Gumaer Cemetery-Judy Gumaer Testa

GODEFFROY, NY – The William G. Pomeroy Foundation’s Roadside Marker Program has recognized the Gumaer Cemetery as a significant part of New York State history by awarding a grant to issue a historical marker. This designation honors the Gumaer Cemetery as an important and educational part of local New York history.

The Gumaer Cemetery qualifies for the honor and distinction of having historic significance between the years 1740-1914. The Cemetery is the burial location for one of the earliest settlements in western Orange County, New York; the Peenpack Patent (Magheckemeck) founded in 1697 and contains some of the remains of members of the original Consistory of the Reformed Dutch Church of Magheckemeck, now known as the Deerpark Reformed Church.

A brief dedication ceremony to commemorate the event will be held on Saturday, August 9th, 1:00 pm, at the Gumaer Cemetery located in Godeffroy, Town of Deerpark, New York.

The Gumaer Cemetery has been undergoing maintenance since 2010 through a trust made by the bequest of the late Kenneth I. Gumaer Sr., DVM via a grant from the Community Foundation of Orange & Sullivan to the Minisink Valley Historical Society.

For further information regarding the dedication ceremony kindly contact Norma Schadt, Town of Deerpark Historian at (845)754-8070 or Nancy Conod, Executive Director of the Minisink Valley Historical Society at (845)856-2375.

Posted in Cemeteries, Sullivan County | Leave a comment

Lost Landmark: The Belleayre Fire Observation Tower

In 1909, following years of forest fires that severely damaged the state’s woodlands, a new system of fire management was enacted in New York that included stricter regulation of industries, including railroads, and a network of fire observation towers in the Catskills and Adirondacks. From their perches high above the forest, fire observers could spot potential hazards and report on conditions in the forests they monitored.

An early postcard showing the first observation tower on Belleayre Mountain in Pine Hill. Author's collection.

One of the first fire towers in Ulster County was the observatory at Belleayre (also known as Belle Ayre) in Pine Hill, part of the town of Shandaken. At first, the tower was privately owned by Eugene E. Howe, a successful lawyer who amassed more than 4,200 acres of land on the mountain from the Belle Ayre Conservation Company and other private clubs. Though many of the first observatories were simple wooden platforms, Howe’s tower stood 65 feet tall and was built of steel. It stood at the summit of Belleayre Mountain, at 3375 feet. The state’s Forest, Fish and Game Commission took over the tower in 1909, along with the Balsam Lake Mountain Tower in the town of Hardenburgh.

Each fire observation tower was staffed with a fire observer, who remained on site from spring until late October. Early observers camped out in tents by their towers, until the state built a series of cabins at each observation site.Charles Y. Persons was the first fire observer at the Belleayre tower, hired at a salary of $50.00 a month. The tower remained staffed until 1970.

In 1930, the original tower was replaced by another steel tower. The new tower stood 73 foot tall, and was the tallest in the area at that time. At the same time, a new cabin for the fire observer was constructed on the site. Fire towers became popular with hikers and by the mid-1930s, more than 1,500 hikers were visiting the Belleayre tower each year, as noted in the registers kept by the fire observers.
In the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps was called upon to construct a number of trails for skiing in the Catskill Mountains. One of the trails they constructed was the “Belle Ayre run,” which started at the fire tower.

Additional public access to the tower came in the 1940s with the opening of the state’s Belleayre Ski Center. The Catskill Mountain News reported in July of 1949 that “Harold Persons of Pine Hill was named as a foreman of work clearing woods and fields at the site of the new chair lift on Belle Ayre mountain. Work began Tuesday. Persons is the son of Charles Persons, who was the first observer appointed to the Belle Ayre fire tower more than 40 years ago. The elder Persons served on that post until his retirement after 21 years of service. Another son, Walton, then held the post for the next 14 years, until he, too, was retired a few years ago.”

