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At Home in the Last Century and Changes Since

Wallace H. Rich - 1984

I will tell a little about how we lived – the changes that came along and some happenings along the way. Before 1900, Hobart had no electricity, no cars, no telephones, radio, television, hard roads or RFD. I remember one evening a man who worked on the section gang came to ask Father to sign a petition applying for the first RD carrier. He got the job, much to the surprise of most everyone. He drove a team of small mules a long time, slow, but sure.

We lived in a small house which had running water but no modern improvements. We used wood for heating and cooking and oil lamps for lighting. Flour came in wooden barrels of about 200 lbs., oatmeal in a little smaller barrel, and sugar in 100-lb. cotton bags inside a burlap bag, buckwheat flour in a paper sack. The memory of buckwheat pancakes still lingers.

That house, with improvements, is still in use. I remember Grandfather coming to our house with his black horse and two-wheeled cart. That had to be about 1895 or ’96. Father used to tell about riding his high-wheeled bicycle on a plank road near Cherry Valley.

In 1900 we moved to a new house and changes have been made in it ever since.

There is a dug well in front of the small house and there was a wire from the house to the well, weighted to keep it in the water. Father had a telegraph line from his home in Hobart, and by grounding the circuit, he had to run only one wire. All his family were operators.

Hugh Rose, who set up the Rose Telephone Co., came to our house to arrange for our telephone before 1900.

In 1901 the Pan-American Exposition was held at Buffalo and our parents attended it. Of course, they went on the train and came home with lots to tell. Solgarz had shot President McKinley at the Exposition and they said the spot where he stood was marked off.

Before my school days, there was a school house on the Clove Road, District Number Four. After it closed, Hector Cowan moved the school house and used it for a horse stable which burned along with the barn, a few years ago.

Before my time, there was a Hobart Fair and the fairgrounds were where MacArthur’s trailer park is now, plus land across the railroad. When the railroad went to Bloomville, it ended the fair in the village and it was moved to land west of the disposal plant, now owned by Frank Lamport. I can remember when there were a few buildings there, but no fair.

The railroad was one of the most important things that happened to Hobart. It came before I was born and went on to Bloomville about that time. Fred More, who had been station agent at Hobart, went to Bloomville on the first train to open the station and stayed there seven years. He also went to Oneonta and back on the last train. A local train ran from Arkville to Oneonta, leaving Hobart at eight minutes after eight and returning at six-twenty-four in the evening.

Will Hickok of Oneonta was conductor on a daily train from Oneonta to Kingston, going through Hobart about 8:45 AM, bringing pupils from Kortright, Bloomville and South Kortright just in time for school and returning at 5:30 PM.

Patsy Phillips ran a train daily, including Sundays, from Kingston to Oneonta due at about 10:30 and 2:30 at Hobart. Hickok was a rather large man and Phillips was small. Both were very well liked. One time Hickok put a man off the train for non-payment. The fellow planned to get even and made the mistake of telling that he would be on the train with helpers and planned to beat up the conductor. Hickok told his brakeman to block the aisle so only one could get at him at a time and he did. It was the man and his helpers that got beat up instead of the conductor.

Summer was the busiest time for passengers. Hickok’s train was known as the boat train and was backed from Kingston terminal down to Kingston Point to meet the boat bringing passengers from New York. They sometimes ran two sections including cars which ran up the Stony Clove branch from Phoenicia.

The Hobart section gang took care of the track from Stamford to Bloomville, including the turntable for turning the engines around when that was the end of the line. Bill Laffordy was the section boss from Arkville to Oneonta, including the work train. One day he had the work train running backward from Grand Gorge toward Roxbury. An error by a dispatcher or a misunderstanding of orders let another train meet them head on around a curve. Laffordy was in the caboose and was killed as was a man who live in Hobart.

We used to send chicks by mail, paying Parcel Post at the Post Office and taking them over to the station. One day I was a little late and the train started before I got there. Either Phillips or the engineer saw me coming and stopped the train to get the chicks.

There was a Pullman train each way in summer, a milk train each way all year. Double-headed coal trains of about twenty-two cars ran each way and in summer ran nights. When they came to Hobart, they uncoupled the engines and left the cars below the Pearl Street crossing while they ran the engines up to the yard to fill their water tanks at the water tower. It was the duty of the section gang to keep the water full. They did that by pumping from the upper pond. The pump was run by an interesting stationary steam engine.

