Dryden Town Historical Society, Tompkins County, New York

Life in Dryden in the 40s
By Betsey Van Sickle (from March 2017 newsletter)

I moved to Dryden at the age of 3 in 1944 when my father went into the Navy during WWII. My mother was Genevieve Wood Van Sickle, and we moved into the Rockwell House with her father and my grandfather, Walter Wood. He was living there alone since his mother, Georgianna Thomas Wood Rockwell, died in 1939. Georgianna had lived at the Rockwell House since the 1880s when she had married Melvin Rockwell, and had three more sons, Saunders, Chester and George.
But this is about me and Dryden. In the 1940s Dryden was transitioning from a lazy, quiet, farm community into a “bedroom community.” People started to move in and build houses on many of the dirt roads surrounding the village: roads I used to ride my bike on in later years.
I can still remember the farmers coming to town with horse-drawn wagons full of whatever to take to the mill where the cemetery place is now. It was a busy mill, ground flour, corn, wheat from dawn to dusk. The train often stopped there or at the train station a few yards down the track where Brecht’s Towing is now. The train service used to be passenger as well as freight. I was very interested in trains, and every day I would ride my tricycle down to wave at the engineer as the train rolled by. It was an exciting time. I believe the only passenger service still in existence at the time was the Black Diamond which went to Ithaca and north to Auburn.
One major event in the village was “Old Home Day” which was in July or August and sponsored by the firemen. It is very similar to the Dairy Day we have now, except there was a carnival and beer tent at the end of Lewis Street. The parade went from west to east. I marched in it in 1958 as a drum majorette.
In those days, the village was a very active social place with many organizations and clubs. Almost everyone belonged to one or two and a church. My mother was in two evening bridge clubs. My father was in many clubs. Most women did not work, so they enjoyed their evening clubs. In the past few years, these clubs and organizations have dwindled considerably due to women working, family issues, television, electronic media. It is difficult to get people to come out to a function in the evening now.

People prided themselves on their homes: keeping the lawn mown, planting flowers and shrubs, having pets, painting barns and fences. I have to mention dogs and cats. Dogs were allowed to roam free and were all over the place. Also most people did not neuter their animals. I remember a dog named “Squeak” who belong to the Wood family on Lewis Street. He would always run to our back door for a treat with or without his owner. Often the Woods would call us to ask if Squeak was at my house. We always had cats to keep the mice away. They were not the pets we know and cherish today. These cats were outside most of the time just to come in for food. I had a pet cat my father named Blacktop who was an indoor-outdoor cat. He lived about 20 years.
Children played a lot in their yards. Hide and seek, tag, red rover, etc. No television. I used to climb an apple tree back of our barn and no one could find me. I also had pet turtles; the ones you got in the dime store with painted backs. I had two: Reddy and Bluey. My first life’s tragedy occurred with these little guys. A little girl from next door, about 3 at the time, picked up Reddy and bit his head off! I remember screaming at her and rushing in the house and showed my mother. I do not know what mother did with the beheaded creature. I was about 5-6 at the time. I think we buried it in the garden.
Other times we played in the house. I had a special extra room which was made into my “playroom” where all my toys were. I played in that room until I was 11 or 12. I had friends who came, but I was usually alone. I had a small town, a farm, a doll house, and a fort which I combined to make a daily plan for everyone in the town for each day. I also had an electric train that ran through the town. I don’t know where the time went but all of a sudden I was 12 and was losing interest in make believe people. I did continue to play the board games with girlfriends. I see many are still here: Monopoly, Finance, Chinese checkers, Scrabble.
Visiting the Southworth House
My Aunt Becky, my mother’s sister, lived at Southworth House with her husband George and father, John and step mother, Florence. Aunt Becky is better known as Sarah Rebecca Wood Southworth Simpson but to a 4 year old this was not important. She was and always will be, Aunt Becky. Her husband, George and my dad were in the service fighting for our country. My dad was in the Navy at San Diego and George in the Pacific somewhere. George was part of what they called “mop up campaigns.” My dad ran the Navy Base newspaper, The Drydock. He always told me I should go to San Diego and I did in Fall 2016. It was a very exciting and beautiful place.
Being a little girl at the Southworth House, I played with the lovely doll house and colored. Beck’s two boys had not yet been born. One had, John, who had died after he was born. Mother and Beck and I would go on “shopping expeditions.” We would get in an old Ford roadster and go to Cortland or Ithaca. It was an all day affair. I liked it because I always got more toys and clothes. When we returned, we would eat dinner with John and Florence. Florence always asked me a lot of questions. I remember asking her questions but never got a good answer. John talked a lot about the stock market and the war in Europe. It was like a distant storm to me, a horrible storm I did not want to hear about. I was glad that my dad and uncle were in the other war.
The house then was much as it is now. Florence spent most of her time in the kitchen cooking. She did all the work there. She loved to bake bread and wonderful pies and cakes. After my father and uncle returned from the other war, a few months later my cousin George was born and my brother Peter a year later. I was so busy with my coloring books, books, toys, etc. that I never bothered to think how they got here.
I do remember Uncle John talking about President Roosevelt and something called Social Security he had just passed. People from that time forward would have money taken out of their pay and put away until they retired. John was retired, but seemed to think it was a great idea. A lot of people didn’t, especially Republicans. I actually thought it was a good idea and I was not a Republican or a Democrat.
I spent many happy days at Southworth House in its ante bellum elegance. I looked at all the paintings, the dishware, books, and was fascinated by all the elaborate pieces there. Uncle John had gone hunting from time to time, and there was a bear rug and a tiger rug up in the back of the house. I was scared of them. This part of my childhood sort of faded away, like a distant dream and I only recall faint glimmers of those lovely days. The whole world changed after the war.

