Or, Sandy Ridge, part eight
This is a continuation of my history of the Vandolah family of Sandy Ridge, Delaware township, Hunterdon County, New Jersey. (See The Vandolah Family, Sandy Ridge, part seven.) Cyrus, Jr. was the last of the line.
Cyrus Vandolah, Jr. was born October 5, 1852. He died June 29, 1931, and was buried in Barber Cemetery, along with wife Hannah H. Runkle (1858-1910), daughter of Horace Runkle and Sarah H. Landis. They had no children.
The couple was married on December 23, 1876. The marriage announcement in the Hunterdon Democrat stated that Cyrus A. Van Dolah was “of Oakdale,” and Hannah H. Runkle was “of Mt. Airy.” Oakdale was an old name for the area around Bowne Station.
Cyrus Vandolah was active in his community. He served on the board of trustees for the Barber Cemetery, as a school trustee for the old Vandolah School on Sandy Ridge-Mt. Airy Road, and as Commissioner of Deeds for Delaware Township. Like Bush, he was a strong supporter of the Hunterdon County Historical Society. He was also a hog farmer, frequently winning prizes at the annual agricultural fair.
This Cyrus Vandolah was the friend and contemporary of Egbert T. Bush. The two must have had many long chats about local history, as can be understood from the many times Mr. Bush deferred in his articles to the knowledge of his friend Cyrus.
Bush also wrote Vandolah’s obituary after his death in 1931, in which he observed that since the death of his wife Hannah in 1910, Cyrus Vandolah “spent much of the time all alone on the old farm, always ready to greet congenial callers, and more than ready to communicate needed information from his seemingly inexhaustible store of local historic facts, whether relating specifically to persons or to occurrences.” As mentioned in the previous article, Garret Vandolah had bequeathed his farm to nephew Cyrus on July 13, 1876, just a few months before Cyrus married Hannah Runkle.
Cyrus and Hannah seem to have divided their time between the farm on Bowne Station Road and the old Vandolah farm. According to mentions of him in the Hunterdon Republican, in 1892 and 1893, he was “of Bowne,” but in 1895 he was “of Sandy Ridge,” as well as in 1896 and 1897. And yet in 1899 he was again “of Bowne.” Actually, a nasty incident occurred that year:
Cyrus Vandolah of Bowne, will loose his left eye as the result of a bruise. About 4 weeks ago, he was hunting in the brush when a twig struck his eye. The problem seemed to abate, but a few days ago the pain was unbearable. A specialist examined the eye and it is believe that it must be removed.1
Hannah Runkle Vandolah died on July 11, 1910, only 52 years old, and was buried in the Barber Cemetery.2 As Mr. Bush wrote, following this tragedy, Cyrus spent much of his time at the old farm until his death on June 29, 1931, at the age of 78. This no doubt came as a blow to Egbert Bush, who wrote the obituary for him. Here are some excerpts:
Late in the 1880’s, after the death of his uncle Garret Van Dolah, he came into possession of the historic Van Dolah farm, from which the school grounds still known by that name had been cut off. . . .
Cyrus is survived by one nephew, Cyrus J. Bissey, of Rosemont, and by four nieces, Elma Titus, of Delaware Township; Julia Tamms, of New York; Bertha Totten of Middlebush, N.J.; and Linda M. Wilson, of Philadelphia.
His wife Hannah (Runkle) Van Dolah, died many years ago. Since then he had spent much of the time all alone on the old farm, always ready to greet congenial callers, and more than ready to communicate needed information from his seemingly inexhaustible store of local historic facts, whether relating specifically to persons or to occurrences.
He was a man of remarkable memory, one noted far and wide for his knowledge of old things and old families of the community. He knew the history of almost every farm for miles around—who sold it to whom—often away back into colonial days. Many are the interesting things that he could relate concerning old-time owners of this property or that. For clearing up local genealogical puzzles his equal was nowhere to be found. And somehow, in his genial whole-hearted way, he always made one feel that the inquiry had done him a favor. . . .
The last Van Dolah has gone. That wonderful memory is functioning no more. The community has lost a store of local knowledge. The old farm must soon pass into other hands, slowly—O very slowly—to become known by another name. May the name Van Dolah still be clinging to it at the end of the next hundred years.
