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A TRIBUTE TO HARRY & MARIE SIEMSEN; PAST HISTORIANS

Gone but not forgotten by the grateful residents of the Town of Kingston

William and Christina Siemsen settled on Thendara Farm in Sawkill in 1906 with their two children, Harry and Marie.  The house was built in 1896 by Walter Brown who ran a sawmill on the site for a few years.  The farm overlooked the Sawkill Creek on property now owned by Arold Paving.  William Siemsen, was not well and it was thought living in the country would improve his health.  After William’s death his wife, Christina, opened a boarding house during the summer months so they could earn a living.  The boarding house was later enlarged due to its popularity.  The old house was run as a boarding house from the early 1920’s until the early 1960’s.  Harry and Marie lived out their lives there.  The Thendara Lodge brochure advertisement at that time read:

Here is a cool and shady spot

Far from the busy grind,

Come and spend a week or two,

And surely you will find

The time spent here will build you up

In body and in mind.

In the early years farming was the principle occupation.  This included raising animals as well as growing crops.  As Marie and Harry reached adulthood they expanded the farming operation by adding chickens and selling eggs and butter thus creating a delivery route for area residents.

Harry, always the thinker, developed an ingenious way of collecting the mail.  The Sawkill Creek separates the property from the road.  To avoid driving up to the bridge, over the road, and doubling back for the mail, Harry devised a traveling mailbox.  One hundred feet of clothesline and pulleys enabled him to pull the box across the creek, and then reel it back into position on the road.  This is still a conversation piece for those who can remember.  The clothesline hung across the creek for many years until it finally deteriorated.

Harry was very civic minded.  He held various positions of fire warden, Justice of the Peace, Civil Defense Warden and many town board positions.  At twenty-one his name was put on the Town’s ballot and he was elected Tax Collector.  Two years later he became Tax Assessor.  In addition, he was active in the Grange, Farm Bureau and an Agway Committeeman.  Harry was also historian for the Town of Kingston.  With his sister’s help, Harry and Marie gathered folk stories and songs.  They interviewed senior residents around the area.  They made tape recordings and took pictures to illustrate the history of the area.  Harry was also, at one time, the vice president of the New York State Historical Society.

Marie, though not as outgoing, became quite an avid historian along with her brother.    Working quietly by his side, Marie helped her brother write voluminous records of their activities. She, too, was active in the Ladies Auxiliary and Civil Defense.   Marie’s talents expanded to include pieces of art she created from driftwood that she trimmed with birds and animals.  Marie’s interest in art began with the gift of a paint-by-number set.  This started her on a 60 year career as an amateur artist.  Her specialty was postcards and snapshots but later developed into landscapes with Harry sketching the outlines with pencil.  The pictures you see on the walls of the town hall are a result of those efforts.  They give us a glimpse of a much simpler time in our Sawkill past.

At twelve years old Harry first heard Frank Joy, a Hallihan Hill quarryman, sing. A friendship developed that continued throughout their lives.  Harry and Marie then became interested in music, taught themselves to play the guitar and became prominent folk singers.  Harry collected and transcribed almost 200 folksongs.  They appeared in the famous Memorial Auditorium in Syracuse before an audience of ten thousand at the folk music festival.  They traveled extensively for a few years to learn different cultures, visited national historic sites and Indian burial grounds.

Neither Marie nor Harry ever married but their love for children was exhibited by sharing stories and showing their extensive collection to area children.  Marie once told the story of how before Women’s Lib the Fire Warden refused to sign a paycheck for one of the firefighters because someone had spelled the name of “Frances” instead of “Francis”.  She also related how she once fought a forest fire in her bathing suit and her only pay was a wrenched back.

Harry and Marie shared their interest in local history with many of the school children in the area.  Harry related stories of his childhood and of the senior residents he interviewed.

Marie demonstrated intricacies of basket weaving.  They invited the Girl Scouts to use the property as a Day Camp so area children could experience the outdoors.  Harry and Marie were always eager to share their pictures, recordings and artifacts with interested citizens.

Harry died in 1975 and Marie died on August 29, 1978.  They will, however, always be remembered as the fine example they were for all of us.

(Information taken from ARC LITE, Marie Siemsen 1900 -1978 The Story of a Gift November 1978, written by Marge Brown; Harry Siemsen: A Traditional Singer in a Changing Society 1969, written by Robert G. Atkinson;  Pictures, Courtesy Town of Kingston)