Days at Blue Haven in the Beaverkill
by Mildred Whitehill Bankert
with William Edwin Whitehill, Jr

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My grandparents, William (Bill) and Amelia (Mimi) Whitehill initially boarded during the summer at the Kinch farm on Ragin Road, in the early 1900s. My father, William Edwin (Ed) was unhealthy as a child, so Grandfather decided to build a small family cabin in the country to help him heal. In the 1920s, Grandfather purchased one acre of land on Ragin Road, further up the road from the Kinch (subsequently Woelfle) farm. At the time, he was an architect for the Edison Electric Company in New York City where he designed electric power plants, corporate buildings, homes and other structures. He was anxious to design and build his own summer home on the mountainside overlooking the Beaverkill River that he loved so much. He eventually purchased Gland adjacent to the original acre.

The cabin, based on the Adirondack Great Camps design, was built in stages, first as a hunting lodge with a great room with an enormous fieldstone fireplace and a kitchen area, bathroom and two bedrooms. A wing was added with a bathroom, two more bedrooms and a rathskeller crafted with local fieldstone including a fieldstone fireplace. If I recall correctly, members of the Gray family were the skilled craftsmen who worked with stone. The floor was laid with tiles he had collected from some of the buildings Grandfather had designed. A garage and wood shed were built as well.

The acre was surrounded by a stone wall which Grandfather planned and built with meticulous care, much diligent work and skill. I can remember helping him, as a child, when he built sections of the wall during visits in the 1940s. He hauled most of the stone by hand and in a wheelbarrow. Later he purchased his “pet”, an International Farmall Cub tractor. With this he hauled stones in a stone boat and also used it for mowing hay in the adjacent field. He took great pride in the dry stone walls and gates he had incorporated in several locations. He and my Grandmother named their beloved cabin “Blue Haven” and used it in the spring, summer and in the autumn. They entertained many relatives and friends visiting or living in the Beaverkill area. It was used as a hunting lodge as well. He also created a putting green on the acre for practicing his golf, which he loved to play. As with everything he made, he cared for this meticulously.

My father and mother, Kathleen (Kae) Nevin Whitehill spent much time during their courtship at Blue Haven and in the Beaverkill environs where they had established many friendships. They were married in 1934. My sister Kathleen Nevin Whitehill (Susie) was born in March of 1935 and was baptized in the Beaverkill Methodist Church. She spent many days of her youth in Beaverkill. I was born in June of 1937 and my brother William Edwin Whitehill, Jr. (Bill) followed in July 1940.

Through the years we all visited the summer home in Beaverkill spending special time with our grandparents. There was no electricity until 1947 and our water supply came from a mountainside spring. We used kerosene lamps and one magnificent gas lit chandelier, in the great room, for light. The refrigerator was gas powered and there was a combination wood/gas stove in the kitchen for cooking, hot water and heat. There was a wonderful porch on the front of the cabin that overlooked the river. I spent many days with my grandmother there. She taught me to knit when I was nine. She was a beautiful needle worker as well as a lovely person.

The Kinch family had moved to the farm on Campsite Road where I spent a lot of time. I have fond memories of following Isaac (Ike) Kinch, their son, who was dedicated to his parents and worked hard. I helped him collect eggs, feed the pigs in the pen next to the house, as well as other chores. Sometimes, when he was milking the cow, he would squirt milk so I could catch it in my mouth! He liked to smoke a pipe and take a little “nip” through the day, which he hid secretly in a boot in the barn because his father Frank and mother Nettie were teetotalers. He’d offer me some, but of course I didn’t take him up on the offer!

Nettie was a typical farm wife, very domestic, sweet and gentle. She wore her hair pulled tight in a bun and had wire-framed glasses. She could cook chicken in a variety of ways, including chicken fricassee, creamed chicken and chicken potpie. She was a good baker too! There were always people visiting the farm to purchase milk, cream and eggs. People boarded there as well. Meals were a fun and busy time. It was a sad time when she suffered a stroke in the late 1940s. Pa Kinch kept her at home and cared for her. Frank and Nettie’s daughter Mary Kinch Cammer and her husband Jason had a farm in the area and came almost daily to help care for her mother. Nettie Cammer Wood, their daughter, raised a family in Roscoe and a son, Henry, lived close by.

