Bygone Days of North Branch
A Fascinating History of a Small Hamlet in Western Sullivan County
J.M. Schmidt & Sons evaporating plant, circa 1890
J.M. Schmidt & Sons Store
Beck's Bazaar, now the Saving Grace Thrift Shop
The North Branch Inn
The Links Maple Grove Hotel
The Antler Hotel, where firehouse is now.
Horse Race on Fair Day
The North Branch Fire Departments Water Brigade carrying 24 pails of water
North Branch Middle School
By Cindy Herbert
North Branch was officially named in 1851, after the establishment of the first U.S. Post Office. Prior to this, North Branch actually referred to the north branch of the Callicoon Creek. The area encompassed Buck Brook, Callicoon Center and Hortonville. It was, at that time, a dense forest with abundant wildlife and fish for settlers to hunt. Since the hamlet was situated in the midst of undeveloped land, it was difficult to reach. Its growth was very slow until the completion of the Erie Railroad.
Today, as one drives through North Branch, there is still evidence of bygone days. I tried to find as much historical information as I possibly could but it has proven to be a never-ending task. I am sure there are facts that I have missed. So many of the properties have changed ownership back and forth between families. An example is some property owned by the three John Eberts in this article. One thing is for sure, after looking through old birth and death records like I did is, like the saying goes, “Watch what you say to people because, you never know who they are related to!”
FIRST SETTLERS TO NORTH BRANCH
In 1807, John DeWitt had the first 100 acres of land cleared in this dense, unexplored region. DeWitt passed away in 1808 leaving his property to his son Andrew who, in 1813, built a log house on the land. Interestingly, it was never occupied due to a shortage of nails (metal shortage) the roof was never completed. This log home was believed to be the first built in the town. William Wood, with his sons, Garret, Edward W., and David and their wives built and formed the first settlement in 1814. For fifteen years, they lived without neighbors, far from the nearest town. The nearest store was in Liberty. When they needed flour, they would have to carry grain to Liberty to be ground at the mill. By 1831, there were seven families living in North Branch. In 1833, George DeWitt, grandson of John DeWitt, built a home near the log house his father, Andrew, had built. George suffered a hemorrhage of the lungs and it was believed the scent and vapor from the Pine and Hemlock trees would cure his bleeding lungs. George recovered and became interested in the affairs of the township.
The first funeral in town was that of Garret Wood’s wife and the first child born was John Wood, son of Edward Wood. On May 3, 1842, with all 46 voters present, the first town meeting was held in George G. DeWitt’s home. The board members were John B. Spencer, John Hankins, Jacob Quick, Rollin Stoddard and George DeWitt. The officers that were elected were: Olney Borden, Supervisor, George G. DeWitt, Town Clerk, Rollin Stoddard, Thomas S. Ward and William P. Main, Assessors. Some resolutions to come out of that meeting were: twice the amount the State allowed for education would be raised, $l00 allotted to repair roads and bridges, farm animals would have to be contained by 4-1/2 foot high fences and not allowed to roam through the town freely. A map of the town was to be procured by the town clerk, George G. DeWitt.
Jacob Quick, a nephew of the famous Indian fighter Tom Quick, was 60-years old when he settled in North Branch. He moved from Pike County, Pa., where he was Justice of the Peace for thirty successive terms. For reasons not well known, he had lost all of his property there. But here, he cleared land and his children settled around him. He prospered again as his orchards produced bountiful harvests. Jacob built the first sawmill in the Town of Callicoon, near Jeffersonville and started to build a second in North Branch when he died in 1852 at age 72, an honored
member of society.
Among the first settlers were: Stephen Euker moving here from Newburgh in 1842: Nicholas Zieres; Lockhart Stewart, from Massachusetts, settled a farm; John Becker, Henry Staib and Joseph Anderson all settled in the Beechwoods in 1843, Joseph Anderson was the father of County Court Judge Isaac Anderson and John F. Anderson, Esq., of Callicoon Depot. Joseph Smith came from Greene County in 1847. Smith owned two homes that stood across from the old Ebert cider mill. One was a tavern with a courtroom on the second floor; Wenzel settled here in 1852 and became Justice of the Peace.
