Sunday, July 3, 2016

History of the O&W Railroad

Walking along the Town of Marshall Towpath Hike and Bike Trail, and on until Dugway Road in the Town of Kirkland - which is actually the abandoned O&W Railroad bed - is very peaceful and relaxing. One can easily imagine people from the 1800s and early 1900s looking out the windows of the passenger cars of their trains as they traveled through and seeing essentially the same sights we enjoy today.

The history of the trains going through the Town of Marshall begins, really, with the Erie Canal. Many communities along the route saw increased businesses, more opportunities for employment, and soaring property values; and other villages and towns that weren't on the Erie Canal route wanted their own canal. The Chenango Canal was opened in 1837, "from Binghamton up the valley of the Chenango River and then to the Erie Canal, via Oriskany Valley."

The Canal transformed the little settlements along its path, and they flourished. However, although the cost of building the Canal was approved by the New York State Legislature, the tolls which were charged didn't make up for what the canal was costing the State. In 1876, the state announced the closing of the Chenango Canal.

Meanwhile, in 1836, the year before navigation began on the canal, the Utica & Schenectady Railroad had started operation between those two cities, and the Syracuse & Utica Railroad had begun construction as well. Even though the canal had proved to be a boon for the communities along the trail, it was obvious to a lot of people that railroads were the wave of the future: more freight could be carried, sometimes hours and days faster than the Canal. Also, the railroad wouldn't freeze in the winter months, as the canal did, so freight and passengers could be on their way no matter the weather. The trouble was the railroad didn't run along the Chenango Valley pathway. The New York Central Railroad was formed in 1853 from the U&S railroad and the S&U railroad along the course of the Erie Canal, and the New York & Erie Railroad ran trains to Binghamton, bypassing the communities along the Chenango Canal altogether.

In 1853, the demand from towns from the Oriskany, Chenango and Sauquoit Valleys became so loud that is was resolved a railroad connecting the New York Central line with the New York & Erie line was necessary for the continued prosperity of these communities. The Utica & Binghamton Railroad was formed. They proposed to construct a railroad between Utica and Binghamton along the Chenango Valley. Now to choose a route for the new railroad.

There were three routes proposed, but the one chosen - the canal route (Sherburne-Earlville-Hamilton-Bouckville- Solsville-Oriskany Falls-Deansville-Franklin Springs-Clinton) - was deemed to be the most economical to operate because the path ran through settled areas, which presented the greatest potential for passenger and freight business.

However, once the route was determined, there was bitter disagreement between those towns and villages which were on the selected route and those that weren't. Delaying tactics were tried which were mostly unsuccessful; but, even so, construction was put off on the Utica & Binghamton railroad. Then the New York State Legislature came out with more laws which made implementing the U&B railroad impossible. So that idea came to an end, but the desire to have a railroad along the Chenango Valley corridor didn't.

Two men reignited interest in a railroad: John Butterfield of Utica; and Othniel Williams of Clinton (he once lived in Waterville). In 1862, the Utica City Railroad Company was incorporated. That was initially once to be a only streetcar system from Utica to New Hartford, but Butterfield petitioned the New York State Legislature to change to name of the Utica City Railroad to the Utica & Waterville Railroad, the first sign that the railroad would extend further south and up the Chenango Valley.
In 1866, work began on the extension from Utica to Clinton. Efforts were made to extend the line beyond Clinton. Residents of the Town of Marshall, for example, were particularly anxious the railroad be extended along the canal route. The question of bonding came up to pay for the extension: in other words, through personal subscription or higher taxes.

In the meantime, two other railroads were organized to serve the communities south of Clinton: The New York & Oswego Midland Railroad and the Utica, Chenango & Susquehanna Valley Railroad. The routes proposed were to go along the Chenango Valley to Norwich, as was the Utica & Waterville, although through different towns and villages.  This led to a battle of finding bonding for the construction of these railroads, leaving some communities conflicted over which would best suit their needs.

Most communities pinned their hopes on the Utica & Waterville Railroad. Despite its name, Waterville was never on the proposed route of the railroad, so the name was unofficially changed to Utica, Clinton & Chenango Valley railroad and ran roughly along the canal route, which was deemed "the shortest and most feasible route, the easiest to grade, the cheapest to build, and the best route for business and travel." The Utica, Clinton & Chenango Valley railroad later extended a line into Waterville. In 1868 the name was officially changed to Utica, Clinton & Binghamton Railroad. In 1872, the New York & Oswego Midland railroad took it over, and it was later operated by the Ontario and Western railroad.

On July 30, 1867, work began to extend the Utica & Waterville railroad, or the more aptly titled Utica, Clinton & Binghamton railroad, from Clinton to Deansville. 300-350 men worked on the railroad. A "turntable" was built so the locomotive could get back to Utica. Embankments were cut back and the roadbed was stabilized, and in 1868, regular service commenced. A year later, the track was enlarged to Oriskany Falls, and in later years, beyond. A trestle 1,950 feet long (called the "mile-long trestle"), going into Oriskany Falls was built, and the dirt for this came from Deansville. The fill was brought on flat cars and unloaded by having a sort of an iron plow (like a village snow plow) drawn by the engine over the cars filling in the sides; then it was leveled off by workmen. The prefabricated bents needed to support the trestle were delivered by nine boatloads down the Chenango Canal.

The site of the Deansville Depot was selected - on the south side of the road leading to Waterville, hoping for some interest from the residents of Waterville to ride to Clinton. It was the first traditional railroad board-and-batten depot built along the line of the Utica, Clinton & Binghamton Railroad (later the O&W). It is a unique structure, at 24' x 72'. The first station agent was James J. Hanchett, a prominent member of the community. The first conductor was Jack Excell, who formerly ran a stagecoach from Utica to Binghamton.

