Downsville-incorporated April 14, 1921.
Abel Downs, the man Downsville was named for, arrived in Colchester about 1794. He obtained the title to Lot 19 and nearly all of Lot 20 in Division 63 of the Great Hardenbergh Patent. He also had a half interest in eleven or more lots in division 62. The upper end of Lot 19 crosses the Wilson Hollow road and continues down to just before the bridge by Tub Mills Falls. The lower end Lot 19 crosses main below the Old School House restaurant and hits the 62 and 63 division line in the center of the road across from the Paige Cemetery. The Downs interest in Division 62 included what is now the Markert farm across from the Downsville Central School, as well as the Gus Liddle farm and the late David Anderson farm. Lot 20 extends from the lower end of Lot 19 to the East Branch of the Delaware River. Out of Lot 20 were five small farms along the river which Downs did not own. One of these small farms was 65 1/3 acres was deeded to Dr. George W. Paige. Mrs. Paige was Phoebe Hitt, a sister of Mrs. Abel Downs. This farm line ran from the area in back of the Community Bank to the east line of the Harley Bogart property. It contained the property which is now the Paige Cemetery the small house and lot north of the Cemetery and up to the former Presbyterian manse and all the river flats in front of those properties. With the exception of these properties along the river, Abel Downs owned all the lands in and surrounding what is now Downsville.
In 1798, Able Downs opened a store on the corner of Main and Maple Avenues. At the same time he erected a large house on the opposite corner (LaTourette home) from the store. In that home he and his wife Jenisha Hitt Downs raised their family of seven, four boys and three girls. Besides his store and land interest Abel Downs was also the Town Supervisor in 1799, 1801-1804 and again from 1814-1821. He was the first postmaster of Downsville and served in that position from 1815 to 1823, when failing health forced his retirement. At his death in 1824 he left his large estate to his children. Each child received a cash inheritance plus each son was deeded a farm and his wife was bequeathed the balance of his property, which upon her death was to be divided between his oldest son William and his youngest son George W. After his mother's death William conveyed his interest over to his younger brother George W. Downs.
George W. Downs
The first part of the George Downs' married life was spent on the Downs Homestead. As his family grew larger they wanted a home of their own and George built what is now the Methodist Parsonage on Maple Avenue. Across the road from this house stood huge animal barns and other outbuildings used in George Downs other business ventures. He developed a tannery business, saw mill, grist mill and the Downs House Hotel, as well as real estate developments. In 1847, the former name of Shack Port was changed to Downsville.
Only three of George's children survived, Anne E., Mary A and John Day. When their daughter Anne married Charles Hine, her father built a house (former Gus Liddle property) for them on Maple Avenue. As a wedding gift to Mary and her husband, Albert A. White, George gave them a house across the street (Ruth Rennerts property) . The deeds to both of these houses included water rights to the cold water spring on the hill from the Downs farm on the corner beyond their houses. When John Day Downs married Mary Hine of Franklin, George built them a house as a wedding gift. This house in on Main Street (present Close property). Sarah and her mother continued to live on the Downs Homestead. Sally was injured in riding accident as a young girl and rarely left the Homestead. Sarah or Sally as she was called continued to live on the property after her mother died in 1850 until her death in 1870.
George W. developed cancer and died during the winter of 1861. In compliance with his wishes, he was buried on the mountain overlooking the village he helped to develop. His grave was blasted out of solid rock. A roadway was cut through the forest. His body was carried up the mountain on a wooden sled drawn by oxen. It was said that he chose that spot because it looked down on the Downs Homestead and that his sister Sally could see his grave from her bedroom window.
John Day Downs
After the death of his father, John Downs formed a partnership with his uncle Rensaeller W. Elwood. The business was known as Downs and Elwood. A new store and office building was erected at the corner of Main and Tannery Road (now the Eagle Dollar). The partnership was very successful and they were reported to have controlled nearly everything in Downsville. The partnership had a short life due to the sudden death of Rensaeller Elwood in 1867. A court battle regarding the estate of the partnership resulted in most of the business being controlled by John Downs. Elwood's wife sold her remaining interests to Jennie Holmes. Jennie Holmes in turn sold some of the property to Frances D. Holmes. In 1888, George W. Holmes purchased the grist mill property from Frances and ran that mill until 1925.
