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From Country Courier Magazine
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Editor's Note: This article appeared in Winter 2008 edition of Country Courier
By Dick Valinski
Over the past years I have interviewed many individuals in Dutchess County and other areas to document the use of ice in the years prior to 1940. Farm ice storage was the major topic.
Jim Andrews, of Union Vale, spoke of his early memories on this subject. He was living on the family farm on Clove Road. His father, along with several other neighboring farm families, "jointly" harvested ice from Pray's Pond which bordered his farm on the west side. Three teams of horses were used. Many local families harvested the ice together and shared the ice. Sharing the labor was: Gordon Andrews, William Coe, Jack Meibaum, James Pearson, Veal Pearson, and George Uhl.
The group had all the tools necessary to cut ice efficiently unlike many other farm families. A simplistic process follows: For the first step they used a horse-pulled marker plow to cut grooves about three inches deep to mark uniform size blocks required for maximum use of storage space in the icehouse.
Hamilton Pray ice plow demonstration circa 1900.
From the collection of Dick Valinski
Switching over to another ice plow that cut to a depth of up to 12 inches; the blocks were not completely cut through; for the safety of the men approximately three inches of ice was not cut through. These blocks were split off "in their turn" by use of a bar chisel (a heavyweight chisel with a beveled edge attached to an iron handle approximately 5 foot long). This completed the plow cutting process.
A large ice handsaw was used to cut through the blocks to completely separate them from the other scored blocks. The men would then use ice hooks to force these blocks under the ice away from the scored ice. This provided a channel where the scored ice could be pushed/floated over to the wagon area for transportation to the ice house.
Sawing ice by hand.
From the collection of Dick Valinski
Others cut a hole in the ice with an axe to facilitate the use of a large crosscut saw (normally used to cut wood/trees) to saw random size blocks. Hay forks and wooden poles were utilized to push the blocks of ice to a sled or wagon to be carried to the ice house. A hay tong, attached to a block and tackle, sometimes was used to load the ice; often it was "brute force."
Each family had their own ice house; all were of similar design. The Andrews' ice house was located 80 ft. from the barn (on the pond side). Its footprint was approximately 18 x 20 ft., and 12 feet in height to the eves. The studs were 2 inches x 8 inches; boards were nailed on outer, and inner, walls. The space between the walls was filled with sawdust. At that time harvesting usually began in December and continued into January; the pond was only cut once.
Most farmers with the sawdust-filled walls did not cover/fill the layers with sawdust. Use of sawdust on top of the pile was common after laying a piece of canvas down to avoid dirty ice. I spoke to many individuals that had icehouses without the sawdust-filled walls who did cover each layer and "sometimes" filled cracks between the blocks with sawdust. Often they put a thick layer of sawdust on the floor prior to laying the first layer. This method actually accelerated the melting of the ice and caused the blocks to freeze together. When I asked one individual why he did it this way he answered, "Father knows best."
Commercial ice houses often put salt hay, which was harvested from river inlets, on top of the pile. This did not contaminate the pile; it was easily removed prior to the ice being removed.
Until electricity was available, farmers used a spring house to cool fresh milk and to preserve it until delivery to the milk wholesalers (i.e. Borden's or Sheffield's in this area). Adding ice to the spring house water was necessary during the warm seasons when water temperatures rose above the fifty degree mark. When ice was needed to cool the spring water, a block of ice 24 ft. x 24 inch x 12 inch was usually enough to keep milk below the critical 50 degree temperature. Milk stored at a temperature above 50 degrees for a period of time would sour.
The spring house was located in a shaded area. Commonly a cement trough, or box, was constructed to hold the daily cans of milk awaiting shipment to the milk plant; those holding five to six cans were most common. The cans were partially submerged in the running water to cool the milk. The ground water in the area was approximately 50 degrees. It was only during the "hot season" that a cake of ice (cubic foot) was placed in the tub to assure the milk was cooled sufficiently.
Jim remembers his father used an iron wheel wheelbarrow to bring the ice from the ice house to the spring house. For the Andrews family this era ended in 1930 when electricity came to the farm and Jim's father purchased an electric milk cooler. Not all Dutchess County people were so fortunate; some local areas were not electrified until the 1950s.
The Andrews purchased a Haverly Milk Cooler which had the maximum capacity of six cans of milk. At the same time his father also purchased an electric motor to replace the gasoline engine operating the vacuum pump for the milking machine. The old gasoline engine often took longer to start in the cold weather than it did to do all the milking. The electric era eliminated hundreds of hours of labor previously required and the subsequent elimination of the need to harvest ice.