The railroad was a windfall for Deansville (later Deansboro) for many reasons, most particularly due to shipping hops and grain, and receiving the all-important coal. Its importance was highlighted when land was purchased for the new condensery, called the United States Condensed Milk Company and later the Mohawk Condensed Milk Company, near the railroad in 1902. Instead of many local farmers having to take their milk to Waterville or Clinton other places, they were able to come right to Deansboro to have it processed and shipped via railroad to New York City. The condensery also received coal to fuel its operations.
O&W Railroad through the Quarry, ca. 1910

But the railroad was also a boon to passengers, who wished quick, convenient, and comfortable travel to Clinton, Utica and all places which, before the railroad, would have taken days of difficulty to reach. The cars were clean, checked baggage service was offered, and business people and shoppers could leave and return home on the same day! Commuters who took the train from Deansboro north, including students who went to Clinton High School, paid for the sidewalk from the Depot to Route 12B, and put their initials in the cement of each slab. If one looks closely, it's possible to see an initial or two, but most have eroded with time.

Ella Ingersoll, who lived on Main Street, Deansboro for many years, and whose father-in-law Clarence Ingersoll worked as a station agent on the O&W, grew up in a farm north of Deansboro in the Town of Kirkland. The railroad bisected the farm and because of the number of trains going through in those times (1905), there were many hobos hitching rides. Mrs. Ingersoll remembered at least nine passenger and milk trains, plus freight trains. During the summer, there was a path from the tracks to the woods behind the family farm which was called the Hobo Jungle. The hobos helped themselves to whatever they needed: vegetables from gardens, eggs, milk to drink. Many thefts were blamed on the hobos.  Sometimes when a farmer needed extra hands during hop picking or haying, he would stop by the Hobo Jungle to see if anyone wanted to work. Once the railroad disappeared so did the hobos.
Many accidents occurred on the new O&W railroad involving brakemen, hobos, and others. There were also stories of collisions, animals killed while crossing the track, and derailments along the line.  Most notably, a brakeman met his demise in Deansville when he apparently slipped from the top of the train cars while attempting to apply the brakes. There was a grisly report in 1902 of the train hitting a man apparently lying on the tracks near Deansville. The engineer, Irving Clark, sounded the whistle, put on the air brake and attempted to reverse the engine with little success because he was coming down a slight grade. The victim died in the hospital from shock following the injuries he received. No blame or censure were attached to the conductor; the coroner found no cause to do so because of the conductor's actions to avoid the accident.

However, perhaps the Superintendent of the O&W railroad had that incident and others in mind when the following order was issued in 1907: "Trains must not exceed a speed of 40 miles per hour on descending grades and on curves, and must not exceed a speed of 60 miles per hour on any portion of the road."  Also, in 1910, the Marshall Town Board declared the crossing to be dangerous, served the O&W railroad with the resolution, and electric bells were installed at the crossing.

But accidents continued to happen. In 1923, a Franklin Springs man driving a truck loaded with crushed stone was injured and his truck demolished by a south bound milk train at the crossing near the condensary, prompting calls to the O&W for a watchman and a gate at all times at that crossing for the safety of motorists. In 1947, Allyn S. Earl escaped injury when the truck he was driving became stuck at the same O&W railroad crossing and was struck by a northbound freight. Mr. Earl tried to move the truck from the tracks, but when he saw it was impossible he jumped out. The rack was torn loose from the truck and thrown about 15 feet from the chassis, which was carried several feet down the tracks.  Virgil  Eastman also had a narrow, escape  from a serious if not a fatal accident.  He had been to the condensery for water and was about  to cross the railroad when the morning  local came along.  His truck was dragged for some distance and the rear was  completely  destroyed.  Mr. Eastman  escaped  with  only  a  few  bruises.

 On June 17, 1917, heavy rains caused the Oriskany Creek and all its tributaries to rise. Dams between Solsville and Deansboro were washed out. The worst trouble of all was a half mile  south of Deansboro, where the flood took out a cut about 24 feet high  and  nearly  two  miles  long. Passengers rode the train to the point of the washout, got out, and walked around the washout to get on the train to take them north or south, as was the case. Milk trains and freight trains used the lines of the Lackawanna rail road until they reached their own rails. These situations were only temporary, however; in only seven days - an amazing feat - the O&W engineers had rebuilt the railroad starting from Solsville to Deansboro, and the railroad resumed its regular service. Little by little things returned to normal.
Rebuilding the trestle

In 1922, according to the Deansboro Holler, published once in 1922, the O&W trains left Deansboro for Utica four times a day going north and three times a day going south. Trains passed the station as follows: Going north 7:45 a.m., 11:23 a.m., 8:25 pm, 5:57 p.m.; Going south 8:56 a.m., 1:53 p.m., 6:16 p.m.

However, as with the canal, the advent of another means of transporting people and freight - automobiles and trucks - caused the O&W to lose revenue, as fewer people were traveling or shipping their products by train. In 1931, passenger service from the Deansboro Depot ceased to exist, and in 1957, so did the freight service.  The O&W had gone bankrupt and in the summer of 1958, the tracks were taken up to be sold as scrap metal. But the rail bed and the depot still retained their usefulness.
Abandoned Rail Bed - looking North
Railroad Crossing - Van Hyning Road
coal sheds behind the Depot - now torn down

Allyn Earl bought the depot for his lumber and hardware business when the railroad came to an end. He added an upper window and changed the lower windows slightly. It is now owned by the Brothertown Association, Inc., who purchased it in 2000 and who are restoring it. Every Christmas, the Town of Marshall Parks and Recreation committee holds a party complete with a visit from Santa Claus in the depot, and wagon or sleigh rides down the railway.

