Warren County Historical Society Presents …
The Digital Version * * * “REWIND” * * *
December 1, 2014
From 1959 through 1965, Howard Mason dictated his local history column to his daughter who typed the material and sent it to the local newspapers for publication. Howard had the good fortune to live in the greater Glens Falls area during a time of great change. Warren County and the Town of Queensbury changed from an agrarian to a suburban environment. Through his columns, he was able to tell this story of change and recall the hundreds of people whom he met during his lifetime.
The Warren County Historical Society has reprinted Howard Mason’s books, Backward Glances, Volumes I, II & III into one volume. Fully indexed, the new volume includes some new photographs. It is available from the Historical Society for $30.00, tax included (add $5 for shipping and handling). Call 743-0734 for details or stop in the office on Tuesday or Thursday from 9 am – 5 pm.
OLD PEOPLE AND FAMOUS PEOPLE
The following is an article taken from Volume I of Backward Glances, by Howard Mason, printed sometime before 1963. In it, Howard shares his visits with the older generation, including Civil War veterans, ex-slaves, famous people and not so famous people.
On April 8, 1889, I accompanied my mother on a visit to my 103-year-old aunt, Hannah Mosher, who at that time lived where John and Mabel Austin now live. The Mosher house burned years ago but the Austin house is on the same foundation. Aunt Hannah could distinctly remember when George Washington died in 1799 as she was 13 years old at the time.
From then on I have made it a practice to visit the oldest people I could find in order to secure first-hand information of earlier days. Among those I visited was Sophronia Bacon, also 103, who lived on the plains above Pattens Mills. She had a son who went west at an early age and never revisited the place of his birth. At about this time (1898) the news came of his death at the age of 78. Sophronia’s daughter Phoebe, who cared for the old lady, broke the sad news gently to her mother. Sophronia replied, “Somehow I always had a feeling I wouldn’t be able to raise that child”. To her he was still the little boy who left her so many years before.
One very interesting man I visited was Orrin VanDusen in 1912. At that time he was 102 and lived on what was commonly known as the Clendon farm at West Mountain. As I approached the house, Mr. VanDusen, who didn’t appear to be over 65, walked down seven steps (no railing on either side), sat down under an apple tree and began to read the Post-Star without glasses.
He told me there were scarcely any buildings on the level part of the city when he was a boy. There was a grist mill and a crude saw mill on the river. The canal hadn’t been built yet. Most of the plains from Glens Falls to West Mountain were still covered with virgin timber when he was a boy.
All the people who lived along West Mountain were long-lived. The VanDusens, Wilkies, McEchrons, Giffords, Hulls, Joslyns and others. I can see Prentice Gifford now at 96 driving his own car along Park Street.
The old joke among them was that they had to shoot somebody in order to get Mt. Hermon Cemetery started.
Dr. Frederick B. Streeter was another man I enjoyed visiting with. He lived to be 102.
When Gen. Daniel E. Sickles, the hero of Gettysburg (he lost a leg at Gettysburg and is credited with turning the tide of battle at that time), was in Glens Falls in 1913, I also visited him. He was 96 then and his mind was as keen as ever. He was a native of Glens Falls.
When Teddy Roosevelt returned from the Spanish-American War and was campaigning for governor of New York I was at that overflow meeting at the old Opera House (now the Rialto Theatre). Teddy was dressed in civilian clothes but several of his Rough Riders in uniform sat on the platform with him. Later he spoke from the Globe Hotel porch to those couldn’t get in the Opera House.
In 1912 I again saw Teddy at the State Convention in Saratoga. It was about this time or soon after that he started the “Bull Moose” party.
Over the years I am sure I have talked with and listened to at least 100 Civil War veterans. There was my first dentist, Capt. J. S. Garrett, father of Walter Garrett, Col. G. Frank Bryant, assessor in the city for many years, and Capt. M. W. Covell. These men were in the forefront of all Memorial Day parades.
Solomon King Stewart, who lived on the farm where Frank and Sylvia Boynton now reside in Jenkinsville, was at Appomattox and witnessed Lee’s surrender. “Sol” Stewart, as everyone knew him, was the grandfather of Arthur Stewart and great-grandfather of A. Robert Stewart of Pilot Knob.
I also knew Ranseford Densmore of Porter Corners very well. He was shot at Gettysburg and until he died about 1915 had an open hole in the side of his head about the size of a dime. He used to take the cotton packing out and let me look inside. He was the father of the late Isaac Densmore of Corinth.
The one veteran from whom I learned the most was Charles Mosher who lived where the Bowmans now live in Jenkinsville. Mr. Mosher served with Gen. William T. Sherman’s army throughout the campaign, which included the march to the sea from Atlanta to Savannah, and thence up the coast through South Carolina. He witnessed the burning of Atlanta and Columbia and the surrender of Gen. Joseph E. Johnston’s army.
Mr. Mosher worked for my father on the farm for six years and ate at our table three times a day. So you can understand that as a boy I got quite an insight into the horrors of war, Sherman style. Imagine that great army, nearly 100,000 strong, cutting loose from its base of supplies and living off the country as it went along. No wonder Sherman said “War is Hell”.
Mr. Mosher said the men they most feared was Nathan Bedford Forrest and his cavalry. Forrest, you will recall, was the one who said “He who wins a battle gets there “fustest’ with the “mostest”.
In 1912 I visited ex-slaves in Virginia to get the colored man’s side of the slavery system. I talked for some time with an old white-haired Negro who was standing guard at Washington’s tomb at Mount Vernon. He told me he was a slave for nearly half his life. While he was glad to be free he had only kind words for those who had held him in bondage.
In Norfolk, Va., I found an old Negro driving a horse-drawn cab. He said he was a plantation slave when the news of emancipation reached him. He had heard so much about the North being “God’s Country” he was determined to get there as soon as possible. So he found a job on a sailing vessel in Norfolk harbor, owned by parties in Bath, Maine. He said, “I was never so abused in my life as I was by that New England ship captain and I got back to the old plantation as soon as I could “.
I never contacted a Confederate veteran but I heard Gen. John B. Gordon of Georgia in 1905 (40 years after the close of the war) present the Southern side in that great struggle. He spoke from the stage of the then new Empire Theatre on South Street. His closing sentence was, “There is not a man today in all the Southland whose opinion is worth the asking who would revive the institution of slavery”.
Fifty or sixty years ago many famous people came to Glens Falls to speak or lecture. Some of the ones I saw and heard were Dr. Newell Dwight Hillis, successor to Henry Ward Beecher in Plymouth Church; Evangeline Booth of the Salvation Army, and Dr. S. Parks Cadman, the man who was not only a great preacher but who knew more about more things than any man of his day. I also heard Charles Evans Hughes speak in the Empire Theatre when he was campaigning for Governor of New York.
In 1918 I saw Henry Ford, Harvey G. Firestone, Thomas E. Edison and John Burroughs (rich without money) when they camped overnight at Loon Lake near Chestertown. Their caravan consisted of 25 or 30 Model-T cars mostly panel jobs painted a light gray. At that time Henry painted all the cars he sold us, (the public) black and nothing else.
That is all for this time. I must be on my way to Easton to see Oren Wilbur (he’s 97) before long.
© December 1 2014, Warren County Historical Society.