Even though he was buried next to his wife in the Barber Cemetery, his funeral was held in the Sandy Ridge Church. A few years after his death, the old Vandolah farm was sold to someone without the Vandolah name—George H. Hoppock. The deed was dated February 10, 1934, in which Cyrus J. Bissey, Vandolah’s executor, conveyed the farm to George H. Hoppock and his wife Edith B. Hoppock for $4500. The property was described as a 120-acre farm on the road leading from Stockton to Headquarters, in front of The Sandy Ridge Baptist Church building, also described as the Stockton-Sandy Ridge-Headquarters Road. It also bordered the Mt. Airy Road, passing the Van Dolah School, and the road leading to the village of Brookville. George H. Hoppock paid $4500 for the property.3
The recital seemed a little odd. The farm being sold was the property devised by Garrett Van Dolah to Cyrus Van Dolah by will, and included parts of land conveyed by “the heirs of Henry Van Dolah to Garrett Van Dolah on Dec 23, 1837 or 38” in Book 69 p. 313, and part of the tract conveyed by deed of May 11, 1738 (i.e., the land sold the Hendrick Vandolah, dated May 1, 1738 according to Egbert T. Bush).
The conveyance to Garret Vandolah took place in 1837, and included 11/13th of a farm of 144.99 acres. The land of Hendrick Vandolah amounted to 171.75 acres. It appears that the farm bequeathed to Cyrus Vandolah, Jr. was a portion of these farms, being only 120 acres.
This George H. Hoppock was probably the son of Wm. P. Hoppock (1867-1938) and Elizabeth Mary Heath (1873-1958). He was born in 1899 and married Edith Bird sometime after 1930. In the 1930 Census for Delaware Township, George H. Hoppock, age 31, was single, living with his parents, working as a poultryman. In the 1940 census, he was married to Edith, age 48, and had a son Joseph, age 22, working as a farm hand. George Hoppock was renting the farm where he was living and working as a grader for a road construction company.4
This brings us almost to the end of the Vandolah saga. I will let Egbert T. Bush have the last word. In 1929, he wrote an article praising Cyrus Vandolah’s character and memory, which was published in the Hunterdon Democrat. Unlike most of Mr. Bush’s articles published on this website, this one will not be interrupted with comments by me. (I did, however, add the photograph, which was shared with me by Lora Olsen.)
Cyrus Van Dolah,
Last Of An Old Family
His Neighbors Ask Cyrus When They Want to Know
“Old Redeye,” Ancient Turtle
by Egbert T. Bush, Stockton, N.J.
published by the Hunterdon County Democrat, August 1, 1929
Ask Cyrus. His Name is Cyrus Van Dolah, but we don’t say all that. Everybody understands. He is the last survivor of a long line of Van Dolahs in this country running back to 1705, when his remote ancestor came from Holland to Long Island. In 1725 he came to the farm now owned by Cyrus. This farm lies on Sandy Ridge, two miles from Stockton, New Jersey, and has been in the family name for more than two centuries.
Cyrus is an unpretentious man now nearing the age which Scripture implies can be reached only by reason of strength. Here in this quiet vicinity, and mostly on this homestead farm, he has spent his quiet life. He has never tried to do anything remarkable, never held a political office and never sought to be otherwise than just himself and one of us. His wife died many years ago, since which event he has lived a rather lonely life on the old farm.
He has no relative nearer than nephew and niece. But he has never been without community interest. Long before the law spread the school district over the whole township, he was an active trustee of the Van Dolah School. Since that change was made, some thirty years ago, he has been a member of the Board of Education of the Township of Delaware and is still its President.
The Van Dolah school-house stands less than three hundred yards from the farm house, on lands leased to the district in 1821 by Catherine Van Dolah, grandmother of Cyrus. In front of that interesting old farm house is a famous spring from which all those generations of thirsty school children have secured their supply of drinking water.
Why Ask Cyrus?
But why ask Cyrus? For two good reasons: first, because Cyrus knows; second, because Cyrus will be very glad to tell us. While he makes no pretension to being a scientist, a mystic, a philosopher or any thing along the “highbrow” line, while he has never sought distinction in any special way, a curious kind of distinction has all along been seeking him, and has made him a distinguished man in spite of “no distinction.”
