By Joyce M .Tice
Photos by Joyce M. Tice
Joyce M. Tice
This afternoon I watched the last half of a PBS documentary on the History of Transportation in New York State. It was very well done and very interesting and set me to thinking about the whole development of our present day communications/transportation infrastructure and the role of some of my ancestors in it. A lot has happened in the twentieth century that has changed the life style of America and it is fun to reflect where the people we knew or who were part of our ancestry fit into its development. The infrastructure, for those of you not familiar with the term, is the complex of buildings, transportation and communications structures and the machinery of production that our society relies on for its functioning. It also includes the institutions that society requires to exist.
The very most significant part of the infrastructure that we can all claim our ancestors contributed to is the clearing of the land for agricultural purposes. In this part of New York and Pennsylvania the early settlers moved into a forested wilderness. The early pioneers could clear about an acre per year and work it into condition for agriculture. It took a generation to develop a fully functioning farm at the dawn of settlement here. My Smith and Wood ancestors migrated from Fairfield County, Connecticut to the area of Sullivan Township now known as Sanitarium Hill gradually between 1817 and 1823 and developed that entire hill. Ira Mudge and Lucena migrated from Unadilla in Otsego County NY to the State Road area of Sullivan in 1815. Lucena was the first person to be buried in the now State Road Cemetery in 1819 and Ira followed her there shortly leaving young children in the care of older siblings. Heinrich (Henrey) Tice and Huldah VanGorder migrated to Chemung very early in its settlement from Orange County, New York. Their children were early postmasters and storekeepers in the Town of Baldwin. Their son, Phil Tice, and his wife Amanda Sutton migrated to the Pumpkin Hill area of Rutland early on and remain there in its cemetery. The Millers and Deans of Ridgebury, originally from New Jersey, migrated from the Hector area of New York and settled early in Ridgebury, Bradford County. The land they brought to productivity is still used for agriculture in many instances. The shape of the hay bales changes every few decades, but hay and corn and dairy products are still produced on it. Your ancestors, too, cleared land that is still in productive use.
The first tavern in the tiny village on the island of Manhattan - New Amsterdam - was owned by my ancestors, Joris Jansen Rapalje (1604 -1665) and Catalynte Trico (1606 -1685). The tavern in early times was the center of community meetings and social events and an important part of the community structure. Catalynte spent her widowhood on their farm at the Wallabout in Brooklyn where the Brooklyn Navy Yard now stands.
In the seventeenth century, in Stratford, Connecticut, Moses Wheeler, husband of Miriam Hawley, ran the ferry across the Connecticut River. He was born in England in 1599 and died in Stratford in 1699, the first white person to reach a hundred years of age in the New World. Moses and Miriam were ancestors of mine (several times over as the population of Fairfield County, Connecticut was very intermarried at that early time) and his ferry was part of the infrastructure of the brand new society in New England.
In 1629, Rev. Samuel Skelton organized the first church of the Puritans in Salem, Massachusetts. This church was organized as one of the Established English Churches. Rev. Skelton had previously been Pastor of the Established English Church of Lincolnshire England. In 1630, he dispensed with the prayer book and the church became the Second Independent Congregational Church in New England. It was this change that permitted the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony to unite with the Puritans of Massachusetts Colony into one colony. In 1635, John Lathrop organized the first church at Scituate, Massachusetts. In 1640, Adam Blakeman was the first minister in Stratford, Connecticut. In Northampton, Connecticut in 1664, James Cornish (1612/15-1668) was appointed as the first schoolmaster. He was given six pounds and was required to teach six months of the year.
