Thursday, March 31, 2011

Bovina Community Hall - Dedication Poem

On Sunday, March 20, from 1:30 to 3 pm, there was an open house at the Bovina Community Hall to celebrate the renovation of the kitchen.  As a follow up to my blog entry of March 19 about the construction of the Community Hall, I thought I would share this poem that was written to commemorate its dedication in the fall of 1930, David Currie, the Town Clerk, wrote the poem and Vera Storie read it to the audience:

"The Toilers"

We've gathered here, our friends and foes
This pleasant autumn night.
We came to see and to complain
If things are not just right.

If we could see with others eyes
I wish the Lord we could
We would not stop to criticize,
but how we would saw wood.

It's all and more than three years long
Since we began to plan
To build this Hall and build it right
And please our fellow man.

We did our best and that is all
that anyone can say,
If some do cuss and some do swear
Would you call that fair play?

But who are we?  Someone may ask
It is the V.I.S.
They worked and planned and sewed and darned
And never stopped to rest.

They sold ice cream and pie and cake
They had some shows, I hear
So no i guess I'll change their name
And just call them "Old Dears."

And now to make it sound all right
I'll just jot down their names
Helena H. and Jennie T.
And Isabelle and Jane.

And now we come to Lib and Lib
And Isabelle again
There's Ida Mac and Mattie C.
And Jen and Jen and Jen.

There's Nellie, Marge, Lois and Ann
Rosie Mac, Blanche and Jean.
Four Margarets, Callie and Delle
I guess that's all I've seen.

R.W. Doonan
He built this little hall
Started to build it in the Spring
Just finished it this Fall.

He took some brick, some boards, and nails
Some little grains of sand.
And with his men he built this Hall
and so did Berry-ann.

Old Man Bob is a quiet man
A quite name is he.
He called for paint and for a brush
And for his painters three.

He said to Sandy and to Ed
Your pipes you may now fill.
I don't give a darn if you smoke
But you must paint like Hell.

Joc Blair
And B.I. double L.
They watched this job from morn til night
Indeed they watched it well.

They were not like the wise old bird
That once sat on the oak
The more they saw, the more they heard
Alas! The more they spoke.

Committee was composed of men
Cecil H., Bill and John
They let their wives do all the work
They sat and blowed their horns.

About the old Town Board I guess
There's not so much to say
just did their bit, Their LITTLE bit
And did it every day.

The decorations in this Hall
Are all for me and you
The V.I.S. they did it all
and did it P.D.Q.

And now my friends and foes alike
I've got just this to say
Let's rise and cheer the V.I.S.

In 1995, someone (I can't determine who) provided information on the different names that are referenced in the poem, in order by appearance in the poem:  Helen Hilson, Jennie Taggart (Helena's sister), Isabelle Russell, Jane Hilson, Lib Irving (Isabelle's mom), Lib Blair (Helen Thompson's mom), Isabelle Hilson (Alex and Jack's grandmother), Ida McCune, Mattie Currie, Jen Thompson, Jen Archibald, Jen Storie, Nellie Johnson (George Johnson's mom), Marge Johnson, Lois Davidson, Anna Barnhart (?), Rosie McPherson (Frank's Mom), Margaret "Ormiston, Margaret Coulter (?), Callie Boggs Hastings, Delle McPherson Rockefeller, Sandy Myers, Ed Doig (?), Bill Archibald, Cecil Russell, Bill Storie, John Hilson.

And the VIS is the Village Improvement Society.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Bovina's German Heritage

Since I'm on a trip to Germany as this entry posts, I thought it would be appropriate to talk a little bit about German settlers in Bovina.  I can’t definitively determine who the first German-born citizens of Bovina were.  Census records for Bovina before 1850 do not provide information as to where residents were born. 

