A Brief History
Windham – Ashland – Jewett – Prattsville
A Bicentennial Project
Transcribed by Dianne Schnettler from her personal collection of Mountaintop memorabilia
The Bicentennial Committee appreciates the efforts of all those who made possible this publication.
A special salute to the town historians.
Miss Dorothy Tallmadge, Windham
Mr. Elwood Hitchcock, Jewett
Mr. Gerald Sutch, Prattsville
Mr. Sheldon Peck, Ashland
And to Mrs. Eunice Atwater Banks for the special report on Jewett Heights.
A special salute also to the Town of Windham for its contribution of $2500 which made it possible to receive in matching funds from the State Bicentennial Commission the extra sum of $1500.
To all of the above the Co-Bicentennial
Committee is most grateful.
W.A.J.P. Bicentennial Committee
Several hundred years ago, sub-tribes of the great Algonquin nation made a footpath from the Hudson River to Cooperstown and the West. This was known as the Mohican or Mohegan Trail and ran along East Windham Mountain through Windham valley. Many villages were eventually built along this trail, and Windham is one of them – the main street is part of that trail. There were many Indian encampments through the valley, and arrowheads and various artifacts have been discovered by almost every farmer who plowed land in the valley.
Windham, originally a part of Woodstock, was constituted a separate town, March 27, 1798. Two years later the new county of Greene, named for General Nathaniel Greene of Revolutionary fame, was established from parts of Ulster and Albany counties. A portion of Freehold, which had been included in Albany county, was also added to the town of Windham.
The original name of Windham Village was Osbornville, after the family of Osborns – Bennet, Milo, Nathan, Merritt, who were so active in building the village. In 1848 the name was changed to Windham Center. This was done by an Act of Congress instituted by Assemblyman Zadock Pratt of Prattsville. It was rumored that this was done because of resentment against Bennet Osborn who reportedly campaigned against Mr. Pratt before his nomination for assemblyman.
The first settler was Captain George Stimson, an agent of Robert Livingstone. He came with his 13 year old son, Henry, to tend the herds of cattle Livingstone had pastured in the Catskills. This land was part of the Hardenburgh Patent of which thousands of acres were owned by Livingstone. Mr. Stimson built a rough cabin against a large rock at the western entrance to the village and resided there about a year and a half, then returned to his home in Framingham, Massachusetts and brought his family back to Ashland where he built a large farm.
For many years the only way to travel this area was by horseback – there were no roads, just rough paths where on each side the trees and underbrush were so thick a man could scarcely chop his way through.
The first real road from East Windham to Windham village was built by a private company headed by Col. George Robertson in 1828. Previously the road west from East Windham went by way of the “Old Road” which skirted the northern slopes of the mountains north of the valley. The early settlers from Connecticut chose this high ground for their farms to avoid the danger of malaria, which had plagued them in the summer in their former areas.
Along these rough roads were taverns, about every two or three miles or less. They were known generally as “Drovers Taverns” because so many drivers of cattle, sheet, etc., traveled this way from the west to the Hudson River. They had to have places to rest and eat, and enough space for their herds to be left overnight. There were several in the Windham area; the only one standing is the old Steele Tavern, now the Windham House, which is beautifully maintained by the owner, Stanley Christman.
To watch the herds being driven through the village was very exciting – there were several hundred usually, and all the houses had strong fences across the front yards to keep out the rampaging animals.
The first houses were built of logs and were heated by fireplaces. But by 1810, sawmills were working and frame houses were erected. Some had fireplaces, but the main source of heat was the wood-burning, iron stoves. Candlelight gave way to kerosene lamps – small hand lamps for bedrooms, more ornate, standing lamps and hanging lamps for the other rooms. Water came from wells or springs, and hand pumps were used to obtain water. Some houses were fortunate enough to have their pumps inside the house in the kitchen, but most of them were outdoors and in the winter it was hard work to thaw them out after a cold night.
Food was mostly home grown – almost everyone had a vegetable garden; and by fall, cellars were full of canned or dried fruits and vegetables. There were two and three or more barrels of apples, bushels of potatoes, carrots, and beets stored for the winter. Flour was bought by the barrel, and sugar and salt in large quantities. There was usually a ham or two, and sides of bacon hanging in the cellar and also a large crock of corned beef. Maple syrup was popular, as was honey.
Amusements and social activities were varied. Of course, there was no radio or television so people made their own recreations. In the winter, there were card parties – euchre, whist, pinochle. The churches held “Socials” every few weeks – games were played and refreshments served, and adults and children alike had a good time. Skating and riding down hill were the winter sports. Also there were dances – the Bump Tavern, now in Cooperstown, had a ballroom and frequent dances were held there. In Windham village was a large two-story structure on Library Road known as the “Rink” where roller skating and dances took place.
“Singing School” was fun, too. A singing master would come to town once a week and conduct a singing school, usually held in one of the churches. Everyone who could sing or thought they could, enjoyed those meetings.
There was also a bowling alley, very popular with the young men. Entertainments were organized by local groups. Plays, minstrel shows, etc. were given for the benefit of various organizations such as the fire company, etc.
Summer time was a busy time for most people. Nearly every house “took summer boarders” so there was plenty of work for young and old. But there was still time for baseball games, mountain climbing – Mount Pisgah being a favorite spot, where the Doolittle family lived in a log cabin on the very top. They built a dance hall and refreshments were served, and wagon loads of summer guests drove up the rough road evenings to dance, eat and enjoy the magnificent view. There were no trees then on the Mountain Top and the view was immense – open on all sides to one of the greatest views in the Catskills. It is now completely grown over and the road impassable.
Also in the summer there were the traveling shows – a small, one-tent circus, a stock company spending a week, giving plays in “Gothic Hall,” an occasional hand-organ or “organ grinder” with a monkey, winding his way through the mountains.
The number of industries in Windham during the 1800’s seems incredible when one considers the remoteness from the railroads.
The first was a tannery built in about 1803, near where the Swiss Inn now stands, by Tertius Graham. Due to the great amount of hemlock trees, the bark of which was used in tanning, every village in the Catskills seemed to have had a tannery. The second one in Windham was owned by Joseph Edsall about 1815, the third by Bennett Osborn and Abejah Stone in 1823. Samuel Reynolds and Clark Twiss built another in 1823, and sold in 1828 to Bennett Osborn. In 1844, Col. Zadock Pratt & Co. and George Robertson bought it and operated it until about 1875.
The Windham Gristmill was built by Bennett Osborn and Abijah Stone about 1810. It later became a paper mill, then a furnace or foundry, and the famous Newburg Printing Press was made there. Then in 1883, the building was thoroughly rebuilt and became again a gristmill remaining in business until about 1910.
There were other mills in operation over several years – a button factory, a linen collar factory, a paper mill, cotton mill, a mill making small wooden boxes for shaving soap, a chair factory, a distillery, a cooperage, a marble and granite shop. Some of these mills were located on Mill Street – thus its name. The famous carpet-bag or satchel was made here for several years. A popular invention by Jefferson Mead was the “Common Sense Carpet Stretcher” which was widely sold throughout the state.
Other businesses in Windham were grocery stores, hardware store, butcher shop, two jewelry stores, blacksmith shops, shoemakers, harness shops, tailor shop, creamery, milliner, dressmakers, carpenters, masons, cabinet makers. There were also several lawyers, doctors and ministers.
The first doctor to come to Windham was Dr. Hervey Camp, who built a large house in 1814. This house has been continuously lived in by his descendants up to and including the present resident, Dr. Edwin G. Mulbury.
A public library was established in 1890 and over the years has been reorganized. It occupies a charming building, once a jewelry shop, built in 1899 and now has become an active center in the community.
A fire company was organized about 1850 with one small piece of equipment – amazingly inadequate compare to the engines and trucks of today.
The Masons were an active group and have a long and interesting history – too long and intricate to be listed here. Revival Lodge #117 F. & A. M. was organized as the first lodge as early as 1804. In 1863 the lodge was reorganized under its present name, Mountain Lodge #529 F. & A. M. Then in 1871 the Royal Arch Chapter #250 R. A. M. was organized.
The first church in the area was the Congregational Church in Pleasant Valley about 1799. From this church stemmed Trinity Episcopal, Windham Presbyterian and others in Jewett and Ashland. The Windham Center Presbyterian was built in 1834 and the Methodist in 1841.
The earliest school was a one-room building heated by fireplace, and has now grown into the Windham-Ashland-Jewett Central School, with over six hundred students from kindergarten through high school. A very large percentage of graduates go on to college and study medicine, law, engineering, teaching, and other careers.
During the War of 1812 and the Civil War, militia companies were organized and many Windham men served in those two wars, and in the Spanish-American War of 1898-99.
This was Windham in the 19th century and the early years of the 20th – a thriving, friendly community of first and second generations of pioneer families.
