Interview with Charles English
Is Part Of
Broome County Oral History Project
Interview with: Charles English
Interviewed by: Dan O’Neil
Date of interview: 28 April 1978
Dan: Charlie, would you start out giving me your life and working experiences in the community, ah, starting with your date and place of birth?
Charlie: Well, I was born, ah, July 18, 1930 in Binghamton and, ah, ah, my father was E.C. English. My mother's name was, ah, Edna L. Zimmerman, maiden name—she was from Johnson City. Ah, I was brought up in Windsor and lived here more or less all my life except for the time I was in the service of the United States during the Korean War and, ah, my two jaunts at college—ah, I attended, ah, Harpur College after graduation from Windsor High School—graduated from Harpur in 1952 with an A.B. in Foreign Languages—Spanish, ah, was the Major—and shortly thereafter, of course, was drafted into the Army and, ah, was led to believe that I was going to be a Spanish interpreter, and you know how that goes. (laughter). Ah, ended up being an Infantryman—sent to Korea with a bunch of, ah, Puerto Rico soldiers at the time—my only interpreting was, ah, trying to translate orders from the American officers of these Puerto Ricans. Well after, ah, in Korea, I ended up in, ah, the Signal Corps and worked in the troop information and education and ah, ah, raising the, ah, educational level of soldiers after, when the war ended and we came back to the United States. My dad and I had a conference about the drugstore, ah, and I decided that I would go back to Pharmacy School, so we went four years to Albany Pharmacy and, ah, had our B.S. Degree in 1959, so I'm now the third generation of the pharmacists here in the English family in Windsor, and I believe probably we're the oldest, ah, pharmacy, ah, being in one family in Broome County.
Dan: When was it first established, Charlie?
Charlie: My grandfather took it over in April of 1900 and, ah, the same pharmacy had been operated prior to him by, ah, Dusenberry and Lyons for a few years, and prior to them, ah, by a man named T.V. Furman, who ah, also was a prominent local official, ah, politician, and ah, I don't know but what I remember, a Board, ah, member of the Board of Supervisors of Broome County, and I understand Mr. Furman, ah, went into business as a result of buying out Dr. A.B. Stillson.
Charlie: Doc Stillson's father.
Charlie: Doc. Stillson's.
Charlie: So, ah, it's been in the same locale—the drugstore’s been in the same location for about a hundred years and, ah, 78 of those years now in our family.
Charlie: Ah, then ah, along with this, ah, we, we bought the building—joint owners—Marine Midland Bank and myself (laughter), and ah, we rent out two apartments upstairs and we rent out another section on the ground level to, ah, the Government, for it's been a Windsor Post Office in that location for as long as I can remember. Matter of fact, ah, I guess that was the location of the Post Office way back in the 1830s—before that building existed it was still in the same spot, so ah, we haven’t changed too much.
Dan: Uh huh.
Charlie:· Ah then, ah, ah, I, ’cause, ah, I live here, ah, in what you call the Hotchkiss House or Old Stone House—I guess it’s the only stone house in Broome County, ah, to my knowledge.
Dan: Uh huh.
Charlie: And this was built sometime between 1823 and 1825 by a man named Stiles Hotchkiss. His grandfather, David, is an original pioneer for the, ah—let a tract of land here in the village of Windsor, that he received, ah, from the Government, and he came here in about 1789 and settled on this tract. He divided some of the tract up among his, ah, six or more sons—I forget how many right off hand, and of course they in turn subdivided among their sons. David Hotchkiss was, ah, credited with, ah, being the person who designed the Village of Windsor—laid out the streets, ah, much as they are today. Main Street, Chapel Street, Grove are all part of his original plan and, ah, also he's a founder of the local Presbyterian church, incidentally, the same Presbyterian church that's here today. He, his family also you might credit with the, ah, one of the families who helped found the first, ah, public school here in Windsor also. Well this stone house, incidentally, was originally built for the purpose of being a distillery, and up in back here they have a series of three falls on what is now known as Hotchkiss Creek—originally the Hotchkiss family called it Falls Creek.
