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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, September 14, 2006

Looking to build a brave new world
Caprio seeks others for free school and ecovillage

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

HILLTOWNS — April Caprio has decided to live her dreams, and she’s hoping others in the Hilltowns will join her to make them a reality.

Caprio, who grew up in Rensselaerville and now lives in Berne, would like her two young children to get a free-school education and be raised in an ecovillage.

She’s set up meetings for both projects this fall, announcing them in a letter to the Enterprise editor this week, to gauge interest.

The idea for the school to provide a "democratic education alternative" came from a play group run by Deb Monteith in Rensselaerville’s Conkling Hall, said Caprio.

While starting as a preschool, the learning cooperative she hopes will one day include older children as well.

Caprio describes the free-school concept this way: "It assumes children are capable of figuring out what they want to learn when they want to learn if given free choice."

She juxtaposes that with the sorts of things she says are taught in traditional schools: "They learn to clean up, sit down, follow directions."

The free school, Caprio said, offers "a different take on education."

She went on, "I’m sort of addicted to education myself. I’m fascinated with how we end up in the places we do. I want to give my kids the freedom to choose."

Caprio’s own path began in Medusa. She left the Hilltowns, she said, only for college, at Franklin Pierce in New Hampshire, where she majored in history. She moved to Berne with her husband, Jason, six years ago and is currently working on a Ph.D. at the University of Albany’s Rockefeller College, where she earned a master’s degree in public policy.

Caprio was interviewed with her baby boy, Eden, on her lap. She also has a three-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Varia.

Caprio hopes there will be enough interest to start some kind of a program in the fall, possibly at Conkling Hall in Rensselaerville or at the Lutheran church in Berne.

"I would really like to see a community learning center developed," said Caprio, adding it might be in conjunction with a community center for the Hilltowns that is now being talked about.

So far, three or four parents with five or six children are already interested, Caprio said. "It’s just a matter of finding a few more interested people," she said.


Caprio is wary of calling cohousing a commune. "People get so freaked out when they hear that," she said.

What she envisions is "a village atmosphere linked with sustainability."

She cited the EcoVillage at Ithaca as a model. Joan Bokaer first developed a vision for an ecovillage in the early 1990’s while on a Global Walk for a Livable World, an environmental trek across the United States, wrote Liz Walker, the EcoVillage director.

The EcoVillage at Ithaca now has 60 homes with 150 residents, a common house, carports, and a barn on a 10-acre organic farm. It is meant to provide an alternative model for suburban living with a healthy, socially rich lifestyle, while minimizing ecological impacts.

The Cohousing Association of the United States lists 193 cohousing communities. The largest number, 42, are in California. Four are listed for New York State — two as completed and two as forming. In addition to the completed one in Ithaca, another one is forming there. Saugerties has a completed cohousing community and another is forming in the Hudson Valley, according to the association.

The association says that a cohousing community is a type of collaborative housing in which residents actively participate in the design and operation of their own neighborhoods. The residents are consciously committed to living as a community and the physical design encourages both social contact and individual space.

The association lists six defining characteristics of cohousing: Future residents participate in the design of the community; the physical layout encourages community; common facilities are designed for daily use and are an integral part of the community; residents manage their own community and perform much of the work required to maintain the property; leadership is not hierarchical — no one person has authority over others; and the community is not a source of income for its members.

"The village atmosphere isn’t what we thought it would be," said Caprio. "Cohousing people share the same values."

She went on, "I live in an 1800’s house in Berne. I have an apartment upstairs." The inhabitants of the house, she said, do not necessarily share the same values, although they share the same structure.

With cohousing, the community is intentional, said Caprio.

Asked how residents would be decided on, Caprio said, "It’s a voting-with-your-feet kind of thing."

She envisions a village that is environmentally sensitive, where the buildings are placed close together and the rest of the land is protected by conservation easements.

"It’s not off the grid, but minimizing our footprint on the earth," she said.

