Blooming Grove’s Early History Reaches Around the World
By Edie Johnson
Residents from around our area who are history buffs got a very special treat from a couple of serious local historians. Mike Matsler and Matthew Thorenz in the Moffat Library’s new conference room. With hours of fascinating details presented, it offers enough historical meat not just for a story, but an entire series on local history. Matsler introduced his portion, clearly loving his history stories and saying that with so many coincidental and serendipitous events throughout the story of Pine Hill, “Blooming Grove, seems only a short stroll to Versailles”. He pulled from his recent article (soon to be published online) “Pine Hill Farm, Lost Paradise of a French Gentleman Farmer”, by Michael Matson Hudson Valley Review Journal
Matsler began by describing the adventures of the original Pine Hill Farm on Route 94. The farm, now technically part of the Town of Chester, was ( along with Mark and Carol Roe’s “Roe Orchards Farm”) the hub of early Blooming Grove life. With one of the largest populations in the region during the late 1700’s (population 600), Blooming Grove, separated from Cornwall, had stories and individuals that spread to the famous of both the new colonies, and the rich and famous of England and France.
A historical marker on the property notes that Hector St. John De Crevecoeur (1735-1813) settled the land in 1769. He was an important figure during the Civil War. A pacifist by nature, Matsler said that De Crevecoeur struggled over the Civil War which more than we know pitted neighbor against neighbor. Downfall after downfall threatened both his life, the farm, and his family. But struggling through it, becoming imprisoned and separated from his family for years, (and after nearly drowning in a shipwreck on the way to Europe) became tight with half of the royalty in France as well as England and the leaders of the new colonies (more on that next week). His book “Letters From An American Farmer, published in London in 1782 became famous worldwide . De Crevecoeur ultimately became French Consul to the new United States of America.
Pine Hill Farm’s current owner, Ed Conklin, has led his own storied life as he has carried the legacy of the farm’s hillsides, restored historic house, and his new Farm Stand with its Statue of Liberty painting into the 21st century. With farms in the Lower Hudson Valley disappearing left and right, it has taken much courage to maintain Pine Hill as the vibrant farm that it is today. But Conklin shares some special secrets with its original owner, like the day he was cleaning out and restoring an old cupboard and found hidden a pair of small pistols wrapped in oilcloth. What a story they must have to tell!
And we have lots more story about this to tell as well….check back next week!
A Q&A session was sponsored by the Hudson River Valley Institute from Marist College, James Johnson. Its home site contains a wealth of additional local history and links http://www.hudsonrivervalley.org/
Blooming Grove soldiers in the trenches at the border of France and Germany WWI
Johana Kiernan adds to her collection of history books.