The History of the Town of Tusten: from 1900 to the present


A Historical Outline of the Town of Tusten

by Art Hawker

A person who might have lived for the past 100 years in the Town of Tusten would have seen many changes brought about by not only local events, but also by national and worldwide occurrences. While buildings have risen and fallen, businesses prospered and failed, trends come and gone, the enduring strength of Tusten has been the character of its people. It is these citizens, some native born, others transplants, lifetime residents or those whose time is tragically cut short, who have made and continue to make Tusten "my town" for us all. Had one person lived here for the past century, here in part is what she or he would have observed:

In 1900 the Town of Tusten was beginning its 47th year of existence as a governmental entity. Narrowsburg was the prominent commercial hub with Ten Mile River village, Lava and Beaver Brook also formed as communities to lesser extents. 1902 saw the formation of the Narrowsburg Fire Department, as well as a major fire that consumed Englemann’s Hotel which stood in the vicinity of today’s Narrowsburg Lumber Company. Water was the curse of the following year with a flood in October which completely inundated the "Flats", and in the next year, 1904, the Big Eddy Telephone Company was incorporated to provide fledgling communications to the Narrowsburg area. In 1905, the purchase of John Baird’s furniture business by Danish immigrant Niels P. Rasmussen, launched a local business which endures to this day, and 1906 brought the J.C. Branning Feed Mill to Main Street by the present day interstate bridge where it prospered until 1941 when it was moved to the site of the current feed mill so that business could be expanded.

In 1911, Charlie Knapp Sr., father of our current barber, opened for business with 20 cent haircuts, and kept on clipping for another 48 years until his retirement. That same year, New York Governor John Dix signed a bill authorizing construction of the Delaware River Highway, Route 3A, which was eventually completed and dedicated in 1939 as Route 97. The following year brought the death of Joseph "Coxey" Bivins, a local eccentric river guide who utilized the rock ledges across the river as his abode dubbed "Coxey’s Cave". Two years later, in 1913, 114 year old Macajah Weiss of Beaver Brook, then the nation’s oldest living Civil War veteran, passed away. In 1918 World War I took two Tusten residents, William Brinkman, who died of wounds, and John Englemann who died of disease during their service to the country. The Erie railroad station also burned that year, with operations moving across the tracks’ north side to a freight warehouse which many of us now remember as the station. This decade and continuing into the 1920’s also witnessed the demise of the village located at Tusten, near the confluence of the Delaware and Ten Mile Rivers to the extent that now only the Baptist Church and a stone arch bridge remain.

1920 began a decade of building with businessman George Oellrich purchasing the Arlington Hotel building to run his General Store with apartments on the floors above. The next year, St. Francis Xavier Church was built on its present site after moving from Bridge Street where the UDC parking lot exists.1926 saw a spectacular fire in which the Oakland Hotel, situated near the present Kilker residence, was totally consumed. That same year, the Community Hall was built by Narrowsburg firemen, and serves today primarily as the Town Hall and Tusten Theatre. In the year following, the Narrowsburg Lumber Company was organized by Fred Hendrix, E.O. Barnes, and Art Van Schoick. The New York City Boy Scout Council purchased large tracts of Tusten land in 1927, establishing their large network of summer camps. The year of the infamous stock market crash, 1929, brought the construction of a new Narrowsburg school building to replace the two story structure which had been used since 1872, the opening of Peggy Runway Lodge across the Delaware, and the arrival in town of Arthur N. Meyers, editor and publisher of the Narrowsburg News, who also became a prolific writer and recorder of local history among his many and varied accomplishments.

The Depression Era in Tusten saw the vicinity being promoted as an economical and accessible vacation destination to metropolitan New York, with small hotels and burgeoning boarding houses catering to summertime visitors. In 1931, American legion Post #1020 was formed and the first class of seniors graduated from the new high school. On the Boy Scout properties, the Civilian Conservation Corps worked diligently cutting firebreaks and clearing land in 1933. As the decade wore down, in 1938 the toll house at the Narrowsburg bridge, which had been toll free since 1927, was demolished. That same year, the Narrowsburg Central Rural School District absorbed the Lake Huntington, Cochecton, and Cochecton Center schools so that all area students now attended their studies at Narrowsburg, and the Lava Volunteer Fire Department was incorporated.

