Archives of the Town Historian - Patricia Fiske 


Many thanks to Joel Scott  19 Franklin Ave., Binghamton, N.Y. 13901 for the images he downloaded of Coventry.  Please feel free to share any information you may have regarding the images you may see posted from time to time.  


On  November 2, 1800, John Adams became the first president to move into the White House.  As he was writing a letter to his wife, he composed a beautiful prayer, which was later engraved upon the mantle in the state dining room.
"I pray Heaven to bestow THE BEST OF BLESSINGS ON THIS HOUSE and All that hereafter shall Inhabit it, May none but Honest and Wise Men ever rule under this Roof."  America's God and Country - Encyclopedia Of Quotations. by William J. Federer.


Coventry Post Office/Postmasters 


The first postmaster in Coventry was Dr. Tracy Southworth who was appointed about 1833 and held the office a number of years.  G.D. Phillips next held the office for five or six years and was succeeded by his son Edgar A. Phillips, who held it some four years.  George Cornish next held the office about two years till his removal to Bainbridge.  He was succeeded by William Church who was postmaster until 1860, when his son , Charles was appointed and kept it until June 1861, when Amasa J. Hoyt was appointed.  Hoyt was succeeded by Mary A. Kales, December 10, 1877.  H.L. Tower then took it for a few years, and then by F.A. Kelley, who still held it at the time of Oliver P. Judd’s writing, this information taken from Oliver P. Judd’s book. 


The next recorded history I find regarding the Coventry Post Office comes from History of the Town of Coventry  1900 – 1975 which was a work done by The Coventry Town Museum Association, Edited and Compiled by  Catherine E. Bickford, Historian of the Town of Coventry.  I will be borrowing information from this book, but writing as the granddaughter of Angie Handy Fiske, Bliven.


It seems my Grandmother, Angeline (Angie) Rebecca Handy born July 9, 1884, married my Grandfather, Charles H. Fiske, of Binghamton, and lived in a farm tenant house in the area of the present Thomas Tripple residence, on the North Road, and then moved to the “Fred Mills” house on the North Road, which I believe was located near the now Kenneth Pinney residence, where she had a central telephone service, a small store and a Post Office.  In the early 1920’s they moved to the site of the Pullman’s store, now the Village Market location, where my grandmother continued operating a store, boarding house and the Post Office until the late 1920’s when Rural Delivery came into town from Greene.  For reasons, I never did know, Grandmother and Grandfather Fiske parted company.  Grandfather married a Mary Milan and they resided in Oxford, New York until their deaths.  Grandmother met and married Earl Bliven, who, according to mother’s account, rented from Grandma.  In later years they moved to Englewood, Florida, where they both passed away.  Grandmother passed away February 10, 1959.  Grandfather Fiske passed away in 1942, a year before I was born.  I never got to know my real grandfather, but all my siblings and I have very fond memories of Grandpa Earl Bliven .

Heavy Cloudbursts Causing Bumps Creek to Overflow Its Banks, Causing the Several Deaths and Loss of Property, Starting in Coventry, then Afton, and Harpursville.

In our Sunday road trip, May 2nd, we came across Bumps Creek State Forest sign which brought to mind a story that I received from my friend, Joel Scott,   The story starts in Coventry and has a tragic ending in Afton and near Harpursville.  This story was provided by my friend Joel Scott, who provided both the picture of Taft Mill, and The New York Times story published July 21, 1902.  Both Broome and Chenango Counties were affected by “three separate cloudbursts within the limits of Broome County alone and several in surrounding territory to the northward, breaking mill dams, washing out railroad tracks and highway bridges, and doing much minor damage, as well as delaying trains.  As a result of the water’s work, four are killed and two seriously injured and $200,000 monetary damage has been done. “ 


The newspaper goes on to report that at 8:30 p.m., Saturday, a cloud burst occurred in the town of Coventry, on the watershed drained by Bump Creek  sending the creek out of bounds.  The mill dam of I.W. Seeley’s mill, two miles west of Afton, went out carrying with it a great quantity of lath, sawlogs and sawed timber to the Chenango River, (this was a misprint.  It should have read the Susquehanna River),  two miles below.  The water from the liberated mill pond rushed down the narrow valley in a wall ten feet deep.


The Taft Mill Dam and an old furniture factory, located about a mile above Afton, stood on the edge of a bluff, with a deep ravine below.  When the water reached this point neighbors heard the Cook family, who lived in the upper part of the furniture factory, scream.  When they arrived the water was ten feet deep in the yard, and on the bank of this newly formed lake they paused.  Just as they arrived, the mill dam, building, and family were washed over the bluff, and the building and contents were literally ground to pieces in the raging water.  The bodies of the Cook family,  James Cook, Mrs. James Cook, and their six-month old child were found a mile below the scene of the flood. 


.  Michael J. Ryan, a railroad employee was killed.  Edward Farran, engineer and Willis E. Marsh, fireman, were seriously injured. All railroad men were on Train No. 91 of the Delaware and Hudson Railroad. The train ran into a large washout two miles this side of Harpursville about 11:00 Saturday night.  The train, a heavy freight, rolled down a thirty-foot embankment.