The earliest German born residents in Bovina for which we have any information were Jacob and Solomon Bayreuther - but they didn't stay in Bovina very long.  In 1847, Solomon and his German-born wife, Elizabeth, and Jacob and his American born wife, Juliette, and their son Adolph moved from New York City to Bovina.  Jacob and Solomon purchased property in Bovina from John Erkson (likely the building attached to the old Clayt and Florence Thomas residence) .  They were merchants and probably brothers. In 1851, the Bayreuthers sold the property to Andrew T. Thomson and returned to New York City.  In the 1860 census, Jacob and Solomon were again living in New York City. Jacob was a boot and shoe dealer while Solomon was a dry goods merchant.  The family settled permanently in New York City.  Jacob’s son Adolph was living in Brooklyn in 1900, working as a painter. 

In the 1855 census, Stephen Russell, who was a blacksmith, had just hired three months before the census was taken another blacksmith, John Miller, who was born in Germany.  Miller was the only person in that Bovina census to have been German born.  In 1860, Stephen Bramley had living in his household two German born residents, Elisabeth Miller, age 23 and Mary Heagny, age 11.  They don't appear to have been related to the Bramley family or each other.  They might have been servants, but that information was not provided.

In the 1870 census, no one of German birth appears in Bovina, but in 1880, Jacob Detrich and his family appear in Bovina.  Jacob, his wife Margaret and 13 year old son Jacob were born in Germany.  Jacob and Margaret's other children, Henry, Emma, Katie and Anna, were all New York born (though I have other information that says Henry too was born in Germany).  Jacob Senior was a wagonmaker.  In 1883, a daughter Mary was born to Jacob and Margaret, but she died in January 1885.  A few days later, her sister Emma also died.  Both are buried in Bovina.  By 1900, the family appears to have left Bovina, but Henry and his wife were living in Andes.  When Henry died in 1953, he was buried in Bovina near his infant sisters. 

The 1900 census includes a widow, Wilhelmina Lupke Bergman (better known as Mina), with her son Robert and daughter Martha.  Her late husband, Frederick, came to the United States from Germany in 1880.   Their daughter Martha married William T. Russell in 1903 and lived in Bovina the rest of her life.  Also in Bovina in 1900 was John Ruff.  While Ruff was German born, his wife, Hannah, and daughter were born in New York.  John and Hannah lived in Bovina until their deaths in 1917 and 1916 respectively. 

German born residents of Bovina in 1920 included Arthur Bergman, son of Frederick and Mina Bergmen mentioned above, Fred Ganger and Stephen Schabloski.  In 1925, there were a few more people in Bovina claiming German nativity, including Walfred Hansen, Albert Hansler, Paul and Martha Fuhrmann, and Ann Schreiber, along with the already mentioned Arthur Bergman, Martha Russell (nee Dietrich) and Fred Ganger, who now had a wife Frances, who was Canadian. 

Some other Bovina citizens who were born in Germany include Erika Weber, nee Koenig, who came to the United States in 1938 and married John Weber in 1947, and Anna Wolf, who emigrated in 1936 and came to Bovina in 1960 to build and operate the Mountain Brook Chalet.  The Menke Family, who farmed in Bovina for many years, left Germany after the First World War, living in Brazil for seven years before coming to New York in 1929. 

There were also Bovina citizens who, while not born in Germany, had German ancestry.  The Barnhart family readily springs to mind, partly because it was my grandmother’s family.  Jeremy Barnhart came to Delaware County from Ulster County in the 1880s or 1890s and settled on Pink Street in Bovina, marrying Kate Miller.  The Barnharts came to the United States early in its history.  Johannes Bernhard, Jeremy's great, great, great, great grandfather, was born around 1672 in Germany.  In 1709, he and his wife, Anna Maria, along with other Palatinates, emigrated from Germany to Holland, then to England to avoid religious persecution.  Johannes was a member of the large company of Palatines sent to the Colony of New York in the summer of 1710 by the British Government to work for the turpentine industry in the pine forests bordering the upper Hudson.  He settled at West Camp in September of 1710, just south of the present boundary between Greene and Ulster Counties.  He lived in the vicinity of "The Camp" until his death, probably about 1734.   His son settled in Schoharie County.  Later generations went to the Town of Colchester in Delaware County, then to Ulster County, as well as to other areas of the state and nation. 

