NEW HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. – History isn’t always rescued. Sometimes it costs too much. Sometimes “progress” is a big bully and wins. Sometimes no one cares. Sometimes there are priorities. The given, though, is that all history lost is heritage gone, memories set to fade mode, to hazy recollection such as “Wasn’t there a barn over there?”
New Hempstead, in the Spring Valley Postal District, is a smallish village carved out of the Town of Ramapo several decades ago, in part to slow the development bulldozer, protect quality of life a bit and perhaps save this or that part of history. Yet now a big piece of the past is gone. It is a sad story, one that almost anyone, anywhere can relate to since change, while often beneficial, also is like a wake.
On a recent Sunday, the volunteers of the Moleston Fire District, Hillcrest Fire Company, held a training exercise at the long-standing Woodside Dairy barn off Brick Church Road. The barn, not used for many years, had become dilapidated, and it was determined it had to go. So it was put to the torch, doing one last bit of good for the community it long served, training hardworking volunteer firefighters.
Perhaps it was fitting, too, that Hillcrest would bring the barn down since the Moleston District’s first commissioner was Enoch Erickson, predecessor of those Ericksons who worked the dairy farm.
According to Marty Erickson, wife of Gene, daughter-in-law of Clarence (Pete), the Woodside Dairy Barn and Milk House began on purchased Smith farmland. Woodside was a working dairy farm until the 1960s. During World War II, says Marty, “The family made sure local children had dairy products, often at no cost. When the Rockland Leader (a Spring Valley weekly newspaper) burned in the 1960s, the barn stored rescued editions.”
As Rockland County moved from pre-war rural to post-war New York City suburb, local dairies and other farms were sold for housing developments and strip shopping centers, “progress” paving over a long-practiced way of life. Soon enough, people began buying milk from large companies in convenience stores and supermarkets, and home delivery died out.
Woodside was sold “for a token amount, in a spirit of patriotism, for a county veterans cemetery … In recent years, the buildings have been vandalized, the barn roof succumbed to the weather … and the silo was covered with vines,” writes Marty.
The Woodside barn has not been rescued. If it could have been restored, perhaps Rockland schoolchildren could see demonstrations of old-time milking, smell the hayloft straw and the old barn timbers, get away from the hustle and bustle and step back in time to a moment of American history when independence, hard work, self-sufficiency, community spirit and service and pure survival were parts of ingrained country character.
Saved from Woodside are a few milk bottles and fading memories. Yet there must be a repository for all the emotions this farm witnessed over so many years. Somewhere, somehow, some time, they may emerge in realization and enlightenment that progress doesn’t mean just building the new but securing the past as well.