Even before New York Governor Kathy Hochul recently cleared the way for a new village to be formed in Sullivan County — a referendum on January 18 will determine the fate of what is proposed to be called Ateres — there had been quite a bit of attention focused on villages in the state.
There are currently 532 villages in New York, but nearly five times as many have been dissolved over the past 30 years as have been created.
Six of New York’s villages are in Sullivan County. Monticello, incorporated in 1830, is the county’s oldest village, followed by Bloomingburg, Wurtsboro, Liberty, Woodridge and Jeffersonville. The latter village will celebrate its centennial in the coming year.
Although the community was established nearly a hundred years before, it was in October of 1924 that the residents of Jeffersonville in the town of Callicoon voted 63-50 to incorporate. Nearly all of those who were eligible to vote in that referendum managed to do so, and many provided their own ballot. Formal incorporation and the election of officers followed a month later.
That area was first settled in the 1830s, and by the following decade had already become home to a large population of German and Swiss immigrants who named the place Winkelried, after the legendary 14th century Swiss military hero Arnold von Winkelried.
Charles F. Langhorn helped fuel the growth of the community, by building the first hotel in 1846. Langhorn suffered from tuberculosis, and had been told by his doctor to settle in an area abundant with hemlock trees, so he chose that sparsely settled part of Sullivan County.
He called his hotel the Jefferson House, and a vibrant community grew up around it. The hotel was the first building in the area to be painted, and was so substantially built that with some repair was still operating as a hotel as late as 1871, under the ownership of the Egler brothers. The building stands to this day.
By 1870, according to Hamilton Child’s Gazetteer and Business Directory for Sullivan County, Jeffersonville had grown to include four churches (Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Reformed), three hotels, six stores, a printing and newspaper office, one saw mill, two grist mills, two wagon shops, one brewery, one furniture store, a tannery, two harness shops, one mineral water plant, and a school.
Its population at that time was about 500, which ranked it behind only Monticello (1,000), Wurtsboro (650) and Liberty (600) in the county.
The newspaper office printed a German language newspaper, The Sullivan Volksblatt, as well as the weekly Local Record, which had been started in Callicoon in 1868 by W.T. Morgans, later a well-known inventor. The paper was moved to Jeffersonville in 1870, and was published there by D.J. Boyce and A.P. Childs.
The tannery was owned by E.A. Clark & Company and contained 182 square vats, consumed 5,000 cords of bark annually, manufactured about 50,000 sides of leather a year, and employed about 35 men year around, more during bark peeling season.
The brewery was that of Valentine Schmitt, “a manufacturer and dealer in lager beer,” for which there was apparently an eager market. Manville Wakefield wrote in his 1970 book, To The Mountains by Rail, that a spot check of hotel and saloon bills in 1897 revealed that in the community of 500, over 3,000 kegs of beer were consumed.
A good portion of this beer was served at the dining room of the Beck Hotel, which had 45 rooms when opened by John Beck in 1882, and had grown to accommodate between 150 and 200 guests by 1912.
The establishment was empty on December 12 of that year, when, according to Wakefield, “Mr. Beck placed an oil lamp in the bathroom on the second floor to keep the water from freezing in the pipes. It is believed the oil lamp exploded; but in any event, Mr. Beck had just enough time to arouse his sister-in-law, Miss Christine Ruppert, and make an escape from the second floor. Two hose carts were brought to bear, but it wasn’t until the water pumps in Bollenbach’s grist mill were set in motion that the pressure increased enough to save adjoining buildings.”
The community was not so fortunate a few years later, when the fire of May 10, 1918 destroyed a major part of its business district. Fire broke out in the kitchen of the Eagle Hotel in the early morning that day, and quickly spread to the Goubelman Building and then the Lichtig Building on the south, and to Eddie Homer’s home and cafe and Beck’s Department Store on the north. The flames also destroyed Becker’s Drug Store and the Holmes & Martin automobile dealership, along with its inventory of six cars.
The community was devastated beyond recognition within just a few hours, but was quick to rebuild, and Jeffersonville continued to grow and prosper, becoming the sixth – and so far last – of Sullivan County’s incorporated villages in 1924.
Jeffersonville today has an active populace and an enlightened, accommodating government, so the centennial celebration could be something to behold. Stay tuned.
Illustration: Jeffersonville, Sullivan County Main Street in 1914