History of Greene County
1651 – 1800
J. Van Vechten Vedder
Originally published in 1927 by Authority of
the Greene County Board of Supervisors
Transcribed by Arlene Goodwin
TOWN OF HALCOTT
The town of Halcott is the smallest in the county and separated from its associates by high mountains, which have no gaps or cloves to render it easily accessible, excepting from the west and south, through Delaware county. The roads over these mountains are steep, difficult, and little used.
The town was named for George W. Halcott, a son of Thomas Halcott, who is buried in a field near Halcott Center. It is a part of the Hardenburgh Patent, and is divided into four valleys by the sources of the east branches of the Delaware. The first town meeting was held in the house of James D. Vandenburg, April 6, 1852, and the following officials were elected:
James D. Vandenburg Clerk John M. Todd Justice
Abel Lawrence Assessor Nathaniel F. Ellis Justice
Alfred Townsend Assessor James Peck Justice
Reuben Lake Assessor Benj. L. Crosby Justice
John Griffin Constable Russell Park H’w’y Overseer
Abel Griffin Constable E. Woolhiser H’w’y Overseer
Martin Brazee Constable Benj. Ballard H’w’y Overseer
Lawrence Brooks Collector Martin Brooks Overseer Poor
Silas Lake School Supt. Buel Maben Overseer Poor
Indians were not common in this section, and there is no tradition of a trail having passed through it. The last Indian of whom anything is known was one named “Fromer,” whose wigwam stood near a spring where the Halcott Center road crosses the county line.
Emigrants came from Connecticut before 1813, but they did not linger long. They were squatters and soon became discouraged. The earliest known settler (1809) was Helmus Chrysler. In 1813 John Van Valkenburgh with his mother and brother Peter moved into the house Chrysler had built. They cleared the farm which afterward belonged to Marchant Van Valkenburgh. Joseph B. Brooks built the first frame house and barn. John Banker drove the first wagon over the road the squatters had started as a path, when he moved Otis Miller’s family. Wolves were so plentiful that many sheep were carried off in the daytime even when guarded by dogs, the dogs soon learning that when they ventured outside the clearing they would have the whole pack of wolves upon them. A school house was built in 1816, where Jacob Miller’s daughter and Sally Kline were teachers. The school house was of logs and stood on the Miller farm. Another was built in 1834.
In 1814 Tenant Peck came to the farm which in 1880 was owned by Rev. Daniel Van Valkenburgh. Jacob Miller, Jesse Lockwood, Peter I. Vandenburgh, Cyrus Smallie, Aaron Garrison, John G. Van Valkenburgh, William Denton and Elijah Parker came in 1816-17. By this time the footpath of the squatters had reached the turnpike at Griffin’s Corners and made passable for carts and sleds.
The first birth occurred in Nehemiah Cowles’ family in 1814, and the same year Peter Van Valkenburgh died. In 1880 the Rev. John P. Van Valkenburgh was the only survivor of the original settlers. He was born in Rensselaer county, Nov. 9, 1800, a son of Peter L. Van Valkenburgh, a captain in the Revolutionary War and grandson of John Van Valkenburgh, who came from Holland to Albany county before the Revolution.
The Rev. John P. came to Halcott with his widowed mother in 1813, and eight years later was married to Jemima, daughter of Daniel Griffin, who about 1805 settled in the northern part of the town of Middletown, Delaware county. In 1842 he was ordained by the Methodist Episcopal church, having preached under a license for nine years. He had six sons and three daughters.
In Munsell’s History of Delaware County an early setter’s wagon, such as came to Greene and other counties, is described as having wheels with spokes like small saplings and felloes like those in the wheels of a modern stone-truck. Poles were bent across bow-fashion from side to side of the stout box, and covered with stout canvas to keep cut wind and storm and the sweltering sunshine. A span of jaded horses that had not seen a comfortable stable for weeks, and under the canvas a woman with two or three small children, completed the outfit, beside which walked the husband and father to ease the team, sometimes sinking knee-deep in mud or staggering over fallen log or a stone. He is a strong, well-built six-footer, with heart brave to every danger. * * * The wife knows some but not all of the hardships before her, and that she will never live to have many years’ enjoyment of the fruits of their sacrifice and toil, but their children will—it is for these she had consented to risk the perils of pioneer life, for it is only after grave consideration the decision has been made to seek a new home in the wilderness.
At evening the tired horses are watered and tethered where they can get their fill of grass, a fire is lighted, a hasty meal prepared, and soon they are asleep, to be awakened later by prowling wolves. The gun speaks, the fire is rekindled and they return to their slumbers. When they reach the end of their journey a log cabin must be built, shelter for the horses, and furniture made by the man’s own hands. The pioneer had brought with him a few tools, a frying pan, cast-iron bake-kettle, a few knives and forks, iron spoons, cups and saucers, and perhaps a few choice pieces of china. They will be miles distant from other homes, but with faith in God and themselves they begin their new life, full of difficulties and dangers.
When Amasa Hill kept the post office it was named Halcott
Center. Among business enterprises was a store of Ralph Coe south of the M. E.