At the Atley Vail farm (owned by Percy Ferris in 1930s/40s) on County Road 9, just east of intersection with Route 82 in Verbank, ice was harvested throughout the period. Old timers tell me they believe that no ice harvesting was done after the early 40s on this farm. The ice was harvested from the small pond across County Rt. 9, approximately 100 feet north of the ice house. The cubic dimension of the ice house indicates that the rectangular area of the pond that ice was harvested from was approximately the size of a football field (ice between 8 ft. to 12 inches thick harvested only once per season. A 12 inch thickness was preferred.
From the collection of Dick Valinski
Until the early 1900s, some of the local men would make the trip to the Poughkeepsie area and earn extra money during the slow farm season to work harvesting on the Hudson River. Pay was $1.25 for a day laborer; $3.50 for a man and horse, 75 cents for pike boys; 25 cents for spooners who walked behind the horse and picked up the "exhaust." The workday was from sun-up until sun-down. A pretty young girl could make in excess of $2 by selling pop corn cake, cookies, etc. to the "always hungry" workers.
By the mid 1930s, fewer commercial ice companies were selling ice for commercial and home market. Much of the ice sold was made artificially. This market continued into the 1950s. I found many individuals that still have, or remember having, an ice card (none in Verbank) that were provided to the homes in the more populated areas by ice peddlers.
This is an ice card' the homeowner would display in the window indicating they needed ice.
From the collection of Dick Valinski
These cards were to be placed in a front window whenever ice was needed. The card had each side printed either with the block side or the price. The ice peddler would chip/cut the desired size and carry it into the house and put into the refrigerator (ice box). The ice-man used an "iron tong" to lift the block up onto his back for carrying. His back was protected from melting ice by a rubberized apron. The apron had a pocket/pouch on the bottom edge to catch the dripping water; normally he carried a sponge, or cloth, to wipe up any drips. The delivery was commonly announced by a quick knock on the door, entering with a cheery greeting of "ICE MAN".
A white oak refrigerator from the 1902 Sears, Roebuck catalogue.
From the collection of Dick Valinski
Until the 1940s or so, it was not uncommon for individuals to leave their houses unlocked. Many recalled never seeing or having a house key. Other tradesmen that operated in this manner were the milkman and the egg-man. Often the money would be left for them on the kitchen table. Until the 1950s ice was still required for use by the railroads to cool meat and produce in their boxcars in shipments to the marketplace. To date I have not been able to substantiate any date for the shut down of the Verbank ice house. It is likely to have occurred just after the railroad stopped operating in 1938 since most of its ice was used by the railroad.
By the early 1920s the beginning of the "end of the ice age" was being noticed. People were starting to receive notices of other services being offered. From the early 1900s, coal was readily available in the Hudson Valley and many ice companies began using their horses, wagons, and available manpower to increase their profits, by adding coal deliveries.
Binnewater Lake Ice Co. ad from 1922.
From the collection of Dick Valinski
By the 1920s, companies like the Binnewater Ice Company in Kingston, NY had added electric refrigerators, food freezers, oil burners, and water heaters. Coal companies in Poughkeepsie also adopted these changes and were another source for these items.
One cannot write about ice harvesting in the Clove without mentioning that Hamilton Pray was a premier maker of ice plows and tools beginning in the later part of the 19th century and well into the 20th. His first plow was patented in 1891 both in the United States and Canada. His home and shop were located about one mile south of the Andrews' farm on Clove Road. The mill was water powered and the mill pond was on his property (Pray's Pond). Jim Andrews saved three of these plows and machinery from the mill after it closed in the 1970s. One plow that the Pray family used on the family farm is on display at the Village Museum at the Dutchess County Fairgrounds. One used by the Utter Farm in Green Haven was donated by Robert Utter which is on display the Union Vale Historical Society Museum, Tymor Park. The local museum has other items including pictures of the mill, along with many other historical items, await your visit.
Editor's Note: This article appeared in Winter 2008 edition of Country Courier
A Solemn Occasion
By GENE SIMCO
I attended a sad and solemn occasion this morning. There weren't many attendees only the owner, his hired hand, a female friend and me. Even though this occasion affected the Town of Union Vale, Dutchess County and New York State, it was not advertised or covered by press. For the owner it was the end of a way of life. He started in this business in 1999. He struggled, learned constantly and finally was forced to the realization that he had to stop. For these past years, this business required a lot of money to run and produced a smaller and smaller profit not to mention the toll it took on his mind and body. Finally, the owner was brought to the realization that to continue would mean bankruptcy and more stress on his health and well-being than he could tolerate.
The decision was not made today. It was long in coming and the owner threatened that he would do this. We had heard this so many times that the small group of people that attended this ceremony was truly surprised he was going through with it. All his work, sweat and love were being hauled away. It was a very emotional experience for all and I am glad that I was invited to attend and help wherever I could.