The town’s progression was slow until about 1840 when settlers began arriving steadily. Many were German immigrants introduced to the village by Solomon Royce. With the completion of the Erie Railroad, North Branch began to prosper. The railroad provided ingress to the village and transportation for products. Another means of transportation was the two-horse wagon. A.B. Baker drove the first wagon into North Branch in 1845. An 1855 census showed 2,649 German immigrants had settled in the Towns of Callicoon, Fremont and Cochecton.
SCHOOLS, CHURCHES AND BUSINESSES
As the settlement grew, the need for services, products, hotels, churches and schools became apparent. The first schoolteacher, Mary Hunt, taught in the house owned by Henry Cannon and the first religious service was held in his barn. A middle school for grades 4th-8th was built in 1910 on Sam Zieres’ property. The primary grades of 1st-3rd were in an adjacent building. Three district schools were Quick, Buck Brook and Petersburg (Petersburg named after the Peters family whose descendants still live here).
Religion was important to the settlers as evidenced by three churches. The Dutch Reformed Church, built in 1860, is now the Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church. Martin Schmidt, Sr., was one of the leaders of this church organization. The Methodist Episcopal was organized by Reverend William H. Hughson in August 1861 and had 30 members. The church was constructed in 1869, cost $2,000 and could seat 250 persons. Later St. Clair Catholic Church was erected through the efforts of Mr. Patrick Divers of New York, who married Miss Catherine Dyker of North Branch.
Clements and Stewart opened the first store, Van De Voort operated the first blacksmith shop and Isaac Clements was appointed first postmaster in March of 1851. Two tanneries were established. Tanbark was plentiful and leather was in great demand all over the country. Inderlied and Co. was the first tannery to be opened by four brothers, William, Frederick, Hermann and Henry Inderlied. The brothers took the finished leather goods to market by way of the Delaware & Hudson Canal after first hauling it to Wurtsboro. Henry withdrew from the company and opened a tannery in Youngsville. Mr. Albert Babcock operated the second tannery in North Branch.
William Inderlied also ran a sawmill and owned seven other buildings in North Branch. The tannery and dam were located across from the Inderlied Cemetery, part of the St. Clair Catholic Church. William’s home was near the tannery and later became the home of the town undertaker, Harry Steffens. William had two sons, Osmer and Alanson. Osmer acquired his father’s village land and opened a hotel and dance hall and later added a bowling alley. It is not clear which hotel that was but it was either the Maple Hotel or North Branch Inn. Alanson became a blacksmith and wagon maker. The blacksmith shop was later taken over by Bert Stoddard. William owned a store in which the post office was located. He became the postmaster of North Branch in 1864 and held this
position until 1873. William sold this building to J.C. Wagner Company who later sold it to William’s brother, Henry. Henry was postmaster here from 1875 through 1880. Osmer B. Anderson acquired the building with partner Alfred W. Eickhoff (Alfred was elected county clerk in 1908). Alfred was also sole agent for Behr Bros. Pianos for Sullivan County. Osmer became postmaster in 1884 and held the position several times between 1884 and 1899. Alfred W. Eickhoff took the position of postmaster in 1910 the year this building was rebuilt to be a modern country merchandise store. The last shop to operate here was Walter Newman’s electrical shop.
In 1924, William Schonger was appointed postmaster and moved the post office to his home. When his term ended in 1934 he opened a newspaper, ice cream parlor and candy shop. He was a veteran of the Spanish-American War. His wife Marie Brustman ran the store until her death in 1946; he predeceased her a year earlier. She was to sell the store to Mrs. Elizabeth Meckel but changed her mind and shortly thereafter, unexpectedly passed away. Harry Steffens, the undertaker, acquired the building and made it into the funeral home.
