2017-08-23 / In This Place

In This Place

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By Kate Van Benschoten

On this day, one hundred and ten years ago, there was a front page story that pulled me right in. “Big Fire Near Griffin’s” was the top headline, and the details did not disappoint. It’s worth a reprise! The boarding house owner, Ellsworth Reynolds subject of the story, has many descendants in our area today. It’s the kind of story that makes us appreciate so many things: especially our volunteer fire fighters. (I had to laugh at the line in the story about the city folk making little attempt to help or save their belongings, as they were waiting for the “insurance patrol.” Certainly in the city there would have been paid fire departments at this time, which were actually the insurance companies. Those folks were probably also used to modern insurance coverage, electricity (so we would not have been igniting candles as lighting so we could see in the barns) and so much more. Note that the owner and his son were sleeping in their barn because all the rooms of their boarding house were rented out. Can we imagine such sacrifice to make ends meet today? And after last week’s tale of city outlaws hiding in the Catskills, it seems the Reynolds’ boarding house was one busy and important place!

August 23, 1907: Big Fire Near Griffin’s; Three Men Narrowly Escaped Death in Flames Last Friday; Boarding House and Barn of Ellsworth Reynolds Go Up in Flames – 75 Left Homeless for Night

“The large boarding house of Ellsworth Reynolds, situated about a mile above Griffin Corners, together with his barn and ice house were burned to the grounds between 10 and 12 o’clock Friday night. Mr. Reynolds, his son Ward, and hired man Wester Johnston narrowly escaped death in the flames. Their clothing was well nigh burned off and, while they are out of danger, their recovery was doubtful for several days after the fire.

The fire started in the barn. Ward Reynolds had been to the depot at Fleischmanns to meet the last train and had come home about 10 o’clock. He, his father and Johnston slept on cots in the barn as the house was full of summer people. Ward lighted a candle to prepare to go to bed. He threw the match down and instantly there was an explosion. The match had fallen in a quantity of turpentine or some other inflammable substance.

The men made a rush to save some of the cattle in the barn and Ward, whose clothing quickly caught fire, ran and jumped into the creek; his father missed him and was badly burned by going back into the blazing barn.

There was a strong wind blowing toward the house filled with 75 New York guests and it was soon seen that this building, only 75 feet from the barn was also doomed. The guests were all out but strange to say few of them saved even their trunks. They sat about watching the flames and waiting for the ‘insurance patrol.’ A crowd of neighbors soon gathered and they saved a large quantity of the household goods. One woman who dragged her trunk from the burning building set on it a while dressed in a thin wrapper. She finally decided to put on more clothes and was somewhat surprised on opening her trunk to find it entirely empty. The fire was over at about 12 o’clock and the guests were distributed in neighboring boarding houses and farm houses. The majority of them went home Saturday. The loss to the guests was averaged at $200 a family, two families claiming to have lost a thousand dollars each in jewels.

During the fire the high pressure boiler in the kitchen burst and large pieces of it were buried 200 feet away. Several people narrowly missed being in the path of the flying iron.

There was an insurance of $700 on the barn and $6,000 on the house. The house was rented for the season by Mrs. B. Ginzberg of New York who lost all her silverware, bedding and the like. On this there was no insurance. It is said that Mrs. Ginzberg was a member of a very wealthy family but one misfortune after another had made her a poor woman.”

There were other great tidbits printed on August 23, 1907. Here are a few:

Margaretville Fair Brings 7000 people, mostly by train (Delaware & Eastern)

“The 19th annual exhibition of the Catskill Mountain Agricultural Society, which will close with the balloon ascension this afternoon, has been one of the most successful of the society’s events. There were no disappointments, none of the attractions sent a telegram the last hour that they could not come and none of them were less than they advertised to be.”

Automobiles for Farm Wagons

“The impression has been growing of late that one of the important advancements in the automobile industry will be in the direction of a horseless vehicle especially adapted to work incident to agriculture. It has been confidently predicted that the time is not distant when automobile tracks will largely replace the present farm wagons operated by animal power, and that the vehicle’s machinery will be made available for other farm uses.”

The Governor at Delhi

“Governor Hughes will speak at the Delaware county Fair at Delhi, NY August 30, 1907, at 2:00 p.m. This is the only Fair in this section of the State the Governor will visit this fall.”


“Jack Frost made his first appearance here for the summer on Monday morning.” (Think about that… frost on August 23rd!) A Week in Margaretville; Lights and Shadows Thrown on the Canvas of a Week:

“The sprinkling of Main street during the fair was a great convenience. The village should own a sprinkler.”

The Pine Hill Reservoir

“The Sidney Water Works company has a force of forty Italians in charge of Sig. Rossi, at work at Pine Hill, constructing the new reservoir. They are clearing a wood lot of 16 acres, which will be excavated for the reservoir. The work is not yet half completed and a ton of dynamite has already been used. The new reservoir will have a capacity more than double that of the three reservoirs now in use and will be completed for use during the winter.”

A postcard of Griffin Corners courtesy of the Town of Middletown Historical Society’s website at mtownhistory.org:

And just a reminder, since surely most readers of this column are lovers of our local history: the Historical Society of Middletown is holding the last of its summer 2017 “Sunday Cemetery Strolls” on August 27th at 2pm. Admission is $5/person (kids 12 & under free). This Sunday’s tour is at Avery (Dry Brook Rd) and Gavette (Millbrook Rd) Cemeteries. Meet at the Margaretville Municipal Parking

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