Facts and Folkore
The origin of place names has always been an interesting topic, especially in central New York state, which began to be settled more than two centuries ago. Many of these small settlements existed for only a few years, while some still linger on today in the form of a cluster of houses and mobile homes. In 1926 and 1927 people commenced writing letters into the Syracuse Post-Standard giving their theories on how certain places originated and received their names. For awhile, they appeared on an almost daily basis on the newspaper’s editorial page.
For a time, considerable attention focused on the small rural Chenango County communities of Beaver Meadow and North Pharsalia (Skunk’s Misery). We are indebted to those who wrote these letters. As quaint and tongue in cheek as they may be, they are a valuable source material on early days of these communities, as little else exists on them. Generally, the writers were originally from these locales and thus were knowledgeable about their history.
Originally there were two communities located within a mile of each other—Upper Beaver Meadow and Lower Beaver Meadow. They were railroad stations. After the railroad was abandoned in1881, Upper Beaver Meadow ceased to exist. Lower Beaver Meadow became just Beaver Meadow.
From the local history books
Only a few lines are devoted to Beaver Meadow in the History of Chenango
County by James H. Smith, which was published in 1880 when the town had 50 inhabitants. At the time it was quite a bustling community. Smith states it was located five miles northeast of South Otselic, on the Auburn Branch of the New York & Oswego Midland Railroad. It contained a Christian church, district school, a hotel kept by Albert Sumner, two stores kept by Thurlow Johnson and H.R. Webb, a sawmill and gristmill, with one run of stones, operated by steam and owned by Miles & Miller, a shoe shop, and two blacksmith shops kept by S.C. Butts & Son and Asa Finch.
The Midland Railroad Business Directory, published in 1873, lists Lafayette Bennett as a harness maker; Charles Coleman, carpenter; George Crandall, dealer; James Crandall, dry goods and groceries; Simeon Crumb, telegraph operator; J.W. Levisee, station agent and flour, feed and grain dealer; James R. Sears, justice of the peace; James Stanbro, physician and surgeon; Ethan S. Swift, hotel keeper; and M.H. Yale, dry goods and groceries. At the time, the hamlet had a population of 100. The railroad had been opened from Norwich to Cortland on June 5, 1872 with two trains daily in each direction.
About a mile north of Beaver Meadow was Upper Beaver Meadow which has completely vanished. In 1880 it contained a Baptist Church, a store kept by Simeon Crumb, a hotel kept by George Crandall, a cheese factory, Charles Matthews’ blacksmith shop, four homes and a railroad station. Smith states a post office was established here in 1870 but was removed to Beaver Meadow in 1877. This conflicts with U.S. Postal Service records that do not reflect there ever having been a post office by the name of Upper Beaver Meadow. Postal records call it “Stanbro,” where a post office existed between Aug. 7, 1883 and June 15, 1896. Dennis Thompson was the first postmaster.
The original Beaver Meadow post office was established Sept. 12, 1848 and existed until Sept. 24, 1852; Asher M. Ray having been the first postmaster. It was re-established on Sept. 15, 1871 with James Stanbro as postmaster. Later, Albert Sumner was postmaster there. It existed until Oct. 20, 1967 when it was closed. Smith also stated the community derived its name “...from the existence at a former day of a beaver dam across the stream at the lower village, which overflowed the flats covering about a hundred acres, between the two villages.” The first merchant in this locality was A.W. Ray, about 1850. Among others who were in the mercantile business at Beaver Meadow were Henry Stanbro, James Crandall, Crandall & Sears, J.W. Levisee, Prentice Lamb, W.S. Cox & Son and others. (Note 1)
Echoes from the Past
But, as they say, “something is better than nothing,” and preserving both fact and folklore is the mission of the local historian. What “set people off” on Beaver Meadow was this tongue in cheek letter written by J.H. Bowler of Syracuse, which appeared in the Syracuse
Post-Standard on Thursday, December 2, 1926:
The Syracuse Post-Standard, December 2, 1926
Why Beaver Meadow Where a Beaver Was Bound to Go Hungry?
To the Editor of The Post-Standard:
I have been wondering if those folks who are sending in their theories as
to why certain hamlets and localities have such peculiar names ever heard
of a place called “Beaver Meadow”. I doubt it.
Even if they have, I challenge them to explain why it is so called. There are no beavers there. Beavers could not live there. They have to have things to eat; and I am sure Beaver Meadow never had that necessity, either for animals or humans.
For the benefit of the great majority who never heard of such a place, it is, or was, in Chenango county, a few miles from South Otselic, the home of the Angels.
Years ago, before the advent of the motor car, a horse-drawn stage coach made its way daily from South Otselic to Norwich and return. And, believe me, it was rough going. It was so rough, in fact, that about 10 miles from South Otselic a shack was constructed to enable passengers to get out of the stage and rest themselves and regain their wind. This shack received a far-wide reputation owing to the fact that its window-panes were always broken out.
In course of time, a few long whiskered gents from Hog Wallow conceived the idea of founding a village there. A store sprang up over night. They then shot a man in order to start a graveyard, and out of this graveyard sprang the village of Beaver Meadow, which has been dead ever since.
