Along The Willowemoc
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Willowemoc Acid Factory -
The building material needed for the construction of Stoddard Hammond's factory was brought in by the railroad and unloaded at the Parksville and Livingston Manor depots, which then needed to be carted over the primitive roads leading to Willowemoc. Among the items were sheet metal used for sheathing the building, eight retorts used in the wood burning process, and fifteen carloads of bricks, some of which were to be used for lining the ovens and others for the erection of the eighty-foot smokestack. Throughout the spring of 1891, carpenters and laborers worked non-stop at the the factory site. By June, the main building was enclosed, sheathed with iron and the masonry work almost completed; a structure that was two hundred and seventy-five feet in length and thirty feet wide. The main, and final obstacle keeping the factory from beginning operation was the setting up of the plant's main heating boiler...
Early in July, the boiler that would serve as the heating plant for
Hammond's acid factory arrived on the rail cars at Livingston Manor. The
behemoth's weight of over eight tons strained the railroad company's bridges
and trestles along its route as they shook and trembled under the load, as
well as straining the nerves of the railroad men who must have also shook
and trembled with fear as their train passed over each river crossing. On
its arrival, the boiler was unloaded onto trucks, sets of wheels that were
similarly used by the railroad cars, and hauled over the countryside to its
destination at Willowemoc with as many as nine teams of horses needed for
The acid factory of Stoddard Hammond was in a somewhat
unusual location. Situated in the isolated upper portion of the Willowemoc
valley, it was not close to the area's transportation lifeline of the
Ontario and Western Railroad, as were the other chemical plants of
Hammond's competitors, and the crudely constructed rural roads to and from
Willowemoc were often unable to handle the increase traffic volume. To help
insure a reliable route to haul the plant's products, a macadamized road was
built over the hill connecting the now busy community of Willowemoc to
Parksville, shortening the distance to the railroad's cars by some three and
a half miles.
During the operation of the family's tannery at Debruce,
Stoddard Hammond resided along-side the employees who worked at his plant,
and with being an ardent hunter and fisherman, enjoyed the wilderness
setting of rural life that the upper Willowemoc valley offered. His third
marriage however was to a Binghamton socialite who enjoyed the cultivation
offered by refined civilization more so than that of a plowed field. The
couple moved to Binghamton where she participated in many socials circles
and joined many women's clubs. As for Stoddard, he filled important
positions in Binghamton's political and financial circles, attending his
Willowemoc business affairs from afar, with only the occasional visit back
to the forests, streams and ponds he had always enjoyed but had now come to
miss. Early in 1909, Stoddard gave up living in Binghamton and moved his
possessions to one of the cottages at Willowemoc near the factory and was
once again residing amidst the families that depended on him for employment
and well-being, and he on them for the successful operation of his factory.
Midway into the cold winter of 1910, the daughter of Stoddard Hammond had become seriously ill, prompting a visit by him to her home in Boston, accompanied by his wife and other daughter. They returned after the visit by the railroad on February 12th, arriving at Livingston Manor in the midst of a tremendous snow-storm. The stage-coach from the station was able to make its way through the drifted road to Willowemoc, arriving in the early evening's winter darkness, but the driver was unable to drive the coach down to the Hammond cottage due to the deep snow. Stoddard insisted on walking the final one hundred yards through the blowing snow and deep drifts. Once to the cottage, his wife and daughter attended to the wood stove as the exhausted Stoddard rested in his chair near the stove. With the fire set and the stove beginning to warm the room, the ladies became engaged in a discussion over the facts concerning the family's recent journey, when they were startled to find that Stoddard had slid off the chair and onto the floor, where he soon expired.
Stoddard Hammond, the last member of the family whose business endeavors
begun by his father changed the landscape of the Willowemoc valley along
with the surrounding hillsides within a period of sixty years, was dead.
Operation of the acid factory continued on, now under the proprietorship of
"Ren" Roosa, but with the fiery destruction of his just recently constructed
hotel at Willowemoc, soon leased the plant to the firm of G H Treyz in 1915.
Ten years later, during a similar wintry snowstorm that was partially
responsible for the death of its original owner, the snow-filled sky that
hung over the upper valley of the Willowemoc cast a red glow coming from the
flames that completely consumed the Treyz acid factory. Little could be done
to save the buildings, as fireman coming from Livingston Manor encountered
roads so covered with drifting snow that when they finally arrived, all that
remained standing was the smokestack.
The most recent visit by glaciers into the Willowemoc Creek's valley, perhaps ten thousand years ago, is responsible for much of the valley's current landscape. As the valley glacier drove down the Neversink River's west branch valley, the ancestral valley of the upper Willowemoc, a lobe of ice spilled over the valley wall, following roughly the same course of the original valley, near what is now Round Pond. This ice flow continued for about a mile where it then stalled, the edge of the glacier melting as fast as it was being fed more ice from the glacier's flow. Debris in the form of rocks and boulders piled up as the glacier continued to transport the material to the edge of the ice.
Ice, which earlier had entombed the whole Willowemoc valley with the continental glacier ice, had already melted and disappeared from the valley that the Neversink glacier invaded, the valley now being filled with water, the result of a small glacial lake formed when glacial debris dammed the valley downstream. Water from the melting Neversink glacier now fed into this lake, carrying the finer debris of gravel, sand and silt off of the glacier into the valley and being deposited onto the lake's bottom, further filling-up the valley with this fine material. Finally, the water from this glacial-runoff swollen lake breached the dam below, leaving behind a section of the ancestral valley filled with silt and sand, today's Fir Brook valley.
Currently, Fir Brook slowly
meanders through this valley, its channel cut into the sand and silt
deposited thousands of years ago by the glacial runoff. Trees along its
shores, its roots precariously anchored only by the loose sand and silt,
easily topple into the stream. Groves of fir and hemlock that thrive in
the deep sandy soils fill the valley, surrounded by native hardwoods that
were once so much sought after by previous generations of area lumbermen.
The valley, its characteristics somewhat unusual here in the midst of the
Catskills, has an Adirondack aura to it. Wildlife, of course, abound;
particularly noted are the various species of flycatchers that nest here
and spring peepers, who in the early spring announce the end of
winter with a full-throated chorus that fills the valley with the
high-pitched uproar, heralding the coming warm weather. - Fred