I have written many stories about the subject of Agriculture. I believe that Agriculture is the third largest industry on New York State. In Union Vale, we have state and local laws that protect and nurture agriculture. Apparently, nothing in the local, county or state laws helped this man with his business.
Now I am sure that those of you who are taking the time to read this have figured out what the solemn occasion was. My friend shipped his cows to auction today.
Some of you will remember a story I wrote called, "The Problem with Cows." I had written a humorous article about the condition of a dairy barn in the middle of winter and the fact that, no matter what time of year or what day, the cows have to be milked.
Anyone who has owned any type of animal can understand the attachment human beings have to animals. Some believe that we were ordered by God to care for animals that were put on earth for our good and welfare. Whether it be a directive from a Supreme Being or a call from the "natural order, no one can deny that human beings have a natural affinity for animals, With that in mind, whether it be a gerbil or a buffalo, we humans become attached to them.
My friend bred and milked Holstein cows. He had a lot of births and deaths but there was a strong line of pedigree Holstein stock here on his farm. He used methods like artificial insemination and actual natural breeding with a bull. He was working on his line to produce a highly pedigree bovine that produced a high quality and quantity of milk
In agriculture, one can be very successful at everything and still lose money. The reason is that the infrastructure for a dairy farm is no longer here in this area. The fields are growing houses instead of grain and alfalfa. The clamor of the Community is for better schools and roads and not the protection of a way of life that was supplanted by suburban commuters. The farms are far and few between, the agricultural supply houses are far away and the price of "raw" milk does not justify the expense to make it. I remember my friend telling me that he was very proud that the bacterial count in his milk was one of the lowest. This was because he took his time milking and kept everything very clean. This netted him a little raise in his "raw" milk price but still not enough to justify his business expenses
We all talk about the "bottom line" in businesses. The bottom line in Dairying is non-existent. If you want to lose money, this is one of the quickest ways to do it. Especially here in the Northeast we are "up against it" because of our weather and the ability to make and store hay and corn. Even though there is an "agricultural assessment," the taxes are ridiculous and in many cases cannot be covered by the money a farmer makes in a year. I considered purchasing a large farm in the area about ten years ago. At that time the taxes were $16,000.00. I figured I would have to sell 8000 bales of hay at $2 a bale just to cover the taxes. Some seasons bring good weather and others don't. If a farmer has to buy his hay and grain to feed his cows because rain or frost or storms destroy his crops, he is at a serious disadvantage. The equipment alone needed to perform the tasks of cutting and baling hay and growing and chopping corn are astronomical.
For all these reasons above we were standing in his barn this morning sorting cows and loading them on a tractor trailer for auction. Small farms can't make a go of it in this economy and more importantly in this area. I feed my horses at around the same time my friend did his morning and evening milking. I looked over this evening and saw no lights in the barn. I didn't hear his dog barking to help his master move the cows out to the field after milking. I will miss these sounds to which I have been accustomed. My friend will stay in agriculture and is already making plans to venture in another agricultural pursuit. He will keep going because he is a "man of the soil."
Farming is a vocation and never a vacation.
Editor's Note: This is the fourth and last article in a series written by Dick Valinski who has interviewed former Verbank resident Lydia Brown. If you have not seen the first article or the second article or the third article, find them below, and then come back for this one.
Lydia's Memories of the M.J. Brown Store 1930 to 1965
By Dick Valinski
(Photos courtesy of Dick Valenski)
During the first four years that the Brown's owned/operated their general store the local area was undergoing a period of rapid change. As Lydia noted, the Brown's store, and home had undergone many changes by the end of the decade. The cold and drafty house was now warm and comfortable. The floors, which were the source of many drafts, were initially sealed with a layer of building paper secured by heavier lumber and covered with rugs; now they were covered with hardwood flooring. Electric power was now available in Verbank, and the Brown's had "retired" their battery light plant. Both the home, and store, had joined the modern electric age.
One thing which did not change, which Lydia recalls, was the special individuals who watched over her when she worked after dark in the store (closed at 9PM) when Mel was away. One special person was her next door neighbor Ken. Whenever a stranger entered the store at these times he would come over and buy a "cheap cigar" and stay around and puff until the stranger left. Ironically he died in the store one night while working on the installation of a new front store window; a true friend to the end.
By this period of time the store had added an ice cream and candy counter on the north wall of the store; on the east wall was the main working counter. Lydia recalled the ice cream counter in detail: "Its purpose was to serve ice cream cones. The counter top had a hole cut to allow five-gallon cans of ice cream to be held suspended/secured. Ice was placed beneath the cans to minimize melting. At closing time, and during periods of high temperatures, ice was filled in between the cans. A wooden cover was the only protection on the top of the cans. The Shruse ice cream was manufactured in Poughkeepsie."
