Contributed by Sylvia Story Magin
Blizzard of 1888 in Catskill
Biggest Blizzard occurred Fifty Years Ago (Article from March 12, 1936)
March 12, marks the 50th anniversary of the big blizzard of 1888 and there are
still living many Catskillians who can recall the memorable event.
Snow began to fall on Sunday morning and the flakes were large and moist. The wind was blowing from the south changing to rain. But that night the wind shifted suddenly to the northwest, the temperature dropped 15 to 20 degrees and the snow, which had been falling steadily all day, became dry.
All Sunday night and throughout Monday the snow fell steadily until it reached a depth of 24 inches on the level. On the meantime the wind had increased in violence until it blew a gale, piling up the snow in huge drifts. The snow ceased to fall shortly after dark Monday night, but the wind continued to blow with increased velocity, piling up the drifts higher and higher.
The village schools were dismissed at noon on Monday and Principal Ayers engaged several large bob sleighs drawn by husky horses to take home the pupils residing some distance from the schools.
The streets were deserted and all business was suspended. By 5 pm Monday it was impossible for any but able-bodied men to get about and many pedestrians floundered in drifts up to their waists. Some Catskillians residing in the hill section were unable to reach their homes that night and went to hotels.
By Tuesday noon conditions had reached a most serious stage, the village being completely snow-bound and isolated from the outside world. Streets were impassable , the roads and sidewalks were piled high with great drifts reaching to the second stories of many buildings.
The "Old Stone Jug", the home of John and
"Madame" Jane Dies. It was located in Catskill.
John Dies, born abt 1718 and died bef. 1773, was born in Bristol, England and supposedly was a British Army Major who defected to Greene County where he built this stone house and hid out. He was married to Janet/Jane/Jannetje Goelet (1721-1799) who was known locally as "Madame Dies" and who fancied herself a leader of Catskill society. They were Sylvia Story Magin's fifth great-grandparents, forebears of May Gaylord Story.
From Beers' "History of Greene County" (1884):
"Of these houses, that of Madam Jane Dies deserves a particular description. This house, which was built by John Dies about the year 1763, is yet standing, as sound in essentials as on the day when it was finished. It is fifty-five feet in breadth and about forty-five feet in depth. The outer walls are of sand-stone, taken from the neighborhood, and the southeastern front is laid in courses, with corners of free-stone in rustic ashlar, brought from the quarries at Nyack. The roof has the double pitch, which was common to buildings of the last century, and of which the Hanock House, in Boston, was a noted specimen. The rafters and floor-beams are of white oak and yellow pine, and these, by reason of age, have become nearly as hard as Honduras mahogany.
THe interior of this house has undergone a good deal of alteration. The chimney, which once stood in the middle of the eastern portion of the house, has been taken down and two other chimneys erected against the outer wall. The windows on this side have been blocked up, but the places where they once were, may be seen from the outside. The fire-place in the southwestern room of the first floor was once adorned with quaint Dutch tiles. It is not known by whom or at what time these were removed.
Old men still living in the town of Catskill remember this antique fire-place. The tiles, which were fastened by mortar to the jambs, were about four inches square, made of coarse white pottery and adorned with grotesque figures in blue. These figures represented Scripture scenes - Abraham offering up Isaac, Queen Esther before Ahasuerus, and Lazarus coming out of his tomb. In the last instance, the restored and overjoyed man is waving above his head a Dutch flag.
It was deemed a splendid house in its day, and was named by the people in the neighborhood Dies's Folly. This name has point, and it is to be regretted that the house should now be known by the plebian title of The Stone Jug.
When it was built, this mansion stood in a filed and pleasure ground of about five acres, which was bounded on the east by the highway now known as Main street, and on the south by the Katskill. For many years the beauty of the place suffered no loss. No building of any kind was in sight, nor any structure excepting a low wharf near the mouth of the Catskill, which had been built by one of the Duboises. The western hill across the creek, as it is called, now disfigured by wharves, and brick-kilns, and unsightly cottages of working men, was covered by a forest of great oak trees, and from the front stoop of Dies' Folly one could look down the lovely Katskill, between Hopenose and the wooded slope of the opposite back, to the further shore of the Hudson and to Blue Hill in the distance bounding the southeastern horizon.
