Joel Kimball Diary - January 1874
|Thursday, January 1, 1874
"Cloudy morning. Charley Sheeley went down to Orrin Sprague's and got his hound and got John Decker's gun and we went hunting rabbits on the hill, found plenty of tracks and set out the dog but did not see any. Came home and in the evening went up to the depot, saw Nathan Murdock and Manley Sprague, pretty tight, got some cigars and sardines and came home. Commenced snowing about 8 o'clock and continued all night, snowfall about 8 inches." -
Thus begins the first entry for the year of 1874 into the diary kept by
Joel Kimball; what was to become a year-long journal. Kimball, an active
young man, lived with his family on a farm along the flats below what was
then known as Purvis Post Office. The journal that he kept not only recorded
his own daily activities and wanderings, but also introduces us to the whole
cast of characters, his neighbors, friends and business associates, who made
up the local community. These daily narrations offer us a glimpse into the
past and a mental image of what life was like one hundred and thirty-five
years ago. - Fred
Friday, January 2, 1874
"Stormy morning. Done chores and went on the hill and fed the cattle and went to Cochran's, stayed until two o'clock. Wm. P. Rose cut birch to make a yoke near my fallow.
"Mother and the girls came home just before dark. I cut some wood and made fires. They brought some apples from Neversink and a pea hen from Sheldrake.
"Weather warmer. Took John Decker's gun home."
William P. Rose was the immediate neighbor to the Kimball's, owning the
farm located along Bascomb Brook where it joins into the Willowemoc. Rose,
being the age of 48 years at that time, bought the property back in 1859.
He also was a lumberman and with his farm bordering along the waters of
the Willowemoc Creek, he now had access to the main transportation link of
getting his lumber to the markets of New Jersey and Pennsylvania. -
|Saturday, January 3, 1874
"Done chores and went to flats. Called on Mrs. Campbell's and got my revolver. Called at A. Cochran's and C. Darbee's. Stopped at Greene's and practiced some with Ger. Sheeley and Geo. Greene on band instruments. Rode to depot with B. Rowe and to Livingston Manor on train. Took my horn home with me and left it at the new store in care of W. Denman. Rode to Decker's with Thos. Collins, got mail and came home.
"One meal at Greenes."
Joel's trip to the "flats" would be to Westfield Flats, today's Rockland,
and "Greene's" most likely the hotel there, now the location of the Rockland
House. On his return home, he stopped at "the new store". Located next to
the railroad depot, the building was erected in the summer and fall of 1873
and the mercantile business was established of Divine, DuBois, Parks & Co. A
little over a year later, John Divine and William Parks, two of the above
named partners, sold their interests to the remaining partner, Alvin Dubois,
who reorganized the firm into the A.P. DuBois & Company. - Fred
Sunday, January 4, 1874
"Warm morning, snow disappearing very fast. Went on the hill and fed the cattle. Stayed around home until about 8 o'clock when Dave started for home and I rode up above Collins' and went to Col. M.'s
"Snow nearly all gone, sleighing very bad. Mother went to church, Julia stayed at home and did not go with Dave."
Warm weather during the winter was always a mixed blessing. Winter
travel relied on riding sleighs and cutters overtop packed snow; warm
weather turned the roads slick with ice or into a quagmire of mud. Also,
with the rapid melting of the snow-pack, the rivers and streams tended to
rise quickly, filling their channels and leaving little room for any
additional precipitation. - Fred
|Monday, January 5, 1874
"Fixed rack under hovel for calves to eat from. Cut some wood and commenced to make a smoothing plane stock. Went to John Decker's in evening and sent letter to Poughkeepsie.
"Weather warm and squally."
The post office at Purvis Post Office (the community that is known as Deckertown today) along with the little general store associated with it, was operated then by post master John Decker. Because of his unusually long name, John Daniel Waniel Moore Decker, he became known throughout the area as "Alphabet" Decker. - Fred
|Tuesday, January 6, 1874
"Went on the hill and got a load of wood with steers and drew it up to Bishop VanGaasbeck, nearly three-quarters of a cord. After noon went up to shop and made a wrench to tighten skates with and then went to the depot. Saw Wilbur Denman, looked at boots. Went to Hiram Beach's and bought deer-skin for 20. Saw J.E. Schriber; they arrived home from Pennsylvania last evening. Came home and done chores and put skin in tub to soak.
"Mother went to meeting.
"Another warm and rainy."