Church, and here also was the inn. Another inn or tavern was that of Nathan
Applebee. There was a saw mill in 1824, an ashery about 1816, and the blacksmith
shop of Richard Norris. Before the town as a town came into existence, a post
office was kept at Conger Avery’s, who was the postmaster.
The post office was then West Lexington, and the mail came from
Prattsville to Griffin’s Corners once a week; later it became semi-weekly.
Although the town of Halcott is at the present time an isolated one, kept from much progress as to population by nature’s barriers over 3,000 feet in height, between it and the town of Lexington, within its small area is much scenic beauty, and should the proposed new road be built from Halcott Center to the foot of the ridge in the town of Lexington, a distance of about four miles, its residents, instead of traveling through parts of both Ulster and Delaware counties to reach the county seat, will be connected with the rest of Greene county, which will mean much for future growth in population.
TOWN OF HUNTER
The territory within the present boundaries of the town of Hunter was part of a large grant of land given by Queen Anne to Johanus Hardenburgh and six others, April 23, 1708, which was called the “Great Patent.” Hunter comprises portions of Great Lots 23, 24, 25, 26, and all of 43. These lots were purchased by Tomilson, Day, the Livingstons, and John Hunter for speculation.
Lot 25 belonged to John Hunter of New Rochelle and contained 12,500 acres. This land was deeded by John and his wife Elizabeth, to Henry Overing and wife Charlotte Debross. In 1829 Overing sold it back to Hunter. Seven thousand acres were purchased later by Isaac Showers at 62 ½ c. and acre.
January 27, 1813, an act was passed erecting Windham into three towns, one of which was Greenland, the name of Hunter first used in 1814. There were few settlers before 1800, but the names of Samuel Haines and Herman Mason appear in Windham records as pathmasters in 1798 and 1799.
At the town meeting held at the house of Daniel Bloomer April 6, 1813, it was “Resolved, to have three assessors, three constables, one pound near the house of Daniel Bloomer, and nine fence viewer.” Twenty-five roadmasters were appointed and the following officials elected:
Sumner Parmenter Town Clerk Samuel Haines Poor Master
Samuel Haines Assessor John J. Artman Poor Master
Nathan Miller Assessor Neven Wilson Collector
Neven Wilson Assessor John Wilson Jr. Constable
John Wilson Commissioner Benj. Jones Jr. Constable
Matthew Winters Commissioner Caleb Carr Constable
In 1814 it was voted to pay the
town clerk $7 per year for his services, and school commissioner $6.
They raised $175 for the poor and voted to give the Clove road to the
Turnpike Company. In 1824 it was voted to “relinquish the road between Perkins
and the New York tannery to the Hunter Turnpike Company.” In 1826 the bounty
on wolves was $15, panthers $20, wild cats $2. and foxes 50c. Later wolves
According to the New York Gazetteer, the people who first settled here were “Tory cow boys from Putnam County, and their property was confiscated by the Whigs;” but the names of many of the settlers are synonymous with those of the towns of Jewett and Lexington, making it difficult to be certain to which town they rightfully belong.
High Peak and Round Top are in this town, their names similar to those in the towns of Windham and Cairo. Round Top once had an Indian fort on its summit, and the peak and the surrounding mountain country and cascades have been made famous by many writers of early days, among them Bryant, Cooper, Dominie Murdock, Thomas Cole, and others.
The scenic wealth of the Catskill Mountains lies within the borders of the town of Hunter. It has been more richly endowed in this respect than any other town in Greene County, and three cloves with their streams, ravines, cliffs and trails, smaller replicas of those found among the Rockies and the Klondike, here have a common meeting place. It is also from Hunter town that the door unexpectedly opens to that most impressive of all views, that of the Hudson Valley and portions of the Eastern states.
One hundred years ago the town of Hunter was assessed for $87,609 and to-day for something over two and one-half millions. A number of assessment books dating back to 1826, well preserved the penmanship far superior to that of the present day student, are in the possession of Mr. Showers of Tannerville, who is a descendant of the first Isaac who came to this country and whose son settled on Showers Hill when Hunter was mostly a wilderness.
The location of Hunter village is very beautiful, situated at the foot of the highest peak of the Catskills in Greene County, and with a stream, which seems to be the accompaniment of every mountain village of any size, the beautiful Schoharie kill, adding to its attractiveness.
Hunter was first Edwardsville, named after Colonel William Edwards, who was the “man of the hour” for that village, which grew with great rapidity after his coming. His wife was Rebecca Tappan and they had eleven children.
Seth Green, the cobbler, squatted about 1790 west of the village. His wife was Ann Buckingham of Saybrook. John Haines was the first male child born in the town. Sumner Parmenter (or Palmatier) and wife (a Miss Schofield), a son of Jerry Parmenter, settled near the lakes on unclaimed land, and in 1810 this land was claimed by Anthony Loucet and Seth Green. $5 an acre was paid by the occupants for the land.
Hunter village was called an “ivy swamp,” but with the coming of Edwards one of the largest tanneries in the state was built on the site of the Bronson saw mill. David Van Horn and Abram Harr were apprentices and afterward tanners at the West Kill. The leather from these tanneries was taken to Catskill or Bristol (New Malden) and from there by sloop to New York; sometimes in winter direct to New York by sleds.
