James Blair Hastings was born in Bovina in 1860, the son of Thomas Elliott Hastings and Jane S. Blair. Thomas ran a store for years in what is now Russell’s Store. In 1914, James wrote a form of his autobiography in a letter to for a history of Hamilton College’s class of 1884, so we’ll let him tell his story.
|James B. Hastings in his younger days. Portrait from Hamilton College history of Class of 1884.|
My Dear Maynard [This likely is a reference to Reuben Leslie Maynard, a member of the class of 1884.]: James Blair Hastings was born at Bovina Center, Delaware County, New York, October 29, 1860. Of my infancy I recall but little, but take it for granted that it was a howling success, with the stress on the howling. To a village lad the period of 'green apples and chilblains' in those days was but a monotonous round of 'going to school,' not hallowed by the memory of having to get up before daylight, taking care of the cows and horses, cutting a cord of wood and then walking 'steen miles in order to attend school.
In 1876 history records, or at least should record, two important events, the Centennial Exposition and my entrance to an Academy, as the preparatory schools were called. Owing to a congenital dislocation of the hip, it was thought that I was illy fitted to engage in work requiring hard, physical labor, and so I was sent to the old academy at Andes, N. Y., for a year as a sort of 'try out.' During this year a new world was opened up to my mental vision through that scholarly man, Dr. Stevenson, the head of the school. At the end of the year I returned to my home filled with the idea of going to college. This resolution, coming as it did from me as the result of my own cogitations on the matter, met with the approval of my parents, and so I was returned to Andes to prepare for a higher course.
… At the beginning of our third year at school, Dr. Stevenson was suddenly stricken by death and school was broken up. In company with Black and Miller, I went to Delaware Literary Institute at Franklin. N. Y., to finish my preparatory course. At this time I had settled upon no college definitely. At Franklin we had as teachers graduates from Hamilton, and at Hamilton we matriculated in September, 1880.
You boys of '84 know as much as I can tell you of my four years at Hamilton. I might remind you that in some way I managed to persuade the faculty that I knew enough Greek and Latin to entitle me to a Hawley Medal Junior year. But the same faculty certainly got back at me Senior year, when they deprived me, as they did you, of at least five, if not ten or more prizes, on which we had a ' lead pipe cinch.' You will recall that seventeen of the boys, as a reward for taking a ' key' had to hand in commencement orations and deliver the same on the commencement platform. I was numbered among the transgressors, and three years later received my A.M.
After leaving college I was with my father in business at Bovina Center until the fall of '85, when I took charge of the academy at Southampton, L. I. I was connected with this institution until '87, when I became teacher of mathematics and science at Delaware Literary Institute, Franklin, N. Y. At this institution I assisted in smoothing the path to college entrance for a number of boys, many of whom entered Hamilton.
August 7, 1889, I married Jessie A. Sherman of Davenport, N. Y., whom I had met as a pupil during my first year as teacher at Franklin, N. Y. I remained at Franklin the first year of my married life. In 1890 I was elected Principal of the Wellsboro, Pa., Public Schools, where we remained two years. During my second year at this place Mrs. Hastings was severely afflicted with articular rheumatism. Upon the advice of physicians, I gave up the position and went back to the mountains of my native county, engaging as Principal of Samford Seminary. The winter of V3 found Mrs. Hastings prostrated with hemorrhage of the bronchial tubes. Then for a year we lived among the firs of Minnesota and the Northwest. On our return to the east I taught for two years at Hobart, N. Y., and for four years at Davenport, N. Y. In the fall of 1901 we went to High Falls, N. Y. The autumn of 1903 brought me to my present work. On April 8, 1908, Mrs. Hastings passed through ' the gates that never outward swing.'
Living as I have the quarter of a century past, in a world apart from the whirl of politics, the wrangle of the law, the clash of schools in medicine and theology, I have neither sought nor attained public honors nor preferments. The teacher's greatest honors and successes lie in the success of the men and women to whom he may have given an inspiration that started them upon their upward careers. Of these I have had my share and count their honors mine. The future of the teacher is always bright and hopeful, as there is always an increasing demand for his labor.
In a supplemental sketch received December 5, 1913, Mr. Hastings says that he has "nothing to add to the foregoing, except that the people of West Cape May, N. J., had elected him Mayor." He closes with the following important statement: " I shall try to answer present at the '84 Class Stone, when the Roll is called at our Thirtieth Annual Reunion in June, 1914, though I find that the shadows are growing longer, and that my face is turned now toward the sunset."
[There was at least one other Bovina native who was a member of the Hamilton College Class of 1884 – William Portus Miller. He became a Presbyterian minister, dying at the age of 45 in 1905.]
James Hastings has appeared in this blog before. In July 2012, I reported on a lightning strike in front of his father’s store in 1892. While James wasn’t injured, his wife of less than two years was, though at the time, it was not considered serious. The strike tore off one shoe and stocking. The team of horses near-by were knocked down.
She was having health issues even before the lightning strike. James had moved back to Bovina where it was thought the Catskill Mountain air would be good for her rheumatism. Her health did not improve. Whether the lightning was a factor is hard to determine, but she appears to have developed tuberculosis. For the next decade, James moved around trying to find a place conducive to her health, including Minnesota for a spell then back to the Catskills. In 1903, they moved to Cape May, NJ, but nothing helped, and she died in 1908 at the age of 42.
|Later portrait of James B. Hastings, also from Hamilton College History of Class of 1884.|
Two years after her death, Hastings was elected Mayor of the Borough of West Cape May, serving until 1914. He also was the principal of the West Cape May Public School. Late in life, it appears that James came back to Bovina for a time. He was living with his brother, Milton Hastings, in Bovina in the 1920 census and was teaching in the local school. He returned to Cape May and died there, rather unexpectedly, on September 24, 1920. The report from the Andes Recorder on his death noted that he had written home only a few days before and noted his health was fine. He was buried in Franklin, NY next to his wife Jessie.