Amanda Stewart was the next postmaster and the office moved to Mr. Knack’s home located next to the old firehouse. When Ellen Mae Poley became postmaster the post office moved to her home where it is today. Wilda Priebe became postmaster after Ellen Mae in 1981.
Another of William Inderlied’s stores was near the tannery and catered to tannery folk and was called the New York Store. Along North Branch road next to the Inderlied cemetery (St. Clair Cemetery) he owned a row of houses that sheltered the tannery workers. William Inderlied and his father-in-law, Mr. Chittenden, were responsible for the plantings of maple trees throughout the village. Many of the trees still stand. Mr. Chittenden was a blacksmith and his building was located where J.M. Schmidt & Sons store still stands. This land was part of the G. Barkmeyer Farm. J. M. Schmidt had come alone to America at age 8 in 1844 to meet his father who had arrived two years earlier. The voyage took 100 days, 66 of which were spent on the ocean. In 1863, he joined the 139th New York Regiment and was on active service until the end of the Civil War. Later, Now it’s a private residence. Mr. and Mrs. Lewis Knise operated a Millinery and Dry Goods store where the Hill family resides. Mr. Knise was a Civil war veteran and also was postmaster in North Branch from 1888-1892. In 1892, Mr. Knise’s salary as postmaster for the year was $273.19.
Dr. Adolph Schonger, a physician, lived and had his office in his home until the 1950s. Adolph’s father was Dr. George Schonger who was the first physician in North Branch. George emigrated from Germany and was of German nobility. Jacob and Anna Beck lived there next. Jacob ran a butcher shop located in the small building to the left of their house. Robert and Pat Peters now reside in the house and Bob Peters has his plumbing and heating office in the old butcher shop. Another butcher was Hermann Goodman, his slaughterhouse was across the small brook, which ran behind his meat market and J.M. Schmidt & Sons store. He ran a meat truck and would do home deliveries around the area. His bologna, summer bologna and liverwurst was said to be the best by far. His father L.B. Goodman did the same but made his deliveries with a horse and carriage. Mrs. Benson now owns his home.
One of the blacksmith shops was located to the left of the Maple Hotel and was owned by Philip Schmidt who emigrated from Germany in 1850. On one side of the shop was a room for making wheels for wagons including the iron rims but the main part of the building was the horse shoeing area containing a rack for shoeing oxen. Philip was called “Bach Schmidt,” a name given to him to distinguish him from the “store” Schmidts. Philip later sold his shop to William Schonger, son of Dr. George Schonger (this was the building that was the post office, newspaper, ice cream and candy shop, and funeral parlor). William Euker was a blacksmith and I believe his shop was located near his house across from the old Ebert Cider Mill.
Beck’s Bazaar was located on the corner of Main Street and Broadway. Harold Beck ran a quality meat market here. He also carried candy, fancy chocolates, cigars, tobacco, stationery, fresh fruits in season, souvenirs and novelties and a bowling alley. The Grezadio’s later owned it and had an ice cream parlor, candy shop and butcher shop. This building is now the Saving Grace Thrift Store.
Welton’s Garage, owned by Alan Welton, is next door to the Saving Grace Thrift Shop. Previously owned by James and Pearl Elersick and prior to it becoming a garage, it was the horse stables for the Bauernfiend Hotel and was a one-story structure at that time. Louis Wagner, a shoemaker, lived just past the old Ebert Cider Mill and homestead. Later, the Koltas family lived there. The first sawmill was built by Mr. Merritt in 1843 and was located on the right-hand side of the Callicoon Center road just before the Trading Post. Ernest Dorrer took over this sawmill with business partner Mr. Euker and later, Ernest ran a cider mill here. Part of the dam is still visible. R.S. Peters had a sawmill on the property owned by George Hust. This sawmill was located near Buck Brook and Bayer Road. This intersection was nicknamed “Gypsy Corners” after gypsies traveling this route and camping around the area. There was a tannery also located near here. A.B. Wolcott had a sawmill where John W. Ebert lived and later operated the first gristmill. Wolcott also owned a store and tavern in North Branch. The Trading Post had many owners through the years. Before becoming a “mini mart” and gas station, Bill Klinger ran a gun shop and car garage here. Perhaps before it was a car garage, it was even a blacksmith shop!