But I have never been able to find out just why it was called “Beaver Meadow”. If names signify anything, it should have been called “Dead Man’s
As can be imagined, this set off a flurry of righteous indignation and several letters in succession were published in an attempt to “set the record straight”. The first response came from Thurlow Johnson of Syracuse, a native, one-time postmaster and businessman in Beaver Meadow. His first letter appeared in the Post-Standard on December 6, 1926:
The Syracuse Post-Standard, December 6, 1926
They Really Had Beavers at Beaver Meadow,
Says Town’s Postmaster of Many Years
But No Man was Shot to Start a Cemetery
To the Editor of The Post-Standard:
I was amused in reading in The Post-Standard relative to a letter from
the pen of J.H. Bowler of Syracuse. Please allow me to correct some of
his statements, of which he has been misinformed. I do not wish to cast
any reflections on his veracity. I was born one-half mile south of Beaver
Meadow, on the direct road running from Beaver Meadow to North Pharsalia
(vulgarly called Skunk’s Misery) in the year 1856, and reared there, also
in 1880 married there, and resided at Beaver Meadow until the year 1882.
I was appointed postmaster in 1879, during the administration of the late
Rutherford B. Hayes, by the postmaster-general, D.M. Key. Therefore I feel
competent to give some historical facts. When a child, I well remember a sawmill
and a dam at this place (the mill going to decay). This mill was owned by
one Benjamin Ingersoll, who was an old man in my early childhood days. From
him and other old-timers, among them Ezra T. Webb, a trapper and hunter; Asher
W. Ray, father of the late Judge George W. Ray, and other reputable citizens,
I gleaned these facts:
Near the dam I spoke of, originally there was a dam formed by beavers; and beavers were numerous, as the old settlers testified. The headwaters of the Canaswacta creek are adjacent to Beaver Meadow; and it was considered an ideal place for beavers before the country was denuded of the forest. In my childhood days, there were some fine dairy farms around, and in the vicinity of, Beaver Meadow.
In 1869-70 there was constructed a branch of the New York & Oswego Midland Railroad (now the New York, Ontario & Western
Railroad). This road was completed late in the summer of 1870 and operated
until the winter of 1878-9, when train service was abandoned and the rails
removed in 1881-82. During this time Beaver Meadow became a bustling hamlet
This railroad was built from Norwich through South Plymouth, Plymouth,
Ireland’s Mills, Beaver Meadow, Upper Beaver Meadow, Otselic Center and
Crumb Hill to DeRuyter, a distance of 28 miles. After a time the road was
extended via Cuyler and Truxton to Cortland. This extension now is a part
of the Lehigh Valley system.
Beaver Meadow boasted of two good general stores, church (Christian denomination),
saw and planing mill, blacksmith and wagon shop and hotel, also a bootmaker
maker (men wore high topped boots; very few men’s shoes in those days). After the railroad line was abandoned, the United States government (Star Route Branch) contracted temporary service by stage to a man whose name I can’t
recall; and we had very poor service for a period of four years.
We had tri-weekly service with this special service: Leaving DeRuyter 8 a.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Arrive at Norwich about 5 p.m. Leaving Norwich Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at 8 a.m. Arrive DeRuyter at 5 p.m. In July, 1880, the route was divided, heading out of Beaver Meadow at 8 a.m., one going to Norwich and the other to DeRuyter, and returning at 5 p.m. daily except Sunday. Subsequently the route was changed to run from South Otselic (called by many the Berg) via Beaver Meadow, omitting Otselic Center and Crumb Hill.
In regard to the “shack” spoken of, that is a myth. Also, about a man being shot for the nucleus for a graveyard, ditto. The graveyard is located on the road running from Beaver Meadow to North Pharsalia (called Skunk’s
Misery). We also had semi-weekly service for mail from Beaver Meadow to
Allow me to explain right here how some of the names, pet or otherwise,
originated. There were three Pharsalia post offices: East Pharsalia, called
Podunk; Pharsalia, called The Hook, and North Pharsalia, as Skunk’s Misery;
as distinguishing names. This applies to many other localities for which
I can vouch in traveling in various portions of this state and particularly
in the New England states.
In one instance Mr. Bowler speaks of Angels. About one and one-half miles
from Beaver Meadow there is a large swamp, with dangerous marshes, known
as Bear Swamp. And, in that vicinity, there resided some families known
by the sobriquet of “Swamp Angels”. Such names as “Cold Hill”, “Dark Hollow”, “The Flats”, “Tinker Ridge”, “Upperville” and “Canada School District” are situated in Chenango county. “Bangall” you
will find in Dutchess county.
I was employed by the United States government from April, 1890 to August 20, 1920, at which time I was honorably retired as an annuitant, for faithful service. In that capacity I was required to properly locate ever post office in New York State, besides several other states.
Thurlow W. Johnson, Syracuse.
The Syracuse Post-Standard, December 8, 1926
Cider Press in Blacksmith Shop. Gas Station Busy, and Church Closed.
Rings Fire Bell
Fire in School House
Stove—Beaver Meadow Activities.
To the Editor of The Post-Standard:
Mr. Bowler’s article on Beaver Meadow in Thursday’s Post-Standard was
more interesting than true historically. Beaver Meadow was once a beaver
meadow; the flats were covered with water impounded by the dam built by
the beavers. That accounts for the name. The village of Beaver Meadow is
still on the map. The storekeeper is alive and runs the post office, rings
the fire bell, starts the fire in the village schoolhouse, acts as constable
and notary public, does trucking and is general overseer of village activities.
