A Tale of the Town of Stockbridge and Munnsville
Rambling Memories of an Old Timer [#3]
Charles E. Page, age 80, The year is 2001.
This was written primarily for my children, grandchildren and those following.
Maybe someone else will be interested too. These things are just as I remember. I have done no research [except the information on the property deeds] that might dispute the historical accuracy of my memory.
The year was 1926. My father, Clayton Page, bought a "two or three-acre" farm on Gulf rd. [now Stockbridge Falls rd] in the Town of Stockbridge, New York. Besides the land, it boasted a falling down house and barn, and was known as the old Harvey place. I remember demolition of the old barn was completed, after my father attached a rope to one side of the barn, our whole family pulled. The barn collapsed. By the following year my father with the help of his two uncles, Herb and Chet Stowell had torn down the old buildings and using most of the old lumber built a 24 by 24ft. camp with a porch running around two sides. The remaining unused lumber provided kindling wood for our little wood-burning cook stove for years to come.
The family spent summers and weekends there for the next dozen years with my father driving back and forth to work at the bank in Oneida each day.
Munnsville was the nearest village and was where we did most of our shopping. Sometimes we kids would walk down Green’s Hill to buy something at the store, and, probably, a nickel ice cream cone, while we were there. We called it Green’s Hill [now Williams Rd.] because at that time Milo Green lived at the top of it, [at the corner of Bishop rd.]. It was a two or three mile walk from the camp to the village.
In Munnsville on the north west corner of Rt. 46 and Green’s Hill Road was Clark Davis’s general store. Across the street to the south was a meat market, later bought by Fred Stowe for a grocery store. Fred and his wife lived up over the store. He previously had run the Sand St. Grocery in Oneida for Mr. Kinney, who also owned a store on the corner of Main and Washington Ave. in Oneida. In the grocery stores at that time, you read off your grocery list to the storeowner or clerk, and while you waited at the counter, he would bring your items to you. The items stored on the top shelves, he would reach with a contraption with tongs on one end, that he could open and close to grasp boxes too high to reach by hand. After he piled your order on the counter, he would write the price of each on a piece of wrapping paper with a pencil and add it up. We usually charged everything and paid every week or two. When my father paid the bill, Fred would always “throw in” something extra, such as a bunch of bananas.
Also across the street lived Mrs. Gosling, the Town Clerk. We obtained our hunting and fishing licenses there. I believe the Post Office was along there also, maybe where the museum is now. A little farther west, on the same side of the street, was the Munnsville School. After the new school was built, where Ferris Industries is now located, the old school was used for the lower grades for a time.
On the southeast corner was Love’s store. They had anything you couldn’t find anywhere else, IF they could find it. That store was crammed full of stuff. On the north east corner was the Munnsville Hotel, a popular place Saturday nights.
A short distance north from the hotel was Griff’s Garage, later being owned by Mr. Frost, I think. Across from the garage was John Burke’s ice cream parlor. Occasionally my parents would take us in there to get an ice cream soda [ten cents] or a hot fudge sundae [fifteen cents]. You always got a glass of water with a sundae. What we called an ice cream soda, was made with a scoop of ice cream, foamed up with some carbonated water and flavoring [maybe chocolate or other]. Usually Mr. Burke would sit down at our table and talk with my father while we were eating. A couple doors to the north of John Burke’s was a drug store. I don’t remember the name of the owner of that. It was before the time of Parkell’s, which later occupied the John Burke place.
My father got to know many of the residents of the Stockbridge Valley. When he would drive through Munnsville each morning to go to work, he would blow the car horn and the merchants would come out to send yesterday’s receipts with him to deposit in the bank, saving them a trip. Sometimes of an evening or weekend a neighboring farmer would come to the camp and ask for a small loan to tide them over. My father would write out an informal IOU for them to sign, and give them the 15 or 20 dollars, if he had that much with him or would bring it up from the bank the next day. Banks at that time [and especially my father] operated on a more personal basis. One time I asked him how he knew they would pay it back. He would say, "he's honest". They knew him and he knew that their word was good even without the IOU.
Next door [south] to the John Burke’s ice cream parlor was his brother, Tim Burke’s, Victory Chain grocery store. Both Mr. Davis and Tim Burke would buy "pie punkins" from a kid who grew them in the family garden.