Afton’s Town and Village Historian, Mr. Charles J. Decker may have more information regarding this story.  

The picture submitted by Joel Scott, is of Taft's Mill.

Joel tells me, and I regret I didn't get this in the paper, that his ancestors lived on Sprague Road in the early 1800's.  I quote from an e-mail I received from Joel, "But imagine that flood starting above Rt. 41 in North Afton and going down the hill to Kelsey Brook and then building as it hit Afton.  And Kelsey Brook was the edge of the property on my parents farm also."


Coventry/Coventryville Physicians

While perusing through Mr. Judd’s historical account of the history of Coventry, I discovered that the doctors whose names I had mentioned in my earlier report were from Coventryville, not Coventry.  There was a report on doctors in the village of Coventry, as well.  I also noticed that Mr. Judd apparently took his information from a much older account, but didn’t document it.  A friend of mine who worked where I worked several years back, learned I was from Coventry and thought I’d be interested in a book he had that was quite old.  He allowed me to copy some pages from the book, and I use that information now.  The book was entitled, “History of Chenango and Madison Counties New York With Illustrations 1784 – 1880 by James H. Smith and published by D. Mason and Company, Syracuse, N.Y.  Little did I realize how valuable this information would become to me in later years.  Since I have not been able to locate this gentleman, I cannot at this time give him public thanks.  Per his book, Mr. Judd’s account was published in 1912 by the Oxford Review.  I also noticed Mr. Judd’s account spelled Dr. Wilmont as Ashel Wilmont.  However, in Mr. Smith’s account, it was spelled Asahel Wilmont. 

Coventry Village Physicians – Mr. Smith’s Account

The first physician was Diodate Cushman who practiced in the east part of the town as early as 1813.  He afterwards located in Coventry and practiced there till within a few years of his death – 1838 or 1839, while on his way to New York with a drove of cattle.  He was also engaged in mercantile business here and at Chenango Forks.  The next doctor was Tracy Southworth, who came from New Berlin during the latter part of Cushman’s practice, as early as 1827 and practiced here some ten years.  Alfred Griffin came in about 1830 and was succeeded in the spring of 1835, by Asahel Wilmott who moved in 1843 to the west part of the state.  George Sturges came from Coventryville in 1843 and practiced a year or two.  S.B. Prentiss practiced some two years about 1845, and at the meeting of the County Medical Society June 9, 1846 was made the subject of commendatory resolutions by reason of his contemplated removal.  He went to Kansas, having sold his practice to William H. Beardsley, from Butternuts, who moved to a farm about three miles south of Coventry in April, 1869, and was practicing there at the time of the writing of this book.  R. Ottman came in from Pennsylvania in 1845, but remained about a year only. 

At the time of this writing, the present physicians were James D. Guy and Jesse E. Bartoo.  James D. Guy was born in Oxford N.Y. Dec. 23, 1840, studied medicine at Harpersville, Broome county with his uncle, Dr. Ezekiel Guy, and at Nineveh, in the same county, with another uncle, Dr. Timothy Guy.  He entered Geneva Medical College in the fall of 1866, and was graduated Jan. 21, 1868, in which year he commenced practice in Harpersville.  He moved then to Coventry, Nov. 28, 1869 and was practicing here at the time of the writing of this book.

Jesse E. Bartoo was born in Jasper, Steuben county, Feb. 28, 1847.  He studied medicine in Dansville, N.Y., with Dr. Preston, and in Greene with Dr. R. P. Crandall.  He entered the Eclectic Medical College of Cincinnati in the fall of 1875, and was graduated there May 9, 1876.  He commenced practice in Greene that year, and continued till the spring of 1879, when he moved to Coventry.

At this writing, I have no pictures to share.  Also, I would like to know the rest of the story concerning Dr. S.B. Prentiss and his being the subject of “commendatory resolutions by reason of his contemplated removal.”  With all the different businesses this town boasted years ago, it failed to have a newspaper.  


Physicians – taken from Oliver P. Judd’s Account.


The first physician , of whom we have any authentic information, Ashel Wilmont moved to Coventry in the spring of 1835.  Edward Cornell, whose father was one of the first settlers in Guilford was practicing in Coventry in 1827 and continued until his death,  July 19, 1849 at the age of 56 years.  Tracy S. Cone came to Coventryville about 1850, practiced about twelve years and then moved to South Oxford.  Charles G. Roberts located there a few years after Cone left, and practiced until the death of his father, Dr. George W. Roberts in Greene, Feb. 10, 1870, when he moved there and took his place.   Dwight E. Cone, a nephew of Tracy S. Cone, went there about 1875 and practiced some two years.  He then located at Fall River, Mass at the time of Oliver P. Judd’s writing.  Dr. Bartlett practiced there in the early 1870’s.  (I believe these doctors were all practicing from the same location, which was actually in West Bainbridge, on what is now Co. Rd. 17 going up the hill towards North Afton, on the right side of the road, not far from the four corners.  I found T.S. Cone located there on the 1855 map of Coventry that Joel Scott was kind to e-mail to me, and on a map I have which I’m not sure of the date.  The reason I believe they all practiced in that location is the wording in the Oliver P. Judd’s account using the words “practiced there”.  I’m thinking that may have been part of Coventryville, but is now West Bainbridge.)

