Friday, March 20, 2009

Raynor: A Supplier of "Meat," "Milk," "Fish," and "Provisions."

As a child some of us feel that we are, at least for the short span of our childhoods, peripheral. We see but are not seen by the adults that pass. Some of us preferred that. That was largely my feeling as I spent those early years making mental notes of the characters that peopled a real and imagined Warwick for me, and that is depicted here. I say real and imagined because I am acutely aware that my recollections are largely the product of a romantic sensibility to these surroundings that are not shared by all; in fact, many have tried to offer up to me what they have deemed a more accurate view of Warwick. This was largely comprised of the Warwick that I choose not to remember. There are no absolute objective realities regarding what a place is; place is purely subjective. Warwick is and was a place of many different and sometimes conflicting realities. This is simply what I remember seeing and how I came to see it.

The Raynor Store on Main Street in the downtown has likely slipped from people’s memories much as the numerous and forever changing names and businesses that have identified the village’s storefronts over the years. I haven’t looked to see whether the signs of this particular store have been removed during my often rushed and infrequent visits to the downtown in the last twenty years, but the last time I remember walking by the store’s front windows many years ago I was struck by the sun-bleached Kellogg’s cereal boxes. There were very few items visible on the shelves of the store then. This state had been long standing, for the door to that store was rarely unlocked and its opening and closing on a regular basis had long since passed.

The large majority of my memories of this particular address are linked with the long standing proprietor Billy Raynor, as he was affectionately known to many villagers and those who lived just beyond its borders. I can still see him standing at the back of his rusted grey 1959 Dodge panel truck loading it with boxes of groceries for one or several of his loyal patrons who greatly appreciated the grocery delivery he kept alive for many years after the store itself was seemingly closed to the public.

That old grey truck amazingly functioned long after one thought it was near death. Its rusted hulk sat for passersby parked out at the Raynor Farm even long after Billy retired it for a Ford pick-up truck. There it stood with its side panels on the verge of collapsing under the weight of its roof. The nearby equipment shed and the main barn at the Raynor Farm itself were in a similar state of decay. Everything that once defined the Raynor Farm, including the grey panel truck and Billy himself, has disappeared from the landscape in the past decade or so. He contributed much to the small town flavor of Warwick for me, and I feel confident in saying for many others. I knew of him but he probably never recognized me, although I must have shared small talk with him a half a dozen times over the years.

So there Billy would be loading his truck on Main Street with orders for mostly older folks for what many suspected were the dusty cans and goods still on hand at the store. For those in the know his supplier was more often the local supermarkets where he would buy things and then resell them to his customers. As a teenager I can recall him coming through the produce aisle of Lloyds Shopping Center where I worked afterschool and on weekends regularly. I had overheard references to this tall and lean man accompanied by such adjectives as “eccentric” and “odd” throughout the years, but I am not sure that he exuded any of those characteristics for me. He was just like everyone else passing through the store requesting this or that to be weighed and price marked on the bag containing them; I knew then that the stuff he was buying was likely for one of his own store’s customers.

Earlier, before I had returned to Fair Meade Farm on Rt.94 to live, I had often noticed the grey truck and the tall thin man next to it in the village. The truck became a real icon of the world I knew then, and it was among those things that I would check periodically to see that they were still there to assure me that all was safe and routine like so many of us wished things to be during certain points of our life. By our teenage years we did everything in our power to openly avoid routine simply for the sake of being contrary to the adults in the room. The spooky, dilapidated mansion on the site now occupied by the Warwick Savings Bank on Oakland Avenue, the old jalopy on top of Spechts’s Garage, the clock at the Empire National Bank, the brown and white mechanical pony in front of Meduski’s, and the grey panel truck in front of Raynor's were among those favored things that I expected to see and give me that unexplainable sense of comfort I desired as I regularly travelled around in my hometown.

The latter destination of this particular list of personal landmarks, which had originally been the Dr. G.F. Pitts Mansion, was likened to the Munsters’ house in the television series by my friends and I, and I regret to this day that we never got up enough nerve to climb in the house and explore it before it was razed to make way for the new bank. There were a number of other houses right in the village that were in the same degree of abandon and decrepitude that we did manage to sneak a peak at before the wrecking ball or the backhoe obliterated such obvious signs of the fragile local economy back in the early 70s.