I charged fifteen cents each, but Tim convinced me to sell to him at two-for-a-quarter. In those days people made pumpkin pies from scratch beginning with a pumpkin. The small pie pumpkins made sweeter pies than the large jack-o-lantern kind.
On one occasion when we kids were small my parents took us to see the "footprints". These were located on the East Hill off Mosquito Point road. They were depressions in the streambed rocks that many people claimed were made by animals or people in prehistoric times. Maybe true. Maybe! Visitors came from miles around to view them. Mosquito Point road was narrow and unpaved, and where the footprints were located, the bank dropped off sharply. In later years when we drove on that road we hoped we wouldn’t meet another car, for there was no room to pass. We usually planned to come downhill on it.
When we were older, we visited the site of the "caves". These were located in the woods more or less across the road from the footprints and consisted of a crack in the limestone hill running along the ridge. In places it was more than a foot wide. The story was that down below it widened out into rooms, some extending more than a hundred feet through and down into the rock. In one place I remember the earth on top of the crack had collapsed leaving a funnel shaped depression about 15 feet wide at the top, and with opening at the bottom of about eighteen inches in diameter. We dropped stones into the hole and could hear them bounce down somewhere far below. But we never crawled in. Not me!
On one evening our family was on the way from Oneida through Munnsville to Grandpa Jones’s farm in Madison. My father stopped the car [a 1920/21 Ford Sedan with an oval rear window] on the eastern side of Rt. 46 on the northern edge of the village in front of a white barn-like building. He took us in saying something like "You’ll never be able to see this again." It was part of what was left of the famous Munnsville Plow Co. This must have been about 1922 or 1923. I have been told recently that the main part of the factory had burned down several years before 1922, but this must have been what was left. Inside was a big, almost empty room, and over on one side some men were pouring some red-hot coals, which spilled out and dropped on the floor. The memory of the hot coals stuck with me. My older sister remembers this and says there was a layer of sand over the floor to keep the coals from starting a fire. She understood at the time they were "making plows".
Another time late at night when we returning from Madison, I saw two odd-looking fires way up on the Munnsville east hill. I asked what it was and my mother said, sounding very disgusted, "That’s the KKK burning crosses". "They think they are scaring the colored people".
It was said that William and Ann Harvey, old time owners of our summer camp property, fed and raised a large family on the small, 3-acre farm. According to the 1875 census, when William was 31 and Ann was 35, they had 7 children. At their ages, they could well have had more after that and I think they did.
My earliest memory of the farm was of our family driving up the dirt road in the Model T. There was an old wood-colored house and the remains of a small barn to the north of it. As we drove toward it there was a big snake stretched across the road, reaching nearly from wheel track to wheel track. The road at that time was of dirt with grass growing in the middle. At first glance we thought it might be a rattlesnake. It was about four feet long, but it was a milk snake, which has similar markings. We always called them "adders". There seemed to be a lot of them around there, some being about an inch in diameter. It was a funny feeling to step on one while walking through the swamp across the road from the camp. Mostly I wore shoes rather than going barefoot.
One time we caught a large snapping turtle in the swamp. Someone said we should make turtle soup, but we let him go. Another time there was a great blue heron catching fish on the narrow stream running through the swamp. Apparently the close growing cedar trees gave him too little space to take off and fly away. We caught him with our lasso rope and took him home. His wing spread was 7 ft. We had to be careful of his strong sharp beak. We released him also after saving him to show our father that night.
The dirt/grass section of the road in front to the camp extended for about a mile, beginning at the Diable farm just north of the "Gulf". We called it "The Gully". It extended to Green’s Corners where it connected to the paved road [junction of Stockbridge Falls Rd. and Williams Rd.] This mile-long section was paved in the next year or two after we bought the place, and we kids enjoyed watching the construction. A steam shovel widened the bend in the road just south of the camp by digging out the shale bank. All gravel fill and other materials were hauled by horse and wagon. The wagons were of the type that had a dump bottom. That is, the driver would pull a lever and the bottom would open up dumping the load. Farmers who worked on the road used their own horses. We used to go to where they were working and the men would tell us stories and jokes. Some of the names I remember were Huntly, wagon driver; Fred____, steam shovel and roller operator; and Frank____, pick and shovel man. We used to climb on the roller and shovel when it was parked over night. The boss, was a Mr. Cramer. So then we had a good road past the camp.
