By Mary Lou Nahas
For Capital Region Independent Media
Charles Dornbusch has been described as a librarian, bibliographer, writer, publisher, bookseller, Scout master, antiques collector, traveler, member of numerous learned societies, and baker of excellent breads.
Born and raised in New York City, he served as a staff sergeant during World War II with the 409th Infantry Regiment in Europe. He attended night school to attain his college education, at the same time working at the New York Public Library.
He ended up staying at the New York Public Library the entire 38 years of his career, most of that spent at NYPL’s building on Fifth Avenue and 24th Street, where he was an acquisitions specialist. In that capacity, he communicated with book sellers all over the world and traveled to exotic locales in the pursuit of elusive titles. He wrote a four-volume military bibliography of the Civil War, which became the definitive reference and authoritative bibliography on the American Civil War, as well as numerous unit histories focusing on the armed forces of the United States and the Canadian military in both the 19th and 20th centuries.
In 1963, after his retirement from the New York Public Library, Dornbusch moved to Cornwallville, where his mother was from and where his family had owned, since 1942, property purchased from the Hope family, who had farmed it for years.
The farm on Strong Road became his permanent residence and the bookshop he ran from there became the Hope Farm Press. It was a small book and print shop operating during the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s, printing works he had authored himself as well as various local history selections. Hope Farm Press in this way became responsible for the distribution of many important and otherwise out-of-print histories related to Greene County and the surrounding region.
In his catalogues, Dornbusch wrote: “The Bookshop’s major objective is easing for rural America its difficulties securing books. We supply clients with their needed books. The service includes a discount from the cover price, which offsets the shipment costs and for New York residents the sales tax.”
Early on in his life in Cornwallville, he became a trustee of the Greene County Historical Society and made one of his first retirement projects the creation of a research library. According to Jonathan Palmer, Greene County historian and archivist at the library, Dornbusch was the one who had the vision and foresight to invent the setting that made possible so much of the work of Ray Beecher and Mabel Parker, who were then preserving important private historical manuscripts related to the history of this county, making them accessible for posterity. Dornbusch was the one who had the vision and foresight to invent the setting.
Dornbusch was titled librarian of the Greene County Historical Society and as such wrote a local newspaper column, “Vedder Memorial Library Notes.”
One column recounted: “Between the present garret quarters and the new ground floor library looms the sheer physical effort of moving the collection. That Spring Day I shall have my own moment of exultation in transferring the first volumes.”
He goes on to review several new books and talk of acquisitions to the library: Always interested in military history, in one column Dornbusch wrote about William B. Faulk of Preston Hollow, who enlisted as a private Aug. 6, 1862, in the 113th New York Infantry. Four months after mustering in, the Regiment was designated the 7th Regiment of Artillery.
Faulk advanced to first lieutenant and the responsibility of regimental quartermaster. Dornbusch then noted that Harold B. Estep (East Durham) had given the Vedder Memorial Library 61 printed quartermaster forms, which showed his duties as quartermaster and showed another side of the war we may not think of.
Almost two years after Faulk’s return to Preston Hollow, Faulk moved to the Durham neighborhood where he had a store. Ethel Watson, of Cornwallville, remembers him as a man with a bushy mustache. Guy Mulbury, the grandson, of Oak Hill, has produced Faulk’s birth and death dates as 1836-1916. These are the small details that make history real.
Hope Farm Press was a walk-in and mail-order bookstore for 30-plus years. Dornbusch specialized in military history and New York regional interest books, publishing local authors and regional histories, such as “Big Eyes” by Oriana Atkinson, “Picturesque Ulster,” DeLisser’s “Picturesque Catskills” and Beers’ “The History of Greene County,” as well as numerous pamphlets such as “Rocks of Greene County,” “Canajoharie and Catskill Railroad” and “The Forests of the Catskill Mountains.”
From his interest in the local history of New York’s Hudson Valley and Catskill Mountain region, grew a catalogue of 500 books and pamphlets on New York state, and his remote Greene County Bookshop became the destination of people from all over the world.
Dornbusch died April 19, 1990, of injuries he sustained when he accidentally fell from a window doing maintenance work at his home. He was 82. A memorial service was held at the Cornwallville Cemetery with the Rev. Wayne Dubnansky officiating. His only living relative at the time of his death was his sister, Irma, who passed on within months of her older brother. His death left a void in the pursuit of the preservation of regional history.
For years before Charles Dornbusch’s death, Richard Frisbie had purchased Hope Farm Press publications from him for resale, while trying to convince Dornbusch to sell him the business, too. Frisbie reasoned it would make a nice addition to his flourishing used bookstore, Booktrader, in Saugerties. Dornbusch always refused to sell.
When he died in 1990, his heir, the Greene County Historical Society, represented by Raymond Beecher, the then-Greene County historian, found Richard’s offers to buy Hope Farm Press among Dornbusch’s papers. He was invited to participate in a competitive auction for the inventory and business.
Frisbie prevailed and another 30 years of publishing history began.
While growing older and not wanting to run Hope Farm Press into the ground while trusting someone would pick up the pieces from his estate, Frisbie actively searched for and found his successor, Frank Campagna, owner of Tri-State Associated Services Inc., of Kingston. The two had a business relationship spanning decades, with Tri-State printing many Hope Farm Press titles. Two known and trusted businesspeople, both with an interest in New York regional history, realized it was a perfect match, and the torch was passed.
“I have purchased and sold several businesses in my lifetime, but Hope Farm Press was my prize,” Frisbie said. “I’m so happy to see the oldest regional history publishing company in New York state, perhaps the country, securely in good hands.”
The papers were signed Sept. 1, 2020.
Frank Campagna continues to run the business today, along with his many other endeavors. Today you can access the books online at a www.HopeFarmPress.com or by calling 1-800-836-7581.
I never met Dornbusch, but John P. O’Grady, who knew him well, published an article “Remembering Charles Dornbusch,” which provides vivid pictures of the man himself. It is worth finding online.