Caprio’s husband, who works selling industrial pressure washers, has been researching construction of the ecovillage, she said. "He’s interested in alternative building. Ithaca does straw-bale housing," she said. "He’s very interested in underground houses."

She said the term "underground" is actually a misnomer. The homes are built into the side of a hill and use passive solar energy, making them "super efficient," said Caprio. "There are quite a few green builders in the area."

She went on, "Intentional communities have blossomed so incredibly in the last two decades. A lot of Americans are feeling we’re isolated from each other. It would be wonderful to raise our children in a community that supports each other once again."

Asked about current interest locally in a cohousing community, Caprio said, "I have four families right now who are interested in moving forward....The more the merrier...I’m getting tired of waiting. I have two kids. I figure now or never."

DeGennaro gets green light despite protests

By Tyler Schuling

WESTERLO — Despite protests from residents who packed town hall last Tuesday, the Westerlo Planning Board granted a permit that will allow the DeGennaro family to put its fuel service business on Flood Road.

Before unanimously granting the special-use permit last Tuesday, residents and the town board members, who act as the planning board since they abolished the planning board, discussed the conditions and limitations of the town’s road system, the possible hazards which could result from issuing the permit, and the importance of retaining the town’s rural character.

DeGennaro Fuel Service, which is based in Earlton, is a heating oil company and roll-off trash container business, DeGennaro told The Enterprise.

The board restricted the permit to Guy DeGennaro, his wife, Patty, and their children; the permit allows 2 percent, which is 4.04 acres of the 202-acre parcel, to be used for commercial purposes. The board also restricted the DeGennaros to keep the commercial land contiguous.

Aline Galgay, the town’s attorney, who directed much of the discussion last Tuesday, stated, "You can’t split it up, and put a quarter acre here and a quarter acre there."

The board also granted the permit on the condition that the company’s fuel containers and equipment remain hidden behind buildings or fences, and allowed the DeGennaros one bulk tank capable of storing 1,000 gallons for vehicle refueling purposes.

"The applicant is approved by the DOT," Councilman Ed Rash said, after hearing public discussion, and before the board issued the permit. He was referring to the state’s Department of Transportation. Rash added, "To deny him, we have to have a reason"I don’t think we have a good enough reason""

During discussions, board members and residents often found themselves at odds with one another.

Sheila McGrath, who lives on Flood Road near the intersection of Route 11, requested the board not grant the permit until Flood Road is widened. McGrath also posed concerns about damages that could occur to the road if it is traveled by more vehicles.

"The increase in use," McGrath said, "will damage the road, and taxpayers will end up having to pay more eventually."

McGrath has said at recent board meetings that visibility is poor along Flood Road.

At a board meeting last month, McGrath said of a stretch of the road near her home, "The corners there are blind."

Residents also stated their concerns about the nine-foot width of school buses, and the eight-foot width of heavy-duty commercial vehicles the DeGennaros have in their fleet.

They were concerned there wouldn’t be enough room for such vehicles to pass each other on the road.

Highway workers, when asked by the board, said they hadn’t had problems with their trucks sharing the road with buses.

Board members asked Guy if his vehicles were too heavy for the roads in the town.

DeGennaro informed the board that, of the two trucks he has in his fleet, one of them is not used on a daily basis.

"The truck is only used once a month," he said, and added that it would not be loaded on Flood Road.

Other business

In other business, the town board:

— Heard a request from Councilman R. Gregory Zeh to submit a letter in writing to state agencies to reduce the speed limit to 40 miles per hour on Flood Road;

— Heard a letter from the Berne-Knox-Westerlo School Board to put a bus stop sign up at 177 Flood Rd.;

— Approved a new Dumpster for the town. The new Dumpster will cost $9,720.00;

— Heard from Ken Drumm that he has not yet received a letter from auditors for the town’s new water system. "I’m led to believe we got almost everything right," he said.