The availability of dependable electricity supported a decision to purchase a large six-foot-long store refrigerator with glass sliding doors. The store now provided butcher service along with a better selection of available meat purchased from the Armour Meat Warehouse in Poughkeepsie. The poles that supported the electric wires held telephone wires; the store now had a telephone. A freezer chest was purchased to replace the ice chest in the ice cream counter
With the automobile rapidly replacing the horse and wagon there was little need for the shed that sheltered the horses utilized by store customers in the past. Mel closed it in and added an upper story. It was now a hardware store with a much larger inventory than the general store had space for. It contained all general hardware for the farm and home market such as paint, nails, piping, plumbing goods, etc., plus common "special" supplies for farm use
In my conversations with Lydia I learned that many of the changes came with "a little bit of pain". When the store started selling bulk meat (roasts, chops, cut-up fowl, etc.), neither Mel nor Lydia (who often was alone in the store) knew how to perform the necessary tasks. It was Lydia's father who came to the rescue. He had butchering experience. A butcher's block, tools (i.e. grinder, saw, and knives) were purchased. Lydia stated it took a while to become proficient, but she had many occasions to "practice" on real products each day. She stated that "I could chop, cut, slice, and grind quite satisfactory." She also recalled not missing running over to the home refrigerator for meat products. It was noted that as the stores began selling meat the peddler's business of selling meat was rapidly declining.
The telephone definitely was good for increased sales, but it too came with a "minus" perspective. Prior to the telephone, customers dropped off a list of desired items. Now Lydia was often disturbed while waiting on a customer by a ringing telephone. She recollected that meeting/talking not only with customers, but with individuals just stopping in, "about everything and anything" made this environment a most pleasant world. Home deliveries were made twice a week or by special needs. The customers were appreciated and accommodated.
With the coming of the 1930s, an unforeseen change occurred the Great Depression. It was not just the farmers who did not have available money throughout the year; many individuals working for others found difficulties in earning a steady income. The store had many customers requesting "put the bill on the tab" (buying on credit). Lydia did not recall anyone in need being denied credit (interest was never added to the delinquent payment). She recalled that nobody failed to pay what they owed.
When the "Last Train to Verbank" waved its goodbye, the operation of the post office was affected. The mail previously pre-sorted on the train was now delivered by a postal truck. Mail pouches were now brought into the store and presorted there. Mail not for the post office was put back in the bag along with the Verbank mail for Millbrook. Later in the day the truck returned on its run back to Beacon and left off the Verbank mail from Millbrook and picked up mail from Verbank in the pouches for the stations down line.
By the 1940s, the credit sales were diminishing due to the new prosperity resulting from increasing employment brought about by fears that the war in Europe would affect the United States. During the war years the store remained profitable, but was plagued with food shortages. Foods stamps were issued to allow for fair distribution of scarce products (i.e. lard, oleomargarine, meats, sugar, etc.). Lydia remembered minimal, if any, problems from local people, but many disputes with visitors from NY city people. She received many demands from the city people to sell rationed goods without stamps; the reply "no sale".
We recalled that the margarine was sold with a package of orange dye to mix into it before using. Laws made adding color prior to sale illegal as it looked like butter; even with color it tasted like lard. Being a store owner did not exempt her from rationing as she was able to purchase rationed items for resale amounting to the ration stamps she turned in at the time of purchase. This was a time of shortages of many other items including milk, fruits, coffee, and even chewing gum. Deliveries were sharply reduced due to gas rationing and shortages.
With the end of the war in the mid forties normalcy returned slowly, but by 1947 their store business returned to normal. Other stores failed due to food and manpower shortages. Some manpower shortages occurred because workers could earn more money working in factories making defense items. In the late forties there was a cloud on the horizon of the neighborhood store especially in the larger population areas.
Supermarkets were starting to appear in many areas. In my neighborhood in the city of Worcester, MA our local store was put out of business by a new A&P Supermarket which was about double the size, (approximately 1,600 sq. feet). A similar sized store was purchased by the new A&P Corporation. Additional space for shelving for all goods was added to the store which was on the first floor of a tenement house. Several wheeled carts were purchased for shoppers to use; it was self service except for meats. One checkout counter was installed; the previous owner was retained as butcher and manager. Bulk purchases by the A&P Corporation resulted in lower costs. The novelty of self service with poorer service (i.e. no deliveries), but lower cost, was causing many small stores to fail because of declining sales.
The Brown Store continued to be a successful business until it was sold in 1963. Within year or so, the store was converted into an apartment house. Lydia fondly recalls being both a post mistress, storekeeper, and butcher. Mostly she recalls the pleasant memories, friendly neighbors, and the slower paced life
Lydia's Memories of the M.J. Brown General Merchandise Store
By Dick Valenski
Editor's Note: This is the third article in a series written by Dick Valinski who has interviewed former Verbank resident Lydia Brown. If you have not seen the first article or the second article find them below, and then come back for this one
In May of 1926, Lydia married "the boy" who gave her the big ice cream cone years in the past. Mel was now a working man - the manager at Victory Store, a chain store in Poughkeepsie. Their home was a 4-room (rear) apartment on "upper Main Street." Lydia recalls living in the city as exciting although she found her neighbors less friendly than those in Verbank.
