Catskill Cemetery Papers
Transcribed by Arlene Goodwin
March, 20, 1856
Among the tomb-stones in "Our Cemetery," is one erected to the memory of IRA DAY. The simple inscription of his name, and age, and the day of his death, is the only record of one to whose enterprise, energy and liberal spirit, the Village is indebted for much of its early prosperity and promise.
When the descendants of the Dutch settlers at New York began to realize that there were desirable arable and wood lands above the flow of salt water, lying unimproved and unenjoyed, the adventures among them left the island of Manhattan, and the pleasant Westchester country, to explore the upper waters of the Hudson. Skirting the tall palisades, dashing through the broad Zees of Tappaan and Haverstraw, penetrating the dark passes of the Highlands, and sailing along, past sunny nooks and quiet bays, and bold promontories, they came at last to a little island, upon which stood a solitary pine tree, a prominent land-mark to the early voyager. This island they named Bompies Hook, and at this point they moored their vessel, and landed to seek new homes in the vallies and on the plains shadowed by the lofty Catskills. Some located along the Creek, near its confluence with the Hudson; some followed up the stream to its junction with the Vans Vassen and Kaaderskill; while others ventured a little farther inland; and settled at Kaatsbaan, and the Embaught, and the pleasant Bockover. Here Spring found these early settlers preparing the generous soil for the grain; her Summer smiled upon their waving fields; here Autumn was fragrant with the odor of the ripened fruit of their orchards; and here Winter listened to their Christmas carols, the kitchen songs of their happy darkies, and the merry ringing of their sleigh-bells, as they traveled with sleek horses and high-backed "pungs" to interchange visits and the compliments of the season with distant relatives, acquaintances or friends, all included in the comprehensive title of neighbors. Here they lived in the good old customs of their Low Dutch progenitors, keeping holy day the festivals of Pass and Pinkster, and here they died and were buried in the convivial fashion of their fatherland.
In the course of time, tidings of the settlement, and its prosperity, reached the ears of the far-off dwellers in Connecticut and Massachusetts.
In those days the province of New York was esteemed, by the descendants of the Pilgrims, as the abode of wild beasts, or yet wilder species of the human race; the crossing of the North River was deemed a perilous and fool-hardy undertaking, and the friends of those who ventured to "go over" were as hopeless of their return as though they had made the Stygian passage. Yet, even then the spirit of enterprise was an important component of Yankee character, and while they listened to the history of the distant Dutch colony, there were some who resolved to emigrate. Among these was STEPHEN DAY. With him, to resolve was to do, and little time found him established at Catskill, exchanging the wares of the Eastern colonies, and imports for the West India islands, for the grain of the farmer, and the dairy products of the "goede vrouws" of all the region round about. The trade was profitable, and, before many years, the plain Stephen Day became the wealthy Judge Day.
Retiring with a competency, he left the field traffic to his sons, all of whom he had trained in strict business habits, and fitted to tread the path which had led him to independence and honor. Prominent among the four brothers was the eldest, Ira. Possessed of the confidence of the whole community in which he lived—a confidence won by an integrity which I have never heard questioned—he at once assumed the foremost place among the business men of the town, and for many years was prosperous to the full extent of any reasonable hope. But he did not live for himself alone. His prosperity was shared by many, in the benefits diffused through all the ramifications of an extended business.—The causeway which connect the shore of the Hudson with the little island of Bompies Hook, (and which was, in those days, a work of prodigious magnitude.) gave to many laborers the means of support. The banks of the Creek were built up with his warehouses, when many others found employment and generous remuneration. The carpenter built his houses, and his own workmen were the tenants. For him the ship-wright constructed vessels, and the woodman felled and made merchandise of the thick forest which covered the hill-sides and the margins of the mountain streams. Mechanics, mariners, laborers, and his fellow-merchants, all participated in his gains, and were stimulated by his success; and, had no reverse occurred, there can be little doubt that, through him, and through the force of his example, the town of Catskill would this day have occupied that position among the cities of the State to which its local advantages so eminently entitled it.
But, in the midst of all this prosperity, a monetary crises arrived. With a business so extended, he found it difficult to draw in and concentrate his defenses against the commercial storm.
Those to whom he ever been a benefactor and friend were panic-stricken, and stood aloof prudently husbanding the means which in some measure they owed to him, and left him to contend alone. The thought that his hitherto unsullied name should be tarnished, and the belief (well founded, or fancied, God knows) that he was deserted by those with whom he had shared the fruits of his labors, smote his brain, and Reason fled from her throne forever!
I was young then, and do not remember all the circumstances which led to his failure, nor how long he lived after his mind gave way, but I do well remember the bright, sunny noon-time, when, on leaving the Village school, it was told me that Ira Day had died by his own hand. I remember, too, the day of his funeral, and I can, even now, almost feel the weight of that sadness and gloom which seemed to settle down upon and enshroud the hearts of every one in the that long procession which followed him to his last repose in "Our Cemetery."
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A plain slab marks the spot where they laid him—all around stand elaborately wrought monuments, covered with the recital of the virtues of other dead, and expressive of the grief of surviving friends. I am not disposed to contradict the chiseled testimony of these marble memorials, though I may, perhaps, be allowed to doubt whether among all these silent sleepers there rest on whose memory should be cherished with a more lasting regret that the lamented Ira Day.