The Canal and Rosendale



Rosendale  October 4, 1936


The Sanborn Map of Rosendale 1887

While the passage of years inevitably brings about many changes in every community, time has effected transformations in Rosendale which are unique and of special interest.  During the nineteenth century, many villages grew into cities.  Wildernesses became the location of metropolises.  Other towns were founded and for a time enjoyed important development and expansion only to later suffer abandonment and oblivion.  The story of Rosendale falls into neither of these classifications. 

Originally settled as a farming community, the building of the hundred mile long Delaware and Hudson Canal (1825-1830) fostered the growth of a small business and residential section on the site of our present day Main Street.  The digging of this canal resulted in the discovery of large areas of cement rock which gave Rosendale its greatest business times.  The manufacture and shipment of cement, drawing as it did upon other resources of the locality helped stimulate not only the foundry and boat building enterprises at Rondout, but virtually brought into being the hoop, stave, and mill stone industries of the hinterlands.  Similarly, the canal gave cheap and convenient access to ready markets to the tan bark, bluestone, and lumber interests all along the Rondout valley.  This waterway also contributed importantly to the trade assets of the entire section through which it ran.  Besides employing numerous lock tenders, and section scow gangs, the needs of the canalers and their tow horses practically sustained the general store and stabling establishments located at almost every lockhead from Rondout NY, to Honesdale PA.  In 1849, the canal was widened, giving additional work and business to this section.

In the early 1870’s the building of a railroad which penetrated Rosendale township, gave increased impetus to the community growth and resulted I the working of other cement deposits located at inconvenient distances from the older waterway means of transportation.  From the beginning of the cement boom, the village was to a great extent scattered and each section known by a name of its own such as Bruceville, Coxen Steam Mill, Lawrenceville, Rosendale, Rosendale Plains (Tilson), Maple Hill, Rock Lock, Creek Locks, Bloomingdale, Binnwater, and Whiteport (Hickory Bush). 

The advent of the railroad giving easy shipping facilities to the two latter hamlets encouraged further manufacturing developments in these sections which resulted in their important growth.  Binnewater formerly Keators Corners, was dominated by the Fredrick O. Norton Company who also manufactured cement at High Falls  contemporaneous with Delafield and Baxter (later Barnhardt)  and the Bruce Cement Company (later Vandermark and then Lawrence Company).  Whiteport is one of the oldest cement mill sites in the country.  It is named after Hugh White who opened operations there in 1836 supplying cement for the Croton Aqueduct. 

This Hugh White is sometimes confused with Marcus White, the young civil engineer who discovered cement while blasting away rock in a cut for the Erie Canal around 1825.  The story goes that Marcus White was impressed by the similarity between the rock specimens he gathered and the rock strata he had earlier observed around Rome from which the ancients were said to have procured the cement for many of their magnificent buildings and public works.  White experimented by heating the rock in a blacksmiths forge and slaking it in water without results.

A certain Doctor Barstow is claimed to have advised:  “Pulverize that stuff after roasting it White, then mix it like a paste if you want it to set.”  This advice is said to have caused the success of Marcus White’s experiment and sponsored an industry which for nearly a century gave employment to thousands in Rosendale and vicinity.  White’s important discovery is said to have taken place in Madison County NY during the construction of the Erie Canal.

While the opening up of mines and mills at distances from the village proper tended toward the growth of smaller communities such were never self-sufficient and the bulk of their trade gravitated towards Rosendale which remained until quite recent years the center of business and social activity.  Here, four churches, a union free school, a parochial school, post office, shoe tobacco millenary, hardware, hat, feed and grocery stores concentrated.  There were also two coal and lumber yards, several hotels, three barber shops, a plethora of saloons and many private residences and tenement houses.

The large holding of company lands not for sale at any price influenced the rise of another off corner area as a residential section.  Real estate developments on the Rosendale Plains (now Tilson) induced many workers to locate there, resulting in the extraordinary growth of that old hamlet, where tis claimed the Ulster County Fair was held in the 1840’s.  Some singular facts observable about the Plains  residential section were that nearly all the population at that time were American, many of whom were born on adjacent farms, most of whom had a trade.  All of whom seemed fanciers of prize winning poultry pigeons and pet stock.  It maintained a school, two churches (Quaker and Reformed) and one of the best bands in the locality.  Its one saloon was operated profitably by an Irishman.

The plains, located about half way between Rosendale village and the Carpet Mills of Rifton Glen (formally Arnoldtown) furnished carpenters, millwrights, foreman, coopers, stone masons, blacksmiths, carpet weavers and numerous other craftsmen to the industries of the surrounding country.  Despite its sizeable proportions, it never assumed a business aspect sufficient to divert its own trade or that of the Rifton shoppers from the business center of Rosendale which on a Saturday night was the scene of unbelievable bustle and activity.

The early settlers of Rosendale Plains were of Dutch, English, and French Huguenot stocks who engaged chiefly in agricultural pursuits.  As late as 1900 there still remained a few natives who spoke the old Holland Dutch quite fluently (Jake Slater born 1830, and his mother born 1804).  Despite the intermarriage of these three elements, the older settlers seemed to have inbred considerably before the industrial and commercial opening up of this section.  The marriage of cousins sometimes found the bride bearing the same name by which she was known as a maiden.

The Irish and German immigrants who began to settle here in considerable numbers after 1821 are said to have found the older stocks apathetic, unfriendly, and in some cases downright hostile.  The Germans of Protestant affiliation on no religion at all seemed to have assimilated more rapidly with the native population than did the Catholic Irish whose national spirit aggressiveness and pugnacity prolonged the local racial feud for many years.  Quite humorous is the claim that many Catholic Germans were adjudged Irish due solely to their attendance at the church which Catholics of both nationalities built together in 1855.  Previous to the erection of this church, Catholics had to depend on the occasional mission service sent here at intervals, or as some of the older folks with whom I conversed claim: “Walk to Rondout and back when the weather was fine” (Mrs. McNamara, Bill Murphy, and Con Buckley). 

In 1875, the Catholics built their second church, a fine big brick edifice which still stands as does the wooden church of 1855, which from 1890 to about 1918 was used as a parochial school under the jurisdiction of the Sisters of Charity.  In the early 1890’s a division of the parish resulted in the erection of a church at Whiteport.  During the activity connected with the New York Water Supply project through High Falls, a Catholic Church was built there, serving as a mission out of Rosendale.  The village of Rifton never having had a Catholic church; the elements there of that faith were also served by a mission priest out of Rosendale. 

Feelings of racial and religious prejudice ran high in those early days, and despite numerous intermarriage between those of the younger generations, there still remained until the very end of the old order, uncompromising and blind hatreds among the ignorant and intolerant on both sides.  A story was related to the writer purportedly, that the Irish were driven away from the polls and not allowed to vote until their numerical strength permitted the formation of a small squad of men who armed with cottonwood sticks, marched to the polls and cast their ballots unchallenged.  The strategy of this maneuver is accredited to one Jim Lee, a tavern keeper near the head of Main Street by the old bridge, which was swept away in 1878 or 1879, and on the abutments of which was built the iron bridge that served all the local traffic until the erection of the downtown bridge in 1934. The date of the incident is alleged to have been somewhere in the 1840’s. The locale of the tavern is on the site of what in later years became known as the Irish Block, so called due to its being almost wholly occupied by Irish people who conducted saloons on the ground floor.

Some of the bands from the outer districts, the membership of which were Protestant ceased playing while parading past this section.  In reprisal, the old St Peter’s and Whiteport bands composed chiefly of Catholics endeavored to drown out their ‘enemies” when parading in common on Decoration Day (Memorial Day) or other events.  It is also claimed that they occasionally made decisions to hold open air concerts in all too close proximity to where their rivals were engaged to furnish the music.  Being good ear players, they were enabled to quickly shift to something else when their rivals for harmony sake switched over and conflicts of endurance between the drummers and cymbal boys who aspired more to noise than harmony.  The same device is said to have been used to annoy campaign speakers with similar results.

In the matter of politics, the terms Catholic and Democrat, and Protestant and Republican, were by many regarded as synonymous or interchangeable which to a great extent was true.  The few exceptions to the rule being often accounted for by the inability of some individual to achieve a desired nomination on one ticket and forthwith abandoning his party to later on win the nomination of the other ticket, depending on the support of his religious, racial, or fraternal brethren to elect him.  In a day of straight ticket voting, this scheme rarely worked satisfactorily.  An “Arsh Publican” was only an “Arshman” to the Republicans who cut him, and a fence jumping renegade to the Democrats who despised him.  The “Yankees” got away with the device a little better due perhaps to their fraternity affiliation and the strategy of running against a non-fraternity candidate. 

Rosendale Village in the eighteen seventies had four churches of as many different faiths.  In the outlying districts were about six others, only three of which were within the township limits.  The Reformed Church at Bloomindale was probably the oldest in the locality.   The Plains settlement contained a Quaker and a Reformed Church.  Rifton, Cattekill, and High Falls each had one Protestant Church.  Rosendale had the Episcopal, the Baptist, the Catholic and the Reform Churches.  The present Reformed Church on Main Street is the third structure on the same site to the knowledge of this writer.

Up to about 1893 or so, there stood the old square steeple wooden church which was probably the oldest in the village.  This was torn down and in its place was erected a beautiful slender spired steeple white painted church, the loveliness of which commended the admiration of many who regretfully witnessed its classic lines collapse in flaming spectacular grandeur in the fire that swept that section in September 1895 destroying several stores, a lumber and coal yard, the church mentioned, the beautiful home of Dr. Robinson, and the old Sammons Hotel.  Shortly after the fire, the present brick Reformed Church was built and new buildings arose on the ruins of the devastated area and time went on but those who remember vividly the general appearance of that section before the fire cannot avoid feeling that this conflagration removed curtained architectural types of buildings whose districts seem a distinct loss to the beauty and historic associations of the village.

The Rosendle Fire of 1895

On the evening of August 25, 1895 a fire broke out in the barn owned by R.C. LeFever and quickly spread.  Rosendale at the time had no fire company to prevent the fire from destroying the surrounding structures.  By the time the fire was extinguished with the help of Kingston's apparatus, the buildings between the Northside lanes were a mass of smoking ruins.  As a result, the prominent residents of the town met and the following year established the Active Hose Company of Rosendale.

Joseph Fleming's recollections of the fire were published in two consecutive articles appearing in his Do You Remember series in the Rosendale News.  An additional memoir recalls the Active Hose company and its participants as the links below record.  The graphic on the right shows the devastating results of the fire's aftermath  -Tipp

The Rosendale Fire part 1     DYR #101 - 20 Dec 1940 Pg 2

The Rosendale Fire part 2     DYR #102 - 20 Dec 1940 Pg 2

The Active Hose Company   DYR #67 - 1 Mar 1940 Pg 2

Rosendale in the 1880's

At right is a graphical representation of the village of Rosendale in the late 1880's as remembered by Joseph Fleming in his book Rosendale almost 40 years later.  Tipp

"Across from the highway bridge was the old canal bridge.  An old cement shed and the home of Peter Connors stood across the canal opposite the Troy House and McGady's saloon.  The next north side house was opposite the McGee property.  It still stands.  This was the Simon Von Wagnen building."  Continue on the other side of the canal at D.J. Tilson     

For more details see: 

DYR #23 - 21 April 1939 Pg 2   

DYR #24 - 28 April 1939 Pg 2  

DYR #25 - 5 May 1939 Pg 2     


In the eighteen eighties, Rosendale was at the height of its greatest industrial activity.  The companies depended on the shipping facilities of the canal opening up in the spring ahead of navigation, and continuing some weeks after the canal authorities stopped giving out permits which was usually in early November when the threat of heavy ice necessitated the closing and drainage of the waterway for the winter months.  Cement companies along the railroad at Binnewater and Whiteport however usually operated considerably later. 

In the latter part of the eighteen eighties the Lawrence Cement Company erected a large manufacturing plant at Binnewater to which they removed after operating at Lawrenceville for a full half century.  Their old plant at Lawrenceville was familiarly known as the “Yellow Plant” about which grew a small settlement in the central part of present day Lawrenceville.  Only one of these buildings remains, standing in conjunction with the ruins of the Old Stone House erected in 1837.  The Yellow Mill was operated by water power.  Evidence of its dam, millrace, and the abutments of the bridge which spanned the creek at that point are still plainly visible. 

In upper Lawrenceville, (known as the Steam Mill) the AJ Snyder and Lawrenceville Cement Companies had their plants.  Mr. Snyder personally supervised his own plant, as did his father Jacob Snyder whose own father died young. Thus to date, four generations of Snyders, as does his grandson Andrew Snyder today.  The W.N. Beach interests controlled the Lawrenceville Cement Company with John H. Spaulding in the capacity of Superintendent.  Mr. Spaulding, a New Hampshire man directed the work at that point for nearly 30 years.  He seemed enamored with the locality, and as early as 1866, * wrote the following to his hometown paper, The Lancaster NH Republican:

Up the Hudson River about eighty miles from New York, a broken extent of country stretches back to the southwest and connects with the famous Shawangunk Mountains.  This rugged region is situated in Ulster County and is worthy of passing notice, on account of the large quantities of hydraulic cement annually manufactured there. Of all the towns in this county, Rosendale is favored with the most poetic name, and among its most numerous wild crags of cement rock, a neat little village ornaments a wild valley through which the Rondout Creek winds its way seaward.  The Delaware and Hudson Canal has been constructed along the northern shore of this stream, and this artificial work affords easy transportation for the famous freight natural to this location.  Rosendale Hydraulic Cement has, as a remarkable concrete, became world renowned.  Within the town and its immediate vicinity, there has been manufactured the past season, seven hundred thousand barrels of this cement, which was sold at the wholesale price of one and a half million dollars.  Having flattered myself that a descriptive communication would be of interest to your readers please let that be my excuse for troubling you at this time.  

It has been my fortune to spend the last tem months at Rosendale with a people who besides being entire strangers, have so many habits different from New Hampshire people that seemed strange indeed.  In justice to my own convictions, let me confess that an acquaintance with the peculiarities of those with whom I have associated, prompted me to acknowledge good treatment from all.  Therefore my impressions should be favorable.  At a future time I may speak of society there, but my present purpose is to tell about cement.  Some ten companies (with their headquarters in New York City) own the great mass of cement rock to which attention is invited, and Quarrying, burning, grinding and barreling of this, furnishes employment to eighteen hundred men and boys.  Fifty tons of powder, fourteen thousand tons of coal, eight millions of hoops, twelve millions of staves, three carloads of paper, besides a great quantity of paint, heading, and nails, come into the account of materials used, besides the great bulk of stone.

Having said this much in the way of general description, allow me to speak more particularly of the Lawrenceville Cement Company, in which I have had the satisfaction of being employed.  Within a few years, great changes have taken place in this company, as some of the members have lived in the South and participated in the rebellion as secessionists, and consequently the property changed hands, and now the President of the company (who has the credit of being the chief stockholder) has his office at No. 94 Wall Street, New York City. 

