being looked at because I've had a couple of comments back already.  One person noted that I had the wrong name on one of the exemption claims I posted, that of James Scott.  I had it as being that of John Telford, but he was the doctor who signed the note (this was the only exemption claim I found that had a doctor's signature).  Thanks to the person who caught that.  I've corrected the information.

And today I heard from Jeannie Raitt Flye.  I had speculated that David Nicholl, for whom I had uploaded his bounty payment receipt, may have been the one person reported after the war as having taken the bounty money and run.  I came to this conclusion because out of all the soldiers for whom I had receipts, he was the only one who did not appear on any soldiers list.  Jeannie wanted to set the record straight, for David did indeed enlist.  As she noted in her e-mail to me:  "David was at Jefferson College in Cannonsburg, Penn where he competed his sophomore year.  He then enlisted in the Union Army at Pittsburgh, Pa., on 8 Sep 1862 in Batty E Light Artillery Regiment Pennsylvania.  This Battery participated in the battles of Antietam, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg as well as other skirmishes.  David  was wounded in the right shoulder in 1863 which resulted in a permanent disability to his arm and shoulder.  He was unfit for active service but after several surgeries was transferred into the newly-formed 147th Company of the Veteran Reserve Corps until after the end of the war."

So thanks Jeannie for this information.  This is the real value of social media such as this blog and Flickr.  The information exchange can be two-way, helping me in my work as Bovina Town historian.

I will be adding David to my list of Bovina soldiers - and some more digging to see who skipped town without enlisting.  A report in 1866 about the town bounties stated that one person did indeed abscond.  I hope someday I'll find out who it was.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Bovina Civil War Records

I've just posted on the Bovina NY Flickr page 30 images of Town of Bovina documents relevant to the U.S. Civil War.  As I do monthly entries concerning the Civil War and Bovina, I will make reference to these documents.  They include a number of exemption claims and several documents relevant to the bounty paid to encourage men to enlist and help meet the town's quota.  One of the bounty receipts was one dated February 25 for John Sinclair Burns, who had enlisted the previous summer.  Burns died about six weeks after this receipt was issued, dying of disease in Fairfax, VA on April 4. There also is a bounty receipt for a gentleman for whom no further information can be found.  He may be the one person that the town later reported as having taken the bounty money and fleeing.  Two images are of documents concerning Roman Palmer.  As did many soldiers, he signed a Power of Attorney, giving James Elliott the right to cast his vote for him the November 8, 1864 general election.  Palmer died a month after the election, killed in action in South Carolina.

Go to to see these latest scanned documents. 

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Will this winter never end?

In February 1880, the winter was the subject of discussion, as it is this year.  But in 1880, it wasn't the cold and wind that was the issue.  The Delaware Republican reported:  "The weather is very 'child-like and bland,' and how we are to tell when Spring commences, if this style of winter continues, is a question that perplexes the strongest minds, and all the reliable old weather sages, who in vain have prophesied the commencement of a hard winter at each change of moon for the past three months, have at least agreed that 'we will catch it sometime,' which remarkable conclusion is probably correct."

The winter of 1948, however, appears to have been anything but 'child-like.'  The Greene County Examiner-Recorder from Catskill, NY, dated February 19, 1948 reported that "Pipes Freeze as Springs Drop in Water Shortage."  Dated February 11, the article went on to report that the "farmers through this section are having serious water shortages due to the intense cold with no thaws to replenish the failing springs. Several farmers have had their springs get so low their pipes have frozen. If a break in the weather does not come soon, there will be the greatest water shortage that has been known for years."

You probably now hoping that the improving weather means spring is not far behind.   So I must remind you of weather history - the famous Blizzard of 88 (1888, by the way) happened in March.  Don't put away those shovels just yet.....

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Bovina in the Civil War - Bovina and Abraham Lincoln

Many historians consider the election of Abraham Lincoln in November 1860 as the catalyst for South Carolina and other states to leave the union. In Bovina, Lincoln won handily with 179 votes vs. 60 votes for the Northern Democrat candidate Stephen Douglas (the other two candidates from the Southern Democrat and Constitutional Union parties were not on the ballot in New York). The Republican candidate for governor also carried Bovina, 177 votes vs. 68 for the "Douglas Democratic" candidate. (In this same election, a constitutional amendment was submitted to voters to allow 'negro suffrage.' The amendment failed statewide by almost two to one, but in Bovina, the amendment carried with 160 votes for and 50 votes against.)

