Author Archives: John Conway

John Conway

About John Conway

John Conway is the Sullivan County Historian and teaches a class on Sullivan County history at SUNY-Sullivan.

Crime And Justice In Sullivan County


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arthur c butts(1)Jacob Gerhardt was a quiet Cochecton Center farmer who was quick to help his neighbors until a fateful day in December of 1880, when his life changed forever over a case of unrequited love.

Gerhardt worked in the fields every day to support his wife, while his brother Adam and his wife, Mena farmed nearby. When Adam Gerhardt died suddenly in 1879, Jacob went to live with Mena, “to work her farm on shares.” Continue reading

Alfred B. Street And The Rise of Foliage Tourism


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StreetWhile the tourism industry has prospered in Sullivan County, New York for more than 150 years now, the concept of fall foliage as a tourism tool is relatively new.

The idea of promoting the changing colors of the leaves on the trees to encourage tourists to visit an area did not exist much at all before the late 1930s, and although both the Berkshires in Massachusetts and the Poconos in Pennsylvania were promoting fall foliage tours as far back as the 1940s, the Catskills did not begin to cash in on the idea until the 1950s. Continue reading

Sullivan County: The Milkman and Murder, Inc.


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AshkenasNewsAs the summer of 1936 faded into fall, New York State Police and local authorities in Sullivan County were trying desperately to uncover new leads in what had turned out to be a particularly perplexing murder investigation.

It had begun just before six o’clock in the morning on Saturday, September 5, when a young milkman from Hurleyville was making a delivery to the Paramount Manor hotel, just a short distance from the hamlet on the road to Liberty. As Dave Margolin neared the main gate, he came upon a stopped car, blocking the long driveway to the main house. Even in the faint early morning light he could make out that the driver’s side door was open. As he left his truck and approached the car, he noted it was a taxi, a dark-colored Lincoln sedan, New York license plate number 034-657. And then he saw something that he would never forget. Continue reading

Knapp’s Folly: Sullivan County’s Columbia Hotel


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ColumbiaAerial1940Many of the participants at the 14th Annual Catskills Preservation and History Conference at the Liberty Museum & Arts Center in Liberty, NY last month were quite surprised to see and hear about the magnitude of Sullivan County’s resort industry during its heyday.

The opening presentation featured an in depth retrospective of the Delano Hotel in Monticello by Marvin Rappaport, grandson of the founder. Continue reading

Sullivan County’s Honeymoon Murder


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PittsburghPhilLoch Sheldrake, or Sheldrake Pond, as it was known before many of the ponds in Sullivan County became lakes overnight as part of the late 19th century tourism boom, is one of the deepest bodies of water in the region.

It was a favorite dumping ground for Murder, Inc. when the enforcement arm of organized crime plied its trade in the mountains, and it is believed that at least one of the bodies deposited there has never been found. Continue reading

A Salute To Teachers


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RoyceFrom 1812 – when the New York state legislature authorized the formation of common schools to provide basic educational needs to a community’s students – through the early part of the 20th century, one room school houses made up the greatest part of the education system in Sullivan County.

In 1870, when the county had a population of 34,557, of which 13,635 were of school age, there were 198 school districts here. Those 198 districts employed 196 teachers, handling an average daily attendance of 4091 students. Most of those teachers were women. By 1939, there were 98 school districts in the county, and most had grown beyond the one room school-house. Still, women made up a significant part of the workforce needed to keep these districts running efficiently. Continue reading

Phebe Reynolds Thwarts The Tories


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phebeJames Eldridge Quinlan’s History of Sullivan County is generally regarded as one of the most thorough and entertainingly written local histories.  Published in 1873, Quinlan’s history is the undisputed bible of Sullivan County’s past, and yet it is not without its shortcomings. Some have criticized what they view as his selective exclusion of material – he does not, for instance, write much about the Civil War, and it has been said that this was because he was a Copperhead, or a southern sympathizer. And each year in March, Women’s History Month, we are reminded that he afforded minimal space in his writings to the women of the era.

That makes the few women he does write about stand out even more than they might otherwise, and no woman receives greater praise from Quinlan than Phebe Reynolds Drake. Continue reading

African-American History: Seeking Fortune In The North


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BrickmanAerial[1]When Harvey Griffin became a member of the Monticello Fire Department in 1875, he was the only African-American living in the village, and one of just a handful in all of Sullivan County.

In 1930, when the population of the county was just over 35,000, and the area stood poised on the brink of its Golden Age, census figures reveal there were 91 African-Americans living here. That’s just over one-quarter of one percent of the population. Continue reading

Sullivan County’s First African American Firefighter


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MontMansionHouse2During the night of April 26, 1874, fire broke out in the livery stables of LeGrand Morris’ Exchange Hotel in Monticello, NY. Village residents were roused from their beds to form a bucket brigade to battle the blaze, but were unable to keep it from spreading to, and destroying, the hotel itself. A number of other businesses, including George Hindley’s saloon, Kent’s Barber Shop, Billing’s Flour and Feed Store, and the printing plant of the George M. Beebe’s Republican Watchman newspaper, were also consumed.

Largely because of that fire, the third major blaze in three years to rock the small village of about 900 residents, Monticello organized its first fire department less than a year later. Continue reading

Early Black Landowners In Sullivan County


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Custom_House,_New_York,_1799-1815(2)Nearly 400 years ago, in 1626, a ship carrying eleven slaves was unloaded in New Amsterdam by the Dutch West Indies Company. Those eleven men are believed to be among the first African-Americans brought to what is today New York State.

Attempting to pinpoint when the first African-Americans arrived in Sullivan County, NY is considerably more difficult. There are a number of plausible scenarios, and the evidence supporting any one of them is sketchy at best. A stronger case can be made for the first man of African-American descent to own property there.  It was almost certainly Phineas Booth of the town of Neversink. Continue reading