The Presbyterian Church at that time was where the bank parking lot is now. When they coupled up the train and started to go, they made a terrific noise and when they went by the church, you couldn’t hear anything. After one of those interruptions, the minister said, “We will get away from that in 1950.” He didn’t know we would have a new church in 1913. The noise was still with us in the new location, but not so bad.

Most every farm had cows and in 1906, Father and Mother decided to build a new barn. I can remember the day they made the final decision. That was a major project, but the barn still stands. The boss carpenter was John Gray, and he had some problems. The carpenters framed the timbers and built bents with braces and with wooden pegs, all hand work.

Finally came the day for the barn raising, and quite a crowd assembled. Gray had men lined up along the timber. Then he gave the order to pick it up and raise it knee high. This gave the men a chance to get a new hold, and it went to shoulder high. At that point they began to get short pikes (poles) under it and longer ones as it went up. There were several bents and they had to be connected with timbers and more pegs.

There was one man that I especially remember. It was Edward O’Connor, who was the father of Lynn and Charles, all lawyers. O’Connor had on his office clothes and looked a little out of his element, but he meant well. O’Connor said, “We want to get a good purchase on it.” – which meant to lift to the best advantage. There was another man there who had the same thought but used different words to express it. A book on the Anti-Rent Wars mentions Edward O’Connor several times in connection with the Delhi area. I expect it was another generation of the same family. In later years, Edward O’Connor spent most of his time in Delhi.

For a few years before 1914, Sheffield had a contract to supply milk to Bellview Hospital in New York City, and our farm was one of about six that supplied it. We had lots of rules and inspections. A Mrs. Cook came up from New York and went around to all the farms at variable times to inspect. However it ended there because they did not pasturize or even weigh the milk. Each farm had its own seal and the cans were not opened until they reached the hospital. They told us if we lacked a little of having a full can to even them up. They paid us a good price for full cans and it was a good deal. In 1914, Sheffield lost the contract and Father sold the cows.

Another project we had which is not seen locally now was the production of honey. We had several hundred hives in yards at home, in Township, Roses Brook and Gun House Hill. They were spread around to cover a larger area to get honey. They made clover honey, basswood, buckwheat and variations. We used horses to get around. We usually put them in the barn and gave them oats. How those horses would go when headed toward home at the end of the day!

Bees require looking after or they may swarm out and leave their work. It is natural for bees to multiply and swarm out. When they plan to leave, they make a number of queen cells. The trick is to allow only one queen free in a hive at a time, and that one has one wing clipped. You destroy extra queen cells. It is possible to put cages over a queen cell and hold the queen.

Bees have dispositions the same as anyone else. Some are ugly as Cain and others are docile. You can improve them by changing queens.

Bees will not swarm without a queen. By knowing that it takes just so long to produce a queen and a record of your last visit, it is possible to keep the deal pretty much on schedule. Rainy days may interfere, and you might find several swarms in the trees.

I worked with bees long enough to become mostly immune to bee stings and sick of honey. When cars came along, it helped a lot because we could get around quicker, and bees don’t sting cars.

At the time I was in school there was a teacher training class in Stamford where you could become a teacher without graduating from high school. Donald Grant was one who did this. He taught in the Rich District below South Kortright, going on the local train to South Kortright and walking from there to the school. He left Hobart at 8:08 and returned at 6:24. He came back to high school and graduated when I did.

For a number of years there was a school club called the Literary Society which met regularly on Tuesday nights about once a month. Programs were put on by the members. One of the favorite meetings was debates. Donald Grant was a good talker and really went to town on the debates. He became a successful lawyer with an office in Oneonta. He was District Attorney of Otsego County and convicted felon Eva Coo for killing her handy man, and she was electrocuted in Sing Sing, the first woman to be electrocuted in New York State.

As a sideline to one of those meetings, my brother and I saw the beginning of the post office robbery. We were on our way home with a horse and wagon. It was a very bright moon-light night. As we approached the bridge below Hobart near the present swimming pool, we saw a group of men walking the railroad, just west of the trestle. The bridge was a wooden affair. The instant our horse stepped on the bridge, the group sank to the ground, but still could be seen. The next morning the post office safe had been blown and the office and store was a mess. An empty mail bag was found along the railroad track below the village. The day after the robbery, Henry Cowan went up on the mountain to see some cows. When he crossed a wall, several men apparently were sleeping on the other side. That was the last we heard of the robbers.

