Jeffersonville's Eagle Hotel
by John Conway
May 9, 2014
MAY 1918 FIRE RESHAPED JEFFERSONVILLE
Virtually every community in Sullivan County has had at least one major fire that significantly altered the appearance and make-up of its downtown. For the village of Jeffersonville, that fire occurred on May 10, 1918.
Fire broke out in the kitchen of the Eagle Hotel in the early morning that day, and quickly spread to the Goubelman Building and then the Lichtig Building on the south, and to Eddie Homer’s home and cafe and Beck’s Department Store on the north. The flames also destroyed Becker’s Drug Store and the Holmes & Martin automobile dealership, along with its inventory of six cars.
The community was devastated beyond recognition within just a few hours.
Jeffersonville had originally been settled in the 1830s, and by the 1840s the area around where the community would grow had become home to a large population of German and Swiss immigrants who called their community Winkelried.
According to James Eldridge Quinlan, writing in his "History of Sullivan County," by 1847, it was estimated "that two hundred and fifty German families were in Cochecton, Callicoon, and Fremont, and in 1855, the State census shows that of the 2,649 residents of that nationality in Sullivan, 1,924 were in those towns. In addition to these, there were 171 from Switzerland in Cochecton and Callicoon."
Quinlan also wrote that much of the credit for the influx of German and Swiss families to the area belonged to Monticello businessman Solomon Royce, who had printed "large numbers of circulars and handbills in the German language, in which were set forth the advantages of settling in the northwest section of Sullivan."
Royce became a wealthy man because of his speculation in developing the lands of the Callicoon region, and stimulated the growth of what was to become one of the county’s largest communities.
Charles F. Langhorn also helped fuel the growth of the area, by building the first hotel in the as yet to be named settlement in 1846. Langhorn suffered from some pulmonary ailment, and had been told by his doctor to settle in an area abundant with hemlock trees, so he chose that sparsely settled part of Sullivan.
"The future village at that time was nameless, and was little better than a rude clearing in the woods," Quinlan wrote. "Nevertheless, the idea prevailed that it would speedily become a place of importance, and to this idea probably Jeffersonville owes its existence."
Langhorn called his hotel the Jefferson House, and as the community grew up around it, "the name followed as a natural consequence," Quinlan wrote. Langhorn’s hotel was the first building painted in the area, and was so substantially built that with some repair was still operating as late as 1871, under the ownership of the Egler brothers. Langhorn, however, was not successful in the business, which was ahead of its time.
In the 1870s, Jeffersonville was home to a German language newspaper, The Sullivan Volksblatt, as well as it’s own weekly, the Local Record, which was originated in Callicoon in 1868 by W.T. Morgans, later a well-known inventor. The paper was moved to Jeff in 1870, and was published there by D.J. Boyce and A.P. Childs.
By 1870, Hamilton Child reported in his "Gazetteer and Business Directory for Sullivan County" that Jeffersonville had grown to include four churches (Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Reformed), three hotels, six stores, a printing and newspaper office (the Local Record), one saw mill, two grist mills, two wagon shops, one brewery, one furniture store, a tannery, two harness shops, one mineral water manufactory, and a school. Its population at that time was about 500, which ranked it behind only Monticello (1000), Wurtsboro (650) and Liberty (600) in the county.
The tannery was owned by E.A. Clark & Company and contained 182 square vats, consumed 5,000 cords of bark annually, manufactured about 50,000 sides of leather a year, and employed about 35 men year around, more during bark peeling season.
Jeffersonville was linked to Monticello by a turnpike, and in 1887 was linked to Liberty via telegraph lines.
"The line is not only a great benefit to the O&W and the people along the new telegraph line, but it is a necessity as well," Manville Wakefield wrote in his 1970 book, "To The Mountains By Rail," quoting an unnamed source.
Wakefield also reveals that a spot check of hotel and saloon bills in 1897 revealed that in the community of 500, over 3,000 kegs of beer were consumed. A good portion of this beer was served at the dining room of the Beck Hotel, which had 45 rooms when opened by John Beck in 1882. By 1912, it had grown to accommodate between 150 and 200. The establishment was empty on December 12 of that year, when, according to Wakefield, "Mr. Beck placed an oil lamp in the bathroom on the second floor to keep the water from freezing in the pipes. It is believed the oil lamp exploded; but in any event, Mr. Beck had just enough time to arouse his sister-in-law, Miss Christine Ruppert, and make an escape from the second floor. Two hose carts were brought to bear, but it wasn’t until the water pumps in Bollenbach’s grist mill were set in motion that the pressure increased enough to save adjoining buildings."
The community was not so fortunate a few years later, when the fire of May 10 destroyed a major part of its business district.
Jeffersonville was quick to rebuild, and the community continued to grow, becoming an incorporated village in 1924.
John Conway is the Sullivan County Historian. He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com .