The first church was dedicated in Hunter in 1828 and was of the Presbyterian faith. Among its first members were Colonel William Edwards and wife, John Bray and Samuel Henson and wife. Before the services were held in the loft of Edward’s tannery, fitted up for that purpose and rudely furnished. There is considerable information as to the troubles and trials of this church to be found in the Catskill Recorder and that date, but this for lack of space must be reserved for the history of Greene County churches.
The name is a relic of tannery days, when tanneries were on almost every stream where hemlocks grew, and were the gold mines of the Catskills. It has been her native place was in the Kaaterskill Clove, where if you follow the trail of the first turnpike you will see the ruins of a village, and a few gnarled and knotted apple trees. In this village at one time were two tanneries and two hundred people and a post office called Tannersville.
Mr. C. M. Britt of Catskill, a native of Britts Corners on the Catskill-Palenville road, says that when he was a boy the village in the Clove was known as “Upper Clove Village,” and that then a big tannery was still standing and at least two houses were occupied. The village had two boarding houses and a blacksmith shop.
Near Fawn’s Leap in his time the Brockett family, who had two sons George and Leonard, were the first to keep boarders in that vicinity and had a stand at the falls, charging admittance to them.
The great-grandfather of Supervisor Lackey was among the first settlers of Tannersville, and his father, Michael Lackey, Tannersville’s most able and enterprising citizen, a lover of nature and of his native town (an associate of the late Jacob Fromer) with his twin sister was born in what is now the New Manhattan, best known as the “Cascade,” a small portion of which is the original building, one of the oldest in the village. Mr. Lackey remembers when there were but three or four buildings in Tannersville, among them this house, for a long time a tavern or inn and at one time a store kept by Fromer. Another was the inn of Norman H. Gray at the four corners, first that of Harlow Perkins. Gray was accidentally killed in the Clove in 1865. His son succeeded him. The land upon which Tannersville now stands was once owned by the Egglestons.
Among several old houses still standing in the village are those of Newton Curtis on Spring street, of Allen on Main street, of Doyle on Lakeview Avenue, and the old Rogers house.
To-day Tannersville is probably the most enterprising of Greene county’s mountain villages. The attractiveness of its situation, 2,300 feet above sea level and “Above the Clouds” as its slogan reads, has been commercialized a the expense of natural beauty as have all successful villages, making lakes where lakes were not, establishing recreation centers, tennis courts, golf links and theaters, but its surroundings have lost little of the beauty of the hills. Around it can still be found in great abundance the wonders of the forest and the widespread views for which the Catskill are noted, all of which is close at hand. Explore the mountain side and one comes upon unexpected glens, high cliffs and tumbling brooks, moss and fern-covered boulders, and in their season mountain laurel and azaleas in great abundance. Onteora, Twilight, Santa Cruz, Sunset and Elka Parks, summer colonies where those rich in this world’s goods come to play and rest, have been so constructed as to become an asset to the landscape, but do not belong to the earliest history of the town.
The first settler of this village was Aaron Haines, who came from Connecticut on horseback. Both village and falls retain the name and keep in memory the family which has been most numerous and active in building up this vicinity,* (*On the atlas of 1865 are shown the homes of fifteen different Haines families in the town.) but have left little in the way of early records behind them.
Haines Falls is formed by the waters of the West Branch of he Kaaterskill falling over a precipice of 150 feet, and its waters continuing on their way leap from rock to rock and ledge to ledge, forming numerous other and smaller falls and cascades until they reach the “Village of Falling Waters” at the foot of the Clove.
The village of Haines Falls is the farthest eastern village out-post of “Hunter Town” and the first to greet the traveler at the top of the Clove. It sits on the edge of Nature’s great cleft in the mountain’s side, where the inhabitants can look down into the eerie depths and through the cleft or clove to the world beyond. Near it are Santa Cruz, Sunset and Twilight Parks. The last in winter seems to be in imminent danger of slipping and sliding into what seems a bottomless pit.
Back of Haines Falls is Clump Hill, where the father of Jason Clump (who now owns the farm) came from Columbia county over one hundred years ago to escape tuberculosis. The change must have effected a cure, for he was twice married and raised three sets of children. Some years ago the son of Jason sold a portion of the farm to Wells Boworth, a noted architect of New York city, who had built a house of Greek architecture upon the hill where the outlook in all directions is one of the finest to be found in the Catskills.
The grater parts of Stony, Platte kill and Kaaterskill Cloves are within the limits of the town of Hunter, and all three converge from widespread starting points toward a common meeting place on the mountain top. All are beautiful in their own way.
The Platte kill Clove is the “nearest of Nature’s heart,” still untroubled by improved highway which lures the motorist but often mars the beautiful. Through it a stream rushes from rock ledge to rock ledge from its first wild leap, down through the wooded gorge. At the top is Platte Clove village and the Devil’s Kitchen, somewhat commercialized but for that reason more easily accessible to the public. The view is an impressive one. It was up this Clove that the Snyder’s of Saugerties were taken captive to Canada during the Revolution, by Indians and Tories.