Zeh praised Drumm’s planning of the ribbon-cutting for Westerlo’s first water district. All board members thanked Drumm for planning the event and for doing a superb job;

— Heard from Drumm that the grant application from the Hudson River Valley Greenway is due Sept. 12; and

— Cancelled its comprehensive land-use planning meeting for the following week.

The Civil War comes to life"Gunshots, campfires, and the Gettysburg Address

By Tyler Schuling

WESTERLO — Gunshots rang out at Westerlo Town Park Saturday afternoon. Abraham Lincoln delivered his Gettysburg Address. And the Knox Traditional Strings, made up of musicians from in and around the Helderbergs, played on through the mighty, pouring rain.

The Civil War Re-enactment and Encampment, sponsored by the Westerlo Museum Board, was a fund-raiser for the future home of the museum that is being restored on Route 401.

"We were very happy with the event," said Raye Saddlemire, a member of the Westerlo Museum Board.

Tents were pitched atop the park’s hill; Old Glory was flying, the 125th Regiment’s flag blew alongside it, and a number of soldiers and women dressed in period clothing graced the town park.

Throughout the day, re-enactors entertained and educated the public. Women, who portrayed laundresses and cooks, made camp, spun and wove, and tended to their washing duties. Soldiers displayed their weapons and ammunition, drilled, fired their muskets, and invited the public to drill and march with wood rifles. By ten o’clock Sunday evening, all was quiet in camp.

The future home of the museum, The Myers House, Saddlemire said, is thought to be the oldest house in the town. Though more funds need to be raised, she hopes restorations will be completed by next year.

Many locals displayed talents on Saturday appropriate to the Civil War era; on hand was a blacksmith, weavers, spinners, quilt-makers, and musicians. Kate Latham, of Westerlo, displayed her signature quilt, and told The Enterprise it’s open for more signatures.

Patrick Testo, of Westerlo, who asked questions of re-enactors throughout the day, received a Civil War statue made by world-renowned sculptor, Ron Tunison, who was on hand for the event, Saddlemire said.

Lessons from a surgeon

Ken Nichols, playing a surgeon who gained experience in the Crimean War, showed the crowd a bullet — how it is loaded, and primed, and, ultimately, what it did to bones upon impact.

Nichols has been a re-enactor for eight years, and said he loves teaching and learning on his own.

The character he portrayed was born in New York, and had the funding and support of his parents, who came to America from England, to obtain a superior education.

A surgeon’s role within the regiment, he said, was an important one.

"A surgeon could tell the general what to do and where he could go," Nichols said. "Because each day the general would ask the most important question: ‘How many men do I got"’

"Six-hundred-and-fifty-thousand died in the war. Two-thirds were because of disease," he said, and added that 50,000 could have been saved had surgeons amputated sooner and known what infections they were dealing with.

"Everybody had anesthesia," he said. "They didn’t have anesthesiologists, but they had chloroform, and they had ether. They’d give a guy a shot, and they had 15 minutes to operate, but it only took them a matter of minutes to amputate."

Nichols clarified misconceptions and pointed to Hollywood sensationalizing as a root of the public’s ignorance.

"All the screaming you see in the movies of the guy about to get his leg chopped off, where he’s screaming, ‘No, no, don’t cut off my leg’ — that’s not how it was. Well, that happened, maybe, but everybody had this stuff," he said, as he raised his bottle of chloroform, "and they used it."

Boiled horse hair and silver was used to sew wounds, he said.

Sanitation, he said, was poor throughout the war.

Rags for cleaning the wounds of patients, he said, were often used many times or not cleaned well, he said.

Men would often use a river or stream as a toilet, while others would be down-river filling their canteens, he said. Soldiers, rather than walking out to the woods away from the camp to relieve themselves in the middle of the night, would just stop a pace or two from their tents, he said.

Nichols went into his tent, and emerged bearing a notebook; he read a three-page list of causes for death during the Civil War, most of which were diseases.