In 1950, the Belleayre Ski Center, home to the state’s only chair lift, began offering summer visitors to the region a unique experience. The 3,000 long lift, containing 82 chairs, brought visitors to the summit of the mountain in about 8 minutes. At the summit, guest could find a picnic area and were encouraged to hike to the fire tower, which stood roughly a quarter of a mile away.

Staffing of the observation tower was discontinued by the state in 1970 and the Belleayre Mountain Fire Tower was officially closed in 1984. Though some of the other fire observation towers in the Catskills managed to survive through the efforts of conservation groups, because of extensive damage by vandals the state deemed the Belleayre tower unsafe and it was dismantled in 1985.

An undated postcard from the New York State Conservation Commission. Author's collection.

Posted in Catskill Mountains, Firefighting, Landmarks, Lost Landmarks, Town of Shandaken, Ulster County | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Artists on the Street Returns to Historic Huguenot Street

DuBois Fort-Author

NEW PALTZ, NY – Historic Huguenot Street recently announced the return of Artists on the Street, an all-day plein air event showcasing the talents of over 15 renowned Hudson Valley artists. The event, which premiered last August, is an opportunity for the public to watch and engage with local artists as they work, creating paintings and watercolors inspired by the landscape of the National Historic Landmark District.

A number of last year’s artists are returning for the second annual event on Saturday, August 9, including Kevin Cook, Mira Fink, and E. S. DeSanna. Maps will be provided designating the location of each artist across the site.

“We are proud to once again present this engaging program at Historic Huguenot Street, one that celebrates the ongoing cultural richness of our region and the extraordinary talent of our local artists,” said Dr. Taylor Stoermer, Director of Strategy, Development, and Historic Interpretation at Historic Huguenot Street. “It’s a testament to the ongoing creative vitality that the New Paltz region inspires, which has brought residents and visitors here for centuries. We feel so fortunate to be a part of that tradition.”

At 4pm, artists will bring their work to the DuBois Fort (81 Huguenot Street) to be displayed during an hour-long catered reception. The event is free and open to the public, rain or shine.

A National Historic Landmark District, Historic Huguenot Street is a 501(c)3 non-profit that encompasses 30 buildings across 10 acres that was the heart of the original 1678 settlement, including seven stone houses that date to the early eighteenth century.  It was founded in 1894 as the Huguenot Patriotic, Historical, and Monumental Society to preserve their French and Dutch heritage.  Since then, Historic Huguenot Street has grown into an innovative museum, chartered as an educational corporation by the University of the State of New York, that is dedicated to protecting our historic buildings, conserving an important collection of artifacts and manuscripts, and promoting the stories of the Huguenot Street families, from the sixteenth century to today.

Posted in Education, Historic Sites, Landmarks, Museums, Town/Village of New Paltz, Ulster County | Leave a comment

Ulster County Sheriff Edgar T. Shultis and Big Bad Bill

Ulster County Court House-A.J. Schenkman

I spend a lot of time writing about the wicked of Ulster County and the crimes they committed. Every so often I like to profile those individuals that were charged with the task of bringing the wicked to justice. One of those individuals was Ulster County Sheriff Shultis.

Edgar Theodore Shultis was Sheriff of Ulster County from 1915-1918, when automobiles were new equipment for police officers. Even telephones were not available to every officer tracking down a criminal. Car phones, walkie-talkies, and car radios were luxuries that would not be available long into the future. Then as now, the reward for a day’s hard work was placing the wicked in jail where they belonged. One such individual was Bad Bill Monroe.

Ulster County Sheriff Edgar T. Shultis was  an accomplished man before becoming the head law enforcement official in Ulster County. Born in Woodstock on October 28, 1876; he moved to Kingston in 1900. He maintained a residence with his wife Margaret Larkin at 100 Maiden Lane. Shultis was the president and treasurer of the Binnewater Lake Ice Company which, according to the company website, he founded with Walter Crane in 1910. He became the sheriff five years later in 1915. It was while sheriff that he also directed the draft in the county during World War I. Shultis also became the administrator for rationing in the county.