Six families in our area formed a neighborhood club about 1908-1912. The neighborhood families were: Griffin on the present Migli farm, Hillis on the present Lamport farm, Rich on our present farm, McClelland, the present Cole farm, Lamport, now Triolo farm, and Burroughs on the Clove Road. Will Burroughs was a nephew of John Burroughs. I can still picture , in my mind, John Burroughs with his long whiskers flying, driving the Model T Ford Henry Ford had given him. That reminds me that at that time, the Ford runabout sold as low as $360. Top and windshield were $25 extra.

The club had parties regularly at different homes, and the whole family went. All played cards most of the evening and refreshments were served but that didn’t end it. Will Burroughs and my father were good fiddlers. Neither one could read a note, but they could fiddle. They learned the tunes from a black man, Belcher. Belcher’s Band had played for dances all over the territory for a long time. I learned to play chords on piano or guitar and could play with them. We all learned to square dance and the parties went much too late. One year the club ended the season with a big dinner and dance at Grant’s Hall to which many of the local people were invited. They hired MacArthur Brothers to play for the dance.

Grant’s Hall started out as the Methodist Church and was later moved to the present location. The basement was a grocery store operated by Hume Grant who was the father of Donald Grant. At that time Ralph Hoyt worked for Fred More in a garage where our hatchery is now, mostly driving a Buick auto livery service.

Robert Thompson worked in Grant’s grocery and later took it over. He got his start by buying railroad mileage books and renting them out to railroad passengers. People would pick up the books instead of buying a ticket at the station. When they returned the book when they got home, they paid for the tickets they had used. The traveler save a little money, Thompson made a little and everybody was happy. He had U & D, West Shore and D & H books.

About that time, Thompson made a deal. If Hoyt would come and work for him in the store a certain number of years, he would sell the business to him. I think it was surprising to Thompson, how fast the time went.

Upstairs Grant’s Hall was used for many things. A good many dances were held there. Pease Brothers Orchestra of Delhi was popular, as was Wolcotts of Oneonta. Wolcotts came over on the evening local train and went back in the morning. Zeta’s Orchestra of Albany played there one night. For a long time the price was $1.25 for men and ladies free.

The biggest event of the year was the New Year’s Eve party sponsored by the firemen. They solicited food from all families and put on a very good supper. They always had a full house and the dancing lasted until pretty late.

For many years there was a men’s club which was called the Citizens’ Association and their biggest event was their annual Washington’s Brithday banquet, a full capacity crowd and plenty to eat. They had speeches and entertainment. The Women’s Civic Club joined in the annual banquet and a good time was had by all. One of those nights, the Hobart Water Works froze 100%.

For several years they had entertainment courses during the winter, about six nights. One might be a very good speaker, the others would be minstrels, plays, etc.

All of the school commencement functions were held there, including the annual prize speaking contest. I went to the regional speaking contest in Delhi one year. Quite a project: Hobart to Bloomville on the train, Bloomville to Delhi in horse drawn stage, stayed overnight and in the morning reversed the operation. I don’t know what school got the prize, but it wasn’t Hobart.

In the early 1900s Hobart had a ball team. All local players and they played neighboring towns. They played on a field at the foot of the slope down from where dr. Graham now lives. The crowd could sit on the knoll and it worked very well. They applause could be heard very plainly at our home. I remember seeing Ed Foote play, also Will Grant who ran a store in the second building from the town clerk’s office. There was also Lynn O’Connor and Fred Weeks, owner of the lower hotel.

The creamery and sugar plant employed about one hundred men and two women, one bookkeeper and one a milk tester. They started the day at six-thirty with a whistle which could be heard for many miles. Most farmers delivered their milk to the creamery and sometimes as many as eighteen or twenty teams were waiting their turn to unload. From our road, you could see teams on the road across the river and vice versa. It was quite a temptation to try to beat the other fellow and it did happen. If you couldn’t beat him to Main Street, you had one more try – Maple Avenue to the railroad and head toward the creamery. The final stretch reminded you a little of the chariot race in the circus. Some milk cans had a fast ride.

Hobart had kerosene street lamps and a familiar sight was the man lighting them before dusk, sometimes driving a horse from lamp to lamp. They had to be filled and kept clean.

There was an older man named John Barker who was a local character. He delivered freight from the depot to local stores. He also drew milk for one dairy. He had a heavy wagon and a clumsy team. He would drive in ahead of his turn if he could. One day he did that and made it. Someone took his team by their heads and backed them out in spite of all he could do. John was pretty mad. At one time Barker had a new wagon and had the spokes painted red, white and blue. He told someone that people wouldn’t like it anyway so he would have variety.

