Fundamentally altered by their experiences, the men and women who returned to Woodstock at the end of World War II found a town that had also changed during their absence. Like them, Woodstock had been shaped, its path redirected by the war as well. Fading were the differences and past antagonisms between “old” and “new” Woodstockers. Finally, the lines of division put in place with the arrival of the first artists were beginning to fade. Woodstock was a town eager to move on; eager to explore a new-found sense of community resulting from the shared experiences of the Great Depression and a World War. In the years that followed World War II, Woodstockers would embark on building a new Woodstock, a town that would attempt to merge the small town roots held by many with the new ideas the most recent wave of “immigrants” brought with them.
It was both an exciting and challenging era for Woodstock and the Historical Society of Woodstock has sought to capture those times in it’s 2012 summer exhibit: After the War was Over: Post WW II Woodstock and the Building of a Community. Through photographs, art work, newspapers, documents, and other ephemera and artifacts, the Historical Society has pieced together a number of the elements that shaped and moved Woodstock during the post-World War II years. The celebration of this unique period in Woodstock history begins with an opening party 7 p.m.-9 p.m., Friday, June 29 at the Historical Society’s Eames House located on lower Comeau Drive. Refreshments will be served and music will be provided by Perry Beekman, jazz guitarist & vocalist.
Beginning with a demonstration of unity through the building of the Woodstock War Memorial on the Village Green, post-war Woodstock entered a period of growth in spirit, accomplishment and size. In the 15 years following the war, Woodstock’s population would double. Business and property values rose. Rotron, IBM and a newly constructed elementary school also rose as symbols of that growth. Tourists began arriving and, while their money was good, so too was the debate as to what type of community Woodstock would become. Would/should Woodstock actively court “trudgers” as Holley Cantine labeled Woodstock’s weekend visitors or should it remain the quiet mountain town it had always been?
Artists who once shunned and were shunned by local political leaders began to make their entry into local government with Marion Bullard and John Pike leading the way. In addition, a new wave of artists had hit town including Fletcher Martin, Edward Chavez, the Magafan twins, Manuel Bromberg, Reginald Wilson and more. Folk music also arrived at Woodstock’s door in the form of concerts at the Maverick and Town Hall, with the former led by Pete Seeger.
Change, it seemed, was becoming inevitable. Even the word “zoning” was being whispered. Not to be left behind, Woodstock’s “nightlife” redirected itself to become an integral part of the new Woodstock. Eager to put the past behind and celebrate the new spirit of Woodstock, the town offered a host of venues where locals and artists came together. Dick Stillwell’s S.S. Seahorse and the Brass Rail held forth along Rock City Road. The Irvington occupied its central location in the village while the White Horse Inn brought patrons to the corner of Maverick Road and Route 375. And yet, no matter where you began your evening, most Woodstockers would eventually find their way to Deanies on Mill Hill Road. There the local plumber, artist, off duty constable, craftsman and politician could be found huddled together over one more drink before the piano played them home for the night.
After the War was Over continues each and every Saturday and Sunday throughout the summer 1 p-.m.-5 p.m. As always, admission is free. The Historical Society of Woodstock is located on lower Comeau Drive in Woodstock (directly across from the Woodstock Town Hall and old firehouse on Tinker St.). For more information on the exhibit, contact: 679-2143. And, for more on Woodstock History visit: https://www.historicalsocietyofwoodstock.org – or – find it on Facebook at Historical Woodstock.
Richard Heppner is Woodstock Town Historian.