Sheriff Shultis had been at his job for about a year when he received a complaint about an individual known to Ulster County Sheriffs dating back to Zadoc Pratt Boice. This individual was none other than Bill Monroe. His monikers were “Gardiner’s Desperado” or plain “Big Bad Bill.” He was a constant menace to the inhabitants of Plattekill and those living in the vicinity of New Paltz. This was especially true, as one paper proclaimed, “when he had been drinking hard cider and other joy water.”

In addition to attacking his wife in December 1916, Monroe menaced several area business including firing his gun in the White Cross Creamery in Plattekill. All the sheriff had to go on was a note that Bill’s wife had found. It stated that he had left the area never to return. Shultis knew better than to believe the outlaw’s letters. Once before he had tried to fake his own death by way of a letter sent to the newspapers. The sheriff rounded up Undersheriff Hornbeck and the night jailer Seth Jocelyn. It was the afternoon of December 28, 1916. All three men decided it was best to wait for the evening before attempting to arrest Monroe.

The evening of December 28, the men drove out to Monroe’s home in Plattekill. Monroe was not there. Leads from neighbors and those living in Plattekill, took the three men to Newburgh and finally “Rock Cut four miles west from Orange Lake.” It was in a house they found the outlaw. The Kingston Daily Freeman stated that the sheriff yelled into the house “Bill! Get up, put on your shoes and come along!” Slowly, the front door opened and out walked Bill Monroe. He allowed the jailer to slap the cuffs on him without saying a word.

Once in front of Justice Ostrander in the wee hours of December 29, Monroe plead not guilty. The court was adjourned until Saturday December 30, at 1 o’clock in the afternoon. The case against Big Bad Bill Monroe was considered time served and he was released. It appears, to the relief of Plattekill, that by the autumn of 1917, Monroe was making mischief in Goshen located in Orange County. He served 30 days in jail for assault.

Shultis continued a distinguished life after leaving his post as sheriff. He would become county treasurer in 1928 and later supervisor of the 11th Ward in Kingston. In addition he was on the board of directors for the Rondout Savings Bank for 45 years.  Edgar T. Shultis passed away on August 25 1968. He was interred next to his wife in St. Mary’s Cemetery in Kingston.


Posted in Bringing the Wicked to Justice, Education, Orange County, Strange Stories, Town of Newburgh, Town of Plattekill, Ulster County, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Marlborough’s Fighting Quakers

“It is a strange sight, the coffin of a soldier, wrapped in a battle-flag lying in a Friend’s meeting-house.” From Reverend O.B Frothingham’s burial address at the funeral of Quaker brothers Edward Hallock Ketcham and John Townsend Ketcham.

The American Civil War brought to light a range of conflicting emotions in the large Quaker communities of Ulster County, especially once young men of the faith enlisted in the war effort at the risk of being removed from their church. Thought the basic tenants of the faith precluded participation in conflict, an ardent belief in the abolition of slavery prompted some Quakers to enlist. In the town of Marlborough, many young men joined the 80th New York Volunteers, the 120th Regiment or others that mustered out of the Hudson Valley. Among those men were brothers Edward Hallock Ketcham and John Townsend Ketcham (known as Jack) and their cousin, Nehemiah Hallock Mann, all of whom were practicing Quakers.

Edward Hallock Ketcham. Image in the public domain.

Edward and John believed strongly in abolition and felt it their duty to fight for the cause by going to war. They were hesitant, however to leave their widowed mother alone and so determined that as the eldest Edward should be the one to go, while John would remain behind to take care of the household. Supposedly, as both brothers felt torn between their responsibilities, they drew lots to determine who should be the one to leave for battle. Edward was the one to muster out from the Marlborough hamlet of Milton on August 19, 1862, as a member of the 120th Regiment of New York Infantry, Company A, under Colonel George Sharpe. A second lieutenant, Edward was known to write home to his mother and brother for extra money so that he could purchase needed items “for the boys” serving beneath him, who were often short on rations. Edward also served as a recruiter, focusing on areas of the state where few men had enlisted. One of the towns he served was Marlborough, where both he and Sharpe were convinced several young men to enlist.