"Wilbur" Denman [other accounts know him as William F. Denman], being a
nephew of John Divine, one of the partners of the new mercantile company,
was the store's clerk and lived overhead his place of work. The area was
pretty lawless at the time with thievery, incendarism and even the
occasional murder being common. The Divine, DuBois & Company store was easy
prey to local hooligans; in fact the store was broken into so many times
during its first years that young Denman was initially thought to have been
involved in the misdeeds, until it was later proven to be the handiwork of
the Maffett gang, a local family of reprobates along with a couple of their
neighbors, who were the cause of this and other mischief about the area.
|Wednesday, January 7, 1874
"Done chores and worked in shop making plane stock and repairing Decker's fishing rod. Finished plane and cut some wood.
"Flood in the river, made a pike pole and caught some planks.
"Tried to grain deer-skin, could not.
"Wm. P. Rose called and borrowed two inch augur. Worked some at J.D.W.M. Decker's fish rod.
"Very wet day."
A second day of rainy weather, coupled with the melting snow which resulted
from the previous days' warmth, raised the level of the waters of the
Willowemoc. With the Kimball farm in the lowlands near the river's channel,
Joel stayed close to home and probably kept an eye on river, which turned
out to be to his benefit.
|Thursday, January 8, 1874
"Still raining, water very high, running in road down near the bridge.
"Grained deer skin and cut some wood, went to blacksmith shop and made pike of broken pieces of pick. Went to store and got pair of boots for 500, came home and dried deer skin and put it in oil. Wm. P. Rose brought auger home. John Sheeley paid me 15c.
"Rainy and warm."
Apparently Joel had decided to get the new pair of boots and neither hell
nor high water would keep him from going to the store at Morsston. After a
third day of rain, the Willowemoc finally overflowed its banks, flooding
Mott's flat below the covered bridge at Sprague's. There were two routes
that Joel could have taken from his home to get to town, one being the road
to Purvis where he probably would have encountered, with the rivers running
high, a swamp between the Purvis covered bridge and the old log and plank
bridge that crossed the Little Beaverkill, or else continue across the
covered bridge at Sprague's leading onto Mott's flat, trudging on through
the flooded section. Either way, he would not need to worry about ruining
his old pair of boots. - Fred
|Friday, January 9, 1874
"Very fine morning. Went on the hill and cut wood and set up sap troughs until noon, came home and washed out deer skin and piled some stone along the river edge. Drew two loads of stones into the road where the water had washed it out. Spliced whip for Robert Schriver, paid 25c. Called at post office in evening. Mother went to meeting at Wm. P. Rose. I worked at deer skin some.
"Very fine day."
Joel's ancestors were amongst the earliest of settlers in the wilderness
area called Westfield Flats. Levi and Abigail Kimball, his great
grandparents, made the arduous journey over the rugged Catskill terrain from
Connecticut in 1796 and, along with Samuel Darbee, settled in the valley of
the Beaverkill River. - Fred
|Saturday, January 10, 1874
"Wm. P. Rose and I fixed road below the house where the flood tore it up. Went on the hill and cut some wood and fed cattle. Oiled deer skin again. Split some wood.
"Went up to the depot and saw Rob Brown and J. Cochran. Way freight got off track near Woolsey's switch. Got putty and rode home to Decker's with Laf Sprague, received letter from Poughkeepsie. Came home and commenced to dry deer skin. Saw Lida and said good-bye.
"Warm day, some snow squalls."
When the Willowemoc overflows its channel, the water rips into the
riverside bank at the river's bend below the eddy located in front the
Catskill Fly-Fishing Center. To minimize the damage, large stones have been
placed over the years on the bank of the outside curve. This is probably the
area of the damaged portion of the road that Joel mentions above, since it
is located just below the old Kimball homestead.
|Sunday, January 11, 1874
"About two inches of snow. I'd done chores, barbarized and went up to Col. Moores, saw W. Wagner, E.L. Vernooy and W.H. Waters. Stayed until about four o'clock and came home.
"Mother and Julie went to meeting down to school house. I remained at home in the evening. Called at John Decker's in morning and got two bottles Roos Syrup for Adele.
"Col" Moore may have been a favorite neighbor of Joel's for there are
many references to the "Colonel" in his diary throughout the coming year.
