April 28, 2007

The Village of Dryden: 1897-1942

Dryden's Second Hundred Years - A Central New York Village in the Twentieth Century: Part I (1897-1942) came out in January, filling a historical gap created by all the time that's passed since George Goodrich's A Centennial History of Dryden.

Unlike George Goodrich, whose book covered the entire town (with an unfortunate gap in Bethel Grove), Elizabeth Denver Gutchess focuses squarely on the Village of Dryden, though she covers the interactions between the Village and its surrounding farms as well. Gutchess combines stories from the broader sweep of American history with details from the Dryden newspapers, memoirs (notably A. K. Fletcher's Like Hell It's Fiction), and some pieces from the Dryden Historical Society's archives.

The result is a great telling of Dryden history - and a great telling of American history told through the experience of a small town. Gutchess explores the changes that hit Dryden in this period, from the advent of the automobile to the shift from horses to tractors to the coming of the telephone, as well as the periods everyone learns about in school: World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II.

The stories retain their local flavor, and you can find things like the origins of local businesses - George Bailey starting his insurance company in his home in 1936 - the first Old Home Day, in 1928, and stories of the Dryden Fair, the Dairymen's League, men and women dying in the 1918 Flu Epidemic, and the Dryden men who went off to war, not always returning.

If you have any interest at all in how Dryden came to be, this is an excellent place to find out more. It starts in a world that sounds familiar, but isn't really, and tells the stories of the major steps that world took toward becoming this world. I'd love to see a continuing volume taking this to the present, or at least 1997.

My main complaint about the book is its lack of an index, but as it's self-published, that's hardly surprising. The Goodrich history also lacked an index when it was first published.

One last thing may be important to note for some readers: this is not the second volume of the Town Centennial History that was planned back in the 1990s. This appears to use only readily available documentary sources, not the material collected for that book. I'd still love to see that appear as well, and I don't think the two histories would be in that direct a competition.

[I originally wrote a review of this book when it first arrived in January, but then held off because Elizabeth Gutchess was a Democratic candidate for Village of Dryden Trustee, and I wanted to avoid any perceived conflicts of interest. Then the laptop on which I'd written the review died, so this is a new version!]

Posted by simon at April 28, 2007 3:25 PM in
Note on photos