1816, The Year of No Summer

A Home in the Wilderness. Colored lithograph; Currier & Ives, 1870. Bequest of Adele S. Colgate, 1962. Accession Number: 63.550.204. Public Domain.
A Home in the Wilderness. Colored lithograph; Currier & Ives, 1870. Bequest of Adele S. Colgate, 1962. Accession Number: 63.550.204. Public Domain.

Terrible cold* blanketed the Northern Hemisphere with wintry weather in the summer of 1816. The notorious cold destroyed most of the crops in the Town of Lumberland, New York. Only rye, potatoes, and onions grew. Not even a blade of corn sprouted.

Asa Hickok, his sons Reuben, David, and Justus, and other Lumberland farmers, dressed in their heaviest clothing, cradled, raked, and bound their rye crop in their deer skin mittens.

In 1816, Lumberland, New York was the proud owner of some 150,000 acres of rolling hills carpeted with huge ancient trees, interspersed with streams and ponds. Lumbering was the main occupation of its few residents.

Halfway Brook flowed south through the middle of Lumberland to the Delaware River, the town’s southwestern boundary and the New York-Pennsylvania border.

Though Lumberland had been completely stripped of its entire white pine trees, the area was still heavily forested with yellow pine, hemlock, oak, hickory, and other trees. Some were two hundred years old.

Nine sawmills dotted Halfway Brook’s nine miles. There were sawmills on at least four other streams which also fed into the Delaware River.

The Hickok Homestead

The Asa Hickok family had lived in the area for four years and at least had an established garden. Their Homestead with its house and barn sat near Halfway Brook, two miles north of the Delaware River.

A falls on a stream now called Hickok Brook, connected with Halfway Brook on its way south to the Delaware River.

Near the juncture of Halfway Brook and the Delaware River was the River, a hamlet later called Barryville.

A crude, rope-guided ferry was the only way to cross the Delaware River from Barryville south to Shohola, Pennsylvania.

James Eldred Homestead
James Eldred, his wife Polly, five children, and his twice-widowed mother had recently arrived—two days before 1816 and ten days before Phebe Maria Eldred was born.

Though 1816 was a terrible year to start a garden, James Eldred at least had one of the nine sawmills on Halfway Brook. The mill sat beside their old log cabin home, four miles north of the Delaware River. Their property, on two cleared acres near the middle of Halfway Brook, was the southeast corner of the future Halfway Brook Village—much later renamed Eldred.

1816 Lumberland
In 1816 Lumberland was sparsely settled. Bears, wolves, foxes, coyotes, and wild cats hunted in the thickly forested area, and occasionally helped themselves to the settlers’ chickens and sheep.

There were only four frame houses, nine frame barns, and a gristmill. The animals included 19 horses, 34 oxen, and 34 cows. There were ten wagons.

One person owned a clock which furnished the time for the town. James Eldred owned one of three watches.

The Congregational Church
A Congregational Church met in log cabins or barns in remote areas near the Delaware River, in Lumberland. In the fall of 1814 some of the meetings were held at the Hickok Farm. In 1815 Sylvia Hickok, daughter of Asa and Esther, died at the age of 34. Sylvia was buried in what is now the Old Eldred Cemetery.

• The cold summer is now thought to have been a result of the volcanic eruption of Mount Tambora in the Dutch East Indies in 1815.

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Happy New Year 1907–1937

This is a repost of a collection of Austin New Year’s Postcards first on the Halfway Brook site starting in 2011.

Happy New Year 1907.
Postcard sent to Elizabeth Austin in 1913.
1914 New Year card in the Austin Collection.
1931 Happy New Year from Bill Austin to his uncle Ell Austin.

In 1937 Aida Austin sent this card to her brother Ell Austin. On the back she wrote the first verse of a poem by Sallie Ward Barns (1836–1919).

1937 Happy New Year
Poem on back of Aida’s 1937 New Year’s card.
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December 1941

Art would enlist at Camp Upton in February 1942. Postcard from Art Austin to his uncle Lon Austin in Eldred.

December 1941 is the only month I have not posted. Here are the links to the previous months of 1941.
January 1941; February 1941; Aida and Lon, March 1941; The Village and the A&P, April 1941;May and June 1941; Clambake Summer 1941; September 1941; October 1941; November 1941

December 1941
Monday morning, December 1, Aida went to the A&P. The weather was very cold and it felt like snow. Lon and Arthur went to church in Barryville.