Tom Quick (1690-1756), husband of Margaret Decker, built a mill, house and barn on the Delaware River where the Modder Kill flows in, at Milford, Pennsylvania. A mill was one of the first elements of an infrastructure when a new community was formed. Unfortunately, Tom, who was always a friend to the Indians, was killed by them while crossing the river on the ice. His son, young Tom Quick, witnessed the event and spent his life seeking vengeance against the Indians. It is all a very interesting story and the Tom Quick Inn still exists in Milford PA. I doubt it has anything to do with the family, but capitalizes on the legends. I had dinner there one time this past summer. Good food! I am descended from the elder Tom and Margaret. Young Tom did not marry nor have children.
Another millwright ancestor was Ebenezer Mudge (1683-1758), husband of Abigail Skinner. Ebenezer and his sons built the first mill at Sharon, Connecticut. Ebenezer was one of the original proprietors at Sharon, and he was responsible for the first saw mill, the first gristmill, and the iron works. A very large lake right there on the Connecticut-New York line is still called Mudge Pond and the road that runs on one side of it is Mudgetown Road. Ebenezer and Abigail's original property at the time of proprietorship included the land on which the Gay-Hoyt House, home of the Sharon Historical Society, now stands.
Micah Mudge (1650-ca 1724) helped lay out the town of Lebanon, Connecticut and in 1700 he and his wife Mary Alexander were among the founders of the First Congregational Church of Lebanon. Prior to the move to Lebanon, Micah had been a surveyor and proprietor at Northampton, Massachusetts. The misfortune of Micah's life, and a sad story even today, was that in 1664, his mother, Rebecca and her third husband Nathaniel Greensmith were hanged as witches in Hartford, Connecticut. Rebecca's surname is not known but she was married first to Abraham Elston by whom she had two or three daughters, then to Jarvis Mudge, by whom she had two sons, and then to Nathaniel Greensmith. Micah was only fourteen when his mother was killed.
In the nineteenth century Benson Archer (1799-1871), who was a third great grandfather of mine on one of my maternal lines, was a river boat pilot in western New York State. I would assume that the river he piloted on was the Genesee. The river was a large part of the infrastructure at that early period in the settlement of this part of the country, even though it was a natural resource and not a human built structure. In any case it was a major channel of transportation and goods moved in that way. Benson's uncle, Bezaleel Archer (1771-1831) a fourth great grandfather of mine (Yes, Benson married his first cousin, Eunice) was Overseer of Highways in Monroe County NY in 1817. The highways he had to oversee were nothing more than mud paths by today's standards. The infrastructure has come a long way since the days of river transportation and mud paths. Still earlier, the Archers' ancestor, Job Benson, was surveyor of highways in Glocester, Providence County, Rhode Island in 1755, 1758, and 1761. Job's father, John Benson, was surveyor of highways in Glocester in 1746, 1750, 1752, and 1754.
At the time that Bezaleel was overseeing the roads, the farmers were responsible for the upkeep of the roads near their property. Even into the early part of the twentieth century in rural areas, the farmers on the road got together in the spring or early summer and, borrowing the township equipment, fixed up their own road. Every family sent at least one worker to participate in the process and the family received a reduction on their taxes for the service. All of the diaries I have of the late nineteenth, early twentieth century for my study area (Sullivan and Rutland Township in Tioga County PA) include references to fixing up the roads in June with the neighbors. Even as late as the 1930s or 1940s, rural people had to work in neighborhood groups to hand shovel out their roads after heavy snowstorms.
From the earliest formation of New England and up until the development of the phone system, mail was the only form of communication available to our ancestors. In Elk Run, Sullivan Township, Northrup Smith, elder brother of my great great grandfather Matthew Smith, was the first postmaster. Solomon Wood, brother of my great great grandmother, Mary Wood, worked for Northrup at his store and later ran it himself and was also postmaster later in the century.
The following letter from a youthful Solomon to the young woman he was
"sparking" at the time and whom he later married, Emma Doty of Jackson,
follows. Apparently the customers were interfering with his letter writing.