Downsville in the 1870's
Accounts of Downsville in the 1870's report that it was a quaint little town. Each dwelling had its own small yard surrounded by a wooden fence. The sidewalks were made of wood. There were no street lights until J.D. Schlafer came to work as a barber at the Anderson Hotel. He purchased several large square iron lanterns mounted on tall, heavy iron standards. These lamps were placed at intervals along the streets of the village. Each lamp was kept clean and filled with oil by the family living the closest to that particular lamp. Mr. Schlafer hired a man to light these lamps each evening. As twilight crept over the mountains, it was Mr.Schlafer's habit to extinguish all the lanterns before going to bed.
All supplies that arrived in Downsville had to be "teamed in" from surrounding town. Mail and passengers were carried on stage coaches. Each morning these stages were drawn by horses, heading for Arkville, Walton and East Branch. Another stage started from Arkville an met the one from Downsville half way between the two towns. The mail and passengers were exchanged and each coach returned to their starting point. The return of the stages brought mail and news from the outside world.
The main newspaper for the East Branch valley after 1875 was the Downsville News, edited by Amos Peck. The newspaper was financed by Warren Williams. The Peck family lived on the Williams farm and they had a printing press in a small outbuilding on that property. As the business expanded they moved their press to the village and the business was continued by Amos Peck's sons. The Downsville News was published until 1945.
Downsville continued to prosper through the 1880's; The 1886 Beers Atlas listed four blacksmith shops, four carpentry shops, master cabinet maker Felix Miner, two hardware stores, four dry goods and grocery stores, two millinery shops, two shoemakers, one tailor shop, and one watch maker shop. The atlas also names two physicians, Drs. G. P. Bassett and M.E. Montgomery. The village supported three attorneys, Holmes, Odwell and White and one Land Surveyor E.W. Lindsley. The Rothensies Cigar Factory was located on Back River road and tobacco for the cigars was grown on the Warren and Cable river flats.
A large section of the business district on Main Street was destroyed by fire in 1892. All the water to fight the fire had to be hand carried by buckets from wells and the mill pond. After this disaster the Downsville Hose Company was organized and in March of 1898, the T. K. Walker Hook and Ladder Company was formed to supplement the work of the Hose Company. In 1917 the two companies merged to form the Downsville Fire Department and they then purchased their first modern gasoline driven fire engine.
Downsville's first Military Band was organized before the Civil War. This was followed by three bands between 1865 and 1882. The Downsville Concert Band was organized in April 1884 and was in active existence until 1930. The Concert Band's organizer was Fred Beers who was the first director. Gus Holmes was then elected to be its leader and he held the position until 1930. Gus Holmes is credited with having played in a band, in Downsville, for 51 consecutive Memorial Days.
Delaware and Eastern Railroad Era
"The idea of constructing a railroad along the East Branch of the Delaware River was a plan devised by Frederick F. Searing, president of Searing & Company, an industrial banking house located in downtown New York City. Early in 1904, Searing and his party were touring the Catskill Mountains and arrived at East Branch, New York, on an evening train of the New York Ontario & Western Railroad. The next day they chartered a team of horses and a carriage to take a trip up the river to Downsville, a distance of fourteen miles. They arrived four and half hours later were surprised to find a neat little village in the foothills of the mountains with hotels, stores, churches, and well laid out roads and sidewalks. They were very impressed to find such a beautiful and well-maintained community in the middle of nowhere. Searing made up his mind that he would build a railroad through this beautiful mountain valley. The wheels had been set in motion and the idea of a railroad would quickly blossom into reality." "Rails Along the East Branch: The Delaware & Northern Railroad by John M. Ham and Robert K Bucenec
The first train arrived in Downsville on November 6, 1906. The Delaware and Eastern railroad, later renamed the Delaware and Northern, changed the way business was conducted in Downsville. The trains provided an economical and quick way to take local products to the city markets. There were now four mail deliveries a day, freight could be hauled to and from the village and people could travel much farther than they ever had been able to before. The bluestone industry had been mostly a local business but with the building of the railroad it expanded and quarries struggled to keep up with the construction materials demands from New York City . Sawmills and Acid Factories also expanded. Creameries benefitted from the easy access to the railroad, the B& B Creamery was built next to the D & E Rail Station. Farmers could now bring their milk to the creamery and it could ship its product to New York City on the express freight trains.
