Biographical Sketches of its Prominent Men
J.B. Beers and Co.
Transcribed by Dianne Schnettler and Arlene Goodwin
The valley of the east branch of the Delaware River includes one township of Greene County, which is isolated from the other towns of that county by a branch from the main ridge of the Catskill Mountains. This branch, which forms the water-shed between the Delaware River and the Schoharie Creek, rises to a height of from ten hundred to eleven hundred feet, and is crossed only by difficult and unfrequented roads. There are no gaps or passages in the hill range, and the isolation is so complete that the principal routes of communication are by the way of Middletown, in Delaware county.
The township was included in Ulster county at the time that county was erected, on the first of November 1683. When Woodstock was formed, in 1787, it included this territory, and on the erection of Windham, March 23rd 1798, it became a part of that town, and with it became a part of the new county of Greene on the 25th of March, two years later. In 1813 Windham was divided, and this part was called New Goshen; that was subsequently changed to Lexington, and from Lexington, Halcott was taken on the 19th of November 1851.
The town was named in honor of George W. Halcott, a politician, and son of Thomas Halcott, whose grave is in the field near the store at Halcott Centre.
The town includes great lots Nos. 20 and 21 of the Hardenburgh Patent, and contains 11, 597 acres of assessed land, and hundred of acres of mountain side that is claimed by no one.
The assessment of 1878 showed $2,200 of personal property, and $52,198 real estate. In population, as well as area, it is the smallest town in the county, having a population, according to the census of 1880, of only 396.
The surface is divided by radiating hill ranges into four principal valleys, in which rise the sources of the east branch.
The soil is well fitted for grazing, and a large part of the low lands are easily tilled.
The Last of the Red Men
The deed and characters of the Indians who frequented this valley were not essentially different from those of the adjoining towns down the river. There is no tradition of any trail leading from this town over the mountains to the east or northward, and the landmarks of the red men are quite rare here.
The last Indian to leave the valley was Froman, who had a house near the spring where the Halcott Centre road crosses the county line. Here he lived the shiftless life of an Indian; fishing in the clear stream that flows dreamily along, sunning himself to sleep by the door of his wigwam or lying in wait for the timid deer. Time passed, and the trees that had shaded him yielded to the settler’s ax, the fish he found so plenty were needed to feed a more active race, and the rattling of the white man’s implements of agriculture so scared the timid deer that he came no more to his fountain. The wigwam was getting old, and one morning the discontented Indian followed his shadow until the man and his shadow and the race were gone from the hunting ground forever.
Some time before 1813 settlements or at least clearings had been made by emigrants form Connecticut, who took possession of the lands without leave or license, and in nearly every instance abandoned them soon after. Among these who were here about the time permanent settlers came, were Helmus Chrysler, Nathan Stanton, and one Simons. Chrysler cleared a couple of acres and built a house on the Buel Maben farm, and his date (1809) is the earliest settlement we are able to verify. In 1813 John P. Van Volkenburg, his brother Peter, and their mother moved into the house Chrysler had built, and that was the first permanent settlement in the town. This family cleared the farm that now belongs to Marchant Van Volkenburg, and in 1824 moved to the John P. Van Volkenburg place.
In 1813 Benjamin Crosby’s farm was taken up by Timothy Tyler, and the same year Joseph B. Brooks settled where widow Crosby now lives. Robert Browning and Jehoyacum P. Van Volkenburg came at about the same time, and in 1814 Tenant Peck came to the farm owned by Rev. Daniel Van Volkenburg.
The years 1816 and 1817 brought several other families to the town, most of whom began on the abandoned choppings, already mentioned. Among these were Jacob Miller, Jesse Lockwood, and Peter I. Vanderburg, the latter settling the Jonathan Scudder farm. Cyrus Smallie, Aaron Garrison, John G. Van Volkenburgh, William Denton, and Elijah Parker may be recorded as among the early settlers.