On the occasions of passing the Raynor Store in the early morning hours it was a likelihood that one could catch a glimpse of Billy Raynor ; he will forever remind me of the artist Norman Rockwell. Not for his art skills, but simply because I thought he looked like him. At the time, one of my aunts had given me a biography of this artist, and I was fascinated by his use of photography for his illustrations. For the longest time, I worked at imitating his choice of subject matter and style in doing my own small paintings of Warwick. Anyway, the resemblance to the artist struck me as convincing.

There were a few occasions when I was privy to more animated observations of this guy. One of these had to do with my own passing fancy to play the banjo. As many know Billy was an accomplished player, and my father once sought him out for the possibility of getting me some lessons. The scheme never materialized, but I can remember my father talking with the older man about the possibility as I looked on. It was never my good fortune to hear the man himself play the banjo, but my father had and spoke very highly of him.

For some reason still unknown to me, I took oil painting lessons with Mrs. Cohen in a back room of what was had once been Serpentini’s Jewelry Store instead of Banjo lessons out at Billy Raynor’s house off Rt.94. The newly launched art supply store “The Palette” had opened its doors sometime in 1977, and this was about the same time that I had my first job at the “five and dime.” I passed the Raynor’s Store regularly on my way by foot from our apartment on West Street to the five and dime for a few hours of work each week day during that summer. Ray Paisley, the owner of the five and dime at the time and a member of our church congregation, had offered me a job cleaning up and shelving goods while my classmate John Bonomi, who regularly held the job was on vacation with his family. I am pretty sure that I never measured up to Mr. Paisley’s standards, but I had the greatest time cleaning out the former office of the Lehigh and Hudson Railroad that was located behind the five and dime on the other side of the Waywayanda in the nearest corner of the municipal parking lot. The simple wood building hovered above the pavement on wood posts.

Mr. Paisley had purchased the building from the now defunct railroad for the purpose of extra storage. The building was a dusty mess, and I recall emerging during the few days it took me to clean it out covered from head to toe with dust. There were a lot of surviving papers from the railroad which Mr. Paisley had no want of, and I remember him emphasizing this fact once when he caught me sitting on the floor pouring over some ancient account books and receipts on his time. There were a couple dozen bound ledgers dating from the 1930s and 1940s among the stuff that was destined for the dumpster. The ledgers were embossed with the name of the railroad and the year. Inside were these highly detailed print illustrations of various types of train carriages: hoppers, flat, box, and baggage cars; one type of car every few pages. The illustrations had been done with metal plates as I recall because the surface on the page’s underside was raised from the pressing of the dense illustration onto the paper.

The illustrations were what I saw as valuable. Below each of them were spaces for entering tonnage and materials being transported, but whoever was responsible for recording such information had either entered it someplace other than the ledgers or had simply neglected to do it. There were only a few pages that had numbers penned in. I went through every page of the ledgers, and I remember that I came across several sheets of business correspondence with the Lehigh and Hudson letterhead on them with dates that began “193_” and “194_.” At least one of the ledgers may have been from the 1920s.

I was living with my parents and sister in a very small apartment at the time on West Street, and I had to make a decision about what I could get away with hauling home and saving and what would send the adults over the edge and respond with an ultimatum to get rid of it all. I saved some two dozen bound ledgers, which I can still hear my mother asking me about in response to their placement on the living room floor, “What are you going to do with those?” She wasn’t pleased, but she had learned to give into my collecting obsessions. I stored them under the cheap Danish Modern couch that I suffered as my bed for the year or so we lived there. I eventually took the ledgers with me to the farm on Rt.94 when my mom, sister, and I moved back in 1978. They stood in a stack at the edge of my bedroom until I moved away to college several years later. Upon my return almost ten years later, I learned that the contents of my room had been stored in a barn or had been sold at several yard sales through the years. What became of the ledgers no one remembered, so they are lost to me.

During the spring of 1978 I helped my grandmother to clean up the private graveyard that is located in the large field across from the main house of Fair Meade Farm. Such clean ups became routine about this time, and I liked the outdoor activity. The graveyard is reputed to have a little more than fifty burials in it, but only a small fraction of these have existing markers that are known and far fewer include some inscription.

Among these there were two simple flat fieldstones with “JOHN BLAIN 1817” and “JAIN BLAIN 1816” primitively carved in them with inverted “N”s indicating the negligible schooling of their carver. John was the son of Thomas Blain and the husband to “JAIN,” whose name here was likely a misspelling of Jane. The original homesteader, Samuel, had purchased the farmland in the Waywayanda Patent and built the nucleus of the main farm house in the 1730s as well as the barn that remained standing until recently and had during my own time been referred to as the ell to the larger English style barn that had likely, given its size, been constructed sometime by the mid nineteenth century or shortly thereafter. The larger barn was severely damaged in a hurricane in the 1980s and had completely collapsed by the end of the decade. The entirety of that barn was eventually removed.