In 1969, members of the Kirkland Bird Club hiked along the old O&W rail bed from the Dugway Road toward Deansboro, a nice walk today. Thanks to the efforts of Mike McLaren, who in 1995 obtained a grant of $5,000 through the Rural New York Grant program, administered by the Open Space Institute, the abandoned trail bed about a mile or two south of the depot is now a popular hike and bike trail, with snowmobiles and cross-country skiers in the winter, and runners and horses all year round. The Town of Marshall owns the right-of-way for the rail bed, and the trail, which goes from Route 315 by the depot until Van Hyning Road, is maintained by the Town of Marshall highway crew and by the snowmobile club, which grooms it in the winter. Barriers to keep automobiles off the trail were erected in order to provide runner, hikers and bikers with a true nature trail experience without having to be concerned about traffic. All-terrain vehicles are also banned from the trail for similar reasons, and dogs are asked to be on leashes.

In 2012, as a project to earn his Eagle Scout badge, Nicholas Scoones, a member of Troop 108, worked on improvements to the Hike and Bike Trail. He established mile markers, installed benches, and, with the help of a professor of biology, put up signs identifying the flora and fauna along the trail.  The trail has been part of what was the Towpath Run and Walk. and is now part of the Ruth Allen Memorial Run and Walk, which will be this August 13.

Many people in Deansboro miss the mournful sound of the train whistle as it passed through Deansboro. Amy Marris, who lived on Main Street, recalled her children running to see the train when they heard the whistle. Harry Goodson who lived on West Hill, remembers the sound, too, and misses it; so do a lot of people. Deansboro lost something when the railroad stopped coming through the hamlet. However, we can't lose sight of the fact we now have a hike and bike trail which is visited by local residents and people from out of town who want to enjoy nature and the out-of-doors. It is truly the jewel of our community. So whether it's called the Old Woman or Old and Weary, the O&W railroad was an important part of our history which lives on today.

For really enjoyable reading about the complete history of the O&W Railroad, read John Taibi's book Rails Along the Oriskany. It is available at the Deansboro Library and Reading Center.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Baseball and Softball in the Town of Marshall

To paraphrase Tennyson, in spring a young person's fancy turns to thoughts of - baseball! Baseball and softball are traditions in the Town of Marshall. The first instance I could find of a game was 1890, when Deansboro defeated Kirkland 6-20. Later, in 1893, there was a game between the single and married men (the single men scored more runs) in Deansboro. In 1895, Deansboro and Oriskany  falls played (Oriskany Falls won 22-11).

Baseball has continued as a tradition in our town. Clifford Small told me in a January 18, 1987, interview that Deansboro had an "awfully good ball team".  They played in the teens and 1920s on the flats down the west side of Route 315 near the bridge over Oriskany Creek - behind where Stolarczyk's used to live. He said he sold tickets to the ball games on Saturdays, and they used to have as many as 200 attending. Wilford Ingersoll was manager, and Randall Davis pitched. Kes Kennard  and Earl Chesebro played on the team with a couple of players from Bouckville. Red McLaughlin from Oriskany Falls played, too. I guess it really was a good team, as an article from the Utica Daily Press in 1921 called the play between Deansboro and Oriskany Falls, in this match-up, a "real snappy brand of ball from start to finish." They are also called speedy. Does anyone remember the name of the team? The papers just say Deansboro Baseball Club, so maybe that was it.

The aforementioned Randall Davis, better known as Dink Davis, who pitched for the Deansboro team, went on to be voted the most valuable player in the "Y" Associated Baseball Twilight Leagues in 1927. He was then pitcher for the Bossart Corporation baseball team and might have gone into pro ball - he was scouted by the Pirates and the Giants - but decided to stay on at Bossert's, where he had worked since 1919.

In the 1930s, baseball was popular still, as stated in a 1935 article from the Waterville Times which tells of a game scheduled between the Forge Hollow Orioles and the Daytonville Nine, after which the players cooled off in the Oriskany Creek. Another mention of baseball during this period is of a near-tragedy: a Clinton man was struck by a baseball bat and fell unconscious to the ground during the game during the Deansboro Band Field Day. He suffered a fractured skull and was taken to Faxton Hospital, where he died the next day.

Donkey Baseball
Despite discouraging comments from the President of the National League and such luminaries such as Babe Ruth about the future of major league baseball during the World War II years, baseball teams still continued, and donkey baseball was especially huge in the 1940s and 1950s. There were donkey baseball leagues in Oriskany Falls, Clinton, Waterville, Utica - all over, and Deansboro was no exception. The rules of donkey baseball are simple: each player except the pitcher and the catcher have to ride a donkey at all times, even when hitting. There are a lot of recorded incidents regarding tangles with beast and bat, going back to the 1940s. These games were sponsored by the Barton Hose Company, and the games were not just for kicks (although I am sure there were some) but to raise money for the Fire Department, and in one case to purchase new uniforms for the Little League baseball team. Spectators enjoyed seeing someone they knew being dumped off a donkey. Those games were played on the diamond behind what was the school and is now the Town Hall.
Donkey Baseball in 1955

In 1961, there is a record of "a Deansboro softball team" which hit and ran successfully over a team from Our Lady of Lourdes. The pitcher was George Kennard, and Don Ray was catcher. Some other team members were Don Miller, Mac MacLeod, Mike McLaren, Bill Lemery, Stanley Mazor, Eric Wardman and Ray Dupree. Does anyone know what the name of this team was? Or does anyone remember who else was on the team?
1960s baseball team in Stockbridge Valley

Of course, Little League and Bush League have been going on for a while. Deansboro East coached by Bill Woodward and Bill Marris, won the Waterville Area Bush League championship in 1979 (yes, the was a Deansboro West team, coached by Mike McLaren). In 1989, the two Deansboro Bush League teams, sponsored by C&H Plastics (in red shirts) and the Deansboro Superette (in green shirts), played each other for the first time that season, along with the Little League team, sponsored by the Barton Hose Company and coached by Bob Bell and Paul Fick. The occasion was marked by a visit from elected officials: Senator James H. Donovan, Assemblyman Jack McCann, Oneida County Legislator Nick Oliver and Marshall Supervisor David Hazelden. They inspected the field and watched the teams making good use of it. The facility was made possible through the auspices of Senator Donovan's office and the New York State Office 6T Parks and Recreation. Amounts of $3,000 in 1987 and $7,500 in 1988 were made available for the fencing, bleachers, and dugouts. The guests all expressed a favorable impression with the diamond and also with the manner in which the players were handled by the coaches. The Bush League teams are coached by Bill Humphrey, Janet Dangler, Chris Johnson and Bob Graham. Many parents, grandparents and friends filled the bleachers. The Little League team were there in uniforms, having completed their tournament. After the game, one and all were invited the Beerhalters on Route 12B (the Dean Homestead)
for a swim. Members, coaches and families of the teams enjoyed the party.