Ed Foote was a horse and cattle dealer for many years and built the long horse barn which still stands on Main Street. Mr. Foote would make trips to Ohio and Indiana where they raised heavy horses and came back with one or two carloads at a time. They would unload the horses at the cattle yard near the water tower and then parade them over to the barn. One man would lead about four or six in a row. They were mostly matched pairs and a beautiful sight. Buyers came from long distances.

Fox hunting was quite a sport. Men who owned foxhounds made quite a business of it. John Burroughs and his brother who lived where Elizabeth Rich now lives, hunted together. Eden shot a fox and sold it for eight dollars. John wrote about the hunt and sold the article for fifty dollars.

Judge John P. Grant, who was the grandfather of Martha Dayton, was the instigator and president of the West Branch Electric Company which brought electricity to our area. They had a coal-fired generating plant in Stamford and a water power plant at Devasego Falls. That was a short distance below Prattsville. When the Gilboa Dam was built, the falls were under water. The West Branch Company built a dam in Roses Brook which supplied power until the dam went out. I remember Grant buying a right-of-way for the line just over the fence from the railroad, paying each farm a dollar.

The telegraph lines were already on the railroad right-of-way. Judge Grant said there might be a case in his court involving the railroad and he didn’t want it to embarrass him.

About 1911 Hobart celebrated the Fourth of July. John Blish, who had spent some time in the West and knew how to handle dynamite, started the day with a blast on Mt. Bob which was pretty loud at our house – I imagine was heard everywhere within twenty or thirty miles.

Captain Fox of the State Police at Sidney and his troop of mounted trick riders put on an exhibition on Foote’s flat which was very good.

There was a parade led by the Delhi Band and consisting of the fire companies, the parade cart, and fire equipment, various floats and a few cars. Anyone who had a car was eligible, but there weren’t many. The problem with the cars was that the cooling systems of that time couldn’t handle the slow driving and overheated. Will Stafford was the leader of the Delhi Band and it was a homecoming for him. He had lived in a house where only a chimney now stands alone year our home. The Delhi Band was the best band around.

At one time Stamford had a pretty good band, George Clute, leader, which included players from Jefferson and Hobart. Part of the fun was the fast rides back and forth with Jack Hiscox. He had a big Speedwell touring car and liked to drive it.

In 1914 we went to Pine Hill to play for July 4. We went on the train and played in their parade. In the afternoon we played in front of the firehouse. The firemen instituted sort of a tag day by stopping cars and collecting a fee. There weren’t too many cars, but they did quite a business. We played one march twice on the way to the station and it about winded us. It was uphill at that point. We arrived back in Stamford about nine and serenaded a few locations.

At about that time, a few of the Hobart players were asked to play at an ice cream social on the Methodist Church lawn. We had Donald Grant for drummer. We practiced four pieces and gave that much concert. After having ice cream, Don said, “Now we will play the other four pieces.” We repeated the performance.

Very early in the century, a full circus visited Stamford and since it was the first one I ever saw, it made a great impression on me. There was a big turnout coming home on the train. The train ran very slowly to give the conductor a chance to collect fares.

Silent movies came to Hobart by way of portable equipment and soon Mrs. Grant started movies once or twice a week. Emma Freemayer who was part owner of the upper hotel, played piano at the movies and I played violin with her part of the time. Emma married Amsey Lawrence.

There was an ice cream parlor on the corner of Main Street and Cornell Avenue. The ice cream was homemade and very good. After affairs at Grant’s Hall, he did a full house business.

Sometimes you have to go away to find out what is going on in Hobart. In 1925, I played with an orchestra which headed up in Stamford. The man who ran the show was the drummer and his wife played the piano. The clarinet and saxophone player had played with Sousa’s band. The trumpet player had played solo cornet in a navy band for years. One night we played for a dance in Davenport – our third consecutive night of playing. At intermission time, they invited the orchestra across the street and gave us a good meal. While we were there, a man I knew came up to me and said, “You didn’t see me here tonight.” I tried to find out why, but drew a blank. There was a girl who was near the stage quite a bit, but I didn’t know who she was, not a bad looker.

In the car coming home, the players were talking about Mrs. ______, and I knew then who the girl was, and why the fellow talked to me. It was about the time women were having their hair bobbed and I didn’t recognize the new look. She is still around, but after fifty-nine years, you will have to wonder who she is.


Response to At Home in the Last Century and Changes Since

Carolyn McPherson

Dear Mr. Rich:

The above was written a long time ago, and I am hoping you are still receiving mail. My grandfather was Will Hickok, so it was exciting to see this reference to him. And are you by any chance related to the Rich family of Delaware County?

Best Wishes