Rare Book Monthly

Articles - May - 2009 Issue

Chasing Wisps Across the Internet

L.hasbrouck

Levi Hasbrouck by Ammi Phillips. Circa 1825


By Bruce McKinney

In a thousand places the drama of life has played itself out and the details disappeared. The famous and infamous have lived on in collective memory, the simply good, bad and in between inevitably disappeared. There is simply no time to remember everyone although the ability to remember, even reconstruct lives, is increasing. We may someday live in a world that forgets nothing. Today we live in a world that is beginning to remember what time forgot. I found this out recently while researching an early Ulster County bank certificate.

Two months ago I purchased for $34, on eBay, a stock certificate issued by the Ulster County Bank in 1834. I'm building a Wiki Blibliography for Kingston-Rondout and so look for material on the area. When I received it I noticed it was made out to a Levi Hasbrouck of New Paltz. I once lived there but moved away decades ago. The name was unfamiliar. I next did some internet searches and found an emerging patchwork of museums, colleges, associations and municipal staff willing to take a few minutes to search their records for references to him. It turns out there is a light but discernible footprint.

I'm somewhat aware of the history of Ulster County and have some of its histories. In Sylvestor's History of Ulster County I found a detailed history of the bank from its first organizing in 1831 to the publishing of Slyvestor's in 1880. I found further reference to the bank in Picturesque Ulster, a series of folio magazines published in 1896. Online I found reference to some of Levi Hasbrouck's records in storage at the Elting Memorial Library in New Paltz and noticed a separate online notation to a painting of him in the holdings of a Massachusetts museum. I contacted them to ask if it would be possible to see and learned they didn't have it. The painting's earlier listed ownership then led to a gift to the University of Indiana at Bloomington which confirmed, when contacted, they had no record of it either but could not confirm they didn't have it. In the process I learned Levi's wife's name, Hylah Bevier Hasbrouck, and found links to an online exhibition of the Huguenot Historical Society that is located less than a mile from the Elting Library. They, it turns out, have the Ammi Phillips painting of her referenced on the Library of Congress website, and it turns out, they also have a painting of Levi. They also own his home and it is open to the public. It is Locust Lawn, located on Route 32 on the road from New Paltz to Modena that continues on to Newburgh.

Having come this far [electronically] I contacted the Ulster County Records Center in Kingston which was able to provide a certificate of [re]incorporation for the bank dated 1861 that Mr. Hasbrouck, as stockholder, signed in a palsied hand. He died two months before the document was officially filed with the county.

I also found a reference in Lefevre's History of New Paltz [1903] to Levi's father Josiah one hundred years earlier as "quite certainly the richest man in New Paltz, perhaps the richest man in the county." This suggests the son was also well-to-do and is consistent with investing in a new bank.

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