As a side note to the popularity of baseball in the Town of Marshall, D.C. Williams, who ran a blacksmith shop at the turn of the 20th century also fabricated baseball and softball bats of all sizes and weights. His shop was on Route 12B, in the barn on the Sehn property, next to the Kounty Kafe, His great-grandson is Daniel Williams, who operates a successful fencing business, called Williams Fence.

Monday, March 7, 2016


By 1790, white settlers began to settle in the areas of higher elevations around what is presently Deansboro, because they felt it was healthier; the valley was considered a swamp hole. They settled at Paris Hill, then called South Settlement; Hanover was a dense forest at that time.  In 1795, the first settlers in Hanover, Isaac Miller (who became the first supervisor of the Town of Marshall ) and his wife Irene and their children, chose the hillside, fearing malaria in the lower valley, possibly due to the close proximity of the Oriskany Creek (called "Okrist" which means "river of nettles".) David Barton, ancestor of the present Bartons in Waterville and whose name was given to the Barton Hose Company in Deansboro arrived next. David Barton first settled in the west hills, on the farm now owned by the Bishopp family; but, because he inadvertently landed in Brothertown land, he was obliged to move, and he did so: to the east hills. The State paid him for the improvement (or, as it was called, betterments) of land lying outside the Native American claim, which in retrospect seems short-sighted. Therefore, the most important early "white" settlement in the Town of Marshall was Hanover in the east hills.

As stated, Hanover at that time was basically an unbroken forest; and clearing the land, making a home and a livelihood must have seemed like daunting tasks, especially since the settlers had just completed an exhausting  journey from Connecticut. But they had heard of the deep, rich, well-drained soil and the abundance of game, and had high hopes of seeing rich, rolling meadows of healthy crops and envisioned  many neighbors, which would eventually present the need for a church and a school.

On the settlers came, mainly from Massachusetts and Connecticut. Once the area became more inhabited, it was decided to organize a religious society. On October 22, 1797, the Hanover Society was formed, made up of Congregationalists of old Puritan stock. At that time, the Society held their meetings at private homes, but with so many families moving into the area, plans were made to erect a church. The first meeting to discuss the building of a meeting house was held at Phinney's Tavern on Peck's Corners. There was a dispute where the church should be: Peck's Corners or Hanover; Hanover won the day. Construction started in 1804 and by 1806 was completed and the building was occupied. The structure was built with square pews, which were sold at auction to the parishioners  to obtain money to defray building expenses. It was a large edifice and as many as 100 people worshipped there at one time.

The story goes that in the early 1800s, David Barton, Jr., a member of the Hanover Society, didn't feel than an unheated place of worship such as the first church, irreverently called "God's Barn," was such a good idea for older churchgoers, those in poor health, or children. In very cold weather, the minister preached in mittens, striped or huge fringed ones, and the ladies huddled over foot stoves, while the men shuffled their feet or rubbed their hands to keep warm. Mr. Barton proposed putting a stove in the church, which he would supply, amid much opposition. It was thought that "religious zeal" should be enough to keep the parishioners warm. However, despite the opposition, a Franklin stove was installed, and for once the members of the congregation, including the minister, were comfortable.

Around the same time, the Hanover Green, a tear-shaped plot of about half an acre was laid out "for military and training purposes."  The main highway from Waterville to Utica was through Hanover. Over the years, Hanover saw much growth. The Turkey Creek, which flows down the slopes of the east hills to the Oriskany Creek provided  plenty of water power for the many mills which had sprung up. There was a cheese factory, a furniture shop, a blacksmith shop, a distillery, and a tannery.

The first general store in town was opened by Isaac Miller, and the first hotel by Newman Gridley about 1813-1814. A cobbler went from house to house, selling hide to make shoes for the family from the leather. The resulting shoes were supposed to last two years; and if they fit, all well and good. If they didn't, they were still worn. Hanover also boasted the first post office in the Town of Marshall, in 1824 (early settlers had their mail brought to Hanover by a post rider who came once a week). The first postmaster was  Henry L. Hawley, who was in partnership with Eli Buckingham - they had a general store attached to the post office -who was also a skilled and capable physician, much loved in the area.

At first, there were three school districts near Hanover: one at Peck's Corner, one at Cowings Corners, and one in Hanover. After a while, the districts were consolidated, a two-story brick building was built on Hanover Green, and all the children attended there. It was called Hanover High School and sometimes the attendance numbered up to 100 children. Besides the basics of a good education, all children were taught manners and deportment, and girls were taught practical matters, which would come in handy when they married. Punishment was severe, and discipline rigid. Little attention was paid to the comfort of the students - the chairs were high so some smaller students' feet couldn't touch the floor - and they had to hold their tablets on the laps because there were no desks. However, much attention was paid to the pupil's moral development.

Hanover was an important, bustling community, and a great place to live, with its well-tilled land, pleasant houses, and magnificent view of the West Hills across and the Oriskany Creek valley below. However, in 1837, the Chenango Canal was built followed by the railroad along the canal route in 1867. Homesteaders saw that the soil in the so-called "Fever Valley" was just as fertile as that in the hills - witness the crops of the Brothertowns! - and realized there was plenty of water for their mills. The settlers began to understand that the canal, and then the railroad, offered them all kinds of opportunities for their businesses.  So they started settling in the lower regions.