About 37 years ago while the Delaware and Hudson Canal located in upper Lawrenceville, opposite the Snyder Plant and alluded to as “The Steam Mill” as that section was called, was being constructed through this locality, in the blasting away the point of a ledge, cement was first discovered here. * Since then, the cement business has grown to its present giant proportions.  For the past season this company has employed from fifty five to seventy two men and boys; and after taking the stone from the ledge, and making all barrels needed, forty five thousand and six hundred barrels of cement have been supplied to the market.

The stone from which cement is made is of a dark slate color, quite easy to drill, is fine grained, is usually found detached from the sandstone and mill rock around it, and lays in strata or ledges that vary in six to twenty eight feet in thickness.  After being drilled out and sledged into pieces suitable to be handled with ease, it is carried to a kiln where it is burned, from thence it is taken to the mill and crushed in a powerful cracker; then ground about as fine as flour, and barreled up and ready for market.  We have a heavy engine for our mill power; use horses for the cars, and make our barrels by hand.  We have used twelve hundred tons of coal this past season, and over two hundred kegs of powder, and other materials as above named in proportion.  The frequent thunder of heavy powder blasts, and almost every clink, clink, of the old drill and sledge, with a constant lookout for splintered rock (flying spalls) keeps up an excitement that is in keeping with business on a grand scale.


                                                                                                                  Joseph H. Spaulding

                                                                                                                 Lancaster, New Hampshire January 22, 1866

* The first American Cement deposit was discovered in 1819 in Madison County New York by Canvas White

* John Hubbard Spaulding came to Rosendale on March 19 1865.


            The value of this letter, emanating as it does from a man of education, culture, and refinement, thrown in with a largely rough and ready illiterate and largely alien element, increases its historical interest, and prompts regret that but a few other emanations from his pen have as yet been located or studied.

            Mr. Spaulding died in 1893 after a long executive administration, which judged by the high esteem in which he was held, and general regret felt at the time of his death; and in conjunction with the many stories relating to his personal kindness and concern over the welfare of his employees and their families, can scarcely be considered other than patriarchal.  Around the Steam Mill Junction there also flourished for many years a small community.  The removal of the Beach interests to Binnewater resulted in the leasing of the old plant to the Van Tassell Company who operated there until about 1902 after which the mill and associated buildings were razed to avoid heavy taxation.

            The rugged scenery around Rosendale has ever commanded the admiration of nature lovers.  Among the private correspondence of the famed Washington Irving is a letter to his niece Sarah, dated July 31, 1841 Honesdale PA, wherein he describes a twenty five mile drive out of Rondout to overtake the canal boat of Phillip Hone founder  of Honesdale PA.  Mention is made of the incident thus:

            We had a splendid drive of twenty five miles through glorious mountainous scenery:   The Catskill Mountains on the north, The Shawangunk Mountains on the south; and a beautiful wild river the Rondout winding through a romantic valley equal to the Ramapo. 

                                                                                                                                * See Yale Review Magazine April 1927 page 475  PDF File

                In the middle 1890’s the cement industry began to dwindle in importance.  The first observable effect of this was the gradual transference of The Lawrence Cement Companies’ major interest to their holdings in Pennsylvania where the manufacture of the new process Portland Cement gave great promise of the success which it later achieved.   The local branch soon placed upon the market properties heretofore unpurchaseable.  These were greedily snapped up by investors of the home building working class who seeing no cloud upon the horizon, still thought in boom terms with scarcely a suspicion of the collapse to come.  Similarly attractive terms induced many identified with the canal to purchase the canal boats which they operated for the canal company.  Slack times set in; railroads were rapidly outmoding canal transportation.

            About 1900, the canal ceased operation except for a few miles on its lower end which was purchased by the Coykendall interests for private use connected with the cement interests in Rosendale.  This maneuver brought serious hardship upon various smaller companies located at a distance from the railroad, most of these shut down.  The Miller interests (The New York Cement Company) at Rock Lock rebuilt alongside the railroad near Tillson (at Root Hill) after considerable litigation during which public feeling ran high, expressing itself in mass demonstrations, personal fights, newspaper commentary, dynamiting, and other forms of sabotage.  General sympathy seemed with the Miller interests and many were hopeful for the success of their new venture, however due to various causes such as limited funds and difficulty in uncovering an economical working force on ledges of worthwhile thickness in returns over a number of years were discouraging.  Later, about 1907, the plant was destroyed by fire.

            About 1902 the operating companies formed a trust designed to bolster the falling prices of their output and combat the inroads the Portland cement was making upon their markets.  This combination closed a number of less favorable plants from time to time until about 1910 when they ceased operations altogether.  The successive closing of various plants as it did; the wellbeing of many wage earners caused considerable resentment against the “trust”.  Mr. Beach, the president of the consolidation was adjudged by some to be the evil genius of the enterprise; others attributed the Coykendall interests to be the source of their misfortunes.  Again public sentiment felt outrage and the townspeople as a whole assumed a martyr complex, various forceful and vitriolic poetical effusions, reproachful and denunciative were circulated against the powers that were.  Snatches of these rhymes still linger in the minds of many of the older residents, who confusing this writer of this history with one of his older brothers accredit him with the authorship of certain of these incendiary iambuses.


 Paul Fleming's print and photography establishment c. 1925

  The building where Paul Fleming operated his printing and photography establishment was next to the old Rosendale Casino (the "R" is still visable in the upper corner of the picture).  Joseph Fleming's article about the Casino which also shows the shop appeared in his weekly series.  Below, the Rosendale Casino in 1919.

        DYR #175 - 24 July 1942 Pg 4 







And the building as it appears today in Google Maps.

        410 Main Street Rosendale, NY




The Canal

The following are stories about Rosendale, the canal, and its old time citizenrySome of these stories are indigenous to Rosendale and others belong to the transplanted European traditions due to the locality being populated largely by Irish and German immigrants who settled among the old American stocks after 1824.  In addition to these are some really old Yankee stories which I have never heard elsewhere.  Intermingled with the foregoing are variants and local adaptations of stories heard in all parts of The United States.  Complimenting these are wise, witty, and humorous sayings of various elements herein noted.

                                                                                    Joseph A. Fleming  -  September 28, 1940

Pair of canal lock passes from the 1860's










Canal Boat Names

Left: This table is a list of canal boat names from the canal notes of Joseph Fleming. 
















Catholics often telling among themselves of an Irish Bull (letter) pulled inadvertently by Father Maughan who usually concluded his sermons with the then popular formula thus:

 “A blessing I wish you all my friends In the name of The Father, The Son, and The Holy Ghost Amen.” The sermon one day was of a particularly virulent hell fire and damnation type.  Father Maughan zealously endeavored to outdo Dante in his description of the nether regions.  Warning all sinners of the dread penalties of transgression and in conclusion advised all present to beware lest the wrath of God consign them forever to eternal flames.

A blessing I wish you all my friends In the name of The Father, The Son, and The Holy Ghost Amen.”   1890


     The American elements had a story about two boyhood friends meeting after a lapse of many years.  Each inquired of the other concerning the welfare of the individuals of their respective families.  Most of these had apparently prospered.  Finally, one of them hesitating and obviously embarrassed, inquired cautiously “Is your brother Simon still living?”  To his surprise his friend drawled “Why yes, and that’s my ace in the hole.  You’ll be surprised.  Of course you know what a damn fool he’s allers been, an how Pa and Ma worried about what’d ever become of him after they were gone seein’ how all the rest of us were ashamed of Simie.  Well sir, Dad finally hit on an idea and it turned out to be a good one.  Simie is the best off of any of us, stupid an all as he has allers been.  Yes sir.  Pop sent him away and had a Dominie made of him.”   1895


     A dying man is said to have requested the attending clergyman and physician to stand at opposite sides of his bed and at their compliance murmured resignedly “Now I can die like Jesus, between two thieves.”    1890


     The local squire had done a bit of legal work for a farmer who in turn had used his oxen to haul some logs for the squire.  Ready to “burn the books”, the farmer approached the squire concerning a settlement of the two bills.  “My bill against you is five dollars” said the farmer.  “Mine against you is ten dollars” replied the squire.  “What!  Ten dollars for a half hours work, and me an my oxen work all day for five dollars?  What makes the difference?”  “Head work, head work my friend” says the squire.  “You go to hell” roared the farmer.  “Them oxen of mine didn’t haul them logs with there tails!”   1895



 Mike Rafferty and Dinny Carey    1860-1870


     Mike Rafferty ran the old Bee Hive saloon back in the Civil War Days.  Right across the street was Dinny Carey’s emporium operating on a cash basis.  Rafferty put up the following sign:



In this Bee Hive we are all alive,

And whiskey makes us funny.

So if you’re dry come in and try,

The fragrance of our honey.

For money or not the whiskey’s got,

Not so at Dinny Carey’s


Carey’s Retort to Rafferty

We’ve no Bee Hive, we run no dive,

No bar flies here sip honey.

Our poteen’s good, our terms are cash,

We’re in business for the money.

Our place is neat, please wipe your feet,

unless you’re a bum or crummy.

For such we don’t treat or with handshake greet,

For a dacaint place we’re running.

The honest here may sip their beer,

Or on our porch sit sunning.

Let the bum and beat trade across the street,

With the birds of his own coarse feather.

Our house is neat, here the honest meet,

Of our good name we are wary.

If dregs you seek, go across the street,

If good rum, just call on Carey




 The following is a reaction to The Panic of 1893 composed by the compiler’s father James Fleming Sr. 1846-1910.

The Heeler

Oh the Democrat heeler came to me one day,

And oily and sweet were the words he did say.

He promised roast beef and two dollars a day,

If only I voted for Grover. (Cleveland)

I went to the polls on Election Day,

And voted the ticket just as I was told.

 President Grover ClevelandInstead of roast beef I got hamburger and cold,

In payment for voting for Grover.

I am walking the streets without stocking or shoe,

President Grover ClevelandMy hands in my pockets, no work for to do.

And methinks forsooth I’ll go hungry to stool,

For voting for big bellied Grover.

Oh if I ever again get work by the day,

At a job that is fair, and sure in my pay.

And wear decent clothes; send my children to school,

Ne’er again from the path of virtue will I stray,

To vote for any Copperhead Grover.

Of curse he the heeler who led me astray,

And hell’s hottest spot may he get for his pay.

A place by the furnace forever and ‘aye,

Along with old libertine Grover.


Canal Chantey - 1885

The following is was a ditty recited by canalers.  But when shouted by other than canalers they were considered to be fighting words.

Canaler, canaler you son of a bitch

You’ll never get rich

You’ll die in a Delaware ditch

Your lousy and lazy and stink like a bitch

Your wife she is crazy and looks like a witch

Your brats have snot noses and squirm with the itch

Your mules look like accordions you can’t tie a half hitch

Your scow is all rotten held together by pitch

Your pants has a seat out your shirt is a stitch

The wages your hungry family need sore

You take and then off to some rum seller’s door

To guzzle with barflies and woo and old whore

Lost, lost to high heaven not wanted in hell

Your fate’s sure and certain and easy to tell

You’ll die in a poorhouse or be slain in a whorehouse

Or die with the itch you son of a bitch

You’ll rot in the Delaware ditch


An Unlettered Bard 1880

I can make up a piece in me head.

I can make up a piece in me head.

Although I can’t write, if I only get tight,

I can make up a piece in me head.

I can make up a piece in me head.

As sure as me hair is red, I’m smart as me rich cousin Ned.

For when I get tight although I can’t write,

I can make up a piece in me head.

I’m owld country born and bred, me hair and me face is red.

I know I can’t write, if you think I can’t fight,

There’s something wrong with you head.

Hard I work for me bread, four av me children are dead,

Me wife is a fright, but her hart is alright

And me own hart is light, when I make up a piece in me head.


* Most of the old bards could neither read nor write.

Live and Let Live – 1895

Ø  Live and Let Live was a sign that appeared upon a newly opened saloon on Main Street which specialized in big schooners and credit to all.  Poor fellow went bankrupt within a month

Shrewder rum sellers usually had “No Trust” implied signs such as:

Ø  A picture of two horse thieves after a lynching underneath with was the couplet: “These men were hung but do not fear, for hanging up is not done here.”


Ø  Another sign had a man pointing to the rear end of a pig with the words “We Trust” printed below.


Ø  Hanging on the wall in one saloon – “Don’t spit on the floor. The ceiling needs decorating.”


My father occasionally lilted a song composed by one Riordon of Rock Lock concerning an act of sabotage committed against a contractor named Conroy.  I can only remember mixed lines of its versions.

Conroy’s Rant


Aha! I know says Conroy,

I know who done the deed.

And I’ll send him off to prison,

To keep company with Boss Tweed.

In a cell cold dark and dreary,

For his foul crime he will pay.

And there for long years weary,

He will miss his rum and tay.

For God himself won’t help him,

Till comes the judgment day.

He will stay there till he’s rotten,

And his aching bones grow old.

By friends and cronies forgotten,

He will shiver in the damp and cold.

Aha! Aha! Ses Conroy, I have the blackguard treed

Aha! Aha! Ses Conroy, as true as the Apostle’s Creed

Aha! Aha! Ses Conroy, his name is known indeed

Aha! Aha! Ses Conroy, on him the worms will feed

Aha! Aha! Ses Conroy, himself and old Boss Tweed

Aha! Aha! Ses Conroy, the law will have its way

Aha! Aha! Ses Conroy, every dog must have his day

Aha! Aha! Ses Conroy, the rascal’s now at bay

Aha! Aha! Ses Conroy, I’ll make that scoundrel pay


The culprit is said to have escaped Mr. Conroy’s wrath.
James McGrath Sr. of Whiteport once recited an old poem composed by an unnamed Dogtown bard around 1905.  A fragment of that poem is included here.


Oh hard is the lot of a slave nowadays,

You must work like hell and have nothing to say.

Except betray your fellow man for the sake of more pay,

Conditions in Dogtown sure turn me hair gray.

As I say with great anger but here only dare say,

A truth all the worlds’ water can’t ne’er wash away.

The God’s honest truth and not just plain hearsay,

Based on observation for many a day

T’is that some that kneel nearest to God’s alter to pray,

Are the worst rascals living in Dogtown today.


      Mrs. Sheenan was a refined scholarly Irish woman who lost one eye early in life and weakened the other to a point that brought total blindness later.  She was married to a poor harmless and unlettered laborer considerably older than herself and the weight of family responsibilities fell mainly on her.  She sang beautifully, and many verses were of her own composition.  I remember a part of one Irish patriotic song composed to the air of Maryland My Maryland.

