History

Show above: Literary naturalist John Burroughs and friends enjoy a picnic in the Beechwoods near Woodchuck Lodge.

visiting]Roxbury has a wealth of historical, cultural and recreational opportunities. From historic Kirkside Park to the Roxbury Arts and Community Center, Woodchuck Lodge to Ski Plattekill, there is a never ending list of places to see, and activities for the entire family.

As a “Preserve America Community”, Roxbury also offers “Living History” events throughout the year. Check our “Living History” section and events calendar.

First Old School Baptist Church

Just 10 minutes away from the Town of Roxbury, in the beautiful Denver/Vega Valley, stands a 150-year-old church building. It served its congregation well over the years, but when the membership dissolved in the early 1980s, it became an empty shell destined to fade away like so many other abandoned buildings  that have lost their purpose.

However, a group of local residents and weekend visitors believed that the church’s architectural simple lines and balanced proportions represented the traditional meeting house favored by rural American Protestants. The restrained, yet elegant, architecture reflected the theology of its members—the Old School Baptists—who lived here and imprinted history in this part of New York State.

In 1988, the Denver/Vega Preservation Committee, Inc. was established, and committee members began the historical restoration of the church building. The nearby stream bed was stabilized to prevent annual flooding that threatened the building’s foundation; removed original large sidewalk stone with heavy equipment to protect it during foundation work; eight double-hung windows with 20 panels of glass-per-sash were removed and repaired; the building was jacked to level it with reinforcing rods under the building and cables in the attic to correct the sag;  dug and poured a reinforced concrete footing complete with crushed stone and drainpipe; relaid stone foundation on top of footing and lowered building back down , re-leveling and adding additional support pillars underneath; installed underground electrical hook-up and added electrical service to the building; removed remaining interior plaster and applied all new plaster; reinstalled windows with new 12-foot shutters; contracted interior and exterior painting; chimney re-pointed and new roof installed.

Jay Gould Reformed Church

No expense was spared when the Gould Church was built by the children of railroad magnate Jay Gould, a Roxbury native son, in 1893-84.

Ground for the church was broken in June of 1893. Jay Gould’s eldest son, George Jay, laid the corner stone on September 2, 1893 with a silver trowel made specifically for that purpose. The church was dedicated on October 13, 1894.

The church was designed by Henry Janeway Hardenbergh of New York, who also designed the NYS Capitol, The Plaza Hotel, and Dakota Apartments. The building is of early English Gothic style architecture and is constructed of St. Lawrence marble. It is cruciform in shape, the main axis running north and south, parrellel to Main Street. The legnth of the church is 92 feet and the width 83 feet. The three windows in memory of Jay Gould are in the apse and are of the Saviour, Mary and the Angel. The window in the south nave, in memory of Mrs. Jay Gould are of the three great virtues, Faith, Hope and Charity. These were designed by Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company of New York. The windows over the organ pipes and over the chapel were designed by Maitland Armstrong.

A Ferrand and Votey Roosevelt pipe organ with an elaborately carved oak case was installed at the cost of $4770. When the oragn was first installed a water motor furnished power to work the bellows. In 1929 when electricity became available, Mrs. Helen Gould Shepard (Jay eldest daughter) had the organ overhauled by a company by the name of William Laws of Boston and is now all electric. The immense bell was cast in 1864 by the Clinton H. McNeeley Bell Co. of Troy.

The total cost of the structure was $113,000 to build and furnish.

In the fall of 1982 the church recieved a new slate roof. In 1985 it was determined by an engineer that the south wall of the tower and west wall had to be completely dismantled and rebuilt. In1989 the church underwent a $500,000 restoration project which included the distmantling and reconstruction of the two towers and repointing the motar on all the exterior joints. This project was made possible with funds from the NYS Enviormental Quality Bond Act, The O’Connor Foundation and other private and public funds.

Today, the Gould Church remains a focal point of our community and is listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places as is the entire hamlet of Roxbury.

Kirkside Park

Just behind the majestic gothic style Gould Church on Roxbury’s Main Street lies a stretch of green gracing both sides of the East branch of the Delaware River. Known as Kirkside Park, this 11-acre treasure is rich in natural beauty and history which Roxbury proudly enjoys today.

