Collecting Memories

- by Bruce E. McKinney

Recently I saw an item that looked interesting to me:  a handmade bookmark related to New Paltz.  For $125 I immediately committed and a little gem soon arrived in a small package protected by two slices of cardboard.  Bingo!  It was all I could hope for.




Here is what it shows:


Samuel B. Stilwell’s Book

New Paltz June 28


For Sam’l Stilwell     By Steph’n Stilwell


New Paltz, once a sleepy burg in southern Ulster County, has a long history, given Ulster was one of the earliest outposts of Dutch colonization in the new world.  Randomly sited throughout New Paltz, stone houses were built of glacial moraine for warmth and security.  The oldest examples date to the 17th century and others to the 18th.  It was not such a big place but big enough to incorporate three hamlets, Butterville, Springtown and Ohioville.


Sylvester’s  History of Ulster County, New York by Nathaniel Bartlett Sylvester, 1880, explained:


Ohioville is a small settlement about two miles east of New Paltz, and contains two wagon-shops, a blacksmith-shop, a schoolhouse and twenty houses.  It is not considered a very near relative of the important State whose name it bears, but is said to have been named in honor of Moses Freer, who proposed to emigrate to that State, but did not, settling instead in Ohioville.  The post-office was created over twenty years ago.  Samuel B. Stilwell is the present postmaster.


I know Ohioville well as my family moved there in 1951.  Even then it was a place that used to be, with an abandoned school house and only memories of when the post office used to receive and frank letters.  Our $35 a month faded white and green trimmed house dated to the surge of interest in that place when the new electric trolley was built to connect New Paltz to Poughkeepsie in the late 1890’s.   By 1922, the trolley had come and gone as had the glow of commercial promise.  Our parents now the new publishers of Will Plank’s Hudson Valley Newspapers including the New Paltz News and four papers, could barely pay the rent but managed to trade advertising with their new landlords, the Tantillos, who also sold groceries and soon my mother started picking up advertising copy and to convert their handwritten texts into lead.  My parents were both hardworking and ingenious without a penny to spare.


Given they worked almost every day, I had freedom to walk around Ohioville, subject to my mother’s absolute rule not to cross the New Paltz Road.  That rule was quickly hard learned.  My mother’s cleaning lady was hit by the Poughkeepsie bus in front of our porch in 1952 and the road became the dividing line between life and death.  From then on I explored on the south side of the New Paltz Road or ambled south on Ohioville Road.


On that road you could see the complexity of life, even to the untrained eyes of an 8 year old.  Our house was old and decaying, its best days behind it, and in time I learned about a much older old stone house a short mile south that was already understood to be an important relic in the County.  I knew a little bit about it because one of our classmates, Irving Ackerman, lived there.  He was living in a museum.


Per chance, when the New Paltz bookplate arrived recently I contacted Carol Johnson, writer and historian, who manages the Haviland-Heidgerd Collection of local history at the Elting Memorial Library in New Paltz and simply wondered does this seem familiar to you?  Within a New York minute her response arrived:  yes.  Soon after she added:


Samuel B. Stilwell, 1825-1898, son of Catherine Bevier and Samuel Stilwell, married Jennet Stewart. Lived in a stone house at 175 South Ohioville, a farmer of over 100 acres with another farm in Lloyd of 66 acres. Seems like the book was given to him by his father.


To that I subsequently found in the 1885-6 Ulster County Directory on page 270, Stillwell, Samuel B., postmaster, Ohioville.  As well, there is S. W. Stilwell (Stilwell & Smith,).  Marlborough.  S. W. may have been his brother.


So there it is.  A random scrap of paper connects, with the help of one old friend, to connect with another and to the place I lived 65 years ago.




The Samuel B Stilwell’s Book [plate]


A copy of the New Paltz, Highland and Poughkeepsie Traction Company Time Table [undated but between 1905-1922]