Dan: Uh huh.
Charlie: And they had a mill over, ah, near the Village, ah, constructed by, ah, M. Raphael Hotchkiss, Stiles's father, and about 1825 they moved that, ah, mill over here and built here on the creek and, ah, well, according to the 1885 Broome County Histories on the purest whiskey, ah, known to man, was manufactured here, and sometime or another after that, the family did move into the house and used it jointly as both the business and as a residence.
Dan: Uh huh.
Charlie: The house is, ah, I guess what you call typical, ah, Federal period. There's two or three houses around town here that were built by, built by the Hotchkiss family. All of them, although this one is stone, there is another house down on the corner of Kent and Main, which is a wood clapboard house built on the same style, and they were copied after patterns in the Hotchkiss family up in Connecticut.
Dan: Uh huh, very interesting. Now, ah, Charlie, how did you get started in your special interest here—your Civil War memorabilia?
Charlie: Well, ah, I guess probably that results from, ah, joining the American Legion, ah. L remember, ah, when I got home from Korea in '54, ah, I been traveling for off and on, I guess about 3 weeks before I finally was able to get from the west coast to east coast due to, ah, storms and poor airplanes, as a matter of fact. When I got home, why, I went to a local barber—had a haircut, and ah, right then and there he talked me into joining the Legion, and ah, the following Memorial Day—some of the World War I vets, who for years had gone around and put flags out on the veterans’ graves all on, asked some of us newer, ah, Legionnaires if we'd go along and assist. In a sense, that was a mistake, because that first year started me on a project I've been doing every year since 1954, but we’d go around to, ah, a lot of the cemeteries here in Windsor, of which I believe there are 17 and with the exception of about 4 or 5, all of them are so-called abandoned cemeteries the town takes care of. Ah, they, ah, tombstones of some of the old Civil War veterans were beginning to fade away and became hard to read, so I became interested in, ah, making a record, and I did visit each cemetery and start copying down these names. Ended up, though, before I got done, I compiled a list of all the war veterans in the town of Windsor from the American Revolution through Korea—I haven't tackled the Vietnam era yet—and, ah, ah, then I began to do a little research on the men because I couldn't help but notice that a goodly number of the men in the Civil War, for example, either belonged to the 137th New York Volunteers, the 89th New York Volunteers, the 29th Infantry, or the 16th Independent Battery, which made me, ah, come to the realization they must have joined as a unit. Then, ah, began the historical research, and ah, the interest continually, ah, snowballed of course. The Museum, I guess, started because I decided I needed a few artifacts that maybe some of the men carried, and as a result we've gone from, ah, a couple of muskets, which I originally purchased, to, ah, the 45 by 40 building we have now to have our museum.
Dan: Uh huh—how many muskets do you have now?
Charlie: Well, I—
Dan: Just guessing, I mean, you don't have to be exact.
Charlie: I don't know—probably, ah, oh, 50 or 60 or more.
Dan: Yeah—so in other words, it's been within the last 24-year period that you have accumulated this?
Charlie: Yes, and another thing, too, about it is that, ah, a lot of people—of course, ah, the collection here, ah, due to inflation and so on and so forth, has become quite valuable. Where you used to be able to pick up a Civil War musket maybe for $25, it's at least ten times that now.
Charlie: And ah, I can't stress the point, ah, any stronger than that. Ah, yes, it does have monetary value, but that's not my interest—my interest is its historical value.
Charlie: I, ah, just like so many others I'm a temporary, ah, caretaker of these artifacts, and ah, after me, who knows who the next caretaker will be? But over there is a French and Indian War Brown Vest musket, for example, manufactured about 1765, and incidentally it has a Dublin Castle marking on it.
Dan: Is that right?