The day will dawn when you are free

Ireland my Ireland

Though Tone may sleep and Emmet’s dust

Ireland my Ireland

The torch they bore we will carry on

Ireland my Ireland

Until our righteous cause is won

And Ireland’s free and Ireland’s free

So sleep ye will ye Irish brave

Who fed the flame in centuries gone

The cause for which ye gave your all

Lives on for e’er  lives on for e’er

The dawn will break in time afar

And witness Erin proud and free

Sleep well sleep well Fitzgerald bold

With Sarsfield in the ground cold

Where Napper Tandy’s remains dwell

And mold the bones of O’Connell

With other patriots who fought well

Proud pages of our history tell

How brave they fought and brave they fell

Sleep well ye heroes one and all

St. Patrick’s blessing on you all

Inspire all who follow thee

To fight on till loved Erin free

Ireland my Ireland

A local foreman had died, and in accordance with the custom many attended his wake.  Notably absent was Pete Mc Manus, a familiar figure at all affairs.  Questioned about his absence, Pete explained “Sure didn’t go.  I axed him for a job last year and he towld me I was too owld.  Well be jabbers, I’m walking now and they gotta carry him.”


     Another old timer remarked on the death of a well known tyrant.  “A man can be the meanest so and so in the world and people gotta lie like the newspapers about him when he’s dead just because he’s gone to hell.”


Mad Mick


     Mad Mick was an eccentric muttering old fellow of about seventy five years when I was a small boy.  He hailed from down Rock Lock way, and I never learned his last name.  He died about 1893.  We used to shout fragments of his lines after him and thought that funny. The old man never turned on us or showed resentment otherwise and his dignity seems to me holy now.  May this atone for my childish thoughtlessness. 

     My father often used a phrase from Mad Mick not included in the poem.  “Well as Mad Mick says ‘we will impute that to your ignorance’.” I have not heard the following poem recited in over forty years.  Earlier than that it was of quite common knowledge.    


Mad Mick’s Muse

Oh hard is the way we follow each day

For our lot there seems no relief or cure

We slave hard all day and then hit the hay

Oh hard is the lot of the poor

There’s no time for play or cause to feel gay

With the burden that we must endure

There’s the call of the joy and blossoms of May

But what do these mean to the poor

The song of the lark is not heard in the dark

Of the mines deep, deep underground

Though we are honest and true we are denied the skies blue

And the balms of the rose scented June

We work underground far away from the sound

Of the gay world without of our own poor lives we are not sure

For bread we endure trials we can’t cure

And the hell’s in our bosom profound

Small indeed is our pay hard, hard is our way

And hope from despair can’t us lure

In a world that is cold to the poor



Rock Lock Lament c. 1890

By Mad Mick

Down at the Rock Lock open quarry

Many many years ago

Paddy toiled and labored

In the cold and rain and snow

Mucking there till after forty

Paddy’s pace began to slow

Sez the foreman, Paddy’s again’

We will have to let him go

At six that night when out walked Paddy

The boss gave him his last month’s dough

Paddy staggered as if drunken

Reeling ’neath a sudden blow

We byes rushed him to a shanty

Standing on the berm below

There he lingered till next mornin’

And passed to where but God can know

Listen friends my lay of Paddy

Bears a moral owld and true

When you’re young and strong and healthy

All the world belongs to you

Sure’s your job and girls are friendly

Pleasures tempt and skies are blue

When you’re old and grey and weary

Gone your strength and fled your May

Winter skies are dark and dreary

And you’re only in the way

Various old timers sang this song beautifully.


The Canal Song Ditty

The first hundred years are the hardest,

That’s what the wise folks say.

After that things go along easy,

And we can rest at the end of the day.

I’ve wound up my very first season,

On this goddam Delaware ditch.

And I’m glad for this simple reason,

That I’ve worked like a son of a bitch.

I’ll hole up now for the winter,

And wait for spring to begin.

And start my second season,

If I ain’t too weak or thin.

Ninety nine years to go, ninety nine years to go.

And then to hell with the canal boats Ninety nine years to go.

To some poor needy millionaire I’ll give this rotten shell,

And to prove I am soft hearted, throw in the mule as well.

Yes I’ll turn them over everything there’s nothing I can sell,

To a blind man in a cellar on this goddam spouting well

And give up my canaling and rest happily in hell

Ninety nine years to go, ninety nine years to go.


Dublin Eddie Wilson


     Among the many outlanders who came to this section during the aqueduct construction years (1907 – 1914) was Dublin Eddie Wilson a foreman with a flair for journalism and rhyming.  A fine warmhearted gossom, Eddie by the sheer grace of God survived the publication of various lampoons on hard boiled elements and personalities.  The samples we give of his writings are patched together from memory and may be inaccurate and in improper sequence.  Illustrative of his style of prose is the following description of a circus band attached to a small troupe that pitched a tent at High Falls for a night.


 “Eight able-bodied men had the courage to jump into Sherman’s Stage and ride through the village blaring in ostentatious imitations of diverse undetermined airs.” 


 Quicky’s Ball was written about 1908 by Eddie a foreman on the aqueduct project.  The following is the correct version copied from the original through the courtesy of Mr. Quick whose forty second birthday it commemorated.  I interviewed him recently (December 27 1940) and sought other Wilson poems but he had no more.  Elsewhere I jotted down from memory as much as I could remember of this poem.  A comparison showed considerable variance between my memory and the authentic verses. 


Quicky’s Ball

By Dublin Eddie Wilson – 1907


You’ve heard about the Donnybrook Fair,

      And many a wedding and wake,

Tales that would raise up your hair,

      Stories that were not a fake.

Well High Falls has seen fancy times,

      Of rackets we’ve had quite a few,

But the pride of them all was the elegant ball,

      When Quicky was forty and two.

Some people said Bill was much older,

      Gray hairs are a dead giveaway,

But at two step and waltz none bolder,

      Than Bill on that glamorous day.

He scouted around for the heavies,

      He danced every number right through,

Mrs. J said you’d be fine if you’d only keep time,

      But Quicky was forty and two.

Patsy and Mamie tripped a measure,

      Five hundred and fifty or more,

To watch these two fairies dance was pleasure,

      But Lord how we pitied that floor,


Rosie and Billie looked pretty,

      As they tip toed the program through,

With her hand on his heart vowed they never would part,

      Quicky winked he was forty and two

Whitey looked daggers at Julia,

      As he warbled his lips in a curl,

But wasn’t it very peculiar,

      He wished he had a girl.

Fitzy was sprightly as ever,

      Though his set speech somehow fell through,

And he thought very soon another poor coon,

      Like Quicky will be forty and two.

Axel and Charlie and Denny,

      Tommy and Stuart as well,

Fellows who hadn’t a penny,

      But couldn’t they holler like hell.

Bill took it quite all seriously,

      As he looked on the motley crew,

Said he boys don’t tarry just hustle and marry,

      And perhaps you might reach forty two.


The Knockers Club

Every evening just at sunset

Outside Bill Connor’s door

Meets a famous bunch of knockers

Who number full a score

Some are drillers, some are hoisters

Some claim the play baseball

Some are bosses, some are muckers

But most won’t work at all



War Hero


Old Bounty Jumper


     Both of these appellations were frequently used in reference to Mike * by his former comrades in arms.  All conceded his bravery under heavy fire and quite openly admired his good natured rascality.  Although considerable of a bad man, he was generally liked locally for his warmth of heart and good nature.  Usually dead broke, he rarely held a job after drawing his first pay, yet he would give his shirt to anyone he thought in greater need.  His thefts were numerous and ranged from hen coop raids to burglarizing saloons, grocery, and jewelry stores.  By clever lying and crafty planning however, he usually baffled most of the attempts aimed at his prosecution.

     Even when caught red handed the rascal had the faculty of winning sympathy and even admiration for the cheeky lies with which he buttressed his alibies and indigent outbursts in defense of his outraged honesty.  He had a dash of Indian blood, but it was “mostly Yellow Belly” he claimed.  His wife though he averred was full blooded Binnewater.  Some of his family had married Slouters and Narrowbacks “and one of them even married an Irishman” but he had nothing’ against any of these folks.  Binnewaters, Slouters, and Narrowbacks were backwoodsey people of the hill-billy type, and Yellow Bellies was the reprisal term by which these alluded indiscriminately to the valley folks.

     He was said to have served during the Civil War.  In those days many drafted men hired substitutes.  These substitutes were mostly greenhorn Irishman not subject to the draft.  Furthermore, the government paid substantial bounties for volunteers.  Bounty Jumping was quite prevalent and Mike it is claimed worked it repeatedly by entering the army, collecting his bounty or “smart money” and deserting only to re-enter the service elsewhere for similar considerations.

He was reported to have been imprisoned and made his escape only to be traced and recaptured back in a mountain hideaway near here.  Manacled hand and foot while being taken down the Hudson he worked himself overboard at night and swimming on his back he reached the shore safely in the vicinity of Milton or Marlborough.  Smashing his foot chains with rocks, he reportedly burglarized a blacksmiths shop and rid himself of his shackles after which he re-enlisted.

     Locally he was credited or discredited with having collected a fortune in bounty money.  He was also alleged to have been very courageous in battle, and to have received three serious wounds, one at Antietam, another at Gettysburg, and still another at Petersburg.  He was a very inoffensive individual in social gatherings and as a fellow worker, yet if a fight started anywhere he somehow became involved before it was over.  He paraded with the other vets on Memorial Day and saw no reason why two local ex-rebels shouldn’t be invited to join in the march.  The attitude of most of the local veterans toward him seemed one of affectionate interest.  If he got in a jam they did all they could to soften the consequences.  He was said to have done a stretch in prison for his bounty jumping proclivities but with the relaxing of martial law and an increasing spirit of general amnesty, probably through the influence of many who liked him and his inimitable begging off; he was released only to become a petty local thief and something of a lovable nuisance all the rest of his life.                                                                                           


* The real identity of this person was not made public by the author possibly due to consideration of person or persons living or dead.  “Bounty Jumping” and desertion were common during the Civil War.



Decoration Day May 30, 1919

Rosendale veterans of the Great War gather to commemorate Decoration Day.  Eleven of the veterans are identified in a similar  picture below as: Ken Kelder, Bob McLoughlin, Bill Cannon, Paul Fleming, Bill O'Neil, Pat Gallagher, Asa (Ace) Krum, Leo Trandle, Dewey Laurance and Joe Yunker.  The picture to the left taken in front of the old post office shows two other participants who are unidentified.  Joseph Fleming's review in Do You Remember appears here:                    

         DYR #157 - 6 March 1942 Pg 4       Note: The picture in this article is reversed.








Canaler and Miner’s Boasts -1890


My father was hung for a horse thief

My mother was burnt for a witch

My sister she runs a big whorehouse

And I am a tough son of a bitch

Miner’s Boast -1890


“I can out drink, out whore, or out fight any so and so here or anywhere else for fun or marbles”




  James Fleming Jr. 1874 1931 

     Jim Fleming was the compiler’s oldest brother.  Considerable of a roamer he traveled extensively.  He worked in the local mines in early life and later followed the insurance business.  A few years before his death in 1931, he assisted brother Bill who managed the local Grand Union Store.  Jim bubbled with satirical verse and prose but never made any use of his talent. Most of his squibs have been lost years ago.  




The Life of a Deckhand

Oh the life of a deckhand is a life of joy,

No more to do than a child with a toy.

Up in the morning long before six,

Start up the fire, shake up the ticks.

Get breakfast ready, fill the lamps, trim the wicks,

Pump out the hold, wash down the deck.

Peel some potatoes and if your very good,

The boys will permit you to chop up some wood.

Tidy up the cabin, (as a dump it’s a winner),

Are you dead down there you lazy sinner.

I’m hungry as hell and want my dinner,

Roars a voice that has cowed many a beginner.

So on it goes till dies the sunset red,

And some hours later you crawl away to bed.

Too tired to sleep, pestered with bugs and lice,

Wicked your mutterings, your thoughts far from nice.

Then just as you doze off loud starts the cryin’,

Of the tug you’re awaiting “Hey Cap! Take a line!”

But the Captain’s duty is to rest and sleep,

SO out on the dark deck the poor deckhand must creep.

Catch the wet hawser secure it well,

The whilst wishing all the tug boats to hell.

 Along with his beloved Captain and leaky old shell,

In which for need of cash perforce he must dwell.

Thus runs the story sad indeed the fate,

Of the deckhand who toils from early till late.

For some lunkhead Captain who knows ought but yells,

Orders in a language forbidden in hell.

So keep off canalboats all greenhorns and hicks,

Unless you stock away a club and some bricks.

With the former kiss the Captain (a few caressing licks),

Of the latter ere you leave him, just slug him with six. 

James Fleming - 1902 

     The following two poems were written in 1901 at a time of dangerous local unrest.  Several of the major cement companies had consolidated.  This movement resulted the closing of various smaller plants under their control and an increase in toll rates under which the independent companies claimed they could not operate.  Local businesses were rapidly declining and feelings of resentment ran high.  A bridge was dynamited, mass meetings were held, and the general mood seemed ugly and resentful.   Time proved however that the Consolidated was only fighting for its own life and was not half as bad as then painted. 

The Lawrenceville Job  1901


The hand of the trust so cold and so clammy,

At last has grasped our Uncle Sammy.                             *  "Uncle Sammy" Coykendallowned these works and shut them down on joining the Consolidation.

He wreathed and squirmed, but it held faster,

Till at last we lost our good kind master.

He sold us all and that’s no joke,

Even the Stonedockers in Black Smoke.                             * The Stonedockers came from High Falls and Black Smoke was the village mine

Now since we we’ve joined this combination,

Let’s roll up our sleeves and works like damnation.


Hustle out stone to fill the kilns,

Not Uncle Sam’s but Brother Bill’s.                                 * Brother Bill was Mr. W. Beach the then Consoldation President

We will not dread winter any more,

For we can get what we want in our store.                          * Beache's company store

Flour, shoes, ham, tobacco and spices,

Almost anything at double prices.

And if you don’t pay right up to date,

You must lose your job and skip the state.                         * Blacklisted


So to work in this mine far underground,

You must be pronounced perfectly sound.

Rheumatism, Dyspepsia, and backache he bars,

For they intend to enlarge the cars.

Main strength and ignorance only is required,

And if you haven’t it you will surely be fired.

Experience the best of all things teaches us,

Its jackasses not men they want at the Beachs’


We do not wish him any harm,

But would like to see him buy a farm.

And settle down his ease to take,

And be bitten to death by a rattlesnake.

When before God his sins he will tell,

May he be consigned to the realms of hell.

And when he arrives there the devils will screech,

Get a big shovel for Willie Beach.

                                                                            James Fleming Jr.  1901

An Apology For Writing The Beach Poem


Most noble kind and generous Mr. Beach,

Your gracious pardon I do beseech.

I never sought your ire to raise,

But really meant those words to praise.

In writing them I know forsooth,

I only spoke the plain blunt truth.


My mode of death you need not take,

May you ever with the palsy shake.

Fall from your garret to the floor,

Be tied to a post for a bull to gore.

Then kicked and beaten by merciless tramps,

And your stomach gnawed out by choleric cramps.


