PO Box 22
Amenia, NY 12501
About the Society
The Amenia Historical Society was established in 1969. Its mission has been to preserve Amenia’s history by maintaining an archive of family and topical files containing documents, photos and memorabilia. The Society also strives to promote Amenia’s long and rich history through programs, community events, and publications.
In the past few years, several genealogy requests have led to the discovery of interesting stories, for example, an Irish immigrant lad who became a legendary hero in Amenia; a missing Amenia gravestone of 1787 found near Albany; a Civil War soldier’s journal; and most recently, a visitor from Nagaland, India, who came to say thank you for the missionary couple who went to India in 1868 and brought about a transformation among her people. Some of these fascinating stories have provided excellent material for AHS programs and community events.
Early History of Amenia, by Newton Reed, was originally published in 1875. In its 4th printing in 1975, a collection of essays, “Impressions by Dewey Barry” was added. Our new 5th edition includes, for the first time, photos and maps. It may be purchased through the historical society.
In Early History of Amenia, our celebrated 19th century historian, Newton Reed, captured soon-to-be-lost information about those persons who settled in Amenia prior to 1800. He described the growth of each hamlet, its church and its industry. He documented the part Amenia played in the Revolutionary War and in the founding of this country.
A century later, Amenia was blessed to have a local historian, Dewey Barry, who submitted his well-researched essays to the Harlem Valley Times for publication. Curious stories, often unearthed in old newspapers, led Barry to do a thorough investigation of the details and to produce entertaining, yet authentic, versions of the tales. These stories were added to Newton Reed’s book in its 4th edition.
Another book of historical value and available through AHS is The Amenia Cookbook. It is a delightful read, not only filled with favorite recipes, but also with historical tidbits and candid photographs of Amenia’s families and friends. This is no ordinary town cookbook. It is a cookbook, plus history, and makes a great gift for anyone.
To order either of these books, contact Maureen Moore at
By P.B.Caulkins, March 1934
HARLEM VALLEY TIMES
Edited by Dewey Barry, March 1974
Amended by Elizabeth C. Strauss, March 2012
Bernard J. Gilroy, Amenia's last surviving Civil War veteran, died February 28, 1934, at 91 years of age. “Barney” was an outgoing and indomitable old gentleman and a popular figure in the community during the years of his retirement. His life-long Amenia friend, Platt B. Caulkins, recorded the details of Barneyʼs life in a newspaper article in March of 1934, from which we learn of the adventures of our hometown hero.
Barneyʼs parents, Daniel and Mary Gilroy, along with four children, emigrated from Ireland in December of 1846. Barney was 3 or 4 years old at the time. The family lived first in Pawling, NY, before moving to Amenia around 1855. Their home in Amenia was a short distance up the track from the depot. Therefore, Barney came to know a great deal about the daily railroad operations.
The upper switch for the railroad track was located near the Gilroy house. Barney knew the schedule and observed, one morning, that most of the freight train going north had coupled behind it several carloads of rock plaster consigned to a local miller. He knew that after the cars were "kicked" off to the sidetrack, the train would continue on to Sharon Station where it was to take siding, or park and wait, to allow a fast passenger train from Millerton to pass. The first scheduled stop for the passenger train was Dover Plains, and it would be coming through Amenia at a high rate of speed.
When Barney came out of his house, he saw that the switch had been left open. He knew that was wrong and so he closed it. As the passenger train raced through Sharon Station, the crewmember of the freight train suddenly remembered that he had failed to close the switch, and he waited in anguish to hear the news of a disastrous wreck. But after a sufficient time had elapsed and no such news was received, he began to breathe easier.
When the freight train reached Amenia that night on its return trip, Barney was there to confront the conductor. "Someone forgot to close the switch this morning," he said. When the conductor learned that Barney was the one who had closed the switch, he gave him a generous reward and they became fast friends.
Barney's confidence in himself was strengthened further by his learning to use the telegraph. An improved telegraph instrument had been devised and one was being installed in the Amenia office. A few boys were standing around watching the installation, and the agent, Mr. Vincent, knowing that Barney had been practicing on an old instrument at home, asked him if he thought he could work this one. After a little instruction, Barney was successful in operating it. That was when he decided he wanted to follow a railroad career. Barney was given the job of telegraph operator at just 16 years of age.
Two years later, in 1861, when the Civil War broke out and the call for volunteers came, Barney went to Sharon, CT, and enlisted in the Fifth Connecticut Volunteer Infantry. He mustered in as a corporal, and his contingent was placed under the banner of the Army of the Potomac, which took part in many of the major engagements of the War.