Charlie: Of interest to you people of Irish Descent (laughter), but I do know that musket was used in the French and Indian War, the Revolutionary War, probably the War of 1812. It was converted from percussion, from flint to percussion, about 1840, judging from the age of the hammer, and ah, it's been here in Windsor for I don't know how many years and, ah, here it is, ah, well over 200 years old, and like I say, ah, it probably had six generations of temporary caretakers.
Dan: That's terrific, that's terrific. Would you, would you, ah, hazard a guess as far as your—the monetary value today of your full collection here?
Charlie: Well, I really can't.
Dan: Have you counted it at all?
Charlie: I probably could determine it.
Dan: Just roughly.
Charlie: Well, of course another thing—I don't usually divulge, ah, ah, the general public what I think it might be worth—for insurance purposes, let us say that, ah, it's insured for approximately $60,000.
Dan: Is that right? It’s, it's wonderful. I was, I'm sure everybody that comes through here is very impressed with the extensive collection—I've never seen anything like it before.
Charlie: Well, from—there, again from the historical standpoint, ah, we do receive visitors from ah, ah, many areas that come through here that have heard about it, ah, fact, ah, here's a communication from, ah, a gentleman that is affiliated with the House of Commons of Canada, in Canada, who happens to be, like myself, a Civil War nut—he was an over-the-weekend guest with us here a couple of weeks ago, and it's surprising, here's a gentleman from Canada who, ah, knows all about Windsor, NY. He's related to the McClure's, who of course took part in the Clinton-Sullivan expedition, and ah, ah, early settlers over here just, ah, three miles up the road.
Charlie: Revolutionary War veteran. We have people from, ah, Virginia visit us frequently—ah, this house, in the year 1828 a man by name of Jed Hotchkiss was born, of which we have a picture or two here on the wall. Jed Hotchkiss, ah, went to his, ah, went to school here in Windsor and graduated from Virginia Academy—the one which his folks helped, ah, found, and after graduation he, ah, became a school teacher. He didn't need a college education in those day's—a High School certificate. To make a long story short, he ended up being, ah, in, a Founder of a boys’ academy at Mossy Creek, Virginia, along with a gentleman who had been one of his professors here at school, and he also, ah, ah, started another boys’ academy down there, down there near Churchville, ah, which he called Lock Willow, of which there are some pictures in the Library of Congress and the University of Virginia. Civil War broke out and his boys all enlisted in the Confederate Army and, ah, Jed Hotchkiss himself was approached by, ah, the Southern forces, ah, ah, to join them. His hobby had been for years mapmaking—his whole family around Windsor here had been surveyors and mapmakers, and some of the original roads and so on are laid out by members of his family. He did join the Confederate Army, and ah, shortly thereafter he, ah, joined them, as a civilian incidentally, ah, he was assigned and worked with Stonewall Jackson, and most of his life in service, ah, with the Confederate Officers who, ah, defended the Shenandoah Valley and, ah, he became a close personal friend of General Robert E. Lee, General Jubal Early, so on and so forth, and ah, I guess you might also say he became the unofficial, ah, Historian of Virginia, ah, ah, part in the Civil War. After the War he wrote the volume for the Confederate history on the State of Virginia and also collaborated with several other Confederate Officers who wrote histories on that, but the fact is he was born here in this house like I say in 1828, and some of his avid fans from Virginia have to make a trip up here now and then, you know, to check out his birthplace.
Dan: Uh huh. Now according to the, ah, information here about the architectural aspects of your home, it was also listed as an Underground Railroad, at one time.
Charlie: That's true, that's true.
Dan: Do you have any particulars on that at all?
Charlie: They have been unable to determine who owned the house at the time the Underground Railway was here, ah, I don't know if the Hotchkiss family still owned it or not. There is no question that there was a tunnel in our cellar—the rear of the, ah, house is a, ah, laid stone entryway with a hewn beam for a header over it, and ah, that was the entryway to the tunnel. My wife's father, who used to be a miner, is the last one that was, that I know of, that was in that tunnel. It was unsafe, so they strung wire across the entryway and then boarded it up. The tunnel left, ah, the rear of the house and came out someplace up here, ah, on the creek and, ah, every year or so we find indentations in our back lawn where something caved in and we have to fill it in, but as far as the particulars itself, all I've been able to gather is hearsay from some of the older residents around town.