In the years following the coming of the automobile, roughly from 1910 on, the village gradually changed. The era of transportation made it easy for people to shop in nearby cities and New York.
All of the mills were gradually closed and by 1925 none were left. In November of 1966, the oldest hotel, Coe’s Hotel, burned to the ground. In its time, hundreds of summer guests were accommodated every summer. In February of 1975, The Blue Moon Restaurant building was destroyed by fire. The building dated back to the 1840’s, and had contained a grocery store, post office, law offices and apartments. In 1976, two very old businesses were also destroyed by fire. The Laundromat, once the furniture store and funeral parlor owned by Potter and Haskell; and the same day, the Morse Grocery was also burned down. These two buildings also dated back before 1850.
The last of the old business buildings are the Windham Pharmacy, established in 1880 by Anson R. Mott, bought in 1917 by Harry Avery, then by Lewis Wakefield; the Windham Hardware Store built in 1887; the barbershop, built in 1856; the Windham Journal office built in about 1840 and the library built in 1899. The building now housing the Discount Grocery and Liquor Store was built in about 1840.
The Albany Trust Company Bank now occupies the site of the Osborn Gristmill, and gasoline stations and garages have replaced the blacksmith shops. The former grocery store, or general stores, which sold everything from food to fabrics are no more; but we have a fine department store – Miller Brothers, in business since the early 1900’s. The GNH Lumber Co. has replaced the sawmills. Other businesses in keeping with the twentieth century have sprung up in the past fifty years.
The Windham Mountain Ski Club has been of benefit to the village, giving winter employment to local people. A number of families, who came here to ski, learned to love the area and gave up their holdings in the city to go into business in Windham.
Windham is still an important summer resort; and there again, we have a great many people, who first came for summer vacations, now building retirement homes in the area they have grown so fond of.
There is a fine, 18-hole golf course enjoyed by people from all over the county, as well as the townspeople. There are a lot of tennis courts, and tennis clubs, which add much to recreation in spring, summer and fall.
There have been floods, blizzards, fires and hurricanes with much damage done but never so much that the village could not recover from them. It still retains most of the lovely old homes, which are constantly being photographed by visitors. Windham, in its valley, beside the Bataviakill, and surrounded by the protecting mountains, is truly a good place to live.
For more detailed information see:
Beers: History of Greene County
Prout: Old Times in Windham
Windham Journal: January, 1886-1887 for 47 articles on Windham families and history
Elwood Hitchcock, Author
The Town of Jewett is nearly in the center of Greene County. It is bounded on the north by the towns of Windham and Ashland; on the west and south by Lexington and Hunter; and on the east by Cairo. Jewett and Cairo are the only towns of the 14 in Greene County which do not border on another county.
Jewett is shaped like a giant letter L with its broad toe pointing south toward Lexington. The eastern part of the town is a valley surrounded by mountains. On the north it is separated from Maplecrest by Black Head, Black Dome and Thomas Cole, all mountains more than 3,900 feet high. On the south it is separated from the villages of Tannersville and Hunter by a lower range of mountains; and on the east a high plateau forms the boundary between Jewett and Cairo.
The western part of the town once known as Lexington Heights and later as Jewett Heights, is a high table land some 2,000 feet above sea level. This part of the town was for many years a popular summer resort with several large hotels. The clear mountain air and beautiful scenery attracted a fine class of guests each year.
The town of Jewett was formed from the towns of Lexington and Hunter. It officially became a town on November 14, 1849. It derived its name from Freeborn G. Jewett, a justice of the Supreme Court.
The main streams of water in the town are the Eastkill Creek and the Schoharie Creek. The Eastkill Creek begins in the eastern foothills, flows through the lake at Camp Harriman on into Colgate Lake and then continues west through most of the town until it empties into the Schoharie Creek at Jewett Center. The Schoharie rises in the town of Hunter, flows about three miles to Jewett Center where it is joined by the Eastkill. The combined stream flows about a mile through the southwest corner of the town, then through Lexington on to Prattsville where it joins the Bataviakill about a mile east of the village of Prattsville. Then, the combined waters of the Eastkill, Schoharie and Bataviakill flow west for a few miles and enter the Gilboa Reservoir.
Early settlers immigrated to Jewett in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s and made their homes in five major locations in the town.
The first settler in the town was William Gass, who upon his arrival in 1783, built a log cabin at Jewett Center near the junction of the Eastkill and Schoharie Creeks. Mr. Gass had been born at North Fields, Scotland on January 10, 1727, and died on November 26, 1815, and was buried at Jewett Center. In 1786, the second settler Zephaniah Chase from Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts arrived at South Jewett. He was of English descent, a Baptist, cabinet maker by trade, and Revolutionary War soldier, and had gone on whaling expeditions with his brother, a sea captain.
The Chases had brought an ox team and wagon and started for Binghamton by way of Windham. At the west end of the village of Windham, however, so many trees had fallen across the road that they were unable to proceed further. While at Windham, they met a Thomas Harriet who offered to sell them land at what is now Jewett Center. The deal was made and the older son drove the team and goods around by way of Prattsville and Lexington to Jewett Center, while Mr. Chase and his wife followed a foot path with marked trees over Jewett Heights, then all a wilderness, to their new home in Jewett Center, which was a small log hut covered with bark. Their nearest neighbor, John Gass, lived about five miles away. Later Jared Rice moved into the area followed by other settlers. In time, a school house was built which became District No. 5 and a Baptist Church was built by a Mr. Kipp, boss carpenter. As the church was built by square rule, critics howled and said it would never come to a joint as Mr. Kipp framed the timbers in different places, but when the frame was put together, every joint was a perfect fit. A Richard Peck erected a sawmill and grist mill on the Schoharie Creek.
Soon, this settlement in Jewett Center had a number of settlers and was a thriving little community.
Zephaniah Chase had now built a two story house, lived to be 80 years old and was buried in a family cemetery on the north side of the house. His son, West, operated an inn and was postmaster for over 40 years. He died at 83 and was buried in the family plot.
In 1816, the settlers were frightened by a total eclipse of the sun. It became so dark the men had to stop work, put their horses in the barn and the fowls went to roost.
The second immigration into Jewett was in 1789, when Chester Hull of Wallingford, Connecticut, settled in Jewett Heights. Other pioneers who moved to Jewett Heights at about this time were Daniel and Samuel Merwin; Daniel Miles; Samuel and Theophilus Peck; Zadock Pratt; Henry Goslee; David and Stephen Johnson; Benajah, John and Jared Rice; Laban, Ichabod, Abraham and Amherst Andrews; Justus Squires; Isaac and Munson Buell; Gideon Reuben; Joel Josford and Adnah Beach.
These settlers in the Jewett Heights area had originally planned to build new homes in the Schoharie Valley, but hearing about the hostility of the Indian farther west and also learning that a Mr. Tomlison, a native of New Haven, Connecticut, would sell them a large tract of land on easy terms, persuaded them to change their plans and settle at Jewett Heights.
Another family which immigrated to Jewett from Wallingford, Connecticut, about 1793, was Thomas and Ester Merwin and their seven children – three sons and four daughters, for the most part, grown up. The Merwins purchased a tract of land large enough so that the father, Thomas, and each of the three sons, Daniel, Samuel and Thomas, Jr., could have a farm. The country was still a wilderness with the exception of a few clearings made by the early pioneers from Wallingford, Connecticut. From these three Merwin brothers sprang all the families located on Merwin Street near Tower Mountain for all had large families except Daniel who had only six children. At one time there were 49 Merwin children attending school.
The Merwins built log houses with great stone chimneys and heavy plank doors which could be barricaded on the inside against the Indians.
After the land had been cleared, the cabins built, and the crops planted, the three Merwin sons, Daniel, Samuel and Thomas, Jr., returned to Fair Haven, Connecticut, for their brides. It was a long journey! All on horseback and most of the way to Catskill by marked trees, a distance of about 25 miles, and then on to Connecticut.
The young women brought with them to Jewett from their homes in Connecticut, all kinds of flower seeds, plants and roots both cultivated and wild, a bunch of smellage (wild celery), wormwood, catnip, sage, etc.
The country to which the three brides came from their homes “down east” was indeed a wilderness with few conveniences. Matches were unknown. Flint and tinder were used to start a fire. The fireplace heated the cabin and served for cooking and providing light. Pins were scarce. Women made their own yeast cakes (called in those days, turnpikes); also soda and starch. Pumpkins took the place of apples and other fruit for a number of years.
Each family made it own soap. Every garment for both men and women was homemade. Girls were taught to spin at an early age and when they married they were expected to have a pillowcase filled with stockings knit by themselves, also bed and table linen which they had spun and woven.
These colonists were in far better circumstances than the majority of settlers who had immigrated to the mountains prior to their coming.
They were descendants of old Puritan stock, industrious, and began clearing the land and building new homes with true New England energy. Their influence is still felt in the town and on the Mountain Top.