From the late 1890’s to the late 1930’s, Kirkside Park was part of the estate of Helen Gould Shepard. It was extensively landscaped and appointed with rustic Adirondack style bridges and gazebos, graceful paths along the stream, a small falls, rustic style furniture, and stone terraces. Mrs. Shepard was aided in the development of this area by Ferdinand Mangold, the gardener and groundsman at “Lyndhurst,” the Gould’s Westchester County Estate on the Hudson. In many respects, Kirkside Park is a sister site to Lyndhurst as it is speculated that the more exotic trees in the park came from the Lyndhurst Greenhouses. Kirkside Park gains considerable historical significance due to its association with Mangold and a nationally known museum property.

During the early 1900’s, the park became the center of social and athletic functions for the Gould family, their visitors, and the community. In photographs that survive from those years, local residents and visitors to the area are shown enjoying each and every one of the park’s facets. Basket picnics, ball games, fishing and boating events, and field days with “bicycle races, hammer throws, and sack races” were common.

Unfortunately, after Mrs. Shepard’s death in 1938, the park was not maintained for nearly a half century. Rustic bridges were replaced by iron rails, abandoned paths reverted to turf, the plantings were disregarded and overgrown, and the stone retaining walls eroded and were swept away. Many years would come to pass before the park would return to its original state.

In 1949, after the deaths of Helen and her husband Finley, Helen’s brother offered Kirkside and the property to the General Synod Church of America (GSCA) as a memorial to his sister. The GSCA accepted the gift and, in 1950, Kirkside was dedicated “In Loving Memory of Helen Gould Shepard” as a home for aged ministers, missionaries, and other professional workers of the Reformed Church of America. Twenty-five years later, the GSCA imposed a moratorium on accepting new residents. In April, 1980, the residents of Kirkside were notified that the facility would close its doors on June 30 of that year, at which time the GSCA would put the property up for sale. May, 1980, a group of concerned Roxbury residents decided to fight the move and a lawsuit was undertaken to block eviction of the eleven elderly residents and prevent the sale of both the magnificent Main Street structure and the 11-acre parcel.
Kirkside was deeded to the Town by the GSCA in July of 1981 and the Town agreed to “Hold the premises forever as a public park for use by the citizens of the Town of Roxbury.” Kirkside was leased to the Consistory of the Jay Gould Memorial Church for $1 per year on successive five year terms, for as long as it remained in operation as an adult home.

In 1999, the Town of Roxbury embarked on the restoration of this magnificent site and the Town Board took the first step by unanimously approving a volunteer committee to plan for the park’s revitalization and restoration. Since, the park has taken back its historic dimensions and appointments in the form of rustic bridges, graceful paths which line the Delaware, meticulously dry laid stream bank retaining walls, fresh new flowers and shrubs, picnic facilities, and ball field restoration. Recently, the two historic barns located immediately adjacent to the park have been donated and now join the roster of slated restorative projects.

The park remains a vital center of activity, enlivened by soccer games, concerts, outdoor theater, fishing, hiking, cross country skiing, and picnicking. All summer long, the cries of cheering fans and baseball players dressed in 1898 uniforms will be heard as the Roxbury Nine reclaim their home field in Kirkside Park. As summer dawns and Kirkside Park comes to life, perhaps the spirit of a generous and lovely lady will also return and caress the place she called home and happily find it adopted by a community she loved.

Space in Kirkside Park is available for weddings, family gatherings, and special occasions. For more information contact Project Director Peg Ellsworth at (607) 326-3722.

Kirkside Retirement Home

Kirkside Retirement Home is a spacious Victorian that was the summer residence of Helen Gould Shepard, who expanded it from a modest seven room farmhouse to the majestic structure it is today.
Contact and visitor information: Kirkside@catskill.net or check their web site: kirksideretirement.org

Main Street and Hamlet Historic District

Roxbury’s Main Street was listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places in 1986. Shaded by 100 year old maples, Main Street was under threat of widening by the NY State Department of Transportation. This sparked a group of citizens to band together and write the nomination. Mrs. Gould-Shepard loved Roxbury and it was her generosity and careful planning that determined the flavor of Main Street and gave the town many of its most cherished properties. The successful listing of the Main Street Historic District led to an entire hamlet listing in 2003.

