Carding and Fulling Mills
A carding mill was once located on the Abraham Dibble farm. It is said that Abraham’s father, Isaiah Dibble, built the mill about 1815. New machinery for wool carding had been introduced in 1806; wool had formerly been carded and prepared by hand. Cloth dressing was also done here in the early 1820’s by Jonathan Young. He was succeeded by Cornelius Turner, a cloth dresser from Claverack, who had formerly worked for Young. Turner was in charge of the mill in 1826 and had a good patronage in wool carding and cloth dressing. He remained there until about 1837 and was the mill’s last occupant. The mill was soon afterward taken down by Abraham Dibble who had become owner of the farm and factory. The dwelling was also removed after several years. A few depressions in the earth are all that now mark the place of the once profitable industry.
Small mills, called fulling mills, for the special purpose of converting the wool carding into “spinning rolls” were also built during this period. On the Dibble farm, a dam was constructed at the bend of the Shekomeko west of the iron bridge and a race cut along the bank northerly to a fulling mill, the water diverted from the creek supplying the necessary power to run the mill. Peter Merrifield made rolls here in the 1830’s. This mill was also taken down.
According to Huntting, a blacksmith shop was begun in 1828 in Bethel by Jacob Barringer, who subsequently became a resident of the hamlet. Peter Hydorn then purchased Barringer’s house and took over the operation of the shop from 1837-1865. Michael McNamara was the proprietor from 1865-1868. Blacksmithing was a common industry during the nineteenth century; every community had several, as can be seen on the 1867 Beers Atlas map of Pine Plains where they are usually indicated by ‘B.S.Shop’. The 1865 census of Pine Plains which includes Bethel lists four men of this occupation.
For many years,Josiah Johnson operated a boot and shoe business from his home in Bethel, and the prior owner of the same house, Hiram Davis, was also a shoemaker. Shoemaking appears to have been one of the more common “cottage” industries during the nineteenth century; the 1865 census of Pine Plains lists nine men of this occupation. Roger Akeley says that when he began renovating his house, he found the remains of many old shoes in his attic.
Thomas Ellison, the first Quaker preacher at the Bethel meeting house in 1807, operated with his son, Tripp, a store and tailor shop in a building on the corner southeast of the meeting house, It was later destroyed by fire.
Edmund Reynolds operated a steel shop from his home in Bethel in the 1840’s.
The Dutchess and Columbia Railroad Company was incorporated in 1866; construction was completed in 1871.
This line ran from Dutchess Junction in southern Dutchess County to Pine Plains, where it turned sharply east and went over the mountains to Millerton by way of Bethel and Shekomeko. From here it was extended to State Line to connect with the Connecticut Western. By 1874, it was running three northbound and three southbound trains daily except Sunday Passenger service was alternated with freight. The station was located on the east side of Carpenter Hill Road across from the Tanner barns, as evidenced from a later map of the area.
Lyndon Haight points out that these railroads employed many local people who made their homes here and therefore paid taxes. They were, as he says, “family railroads.” Immigrant laborers mostly from Ireland had built the railroad and boarded here while it was under construction. Some probably stayed on after it was complete.
When the Central New England system was formed in 1907, trains no longer ran from Millerton to Beacon via Bethel and Shekomeko, and use of the Bethel station was discontinued. The railroad tracks have all been pulled up and all that remains are the beds they once lay upon, which can be seen crossing Bethel Cross Road on the eastern end of the road.
The Bethel station was moved to the Thomas Allen property on Bean River Road and serves as a shed.
Briarcliff Farms and its Successors
The year 1907 marked the beginning of developments which were to result in drastic changes in the Bethel hamlet as well as in the entire town of Pine Plains. In February of that year, there arrived on the scene representatives of the Briarcliff Dairy Company of Briarcliff Manor, Westchester County The owner of this prestigious business, Walter W Law, had decided to remove his operation from Westchester County, where property values were soaring and opportunity for agricultural development limited, and had chosen Pine Plains for its new location.
Within three months, twelve farms located on both sides of the Pine Plains-Stanford road, now Route 82, in the vicinity of Halcyon Lake, had been purchased, totaling 3249 acres. The largest single parcel was the 576-acre Broad Valley Farm located on the west side of the road. It was the property of Frank Eno, a local lawyer and descendant of an early Pine Plains family Among those on the east side in the Bethel area were the former Sheldon P Strever farm, the Deuel farms, the Smith Sackett farm, and the Tanner farm. The purchase of these farms and the building program were completely supervised by George W Tuttle, who had charge of similar farms for Mr. Law at Briarcliff Manor since 1901.
In an age before pasteurization, according to George Tuttle’s daughter-in-law, Charlotte Slingerland Tuttle Kester, Mr. Law’s goal was to produce a milk that was pure enough for babies. In order to accomplish this, his farm was a very specialized type of operation, a model of organization and cleanliness for its day There were three barns, each housing 200 Jersey cows. Barn B was located in Bethel. Several of the milkers at Barn B were from Holland because they had a reputation as the best milkers in the world; however, the farm also employed many local people. All of the milk was processed in the creamery at Barn A into bottled milk, cheese, butter, or buttermilk, and then shipped by railroad to New York City for distribution.
In 1918, the farm was sold to Oakleigh Thorne of Millbrook, who made it famous for the breeding of Aberdeen Angus beef cattle. In 1935,2000 acres of the farm, that portion on the east side of Rte. 82 in Bethel, were sold to Henry Jackson and became Bethel Farms. After Mr. Thorne’s death Briarcliff Farms passed through several owners and then in 1968, it was purchased by Canal-Randolph Corporation, a nation-wide real estate firm, through its subsidiary, United Stock Yards Corp., the largest owner-operator of stockyards in the country at that time. The name was changed to Stockbrier, Inc., and it became a beef feeding operation.
Much of this property and the main house on Buttermilk Pond is now owned by Mashomack Fish and Game Preserve. Many of the huge barns are still standing, however, as is the creamery, and some have found novel uses. Each year in August, Mashomack plays host to Triangle Artists, an international group of artists who come to stay here and paint or sculpt beneath the tranquil beauty of Stissing Mountain, using the old barns for their studios. To the south is Barn C, part of which is in the town of Stanford; this is the home of Gilmor Glassworks and Chaleff Pottery.
It should be noted that on occasion Bethel Farms permitted the famous
Millbrook Hunt the use of its fields.