Gristmills were flourmills and took the name “gristmill” because of the grinding of other people’s grain. They collected their pay in grain or flour taken as a toll. The grain taken to the mill by the farmer was called “the grist” and the pay received by the miller was called “the toll.”
The millwrights and millers cut their own grist stones out of native stone called bastard granite, very similar to granite but softer. Some were cut from native blue sandstone. Problems occurred with the native stone as they needed frequent dressings, which held up production. Real granite stones replaced the native ones. The most desirable millstone was the French Burr, a very hard stone of volcanic origin and full of pocks that added to the cutting surfaces. A.B. Wolcott established the first gristmill prior to 1860. He also deeded land to the Methodist Church for a cemetery. Wolcott died of small pox during an epidemic that struck the town. He is buried in this cemetery. Before the gristmill was built, Wolcott built the mill dam which I assume first powered his sawmill.
John Ebert, Sr. who settled near Hortonville was an German immigrant and miller by trade and was employed by Wolcott to do the millwright work in the gristmill. Wolcott eventually traded this mill to John Ebert, Sr. for his farm. John Ebert, Sr. continued this business until the mill dam, erected by Wolcott, built with fieldstone was torn out by a flood (freshet or springtime thaw) in 1869. Suddenly, the mill was not operable. John Ebert, Sr. eventually exchanged the property for a farm in Hasbrouck owned by Mr. Kortright. From Kortright, the mill passed to Christopher Bauernfiend and sons, Ernest and Hermann. They had constructed a new millpond away from the main stream. This gristmill was run by water from the brook behind the mill, which came off the brook 2,000 feet from the North Branch Creek. The wall of the dam is still present. This mill originally had an overshot wooden water wheel set in a deep pit located where the doors to the cow stable still stands. A tail race (a sluiceway) carrying the water away from the wheel to the stream some distance away was large enough for a man to go through. It is covered and no longer in view. The wooden water wheel was replaced by a turbine, which later on was replaced by an IKL, an all-metal, overshot waterwheel. This property came back into the Ebert family once again when John Ebert, Jr. purchased it in 1909. He ran the gristmill until 1918. John Jr.’s son, John W., took over the property and turned the gristmill into a chicken coop. He had a poultry and heifer business. He would have his beef blessed by Rabbis and much of his meat was sold in NYC. John W. also ran an apple cider mill on this property.
APPLE & CIDER INDUSTRIES
A great variety of apples grew here and were in high demand due to the excellent quality of the fruit. The apples were prized all over the world. The local apples supplied the Boer Army in Africa and parings went into the manufacturing of French Brandy. Almost every farmer grew apple trees or had orchards. Many of the first settlers brought apple trees with them to their new settlement. The great decline of the apple business here was due to apple scab, the codling moth, San Jose scale and other various pests and fungi, which spread throughout the orchards. Pesticides were not around at this time and other orchards closed due to pure neglect. The time needed to care for these trees was limited because many farmers also took in summer boarders and had dairy cows that took much of their time. Also, the apple business was not too profitable.
There were many parts to the apple business: picking, shipping, and the process of drying apples or apple-schnitz, as the Germans called it. Dried apples were stored mostly for winter use to make applesauce and pies, barrels were made to pack the apples and cider was made in great quantities. Many homes stored 8-10 barrels in cellars, some sweet, some hard and some for vinegar.