We kids had a great time roaming the hills, woods, and pastures near the camp. The cow paths made climbing the hills easy, since the cows took a gradual route and made a smooth beaten path about a foot wide. On the more level pastures these paths made good bicycle routes, if you watched out for fresh "cow pancakes". One bicycle route we used to take ran from Green’s Corners down through Bishop’s pasture [Nelson Bishop] to a gate across the road from Diables’s "old place". Both cows and sheep were in Bishop’s pasture. We always referred to it as the "sheep Pasture". Of course we had to lift the bicycles over the fence at each end of the trip. Bishop’s pasture and woods adjoined our property on the north. We spent quite a lot of time in the woods. Big spreading branches of beech trees made good places to climb and sit as well as providing sweet tasting nuts in the fall. Often we would see Pileated woodpeckers and other birds and animals. One fun thing we did was to shinny up ironwood saplings [about 2 or 3 inches in diameter] and the see how high we could go before they bent over and let us down to the ground. The trees would then swing back up straight. Years later I read Robert Frost’s "Swinging the Birches" and knew what he was talking about.
We kids also spent time at Stockbridge Falls. It was quite a popular picnic spot for many people and they would wade in the water, sit under the falls, etc. They also played baseball in the part that used to be a stone quarry. The stone quarry had stopped operations before my memory, but the old stone crusher was still parked there. We climbed
up on that to see how it worked. Across the road [north] and back away from the road was the “Devil’s Oven [or Den]. This was a sort of washed out gorge. We climbed up and down the talus slopes and considered it kind of a hidden retreat. Later the rare "hart’s tongue fern" was found growing there. Down below the "oven" lived a man named Lew Thurston. He would often walk up the road past our camp on his way to work somewhere. My father said he reminded him of his grandfather, Charlie Stowell, who walked the same route years earlier to build the Siloam Church.
In the evening I would often sit on the porch with my parents, our feet up on the railing. We would watch the moon come up over Clark’s hill and outline the "old witch" and the "umbrella". They were bushes that the cows had eaten into those shapes. Bats that lived up in the roof boards of our camp would be out flying around. [We didn’t mind them we would watch them come in and out after we went to bed on the back porch.]
While sitting there on the front porch my father would tell about the happenings of his day, and we would talk about many things. On quiet summer evenings, we could hear Mr. Baltusnik’s ram behind the cedar swamp across the road, going "ka-chug, ka-chug". My father explained the ram was not a male sheep, but a type of pump, which operated from water running into it from above. It sat out in the middle of nowhere, without any real source of power, yet pumped water up over a hill and a long way to the farm buildings. It was not an "efficient" pump. A fairly large amount of water entered the pump to operate it, and a very small portion of it was pumped slowly but surely up over the hill. Efficiency didn’t matter. The water was running to waste anyhow. This ram always fascinated me and about 20 years later I bought it from the new owner of the Baltusnik farm, Charles [Pete] Frank. I still have the ram, although it’s not in working order.
Often my sisters would be inside playing records on the phonograph that was wound up with a hand crank, or doing things that girls did, like curling their hair [with curling irons stuck into the top of a kerosene lamp] or reading "movie magazines". We had an old upright piano which Alyce and Dora both played. We had no phone, radio, electricity, or running water.
Very often, before dusk, the family would take a short leisurely walk up the road toward "Diable’s Old place". We would stop to see if there were any rabbits sitting close by the "dear old briar patch". [That name taken from a children’s book of the times.
My sister, Alyce, and I often played with Darwin and Genevieve Diable who lived half a mile away and were our closest neighbors. Sometimes we helped them with their farm work. Mr. Diable would hire us kids to pull mustard weeds out of the rows of corn. We would earn maybe a penny a row or two rows for a penny depending on the length of the rows. Some of them were seemingly endless. Usually Grandpa Diable, or Gladys, would help us and keep us going. Sometimes there would be five or more people "pulling". This would make a nice wide sweep across the field and clean the field sooner. There were no chemical weed killers then. In later years I helped set up grain, meaning to stand the bundles of grain upright in "shocks" to dry. The shocks were later hauled to the thrashing machine. I suppose the correct name is "threshing" machine. But I never heard a farmer call it that. I assumed it was called "thrashing" because to get the grain out of the heads, it was beaten, or thrashed, recalling the days of the flail. Sometimes I helped "tail the hay loader" and mow away the loose hay in the big barn mows [no balers then]. Usually it was very hot in the haymows high up under the roof. We drank a lot of water. Some farmers’ wives made "switchel" for the men to drink. My Grandma Jones did. It was a non-alcoholic drink made vinegar, spices and I don’t know what else. But it seemed to "cut" the dust in your throat.