The blacksmith has left for parts unknown, and the old shop is used once
a year as a house for the cider press. Days of real activity are connected
with this industry. The old weather-beaten church has not been used since
the Liberty Loan Drive, and stands in shameful contrast with the local
Socony, as a “Filling Station”; but the tank does all filling.
The old stagecoach is replaced by a Reo bus, except through the winter months. Some of us who have reached the 40 mark can well remember that night a few years ago when John Cochran, a venerable and respected citizen of Beaver Meadow, with the South Otselic Band in attendance, thrilled the natives with his patriotism and eloquence.
No, Beaver Meadow is not dead, but may be a little sleepy. It is so near
the energized and bustling town of South Otselic, world famous as the home
of Gladding’s fishing lines, whose plant is without doubt the largest in
the world, that it will never die, for South Otselic is the hub of the
universe, its radii diverging to all parts of the earth.
This Mr. Bowler must know as he came to South Otselic from “Slab City”, if our recollection serves correctly, and spent several years of his early life here, wherein he apparently absorbed some of the town’s
go-getting qualities, as exemplified in his later success in his chosen
field of endeavor.
The little hamlets have all they can do to survive, and are feeders for
the larger towns and cities the same as Syracuse is to New York. Don’t
throw cold water on the small town!
An Angell With A Heart,
The Syracuse Post-Standard, December 8, 1926
Beaver Meadow Not an “Ornery” Place at All
To the Editor of The Post-Standard:
Noting the dissertation in a late issue of The Post-Standard, from the pen of Mr. J.H. Bowler of Syracuse, relative to the recent discussion of peculiar names of towns and places, and especially referring to the hamlet of Beaver Meadow (for there are two, usually called Upper and Lower Beaver Meadow), I would like to say that, it is no mystery about the name of the place in question.
It is in fact true that it is the location of an erstwhile beaver-dam
and that the low, swampy land lying between the two hamlets is now the
beaver meadow formed by the absorption of draining off the dam from which
the beaver has long been extinct. As for its being so “ornery” a place,
there is at present all about the average prosperity of the usual farming
The writer recalls a time when one David Van Devere raised right about there 1,000 acres of hops. The supervisor of the town was then a resident of Beaver Meadow. The stage route is still running between South Otselic and Norwich. The
Post-Standard photogravure section recently published a prized picture of an early driver, known to every one along the route. The writer never knew the wayside rest station; so that was a new one. At present, the driver sports an up-to-date motor vehicle, over a high type of state road.
Beaver Meadow was the early home of the late Hon. George Ray, who was born and grew to manhood there. His birthplace is still in good repair and is on a rolling fertile farm extending along the same beaver meadow and now owned by Hon. Daniel Cushman of Norwich. Other members of his family and youths of his age grew to be illustrious citizens, with this hamlet as their birthplace.
And, coming down to the present starvation period, there are Mr. Frank
E. Cox, cashier of the Otselic Valley National Bank at South Otselic, who
started his business career right there in Beaver Meadow, also his mercantile
successor there, Simeon E. Crumb, who later for 25 years or more was manager
of the Boston office of Dickson & Eddy, coal barons of New York.
Our attorney and judge, David F. Lee, can also claim the place as his birthplace, where his father, John F. Lee, conducted what was for those days the most successful creamery in this locality. Attorney H.A. Webb, who at present occupies the position of president of the Otselic National Bank, was born and reared in this little hamlet. There is also Freeland Cochran, who was born in Beaver Meadow and grew up on the same old diet. He was the son of John Cochran, veteran of the Civil War, who has joined his silent comrades within the last year.
Young Freeland was recently the recipient of a great ovation when he was
elected member of the Assembly from his Vermont home. There are at the
present time living in Beaver Meadow at least three more Civil War veterans
who have, to a very old age, withstood the “scanty fare”. In fact, the entire population seems to me to carry a thrifty, well-fed appearance, despite the fact that they always seem to lead a “doice far niente” existence.
South Otselic VERITAS.
The Syracuse Post-Standard, December 10, 1926
Passenger Pigeon, as Well as the Beaver, Left
Its Name for Hamlet in Country
Ran the “Underground Railway” Toward Freedom
To the Editor of The Post-Standard:
Inasmuch as a writer to the Morning’s Mail wishes to know the origin of
the name of the burg called Beaver Meadow, in Otselic township, Chenango
county, it will be necessary for me to go back to the early history of
this section and also to the habits of the beaver.
In the remote days, before the coming of the pale face to Otselic, the beaver made its home or habitation by the sweet-water, woodland rills, small clear rivers, large springs and spring-fed lakes, in short, waters suitable for the speckled trout were satisfactory to the beavers.
In this environment the beaver built its lodges with infinite care; and, lest they should not have sufficient depth of water in all seasons and all weathers, they constructed extensive beaver dams to raise the water to the required level. In this way beaver meadows were formed.
Among the headwaters which flow from the Otselic hills to make the east fork of the Canaswacta is a stream known locally as the Beaver Meadow brook, by reason of the large beaver meadow near its banks. Here the beaver held tenure and lived in peace and plenty until the white man disputed his possessions.
One hundred and twenty-six years ago Ebenezer Hill pre-empted the first home in the Otselic wilderness between the Bear Yallow and the Beaver Meadow. Other pioneers soon followed suit and settled along the banks of the Alder Meadow and the Beaver Meadow and, after building their log houses, began clearing the forest growth, the bark of which was a staple and necessary article of food for the beaver family. Right there was the beginning of the end of the beaver, which does not associate with farmers and civilization by choice.