The third large immigration into Jewett was from 1795-1800 when Jonathan Beach of Goshen, Connecticut, came to the region now known as Goshen Street with 30 or 40 other families. With him came his son, Erastus, grown and perhaps already married. They passed through Catskill, the Main Street of which at that time was only a turnpike, which they followed to Windham. From that point it was necessary to open a road through the woods and up the mountain to Goshen Street. The colony built a common shelter and then erected log houses, one for each family.
Charles L. Beach was born April 26, 1808, in one of these first log houses. In April, 1813, when Charles L. Beach was five years old, his father, Erastus, moved to Catskill.
Charles L. Beach later leased the Catskill Mountain House for five years, 1839-1844. He purchased the property and took possession of it on January 1, 1845. Mr. Beach enlarged and improved the house and property and was the proprietor until his death on October 2, 1902, at the age of 94 years, 5 months and six days.
Charles L. Beach was also president and the largest subscriber of the Catskill Mountain Railroad. He helped build the Otis Elevating Railroad in 1892, in a period of only seven months. This Otis Railroad met the Catskill Mountain Railroad at the foot of the Mountains and lifted passengers and freight to the top. Mr. Beach was also interested in the Cairo Railroad and the Catskill-Tannersville Railway.
It was in 1806, that a fourth group of settlers emigrated from Scott’s Patent in Schoharie County to the eastern part of the town and settled on the flats opposite the site of the present East Jewett United Methodist Church.
This little group of pioneers consisted of thirteen members including Lemuel Woodworth, his wife, Lydia, and their five children; Lydia’s brother, Matthew Winter, wife, Anna, who was Lemuel’s sister and their one child, Matthew’s parents and his brother, Roger Winter.
On the flat near the Eastkill Creek this closely-knit, little group built three log cabins: double ones for Lemuel’s and Matthew’s families and a single one for Matthew’s parents and brother.
As soon as their homes were completed, they were consecrated by prayer and were thereafter the scene of family devotions and worship services on Sunday.
Before the Woodworths and Winters moved to East Jewett in 1806, there were several families living up the valley in the eastern foothills known as the “Spruce Woods” above the Colgate farm buildings. These early immigrants had probably come over the mountain from the Round Top region near Cairo. They had settled here because of the fertile soil, springs of good water and the great abundance of large spruce trees. A few years later it was reported that as many as three sawmills were operating in the “Spruce Woods” at one time and great quantities of beautiful spruce lumber were being drawn out of the valley by horse and ox teams to Catskill, Cairo and other distant points. The old road from Storks Nest Road near Round Top over the mountain can still be followed. Philip Mead and Timothy Lockwood and their large families had settled in this region. Timothy Lockwood had first come from Dutchess County in 1797, but was so greatly frightened by the howling of the wolves that he immediately returned to whence he came, greatly fearing that he would not get back alive. Some five years later, he returned to East Jewett where he lived for about fifteen years then moved to Mentz, New York, and his later history is not known. Also, to the west of the Woodworth and Winter’s settlements farther down the valley, Jonathan Fairchild, Jehiel Winchell, Samuel Hanson and John Beach had taken out “grants” and built homes.
The Eastkill Valley and mountain sides were generously forested with spruce and hemlock.
One can only surmise that their circumstance may have brought the Schoharie County families into the Valley as settlers, for Jonathan Fairchild was a tanner and might well have foreseen the coming of this industry.
Mrs. Grant Robinson, a daughter of George Griffin who was born in 1848, on what is now known as the Colgate Farm, told Margaret O’Bryan, Jewett historian in 1960, that her grandfather remembered the great snow storm of April 7 and 14, 1857, which was more severe than the blizzard of 1888. It was reported that four feet of snow fell on April 7, and had settled only a foot when another four feet fell on April 14, making a total of seven feet. Barn roofs caved in and many cattle were killed.
Another early Jewett settlement which became known for its mills and manufacturing was Mill Hollow, situated on Roaring Brook and East Kill Creek between Jewett Heights and Beaches Corners and north of Jewett Center.
Around 1785, Laban Andrews came from Wallingford, Connecticut, with his sons and built a sawmill and gristmill. Not long after, Stephen Johnson and Abner Hammond (who came from Hudson) built sawmills, wooden dish mills and gristmills on the same stream. By 1800, Isaac and Judge Munson Buell had purchased the Hammond and Andrews property and erected a two-story sawmill and a blacksmith shop. The Buell brothers also put in two card machines for carding wool.
Later a Parks and Ransom Wolcott started a turning mill business here. Also, there have been a gristmill (Brown’s), a tannery (Graham’s) and a sawmill (Pond’s) all in their time doing a prosperous business.
Some of these mills were carried off by freshets and others were abandoned. Now Mill Hollow, once a flourishing community with Carmans, Showers, Towners, Miles, Chelseys, Goodsells, Fords, Buells, Andrews and Johnsons, and their own post office is now a quiet stream and an abandoned village.
So it seems that between 1783 and 1810, many pioneers immigrated to Jewett from Connecticut and the Schoharie Valley. Here in this long, narrow valley with its high table land on the west, they found rich, fertile soil, an abundance of hemlock, spruce, pine, maple, beech and other trees. The Eastkill Creek provided a source of water for mill power here and in Mill Hollow and fish for the table. They also found much wild game.
Here, too, they found freedom, peace, the opportunity to earn a good living, and the freedom to worship God according to the dictates of their conscience.
Sheldon Peck, Author
The present village of Ashland was first known as Scienceville, then Old Windham, when it was a part of Woodstock, Ulster County. The early name of Scienceville is contributed to the fact that some of the families who settled there were of more than ordinary education and were particularly interested in establishing schools of high standards.
The early history of Ashland differs very little from other settlements in the area along the Batavia. It was thought that a settlement would develop in what is now Pleasant Valley in the vicinity of the present Trinity church. Medad Hunt, who donated the land for the Pleasant Valley cemetery and the land of which The First Congregationalist Church of Windham was built, planned to build a mill on the stream that flows from North Settlement into the Batavia. However, this mill never developed, and villages developed to the west of Scienceville (Ashland) and Osbornville (Windham) to the east.
Since Capt. George Stimson was the first settler in Old Windham, we must consider him the first in Ashland which was then a part of Windham. Mr. Stimson settled in this area in 1784-85 with his wife and nine children; four sons and five daughters. His son, Henry B., a boy of thirteen, accompanied his father on their first trip to the area before the Stimson family arrived. Henry Stimson studied for the ministry and served the “Old Church on the Batavia” as its first pastor for 24 years.
Zachariah Cargill was an early settler, along with Elisha Strong who made the first permanent settlement in what became the village of Scienceville about 1785. He was a woodchopper and two years later brought his wife and seven children. He purchased all the land now occupied by the village of Ashland. One of his sons, Jarius, built a brick store and dwelling (1805) which is now the residence of Mr. and Mrs. Harry St. Clair.
Dr. Thomas Benham came in 1793 and was the first doctor in the area, living on the site which the Tom Higgins family now occupies. The slight grade on Route 23 just west of the Higgins’ residence for years was known “Benham Hill.” Dr. Benham traveled over the countryside on horseback with his medicine in his saddle-bags. He was never in a hurry but was always ready for call. It was said that he would never examine a patient until he had had a smoke. His friendliness, attitude, and disposition acted as a medicine on his patients as well as his drugs. Three of his sons followed their father’s profession serving in Greene and Schoharie counties. The roads traveled by the doctor were merely blazed paths among the trees.
Deborah Stone was the first child born in the area.
Other early settlers were Sanford and Medad Hunt, 1789; Foster Morss, 1799; John Prout, 1799. Medad built and operated the Hunt Tavern just east of the cemetery (Bert Lawrence’s residence). East of the Hunt Tavern was the tavern built by Jehiel Tuttle. This was later known as the Bump Tavern and now a part of the Village Crossroads in Cooperstown.
The pioneers of Ashland were troubled with the wild animals of the forest which preyed upon their cattle and sheep. The most troublesome were wolves which were finally diminished by wolf-hunts when men banded together, surrounding the wolf hang-outs and killed large numbers of them.
The settlers’ first houses were crudely built log houses, until the sawmill put in its appearance, then frame houses replaced the logs. These new homes took on the look of those in New England with huge fireplaces and brick ovens.
Indians, after the Revolution, were seldom seen in this area. However, some did follow the trail from the Susquehanna to the Hudson. There were reports that a few lived for a time a mile north of the village.
Former Governor Washington Hunt, son of Sanford Hunt, was a native of Ashland.
The town of Ashland was formed in 1848 from what was left of the western part of Old Windham after Prattsville had been set off in 1833. The town is said to have been named after the home of Henry Clay of Kentucky. Clay had many political admirers living here at the time.
