Oral History of Theodore Hill, Jr.

The following interview was conducted in 1972 by Doris Auser and Arthur Lee:

ďWe are in Mr. Hillís home and Mrs. Hill is also in attendance. I know Mr. Hill very well that I always that I always called him Ted; weíve been friends and relatives of the family for some time.

Lee: Who were your father and mother, Ted?
Answer. My father was Theodore Hill and my mother was Susan Curry, married June 20,1892.

Lee: Ted, was your mother of a local family and what was her fatherís name?
A. Yes, my mother was local, Shrub Oak. Her father was Dr. James Hart Curry a General Practitioner in the community for 48 years.

Lee: Where were you born?
A. In Jefferson Valley in one of the houses on this place.

Auser: Was this still old Route 6 at that time?
A. No

Auser: Then it was just Route 6?
A. Yes

Lee: You had a brother?
A. James Curry Hill who died August 9, 1968.

Lee: What was your early schooling? Did you go to Jefferson Valley to school?
A. Went to Jefferson Valley one room school, then to Shrub Oak, which was a two room school and then high school education Peekskill, NY, now consolidated Oakside High School.

Auser: Where was the school in Jefferson Valley and in Shrub Oak?
A. At the end of a section of Gomer St. and Route 6.

Auser: That was the one room school and where was the other school?
A. In Shrub Oak adjoining the Shrub Oak Methodist Church, now the residence of Howard Olsen.

Lee: How did you get to school?
A. Well, walk to the local schools, and going to Peekskill in the good weather we rode a bicycle to Mohegan and took the trolley into Peekskill. In cold weather and rough weather we drove a horse and put it in the livery stable, then took the trolley to the High School.

Lee: How did you get to the Shrub Oak School. Did you walk there?
A. Walked.

Lee: How far was it?
A. Mile and a half exactly.

Lee: Some difference from our schools of now-a-days. Did you finish the school at Oakside; finish the High School?
A. Graduated in 1914.

Lee: Yes, and from there you went on further, didnít you?
A. Two years later. My brother was in Cornell and my father could only have one in school at the time. I went to Massachusetts Agees in 1916. It is now the University of Massachusetts. I did not finish. I left school to enter the United States Army. After the war I came back to the farm.

Lee: How long were you in the service?
A. About three months.

Lee: And from then on you probably worked on the farm?
A. Thatís right.

Lee: And you had how large a farm?
A. Well, we had 188 acres and we were fruit and dairy.

Lee: You had farm help?
A. Oh yes, several.

Lee: Besides you and your father?
A. All of us worked on the farm.

Lee: How about farm animals; how many of them?
A. Well, we milked anywhere from 30 to 50 throughout the year.

Lee: And you didnít have a milking machine?
A. Not until 1940.

Lee: What farm crops did you put in?
A. Apples, peaches, plus the regular forage crops that you need to run a dairy farm.

Auser: What did you do with the apples, peaches and milk? Were they sent to the city?
A. At that time in 1920ís the fruit was bought by the Cold Storage operators in School St., Yonkers, which was a trading center for the Hucksters from NY City. The milk went to different dairies; sometimes to the Culinary in Peekskill, sometimes to the Natural Milk Center and later to the Borden Co. going to NY City.

Lee: You never shipped milk in Yorktown Heights?
A. Never.

Lee: When did you enter politics, or were you always interested as a young man?
A. Well, I might have been. I was interested all the time. I was District Leader back in maybe 1925. In 1927 was the first time that I ran for office. I ran for Supervisor and made it.

Lee: Who was your opponent?
A. My opponent was a very fine man by the name of James N. Strang who had been Supervisor of this town for fourteen years. I beat him by 140 votes.

Lee: How long were you in as Supervisor?
A. Ten years, from 1928 to 1938.

Lee: You were succeeded by John Downing?
A. John H. Downing, yes.

Lee: Actually, you retired so to speak as Supervisor. Then how soon did you go into the Assembly?
A. One and the same time. As I left the Supervisorís position, I swore in the NY State Assembly. From 1938 to 1960 I was in the NY State Assembly, 22 years.

Lee: That was a long time. I understand you still go back there on occasions. Do you belong to some club?
A. Yes. I belong to what we call the 10 year club. Officially known as the Pilot Association. Anyone who has served consecutive 10 years in the assembly is eligible to belong. It goes back to this year the 6th of March. 90 of them were present.

Lee: From the State Assembly Ted, what was your next venture?
A. Governor Rockefeller appointed me to the NY State Power Authority which was a State Agency that was created to harness the waters of the Great Lakes in two places; namely, at the Messena on the St. Lawrence River and Niagara Falls of the Niagara River for hydropower.