John Dies, the husband of Madam Jane Goelet Dies, was a merchant in the city of New York, - so at least he is described in a deed, dated in November 1762. One story is that he was the captain of a barque, and was wont to make voyages to the West Indies, after rum, cocoanuts and oranges. Another story is that he was an officer - a major - in the British army, About the time of his marriage with Miss Jane Goelet, he deserted and fled with his wife from New York to Catskill, as to a remote and sure refuge. Yet he lived for some time in fear of arrest. When British troops were in the neighborhood, camping for the night on the old Kings road, at the Fuyk, or waiting in their transports becalmed at the anchor off the mouth of the Katskill, at such times, the tradition is, Dies used to secrete himself in the garret of his house, in a secret recess in the eastern chimney-stack. To this hiding place his trusty wife used to betake herself thrice a day, to bring him food and drink, always locking behind her the door on the stairway leading to the garret.
He was a drunkard and a spendthrift. and it is said of him that he was wont to amuse himself by skipping Mexican dollars across the Katskill.
A copy of the will of Dies's father-in-law, bearing date July 9th 1768, is in the writer's possession. By this instrument the testator gave his estate to his executors in trust for the benefit of his daughter, Jane Dies, "designing by this devise" - so the will reads - "to prevent any Part of my estate from falling into the hands of my son-in-law, John Dies, of whose prudence I have no opinion, and intending the more effectually to provide for my said daughter and her children, by effectually guarding against the Interposition of the said John Dies of the Possession or management of any Portion of my estate in any manner whatsoever." It is evident from this will, that John Dies was living in 1768. But when he died, or where he was buried, has never been learned. (Jane Dies was a widow at least as early as 1773) Nor is anything more known of him, except that, in 1753, he was appointed deputy surveyor, by Cadwallader Colden, to survey a tract of land on the Schoharie Kill, from the Van Bergen Patent down to Brakabeen.
Jane Dies, the wife of John Dies, was a child of Jacob Goelet, a resident at one time of Albany, and afterward a merchant in New York. She was always addressed and is still mentioned as Madame Dies. Indeed she seems to have been held by her acquaintances in a certain sort of awe for her fine manners, for her rigid piety, and especially for her ability to read and write English with ease.
She died on the 5th day of March 1799, and was buried on the west side of the Katskill, in the graveyard of Hubertus Dubois. All marks of the grave are now obliterated, and the tombstone which once marked the spot is lying upon the ground. It is a plain slab of brown freestone, and bears the followig inscription:
In Memory of
wife of John Dies
who departed this life
the 5th day of March, 1799
aged 78 years
See, here she rests, free from all care
The world no more to mind
But mounts up to her Savior dear
Her sure and faithful friend.
The Catskill Packet of March 9th, 1799, contains the following notice: "Died, on Tuesday last, Mrs. Jane Dies, of this town, aged 78 years. Her virtue, piety, benevolence and charity have been equalled by very few."
Two portraits of Madam Dies are in existence, one taken in childhood, the other - now cracked and discolored by age - in early womanhood. These pictures are worth preserving, as mementoes of a noble lady. But they are worthless as objects of art; and it must be confessed that if we were solely dependent on them for a knowledge of the kind of woman Madam Dies was, we would be forced to describe her as fond of fine clothes, and especially of lace, and as having no other characteristics, good, bad or indifferent.
Her tea service - perhaps rather the remains of it - was once shown to the writer by her grand-daughter, Mrs. Jennet Dubois. It was of china, and was covered with the outlandish yet picturesque figures common to the ware of the Celestials. It was never used by Madam Dies, except on occasions of ceremony - at such times of special invitation, one may suppose, as when Mistress Judith Van Vechten of the Mill, and Widow Elsie Van Bergen of the Vly, came down through the woods to spend a summer afternoon at Dies' Folly, returning home before nightfall, through fear of Brandt and is band of marauding Mohawks. Perhaps, too, this tea-set was brought out on that busy day, in October 1777, when General Warner and his staff, and Ralph Cross, of Newburyport, Mass., colonel of the Essex regiment, were "genteelly entertained at Widow Dies' house."