There was also the business of distilling apples and converting cider into liquor called apple brandy. There was also applejack, processed by leaving apple juice in the pomace (solid remains of pressed fruit) through the fermentation period. This procedure would extract the flavor of the apple skins, seeds and cores into the liquid that went to the distillery. The Swiss settlers would make their own supply of batsi-wasser (applejack). The word “batsi” means “parings” in Swiss. Swiss homes had the essential kettle for this distillation that they had brought with them. These kettles were to be used for family use only, since commercial use was illegal. During Prohibition, there were many “moonshine” distilleries in the Town of Callicoon.
One of four apple businesses operating in North Branch was owned by J.M. Schmidt & Sons and was an apple-evaporating factory. This factory consisted of an apple peeling building and three drying houses located behind their store. The plant was very busy by 1890. They sold apples to every state in the union except Florida, Oregon and Washington. One fall they shipped out 168 loaded railroad cars. In 1903 they built a warehouse near the Erie tracks at Callicoon Station to store their apples. It was two stories high, 40′ x 100′ and had the capacity to store 10,000 barrels. The Schmidts employed almost 25 men and women. The apples were washed, sorted and peeled by hand. Apples were packed in 25-pound wooden boxes. Later an apple peeler/corer mechanism was brought in which was very similar to the ones we use today but on a much larger scale.
John W. Ebert’s Cider Mill still stands and is to the right of the old gristmill. John W. started the cider mill in the late 1940s. After the 1947 flood, Ernest Dorrer shut his cider mill down and John W. purchased much of Ernest’s equipment. The cider business was only operational for 6-8 weeks a year. He sold sweet cider in the fall from September through November and hard cider in 50-gallon oak barrels the rest of the time. Most farmers had their own apple orchards and would line up on Saturdays, waiting to have their apples pressed. John W. bought his apples locally. If local crops were bad, he would purchase apples from the Hudson River area but claimed the flavor was not as good. A 1929 Chevy engine powered the mill. This mill could process 16,000 pounds of apples a week. The apples were ground and the pulp went to the press turning out approximately 250 gallons of cider per hour. John W. sold the cider mill in 1973 to Adam and Joanna Gifford. The Giffords had two young children and working the mill seven days a week took its toll on them. They sold it to Sam and Rob Bernthal in 1986. The mill was operational until around 1998. I know many would love to see this cider mill running again as it was a big draw to the area and could be again.
Jacob Gossweyler also ran a cider mill. His home was on the left side of the Callicoon Center Road and across the street was the dam, which powered the apple mill. Both are still standing but there may have been more buildings near the dam. Jacob was also a director of The First National Bank of Jeffersonville and later Vice President. Ernest Dorrer’s cider mill was located where his sawmill was. He also owned a cooper shop where men would shape staves and hoops to make barrels.
NORTH BRANCH FIRE DEPARTMENT
The North Branch Fire Department was organized in 1912. They first acquired three railroad engine wheel rims that were used as fire alerts by striking them with sledgehammers to alarm the town and firemen that there was an emergency. One was in front of the old firehouse and the others placed at each end of town. Five commissioners were elected and established the fire district. Residents were taxed to finance the purchase of equipment to fight fires. A fire wagon was built to carry 24 pails for the water brigades. Two horses pulled the wagon but it took too long to get the horses ready so the firemen ended up pulling it by hand. When automobiles came around, they were used to pull the wagon. In 1927, they bought their first mechanized fire truck and electric siren. They rented space in what is now the old firehouse; it was the JR O.U. American Mechanics Building. The firemen also added a garage door. The Department eventually purchased this building for $2,500.00 and the property next to the firehouse from Mr. Kelly for $3,750.00. The house was torn down to make a parking lot.
