GNH Lumber February 2024

Oak Hill & Vicinity: History and the news


By Mary Lou Nahas

For Capital Region Independent Media

The Durham Central School building. Contributed photo

If you follow this column, you know I look for information that tells me more about the past in Oak Hill and Vicinity: the people, what was important to them, what they were doing on a daily basis, what the businesses, churches, schools were like.

There are not many published books on the history of the town of Durham, but newspapers have been around since the 1870s and many people saved copies or clippings. Some newspapers are now digitized, some are in the Vedder research library, some people archived copies and have given them to me. 

While I was at the Tripp store last weekend, I started reading through a stack of primarily the Greenville Local and decided I’d share some information I found, primarily from 1975 — nearly 50 years ago.

This article from the Greenville Local shows winners of the DAR essay contest. You likely recognize many of those pictured. One of them is today a Town of Durham board member. Contributed photo

The first newspaper I looked at, however,  was the New York Daily News, June 21, 1944 (which by the way sold for two cents). One headline caught my attention: “Historical Data on Queens Lost”: Old letters, documents, diaries, account books and photographs, essential to an understanding of Queens’ background and development, constantly are being lost, destroyed or given to the scrap paper drive, warned Dr. Albert B. Corey, New York State historian.

“These papers are historically valuable,” said Dr. Corey in a recent meeting with Queens Borough Historian Herbert F. Ricard and members of the advisory committee. “They are too valuable to have to take a chance at survival.” That brief article sort of clarified by thoughts.

Now let’s look at the Greenville Local: 1975 “Obituaries: Peter Winne, who founded the Rensselaerville Press in 1870 and in 1877, the original Greenville Press, died at the home of his son Harry Winne, in Hudson on January 15, 1975. He was 90 years old at the time of his death and was born in Altamont. The Greenville Local, founded by Mr. Winne and for which he set the type by hand in his office on the north side of the Main Street in Greenville, will soon be able to celebrate its 100th anniversary. If anyone has some of the old copies of the Local that they do not want to save, please send them to the present editor, Phil Ellis at the Greenville Local office in Greenville.” Wonder if there is a collection of what he received today.

“Photos Wanted for Oak Hill Project” the headline read. “The Greenville Local had the opportunity to talk with Mr. George Steeves at the Glen Royal store in Oak Hill recently and would like to pass this along to our readers.

The Glen Royal in an early photo. Contributed photo

“Mr. Steeves is in the process of putting together a photo essay of Oak Hill and would like to have any old or new pictures you might like to loan him for this project.

“As Mr. Steeves points out, the project will be limited to Oak Hill only. Mr. Douglas Thompsen is working with Mr. Steeves on the project so you may contact either one for further information.  George Steeves, Oak Hill or Mr. Doug Thompsen, Oak Hill.” 

First time I have heard of that project.  If anyone has a copy, please share it.

A copy of a letter mailed to Ned Pattison, Rep. U.S. Congress. “Dear Mr. Pattison, on behalf of the people of the Town of Durham I would like to object to the import duty on petroleum, as suggested by President Ford. I feel that this duty would create a hardship on the taxpayer, since municipalities, fire companies and such would be forced to pay the increased gasoline prices, thus possibly leading to increased local taxes.

“The Town of Durham is a rural area without benefit of public transportation, many of our people work out of town so this tax would be an added burden. Thank you for your consideration in this matter. Ralph Cooke, Supervisor.”

The Woodland Reporter by Vernon Haskins: Vernon wrote a regular column. Here are some of his submissions: “Numerous letters continue to arrive as folks write in to tell of happenings at their bird feeders. A letter postmarked January 25th from Mr. and Mrs. F. Wissisky of Highland Road, Greenville, enumerates the many species of birds at their feeders. This included 12 robins eating the berries of the Mt. Ash Tree. Three red-winged blackbirds, 16 grosbeaks, 50 doves (presumably mourning) and several other species of birds, plus squirrels and rabbits, presents quite an array of visitors.

“The Schultz home at Shady Glen was invaded by a horde of Flying Squirrels. A dozen or more have paid the supreme sacrifice for their damage.”

“MUSEUM Notes: May we remind you again that the annual American History month exhibit, under the joint sponsorship of the museum staff and the Meeting House Hill Chapter NS. DAR will be held in the library of the Durham Center Museum the afternoon of February 15 and 16, one to five p.m.”

“The Executive Committee of the Catskill Valley Historical Society will meet in the Museum Library on Thursday evening, Feb. 6, at 8 p.m. The Catskill Valley Historical Society, Inc. is proud to announce that the New York State Board of Regents has granted an Absolute Charter to the Society replacing the Provisional one. This marks a notable step in the growth of this outstanding organization.” 

The Durham Center Museum was very much a part of the community in those days.

An early sketch of the Durham Center Museum in East Durham. Contributed photo

“Funds Needed by Durham Ambulance [presumably written by a member of the group.]: The Town of Durham Volunteer Ambulance Squad Inc. has been in service for only 14 months. Because it is such a young organization it has a few problems. The main problems are that they need both money and members. They cover the entire township of Durham, of which included the villages of Durham, Cornwallville, East Durham, Oak Hill, South Durham, West Durham, Sunside and East Windham.