Fortunately, I photographed the gravestones of the Blains much to my grandmother’s wonderment. There is likely no other known photographs of them; the stones have mysteriously disappeared since then. There were other stones too, but one of the only stones that had obviously been created by a professional stone carver was one of red sandstone for “Elizabeth Ackerman.” This stone, if I remember correctly, dated from the 1850s.

The “plot,” as we referred to it, grew up with saplings, vines, and just about everything that couldn’t get a foothold in the surrounding and annually tilled corn fields every spring; it was inpenetrable by the summer. There were some very large and gnarly white ash and other hardwoods in this grove in the midst of over a hundred acres of open fields. These trees sheltered the plot and lent to some very scary conditions at night, when I visited the graveyard on several occasions in high school while on my way to or from the Drive-In where I would sit and watch the movies for free until the snack bar finally closed after countless warnings and the screen went blank.

On this first occasion of cleaning up the plot in many years, I was busy hacking away at the vines while my grandmother burned what would burn. There was a lot of smoke, and this obviously had caught the attention of Billy Raynor who was driving down Rt.94. He came onto the property, parked, and walked into the field where we were. The smoke, by the next morning, had provided me with the worst case in memory of my annual bouts with poison ivy. I had it in my throat, my eyes, and every place imaginable. Hours before all the scratching started, I remember Billy Raynor there sifting through the plot and stopping at the unmoored and belly up stone of Elizabeth Ackerman. He claimed she was an ancestor as were some of the others buried in the plot.

My grandmother held her tongue and said little at the time, but I recall that once Billy Raynor walked out of earshot back to his truck she expressed her anger at what she saw as an affront to her ownership. Something was probably said to the effect that “he thinks the Raynors still own the entirety of 94…” At this same time she informed me that my grandfather had wished to be buried in this graveyard like many of the previous owners of the farm had been, but that didn’t come to pass because there were ordinances by 1964 against such private burials. He was buried in the Warwick Cemetery instead.

Years earlier I had regularly popped my head in Raynor’s Store to give a shout out to my uncle Aaron Hasbrouck. He was the butcher-in-residence at the store for many years. The thing was that Aaron had always worked for the Raynors and was, according to the stories I heard from the family, like an adopted son to old Mr. Raynor, Billy’s father. As a child he had come to live with the Raynors on Fair Meade Farm which they owned from the 1890s until 1943 when Hugo Neagle had bought it from them. The main house , that was recently razed to make way for a Price Chopper, had been Aaron’s childhood home, and what served as the kitchen on the first floor up until recently, had been Aaron’s bedroom. The kitchen was still located in the kitchen then as it had been since colonial times.

I remember often seeing Aaron with an apron on behind the counter of the Raynor’s store, and he would give a yell back in that gravely voice of his. He was very old school with his gray flat top and his plastic square frame glasses. He always wore a shirt and tie too. Although I can’t remember ever having much a conversation with him, he always seemed to exude a calmness that would fill the room. The period when I was old enough to walk down town and see Aaron at the store was very brief because he retired around this time.

I may add that the Warwick Bakery, which was a door or two down from the store was a regular destination for my mom, sister, and I. My mom wasn’t much on baking or cooking, so we would usually get our birthday cakes and other sweets from this bakery downtown. We were all fans of their Napoleons and ├ęclairs. The contraption that allowed the baker’s string to feed down to the unpainted well-worn wood countertop from the ceiling comes to mind as I transport myself back to that time. The dark haired woman with the dark eyeglass frames would skillfully box up purchases like a rodeo calf out of the gates in record time. Her name escapes me but she was there when I ventured to the bakery on my own with earned money in my pocket a few years later. By then cream puffs for 60 cents were my favored choice; they had generous amounts of whipped cream in them. Evidence of these solo purchases were long gone by the time I got home, and I believe that I probably never shared the fact that I was stopping there at least once a week during this time but Uncle Aaron surely knew at least until he retired.

Long before these memories of the downtown were had by me, F.C. Raynor ran a dairy at Fair Meade Farm and bottled his own milk for delivery. In addition to bottled milk, he delivered meat, fish , and provisions. I have collected both information and material culture from this early enterprise over the years. Recently, as I have mentioned, all the buildings of Fair Meade Farm, except the well house and a carriage barn on the opposite side of Rt.94, were destroyed and the debris completely removed. Some of the important architectural details from the main house that underwent a number of additions and renovations from the original 1730s structure which consisted of a ground floor with a kitchen hearth and root cellar and possibly a second story sleeping loft fortunately were removed and donated to the Warwick Historical Society.

