Saturday, May 1, 2010

No Culture in Rosendale?

April 29, 1938

Joseph Fleming sighed at dinner at his home and said; "There is no culture in Rosendale. There is no library and no "bank.” It is a ghost town because it is a town of memories. Sometimes these days I hear people talking about Rosendale get togethers. There is a club of Rosendale people who meet in New York for dinners. But I am not interested in the Rosendale of Tomorrow. I don't want to have anything  to do with them. Let them talk. I live with my memories and with the stories my father told me of the Rosendale of yesterday....of its hard drinking tough inhabitants..long row of saloons…the cockfighting and the famous Johnny Daly who was a great breeder of fighting cocks (people who took part in the sport were cockers)....the hills honeycombed with the cement mines.
Jim Fleming runs the local Grand Union grocery store. He did not come home for dinner as he keeps the store open late Saturdays. The Fleming Father and Mother are dead. A sister Mary teaches school in Poughkeepsie. Another sister is married and one of their nieces got dinner. Bill and Joe live together, "keep bachelor's hall". Joe gets home every other weekend so Jim is all alone now and then. Ambition has driven them all.. ambition to be cultured and important and respectable and associate with to nice people. They are the children of prosperous workers in the cement mines. They are considered one of the old families of Rosendale but like all the old families, the upper strata of the town (except one or two mine owners) they are the families of workers and have remained more or less workers except for their middle-class aspects.
Old man Fleming was a great storyteller and Joe is perhaps more like him. The other members of the family do not take Joe's literary pretensions seriously. It ism interesting almost the first time I ever heard of a guy who wanted to write having sense enough to see that what went on right around him could become literary materials
We drive around the town in the late afternoon. Jim insisted that I take a picture of a fighting cock. The cock was owned by a Tobacco Road looking woman who was living in one of the lockmaster's houses along the remains of the old Canal. Her children were dirty faced and in rags. Her husband is doing a little better these days as he is getting several days work each week in the new AJ Snyder Cement Works. Joe recalled that in the old days men at the bar used to sing a song, which went like this:

"Canaler, canaler you son of a bitch
you'll never get rich,
you'll die on the Delaware ditch.”

The berm side of the canal was the side not used for the towpath and Joe said he didn't know why it was called that. The Canalers came mostly from Hawley, Rondout, and Honesdale.
We walked on down the road paralleling the canal to the ruins of an old "tenement house" for the cement workers. It was built by a once prosperous cement mine operator, Watson E Lawrence in 1837. He recalled that just across the way over the Rondout Creek (which parallels the Canal) was an abortive attempt at gold mining. He said it was on the site of the Yellow Mill Bridge. He said his brother Bill (that's the brother name who lives with him) was a cooper by trade which means he made barrels to put the cement in and worked in the cooperage which was operated by the cement company.
        The men who operated the kilns were called cement burners and Joe recalled that a foreman of his once said that the dumber a cement burner was the better he was. He pointed up at a hill and said that was the site of the Old Mad House. Why ? Because so many old Irishmen lived in it. Rosendale now has only about 500 people in it and it used to have easily 3,000 in the old days.  There was a blacksmith up the road who was a soldier in the Civil War. When he returned from the War he brought back a negro slave with him and the Negro worked for him for years unaware that he was not still slave...and working for nothing.
We passed an old canal bridge forming an arc over the canal. We looked at the old slips where the barges were turned into the cement factories to be loaded. They were pushed with pikes through the slips into the canal. We talked a minute with Ashton Knight who was paint¬ing the Rondout Creek. He's over here because his daughter in at a finishing school.
We drove into the A.J. Snyder Cement factory.  A foreman told us a little about the new activity. A man from Kingston is burning the cement... an old timer who knows his stuff. Cement is put in bags these days and shipped by truck and rail. He suggested that I see the boss. I went up to a house only a few hundred feet from the old cement factory. A rough and ready looking guy dressed like a prosperous business man was standing on his lawn looking into a little stone rimmed fish pond. His house was newly painted and must have had about ten or fifteen rooms. He paused a long time after I told him what I wanted and then talked very slowly. Joe hung behind. Then, although, he was twenty feet away I brought his into the conversation by saying; "Mr. Fleming here tells me Rosendale cement set rather slowly.” The two men met for the first time in their lives when I introduced them although Jake Snyder's family had employed the Flemings for almost a half-century or more. Soon they were calling each other Jake and "Fleming.” I guess Jake Fleming went so far but not to saying Joe. But there was not quite the gap one might have expected. Jake, after all, has had to fight his way and as you can see, is perhaps still fighting. He is a survivor of a pioneer industrialist, that is a family of pioneer industrialists.
He said of the revival of the cement business at Rosendale: "You know it’s a lot harder to start something that ‘has been’ than something entirely new.” You noticed the lack of bitterness in his voice and kind of fatalism he seemed to have. He would say: "And then Rosendale cement was not as widely used. This happened because it had to happen. Times were changing. He talked with completely objectivity of the great merger around the turn of the century. "The consolidation of the Rosendale cement companies was their downfall. The business was in terrible shape. The price was way down. People were buying cement right and left but the price was so bad you couldn't make any money."
Joe Fleming re-called that during those last rush years they threw anything into the barrels and labeled it Brooklyn bridge and shipped it on down. Jake said that was right: "Rosendale cement got a black eye." Snyder held out against the merger. They owned their cement works outright. A man like Beech had given a lot of paper on his works and Miller and Snyder could not see why they should put their works in with companies already in bad shape. The merger group then cut the Snyders off from the Canal. So they shipped their cement by horse and wagon to the RR and then loaded the cement on their barges at Weehawken, New Jersey. Later Coykendall gave back the Canal but things were about over.
Jake Snyder is the fourth generation in the cement business. Just out of college in 1902, his Grandfather had just died and the cement works on his hands and there had been all the trouble.

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