"They were pretty unsanitary conditions," he said. "We learned a lot from the Civil War."

Nichols said the war, after all the battles had been fought, had three major impacts on the daily lives of Americans.

"We got the frock coat," he said. "The policemen wore them after the war. We became much cleaner, medically. And we got camping."

Following the war, Nichols said, there was a movement of men and families who wanted to camp. Never before, he said, did people have the idea to sit around a fire together.

"Guys missed that," he said.

"It’s like you’re there"

On Friday evening, Rich Talay and Ed Marchand, the two eldest members of the re-enactors, chopped wood and hammered stakes into the ground to secure their regiment’s tents. They attended to their tasks dutifully. The men were sweating as the sun beat down, but, dressed in full uniform, they continued to prepare firewood and secure the tents. They did not shed any of their clothes.

Talay, who is retired and lives in Athens (Greene County), was a construction engineer for the state’s Department of Transportation. Marchand, who is also retired and lives in Cropseyville (Rensselaer County), worked for the federal government for 40 years.

Marchand and Talay, re-enactors who have devoted much of their time to become experts on the Civil War era, replicated a company street, with two sizes of tents lined up neatly on each side.

Marchand pointed to the tents, and said, "The larger tents were hauled in wagons, but, after a while, they went to dog tents. Each man carried half a tent, and each tent held two men."

Talay explained what the soldiers did while not engaged in combat and during the winters when their regiments were unable to move.

"They played baseball, football, cards," he said. "They wrote a lot of letters, and they drilled a lot"Very few got fire practice before going out to battle."

War, as he described it, was chaotic. Confusion, inexperience, and poor visibility added to the horror of battle.

"There was a lot of smoke in the field," he said. "You couldn’t see who you were shooting at, and most of the guys went into battle not knowing how to fire a weapon. The veterans knew how to fire, but the new guys were just issued guns and put into the field"A good shooter could load and fire three times in a minute."

Weaponry and combat, he said, was much different during the Civil War than it was it was during the Revolutionary War, less than a century before.

"[Soldiers] stood shoulder to shoulder, two ranks deep, to get enough fire power into an area"The muskets used in the Revolutionary War weren’t very accurate. A bayonet was used more often, and a lot more charges were made," he said.

The rifles used in the Civil War, he said, were much more accurate and able to shoot up to 400 or 500 yards.

"Ninety percent of the charges made in the Civil War failed," he said. "In the Revolutionary War, they made a lot of charges. Not in the Civil War."

Some women, Talay and Marchand said, rode with the regiment and helped with cooking and laundry.

"And some of the wives rode with the soldiers," Marchant added.

Early on in the war, each army had one laundress per 20 men; they were women trying to support themselves or were traveling with a male relative.

Women also served as cooks and made flags for the regiments, Marchand said.

Marchand, who has been a re-enactor for 13 years, said he has always been interested in history. He has two sons, a grandson, and two granddaughters who also re-enact.

When asked why he does it, Marchand was at a loss for words.

"I cannot explain it," he said. "The feeling you get when you’re sitting around the campfire"it’s like you’re there 150 years ago, in battle. It’s kind of eerie," he said, "and at times it can get kind of boring, but there are those two or three times a year when it’s amazing."

Potter Hollow bicentennial: Little hamlet, big heart

By Tyler Schuling

POTTER HOLLOW — Long-time residents and visitors from near and far came together to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the hamlet of Potter Hollow on Sunday at the Cotter Equestrian Center.

Kids skateboarded in the street and couples enjoyed walks through the cemetery. The Ghost Riders, a duet consisting of Lloyd Potter and Deb Becker, both members of the New York State Country Music Hall of Fame in Cortland, entertained the crowd with country flavor.

"A lot of good people made this happen," said Sue Lynch, who chaired the event.

"Everyone donated themselves," she added.

The hamlet, which was founded in 1806 by Quakers Samuel and Tim Potter, is located in the town of Rensselaerville, and is three miles from Oak Hill and 10 miles from Greenville.