And after death may you the right road take,

That leads to the swampy shore of the sulphurous lake.

Where the lizards crawl and the scorpions dwell,

The lord won’t take you in the holy state,

You would want St. Peter’s job at the gate.

Then what chance would there be for us to get there,


You would charge high rates at the golden state.

Then without any fear or compunction,

On the stars and the moon you would pass an injunction.

Then again from your great high station,

On the sun and daylight you’d form a trust and combination.

The angels and saints you’d hustle about,


Then open the door and freeze the lord out.

And then with a loud and lusty yell,

Proclaim yourself master of earth heaven and hell.

And form a trust upon the coal.

He knows you will soon drive him in a hole,

For the devil himself won’t have you in hell.


  Thomas B. Fleming 1887-1918   

     Thomas B Fleming the author was a younger brother of the compiler of this book.  Versification seems to have run in our family as may be remarked by noting the authorship of quite a few of the identified poems.  Brother Tom clerked in Buckley’s store in 1905.  Later he engaged in printing and launched two or three small publications.  Entering the First World War he died in France on November 3, 1918.  

 The Young American                                                  

     The Young American - One of Tom Fleming's many early business enterprises was the publishing of The Young American.  The magazine was tailored especially for young boys as well as the new and rapidly emerging Boy Scout movement with an emphasis on camping, hobbies, and character building.  As far as we can determine The Young American had a short life (1912-1913) but not because the concept was faulty, but possibly due to lack of financial backing.  It should also be noted that the Boy Scout organizations were also in the process of developing an official magazine dedicated to scouting and early in 1911 Boy's Life magazine was purchased from George S. Barton and Boy's Life Magazine became the official magazine of scouting early in 1912.    -   Tipp  

      Images of The Young American can be found in PDF format here:

                                          The Young American





     Whooper was one of the hard drinking locals of his time.  He got the willies one night and jumped into the canal, creating considerable excitement and frightening into “temporary” sobriety many of his associates.  Franco was Frank Vichevich, an Austrian saloon keeper.

Midnight Swim

Listen my children and you shall hear,

Of the midnight swim of Whooper dear.

T’was in the autumn of nineteen five,

When Whooper made his famous dive.

Into yon depths and emerged alive.

His practice before the bar tis said,

Had somehow affected Whooper’s head.

Shattered his head and disturbed his dream,

And created fancies, or so it seems.

Chased by pythons, loud he cussed,

And madly into the canal he rushed.

Waking from a sedate sleep,

Franco who woke the whole darned street.

Out they fished poor Whooper more dead than alive,

Whilst Main Street resembled an excited beehive.

And many, many, present beneath the midnight stars,

Resolved bareheaded to quite practice at the bar.


The Great Dog Tax Case


     Frank was an easy going Yankee miner.  Rarely without both cheeks stuffed with squirting tobacco, who liked to hunt for whatever crossed his path in the woods.  His constant companion on these expeditions was a ring tail yellow dog of no particular breed.  “Just part cur an the rest just ordinary dog” was the way Frank described him. 

       The local politicians needing some money put over a dog tax, which many resented but were obliged to pay.  Not so Frank.  He just ignored it.  The constable called on Frank and threatened to shoot the dog.  Our friend threw him off the place, went in the house, got his gun and whistling for “Sooner” brought him out and dared the constable to start shooting.

    The next day he was arrested and put on trial still refusing to pay the dollar tax claiming that Sooner wasn’t worth more than a quarter, yet he stated he would kill anyone who shot the cur because “the damn fool’s attached to me and I like him for it.”  Many of the locals contributed to hiring a clever Kingston lawyer for Frank and Sooner’s defense.  This lawyer kicked the prosecution’s case to pieces. 

     Frank named his dog Sooner because as he said “He’d Sooner eat than anything else.”


Lament 1905

There’s a curse seems to hang o’er our village

Oh what oh dear God did we do

To merit your wrath and displease

Oh why a’int our skies clear and blue


Each week we see old neighbors leaving

And soon we will have to go

Our living to make among strangers

And find homes amid scenes that are new


Oh why can’t we stay here forever

With folks who to us are friends tried and true

Oh why must we soon bid our farewell

To scenes that since childhood we knew


Oh dear God at the end of the rainbow

Of our hopes please grant that we will find

The means to permit of our returning

To this vale where friends are true and kind


To permit of in calmness our reviewing

These scenes where in early hardships we knew

Were despite sweat and toil of hard labor

We were happy with dear friends true blue


Truthful Ben

Abt. 1840-1895


     Truthful Ben was by all odds the greatest liar in town.  Where he got his whoppers nobody knew.  Some were evidently personalized borrowings.  Others however smacked of an originality which this wholly illiterate man unquestionably possessed.  He was an excellent man around horses, he is alleged to have been promoted to chief hostler by a company superintendent as much for his entertainment value as for his knowledge of horses.  He died of slow consumption and during his last days presented a pathetic picture related between spasms of coughing tales that for the sheer absurdity ranked high among local provocateurs. 

The Blizzard of 1888


     The Blizzard of 1888 was just a snow flurry to Ben.  One time when he was travelling way up in Africa he lost his bearings on account of looking up at the trees which ranged from five to ten miles in height.  Anything under five miles was either bushes or grass.  Well Ben drove around and around and around for a long time in a snowstorm to keep the horses warm.  The wagon got so heavy with the snow that he had to unhitch and walk the team which after a while became exhausted.  Disgusted, Ben wrapped them up in blankets, and after tying them in a clump of bushes he plodded on and on getting weaker and hungrier by the minute. 

     After he trudged a hundred miles or so the storm stopped but it got colder and colder.  By and by he saw the North Pole just ahead of him.  Near it was the biggest Black Bear he ever saw.  It was twice as big as a circus elephant.  Ben was hungry and he thought he could use a couple of bear steaks handily.  He examined his old breach loading musket and then in dismay recalled that while he had plenty of powder, he had no buckshot.  Just then the bear spotted him and started to go after him.  Ben ran lickety split hanging on to his gun and edged toward the North Pole which he finally reached.  Up the pole he shimmied with the bear only a few feet behind.  Now he was done for.  But always having led a truthful life, Ben was not afraid.  On came the bear.  Ben balanced himself on the top of the pole and swinging his musket, kept the bear at bay.  Despite the cold, perspiration poured from him freezing into icicles on his head.  Some of them grew so long that they began to interfere with swinging the clubbed musket.  Finally a bright thought struck him.  Breaking off one of the icicles, he rammed it into the musket barrel and fired.  The bear fell dead.

     After that the weather began to soften and next morning the ground was bare and the sun got so hot that Ben fried his bear meat just by laying it on a rock.  Becoming anxious about his outfit, Ben started out to look for his horses but could find no trace of them.  After a while he found the wagon, and judging that the horses could not be far off, he started to call them by their names, Virtue and Honesty.  Faint whinnies responded from a direction he could not locate until he happened to look upward.  There near the  very top of a twelve mile tree sat Virtue and Honesty chewing the bark and leaves.  The heavy fall of the snow had fooled him.  Instead of a bush, he had tied his team to the tip top branches of a big tree.  It was hard climbing way up there to untie them horses, but Ben rode on Honesty’s back on the way down.

     The weather was still hot when Ben started back home.  About halfway along the road he saw a bench under a fine big shade tree, and deciding to rest his team he drove in.  Alongside the bench there stood a brand new pair of leather boots.  Picking them up, Ben heard somebody say “Leave my boots alone.”  Frightened, he threw them from him.  They fell  into a nearby brook and out popped a big fat man who said “Thank you Mister, you saved my life.  It’s been so hot here for the last few days that it melted me right down into my boots.”


The Chain Gang Cleanup

One of Rosendale’s Most Famous Fights


     A highly exaggerated version of this historic fight once appeared in print.  That version seems to have been based upon a casual mention of the incident made by a Rosendaler to a historical research worker who in the opinion of many, over wrote the episode and reduced a colorful fact to an absurdity.  Herewith follows an account by one who personally remembers the affair and whose father witnessed the fight and who having discussed the matter with another witness, feels entitled to give the native version based upon the testimony of eye witnesses and his own recollection of the fracas and the neighborhood discussions thereupon from the night of its occurrence up to the present (1940).

     It happened in the late 1880’s.  I was quite young at the time and I remember that father had gone downtown to Jake Snyder’s grocery store.   He came back quite excited.  Mother thinking him sick questioned him anxiously.  I remember father saying “I just saw the sweetest fight I ever saw in my life but fear I’ll be subpoenaed for a witness at a murder trial.  Jack Dillon just polished off the Chain Gang rowdies as fast as they could bunk into his fists.  Four f the thugs are dead I hope, and the others got a bellyful of slunk away like curs.  Jack braced against the bridge where they couldn’t get at him from behind and he’s the only country-born1 (born in the US) I ever saw that handled his fists the way they do in the old  dart.2  (from Ireland)    

This fight however was not as tragic as father assumed from the sight of four strapping young local bullies lying unconscious at Dillon’s feet.

The background of the trouble was that there then existed a gang of pup smart young locals who posed as scrappers.  They had earlier individually trimmed helplessly drunk and otherwise weaker men and virtually terrorized the locality through white cap methods and open rowdyism as the Chain Gang every link of which was reported to be a swivel.  They hated the Shatagees who were largely Irish American miners born in Vermont and who were excellent workers, having learned hammering and general mining in the hard rock regions.  A scornful rivalry seemed to prevail between these two elements.  The Shatagees were scrappers too and couldn’t be bluffed, flim flamed or easily licked. 

       Consideration of these circumstances enables one to understand the following eyewitness account as related to this writer on election eve 1936 in front of Nelson House in Poughkeepsie during the long wait for the personal appearance of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.  The narrator was James McKeon, and old Rosendale miner who like many others did not subscribe to the prejudices of the Chain Gang.  The account follows:

     It was a Saturday night in the summer of 1888.  I saw Jack Dillon leaning up against the bridge and stopped to talk with him.  I wasn’t there five minutes before he says to me “If I were you Jim I’d move along.  Something’s due to break wide open tonight and you’re apt to get your face in trouble if you hang around too long.” “What’s up?” sez I.  “Oh them smart alecky young pups made the throw that they were going to run all the Shatagees outa town and they’ve been tailing me for an opening.  I maneuvered here where they can’t rush me from all sides and now I’m waiting for the showdown.”  My informant then offered to help Dillon who smiled and said “Thanks Jim, but I’m kinda curious to see how far I can go with that bunch.  In fact, I’m aching to feel my knuckles against each of their jaws.  You go over the canal bridge and standby.  If they down me and you feel the way you say close in.  I don’t expect to get murdered, not by that wet behind the ears bunch of whipper snappers anyhow.”

     McKeon did as Dillon directed, crossing the old canal bridge he sat on the wide caisson rail noting that most of the chain gang were strung along Upper Main Street as if awaiting a signal from Coop* their hardest boiled member who stood in the nearest saloon doorway.  The gang edged closer to the bridge.  Out of their  dozen strong midst strutted their best man.  Straight up to Dillon he walked and opened up with “Say Dillon, I hear you got a bump on yourself.  Think you’re a pretty good man hey?”  “Oh kinda”  retorted Dillon squirting a mouthful of tobacco juice straight into the other fellow’s face and flooring him with an open handed slap.  With that, in closed the gang with a mad rush only to be downed or sent back reeling by straight rights and lefts that (as my father put it) “cracked like a pistol.”  Thus ended the most famous of the many fights at the bridge according to the testimony of two eyewitnesses as related to one who personally remembers the melee, and who has frequently heard the matter discussed by Rosendalers for the past half century.  

     This writer remembers seeing ‘Little Jack” or “The Little Giant” as Dillon was variously referred to locally.  Our boyhood impression of him was being a short thickset man about thirty years old and answering to the local description of “built like the butt of a big tree and every bit as solid and tough.”  He is said to have been a crackerjack miner and a quiet easygoing fellow, well-liked by most of the settled members of the mining elements. 

* The actual names of Chain Gang members are withheld for small town reasons.


The Petrovonovich Chucknoyonsky Fight


     The Rosendale Bridge was the scene of many other fights besides the historic Dillon and Chain Gang fracas.  Most of the others were of only minor interest, being merely clashes between miners of only average rank as fighters.  One particular fight however, is of unusual interest due to the participants being men of outstanding reputation as sluggers, although they could not be said to have been well matched as one participant was a young vigorous member of a fighting family.  He was perhaps fifty pounds heavier, four inches taller, and about fifteen years younger than his adversary who was a small broken down middle aged knockabout scrapper alleged to have certain ring experience and to have acted as a sparing partner for various well known professional fighters.

     There was never any doubt about his fighting abilities in his local boyhood, and it had evidently improved in his habitual wanderings throughout the country (This compiler learned an effective side step from this fellow).  He usually came home in the spring, and unless he undertook training a string of game cocks for a winter cocking main, he would “fly the coop” for the cold months and “unless detained as a guest of my friend Sheriff so and so of Alleghany County” or elsewhere, he turned up on schedule the following spring.

     The compiler witnessed the scrap between the individuals described.  For convenience and purpose of disguise, we henceforth humorously allude the younger man as Petrovonovich and to his elderly opponent as Chucknoyonsky and otherwise disguise other identities and establishments involved.

     The trouble seems to have started in the non-existent tea room of Deacon Wong.  As we remember it, the older man seemed to be pushing the trouble despite his obvious devitalized condition.  The younger fellow never before known to have hesitated about fighting was backing away slowly.  Chucknoyonsky wore a canvas glove on one hand.  According to Petrovonovich, this concealed a brass knuckle and he refused to fight.  Chucknoyonsky rushed in and a clinch resulted.  They both fell across the water main, the elder man was underneath and was defiantly in pain. Earlier the younger man’s father had endeavored to make peace.  He now seized a club and vowed to brain anyone who interfered.  Meanwhile all his son seemed enabled to do was pin down his opponent by sheer strength as every time an attempt was made to strike the older man, his fist shot to the chin of his opponent who after receiving a few such smashes just laid heavily on the smaller man whom he first had threatened to throw in the creek.

     Chucknoyonsky then bit the other fellow’s wrist and freed one hand.  Then all of a sudden, the fellow on top let out an ungodly yell and released his hold on the other man who again began to jolt and uppercut.  In less than a minute, both were on their feet again.  The younger man claimed that he had been fouled by the other and refused to fight any further.  Chucknoyonsky then turned to his opponent’s father and told him “Get ready because I’m going to take that club away from you.”  “Ah hell” replied the elder Petrovonovich, “you’re drunk and don’t know what you’re doing.  I’ll throw the stick away and we will talk to you sometime when you’re sober enough to know your friends.”  Off walked the father and son.