Wednesday morning, on his day off, Arthur visited his aunt 
and uncle.
It was much colder on Friday when Jim started work again for Narrowsburg Lumber Company.

Sunday, December 7, Pearl Harbor was attacked. “Anthony arrived about three p.m. War declared,” recorded Anna Leavenworth of Islip on Monday. Tuesday Anna noted, “Radio humming all day. War declared on Japan. Worked on Christmas towels.”

Tuesday morning in Eldred, Aida went to the A&P and then to see Ed Myers, where her Austin nieces stayed.

Wednesday in Islip Aunt Anna worked on guest towels for Christmas gifts. Anthony Hirsch stayed there during the week. Thursday Chef Anthony made a duck dinner for Anna’s guests. “A good time,” Anna jotted down in her diary.

Thursday Katherine Dunlap called on Ella on the west side of Eldred. Stella was in for a while. “Hitler and Italy declared war on the U.S.A.,” Ella wrote that night. The Austin and Leavenworth aunts and uncles would be quite concerned during the next several years as Art, Bill, and Bob Austin and Jim Leavenworth would eventually serve overseas.

At the end of the year Charlee took lessons at the Singer Machine Company.

With the U.S. now in a war, the townsfolk took turns watching for planes at the golf course on what was once Dr. DeVenoge’s property. Jim and Goldie watched for planes on Friday.

Sunday afternoon, December 21, Arthur was up to Aida’s for his skates. The Methodist had their Christmas Tree in the evening.

Monday in Islip Aunt Anna worked on “Xmas cards of which there seems no end.”

Tuesday morning Aida went to Mae’s and the A&P. Martin Myers drove her home. At noon on Christmas Eve, Mae stopped by Aida’s with some candy and cake.

Christmas Day was a beautiful day in East Islip. Anna went to a friend’s for dinner. When they returned at 4 p.m. they found part of South Highway patrolled and guarded by anti-aircraft guns. Continue reading

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1846 Thanksgiving Week

Mezzotint of a Puritan husband and wife walking through snow on their way to Meeting. He carries a rifle, she a Bible. Engraver: Thomas Gold Appleton; Artist: George Henry Boughton; 1884, c1885 March 31. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division: 00038.
Mezzotint of a Puritan husband and wife walking through snow on their way to Meeting. He carries a rifle, she a Bible. Engraver: Thomas Gold Appleton; Artist: George Henry Boughton; 1884/1885. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division: 00038.

Hannah Hickok Smith was 79 years old when she wrote the following about Thanksgiving in the year 1846. Hannah, a widow for sometime, and her five daughters, Zephina, Laurilla, Cyrinthia, Julia, and Abby lived in Glastenbury, Connecticut, some seven miles from Hartford. A voracious reader, Hannah’s eyes were weakening and she repeatedly mislaid her glasses. She commented on her health as she often did not feel well.

Monday 23, Monday
…It has grown so cold today that all our cattle are in the yard eating stack hay. I do nothing but read…We washed and ironed.

It is near Thanksgiving, but we do not begin to cook for it. I do not think I have been so happy on that day as I was before my father’s death (1784) when I was sixteen and Bella and Sally came to see me.

November 24, Tuesday
…Have been tolerable well except when I go about, I have that bearing down pain, I do not know what it is…

Next day after tomorrow is Thanksgiving. Zephina and Laurilla have been down the street to get a sheet iron to bake on and a stove pipe fixed for the parlor. Zephina is gone to kill fowls.

November 25, 1846, Wednesday
Today rose about seven…The storm begins to be tedious. Our cattle should go in the stable…I am as well as usual and better…It does not seem like Thanksgiving tomorrow.

November 26, 1846, Thanksgiving
Weather: cold, clear, icy and snow. I rose about seven. The ground is covered with snow which does not melt. One or two sleighs…

We have had a fire here in the air stove today. Laurilla and I are pleased with it. It makes such equal heat. I think it made the pudding the best we ever had. And because it was so sweet, the tart and pumpkin pies.

I could not praise most excellent chicken pie and I have eat as much as I want and feel the better for it, no pain or other bad symptom…

We have all our cattle stabled, except the 2 yearlings. Thermometer: 30. The wind blows and it will be colder. Some sleighs, but poor sleighing, though the snow has not melted.

November 27, 1846, Friday
Still cold and windy, sleighing poor, but it is day after Thanksgiving which once was a pleasant day and it is now gratifying to think I am in better health than I lately expected to be…

It is cold writing here. I have a fire in the parlor and I shall sit by it…

Hannah Hickok Smith’s Journal, Part VIII, August 14, 1846–March 31, 1847, Hartford, Connecticut State Library, 1945. (I adjusted some wording for readability.)