A big change took place a short time after the move when the young couple made a visit to Verbank. It was on that trip that Lydia's father mentioned that the Mateer Store was for sale. He also stated that he always wanted to buy that store, but could not do so. Upon hearing that, Mel said, "Let's go down there and talk." Mel was encouraged by what he heard. Upon his return he asked how Lydia would like being in the grocery store business. He had experience in working at, and running, his grandmother's store in the Clove. Lydia recalled saying, "I have no experience, but would be happy with the change, and willing to learn." The deal was finalized with $50 down payment and a loan from the Bank of Millbrook. She noted that after the initial charges "little cash" remained.
The team wanted to present a new image for the store prior to the formal opening. Their main emphasis was to refill the store with a completely new inventory after a thorough cleaning of the property. They did not purchase the store inventory or unwanted household goods. A three-day auction was held to sell all unwanted items. As the auction was proceeding, the back storage room was emptied and cleaned to hold the fresh grocery items that were ordered from a grocery supply house in Newburgh. The truck was scheduled to arrive during the hours of the auction to allow the village residents to see they were starting off with a fresh inventory; it was purchased "on credit."
After the store opened, the Newburgh Grocery Supply Company remained a preferred provider. Bananas, and some other fruit/vegetables, were purchased from a supply house in Poughkeepsie. Other items were purchased locally. The store supplied not only the village residents, but the surrounding farm families as well. A shed beside the store sheltered horses while rural folks were shopping. Farmers often paid for store goods with produce from their farms. Eggs were a common barter payment. Lydia recalled that a portion of these eggs were sold to a grocer in Moore's Mills (likely sent down line by train).
Note: This is a re-creation of what the Brown store could have looked like. If anyone has a photo of the Brown's store they would like to share, please contact Kathy at 845 724-4762
The store hours were 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays only (84 hour workweek). Lydia recalled that a large "skinny" table-size ice box came with the store purchase. It was used to hold butter, cheese, and other perishable items - it was not efficient enough for meat products. The cooling was produced by blocks of ice loaded into the top compartment of the box. Ice was purchased from the milk factory across The Green. Lydia recalled that they wanted to purchase a new improved ice box for the store in the late 20s, but could not justify the expense. Instead they purchased a smaller unit for their house. Beginning at that time they carried a small supply of meat product to sell; Lydia recalls getting lots of exercise running from the store - to home - and back.
At this period of time the majority of general stores did not sell fresh meat. It was common in most rural areas to have a butcher shop, or minimally a meat peddler who had scheduled routes around specific areas. It was the butcher who had facilities to keep/store meat. Often the facility had sufficient space to keep meat of families who butcher their own animals for family consumption. The local meat market was in Lower Verbank - Will Vincent was the butcher. Will also ran a slaughter house for meat required sold at the store and for local individuals who required the service. On specified days, Will peddled meat and meat products from an enclosed wagon pulled by a single horse. He carried a butcher's block and knives to provide cuts of meat that the customer wanted. Ice covered the meat to keep the meat from spoiling and a canvas blanket shielded the ice. Another butcher (M.J. Wade) was peddling meat in LaGrange and Beekman. This company operated four wagons; the other routes were in Fishkill and Poughkeepsie.
The wagon pictured is displayed at the antique museum at the Dutchess County Fairgrounds.
It was noted that electricity was not available in Verbank in 1926. Being without an electric line, however, did not mean electric lighting was not available. Glass batteries along the cellar wall provided power to electric lights on the first floor of the house and store. These batteries were re-charged by a generator powered by a gasoline engine. This unit likely was a 32 volt direct currant Delco Light Plant or a Powerlite Plant. Each of these plants had the option for an electric starting feature (great during the cold season when gas engines were difficult to start). The units were used only when light or power (i.e. for an electric washing machine) was required. It was not until the early 1950s that everyone in Dutchess County had the opportunity to connect to a municipal electric system.
Cheese from the ice box was cut into "V" wedges on a table made just for that purpose. Lydia recalls that it was weighed on a hanging scale, and that if the cheese was too cold the edges would crumble when cut. She learned the trade as time passed.
All sales were recorded into an account book. Some customers made credit purchases with the agreement that bills be paid when the customer had cash (i.e. farmers received cash for their crops when their produce was sold). Lydia often mentioned the honesty of their customers; all bills were paid in full. During the early years ordered goods were delivered twice a week by horse and wagon.
