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This Week in Port Jervis History

On April 28th, 1869 a timber raft floating down the Delaware River ran into an elephant in Port Jervis! After steering the raft past the old Erie Bridge, south of West End Beach, timberman Frank Walton and his raftsmen saw the strange site downstream of elephants in the river. The elephants were part of Isaac Van Amburgh’s Menagerie. Van Amburgh, who was born in Fishkill and raised in Fishkill Landing (now the West End of Beacon), was a famous showman and animal tamer in the 19th century. He once rode down Broadway in Manhattan in a chariot drawn by lions and tigers. Queen Victoria commissioned painter, Edwin Henry Landseer, to paint Isaac van Amburgh and his Animals (1839) after she saw several shows of van Amburgh in London. On April 27th, Van Amburgh's Menagerie had just performed a show in Port Jervis. On the 28th they were scheduled to perform in Milford. Isaac Van Amburgh, had passed away less than four years earlier in Newburgh, but his name would continue to be used in shows until the 1920’s. Tippoo Saib, one of the elephants in the show, was previously trained by Van Amburgh. Tippoo Saib, was the namesake of an earlier elephant, who died around 1837. Van Amburgh's elephant, Tippo Saib, would be put down two years later in Indiana after attacking his keeper. The skeleton of Tippo was displayed at Lindley Hall at Earlham College in Indiana (pictured above), but was destroyed when the building burned in 1924. Tippo’s keeper, Mr. Kelly, brought the elephant to the banks of the Delaware River early that morning. Local authorities didn’t want the elephants to cross the bridge, not trusting the weight of the animals on the wooden Erie Bridge. They decided they should wade the animals across the Delaware River downstream. The Erie Bridge was a covered wooden truss bridge for railroad and wagon traffic built in 1854. It was destroyed in an ice storm in 1870. A second iron bridge, pictured here, was built at the same location in 1894 and washed away in 1904. The Barrett Bridge (named after judge George Rodden Barrett), the fourth and current iteration of which carries US 6 between Port Jervis and Matamoras, was first built in 1872. Kelly took Tippoo to the foot of Pike Street where Tippo remained hesitant to get in the water. After an hour, he finally went into the water but about halfway through his crossing, he noticed an approaching timber raft floating down the Delaware. The raft of hemlock logs was about one hundred feet long and forty feet wide. The pilot and the raftsman, as they got closer to the elephant, heard his blasts and saw the waving of his trunk directed at their raft. Walton and his crew attempted to steer clear of Tippo, but as he was in the middle of the rafting channel and the river was flowing swiftly from snowmelt, they couldn’t avoid him. The raft ran into Tippoo, cutting his ear pretty badly. Tippo angrily tried to climb onto the raft, but Walton and his crew pushed Tippoo off the badly listing raft with their oars. Once the raft had passed, Tippoo continued his crossing to Pennsylvania.

On April 28, 1909 Obadiah Pellet Howell died in Port Jervis. Obadiah Howell was born in Wantage, New Jersey on June 13, 1846 to Alpheus Howell and Asenath Pellet. Howell attended school in Wantage and then the Suffield Institute in Connecticut before studying law at the University of Michigan. Howell continued to study working in the office of Joseph Wadsworth Gott in Goshen. After being admitted to the bar, Howell came to Port Jervis in 1868 and a few years later began a partnership here with Lewis E. Carr. Carr studied law at Albany Law School and practiced law in Buffalo, where he worked at the firm of Roger, Bowen, and Rogers with his roommate and future president, Grover Cleveland. William Crane, brother of author Stephen Crane would later identify Lewis Carr’s son, Raymond W. Carr, as the young man who lit a match in front of Robert Lewis' face and yelled for the crowd to hang him in the 1892 lynching in Port Jervis. In 1878, Obadiah P. Howell was elected special County Judge of Orange County. In 1895, Howell was elected as the Surrogate and served until 1908. Howell who was serving as the village president during the 1892 lynching of Robert Lewis, ordered the police to proect Lewis. Howell later took out his pocket knife and cut the rope from Lewis' neck while Lewis pleaded his innocence to the mob and Halsey Hunt, William Bonar and Benjamin Ryall also pleaded to the mob. Dr. Hunt said, "You men are about to commit murder, and remember, you will disgrace this town forever." After William Bonar suggested that Lewis be taken to Lena McMahon's house to be identified as the assailant of the alleged assault. Howell rushed to the McMahon residence ahead of the mob to persuade her to say she didn't recognize him so that the crowd would not kill him, but the mob had already decided to kill him en route. William Howe Crane, a local lawyer and special county judge rushed out of his house and he once again removed the noose from Lewis' neck and asked Officer Simon Yaples "Will you defend this man?", to which he replied he would with his life. But the mob once again riled up by the word of Raymond W. Carr and others put the noose around his neck again and killed him. Crane’s brother, author Stephen Crane wrote his 1898 novella The Monster based in part on the lynching of Robert Lewis and based the character of Dr. Trescott on his brother. The 1959 film Face of Fire is based on Crane's novella with Cameron Mitchell playing the role of Dr. Trescott. Obadiah Howell and Samuel Callender Howell were both descendents of Henry Howell, an English colonist who built the first water-powered mill in the state of New York (parts of which were incorporated in the current mill. Samuel Callender Howell was the first postmaster at the site which became the Howells Depot on the Erie Depot. Obadiah Howell is buried in Laurel Grove Cemetery in Port Jervis.

On May 1, 1698, Pieter Kuykendall, the namesake of Pt. Peter and Peter’s Rift and Peter’s Ledge in the Delaware River, was born. Pieter and his wife Fammetjen Decker were early settlers in Machackemech (what is now Port Jervis). Pieter was born in Kingston, New York to Luur Jacobsen van Kuykendaal and Griejen Aertse Tack. Pieter died at the age of 101 in Port Jervis. Pieter owned a large farm, which included large portions of modern Port Jervis. Sometime prior to 1761, Pieter established a tavern here. Pieter was a Justice of the Peace and was an early church elder of the Machackemech Church along with Wiliam Cool (Cole) who lived at a stockaded home across from the church and who is the namesake of Mt. William. Machackemech in its various forms (Magagkamack, Machackemeck, Mackhackamack, Mohocamac, Magagamieck, Machackemach, Mechagachkamic, Maghogomock, etc) has been translated as the descriptive but likely folk translations “land covered in grass” and “pumpkin ground” and the more likely candidate “red ground”. The house and tavern of Pieter Kuykendall was burned by Joseph Brant's raiders in 1779. A historical marker denoting the tavern and its burning is located at the corner of Elizabeth and Broome Streets in Port Jervis.

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Judy Gumaer Testa
Judy Gumaer Testa
Apr 29, 2021

Mackheckemeck wasnt only the early name of the Precinct & Church but the name of the original name of the Neversink River until 1743 & Peenpack Patent 6 miles north in 1697. In Lenape Munsi meaning "Field of Squash." The Delaware & Hudson Canal Company named the Twin Mountains when facilitating the organization of the Village of Port Jervis in 1824. Mount William, Point Peter's twin was named for William Cole whose Picket Stockaded Fort (First of Jersey Faction during the NY-NJ Border War & again during the RevWar] the Reformed Church of Mackheckemeck & its burial grounds where within Fort Cole's picket & when Joseph Brant & his painted Tory and Indian raiders when it also was burned …

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