The principal streams of the town are the Batavia; Lewis Creek, (by the mail Route Road); and West Hollow Brook (Sutton Hollow).
The “Old Windham” and Durham turnpike extended east and west across the northern end of the town (County Route 10) and entered the town of Durham from below Mt. Pisgah, by way of Cornwallville and joined the Cairo and Windham Turnpike near Acra. The Windham and Cairo Turnpike was laid out and constructed about 1790, in part under the direction of Col. Stephen Simmons. Lacking a kettle large enough to cook for his workmen, he went to Catskill, bought one and carried it home on his back. One of the industries of that day was “turnpike yeast” made by a Mrs. Fowler. It was a soft yeast, dried and cut into cakes for easier carrying during the building of the turnpike.
Among the earliest industries were woolen factories or fulling mills of George Brainard and a Mr. Bidwell; a brick yard and a rope walk. Foster Morss had a mill and a tannery. Between the years 1850 and 1855 the tannery business failed, owing to the exhausting of hemlock bark. The cotton and woolen mills also suffered because of their inland location which caused high transportation costs. In 1850 Ashland suffered a further business depression by the closing of the hat-making industry.
The first public school in the village was of logs and stood on what was known as Argulus White’s farm (now occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Elmer Roe). Six others are known to have been in the town, some of which were used for religious services as well as a school.
John S. Ive was the town’s first supervisor, serving ten years, 1848-1858.
Most of the early pioneers in Ashland and Old Windham were of New England origin. From old letters and documents it would seem that there were two incentives for migration to the high-lying regions of the Catskill Mountains. The first of these was a virgin forest in which wheat could be easily grown, and second (and by no means the least) was a country free from the annoying and health-destroying pest, the malaria-bearing mosquito. It is difficult to realize what a boom the elevated region such as the Catskills was to people who lived in what was considered a malaria ridden country along the New England coast and in the lower valleys of its rivers. In those regions it was a common occurrence for large number of malaria victims to suffer chills and fevers every second or third day over long periods for weeks and months with little or no relief after having an attack of the disease. A region relatively free of this dreaded disease certainly encouraged migration. This undoubtedly led to the fact that two years after the town Ashland was formed, it had a population of fifteen hundred inhabitants. (1850) That number has since never been equaled and the fact that people, almost without exception, bore New England names, is very suggestive of the region from which they came and the reason for their migration. Names such as Stimson, Steele, Smith, Snow, Tompkins, Tuttle, and Prout are associated with places in Pleasant Valley and Ashland. The availability and demand for hemlock bark for the tanning industry developed later on.
John Prout came to Pleasant Valley in the summer of 1796 from Middletown, Connecticut. He helped build the older part of the Prout Homestead (now owned by David Maier) and helped clear some of the land for wheat. He must have been pleased with his experience for he returned in the spring of 1799 and purchased the house he had helped to build and the land he had helped to clear three years before.
When Mr. Prout made his way here the second time, he carried a willow stick with which he urged on the horse he was riding. When he reached his destination, he stuck it down in a swampy place in what was the rear of the house. This willow stick developed into a large willow tree and is standing there today, easily the oldest willow around. It can be recognized by the concrete at its base with the date and the tree surgery which has helped to preserve this historic willow. At first the trail through the valley went straight down through its center, and it was some years later when a proper survey was made and the road was placed near its present location.
The Stimson Homestead which lies just west of the Prout home and joins it, is another historic landmark. When John Prout came to the region in 1799, he found Rev. Henry Stimson putting the finishing touches on his house. Rev. Stimson was the great-grandfather of Henry L. Stimson, who became Secretary of State in President Hoover’s cabinet in 1929.
When part of the Prout family was making its way into this region on the last day of the eighteenth century, December 31, 1799, they witnessed the building of the Old Meeting House on land donated by Medad Hunt. (This building was located in what is now the Pleasant Valley cemetery across the highway from Ron’s Dairy Bar.) It became the First Congregational Church of Windham, often referred to as the Old Church on the Batavia.
It seems to be the fact that when the Old Meeting House was built, it was in some sense a union house to whose erection all had contributed and it was used as such for several years. But as usually happens, in the union different denominations, trouble arose. Rev. Perry (Episcopal) and Rev. Stimson (Congregational) made appointments which conflicted and after a time the Episcopalians considered that they were being pushed out. Therefore they withdrew and used the Old Meeting House no more. They held services in school houses in different neighborhoods until they built their own church (Trinity) in 1818. The present Trinity church stands on that site.
The Old Meeting House stood about 70 feet north of the turnpike (Route 23). It was 38 feet wide and either 42 or 44 feet long. The main entrance was on the south side in the center. The bell tower, built later, was on the west end. Inside, the pulpit stood opposite the door on the north side of the room and was approached by the center aisle. Galleries ran around three sides, stairs to which were inside to the left as you entered. At first there was neither lath nor plastering and only slabs for seats, but in 1814 it had been finished and square pews built.
Henry B. Stimson, son of Captain George Stimson, had studied for the ministry and became the first pastor of the “Old Church on the Batavia” in 1802 and served faithfully until 1826.
In 1831 it became necessary to build a parsonage to cost $1,000. For this subscription was raised amounting to $992.00. Some of the subscriptions were made of hemlock lumber at $4.00 a thousand. It was also provided that in case the church was divided the parsonage should be sold and the money divided among the original subscribers. The parsonage was built by a Mr. Goodrich and is the farmhouse now owned by Mr. and Mrs. Leslie Holdridge.
In 1813, the Second Congregational Church was formed in what is now Jewett Heights and its congregation separated from the old church in the valley.
In 1826 the Old Church on the Batavia became Presbyterian. In 1834 a Presbyterian Church was formed in Osbornville (Windham) thus causing a second division in the Old Church.
In 1842 the mother church closed, and its congregation moved to the Presbyterian Church in Scienceville. The furniture was moved, the bell and steeple dismantled, the windows boarded up and the building and land, in accordance with the original deed, went back to the owners of the farm from which the deed was given. The owner of that farm in 1842 was Burton G. Morss who used the building as a storage barn. In 1896, the Steele brothers, Albert and John, then owners of the farm, tore down the Old Church and used parts of it in remodeling a dairy barn now owned by Bertram Lawrence.
On the walls of Woodchuck Lodge, the home in Roxbury of the well-known naturalist, John Burroughs, hangs a schoolbag in which he carried his books when a student in Ashland at the Ashland Collegiate Institute. This institute opened in 1854 and burned in 1860. It was located on the West Settlement Road on the property now owned by Mr. and Mrs. Richard Press. The building had a front of over two hundred feet and was five stories high with a wing of one hundred feet which contained a chapel, recitation rooms, laboratory, etc. It had a library of over 1500 books. The courses offered included music, painting, trigonometry (plain & spherical), surveying, astronomy, and the more common branches of learning. There were Biblical lectures, and students were to attend church in the village on Sunday mornings. The associate principals were Rev. Henry J. Fox and C. Rutherford. In a lot back of the building was a rock where it is claimed John Burroughs wrote his first essay. Students attended from as far away as Catskill, Albany, and New York.
Like all rural communities throughout the country, Ashland has witnessed many changes in the past one hundred seventy-five years. Its grist and sawmills, tanneries, and rope walks have gone. The howling of the wolves has been replaced by the roar of the jet and the rumble of the tanker trucks at night. The blazed trail through the forest has been replaced by a macadam or concrete highway. The four taverns (Hunt’s, Bump’s, the Ashland Hotel, the Old Inn – the home of Bob and Joyce Tompkins) which were once the gathering places of drovers, travelers, and stage coaches, have been replaced by a modern motel or have become dwellings or a part of the Farmers Museum in Cooperstown.
The ox-team has given way to the iron horse that knows neither night nor day. The electric bulb has taken over the duty of the smoking pine torch and the flickering home-dipped, tallow candle. The distances to Catskill and Kingston are counted in minutes, not days. The singing school, the quilting party, and the husking bee have been replaced by the turning of an ignition switch, or the changing to another channel. No longer do we wait for weeks or months to learn the outcome of a state or national election. We dread the hurricane or blinding blizzard for hours before it reaches us.
Although the town’s name and mode of life have changed, when we glance on our census list, or our telephone book, or perhaps a mailbox, we still find the names of yesteryears; the Tuttles, the Tompkins, the Snows, the Martins, the Steeles, the Suttons, the Hunts, the Smiths.
Perhaps it’s good to pause from our busy, hurried routine for a few minutes to wander back to times past. Not that any of us would be willing to exchange our times for theirs, (could we take it?), but just for reflection and appreciation. We shouldn’t become too sophisticated to learn from the past, nor too biased to appreciate it.