Stony Clove is widely different from the others. If it were not for the railroad, whose engines huff and puff up this narrow cleft in the mountain range for Ulster county to Greene, wayfarers might think themselves lost in the wilderness when they leave the valley of content in Hunter town, and are shut in at the foot of high peaks with only patches of sky far above and lazily by the way, and where in springtime acres of mountain laurel, its dainty calico flower, and other wild flowers bid one tarry for a while.
Edgewood is 1,787 feet above tide water, a little collection of houses and camps where Stony Clove opens out on the way to the valley; and four hundred feet lower is Lanesville of 1,355 feet elevation, and far from the Ulster county line. It is rich in streams and mountain peaks, and grand old West kill looks down upon it.
The Kaaterskill Clove is the product of the ages, and was the natural passageway of the Indian from the wilderness to the valley. It was also the runway of wild beasts, the bear, the panther, the wolf, which came down to prey upon the cattle and sheep of the settlers. Down it the deer descended—warily on the lookout for enemies—to drink from its stream, or, when the snow was deep upon the mountain sides, to seek forage in the valley.
During the Revolution, Indians and Tories followed this cleft in the mountain range, looking for scalps or for reward from the British for captive. The fort of the Indian was upon Round Top, and once a captive was secured and they had entered the wilderness fastness, pursuit was useless. The Abeles of the Back-oven were taken over this steep and difficult trail to the Schoharie kill, on the way to Niagara. (See Indians.)
We know but little of the Cauterskill Clove before the advent of the tanneries, which was a later epoch in its history, but a pioneer geologist writes of numerous copperheads and rattlesnakes, eagles soaring overhead, of trees interlacing over the stream where five-pound trout were caught; of perpendicular ledges crowned by enormous rocks, over which waved the pine with its funereal verdure, often projecting over the cliff like nodding plumes.
Haines Falls and the Kaaterskill must have been much greater in volume than to-day. Giant hemlocks and great trees of all kinds covered the mountain sides, and when the glorious autumn coloring appeared and Indian summer was at hand with its soft overshadowing haze, the hush which pervaded the forest and the deep silence of the wilderness—like which there is no other—must have filled even the savage heart with awe as he stood upon some jutting rock or sped swiftly along the trail.
The whole region of country about the Clove is rich in legendary lore and South Mountain in the spot pictured by Irving as the place of Rip Van Winkle’s long nap. To-day, in spite of modern road and gasoline monsters, you can still on occasion hear Hendrick Hudson’s men playing nine pins, while the “Old Squaw of the Mountains” still empties her feather bed from some far-up pinnacle which she veils in mist.
Pine Orchard, where stand the Mountain House of to-day, was the favorite camping ground of the red men, and the legend still lingers of Lotowana, the daughter of the chief Shandaken, whom Norserreden, “a cruel and dissipated Egyptian,” sought to win although she was betrothed to a young chief of the Mohawks. Norserreden, enraged at the failure of his suit and vowing revenge, caused the death of the beautiful Indian maiden by the gift of a casket which contained a poison dart. He was pursued and burned at the stake by the warriors of the old chief, and “his ashes left upon the rocks to be scattered by the winds of heaven.”
The Catskill Mountain House is just over the line in the town of Catskill. In 1819 a party was taken there on horseback by Erastus Beach. They spent the night camping on the flat rocks with “all creation” below them. Soon a shack was built for the accommodation of travelers, and in 1823 “temporary buildings” were advertised as “taken by William Van Bergen, whose accommodations are good and the house well furnished.” Erastus Beach ran a stage three time a week to meet the boat at Catskill. A company was formed and a road built from Colonel Lawrence’s to the hotel the next year, and a grand Independence Day celebration was held at Pine Orchard, the small building enlarged to “140 feet length” with four stories, and the interior “Fitted up in superior style.”
In the scant pages of this book justice cannot (if at all) be done to the varied beauty of the Catskills, which like most other ranges throughout the world have something personally appealing, something which distinguishes them from their kind. The beauty of Greene County Mountains is the hidden things; deep caves in the forests, mountain meadows on their terraced sides, an abundance of streams and cascades, crags and precipices, deep silent glens, little mountain-surrounded valleys, and above all a charm not well defined which brings one back again and again to their feet.
From the front of this famous white Mountain House you can watch the sun rise far across valley and river from behind the mountains of the Eastern states. The river is a golden ribbon, the clouds tinged with inimitable red, shadows chasing each other from village to village, and from waving grain to patches of woodland which grow dense and dark, turning suddenly to brightest green as misty clouds disappear and the sun rises higher, rousing the monster Ontiora from sleep and to another day of helpless reclining, to which he was perpetually doomed in the long ago, while his eyes, which are the twin lakes, glitter in the sunshine with a fierce longing to be free.
Below there is a glimpse of the old road over which day by day during the summer season toiled the faithful saddle-horse, or stage-horses with the creaking coach until supplanted by the Otis Railway, which in turn gave way to the smelly motor car. The old road is fast becoming but a trail, and the glen in which Rip Van Winkle slept is returning to its primitive state.