I had a hard time to stand it through that morning I got home there was so many to say a little you know
Oh dear I am bothered So that I do not know what I am about as I am tending Store for Mr. Smith to day So you will excuse me if I do not write much to day
Oh Emma I do want to see you so bad. I dont know what to do hardly Emma you cant ever read this I know for I cant read it myself
Emma you must write to me as soon as possible for I want to know where you are now
Oh Emma you do not know how much I sympathize with you
well Emma they do bother me so much I shall be obliged to bring my note as you will call it I Suppose but I will write again when I get a letter from you So good bye Emma and one sweet kiss
Yours Mr. S. L. Wood
Miss Emma Doty
It's a little difficult to keep all of this chronological, because the various elements of the infrastructure developed simultaneously and were steps in a long progression. The Elk Run Methodist Church was founded in Sullivan Township in 1864, and Lucy Bronson, wife of Amos Mudge, was among its founders. Other generations of my family contributed to its development. My grandfather, Lee D. Tice built the baptismal font and other furniture for the church just before his death in 1960. The costs incurred are among his ledger entries in the last year of his life.
The infrastructure includes the communications channels as well as those for transportation. The introduction of the telephone system late in the nineteenth century opened up communication for rural families. Phones reached rural Pennsylvania in the late nineteenth - early twentieth century period. They came in following the development of a cooperative of local people in the area who managed and promoted its installation. In Sullivan Township, my great grandfather, Menzo Mudge, was part of the group that got the phone lines in. Sullivan had them before its neighbors on Rutland Hill (on the Rutland-Sullivan border) The diaries of Emerson Smith or Rutland Hill tell of him making phone calls from Oliver Ide's blacksmith shop in Elk Run or from the store in Elk Run. When the cooperative finally was formed on Rutland Hill, the people went down to Palmer's Woods to get the tallest straightest trees they could find and stripped them out. They installed them in holes they dug along the road all ready for the lines that the Phone Company would string on them. It was a big day on Rutland Hill when voices could travel on wires. The early phones were wooden boxes which hung on the wall and which were operated by a hand crank. All lines were party lines then and "rubbernecking" or "rubbering" was the practice of listening in on someone else's call. Every party on the line had a combination of short and long rings that signified the call was for them, but it rang into every house so everyone heard it and those of a nosy nature would just quietly pick up the line and listen in. A very long series of rings, actually continuous, signified an emergency such as a fire, and everyone would get online to hear where the emergency was occurring so all could go there and help out. If I remember correctly, my father told me that the emergency ring was ten shorts, but I remember hearing it a couple of times and the repeated the ten shorts so that it seemed almost continous for a very long time. Most calls were to local neighbors.
In 1953, my parents and I moved from Elmira, where we had "modern" black phones, to my father's old neighborhood in Sullivan Township. Even that late in the century, the rural area still had the old phone system with the hand cranked wooden box on the wall. It was clearly an antique even then, and even though it was still in use, we were in constant danger that my antique collecting Aunt Freda would run off with it on one of her visits. She never failed to remind my parents that when they got real phones, she wanted the old one. Our signal on the party line was short two longs and a short. Some things you never forget. The shorts and longs were created by the duration of turning the crank. If I remember correctly, when we finally got modern phones, the phone company took all the old boxes and Aunt Freda did not get the treasure she waited for so long after all. My maternal grandfather, John Lewis Miller originally of Ridgebury in Bradford County, was an early employee of New York Telephone Company which later became Bell Telephone. On one of his working trips to Cattaraugus County, New York in 1907, he met and married my grandmother, Blanche Clark, and they moved back to Ridgebury and Elmira. Grandpa worked for the Telephone Company until his early retirement, and he was a member of the Telephone Pioneers of America. He had free phone service all his retired life. His son, my uncle, Phil Miller, also worked for the Phone Company in Elmira. It was called Ma Bell then - remember that?