EUNICE ATWATER BANKS, Author
I have been asked to write a sketch on the history of Jewett Heights. After several false starts, I have decided to take the article on Jewett by George H. Hastings in the History of Greene County and work from that, aided by an Atlas of Green County published by Beers, Ellis, and Soule in 1867, and to a degree, by the Old Windham map in Old Times in Windham. To those who know little about the western end of the present Township of Jewett, it may be of interest to know that it was first known as Lexington Heights, Town of Woodstock, County of Ulster. In 1798 it became part of Windham. Come 1813, Lexington again claimed it. Finally in 1849, the Township of Jewett was formed from parts of Lexington and Hunter. Jewett is a long, narrow town not over 15 miles long and one-third as wide. This sketch is concerned with the Heights proper and approximately a two mile circle, as the crow flies, around it.
The first white man to settle within that circle was William Gass in 1783 on what is now the Fred Wieninger place. The first cemetery is in the lot in back of the present house. Zephaniah Chase became Gass’ neighbor in 1788 and his son, was Postmaster of South Jewett for many years in what is now the Three Rivers House. Across the road the house owned by Mark Got, or the one owned by the proprietor of the Xenia Motel, was owned by another son, Nobel. Their cemetery is somewhere in back of the present Ukrainian Church. Chester Hull came to Jewett Heights in 1789 and the place now owned by Edith Carl on Carl Road was his homestead. It remained in the Hull name until a bit over 50 years ago when Tessie Gallagher bought it.
The homesite of Leban Andrews, who came in 1785, was about a mile up the East Kill from Gasses and Chases and could be either the Norman Wiser place or the place formerly owned by Charles Matthews. According to how far you stretch a mile, it could be Rev. Beckles’ place. At any rate, prior to 1864 that place was owned by John Rice and he ran a store there. That is why the east door to the “ell” is so wide: it had to accommodate the hogsheads of molasses, flour, and sugar that went through it. My great-grandfather, George Rice told my mother that at that time there were over forty young people in Mill Hollow and that, “It was no trouble at all to get up a dance any time you wanted.” There was a saw-mill, a grist mill, a tannery, and a carding mill besides the store in that small community. There were four roads leading into Mill Hollow. There was one road that went down just east of the barn on my place; one that went down where Jack and Susan Rappleyea’s trailer stands. This road was closed after a freshet during the years 1915-17. Mr. Arthur Barnum told us that there was a road, traveled only by horse-back, which went up and over Hog Mountain and came out somewhere on the Ford Hill Road. However, I have never been able to find any trace of it on any map. The fourth road is the one leading into Mill Hollow at the present.
It was quite a little town in its day.
Ichabod Andrews, son of Leban, built at the intersection of County Routes 17 and 23C. That place is now owned by Donald and Clara Thompson. Mr. Andrews ran a public house. He also gave the land for the cemetery which lies just to the north of the Thompsons. Many of the town’s first settlers are buried there. Among them is William Distin and his wife Electa Wolcott. They lived on the Heights proper, but in just which house, I am unable to determine. As I look over the available information, there are too many names for the houses, even considering the cellar holes left from the fires which occurred even then. It would seem as if the transfer of property must have been brisk between the time of settlement and the publication of the atlas I used, not to mention Rev. Prout’s information.
Shortly after the Gasses came, four Rice brothers trecked from New Haven, Connecticut, and up from South Jewett to the lower end of Rice Street. The first house on that place was a log cabin some distance down in the lot from the present house now owned by Cy and Jube Rice Baldwin Tompkins which means that the place has stayed in the Rice blood since it was first settled. It was in the Rice name until a few years ago when Frank Rice, Jr. died. It was one of the few places in town to be so held. I have been told that at one time every house on the street was owned by Rices, although Lucius North built what is now the Aubrey Thompson home. The Samuel Atwater place (he married Polly, daughter of Benajah Rice and is my progenitor) has been bulldozed into oblivion and a big, fancy ranch type home stands on the spot, just south of the Thompsons.
Captain Henry Goslee pioneered in West Jewett together with Israel Whitcomb in 1787-88. Goslee settled where Henry Dieffenbach now owns; Whitcomb settled where Harrison and Wilma Soule now live. They operate one of the few dairies left in town. It was always told that Zadock Pratt, Sr. built the house where Martin Hudecek now owns. Apparently, the Baldwin’s settled there and it seems safe to assume that they built a log cabin which was razed for Mr. Pratt’s fine, full two-story dwelling. Such houses were few and far between in those days. My place was the Isaac Hinnman place and at least some of it was purchased from one Eri Pond, but no Eri Pond is mentioned in any of the deed I have had time to research. However, he surely is on my deed. Peter Girocano now owns the former Pond place. Joel Dickerman owned one of the Hesley places. The other Hesley place could have been owned by one John Goodsell. I think the other two places on County Route 77 were the Bailey places. One house still stands, in ruins, and the other burned several years ago; only the barn and cellar remain.
Directly across the Goshen Street Road from County Route 77 the house now owned by William Giddins could have been Samuel Osborn’s Homestead. Turning west, the “Millstone” was apparently the pioneer stand of Justice Coe. Kenneth Morse’s home was that of L. Beach. Back in the lot on Pangman Road was the cabin of Samuel Avery. Where Sunnycrest Villa now is, lived Luther Bailey and across from him lived George W. Miles, son of George, Sr., who built in the forks which lead to Camp Mohawk. The site of Camp Mohawk was pioneered by another of the Distin family. An interesting fact which few people know is that the Miles Cemetery is in back of the barn lot on the former George W. Miles place. The two Miles brothers, Daniel and Rolland, were interred there not much more than fifteen years ago. Continuing south, the place now owned by A. Buell Morse was first bought by J. and Philo Peck. Apparently, they bought a large tract because all of the old houses down the salt-box house, now owned by Douglas and Louise Murray, were Peck houses. The salt-box house stands in the fork of the road at the foot of Potash Hill and could possibly have been the homesite of Dr. Gad Pond. He also had a sawmill and the building still standing across the road might have housed the mill. The “Potash” is the hill which now leads to County Route 17 and was so named because of the potash pit at the foot.
Now we come to the Heights proper and frankly, as I mentioned, there are far too many names for the available houses. I know for certain that just east from the churches and the academy, now the Jewett Firehouse, was a store apparently run by Hosford and Mann, together with a boarding house attached. Both burned about ten years ago and the present owner, Jack Slevens, has built a small house on the spot. George L. “Daddy” Chase ran the Jewett House for many years there. The rest of the places you will have to “salt and pepper” as best you can except that I know that the “Blue Willow” and the present Newell Morse house were not there in early pioneer times. I have been told one of the Goslee owners gave Hale Pangman the choice of a building lot and helped build his house. How true this is is a moot question. The “Blue Willow” sometime in the late 1800’s by the name of Arnold as a retirement home. The present Milton Goslee house has been in the family for at least four or five generations. The Peck Cemetery is in back of the Slevens home.
Merwin Street is also said to have been named because every house on it was owned by Merwins. At any rate Thomas and Esther Merwin in about 1793 together with their grown sons Daneil, Samuel, and Thomas, and bought all the land now occupied by the Alex Kirkman home and all other places on the west side of the road. Somewhat later Uncle David Pond built “Tower Mountain House” which was razed around 1940 to build the house now occupied by Bill and Laura Maben.
In conclusion, I will have to admit that I have left many houses out, but I cannot seem to get any inkling as to just whom they belonged first, and so would rather leave them out than to make a glaring error. I have hit the high spots and maybe, later, if my present interest holds, I shall do some more research. Now I am going to lift, almost verbatim, a paragraph from the Beers History concerning the hamlet of Jewett Heights.
“It is said by some that the descendants of the early settlers that their destination of these pioneers was farther westward, but the hostility of the Indians was such that they concluded to settle in Jewett. As a portion of the land was owned by a Mr. Tomilson of New Haven, Connecticut, he offered them a large tract of land on easy terms. They accepted his offer and commenced clearing the land. These colonists were in far better circumstances than that of the majority of settlers who had come prior to their arrival.”
Many of them came from New Haven and environs and the Rices, through a grandmother, were direct descendants of the Yales. They and the Merwins were the musicians of the community and were somewhat frowned upon by the straight-laced Presbyterians.
GERALD SUTCH, Author
When still a young man and serving the Methodist Church of Grand Gorge as full time pastor, I had many occasions to drive through the village of Prattsville in 1960 and 1961; and wondered to myself whether there was any more to the village than taverns and a Reformed Church badly in need of repair. Since living in this village as of 1871, I have come to fully appreciate the residents; and in taking more than a “second look” I have discovered much more than meets the eye. Let me therefore share with you but a portion of the history of the Prattsville area.