Janet Haseley, a member of the Rensselaerville Historical Society, introduced Potter Palmer IV, the great-grandson of the hamlet’s most famous native son, Potter Palmer.

"He came here all the way from Chicago," Haseley said.

Throughout the day, the public enjoyed a number of festivities — a potluck meal, horseshoe pitching, volleyball, wheelbarrow races, and horseback rides — and postal cancellations were available to commemorate the event.

At the celebration, Marty Milner, a local blacksmith, entertained spectators with his metal-working skills. Beatrice Mattice displayed her 21-foot family tree. Kathy Hickey, of Potter Hollow, took donations for the restoration of the Potter Hollow schoolhouse.

Haskins Family Reunion

"Everyone in Potter Hollow is a relation. They didn’t know it, but they know it now," a spectator said, and laughter erupted from those who heard his joke. He was observing the 21-foot Haskins family tree, constructed by Beatrice Mattice.

Mattice, who is the town historian for the town of Conesville (Schoharie County), became interested in family history at an early age.

"I started asking my grandfather questions when I was a teenager," she said.

The information she had to obtain in order to compile an accurate account, she said, came from the state census. The Internet, she said, did not provide correct information about the family’s ancestry.

Mattice, who was a Haskin before she married, explained the tree, and said, "Some of us have an "s," some of us don’t"It’s a family argument."

The Haskins family, which usually holds its annual reunion on Columbus Day, made some changes this year.

"We knew the bicentennial was coming up, so we decided to have it this weekend," she said.

"A lot still live here," Mattice said of the Haskins, "but some went out west."

As well as displaying the family tree, Mattice had books on hand she published — Haskins in the Hills, and They Walked these Hills Before me; an Early History of the Town of Conesville.

Many books and pictures were lying atop the tables; the books contained the family’s history — its origin, its passage from Europe to the States, as well as ancestors’ occupations, aspirations, and accomplishments.

The Haskins, which originated in Nuremberg, Germany, celebrated their first reunion on Oct. 26, 1952, at the Grange hall in Potter Hollow. Fifty-two family members were present. The largest gathering, of 100 members, took place in 1982.

Native son

Before he became a civic leader, a business leader, and erected the famous Palmer House Hotel in Chicago, Potter Palmer I attended the Potter Hollow schoolhouse.

His story was told by Haseley in an historical society newsletter.

Palmer, the hamlet’s most famous native son, was born to Quakers Benjamin and Rebecca Palmer. Potter, who was expected to work when not in school, acquired a good education by the time he was 17, and set out to be a merchant.

While employed at a store in Durham (Greene County), he excelled at his position, and was promoted to manage the establishment, which also housed a bank and a post office.

After gaining two years of experience at the nearby store, Palmer worked two and a half years in a dry goods store in Oneida. From Oneida he moved to Lockport and opened a larger store.

When he was 26, Palmer visited Chicago and New York City, decided to move to Chicago, and created the dry goods store there, which eventually became Marshall Field.

Palmer, who initiated the policy of allowing customers to return and exchange goods, advised R.H. Macy about merchandising and advertising before Macy opened his store in New York City.

While in Chicago, Palmer acquired a vast amount of real estate, and built the world-famous Palmer House Hotel.

In 1871, the disastrous Chicago fire destroyed much of the city’s business district, and 32 buildings he’d recently built, were engulfed in its flames. Following the fire, Palmer was instrumental in the effort to rebuild the city, and financed much of the project.

Though he was a pacifist, Palmer loaned a large amount of money to the government.

Palmer’s descendant, Potter Palmer IV, who was born and raised in Illinois, was at Sunday’s celebration.

Of the hamlet and surrounding area, Palmer IV said, "It’s beautiful here"I wonder why my great-grandfather left."

The town of Rensselaerville Historical Society, which places historical markers throughout the town, will be placing a marker honoring Palmer.

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