Bovina is noted for its Scottish heritage, but we should not forget that people of many other nationalities have settled in Bovina and contributed to the fabric that made the town what it was – and what it is today.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

When the Trains Almost Came - IV - Buying a Pig in a Poke

The most serious attempt to bring the railroad to Bovina (and to connect Delhi and Andes by train) happened in 1898.  As reported in previous blog entries, the Delaware Railroad Company was formed in July 1898 and by September construction had started on the line between Delhi and Andes and on the spur to Bovina Center.  Construction continued for about seven weeks when it abruptly ceased.  The contractors and over 1000 Italian laborers were not being paid for their work. 

November came and went with no real movement.  Though the Delaware Gazette (Delhi) continued to try and be optimistic, they noted that little was happening.  After its November 16 issue, the Gazette pretty much went silent on the issue, as did other newspapers.  While not the last time a railroad to Bovina was considered, it was the closest citizens ever got to hearing steam whistles and seeing the smoke of an approaching train in their town.  Construction had actually taken place.  The rail beds still exist in a number of places.  See my blog entries of May 12 and November 8, 2009 and April 26, 2010 for information about Mike Kudish and his exploration of these abandoned rail beds.

Over the next three years or so, efforts were made to recoup the money owed by the Delaware Railroad Company.  In July 1899, most of the Italian laborers assigned their interest in the company to Michael J. Bove and Michael Marrone.  Later that month, formal legal action was initiated.  In October 1900, Bove and Marrone appear to have transferred their claims to Frederick W. Youmans, a Delhi attorney.  In January 1902, referee DeWitt Griffin held two days of hearings concerning the liens on the railroad.  In May, an order was issued to auction off the assets of the Delaware Railroad Company.  Who bought these, if anyone, I have yet to discover.  There were further discussions over the next decade about completing the railroad, however. 

As the Delaware and Eastern Railroad was being constructed, the New York Republican Watchman of December 23, 1904 reported that “those who claim to possess inside information say that the branch from Shavertown to Andes will be extended to Bovina in order to secure the milk traffic in that town; that a train load of milk can be procured each day, this alone being sufficient to make the road pay.” 

Almost four years later, the Catskill Mountain News reported the possible extension of the D&E to Bovina.  On August 22, it was reported that the President of the D&E and “other officials went over the route from Andes to Bovina on a tour of inspection. In the opinion of railroad men such an extension would pay if built to Bovina and no farther, as the milk, butter and feed business of that town is no inconsiderable item, and the trains on the Andes branch could handle the extra run without trouble and with no additional expense.”  The article noted that the old rail bed from 1898 could be easily used.  The paper also reported that an effort would be made to enlist the cooperation of Bovina farmers and that if the approvals can be received that construction could start in the fall of 1908. 

Nothing moved ahead beyond the talking stage, however.  In 1915, yet another attempt to revive the Delhi-Andes line by the Delaware and Northern Railroad, the successor to the Delaware And Eastern, was under consideration.  By this time, local interest was definitely on the wane – likely in part because of the development of the automobile (and the truck), but also, as the Delaware Express had noted, people had not forgotten the 1898 attempt.  A meeting was held in Delhi but the idea was not greeted enthusiastically.  The Delaware Express reported that “those who have fairly good memories will readily see the resemblance between this suggestion and the time honored practice of buying a pig in a poke. It was not welcomed at Delhi, and at a meeting held in Bovina with the business men of that place a similar view was taken. So for the present the matter rests.”

And it continued to rest, though there certainly were a few who continued to hope right up until the railroads in Delaware County and the surround areas ceased to operate.  The Age of the Railroads had indeed passed Bovina by.