Dan: Now was this—your museum—this building here, built the same time the house was?
Charlie: No, I built the museum here in 1970, and I faced it with stone in order to match the house.
Dan: That was a good idea, that was a good idea, yeah.
Charlie: This collection used to be in our cellar and we sort of outgrew the cellar.
Dan: Umhm, yeah. Of course this represents, ah, all purchases, or do you get some donations?
Charlie: Oh no, no—purchases. A lot of the items are purchased, a lot of them are donated and a few of them are on loan.
Charlie: And of course we carry insurance on everything regardless of whether it's ours or what, and ah, some of—it's surprising, when I first opened the museum, there was very little in here, but on the other hand, with some of the donations, when people saw it was going to be a serious venture, then they—
Dan: Then they wanted a part of it—be a part of it.
Charlie: They, they contributed.
Charlie: And ah, ah.
Dan: What are the hours that you're open, Charlie?
Charlie: Well usually, ah, since I have to be at the drugstore a good share of the time, ah, it's open mainly on weekends.
Charlie: And, ah, I advise a lot of the people who are interested in seeing it, ah, if they will contact me at the store, make an appointment, I will be glad to open it for them evenings or whenever it is convenient for both of us, but other than that I say, primarily during good weather—the weekends.
Dan: Yeah, yeah. Ah, getting back to your pharmacy, ah, did you notice a, quite a change, as far as the dispensing of prescriptions from the date of your dad and your grandfather up to the present date? In other words, there wasn't the repackaged generic and, ah, packaging there is today, but you really had to mix your own drugs.
Charlie: That's true, and ah, when I was a youngster, I used to help my dad and grandfather—we used to make up, ah, ah, liniment for the athletic squad at the school, you know, and it was done by hand and, ah, ah, there were very few things that were not compounded. I remember when things like achromycin and terramycin came out and what a marvelous thing it was to add a little water to a bottle, shake it up, but ah, ah, ‘course today, we have, ah, medicine you couldn't buy for any kind of money—some of it as long as ten years ago, and as granted, there isn't much compounding, but on the other hand I don't think my dad or my grandfather, either one, would be very happy with, ah, today's, ah, method of operating a pharmacy. Ah, a lot of that I blame on the government, but it's, ah, ah, there's as much paperwork or more than is the actual work that, ah, you do along the line of pharmacy, and ah, there’s a great deal of regulations that never existed even ten years ago that, ah, it may be good, I don't know, but ah, I personally feel there's too much government interference, not only in my business but everybody else—so some politician can perpetuate his job, you know. (Laughter).
Dan: Right—ah, going up the road a little ways, ah, the road to Ouaquaga, are you acquainted very much with the Shaker Barn?
Dan: The Shaker Sect—how long ago were they, ah, active?
Charlie: Ah, I would guess, ah, probably the latter part of, ah, the last century was their high point here in Windsor. Matter of fact this stone house, I find in some of the records, was ah, the mortgage was held by the Shakers when they were here. There's a man, I believe his name is Levi Shaw, who was a Shaker who operated a sawmill right down here, ah, near the river bridge, and ah, they all tied in together.
Dan: Uh huh.
Charlie: Ah, the ah, Shaker Museum, incidentally, in ah, Chatham, New York, now, ah, Gary Hinman, ah, is, ah, working up there, and he's tied in a few strings that were loose here, regarding the Shaker history.
Dan: Yeah, yeah—it's very interesting. Do you happen to know what the significance is of having an entrance and an exit to the Shaker Barn?
Charlie: Matter of fact, I don't. Do you? (Laughter).