Lee: Who was the President of the Power Commission?
A. Robert Moses.

Lee: And who later?
A. James A. Fitzpatrick.

Lee: And wasnít Lawrence Rockefeller connected with it at one time?
A. Lawrence Rockefeller was the Chairman of the State Council of Power which has an interlocked association where hydropower is generated. Also the power projects are used for recreation, as it is so well exemplified at Messena where St. Lawrence River is backed up. Dammed and backed up for 26 miles. Mr. Moses was rightly concerned about recreation.

Lee: Yes, and concerned with many organizations along those lines.
A. Thatís right.

Lee: I know you married Laura Race, but I donít know the date?
Auser: Mrs. Hill what was the date you were married please?
A. March 30, 1932.

Lee: And you have a daughter?
A. Laura Susan.

Lee: Where do they live?
A. New Rochelle.

Lee: Do they have a family?
A. Three girls.

Lee: Now perhaps we might go back and retrace some of your early days?

Auser: Before you go back too far, may I just ask where you were married? Were you married in Jefferson Valley here?
A. We were married in Buffalo, NY.

Lee: And then you built your home here about that time?
A. Thatís right.

Lee: Which was just a short distance from the farm house?
A. Thatís right.

Lee: Some time you became a Real Estate Agent?
A. Not really. Iíve had a Real Estate Brokers License for many years, but I have never become an active broker because I had a broker I used occasionally for appraisals, but I have never been a real broker.

Lee: You never had time for that because you were so involved in a political life of this community and of the state, and also you had farm work to do. You and your brother carried on the farm work after your father passed away and thereís been little or no time to engage in many outside activities.
A. Thatís correct.

Auser: Back when you were a young boy, I would like to know something about what it was like going to a one room school; if there was difficulty or more the fun having all the classes in one room. What the teacher was like, just what school was like to you as a little boy?
A. Well, as a youngster going to the Jefferson Valley School the student body was about forty-five with one teacher. She was very able and a strict disciplinarian which indicates that you can have a large class if you have discipline.

Auser: And how many grades did she have?
A. Seven.

Auser: And she had no trouble keeping them separate in their work?
A. She was on top of the situation every minute.

Lee: What was her name?
A. Alice Margison, she came from Sullivan County.

Lee: I think she may have been one of my teachers in the District #4 in Yorktown.
A. That I do not know.

Auser: What kind of subjects did you have in school? What subjects do you remember best?
A. Well, everything that you would have from one to the seventh grade.

Auser: Well not in our days.
A. No, it is completely different now but it was reading, writing and arithmetic.

Auser: History and Geography?
A. Correct.

Auser: The regular basic learning thing.
A. Thatís right.

Auser: Did you have a lot of memory work to do too?
A. Yes.

Auser: Did they have school programs that they put on?
A. I would say, not as I remember.

Auser: Did they make any preparation for holidays like Easter, Christmas, Halloween, days like that?
A. Only Arbor Day.

Auser: When is Arbor Day?
A. Early in May.

Auser: And the whole school, you went out on that day and planted these bushes?
A. We were taken into the woods and picked up these raw bushes or something of that nature and planted them.

Auser: Around the school house?
A. Yes.

Auser: What about Christmas celebrations at home?
A. Christmas was a very fine time of the year; everybody was very conscious of Christmas.

Auser: Did you hang stockings by the chimney and have Christmas trees?
A. Of course.

Auser: Was that just decorated on Christmas Eve so you didnít see it till Christmas morning or did you all help with it?
A. No, the Christmas tree was set up before Christmas and it was generally cut in the woods somewhere, a cedar or hemlock or something. They were not bought.

Auser: And you had a program at church I imagine?
A. Very much so.

Auser: Do you remember any particular Christmas?
A. No I do not, no outstanding one.

Auser: What kind of presents would you get - skates, sleigh, things like that?
A. Steel traps.

Auser: For catching small animals?
A. Yes, thatís right. My mother was very conscious of Christmas and went all out.

Lee: What about Christmas dinner?
A. We would either go to Shrub Oak to the Martens Family or prior to that they would come here. It was a family reunion.

Lee: What was the relationship?
A. Well, my mother and Mrs. Martens were sisters and another sister who never married lived with the Martens family. Christmas really was a festive occasion.

Auser: Now when you all went together to Shrub Oak, did you go in horse and sleigh?
A. You bet we did - if it was a sleigh we drove a sleigh, if it was a wagon we drove a wagon. It was before the days of automobiles.

Auser: When you were in your teens did they have parties?
A. Oh yes.

Auser: What kind of parties did they have?
A. Well, Social Club. I remember many years ago it was called the Osceola Social Club and they ran a series of dances at the Oddfellows Hall.