Volunteers of Durham Ambulance busy in 1977. Contributed photo

“We have 57 members now. Nineteen of our members have taken both the Advanced Course and the E.M.T. Course. Fourteen of our members have taken the Advanced Course. Four members are taking the Advanced Course now. We also have 20 inactive members. We have had 15 new members join our squad. They are Barbara Maxwell, Oak Hill; Mona McQuillen, East Durham; Robert McQuillen, East Durham; Mike Gorman, Durham, Kate Forman, Durham, Ann Gorman, Durham; Sonja Demakos, East Durham; Anna Hamm, Oak Hill; Oliver Sarnis, Durham; Trudy Armstrong, Durham; Mr. and Mrs. Jack Lapore, Cornwallville; Robert Tucci, Durham; George Hughs, East Durham.

“In the short 14 months of operation, we have made 187 calls. We are proud to be able to serve our township and we are proud of the fact that most of the people in our community realize the importance of a volunteer ambulance squad. We are sorry, however, that there are a few people who still don’t appreciate the fact that we are volunteers and have run our service entirely on contributions. Although the contributions that have come in are generous, they still don’t cover all our expenses. We had to ask the Town Board for $5,000 to help us run our service. This is where a few misinformed people are asking questions and we are glad they are. It shows that they care as much about their town as we do. Why do we need so much money from the Town Board? Why do we keep asking for donations? Why do we still sponsor fundraising events? If you want to know, come to the Town Board meeting on February 4, or to the P.T.O. meeting at the Cairo-Durham Central School (Durham building) on February 19 and we will be more than happy to tell you the answers to these questions and more.

“Again, we would like to thank all our townspeople for support our efforts to serve you, our fellow man. We also would like to ask everyone to come to our next fundraising event and not only support us but have fun too! Want to have a great, fun time? Come to the Mardi Gras Costume Dance (costumes optional), March 1, 1975, at 8 p.m., Shamrock House, East Durham, NY. Music by The New Prairie Ramblers. Tickets can be obtained by any member of the Town of Durham Volunteer Ambulance Squad Inc.”

On Dec. 5, 2023, the Town of Durham held a public hearing on the contract of $365,000 with the Durham Ambulance for 2024. You can see the contract and what it covers at the Durham NY Document Center.

A sketch of Big Acorn Press owned and operated by Carl Ratch (now a private home). Contributed photo

Cairo-Durham PTA Hears School Plans: [front page center]

“The Cairo-Durham PTA of the Durham Building met on Jan. 21 with a good crowd present, though many were from Cairo…. The members of the Cairo-Durham Board of Education were introduced. The meeting was then turned over to the architect, who showed slides of other schools he has designed. He and the school board members then answered questions. The following topics were discussed: Carpeting, windows, air-conditioning (no decision on whether it is needed), heating system (much technical discussion), location — not pinpointed but on the hill across from Coles and lake land costing $1,100 per acre for 50-75 acres. Remember the referendum is scheduled for April 10. I guess voting will be only in Cairo. Perhaps carpools should set up for Durham residents. Delicious refreshments were served.”

New Greene Co. Tour Map Published: “A new Tour Map of Greene County has just been published by Carl Ratsch of Oak Hill. It keys 25 points of interest which cover 35 places within the county of area to visit. Designed primarily for tourists to Greene County who are interested in short, gas-saving rides, the new map will be sold especially for motels and resorts for the use of their guests.

“An original pictorial map of Greene County was published by Carl in 1950, and was eventually reproduced over a half million times by various Greene County organizations. A number of Greene County promotions have been produced for the area by Carl Ratsch since World War II when he was operations sergeant with the 77the Division and sketched many maps for island landings and campaigns in the pacific.

“Some years ago, he prepared a 16-page brochure for the Greene County Board of Supervisors at the invitation of then Supervisor Larry Lane of Windham and Arnold Nicholsen of Greenville.

“Regarding recent reports of declining resort business in the county, Carl says, ‘A number of years ago the Hunter-Tannersville area was regressing as a resort area. With the increasing popularity of skiing the area experienced a rebirth and people came in the winter to ski and saw the beauty of the mountains. Many returned in the summer and fall to enjoy it in the other seasons. Greene County has a wealth of natural scenery and historical significance. We should not sell it short!”

And finally, two reports from the local town columns: 

Durham: Sorry to hear the sad news that Mrs. Agnes O’Neill passed away at a nursing home in Mamaroneck. Mrs. O’Neil owned the Red Brick for many years and operated a day camp in the summer.

The Red Brick in Cornwallville. Contributed photo

Potter Hollow: February 6, 1975: This week I have the happy pleasure to announce an 8-pound baby boy, Thomas John, born Jan. 29 to Linda Reed Mormile and John of Coeymans. The proud happy maternal grandparents are Ray and Kate Reed. A big congratulations to all.

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