Bovina continued to support Republican candidates during the Civil War.  In the 1862 gubernatorial contest, the Republican-Union candidate, James Wadsworth, carried the town 180 votes vs. 57 for the Democratic candidate, Horatio Seymour.  Statewide, however, Seymour won in a close contest.  Two years later, Seymour lost the governorship to Reuben Fenton.  And again, Seymour lost in Bovina, 66 votes to 212 votes for the Republican Union candidate.

In the 1864 Presidential election, Lincoln ran for re-election with Andrew Johnson on a National Union ticket. The Democrats nominated former Union general George McClellan. Both parties had their supporters in Bovina.  A McClellan Club was formed in Bovina on October 3.  Officers included Frederick McFarland as President,  James McFarland and Michael Dickson as Vice Presidents, Edward A. Boggs as Secretary and R. P. Scott, as Treasurer.  On October 19, a Lincoln and Johnson meeting was held at the hotel of D.G. Landon at The Hook.  It is likely that Bovina voters made a better showing at the Lincoln and Johnson meeting, for three weeks later, the ticket of Lincoln/Johnson received 210 votes vs. 67 votes for the Democrats.  And as reported in my November 2, 2010 blog entry, Bovina stayed firmly in the party of Lincoln for over a century.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Lydia E. Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound

What's does this have to do with Bovina?  In the course of doing full text researching on-line through old newspapers, I've come across this ad numerous times:

Mother So Poorly – Could Hardly Care for Children – Finds Health in Lydia E. Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound
Bovina Center, N.Y. - “For six years I have not had as good health as I have now. I was very young when my first baby was born and my health was very bad after that. I was not regular and I had pains in my back and was so poorly that I could hardly take care of my two children. I doctored with several doctors but got no better. They told me there was no help without an operation. I have used Lydia E. Pinkham's Vegetable Compound and it has helped me wonderfully.  I do most of my own work now and take care of my children.  I recommend your remedies to all suffering women.” – Mrs. Willard A. Graham, Care of Elsworth Tuttle, Bovina Center, N.Y.
I've tried to track down Mrs. Willard A. Graham, but so far, I've had no luck in finding anything about her.  It's not totally clear to me that she lived in Bovina.  Her story was passed on by someone from Bovina, however and I did find some information about Ellsworth Tuttle.  Born in 1882, Ellsworth was the son of Benjamin and Jane Tuttle.  Married to Elizabeth C. (Nellie) Kinch, he died in 1959 and is buried in the Bovina Cemetery. 

What about Lydia E. Pinkham?  What about her product?  You can find more information on Wikipedia at  Lydia Pinkham (1819 – 1883), as noted in Wikipedia, was an iconic concocter and shrewd marketer of a commercially successful herbal-alcoholic "women's tonic" meant to relieve menstrual and menopausal pains.  Variations of Lydia's compound still exist today, though not including the alcohol that was the main ingredient of the original product.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Dangers of Coal Gas

Each winter we often hear stories of people being overcome by carbon monoxide gas.  Fortunately for many of us, we have carbon monoxide detectors (and those who don't have them should take steps to rectify this).  But these are a recent development.  I came across this story about the tragedy of the Phyfe family in Bovina which could have been prevented by such a detector.  It happened eighty-three years ago today and was reported in a number of local newspapers.

Archibald Phyfe, age 79, woke up early on Sunday, February 4, 1928, feeling unwell, but he went ahead with his morning routine, which included tending the coal fire in the living room. His 77 year old sister Sarah, who lived with him and kept house for her widowed brother, heard him stirring and went downstairs, too. Within minutes, Archibald had collapsed on the floor and Sarah was unconscious in a nearby rocker. Neighbors became concerned when they noted that the milk they usually picked up from the Phyfes had not been put out. They went into the house to find the brother and sister passed out. They called Dr. Sarles to provide medical attention.  Miss Phyfe was moved to a bed but died shortly after. Her brother was luckier - his head was close to the crack under the door, allowing some fresh air to come in. Dr. Sarles was able to revive him. Phyfe's brother in law, Dr. William Ormiston of Delhi, came to Bovina and had Archibald taken to Mrs. Drum's emergency hospital in Delhi for further treatment. Archibald reported that he found the living room to be gassy and suspected that a piece of iron under the coal stove had come out, allowing the gas to escape. While carbon monoxide itself is odorless and colorless, it is a component of coal gas. 

Sarah and Archibald were the children of John Phyfe and his wife Matilda Loughran. Archibald was born in 1848, his sister two years later. Matilda Phyfe appears to have died giving birth to Sarah. John Phyfe remarried twice and had two more children by his second marriage.