The well-know Beer’s History of Greene County leaves one with the impression that the first white settlers of the Prattsville or Schoharie creek area were non-Dutch, and yet if the material of the Historical & Statistical Gazetteer of New York, published in 1860 is correct, it refutes in part Beer’s contention. Note the names of these earliest of settlers who probably trekked in through the Schoharie Valley: yes, there was John Laraway and his sons John, Jonas, Derick and Marinus; also John Beeker and family along with Isaac Van Alystyne, Vroman, Peter and John Van Loan, and the family of Schoonmakers. This multinational group of early settlers probably settled near what is called Red Falls between 1763 and 1790 when the first school was erected. This settlement may have been the result of the ending of the French and Indian wars, or possibly the American Revolution as the power of the Iroquois and other Indian tribes became greatly diminished.
Beers contends that a group of German settlers came into this area before other whites, “This non-Dutch settlement was similar to what took place in the towns of Catskill, Cairo, Durham, and Greenville.”  At any rate most historians agree that a battle took place on the banks of the Schoharie in the 1700’s in which a British captain was killed, buried and reburied again by a Negro. There seems to be some difference of opinion as to whether the settlers fought a Tory raiding party, or simply mistook the British for unwanted revenuers or tax collectors. The settlers won the skirmish.
Before the famous Zadock Pratt came upon the scene of this settlement, it was called by the residents “Schoharie Kil.” An indication in itself of Dutch influence, Kil meaning creek.
Tradition has it that the first tannery was built in the area by a man named Bell near Devasego Falls, and that Charles Smedberg, a native of Sweden purchased it and ran the tannery until 1823 when it was destroyed by fire, whereupon he built a new one. Smedberg also owned and operated a grist mill, saw mill, and a store; and became a very important person in Prattsville. (Who knows, if Col Pratt had never come into the area, Prattsville might have been named “Smedsberg”.)
At this same time in history, to the southwest of Schoharie Kil, in Edwardsville (now called Hunter), William Edwards (the grandson of the great theologian and preacher, Jonathan Edwards) was operating a successful tannery using a new method which had reduced the tanning time to ¼ of the European method. It may be contested whether or not the first tannery in this section of the Catskill mountains was erected by Zadock Pratt, Sr. (1802) in Jewett Heights, for it may have been here. It was at the Jewett Heights tannery that Col. Zadock Pratt Jr. learned his trade.
Because of the abundance of hemlock trees which surrounded the Schoharie Kil, Col. Zadock Pratt in 1824, and to establish his first tannery. This was soon enlarged to a building 550’ by 431’, which is reputed to have been the largest tannery in the world. A replica of this tannery, as well as an explanation of the tanning process is now on display in the Pratt Museum, Prattsville. In several years time the Pratts, Edwards and Morss families had made this area the leading leather producing center in the state.  In the 1840’s the tanning business was so brisk that hides were being imported from as far away as Latin America. Yet Pratt and Morss were visionaries enough to know that the Catskill forests of hemlock would not last forever, so both men invested in tanneries in Pennsylvania.
Col. Zadock Pratt comes down into history as the benevolent employer who changed the whole character of the Schoharie Kil, what with hiring so many people to work the tannery, building and selling tenant houses at low cost, building bridges, and re-routing the road away from the Schoharie Creek (to about where Route 23 runs now) that it is no wonder that by 1833 that “Schoharie Kil” had become instead “Prattsville,” and in March by an act of the N.Y.S. Legislature was separated from the Town of Windham with part of the Town of Ashland was taken in 1848. The first Prattsville Town Board Meeting was held at the home of Col. Henry Laraway, with Nicholas Decker and Leveritt Munson present as Justices of the Peace. Other officers were: Eliasha B. Minard (3rd Justice), Hezekian Dickerman (Town Clerk), F. A. Fenn (Assessor). Other positions were Overseer of the Poor, Commissioner of Highways, Commissioner of Schools, Inspectors of Schools, and Constables.
In 1829 Forster Morss had moved his tannery from east of Ashland to Red Falls, and young Burton G. Morss ran this tannery from 1835 to 1849, and chose to call the area “Federal City”. Mr. Sheldon Peck (currently from Ashland) in his notes, pictures that settlement where the Bataviakill intersects with the Schoharie Creek (Route 23 east of Prattsville) as nearly a “city” when compared to the few houses that remain today. In that period “Federal City” (which became known as “Moresville” in the 1870’s) had a tannery, cotton factory (which employed 70 people), a foundry (employing 10 molders), a shingle factory, brick kiln, saw mill, grist mill, and a distillery which produced “fine wines”.
Mr. Peck tells us that the remainders of the cotton mill and tenant houses may be found on the flats above the falls. He makes mention of the fact that the machinery for both the Federal City cotton mill, and that one which Morss owned in Gilboa were manufactured at the Red Falls foundry. The Federal City cotton mill was measured by 110’x 50’ being three stories high, with a two story addition of 40’ x 26’. This cotton factory in its day had 70 looms which weaved cotton yarn for lamp wicks, twine, etc. In this day of Women’s Lib, one should note that 40 of the 70 employees of this mill were female. The mill was reached by a “dugway road” going to the left of the newly constructed section called Hog Back Road.
In Report of the Commissioner of Patents for the Year 1861 Col. Zadock Pratt gives his own account of the successful tanning business: “… During the period embraced between the 24th of October l, 1824 when (I) first located and began to build on the Schoharie Kil, and the autumn of 1845, when the Prattsville Tannery was closed, (I) consumed, in (my) operations there, one hundred and fifty thousand cords of bark, therefore paying half a million dollars, had employed the services of about thirty-thousand men, and paid over two and a half million dollars for labor, and had turned out a million soles of leather from the product of the forests which once had shaded more than ten thousand acres of land.”
Alf Evers in his The Catskills from Wilderness to Woodstock responds to such a proud record by reminding us how the tanning industry adversely affected the environment. When the bark peelers had finished their job, they left instead of a forest of hemlock, mountain sides littered with the bare trunks and branches of hemlock, which in dry seasons were apt to catch fire, while the slopes became eroded with the rains. As topsoil was washed away decaying trees, minerals ran into the streams spoiling fishing. The tanners themselves added to the pollution problem by dumping into the streams both the acid and hot ashes left from the tanning process, which tended to kill both plant and fish life.
Mr. Evers is fair enough to point also to the positive influences of tanning industry other than the obvious economic rewards. Tannery roads cut into the wilderness and the resulting clearing of the land made settlement for the farmers a much easier matter.
When Pratt saw the handwriting on the wall regarding a dying tannery industry he turned his attention to both politics and farming. In the same report to the “Commissioner of Patents” he describes in detail his 365 acre farm in Prattsville as being located in fine alluvial soil with “… five miles of laid stone walls, a converted dairy farm which contains sheds and pig pens, a horse and wagon house (which has been reproduced in back of the Pratt Museum), barn 30’ x 40’ with stables in the basement, wash and wood house, milk house with cement bottom, dwelling house (really a mansion as you can see by today’s standards with 24 rooms!), granary, corn house with water piping to yards, pens, and pig pens.
By his own accounts Pratt did as well in farming as he did in tanning. He listed a profit from the farm of only $460.20 in the year 1857, by the year 1861 it had grown to $1,716. Not that he needed the income what with his pension as a Revolutionary War soldier, income as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. One must not forget that Pratt also held investments in at least three woolen mills, one mitten and glove factory, and one saw mill. To Col. Zadock Pratt of the 1800’s diversification was not new, but necessary for survival in a changing economy.
On Pratt’s 53rd birthday, October 30, 1843 he established a bank (on the site of the Prattsville Post Office) with a “circulation of $100,000.”  The bank closed on November 30, 1852, after Pratt had doubled his capital!
The Historical & Statistical Gazetteer of 1860 gives one a good idea of the agricultural and real estate value of the Town of Prattsville eleven years before the death of Col. Pratt:
On the land holdings in Prattsville in 1858:
8,784 acres of improved land
4,854 acres of un-improved land
$111,200 total real estate valuation
$ 24, 250 personal property valuation
$140,450 total valuation
746 male population
842 female population
8 school districts
Agricultural data 1858:
680 working oxen and calves
2,075 bushels of grain produced (winter)
3,461 & ½ bushels of grain produced (summer)
1,834 tons of hay
3,436 bushels of potatoes
3,380 bushels of apples
73,780 pounds of butter
50 pounds of cheese 
When one looks at these real estate and dwelling holdings, plus the agricultural picture of 118 years ago, one must say that much has surely changed! And yet it is interesting to note that the number of students registered at the Gilboa-Conesville Central School is only at the 550 mark.
Pratt indicates in his writing that much of the traffic in and out of Prattsville came up from the Hudson out of Catskill. Indeed B. G. Morss could recall some pretty hair-raising trips with wagons loaded with hides on icy roads down the Windham mountain. He was surely glad for the lay-over at his father’s farm in Acra, before going on to Catskill. To get the hides to market, the citizens of Lexington gathered together in July of 1843 to prepare a “certificate of relinquishment” so that the newly organized Prattsville-Shandaken Turnpike could run through their land.  This opened the way to the Shandaken-Kingston area.
