PHELP'S BURIAL GROUND
Back River Road, near site of the
old Colchester Covered Bridge
SW Downsville, Town of Colchester
We finally found this cemetery – did not get close ups of stones as it was getting toward dusk. We talked to the owners of the property, the Neffs and did an article for the Tri Town on this cemetery, early settler Timothy Gregory, and how he relates back to my dear friend Beulah who is 96.
Tina and Dale Utter, February 12, 2018
click photo icons below to view large size
Beulah Lodovice (4th great-granddaughter of Timothy Gregory in front of Gregorytown Historical marker
Betty Watson and Beulah Lodovice
by Tina and Dale Utter
In looking over the history for the Town of Colchester, Delaware County, I came across information on a small abandoned cemetery containing early graves. This never fails to pique our interest, especially if no one seems to readily know its location. It described the stones as common fieldstone "slabs", what we would call "primitives." These are often crudely cut and lettered, often by a family member. The earliest stone was 1788. This was intriguing and we were determined to locate the cemetery or determine if anything remained.
There were no directions except that it was two miles south of Downsville and mentioned the name Radeker. Later I found the Phelps Burying Ground being on the Alton Neff farm and near the old Colchester covered bridge. We got out the 1869 Beers map of the county and saw where that bridge crossed the river. We made two trips to the area. The first entailed a nice walk along the river but nothing turned up. On the second visit, we located the hamlet of Colchester on Route 30 and could see the old bridge abutments.
From a photo we had, there was supposed to be a four story barn on each side
of the river. Those were no longer there but we saw a silo across the way. We went to Downsville and came up the back way to that farm and silo. I went to the door.
A very pleasant woman answered and verified this was the old Neff farm and that her husband was the grandson of Mr. Neff. And yes, a covered bridge had existed on the property. My next question was - is there a cemetery here ?? We were really overjoyed when she said yes. It was getting on to dusk but they led us across the road through the barnyard and up a steep, sloping cow path. At the top of the hill stood three gravestones, and all were Gregorys, the earliest being 1788. Thomas and Josiah both died in the late 1700s. The third was that of Timothy Gregory. There were also many primitive, unmarked stones.
Timothy Gregory, who died in 1821, was one of the earliest settlers to the area. Coming here in 1760 he had built a cabin just above what was to be known as Gregory town (and named in his honor) in 1766. In 1778 he had to leave because of Indian and Tory activity and went to a safer location in Dutchess County only to come back later and settle again. He served in the Revolutionary War in the 7th Regiment under Col. Henry Ludington. In those early years it was said he ate mostly venison and dried berries (Old Delaware County, Gertrude Fitch Horton ). Timothy established the first "up and down" sawmill in the township. With this type of sawmill the blade travels up and down and in doing so leaves vertical marks on the timber, as opposed to circular marks left by circular saws which came into use after the mid 1800’s. The saw blade(s) rode on a carriage powered by a waterwheel. He married twice, had many children, and lived to be 78. He seemed to be highly regarded as he was described as worthy and respected.
What was even more interesting about this story was that my dear friend, Beulah Lodovice who is 96 years old, has long time connections to this area. I knew she had a Gregory line in her genealogy. When I researched, I found her to be Timothy Gregory’s 4th great-granddaughter. Now it was all even more meaningful. The man who showed us the cemetery was a grandson of Alton Neff. He said his mother, who is also a descendent of Timothy, would love to talk with us. So on a cold day in December, Beulah and I traveled to Downsville and met with Betty Watson. She grew up on the farm where the cemetery is located and had many fine memories of that time.
Her grandparents leased the farm in the 19 teens, and after leaving for a short time, they returned and purchased it in the early 1920’s. A tavern stood across the road from the house. It was used as a farm shop, abandoned and eventually demolished. She had a photo of it. The barn did have four floors and burned in 1965. There was a stone dock on the property where quarried stone would be loaded on the train. As a child, Betty would wave to the engineer. An avid genealogist, she was able to share information with us which we greatly appreciated. Her mother had done a painting of the barn and covered bridge which reminded me of a Grandma Moses piece. Her husband would chime in and tell of his quarrying days. He had even worked for Beulah’s brother at one time in a quarry. It was a memorable visit. Beulah later told me it was a best day for her.
At the base of the Gregorytown Cemetery stands a wonderful historical marker, one of many erected by the Colchester Historical Society. It tells the history of the hamlet and mentions Timothy Gregory. I was able to have Beulah pose in front of this sign. The signs are part of a historical driving tour within the township. Towns included are Downsville, Colchester, Corbett, Shinhopple, Horton, and Cooks Falls. Cemeteries are represented as well as the bluestone industry, a covered bridge, an acid factory chimney, a bridge, and a church. Driving brochures are available at any of the sites.
Another interesting part of Beulah’s family tree was a photo taken of Elba and Anna Gregory in Illinois. On the back it said "went West on a caravan (covered wagon)."The couple are somber, he is wearing a suit and she is in a long, dark dress with a white collar. I, and fellow researcher Michael Spencer, found more information. Elba, also known as Elbey, was a paternal first cousin to Anna and they were married sometime before 1866. They had two children, both born in Iowa and he enlisted in the Civil War from there. By 1880 they were in the state of Washington. Both are buried in Machias, Washington. So they definitely did go West! What an adventure that must have been. I wonder if they ever returned back to Delaware County again. Beulah had often wondered about this couple and what had happened to them.
Beulah was grateful to have learned this history even at such a late date in her life. We continue to talk and document her memories both by writing them down and recording conversations.