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UPCOMING EVENTS

  • Friday, July 25 - Sunday, August 3
    Christmas in July Week
    Surprise gift for each child. Jump on Big Apple Bounce pillow. Be a sleuth and play the Farm Scene Investigation (Clue) game and earn an Investigator Badge. Ride the cow train, visit our animals, race pedal carts along NEW track, and more. $10, under three free. Farm birthday parties are great! Phone: 845-883-7825. Email: susan@hurdsfamilyfarm.com. Url: http://hurdsfamilyfarm.com.

  • Tuesday, July 29 - Sunday, August 3
    Ulster County Fair
    Old fashioned fun celebrating country life. Pay one price 10am-closing $15 includes all rides, shows & entertainment. Tuesday $40 per carload (opens at 4pm). Seniors free Thursday 10am-4pm. Free parking. Phone: 845-255-1380. Url: http://ulstercountyfair.com.

  • Tuesday, July 29
    Stock Car Talk with Tommy Johnson
    6-7pm. Accord Speedway stock car driver Tom Johnson will discuss and show off his car and talk about racing. Appropriate for all ages. Pre-registration required by July 25. Phone: 845-255-1255. Url: http://gardinerlibrary.org.

  • Tuesday, July 29
    Early Morning Birders
    7am. Designed for birding enthusiasts or those just looking to learn the basics, this series will offer various outings led by experienced birding volunteers and park naturalists. Participants will meet at the Minnewaska main entrance and should come prepared with binoculars. Outing destinations will be determined the day of the program. Pre-registration required. Phone: 845-255-0752. Url: http://nysparks.com.

  • Wednesday, July 30 - Sunday, August 3
    Euryanthe
    Carl Maria Von Weber's opera w/American Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leon Botstein. Kevin Newbury (Die Liebe der Danae, SummerScape 2011) directs this rare staging of this Romantic-era opera that's been unjustly neglected. Sung in German with English subtitles. Tkts $25–$95; Fri at 7pm, Wed & Sun at 2pm. Phone: 845-758-7900. Email: fishercenterboxoffice@bard.edu. Url: http://fishercenter.bard.edu.

  • Wednesday, July 30
    Preschoolers in the Park
    Blueberry Picking. 10:30am-noon. Led by naturalist Jamie McGinnis. Registration required. Phone: 845-255-0752. Url: http://nysparks.com.

  • Wednesday, July 30 - Sunday, August 3
    Phoenicia International Festival of the Voice
    From opera to gospel, world music to Broadway, the festival celebrates the human voice in all its multi faceted glory. See webite for full schedule of world class performances and tickets. Url: http://phoeniciavoicefest.org.

  • Wednesday, July 30
    Preschoolers in the Park
    10:30am-noon. Bring your toddler and join Jamie McGinnis for a stroll through the old meadows of the former hotel golf course and along Lake Minnewaska and Upper Awosting Carriage Roads. The meadows are filled with low bush and high bush blueberry and this is the time of year when they're usually ripe for the picking. Bring a sandwich sized plastic bag to fill and clean hands to eat them as you walk. This modest hike does include some hills and also trails that are suitable for only sturdy strollers. Please make sure to bring enough water, sun protection and bug protection too. Meet at the informational kiosk in the upper parking lot near Lake Minnewaska. Phone: 845-255-0752. Url: http://nysparks.com.

  • Thursday, July 31 - Sunday, August 3
    Unnecessary Farce by Paul Slade Smith
    Shadowland continues its string of successful farces with this regional premiere. Two hotel rooms, eight doors and a crazy cast of characters propel this crime-based comedy to felonious levels of laughter. Fri-Sat 8pm: $39, Sun 2pm: $34. Phone: 845-647-5511. Url: http://shadowlandtheatre.org.

  • Friday, August 1 - Sunday, August 3
    Les Miserables
    The epic story of shattered dreams, passion and redemption, set against the backdrop of a nation in revolution. An Up In One Production produced by Diana di Grandi, directed & choreographed by Kevin Archambault w/music direction by Matthew Woolever. Fri & Sat at 8pm; Sun at 3pm. $27/$25. Phone: 845-876-3080. Url: http://centerforperformingarts.org.

  • Friday, August 1 - Sunday, August 3
    Wassaic Project Summer Festival
    Multidisciplinary, cutting edge yet family friendly celebration of art, music & community featuring over 100 artists, 25 bands, poetry readings, dance performances, film screenings, & more. Check web for times. Phone: 347-815-0783. Email: hello@wassaicproject.org. Url: http://wassaicproject.org.