James Moore, sixty years of age at the time and one of the little-known but
colorful local characters during this era, grew up near the Grahamsville
area where he married Susanah Hall, the daughter of Squire John Hall from
Mutton Hill. John Hall was an active political figure in the early days of
the Town of Neversink, serving many political positions at the town level as
well as sitting on the State Assembly. He served in the army during the War
of 1812, with the rank of corporal, thus he was often referred to, so as not
to be confused with his father who had the same name, as "Corporal" Hall; a
man of many titles.
|Monday, January 12, 1874
"Went on the hill and got a load of wood and drew it to Bishop VanGaasbeck'
"Pretty fair day."
In 1874 Bishop VanGaasbeck worked as the blacksmith at Purvis Post
|Tuesday, January 13, 1874
"Grandfather braided a lash for me. I went to the post office in the morning and mailed letters for Julia and worked at lashes. Feel rather dull. Mother went to Decker's and got Register. Ida Sheeley called in the afternoon. father called and got broad-axe, axe half and cant-hook.
"Looks like snow."
Newspapers had yet to be published within the Town of Rockland, its
residents relying on getting the news from publications of other communities
in the county. By 1874, twenty-three local newspapers had been started in
the county since the year of 1821, but by the time of Joel's diary, only
four remained in operation. The Republican Watchman and the Sullivan County
Republican were published at the county seat in Monticello. The "Register"
that Joel refers to would be the Liberty Register, which was a fairly new
publication at the time, starting in 1870. It continued in operation until
|Wednesday, January 14, 1874
"Snow fell, about six inches last night. Drew a load of wood off the hill and fed cattle. Made two lashes and cut out four more. Called at post office and received letter from Irwin A. Hodge. Ida Sheeley still here. I tried to catch some bait fish and failed. Cut some wood.
"Snow squalls all day and windy in evening."
After working for a week on preparation of the deer skin, it was now ready to be made into its intended use; the making of lashes. Long, narrow strips of leather were sliced off the newly tanned hide, which were then braided together forming strong ropes of leather, or lashes. Rafts of lumber that negotiated the currents of the smaller tributaries of the upper Delaware River were kept small to be better able to handle the twists and turns of the rough and tumble ride down the smaller creeks. Where the river becomes wider, these "colts" were then assembled together into a raft by being tied together by use of the leather lashes, giving the larger vessel both strength and flexibility as it rode over the river's waves down the Delaware. - fred
|Thursday, January 15, 1874
"Cold, snowy morning.
"Went up to J. Decker's and asked if I could have his horse to go to Neversink, found it all right. Saw Hiram Crippen. Went on the hill and fed cattle. Mrs. L. Sprague, Miss S.J. Sprague and Miss A. Vernooy called and made a visit. Made some lashes.
"So cold I did not go to Neversink. Went to depot with J.D.'s horse, got cutter at Purvis.
"Very cold in the evening."
The Sprague farm, neighbors to the Kimballs, was located two miles
north of Purvis at the intersection of the Rockland Road with the road going
up over Johnston Mountain to the Beaverkill community. In June of 1847,
James Emmitt Sprague erected his home from lumber sawn and timbers hewn by
himself. The large colonial style house was capable of housing his growing
family as well as that of his younger brother, Erastus. The house still
stands today and is still in the family, descendants of the Spragues.
I'm really liking this diary and the insight it gives into daily life in that time period.
A couple of Questions:
|Augurs, of the gasoline powered kind, are used today for drilling holes
in the ice for ice-fishing. When I ice-fished in my younger days, before the
roar of the gasoline engine, long-handled ice spuds were used to chop the
hole. A rope was attached at the loop on the top end of the handle or else
when the spud broke through, it could continue on down through the ice to
the lake's bottom. The augur that William Rose borrowed was only a two inch
augur, probably too small for ice fishing, especially for Shandelee fish.
Its just a guess, but perhaps he was building a post and beam structure at
the time, such as a barn, and used the two-inch augur for drilling out the
beams for the pegs.
Julia Kimball married David Munson, who Joel will introduce shortly.
|January 16, 1874
"Very cold, wind blowing from the northwest.
"Made four lashes before noon and done chores. Went to blacksmith shop and made iron for work bench, made cant hook stock for Laf Sprague. Called at post office.
"Came home and cut wood and piled wood. Made lash in eveining, went a lash to D.G. Gillett by Ben Shaffer.
"Cold, cold, cold."