Once at the front, Edward advised his younger brother not to join him, for “our mother, in her declining years, has the right to one of her sons, at least, and when I left home I thought that you would stay.” Despite Edward’s plea, Jack enlisted soon after, writing that “if this struggle goes against us, and I at home, like a miserable clod-hopper, who can’t see outside of his own fences, the consciousness of not having done my duty would come down upon me like the brand of Cain.” Jack Hallock served as a second lieutenant in the Fourth New York Cavalry, Company M; another relative, their cousin Nehemiah Hallock Mann of Milton, also enlisted around this time, and served as a Captain in the same regiment.

The three young men kept in contact as best they could throughout their service and often wrote home to other family members with news of having met during various battles. Both Edward and Jack wrote frequently to their beloved mother, Martha Townsend Hallock. On the march from Falmouth in 1863, just before the fateful battle of Gettysburg, the brothers camped less than two miles apart from one another and wrote to their mother of the joy they had in being so close.

In his final letter to his mother, dated June 23, 1863, Edward wrote that it was not the soldiers who should be pitied, but rather it was “the young and strong at home, who feel that this fight needs their help, while circumstances they cannot control keep them away, that are deserving pity!” Within a week, Lieutenant Edward Ketcham was killed at the Battle of Gettysburg, the first in his regiment to be stuck down. According to witnesses, his final words were “a dead man is better than a living coward,” in response to another officer’s plea to stay out of the line of fire.

John Townsend Ketcham. Image in the public domain.

Edward lay on the field for thirty-six hours following his death; members of his regiment dragged his body beneath a tree but were unable to bury him in the midst of battle. Upon hearing of his brother’s fate, John rushed to the site where his brother had fallen and searched for several hours despite gunfire from the opposing army. He found his brother the next day underneath the tree, “on his back, his hands peacefully on his breast.” With help from several men, John buried his brother under a nearby oak tree, “in his soldier’s uniform, wrapped in a shelter-tent” and carved Edward’s name and regiment into a piece of wood. Jack sent a telegraph to his mother, followed by a lengthier letter just days after the battle, describing what had happened to his brother and reaffirming the brothers’ belief in the cause: “He died to give every other man the right to his own manhood – a precious sacrifice – for in him were heroism, a brave heart and an iron will…Oh, God! Thy price for freedom is a dear one!”

Jack later wrote his mother regarding his cousin, Captain Nehemiah Mann, who had been wounded in the Battle of Upperville in Virginia. In an attack upon several Confederate soldiers, Mann suffered a saber wound to the face and was shot through his left shoulder. Jack played a role in saving his cousin, as he fought against enemy soldiers until he could reach his cousin and help him to safety. In a letter written to Martha on June 23, 1863, Jack described Mann as calm in battle and in full command of his men, writing “such men as John Paul Jones and Ethan Allen were made of the same stuff as he.”

Images of Nehemiah Hallock Mann. Courtesy of the New York State Military Museum and Veterans Research Center.

He wrote at least two more letters home, his final dated July 18, 1863. In it, he described his pleasure at learning that his cousins Valentine Hallock and Townsend Sherman had traveled to Pennsylvania to retrieve his brother’s body and wrote that his mother must surely be proud of the service her sons had offered to their country, “I can, perhaps, do but little, but while the result still hangs in the balance, I know, in thy heart of hearts, thee is glad I am one of this army, and where is heard the tramp of their marching feet, there am I.”

Not long after writing these words, Jack fell ill and spent several weeks in the Seminary Hospital in Washington, D.C. Martha Hallock made the trip to see her son and spent time by his side. Though still in a weakened state, Jack said his farewell to his mother and returned to his regiment, eager to continue the fight although his body was still healing. It would be the last time they would see each other; only three week later, Jack was captured and taken as a prisoner of war in the notorious Libby Prison. Soon after he developed a fever and, given the poor conditions of the prison including limited rations and overcrowding, he died within a matter of weeks, on October 8, 1863. Like his brother before him, Jack was buried in a makeshift grave. His body was exhumed several months later and brought to Milton, where a funeral service was held for both brothers.