Note: Mezzotint is a printmaking process which enables half-tones to be produced by roughening the plate with thousands of little dots made by a metal tool with small teeth, called a “rocker.” In printing, the tiny pits in the plate hold the ink when the face of the plate is wiped clean. A high level of quality and richness in the print can be achieved.

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Meuse-Argonne Cemetery

Romagne-sous-Montfaucon, American Cemetery, principal entrance, the Hotel-House and offices. 1923 postcard in Aida Austin Collection.
Romagne-sous-Montfaucon, American Cemetery, principal entrance, the Hotel-House and offices. 1923 postcard in Aida Austin Collection.
Crosses in the Romagne-sous-Montfaucon Cemetery where McKinley Austin was buried initially. 1923 postcard in Aida Austin Collection.
Crosses in the Romagne-sous-Montfaucon Cemetery where McKinley Austin was buried initially. 1923 postcard in Aida Austin Collection.
 McKinley Austin’s grave marker at the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery in France, in Austin Collection.

McKinley Austin’s grave marker at the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery in France, in Austin Collection.

The Meuse-Argonne Cemetery covers 130 acres and holds the largest number of American dead—14,246—in Europe. Most of those buried in the cemetery died during WWI’s Meuse-Argonne Offensive.

A short distance from the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery, just where the Romagne-Cunel Road turned down into the village of Romagne, was a war monument with the following:

This point: the left west Romagne boundary of 5th division in the attack of October 14, 1918, Meuse-Argonne offensive. The National Cemetery is located on terrain wrested from the enemy on that day by the 10th Infantry Brigade, 5th Division.

The last verse of Flanders Fields, by John McCrae, was written on back of McKinley’s gravemarker photo:

To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high!
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Note: Families of the servicemen who had died in France were given the option of having the body sent back to the States. My uncle Mortimer McKinley Austin was later buried in the Old Eldred Cemetery.

McKinley's gravestone in the Old Eldred Cemetery courtesy of Leavenworth cousin Matt S.
McKinley’s gravestone in the Old Eldred Cemetery courtesy of Leavenworth cousin Matt S.
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Abby, Laurilla, and Mary Ann

Some of my resource books.
Some of my resource books.

After publishing Farewell to Eldred in 2013, I took a year off from writing. Since 2014, through broken leg, cataract surgery, dental appointments, arrival of two (of five) grandchildren three weeks (1,000 miles) apart, various other adventures, and life in general, I have continued to research and work on a book about my Hickok ancestors. (I discovered that both my Hickok and Leavenworth ancestors were in Ancient Woodbury, Connecticut, in the 1680s.)

Now called Abby, Laurilla, and Mary Ann, I am continuing to work on the final text before giving it to Gary for his professional design expertise.

    Abby, Laurilla, and Mary Ann is a collection of glimpses into the Hickok ancestry, heritage, and legacy of Abby and Laurilla Smith, their three sisters and their second cousin Mary Ann Eldred Austin.

    Abby Hadassah Smith was the youngest of five well educated and talented sisters with unusual names. The five sisters, daughters of Zephaniah Hollister Smith and Hannah Hickok Smith, their gifted mother, were brought up to think more of their mother Hannah’s relatives than their father’s.

    So in the summer of 1854 Abby and her sister Laurilla Smith, left their Glastenbury, Connecticut home to visit their mother’s remaining Hickok first cousins. This included Hannah Hickok Eldred and her daughter Mary Ann Eldred Austin, in the Town of Highland, recently taken out of Lumberland, New York.

    After the visit, Abby, who did not like to write letters, wrote Mary Ann Eldred Austin nine letters in the years 1854 to 1869. Shortly after writing the last letter, Abby and her sister Julia were faced with unfair taxes, which they could not fight, because they were women and women could not vote.

    In the 1870s Abby and Julia (in their 70s and 80s) made national news. Using the same reasoning and knowledge of history and the Bible that they used in their fight against slavery, the sisters wrote letters to newspaper editors, lectured the town men, and appealed to the Connecticut and national legislatures for the right for women to vote and have equality with men.

    Their speeches referred to events beginning in 1630s Old and New England when many of their first ancestors, including the Hickoks arrived in what would become the state of Connecticut, in the United States of America.

I have added some of the books I have used as resources shown in the above photo. Continue reading

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Jennie Austin, Gold Star Mother

Service Flag with Gold Star, courtesy of Mary A.