The Kaaterskill first known as the Harding House, was a victim of fire in 1924. Its outlook was entirely different from that of Pine Orchard. To its surroundings belonged the grandeur and wildness of mountain and forest, the western wildness of early days was about it, and the innovations of time hidden behind the green.
The Harding road up the north side of the Clove is reduced to a trail well worth following although passable only as a path. From it can be had grand vistas of the valley, glimpses of the new road, and a sweeping view of the forest-covered sides of High Peak. There are immense old hemlocks and beeches on every side, and precipices from which one draws back with a shudder. The mountains are more impressive from this road, chiefly because of its wildness and the forest stillness, and but for traces of man in bridges and telephone poles might well belong to past centuries.
The Kaaterskill Falls are near the head of the stream which flows into the Clove at Horseshoe Curve. Here at the falls is the Laurel House, inseparable from the memory of the hospitable Schutts and their captive bears. Its beginning was “a stand set up by Willard Cowen in 1824.” The stream is the outlet of the two Lakes near the Mountain House, and after a short and placid journey trough the forest leaps downward 180 feet and then pausing for breath drops 80 more. Behind the first fall, along the half circle, roofed by nearly 70 feet of rock shelf, is a narrow path by which one can safely walk to the opposite side of the stream. A little way down you come to Bastion Falls, and from there until it is joined by the West Branch and on to the valley, its life is a continual struggle against boulders and other obstructions, here and there pausing in deep pools and tarrying by moss-covered rocks, cool fern-beds and at the foot of towering cliffs.
Once there was a boulder of about fifty tons, measuring 175 feet, resting insecurely at the top of the Kaaterskill Falls. A party of men from Cairo and Catskill decided on a new way to celebrate Independence Day. On July 3, 1820, they made their way to the spot, camped for the night and next day succeeded in pushing the boulder over the falls. “The effect was awful and sublime, the crash tremendous, exceeding the loudest thunder—the tremulous motion of the earth and the long murmuring echo rolling from point to point through the ravine gave to the scene and indescribable degree of grandeur. The rock was shattered in a thousand pieces. Toasts were then drunk and vollies of musketry fired.”
PIONEERS AND THEIR HOMES
The life history of only one of Hunter’s pioneers is available at this time; that of Colonel William Edwards, “whose monument is the village of Hunter."
Colonel Edwards was born in Elizabethtown, N. J., November 11, 1770. He was a son of Timothy Edwards, and grandson of Rev. Jonathan Edwards, in 1775 president of Nassau Hall, Princeton. His mother was Rhoda Ogden, daughter of Governor Aaron Ogden.
When William was less than a year old his parents moved to Stockbridge, Massachusetts, where he is said to have been a merchant, but, as “the inhabitants consisted mostly of Indians,” he very likely was a trader. He was a Whig and is said to have loaned $100,000 in gold coins to the Continental Congress, which was never returned to him.
In 1784 William was bound out to his uncles, Colonel Mathias Ogden and Colonel Oliver Spencer (both officers of the Revolution). He received his board, the privilege of tanning with his master’s stock four sheep-skins a year. His clothing was not included in the bargain, Following this he worked as journeyman for one and one-half years while learning, for $30 per year.
When Colonel William Edwards came to Hunter from Massachusetts he is known to have been almost penniless, but with great foresight he realized the business possibilities of tanning and induced Gideon Lee, a shoemaker in whom he recognized talent, tact and integrity, to go to New York as his guest. Mr. Lee made an eminently successful agent, and after amendment to several state laws was made, relative to the manufacture of leather, the New York Tannery Company was formed in 1817 with a capital of $60,000, and William Edwards and sons as managers of the enterprise.
Under Edwards’s supervision and according to his plans a tannery was built at Hunter, and 1,200 acres of land adjoining, in the heart of the hemlock region on the Schoharie kill. The tannery’s output was 5,000 tanned hide a year, and it is said to have been the first covered tannery built in the United States. The first leather went to the market in 1818. Workmen on the building and in the manufacture of leather were imported from Massachusetts.
Reverses came to Mr. Edwards through no fault of his, and following them the tannery burned in 1830 and he lost all he had. Four years later he recovered from these losses and followed out a plan he had long had in mind. He sold his property to his sons, after first having it appraised by Foster Morss and Jonathan Palen, distributing his all (which amounted to $25,000) among his creditors, for debts from which he had been legally discharged sixteen years previous. From this time he retired from active business, supported by his children, and died December 29, 1851.
Mr. Edwards has been described as being “of commanding presence, six feet four inches in height, well proportioned, of great strength and self-control, prompt and decisive.” He was an inventor of four patents—copper heater, hide-mill, application of hot liquor, and roller.
He had so large a head that children ran away at his appearance. It was caused while playing with an Indian boy at four years of age—while dodging around a chimney in his father’s house their heads come together, rendering William unconscious, but with no bad results other than his deformity. A strict Christian, he was held in high regard by all. His sons grew up to be successful business men.
TOWN OF JEWETT
The town of Jewett as an organization is seventy-six years old, and is the namesake of Freeborn G. Jewett, a justice of the Supreme Court.
