~~~ 1848 New Year's Ball
held at James Johnson Hall in Oppenheim Centre
This article was donated by Town of Oppenheim Historian.
With grateful appreciation, it is posted with his permission.
Background: Hector Allen, Town Historian for Oppenheim, received the New Year's invitation below from Mr. Nellis Brown in 1989 and proceeded to research and write the following about the hotel and the people listed on the invitation:
The invitation to the New's Year's Ball "at the Hall of James Johnson, at Oppenheim Centre. . . ." is very interesting. The hall was located in the Hotel where my antique shop is now, the present building being the Old Town Barn that I purchased in the early 1970's.
According to an article done in 1903 by a Robert Jeffers, Mr. Johnson "kept the Oppenheim Centre Hotel about 50 years ago. He was mild and pleasant in his manners and was the father of several children. He died quite suddenly and his widow removed to Johnstown. The hotel was located on the Old State Road, about one mile East of the Higbie place. The Oppenheim Centre Hotel was quite a large, two-story white, wooden building with a long wing. The hotel was also equipped with a spacious ballroom where dances were usually held on the holidays. Later, the hotel passed into the hands of 'Aunt Kitty Claus', who owned and conducted the same for many years. The property is now owned by her son Eli. 'Aunt Kitty' was extremely industrious, an expert cook, and a very obliging and popular landlady. She died of old age several years ago."
According to Mrs. Edna Brown, the hotel burned September 26, 1910. Mrs. Brown, as a young girl. was staying there with Eli Claus' wife "Lib" when the barn was struck by lightning. The barn was attached to West end of the building, and so without a fire department the entire complex went up in smoke. Mrs. Brown's sister Kit and her husband, Floyd Stowell lived in the East end of the building, and so Mrs. Brown went and woke them up. They rang a big bell which was mounted on a pole in the front yard, and many spectators came. Some furniture was saved but much was lost. The ballroom was 104' long. Mr. Eli Claus died before the fire and the hotel business was in the decline, probably because of the changing patterns of trade and travel caused by the railroads and the overall shift from a rural, agricultural economy to an increasingly industrialized economy.
Apparently the Town purchased the site of the hotel in the 1920's and built, in various stages, the Old Town Barn.
Listed on the invitation are 6 "managers" and 2 "room managers". I have endeavored to trace these people to see who they were and what became of them, but this is difficult with the records that I have and the 142 years that have passed since the "Ball".
The first name on the invitation is B.S. Churchill. There are a few Churchills in our cemetery records, but no B.S. Churchill. None were listed in the Child's Gazetteer of 1870. (I would use these two sources for all of the rest of the names, plus the list of officials of the District 10 school.)
The second name on the list is M.A. Harper. There is no record of such a person at this time.
The third name is Horace Hewitt. Hewitt was a prominent family name early in the last century. He was born 20 February 1821 and died 27 July 1893. He married Nancy Higbie, who was born in 1799 (yes, she was 22 older than he). Nancy died in 1886. As you would expect, Horace is buried in Hewitt Cemetery. He was about 26 years old when the New Year's Ball was held. In the Gazetteer he is listed as a "farmer, with Joseph Hewitt from Brockett's Bridge".
The fourth name is Joseph Kibbie. No information available on him.
The fifth name is Lucien Healey. He was born in 1821 and so was 26 at the time of the Ball. He married Celestia Beekman who was born in 1831 and died in 1887. Lucien died in 30 December 1869 at age 48. They had a son, Wesley b. Healey who was born in 1854 and died in 1915. They had a daughter born in 1847 who died in 1862. They also had a daughter born in 1860 who died in 1864 and a son born in 1862 who only lived four months. Lucien was listed in the Gazetteer as a "dairyman & farmer, 400 acres".
The next name was W.J. Cline. There are many Clines listed but nothing on W.J.
The two "Room Managers" were A.R. Plants, for whom there is no information available. The second name is J. Swartwout. I am assuming that the "J. Swartwout" was John P. Swartwout, since the only other possibility was John Jr. who was born in 1780 and who would have been 67 years old. John p. was born 1829, and so was only 18 at the time of the Ball. However, John P. was very active in political affairs, serving as Postmaster, Supervisor, Justice of the peace, various positions with the school trustees of District 10 and as a trustee of the Methodist Church. He died in 1909, a year before the fire that took Johnson's Hall. His family home was the large, brick house at the junction on Route 29 and County Road 331.
The "New Year's Ball" of 1848 was probably the social event of the winter for people in Oppenheim Centre. The "Centre" was just about it its peak then, before the railroads, canals and changing economic patterns would begin to erode the community. At this time there were at least three lawyers living in this immediate area (they were all on the Board of Trustees of District 10 school at the same time!), one and possibly two doctors, two stores, two or more cheese factories, two blacksmith shops, the Hotel and several other enterprises. The population would peak at about 2300 within a few years and the after the Civil War, begin a population decline that would last until after World War II.
Addendum(Hector Allen): James Johnson, owner of the Hotel, died 17 April 1849. He is buried in Hewitt Cemetery. It seems that Hewitt Cemetery was a favorite spot for the prominent people in Oppenheim in the first half of the 19th century. The first burial there was Christopher Hewitt II, age 13, in 1808. The last one was recorded as Wesley Healey, buried in 1915 (the only one in the 1900's); prior to that, the last in the 19th century was Stephen W. Brown buried in 1898.
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Copyright ©1999,2000 Hector Allen/Mr. Nellis Brown
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Last updated Tuesday, 13-May-2008 13:12:52 PDT