An early improvement was the purchase of a platform scale. A McCasky Accounting System was also purchased. It was a table mounted unit which utilized spring clamps to hold the account books/slips of all credit customers in individual sections. As each new purchase was made the account owed was transferred to the new records with a duplicate copy with the new amount owed given to the customer. As Lydia recalls, approximately two dozen sections were utilized by her and additional sections could be purchased if required.
By the end of the decade Mel purchased a long bodied Ford Truck with a roof and curtain covering the bed. He then stopped using a horse and wagon. It was a long awaited purchase as he was allergic to horse hair and being around them caused him severe discomfort. He utilized the truck to continue the twice a week deliveries. Lydia recalls that it was around this time that they began their career of postal workers. Both took the postal examination - Mel became postmaster and Lydia became the assistant postmaster. The post office was set up in the front of the store. It had a table for sorting mail. Local mail was put into the post office boxes of the local villagers; no deliveries were made. Mail for RFD (rural free delivery) was put into racks provided for the local RFD carrier. This was the individual who delivered mail to the rural individuals (in Verbank) and provided this service each weekday.
The steam train brought the morning mail to Verbank from Beacon via the Central New England Railroad. It was dropped off by inside pouches; mail in pouches for delivery to Millbrook was put on the train during this stop. Either Mel or Lydia had to perform this service. Sorted mail for Verbank at the Millbrook Depot was picked up to be delivered to Verbank on the return trip where it would also pick up the Verbank mail for delivery to the post offices in Poughkeepsie and Beacon. The Poughkeepsie mail was dropped off at Hopewell Junction. The mail was delivered to Poughkeepsie via the Maybrook Line of the New Haven RR (Hopewell Junction to Poughkeepsie).
As the decade came to an end, electricity had arrived in Verbank.
Go to article 4
The Good Old Years - Country vs City
By Dick Valinski
Editor's Note: This is the second article in a series written by Dick Valinski who has interviewed former Verbank resident Lydia Brown. If you have not seen the first article find it below, and then come back for this one
Knowing that Lydia had driven her dads Model T to school in Millbrook for two years, I asked her how driving an automobile enhanced her social life. I was surprised by the reply given. "It didn't." It was used only by her father for work, some family outings, and by Lydia for going to school. Not at all like my 1936 LaFayette coupe did for me in the '40s!
Lydia remembered how lucky she was in having a Yurks' boy from "the Clove" travel to school with her. She picked him up at the milk factory in Verbank. Lydia admitted that she was never strong enough to crank the Model T to start the engine; these were the days prior to the electrical starters. Her passenger was often her "cranker," other times it was 'big sister's' duty.
Lydia talked about her school years and the years prior to marriage. She believes that children attending the one/two room schoolhouses, that existed in the smaller communities such as Verbank, socialized together to a greater extent than children in larger schools. Before classes, at recess, and after lunch, all played games together. Usually these were games involving physical activity such as tag, and "ball over" where teams line up on opposite sides of the school. One team throws a ball over the school yelling "ball over" and then runs around the building and attempts to get the ball away from the other team. There was lots of running and chasing.
Lydia recalls some of the older boys chasing the girls with taunts of, "When I catch you, I'll kiss you." Lydia recalls they never caught her! Some old-timers remember that there was likely no intention of kissing - it was the chase! (Imagine playing this game today.) In most of the larger communities schools had separate school yards and often separate entrances for boys and girls. Boys usually played the physical games. Jumping rope was more common for girls to play than was tag. Many other differences were noted between the early experiences of children in small/large towns such as Millbrook or the city of Poughkeepsie.
Photo courtesy of Dick Valinski
Lydia and her sisters never learned to swim. Wading in shallow brooks was permitted in her early years when accompanied by her mother. No bathing suits were required or used. Lydia recalls that her mother allowed them to take off shoes and stockings and tuck the skirts into the tops of "their drawers." In later years wading continued to be a form of summer recreation but without the tucking and supervision. This was in contrast to what other natives recalled in the early days of their fathers who commonly went "skinny dipping" in the hidden areas in the deeper waters especially after a day spent haying. Others recall their fathers telling of swimming in the mill pond in Lower Verbank; jumping from the dam (properly attired) was considered a sign of maturity. A few natives stated that their grandmothers were some of the few women who shared the swimming holes with their families of boys/girls at family picnics.
Another form of permitted activities were local walks with stops at local businesses such as the RR station, feed mill, milk factory, and store. Lydia recalled stopping at the milk factory when the farmers dropped off their milk - for hopefully - a bit of excitement. After milk was poured from the 40 gallon cans they were cleaned and sterilized by high pressured steam. The noise produced by this operation often scared the horses. Sometimes they "took off at full speed without the driver" to the delight of the young onlookers.
