December 19, 2014 | 7:04pm    area forecast: Today: Mostly Cloudy High 37°F, Low 23°F

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UPCOMING EVENTS

  • Friday, December 19 - Sunday, December 21
    It's a Wonderful Life
    Heartwarming, Christmastime entertainment about a small town man who forgoes his big dreams to help others. On Fri and Sat at 8pm; Sun at 3pm: $24/$22. Phone: 845-876-3080. Url: http://centerforperformingarts.org.

  • Friday, December 19
    Board Games for Adults
    Free and open to all adults! Phone: 845-757-3771. Email: tivolilibrary@gmail.com. Url: http://tivolilibrary.org.

  • Saturday, December 20
    Classic Christmas Concert
    Instrumentalists and vocalists celebrate the meaning of Christmas. A goodwill offering will benefit needy people through Samaritan's Purse. Free. 7:30pm. Phone: 845-758-1184. Email: office@stjohnsreformed.org. Url: http://stjohnsreformed.org.

  • Saturday, December 20
    Clermont's Christmas Open House
    Enjoy the "home for the holidays" w/ volunteer docents answering questions. Mulled cider served in gift shop. Free admission; 11am–4pm. Phone: 518-537-4240. Url: http://friendsofclermont.org .

  • Saturday, December 20
    Messiah SING
    Gwen Gould conducts Handel’s oratorio w/ string ensemble, vocal soloists while the audience becomes the chorus. Scores and refreshments provided. $15 donation/free 18 and under. At 4pm. Phone: 518-822-1438. Email: info@hudsonoperahouse.org. Url: http://hudsonoperahouse.org.

  • Saturday, December 20 - Sunday, December 21
    Bang Group's Nut/Cracked
    Edgy version of The Nutcracker w/music including many incarnations of Tchaikovsky’s score, and versions by Duke Ellington and Glenn Miller. Choreography: David Parker.Tkts: $30–$40 (suitable for ages 12 and up). Sat at 7:30pm, Sun at 2pm. Phone: 845-758-7900. Email: fishercenterboxoffice@bard.edu. Url: http://fishercenter.bard.edu.

  • Saturday, December 20
    Kwanza Umoja Celebration
    Hudson Opera House & Operation Unite present a festive Kwanza Celebration featuring candle lighting ceremony, crafts, vendors, performances. After a light "Karamu" community supper comes Zawadi (gifts for children). Free and open to public. 3–5pm. Phone: 518-822-1438. Email: info@hudsonoperahouse.org. Url: http://hudsonoperahouse.org.

  • Saturday, December 27 - Sunday, December 28
    Clermont Open After Christmas
    The mansion will remain open for holiday visitation 12/27 & 12/28 from 11am–3pm. Tour tkts $5/$4 for seniors and students, children under 12 are free. Phone: 518-537-4240. Url: http://friendsofclermont.org .

  • Saturday, December 27 - Sunday, December 28
    David Temple: Sambas in Season of Joy
    Guitarist/composer David Temple presents original work along with pieces from Brazil, Argentina, Cuba, Spain, and France. Sat at 8pm; Sun at 3pm; $20. Phone: 845-876-3080. Url: http://centerforperformingarts.org.

  • Saturday, December 27 - Tuesday, December 30
    Make a Mouse House
    12/27 & 12/30 only: Holiday Craft Workshop. Kids ages 6–10 inspect mouse houses on display, then build their own to take home. Adults must accompany. Call to reserve. From 2–3:30pm. Phone: 845-889-8851 X300. Email: Donald.Fraser@parks.ny.gov . Url: http://staatsburgh.org.

  • Wednesday, December 31
    Morton on New Year's Eve
    An evening of stories, short plays (read by Rhinebeck Readers Theatre) music & caroling. Donation $10, at 8pm, Phone: 845-876-2903. Email: mortonrhinecliff@gmail.com. Url: http://morton.rhineclifff.lib.ny.us.

  • Friday, January 2 - Sunday, January 4
    The Woman
    Staged reading of Clare Booth Luce's acerbic commentary on the pampered lives and power struggles of various wealthy Manhattan socialites. Directed by Lisa Lynds. Fri & Sat at 8pm; Sun at 3pm. Pay what you will. Phone: 845-876-3080. Url: http://centerforperformingarts.org.

  • Friday, January 9 - Sunday, January 11
    Sunday In the Park With George
    Sondheim musical follows life of artist Georges Seurat working on his latest impressionist masterpiece. Directed by Andy Weintraub with musical direction by Paul & JoAnne Shubert. Fri & Sat at 8pm; Sun at 3pm; $27/$25. Phone: 845-876-3080. Url: http://centerforperformingarts.org.

  • Saturday, January 10
    New Year/New Works: Opening
    Opening party for a joint show of artists from two galleries: the Tivoli Gallery and Columbia County Council on the Arts (CCCA). All work, in various mediums, will be new to the gallery. 6–8pm. Phone: 845-757-2667. Email: alanreich@juno.com. Url: http://www.tivoliartistsgallery.com. .

  • Friday, January 16 - Sunday, January 18
    Sunday In the Park With George
    Sondheim musical follows life of artist Georges Seurat working on his latest impressionist masterpiece. Directed by Andy Weintraub with musical direction by Paul & JoAnne Shubert. Fri & Sat at 8pm; Sun at 3pm; $27/$25. Phone: 845-876-3080. Url: http://centerforperformingarts.org.

  • Saturday, January 17
    Opening for CCCA Juried Show
    Juried art show presented by Columbia Co. Arts Council. Reception 5–7pm. (Snow date 1/24.) Phone: 518-671-6213. Email: info@artscolumbia.org. Url: http://www.artscolumbia.org.

  • Saturday, January 17
    FIRST LEGO League
    Lego FLL Robot Tournament. Check for time. Snow date 1/18. Phone: 845-758-2241. Url: http://redhookcentralschools.org.

  • Saturday, January 17 - Sunday, January 18
    Hudson Valley Playwrights
    Staged readings: 1/17 at 7:30pm and 1/18 at 3pm. Suggested donation $10. Phone: 845-876-2903. Email: mortonrhinecliff@gmail.com. Url: http://morton.rhineclifff.lib.ny.us.

  • Sunday, January 18
    "Ladies' Night" Concert
    RB Chamber Music Society performance, with Eugenia Zukerman, flute; Babette Hierholzer, piano; Kimberly Kahan, soprano. Works by Clara Schumann, Fanny Hensel (Mendelssohn's sister), and Amy Beach. Introductory remarks by composers Joan Tower, Victoria Bond, and Karen LeFrak. 3pm. $25/$5. Phone: 845-876-2870. Email: info@rhinebeckmusic.org. Url: http://rhinebeckmusic.org.

  • Sunday, January 18
    WWI & the End of the Gilded Age
    Special tour explores how the Millses’ extravagant way of life withered away in the cataclysm of the Great War. Pls. reserve. $10/$8. 1pm. Phone: 845-889-8851 X300. Email: Donald.Fraser@parks.ny.gov . Url: http://staatsburgh.org.

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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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