Meanwhile, The Hanover Society - the Congregational Church - was suffering. A Presbyterian church was built in Waterville, and several families who lived in the south part of Hanover began to attend church there. Then, a Universalist church was built in Forge Hollow, which took many young people from Hanover's ranks; and finally the Methodist Church, which was built in Deansboro took all the congregation inclined towards Methodism. In 1841, the church was considered to be too large, and was torn down.  Another church was built on the same site; smaller, but still elegant with a tall spire. Then a final blow: the Congregational Church was erected in Deansboro, attracting more families from the Society. However, Meetings were still kept up, although it is reported that the entire Society could fit in a room 10-feet square. Little by little, the parishioners either passed away or moved, and the building stood empty, except for occasional services and school exhibitions. 

For a while, when it was determined that there should be a division of polling places, Hanover was Town of Marshall District #2 and voting was held in the church. However, after a few years, District #2 was changed to Waterville, and the building continued to decay. The trustees received permission to sell the building and use the proceeds for much needed improvements to the Hanover cemetery near the green, and the building was sold at public auction to Joseph Maxwell for $140.00 It was torn down around 1906 and moved to Mr. Maxwell's farm to be used as a barn.

The Post Office which was so much a part of the community closed, and was relocated in Deansboro. This also did away with the Post Rider, who left the mail at the doors of many people, and often did errands for the people. The last post master, John Collins, used to walk five miles to Waterville with the out-going mail and back to Hanover with the in-coming mail every day for 30 years. The mail is now delivered by rural delivery from Deansboro or Waterville.

The two story school in Hanover, of which the people of Hanover were justly proud, was abandoned as well when the merger took place and the children were bused to school in Waterville. The school was renovated and is now a private home.

Hanover is still there, but only a shadow of its former self.  Gone are the businesses and most of the homes, although some farms are still there and, of course, the green. But no one can take away the spectacular view over to the western hills to the valley below, and the mountains beyond. And, for many, nothing can take away the memories.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Romance Wyatt

The Last of the Brothertown Indians in the area, Romance Wyatt, who died in 1907, was described as a kindhearted gentleman who had a sense of humor, laughed often and enjoyed a good joke. But to appreciate his story, it's necessary to understand a little of the history of the Brothertowns.

Around 1774, the remnants of once-mighty tribes, reduced in numbers and driven from their homes in New England, New Jersey and Long Island, united to form a new tribe at the encouragement of the Oneida Indians, part of the "Six Nations" in New York State. The Oneidas were land-rich at that time, and deeded them land about 10 miles square around the present Town of Marshall, extending from the foot of Sanger Hill northward along the Brothertown Road, across Forge Hollow, along the east side of the Deansboro Valley and up to the Dugway at Franklin Springs.  Because so many tribes had joined together to make a family, and because they were intent on following a path of peace, they decided on the name Brothertown.  Due to the fact they had no common language, they adopted the English language. Among the tribes represented were the Pequot, Narragansett, Natnick, Mohegan and Montauk. Romance Wyatt, by all accounts, was a Montauk.

Romance Wyatt, commonly called Matt, was born in 1826 in the Town of Marshall. Here accounts of his very early life differ. Some sources tell us that at the age of 6 months his parents gave him to Cynthia Dick to raise; others state his parents died when he was 6 months of age and he was adopted; and others assert that, although he had no memory of his mother, he was seven years old when his father died. However he came to live with  Cynthia Dick of Dicksville, the fact remains that she nurtured and cared for him, making sure he attended  the Dicksville school, until he was 12 or 13 years old.

After that time, he worked for farmers in the area, but decided to travel to Green Bay, Wisconsin, where many  of his fellow tribesmen, including Cynthia Dick, had emigrated due to the increasing demand for the Brothertown land by the whites.  At one time there were around 500 members of the tribe who were said to be industrious farmers, but they could not withstand the influence of the white settlers who often got the better of them in land deals. Therefore, gradually they gave up and moved. Wyatt, however, stayed in the northwest only a few years, and came back to live in the Town of Marshall, where he went to work on the Chenango Canal which opened in 1837. He was at first a driver and then was promoted to steersman, at which position he worked for over thirty seasons.  In those days a canaller had to fight his way along the towpath and at the locks. It is said that young Wyatt never picked a fight, but when forced into one he always came out on top; when he had a black eye the other fellow had two.

Romance Wyatt, commonly called Matt Wyatt,  lived for a time in Hamilton, and it was there he got involved with the case of Jared Comstock and his wife Clarissa in 1858. Wyatt was frequently called to the home of the Comstocks to protect them from the murderous threats and attacks of their drunken son William. On the night Mr. and Mrs. Comstock were actually murdered by their son, Wyatt was unable to go to their home at their request due to a previous engagement; however, he was part of the search party who found William Comstock, the murderer, in the woods "secreted behind a log."  He visited the prisoner, who escaped being lynched on the spot, many times while he was in prison in Morrisville, and was a witness for the prosecution at the trial. An aside: William Comstock was allowed to plead guilty to manslaughter in the first degree by reason of insanity, and was sent to Auburn prison where he presumably lived out his life sentence.  He was said to have been a model prisoner.

When the Civil War broke out Wyatt traveled to Utica to enlist in Co. K, 26th Regiment, and when that company was mustered out after about six months, he re-enlisted in the 83d Infantry, part of Company K and later in Company A. He was in the first battle of Fredericksburg, where he was wounded in his left thigh, and also in the battles  of Chancellorsville and Gettysburg.  At Gettysburg he was in the thick of the fight at Little Round Top. He was shot in the right ankle, which left him with a slight limp, and on July 6, 1865, was honorably discharged with a pension of $4.  Wyatt was a great admirer of Abraham Lincoln, and while in the South he secured leave of absence long enough to come back to his home and vote for him.