  • Friday, August 1 - Sunday, August 3
    Ray Bradbury's Short Stories
    Enacted by the creative young actors of Cocoon's summer workshop. $15; at 7pm on Fri, Sat and Sun; Matinees at 1pm on Sat & Sun. Reserve seats—space limited. Phone: 845-876-6470. Email: msanmillan@aol.com. Url: http://cocoontheatre.org.

  • Friday, August 1
    Piano Summer Symphony Gala
    With the Hudson Valley Philharmonic. 8pm. Phone: 845-339-6088. Url: http://upac.org.

  • Friday, August 1 - Sunday, August 3
    Woodstock Shakespeare Festival 19th Season
    Twelfth Night, one of the bard’s most hilarious comedies is performed by Bird-On-A-Cliff Theatre Company on Woodstock’s outdoor Elizabethan stage. 5pm. Free, $5 suggested donation. Blankets, chairs, picnics welcome. Phone: 845-247-4007. Url: http://birdonacliff.org.

  • Saturday, August 2
    One World, Many Rhythms
    Bagpiper. 4pm. Url: http://oklibrary.org.

  • Saturday, August 2
    Gaia Roots World Music Ensemble
    In partnership with Operation Unite; folkloric Afro-Caribbean and West African sounds. Free & open to the public at 7pm. Phone: 518-822-1438. Email: info@hudsonoperahouse.org. Url: http://hudsonoperahouse.org.

  • Saturday, August 2
    Opening for Water
    Exhibit featuring all mediums. 5pm–7pm. Phone: 845-758-6575. Email: redhookcan@gmail.com. Url: http://rhcan.com.

  • Saturday, August 2
    Extreme Ballet Showcase
    Students from Session II of Kaatsbaan's renowned summer ballet intensive present their work, public invited. Free of charge. Phone: 845-757-5106x2. Email: pgrkaats@bestweb.net. Url: http://www.kaatsbaan.org.

  • Saturday, August 2
    Dancing in the Square
    Dance under the stars to the hot jazz and early swing music of the 1920s and 30s with New Orleans' Bad Penny Pleasuremakers. Dine al fresco. For all ages. 7–10pm. Url: http://Villageofkinderhook.org.

  • Saturday, August 2
    Young People's Concert
    11am. Marc Black, Woodstock singer-songwriter. Under 16 free, adults $5. Phone: 845-679-8217. Url: http://maverickconcerts.org.

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General Interest  |  Local History  |  Building & Home  |  Food & Wine  |  Health & Wellness

Postcard showing Mill Pond, Amenia. credit Courtesy Amenia Historical Society.

Amenia and the Birth of "The Brotherhood"

Spring 2014   

Ever wonder about that stone bank building at the corner of routes 343 and 22 at the center of Amenia village? If it looks to you like it came from another world, you’re right. In 1860, Dutchess County was the birthplace of the Brotherhood of the New Life, one of the many "alternative communities" born during the great American spiritual revival of the mid-nineteenth century. The Brotherhood began in Wassaic, and grew onto additional property in nearby Amenia where, after accumulating a sizeable amount of capital, the group founded the First National Bank of Amenia and built that stone building.

The Brotherhood’s founder was Thomas Lake Harris, a hypnotic and otherworldly minister who cobbled together his own eclectic set of beliefs during an evolving career. Harris started out as a young preacher in Western New York, where he became known for the poetical passion of his oratory. Then he embraced spiritualism, claiming to be in touch with the angels and publishing three books of poetical revelations dictated while in trances during his visits with dead poets in heaven.


Thomas Lake Harris in is late seventies. credit Courtesy Bart Casey.

Soon he declared that he had spirit-traveled to celestial communities on Mars, Jupiter and other planets—all part of his training to become the pivotal go-between between fallen man and the Deity.

By 1859, at age 36, Harris was the leader of New York City’s Church of the Good Shepherd, an independent, progressive and well-heeled congregation holding Sunday services in the chapel of New York University in Washington Square. Followers included Horace Greeley, future presidential candidate and editor of the New York Tribune, as well as wealthy heiress Jane Waring, daughter of a successful New York State stove manufacturer.

Harris traveled around the South on the eve of the Civil War and in Great Britain after the Crimean War. The civil and social unrest he witnessed convinced him that the tumultuous period was beginning,which would precede the final struggle between Good and Evil, itself the precursor to the second coming of Christ. To counter this cataclysm, he convinced a close inner circle of followers to pool their money and buy property in Dutchess County where they could prepare for the changes to come and become ready to play leading roles saving mankind in the new post-apocalyptic order.