When my paternal grandfather, Lee D. Tice (1892-1960) was a young man, he went up to the apple country on the shore of Lake Ontario every fall to pick apples for hire. Some of the other young men of the neighborhood also went and the letters back to my grandmother, Mildred Mudge, whom Lee was courting at the time tell of their various pranks and adventures. On October 6, 1912 he wrote from North Rose, NY "They have electric lights in this city, and they are very nice." My grandfather never was one for wasting words.
Electricity came to rural Sullivan Township, the Elk Run area, about 1936, and my uncle, Homer Tice (1918 - 1994), and his friend, Frank Beardslee, hand dug the holes for the poles all the way from Lawrence Corners, up the Elk Run road and all the way up the Gray Valley Road to Route 6. They got 50 cents per hole. The nine foot shovels and crowbar they used are in my Sullivan Township Museum in what used to be the second story of my grandfather's dairy barn. In the beginning, the farmers just got one light bulb that hung from the ceiling in the kitchen. It did not occur to them to use electricity in the barn and they made very sure not to use more electricity than the amount that was included in their monthly $2.00 billing. On October 20, 1936, my grandfather's diary includes a note in parentheses, "(They began to put Lights in.)" On October 22, he plowed some and helped some about the lights. On October 27, "Electric lights was turned on." In spite of this improvement, he went to bed at 8:05 PM just as he had before. On March 6, 1937, my grandfather recorded in his diary that he put lights in the No. 2 and No. 3 hen houses. I have my grandfather's ledgers from the time of the purchase of his farm in 1917 until his death in 1960. His 1920 - 1939 ledger is "temporarily misplaced " in my house, but his "Light bill" in November 1940 was $5.00 and the next Light bill was February 1941 for $6.91, so he was apparently billed quarterly. His final electricity bill, "Lights 2 months" was for $25.63 in April 1960 just before his death in August. His final telephone bill, which he called "Telephone Dues," was $4.11 in June 1960. The expression goes back to the early telephone days when cooperatives were created to get the phone lines in.
In the summer of 1937, the Methodist Church of Elk Run held ice cream socials to raise funds for installing electricity in the church. Joan NASH O'Dell remembers the ice cream tubs all lined up in a row and the variety of flavors available including lemon and grape-nut. My grandfather Tice's diary for July 16, 1937 records that he "went to Bungy to Social." Bungy is a nickname for Elk Run. He did not get to bed until midnight, which was very much off his regular schedule. (Actually I can tell you what time my grandfather got up or went to bed on almost any day of his life.) This was the day before his 45th birthday, which he noted in his diary, so perhaps he was celebrating the event. Ah to be 45 again. On Friday, August 6, he attended another but got to bed at 10:45, possibly because it rained The ice cream social was an important event in the rural community and doubly so in funding various church or grange purchases such as the electricity project.
The Roosevelt Highway, now Route 6, went through Sullivan Township between Troy and Mansfield about 1921 and was the first paved road in the area. In the late 1920s, the Pinchot Roads came through. Mr. Pinchot, governor of Pennsylvania, had run a political campaign based on getting the farmers out of the mud. Prior to his time all the rural roads were mud disasters. They had been adequate for the horse drawn carriages and sleighs that had been in use earlier, but were not at all satisfactory for the automobiles that had come into use. Governor Pinchot supported the building of hard roads in rural areas. A great stone crushing machine was brought in as part of the road building machinery. Farmers and the children of farmers carried stones to the road where they were crushed and used in the road material. Many a stone wall built by the pioneers disappeared into the stone crusher and became part of the road.
