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Oak Hill & Vicinity: Researching the history of three Oak Hill houses

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By Mary Lou Nahas

For Capital Region Independent Media

Homes in the Oak Hill area have interesting and unique stories to tell about their history. Contributed photo

Quite a lot is known about many of the historic properties in Oak Hill. 

There are 11 buildings individually listed on the National Register of Historic Places and several listed on the Greene County Historic Register, all well researched and documented. A section of the Main Street was named as a National Register District in 2017. The hamlet was deemed eligible for listing according to the following criteria: 

“The structures located along Route 81 in the village of Oak Hill comprise a distinctive ensemble of 19th century buildings which form an historically and architecturally significant district. This district extends from the edge of the village settlement just north of Lee Road, along Rte. 81 past the intersection of County Rte. 22. The majority of the structures date to the first half of the19th century when the village was a prosperous center of mills and manufacturing. Many of these are distinguished examples of the Greek Revival style, with pedimented gables and even returns, corner pilaster and 6/6 windows. These structures exhibit varying degrees of integrity, but few have suffered drastic alternations or unsympathetic additions. The village as a whole retains its historic character and strongly recalls the period of its prosperity in the last century.”

Unfortunately, not all the properties in the district are documented, maybe because the owners don’t know how to go about the research or just have not had time to do so. 

Today I want to start telling the story of three properties at the top of the district going toward Cooksburg that have not been written about. As you will see, I still have many questions about their history. Maybe someone will share some information with me. I plan to keep working on their histories. I’ll share with you what I have so far and how I got this information.

An early post card labeled Upper Main St, Oak Hill, N.Y., shows the three houses I’m writing about. 

I went first to the 1856 Guild Map of Oak Hill. That map shows one house was owed by L.F. Billings and two by C. Layman. I do not recognize any of the names and didn’t find information about the people in my usual references. A piece of the puzzle I need to fill in.

The 1867 Beers map shows the houses owned by P. Rockefeller, J. Rockefeller and Mrs. Layman. Beers History of Greene County told me the Rockefeller family is an ancient and highly respected family, quite numerous. Amos, Harry, Jacob and others kept summer boarders. In the Tripp store daybook in 1859 Jacob Rockefeller is credited with 12 bushels of oats at 40 cents a bushel. So, Jacob must have done some farming. 

The Guild map shows Rockefeller as owning two parcels of land up what is now Lee Road. A Peter Rockefeller, who died April 21, 1875, is buried in the Oak Hill Cemetery. Peter was married to Catherine Sebolt, who died in 1879. I’d like to know more about the Rockefellers in Oak Hill. Research for another time.

Sheldon Ives wrote an article titled “‘Oak Hill in 1930 As I Remember It’ by Sheldon Ives with help from Evie Alger.” It was published in the Greenville Local, April 26, 1990. Sheldon also commented, “I haven’t named all the buildings in town, only the ones that impressed me the most.” I wish he had mentioned all the houses, but what he says is good information: “Coming from the west, past the cemetery down Christian Hill, the first house on the right was the home of Mr. and Mrs. Byron Hall, part owners of Hall and Burnett Store. Next to them lived Dr. Simmons.”

The Hall house seems to be in the house listed on the early maps as belonging to L.F. Billings (1856) and then P. Rockefeller (1867). My question is did Bryan and Hattie Tripp Hall build the house that Sheldon Ives refers to as theirs or purchase it? I have quite a lot of Tripp family material and I have never found an account of their building it. So, I am assuming they purchased the house.

The house was in Hattie’s name alone and her will states: “I give, devise and bequeath to my husband, Byron Hall, the use of my home and household goods in the village of Oak Hill, NY, during his lifetime… He is to keep said premises in good repair during his lifetime at his own expense, and pay all assessments against it. At my husband’s death the house and contents are to be disposed of at the discretion of my then living heirs.” 

Attached to the will is a list of the contents of the house by room: front hall, parlor, bedroom, old-fashioned room, upstairs room front, den, upper hall, dining room, kitchen, cellar, porch. I’d like to find pictures, but an early description is good, too. I don’t have space to tell you all that was in each room. The Halls had no children: Hattie died in 1940 and Byron in 1945. 

I think the next likely owner of the house was Alice Linden Bostrom. According to a niece, Pat Linden Coppersmith, her family moved to Oak Hill in 1948 and she followed with her family a few years later. Her house was a two-family house and her sister Gertrude Linden and her family lived there too.