     Chucknoyonsky walked down to the edge of the canal and soaking the hand that wore the glove, he asked for help to peel it off explaining he had been kicked off a freight train the previous week and had skinned his hand and broke two fingers.  Asked about the foul he was alleged to have given his opponent, he admitted that he had just gave him a short jab with the knee as soon as he got room to work it in.  The bite on the wrist having thrown the other fellow off guard and caused him to ease his weight from the under man thus opening the way for the knee action


The Murphy O’Neil Affair


     Another great scrap, or series of fights is said to have occurred between two canalers back in the early days too far for the recollection of those considerably older than this compiler who estimates that the bouts transpired in the 1840’s on the basis of his having received the legendary details second hand from the hearsay of men who were old when he was young. 

     Owld Cormac O’Neil in his younger days seems to have been the best man along the hundred mile length of the first canal which was built in the 1820’s.  He took water from no one, miner, canaler or dock wolloper.  He is said to have hunted up men who were good scrappers to ask for a tryout.  His prestige was never successfully disputed for many years.  Finally however, he was supposed to have got the worst of it in a fight with one Tipperary Mike Murphy, a Johnny Come Lately on the canal. 

     At the end of the fight Owld Cormac is said to have sat on the ground shaking his head and saying “There’s something wrong, there’s something wrong Murphy.  I can lick you and I know it.  You’re very good sir.  You’re damned near as fast as I am myself, but not fast enough and I’ll prove it to ye the next time we meet.  But there’s some blasted thing the matter and I can’t figure it out.  I was feeling fine and fit and sober.  Maybe I was a bit too confident and off guard, anyhow we’ll have it out again later.”  “Anytime you’re ready, let me know” Replied Murphy hotly, and they parted only to meet again three times in as many bouts with had the same results.  Murphy always won.

     Finally, they are said to have met one night near McGranaghans Lock in Rosendale Village.  This time Murphy refused to fight until Owld Cormac smashed him in the face.  Murphy then merely tripped  Cormac to the ground and sat on him and began the following tirade:

“O’Neil you old son of a bitch, what the hell is the matter with you anyway?  You damned old fool, don’t you think I’ve got any shame?  I’m sick and tired of beating up a man old enough to be me father.  Yet you want to fight every time you lay yer eyes on me.  Now see here.  You’ve been a damned sight better man than I’ll ever be.  All the matter is your getting old and you won’t admit it.  Now I’m going to let you up and by God if you don’t let me alone from now on, every time I see you I’m going to run and yell the bogeyman is chasin’ me.  If you want to win this fight I’ll let you beat me up, but it’s your last chance.  We either shake hands today or I’m going to make a laughing stock of you every time you come chasin’ after me.” 

     Owld Cormac evidently saw the humor and potential disgrace implied in Murphy’s threat and is reported to have smiled and said “Aw glang with ye, ye Tipperary bastard.  It’s not me yer pitying.  It’s that daughter of mine that ye been givin’ the rovin’ eye, and maybe a wink too every time our boats pass.  And did ye know that they have the best rum in Rosendale to be had anywhere along the canal?”

     Well sir, from that time on Owld Cormac and Tipperary Mike were the best of friends.  But Murphy had the divils own time coaxin’ Cormac’s daughter to marry him.  She was a fine saintly girl and she wanted to be a nun but was too soft hearted to leave her owld bear of a father alone in the world.  She being all he had after the others were married and his wife dying.

     It went on that way for more than twenty years with Murphy courtin’ and waitin’ all the time till Owld Cormac finally broke his neck and fell into the ditch in the course of a brannigan.  Murphy and his fancy were no spring chickens then, but after observin’ the daicency of a year’s mournin’ they were married in Rondout.       

Canaler’s Song - 1870

A hundred miles or over

Drawn by tired mules

The old scow scrapes the bottom

And the waters leaking through


Long long is the journey

Every mile it seems like two

A hundred miles of wilderness

Our voyage takes us through


My wife is at the tiller

Our child is at her breast

I am pumping water

For us there is no rest


Hard hard the struggle

The life indeed is rough

Yet though many hate us

At heart we are not tough


We are just poor people

Struggling along

Trying to make a living

In that there is no wrong


Lacking education

Riches brains or guile

We face the world wide open

Though some think our ways are vile


But my friends remember

We go from day to day

Strict tending to our business

But from fights won’t run away


Don’t condemn the canaler

He is not a stick or stone

He is human treat him decent

And he will leave you alone


Lacking many cultures

Yes our ways are hard

Keep off our toes however

And you’ll find a loyal pard


We are just simple people

Struggling for our bread

It’s the right of every human

To try to go ahead


We have wives and babies

And hard the pulling through

We live a life of slavery

Just the same as you


Why not then be friendly

And drink a glass or two

And stop this silly fighting

Though we enjoy it too


The Greenkill Bridge Incident


     The bridge at DeWitt’s Mill near Greenkill was dynamited in April 1901.  The incident apparently arose out of soreness toward the Consolidation which was alleged to be freezing out their competition.  There was also labor dissatisfaction.  Prevailing local sympathy seemed to be with the independent companies.  Some of these discontinued business, one of them relocated its plant and operated for a few years longer.  Feelings and partisanship ran high.  The blowing up of the bridge revealed the many dangers to which the Consolidation was exposed as this was one of perhaps of a hundred important points of its large local holdings.  The following verses are from memory:

Who blew up the bridge at Greenkill

No one will ever know

It’s a mystery that keeps on deepening

As the days they come and go

It was surely not in friendship

That they struck this awful blow

Who blew up the bridge at Greenkill

Why no one seems to know

It was not a friendly action

Why it must have been a foe

Who blew up the bridge near Greenkill

Where is he lying low

Who blew up the bridge near Greenkill

The mystery seems to grow

As days and weeks merge into months although

The Secret Five some folks suspect

But even if this is so

Who are these daring fellows

And where are they lying low


Who blew up the bridge near Greenkill

And who are the Secret Five

If you have an opinion

Keep it under your hat and thrive

Just now it’s just not healthy

Not a robust thing to do

To hold opinions thereon

And the careless are quite few

Who blew up the bridge near Greenkill

Now what is that to you

Just preserve your constitution

And keep your nose clean too

Just go about your business

No theories form of give

Be deaf dumb blind and stupid

If you expect to live

Who blew up the bridge near Greenkill

Who are The Secret Five

What the hell do I care

I’m healthy and alive

Joseph Fleming's Do You Remember Article has more of the details.    DYR #100 - 13 December 1940 Pg2

Canaler Families


Here we have testimony of the canaler’s wives which should destroy any concepts concerning them that are based upon the old ballad She Is Down In The Cabin Now.   Presented here are two fine specimens of the typical American housewife around 1880.  This despite poverty, hardship, inconvenience, and the lack of cultural opportunities.  As with most women of the pioneering era, these bore the brunt of the hardships and dangers which their helpmates sought either in the hope of bettering their circumstances, through the spirit of change and adventure or downright male cussedness. 

     The possession of children increased the problems of housekeeping on bard such boats where quarters were necessarily limited, school attendance impossible, and the toll of drowned children alarmingly high.  Tragedy lurked in other areas.  We recall a nine year old boy who in an attempt to handle a rope bumper was crushed between two colliding boats.  Drownings all along the canal occurred with high frequency.  As noted in a Rosendale News article, many locals lost their lives in this manner.  Dead Man’s Stretch between Rosendale and Lawrenceville claimed by far the greatest number of victims.  This was due to the then common use of the towpath by pedestrians after dark in an unlighted period.  The unusually sharp curve at this much used point confused many to their undoing.  Insularity and ignorance built up many superstitions concerning this and other scenes of local tragedy.  Superstitions which the higher tempo, wider horizons, and enlightenment of later years have dissipated.  There was however, a considerable thrill in believing in certain of these old tales. 

     All too often the advancement that dissipates such simplicities almost always destroys many of our finest illusions and increases our capacity to feel and suffer.  The boats shown here are the last type used on the canal.  Heavily laden, they are obviously headed for Rondout.  Certain details indicate cold weather, and this is apparently the last trip of the season.  The date is said to be 1880.

* This is another selection from the collection of Robert Evans of Warwarsing to whom we are indebted for the loan of various fine canal views.  



The Outcasts Song – About 1890


I am packing up my turkey for at midnight

This town and all my friends I’ll bid adieu

In silence and alone I’ll take my leaving

To parts unknown I shortly will have flew

I’ll head from here to Honesdale then go westward

And after that most any place will do

Provided it is strange and plenty distant

And a fellow can forget and start off new


Like a lost dog I am heading out for nowheree

Bound for hell if what poor mother says is trueBound for hell if what poor mother says is true

I’ve been drinking hard of late and I’ve disgraced her

I have broke her heart and shamed my family too

So I am heading off for nowhere in the darkness

And the pangs of sharp remorse they pierce me through

And forever and forever there will haunt me Certain memories even rum cannot subdue


Oh my mother and my sisters will be weeping

And in my sweetheart Kate’s eyes of blue

There will be a look of sadness and reproaching

As she wonders where her worthless lover flew

Oh I am heading off for nowhere in the darkness

It’s the only decent thing for me to do

I’m a drunkard and for me there’s no reforming

I’m heading bent for hell and feeling blue


I will head up the towpath and keep going

And alone with God I’ll see my troubles through

As I wander up the towpath in the dawning

I’ll be thinking mother dear of home and you

As I wander up the towpath Katie darling

Sure I’ll think of old and better times with you

And forever and forever in fond memory

My heart a store to you it will be true.


 Drill Ye Tarriers Drill – 1870


Airly in the morning whin the boos comes around

Never a look up he gives to see the loose ground

Aforesaid av which there is plenty around

The heads of us poor devils who daylong must pound

In their own bloody sweat bejabbers half drowned

Tis drill ye tarriers drill

There’s muckers idle and cars to fill

The burner’s fumin’ on the hill

Bawlin’ for stone to fill the kill (kiln)

Drill ye tarriers drill

They’re playing cards and waitin’ down at the mill

All month long we wait for our pay

And the bill at the store sure drives us half fey

For a twelve once pound of butter or tay

We are charged double price by the company

Drill ye tarriers drill

Swing byes oh byes with a will

We have powder in the store and that Far Down Whore

And the company store will soon be no more

Drill ye tarriers drill

Fey - crazy 

Far Down – North of Ireland

This is one of the many variations of a poem written about the men who drilled in the mines and the railroads during the late 1800’s.  Most were Irish in origin and the words used in the poem represent the parlance used in everyday spoken language.  The above version used here contains verses that were commonly heard in Rosendale.


A Canal Romance  - 1895


The following was written on the cabin side of a coal boat.


She’s down in the cabin now

A yellow haired bitch I fished out of the ditch

She’s got me bewitched

Then her I fixed before we got hitched

She’s down in the cabin now

She’s down in the cabin now

Nursin’ her brats and brewin’ up spats

She’s the boss on this goddamn old scow


Beneath those lines was the following:


This is terrible but what can I do

Every time I scrub it off he puts it on again

He saved my life and I was silly

And let him have his way

Because I love him and I know he loves me


The Old Stone House

The Old Stone House at the bend of the road

At the bend of the road on the hill

The roof has crumbled, the windows are gone

And the rooms are vacant and still


I remember the neighbors who lived in that home

Friends that were loyal and true

They would share their last cent with a pal they liked


And fight for a friend they knew


There were roses that grew by the side of the fence

There were lilacs that grew by the wall

They were free to the folks that were passing that way

They were graciously welcome to all


Those Lawrenceville folks were the best in the world


That’s what I have always said

A few are still living far away from their home

But most of those neighbors are dead

You can see the old ruin on the road to High Falls

With a sign on the window FOR SALE

But few now remember the Gallant old times

Not even in Rosendale


And the roses that grew by the side of the fence

Are choked now by grasses and weeds

And the sweet scented lilacs I remember so well

Are gone like the wind in the trees


Gone and forgot the good folks that I knew

Yet at night in the dark of the moon

I like to believe that the ghosts of this crew

Revisit this beloved old ruin                                      


                                                                                                                             The Old Stone House as it appeared in   DYR #121 - 30 May 1941 Pg 2                                                                                                                           

I received this and many other poems from William O’Brien, a roving Rosendaler who I assume wrote verse.  It was published in The Rosendale News in April or May of 1941 and is very reminiscent of a style used by Eddie Guest. 


Canal Bawdy Verse 1890


Oh the Rondout whores wear lace on their draws

Those in Honesdale wear them plain

The canal boat molls wear none at all

But they get there just the same


A Ballad of Rosendale

Last night I dreamt of Rosendale

And I was young again

I danced last night with Rosendale girls

And drank with Rosendale men


My dream was of a party

An old time husking bee

The years rolled back and I was young

Just like I used to be


My girl was there with ribbons on

In her eye was a gentle glow

We were all bound for a wonderful time

And the coronets started to blow


We sang again all the old time songs

Most every one we knew

The Sailors Song, the Soldiers Song

And The Dark Girl Dressed In Blue


We were just in time for the four square dance

We heard the fiddler say

Two more couples fill out this set

And we will let the music play


Then we Allemande left and we Balanced right

And we done the Grand Sashay

Lady in the center and seven hands around

And our hearts were light and gay


They passed around the cider

Then I drank three or four

Then I showed them a dance that was a dance

Right on the old barn floor


And when the dance was over

And we were going home

The dearest girl in all the world,

And I were all alone


I told her how I loved her

As I’ve told her all my life

For the girl I met in Rosendale

Is my dear old grey haired wife


This poem was donated by William O’Brien and published in The Rosendale News on May 8, 1942.  The composer is unknown. 

It was printed here: DYR #165 - 8 May 1942


The following was a Croatian hammer man’s reaction to poorly tempered drills and a bad tempered blacksmith.  This was the extemporaneous explanation Stumpy (Tony) gave me of the cause of the quarrel between himself and the blacksmith.  I often recited it from memory, but until now never jotted it down. 

                                                                                                  November 23, 1940


Gotam Charley bosterd him crazy some of itch!  Drinks him too much, no blacksmith he.  Just same like shoemake old country, mebbe lika gypsy too.  Him make hard work for me.  All time me go shop carry drill.  No got time me make money.  Hammer foot ten cent  (ten cents per foot).  Him mad for me, he see drill brec.  Say gotahell for me.  Me mad too, lose time, mad lik hell.  Me tell Charley ah kicka my ass you.