In the late 1870’s firms like Churchhill and Houghtaling ran the stages to Catskill, with round trips to New York City using the steamships. For such a trip the price was $2.25.
In this same period of time, Moresville had become the center from which people easily left the area or came for visiting from New York City. Yes, there was a railroad station in Moresville. It was formerly known as the R. & O. Railroad which went bankrupt, and this was later formed into the “N.Y.K. & S. R.R.,” which probably stood for the New York, Kingston, and Saugerties Railroad. Every issue of the Prattsville News printed the time table for this rail line. One example was the issue September 20, 1876:
“N.Y., & K. & S. R.R. Time Table
Going East L. Moresville L. Shandaken A. Kingston
Fr. & pass. 6:47 a.m. 9:10 a.m. 11:20 a.m.
Express 1:48 p.m. 3:50 p.m. 5:31 p.m.”
There were times when the railroad didn’t run for weeks because of severe snow storms. Through the appeal of the Moresville residents for a year they had the mail delivered twice daily. One summer the railway refused to send vacationers into the area because the residents of Prattsville and Moresville had not supplied them with appropriate accommodations listings. In July of 1873 the cost of a railroad trip to New York City was raised from $2.50 to $3.00. In August that year the railroad advertised a “grand tour” from Moresville to Poughkeepsie via the steamer J. W. Baldwin with a roundtrip fare of $1.50. One would leave Moresville at 6:47 a.m. and return home that night at 7:28 p.m. An extra attraction on this tour was to be the “Roxbury band”.
The charts below should indicate over a span of one-hundred and thirty-four years the changes in the commercial and economic scene of Prattsville:
2 tanneries 2 saddle/harness makers
1 India Rubber manu. 1 furnace/machine shop
1 ch. & cabinet manu. 1 grist mill
1 match factory 1 woolen factory
1 book & job printing 3 hotels
1 “stereotype foundry” 2 tailors
1 bookstore 11 shoemakers
1 newspaper 1 cooper
6 stores 2 doctors
2 wagon shops 2 churches
2 turning shops 2 dentists
1 saw mill
11 livery stables 1 school
1 foundry 1 hop yard
1 mill 1 tinsmith
1 hat factory 2 doctors
5 dry goods store 1 cabinet shop
1 “care shop” 1 hat shop
2 tailors 3 churches
1 saloon 1 newspaper
1 trucking company 1 bookstore
4 gas stations/garages 2 farm/hardware suppl.
1 camper sales 1 Catskill magazine
1 mobile home sales 1 funeral home
1 trailer park 1 insurance agency
2 hotels/motels 1 meat packer
1 car wash 1 ceramic shop
2 beauty shops 1 liquor store
1 cabinet maker 1 laundromat
4 taverns/restaurants 1 barber shop
1 printing/decals sales 1 TV repair
1 auto supplier 1 fire house
1 telephone co. instr. 1 ambulance garage
1 N.Y.C. Water sup. O. 1 town hall
1 N.Y. Power Proj. O. 3 churches
1 U.S. Post Office 1 museum
1 Masonic Lodge 1 American Legion Hall
1 town barn
It is estimated that in the 1840’s among the business men in Prattsville like Pratt, Watson, and Smedburgh, the village did $20,000 worth of business a year.
As with most early American settlements, the church was the center of social, educational life of that community. Preachers, and then the organized churches followed the migrating population, and Prattsville was no different.
Some say that it was as late as 1802, others say earlier, when the first Dutch Reformed minister came into the area. The Rev. Lapaugh preached in the homes and barns of Schoharie Kil. It was left to the Rev. Cornelius D. Schermerhorn to be the first resident minister, and to erect the first church building in 1804, near where the present Reformed church now stands. The present building was completed in 1834 under the leadership of the Rev. Hamilton Van Dyke. This church building has been completely remodeled and completely renovated in the last several years to its original appearance, thanks to the generous giving of the O’Connor Foundation, and the work and planning of the Reformed congregation. The records indicated that the founding families of the Dutch Reformed Church of Prattsville (most of whom are buried in one of the two oldest cemeteries on the Gilboa Road) were the Laraways, Beckers, and the Brandows. At times the church has been pastored by ministers from outside the village or tied in with some other church. In the 1870’s they were pastored on and off again with ministers from Gilboa, and a few years ago the Rev.Archie Jones supplied both this church and the Presbyterian Church in Jewett. There is mention made of a Reformed Church in Moresville, if so, there may have been cooperation there. Recently the Reformed congregation constructed a fine new parsonage about 2 miles east of Prattsville, and they have employed the Rev. James Russell, retired Congregational minister from Homer, N.Y.
The present day United Methodist Church, located on the eastern edge of town was erected around the year 1834 on land donated to them by Col. Zadock Pratt. The first Methodist preacher was a Rev. Thomas Barrett. In 1834 the Windham-Prattsville Circuit was organized under the Rev. J. Broadhead. According to the Beers History, the Prattsville Methodist-Episcopal Church was at times attached to the Windham, and then again to the Roxbury Charge. The architecture of the present building has changed somewhat from its original “four candle stick steeple” and “high almost triangular windows”. In the late 1950’s a modern educational wing was added to the original structure. A reading of the 1870 issues of the Prattsville News indicated the following: 1) that the present parsonage is not the original; 2) on one Sunday the choir loft burst into flames during services. Today the Prattsville church is served by Rev. Reiners, (the fourth pastor in five years), who is charged with the responsibility for the Lexington, and Westkill churches as well.
The present home of Mr. & Mrs. Lawrence Gardiner served for years as the District Parsonage of the Methodist-Episcopal church. It was from here that the Presiding Elder supervised area Methodist ministers.
An article in the November 14th, 1874 issue of the Prattsville News indicated that Rev. H. Carr had resigned his pulpit in the Reformed Church while at the same time the Methodists were collecting money for Rev. Merchant and the M.E. parsonage.
In 1877 there was a Rev. McCarthy trying to establish a Presbyterian Church in the Prattsville area, while at the same time Rev. S. J. Cannone of Stamford was saying Mass at the Roman Catholic Chapel beyond Red Falls, now called Fatima Chapel. This chapel is reputed to be the oldest Catholic church in the Catskills, built by the Irish who worked in the tanneries.
The Protestant Episcopal church which stood where the Prattsville Diner now stands (where the Huntersfield Creek comes near the Schoharie) was erected in stone, and consecrated by Bishop Heathcate Delancy on September 25, 1846. Total cost of construction was $1,991.15. In the year 1843 the diocese of N. Y. had employed the Rev. Thomas Field (Rector of Trinity Church in Windham) to be mission priest to Prattsville. The Episcopalians met regularly for worship, but the place is not stated. The vestry first met in May of 1844 with such persons being included: Zadok Pratt, William Jackson, Asa Lee, Abraham Chatfield. Beers states that Grace Episcopal Church thrived when the tanneries did from 1850-1855; “ … its communicants exceeded 50, and every seat was leased and occupied…”  By the 1800’s the church was dying with the remaining members being listed as: Dr. Thomas Fitch, M. G. Marsh (editor of the Prattsville News, which explains why the Episcopal Church received so much more coverage than the other churches), J. H. Chatfield, Charles Platner, Willis Stewart, and I. Houghtaling and Hiram White. It seems that over its short history Grace Episcopal Church was served by 14 different priests, with a Horace L. Edgar Pratt being one. The altar and other artifacts of this church, donated by Justice Andrew Dresser, are currently on display in the Pratt Museum.
Today there is a religious book store owned and operated by the Huntersfield Christian Training Center, under the leadership of the Rev. Roger Shafer. The bookstore is housed in what was formerly Ethel Sutton’s Department Store.
Cemeteries abound in the Prattsville area as they do in any old rural community. On the Gilboa Road are the two oldest. One overlooking a bluff, in the middle of Buel’s cow pasture, is very old and badly in need of care. This cemetery contains the names of the Laraway’s, Hardenburgh’s, Moore’s, and LeFevre’s (which suggests the presence of some French Huguenots in the early settlement). The second old cemetery, with land donated by Col. Pratt, has been called the Benham cemetery (as it was located next to Dr. C. K. Benham’s home). In this cemetery are buried Col. Pratt, his sons, Civil War veterans, a beloved Dutch Reformed “dominie”, and a “poor” Methodist preacher who was seduced by a young woman, (the story is there on the stone for all to see). The cemetery used today is called Fairlawn, located on the Grand Gorge Road, and incorporated in 1882. There are at least three other cemeteries this writer is aware of in the Town of Prattsville; 2 in Little Westkill and 1 up in Huntersfield.