“I believe around 1952 she opened her beauty shop and ran it until the early 1980’s,” she said. 

There is room for more research here and fortunately there are people alive who knew her and loved her, so there is the possibility of interviews with people who remember. Just about every woman in town had her hair done there regularly and they brought their children along with them often.

Moving on to the next house: The Guild Map 1856 lists C. Layman as the owner and Beers 1867 shows it belonging to J. Rockefeller. Who built it, I don’t know, but Dr. Simmons lived there a number of years. Dr. M. Herbert Simmons was born in Starksboro, Vermont, March 14, 1858. He was graduated from Albany Medical College in 1880. He started practice in Coeymans and then after one year, he came to Oak Hill, where he remained for seven years, according to the Catskill Recorder.  

Borthwick in “Beers’ History of Greene County 1884” mentions Dr. M.H. Simmons as one of the doctors in town. In 1888, Dr. Simmons went to Orange, New Jersey, where he remained until 1918, when he returned to open an office in Oak Hill. 

Mrs. Hulbert told Mike Hayes that when Mae Kellam had a tearoom, Dr. Simmons ate there every day. He had a cocker spaniel, and she would put out one plate for him and one for the dog. He was listed as still practicing in Oak Hill in 1942. Dr. Simmons died in July, 1945, at the age of 87 in Westerlo following a long illness, according to his obituary. Funeral services were held at Cunningham Funeral Parlor and the body was taken to Troy to be cremated. Fortunately, we have a number of pictures of the house when Dr. Simmons lived there.

While I don’t have a copy of the deed, I think it likely that Leland and Margaret Dingman Hunt were the next owners of the house. Margaret was born and grew up on the Dingman farms in Oak Hill. Leland and Margaret were married July 15, 1950, and moved to the house. Leland died in 1975. Margaret taught school for 37 years and lived in the house the rest of her life. Today no one lives there.

Next is a house that C. Layman owned in in 1856 and Mrs. Layman in 1867. I do know that the house is later identified as owned by Hattie Bloom. George E. Bloom and Hattie Hagadorn were married in 1904 in Massachusetts. They owned the Catskill Mountain Witch Hazel Company, that George had established in 1902. They were Distillers of Triple Extract of Witch Hazel. G.E. was the company president and Hattie the secretary and treasurer. How well they did, I do not know. I looked up witch hazel and found it is widely used today, but I have yet to find more information about their business. 

Hattie made her will in March 1946. It had 39 specific bequests, which tells us something about what was in the house and clues of names to use in further research: 

“I give to Eleanor Wickham Bowman one diamond out of my three-diamond ring, a mahogany bed, riser and washstand, a mahogany drop-leaf table, a harp back Windsor chair and several blue rugs… I give to Barbara Wickham one-half dozen napkins marked B, a folding chair with dog head arms, a hand-painted picture, one chiffonier and two pairs of pillowcases marked B… I give to Helen Hagadorn the sum of $1000, four sheets, 3 pairs of pillowcases, small cameo pin, one diamond out of the three-diamond ring, a tablecloth, one dozen napkins, one crotched bedspread, one Steiff silver jelly spoon marked H.L.B. if living, if not to her mother Zorah Hagadorn… I give to Mrs. Grace Rockefeller MacGilloway three volumes of the Rockefeller Genealogy… I direct my executors to sell my real property and distribute the proceeds as personal property, except, however, that Emma Turner shall have the use of my home for one year after my decease, if desired, and my executors to pay all electric and fuel bills during such time as she shall occupy my home… I appoint Conrad Metzger and Eunice Hornberger Foland executors of this, my last will and testament.”

Shirley Winnie at one time owned the property. The house has sold three times in the last 20 years to people from down state, each owner has improved the house and it is very much alive today. Sadly, the barn or carriage house in the back was burned down a number of years ago.

There are a lot of gaps in the story of these three houses, but I am glad I have found the information I have shared today. Maybe you will help me fill in the gaps or start researching your own property if you live in an old house.

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The early post card which narrowed my search.

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1856 Guild map                                                          1867 Beers map

The two early maps I used to find owners. 

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The little book Alice Bostrom gave to her customers gives us the spirit of the house at that time.

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Dr. Simmons was a stylish man and lived in a stylish house.

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Is this Hattie and family when she lived in the house?

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Bill of sale for Witch Hazel Company

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