For a brief period in the years before founding the Amenia settlement, Harris had been co-leader of a failed utopian community in West Virginia. Here he learned that any community attempting to set up a new world order should have only one leader—and a well-funded one at that. Sound finances and savvy business practices became his hallmarks. At the start, Harris’s main benefactor and deputy was Jane Waring, the heiress, who contributed millions of dollars in today’s money to the community. Jane also ran the farming operations, having grown up on a farm with her agriculturalist brother George, manager of Greeley’s farm in Chappaqua and lead sanitary engineer for the draining of Manhattan’s wetlands and the ensuing creation of New York’s Central Park. Joining from New York City and contributing commercial expertise came several experienced businessmen with their families, During the Civil War three large families arrived from Georgia, escaping the depradations of that battle-ravaged state and adding the proceeds from the sale of their properties and slaves. From Britain came Arthur Cuthbert and his fiancée, Emily Fawcett, to be married in Amenia by Harris; Cuthbert would become Harris’s lifelong disciple and biographer.

This founding group spent their days in healthy manual labor building the first house in Wassaic, which was located across from the famous Gridley kilns, on the wooded hillside overlooking the deep gorge creek of the Wassaic River, just off today’s Route 22. Today, forest has grown over the original stable’s grounds and garden. An early member recalled that the structure was "a very fine one at the time, and known locally as the House in the Woods." Evenings were spent in "right breathing": reaching out for contact with the celestial realm, where Harris was already a frequent visitor and confidant of the archangels. As more people came, new properties were bought around Mill Pond, on today’s Lake Amenia Avenue, where the Brotherhood operated a mill as a first base of commerce in the community. Jane Waring then planted the Brotherhood’s vineyards on the adjoining hillside, near today’s Silo Ridge Golf Course.


The stone bank building in Amenia built by the Brotherhood, now a branch of M&T Bank. credit Courtesy Amenia Historical Society.

As the community flourished, Harris decided they should spread the word more to local villagers about the great changes to come. To do this, his New York City disciples helped Harris found the First National Bank of Amenia, installing the prophet as president. At first, the bank was a modest one-room wooden structure with an imposing safe, a welcoming woodstove, and a wealth of chairs for townspeople to rest on and chat. Eventually, in 1865, the bank built its distinctive five-sided stone building now gracing the main street of the village.

More exotic members began to arrive. J. W. Hyde, an expert winemaker from Missouri, joined with his wife Lucy and son John to take over vineyard operations. In London Emily Fawcett Cuthbert talked up Harris to her close friend Lady Maria Oliphant, and soon this widow of the chief justice of Ceylon petitioned to join the Brotherhood. Before long she brought along as well her son Laurence, a prominent writer, war correspondent and member of parliament. The Oliphants brought wealth and an implied endorsement for Harris from the highest levels of British society, where they were friends and intimates of ministers, aristocrats and the royal family. And when Laurence completed his probationary period in England and arrived in Dutchess County, he brought with him a group of Samurai students on a secret mission from their lord in the southern Japanese province of Satsuma to learn the mysterious ways of the West. They were, in fact, some of the earliest visitors from Japan to ever come to the USA, and several went on to high office as ambassadors for the modern government set up by Meiji-era Japan; one even became minister of education.

Since everyone joining the Brotherhood contributed all of their worldly funds, the safe at the First National Bank of Amenia might well have been bursting at its seams. By 1867, it was decided the entire group should re-scale itself and relocate to larger properties 400 miles to the west on Lake Erie, , at Brocton, New York, where a more sizeable wine business could be cultivated. So, after a successful birth and seven-year childhood in Dutchess County, the Brotherhood moved on to adolescence in Brocton, and eventual adulthood in Santa Rosa, California, where from 1876 to 1934 it became a leading Sonoma County winery on the fabulous Fountaingrove estate. One family, disgruntled with Harris’s leadership, eventually returned east to Washingtonville, in the Hudson Valley, where as competitors to Harris they took over the oldest winery in the country and renamed it after the Brotherhood. This winery is still in operation today.

Harris’s later years brought scandals about sexual shenanigans and financial deceptions, casting a permanent cloud over the reputations of both Harris and Oliphant (who broke with Harris as well and went on publishing bestselling books about his exotic travels). At its inception in Dutchess County, however, this colorful community was full of hope and idealism. Writing in 1930, Robert Martin, who grew up in the Brotherhood, addressed questions about any possible "lax morals, or improper conduct" in the early Dutchess County days. He stated then they were all "a straightlaced, God-fearing band of men and women" intent on leading mankind to salvation. However, Martin didn’t pull any punches about his final assessment of Harris and the Brotherhood for his somber ending to the story, where he judged Harris "a charlatan, with feet of the most ordinary clay" who eventually squandered the members’ money and dashed their dreams of glory.

 
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