Digging up dirt on local lore
photo by Rana Faure
A cemetery gathering isn’t typically cause for celebration. But for a local group of renegade historians known as the History Hounds, a set of old stones etched with names and dates provides a veritable goldmine of information. And nothing excites them more. Numbering over a dozen longtime locals, the Hounds meet regularly to delve deeply into Bedford’s early days and place them in the context of American history.
While past and present town historians from Bedford, North Castle, and New Castle participate, additional members include a former physician, master gardener, architect, and others from the area, providing an eclectic mix of perspectives. What they all share is a lifelong passion for uncovering stories from centuries past. Searching through old deeds, contracts and diaries, along with the occasional pass of a metal detector, the group has been able to parse together a picture of what life was like when the first Bedford-ites arrived.
For some Hounds, the interest is personal. George and Aurelia Pouder, Bedford residents of 47 years and regular Hounds meeting hosts, have been able to trace their house to 1778 when it was built as a wedding present for James Guion, the son of a prominent landowner. After researching documents dating back decades, George had hit a wall in trying to clarify the details of the house’s origin. In Agatha Christie-like fashion, he had taken photographs of odd-looking letters carved into wood beams in his attic. When the pictures were turned and placed side-by-side, they read “James Guion.”
These types of discoveries are shared and applauded among Hounds, many of whom are on similar quests. Tony Godino, who attended the one-room East Middle Patent schoolhouse now situated at the North Castle Historical Society, enjoys bringing the hunt outdoors. One favorite meeting in recent years took place at Raven’s Rock, a special overlook in Pound Ridge that the group was investigating as a possible site for the 1644 massacre that decimated the local Native American population. That search still continues.
But when the Hounds are on the hunt, we benefit in tangible ways. Individually they have written dozens of books and articles about the history of our area, including George Pouder’s account of the effects of the Civil War on local soldiers and their families. Also, restoration efforts have provided final resting homes for generations past. Born in 1832, Hannah Frost Knapp kept a diary that luckily fell into the hands of Hounds co-founder Barbara Massi, a 53-year North Castle resident and long-time guardian of local history. Along with the help of the Hounds, Massi was able to determine the location of Knapp’s grave in Bedford Union Cemetery and commission an accompanying headstone. They also located and restored the Mianus Burial Ground in the gorge, resetting headstones to their original places.
Says Judy Godino, “When we turned the stones up and faced them west, George Pouder remarked that it was the first time the sun was shining down on them for hundreds of years.” For Pouder, it’s the underlying attitude of neighbor helping neighbor that makes the group great. “Our cooperation on the Mianus graveyard illustrated the most remarkable thing about the History Hounds. Nobody grabs the credit and nobody runs around the other,” he says.
With some Hounds well into their late 80s or 90s, jumping in the back of a pickup truck is no longer realistic, but, as Bedford Town Historian and History Hound John Stockbridge says, the spirit to pass down what they’ve learned is motivation enough. “Without these very special people, things would have been lost. Now, we are able to provide a legacy, so others can keep it alive,” he says. And while the topic of the next meeting may be a headstone or a massacre, the Hounds all delight in their findings and time with each other. Dates and documents ricochet across the room as fast as the laughter and praise.
Barbara Massi says, “The beautiful thing about history is being able to share it.”