Easy rail travel also had a social impact on Downsville. In 1907 the Downsville Opera House was built and many live performances by local theatre groups, as well as travelling acting troupes performed at the theatre. Special trains were operated on the railroad to bring spectators from along the lines to Downsville to see the live performances. Later on people still rode the trains in to Downsville to see motion pictures which took the place of the live stage productions. (The Downsville Opera House burned down January 22, 1949.)
World War 1 Depression Years
The August 20, 1914 Downsville News reported "A few years ago the first automobile owned by a Downsville man was looked upon as a curiosity and he was envied by a few. Today there are 15 or 20 cars owned here and according to those who claim to know eight or 10 more of our farmers and residents will buy cards during the next year or two. H. E. Thomas has begun work on his new garage and machine shop and he ought to have plenty of work, as the upkeep of the average automobile, after a few years is in many cases as much as the first cost of the car. As an indication of prosperity among the farmers may be seen by the fact that a number in this vicinity own and operate automobiles and there are more to follow. If we had state roads in this section more automobiles would be purchased."
As younger men were called to serve in the First World War, Downsville was beginning to see a decline in its economy. Forrest had be stripped and lumbering and tanneries were going out of business and the Depression slowed construction in the cities depressing the stone and lumber markets. Prices were low on farm produce and farmers were struggling to make the land pay.
In 1939 Downsville did begin to feel a change with the beginning stages of the development of the Pepacton Reservoir. Field surveys began in 1939 and an influx of over sixty-five engineers from the Board of Water Supply of New York City moved to the village. Demand for housing lead village resident to remodel their homes, adding apartments. Marvin Wynkoop is said to have created the first trailer court in Delaware County to accommodate the housing needs of families moving into the village. While the increased business was welcome in the village the construction of a reservoir across the valley was meet with sadness. 13,000 acres of land would be taken and five small adjacent communities would be lost. Owners in nearby communities in the reservoir area had the option to buy back their building, tear them down or move them out of the reservoir territory. Some bought homes in Downsville and others moved out of the area. The reservoir project brought in over 350 workers and their families between 1939 and 1949. Many local residents and veterans returning from World War II went to work on the reservoir project attracted by the union wages of between $2 to $2.25 per hour In 1948 the reservoir construction project was paying $3,000 a day to its workers ..Downsville was once again a Boom Town.
Downsville streets were lined daily with traffic. The acting mayor Thorvald J Klindt appealed to the City of New York to provide police protection while reservoir was being built. The City agreed and started with a five man force
The Delaware and Northern sold it's rights of way to the Board of Water Supply and the last train ran in October of 1942. Now Downsville had to arrange for mail, freight and passenger service. The local stone dock near the rail station closed as well as the local creamery.
A new centralized school was built in 1939 and was one of the last WPA projects in New York State. and an another addition was added during the height of the reservoir project. A new fire station, theatre and bank were all built and two new churches were added, the Episcopal and a Catholic church. The post office was moved to a larger space and a new Town Pool was constructed in Downsville
The Board of Water Supply was responsible for moving the cemeteries in the reservoir area. In the Town of Colchester they moved 183 graves from the Edget, 33 from the Cat Hollow, 26 from the Shaver , 11 from the Flynn and one from the Sickler cemeteries. Donald Henry, a Board of Water Supply engineer was in charge of the removals and interments. Relatives preferences were followed for internments and the remaining unclaimed bodies were placed on the five acre Pepacton Burial ground on the north side of the Reservoir north of Downsville.
After the completion of the Pepacton Reservoir, The Walton Reporter on February 14, 1955 posed this question: "The one big question in the minds of the long-time residents is what will happen to Downsville when the workers, engineers and families move on to their next project. Will it be a 'Ghost Town'? It is my guess that because of the territory, and the large body of scenic beauty of the surrounding water, Downsville will become a summer resort. Motels and summer cottages will spring up and the trade from tourists and vacation seekers will keep the little community alive."
That prophesy has come to pass. One of Downsville's major sources of income has been from tourism and service to others who visit and pass through our community. The village and township have survived because more than two-thirds of our tax levy is paid by a single property owner, the City of New York. Also now more than half of the property in our town is owned by non-residents.