 

 

Libbie J Sweetland  DTHS Exhibit (From June 2016 newsletter)

At a time when women didn’t even have the right to vote, Libbie Jayne Sweetland was elected District #2 School commissioner, the first woman to do so in Tompkins county, and a position she held for 10 years.  In an open election, Miss Sweetland ran against her male opponent who was an incumbent.  She won by a majority of 600.

Miss Sweetland published a book using the poetry of Phoebe and Alice Cary in teaching her classes, she took further studies at Cornell to augment her skills as a keen observer of the natural world.  She used her limited resources to help others in the community.  Many appreciated her letters of support and encouragement to the area WWII Service men stationed far from home.

“This is an age of great things, great thoughts, great inventions, and great events.  New ideas are crowding out old…  What was up-to-date in the closing years of the old century is rapidly being left behind in the opening years of the new.  “To keep up with the race of events, we must possess the necessary means of progress, and of these means the best are books – books of reference, of information…  “You must keep gathering Knowledge…”, The Twentieth Century Cyclopedia of Practical Information, published in 1901.

Libbie Jayne Sweetland, although born in the nineteenth century in 1869, was a perfect example of these words.  Born at Dryden Lake, she received her education at Dryden High School, Cortland Normal School and Cornell University.    She was a well-loved teacher at area schools and at Dryden.  Libbie was a true educator, who encouraged her pupils in life skills through her love of reading.  While attending the 1909 Teachers’ Association meeting, Commissioner Sweetland gave an address entitled, “The Value of Teaching Good Literature.”  She was a founding member of the Dryden Literary Club in 1907.  The motto of the organization was, “there is an art of reading, as well as an art of thinking and an art of writing.”   On December 31, 1908, Miss Sweetland opened the literary program with the conversation topic, “George Elliott.”

She used her appreciation of nature to inspire curiosity in all things.  Several of her specimens are included in the Cornell Liberty Hyde Bailey Horatorium database.  She offered premiums referring to nature in the school department at the tremendously popular Dryden Agricultural Fair.

Libbie J Sweetland  was a true educator who encouraged her students, the educational community, service men, fellow Literary Club members, and all who knew her “to keep gathering knowledge.”  She was an educator, most admirable.

See the new 2016 exhibit, "Libbie J Sweetland"

See the new 2016 exhibit, “Libbie J Sweetland”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Life in the Flower Gardens (from March 2016 newsletter)

By Shirley (VanPelt) Otis Price

I remember my mother’s flower gardens very vividly.  She had a rock garden shaped like a pie cut in four pieces with flat stones dividing the four pieces and a walkway made of flat stones to the garden.  My father hauled the stones and built the garden for my mother.  It was a shade garden under two very large pine trees.  There were lily of the valley along the walkway, and chives that I remember tasting.  My brothers and I would play tag jumping from rock to rock while my mother was weeding or planting something new.  I don’t remember my mother disciplining us when we had a misstep and trounced on her plants, which happened often.  My father built a trellis with benches at the beginning of the walkway and planted clematis on each side of it.  Over the years the clematis grew so that it covered the entire trellis.  She also had a wire trellis outside of her kitchen window that was about 100 feet long and 6 feet high with red and white old fashion climbing roses.  Alongside of the roses my mother planted daffodils, narcissus, tulips, crocuses, snowdrops and hyacinths that bloomed every spring. At the end of the trellis outside her window was a huge red bleeding heart plant that would get bigger every year.

In the front lawn she had a row of peonies, at least 10-12 plants, which multiplied every year and my mother would wrap string around them to keep them up.  Alongside the row of the peonies she had planted more spring bulbs.

