I recently bought a new computer. My old iMac was two operating systems shy of being up-to-date and, of course, there were all those bright and shiny apps I was absolutely sure I needed. (Though my wife did ask, after seeing the charges through iTunes, ”How many photo apps do you really have to have?”) While sitting down to a new computer is nice experience (usually), cleaning out the old computer, as everyone knows, can be a chore (and I’m using polite language here). That said, as I undertook exploring the various nooks and crannies of my old hard drive, I began to reacquaint myself with a number of small files I had saved over the years that related to our town’s history. Much of what I found consisted of what I would call “everyday history,” mostly small snippets about Woodstock that were copied from an old newspaper that some good Samaritan had digitized. Other files contained notes to myself concerning curious bits of information I had run across that might, some day, prove useful. And, while none of the files related directly to any earth-shattering event in Woodstock history, I dutifully gave each file a name I was sure to remember (and, of course, never would) and saved them in some soon to be forgotten digital cubbyhole.
As I began to review many of the files, however, I also began to see why I had saved them in the first place. Over the years I have come to appreciate the importance of “everyday history” and the role it plays in holding the chapters of Woodstock’s story together — and how seemingly unheralded events — the day-to-day, if you will — serve to move the calendar forward. From a distance, history can seem motionless. And yet, when examined more closely, there is much to be found within the daily life of a community. “Everyday history” is where real lives live. It’s the people we see each day trying to do the best they can for themselves, their families and, through some mystical process of osmosis, advancing our community at the same time. Whatever the outcome, whatever results are created by such actions — no matter how insignificant they might seem within the grand scheme of things — the everyday history of the present becomes the daily substance that fills the void of time between our self-proclaimed milestones.
And so, in no real order of significance, what follows are some of the “everyday” stories I found squirreled away on my old hard drive. While it is possible that you may not have heard of every event or person referenced, each, in their own way are examples of history as daily life. Of Woodstockers making history.
– In 1906, according to a note I saved while writing the history of the Woodstock Fire Department for its centennial celebration, the Kingston Daily Freeman took time to note that Woodstocker Louise Scully had 498 chickens ready to go to local markets. In August of that same year, it is more than likely that a few of those birds found themselves an integral part of a Lutheran Church supper that also included: baked beans, pot cheese, smoked beef and pickled tongue.
– Always ahead of our time, Woodstock, in 1907, voted to go “dry,” some 13 years before the 18th amendment ushered in the era of prohibition. Voters reaffirmed that decision again in 1909 and 1911. While it is a little unclear who or what the main impetus behind the law was — though there was an active Prohibition Party in Ulster County at the time — what is clear is that while folks in the village itself were decidedly against the law, those in the outlying hamlets held sway when it came to supplying the necessary votes to remove alcohol from Woodstock’s various inns, hotels and retail establishments
As a result of the decision to make Woodstock a dry town, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that bootlegging and the illegal sale of alcohol soon followed. Unfortunately, for the owner of the Woodstock Hotel (which was located on the corner of Mill Hill Rd and Rock City Rd.), agents from the “Citizens League” we’re a little better at sniffing out bootleggers than he was at disguising his activities. So it was in June 1910 that, according to the Kingston Daily Freeman, league agents conducted a search and seizure operation at the hotel and turned up “about one thousand bottles of beer, one hundred and fifty quarts of whiskey and several bottles of wine and gin.”
– In 1917, when the artist Clarence Bolton first arrived in town (and long before the advent of AirBnB), the future proprietor of The Nook and publisher of The Clatterer paid $4 a month to live over top of “Wash” Wilber’s garage.
– For those who might lie awake at night wondering what the early artists ate at Byrdcliffe when Ralph Whitehead presided over the colony, toss and turn no more. Within a file named “Byrdcliffe Food,” I found a note I had written regarding a ledger stored in the archives of the Historical Society of Woodstock. The original ledger documents sales at the Wolven & Shultis meat market, once located in the center of town. And, within the ledger, are two pages dedicated to the account of Whitehead. A sampling of purchases made during the month of August, 1919, includes the following: 8/1 — one leg of lamb; 8/6 — one steak and one leg of lamb; 8/18 — one pot roast and one porterhouse steak; 8/19 — one leg of lamb, one roast beef and a steak; 8/26 — one porterhouse steak, one pot roast and one rib roast. The list goes on in similar fashion. They seem to have eaten well up on the hill.