Lafayette Sprague came from a family known up and down the river as being
lumber and rafts men, In 1874, the Purvis area had at least five wood mills
in operation; the older mills of Purvis and Mott, the Hardenburgh mill on
the Little Beaverkill and the new mills erected along the Cattail Brook by
John Woolsey and Medad Morss, all of whom mostly, at that time, relied on
experienced raftsmen to get their lumber to market. Young Lafayette, being a
steersman, no doubt got his feet wet many times rafting on the Willowemoc,
and hopefully only his feet, by steering these colts down the Willowemoc and
|Saturday, January 17, 1874
"Filed skates for Hiram Crippen and skated a little. Cut some wood and braided lashes. After noon went down by Sheeley's and tried to hook some suckers, could not find any, tried to catch some bait and failed. Rode to depot with J.W. Davis.
"Weather some warmer. Did not get any mail. Called at T.C.'s and played euchre."
Thomas Collins was a genuine hero. "T.C.", who Joel visited at the end of
the day, was a young veteran of the War of the Rebellion who was honored by
being awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for various act of personal
|Sunday, January 18, 1874
"Stayed home all day, done chores and read some of Byron's Don Jaun. Mother and Julia went to meeting, grandfather came in afternoon.
"Weather some warmer."
Sunday was a day of rest, religion and reading for the Kimball family. Four
generations since Levi and Abilgail Kimball first settled on the Beaverkill
flats at Westfield, the Kimball lineage, through marriages, had become
interwoven with most of the families of early settlers of the
Monday, January 19, 1874
"Stormy day, rained all day. Grandfather and I made lashes nearly all day. Grandfather went to Uncle Billing's. Uncle Asa Hodge called and stayed all night."
Joel's mother was the former Lavinia Hodge. She married Isaac Kimball on
July 1st of 1841 and between them they had seven children. By 1874, three
of the oldest children had already passed away, Joel now being the oldest
surviving child at twenty-eight years of age.
|Tuesday, January 20, 1874
"Uncle Asa and I went on the hill and saw cattle come back and I made an axe handle for Uncle Asa. Grandfather called and we went to depot. Stayed until about three o'clock, rode home with Hiram Rose. I cut some wood. Received $4.00 of A.J. Bennett for road work.
"Asa Hodge Sr., one axe handle, 50
"Dave came over."
Hiram Rose's family were neighbors to the Kimballs, early settlers on the
flats below Purvis Post Office. Besides operating the small farm, he was
also a steersman, piloting colts down the Willowemoc and Beaverkill.
|In a couple of his diary entries, Joel mentions making trips to
Morsston, once to the store there, and I think to the blacksmith shop. Do
you have any other information as to what the town of Morsston consisted of
in those days?
Thanks - Jim P. - The Morsston House
|When the Oswego and Midland Railroad passed through and began through
operations in 1873, the railroad depot that was built became known as
Morsston Depot. The name Morsston was then generally used as the name of the
community that built up by the depot and eventually the older community of
Purvis across the river.
As businesses were only beginning to be built around the depot area, the main business district, including the blacksmith shop, at the time would have been in Purvis.
The original Morsston now took on the name of Old Morsston and what businesses that were located there, where I believe John DuBois had a general store and post office, were already closing with the demise of the tannery and a few years later the devestating fires. - Fred
|Wednesday, January 21, 1874
"Stormy. Went on the hill and drew one load of wood. Cut some wood and finished making lashes.
"Snowy, blowing and hailing."
Thursday, January 22, 1874
"Grandfather and I took Davis' team to Flats, sold lashes to Sheeley and Wilson. Got some writing paper, paper collars and ink. Cut some wood. John Decker went to Mongaup Pond and caught fourteen pickerel.
"Warm and sloopy day.
"Sheeley and Wilson for forty lashes - $13.80
"Called at Decker's in evening.
"Geo. Green Co., bought a new horse shoe - 45"
Joel's initial investment of "20" (cents?) for the deer skin from Hiram
Beach has now turned a profit of over thirteen dollars. Sheeley and Wilson
were lumber merchants and Joel's lashes would be utilized by them for the
assembling of colts and rafts this spring.
|Friday, January 23, 1874
"Warm, foggy day. Worked on John Decker's cutter's thill, put in two new crop bars. Went on the hill and cut some wood and trimmed some trees. Uncle Oliver called and ate dinner. Aunt Katie and Charlie went away in afternoon. Carried thill up to Decker's in evening."
The Oliver Borden family were part of the Kimball extended family. "Aunt
Katie", Catherine, and who was Oliver's wife, was the sister of Joel's
mother, Lavinia, and Charles was their ten-year-old son. - Fred
|Saturday, January 24, 1874
"Cut wood until noon, then went on the hill with steers and sorted out wood and cut some wood. Julia and Dave went up to Ireland after Julia's money, came back just before night, having been successful. Mother came home just before they did. I called at B. VanGaasbeck in the evening. Mail came, received Register."