I remember my father planted a lily garden in front of the old shop.  He loved the smell and sight of all the different lilies that he planted and weeded for many years in his retirement years.  That section of the yard also grew current bushes and a huge asparagus patch.  He also kept a ¼ acre vegetable garden that he shared with all of us.

It was in my heredity to love flowers and establish my own flower beds at my home.  I love greeting each new bloom in the spring, the narcissus, the tulips, the crocuses, the Virginia bluebells, the hyacinths and the iris, than later as the perennials start to grow.  I have neglected my beds the last couple of years due to keeping up with the lawn mowing of 4 acres.  I am hopeful that this is the year to reclaim my beds.  I have my special flowers that have been transplanted from other friends and family gardens.  I have the climbing old fashion roses from my mother’s trellis that I dug up in the early 1970’s planted along my fence by the road.  I also have the Japanese quince bushes along my fence transplanted from my parent’s bushes.  I have many varies of peonies that were transplanted from my mother-in-law’s property that I placed along the railroad bank.  I love the memories that these flowers give me because they were given to me by someone special.  I planted hollyhock seeds by the outhouse hoping to have them grow so that I can show my grandchildren how to make dolls out of the blooms as my mother showed me as a child.

There is something therapeutic for me while working in my flower beds.  Pulling weeds is very satisfying and when your life is complicated, this is a great time to think about what is important or not.  It is also solitary, as you will notice that usually no one comes to help.

I almost made it to the Philadelphia Flower Show last year, but missed it due to a family illness.  This year is the 100th year of National Parks and the flower show is going to be different park themes.  Again I will be missing the show due to family, as I am going to LEGOLAND with my grandsons, which is the former Busch Gardens and I am told is full of flowers.

My favorite gardens are Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square Pennsylvania.  They have 5 acres under solariums where there are full size trees growing with lawns and over 300 acres of outdoor gardens and trees and shrubs and ponds and a couple of tree houses.  I have visited the gardens five times at different times of the year.  There is always something different and I have yet to explore the entire gardens and look forward to return trips.  They are only 4 ½ hours away and well worth the drive.

 

A Dog Howled All Day By Sandra Pugh (from Fall 2015)

In September 1943, Victor G. Fulkerson, my Dad and farm boy from West Dryden, joined the United States Marines. Three boys from West Dryden joined the Marine Corps in the same year – my Dad, Richard Niemi and Arnold Kannus.  All three survived World War II.

Dad received training at Parris Island, South Carolina and Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.  He was assigned to the 41st Replacement Battalion and deployed to the Pacific Theater. The replacement battalion joined the First Marine Division on Pavuvu in the Russell Islands. On September 15, 1944, the First Marine Division landed on Peleliu. Dad’s company was in the first wave ashore.  His platoon got ashore with very few casualties. They moved inland to a dispersing area next to the airport.  The next waves never got ashore.

Some of the worst fighting was at Bloody Nose Ridge. Several attempts to take the ridge failed.  Colonel “Chesty” Puller commanded the 1st Marine Division. He ordered three companies to line up, one behind the other, and take the ridge at all costs. The companies took off in 10 minute intervals and took the ridge. By the time the fighting was over, approximately one company was left. Dad left Peleliu after 15 days and returned to Pavuvu. Dad had become an old Marine at the age of 18.

In November of 1944, training started with beach landings and long marches with full gear. This training lasted until the end of February 1945.  Around March 1, the Division boarded a ship and left Pavuvu with no idea where they were going. The ship stopped after several days. Dad went up to the top deck to see what was going on. The sea was full of ships of all kinds – aircraft carriers, battle ships, destroyers, cruisers and troop ships. They were then briefed that they would be landing on Okinawa.

On April 1, 1945, the Marines and Army landed on Okinawa in a joint operation. The landing took place in the middle of the island. The objective was to cut the island in half. The Marines would go north and the Army south.

On May 10, 1945, Dad’s company had just taken a small ridge and were setting up for the night.  He dug in with one of his friends from his original platoon. At this time there were only seven guys left from that platoon. At this point they were close to Shuri Castle and could see it in the distance.  Sometime during the night a Japanese soldier got close enough to throw a yardstick mine into Dad’s foxhole. He and his friend jumped out just as it went off. Both of them were hit but got back in the foxhole and started throwing grenades.

The same day, almost 7,500 miles away on the farm in West Dryden, a dog howled all day. Grandma (Nellie Gibson Fulkerson) said Dad’s dog, Snooks, sat at the northeast corner of the farm house and howled all day long for no reason that she or Grandpa could determine.   Days later they received a telegram from the Marine Corps saying Dad was wounded that day.

Dad recovered from his injuries and received a Purple Heart. He later re-enlisted to serve in the Korean War. We recently celebrated Dad’s 90th birthday with family and friends – he was born June 29, 1925.

 

 

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