The original district begins at Roxbury Central School, a monumental Tudor style structure built in 1939. It continues north passed the majestic Gould Church; Kirkside, the former estate of Helen Gould Shepherd, and a multitude of grand structures representing mid to late 19th century architecture. The entire hamlet boasts an array of extraordinary homes from the most humble vernacular structures to the grandest Victorians.

In 2004, the hamlet of Roxbury was designated a “Preserve America Community” by the National Park Service, Department of Interior, and Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. Roxbury continues to strive for preservation of its historic structures.

Printed walking tour brochures are available at the Roxbury Town Hall, Roxbury Library, Roxbury Motel, and the Roxbury Arts Group. For a guided walking tour of the hamlet please contact Peg Ellsworth or 607 326 3722 to make arrangements for your group.

Roxbury Arts Center

The Arts Center is housed in a 1911 Greek Revival structure commissioned by Helen Gould Shepard as a YMCA.  This striking and graceful structure serves as the cornerstone to the Hamlet-wide historic district. Listed on both the State and National registers, the sensitively renovated interior contains the Walter Meade Art Gallery and Hilt Kelly Hall.

The Gallery hosts year round exhibits featuring Catskill region artists and artisans.  The Hilt Kelly Hall serves as a multimedia performance space. Individuals and community organizations are welcome to rent the facilities. The Hall can accommodate up to 200 in theater seating style and 100 with tables. It is fully equipped with a curtained stage and state of the art sound system. Workshop and meeting space is available on the second floor. The entire building is fully accessible.

You can find out more about the center at roxburyartsgroup.org

Second Old School Baptist Church

Work began on the Second Old School Baptist Church (yellow church) in 1832 with its construction completed in 1833.

Still painted the  original shade of yellow, it’s the oldest church in the community. Once a year service is held in this noted historic landmark, which was listed on the State and National Registers in 1999.

Shepard Hills Golf Course

Shepherd Hills was originally part of the estate of Helen Gould Shepard, daughter of railroad magnate Jay Gould, a Roxbury native son. She purchased the property which included Kirkside Lake, the facility that supplied ice for the village in the winter months and recreation for the community in the summer. Construction of the 9 hole facility began around 1916 and upon completion served as an estate golf course which included a stone cottage for the Shepard’s summer visitors.

Upon the death of Finley Shepard it was deeded to their daughter Helen Anna and remained in the family until 1972 when it was sold to a private developer. At this time the course was leased to the Shephard Hills Golf Association becoming a membership driven organization open to the public.

The nine-hole course offers a challenging terrain with spectacular mountain views. The full service clubhouse and pro shop are located in the estate’s former guesthouse, a remarkable stone structure commissioned by the Gould family in 1911.

www.shephardhills.com

Ulster and Delware Rail Depot

Ulster & Delaware predecessor Rondout & Oswego began building out of Rondout (the port city below Kingston) in 1869, promoted chiefly by steamboat proprietor Thomas Cornell, who sought to build additional traffic sources for his steam towboat service on the Hudson River.  Cornell withdrew from active participation in the R&O after disputes with fellow-promoters and with the towns along the route that had bond ed themselves to pay for construction. At this time, in 1871, construction of the railroad had halted south of Roxbury.

Without Cornell, the enterprise soon fell into insolvency, and was reorganized May 9, 1872 as the New York, Kings ton & Syracuse. With cash in hand, the new company resumed construction and on August 8, 1872, passenger trains reached Roxbury and Moresville. Roxbury depot was constructed during that summer in time for the opening of service.

That 1872 depot is only part of the present structure, comprising the freight room.  During the early 1890’s, the U&D embarked on improvements to the early depots constructed during the Rondout & Oswego and New York, Kingston & Syracuse eras. The Ulster & Delaware corporate records are silent on specific improvements at Roxbury in the 1890’s. Indeed, the 1894 inspection report of the New York Board of Railroad Com missioners states that a new station had been built at Roxbury since the Board’s last inspection in 1890.  What the Commission did not know was that the Coykendall family, directors and managers of the U&D, solicited local funding to expand small depots.