SUMMER BOARDERS, HOTELS, BAR ROOMS, PARKS & ENTERTAINMENT
There were many boarding houses in North Branch: Fink’s Grandview House on Warner Road, Hartman’s Mountainside Cottage, now owned by the Kolby family, Cottage by the Brook, which later was home to Jacob Hust, a jeweler who kept a large stock of gold, silver watches, clocks, silverware and toys and then it became the Kitson home, Hust’s Pleasant Home on Bayer Road, The Alpine House on Buck Brook Road, Louis Bauernfiend’s Boarding House up on the hill with the beautiful stone wall across from the new firehouse, Osmer’s Villa, which is now Carrier’s apartment building, Klinger’s Mountain View House on the corner of Dyker and Callicoon Center Road, Maud’s Summer Ray was located where the North Branch Commons is now, the old steps are still visible on Callicoon Center Road, Quick House owned by Cyrus Quick, Creekside Cottage built in 1914 and owned by Wagner and was along the Callicoon Center Road, now a private home owned by Howard and Akemi Fuchs. The Fuchs’ house is the last house in North Branch before it turns into Callicoon Center. An old advertisement from a boarding house from around 1913 advertised rates at $2.50 per day for adults and $1.50 per day for children; this included board and all meals.
There were several hotels in North Branch: The Links Maple Grove Hotel had a dance hall, bar room, bowling alley and held dances on Saturday nights. The North Branch Inn was built in 1868. It was a hotel, bar room, bowling alley and a barbershop. It also had “public baths.” Back then with no indoor plumbing, cabanas were set-up along the creek where people could swim, bathe and change. My father-in-law, Ray Herbert, used to set pins at the bowling alley for 19¢ a line and would earn one glass of soda per game. Verd and Sofie Schlicting owned it at that time. There have been several owners: Fred Ludwig, Hoffmann, Louis Galiardi, John Mootz and Spafford. The current owner, Victoria Lesser, has done a great deal of work to renovate it. It is no longer a bar room, it is now a wine bar & café with WiFi and an art, antique and gift market.
Christopher Bauernfiend and his wife ran the Traveler’s Home Hotel also known as the Bauernfiend Hotel. It could accommodate up to 90 guests. It was also called The Sinclair and The Antler Hotel. The Antler caught on fire and burnt down. The new firehouse is now there. Between The Antler and Knise’s Millinery and Dry Goods Store was a park named “The Park of the Travelers.” North Branch boasted an annual fair day, which was held in front of this hotel and held horse races along the Callicoon Center Road, which was then named Broadway.
North Branch enjoyed local bands that played at nearly all community events including Fair Day, dances held at the hotels and at the bandstand located in the park. The first band came when Christopher Bauernfiend ran his hotel and dance hall. Philip Jacobs Sr., of Youngsville, organized and conducted a band here. Other bands and musicians were: Anthony Stenger and Sons of Mileses, The Tuckfeld Boys, and The Mountain Echo Band, which played for over two generations in Jeffersonville and North Branch and the North Branch Cornet Band. In 1907, the band members included: William Lowe, Ernest Bauernfiend, John Stossen, Christian Robisch, John Cramer, Fred Friebrey, Louis Bauernfiend, Peter Desicker and Herman Bauernfiend.
Apple varieties once grown here:
Red Astrachan, Dutchess of Oldenburg, Sweet Bough, Golden Russet, English Russet, Maiden Blush, Snow Apples, Strawberry Apple, Fall Pippin, Gilliflower or “Sheep Nose,” Bellflower, Rusty Coat, Nort Spy, Summer Pippin, Greening and Baldwin.
The resources used for this article are as follows:
Sullivan County Museum, James Quinlan Book of S.C. History, Callicoon Historian by J.S. Graham published in 1892, Dawn Myers (John W. Ebert was her grandfather); Helen (Dorrer) Doetsh’s article written in the S.C. Democrat in 1977, Charles Hicks, former Town of Callicoon Historian, Shirley (Reichmann) McCleod, Ray Herbert, Earle Poley, Wilda Priebe, George Hahn, Marilyn Chellis (granddaughter of J.M. Schmidt), and Jessica Olsen.