The penny candy at the store was a highlight event, but alas, not a frequent one. Pennies were hard to come by. The general store in Verbank was her favorite place. It was owned by Chauncey Colwell during Lydia's early years and later by James Mateer in the late teens. This was the store that Lydia and her husband Mel purchased in 1924. The general store in Lower Verbank also sold penny candy. Another store there sold a small ice cream cone for a penny (or a "big one" for five cents). During the winter season both sledding and skating was popular; if one had no skates just sliding on the ice was fun, and often was done at recess when conditions were right.
The railroad station during the summer season was often the place to be when the trains were scheduled to stop. One never knew if a person of interest was arriving (few actually did). As Lydia mentioned in some of her writings, the telegraph operator was a source of entertainment when he operated his mysterious device. As long as the train operated through Verbank (1935) he continued to amaze children of all ages.
Highlights at that time were church, the Grange, and dinners/suppers where families could enjoy the company of their neighbors and kids could enjoy the company of their peers. Lydia does not recall any dancing at these events or of some entertainment i.e. magic lantern shows that were common events in the larger areas. Lydia, however, does remember attending silent movies at the summer theater on the north side of Verbank Village Road approximately one half mile east of the bridge over Sprout Creek. Theater productions were very popular with some residents of the village and the surrounding area, and summer visitors. Today the building appears to be a well restored barn, but in reality it was built as a church at another location and moved to the present site prior to 1900. At that time the intent was to use the building as a theater.
From others in the Clove there were recollections of dances in the early 1900. The dances most frequently mentioned were in Beekman in the Irish communities. Their summer picnics included dancing and a "little" liquid refreshment.
In the larger towns and cities, sporting events and band concerts were becoming a favorite Sunday afternoon activity. Lydia does not recall such activities in Verbank during her early years. Other natives recall making trips to watch sporting events in Millbrook; Bennett College girls were playing sports early in the 20th century. It was noted that some of the wealthier families had automobiles during the late teens and traveled to Poughkeepsie to take advantage of the parks, opera house, and even river cruises.
Lydia recalls that she and other working class kids in the Clove community appeared to have had more family responsibilities than those in larger areas. Lydia recalls working in the family garden in rented acreage, housework, preserving food, and doing daily chores. Sunday was a day for Church, rest, and possibly visiting neighbors.
My mother, born two years before Lydia, grew up in the city of Worcester, Massachusetts, as the daughter of a mill worker. She left many photographs, and written memories about her early life which is in sharp contrast to the average rural natives in the Clove area, but typical of towns/cities (i.e. Poughkeepsie).
At The Beach Photo courtesy of Dick Valinski
By the mid teens she regularly was swimming with other local children at a local park (usually without adult supervision). Swimming, however, must have been difficult with the heavy swim wear including skirt, stockings, and shoes. Canoeing was easier and quite common. Bicycling was common for the upper classes; trolley touring was becoming popular for those with a few extra dollars to spend. If the old photograph albums I have viewed are typical group dating was far more popular than exclusive dating during her teen years "in the teens"(1900).
Play Ball! Photo courtesy of Dick Valinski
Sunday afternoons offered a choice of concerts in the parks in the city and surrounding towns/villages. Baseball games were very common in the city and towns. Small villages had "their" players who commonly played for teams in larger towns that played at their fairgrounds. Rivalry was common; the games were well attended on a nice Sunday afternoon.
Cheescake! Photo courtesy of Dick Valinski
My mother began attending dances at an early age. There were many ethnic groups in the city that had clubs that regularly had dinners in the colder seasons, and picnics in the summer. These places provided a reasonable place for a family to enjoy themselves after a six day workweek. Dancing was a featured entertainment on Saturday night for adults and older children, and on Sunday the floor was filled mostly by children of all ages.
To both Lydia, and my mother, these were "the good old days", BUT each had a different experience.
Go to article 3
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Early Memories of a Verbank Native
by Dick Valinski
Editor's Note: This is the first article in a series written by Dick Valinski who has interviewed former Verbank resident Lydia Brown.
It is not often that one has the opportunity to speak with a person about living in Verbank since the early 1900s; I am still having these conversations.
It was late last year that I re-discovered a person whom I found to be a local historical figure back in the 1980s. While researching old icehouses in Dutchess County I discovered a notation referring to an icehouse in Verbank circa 1900. It reputedly employed an unusual system of bringing ice from the pond to the facility. I found no information about this topic until someone referred me to Lydia Brown - the same person I found to be very knowledgeable previously.
Lydia Brown All photos courtesy of Dick Valinski
Lydia is now a spry, petite, centenarian plus two. She not only told me about the ice house, but drove with me to the site to help me visualize "what was there." As weeks pass we have continued our conversations; she enjoys talking - and I enjoy the listening and learning.
The following stories/details are just part of the writings I have documented.