In conjunction with voting, the story goes that as he entered the polling place, a man came up to Wyatt and said to him, "You know what side your bread is buttered on, don't you?" and gave him a $5.00 bill. A few minutes later another man asked the same question and gave him $1.00. Said Romance Wyatt, "Neither one of them asked me as to how I intended to vote, and I went ahead and cast my ballot as I had expected to. I had always known which side my bread was buttered on, but I had never expected to be paid merely for possessing that knowledge."

Romance Wyatt's House on Route 12B
After the war, Romance Wyatt returned to the Town of Marshall, having developed a strong attachment for this valley and  its inhabitants. He bought a house in 1866 on the road from Deansboro to Oriskany Falls (Route 12B). It is no longer there, but was directly across from where the Signal Trailer Park in Deansboro is now located.  In 1867 he  married Eunice Ann Beach, a white woman, by whom he had one daughter, Hattie.  Wyatt worked on the canal  and Mrs. Wyatt found a ready market for her spruce gum, which she sold to the nearby school children for a penny. It was made from the resin Mr. Wyatt gathered from the trees in the Nile Mile Swamp. The gum was a rather hard, brown substance with a sweetish, pungent flavor.

In 1881, Hattie Wyatt died of pneumonia at the age of 15, and a hydrangea tree was planted to mark her gravesite on the east slope of the Deansboro cemetery. Despite the considerable grief at the loss of their daughter, Mr. and Mrs. Wyatt carried on. Wyatt, when he found the time in the winter, wove baskets of white ash, and also produced and sold chair seats; and his wife, besides supplying the gum, was the creator of fancy work for the people of the village. Romance Wyatt was elected game constable in the Town of Marshall in 1877. It was hoped, an article in the Waterville Times stated, that Wyatt's fondness for fishing would encourage him to enforce the fishing and gaming laws, which he did.

Mrs. Wyatt died in 1893, and Romance Wyatt was left alone once again. Lewis Kindness, another Indian, lived with him for a while, but he eventually went west. Wyatt  always enjoyed hard cider, and during one of his "sprees" during this time, he attended a revival meeting at the Congregational (Stone) church in Oriskany Falls. He listened to the appeals of the minister, but could not make up his mind to covert until he had one last drink. He did, and told the bar tender, "This is my last drink."  He signed a pledge, which he kept faithfully to the end, not to indulge in any more "firewater." Wyatt went back to the Congregational church, became a member, and even worked for some years there as janitor. It is said that every Sunday he walked from his home in Deansboro to Oriskany Falls to attend church, and hardly ever missed a service.

Wyatt, who elected not to leave the banks of the Chenago Canal, died in 1907, sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch of his house on the Deansboro-Oriskany Falls Road. Reportedly, he had been in feeble health, so his death was not unexpected. He was buried in the Deansboro  cemetery next to his wife and daughter. Although there is a population of Brothertown Indians in Wisconsin, no more are left in this area. Hence, Romance (Matt) Wyatt is referred to as "The Last of the Brothertowns."

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Maccabee Hall

Many citizens of the Town of Marshall have fond memories of the Maccabee Hall, which was located on the west side of Route 315 approximately where The Boro is. Built in 1897 by the Knights of the Maccabees #514, it was quite a structure. It featured a steel ceiling manufactured in West Virginia and a flagstone path (a rarity in those days) installed in front.  Practically every carpenter in Deansboro was employed to work day and night at 7 1/2 center an hour. There was a stage, a balcony and plenty of room. The opening and dedication of the building in 1898 was a gala affair, marred only by "a most disagreeable storm," which meant that some of the attendees were unable to leave the building with the result that they were served breakfast in addition to a 5 pm and midnight dinner.

            The Maccabees are a fraternal society formed in 1878 in Canada, which sponsored financial aid and insurance to members and homes for the aged. At its zenith, the worldwide membership in the organization reached over 300,000; by the 1970s membership was down to about 10,000. The local Maccabee Society, which was called the Brothertown Tent, was quite active in Deansboro until about a little after the turn of the century. Electricity was installed in 1906. The Maccabees never actually owned the building, however; it was owned by a group of investors in the building which called itself  the Deansboro Hall Association. The Association rented the hall to the Maccabees and the building was used as a community center.  Prominent speakers, meetings, concerts, banquets, plays, talent shows and all kinds of celebrations were held in the Maccabee Hall. The Men's Club rented the Hall for many years, and sponsored an active Shuffleboard (Shovelboard) team.

            When the school in Deansboro burned in 1931, some classes were held in Maccabee Hall. The high school pupils  occupied the main part of the Hall with Prof. A. J. Smith and Miss Kathryn Cornell as teachers until the new school was ready for occupancy in 1932. However, Mrs. Powell, former historian of the Town of Marshall related that the furnace in the Hall was very old and put all sorts of noxious gases in the building which built up over the course of the day, so nobody was kept in after school much in those days. Movies were held there, but the eels from Oriskany Creek used to get around the water wheel which generated the electricity. The movie would come to a stop and someone would have to go out to remove the eel.  Esther Skerritt Sander accompanied the silent movies on the piano.

            Plays were put on for the public. Clifford Small, whose father was a charter member of the Maccabees, remembered Chautauqua performances in which five plays were presented in a season for $2.00 a season ticket. In 1945, Benjamin Smith temporarily moved his barber shop to the Maccabee Hall from the business block which was torn down by Claude Hinman in order to build the brick building which stands at the corner of Routes 315 and 12B today. Balls and dances were held in the Maccabee Hall to the music of Brownie Moyer's orchestra; I remember square dancing there in the 1950s and 1960s. Some have recalled dance lessons, Girl Scout and  Boy Scout meetings, and participating in a talent show. Basketball games were played in the Hall. Voting was held there, and town business was conducted. The firemen held their first ham dinner there.