In the following year he was promoted to the rank of sergeant. It was at the Battle of Cedar Mountain, Va., he lost the tip of one finger, was captured along with others of his regiment. After being held in Libby Prison for three months, there was an exchange of prisoners between the North and South, and he was allowed to return to his regiment.
Together, with other comrades from Amenia, including James Newman, William H. Bartlett and George T. Willson, he fought in the decisive and bloody Battle of Gettysburg. He was afterward promoted to the rank of lieutenant and saw his last action in the Battle of Lookout Mountain. There he received a bullet wound in the leg. After being hospitalized for a time, he was given his honorable discharge and was permitted to return home. For the next year, he required the use of crutches to get around and was then rehired by the railroad company, again as the local telegraph operator.
During the War, Barney had acquired a taste for liquor, when the "Commissary" provided to the battle-weary combatants who were permitted to have a ration of whiskey at such times. For a few years thereafter, his periodic bouts with alcohol resulted in his being laid off from work several times. On such occasions, he would enlist the aid of some of his influential friends, who would intercede for his reinstatement, following his promise to do better. It was not that he ever got out of bounds to the neglect of his duties, or that he engaged in any questionable conduct. But his superiors became concerned about his repeated lapses and began to lose faith in his ability to lick the habit. Finally, he was fired.
His last employment with the company was as a caboose brakeman on a freight train. One night the train became stalled in deep snow about a half mile from the Martindale station. It was around midnight and the conductor thought he had no other alternative than to wait with his crew until the station would be opened in the morning, when the situation could then be reported. Barney proposed to the conductor that he be allowed to walk to the station, where he would try to gain entrance by forcing a window and report by wire to the White Plains dispatcher. The conductor gave his permission and Barney plodded the half-mile through the deep snow. Within the next hour the dispatcher had received the report and help was on its way, hours sooner than it otherwise would have been.
It was only a few months later that Barney was again found to be imbibing too freely, and the company decided that it could do without his further services. Barney had at last come to the end of the line as an employee of the New York and Harlem Railroad. For the next six years he lived at home, working only occasionally and continuing his drinking habit, until the time of his mother's death in 1874. She had said that as long as she lived, Barney would always have a home. Her death had a sobering effect on Barney, and his pride would not allow him to continue to be a burden on his sisters, who had never lost their faith in him.
Pledging that he had taken his last drink -- a pledge that he faithfully kept -- and with only a little money in his pocket, he boarded a train that took him to New York. There he found employment in a restaurant, where he worked for several months. Then, he saw an advertisement for trainmen with the Third Avenue Elevated Company. He applied for the job and was hired.
One day a car truck on one of his trains ran off the track and traffic was blocked. No one seemed to be doing anything about it, so Barney decided to take some action of his own. He persuaded the other trainmen to help and was issuing orders in his characteristically vigorous manner, when a railroad official appeared on the scene. Seeing that some progress was being made, he inquired who the man was that was in charge of the work. Upon learning that it was one of the trainmen, he approached Barney and asked him who had given him authority to issue orders. Barney's reply was, "No one did, but if you want to keep the wheels moving, someone has to give the orders."
The result was that Barney was given the opportunity to qualify as a train dispatcher at the City Hall terminal and he was soon appointed to the position. During the next 20 years, in the course of which he moved up to become chief dispatcher of the line, he was always on the move and kept the trains moving, too.
In the morning and evening rush hours, trains were then running on a two-minute schedule. Barney's ability to take on greater responsibilities had long been recognized by the company, and when the position of train master became open, he was appointed to fill the vacancy as chief dispatcher with his headquarters at 125th Street and Third Avenue. In his new position of authority, he continued to evidence his flair for decisive action, whenever the situation called for it.
As one who had risen through the ranks and remembered his own earlier failings, Barney was always considerate of the problems of the workers, whom he treated with understanding and fairness. In turn, he came to earn their respect and support. Barney's fortunes, which had been on the rise, ever since he first became employed by the company and, which in the normal course of events, could be expected to continue, until the time of his retirement (he was then nearly 70 years old), suddenly took an unexpected and ironic twist. The trainmen went on strike and Barney was caught in the middle.
Although he was in sympathy with the cause of the men, he did not allow his feelings for them to conflict with his duties as an official of the company to which he owed his allegiance. Then an incident occurred, when Barney, in the course of his duties, was sighted by a group of strikers who shouted, "Hurray for Gilroy!"