Nehemiah Mann recovered from the wounds earned at Upperville, but would be killed by a bullet through the heart in August 1864 during battle near Cedarville, Virginia. His body was also returned to Milton for burial near his cousins. The three young men were laid to rest in the Hicksite Friends Cemetery, one of the two Quaker cemeteries in Milton, and large monuments was erected in their honor.

The service and sacrifice of the three men was captured in the 1866 book, The Fighting Quakers: A True Story of The War for Our Union, by A.J.H. Duganne, a veteran of the Civil War. Duganne dedicated the book the “The Mothers of New York State, Who Gave Their Sons to the Union.” In his introduction to the book, Duganne noted that the names of the Ketcham brothers and their cousin Nehemiah Mann would remain immortal for their strength in fighting for the freedom for all men –a belief born of a faith that at the same time discouraged war: “not that their services were more arduous, or their deaths more heroic, than were those of thousands of others in the Federal ranks, but that they were representatives if a Society which for two centuries has opposed war, strife and bloodshed; and that their names will live as ‘The Fighting Quakers.’”

Three large monuments in the Friends (Hicksite) Cemetery in Milton are those of (l-r) Captain Nehemiah Hallock Mann, Lieutenant Edward Hallock Ketcham and Second Lieutenant John Townsend Ketcham. Photo by Elizabeth Werlau.

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Teaching the Hudson Valley’s 2014 institute

FDR Home in Hyde Park-HABS/HAER

Educators and the public are invited to discover new and innovative ways to learn about the region’s culture, history, and future at Farms & Food: Teaching the Hudson Valley from the Ground Up, a conference to be held July 29-31 at the Henry A. Wallace Education and Visitors Center on the grounds of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Home and Presidential Library in Hyde Park.

The keynote address, Educating our Next Generation to Eat with Consciousness, features Pam Koch, associate professor of nutrition education and executive director, Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education, & Policy, Teachers College, Columbia University. In addition, Koch will lead a workshop, Empowered Eaters: Making Connections through Food and Nutrition Education. To see Koch cooking with her own children, visit Kids Cook Monday.

Other featured presentations include:

Farming in the Valley Today, a panel with farmers from Dutch Hollow Farm (Rensselaer County), the Rockland Farm Alliance, Hearty Roots Community Farm (Columbia County), the National Young Farmers Coalition, Rondout Valley Growers, and Hudson Valley Agribusiness Development Corp. (Thursday morning)

Climate Change and Agriculture: No Longer Business as Usual – Local to Global featuring Mike Hoffmann, associate dean, College of Agriculture & Life Sciences, and director, Agricultural Experiment Station, Cornell University. (Tuesday afternoon)

More than 15 workshops will be offered. For instance: Breaking Old Ground: A History of Hudson Valley Agriculture with Kelli Huggins, education coordinator, Chemung County

Historical Society; Growing Curriculum: Creating School Gardens, featuring representatives from New Paltz High School, Lake Avenue Elementary School Garden (Saratoga), and JFK Magnet School (Port Chester); Teaching Food Equality with Susan Grove,

Poughkeepsie Plenty Food Coalition; and What do animals need to stay alive? FOOD!, featuring environmental educator Rebecca Houser, Hudson River Estuary Program, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

On the second day of the institute, participants will choose one of four in-depth field experiences incorporating tours, lectures, demonstrations, discussions, and hands-on activities to explore a specific aspect of food or farming in the Hudson Valley:

• Cropsey Community Farm get an introduction to the farm and the intersection of suburbia and agriculture and savor a food truck lunch. New City, Rockland County.

Food Arts in Albany – take a cooking class with chef and blogger, Deanna Fox, followed by sketching and instruction with Carol Coogan, artist and illustrator.