Roxbury and an identical depot at Shokan in Ulster County received the grand treatment. A waiting room and substantial office for the agent and telegrapher was added along with indoor plumbing and stained-glass windows. Where did the money come from? It’s quite reasonable to assume that the hand of Helen Gould Shepherd reached out to fund depot improvements.

Few changes were made to the physical structure between the turn of the century and the 1950’s. The station agent remained on duty at Roxbury under New York Central management until 1957, surviving the demise of passenger train service in 1954. In 1959, Dick Lutz took over the building for his feed business as freight trains lingered on through the subsequent management of the Penn Central (1968-1976). With the advent of Conrail in 1976, the entire Catskill Mountain line became surplus and the limited service to Lutz Feed ended in the fall of 1976.  After Lutz moved his business to the nearest railhead at Oneonta, Ken Etts purchased the building and erected auto bays at the north end for use by Macker Auto Body, preserving the historic structure within the shop’s metal wrapper.

The Ulster & Delaware Historic Assets Conservancy Trust purchased the depot in 2000 and leased it to the Ulster & Delaware Railroad  Historical Society.

Walter Stratton House

This 1828 stone residence is now owned by the Manhattan Country School Farm, its neighbor on New Kingston Road. It was built by Walter Stratton, a son of a mill-owning family from Stratton Falls in Roxbury. It is one of six stone houses in Roxbury and was listed on the National and New York State Registers of Historic Places in 2002. According to Neil Larson, a specialist in the stone architecture of New Paltz, New York, the Stratton house’s style and construction derive from New England rather than Dutch antecedents.

Its interior is little changed from the way it was in the early 20th century, having been kept as a summer residence by Lena Corbin who grew up there. The Manhattan Country School intends to maintain the historic building to serve the Farm’s programs as a site for workshops and seminars, and eventually as accommodation for artists and scientists in residence.

Woodchuck Lodge and Burrough’s Memorial Field


1633 Burroughs Memorial Road, Roxbury, 12474 (off Hardscrabble Road).
Follow signs from NYS Route 30, just north of the hamlet of Roxbury.
Visit Woodchuck Lodge’s website

Woodchuck Lodge is a registered National Historic Landmark that was the summer home of John Burroughs, America’s most prominent and adored naturalist-essayist in the late 19th- and early 20th-centuries. Tours of the house are offered the first weekend of each month, May through October, Saturdays and Sundays from 11 to 3 p.m.

John Burroughs was born on April 3, 1837 at the family homestead just west of Woodchuck Lodge. He grew up on the farm, attending one-room schools with his siblings, and with neighbors like Jay Gould. These two boys who once studied together took opposite paths in life – Burroughs became a prominent nature essayist, Gould a railroad tycoon and financier.

A teacher, bank examiner and market farmer in the Hudson Valley, Burroughs drew on his youthful experiences with nature on the home farm to write magazine essays extolling the wonders of the natural world right outside one’s door. Collections of his essays were published in 23 books. His writings were required reading in schools across the nation, and more than a million copies of his books were sold in his lifetime.

In the twilight of his life, from 1910 to 1920, Burroughs spent summers at the Roxbury farmhouse built by his brother, Curtis, in 1862. He named it for the pesky rodents that abounded in the surrounding farm fields, and immediately built a porch using tree trunks and limbs from the neighboring woods. Here he spent many hours observing plants, animals, weather and passersby.

John Burroughs continued to write while at the Lodge, usually in his “hay barn study” up the road. Visitors came from far and near to see and hear the famous man who popularized nature study and counted among his friends luminaries such as President Theodore Roosevelt, and industrialists Henry Ford, Thomas Edison and Harvey Firestone who once camped with Burroughs in the orchard near Woodstock Lodge.

He died March 29, 1921 and was buried on his 84th birthday near his favorite “Boyhood Rock” in the meadow to the northwest of the Lodge, now the NYS-owned and managed Burroughs Memorial Field State Historic Site. An outdoor exhibit recounts the life and work of Roxbury’s famous native son. Picnic tables are available.

Woodchuck Lodge Inc. is a nonprofit organization dedicated to restoring and preserving the historic Lodge and to promoting the ideas and legacy of John Burroughs through events and activities that encourage people to live, work and prosper in harmony with nature. Contributions towards the restoration of the Lodge may be sent to:
Post Office Box 492,
Roxbury, NY 12474