NOTE:  Look at John Crocker’s 1997 book Tales of the Courthouse Square.  One of the chapters is devoted to the Delaware Railroad Company and the near riot from the Italian laborers. 

Thanks to Doug Kadow with the Ulster and Delaware Railroad Historical Society for further information on the railroad and the Delhi and Middletown Railroad attempted in the 1870s.  Thanks also to Tim Mallery, who directed me to some of the discussions to renew the railroad after its collapse in 1898.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Bovina Community Hall

On Sunday, March 20, there will be an open house at the Bovina Community Hall to celebrate the renovation of the kitchen in the basement.  Bovina's Community Hall was built in the spring and summer of 1930, on land donated by the Hilson family.  Before there was a community hall, town meetings and other events took place wherever a venue big enough could be found.  In the town's early history, these meetings often took place in hotels or taverns.  Starting in 1880, meetings were held at "Hastings Hall," now Russell's store, but in 1893, the board voted to switch to Strangeway's Hall (later Thomas's garage, then Bovina Motor Works and now owned by Tom Hetterich).   Strangeway's was used for many years for town meetings and other public events.  In 1907, the Bovina Town Board expressed concern that the hall did not have a fire escape.  A.T. Strangeway appeared before the board in January 1907, explaining that he would need more rent if this improvement was to be made.  The board agreed to pay $45 a year for the hall if a sufficient exit and stairway five feet wide were built.  The last year the town paid for use of the old Strangeway's Hall, now owned by Kenneth Kaufman and called Kaufman's Hall, was in 1929. 

It took some effort to get the community hall constructed.  Two sites were considered.  One was offered by Carrie Doig and was across from the old Strangeway's Hall.  The other was across from the new home recently built by William Archibald (now owned by Gert Hall).  The plans for construction were approved in late 1927.  The town voted to raise $1000 by tax in the current year, with the balance of $4000 to be borrowed. In February of 1928, two bids were received for the construction of the Community Hall and both were considerably higher than the $5,000 budgeted - $9,850 and $14,500, so the issue was tabled.  In late 1929, Howard Currie met with Robert Doonan about building the community hall.  In March 1930, Doonan's bid of  $7,500 was accepted.  Actual construction started on April 14, with a crew of six men.  In July, John and Helena Hilson and James Hilson deeded over to the town the land across from William Archibald's for the new Community Hall.  At a meeting later that year, the town board designated the new community hall as the polling station.  At the same meeting, the supervisor was authorized to purchase 100 chairs for the hall. 

In October 1933, the Tunis Camp Fire Girls received a $975 bequest from the late Anna Scott specifically to make improvements to the Community Hall.  The town board passed a resolution allowing the group to contract with Robert Doonan to build two 10 x 24 dressing rooms, to put a concrete floor in the basement and to install two toilets in the basement, as well as have water piped into the community hall for said toilets. 

Some other activities in the early life of the community hall include:
  • In January 1932, the board voted to set the salary of the "Janitor of the Town Hall" at $75 per annum.  In April, the board raised that to $100, deeming that $75 was insufficient for the work to be done.  
  • The board voted to forbid smoking in the community hall at their April 12, 1935 meeting.  The janitor was to enforce this rule.
  • Town accounts in 1936 include $3.50 for piano tuning and $125 to C.W. Hill for painting the hall.
  • In November 1941, the board authorized the Recreation Club to make some needed improvements to the Community Hall.  The Town Clerk was instructed to post a notice in the hall with a fee structure.  Dances would be $5 and basketball would be $3.50 (but practicing for basketball would be only $1).  Town shows were set at $3.50 but out of town shows would be a dollar more.  All doings when admission is charged would be $2.  Town business would continue to be free, however.
  • In June 1942, the board chose the Community Hall to serve as an airplane observatory 'for the duration.'  The town would provide a telephone and all needed appliances unless the county agreed to pay for these.
Stayed tuned for another entry about the Community Hall on March 31 - specifically, a poem written by David Currie and read by Vera Storie when the hall was dedicated in the fall of 1930. 