Our Ecosystem, Our Health: Exploring School and Community Gardens – visit urban gardens at schools and neighborhoods in Poughkeepsie and get ideas for starting, planning, and maintaining your own garden.

The Scoop on Dirt: Soil, Farming, and History – learn about the complexities of farming past and present. Roxbury Farm and Martin Van Buren National Historic Site, Kinderhook, Columbia County.

While Teaching the Hudson Valley from the Ground Up was developed for K-12 teachers and informal educators, anyone interested in the subject matter is encouraged to participate. For a detailed schedule and more information, visit THV’s website. To get first choice of field experiences participants are urged to register immediately. Registration is $115 for all three days, $80 for two days, and $40 for a single day for those who register by July 18. There is a supplemental charge for some field experiences. Register here.

About THV Launched in 2003, Teaching the Hudson Valley (THV) helps educators discover, appreciate, and share the region’s natural, historic, and cultural treasures with children and youth. THV fosters collaboration among schools, museums, parks, historic sites, art galleries, libraries, and other physical resources and promotes the value of place-based learning.

THV’s growing collection of free K-12 lesson plans uses significant Valley sites to teach virtually all subjects. Our grant programs have enabled tens of thousands of students to visit significant places in our region and make it easier for teachers to get students out of the classroom and into the community. And, our summer institute and other programs offer rare opportunities for school and informal educators to meet each other and exchange ideas.

THV is a program of Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area & Greenway Conservancy | Roosevelt-Vanderbilt National Historic Sites/National Park Service | Hudson River Estuary Program, NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation | Hudson River Valley Institute/Marist College. Additional Institute sponsors include the FDR Presidential Library/ National Archives & Records Administration, and Roosevelt-Vanderbilt Historical Association.

Posted in Education, Historic Sites, Landmarks, Museums, Orange County, Sullivan County, Ulster County, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Education: Digital Archives

George Washington-Library of Congress

When I was in my early years of college if you wanted to read manuscripts about the Huguenot’s of New Paltz, you had to visit the archive. You made an appointment with the archivist who gave you a yellow legal pad, white gloves, specialized instruments to turn the pages, and a pencil. They sat there with you watching your every move as well as answering any questions you had about the document. This changed during my last year of college when I was obtaining my B.A.

I remember one afternoon I was outside working on my car. A roommate’s father stood around waiting for his daughter. We struck up a conversation and he asked me what I was majoring in at the college. I replied history. His eyes lit up as he explained to me that the field was about to change. He was hired to start digitizing documents. He explained to me that they would revolutionize the field of history as well as teaching. Instead of having to go to Washington, D.C., for example, to do some research in the Library of Congress, you could simply view the document from the comfort of your own home. I laughed at the whole notion-enter Common Core.

The Library of Congress states it so well why primary documents are so essential in the classroom. Using primary documents “emphasizes advanced literacy skills such as analyzing multiple points of view and providing evidence for conclusions….” Primary sources, according to the Library of Congress, “offer teachers and students a treasure trove of authentic documents and objects with which to hone these skills.” Primary documents don’t only include written sources. They can also be photographs or paintings. A terrific site for lantern slides is the New York State Archives.

So many colleagues have asked me over the years where are some good sources for these documents? You can become quickly overwhelmed by all the documents online. What are some of the better digital archives out there? What about lesson plans that can help me? One local website that is often overlooked as a clearing house for lesson plans, on local history as well as valuable links, is Teaching the Hudson Valley. Its name says it all. Also included on this site is support by way of their Teaching the Hudson Valley VIP Program. You can actually reach out to historians and educators with questions. There are also ongoing workshops. Finally a good resource is the Ulster County Clerk’s Archive.

Many of these sites not only have lesson plans, but they also include downloadable booklets complete with lesson plans tailored for any grade you teach. I have personally found that students love working with the raw materials that historians use to construct books or articles. It becomes less abstract when it comes time for students’ to “source, organize, analyze, cite, discuss, and write about information gained from both primary and secondary sources.”