The gesture of good will was mistaken by the company as evidence of his divided loyalties, and he was called on the carpet. Barney felt that his long term of faithful service needed no defense, and rather than continue in the service without benefit of the complete confidence of his employers, he decided to resign and close out his railroad career. His wife had died a few years earlier (1908), and so he returned to Amenia to make his home with his sister, Margaret.
One day in 1917, Barney was in McKelvey's Market when a salesman came in and said he had enlisted in the Army; and since he would no longer need his car, he offered to sell it for $300. Barney made a lower offer and after some dickering, a bargain was struck. Barney took out his wallet, peeled off the necessary bills and took ownership of the Ford runabout. Charlie Newman was there at the time and offered to drive Barney home. It was the only driving lesson he ever needed.
Almost every morning thereafter, weather permitting, until within a few years of his death, he drove to the village, accompanied by his faithful dog, to pick up the mail, do the shopping and complete his usual rounds. His last stop was at the office of the railroad station where, between visits with the office staff, he kept an ear tuned to the clicking of the telegraph instruments.
Several of the images used to illustrate this story were taken from the internet and are not authentic to Amenia or to the persons mentioned in this story.
The Story of
LT.LAWRENCE VAN ALSTYNE
An Officer of
the 128th NY Vol. Regiment &
the 90th U.S. Colored Infantry
Lawrence was the youngest of seven children. His brother John was 11 years older than he, his brother William was 18 years older. All three brothers were iron moulders. Iron moulding was a skill necessary in the iron industry of the time. Two of Lawrence’s sisters were married and living in Sharon, Ct. Sarah was married to Herman Rowley, and Betsy was married to John C. Loucks. When Lawrence went off to war, many of his friends and acquaintances chose to do the same. At the camp in Hudson, he counted at least 25 men who were friends from home. They all signed on with Company B, hoping that Ed Bostwick, the storekeeper’s son from The City, would be appointed their Captain, which he was. Col. David Cowles, originally from Canaan, Ct., was the commander of the regiment.
Within a few days, the 128th was setting up tents at Camp Millington, near Baltimore. Lawrence described their accommodations in great detail, -- the flimsy two-man tent that got drenched with rain, the men covered in red mud when they got up, the bugs that crawled over them and the hungry mosquitoes that devoured them, the hot sun and the woolen uniforms, buttoned up to the chin, the sweat, the drills, the chills, the meals and the cooks, who didn’t ever wash their hands. And, this was as good as it was going to get in the army.
Several of the images used to illustrate this story were taken from the internet and are not authentic to Amenia or to the persons mentioned in this story.
The Amenia Historical Society
has been enjoying its new location in the Amenia Town Hall since August 2014.
The historical society’s spacious room on the second floor is near the elevator,
which makes for easy access from the front entrance of the building.
Visitors are welcome on Tuesdays and Thursdays 2:00 – 4:00 PM, or by appointment.
The Town Hall, located at 4988 Route 22, was formerly the Amenia High School.
It is situated on the historic site of the Amenia Seminary,
a coed boarding school of renown, founded by the Methodists in 1835.
The Amenia Seminary
The name AMENIA means “a pleasant place.” This name was coined by Dr. Thomas Young in 1762, when the Amenia Precinct was formed. Certainly, the picturesque views from DeLaVergne Hill and from Depot Hill Road confirm the appropriateness of the name, as do the pastoral scenes throughout the town.
Dr. Thomas Young arrived in Amenia around 1755 and married Mary Winegar, daughter of Capt. Garrett Winegar, of Amenia and Sharon, near Amenia Union. Dr. Young was not only a physician. He was a poet, known for his epic poem, “The Conquest of Quebec,” a writer of political pamphlets, and a Latin scholar, who also gave the State of Vermont its name. Young was an ardent patriot and a friend of the irreverent patriot, Ethan Allen of Salisbury, Connecticut.
Young is said to have been so impassioned for the cause of independence that he participated in the Boston Tea Party. But because he was not in “Indian” costume for the raid and was identified by the British, he had to flee for his life to Rhode Island. He later joined Dr. Benjamin Rush in Philadelphia at the military hospital there, treating wounded and sick soldiers. In 1777, he succumbed to a disease called “putrid fever,” which took his life within hours.
The Town of Amenia is proud to have had Dr. Thomas Young as one of its own citizens. Likewise, his daughter, Susanna Knies, is worthy of praise. Mrs. Knies lived at Amenia Union, aka Hitchcock’s Corners, and conducted a private school for girls. She died in 1801 and was buried in the Amenia Union Cemetery among other Winegar descendants buried there.