The 1940's of course brought World War II and many men and women from Tusten served their country with bravery and honor. William H. Glaab, a Narrowsburg native, was lost in action when the Philipine Islands were invaded by Japanese forces while Ensign H. Russell Kenyon, nephew of Hillside Inn owner Nat Feagles Jr., and part time local resident, was killed piloting a torpedo bomber in the battle of Midway in 1942. In his honor, VFW Post #5808 was established in in1946 in Jeffersonville. From 1941 to 1945, small defense plant operated in Narrowsburg making artillery components, first in a machine shop at the Hillside Inn property, then moving to the present day school bus garage. Also during the war years, citizens headed by Herbert Ropke manned a watchtower on the hill by the Catholic cemetery to scan the skies for enemy aircraft as part of the New York Air Defense Wing. In 1945 a disasterous fire on Main Street destroyed the Gebhart Building, a three story wood frame structure where the bank now stands. Businesses lost were C.L. Tegeler’s store, Knapp’s barber shop, and Gabel’s butcher shop. A new bridge was built over the Erie rail road tracks by the Century Hotel in 1948, the same year in which a new State Police sub-station was built on Route 97. Also during this decade, Tusten began to be well represented in the New York City sportsmen’s show and advertised as not only a summer getaway location, but a year round vacation spot and retirement community.

The 50's began with tragedy wrought by the Korean War in which hometown sons William Meyer (1951) and Christian Wieland were killed in action. In 1953, Tusten celebrated its Centennial with a five day celebration which saw the largest parade in the township’s history. In the same year, a new firehouse was built in Lava and a new Interstate Bridge over the Delaware was erected. In the following year, historian and visionary James Burbank began to plan an exact replica of the colonial fort which once stood at Cushetunk near Milanville, and three years later Fort Delaware was opened. As this decade closed out, so did daily mail service on the Erie railroad which now saw all local mail taken to and received at Callicoon.

The decade of the 60's began with dial telephone service being initiated by the Big Eddy Telephone Co. on the first of the year, which also saw the Erie RR merge with the Lackawana. In 1963 the Oellrich & Behling market in the Arlington Hotel building was sold to businessman Art Peck and his wife Beth, who bought the entire building two years later. In that same year, 1963, Dr. H.C. Van Keuren retired after serving the residents of Tusten and beyond for 35 years. The following year, a new Post Office was built on Main Street in Narrowsburg.. Kelly’s Home for Adults was established on Route 97 in 1965. In 1966 the last train with passenger service passed through Narrowsburg on the Erie-Lackawana. In 1969, the year of the Woodstock Music Festival, St Paul’s Lutheran Church celebrated its 100th anniversary. MEDICAL CTR AMB CORPS

Renowned newspaperman and writer Arthur N. Meyers passed away in 1971. Profound loss was again experienced in 1975 with the death of writer, artist, and historian James Burbank. Peck’s Market moved from Main Street to Kirk Road in 1975, and Narrowsburg had its first shopping plaza.1976, the year of our nation’s Bicentennial, witnessed a devastating fire at the Hillside Ranch Resort, the incorporation of the Delaware Valley Arts Alliance (DVAA), and a huge July 4th celebration. In 1979, Tusten mourned the tragic loss of three Narrowsburg firemen Paul Brock, Brett Hankins, and Jay Laraia, who were fatally injured when their firetruck overturned while returning from a parade in Montrose Pa.

1980 brought controversy and the National Park Service to town as a result of the 1978 Congressional Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. The following year, the local railroad station was razed virtually overnight by Conrail, and the DVAA purchased the Arlington Hotel building which in 1983, was named to the National Register of Historic Places. In that same year, a municipal sewer system was begun in Narrowsburg, and finished the following year. 1984 also saw the Kirk house, formerly a one story school building built around 1840, named to the National Register. In 1985 the Lava Lodge, a long time boarding house in Lava, was demolished and passed into history. In 1986, the Delaware Valley Opera was formed and continues to this day to bring musical enrichment to the Delaware River valley. FEED MILL FIRE ?

1990 saw the dedication of the Tusten - Cochecton Library, made possible in large part through the generosity of Art and Beth Peck. In 1991, Stranahan’s Store closed its doors; it had served the community as a Main Street business continuously since 1835. The following year, residents of the Water District drank water for several weeks which had to be trucked in, due to contamination of the main well. In 1993, the Superfund cleanup of the former Cortese landfill was completed, ending a 20 year process. 1995 saw the Centennial anniversary of the Arlington Hotel which continues to be restored by its owner, the Delaware Valley Arts Alliance. Installation of water meters in the Narrowsburg Sewer and Water District was also accomplished during this decade, providing for an equitable accounting of usage and promoting better conservation efforts. The Narrowsburg School District faded into history this year as it became part of the newly formed Sullivan West District when it joined with the Delaware Valley and Jeffersonville-Youngsville districts. As the millenium year approaches, Supervisor Richard Crandall is seeking grants to further improve the quality of life and the delivery of governmental services in the Town of Tusten. These improvements include a proposed riverside park and promenade in the Main Street area, participation in a State sponsored scenic byways study, and the promotion of Tusten as an eco-tourism destination. Also with an eye to the future, and a desire to preserve the past, a Local History group of dedicated volunteers continues in many ways to record our local history recent and long past, so that we might draw upon the examples of our ancestors to improve our future.