Dan: No I don't. I saw it mentioned, you know, or ah, read about it mentioned someplace, and I just wondered what the significance was. It was probably part of their religious background, you know?
Charlie: No I don't.
Dan: Do you have any children, Charlie?
Charlie: Oh yes, we have, ah, a boy who is eighteen, then we have a girl that is eleven and a boy that is, ah, ten.
Dan: Uh huh.
Charlie: And of course the, ah, our oldest son's out on his own, so to speak, now—he went to BOCES and learned plumbing and heating, and ah, he’s doing quite well with that.
Dan: That’s, that’s a good trade.
Charlie: Then, ah, my younger ones here—they're my helpers, you know, here at the museum—yeah, when we need the glass cleaned.
Dan: Do you hope to get a pharmacist out of one of them?
Charlie: I don't know—to tell you truthly, I'd like to discourage it.
Dan: You'd like to discourage it?
Charlie: Uh huh. I can't, ah, I don't care if it's pharmacy or whether it's buying a new car or what—consumerism is a big thing today, and ah, I think it's nice that, ah, people are able to buy things as economically as possible, but on the other hand I think the—not only the American workman but the, I suppose the workmanship from our friends across the seas, is terrible.
Charlie: You, yourself, probably back in 1936—if you bought a new car, it lasted you ten years or twelve years, right.
Dan: They're only built to last a couple of years.
Charlie: They're built to sell, period, and the same way in, ah, the ah, pharmacy business, ah, everything is aimed at consumerism, not quality.
Dan: Right, right—yeah, I know my, my car is rusting out and it's only a ‘73.
Charlie: Oh that’s, I, ah, I don't think I would encourage my son to be a retail pharmacist—maybe if he wanted to be a pharmacist in another field.
Charlie: There's too much competition, too much junk for sale.
Dan: Right, right, it's no longer a drug store—perfect example is Eynon—call themselves Eynon Drugs and sell everything.
Charlie: Yeah, true.
Dan: Well, is there anything else of interest that you think you would like to add on to this, ah, interview, Charlie, before I terminate it?
Charlie: Well, I can't think of any.
Dan: What clubs do you belong to?
Charlie: Oh gee, let's see. I'm trying to get out of things instead of get in them, ah, always like that. I've been a member of the American Legion, member of Chamber of Commerce here, ah, I ah, worked with the Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts, in fact, I'm on the, presently on a Boy Scout committee here. I guess at one time or another I belonged to almost every organization we've had in town. Church groups, ah, and Civic and, ah, now they do have the museum. I try to, ah, spend a little more time here and a little less time out, ah, in some of the organizations, ah, and ah, along of course, Fire Company, and ah I'm still a part-time policeman here, we have a—
Dan: Oh, are you helping out John Gray?
Charlie: Yeah, I do that, and ah, ah, ‘course I've been Town Clerk, too, for—I've been in the Town Clerk's office, so to speak, as a Deputy or Town Clerk for 25 years now. That takes a little time also.
Dan: Yes, yes.
Charlie: So I limit my outside activities. I really enjoy the museum and, ah, especially the Civil War part and the part that Broome County men played, and ah, I can completely lose all my problems or cares I might then, I have had during the day by getting involved in this business of Broome County History.
Dan: It’s wonderful, that's great, yeah. Well, I certainly appreciate your taking the time off, Charlie, to permit me to come up and interview you.
Charlie: By the way, I was just going to mention it—we were talking a little while ago about, ah, the immigrants idea and so on, so forth, established here, and this is a tidbit of Civil War history you might not know. You know where the IBM homestead is now?
Charlie: Well, that belonged to my great-grandfather Eli Crocker.
Dan: Is that right?
Charlie: OK, that was his farm. Now the fellow he sold it to is the one that, ah, apparently bought the—sold the land to IBM for their Country Club, because Eli never got a thing out of it—my grandmother was born down that way.
Dan: Is that right?