It was a custom of families of servicemen to hang a service Flag in the window of their homes. The Service Flag had a star for each family member in the military.

Living servicemen were represented by a blue star, and those who had lost their lives were prepresented by a gold star.

This is the Austin flag with a gold star because of McKinley’s death, and a blue star for their son Raymond who also served during World War I.

The body of private McKinley Austin, who died in France October 14, 1918, arrived at the home of his parents, Mr. and Mrs. C.M. Austin, in Eldred on Saturday from Hoboken, N.J.

Young Austin was 20 years old and enlisted in the 11th infantry of the Machine Gun Company, and was called to France in May of that year. The funeral was held at his home in Eldred at 1:30 o’clock on Wednesday. Rev. Mr. Ether, pastor of the Barryville M.E. Church, officiating.—News article, September 16, 1921.

It is curious as to who asked that McKinley’s body be shipped back, as the family story had been that Aida Austin went over to France in 1923 specifically to bring the body back.
(Reposted from June 13, 2013.)

Remembering Town of Highland’s WWI Soldiers

Romagne–sous–Montfaucon, 1923

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Mortimer McKinley Austin, 1899–October 14, 1918

Madeleine Farm, near where McKinley died in October 1918. Photo taken by Aida Austin when she visited France in 1923.

Romagne-sous-Montfaucon, France, October 12–17, 1918
McKinley’s outfit arrived in the vicinity of Romagne-sous-Montfaucon on October 12. They suffered casualties from the heavy shelling of enemy guns the next day. That evening the 11th Infantry took up a position around Ferme de la Madeleine.

At the Battle of Romagne-sous-Montfaucon (October 14–17), the Americans launched a series of costly frontal assaults that finally broke through the main German defences of the Hindenburg Line.

The enemy waiting until the forward movement is commenced, throws down a terrific barrage upon our front so that the division going ‘over the top’ at daylight (October 14th) with the 9th Brigade (60th and 61st Infantry) on the right, and the 10th brigade, 6th and 11th Infantry on the left, is immediately plunged into a perfect storm of shell fire which inflicts heavy casualties in its ranks at the very outset of the advance.—Moss and Howland, p. 287.

McKinley is Hit
It was our [11th Infantry’s] first day in the Argonne drive and we went over at 8 the morning of the 14th of October. We hadn’t gone far when we were held up by the German machine guns.

They [Germans] were firing on us from three different directions and there wasn’t enough of the boys left to advance farther so we were forced to stop and dig in.

The Corporal of his squad being a casualty, [I] made [McKinley] Austin as I knew him, Squad leader and when we reached the hill which was Madelaine Farm, the German’s made it so hot for us we could not advance further. So I directed him to put his gun into action on the west of the hill.

Then I went on seeing the other gun put into action which was even more perilous and came back. Seeing him on the side of the hill I asked him if he had the gun in action. He said, no. He came back for 
a shovel. I paid no more attention to him then and went on to report to Capt. Dashiell who was killed later.—Sgt. John Popp letter.

At Madelaine Farm after this company had gained its first objective, [Mac] was put in command of the 6th squad (acting as corporal).

In order to consolidate the position and to prevent a successful German counter-attack, [Mac] took his machine gun and his squad of men forward to a shell hole.

It was a dangerous mission for artillery and machine gun fire was heavy. Finding the hole not deep enough to provide cover for the gun and all the men, he returned to the trench and obtained a shovel. Most any other man in his position would have sent one of the men of the squad back for the shovel, but [Mac] chose to run the danger himself.—Letter from Allen Maxwell; Captain 11th Infantry Commanding Company.

The first thing we did was to get our machine guns placed in case of a counter-attack. It was while engaged in this that McKinley 
was shot. Continue reading

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France, October 11–13, 1918

Town of Highland soldiers who fought in World War I. Photo courtesy of Chuck M.
Town of Highland soldiers who fought in WWI. Courtesy of Chuck M.

Cunel, France, October 11, 1918
On October 11 the attack was renewed early in the morning…Progress was bitterly contested by heavy machine-gun fire and by flanking artillery support, as on previous days.

During the night of October 11-12, the relief of the 80th Division and certain elements of the 4th Division, by the 5th Division, was successfully carried out. The corps front was now held by the 5th Division on the left and the 4th Division on the right.—Ireland, Maj. Gen. M.W. The Medical Department of the U.S. Army in the World War, 
Vol. 8, 1925, p. 692.