In 1813 it was called Lexington, in 1814 part of it was Hunter. Its boundary lines are mostly mountain heights which guard the valley, some rising to nearly 4,000 feet; and only at the west end of this long and beautiful valley is there an unobstructed opening of any width. The Schoharie creek finds a way through one corner of the town, while at the foot of the mountains flows the East Kill with its many tributaries.
Cole Mountain (named after Thomas Cole, the artist) rises 3,975 feet, Black Dome 4,004, Black Head 3,965, East Kill 3,190,* (*Height of mountains according to Van Loan’s map.) Parker (which is on the Hunter Divide, named in honor of Daniel Parker, who owned much of the land upon it) and Tower Mountain 2,980 feet (on its summit Pond and Hastings built a tower sixty feet high.)
Jewett’s first town meeting was held in 1850, and its first officials were as follows:
Henry R. Hosford Town Cler Alanson Woodworth Justice
David E. Woodworth Assessor Jesse Barker Justice
John Egbertson Assessor John Peck Commissioner
William Goslee Assessor David Williams Commissioner
Norman C. Johnson Collector Ambrose Baldwin Commissioner
Lucius Pond Poor Master William Ford Commissioner
D. M. Hosford Superintendent of Schools.
William Gass had the honor of being the first settler in the town, in 1783, near the mouth of the East Kill. He was followed 1788 by Zephania Chase. A year later Chester Hill came to what is now Jewett Heights. The following are among the known pioneers of the town: Laban, Ichabod, Abraham and Amherst Andrews, Benjah, John and Jared Rice, Theophilus and Samuel Peck, Zadoc Pratt, David and Stephen Johnson, Henry Goslee, Justice Squires, Daniel Miles, Adnah Beach, Isaac and Munson Buel, Gideon, Reuben and Joel Hosford, and Daniel and Samuel Merwin.
Munson Buel, known as Judge Buel, was one of the best penmen of his age, a man of push and enterprise. The land upon which these pioneers settled was owned by a Mr. Tomilson. They were not poor settlers, but had sufficient means for such comfort as could be had in a new country, and prosperity followed in their train.
Laban Andrews built the first grist mill, in 1795, and Elisha Thomson opened the first store. The first recorded birth was that of Henry Goslee Jr. the first mail-carrier was a man by the name of Cole who went to Catskill on horseback, bought the few available papers and brought out any letters which might be at the post office. On his way through the town he would blow a tin horn at the gate (if there were gates) of those lucky enough to receive news from the outside world. How much compensation he received for his long journey through the wilderness history saith not.
In those early days of settlement not the least of the dangers which were encountered was that of wolves, which were abundant and ferocious. Many stories of adventures and narrow escapes from death have been handed down to their descendants. It was not an unusual occurrence to hear these wolves howling throughout the day as well as night. At one time a Mr. Peck, who lived in Big Hollow near the town line, discovered in his barnyard a big wolf which after a hard struggle was killed, but not until it had bitten Mr. Peck’s son. Nine days afterwards the son was taken with hydrophobia and lived but a short time. It is said that, “as his remains were carried to the cemetery at Lexington Flats, and the procession moved along the side of Hog Mountain, the wolves set up a dismal howl.”
Robert Turner of Ashland, returning from Buel’s mills with a grist, found wolves following him too closely for comfort. As it was near night, he stopped at what is now Jewett Heights, tied his horse to a tree and managed by building a fire to keep them off until daylight, when they left.
Jewett Heights, formerly known as Lexington Heights, is 2,000 feet above tide water. A high table land, it gives you a feeling of being “atop the world,” looking down the foot of mountains rising 4,000 feet in height. Its surrounding scenery is of the finest.
The first church of the Presbyterian faith was built here about the year 1800, and before it was finished was sold for $50 at public auction to Elisha Thomson. He immediately gave it back to the society. In 1804, another one was built on the site of the present church, and this also remained unfinished for many year.* (*See “Churches”)
In “Old Time Letters” by the Rev. H. H. Prout, we find the following: “About the year 1808, a certain class of the inhabitants thought it necessary to the securing of justice and order, to have stocks and a whipping post. [These were built near the Presbyterian church, Jewett Heights.] It was a local institution erected on mere neighborhood views, and administered only on local authority. It was imported from Connecticut, and probably a fragment out of the book of blue-laws. The stocks and whipping post were built mainly by the Congressional Society of Lexington, with the laudable design of punishing petty misdemeanors. * * *
“The stocks were used but once. A man known as Brom Pete swore terribly on regimental training day. The poor fellow was taken in hand, brought before Justice Ichabod Andrews, and condemned to the stocks for two hours. One night six or eight spirited young fellows demolished the stocks, and carried most of the timbers to Abel Holcomb’s swamp.
“Wagons were scarce in those days. The father of Colonel Pratt had the first one-horse wagon brought into town. Seldom a clock was to be seem among the inhabitants at that time. Laben Andrews brought a brass clock and sun dial from Connecticut. From that neighbors made noon marks in their windows.”