A second center of the social and common life of any community is often found in the schools. The tradition is that the first school was a log cabin affair beyond Pratt Rock, with the first teacher being a Mr. Banks in 1790. In a report dated July 1, 1833 by the School Commissioners there were 8 different schools listed with a total enrollment of 392 students. One of the schools dates back as early as 1823 as being taught by “approved teachers”.  It was in the 1840’s that Col. Pratt offered to endow an academy for $5,000, if the grant would be equally matched by any Christian denomination. The history of the academy seems to be sketchy, although it was indeed constructed in 1842. It is interesting to note that the village voted to give the academy $900 in 1883, to improve the interior of the building. For years the beautiful two storied building was used for schooling purposes, even after a fire destroyed the upper story. Presently the building is used for Town Board Meetings and the holding of Court. By 1929 the process of centralizing school systems had already begun, if the cornerstone of the present older building of the Gilboa-Conesville Central School can be believed. Today the children of Prattsville attend this school with other youngsters from the Schoharie County towns of Gilboa, Conesville, and Blenheim and portions of the Greene County town of Ashland.
While the village of Prattsville has no paper of its own (today this service being supplied by the Windham Journal and Stamford Mirror or Daily Star of Oneonta for local news), we do have a good history of a free press. In 1843 the Baptist Library was published in Prattsville, until in 1845 it relocated to Lexington. The Prattsville Advocate was begun in 1846 by John L. Hackstaff who came from Plattsburgh and was supposed to have been a private secretary to Sam Houston. Col. Pratt allowed Hackstaff to use the old academy building for his newspaper free of charge. This paper was partially owned by Chapin of Stamford, and later E. B. Fenn of Prattsville. The paper was discontinued in 1858, and it is believed that the last office of the Prattsville Advocate was dismantled in the Winter of 1975 after having served as a tavern, hotel, and barber shop. The Prattsville Bee had even a shorter existence being published by Charles H. Cleveland from 1852-1853. The Prattsville News began publishing in 1857 under J. B. Gregory, who sold it to E. P. Moore who then changed the name to Mountain Sentinel. In 1864 M. G. March purchased the paper and gave it back its original name, with the sub-heading “Democratic”, which must have pleased Mr. Pratt. We are not sure when the Prattsville News ceased publishing. Most of the paper seems to have been taken up with advertising, romantic or moralistic literature, and much other area news. There were only two columns a week having to do with Prattsville, as this sample from the issue Saturday, July 7, 1873 indicates: “ … new paint is being applied to the Methodist parsonage…that the Hon. C. M. Ingersoll and family are visiting…the Prattsville House is doing a great business…it is one of the best kept hotels in the country…the foot bridge near Grace Church (Episcopal) is in need of repair…Dr. F. M. Frayer (dentist) is making improvements on his property…some pretty sharp trotting was witnessed on our streets last Saturday evening ‘Old Charley’, Staat’s favorite taking the lead as usual…four stages are coming in and out of the village every day…(to the Road Commissioners) would it not be a good plan to remove dirt from the ends of the plank on the iron bridge, and thus give the water a chance to run off; also, re-paint the bridge?...the Ashland ‘Clippers’ beat the Prattsville ‘Whitestocking’ base ball team 76-37….” 
In addition to the Whitestocking baseball team, Prattsville had a well-known Coronet band, which some say was organized as early as 1833, while the Prattsville News indicates that they weren’t incorporated until 1877. They played at such towns as Andes and Cairo. One of the first leaders of the band was a Mr. Lee from Hudson.
Prattsville has had two Masonic Lodges in its history. The Aurora Lodge was organized in 1827, but disbanded during the Morgan antimasonry excitement. The Oasis Lodge which is still active was organized in 1847 by Mr. Willard of Troy, N. Y., and first met at Erikson’s Store, then later bought its present building and remodeled it for their purposes. One of the charter members was Dr. C. K. Benham. At this time there were also a number of Sons of Temperance Lodges.
In August of 1882 the Prattsville Agricultural and Horticultural Association was founded with the help of supporters from the towns of Lexington, Grand Gorge, and Westkill. Twenty-three acres were purchased near the present day intersection of routes 23 and 23A to the east of Prattsville. Fairs were held annually on this lot until 1918. One of the buildings still stands there, a small unpainted barn.
Visitors in the past were attracted mainly to Prattsville’s countryside and the Devesago Falls (now covered by the N. Y. City Reservoir). In the 1800’s and early 1900’s they were known for their scenic beauty as Beers describes them: “The falls are 125 feet wide, over 50 feet high. Like a miniature Niagara…” Legend has it that the falls were named for a French Indian who lived in the area, and in a deed executed in 1765, these falls were referred to as Owlfleck.
Today visitors can see the restored homestead of Col. Pratt, restored Reformed Church, and the restored and preserved carvings and paintings made in 1845 through order of Col. Pratt high above Pratt rock to the east of the village. None of the above would have been possible if it had not been for the more than generous funding of the O’Connor Foundation of Hobart, N. Y.
Many people contribute to the history and future of any town, and so it is with Prattsville. Yet our history would not be as appreciated without mentioning three such persons:
Dr. Ichabod T. Sutton who practiced medicine in this town for 50 odd years, and brought nearly 4,000 area babies into the world. Grandchildren and great-grandchildren are living witnesses of this today. On a rainy Saturday, June 29, 1940 hundreds of people gathered in Prattsville to honor this 77 year old man, and to present him with a brand new automobile as a symbol of their love and affection for him. 
Brayton Tompkins and Hilda Moseman two people who through foresight, vision, and personal expense and energy saved the home and the memory of Col. Zadok Pratt, so that a museum stands there in his honor today, and pays tribute to those many who founded our village, and contributed to make it what it is today.
1. Greene County N. Y. With Biographical Sketches etc.;
Hope Farm Press, 1969, pages 380-381.
2. Greene County N. Y. ’76 Bicentennial Overview.; Catskill Enterprise, 1976, Page 5.
3. Greene County N.Y. With Biographical Sketches etc.; Hope Farm Press, 1969, Page 381.
4. Report of the Commissioner of Patents for the Year 1861 etc.; Govt. Printing Office, Washington, D. C., 1862, Page 414.
5. The Catskills from Wilderness to Woodstock, Doubleday Press, 1972, Page 386.
6. Report of the Commissioner of Patents for the Year 1861 etc.; Govt. Printing Office, Washington, D. C., 1862, Page 416.
7. Ibid., Page 416.
8. Ibid., Page 384.
9. Historical and Statistical Gazeteer; R. P.Smith Co., Syracuse, N. Y., 1860, Page 335.
10. Miscellaneous Papers on Turpikes, at the Durham Center Museum, Durham, N.Y.
11. The Prattsville News; Prattsville, N. Y., August 2, 1873.
12. The Prattsville Bee; article in Pratt Museum scrapbook, Prattsville, N. Y., no date given.
13. The Catskills Magazine; Spring, 1974, Prattsville, N. Y., Page 5.
14. Author’s own tally.
15. Greene County N. Y. With Biographical Sketches etc.; Hope Farm Press, Cornwallville, N. Y., 1969, Page 383.
16. Ibid. Page 382.
17. Ibid., Page 384.
18. Knickerbocker News; Albany, N. Y., June 29, 1940.
19. The Catskill Daily Mail; Catskill, N. Y., October 1963.
Catskill Daily Mail., “Col. Zadock Pratt is Not Forgotten,” by Virginia Beach, Catskill, N. Y. October [?] 1963.
Catskills from Wilderness to Woodstock, The; by Alf Evers, Doubleday Press, N. Y. 1972.
Catskills Magazine, The; “Prattsville’s Master Tanner;” by Lawrence Gardiner, Spring 1974.
Catskills Mountains and the Region Around, Hope Farm Press, Cornwallville, N. Y., 1973.
Greene County N. Y., ’76 Bicentennial Overview: Beginnings and Background, by Kozalk and Rand and the Greene County American Bicentennial Committee, published by Catskill Enterprises, Catskill, N. Y., 1976.
Greene County N. Y., With Biographical Sketches of [?] Prominent Men, History of; (a re-print of the 1884 Beers History of Greene County) Hope Farm Press, Cornwallville, N. Y., 1969.
Historical and Statistical Gazetteer of New York, published by R. P.Smith, 85 Salina St., Syracuse, N. Y., 1860.
Knickerbocker News, Albany, N. Y., “Doc’s Grownup Babies, Etc…”, June 29, 1940.
Miscellaneous Papers on Turnpikes, Durham Center Museum, Durham, N. Y.
New York Swamp, A History of; Greene County Historical Society at the Bronck House, Coxsackie, N. Y.
Peck, Mr. Sheldon, his personal notes on the history of Federal City, Ashland, N.Y.
Prattsville Bee, The; clipping without date from Pratt Museum Scrapbook.
Prattsville News, The; years 1873 to 1877, private collection of Justice Andrew Dresser, Prattsville, N. Y.
Report of the Commissioner of Patents for the Year 1861 (Agriculture), Govt. Printing Office, Washington, D. C., “The Dairy Farming Region of Greene and Orange Counties New York…” by Zadock Pratt, 1862.
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