Several clearings had been made by this time, and the foot path by which the squatters had reached the turnpike at Griffin’s Corners was now made passable for carts and sleds. John Banker drove the first wagon over the road, when moving the family of Otis Miller to the David Earl farm.
Joseph B. Brooks, who came in 1813, built the first frame house and frame barn. The first birth was in 1814, in Nehemiah Covel’s family, and the same year Peter Van Volkenburg died, and this was the first death.
The wolves were particularly troublesome, and even as late as 1829 they would come to the pastures in the day time and make their own selections of lamb or mutton. When pursued by a dog the depredator would retreat over the log fence that separated the forest from the field, and beyond that the dogs had learned better than to follow, for the wolf exercised all the shrewdness of an Indian in drawing the foe into a disadvantage. Once into the brambles, a signal yelp brings a pack to the rescue, and the dog’s only hope is in his hasty retreat.
Civil History of Halcott
After the petition for the erection of the town had been filed with the board of supervisors of Greene county, on the 19th November, 1851, the State Legislature passed the petition as chapter 413 of the laws of 1852, and directed that the first town meeting be held in the house of James D. Vanderburg on the first Tuesday (6th) of April, 1852.
At this meeting Conger Avery, Benjamin L. Crosby, and George Lawrence presided, and the following board of officers were elected: supervisor, George Lawrence; clerk, James D. Vanderburg; assessors, Abel Lawrence, Alfred Townsend, Reuben Lake; constables, John Griffin, Abel Griffin, Martin Brazee, Lawrence Brooks, and William D. Ford; the latter was also elected collector; justices, John M. Todd, Nathaniel F. Ellis, James Peck, Benjamin L. Crosby; overseers of highways, Russell Peck, Emanuel Woolhiser, Benjamin Ballard; overseers of the poor, Martin Brooks, Buel Maben; superintendent of schools, Silas Lake.
The next town meeting was at the house of Buel Maben, and since that time the subjoined lists show the names of those who have represented this town in official capacity.
Supervisors. – Conger Avery, 1853; Martin Morrison, 1854; Buel Maben, John P. Van Volkenburg, Silas Lake, Conger Avery, Russell Peck; Isaac T. Moseman, 1863-65; E. C. Kelly, 1866; Silas Lake, Daniel Van Volkenburg, James Miller; Lorenzo Van Volkenburg, 1870; Hiram Mead, 1871; L. Van Volkenburg, 1874; Gilbert Moseman, 1875; Cyrus W. Mead, 1876; James M. Morrison, 1877; Daniel R. Morse, 1878; Buel Maben, 1879.
Town Clerks. – Peter H. Miller, 1853; Russell Peck, 1854; Austin Chase, 1855, 1856; Birdsell Moseman, 1857; Isaac T. Moseman, 1858; Nathaniel F. Ellis and B. Garrison, 1859; each received forty-six votes; Ezekiel C. Kelly, 1860; Thomas Faulkner, 1861; Daniel U. Huggans, 1862; E. C. Kelly, 1863, 1864; John P. Van Volkenburg, 1865; David H. Griffin, 1866; Alexander Van Volkenburg, 1867; Philip Fellows, 1868; John S. Brown, 1869; Emerson Crosby, 1870; Henry C. Lawrence, 1871; Nathaniel C. Miller, 1872; Emerson Crosby, 1873-75; James M. Moseman, 1876; Orson Ballard, 1877, 1878; John P. Van Volkenburg, jr., 1879.
Collectors. – Martin Brazee, 1853, 1854; Truman Judd, 1855; Thomas Faulkner, 1856; George Streeter, 1857; Gilbert Griffin, 1858-60; Laban A. Hubbard, 1861; Gilbert Griffin, 1862; Henry G. Miller, 1863; George Streeter, 1864; Jehial Peck, 1865; Lorenzo Van Volkenburg, 1866, 1867; Hiram Mead, 1868; Walter B. Whitney, 1869; Daniel R. Morse, 1870; Orson Ballard, 1871; James Griffin, 1872; Orson Ballard, 1873; William Johnson, 1874; Eli D. Jenkins, 1875; Dennis Earle, 1876; Jacob Blish, 1877; Horatio Sharp, 1878; Eli D. Jenkins, 1879.