At Mill Hollow the Buell Brothers built a grist and saw mill in 1810, buying the mill of Abner Hammond, which was fitted with two card machines, and they carded wool for most of the inhabitants in the region. The wool was brought on horseback by both men and women. The Buells also built “clothing works where they dressed cloth, had a blacksmith shop with a trip hammer that went by water power.” Among the visions which proved failures was that of Parks and Wolcott, who thought to turn various sizes of barrels and kegs from logs, but the invention failed to be practical.
Jewett Center is the oldest settlement, two miles south
of Jewett Heights. East Jewett includes the beautiful mountain valley in the
eastern part of the town. David
Chase, the son of Zephaniah, was two years old when they came from Martha’s
Vineyard in 1788, and settled near the mouth of the East Kill. In 1808 he
married Abagail, a sister of Hon. Zadoc Pratt. West Chase, youngest son of
Zephaniah, married Julia M. Newton. He kept an inn and the post office at Jewett
Center for over forty years.
Beach’s Corners is on the main highway between Hensonville and Hunter. It was the home of Gilbert Beach, who owned most of the land, and was named for him. Here at one time was a post office and the town hall (still standing). The old burial place of the Beaches, Buttses, Lords and others is near the Corners, which to-day consists of dairy farms and private homes.
PIONEERS AND THEIR HOMES
The first of the name to come to America was Thomas Chase, who was a native of England, and settled in Hampton, New Hampshire, in 1636. Thomas married Elizabeth Philbrick, and Isaac, their third child, was born in Hampton in 1647. He married Mary Tilton and died in 1727.
Joseph was the second child of Isaac and Mary, and married Lydia Coffin. Their oldest child, Abel, was the father of Zephaniah, who was born in Edgarton, Martha’s Vineyard, March 14, 1748. Zephaniah, whose wife was Abagail Skiff, had three sons, and although a joiner and cabinet-maker by trade he went with his brother Benjamin on several whaling voyages. Seeing no future for his boys except a seafaring life, he determined to find a farm which he could afford to buy. A relative owned land in Binghamton, N. Y., and offered to give him a farm if he would commence a settlement there.
Zephaniah sold his property at Martha’s Vineyard for $250, and with his second wife, Love, and their son David and his sons by his first wife (Benjamin, Joseph and Thomas), the oldest of them but thirteen years, started on the long journey to New York. They finally reached the valley of the Batavia Kill, and, resting at a cabin at what is now the village of Windham, he was told that, owing to a high wind storm which had felled many trees across the road, it would be impossible to get through with a wagon. While undetermined what to do, one Thomas Harriott offered to sell him a farm on the Schoharie Kill, ten miles distant, at what is now Prattsville. A bargain was made in which oxen figured as part payment. Benjamin, the eldest son, was sent on with the oxen and goods while Zephaniah and his young family, the youngest but little over a year old, crossed the mountain range on foot by a path, or blazed trail, which shortened the distance by half. Both parties made there way safely and were reunited at the designated spot.
They found the house only two logs high covered with bark, but another was in course of building, and this the father and sons finished before cold weather. It was here shortly after that another son, West, was born. There was no saw mill within twenty miles and so logs for the house had to be hand-hewn, split, shaved and planed into boards, for furniture as well as for the house.
The deed from Thomas Harriott is dated August 19, 1787. They cleared away the forest in valley and on mountain side, and later a more pretentious house was built. This farm was in the town of Woodstock, Ulster County, and was subsequently included in the new town of Windham. It became successively a part of the towns of Lexington and Jewett, and is now a part of the town of Jewett.
Zephaniah was a Baptist, ,and a soldier of the Revolutionary Army. He is buried in the family plot in the cemetery north of the house which he built, and his wife Love lies beside him. Benjamin, the eldest son, spent his life at the homestead. He engaged in farming, lumbering and tanning, and lived to be eighty-eight years old. These were the ancestors of the late Judge Chase of Catskill.
TOWN OF LEXINGTON
Lexington was taken from “Old Windham,” January 25, 1813. Previous to this it was known as New Goshen, after a town in Connecticut.
The town includes most of Great Lot No. 22 and part of Lot 21 of Robert Livingston’s grant, and had been leased by him in smaller parcels before 1777. One of these sub-lots was leased to “John Darling and conveyed by him to the Kips.” The conveyance was signed by John Maben and Richard Peck. In 1883 its boundary trees were still standing.
Lexington streams are the West Kill and Schoharie Kill; its principal peaks are Big West Kill, 3,900 feet high; St. Anns, 3,890; North Dome, 3,400; Eagle Mountain, Sleeping Lion and Blue Bell. Along the banks of the Schoharie Kill was the domain of the Indian, mostly peaceful and inclined to be friendly in this vicinity although the trail during the Revolution led along the Schoharie to Fort Niagara and was used for taking captives to Canada. A section of land north of Lexington was once called Barber Town. William Chamberlin is said to have built the first forge in the town.
Josiah Clawson came from Claverack in 1812 with his wife Peggy, and his old flint-lock musket, used in the Revolution and handed down to his son Jacob A., has killed many panther, wolf and bear. Joel and Jonathan Ford, the Petit brothers and John Valentine came from Caanan, Columbia County. Near them lived David Foster, a soldier of the Revolution, and William Street, and Englishman. About a mile and a half above the village in 1792 Thaddeus Bronson had a grist mill.