Ulster County Applejack


I’d like a drink of liquor and a little bit of ale

Just like the famous stuff we used to drink way up in Rosendale

It was good for all that ailed you when you were feeling blue

It would make a long eared rabbit bite a bulldog right in two

A drink of famous applejack would make you pay the rent

It would make you think in millions when you didn’t have a cent

It had cured a man in Rock Lock they had given up for dead

He took one drink of applejack and jumped right out of bed

And a girl who lived in Whiteport a girl of seventeen

She loved a farmers helper who was shy and slow and green

She would invite him out to walk with her and invite him to her house

There he’d just sit by the hour as quiet as a mouse

She mixed him u a toddy one night he had a cold

A drop too much of applejack it made the young man bold

They are married now and happy they are doing very well

They owe their thanks to applejack I’m here the world to tell

A woman down in Rock Lock she had a lazy son

Who never did a lick of work and he was twenty one

A neighbor told her what would wind him up she tried it just for fun

A quart of apple did the trick now he works like a son of a gun

Oh the juice of York State apples it brings back many a dream

Of the folks I knew up yonder up in Rosendale I mean

I’d like to turn the old clock back some fifty years or more

Just for a night of dancing on the village ballroom floor

I’d like a drink of apple just before the honors all

I’d like another afterwards I’d drink it in the hall

I often wished I saved those cards on which the bids were sent

Inviting you and lady friend or lady and her gent

I’d like to dance Le Lanciers with the girl I loved the best

I never will forget the rose she pinned upon my breast

I’d like to dance the old Home Sweet Home with some good friends of mine

And bid them all good morning when the sun began to shine

And hear again the fiddlers play The Days of Auld Lang Syne


The foregoing lyric was printed in the Rosendale News about 1938.  It was attributed to Frank Smith, erstwhile Rosendale barber now of Kingston.  William O’Brien wrote out a copy of it for me recently (November 1940).

I have taken certain liberties with the original wording in order to conceal various identities mentioned therein.  I believe this poem to be an adaptation of an earlier poem from an unknown source.


The Great Wrestling Match – 1895


     About 1895 there occurred an exciting wrestling match between two of the tallest men in town.  The affair took place near the edge of the creek in back of Deyos Livery on Upper Main Street, and attracted most of the sporting element in the village.  Big Andrew, as we called the Croats and Dalmatians, stood about six feet four inches and his opponent Big Tim, a long geared Irishman was about the same height.

     Big Andrew had evidently made a challenge of some sort that involved a ten dollar bet.  To Big Tim that amount seemed a fortune, he being only a laborer whereas Andrew was a storekeeper and a sort of a Padrone to his countrymen.  A local blacksmith however staked Tim for the bout and the fun began one fine summer evening before a crowd about evenly divided in partisanship.

     It started with the old collar and elbow hold and the contestants were quite evenly matched in skill as otherwise.  They seesawed back and forth along the edge of the creek wall for about ten minutes during the first “set to”, the object of each apparently being to throw the other fellow into the creek.  Both lost their shirts in this bout which went to Big Tim.  The next session lasted somewhat longer with Big Andrew pushing the fight and keeping Big Tim on the defensive.  “Take it aisy me bye, yer wearin’ yerself out” advised Tim, but Andrew persisted and by virtue of a well timed trip laid Tim on his back thus evening the score.            

     In the final try, the anxiety of both men caused them to abandon all rules and indulge in veritable rough and tumble tactics during the course of which sharp blows were struck, and the trousers of both were torn off.  The women onlookers fled hastily, while the male element guffawed in glee.  Anything went from that point on and both men were covered with blood from head to foot.  “Be jabbers yer a foine man Andrew” grinned Tim who seemed the freshest of the two as by now Andrew was gasping for breath.  Shortly after this Tim got a half nelson and the jig was up for Andrew.  “Throw him in the creek!  Throw him in the creek!”  yelled the crowd.  “I’ll do arling’ of the kind me buckos”  replied Tim.  “He’s a fine man, and I’ll back him up against any of ye bastards that’s laughin’ at him.  Now for the love of God get us aich a horse blanket?”   Nobody would.  “Aw gowan home you two nasty sons of bitches” yelled a smart aleck “you ought to be arrested.  Don’t you know that there’s a lot of women livin’ in this town?”  There was no other choice and the two tall men clad solely in shoes and socks dashed madly for Big Andrew’s store at the head of howling hooting mob.

     Note:  I saw this affair myself in 1895 or there about.  Big Andrew became involved in a shooting scrape a little after this.  Certain young thugs sought to gang up on him and smash up his store.  He severely wounded one of them and the others fled.  I believe he was acquitted on the grounds of self defense.   A member of the same gang that Big Andrew shot up was seriously stabbed by an Austrian the same year.  The circumstances may be conjectured from the following:

Certain of the younger elements of the Irish, Dutch and Yankee settlers were pup-smart and tough.  The Slavic racials were peaceful hardworking men in a strange country.  They constituted a minority whose settlement locally provided the manufacturers here with a good supply of reliable men.  They were sturdy fellows and except for those with army experience knew little about the art of self-defense.  They were frequently imposed upon by the smart-alecky and hateful local elements.  A few incidents like the foregoing resulted in ridding them of unwarranted molestation.            


The Slav – 1904


     Certain of the Slavs were primal and dangerous.  Reared in the mountainous sections of Southeast Europe, they knew little of the outside world and were quite different than the local born population.  Yet once they got the hang of the country they readily assimilated and proved good fellows.  I nearly lost my life at the hands of a big Montenegrin all through a harmless joke.  This fellow was proud of his strength and often picked me up bodily and whirled me around over his head.

     One day just for the fun of it I tripped him up as he was reaching out to grab me.  The man didn’t fall.  He just spilled all over.  His countrymen roared with approval and ribbed him considerably.  I saw a dangerous look in his eyes and tried to avoid him, but that afternoon he made a grab at me and I jumped and his fist struck my thumb blackening the nail and leaving me nursing a sore hand for several weeks.  I avoided him for about a month until he cornered me in a coal pocket.  He craftily kept between me and the ladder.  I grabbed a scoop which he wrung from my hands and then he then tried to break my back.  I gave him a knee in the groin and scooted for the ladder.  I told the boss I was afraid I had killed the poor fellow.  “Aw you hadn’t outa done that” he chided “you know we are shorthanded.”

     Investigating we found the fellow unconscious.  The boss then coached me on what I must do for my own protection saying “He’s determined to kill you and your only hope is to put the fear of God in his heart.  Now you’ve got to sit on him and when he comes to start punching him.  I’ll sit behind his head so he can’t see me and if he tries to turn you I’ll swat him sideways with the scoop.”  It seemed cowardly and I hated to do it but I was really in fear of my life so I did as I was told.  The fellow bawled for mercy and the boss sneaked way.  I warned Billy that if he ever tried anything on me again I’d beat him up a good deal worse the next time.  Between this beating and his brother warning him that I was a bad luck fellow and my receiving a straw boss authority, the fellow seemed in awe of me in all later relations even though I was always in inner terror of him.     


Cock Fighting


     Cock fighting was a very popular sport among the local elements who were outstanding trainers and breeders of excellent Pit Games.  About 1890 when the Troy House was built, John Brown the manager had a fine cockpit built in the basement thereof.  Notable breeders of the 90’s were Ed T. Smith, Bradley J. Smith, Dick Markle, James McNamara, John McNamara, Con Murphy, James Fleming Sr., James Fleming Jr., Joe Malee, James McEvoy, William McGrath, Matt Deyo, Byron Deyo, James Dowd, The Kelley Brothers, Ed Reilly, James Smith, Ira DuBois, Pat Hayfey (an Ellenville canaler), Efe Hendricks of Port Jackson, and many others.  A later generation included Joe Delaney, Jake and Harry Lewis, Columbus and James Carroll, Johnny Smith, and Jack Daley.

All the above mentioned bred their own stock and usually conditioned, fought, and handled their own birds.  Joe Malee, a ring aspiring pugnacious local born hobo, was considered by some to be a good trainer, but my own father never liked Joe’s idea of physicking a cock to reduce its weight.  Dad believed that this had a weakening effect and believed that only excess fat should be removed by exercise thus keeping the buds strong and vigorous.  James McEvoy a blacksmith, made and sold spurs and I recall him sending a pair to Australia.  James Smith and Eddie O’Reilly teamed together as heelers and handlers with notable success. 

     A story concerning them related of their being approached in regard to “throwing a main” at Port Jackson.  Instead they tipped off the Rosendale fellows that they were going to try hard to take the fight.  Following their advice, friends snapped up the Port Jackson odds.  The Rosendale bird killed his adversary but Jim and Eddie were nowhere to be found.  A rig had been waiting outside the door and they were not available for reprisals.  Many other mains were fought by local fanciers.  John McNamara brought a string of cocks to Danbury about 1894 and lost out partially due to the hardships of the cold journey on his birds which were transported from Rosendale by way of Poughkeepsie to Danbury in bob sleighs in severe winter weather. 

  As late as 1940, mains were fought in Rosendale usually against former Rosendalers from distant points.  The fanciers conducting the mains are all over fifty years of age and represent the last cockfighting generation of Rosendale.  They got the habit from the old timers.  Several of them hung around my father’s coop as much as I did myself.  What I believe to be the last old time fight between the real old timers occurred in my father’s coop around 1908 between himself and Billy McGrath.  It was intended to be the last stand of the old guard as father put it, and a handing over of the sport to the youngsters.  His motivating thoughts were a realization that all the older cockers except for himself and Billy were dead and gone and that they soon must join the others, which they shortly did.  Mr. McGrath’s death preceeded my father’s who died in 1910. 

     The program of this fight consisted of each of these old men heeling and handling a bird of their own conditioning.  I believe father’s Pyle outdid the other bird but I am not certain.  I recall however their shaking hands and weeping.  Several teen age boys then pitted their birds against each other and the ceremony was over.  At that period this writer was considerably interested in the sport which he now regards with repugnance. 


Dog Fights


     Many of the old time game cockers and other locals kept and fought game dogs.  From hearsay I knew of various dog fights but never attended one.  Miller Joseph and Luther Reater may be added to the list already given of dog and cock fighters.  Father always kept one game dog.  His preference was a cross between a bulldog and a terrier, combining strength with quickness.  My boyhood dog was one of these and it was conceded that he was the best dog in town.  Frequently stolen for pit fights, he was early scarred all over his blue-gray hide.  He feared nothing except small pups and kittens.  No grown dog however big could pass the house without a fight.  Mother was afraid to punish me for any offense in his presence because of his habit of grabbing the hem of her skirt and snarling viciously.

     Father allayed any storm over Duke attacking her by roguishly warning her that the dog understood the things she said about him and was sore about it “so you’d better feed him well and be nice to him or there’s no tellin’ what might happen.”  Aside from his hatred of other dogs, Duke was very docile.  The baby could maul him all day, or anyone else could good naturedly scuffle with him, but a kick, a gun, or a stone directed at him and there was hell to pay.  He loved to hunt and often killed woodchucks, rabbits and snakes, all of which he dragged home to my mother’s dismay. 

     Duke loved to swim amongst the youngsters who often pulled him under.  If only for a short ducking he loved it, but if it was a breathtaking ordeal he was dangerous.  One summer he killed twelve cats and I got as many lickings.  And on one occasion he chased a squirrel up a slanting tree from which he fell almost breaking his neck.  He was the most active creature I ever saw and he lived to be sixteen years old.  Toothless and blind he would still pick a muss and for this reason he died a mass of sores.  Toward the last he depended on his nose and even in his decrepitude and blindness he would attempt to catch mice.





The Canaler’s Mad Daughter


     The following was said to have been sung in Coal Basin Rosendale, New York by a young canal girl who went mad.

It is night and it is lonely in the basin

The folks they have all gone to bed

I am sitting alone here in the darkness

A watching the stars overhead


From far off I can hear lovely music

Yet I’m sad and I wish I was dead

Out there there’s singing and there’s dancing

And happy girls are by their lovers led


Oh I’m tired of this life of always slaving

And crazy thoughts keep coming to my head

I am young and I badly want a husband

Who’ll be kind and provide well for me


For him I will slave and raise children

And to him always true I will be

Oh oh where oh oh where is my lover

Oh dear God send him soon please to me


I am lonely and pining and discouraged

And I wish that my lover was with me

I know that he’s waiting for me somewhere

And for him ever waiting I will be


Dad and my mother lay down early

The reason why is well known to me

I often listen to them after bedtime

While I’m lying alone in misery


I am young and I badly want a husband

Oh dear God send one soon please to me

For him I will slave and raise children

And to him true I always will be


Out there there’s music and there’s dancing

And other girls are happy as can be

With the arms of their lovers around them

Oh God bring a lover to me


Oh I want oh I want some nice fellow

To come along soon and marry me

In the arms in the arms of a lover

Oh dear god oh how happy I would be


I sing to the dark hills around me

Each night through this wild country

And I fancy I hear my dear lover

In the echos that come back to me


Oh oh echoes oh oh echoes oh oh echoes

Oh oh where oh oh where now is he

Oh oh echoes oh oh echoes oh oh echoes

I am yearning for his arms around me


Oh dear God when you send me these echos

Send soon a good husband to me

In the arms in the arms of a lover

I am longing dear God to be  

     I first heard this song in 1895.  It was sung by a canaler to an accordion accompaniment.  At home a few old timers recite fragments of it.  The girl has been variously alluded to as The Wild Girl, Singing Sara,  The Mad Girl, Crazy Kate, The Echo Girl, and Mad Maid.  Quite a number of these names were applied to boats in her memory.


Hungry Child 1890


Often unfortunates suffered through the winter shutdowns of the canal and due to denial of credit in the company stores.  This was a father’s answer to a hungry child.


You ask me darling’ me baby astore

The raisin’ yer mother don’t bake anymore

We’ve no flower acushala though we still have a bushel a

Good pertaters and pork sweet girleen astore

The truth is Alanna though the boss bought a pianna

You’re daddy ain’t workin’ and his poor heart is sore

They won’t give me credit though be jabbers I’ll get it

Somewhere else and you’ll soon have biscuits galore

So ate yer pertaters and shire as me fate is

Where me head ain’t you’ll soon have plenty and more

You’ll not starve me wee darling’ to the world I’ll give warnin’

For your sake I’ll break down every door

That kept back a morsel from the mouth o’ me wee parcel

Sweet girleen don’t sorrow you’ll have bread tomorrow

Or you’ll have your poor daddy no more


The story behind this poem is that the father was an intelligent but shiftless Irishman given to frequent brannigans (bouts of drinking).  The incident upon which h based the foregoing squib is said to have touched his soft heart and awakened his better nature.  He afterward became a steady sober hard working man who raised this girl and other children to maturity and good citizenship.  His family didn’t like this poem of which he seemed to be quite proud, and I think in terms of sentiment and pathos is splendid coming as it does from a man of very limited education.  Recited with an Irish accent enriches its beauty.    


Applejack Stories – 1890’s


     In the 1880’s and 90’s farmers hauled their apples to the local distillery behind James Street*.  It was no uncommon thing to see the team going home unguided with the driver dead drunk in the wagon box knocked out by “high wine”.  Some of the distillery hands from long experience would judge quite accurately just about how much constituted a dose and about how long it took to react.  These fellows usually advised drivers facing long journeys homeward.  Some farmers ignored such warnings.  Others were sometimes fooled by the practical jokers who suggested thinning it down with water.  The catch here was that the “water” in the pitcher was also high wine which is colorless.  Hence the aforementioned scenes along the road in those days.  The distillery also attracted many locals seeking a free snorter.  These too on the return trip often lay themselves down to sleep somewhere along the road, the laughing stock of children and defenseless victims of inquisitive, vulgar, and contemptuous dogs. 