The French landscape was devastated. Villages were in ruins, forests were gone; roads were filled with craters and muddy. The American troops had to trudge through mud and face icy winds and rain. By October 11 the Argonne Forest had been cleared but a foothold had not been gained in the area to the east toward the Meuse River.

Jennie Austin, Eldred, 
to McKinley Austin, France
October 12, 1918
My dear Mac,
Just a few lines while I have time. I see in the papers in order to send a package to the soldiers that the soldier one sends the package to must first get a label and send it to the one he expects to receive a package from.

I hope you have sent yours before this as they claim no packages will be accepted without the labels in it. If you don’t get a Christmas package, it will be because we have received no label.

The Spanish Influenza is sweeping the country here, even our school is closed for awhile. No cases being nearer than Shohola, as we know of. We often wonder how you are and if you have escaped it. You must be careful and it is a worry to know at times.

You must be in places where you can not be careful. We have a joke on Dad coming home from Monticello. He met a soldier who had been wounded in France and for a month had been in the hospital of Otisville. He was on his way home and Dad fell in with him at Port Jervis and became so interested that he was carried on beyond Shohola. The conductor was kind enough to slow the train down and let him off at Lackawaxen.

I am afraid my pencil is so dim by the time this reaches you, you will not be able to read it. But Elizabeth is learning to write with pen and ink. It is impossible to find a decent pen in the house.

Willie is still working at Procters. Dad expects to work for John Love some as he gathers 
his garden.

Well I must close as Dad is going to the [post] office. It has been over a month since we heard from you, so we are looking for a letter every day.
Love from all, Mother [The letter was returned.]

Montfaucon, France, October 12 and 13, 1918
McKinley’s outfit arrived in the vicinity of Montfaucon on 
October 12.

They suffered casualties as a result of heavy shelling from enemy guns the next day. The 11th Infantry took up a position around Ferme de la Madeleine that evening, the night of October 13.

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Letters 9/27 to 10/07/1918

McKinley (Mac) Austin’s brother was serving in the Panama Canal Zone.
Raymond Austin, Balboa, Canal Zone, to Mort Austin, Eldred
September 27, 1918
Dear Father,
So you will be glad when the last battle is fought. I think we all will be. I don’t like to discourage you, but I feel we will see quite a while of it yet. Our loss to date has been about 25,000 men, so you see we haven’t fought a single big battle yet and I feel sure there are some big fights in store for us yet. We’ll win though, cost what 
it may.

Tell Bill not to enlist until he is at least 17 years old, unless we should get hard up for men, and I don’t believe we will. There are enough between 18 and 40 to do up this job good and proper.

There is nothing much worth writing that would pass the censor. I am glad you are sending the papers every week. I sure do enjoy reading them. By the way, if you can get any books on military drill, tactics, etc., send them to me.

Hoping you and the rest are all well and happy as I am. If you have any to spare, please send more pictures. With love to all, Raymond

Meuse-Argonne, France, September 28, 1918
A runner was sent back with a message: “For God’s sake send us litters, blankets and food.” The word came back that nothing could be done on account of lack of transportation.

At this time there were 800 men at the dressing station. German airplanes were dropping bombs on the station. It was raining all the time. The men had summer underwear and no overcoats and many of them laid for hours on the ground without litters.—Hoffman, Cap. Harry H., Scrap Book No. VI, p. 1, Feb. 17, 1919.

McKinley Austin, 11th U.S. Inf. 
to Lena Hill, Town of Highland
September 28, 1918
Dear Lena,
Did you get the other letter I wrote? I got a letter from you 
that you wrote just after I left 
the states. I got your picture from my aunt. It was good, but you are much better looking than the picture.

Well, how is everything in Eldred now? I hope to be back there by this time next year or sooner.

It is now about 14 months since I enlisted in the army and I will be glad when the war is over. We are doing our best to get it over soon, too. The Allies are winning everywhere now, and America is doing her share.

I heard from my brother Raymond. He is in Panama now. He seems to like the army pretty well…Hoping you are well. I am your friend, McKinley

Dieulourd and Trondes, France, September 29, 1918
On September 29, while stationed at Dieulourd, 3 enemy shells caused a great number of casualties in 1st Battalion. On October 1, Battalion Regiment Headquarters established at Trondes [102 kilometers (63 miles) to Montfaucon].
—Sgt. John J. Popp.

The first phase of the great American offensive had spent itself without reaching its first objective and with the enemy’s strongest defensive positions still unconquered.—Gansser, p. 170.

Continue reading

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