His mind is retentive. What he knew long ago he knows to-day. He can tell us more about the old families of the vicinity than anybody else can tell; more about their peculiarities, their inter-marriages, their occupations and their special doings whether important or unimportant. He has a particular liking for old things and old occurrences; and of both he has no inconsiderable store. Any person with similar tastes or any one having need to know about something which everybody else has forgotten can spend an hour—several hours more likely—with both pleasure and profit in asking Cyrus. For instance:
You may be curious to know how long a land tortoise may live. If so, ask Cyrus. He cannot give you the limit, but he can and will tell you the interesting story of “Old Redeye.” This is one of two tortoises, of which one was marked “G.V.D. & D.W. 1804” and the other “G.V.D. & D.W. 1806,” by Garret Van Dolah and Daniel Wilson, two small boys who were cousins and playmates in that long ago.[#. Garret Van Dolah (1797-1884) was the son of Henry Van Dolah and Catharine Taylor. Henry’s sister Sarah Van Dolah married William Wilson and had Daniel Wilson, who died in 1815.] Garret lived on the farm with his parents and Daniel frequently visited him there. This same Garret Van Dolah, an uncle to Cyrus, later became owner of the farm, where he lived all his life and died there at a great age.
The tortoises were turned loose to become the special care of the whole Van Dolah family. Each summer they were sought with much solicitude, often found, and always guarded with great care; for the life of such a creature is in great danger during the farming season, and especially during haying and harvest time. In 1874 the one first marked was killed by a mowing machine, just seventy years after the marking. Garret Van Dolah, the marker, was still living to grieve over the loss of his life-long pet; and it is said, with never the semblance of a sneer, that the stricken old gentleman actually shed tears over his bereavement.
That mishap left Old Redeye, so called because his eyes grew redder as the years went by, to roam over the fields alone and doubtless to look long and anxiously for the companion of his better days. Naturally he became the object of even greater solicitude than before. At hay and harvest time the fundamental law on the Van Dolah farm read as follows: “Look out for Old Redeye.”
Sometimes for two or three years he was not found at all. Then to the great relief of all concerned, Old Redeye would show himself, seemingly but little worse for the added years. In 1906, just one hundred years after the boys had gleefully marked and released him, Old Redeye was picked up and held a prisoner for several days. Many people, the writer among them, saw him on that occasion. He was much petted and patted and talked about; then he was photographed and set free to wander again over the grounds that he must have known so well. Since then he has been found several times, the last in 1926, one hundred and twenty years after the marking.
It may be of interest to know that neither of those tortoises was ever found more than one hundred yards from the grain barn, which stands at a considerable distance from the other farm buildings. This appears to show the tortoise as a home-loving creature. Experiments along that line also bear out that conclusion and give evidence that the seemingly stupid tortoise is able to find his old home. One quite recently marked and carried a long distance (as estimated for a slow-moving creature), was set free in strange surroundings and then carefully watched for. In a few weeks he was found basking quietly on the old grounds as though nothing had happened.
Well-Stocked Memory Box
No one should get the idea that frivolous or non-essential things make up the stock in this man’s memory. Such are merely the spice mixed in with many things in that retentive memory box, things that encompass all—“From grave to gay, from lively to severe.” That box has quite recently been called upon to help in the clearing up of tangled questions involving titles to property, and has been the means of saving time, trouble and expense.
Not a man of distinction? Probably not in the usual acceptation of that word. But one can hardly help wondering whether, after all, the distinction that has come to this quiet man is not of greater value than some that has brought to many a person both fickle fame and fleeting fortune.
Imagine sitting down with Cyrus Vandolah and hearing about the old families of Sandy Ridge and beyond. So many questions we have today could have been answered. A perennial frustration for local historians.
- Hunterdon Republican Dec. 20, 1899. ↩
- Find-a-Grave states that her grave is located in the cemetery attached to the Presbyterian Church at Mount Airy. I have not followed through to see which is right. ↩
- H.C. Deed Book 398 p. 292. ↩
- In 1937, George H. Hoppock sold land to Elizabeth M. Robinson, in 1941 he conveyed rights to the NJ Power & Light Co., and in 1944 he sold property to Bertha Poddig, Nellie K. Emery and Edward S. Keown. I have not checked on these deeds, so I am not certain that all of these deed came from the same person. But there is no deed recorded for George H. Hoppock purchasing any other property before 1956. ↩