* This compiler’s childhood was spent on James Street.


     Rosendalers told the well-known story of the mouse who after lapping up some spilled liquor went out to look for the cat.  Another was the tale of the drunken man who fell asleep along the road.  Repeatedly bitten by venomous snakes he suffered no harm whereas the snakes all died from the effects of the whiskey in his blood stream.  


Spittin’ Cleaners


     Many saloons besides having a certain clique of barflies, hangers on, chair warmers, and gamblers also had their special bum who did most of the menial work for his board and drinks.  These parasites were the lowest in the bar room caste system, ranking lower than the pimps in the houses of prostitution which due to many considerations were usually located at isolated points considerably away from the village thus minimizing the risks of gossip and exposure.  The gambling dens however were to found practically everywhere.  Some were said to operate on a twenty four hour basis. 

     A story is told of the proprietor of one of these dens who was accredited to be the outstanding local shark.  He fleeced several canalers one night and although they took it in sportsman fashion, one of them remarked “Never mind, we will get square with you yet.”  About the next trip, the canaler dropped in with another fellow and said that he would like a little revenge.  The shark was cautious but pairing up with a few other local wisenheimers took the canalers on.  He won small sums while the canalers apparently growing desperate to recoup their losses kept doubling their bets.  The shark was game and saw them every time until at last the stakes ran up into several hundred dollars.  All of a sudden the shark began to fidget and squirm.  The strange canaler swept up the stakes and said “Oh don’t bother about the damn ace you had up your sleeve, here it is in mine.”  Jerking it out on the table.  The shark, roaring things about crooked canaler so and so’s ran for a club but they were gone.

     A previous reference to hangers on around old time saloons recalls an amusing story concerning one of them who usually took a shortcut through a cemetery on his way home late at night.  On one occasion he fell into a grave opened for an interment the following day.  His roars attracted the attention of the gang he had just left.  A prankster suggested scaring the hell out of him.  One of them wrapped up in a sheet and reaching the grave asked “What the hell are you doing in my grave at this hour of the night?”  To this the drunk retorted “What the hell are you doing out of your grave you night walking son of a bitch.  I’m in here because you are out.”


Local Village Characters 1885 -1900


Scotty The Bum 1887 – 1890


     Scotty The Bum was a hanger on at one of the old local hotels.  He apparently did chores for his meals and slept in the barn, purportedly sharing a stable with a goat.  I recall seeing stable No. 1 in the barn mentioned marked as being reserved for these two.  The other stables similarly were for the horses of local businesses and professional men.  Scotty seemed a good natured old fellow who usually greeted us kids with a “Ho ho me lad.  Is it a fight ye want?”  I always understood that he had been a medical student at Edinburgh College who flunked because of his devotion to John Barleycorn.


There was three kings into the east,
   Three kings both great and high,
And they have sworn a solemn oath
   John Barleycorn should die.


Billy The Bruiser (or Boozer) 1890 – 1895


     I am not sure which of these titles was Billy’s correct nickname, however both fitted him quite well.  He could and would fight and seemed always drunk.  A former German soldier he usually worked as a farmhand.  I have fragments of a story concerning his having been subjected to a mock trial and condemned to be hanged.  The “execution” was partially carried out by the smart-aleck elements of the time.


Dominie 1886 - 1900 


     Dominie was a one armed poor fellow who got drunk as often as he could.  He operated a one horse street sprinkler in the middle 1880’s and he later drove teams for various locals.  Dominie thought he could sing and considered himself an orator although the poor fellow could do neither.  He often provided amusement at local gatherings by interrupting speakers, lecturing and singing and otherwise hogging the limelight.  He was usually thrown out.  He thought in terms of millions of dollars which he imagined he possessed.

The Town Fool 1885 – 1900


     The Town Fool constituted a one man band which paraded up and down this locality blowing a paper horn.  He purportedly belonged to High Falls but admiring girls in both sections divided his interest between the two points.  He came from a very musically gifted family.  One of his brothers was a composer and served as the leader of several of the best local bands. 

     The Town Fool had no fear of dogs, in fact the dogs seemed in awe of him and often chorused his arias.  He was however in mortal terror of a rope at the sight of which he would run.  It was considered smart to chase him with a rope.  The last time this trick was tried he jumped into the canal and drowned.


                           Moll the Mendicant – 1875


     Moll begged on Main Street in the 1870’s.  She blessed those who gave her coins and blasphemed others whom she thought could but would not contribute.  In this way she collected tribute from many who feared her.  One gentleman gave her a nickel and she blessed him.  He then offered her a dime to curse him.  “Oh Jimmy “ said Moll “I can’t curse you but the curse of God on you.”

     The same gentleman later fumbled as if searching for a coin.  Moll opened with “Oh Jimmy, may the blessing of God follow you mornin’, noon, and night all the days of your life in sun and rain and sleet and snow wherever you go.”  Here Jimmy pulled out a piece of plug tobacco and taking a bite, walked away.  Not the least daunted, Moll continued “and may it never overtake you, you pug nosed fardown bastard.”


Old Zach 1885 - 1900


     Old Zach a bearded man, was always accompanied by a splendid looking dog, usually a collie, often came here from parts unknown and begged his necessities from door to door.  Evidently a transient farmhand, it was observed that he would weep upon hearing a musical rendition of Burns’ Old Lang Syne

Played or sung.  This peculiarity once noted, attempts were frequently made by local tormenters to capitalize the fact to this old man’s sorrow.  This was usually accomplished by having a good singer or a nearby piano render the air effectively whenever Old Zach appeared.  The divice was all too frequently successful. 


The Rifton Twins 1890 - 1900


     All too frequently, the aged or otherwise unfortunate and defenseless were made the butt of locals because of their condition and inability to effectively counter the affronts of the pup smart elements whose bad example influenced the attitudes of half the grown children who usually chorused the supposedly funny tricks played by the local cards upon the aforementioned unfortunates. 

     Two aged twin brothers from Rifton walked here every Sunday to attend Episcopal services.  They being very old and harmless, were meat for the local wolves who hooted after the poor old fellows who virtually ran a gauntlet of insults every Sunday.  There being but little legal redress without witnesses identifications lost time and so forth, such things had to be endured.  Often such aged indivuals were dubbed with a nickname usually of connotations justifying resentment which when manifested by an impotent person provided the desired entertainment.  Occasionally however, the thugs barked up the wrong tree and got their just desserts.  An Austrian shopkeeper shot two of the gang who tried to clean him up one night.  Another Austrian laborer stabbed one of the local bullies seriously wounding him almost fatally.  Both these cowards who wouldn’t stand up and fight superior strength with their fists were either acquitted or lightly sentenced. 

     A gang once tried to disrupt an Episcopal service and they were hauled into court.  The judge was a Catholic.  He fined the two Protestant participants five dollars each and the Catholics ten dollars.  One of the latter slammed the money on the table wrathfully.  “Ten dollars more for contempt of court” replied the judge.


Other Local Characters 1885 – 1900


     Other remembered local characters which were the butt of smart alecks were Old Paddy Pulled the Rope Bow Wow Wow, a title which probably thumbnails the incident which he was ever afterwards plagued. 

Peter Cansing: Peter can sing, Peter can dance, Peter walked all the way from France.  Thus the shouts of the children and local cutups greeted the appearance of Peter. 

Old Guts was a fish peddler whose wares purportedly stunk.  A slander which he always vehemently resented in edifying language. 

Penny was a young boy who played the harmonica and sang for pennies.  He was later joined by a singing waif to the musical delight of many.


The Village Guards


     Often otherwise shrewd and capable men through sheer honest mindedness became the laughing stock of tricksters.  One instance occurred where this was carried ti such extremes that the old man finally loaded up a shotgun and threatened to use it unless the tormenting ceased at once, which it did.  This was in the early years of the decline here.  The man mentioned located here and being civic minded, tried to stimulate enthusiasm in a movement to offset the economic losses which were piling up.  He met with extraordinary success. 

     The local guards were organized and named in his honor.  They paraded several nights a week always insisting that he lead the parade and make an address on town welfare.  Along with the blackguard element, there were others who should have been above promoting the hoax.  Matters reached a point where the old man was hooted and pelted and windows broken in his home.  Shamed and humiliated the well meaning man tried face saving devices and an appeal to the decencies, these failing the shotgun materialized and there was peace for the remainder of his residence here which ceased shortly after.       


Joining The Police Force And Other Mischief 1890 – 1900


Initiating candidates for the nonexistent local police force often provided quite a bit of general mirth in the old days.  The practice was to get ahold of some soft head, usually a bushwhacker, narrowback or a stranger and start admiring his physic or athletic lines and then persuading him to apply for a job on the new police force which his advisors claimed was being organized as fast as the procurement of desirable candidates would permit.  If a sucker bit, a date was set to test his endurance and qualifications otherwise.  He was given aerobic stunts to perform and required to prove his endurance by running p and down Main Street until exhausted and given other similar or even more ridiculous tasks in the course of which he was hooted and pelted and otherwise misused by the jealous of his opportunity of getting a job which they personally wanted.

     When two candidates were available they were compelled to fight it out.  Otherwise some local well up in boxing was represented as ‘high man” on the list and the new applicant had to put on the gloves with him.  The judges on such occasions were sufficiently smooth in their coaching and explanations to convince many candidates who possessed less than half of the meager education available locally, although the local townsman was aware of the hoax and was difficult to encourage to enter the contest.  Consequentially mostly strangers and halfwits numbered among those who sought the position.

     Gags of all sort were very prevalent here in those days and even the wisest found it hard to avoid traps set for his ridicule.  The idlers were always on alert for a new gag.  One could not trust his closest friends in this respect.  For example a saloon keeper had apartments above his saloon beneath which was a basement and a small yard on the edge of the creek.  Getting too stout, he used to go downstairs and saw wood until he heard the entrance bell ring.  But due to considerable lost business he was obliged to quit his exercise and stay on the job constantly.

     The joke was that neighboring storekeepers when seeing him busy downstairs, would enter his bar stomping furiously and shouting “Aw hell they ain’t anyone around.  C’mon fellers, let’s go up (or down) to so and so’s” or some similar remarks after which they would march out again to the dismay of the old fellow who was fumbling up the basement steps.  The gag was varied by merely pulling the door open and walking across the floor and then tip toeing out as if one were a thief and had seized something of value.  The old man lost so much business in a week that he was for a long time afraid to go to the toilet without leaving someone in attendance at the bar.         


Song Of The Rosendale Fire – 1894

By Two Thirteen Year Old Boys


It was a fine summer evening

As the folk they were going to bed

All seemed serene in our valley

And soft beamed the stars overhead


Then suddenly the alarm it was sounded

Loud enough to have waken the dead

It scared all the kids and the women

And lots of big men lost their head


And over the roofs of the village

Rose the flames mixed with yellow and red

The smoke rose in heavy black billows

Twas a sight that filled many with dread


The town had no hydrants or pumpers

So they had to use buckets instead

So with pails they worked until dawning

On each house on each barn on each shed



Twas a week before the excitement was over

And you had to watch where you tread

On Main Street because of the rubbish

Charred timbers bricks iron and lead


It’s a lesson that should teach our village

The need to get wise and look ahead

So never again in our history

Will disasters red feet upon us tread


Get wise get wise men of Rosendale

Organize and such carelessness shed

Form a fire company now if not sooner

And head of flames menace so dread

* Joseph Fleming and his co-author Harry Roper were lifelong friends.  Mr. Roper was a very capable musician, and at the time of his death in 1935 led one of Barnum and Bailey’s bands.

Local Intellectuals


     Despite the suspicion upon those who read books, there were quite a few locals addicted to sound and substantial reading. My father was familiar with most of the classics, an ardent admirer of the great poets and a considerable authority on general history.  He and a younger brother brought many volumes here from Ireland.  It seems that they had planned to enter the book selling business later.  This plan was upset by Uncle Ed being killed on the railroad.  Father’s preferences seemed to be religious and political works.  Of these he had many very old volumes which included Dean Smith, Junius, and other notables of the past. Well versed in Irish poetry, he also greatly admired Tennyson, Longfellow, Whittier, Siath and others.  Burns was however his favorite in verse and Dickens and Hall Caine in prose.

     It was a common practice to exchange books temporarily with interested neighbors.  In this way our family became acquainted with Thoreau, John Burroughs, Audubon, Eugene Field, J Whitcomb Riley, and John Greenleaf Whittier.  Later we added London, Sinclair, Corelli, Chambers and numerous others to our family library. 

     Books were relatively scarce then and not nearly as accessible as now.  Consequently, we did not cram, skip through, or just pick out the interesting parts, but digested and absorbed the books at hand leisurely and unhurried thus getting more out of them than seems possible to get in the modern practice of reading to a deadline time limit and in a hurry to get to another book. 


The Hoggie - 1895


     A Hoggie was a term applied to the boys who acted as mule skinners on the old canal.  They were a tough lot and amply upheld the fighting traditions of the ditch.  I have reason to remember the excellent fighting abilities of one of these boys.  When fourteen years old I was acting as a nipper and boy of all work at the Lawrenceville end of Black Smoke.  I was sent up to the Coal Basin to tell the captain of a coal boat waiting there to move down under the bridge for unloading that evening.

     Taking the towpath from Fergusons Lock, I covered about half of that level and met a team of mules.  The driver was oddly enough a man.  His wife was steering the boat and a small dog was sniffing here and there along the towpath.  Seeing me the whiffet came at me on a run yelping viciously.  I tried to kick him off and caught him under the chin.  He landed on his back yipping something awful.  The driver stopped his mules and walked up to me blaspheming classically and demanding to know why I kicked his dog.  I was badly scared and told him the dog meant to bite me.  “Did he bite you?!” he snarled raising his fist.

     Seeing I was up against it, I butted him in the stomach with my head.  He staggered back a few steps and fell into the canal and I ran for dear life.  Reaching Fergusons Lock I crossed it and looking back I saw a boy about my own age running after me.  I stopped and asked him who he was looking for.  “That was my father” he replied, adding “Do you want to get your breath first?”  I did but was the father would get there before I finished the young fellow off so I allowed that we might as well have it over with.

     We mixed and I began to notice that the best I could do was exchange blows and the son of a gun could hit as hard as hell.  I tried a clinch and resulted in a *dogfall.  He was on his feet ahead of me and tripped me up as I arose.  Impossible to turn him, I was worried about his father coming and only the lockmaster and a few women and kids were around when he demanded I say “Uncle” I evasively replied “OKAY!” 

     Not a bad fellow at that, he told me his name was Frank Beardsley.  He had never been in a mine so I had brought him to the pump house and asked the pumpmaster to show him around while I went on my errands.  This time I took the road.


* Dogfall means neither landing on top.       