Among the outbuildings that was particularly important to F.C. Raynor’s bottled milk business was an ice house. This building had been converted into an equipment storage shed by my grandfather sometime after 1947. The foundation had been reinforced and replaced in the front and back with concrete block. The centrally located vertical doors that were situated one on top of each other from the foundation to the roofline had been sealed. These had once allowed easy entrance and exit of ice cakes from the pond that remains largely silted in close to Frontier Lanes.

Multiple layers of cakes had likely been stacked from the ice house floor to its roof studs at one time, and it is a good guess that ice entered through the northern end of the building and left by way of identical doors at the opposite end which was in proximity to a semi-subterranean milk house that had mortar and fieldstone walls topped by a slanting roof which also remained until recently. The interior of this was always damp and considerably colder than the temperature outside, and there was a shallow trough that once kept milk cans cool in it.

Whether the milk house was the location where milk was bottled is not known. Bottles would likely have been washed in hot water on a regular basis before filling with the unpasteurized milk. The size of the milk house suggests that such production was completed someplace else. The adjacent overhang may have been configured differently in the past; there are no known photographs of the barnyard before the 1940s when my grandparents took ownership of the farm. A new milk house was built by my grandfather to house the final destination of a modern pipeline for machine milking installed in the main cow barn in the 1950s. Two large stainless steel bulk tanks would eventually be housed in this cement block structure.

In addition to sealing the original ice house doors a sliding door on a steel track was installed on the northern end of the building by my grandfather. A large opening was made on the southern end large enough to drive a tractor into the space. The floor of the former ice house remained earth in contrast to concrete surface of the barnyard just beyond its door’s sash. One of the obvious remaining features of the building’s prior use was its thick eastern and western walls. These were roughly 8 to 10 inches thick with vertical planking on the interior which held in sawdust insulation. No such planking or insulation remained on the northern and southern ends; these may have been entirely removed during my grandfather’s modifications.

During my wanderings along the creek that runs down Moe Mountain through our farm, I discovered the remains of a dump which dates from at least the time the years of Raynor ownership, if not earlier. The most abundant visible debris extant is glass shards from the milk bottles used by the Raynors. The raised letters on the fragments from the fronts of these bottles read from about midway on the pint size “one pint liquid” before an oval emblem consisting of the words “Fair Meade Farm Dairy Warwick, N.Y.” around the perimeter, and “F.C. Raynor & Son” in the center. There was likely a more popular quart size of these, but I have never seen any other intact bottle except the pint size one which I discovered sitting on a shelf in the basement of the main house.

In addition to the milk bottle I discovered a pair of back doors to a horse-drawn panel wagon that was once used by F.C. Raynor for the delivery of “meat,” “milk,” “fish” and “provisions.” On each of the four panels that make up the two doors a grocery good is stated in professionally executed gold yellow letters with red highlights. A pin stripe in the same gold yellow also adds ornament to the black paint surface of each panel and the entirety of the doors. The doors each measure 22 inches wide and 36 inches tall. They were once locked in place on the wagon itself by turn handles that attach to vertical metal shaft mechanisms located on each of the doors on their inside edge.

All the metal fixtures of the door appear to have been hand forged, and may have been made at a local wagon works and blacksmith like Jason McPeek whose blacksmith shop once stood at the south west corner of Smith and South Street in Warwick. My great aunt remembers as a child in the 1930s going to that same blacksmith shop with her father to have farm machinery and tools repaired for his farm that was located in Little York. McPeek produced wagons and sleighs; I own a complete horse-drawn cutter that was manufactured by "Jas. McPeek of Warwick, NY" sometime in the 1890s. This stood near the wagon doors when I discovered them under some hay and debris. They have no doubt been there since long before my grandfather purchased the farm. The milk bottle and the wagon doors are among the few things that remain from a time when most everyone knew the name Raynor as a producer and supplier of food staples for the villagers of Warwick.

2 comments:

  1. Wilson Blain, my 4th great grandfather, was born April 24, 1789. He was baptised in Newburgh, NY at the methodist episcopal church on Sept. 4, 1789. His father's name is listed as Thomas.
    Do you have any additional info or leads on Thomas Blain? I think he might be the son of John and Jane.
    Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
  2. My email is margie@cemotion.com

    ReplyDelete