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011

    When the Trains Almost Came - III - Our Supposed Railroad is at a Standstill

    In the late summer and early fall of 1898, citizens of Bovina were excited that their ability to travel to and from town was on the verge of being enhanced by the building of the Delaware Railroad Company.  Over 1000 Italian laborers had been digging the railroad bed, while local contractors were supplying materials, food for the workers and teams of horses.  There was talk in Bovina about extending the railroad beyond Bovina over to Arkville.  So imagine the disappointment when on October 17, all work on the railroad ceased.  Neither the laborers nor the contractors had been paid a dime since starting work September 7.   So the Italian workers went on strike.  The October 22, 1898 Stamford Mirror reported that the Italians shouted “Noa Mon, Noa Work.”  Now whether the paper was being sarcastic or reflecting the workers limited English is not clear.  But the facts were that these workers had done their work and they were not being paid.

    The Mirror reported that the Knickbocker Trust Company would not take the bonds that had been sold to fund the railroad and provide the money.  They argued that the bonds were given securing completion of the railroad first.  The other problem appears to be related to the original contractor, Thomas Murray, sub-contracting the work.  The trust company claimed that the bonds are not backed by the responsible parties.  The Delaware Gazette was more inclined to blame the middleman, a Mr. Hillyer, who was working between Thomas Murray, the chief contractor and the trust company. 

    Whatever the cause, the workers wanted to be paid.  Some of the workers went back home (mainly to New York City) but on October 22, about 150 workers tried to find the directors in Delhi, while another group did the same in Andes.  In Delhi, the sheriff, concerned about the safety of one director, Mr. Davie, took him to his home.  One of the workers then made “an apparently inflammatory speech” to the other workers.  While in Italian, those who could not speak it still understood the gist of it.  The workers tried to find another director, Mr. Youmans, without success.   In Andes, the workers missed director James F. Scott but found W.C. Oliver in his barn.  The workers surrounded it for over an hour but Oliver managed to talk his way out of the situation and left unharmed. 

    Most of the Italian workers accepted an offer of train tickets back to New York City and left, but not before about 300 of them filed liens against the property of the company, averaging about $25 each.  Beyond the Italian laborers, there were others who also filed claims for having provided lumber, supplies and team work.  The Gazette understood that the amount of indebtedness was around $20,000.  (These lien filings still exist today.  Go to to see a list created by Shirley Houck of all the claimants against the company. )

    The Gazette admitted when things settled down that “the conduct of the Italians was as good as could be expected under the circumstances.  They had done their work faithfully and needed their pay.  Many of them have families, it is said, who require their wages for their support.”

    The Delhi paper continued to be optimistic that the railroad would continue, though their Bovina correspondent simply noted the departure of the workers and that “our supposed railroad is at a standstill at present.”  In early November, the paper noted that a lot of misinformation was being passed around that it would not publish, except to say that a meeting will be called in the near future of the directors, contractors and other parties.  The paper concluded this November 2 article with this paragraph:

    Whatever difficulties now in the way the one fact remains.  Too much has been done to make it likely that the project will finally be abandoned as the road will be a paying institution.  It will unquestionably be built, and all claims paid.  It is conceded by all that neither the company nor any of its officers are to blame for the temporary set back. 

    The Gazette’s continued optimism did not pan out.  Though there were some further efforts, the railroad never was built and no further construction ever took place.  The concluding installment will cover further efforts to bring the trains into Bovina.