In the course of human events a hamlet was born in a brush heap not far
from the confluence of the Middltown Manus with the Canasawacta; and this
new bucolic child was dignified with the expressive name of Beaver Meadow,
which is too obvious to need explanation here. In due time it doffed its
swaddling clothes and 46 years ago had increased to 105 head of humans,
accumulated to all the attributes of a rural village besides being a way
station on the stage route from South Otselic to McQueen’s at Norwich.
This McQueen was a four-in-hand driver before 1868 on the stage route from
Utica to Norwich.
I do not know why anyone should accumulate animosity against the burg
of Beaver Meadow unless he suffered the experience of swapping horses with
Ol’ Man Coleman or had his straw hat consumed by the town goat. Pigeon Hill, in the same locality, was named after the passenger pigeon, which frequented this spot, on it’s
migrations many years ago, to feed on beech mast. The last time this bird
was reported in upper Chenango county was several years ago, near the Brimstone
Meeting House. It is still found in the woods of upper Canada. (NOTE: The
Passenger Pigeon, Ectopistes Migratorius of the pigeon family Columbidae,
was hunted to extinction in 1914, some 12 years prior to this letter.)
Starting below Beaver Meadow and a short distance above the confluence
of the two forks of the Canaswacta, the stage route travels an historic
highway. This was part of the “Underground Railway,” or “North Star Slave Trail,” which
originated in the Quaker country in and near Philadelphia, Pa., among the
Society of Friends. It ran in a northerly direction to Montrose, Pa., where
at a later date a branch line left for lower Canada by way of Niagara Falls.
The main line continued northerly to the Quaker settlement just west of
Smyrna and went over the watershed, near “Nigger Hill,” located northwest of Smyrna, near the Madison county line, Lebanon stone mill (erected in 1825) on the way to Gerrit Snith’s
at Peterboro, Fulton, Lake Ontario, Canada and everlasting freedom.
Seventy-five years ago, at the time of the Jerry Rescue in Syracuse, and
during the days of the fugitive slave law, a station was established a
little way farther east, in the village of Earlville, near the eleventh
house north of the cemetery on the way to “Red City.” Eighty-seven years ago a white slave girl came up the “North Star Trail” on
her way to freedom. She was an octoroon, or in other words seven-eights
white, handsome in face and figure, with a wealth of long crimpy hair like
you see in a hair tonic advertisement. This started the eagle screaming
in Chenango and Madison and the skids under slavery, which continued to
slip to the end.
Hiram Hayseed, Sherburne.
The Syracuse Post-Standard, December 13, 1926
State Is to have Reforested Game Preserve in
Region Where Sodom, Podunk, Snailtown
Peet Hook Are All Familiar Place Names
To the Editor of The Post-Standard:
The writer is much interested in the letter of Thurlow W. Johnson in The
Post-Standard and has read the article by J. Bowler and the other
articles leading up to Mr. Johnson’s.
His statements are very accurate, to be written by a man absent from the
locus in quo for 44 years. It seems to be the rule that letters similar
to this are usually penned by absentees, as those on the ground seldom
get interested enough to put similar thoughts on paper. As a barefoot boy,
I went to “Beaver” to school, past the birthplace of Thurlow W. Johnson, which doesn’t seem so far from the “Corners” to
him now (1/2 mile as it was then).
The “Canada” school house is still occupied: and “Dark Hollow” and “Upperville”, all in the town of Smyrna, are terms in present every-day use. Otselic was “The Flats” and South Otselic “The Burgh”, in my childhood days; and many years before.: South Otselic was “Bowen Settlement”, and before that “Sugar Hollow”. “Bangall”, known to Mr. Johnson in his capacity as a government employee at a post office in Dutchess county, is not the “Bangall” of which Mr. Bowler speaks. He refers to the present Taylor, situated down the Otselic river from South Otselic, the name appearing on the same map as “Podunk” and “The Hook” and
not found on maps kept for sale.
This town is now famed as the one designated last winter to pay a tax
rate of $115 per thousand by the board of supervisors of Cortland county,
that question still being at issue in the appellate courts at Albany. “Cold Hill” is incorrect. Mr. Johnson undoubtedly knew Nelson Cole and his father, who hailed from “Cole Hill”. And this territory, together with the “Bear Swamp”,
now owned by the writer, and adjacent lands, are expected soon to be taken
over by the state, enclosed by a high fence, stocked with game and reforested
and to be the first parcel taken over by the state from hunting license
Esquire Asher M. Ray, the judge’s father, was a justice of the peace of the town of Otselic when a magistrate, taking an acknowledgement of a married woman, had to certify that “upon an examination separate and apart from her husband” she acknowledged the instrument as her “free act and deed” and “without any fear or compulsion from her said husband”.
His old farm embraced the territory between lower and upper Beaver Meadow.
Here the future judge was born; and through this farm, now owned by Attorney
Cushman of Norwich, extended the old Midland railroad, referred to by Mr.