The first town meeting was held at the house of Abel Holcomb, and the first town board of Lexington consisted of Peter Smith, Jacob Van Valkenburgh, Abram Camp and Nelson Beach.
There is an atmosphere about this village and valley hard to define, different from others in the Catskills. There is dignity and also a suggestion of protection in these mighty mountain bulwarks. As you pass along the main highway you feel yourself to be the discoverer of a deep, secluded and peaceful valley where nothing can disturb or annoy. When the first white man came to hunt or trap, or look for a home, it must have been oppressively grand and beautiful with its age-old forest in all its wildness, reaching from the low lands to the summit of towering mountains full of dark shadows, tumbling brooks and cascades, wild animals roaming at will and making their dens among the cliffs or coming down to drink or feed along the stream.
The village of Lexington is divided in two parts, with at first a fording place between, and it was not until many years later that it was connected with a bridge. The first village was north of the present one where once stood the Bray Tanner (1819). Here later were both grist and saw mills, a store and post office. The village no longer exists. It was not until 1823 that Bruce Smith built a dam, grist mill, and distillery just above the present bridge.
Derrick Schermerhorn established the first woolen mill, and ashery and forge. He was a man of considerable strength and weighed 300 pounds. Richard Peck kept an inn.
West Kill lies in a scenic valley of great length and near the foot of Deep Notch,* (*Also called Bush Kill Clove and Echo Notch.) which is a great gap in the mountain side seemingly provided by nature as a passage from one valley to another. On either side of the way the mountains rise abruptly above the traveler, and as he climbs the ascent toward Bushnellville he seems to be swallowed up in a pathless wilderness. In the narrowest part of the Notch it is said that ice can be found at any season of the year.
To this beautiful valley of the West Kill came Jerome Van Valkenburgh in 1780. He was one of three of that name but not related to each other. Three Butler brothers and a man by the name of Dryer followed, the last building a woolen factory. Darius Briggs, Hezekiah and Amos Petit and Ephrahim Dunham were among the pioneers. When they came to this spot there was little but Indian trails over which to travel, and their supplies were brought from Kingston. Fortunately game and fish were plentiful.
Captain Aaron Bushnell first settler here, and from him it was named. Captain Bushnell was the owner of a grist mill, and when grain was scarce he imported large quantities of it from England by way of Rondout.
Beers in his Greene County History says that “Beach Ridge is a portion of the town lying on the highlands between Lexington Flats and West Kill village, and to the westward. It is a high rolling tract, partly on the mountain range which divides the town from Halcott, and where it reaches an altitude of 3,800 feet at the summit, called by some Vly Mountain and by others Angle’s Peak; named from Daniel Angle, one of the first settlers of this region. He was one of the Hessian soldiers who served in Burgoyne’s army, and was captured with the army at Saratoga. He, however, soon enlisted in the American service, was honorably discharged at the cessation of hostilities, and afterwards granted a pension. The monument over his grave records his age as a hundred and seven years.”
The Ridge was a great stamping ground for wolves, which often surrounded the cabins of the settlers and there were many narrow escapes. Panthers too were sometimes seen. A Mr. Peck looking for strayed cattle saw one ready to spring upon him from a limb above. Calling loudly for help, the sound delayed the animal for a few minutes, when Henry Cline, who was some distance away, with perfect aim dropped the animal dead at Mr. Peck’s feet.
PIONEERS AND THEIR
John Maben came to Lexington Flats in 1777, and died there in 1813. He had come to America in 1768, or perhaps a year or two later, as a traveler who expected to return to his home in Ireland when he had seen the new country, and his “baggage consisted of 23 linen shirts, and plenty of other linens, clothes and money. He was to live as a gentleman for three years.” The country attracted him so much that he did not return at the end of the three years, but married Miss Sally Pierce of Connecticut.
It is written of John Maben that he was of strong and robust frame and at once threw himself into the patriotic movement, and was no slow participant in the skirmishes of the Connecticut colony. With the cessation of hostilities in Connecticut he came to what is now Lexington Flats as early as 1777, as at this date his name appears upon leases given by Robert Livingston for these lands.
The Mabens are descended from the hardy and thrifty Scotch-Irish, and the Scotch clan Gregories on the maternal side, and inherited honesty, frugality, energy, keen humor and wit. They were also God-fearing men and women. The church records of Norwalk, 1652 and later, show the Gregories to have been eminent freeman, and that John Gregory was the founder of the town.
John Newton, the son of Silas, was born Feb. 3, 1776, in Chesire town, Connecticut. Here he served as an apprentice at the wheel-wright business, and in 1797 came to Lexington, settling at Westkill. A year later he married Captain Bushnell’s daughter Eunice, whose mother was Eunice Pratt, and carried on his trade as this place.
The children of John and Eunice Bushnell Newton were Orlando and Julia. Orlando followed in the business footsteps of his father, received his education in the district school, became a highly respected citizen of the town, holding town offices for over thirty-two successive years. His first wife was Harriet P. Bump, and the second Mrs. Ruth Christina Van Valkenburgh of Lexington.