By Rima Walker
Delaware County in general and our own geographic area in particular are very well documented in a collection of books on the second floor of the Andes Library. Local memoirs include Quadrille: A Dance in Time. Just a few pages in is a reproduction showing Duncan Ballantine’s portrait, the old bank building, and Ballantine’s residence—the beautiful big white building across from the library, now adorned with a new copper roof. Filled with information about people whose names many of us are familiar with– Bruce, Linn, Hunting, Stuart, Ballantine–the book, written by Elizabeth Stuart Calvert, has genealogy charts and some wonderful photographs.
The Recollections of a Country Doctor, by James A. Holley, MD, written in 1939, has a self-explanatory title and is filled with photographs going back to the doctor’s first car in 1901—an Oldsmobile looking suspiciously like a sleigh on top of four wheels that look as though they were part of a bicycle. Chapters cover medical data of that period concerning obstetrics, typhoid fever, smallpox and one on surgery as it was once practiced and slowly accepted. The doctor mentions scarlet fever and relates the fact that if “the patient lives on a farm and the diagnosis is scarlet fever, the farmer is not allowed to market his milk.”
Other books range from a section on railroads, Catskill architecture, and several on the Anti-Rent War in Delaware County. Mary Bogardus’s novel called Crisis in the Catskills deals with the uprising from 1844-1845 in rebellion against the “land barons” who owned vast tracts of land worked by the local population. They did not benefit much from their labor and couldn’t find a way to own the lands they worked. Dorothy Kubik’s book A Free Soil—A Free People: The Anti-Rent War in Delaware County, New York is well researched nonfiction recounting the story of the people– “who they were and who we are now because of them. . . who took fearful risks for their beliefs and sometimes had to endure painful consequences.” And if you want to know the backgrounds of nearby towns, take a look at the histories of Margaretville, Halcottsville, and Roxbury as well as Alf Evers’ book on Woodstock.
Nature in all its varieties in the Catskills is covered extensively—its rivers and mountains, its geology, Walter Meads’ book In the Catskill Mountains: A Personal Approach to Nature, and a whole shelf of books written by John Burroughs, the great naturalist, which the library is fortunate to own and share with you. Diane Galusha’s book, Another Day, Another Dollar: the Civilian Conservation Corps in the Catskills, has wonderful photos, including some of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Other books contain folk songs, local crafts, one on Robert Selkowitz’s paintings beautifully reproduced in full color, and tall and not so tall stories collected by Frank DuMond and Samuel Hopkins Adams, among others.
But of all the local history books I looked through, the one I couldn’t resist is Body, Boots, & Britches containing “Folktales, Ballads and Speech from Country New York” by Harold W. Thompson, copyrighted in 1939. The provocative chapter headings include Pirates, Injun-Fighters, Sons of Robin Hood, Uncanny Critters, Whalers, Lumbermen and Rafters, and Murderers. Murderers?????? Fifteen or so pages are devoted to the Loomis gang (there is also a whole book about them) described as “robber barons” and thieves who operated in several upstate New York counties, including Delaware. Their story is fascinating and, according to Thompson, none of them were ever convicted. A chapter called “Place Names” is hilarious if you don’t mind Mr. Thompson wondering who can “tolerate. . . .” “hideous” and “inappropriate” names like those ending in ville and those taken from classical literature: Syracuse and Troy as examples named by a surveyor who had a classical dictionary about whom our humorist author says that “a people with any artist-sense would have put down that surveyor.”
Thompson opens his book with a chapter called “Preliminary Chirk”, chirk meaning “to make or become cheerful” according to the Online Free Dictionary. There is also a Castle Chirk built in 1295 in a small Welsh town by Roger Mortimer de Chirk. If there is a connection, I haven’t found it yet. But in the first few lines of the chapter, Thompson recounts the following relevant anecdote: A British lady with whom he is having tea asks him, “What history do you study in America? You have no history of your own.” To which Mr. T replies with an answer “churlish by intent”: “We study the wars of George the Third.” Perhaps this is where “chirk” comes in. At least it did in 1939, and maybe Mr. Thompson would not be remiss if he thought that the lady should be “put down” or at least be given a copy of his book to prove that we do have a history, part of which would be about the American Revolution, a war of George the Third (or is this comment churlish of me?). ~