The icehouse was located across the road from the SW corner of "the Green." All that remains of it today is a large two storied dwelling that was one of three attached structures utilized by the Sheffield Milk Factory. The southernmost building was the ice house; it was also the largest (Lydia described it as about 50 feet - or more - and at least that high). Its major use was supplying ice to the railroad to keep milk cool as they transported it to market. The railroad line was to the rear of the building. What made this building interesting to me was that the ice was transported to the building not by animal powered wagon, or sleighs, but via a long slide.
The ice pond (no longer there) was on the hill to the east of the green about a half mile away. As a young girl Lydia remembers the train arriving with flat cars of "chutes" of sufficient dimensions to carry a large block of ice. The chute came down to the green passing just to the north of the store then owned by Chauncy Colwell (Lydia and her husband Mel purchased it in the mid 20s). In the center of "The Green" the chute began a turn to the south to align it to the steam driven elevator which loaded the ice blocks into the building. A small bridge was built over the chute to allow individuals and wagons to cross over the chute. (More on this in another story).
Verbank, circa 1920's
In the early 1900s, the railroad passing in back of the icehouse was the Newburgh, Dutchess and Connecticut (ND&C). At a young age, prior to going to school, Lydia traveled alone on it to visit "Gramma Quinlan" in LaGrange. At this time she recalled meeting her favorite conductor - a Mr. Kisselburg, unlike another conductor who tended to be grumpy. As she boarded the train her mother pinned a note on her coat/dress stating her destination. If the conductor was called away for some reason he put a passenger to assist her. Try doing that today.
When Lydia became 7 years old (minimum school age) she began her studies at School #9 (today's location would be the NW corner of Rt. 82 and Camby Road). This was a two room building with the "necessary" facility located in the rear of the building. She recalls that desks were shared by two students. The lower grade students sat in the front and through their scholastic progress they "hopefully completed their studies in the last row." The grades at #9 were one through six. Those desiring additional studies (Lydia did) had to attend the 7th and 8th grades in Millbrook. There was no school transportation provided. The distance was too great for walking, and was a problem for her in the beginning, as her father had to drive her to school in his Model T Ford. Her older sister, and mother, did not drive. Lydia recalled that she tended to be a "tomboy" at times and learned how to manage the three pedals required - clutch, shift, and brake. At this time it was very unusual for a girl to operate an automobile. She was around 14 years of age when she began driving to school; she had no license; she did not believe one was required. She recalls driving backward on the climb up the hill from Camby Road. This was necessary to get sufficient gas into the carburetor to prevent the engine from stalling due to lack of fuel (the gas was "gravity fed" from gas tank located in the front of the car just above, and in back of, the engine).
As a child, Lydia recalled the pleasure of climbing on piles of logs that were piled on "The Green" prior to being loaded on flat cars pulled by the massive steam engines used by the railroad to transport them to an unknown destination. The logs were transported from Chestnut Ridge where they cut down on "oversize wagons with large, high, wheels that were pulled by teams of horses." A large crane on one of the flat cars was used for both stacking and loading. Verbank had a passenger station, freight station, and two sidings where box/flat cars could be left for loading and unloading. The ice house and a feed store used these facilities regularly. Lydia recalls that it was a busy place.
During her youth, Lydia's father was a carpenter by trade and an RFD (Rural Free Delivery) mailman who often did other work in slack time; i.e. cutting ice in the winter. Her father's route was the longest in the area; it covered 25 miles. He transported the mail in a small wagon pulled by a team of horses. She accompanied her father on many occasions. Lydia noted that the horses not only knew where to stop, but where her father could place the mail easily into the mail box. It was on one of these trips that she met her future husband, Mel, who worked at a general store in the Clove (Sam Brown's Store). She recalls that "the boy" served her an extra large ice cream cone.
After telling her story of meeting Mel at Brown's Store, Lydia told another bit of trivia. At a later date the store was sold to Delmar Lasher's mother who was a relative of the Browns. Rose Brown helped her gramma at the store. Rose's mother was a midwife in the area who delivered over 60 babies. As part of a midwife's duty she often stayed two weeks at the house taking care of the mother and doing cooking, cleaning, etc.
After Lydia's basic schooling was completed she went into nurses training at St. Francis Hospital. She received her "nurse's cap" at a formal ceremony at the hospital. She was scheduled to travel to NYC for training in contagious diseases, but instead married "the boy" who gave her the big ice cream cone!
(More recollections of Lydia Brown in future issues of Country Courier Magazine!)
Editor's Note: I am happy to report that writer Dick Valinski will produce a series of local articles for Country Courier Magazine about the recollections of former Verbank resident Lydia Brown. My thanks to Lydia Brown, and Dick Valinski for interviewing Lydia, in keeping Union Vale's history alive!