By Mary Lou Nahas
For Capital Region Independent Media
I am always looking for material that will tell me about early life in Oak Hill and Vicinity: diaries, account books, deeds, business ledgers, family Bibles, letters, anything which might record day-to-day details.
Don Teator recently transcribed and made available the Carrie Ingles Diaries. Harriet Rasmussen transcribed information from many sources and was able to weave the details together into a complete story.
In 2008, Harriet wrote a piece called “Diaries Hold Clues,” which illustrates the point I am making. She wrote, “Sometimes names appear in these diaries that ring a bell with the reader. And so it was with the name of 19-year-old Helen Tripp. And now I began to reminisce about what I know of her life. She was born, in the Tripp Homestead at Oak Hill, on Jan 28, 1853, the seventh child of Maria Utter and Alfred Tripp.” (Maria being the first cousin of Taylor’s wife, Louisa). I’m not sure when she married Charles H. Bogardus, but it was probably in 1879 or ‘80. He died on Feb. 17, 1884, a very young man.
Throughout the diary years Richard Edwin Taylor sometimes mentioned having sought a teaching job for someone — probably a recommendation of sorts. His first entry for the year 1872 reads, “Went to see Adam Lorenz about the school for Helen Tripp — also spoke to Otis French.”
Taylor is still teaching at Freehold and we do not know if he was successful in his request as the matter is never referred to again.
Helen was a teacher for many years but the 1905 census lists her as a 53-year-old housekeeper at the Brick House in Oak Hill where her brother, Isaac, is the head of household and her only child, 23-year-old Helen Bogardus, is teaching school. This daughter married William G. Davis and they lived in Albany.
A small diary kept by 17-year-old Alfred Tripp Burnett documents that he was in his senior year at Albany High School and living with his cousin Helen. T. Bogardus and her husband, William. Alfred and Helen were both listed in the same household in Oak Hill in 1905 when he was only 3 years old and she was 20 years his senior.
Coming upon Alfred’s little diary it told me of Helen Tripp’s visit to her daughter’s home and the details of her illness and death on Jan. 27, 1917, at Albany City Hospital.
Looking back, I remember as an 11-year-old child going to Albany with my Aunt Elizabeth and Uncle Alfred to see his dying cousin, Helen T. Davis. It was a somber occasion. My sister and I sat like statues in the living room, with the caged parrot, while the grown-ups visited in the bedroom.
I don’t know the cause of her death but there was much talk of carbuncles. Anyway, the whole visit was etched upon my childhood mind. And Helen’s death left Alfred with only one remaining cousin, August Hilzinger.
Alfred and Maria Utter Tripp had only three grandchildren for their own large family and now one of them was gone. Their daughters, Delia, Helen and Carrie, each had only one child. Helen Tripp Davis died in 1937. August Cowles Hilzinger died on Feb. 2, 1965, and Alfred Tripp Burnett followed her on Christmas Day in 1970.
I have transcribed some diaries and find it isn’t always easy — the diaries are often tiny, written in pencil, which has faded today. Sometimes the spelling and punctuation are unusual and sometimes when you don’t know the story, it is hard to guess what the writer is saying. Jeremiah Cunningham’s diaries are more than worth any effort to learn details about the life of an early farmer in Durham who was also the highway commissioner.
• June 11 — Walter [his hired man] goes to a picnic, I go to Winans bridges draw timber etc. I come home by way of Wesley Browns.
• June 12 — Cooler, Walter plowing for rye, I go to Potters and engage plank for Oak Hill Bridge then to George Cunningham’s then I fix the eagle bridge,
• June 13 — I go to Winans Bridge we raise it — good luck finishes up at 4 o’clock I get home after sundown.
• June 15 — I look after bridges at Oak Hill, home at dark.
• June 16 — I meet with the town board to talk over docking business afternoon I circulate a paper home at 6 o’clock.
• June 17 — I fix the little bridge at the Chittenden shop and one on the Greenville Road draw some plank on fields flat ,
• June 18 — I figure up town account.
• June 19 — I go to Hervey Street, Centerville, Rockwell, and come home…I sell my wool to I. Butts.
• June 20 — I go to Winans, examine Oak Hill bridge, the creek, home at dusk.
• June 23 — I go over to brand hollow looking at bridges etc.
• June 25 — Up early I take my wool to I. butts 156 lb. 56.80, then I fix a bridge at Rockwell.
• July 4 — I go to south Durham to look at roads and bridges also to A.M. Blakeslee’s.
• July 23 — I go to Cornwallville to look at bridges and shoe horses.
• July 25 — Showers but I go to Hamburg to finish the fence, etc. I put plank on the eagle bridge etc. Walter mows the highway.
• July 27 — I go to East Durham and around looking at bridges etc. also at Oak Hill.
• July 28 — I take my team cut and haul timber from Scott woods to Oak Hill bridge.
• July 30 — Walter and I dig rocks plow open ditch etc. in the pm I dig stones for Oak Hill bridge.
• July 31 — I draw stones from the Dewitt lot for the bridge. Castle helps me.
• Aug. 4 — I go to Cornwallville and Durham and look at roads and bridges. School meeting at evening, I am trustee.
• Aug 6 — I draw stone for Oak Hill bridge.
