When Hardy Settlers Decide To Stay
By Kathleen Welton
Jeffersonville is a small, rural town located in the rolling hills of Sullivan County, New York. It is known for its peaceful summer days, picture-perfect fall foliage and breathtaking, crisp winters. Although Jeffersonville is quite an established town these days, this has not always been the case.
When the Board of Supervisors removed Fremont from the Township in 1870, they renamed the Township Callicoon. The name Callicoon came from a Dutch word, Kollikoonkill, which translated into “cackling hen” after the many wild turkeys native to the area. The land was largely owned by non-residents who were not willing to foot the bill to have roads built through their property. This was one of the last territories to be settled in the county. When the New York & Erie Railroad came into the area, access to this beautiful wild area opened up. People began to settle and towns were born. One of these settlements in the Town of Callicoon was Jeffersonville.
Although the earliest recorded settlers of Jeffersonville were Jacob and Cornelius Knockerbockers Schermerhorn, Thomas S. Ward built the town’s first frame house in 1839. Ward, a very large man, made money by settling disputes between people in the area. He eventually applied for and received a license to practice law. In 1842, about 110 Swiss immigrants settled in the area surrounding where the Presbyterian Church on Main Street now stands. The Swiss named the little settlement the Winkelried Society after the Swiss patriot, Arnold Von Winkelried.
(Arnold von Winkelried was a Swiss hero for his action at the battle of Sempach, July 9, 1386. He is credited in legend with the Swiss defeat of the Austrians under Duke Leopold. Winkelried saved the battle by throwing himself against the Austrians and gathering all the spears to his breast within reach. He fell dead but he had breached the enemy ranks, and his compatriots rushed to victory. Five hundred years later in 1886 a monument of Winkelried was erected on the battlefield).
Another early settler came for health reasons. He was Charles F. Langhorn, who had a heart condition, was advised by his doctor to settle in an area that was abundant with hemlock. It was believed that the hemlock tree had medicinal benefits. He settled in Jeffersonville in 1846 and built the first hotel. He was an avid admirer of the Declaration of Independence, so he named his hotel the Jefferson House. It is believed that this is how Jeffersonville got its name. The Mansion House was another hotel in Jeffersonville. Olney A. Borden, the first Town of Callicoon Supervisor, owned it. The first commercial hotel to open its doors in the summer to city guests was The Beck in 1882. It had 45 rooms. The Beck supplied a stagecoach to meet the O & W train daily. By 1912, The Beck had accommodations for 150-200 guests. In December 1912, Mr. Beck put an oil lamp on the 2nd floor to keep the pipes warm. Unfortunately, this lamp caused a fire, which destroyed the hotel.
Jacob Quick built the first sawmill in town, which was very successful. When Jacob’s wife, who was unhappy living in Sullivan County passed away, he soon, thereafter, remarried. He bought a new home and built a second sawmill in North Branch. Jacob’s uncle was Tom Quick, the infamous Indian killer. Tom spent most of his adult life trying to avenge the death of his father who was killed in an Indian raid.
E. A. Clark & Co. was a tannery in Jeffersonville that was ranked 2nd in the country in output in 1865. It consisted of 182 square vats, consumed 5000 cord of bark a year and produced 600,051 pounds of sole leather. After it closed in 1866, the McDermott brothers bought and kept the company going for a few more years. There were three other smaller tanneries in town owned by John Schaefer, Philip Faubel and Mr. Gabel.
Jeffersonville was home to the only German language newspaper in the County. The paper was named the Sullivan Volksblatt and was published by Childs & Boyce in September 1870. Only 1-3 issues were printed. Childs & Boyce also published the Local Record. The residents of Jeffersonville and the surrounding areas worked long, hard hours to establish themselves and their town. After clearing land and building homes and businesses, any entertainment was anticipated with enthusiasm. There were four outdoor pavilions in town used for picnics and dances. The amount of beer that was drunk and the number of fights that occurred determined the success of some picnics: “The amount of beer consumed was a large quantity to dance off and often manifested itself as a disturbing influence by promoting the fighting instinct in the German element – beer in fact came to be nicknamed “German disturbance!” (Charles S. Hick). The brewery in Jeffersonville, run by Valentine Schmitt, did a brisk business. In 1897 and 1898, a total of bills from hotels and saloons in town showed that 3000 kegs of beer were consumed in a village with a population of 500.