A Love Story with a Tragic Ending

      A thunderstorm raged outside her home, that dark night, June 4, 2003, when Arlene Nickerson was suddenly shaken by an awful bang outside her home, knocking out the electric power and telephones.  Suspecting the lightning had struck their barn, she went to the kitchen to look out her window which also faced the First Congregational Church.  She noticed a tiny light in the steeple and called for her husband, Don.  Just about that time, the whole thing flared up.  Not having any phone, due to the storm, Don ran out to his truck and got his cell phone and called 911.  In a very short time, the whole church burned to the ground.  Gina Goodrich was able to save a six foot wooden cross hanging at the front of the church that had been built by Thomas F. Karcher of Afton many years before that time from old pews.  Tom Goodrich and Don Nickerson were able to save some other artifacts, before the bell and steeple crashed into the interior of the church (per Friday June 6, 2003 issue of the Press & Sun-Bulletin.)


      For some, a church is just a building.  But for others, it is their life.  That church’s history went back 199 years, and the congregation was looking forward to celebrating its 200th birthday that next year.  Taking a look back at some of its history, (taken from Oliver P. Judd’s account), it was associated with several different societies at one time or another – the first society organized at the school house in the eastern part of the town over which Benjamin Jones and Ozias Yale presided February 7, 1804, adopting the name the First Congregational Society in Greene, then in September 14, 1819, the name was changed to First Congregational Society of the Town of Coventry.  It suffered a split in the congregation under a Rev. Ambrose Eggleston, and had many different pastors fill the pulpit. 


      On April 7, 1808, the church voted to build a meeting house 36 x 54 feet.  The following year the church was erected.  It was hardly comfortable.  No fire to heat the church (only their home-made clothes to keep them warm), no backs to the rough pew benches, and two services each Sunday.  Prior to this, the small congregation met in private homes at the insistence of the wives; the services consisted of reading, singing and praying, and led by the man “deemed most capable.”  Then an elderly man came from five miles away riding on horseback introducing the printed sermon. 


      In 1840, the church was remodeled and repaired, and a new steeple and bell were added, and again twelve years later repairs and remodeling were done.  The monetary embarrassment of the church was very great and many sacrifices were made in those days to sustain the gospel.  During Mr. Thorpe’s pastorate, the society was confronted with the necessity of raising the indebtedness which was held against it or suffer loss.  Although Mr. Thorpe made a great effort to raise the money, there was still a shortage of $65.00.  In desperation he went to Deacon Stoddard, grandfather of John Stoddard who lived in Coventryville and presented the problem.  The Deacon who had been plowing a field, sat upon the plow beam, and after a few minutes reflection, he arose, unhitched the oxen, drove them away and sold them, paying the debt with the proceeds.


        These people felt the church was very important.  On page 47 of Oliver P. Judd’s book, he speaks of them preserving the “religious culture” which had hallowed their native lands, and of the “sterling character of their Puritan ancestors.”  In more modern, to the point, terminology…they were preserving the Gospel of Jesus Christ; teaching it, and living it.  In our today’s society, it is almost taboo to even mention the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Such were the characteristics of these early folks who attended this church.  Mr. Judd gives a long list of names of the “pious” affiliated with this church. 

        So, why did the church have to burn?   I don’t know for sure, and doubt anyone else does.  It could have been any number of reasons.  But it did.  I just felt it worthy of remembrance, and how strange that it is Memorial Day, and I’m writing this article.  This is a time to remember those who paid high prices to keep their beloved house of prayer.    It was seven years ago, this June 4, that the finger of God destroyed His House of Prayer. 

        You may have notice, that I have not mentioned any pastor’s names, nor have I written about the new church.  This is strictly in memory of the original church and its congregation.  Many thanks to Joel Scott for the picture.  Unfortunately, the picture is not dated.  Notice, however, the open shed to the left of the church.  I suspect it was for the horses.  
Also, a special "Thank You" to Arlene Nickerson for sharing with me the events of the night the church was struck by lightning and burned.


Week of 6/6/10

This week is a picture of a Coventry Baseball Team sent to me from Marguerite Stiles, of  6358 Murphy Dr., Victor, NY  14564-9205.  The names on the back of the photo are: Back Row, Left to right – Charles Foulds, Ray Scott, William Webb, Ray Wilder, Alvin Dalton and ???  In the front row, left to right:  Arthur Ives?, Earl Barton, Louis Van Woert, and ???  I’m not sure what building they are standing in front of, but if anyone out there reading this knows anything about this picture, please contact me at my e-mail address: 
.  A special “Thank you” to Marguerite Stiles for sharing this photo and another one that I didn’t give credit to, Angie Handy Fiske’s Post Office/Store.  Joel Scott also had supplied an e-mail version of the same picture.  Thank you to both of you. 

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