Charlie: And, ah, if you recall, a couple of years ago Tom Cawley had an article in his column in the Binghamton Press here, the tree that was cut for the keel of the Monitor—that, ah, in the Battle of the Monitor and the Merrimac, came from this area. Well it was Eli's farm that shipped that lumber up the canal down the Hudson River to Brooklyn Navy Yard, you know, when the keel of the Monitor, but ah.
Dan: Very interesting.
Charlie: I just thought that was a little, little sidelight from there.
Dan: Yeah that's great, great—those little sidelights you don't find in history books.
Charlie: Eli, incidentally, you know he joined the 8th Regiment in Broome County, and he had a manservant, negro—you know, wasn't a slave, manservant. OK—they called him Old Bay Tom, and, ah, funny part of it was, Old Bay Tom enlisted too, and I have a picture of him over here in his Civil War uniform, Negro. I don't know what Regiment he belonged to, I've never been able to find out—that was never in the Family Bible or anything, right—I imagine probably the 54th Massachusetts—that was one of the first Negro Regiments, but ah, one ironic thing about Old Bay Tom was, after he came back to the Binghamton area, he ran for Mayor of Binghamton.
Dan: Is that right?
Charlie: He knew that he didn't have a chance of winning, you know, but ah, just the idea of, probably, it was the first case of a, of a negro, ah, taking a step forward, asserting himself, trying to get in something that was, ah, a white man's haven, you know, and he drew a lot of votes, believe it or not.
Dan: You don't recall what year that was, do you?
Charlie: I did know, but I can't recall right now. Fact, I think there is a painting of this gentleman either down at the Courthouse or down at Roberson Memorial now.
Dan: Uh huh.
Charlie: But very few people knew that he was a candidate for Mayor of Binghamton, I guess in the 1870s.
Dan: 1870s—that’s great.
Charlie: But, ah, we got a couple other—that picture up in the corner, incidentally, Colonel Walton Dwight—remember, heard of him?
Dan: No, no.
Charlie: Remember when, ah, a couple of weeks ago, they had an article about those, ah, buildings on upper Front Street? They’re falling down—they weren't fit for even the welfare families.
Dan: Oh yeah—Dwight Block, you mean.
Charlie: Dwight Block.
Charlie: Ah, this Walton Dwight was the Mayor of Binghamton, and that was his home up in there, see. That, oh gee, that was a fabulous place. Well, Walton Dwight originally came from Windsor, West Windsor, and he wanted to become an Officer in the Union Army, and ah, of course they appointed a lot of their Officers, right. So he applied to New York State, but they wouldn't give him a Regiment so he went down here below Great Bend, in Pennsylvania, and they—he went into the lumber business. Well, it ended up that he and a whole bunch of lumberjacks signed up to get in and they got a Commission off of Governor Curtin in Pennsylvania, and they went in as the 2nd Pennsylvania Bucktails. Mr. Dwight, ah, became, ah, almost an instant hero ‘cause shortly after he, ah, became an Officer, he got involved in the Battle of Gettysburg and he got shot in the arm on the first day of the Battle—so naturally he goes to the hospital and all this, and he comes back, wounded hero in the Battle of Gettysburg, big thing, he comes back to the Binghamton area and they have the parades and everything and parade him around, what a wonderful fellow he is, you know, and sooner or later, ah, he got talked into running for Mayor and he became the Mayor of Binghamton. According, there again, to some history books, ah, while he was Mayor of Binghamton he ran into a number of financial difficulties—some of it was public money and, ah, but the big thing he did when he was Mayor of Binghamton—it seemed the Great Chicago Fire occurred during his term. He's very famous for the amount of money he was able to raise in Binghamton to send to the fire victims out in Chicago.
Dan: Is that right?
Dan: That’s very interesting, and now the Dwight Block, they're thinking about tearing that down—moving all the tenants out of it.
Charlie: That's right, and that was his, that was a very prominent place in Binghamton history at one time.
Dan: Well, Charlie, can I play this back for you?
Charlie : Sure.