• Aug 7 — I fix the abutment at Oak Hill bridge. Ken Palmer helps me, then I haul plank and fix the bridge near Wright Street.
• Aug. 11 — I go to Oak Hill, measure the bridge for building.
• Aug 13 — Beautiful. I go to Oak Hill and we tear down the bridge — good luck five hands on deck, I come home at noon and we get in 6 loads of oats.
• Aug 19 — I am up before daylight and sow 1-1/2 bushels of rye then to Oak Hill at the bridge.
• Aug. 20 — I work at the bridge we finish the east abutment all up.
• Aug. 21 — I work at the Oak Hill bridge. John More helps me get along fine. I sow grass seed by lantern light.
• Aug 22 — I sow rye before daylight 3-1/4 bushels, then I work at the bridge etc. After dark I sow seed by lantern light.
• Aug. 26 — I go to Durham and Oak Hill to secure teams to go to Middleburgh after the iron bridge.
• Aug. 28 — I go to Oak Hill and draw plank I get my horses shod.
• Aug. 29 — I go to East Durham after plank haul to Oak Hill, etc., and get teams to go after bridge, etc.
• Aug. 31 — I go to Durham fix bridges at Cornwallville and Hervey Street.
Store and hotel ledgers are another source of daily details. I am fortunate to have several ledgers from the Tripp stores in Oak Hill, so I know that on Christmas Day 1867 George L. Boughton purchased a vest pattern and trimmings for $2.16. William Paddock’s wife Norma bought a book for 18 cents. Ira Thorp treated himself to a pound of tobacco for 15 cents. Warren Dewitt bought one white chamber for 62 cents and a half pound of candles for 9 cents. M.B. Mattice, the lawyer, had Charley pick up one-half gallon of molasses for 40 cents, one lamp tube for 9 cents and one lamp wick for 2 cents. Israel Dewitt got a gallon of molasses (80 cents), 3 pounds of coffee sugar (51 cents), and one ball cotton (15 cents). Abram Plank bought a butter firkin for $1.63 and 2-1/4 pounds of butter for 49 cents. Ransom Slocum sold $1 worth of butter to pay toward his store balance and purchased 18 yards of calico for $2.88 and one spool of thread for 8 cents. William Alger got 12-1/2 pounds of flour and some salt; Hiram Alger’s wife picked up 12 gallons of molasses, one pound of raisins, and 1 oz of cinnamon. Walter Cheritree’s wife bought salt, 1 ounce of nutmeg, 2 pounds of sugar and one bottle of lemon extract (24 cents).
The ledger from the undertaker down the street from the Tripp’s tells me that in 1895 the artist Olive Cheritree made the following purchases at his establishment: Sept. 24: pillows $10.75; Slip (?) ladder .75; painting lessons $8.50 (was she giving them or what?). On Nov. 12 she purchased one stretcher for 25 cents, Dec. 3 one stretcher for 25 cents; and April 26 one gallon of turpentine. Not a lot of information, but somehow it makes her seem real. This ledger also records whom he buried and what the burial cost.
I also have several hotel ledgers and account books that were at one time used for scrapbooks! A recent post by the Columbia County Historical Society explains that scrapbooking was a popular activity for women and girls in the 19th century – so popular that Mark Twain capitalized on the trend with his own line of “pre-pasted” scrapbooks! Many women would simply repurpose whatever books were handy – for example, her husband’s old ledgers. The books were filled with short stories and poems clipped from newspapers and magazines. Through these clippings and ephemera, history sleuths can learn much about the lives and interests of people we otherwise know little about.
And while these scrapbooks might give one the missing puzzle piece in an ancestor’s story, not knowing what is covered up is quite frustrating.
I have a hotel register from 1883 — I am not sure which hotel but the few pages that were not pasted over tell me that a number of local folks stayed there: J.H. Cheritree and son, Oak Hill; P. Hagadorn and lady, Oak Hill; H.A. Baldwin, East Durham; J.S. Tubbs; Osborn, East Durham; E. Newell, Durham; W.S. Cheritree, Oak Hill; J.B. Bascom, Durham; Omar Rockefeller, East Durham.
I can also see some pictures and read lots of jokes, stories and news references telling me that:
• An excursion to Dakota goes from Newburg June 7.
• A Methodist Social Union has been organized in Hudson.
• Sunday baseball players have been arrested in Chatham.
• Much counterfeit silver coin is said to be in circulation in Catskill.
• Valatie’s Hosiery Mills are running overtime to supply the demand for goods.
• Several New York parties have recently purchased lots on Hunter camp ground.
• Aaron Fowler, of Coxsackie, was quite badly injured by being thrown from a wagon.
• Mrs. John Shepard, of Catskill, has a can of peaches preserved in brandy that are over 30 years old.
The ledger that most frustrates me is an Account Book of Jacob Bogardus: 1792-1842, in which he records transactions with Augustine Provost and other well-known individuals. Sadly, most of the page are covered with pasted-down quilt and crochet patterns and lots of color pictures of Jam Cake, Minute Tapioca Ice Box Pudding, and Chicken Tarts made with Crisco.
A prior owner of the book tried to remove many of these but with no success. These ladies really pasted things down. But there are some entries that do shed light on the past, so I am delighted to have it.