Johnson. On this place occurred the death of Dell Bush last year, by wind
storm, a matter considerably discussed in the papers at the time. My grandfather,
Ezra T. Webb, mentioned in Mr. Johnson’s article as a trapper and hunter, is buried in the cemetery on the road from “Beaver to “Skunk’s Misery” also referred to by him; as is also E.T.’s father and grandfather: and he told me of the beavers, the same as he told the writer of today’s
My grandfather gave me my first lessons in telling the truth, but not
the whole truth, when, having taken a fine mess of trout from an old culvert
under the abandoned Midland on the Ray farm, he told me, a small lad, to
tell “if anybody asked me” that we caught these beauties “up the creek” and
to say nothing about getting them all in one place.
It has been my lot as supervisor to write the checks for the last $24,000
of town bonds placed against Otselic on account of the abandoned Midland
road, which road put Beaver Meadow on the map for a short time, the original
cost to the town being something over $80,000. Rev. J. Bowler was a Baptist
clergyman at the “Burgh”, several miles from Beaver Meadow in 1900, when
I took the United States census in Otselic; but I do not know whether the
article was by him or some member of his family.
The writer resides at South Otselic. Among the points of interest, past
and present, within an easy radius are those known by the local cognomens
of Burdick Settlement, Catlin Settlement, Doran Town, Sodom, Rhode Island,
Frinkville, Pink Hill, Moon Hill and other “hills”, “towns” and “villes.” But “Coontown” and “Snailtown” mentioned in one of the earlier articles are over the Unadilla from Chenango county and in the vicinity of “Peet Hook”.
Otselic is an Indian name meaning “Plum Creek”. Our bank cashier, Mr.
Frank E. Cox, a fixture in Otselic for over 70 years, has a long list of
combinations of letters used by individuals on mail for the purpose of
finding us through the Post Office, our location being nearly as difficult
to spell as Schaghticoke or Lincklaen.
I am writing this from Norwich and do not have before me any of the Post-Standard
letters on sobriquets except Mr. Johnson’s.
H.A. Webb, Norwich.
The Syracuse Post-Standard, December 21, 1926
Coasting Into Norwich With Four-Hundred
Cords of Wood on Rails of Old Railroad;
Horse Drawing Reconstructed Truck Back.
To the Editor of The Post-Standard:
A little more history about Beaver Meadow and the Oswego Midland Railroad. In the year of our Lord, 1881, and after this line of road had been abandoned, I had more than 400 cords of wood banked along the siding at Beaver Meadow, which I had bought for a man from Norwich, who was backing me in the grocery trade (I had very little capital of my own).
After this line had been abandoned officially, I went to him, and after a conference he renounced all responsibility and threw all the burden upon me. That meant financial ruin for me. The wood consisted of all beech, birch and maple, not less than 14 inches in length, and bought at the municifent price of $1 per cord, in trade. A portion, however, was purchased at 87 1/2 cents per cord. (Some difference in prevailing prices at this date. The lower 87 1/2 cents per cord) after persistent rumors about the abandonment of the railroad.
Milo Miles, who operated the saw and planing mill, had a truck or car used during the construction of this line of road to convey dirt from the cuts and fills and there dumped. This car was constructed to run on a three-foot gauge road. It occurred to me that these axles could be lengthened to the standard gauge, which I believe to be four feet, eight and one half inches at the present time. I communicated with the Norwich Foundry corporation in respect to lengthening them (two axles for four wheel car).
In the meantime I had walked over the track to Norwich, 12 miles distant, to note the condition. I had had some former instruction in railroad work. And I found that bracing some of the bridges and other places where the spring floods had washed away, it would be possible to operate a light car over the tracks to Norwich without power. Mr. Miles and I constructed a frame for a car with a capacity of 12 cords.
In the meantime I was in correspondence with Superintendent C.W. Lamphere
of the New York, Ontario & Western railroad for permission to operate this
car over the road to Norwich. He informed me that it was not in his power
to grant any such authority. Then I made a personal appeal for permission.
He almost laughed me to scorn, and said my proposition was not feasible
and extremely visionary.
As a last resort I appealed to him to be a good Samaritan. Both of us
belonged to the same fraternal order. Finally, as a last resort he said: “Your persistency has appealed to me to say: ‘Go to it’.
Still I have not changed my mind about the feasibility. Too visionary!”
After the car was made ready we loaded it with 10 cords of wood and started
the initial trip. I hired one Loren Hall, who was the father of a boy about
13 years old, to assist me. The first trip was most strenuous. The bearings
being new, soon after leaving Beaver Meadow we discovered (in railroad
parlance) a “hotbox”. The grade permitted us to run without any propulsion.
When we arrived at Plymouth, I went to a grocery store and procured a
package of Dixon’s stove polish, which is composed principally of graphite. I shaved a portion of this up and mixed it with lubricating oil. And finally we overcame the “hotbox”.
When we arrived within about four miles of Norwich we struck a grade nearly
level, in fact, an upgrade over bridges. We arrived at Norwich, or where
we crossed the highway formerly a plank road, where we dumped our load.
When we arrived (somewhere about the middle of September) it was dark.
Mr. Hall and myself were fagged out, and about famished for want of a good
square meal. On our return to Beaver Meadow we arrived home about 10:30
p.m. The next day was a day of rest, Mr. Hall was ready to “throw up the sponge.” Along
toward night we loaded up with 10 cords preparatory to start at 7 a.m.
the next day. Mr. H. consented to one more trial.