Most every morning Diables would drive their herd of milking cows up past the camp to a pasture at their "old place", a quarter mile or so to the north of the camp. When the kids were driving them we would usually go with them to help.
In the spring we were anxious to get to camp. Often we would spend weekends there even before school let out. One nice Saturday in early spring I, with my two sisters, decided to go picking apple blossoms. We walked up to Green’s Corners, turned west down "Nigger John’s Hill", past "old Kate’s" house near the source of Cowaselon Creek We then turned north along a road [abandoned even then] which led to Siloam. About a quarter mile down on the westerly side was an abandoned house. The windows had long ago been broken out. In the upstairs windows two rough looking men were sitting, their legs hanging out the windows. They called to us to come in. My oldest sister, Dora, told us the men were probably bootleggers and had a "still" in there, or maybe were kidnappers. We made tracks fast, wisely I think.
Later on Mr. Diable rented the large acreage of land that the house was located on and used it for summer pasture for a herd of heifers. We helped them drive the herd over there in the spring and back in the fall. We called that place "the ranch" and pretended we were out west driving and rounding up cattle. The herd had to be visited quite often in the summer to see if any of them had “freshened” [had calves]. It was wise to get the calves soon after their birth, or they would grow up wild and be hard to catch in the fall. Also grain was taken to the heifers on each visit, so they would see people and not become too wild before fall.
At that time farmers would often turn their bulls out in the same pasture with the cows. Mr. Diable didn’t do this because of the danger that a seemingly docile bull would suddenly turn "ugly". News that a farmer had been gored was fairly common.
Jess Clark’s herd, that pastured behind our camp and along the road which Mr. Diable's cows traveled, usually contained a bull. One day the bull must have been feeling out of sorts, and followed us along the fence as we were helping the Diable kids drive their cows. He would charge toward the fence, and stop to paw the ground and bellow angrily. The shaky fence was not too reassuring. I had confidence in my stone-throwing ability and usually a few well-placed stones would drive him away. This particular day he was unusually persistent. He charged the fence, and waiting until he was close, I hit him between the eyes with a stone about the size of a baseball. He went to his knees, and I was afraid for a minute I had killed him. No, but it took the "starch" out of him and he went back with his herd. Along about that time a law was passed to ban the pasturing of a bull over a year old.
Once, probably about 1934, my father came from work and brought with him a Plymouth Rock chicken roosting on the back of the passenger seat of the car. It was about 6 weeks old and we called him Charlie Chick after the storybook character by that name.
We kept him all that summer and gave him away when it was time to go back to Oneida for school. It turned out that he was not a Charlie, but instead it was an Arabella, or was it the other way around [?], I can’t remember for sure. This was the beginning of my poultry raising career, which later when my own family lived on the Butler’s Corners farm became a main source of income.
In 1926 most people who wanted a summer camp looked toward a lake or a beach. It was unusual for city folks to have a camp in the country. But we kids learned a lot about the difference in the way rural community people lived. We had the advantage of knowing both city and country people and learned the fun of living closer to nature and without modern conveniences.
Deeds on record show some of the previous owners of our farm:
1873 James and Sally Albee to William Harvey
1899 Ann Harvey to James Boyce bk. 196 p. 120
1921 Boyce to Henry Harvey bk.264 p. 309
1921 Henry Harvey to George and Adella Harvey bk.263 p. 85
1921 Harvey to Leon Nichols bk. 264 p. 313
1924 Nichols to Merrell Motor Co. bk.277 p. 92
1926 Merrell to Charles Diable for $75 bk.286 p. 91
1926 Diable to Clayton Page for $100 bk. 272 p. 360
1958 Jonas & Dora Page Parmeter to Burton Livestock Exch. Bk.551 p. 244
1978 Burton Livestock to LeRoy Cronin bk. 708 p. 477
As of August 2001 the Cronin family still owns it.
We never really own land. We take care of it, well or not so well, and it is passed on to future generations. C.E.P.
Note: This snippet was provided by Charles Page
Date: Saturday, January 12, 2002 12:17 PM