In 1940, Baker’s Drugstore occupied the southwest corner of the Rt. 22-Main St intersection. No trace of that complex of buildings exists today. The buildings on the east side of 22 have been altered but remain largely intact.
In the late 1930”s, a Veteran’s Memorial was in the middle of Rt. 343. It featured the Guernsey Fountain, memorial plaques, and a WW I German artillery piece. The square became a traffic hazard and was removed in the late ‘40s.
A view of East Main Street around 1915. The fountain, originally a horse watering trough, sits forlornly in the middle of the still unpaved street.Today, except for the fountain’s location in front of the bank, doesn’t look too different.
Around 1925, the fountain had moved to the new park where it would remain for many years. The park was removed in the late 40’s and the fountain was buried and largely forgotten! In the late ‘80s, a group of local citizens restored it in a new memorial square in front of the bank.
Looking across Rt. 22 west up Rt. 343 sometime in the late 30’s to early 40”s. Most of the buildings have vanished and have been replaced by the ubiquitous gas station/ convenience store along with numerous signs and overhead wires.
Northwest corner of Main and 22, Memorial Day, 1906. Pratt House in background and the fountain at the right.
The Pratt House became the renowned De La Vergne Farms Hotel and Inn. It burned to the ground in the early 7 0’s in a spectacular blaze.
Four Brothers Restaurant occupies the same spot today. The“wandering fountain” is just out of view on the right. The small white building on the left can just be seen in the photo above.
The Amenia Seminary opened in 1835 and served to educate both young men and women from far and wide. It closed in 1888 after the formation of public school districts in the area.
In the late 20’s, Amenia High School was built on the same spot as theAmenia Seminary. It became Amenia Elementary School in the mid 50’s when Webutuck Central School opened.
The Town of Amenia purchased the schoolbuilding for one dollar in 2008 for use as a townhall.
Amenia Depot around 1920. The area along Mechanic St.was a center of commercial activity starting with the arrival of the railroad in the1850’s,lasting for over a century.
The Amenia Inn was built on this site directly across from the Amenia Depot at the foot of Depot Hill in 1853. It had several owners over more than 100 years who expanded and upgraded the building many times. This photo was taken in the early 1930's.
As the importance of the railroad dimished, the Amenia House did also. In the 1960's it became a bar and private residence and in the late 80's it was burned down. The site today is owned by the Town of Amenia and is a parking lot for the Harlem Valley Rail Trail.
Depot Hill looking south towards the railroad station. This was an impoartant commercial area dominated by Wilson and Eaton, a farm supply and lumber company founded in the 1880's by a Civil War yet. Photo was taken in the early part of the last century.
Wilson and Eaton was still part of the scene looking south on Mechanic St. towards Depot Hill in this photo taken in the late 50's or early 60's.
Mechanic St. today. The only trace of Wilson and Eaton is the renovated office building of Ducillo Contruction on the right edge of the photo.
Looking north on Mechanic St. from Railroad Ave. The Amenia Depot is on the right just in front of Wilson and Eaton's. It appears as if there were three sets of tracks at the time of the photo around 1925.
Same view in 2015. A few buildings on the west side of the street are still standing and are in use. Many old train depots in the area have survived, but not in Amenia.
- Archives Partnership - The joining together of three of Amenia’s local history organizations (Amenia Historical Society, Indian Rock Schoolhouse Association and the Archives Committee of Immaculate Conception Church) has resulted in the receipt of a grant from the Berkshire Taconic Foundation, Northeast Dutchess Fund. The grant provides funds for a museum quality software program and dedicated computer to digitize photos and documents from all three collections, insuring their safety and accessibility.
- Baseball - Studies of this baseball town’s stars, managers, fields and fans
- A Baseball Town - A brief history of the game in Amenia
- William E. Bartlett, Jr. (“Doc”) - The Early Years
- pdf Joe Carroll - When a guy named Joe managed the Monarchs
- pdf Bob Coons - AHS recognizes Bob Coons
- Vinnie Crawford - AHS Salutes a Legend
- pdf Tom Downey III - 50 years of baseball
- pdf John Fontaine - AHS remembers John
- Don and Jimmy Herring - Amenia honored Father and Son
- The Fans - Would there be baseball if there were no fans?
- pdf The Field by the School - What's in a Name?
- pdf Vintage Baseball Game - The game held on August 11, 2007 is over but it is not too late to order the "Amenia, NY - A Baseball Town" booklet. The booklet was published specifically for this game and is a must for serious local baseball fans or history buffs. Order yours today.
- 300th Anniversary (2004)