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Education:Ulster County Clerk’s Archive

Persen House-Ulster County Archives

If you are an educator like me, then you are always on the lookout for resources with which to build lesson plans. Many of the history textbooks pose challenges because they are well, textbooks. Textbooks can be supplemented with the rich history of the Hudson Valley. This is especially true when it comes to the Revolutionary War. The turning point during the conflict was in the Hudson Valley. What about Ulster County?

An often overlooked resource is the Ulster County Clerk’s Archive on Foxhall Avenue in Kingston, New York. They have a tab on their website especially for educators. These include documents, maps, as well as downloadable resource books on various periods of history in Ulster County.

Students and educators can visit the archive. The archive also allows for field trips. Students can gain an appreciation of their county’s rich history in the larger topic of U.S. History. They can also understand what goes into preserving that history for generations to come.  ”Tours can be designed to meet your needs. Documents specific to your curricula may be available for display.”

Finally, this article would not be complete if I did not mention the Persen House. The Ulster County Clerk’s website states that home is ”one of our oldest, most significant buildings. This house has witnessed so many important moments in Ulster County’s history. It was burned at least twice, saw wars and revolution and was home to doctors, tailors, grocers, druggists and innkeepers.”

The house is open Tuesday through Saturday 10am to 4pm from May 24, 2014 through August 30, 2014. Then Saturdays from 10am to 2pm up through November 22, 2014. Admission is free so please join us at the Persen House! Tours can be arranged by appointment as well!

For further information about this and other outreach programs of the Ulster County Clerk’s Office or if you are interested in guest hosting at the House please call Ulster County Clerk Nina Postupack at (845) 340-3040.

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“Trapps, A Vanished Shawangunk Mountain Hamlet”

An Unforgiving Land-PHS

Join the Plattekill Historical Society on Saturday, July 19, for a presentation by local authors Robi Josephson and Bob Larsen. Josephson and Larsen will discuss and sign copies of their new book, An Unforgiving Land:Hardscrabble Life in the Trapps, a Vanished Shawangunk Mountain Hamlet.

“The Shawangunk Mountains of New York’s Ulster County are a protected region of stunning natural beauty, with hundreds of acres under the stewardship of the Mohonk Preserve and the Minnewaska State Park Preserve. The range is “one of Earth’s last great places” and a hikers’ and rock climbers’ paradise, but it was not always this way. From early post-Revolutionary days through World War II, a few hardy families scratched out a living atop the mountain, defying an unforgiving and isolated terrain. For generations they lived off the land, working subsistence farms and harvesting raw materials from the forest and earth.
Today only a few vestiges of this proud and independent community remain. The rest has vanished along with the way of life that sustained it, but in the pages of this book Robi Josephson and Bob Larsen breathe life into this lost world and the people who once called it home. This long-awaited work, the result of their combined 50-year odyssey and Larsen’s groundbreaking research, tells the remarkable story of the Trapps people and how the hamlet was honored with placement on the National and State Registers of Historic Places–the first time New York State has recognized the historic importance of a vanished, hardscrabble community.”
The program will begin at 2 the Clintondale Firehouse on Rte. 44/55 in Clintondale. For more information or directions, call (845) 883-6188, email plattekillhistoricalsociety@gmail.comor visit the Plattekill Historical Society Facebook page.

Posted in Education, Landmarks, Lost Landmarks, Shawangunk Mountains, Strange Stories, Town/Village of New Paltz | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

A Man Named Moses

Auburn State Prison-NYSA

The Terwilliger farm was located near Bruynswick in the town of Shawangunk in Ulster County. It was there that Sarah Terwilliger age 87, widow of J.L. Terwilliger, lived with her son Moses, age 57. According to neighbors, the two argued frequently, and her son made threats that he intended to kill his mother. One thing was for sure, Sarah was not going to see her 88th birthday.

