Old Times in Windham
by Rev. Henry Hedges Prout
Originally published in the Windham Journal from February 18, 1869 to March 31, 1870. Article 11 published on May 6, 1869. Extracted from the microfilm copies of the Windham Journal located at the Vedder Research Library.
Transcribed by Arlene Goodwin
The territory of old Windham is entirely mountainous, a land, like Palestine, of brooks of water, and fountains, and depths that spring out of the valleys and hills. The slope of the region is westward, and the streams flow into the Schoharie and then into the Mohawk. A multitude of clear streams running each in its own valley, falls into the Schoharie at Prattsville, so that standing on the bank of that stream, and in a reverse view looking up the stream eastward , you might imagine yourself at the foot of a great tree, the auxiliary streams being the main branches and the lesser streams the limbs, and the head springs forming the twigs of the tree. Or starting at any one of the innumerable head springs and following its clear flood downward, it would lead you through its own fresh green valley, all the way enlarging itself, till it reached the main current.
Again going upward and eastward in any one valley you would find other valleys passing into it, till you reached the head valley, and as there are many head springs so there are many high valleys well up on the Catskill range where it divides the waters of the Mohawk from the streams that flow directly into the Hudson.
There are rows of these high valleys each shaped something like and old-fashioned butter ladle hollow upward; for example, Big Hollow, then a gap of the Windham turnpike, then Mitchell Hollow, North Settlement, Sutton Hollow, West Settlement, and so on.
Grass is the favorite product of this region. It is indigenous and cannot be kept out, and this gives the country its agricultural character. It is devoted to grazing and dairies, and has a remarkable capacity for this purpose. Its vicinity to New York City gives the farmers the advantage of the best market, and the consequence is that the value of the land increases as the metropolis grows and has trebled within the last thirty years.
But to avoid generalities, take what is now called Sutton Hollow. The elevated called, now having a numerous and thriving population, was a wilderness in 1796, with the exception of two clearings, one called the Schoit lot toward the head of the valley, and the other known as the Race clearing, on or near Mr. White’s farm.
The earliest settlers were the ancestors of the Ferris family; Jesse Cook, the father of Ichabod and other sons; a branch of the Brandow family; and a branch of the Deckers; Orange Munson and others. Ichabod Cook was a man of great strength of body and elastic cheerfulness of disposition, kind, genial, gay in manners, at least in early life. He was wholly without the advantages of education. A man of a class who made play out of hard work, and whose ringing voice has echoed often through the valleys and resounded from the hills, loudly and musically. He was a noble laborer, a workman who needed not to be ashamed, and who won a handsome competency for this family, by working as it "To the manner born."
We speak of culture and cultivated manners as if such things were the result of fashionable intercourse and study alone; but are there not some specimens of peculiarly open and easy manners among those who have no book learning whatever? The less they have read, the more they have observed accurately. The quick, bright intelligence shines in the eyes, conversation is the one art, deference and respectfulness are not wanting, and the whole air and manner has its own peculiar beauty.
Ichabod Cook, it only remains to be said, lived, during his later years, a christian life, and the Master came suddenly and doubtless found him ready.
This high valley was also the residence of Harris Prout, the oldest son of John Prout, senior, who emigrated from Connecticut about 1800. The writer would fain describe a scene of much primitive interest, a simple, plain log cabin, with its loft reached by a ladder, and situated so that an artlessly winding path led to the clear brook not far off, which was thickly shaded, and found its way by winding among the roots of the trees, so that its course was made beautifully devious and surrounded some sweet spots, island fashion. Here was a seat, ever so plain, and a pewter cup for drinking; there in the dark retreat and elaborate play-barn, all arranged carefully, and singing brook passing closely round our island, and cheering our sport. What a laughing crowd ran to and fro from the brook to the cabin; how business-like was the air of some, and how the dark curls of others were tossed in the wind, as bare feet pattered rapidly over the smooth path. In the house a tone of care and reproof met us sometime, but it was love after all, and now it can only be said, they are gone.
Many years ago Harris Prout and his family removed to Oneida county, in this state, and now he and his wife and several children rest from their labors.
Orange Munson came from Torringford, Conn., in 1796, and settled where his son, John Munson now lives, and died a few years since, aged 92 years. He marked the trees on the path to his cabin, and with his wife and one child found a nestling place in the forest. So indistinct was the path to and from his house, that his neighbor, Dr. Benham and his wife looking up their way home only by keeping near and sometimes wading in the creek, till it brought them down to the main road. The cabin built by Mr. Munson was an air speciman of a cabin on the frontier; floored with hewed half logs, called puncheons and covered with bark instead of shingles. The ax and the jackknife are the tools for making such buildings, and for the windows the crevices between the logs served very well, crevices, sometimes to use a pioneer description, "large enough to sling a yearling through." Of course sitting indoors, you might look out into the tall forest shadowing you, as well as listen to the music breathed through the pines and feel the awe of solitude.
Hardenburg’s mill was resorted to for grinding grain, and boys going on horseback, the fun was to find the grist not ground, an consequently have a chance to run horses home ward through the rough bridle-ways. Boys seem to have a fondness for going together on such occasions, and enjoying such sport as they could find.
And here the catechism comes in again. Saturday was catechism day in school, says Mr. John Munson, and he recollects that his father having been educated a churchman, he was taught the catechism as it is in the Prayer Book, and said it at school, while the majority probably said their lesson from some other manual. The Act of Association, dated 1799, before mentioned in these papers, has Orange Munson’s name subscribed to it, evidently in his handwriting.