It was February of 1903, and the embers were still smoldering from the fire that had destroyed one of the most historically significant buildings in Sullivan County, NY, just a few days before.
It was Albion Hall, the ornate Thompsonville home that had originally been built by Judge William A. Thompson, at one time the most prominent man in Sullivan County.
“A Historic House Burned” read a front page headline in the February 5, 1903 edition of the Sullivan County Record newspaper, published in Jeffersonville. “The Old Thompson Homestead Near Monticello Destroyed Friday Night.”
The ensuing article was largely a rewrite of a report that had appeared in the January 30 edition of the Republican Watchman newspaper of Monticello.
“This house was the property of ex-Congressman Henry Bacon of Goshen,” the Record article stated. “It was one of the historic places of the country. The original frame of the building, to which additions were afterward made, was erected by William A. Thompson, who was the first county judge of the county and who served in that capacity from 1809 to 1823. The judge dispensed a generous hospitality at the homestead until he was succeeded by his son, Samuel G. Thompson. He in turn was succeeded by his son, Edward Fowler Thompson, a grandson of the founder of the family in this county. The original building was erected in 1829.”
That last assertion in the Record article — and in the Republican Watchman, as well — is erroneous, as in his 1873 History of Sullivan County, James Eldridge Quinlan not only writes that Albion Hall was completed in 1810, but further notes that it was Judge Thompson’s preoccupation with finishing the mansion that kept him from taking an active interest in the location of the county seat when Sullivan County was formed in 1809, despite many residents thinking it should be in Thompsonville.
William A. Thompson was born in Woodbury, Connecticut, on June 15, 1762, the oldest of eight children. Quinlan writes that William was “a weak, puny child, much afflicted with salt-rheum [a chronic skin disease].” He attended public school and worked on the family farm until he was thirteen, “after which he studied with Reverend John R. Marshall, an Episcopal clergyman of the place, who undertook to prepare his pupil for college.”
Thompson was a good student, who found time for studies when he wasn’t fishing. He graduated college in New Haven, studied law, and was admitted to the bar in 1784. He married Frances “Fanny” Knapp, a “tall, genteel, 16 year old much marked with the small-pox” on July 17, 1785. She died of tuberculosis in 1788, after bearing two children.
Thompson fell in love with Amy Knapp, his wife’s sister, and they married in the city of New York in 1791. Quinlan wrote that “in Connecticut he could not marry his deceased wife’s sister without suffering a severe penalty,” so he gave up his practice there and began anew on Water Street in New York.
Thompson’s health was still poor, and he began making frequent trips to the country for rest and relaxation. He fell in love with this area, and in 1794 bought large tracts of land in what is today Bethel, Thompson and Neversink. He had a sawmill and gristmill constructed on the Sheldrake Creek, and in the spring of 1795, he moved his family into a small log home that he had constructed just southeast of there, becoming the first permanent settler in the town that would eventually bear his name.
While encouraging the settlement of the community he dubbed Albion, he continued to progress professionally, and in 1802 was named to the Court of Common Claims in Ulster County by Governor George Clinton. In 1803, he ascended to first judge. Quinlan wrote that “the duties of [this] office he discharged credibly until the county of Sullivan was erected, when he became its Chief Magistrate, and remained so until 1823, when he became ineligible by reason of his age.”
By the time Thompson had completed the Thompsonville home in 1810, his wife Amy had died and he had married a third time, to Charity Reed, daughter of Samuel and Elizabeth Guyer and widow of Shadrach Reed, who had died just after his election as Thompson town clerk in 1805.
Quinlan wrote that the mansion, which Thompson called Albion Hall, was the most magnificent home in the county at the time, “and its internal arrangements, with its corniced rooms, ornamental mouldings, and carved panels, were the local marvels of that day.”
Judge Thompson died peacefully at Albion Hall on December 9th, 1847.
By the time of the fire, the house had been rented for a period of years to the Working Girls Association of New York, who occupied it each summer. The fire was discovered by neighbors around midnight, and they were able to arouse Don Conway (a distant relative of this columnist) and his family, who were caretakers of the property. The Conways escaped unharmed, but lost all of their belongings in the blaze. Sullivan County, meanwhile, lost one of its most historically significant and architecturally remarkable structures.
Photo: the late Sullivan County artist Francis W. Davis’ depiction of Albion Hall, sketched in the 1970s for the Sullivan County Historical Society’s “Directory for Quinlan’s History.”