On the night of  Saturday April 8, 1871, Moses waited for his mother to go to bed for the night. After being assured that his mother was in fact asleep her son made his way to her bedroom. Once in the bedroom,  Moses watched his mother for a moment with the dim glow of an oil lamp illuminating the room. He put the oil lamp down, and before he knew it, one of his arms was wrapped tightly around the neck of his mother. Moses later recalled that the only words his mother managed to utter were, “don’t choke me.” Moses remembered that he responded, “I have tried to choke you twice before, and now is as a good a time as any.”

After making sure she was dead, Moses wrapped the body in blankets, picked up the body, and walked outside. He opened the door to the cellar and placed the lifeless body on the dirt floor. Moses returned to the house, blew out the light, and went to bed. He did not sleep much that night. Moses arose several times during the night to check on the body to make sure it had not moved. Early the next morning he made himself a big breakfast. After he finished eating he went to the cellar to check once more on the lifeless body.  Satisfied that his mother was still dead; Moses walked off in the direction of the barn with copious amounts of hay and paper.

The New Paltz Independent proclaimed in April 1871, that Moses Snyder Terwilliger “always had a mania for burning things.” Several bales of hay spread about the barn was all it took. By 11:00, Sunday morning, the barn was fully engulfed. Embers from the structure floated on the wind igniting the roof of the Terwilliger’s stone house. Several people on their way to church saw the flames and rushed to render assistance. According to the Pike County Press, David Gillespie ran up to the house to make sure everyone had gotten out. Gillespie, along with another man named Mr. Rose, pounded on the door. They were met by Moses, on the other side of the door, refusing to come out. The two men crashed through the door, and were quickly met with the loud thud of a club. Gillespie fell to the floor with a blow to the head that was almost fatal. Mr. Rose quickly subdued the attacker. Once restrained, with flames all around them, Rose asked where Sarah was in the house. Moses told Rose that she was dead in the cellar and he would be willing to show him the body. The two men walked over to the cellar, but not before Moses attacked Rose. This time Moses was knocked out and subdued with the help of other individuals who had arrived by this time. Once restrained, Rose carried out the lifeless body of Sarah, just as the roof collapsed.

When the crowd had witnessed what Moses had done, not only his mother, but to innocent Mr. Gillespie, “great excitement prevailed….And bad threats and mutterings were indulged.” The Terwilliger neighbors that assembled quickly became an angry lynch mob. Moses was carted off to the Ulster County Jail not only to be questioned, but for his own safety. He was seen by Dr. J.E. Keyser the jail doctor. Keyser saw that Moses had a dislocated arm and promptly chloroformed him. A more in depth examination found many lumps and bruises probably at the hands of the mob. The doctor was able to reset the arm. Keyser also noted that Terwilliger pleaded with him not to kill him with the chloroform.A grand jury was assembled and Moses was charged with murder and arson.

According to The New York Herald, this murder taking place in Ulster County, was no surprise. A journalist for the paper wrote that, “this scene had been enacted so frequently over that past year….In a catalogue already reeking in Ulster County” A year earlier the same paper had proclaimed Ulster County, the “Ulcer County” of New York State. Why Moses Snyder Terwilliger killed his mother was open to conjecture by some newspapers. Some, such as The Herald, believed that the son wanted the property and farm. Still others quoted neighbors that Moses was just plain insane and had threatened to kill his mother numerous times in the past. One neighbor stated that Moses had “acted strangely for the past eight years.” A New Paltz paper wrote, “that he burned down a neighbor’s line fence and would not repair it. He insisted that the government had dead rebels buried there.” Still others questioned how irresponsible it was to leave such a troubled person alone with Sarah Terwilliger.  When Moses was asked why he killed his mother, he replied, that he was “bewitched.”

Moses Snyder Terwilliger was judged insane and was committed to the State Asylum for Insane Criminals at Auburn. This facility was on the grounds of the Auburn State Prison. According to the U.S. Federal Census Terwilliger was still committed as late as 1880. He died on January 16, 1890. His body was interred near that of his mother’s in the Bruynswick Rural Cemetery in the town of Shawangunk.

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