Justices. – In an isolated town like this, in which there is no tavern kept, nor any important thoroughfare passing through it, the office of justice of the peace is one of the very least in importance. Very many of those elected have failed to take the official oath, and of those who have but few ever did any other business pertaining to the position.
The following men have been elected to that office: Elisha B. Winne, Thomas J. Streeter, John F. Mead, N. F. Ellis, Conger Avery, Russell Peck, George Lawrence, Hiram Mead, Silas Lake, Daniel Bankner, Thomas Faulkner, B. Moseman, B. L. Crosby, John P. Van Volkenburg jr., George W. Garrison, Hiram Hubbard, George Griffin, William H. Moseman, Cyrus W. Mead, Jonathan Scudder, Reuben Gordon, Daniel R. Morse, Arthur S. Cross, John M. Todd, Charles M. Streeter.
The subject of public instruction received attention quite early in the history of the settlements here. The first school building was erected on the hill where Avery Boughton’s house now stands, in the year 1816. Sally Kline and Jacob Miller’s daughter were early teachers; the latter probably being the first person who taught a school in that old log school-house.
There are now four districts and two parts of districts in this town.
No. 1 – The school-house in this district was erected in 1835, to succeed an old log one that stood on the farm owned by Nathaniel C. Miller.
No. 2 – This was district No. 13 of Lexington, at the time the town was erected. It then included No. 4, and the log school-house on Jonathan H. Scudder’s farm had been the district building. Before that, however, a log school-house had stood near the large rock on the west side of Gilbert Moseman’s farm. This also was for both districts. The first frame school-house in the town was built for this district in 1836, and burned in 1853. The present building was then erected on the same site.
No. 3 – The first school in this district was kept in a building near Halcott Centre, on the south side of the hill road, and later in a log dwelling house north of the Centre, on the farm where Mrs. Crosby lives. The first school building was erected in 1834. This stood until 1871, when it was sold and its place better filled by the neat structure now standing, which was built by David Crosby at a cost of $590.
No. 4 – This district was set off from No. 2 in 1851, and the school-house was erected the same year. The first teacher in it was Adelia M. Pulling, who taught twenty-five pupils for fifteen weeks at two dollars per week. Eighteen years later the school-house was sold to Hiram Mead for $17.50, and it is now the residence of Mrs. Dolly Sherwood. The present school-house was erected by David Earl, in 1869.
The Postal Service
Before the erection of this town a post-office was kept at Conger Avery’s, and he was the postmaster. The office was then West Lexington, and was supplied by a weekly mail from Prattsville to Griffin’s Corners.
Amasa Hill afterward kept the office where Robert Moseman lives, and about this time the name was changed to Halcott Centre. He was succeeded by Austin Chase, who distributed the mail in the house where Orson Ballard now lives. At this time William Osterhoudt carried the mail, but the office was discontinued, and the Griffin’s Corners-Prattsville route was abandoned.
When the present office was established it was supplied by a semi-weekly mail from Griffin’s Corners, which arrangement still continues.
Some Business Enterprises
The first attempt at store keeping was made by Ralph Coe at a point fifty or sixty rods south of the Methodist Episcopal church, and in the same building he or _____ Bradley kept the first inn.
The next tavern was kept on the present farm of Hon. Buel Maben, by Nathan Applebee, but it has been years since any public house has been kept in the town.
The first saw-mill was erected by Frederick Banker in 1824, on the site of the one now owned by Philip Fellows. Another was subsequently built by Martin Brooks, where Alexander Van Volkenburg’s saw-mill and cabinet shop now stands.
At a period more remote than any of these enterprises there was an ashery operated by one Hamican, on the farm of Eli Mead, where it is probable he made a settlement about the year 1816.
Richard Norris was an early blacksmith in the eastern part of the town. The only shop now is carried on by Horace Peet. James M. Moseman, successor to Isaac T. Moseman, is the only merchant in the town.