Paddy went to see Doc Molloy and said “Doc I got a job for you and I want no folderols or fuss made about them.  Just yak ‘em out even if they do hurt and have the damn thing over with”

“Let’s see them” said the doctor. 

“Oh it ain’t me” replied Paddy “it’s my wife.  She’ll be along here in a few minutes with her mother”


Lincoln’s Right Hand Man


     Beyond question, Rosendale’s most distinguished citizen was an individual who worked lifelong in hard and humble capacities.  Of fine personal appearance and distinctly military bearing this extraordinary man virtually directed the major movements of the Northern forces during the Civil War and with only undependable aid saved the Union.  This was an achievement for which he never received recognition beyond the latter day prevision accorded to privates, deserters, and bounty jumpers a fact due to the sudden death of Lincoln and the hatred our local hero was held by the War Department and the General Staff both of whom he had earlier bulldozed into action and the carrying out of plans he personally formulated.

     George was the only soldier on either side in the Civil War who claimed to having participated in all of its major battles and hundreds of its skirmishes.  He personally directed all these which history records as union victories, usually after a bitter argument with the nominal commander.  Conversely all the battles won by the rebels are said to have been the result of ignoring his orders at some point in the line other than where he was conducting the major action.  He was only one man you see, yet in at least one instance he has admitted being in two distant places at the same time.  These were the taking of Vicksburg and the Battle of Gettysburg in both of which engagements he was “immorally” wounded.

     This compiler had the misfortune to imagine that he had trapped our hero into stating an obvious untruth in his claiming participation in both these battles, however the embarrassment proved all our own as the old gentleman after first conceding the decency and integrity of our family pointed out our own degeneracy and absolute worthlessness with a terminology and emphasis the recollection of which frequently causes us to blush in guilty shame some forty years after the incident. 

     George however cleared up the contradiction a few days later in our presence.  Ignoring me altogether, he explained to a noon hour group of workers that the coincident dates given these battles were just a part of a huge conspiracy by the historians, aimed to embarrass his claims and deprive him of the honor to which he was entitled.  The historians were all friends of the generals and had no use for him personally because of his frequent practice of writing them letters that showed up their ignorance about the way things really happened, and never pointing to the names of the private soldiers who done all the fighting while the generals were sleeping off a drunk where even their own men couldn’t get a shot at them.  

     George was a profound reader of the one book type.  The History of the Rebellion was his sole study and he knew it by heart despite the fact that he frequently cursed the inaccuracies and partiality which deprived him of his proper credit.  He always consoled himself with the claim that “If Lincoln had only lived, he would have done right by me.”


Just before coming to America in the 1840’s, a man gave an old woman a shilling to do his worrying for him and never worried himself afterward.


The Hero of Bull Run


     Sam was a fine old fellow, very sensible and intelligent and nothing whatever of a character, yet he bore the implied stigma attached to his nickname Hero of Bull Run, the first battle in which he had admitted participation.  Local wags alleged that Sam was the first Union soldier to arrive in Washington after the famous rout.  The allegation further claimed that as he had arrived considerably ahead of the telegraph dispatches and though badly scarred and breathless and brought in the first news of the panic stricken Union forces he was properly entitled to something akin to the honors accorded the Greek runner of Marathon.  Hence The Hero of Bull Run.


Two Local Rebels


     Rosendale had two local rebels of the Civil War.  One of these was a baker who claimed to have had a flour barrel packed with Confederate Script which Appomattox rendered worthless.  He fell off a cliff at Rock Lock and was killed.

     The other local had been working in the South and was conscripted by the Confederacy. While in Lee’s army he met a Port Ewen man who had been similarly pressed into service.  He often sang rebel songs to the torment of local Union veterans who accused him of taking advantage of the fact of his being the one lone rebel in among a crowd of Yankees who were ashamed to hit him.


Night Terrors


     By means of various hoaxes, many neighborhoods were provided with an after dark excitement that put these sections in an uproar and often aroused the superstitious fears of the timid.  Myself and my brother Tom effectively sponsored one of these with results that disconcerted the women of our own household and various other neighbors.  Earlier a teamster had hanged himself just across the road.  One night a few weeks afterward a tall white apparition appeared against the gloomy shadow of the barn.  “Cut me down.  Oh please cut me down!” it moaned.  Women screaming with fright, and the quick scurrying indoors followed by boys shouting “Dave Bodley Dave Bodley!” as they ran.

     A real tough youngster who later served time in various penitentiaries ran up and investigated.  I was standing on brother Tom’s shoulders leaning against the barn.  We both wore white shirts pulled out from our pants, giving the illusion of a tall white ghost against the darkened barn.  I whispered to the tough guy to lay down and make believe Dave was murdering him.  He obeyed effectively, and we three had the streets to ourselves.  Later we drove a nail in the barn siding and occasionally slipped away on a dark night long enough to hang up a sheet.  Then going up to the back road, we would hit the barn with a stone to attract the attention of the porch sitters who usually went into another panic.  If any youth or grown man started to investigate we always went along and let him in on the joke.

     After the tipoff the investigator usually lost his nerve and on returning advised the more timid to “Keep away from that place the devil’s got a hand in this.”  It was consequently with a feeling of relief that the superstitious saw the tearing down of this old barn a few years later.

     Another frequent James Street annoyance usually occurred about the time the average residents were in bed.  Then down the street would run a howling snarling yelping bellowing dog.  In his wake gathered the aroused dogs of the neighborhood not chained or kept indoors.  These latter however added their quota of barks to the general pandemonium.  I wasn’t in on this prank but noticed that own fighting dog paid small heed to these incidents usually thumping his tail a bit and resuming his nap. 

      I tumbled later when the mother of a personal friend remarked to my own concerning the dog nuisance “They chase poor Frank home nearly every night.”  Now Frank often played with our dog.  Furthermore he wore sneakers most evenings and was to my own knowledge a notorious prankster and mimic.  That was all I needed to know about this.  This same individual often varied the dog incident by starting a one man drunken brawl often changing his voice to imitate the contestants and interceding friends.  

     More amusing than these however was his impersonation of a drunken husband being escorted home by an enraged indignant wife who didn’t “care if the whole world was listening.”  This prankster also effectively staged a midnight shooting affair on the back road which ended in the chase of an imaginary foe through the adjacent woods.    



Soliciting Methods


Various business men often forced sales upon their personal friends by using a ridicule device that shamed or pestered many into buying shoes, clothing, and so forth against their will.  Gee Sam, you look shabby as hell. ‘smatter?  You used to be one of the neatest fellows comin’ in here.  Shave?  Lousy whiskers?  Was the barbers frequent greeting to friends who passed his shop during slack hours. 

     It was not uncommon to receive an anonymous postcard suggesting that you get wise about that old worn out suit of yours, or the length of your hair etc.  Some of these cards purported to emanate from the Board of Health.  Others represented the Postmaster and implied his willingness to supply funds “to end the disgrace” of one’s shabby condition provided the required pauper’s oath be taken by the recipient.

     Where are you going after you get shaved?  Oh hello ah?  Gosh, I didn’t know you with them whiskers (or in that old suit of clothes). Hints and insults such as these were many, varied, infuriating, and highly effective.


A Singular Honor


     A local foreman’s lifelong brag was that in December 1872 his superintendent congratulated him on the production record he had made and “puttin’  his hand in his pocket, he pulled out a twenty five dollar bill and gave it to me for Christmas.”  Skepticism, contradictions, or even well meant corrections by others only met with the retort” I’m no damned fool and can’t be made one.  I know what I’m talking about so don’t try to smart aleck me.  I said he gave me a twenty five dollar bill and that’s what I mean!”


Letters Telephones and Telegrams


     Among the working elements letters were a rarity.  Certain four flushing young men used to mail themselves letter which they rea silently with a grin, and on occasions showed portions thereof to their gangster friends.  It was an insult to insinuate that the letter did not come from “way off somewhere” and the penalty for such doubts was a denial of a glimpse at the postmark. 

     Some folks were frightened at the receipt of a letter, and others suspected a due bill.  A call on the telephone or a receipt of a telegram created a neighborhood panic allayed by some stout hearted neighbor who either opened the telegram or went to the center and proxied forrightened family or individual for whom the message was intended. 


The Quaker’s Revenge

“Give a dog a bad name and you can hang him”


     A moral pointing fable was pinned upon a local Quaker whose identity varied according to the pleasure of the story teller.  Always an affiliate of that peaceful sect was made the scapegoat of the tale.  The individual had to be of course a person of formal and superficial piety  who had a caught a hungry dog gnawing at a freshly butchered hog carcass.  He is purportedly quoted thus:  “Aha you rascal, I have caught thee and though it is against my religious principles I must not mistreat thee lest I be adjudged a hypocrite but I will fix thee nevertheless. “Mad Dog! Mad Dog! Mad Dog!” he shouted arousing the entire neighborhood.  The dog was hunted down and killed and the self-righteous man of peace Pilate fashion washed his hands of the affair.


The Queen’s Own Guards


     Two local men had served in Queen Victoria’s personal guard.  All the men in that regiment were six feet or more in height.  They were two hard drinking worthless Irishmen admired for the nobility of their appearance.  Yet in the opinion of many they were without character.  Both were six feet four, built in proportion and presented a fine appearance.  One escaped the machinations of admiring women and remained true to rum.  The other was captured by a woman who spent the rest of her life taking in washing to support her worthless idol and his brats.

     Both men sang ribald songs reflecting upon the Queen, but resented to the point of fighting any remark of disparagement of her by an outsider.  One of the songs averred that “England noblest blood was shed when Victoria lost her maiden head”, yet the rascals were certainly fond of “The Old Lady” as they affectionately called her.  Each accused the other of having been “bob tailed” out of the service.  A charge despite their denials, seemed quite plausible. 

     According to their statements no English jail could hold them over twenty four hours.  Their discipline was the concern of their officers who were often overruled by Her Majesty who often had the culprit brought before her for a tongue lashing and a reprimand for disgracing her personally.   The regimental gag in such cases seems to have been to appear meek and penitent.  This and a promise to improve their ways often saved them from long sojourns in the guardhouse.


Ode To Lawrenceville abt. 1886


Oh lovely Lawrenceville

At the foot of old Goat Hill

Oh what would the Democrat Party do

If it wasn’t for Lawrenceville

The sweet perfume of nanny goats

That pasture on the hill

Blend with the aroma of hog pens

With which the place is filled

The stinking water of the ditch

Breeds fever and the chills

With mule manure the towpath strewn

Rank nettles the byways fill

Two out of three have lice or itch

In Lawrenceville on the ditch

Yet here they elected Grover Cleveland

And also Governor Hill

Oh what would the Democrat Party do

If it wasn’t for Lawrenceville


Old Customs And Folklore


    “Chipping in” to pay the station agent to take the returns on election nights.  Horse racing was as popular as auto racing in later years.  It was no uncommon sight to see two drives halt on passing each other and talk swapping terms.  If both drivers were in a bartering mood each would alight, walk around the other’s outfit, feel and examine the other’s horse and then haggle over terms.  Sometimes the better horse was swapped for the worse horse and either “boot money” or the other wagon and harness thrown in.  In some cases an “as is” swap was made.

Clergymen were regarded as slick horse traders.  One minister was sued on the basis of misrepresentation and was allegedly acquitted on the production of his written guarantee which read: “This horse is guaranteed to shy at nothing.  Shy at nothing.  Shy at nothing.

“What legal authority do you base that statement upon?” an attorney demanded of the opposition.  “Here’s my legal authority” replied the other tapping his head and smirking.  “And well bound in calf skin at that” Replied the other.

Hailed before the corporation justice for refusal to submit to a shakedown purported to be an income tax, a local man supposed to be worth money plead that his refusal was based upon the advice of his attorney.  “And what did he tell you?” demanded the judge.

“Well your honor” replied the culprit “he just laughed and told me not to worry over it, and sez he, if any two by four ye hawin’ whipper snapper of a graftin’ politician with a brain incapable of anything above low cunning tries to flim flam you into payin’ it don’t let him bluff you. Just tell him I said to knock off the bottle for a while and for God’s sake try and learn something about the law.  That’s all I can remember your honor.”

     The political ring of that day is said to have devised various sources of taxes over which there was considerable dispute.  All peddlers were checked up on.  A dog tax was adopted.  Those who had a thousand dollars in town at that time were considered rich.  The individual mentioned here was not worth over five thousand dollars. 

     Locally there prevailed many reversible stories which were told according to one’s personal prejudices.  These usually reeked with bigotry, intolerance and filth.  They were told slyly and undercover due to the danger of some formidable person from the opposite side stepping up and saying “Here, here, your telling that wrong.  This is the way it goes.”  If for example the story had been related in Irish dialect as between Bridget and the Priest, the second version would be delivered in a nasal back woodsy twang in representation of Arabella and the Domine.  There were many types of these stories.  Each however contained a reverse that on many occasions acted as a boomerang.


Owld Mike The Blacksmith


     Owld Mike was born in the “owld sod” in 1798.  A seven month child born after the death of his father in the battle in the battle of Vinegar Hill.  Four of his older brothers were also said to have also perished in that historic fight.  He had no fingernails and reportedly otherwise bore the marks of the prematurely born.  He came to America on an old sail ship that he claimed was blown back to within sight of Ireland a month after its departure.  The entire voyage to America is said to have taken over three months due to adverse winds.  He landed in New York in 1820 and obtained a job as a blacksmith.  In the beginning of the canal’s construction in 1825, he came to this locality settling in Rosendale where he passed the rest of his life and died when nearly a hundred years old.


     He is said to have been a champion “lepper” or jumper as well as an all-round athlete in sports of his time.  He is alleged to have been among the group of Irishmen who marched to the local polls in the middle 1840’s, and were for the first time permitted to vote.  The condescension of the opposition is thought to have been largely influenced by the claim that each of the marching Irishmen wore a formidable cordwood stick.  Even when a very old man, Owld Mike liked a fight.  A story is told of his last fight.


     A three team load of heavy machinery was obliged to stop in front of his shop due to having slipped dangerously.  “Owld Mike” wishing to be helpful came out with a crowbar and made a few suggestions.  Accompanying the load was a local superintendent notoriously known for his overbearing manner and arrogance otherwise.  “Here! Here!” roared the superintendent, “Get the hell back into your own shop and tend to your own business.  I’ll manage this.”  “Oh, I beg a thousand pardons Mr. So and So”, replied Owld Mike, “I didn’t realize for a minute what a great man ye think ye are.  Oh please sir, don’t run away from me.  I’m too owld a man to be sportin’ at tag.  Hold him one of ye fer God’s sake until I get me hands on him.”  Shamed, the superintendent who was twenty years younger than his opponent, stood still and roared “Well!?”  A few minutes afterward he was lying on his back in the road shouting “Let me up, I’ve got enough!”  “No you ain’t got enough” squeaked the older man I’ll tell ye when you’ve got enough.”  Applying a few more punches he piped “Now you have enough sir.  Don’t laugh at him men or he’ll fire ye sure.”