    Saturday, March 12, 2011

    Bovina in the Civil War - Those Who Served

    I have been working on a database of all Bovina men who served in the Civil War. Creating a list is a challenge. In fact, it will be impossible to have a truly ‘definitive’ list. Right now, the list has 82 names. These include Bovina residents at the time of the war, soldiers from other towns buried in Bovina (such as brothers Thomas and James Elliott, who were from New Kingston), and soldiers who came from other towns but at some point lived in Bovina. I decided not to include those who simply enlisted in Bovina or were born in Bovina but left early in their lives.  For instance, I've included Samuel Bouton because he lived in Lake Delaware, though he was born in Roxbury and served in the war in a Pennsylvania regiment. Hiram Couse was from Otsego County but in 1865 was listed as boarding with William Dennis in Bovina, so he also is included. Robert Crawford, however, is not included.  Though born in Bovina, he was living in the Town of Middletown during and after the war.  Alexander Laidlaw (or Laidlow) enlisted in Bovina, but was from Andes and was included in the Andes census in 1865, so he is not on my list either.

    The closest to being a definitive list comes from the 1865 New York State Census. That census flagged soldiers currently and formerly in service. A separate listing for each town was created of soldiers who had died in the war. Shirley Houck in the Delaware County Clerk’s office, along with Deb Lambrecht, has created a list of the soldiers from this census. The list of soldiers still in service in 1865 is on the Delaware County Genealogy website (, grouped by town. Unfortunately, I have found that the 1865 census is not a totally definitive source. Sometimes a soldier was missed.

    Another source that was produced at around the same time is the Town and city registers of men who served in the Civil War. This was created at the end of the war by each town, with a set to stay in the town and a set to be sent to Albany. Not every town managed to create this listing. Bovina’s is among the missing. Town Clerk Michael Miller (my great great grandfather) was paid $24 to produce the register. It seems unlikely he would have been paid without producing it, but for some reason, both sets are missing. The registers that do exist are available at the New York State Archives. Another register from this same time period was created by the Adjutant General’s office and is also at the State Archives – Registers of officers and enlisted men mustered into federal military or naval service during the Civil War, 1861-1865. This has three sections – active soldiers, soldiers who mustered out and soldiers who died in the war.

    Included in my list are all thirty Civil War veterans buried or memorialized in Bovina. Sinclair Burns, Thomas Elliott and James Oliver are the only casualties of the war to be actually buried there. Other soldiers who fell in the war, including Thomas’s brother, James are buried elsewhere, usually near where they fell or died.

    As mentioned earlier, the Elliott brothers were not from Bovina but from New Kingston (and are listed as casualties of the war in the 1865 census for the Town of Middletown). I questioned an Elliott descendant as to why they were buried in Bovina. She noted that until New Kingston had its own Presbyterian church, the Elliotts went over the mountain to attend church in Bovina. Though there was a church in New Kingston by the time the two Elliott brothers perished in the war, the family already had a plot in the Bovina church cemetery.

    James Oliver was from Delhi, and he has been proving to be somewhat elusive. He is not listed as a fatality in the 1865 census, but his headstone begs to differ, as do some other military records.   I continue to try to track down further information about him. 

    James is the not the only conundrum. He shares a headstone with his brother Francis. In the current database of Bovina burials, Francis, who died in 1867, is included as a Civil War veteran. When I was unsuccessful in finding any record of his service, I began to wonder if the information in the database was wrong. Francis does appear on a list of soldiers drafted in 1863, but it is noted that he was ‘erroneously enrolled.’ He also appears on the 1862 and 1864 rolls of men liable for military duty – any male from 18 to 45 was on this list. In the 1865 NY Census for Delhi, Francis appears, but no mention is made of any military service. It appears he certainly was in Delhi in the fall of 1864, and not in military service, for he had to sign a document related to his late brother's estate in October. 

    In looking at the headstone, I noted that while James has his regiment noted, no such notation appears for Francis. So I contacted Ed and Dick Davidson, who have documented all Bovina burials, to find out their source of information that says Francis was a veteran. It came from a 1920 inventory of the veterans buried in Bovina. Since the brothers share a stone, I wonder if the person doing the inventory got muddled and included both brothers on his list. An inventory of all burials in the cemetery taken four years earlier by Thomas Gordon, himself a Civil War veteran, does not include Francis as a Civil War soldier. I am going to be reviewing a couple of the sources mentioned above at the State Archives to see if Francis shows up. The Davidsons agree that if I find no evidence of his service the database will have to be corrected.