It rained during the night and that left a clean rail. Soon after leaving the momentum became so great I had to apply the brake (a lever brake with air). We made the run in about 50 minutes and were highly elated. The inhabitants along the line were astonished. After the second trip I operated the car alone, making quite a reduction in operating expenses.
We used a horse with a towing line and used to unhitch crossing the bridges and push the car over. I transported all the wood in this manner and then turned the car over to Milo Miles, who finally added an engine and connected to the bearings and thus operated the car for freight and express until the rails were finally removed, assisting with this car in the demolition of this line of road.
Thus ended this branch of the old Oswego Midland Railroad.
Thurlow W. Johnson, Syracuse—(Note 2)
The Syracuse Post-Standard, December 24, 1926
Red Hair, Red Face, Red Flannels
To the Editor of The Post-Standard:
These splendid letters appearing in The Post-Standard of late, telling
of events and schools in the Beaver Meadow region years ago, bring to my
mind a splendid man’s character. In the winter of 1863-4 or 1864-5 the
school at Beaver Meadow had varied experiences. They had during this time
three different teachers, the first man whose name I cannot now recall.
Suffice it to say that his finish as a teacher came swift and sure. He
possessed a “yellow streak” and soon lost control over the school and was thrust bodily out through an open window. The second teacher was Miss Abel, who was nearsighted and a little deaf, being 21 years of age plus. She was described as “being so durned deaf she could not see and so blind that she could not hear”, and the boys were raising cain in general. She survived the ordeal a little more than a week, when she was carried out bodily by two stalwart boys and set down near the “babbling brook”.
Then the three trustees by the name of Philip Bellinger, Otis Gardner
(my uncle on my mother’s side) and Daniel Webb, cast about for a teacher of valor. One Dwight Hall of Smyrna applied for this much sought position. At that time teachers “boarded around”, i.e., from house to house for usually a week at a time. And then, when they had “boarded” with each family of the district, they “repeated”,
quite a varied experience.
Right here I will give a brief description of “Brother Hall”. A man of
about five feet, seven inches in his stocking feet; of spare building,
but muscular; with red hair and a ruddy complexion. He wore, at this time,
bright red flannel underwear. After due deliberation, the trustees allowed
him a trial.
On Monday morning following he appeared on the field of combat. On entering the school room (schools of that period consisted of only one room) as he glanced at the blackboard his eye saw these most inspiring words:
There was a crow flying south,
With Dwight Hall in his mouth;
When he saw he had a fool,
He dropped him to teach the Beaver Meadow School.
With decision in his manly bearing he doffed his hat and coat and hung them in the closet. With deliberation he rolled his shirtsleeves above the elbow. Red head, red face and red flannel, he looked the man of valor.
When the hour of 9 a.m. arrived, he stepped to the door and rang the handbell
with vigor. Then, stepping inside, he stood at attention and waited proceedings.
In this room there was a long box stove capable of burning wood three feet
in length. The boys and girls filed in from without. The girls and smaller
boys went directly to their seats. Not so with the larger boys, who gathered
around the stove with their hats or caps on their heads. Mr. Hall spoke
thusly: “Boys, the ringing of that bell means that school is in session.
Take your seats.”
The boys, with a defiant grimace, remained standing by the stove. Mr. Hall stepped quickly to the side of the boy nearest him and with his left hand laid hold of the arm of one George Rury and commanded him to take his seat. Instead of obeying his commanded, he raised his right arm in battle array.
With a vigorous swing of a heavy ruler prepared for the occasion the teacher
hit said Rury a resounding smash on his forearm. The arm fell limp at his
side. With a direct blow at another boy, there was a precipitate scramble
for their seats. The girls let forth unearthly shrieks. Pandemonium reigned
for a brief time. Mr. Hall, standing erect, with a stamp of his right foot
spoke with decision the word “attention”. In less than a minute all eyes
riveted on this fearless teacher. He addressed the school thus:
”Order is the first requisite for a school. Without it, it is useless for me to teach”, or words to that effect. In the meantime the boy was having trouble with his right arm. Mr. Hall went to him and said: “Does your arm hurt?” He was assured that it did. “Take your cap and go to your home, but be sure to return tomorrow morning.” From
that day to the end of the term Mr. Hall had complete control of that school.
The men of this class were at the front, fighting to perpetuate the Union.
The last day of school I have never forgotten. The larger girls with the
help of their mothers crocheted a beautiful scarf composed of bright-hued
Germantown yarn and nearly three yards in length, as “ye old-timers” can
remember were worn at that time, and it was presented to Mr. Hall, also
a nice Bible. Hardly a dry eye in this schoolhouse, crowded to its capacity,
at the presentation of the gifts.
That simply shows that we must have discipline and a vigorous body to sustain good mentality. I never was blessed with any children of my own, yet I am enthusiastic in the development of vigorous manhood and womanhood. That is what the trainers of our Boy and Girl Scouts are developing today. I am for the Scouts with all the financial aid at my command. Lend a helping hand a money to perpetuate the good work.
Thurlow W. Johnson, Syracuse—(Note 3)
The Syracuse Post-Standard, November 13, 1926
The Quest for Skunk’s Misery
Skunk’s Misery Grouped With Toad Hollow,
Bat’s End and Others in Chenango
To the Editor of The Post-Standard:
My mother came from Chenango county, and I have heard her tell many times
of “Skunk’s Misery”, which was located in the town of Smyrna (NOTE: Skunk’s Misery has always been the traditional nickname for North Pharsalia and is located in the town of Otselic, not Smyrna, as this letter claims.), a little northeast of the Card School District. It derived its name from the fact that in the 1850s and 1860s it was a territory largely covered with second growth timber, making it an ideal habitation for large colonies of “wood-pussies”.