Aside from regular picnics and dances, there were other local events. A festive occasion celebrated by friends from all over was Coaching Days. These were held both in May and September. The boarding houses and hotels competed by decorating wagons, surreys and buggies. There were exhibits of homemade goods, local produce, cattle and horses. Horse races were held on Main Street and clambakes or barbeques followed. The popular round and square dances filled the evening hours with fun and music.
Progress and increased population continued to encourage changes in Jeffersonville. In 1849, a Post Office opened in town. A school was built near the Lions Field in 1869. In 1887, the village was linked to Liberty by telegraph and in 1913 electric was run from Livingston Manor. In 1911, Fred Duttweiler ran the first bus route. The bus seated 12 people and traveled back and forth to Liberty from Jeffersonville.
Other developments naturally followed. A gristmill was built by Henry Seibert and then sold to Fred Scheidell in 1841. The mill had two sets of stones for flour and an all-metal feed grinder. In 1900, it served as a storehouse for Italian cheese made at a local creamery. After the mill closed, the millstones were bought by Irving Berlin, the famous composer, who took them to his country estate in Lew Beach to be used as card table tops on his lawn. In 1912, a fire destroyed the mill. It was rebuilt out of concrete by Theodore Bollenbach and was known as the best-equipped mill in the area. At present, this old mill has been renovated and is used as an Art Gallery on the “Island.”
One of the most interesting businesses of Jeffersonville was built on a section of the village known by the locals as the “Island,” the section of the village located over the auto bridge just as one comes into Jeffersonville on Route 52 West from Liberty. George and Casper Eggler started a soda water factory in a cellar located over a natural spring. The gas to carbonate the water was manufactured on the grounds. The bottles were very thick to accommodate the pressure of carbonation. The bottles were first corked, and then in later years, a stopper was used. The flavors for the soda were in powder or liquid form to be mixed with sugar. The birch beer was made from extract of the black birch bark peeled from local trees.
In 1918, a large section of Main Street was lost during a fire started in the Eagle Hotel1s pantry/kitchen area. According to Jesse Abel, who is now deceased and who was the Town Historian for many years. The village didn’t have a truck, so a fire truck had to come from Liberty to help fight the flames. The Goubelman and Lichtig buildings, Homer Cafe’ and Beck1s Department Store were all lost. The Beck’s Drug Store was gutted but its steel sheeted walls stopped the fire. A machine shop and six cars were also destroyed.
Despite the devastating fire, the town rebuilt itself and kept growing steadily. In order to meet the growing community’s needs, a formal government had to be adopted. The Village of Jeffersonville was incorporated in 1924. The outcome of the first election held on November 11, 1924 named William Lieb as the village’s first mayor. Many of the homes and businesses of Jeffersonville built in the 1800’s have been maintained and are beautiful to this day. According to the Comprehensive Plan of the Village of Jeffersonville, the buildings constructed within the Village over the years reflect some outstanding and unique forms of architecture. Victorian themes prevail and an excellent example of this is the two-story porched inn with the mansard roof on Maple Avenue. It reflects the Second Empire period of 1855-1885 and is superbly maintained. Another is the Queen Anne Victorian (1880-1910) Law Office of , also on Maple Avenue. This area of the Village contains a number of interesting and well-maintained structures including a nice example of Italiante (1840-1885) architecture with Victorian influences at the corner of Maple Avenue and Chapel Street. (Shepstone Management Co. 1997).