Archibald married Mary Ormiston in 1875. She died only ten years later, leaving her husband with two daughters, Anna and Bertha. Archibald had a number of occupations, including mason, dry goods clerk and salesman, while also running a small family dairy farm. Sarah was a school teacher for a number of years, but gave that up when her brother was widowed, taking charge of his home.  She helped her brother raise his motherless daughters.  Archibald survived his sister by six years and two days, dying on February 6, 1934. Sarah and Archibald are both buried in the Bovina cemetery.

The Phyfe's home was the family farm, bought by their father in 1866.  Archibald and Sarah likely were born in the house. About three months after Sarah's death, the farm went out of the Phyfe family when Archibald sold it to Fred and Nell Henderson. In the 1960s, the farm was sold to Jim and Mary Haran.

One side note: Though the neighbors are not mentioned by name in any of the news accounts, it's very possible that two of the neighbors were my grandparents, Benson and Anna Bell LaFever, who lived right next door. Later that year, they moved about a mile up the road to the Henderson farm when the Hendersons had moved into the Phyfe home.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Bovina Farms by the Numbers

A lot of the information I have found over the years about Bovina farming has come from 19th century census records. I thought I'd share some of the more interesting and telling numbers.  Though Bovina is historically known as a dairying community, these numbers reflect that milk and butter were not the only products of Bovina farms.  Though Bovina farmers probably wouldn't have used the term back then, diversification was a noted feature of farming - families did what they could to feed themselves and make a living.

The information that was collected over the years varies significantly. New York collected and reported ag data down to the town level in 1821, 1825, 1835, 1845, 1855, 1865, and 1875. The earliest numbers provided for Bovina came in a special 1821 agricultural census. That year, the town had 4,876 acres of improved land (at a time when the potential acreage was around 26,000). By 1865, the improved acreage was almost 20,000.


Bovina had 219 horses in 1821. The number of horses fluctuated, though not dramatically. In 1835, there were 542 horses, but by 1875, that number was down to 329. Bovina used to have a lot of sheep - that number rose then dropped significantly. In 1821, the town had 2,229 sheep. The number of sheep reached a peak in 1845, when there were 6,718. Ten years later, that number was almost halved. Ten years after that, it was halved again and by 1875, Bovina had only 677 sheep. Census records also record that Bovina farmers had some swine or pigs. In 1825, there were 1,653 pigs. The number dropped to half of that in 1840 and by 1875, was down by half again to barely 400. As reported in past blogs, the number of cows was not recorded until 1845, when Bovina had 1,959. The number did not vary dramatically. In 1875, there were 2,304 cows, with about 160 farms. In 1892, the town was reported to have 2,600 cows, owned by 117 farmers.


Census takers started recording farm products in 1840. That year, Bovina farms produced a variety of grain: 207 bushels of barley, 1,642 bushels of buckwheat, 31,245 bushels of oats, 8,179 bushels of rye, 3,907 bushels of wheat and 69 bushels of corn. These numbers varied over the next 30 years. By 1875, wheat production was down to only 96 bushels. Rye also dropped dramatically, down to 355. Oat production, on the other hand, remained very steady, with 31,934 bushels produced in 1875. Barley production varied a bit more but by 1875, it was down to 49, while buckwheat was up to 5,562 bushels.

Animal products

In 1840, Bovina farms produced 9,570 pounds of wool. The number was up to 13,263 five years later, but ten years after that, it had dropped to 5,966. By 1875, it was down to 2,943, but farmers were getting more wool per sheep (4.3 pounds vs. 2 pounds in 1845). Of course, the big animal product for Bovina came from cows, and the vast bulk of that was butter. From 223,092 pounds in 1845, Bovina farms reached a peak of 380,591 in 1875. That same year, farmers only sold 120 gallons of milk. Butter was easier to transport in the pre-automotive age.

Other products

In 1845, farmers produced 44,540 bushels of potatoes. By 1875, that was down to 15,282. Maple sugar production was at 23,301 pounds in 1840 and after a drop in the 1850s, was at 43,708 by 1875. In 1855, 4,500 pounds of beeswax and honey were produced. This was down to 1,315 by 1875. Bovina farms also produced some cider, with 25 gallons in 1855, 170 gallons in 1865 and 63 gallons in 1875.

In the late 19th and early 20th century, Bovina became noted primarily for its dairy products.  In the 21st century, as the town strives to maintain its agricultural heritage, diversification is once more the word.  Today's Bovina farmers offer a wider range of products, including beef, pork, eggs, and organic vegetables.  Mark September 4, 2011 on your calendars for the third annual Bovina Farm Day and see for yourself the variety of what Bovina farmers have to offer.