One of the interesting inhabitants of this area was a character called
by everybody roundabout “Ole Pettis”, who always wore mostly rags and a curiously contrived pigskin apron, and who carried more money about upon his person in gold and bills than most of us make in a year of hard work. Just beyond “Skunk’s Misery”, to the east, in Otselic township, was another interesting region called “”Bat’s End”,
a place full of stumps and poor families, which, I believe, is now mostly
abandoned by all save the bats which gave it its name.
Then there was “Toad Hollow”, in the vicinity of Plymouth, a dark and gloomy locality of many trees and much creaking in winter, and rustling branches and a multiplicity of toads (and probably frogs also) in summer. To name one more in closing: “Nigger Hill”,
a high point some three and one-half miles from Smyrna village, to the
east, where for some 25 years, beginning in the early 1840s, a considerable
colony of Negroes was located. That settlement is now nearly obliterated,
all the houses and cabins having been abandoned and left to the elements.
Let us hear from others through this column along these lines. It’s much
more interesting than election post-mortems.
Leonora V. Tate, Ithaca.
The Syracuse Post-Standard, November 6, 1926
The Tragedy of Skunk’s Misery and the True Story of Peter Podunk
To the Editor of The Post-Standard:
To the person in quest of Skunk’s Misery, I will say as a foreword that in the old days it was customary in Central New York to give many hamlets a local christening, quite different from the geographical name, and they are still answering to its call. Now, if the traveler will go to Cortland and follow the bus line eastward through McGraw, Solon, East Freetown, Cincinnatus and Taylor in Cortland county, he will find himself at the end of about an hour’s
ride by motor, just over the line in Chenango county and in the beautiful
Otselic river valley.
From a high elevation nearby, on a clear day, with a good field glass, he can see into four counties and 13 towns. If he will leave the main stem at the third turn to the right after crossing the line, the first native he asks will direct him on his way to Podunk, situated among the high hills of the watershed which separates the water flowing into the Otselic from those of the Chenango.
This place received its local name after Peter Podunk, who sojourned there
for a time, over 100 years ago. In the course of human events, Peter passed
on and perhaps had other places farther west named after him. But this
place is Peter’s first and original Podunk. Near here, from the lookout
of an old observatory below the Wayne Berry place, one could see the Catskill
mountains, 90 miles away, with a good glass, on a clear day.
The aforementioned native will also direct the stranger to Skunk’s Misery,
which is the first station beyond. This place received its nickname by
reason of the adventure of a Mr. F. in fur farming. His idea was to breed
and rear the high priced black skunk for its valuable fur and for its oil,
which was a specific for stiff joints and rheumatism. This was an ill-starred
adventure at the outset, and was foreordained to disappointment.
The details of the failure are too dreadful to be described here. While the
skunks were able to produce a peck load of perfume every day, the proprietor
found his supply of air pitifully inadequate. It was along this watershed,
in the Civil War days, that a bunch of hard-eyed horse thieves lived and operated
over much territory.
It is now over 60 years ago that one September night a fast road mare, stolen in Oneida county, came down the Otselic valley at a heartbreaking clip. It had traveled an estimated distance of 55 miles, at an average speed of five and one-half minutes per mile. It was closely pursued by the owner and Grove Loomis, who recaptured the outfit, and the thief escaped to the hills and his home.
At the present time some of the highest scoring butter made in New York State is manufactured on this watershed. This is a matter of public record by reason of its competing for premiums at the New York State Fair.
Should the tourist wish to come to this town, any well in formed native
will direct him to “Nigger Holler”, “Shacktown”, “Snailtown”, “Dogtown,” “Robber’s Roost,” “Houn Dawg,” “Slab City,” “Toad Holler” and
other places with odd names. Many of these names have priority over the
present names, and go back over 100 years, when the white man took up the
burden and the Indian still tarried on the banks of the Chenango.
Hiram Hayseed, Sherburne
1. Pg.481, History of Chenango County by James H. Smith, (Syracuse) 1880; Pages 67 and 70, New York Postal History by John L. Kay and Chester M. Smith Jr., published by the American Philatelic Society, 1972.
2. This story is verified by the following newspaper references:
Chenango Union, Thurs., April 28, 1881
It is reported that the Auburn Branch of the Midland Road, which has for some time past been closed, is soon to opened by private parties, for the transportation of freight between this village and the (Otselic Center) trestle, a car making one round trip daily.
Semi-Weekly Telegraph, Sat., June 11, 1881
Miles & Bissell ran their new steam car from Beaver Meadow to Norwich
over the Auburn branch for the first time on Tuesday last. The car is capable
of hauling about six tons of freight.
Semi-Weekly Telegraph, Wed., June 13, 1881
Miles & Bissell are operating the Auburn branch, between this place and
Norwich, with a fair degree of success. They will add steam to their car
soon, which will save the necessity of a horse, and will do away with a
large amount of pushing which had been the propelling power of late.