Julia Kimball, Joel's sister, was just recently married the previous October
to Davis B. Munson, a native of the northern Delaware County section. The
family farm, Benjamin and Mary Munson being the parents, was located in the
Town of Franklin, but according to one family historian, the farm was sold
by Benjamin and the family moved to the Town of Rockland. The large Munson
family included at least ten children but tragedy struck in February of 1841
when the three oldest children, ages ranging from three years to six years
of age, perished with disease, all three within a two-week period. David,
only one year old at the time, now became the oldest surviving child in the
family. - Fred
|Sunday, January 25, 1874
"Cold, windy weather with snow squalls.
"Stayed at home reading Byron's Childe Harold until about four
o'clock then went on the hill and fed cattle and called at Col. M's.
"Dave and Julia at home."
Again, Sunday is a day of rest for Joel, spending the harsh wintry day
inside reading the classic Romantic poems of Lord Byron.
Monday, January 26, 1874
"Very cold morning."
Done chores and filed cross-cut saw. Helped Laf Sprague saw wood nearly all day, came home just before night and went on hill with steers and drew load of wood.
"Weather some warmer in evening. Granfather started for Loch Sheldrake, Julia and Dave started for Munsons."
The economic times were changing. The lumber industry, or some derivative
of it, was the most important activity for the town's residents, in most
cases adding additional income for farm families and laborers. Then the
railroad came, bringing the world to the doorstep to each backwoods depot
along its line; providing goods, mail and employment. Workers were needed
to build the road; workers were needed to maintain the road; workers were
needed to operate the line; all an attractive alternative to the strenuous
work and drudgery of lumbering in the winter woods.
|Tuesday, January 27, 1874
"Cut wood until noon at the house, Laf helped me sawed it with cross-cut saw. After noon went on the hill with steers, cut some wood off a large maple tree that had fallen down, cut two logs.
"Commenced snowing. Drew load of wood to B. VanGaasbeck, three quarter cord."
One of the railroad bridges that Lafayette Sprague helped build, Bennett's
Bridge over the Willowemoc Creek which was located two miles from Westfield
Flats, would soon have to be rebuilt.
|Wednesday, January 28, 1874
"Went to blacksmith shop and helped repair cutter. Came home and ate dinner and started for Neversink with John Decker's horse and sleigh. Called at Morsston Depot and Parksville. Found sleighing quite thin. Arrived before night and found folks all well.
"Warm, rainy day."
Before Rockland became a township in 1809, it was originally the part of the
Town of Neversink whose boundaries extended into the valleys of the
Willowemoc and Beaverkill. Before Neversink became a township in 1798, it
was originally the part of the Town of Rochester whose lands extended into
the valley of the Neversink. Soon after the American Revolution, heirs to
the original large tract land-holders of the Hardenburgh Patent, began
selling portions of their land in the Neversink Valley, inducing early
settlers to come and clear the broad, flat valley that was nestled amidst
the high ridges of the southern Catskills. The Abel Hodge family, ancestors
to Joel Kimball's mother, were amongst these early families attracted to
this valley, migrating westward from Connecticut. Abel and his son, Asa,
would eventually live the remainder of their lives at Neversink while other
members of the family continued their move westward, over the divide into
the Willowemoc Valley. - Fred
Thursday, January 29, 1874
"Stayed around house until noon, Irwin and Uncle Asa drew some hoop-poles. After noon, Newell and I went to post office and back on horse-back. Went to prayer meeting in evening, Newell, Irwin and I.
The Asa Hodge family, which included sons Newell and Irwin, resided on
a large farm near the hamlet of Neversink. Active in town affairs, Asa
Hodge, who was the great-uncle to Joel, was a natural leader and was
elected to local political positions, including township supervisor.
|Friday, January 30, 1874
"Newell and Uncle Asa went cutting hoop-poles and Irwin done chores and we played euchre. After noon we went to B.S., had pleasant time, played dominoes. Went home at night.
"Quite cold and snowy. Saw B. Bogart and E. Smith."
By the second half of the nineteenth century, over-cutting of the virgin
forests by the lumber and tanning industries began to deplete this valuable
resource. Without the hemlock bark, essential for the tanning process,
tanneries closed down and moved their operations to the still hemlock-rich
forests of Pennsylvania. With lumber becoming increasingly scarce, lumbermen
began to drift westward to the forests of the upper Midwest. With the
decline of these activities, another industry emerged, the hoop-pole