            One special occasion was in September, 1946 when a public dinner was held to honor the returning veterans from World War Two, co-chaired by Gardener Hart and Frank Seelow.  90 people attended the steak dinner with all the trimmings and sang  patriotic songs.  Three years later, in the year 1949 the Barton Hose Company bought the Maccabee Hall, which later became a burden to the firemen, so they sold it to the Town of Marshall in 1956. In 1959, the town was looking to sell it, according to a Waterville Times article, so the hall, although still used for community functions, began to deteriorate. But who can forget ice skating on the rink which was maintained in the parking lot  next to the hall?

            In the 1970s, the structure that was originally Maccabee Hall was turned into a night spot, first called Peter's Little Cellar, operated by Jim Harrison and Peter Zuccaro; and lastly it was known as JR's Tavern. The building was then owned by A.R. D'Agostino of Clinton and operated by James Clements and Ronald Haskins of Oriskany Falls. The Bicentennial Ball was held there in 1976.

            In February 1981, an explosion sparked a fire which destroyed the tavern - and the hall. When the firemen arrived at the scene the fire was fully involved and there was no saving the building. There ends the story of an 84-year-old building that was The Place to Be for much of its history.

Play at Maccabee Hall

Maccabee Hall in the 1960s

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Deansboro Band

In May, 1927, a group of enthusiastic and enterprising musicians met in the Deansboro Garage for the purpose of organizing what they called the Deansboro Community Band. This energetic group, consisting of young men from all over the Town of Marshall, treated the residents of Deansboro to a concert every Tuesday. Harry Goodson remembers that these concerts, for the most part, were performed on the back of a flatbed truck in front of the general store and were called Open Air concerts. Soft drinks, hot dogs, and ice cream were sold; and Art Sanders' grandmother popped a lot of popcorn which Art sold for a nickel a bag. On a good night, he made as much as $5.00!People either stood around, listened and applauded; or sat in their cars and honked their horns with appreciation after each number

Concerts were also held on the front lawns of many homeowners. Eleanor Dawes met her husband Bob at an open air concert in front of the Dean Homestead. He was from Clinton, so you see the band had a wide audience. They also held concerts in the Maccabee Hall, in Oriskany Falls, in the village park in Clinton, for the Paris Hill Fair and the Vernon Fair, and Waterville. The band also furnished music on past Memorial Days.

Of course, this was not the first band out of Deansboro: there is evidence there was a band as early as 1898, but nothing much can be found out about this. The later band had at least two directors: Harry M. Williams of Utica; and John Albrecht, formerly with the famous Sousa band, also of Utica. In addition, there were bylaws and officers: president, R.E. Thayer; vice president, Peter Klotzbach; secretary, O.E. Buckingham; treasurer Walter Steinmann; manager I. Weaver; librarian Raymond Thayer. At its inception, the band had 21 members, rising to 30 over the years. The picture below shows the band, but the date is unknown. Since it went from 1927 until 1941 (the last instance I could find of the Deansboro Band), most likely the personnel changed from year to year. Donald Bennett was a frequent soloist.

The concert usually consisted of a mix of classical music and favorites of the time. An example of the music offered by the Deansboro band was detailed in a Utica Daily Press article from 1931. The program included the following selections: "Cruiser Omaha (a march) by King; Stilly Night by Huff; "Empyream" by Hayes; "Sunset Limited" by Holmes; "Over the Stars" by King; "Golden Book  Medley" by Kroyman; "Under the Double Eagle" by Wagner; "I'm Happy When You're Happy"; "Officer of the Day"; and "America," which concluded every concert.

The Deansboro Band also sponsored field days. The first was in 1929, which drew more than 2000 people to the hamlet. There was a parade in the morning with floats, decorated bicycles and decorated cars, a ball game in the afternoon, and a dance at Maccabee Hall in the evening. Subsequent field days were just as popular, including more attractions such as a time race, a hill climb, horseshoe tournaments, and a boxing match but always ending with dancing. To express their appreciation to the many neighboring villages which supported the field days, the band performed concerts in those villages which were well received, the band being referred to as "wide awake," "a pleasure to listen to," "delightful," and with "excellent musicianship."

UPDATE: As a famous broadcaster used to say, "This is the rest of the story."  Dorothy McConnell has provided me with the following transcript of her interview with Art Sanders regarding the Deansboro Band:

"With the ending of World War I, many communities began organizing special monthly parades of returning soldiers with floats and marching  bands. Later, by saving the parades, floats, and marching for big holidays, the band developed the idea of a semi-permanent concert, usually on a Friday or Saturday evening. In the early 1920s Deansboro's musicians gathered on the steps of Pete Klotzbach's meat market and Ben's Smith barber shop to play a few rousing marches on Friday evenings - heavy on the drums. Soon, cars full of parents and children started parking along the roads;  and at the end of each piece, there would be applause and the honking of horns.

I think Don Williams made the first wooden platform in sections, and the saw horses to support it. The location was moved across the road, to the small grassy area just outside the big iron fence around the Hovey place on the corner (the Dean Homestead), in front of the big chestnut tree. Flood lights were provided with power from the Deansboro Hotel. Don later made a larger folding band stand with wheels so it could be moved, and it was stored in the horse sheds behind the Methodist Church." (Note: a 1936 article in the Utica Observer-Dispatch mentions that "members  of the band will occupy a portable platform aboard a motor truck."  Could Mr. Williams have made that as well?)

"For many years, Deansboro owned Friday evening and these band concerts brought together lots of people. It was a two-hour event, with the presentation of returning soldiers, news of sick or injured neighbors, something introductions of instrumental soloists or singers, and ads for local business who underwrote the expenses of the concerts. Earlier, hand held megaphones were used until someone donated an electric amplifier. Talented band leaders probably enjoyed the challenge of working with musicians who enjoyed playing together but had no time for rehearsals."