Semi-Weekly Telegraph, Wed., Aug. 27, 1881
Beaver Meadow—Milo Miles and William B. Ireland have purchased an
engine which they intend putting on the Auburn Branch for the purpose of
hauling passengers and freight between Otselic and Norwich. We hope to
see the branch once more under successful operation.
Semi-Weekly Telegraph, Wed., Sept. 17, 1881
Beaver Meadow -- Miles & Ireland have their steam car in good working
order and are making daily trips to and from Norwich. It will be appreciated
by people living along the Branch.
Semi-Weekly Telegraph, Wed., Dec. 30, 1881
Milo Miles is engaging in taking up the rails on the DeRuyter branch of the Midland from Crumb Hll to Otselic. Take up the bonds, too, Milo.
Semi-Weekly Telegraph, Wed., March 11, 1882
Beaver Meadow—Milo Miles has sold his engine, “Pathfinder,” No.
3, to parties in Smyrna, N.Y. This is the engine that hauled the local
freight, on the Auburn Branch, last season.
Semi-Weekly Telegraph, Wed., April 12, 1882
The rails on the Auburn branch have been taken up from the Otselic trestle to the main line.
Semi-Weekly Telegraph, Wed., June 7, 1882
Men were at work, last week, taking up the iron on the Auburn branch from Crumb Hill east, and we still hear rumors that the line will be put in condition for business in the near future. The prospects for its being run again are decidedly unfavorable. -- DeRuyter New Era.
3. Thurlow W. Johnson committed suicide by hanging himself in the cellar of his home at 714 S. Beech St., Syracuse, on March 26, 1928. According to his obituary in the Post-Standard of March 27, 1928, he had been unaccountably obsessed over his financial situation. He was a retired mail clerk for the New York Central Railroad. He was survived by his wife, Cora, and a sister, Mrs. Ida Hiler.
More News of Beaver Meadows
Chenango Telegraph, Norwich, N.Y., January 12, 1870
Take the Stage from Beaver Meadow
New Stage Route
Wescott & King have established a new stage and mail route from Beaver Meadow
to Norwich. They will leave Beaver Meadow at seven o’clock on Monday, Wednesday
and Saturday mornings of each week, reaching Norwich at noon, and leaving for
Beaver Meadow at three o’clock of the same day. They will have good teams and
conveyances, and be prepared to carry passengers, as well as the mail, at reasonable
rates. They will also do such errands as they shall be called upon to do and
all in a satisfactory manner. They hope to receive, as they will try to deserve,
a share of the public patronage
The “Big Wind” of 1833
In July, 1833, a tornado passed through this area and adjoining towns, cutting a mile-wide swath of destruction. It blew clothing from the central part of Pharsalia several miles into the hemlock trees in Beaver Meadow. It was especially severe on the Center road in Pharsalia, where it blew a bed-ridden child through an open window. A more detailed story of this event appeared in the Syracuse Herald-American on July 8, 1956, undoubtedly written by Roy Gallinger, the local correspondent:
Today marks an anniversary of an event that only a few in Chenango County have even head of, and certainly no one now alive can remember it, but it is still talked about among the old-timers in the Beaver Meadow country, near Norwich. They heard the story from their grandparents.
It is the story of “Black Sunday” in Beaver meadow, when the worst windstorm
of all tie swept over a mile-wide space across the Town of German, Smyrna
and Pharsalia, blowing itself out in Madison County. The unusual thing
was that while the storm howled across the mile-strip, killing cattle,
blowing down barns and houses, evenblowing a sick boy out of his bed
and through a window, people a mile away to the east and west, saw only a black
cloud but experienced only a gentle summer breeze.
It was July 9, 1833. The day was breathless. Farmers who had braved their
consciences and had started to draw hay—a serious Sabbath desecration in that day of simple religious faiths—could
scarcely work. Horses panted and flies bit deeply. Finally in mid-afternoon
the farmers gave up, brought the teams to the barn and tied them to the
wagon expecting to go into the fields again after sundown.
Suddenly about 4 o’clock, a black cloud appeared in the south. The sun
darkened and a wind came up. Within minutes doors were slamming, trees
bending almost double, and shingles began to fly from the roofs. It became
darker and the wind blew stronger by the minute. The horses tied to the
wagon on the Gregg farm, pulled themselves loose and made for the open
field, dragging broken harnesses with them. Seconds later the barn near
which hey stood toppled over, crushing the wagon.
In a written manuscript of the story in possession of John Gregg, now
of Chemung County, is a fearful story. The people ran for their cellars,
and crowded close to the stone walls, while their homes blew down over
their heads. A boy on the Center Road in the Town of Pharsalia, lay sick
in bed with “summer complaint.” The wind struck the house, blew in a
door and went on through a window opposite the door, lifting the child
his bed and transporting him to the yard, where he landed in a patch
of weeds, not too much hurt. A few minutes later the house toppled, but
flying timbers did not come near the sick child, lying frightened and
weak in the patch of tansy and golden-rod.
Most of the houses were left standing, because of the strong peg-and-beam
construction, but roofs were off, barns were down, and poultry houses
lay scattered over the countryside. With the exception of roofs of houses,
little repairing was done that summer. in the fall when the work was
done in other parts of the community a large number of “bees” were formed and many of the barns replaced. This work continued all winter, while those who lived beyond the famous “one mile strip” kept
their needy neighbors in potatoes, turnips and grain for flour all winter.
People did that in those days.