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July 26, 2014
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Books bring community stories to life


SULLIVAN COUNTY, NY —Although she never knew the grandparents whose legacy she explores in two self-published books, Louise Elizabeth (Austin) Smith manages to bring alive their story and the communities and time in which it transpired, with the help of many who cherish those towns and memories today.

When Smith set out in 2007 to put together a short booklet about Mort and Jennie Leavenworth Austin, who grew up in the village of Eldred and were the parents of her beloved father Art Austin, she enlisted the help of her cousin, Cynthia Leavenworth Bellinger. At first worried over the lack of photos and information, a “vast assortment of Austin papers and photos” emerged from family archives held by Smith’s mother Mary Briggs Austin and cousin Melva Austin Barney.

In addition to Bellinger’s dedicated research and assistance, many others from the Upper Delaware region provided support, as testified to in the ample acknowledgements pages that appear in the books.

The first book, “The Mill on Halfway Brook,” features stories of families who settled near Halfway Brook in the Town of Highland between 1800 and 1880. The second, “Echo Hill and Mountain Grove,” features stories of families and boarding houses in the Town of Highland between 1880 and 1920.

The substantial tomes are generously sized at 8 by 11 inches, making for easy viewing, with page counts of 273 for “The Mill,” and nearly 500 for “Echo Hill.” Replete with historic and current photos, maps, postcards, correspondence, genealogy charts and even poetry, the hefty volumes are treasure troves of local lore.

“The Mill on Halfway Brook” relates the stories of the Eldred, Austin, Myers and Leavenworth families, and their neighbors, friends and kinsfolk who settled in what was once the Town of Lumberland, in the villages of Halfway Brook (Eldred), The River (Barryville), Ten Mile River (Tusten) and South Lebanon (Glen Spey).

“Echo Hill” focuses on the lives of Jennie Louisa Leavenworth and her husband Charles Mortimer Austin, who lived on opposite sides of the village of Eldred. The Leavenworth home near Blind Pond Brook on the west became Echo Hill Farm House, while the Austin family built Mountain Grove House near Halfway Brook on the east side.

This book explores the change from lumbering, rafting and bluestone quarrying to the establishment of boarding houses in the picturesque hamlets of Barryville, Minisink Ford, Yulan, Eldred, and Venoge near the Delaware River. Information is also included about the Shohola Depot, Shohola Glen, the Roebling Bridge, the Pelton Soda Factory, Zane Grey and more.

Readers will recognize many familiar names and places while discovering new and interesting information. Reminiscent of community cookbooks, which often deliver nuggets of tantalizing trivia, the books are full of interesting notitia. For example, “Yulan townsfolk first requested the name Laurel, but the Post Office rejected their request because there were already too many towns named Laurel. Yulan, Japanese for laurel, was the compromise.”

Linda Leavenworth Bohs, today the pastor of the Eldred and Narrowsburg United Methodist Churches, provided the Civil War letters of the great-grandfather she shares with Smith—Sherman Stiles Leavenworth—which give a sense of the area and the times.

In the chapter, “Letters from a Soldier,” 1861-65, Sherman writes, “We are about 15 miles from the rebels, so close that their cannons can be heard when there is any battles fought. We were cheered all the way through New York, but when we came through Baltimore, we did not get many cheers.”

Other snippets, such as this one from the “Republican Watchman” in 1923, about raftsman William Hallock, reveal the types of concerns that marked community life. “Very unfortunately, Mr. Hallock caught a cold which settled in his eyes. The inflammation became so severe that the eyeballs swelled and bursted and he was blind for 25 years.”

In a letter from Nancy Wallace of Phillipsport, NY to Aida Austin in Eldred, Wallace writes, “Old Mr. Halstead is dead and was buried Sunday. He got cold sitting on the ground while the cow was eating.” She continues, “What do you think of the election? I think it was a regular cheat. I suppose we will have to starve for four years now.”

Following a 30-year teaching career, Smith now resides in Cave Creek, AZ with her husband, who was instrumental in producing the books, from design through production. Smith continues to research and write about family history from the letters, postcards and photos shared by family and friends. Smith’s books, blog and other resources are available at HalfwayBrook.com. She can be reached at info@halfwaybrook.com.