In addition to the residential construction projects, two large commercial projects took place in Jeffersonville in its early years, namely, the Lake Jeff Dam and the new Central School District. The first project was the dam and was built in 1937, is 240 ft. long, 18″ thick and 30 ft. high at the spillway. Today, the dam is used for hydroelectric power. Malcolm and Ann Brown have worked tirelessly to make this a possibility. The hydroelectric plant is located at the base of the dam and its power is used to run the nearby Public Radio Station of WJFF, which was founded by the Browns.
The second project of the new Central School District held its first classes in 1939. The last class to graduate from the Jeff School, located near the Lions Field, was the class of 1938. The new school, overlooking the Village, was modeled after the Governor’s Palace in Williamsburg, Virginia, and was constructed at a total cost of $417,500. The school is still in use today and in 1988, was even listed in the National Register of Historic Places. In 1968 an addition was built onto the Jeffersonville-Youngsville Central School. The school was again enlarged in 1994. Voters from Narrowsburg, Callicoon and Jeffersonville approved a school district merger in 1999. A new high school will be built in Lake Huntington. The current Jeff School will house grades K-8 once the new high school is completed. The village1s libraries also merged.
In addition to famous construction projects, there were also several interesting people who were either famous or infamous in Jeffersonville’s history. Captain Edward H. Pinney studied law and started his practice in Jeffersonville. In 1861, he left to join the Civil War. He saw action and was promoted to Major, although he was always addressed as Captain. When he was discharged from the Army, he was nominated to the office of Supervisor of the Town of Callicoon. In 1875, he was elected as County Judge and in 1881 was Assemblyman for Sullivan County.
Frederick W. V. Schadt was the Mayor of Jeffersonville from 1945-1987. This dedicated gentleman served the people of Jeffersonville for 22 consecutive two-year terms, which is a State record. Susan Hemmer has been the Village’s Mayor since 1995.
Our peaceful, little village experienced some unwanted activity one day in 1972 when Harry W. Yates robbed the First National Bank of Jeffersonville. The masked thief pointed a gun at the teller and stole $3,580.00. The same man robbed the United National Bank of Callicoon in March 1972. Thanks to the quick action taken by law enforcement, the thief was arrested in Roscoe on a bus that was departing for Elmira, New York. A loaded automatic pistol and $3,574.00 were recovered. The amount was less $6.00, which was the cost of the bus ticket!
In June of 1974, Patty Hearst was kept in a home in Jeffersonville that was rented by Nicki Scott, a Symbionese Liberation Army ally. Patty Hearst described Jeff as “remote and as near nowhere in particular.” (Times Herald Record, June 1974). During her days in captivity in Jeffersonville, it was rumored that she trained in guerrilla warfare.
Although the Village of Jeffersonville covers only a 1.5 square mile area with 3.02 miles of streets, it continues to experience changes and improvements. It is surprising that the population remains steady. In 1950, there were 421 residents and the population in the year of 2000 was 420.
Jeffersonville has a wonderful volunteer fire department and ambulance corps that has given this community many years of dedicated service. Many local families are active in community groups such as Jeffersonville1s boy and girl scouts, youth sports teams, Lions Club, Masons, Eastern Stars, Veterans and other worthy organizations.
The Village Houses of Worship include The First Presbyterian Church formed in 1842, Saint George’s Roman Catholic Church formed in 1843, The Lutheran Church started as the Reform Church in 1852, the Methodist Church and the Congregation Ahavath Shalom. Many shop fronts on Main Street are being improved and new businesses are moving into the town. The Jeffersonville Area Chamber of Commerce holds the festive Jeff Jamboree and Parade each August to introduce our community to visitors. They have also added flowers and flags along Main Street in a continued effort to make our town attractive. A beautification plan for the Village is in progress with enthusiastic volunteers eager to improve Jeffersonville.
I am proud of Jeffersonville’s long and interesting history. I am excited about its future and all of the changes taking place. I know Jeffersonville is more than a beautiful community with wonderful people because Jeffersonville is my home. back to top