    So those are just some of the challenges in developing this list. I will be posting this list (such as it is) on this blog in late March. And a project for 2012 will be to provide mini-biographies of most, if not all of the Bovina Civil War soldiers.

    Wednesday, March 9, 2011

    When the Trains Almost Came - II – The Dirt is Flying

    By the end of August 1898, the construction of the shanties for the workers building the Delaware Railroad had started.   It was reported in the Delaware Gazette (Delhi) that about “1000 natives of sunny Italy will soon be scattered between Delhi and Andes, at work grading the route,” which was to be 15 miles, including a three mile spur to Bovina Center.  Contractors were working with local ‘grocerymen’ concerning the supplies needed for the workers.  Other local businesses also were benefiting from the work.  “Marshall Gladstone has the contract for erecting two depot buildings, four platforms for milk stations, and the cattle pens needed along the line.” 

    On September 7, actual construction on the rail bed itself began, using the Italian laborers for this backbreaking work.  The work moved along quickly.  The Gazette noted that “the largest gang of men are employed at the summit between Bovina and Andes.”  The paper continued to be highly optimistic and reported that many were in agreement:  “Even those who have been building railroads on paper for these twenty years begin to feel that they have no longer any reason to feel ashamed.”

    As September progressed, more workers were brought in.  One hundred more Italians laborers arrived on September 27 specifically to work on the Bovina spur, which came off the main line near the Burgin farm on present day Route 28.  Going through what is now the Clarence Burns farm, it ran about parallel to County Route 6 to the edge of the Bovina Center hamlet.  The site for the depot in Bovina was placed in Alexander Hilson’s orchard.  Where this was located is not totally clear, but it likely was somewhere above the site of the Bovina creamery building (though the creamery did not exist in 1898).  Cooke, Currie and Richardson were hired to do the stone work on the depot.  By now, Bovina citizens were getting excited about the project and were thinking of grander schemes.  There was discussion about having the railroad go from Bovina into Arkville. 

    By early October, the first rails were being laid so that the materials needed to build the necessary bridges could be more easily transported.  Halfway through the month, it was reported that more than half of the dirt has been removed.  The lumber for the Bovina depot had arrived on the 11th and work was expected to start shortly. 

    So with over 1000 Italian workmen, many teams of horses and wagons and numerous contractors and subcontractors all working away, the railroad was being built seemingly with lightning speed.  But on October 19, the Gazette, while reporting construction progress, also reported the first hints of trouble.  “Great anxiety has been felt by everybody because on Saturday [October 15] when the men expected their pay Mr. Davie and G.W. Youmans did not arrive from New York with the money.”  The problem was explained as a technicality with the filing of the papers.  This was possible.  There was an issue concerning at-grade crossings that had to be resolved – and it was on October 13.

    On Monday, the 17th, the pay was not forthcoming.  At this point, the entire project fell apart.  This will be discussed in the next installment on March 16.

    Saturday, March 5, 2011

    When the Trains Almost Came - I – Everything Looks Favorable

    The first attempt to bring trains into Bovina was in the 1870s when the Delhi and Middletown Railroad was created. Though railroad wouldn’t have come into the hamlet of Bovina Center, the line would have passed through the town as it connected Andes with Delhi. Some construction started, but the project ultimately failed. Over twenty years later came the most serious effort ever to bring the railroad to Bovina. The Delaware Railroad Company was created 1898 and while the main goal of this railroad, as with the previous attempt, was to connect Andes and Delhi, it had the added feature of a three mile spur off the main line that would have come to Bovina Center. This attempt came amazingly close to succeeding, with actual construction taking place in the fall of 1898. The construction moved along quickly for a few weeks in September and October, but it stopped abruptly, leaving over 1000 Italian laborers and a number of local contractors unpaid for their services – and leaving citizens in Bovina very disappointed.