Perhaps this band was the precursor to the organized 1927 band?

Dorothy adds: The committee for the 1931 band concert was: General Committee: Peter Klotzbach, Ralph Moore, Roy McMullen, and Clark Shaver. Parade Committee: Clarence Bunt, Charles Pierce and Art Pughe. Hill Climb (for cars!): Del Pamiter, Gardner Hart, Hardie Sanders. Baseball: Jay Davis, C.F. Ingersoll.

Many thanks to Bill Kennard for the Deansboro Band memorabilia and memories!

Left to right rear: Walter Bennett, Unknown, Charles Pierce, Dr. Lynn McConnell, Unknown, Donald Bennett, Warren Nelson, Jay Davis, Douglas Weaver, DeForest Ingersoll.
Left to right front: Unknown, Charles Seals, Unknown, Art Pughe, Bill Grannis. Carl Anyan, Unknown, Bill Niles, Unknown, Harry Williams, Director

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Deansboro Library

Early on, a 500-book Library was housed in the Deansboro High School on West Hill Road, now the home of the Ruias. It was called the John C. Dean Library. The school, and the library, burned in 1931.

In 1932, the Waterville Public Library formed branch libraries in Deansboro and Stockwell. The rules, established by the State Department of Education, stated that "each community (should) form a small local committee, choosing one member to act as 'librarian' in a...private home. No payment of rent is allowed, book shelves and cases must be donated, and there is no salary." The library in Deansboro was located in Daisy Pughe's living room on Main Street.  Eleanor Dawes remembers going there to borrow books. One of the Waterville school teachers, Marion Shaver Dixon, used to bring books from the Waterville Library to the Deansboro Library.

In 1949, Eloise and Floyd Harrington (later, following the death of Mr. Harrington, Eloise Beerhalter) of the Dean Homestead offered the use of the annex of their home, which was the office of a former owner, William Hovey, who kept his records there. Eleanor Dawes was one of the first librarians, followed by Marion Pughe, Laura Eisenhut, and  Jeanette Kennard.  Lynda Harrington Williams was the first paid librarian in 1961. Ellen MacLeod took over in 1962, working summers and school vacations, with Ann MacLeod as her substitute.

In 1965, the Mid-York Library service, which was chartered in 1960, urged Waterville to join the service. Strong pressure was put on the Waterville Library Board, and it was decided to become a member. Deansboro needed to expand, however, and the Water Board offered the use of the second floor of their building (the post office was on the first floor, which used to house the Barton Hose Company). Many volunteers helped to paint, paper and get the upstairs room ready for opening. The Cub Scouts were organized to help.  An oak table from Hattie Patterson was loaned as a study table, and six chairs came from the Waterville school. Art Sanders cut off the legs of a round table to make a table for the children. Small chairs were obtained, a rocking chair was given and drapes from Maccabee Hall were donated.  Mid-York Library offered books for loan, and all was ready for a reception to celebrate the opening in July, 1965. That year also saw a 20% increase in circulation.

Ann MacLeod took over full time in 1966. In 1976 she moved to Clinton, and Joanne Bolan became librarian until she went to work full time. Ann came back in 1977 and worked until 1980.
The Library was moved when the former Deansboro Grade School (later WCS kindergarten) was sold to the Town of Marshall for $1.00 in the fall of 1975, and the building became the Town Hall. In 1980, Florence Oser from Knoxboro succeeded Ann MacLeod,  assisted by Janet Dangler. Florence retired in 1988, and was succeeded in 1989 by Fern Biederman, assisted by Chris Johnson. Fern also retired, and in 1992, Bonnie Lewis, assisted by Sharon Bennett, became the library director. Bonnie also had as an assistant Pat Shay, who succeeded her in 1997.

In 1996, the Town Hall, including the library, underwent extensive renovations, and library was closed from August to November. New shelving was put up, new windows and carpeting were installed, and an expanded children's room was implemented.  An open house was held in January, 1997.

Jacque Roys was librarian briefly in 2006; then Pat Shay took over with Anna Falin as her assistant.  When Pat moved, Margie Wilson, from the Waterville Public Library, and Anna were fixtures there. We can't forget Mary Ann Ford and Nancy Cali, who were always there: volunteers extraordinaire. There was a busy Friends of the Library group who instigated the Election Day Book Sale, with raffle baskets to benefit the library. The Book Sale and raffle go on, with a bake sale added.

In 2009, the Waterville Library Trustees held a public meeting at the Marshall Town Hall to discuss the future of the Deansboro branch and bring to the public's attention the problem that circulation in Deansboro was way down. They gave Deansboro a year to bring it up; that didn't happen, and in August, 2010, the Trustees voted to close the branch.

However, a group of dedicated volunteers, realizing that a library is an integral part of any community, resolved to keep the library going, so the library was not closed at all during that time. The Library is called the Deansboro Library and Reading Center, and is staffed entirely by volunteers. They are, from 2010 to present:
Sharon Bennett        Ann Koester                                   The library hours are:
Fern Biederman       Gloria Lollman                               Monday-6-8
Gail Blau                  Anna Rae Martin                           Tuesday-2-4
Joanne Bolan            Cassandra Martin                          Wednesday-1-3
Janet Dangler            Alice Yoxall                                 Thursday-9:30-11:30
Lori Dunn                                                                        Friday-9:30-11:30 & 2-4
Rose Evans
Anna Falin
Dave Georgius
Betty Hughes
Ann MacLeod, librarian in 1973, at the drop box of the Deansboro Library

From fifth and sixth grade classroom... a library (1996)

 Every year the library holds and Book Fair at Barns and Noble, and a percentage of that day's sales goes to the Deansboro Library and Reading Center, after a certain amount is reached.  That enables the library to furnish books upon request. Many times there is a best-seller on the shelves in Deansboro that may be on hold at other libraries. Customer service is available at all libraries, but is unique in Deansboro.