Thursday, August 25, 2011

A famous Don

No, not the mafia.

Greenwich was home to another famous Don... Laura Don. I am sure you are asking yourself "Who?" again. But, that must be why you read this blog, to find out "who".

By published newspaper accounts, Laura Don was born Ann (or Annie) Laura Fish  in Glens Falls, NY in either 1850 or 1852. Her father was a prosperous wheelwright in the area and eventually moved the family to Greenwich. Laura, a romantic girl (modern readers can substitute "dreamer" or "imaginative"), was published in Ladies' Magazine at a young age. The piece was called "Gathering Pond Lillies". She enjoyed painting. After a trip to Brooklyn to visit friends she became enthralled with the theatre. Then, on a trip to Troy in 1868, she met a young photographer named George S. Fox. The couple was married a year later, but soon divorced because of Laura's continued interest in a stage career.

Laura Don enjoyed some modest success in traveling troupes in Cleveland, Chicago & parts west & south, before securing more steady work in New York City in 1879-80 with Frank Mayo, an actor from Boston, best known for his stage roles of Badger in The Streets of New York & the title character of Davy Crockett. Laura appeared in a revival of The Streets of New York  as Alida.

Praised more for her beauty than her acting ability, Laura's biggest triumph came in the 1882-83 theatre season with the production of her own play called A Daughter of the Nile. Not only did she play the role of Egypt, she was also stage director & manager. The effort exhausted her and she took a rest in Nice, France after the play closed.

In the summer of 1885 Laura returned to Greenwich to be with her parents. Here she succumbed to consumption (tuberculosis) on February 10, 1886.  She had reconciled with her ex-husband George Fox. He was there with her parents and a clergyman when she died. Ann Laura Fish is buried in Greenwich Cemetery in section G closest to Cottage Street. She was in her mid-30s.

Tuberculosis was & is a terrible disease. It was called consumption in Laura Don's time because the bacteria seemed to consume the person from the inside out. Fever, and coughing up blood are tell-tale signs.  The New York Times reported the day after her death that "For weeks she has been living almost entirely on morphine, and at the time of her death was much emaciated."

WPA poster- late 1930s

Thursday, August 18, 2011

It's Fair Time!

You may not know that, arguably the best county fair in the Empire State, is the Washington County Fair. It was first held in Salem in 1841 & eventually moved to Sandy Hill/ Hudson Falls. It remained there until 1934. The Great Depression took it's toll on many things, and the fair was one. Four years later, in 1938, the fairgrounds and 30 structures were sold to make way for the County Highway Department.

junior fair participant shows off her calf 2008 (Basile)
The Cambridge Valley Agricultural Society, which had been hosting fairs in Cambridge since 1900, revived the Washington County Fair in late August 1947 at the McMullen farm in the Town of Greenwich. Where was that, you might ask? Well, it's about where Hannaford sits now- near Routes 29 & 40 & the roundabout.

During the 1930s & 40s another local fair was floundering, the Washington County Junior Fair. Then in 1949 the Junior Fair had to be cancelled because of an outbreak of polio. By November 125 young people had contracted the debilitating disease, four died.

Five years later, in 1954, Philip Houlton of Hoosick Falls (see even folks from Rensselaer County know it's the best fair) sold his share in our county fair for $6,000 to a group calling themselves the Washington County Junior Fair. From that moment on, the two fairs would be forever linked.

When did the fair move to it's current location in Greenwich? Well, it's not in Greenwich. The current fairgrounds along Route 29 may have a mailing address of Greenwich & a zip code of 12834 (zip codes were instituted in 1963), but the location is the Town of Easton. Anyway, the Washington County Fair moved to it's current location, then called Brisbane Flats, in 1961.

rides on the midway 2006 (Basile)
Other notable moments in Washington County Fair history are...

1983- Fair attendance exceeds 100,000 for the first time
1999- E. coli outbreak kills two. The village of Greenwich begins chlorinating its water.
2000- After spending $100,000 to ensure safe water, attendance is down 10%
2011- The fair opens for it's best season yet

P.S. If you have any photographs or ephemera of the Washington County Fair, I would love to start a collection. If you don't want to donate the  items, I can scan them & give them back to you. Please!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Animal Bounties

Yes, you heard right. I have twelve Claim, Affidavit and Certificate for Payment of Bounty documents in my office. They prove that at least one coy dog, three porcupines and fourteen bobcats were killed in the Town of Greenwich between 1956 and 1971. These "animal bounties" were paid to residents when they brought in proof of kill to their local town clerk. After the paperwork was filled out & signed, it was submitted to the county for payment.
Attached to the twelve bounty claims are copies of two resolutions; one dated March 12, 1948, & the other February 27, 1970. They say, basically, the same thing, except the price on the head, or rather the rattle, of a rattlesnake rose from $3.00 in 1948 to $5.00 in 1970 & foxes were no longer a nuisance because their previous bounty of $3.00 was revoked in 1970. Bobcats, bay lynx, & wolf or coy dog were fetching a hefty bounty of $25.00 in both 1948 & 1970. Porcupines were a paltry $0.50 each!
How did bounty hunter prove his kill? If you don't want to know, stop reading here.

bobcats, bay lynx, wolf, coy dog, fox- complete carcass
porcupine- the tail
rattlesnakes- "the rattles including at least three inches of the skinned tail with all the rattles unremoved [sic]"

Mr. Gillis of East Greenwich requested $50 for bobcats killed 1959

Town Clerk Elizabeth Wilson approved it

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Zip code 12848

When the United States Postal Service stated last week that they were considering closing some 3,700 post offices across the country, I didn't think of my brother and sister-in-law losing their jobs. I immediately thought of the little, white clapboard post office of zip code 12848, who's main purpose is to provide post office boxes to residents & businesses in and around the hamlet of Middle Falls in the Town of Greenwich. But, I needn't have worried. It is not on the list of potential closures.

So, I thought I would place a photograph of the previous post office in Middle Falls, to pay homage to rural post offices nationwide. It was the kind of post office that USPS wants to go back to, a store that provides post office like services. Everything old is new again, as the saying goes.

Middle Falls Post Office 1962

The following is on the back of the photograph... "First post office I remember. Middle Falls, N.Y. The only thing I bought there was gum. Either spruce gum or white parafine [sic] gum. I lived in a red brick house in the village at that time." Lee Fuller- July 1962