    This is the first of four blog entries I will be doing over the next month about this most serious attempt to bring the trains to town.

    In February 1898, the Delaware Gazette (Delhi) reported that “Everything Looks Favorable” for the railroad. The Gazette continued to provide progress reports almost weekly. During the winter and spring of 1898 and right into early summer, survey workers worked out the best route, making frequent changes to deal with some challenging terrain. A key element was getting the approval of Commodore Eldridge T. Gerry for the line to go through his property. He met with interested parties in early July and agreed to let the railroad run through his lands so long as there was no depot constructed at The Hook.

    Meanwhile, the main contractor was chosen, Thomas Murray from Newark, N.J. who claimed that “he has capitalists who have the money ready.” On July 6, the Delaware Railroad Company was chartered. The New York Times reported that the railroad would run for a distance of about 15 miles. The company was capitalized at $200,000. Directors were Herbert Sewell of Walton, T.E. Hastings and Alexander Hilson of Bovina Centre; James F. Copp and W.C. Oliver of Andes; S.P. Wilbury, Henry Honeywell, Henry Davie, and G.W. Youmans of Delhi.

    The Delaware Gazette continued to champion the railroad in frequent articles throughout the summer. On August 3, the paper included the following:

    It has been from the beginning and continues to be a surprise to everybody, that there seems to be so much substantial progress in the enterprise that proposes to build a railroad to Andes and Bovina. It is but natural that the lack of confidence should be so general, for our people have so often been disappointed. One project after another has been exploited only to lengthen the list of failures. But from the start that was made only a few months ago there has been a steady advance, and it really looks now as if the people here were soon to see the work of construction actually commenced.

    Some folks then, as now, may have wondered why such a short spur was being built to a town that had seen its population fall over the previous half century. David Murray, in arguing the case for the spur to Bovina before New York State Board of Railroad Commissioners, noted that while the town’s human population was smaller than earlier in the century, there were more cows. The object of the railroad would have been to get fresh milk down to New York City. Bovina farms at this stage were doing a booming business in milk and butter from which the Delaware Railroad Company would have benefited.

    And by the end of August, construction was underway. That chapter of the story - "The Dirt is Flying" - will be the feature of this blog on March 9.

    Wednesday, March 2, 2011

    The Last Vet of the Great War

    Frank Woodruff Buckles, the last surviving veteran of the First World War, died on February 28 at 110. I thought this was an appropriate moment to briefly talk about Bovina's veterans from the Great War. I haven't created a definitive list of these soldiers (I'm still plugging away on such a list for the Civil War) but there are 21 men buried in the Bovina Cemetery who served in the War. Two of the men died in the war. Clark G. Miller died in May 1918, killed in the defense of Paris. James Calhoun was killed in action October 1918 (see my blog entry of November 11, 2010 about James). Both men were originally buried in France but their bodies were shipped home in 1921 for burial in Bovina.

    The 19 other soldiers in Bovina's cemetery survived the war, but two of them died in the 1920s. Frank Munson was drafted in the war and started basic training. He was friends with James Calhoun and is mentioned often in the letters he wrote home to his wife, Anna Bell (who was my grandmother). Some health related issue kept Frank from actually going overseas, much to James' relief. Munson was married in 1918 but he died two years later when a tree fell on him. Clarence C. Lee died in Mount Vision, NY in 1922. He was only 29 years old.

    Bovina's last surviving World War I veteran appears to have been one of my predecessors as Town Historian, Fletcher Davidson. Fletcher died in 1987, age 92. See my blog entry of August 23, 2009 for more about Fletcher.

    The idea for this blog entry came from a friend and former colleague at the State Archives from her blog at She ends the entry thusly: "As an archivist, I would be the first to argue that the documentary record constitutes an essential, inextricable, vivid tie to the past. It is nonetheless sad and sobering to see the documentary record become the only thing that connects us to a given point in the past." Couldn't have said it better myself.