Frank Kinch, with his ice-blue eyes, had a team of horses he named Nellie and Bill. He had no tractor and used horses to pull the hay cutter. He cut hay on the Campsite Road farm as well as fields on Ragin Road. After he cut the hay, he “cleaned up” all the edges of the fields with his scythe. He and Ike loaded the hay wagon by hand using pitchforks and stored hay in the barns on Campsite Road as well as Ragin Road. It was fun riding on the hay wagon when we hauled it up to Ragin Road. We had to get off the wagon when we went through the covered bridge because the hay was stacked so high we would have been “scraped” off! The hay was put in the barn by hand with pitchforks and hayforks on a rail using a pulley. We jumped and played in the hay for hours in the barn.

Frank and Nettie heated with wood from logs he brought out of the woods using his beloved horses. He split the wood by hand and had the most perfectly stacked woodpile, which looked huge when we saw it from the road. He took great pride in keeping it in perfect order. Their house, with its low ceilings, was always very warm with the heat in the kitchen from the wood stove.

I spent many hours with the Sharpless/Gordon family playing hide and go seek in the cemetery (for shame!) and riding their horses. Queenie was a favorite Pinto and my love of horses and riding began with her. Connie Gordon and I were good friends; Sally Shea and Margo Banks often joined us.

Other friends were Ken Collins and Jim Smith. Ken and his family rented a cabin from Lucy Ackerly and Jim’s family had a summer home on Berry Brook Road. Many good times were had swimming under the covered bridge. We jumped and dove off the big rock. Some people dared to jump from the bridge itself! I remember the ice cream stand where we could purchase a scoop of ice cream for ten cents. We used to see how many scoops we could eat and often times it was a “five scooper”! Bill Wilson was the forester and Wilbur Miner assisted him, both memorable personalities. Frank Quackenbush was a lifeguard with character!

As a young child, I often spent time with Ethel and Ken Osborn, many times staying over night. Ken and Grandfather were golfing buddies. Nana, my grandmother, and Ethel were good friends as well. “Floss”, Ethel’s sister, was usually visiting them. They often read stories to me and spoiled me with treats such as Ovaltine and cookies eaten “tea party” style out on their patio. Ethel was always dressed like a lady with brightly colored lipstick and wearing high heels.

In later years, Ethel, Ken, my parents, Lucy Ackerly, Betty Goonan and Joan Harrington often got together for cocktails. Betty and Joan rented a cabin from Lucy and subsequently purchased a house on the Beaverkill Road. Often times, Tom and Dottie Benedict joined them as well as Liz and Dave Hamerstrom. They joked that this was the “Valley of the Inebriates” as they drank their share of cocktails and mixed drinks and usually had very late dinners!

In August of 1952, my parents made Blue Haven our permanent residence. We moved from New Rochelle, New York. The architectural firm of Benedict and Hamerstrom in Roscoe employed Dad. He eventually was employed by the New York City Board of Water Supply in Roscoe.

The first winter we lived in the cabin the water source from the spring froze, hence, no running water! Water had to be hauled in milk cans from the Derbys’ spring up the road. The Benedict and Banks families shared their homes for bathing and laundry conveniences. In the spring a well was drilled.

We all attended Livingston Manor Central School. The “car” school bus was driven by a Mr. or Mrs. Hodge who picked us up at the lower end of the covered bridge. Some winter days the walk to and from the “bus” to Blue Haven seemed like miles! My brother Bill played football on the six, finally eight-man team. I participated in school activities as well. The “after school hours” bus dropped us off near Miners’ house at the corner of Campsite and Beaverkill Roads and we remember those after dark walks up to Blue Haven very well!

Brother Bill was a fly fisherman at an early age, learning to fish from Blue Haven visitors. He learned to tie flies from Harry and Elsie Darbee and traded flies for fishing rights on the Trout Club’s section of the Beaverkill. It wasn’t unusual for him to catch three to eight fish, averaging ten to 15 inches!

Bill and I helped the Woelfles care for their home by cleaning and doing other chores. I worked at the Banks’ Trout Valley Farm with Margo Banks. We were waitresses, washed dishes, made beds and cleaned. The cook was a bit cantankerous and we found ways to torment her! There were wonderful guests who lodged at the farm. Fred Banks was a bit cranky and always looked for a confrontation; Marguerite Banks was a very nice lady and had a wonderful laugh.

Blue Haven was regretfully sold in the autumn of 1956. Mom, Dad and Bill moved to Roscoe. Susie and I had established ourselves in Manhattan and New Rochelle, respectively. My grandmother had died in 1947. Grandfather remarried and lived in Mamaroneck, New York.

Treasured memories of Beaverkill are a constant source of happiness and a lasting sense of love.


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