The will of Madam Dies bears date of 24th day of August 1796. Her lands in Schoharie and at Catskill, and, indeed, all of her estate, she divided pretty equally among her children, Matthew, Jacob, John and Catherine, and among her grand-children, Isaac, John Dies, James and Jennet Dubois.
Matthew, Jacob and John Dies, as early as 1764, were living on the Schoharie Kill, and were among the first settlers of what is now the town of Gilboa. They built the first grist mill and saw-mills there.
From Gallt's "Dear old Greene County" (1915):
This portrait of Jane Goelet, aged about 16, was courtesy of Robert Story in 1915. Note that, although sumptuously dressed, she is barefooted in the portrait.
The construction of the Rip Van Winkle Bridge. A photo by Clifford Arthur Story, professional photographer.
Picture taken by Clifford A. Story likely in Greene County, possibly in the 1940's - a sign in the lower right hand corner says "American Legion." The men and women seem to be refurbishing children's vehicles, kiddie cars and wagons, and either making or restoring toys, as you can see small items with rockers and wheels.
Catskill Air Show Disaster - September 11, 1949 (photo by
Sylvia Story Magin) and entry ticket
To the right is a pamphlet offering sight seeking tours by plane over Greene County, offered by the Catskill Airport during the summer of 1949.
From the newspaper: Stunt Flier Dies in Fall at Catskill -
1,500 at Air Show see Piper Cub drop 100 ft.
Before a horrified crown of 1,500 at the Catskill airport, Earl Newton, 25, a stunt flier from Philadelphia, Pa., was instantly killed yesterday when his plane dived nose-first into the north runway of the field. The tragedy occurred at the opening of a Sunday afternoon air-show jointly sponsored by the Catskill Airport and the Catskill Flying Club. The victim, a partner in the specialty flying team of Newton and McGinnis, had just taken the plane, a Piper J-4 Cub with a single engine and closed cock-pit, into the air for his introductory flight of the afternoon. His partner, Walter McGinnis, 22, at Hatboro, Pa., was on the field and witnessed the accident. Newton's wife had remained home in Philadelphia. It was the first time Newton had attempted this particular act, a new stunt in which he imitated a drunken pilot. In simulating a plane out of control, he actually lost its control. The craft went into a hammerhead stall at 100 feet altitude and he was unable to pull it out in time. Newton had insisted on trying out the act yesterday, State Police said, because his partner, McGinnis, is going into the Army in two weeks, and Newton wished to get the act rehearsed before he hooked up with a new partner. As excitement spread through the crowd, which State Police said was one of the largest ever to attend in Greene County, an announcement was made over the loud-speaker requesting people to remain off the field. They cooperated well. An ambulance in attendance at the field sped immediately to the scene. The front end of the plane was badly smashed and Newton was pinned in the wreckage. Attendants had difficulty in extricating him. He was rushed to Greene County Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead in arrival. Leo Boice, manager of the airport, ordered the show to go on, and the crowd remained. In fact, it was increased by later arrivals. Some 30 planes from a 100-mile radius around Catskill participated in the show, which included various exhibition flights and stunting. Newton was a Merchant Marine veteran of World War II. He had taken up aviation since the war, and he and McGinnis had been operating as a daredevil flying team for the past three years, touring air-shows, fairs, and kindred events. Their act included such stunts as a pick-up of one partner from the ground, and a car-to-plane pickup. William McNamara, agent for the Civil Aeronautics administration in Albany, investigated the cause of the crash. Coroner Alton B. Daley of Athens issued a verdict of accidental death due to multiple injuries. Troopers Fred Knight, BCI, and Anthony Luzinas, of the Catskill barracks, conducted the police investigation.
Photos taken by Sylvia Story Magin in April 1949 of the fire that destroyed Klugo's Furniture Store on Main Street in Catskill. The proprietor was Mr. Van Loan.
Picture taken by Clifford A. Story around 1938 or 1939 of the Jefferson Height Improvement Association. The young girl sitting in the front row, aged about 4 or 5 is Phyllis Guldenstern, who married Donald Boomhower.