Lee: Whereís the Oddfellows Hall?
A. In Shrub Oak opposite the Martens homestead and it was a very pleasant affair; we all learned to dance there from 9 oíclock to 4 in the morning.

Auser: Wow, thatís a long time.
A. All night.

Lee: It also served as the 1st Election District of the Town of Yorktown.
A. Thatís right.

Lee: When did the polls open?
A. 6 in the morning till 6 at night then; now itís 6 in the morning till I think 9 oíclock.

Lee: I have in mind that years ago not too many years ago but, and you may recall, I donít know if you attended there, there was a chapel in Jefferson Valley and the chapel as I recall is still there, is it not?
A. Yes.

Auser: Where is that?
A. Right opposite the Macrin (?) home, just west of where old Route 6 and 6N split. Just a few hundred feet, and it was operated by, or created by, a Sunbeam Society which was a group headed by the Natt Family who came from a long line of Methodist Ministers. They had a very good and fine Sunday School there for many years. But it faded out and automobiles came in and it drifted.

Lee: I think sometimes our Presbyterian minister in Yorktown, the Presbyterian Church there, would come over here and have charge of those services.
A. Thatís right.

Lee: In the afternoon, Sunday afternoon?
A. Thatís right, Sunday afternoon was the time when they held their services because it would not interfere with the churches, one in Shrub Oak and two in Mahopac Falls. They drew from every Protestant denomination.

Auser: Letís go back a little bit - you said you went from the Jefferson Valley School to the Shrub Oak School. What grades were there?
A. Well, up to 7th - there was no 8th grade in this community.

Auser: Oh, then both schools were the same grade?
A. Yes.

Auser: You transferred part way?
A. The services were a little better - 2 teachers were better than one.

Auser: But even in that school then, each teacher had more than one grade?
A. Oh yes.

Auser: Was the discipline as strong there?
A. Oh yes, the discipline was not severe but strict; they were in complete command all the time, the teachers were.

Lee: Who were the teachers at Shrub Oak when you went there?
A. Miss Jesse Travis at the lower grades and Laddie L. Ball had the upper grades. He later went to work for the New York Custom House.

Auser: Did they have a big bell that they rang for recess? We have one at the Museum.
A. Yes, that was quite a bell too. I donít want to count it. That would be very interesting to know. Iíll make an inquiry about that.

Auser: What about a Fire Department in Jefferson Valley? When did they start or donít they have one now?
A. They do, but theyíre all under the Mohegan Fire Company.

Auser: What did you use to do if there was a fire when you were a little boy?
A. When I was a boy, fire was a tragedy second only to death. Everybody burned down when we got a fire, particularly the big dairy barns in the country were burned down right to the ground.

Auser: Would everybody come from around?
A. Oh yes, we didnít have the equipment. We didnít have the water, see.

Auser: Did you form those bucket brigades?
A. Oh yes, seldom they got them out. I mean, I know of many big dairy farms. One James N. Strang place burned. You would see the cows laying in line in the morning when they burned down. Peter Curryís place; I just remember there they were right in line 45 or 50 head.

Auser: What would cause those fires - lightening?
A. No, no winter time probably; match, I mean cigarette.

Auser: Just somethingÖ
A. Carelessness.

Lee: Men sleeping in the barn; hired help.
A. Happened all the time.

Auser: Mr. Hill, would you tell us something about the oxen that you had on the farm; how they worked and how long you had them?
A. Well, this place was a mile long and we needed three teams. So we had two teams of horses and a team of oxen. All of my life up until 1920, then the oxen was replaced by the first Sportston (?) tractor.

Auser: What kind of oxen were they?
A. We had all kinds; we had Holstein oxen, we had Devon oxen. The last pair we had were Ayshires. Bought them in Woodbury, Connecticut. The last pair, I bought them personally; before that my father always purchased them. The man who bought the oxen raised them.

Auser: What was the purpose of having two teams of horses and one of oxen? What could the oxen do that the horses couldnít do?
A. Oxen could do many things the horses couldnít do, particularly work rough land, and the farmhands would rather plow with oxen then they would horses. For the simple reason that the double tree was not there, and the oxen with one chain were well broken; it was a pleasure then working with the plow.

Auser: You walked along beside the oxen?
A. You didnít have to walk beside them; they would follow perfectly.

Auser: With a team of horses, you would sit?
A. You would drive them the same way. You would have to guide them some.

Auser: Are the oxen gentle usually?
A. Very gentle, very nice.

Auser: They have those little tips; brass things.
A. The brass things, yes. Itís a pleasure to work them in. Theyíre well broken and youíre not too free with the whip. They do not like to be whipped.

Auser: I guess nobody likes to be whipped.
A. No, Iíve seen oxen spoiled by someone being too free with that whip.