For a water supply in the early days rural people used springs and eventually hand dug wells that were lined with stone on the inside shaft. In Sullivan Township very early in this century there was a man named John C. Sherman, and he was a well digger. Ralph York who died last year in his nineties could remember John C. Sherman. When Ralph was a child living just below Sanitarium Hill on the Sylvania Road (He lived most of his life there) John C. Sherman would come walking up the valley on his way home and singing at the top of his lungs. Even after a long day of hand digging wells and stoning up the walls, his great booming voice could be heard for miles. John C. Sherman dug the well for my grandparents in the house they bought in 1917 and in which I now live. The well is covered now and the water goes into a house by pipes and pumps, but it still supplies the water to the house. I own the house now, and I rather suspect that I will switch to a drilled well when I move there, but it will be sad to see possibly one of the last of John C..'s wells fall into disuse. (Update - I replaced the old well in 2004) One of the roads coming off Sanitarium Hill to the Sylvania Road near Sugar Branch Lake is called John C. Sherman Road. His identity remains in the neighborhood even though few living there now know who he was.
Glen Curtis founded Curtis Aircraft, the first airplane factory in the country - actually the world - in Hammondsport NY a year before the Wright brothers did their thing. My uncle, Jerry Miller, got a job there after leaving the army as a Lieutenant in World War II, and he worked there for his entire working life until his retirement. The airplane industry is part of the transportation infrastructure. Lisle Sutfin, my uncle by his marriage to Marvel Miller, my mother's twin sister, worked for Lane Construction in the 1960s and moved all over the country working on highway construction during the time when the Interstate highway system was being built. John Conley, an uncle by his marriage to my Aunt Joyce Miller, worked for the highway department in Yates County NY.
My father was a tech sergeant working on early radar installations at Pearl Harbor in World War II, well after the bombing, and he came home with a tan that lasted almost two years. (Tell me what you did in the war, Daddy. Well, I watched airplanes and laid on the beach some.) He put his electronics training into use in his after-war livelihood. He started a television installation and service business in Elmira in the early fifties when television was a new thing. He employed my uncle and several others in the neighborhood as technicians and office support people. He had installed many hundreds of TV antenna systems before we ever got a television of our own. The only time I got to see TV before 1954 or so was when someone else's set was "on the blink" and my father brought it home to test it out. He and his staff had meetings every morning in our living room on Gaines Street before going to the office or out on the job. My mother complained for years about how they wore out her carpet. In his sixties (the 1980s), he built a television cable system in Granville Township, Bradford County and sold it to Blue Ridge Cable when he retired a few years ago. I can't offhand think of any ancestors or relatives who worked with the railroads, except for the unfortunate Lucas boy from Mainesburg who was stepson of my great grandfather's sister Lois Tice, who married Lewis Lucas as his second wife. (Yes, they were then known as Lois and Lewis Lucas- I have their photos) In Corning in 1906, James Clinton Lucas, age 38 or so, was a conductor on the "cars," as trains were called in the nineteenth century, and was hit by one. The very explicit newspaper article tells where every body part landed and I will not burden you with the details of that disaster. The journalistic style of the time left nothing to the imagination.
In looking over my ancestry files I am surprised to see how many ancestors I know of for whom I only know names and nothing of what they did in life. Still lots more opportunities for research. I've left out a lot of my earliest ancestors in this country who were proprietors and first settlers in many of the towns of Connecticut. There is also very little about the female ancestors, first because they were barred from much public activity other than founding churches, and in later years working as school teachers. Additionally, much of what they did was not recorded in the public records unless they got in trouble with the law. I know of no ancestors who were involved with the canal systems or the building of any of our public buildings. I am sure if I dig a little deeper into my files, or think a little longer about various family members I knew, I'll come up with others who helped develop the infrastructure. Even my own work as an accountant specializing in accounting systems qualifies. Many of the accounting systems I have implemented since 1983, are still in use in businesses small and large. And in 1996, I founded the Tri-Counties Genealogy and History sites on the Internet. It is interesting to watch the progression of technology in the twentieth century as it comes to a close. My grandfather was a pioneer in the telephone industry at the dawn of the century, my father in the television industry mid-century, and I in the computer and Internet sector at century's end. Think about it. You can probably come up with some very similar stories from your family history. It's all about ordinary folks doing ordinary things and it keeps the world running. The history of one's ancestors' involvement with building society's infrastructure, is the history of the world.