When the Rondout & Oswego Railroad was proposed, the town of Halcott issued $10,000 of bonds to aid in its construction. These bonds were of the denomination of $500, and bear seven per cent. interest, payable on the first of February in each year. The first installment, of $500, of principal was paid in 1874. One bond becomes due each year thereafter, until the whole number, twenty, are paid.
The road was sold under a mortgage, and thus the stock which the town held was made worthless; but the road was built, and they have the advantage of a railway and telegraph station at Griffin’s Corners, about four miles from Halcott Centre.
Halcott in the Civil War
Many of the Halcott boys who swelled the ranks of the Union army were members of company G, 144th regiment, and their names and their sacrifices are there recorded. A few, however, went out in other organizations. Jacob Fellows, company B, 43rd regiment, enlisted in 1861, and was discharged the same year for injuries received. Silas Morrison, company G, 20th N. Y., enlisted in 1861, was discharged in 1863. Hiram Hubbard, 1st N. Y. volunteer engineers, enlisted in October 1864; was discharged in June 1865.
The Methodist Church
Methodism in Halcott dates from the year 1829, when Rev. John P. Van Volkenburg experienced religion and became an exhorter among the people. The first Class, organized by Rev. Mr. Calder in 1830, consisted of Thomas Halcott, Reuben Gordon, Archibald Morrison, Nehemiah Covel, Joseph Halstead, John Moseman, Gibbons Griffins, and their wives; Timothy Tyler and Joseph Brooks, with Mr. Van Volkenburg as leader.
This class and
congregation met in private houses, school-houses, and barns, for twenty years,
when the present church building was erected. It was dedicated on the 29th
of December 1849. The appointment has always been a part of the Clovesville
circuit, and regular services have been held by their pastors, whose names
appear in the history of the circuit. Mr. Van Volkenburg has been their local
preacher; generations have grown up under his ministry, and the sermons he has
preached, as precept, and the life he has lived, as example, have left their
impress for good upon the minds and the hearts of the most of them. He was
licensed to preach in 1833, and ten years after was ordained.
Baptist Church of Halcott
Letters of dismission from the First Baptist church of Roxbury were granted to some members, March 30th 1822, for the purpose of forming a church nearer Middletown. Steps were immediately taken for the organization of such a church, and a meeting called on the 1st of May following, at the house of Noah Dimmick, where the feasibility of organizing this new church was discussed. The meeting adjourned to the 29th of the same month, when the church was organized by a council composed of delegates from Marbletown, Lexington and Roxbury churches. It is recorded that “The Middletown and Roxbury church was organized at the house of Noah Dimmick of Middletown, on the 29th of May 1822, with Elder James Mead as pastor. The members to be those who had taken letters from the First Baptist church of Roxbury for this purpose.”
Elder Mead continued as pastor until his death, which occurred May 17th 1856. On the 18th of March 1841, Daniel Morrison, of Halcott, was ordained. He occasionally supplied the pulpit for Elder Mead. In June 1856, he became the pastor, and continued in that relation until his death, October 30th 1859.
Elder Hewitt and Elder Alling supplied the society occasionally, and in 1861 arrangements were made for preaching once monthly, Elder Hewitt and Elder Fuller alternating. In 1870 Elder Buel Maben was ordained to preach. The first deacon was Shubal Dimmick.
At first meetings were held in private houses; Mr. Noah Dimmick and Mr. James Blish being the earliest who opened their houses for religious services. In 1823 Mr. Dimmick built a school-house known as the Dimmick school–house, where meetings were held, and some are living who speak of the school-house, with the cushioned seat by the rostrum for Deacon Dimmick, who was a cripple. In 1847 a church was built in the town of Halcott, but the “old church” was long since abandoned, and the society now hold their meetings in what is known as the Fly school-house.
Of the original members, of whom there were
seventy-two, it is thought that none are living. The church was known as the
Middletown and Roxbury church until 1860, when the name was changed to
Middletown and Halcott.