Auser: The last team you hadÖdid they die or were they sold?
A. No, I sold them, then went and bought the tractors.

Auser: Did you have names for them/
A. Oh yes, always be names for them. There was always one named Tom, I guess. Tom and Jerry were the prevailing names.

Auser: Didnít you use them for hauling stone to make the stone fences?
A. In the early days when these stone walls were built, oxen were used. They didnít haul these stones. They moved these big rocks that you see here in the base of old stone walls. They were moved in by the oxen.

Auser: The horses couldnít pull?
A. It wasnít a question of pull. You had to deal with all the time that double tree, see. The men would have to pick that up. The oxen only had one chain, come right back between the pair.

Auser: You couldnít do that with horses?
A. No, you couldnít do that. All these walls that you see throughout Yorktown, northern Yorktown were built a hundred years ago, were built with oxen.

Lee: Using a stone boat?
A. Thatís right. Iíve seen one team take a big stone and they actually hook to one corner and edge it around, hook to another corner and edge it around; see inch it up.

Auser: It took quite a while to do it.
A. Oh, time was nothing.

Auser: It wasnít something you went out for half an hour to do.
A. 10 hours a day.

Lee: I think you probably could control the oxen better because they were more gentle. Horses rather tend to be nervous; they want to either pull or else they donít want to pull. Itís hard to get them to hold steadily on heavy loads.
A. Oh yes, the oxen is an animal for moving stone and in logging, too. I remember a pair that was on this job; once you hooked them to a log, all you did was step back, you let them go. They would swing half way, swing to the left; theyíd swing to the right till the log moved and then theyíd take it right out. Youíd want to get out of the way or theyíd roll the log over you.

Lee: Iíve heard it said, Ted, that you and your boy and your brother and some of your cousins had a camp up on Barger Street?
A. And we still own the land, yes, 20 acres up there.

Lee: Of wood land?
A. Yes, rough land.

Lee: What was the name of your camp?
A. We called it Camp Underwood.

Lee: Isnít that true that most farms even down in Yorktown Heights area, years agoÖweíll say about 1900 or beforeÖhad a wood lot in Jefferson Valley to furnish those particular places if they did not have a wood lot on their own property? They also had either owned or leased land, weíll say in Jefferson Valley, in order that they might have a wood reserve to go for burning in their home?
A. Many, many places had wood lots that didnít adjoin their farms. I remember when my father bought that 20 acres for $600.

Auser: When you had the teams of horses, were these the very large horses?
A. Yes, not too large. They weighed about 1200 to 1400 lbs.

Auser: They werenít like Clyesdales?
A. The Clyesdale and Percheron were too heavy for farm work, particularly this type of farm. Then there always was a driving horse.

Auser: That you would use when you went out?
A. Oh, yes. That would be 1000 to 1050 lbs. Horses.

Auser: Any particular breed of horse?
A. Well, the road horses were always a trotting breed, because in my early days everybody had a good road horse which was standard breed. They would feel like they would like to race it, but were not quite good enough for that. But the work horses would come in from Nebraska, Iowa; dealers brought them in carload after carload in the spring of the year. Then you bought a pair, if you had the money.

Auser: How did you get your ice?
A. When you ran a dairy farm, you had to cool your milk. Up until 1935, you had to harvest ice. It was harvested from what we called the Valley Pond; the official name is Lake Osceola. That was hard work. Teams, trucks.

Auser: You took the horses for that?
A. Plowed the ice with a single horse, then loaded it.

Auser: Did you cut it out with a big saw?
A. Yes, thatís right. Plowed out, marked out, then sawed out and then barred off.

Auser: And then you brought it back to the farm?
A. Yes, brought it back and stored it.

Auser: Iíve always been interested in something else. These old deeds of farms; they always say ďand so many out buildingsĒ. Now, to a city girl, an out building is a barnÖperiod. What other type of building do they have on a normal farm?
A. Oh, chicken houses, sheds, pig pen, wagon house, other than the barn that stored the animals.

Auser: So you would have one for animals, one for chickens, one for wagons?
Lee: Corn crib?
A. Oh, yes, corn crib. (Mrs. Hill - smoke house) Hog house, too. That was the main part of the farm, was the pigs. The processing of the hams, bacon and the fresh pork was part of your livelihood.

Lee: When talking to the young people down at the Museum, I tell them that the farmers had to be independent. They had to have pigs for eating in the winter time, had to have chickens to furnish eggs and chickens for dinner once in awhile. Raised the crops which were used right on the farm, corn and all those things. A farmer years ago had to be as independent as he could. Couldnít rely on supermarkets.
A. He had to be self-sustaining.

Lee: Yes, thatís the word.