A map of Van Rensselaer Patroonship leases made in 1787 does not shows anyone living on West Mountian, but white settlers probably started clearing land there within a few years of that date. A few years later there were enough folks to organize the Baptist Church of Christ, just north of the Rensselaerville-Berne town line. A schoolhouse was built next door, jointly operated by both towns.
One of the early settlers was Samuel Taylor, born in 1766 in Portsmouth, Rhode Island. At Rensselaerville, on September 25, 1799, Taylor died at the age of 33, leaving a wife and three children, one of which was born only an hour after his death. On September 27, his funeral service was conducted at the widow’s house by Truman Beeman, Elder of the Baptist Church of Christ. The building is now long gone, and New York State’s Partridge Ridge State Wildlife Management Area surrounds the site of the former church.
The Isaac Peasley family was also among the first settlers of West Mountain. Several generations of Peasley’s were born and raised there and contributed to the community. Orson Peasley was born on the farm in 1805. His grandson, Wallace Peasley, was born there in 1857. Wallace continued to farm atop what is now referred to as Peasley Hill until the 1930s. His civil commitment included serving on the Board of Supervisors from 1896 through at least 1899.
By the 1920s, much of the land had been already cut over so it could be farmed. Over the years many of the farms were abandoned however, in part due to repeated cropping with buckwheat, barley, and rye. The soil was so poor and erosion so commonplace that farmers found it very difficult to make a living.
The Resettlement Administration, a short-lived New Deal program created in 1935 to relocate struggling urban and rural families to planned communities, bought most of the farms during the Great Depression in the 1930s. (The Resettlement Administration was replaced by the Farm Security Administration in 1937.)
Federal money was used to purchase unproductive farmland for just $2 to $4 per acre. The government helped to move many of the farm families to other areas, although several remained in the possession of the owners. A few of these included the farms of William D. Wood, the Crosbys, Peasleys, and the Sherbins. Katie Wood, the wife of William D. Wood, was approached by the Resettlement Administration to sell her farm, to which, as history tells, she answered with a firm “No.”
In the early 1940s, the Federal government granted the NYS Conservation Department a 99-year lease for much of what became the Partridge Run Wildlife Management Area. The sum of $1.00 was the price for the lease, with three purposes stated for the land: forestry, wildlife, and recreation.
Over the next 20 years, more land was acquired for the WMA, which brought the total acreage to 5,478.
Photos, from above: Lewis Sherman House, built say mid 19th C.; No longer standing courtesy the collection of Nicole Pelepzuck Cross; West Mountain; map by JIMAPCO; and Fred Tubbs owned a farm on West Mountain, which is now part of Partridge Run, in the vicinity of Tubbs Pond; from the collection of Martin Duell.