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I do not know her maiden name. I have her name as Elizabeth E. I believe I took it off
her gravestone in Denning. I know the 1930 census says Bessie B. I also have John William
Erts and William John Erts from different sources for the same man. I found this article
in the New Paltz library that referenced John William Erts and thought you might like it.
Sorry I can't help with the name.
John William Erts
Austin McK. Francis
"I was born here, said the old-timer. "never lived on any foundation but
this one. That'll be 90 years next May." He didn't make it; in July of
1980, two weeks after talking with this reporter, William Erts suffered a stroke and
In his 89 years on the upper East Branch of the Neversink river, Erts made a
substantial contribution to the Catskill angling tradition. He was a builder of houses,
bridges, and dams; a landowner of a considerable piece of the valley and the river; an
accomplished fly fisherman; caretaker of the river and property of a wealthy neighbor
downstream; Supervisor of the Town of Denning; and by general consent, lifelong Mayor of
Erts' grandfather, Joseph Erts, was the first of the family to live in this
country. he came over from Germany in the early 1800's and established a farm on the
hill overlooking the Neversink's East Branch. Joseph Erts, Jr. moved down into the
valley and acquired thousands of acres along the river. At one time, he owned the entire
upper end of the valley, which eventually was split up among several families including
Tison, Nevins, Straus and Schoonmaker.
William Erts remembered working for his father who in 1900 oversaw the construction
of "Gray Lodge" for Alexander Tison, former Ambassador to Japan. Situated on
some 600 acres at the head of the valley, the lodge's oriental design and gardens were
supervised by a Japanese architect. "I worked on the house 10 hours a day for $3 a
day," said Erts. "It had five bathrooms, quite a lot of them, and five
Erts was well disciplined by his father, for he became a prodigious builder in his
own right. he tore his 1800's house off its foundation in 1933 and rebuild it from
scratch. He built a four room cabin of striped hemlock logs for the Nevins family up
stream. He remodeled most of the houses in the valley. many of the bridges across the
upper East Branch are his handiwork. And, following the design of Ed Hewitt, whom he
knew, Erts built a number of long-and-plank dams on the river.
While Erts was still in his 20's, he began working for John D. Schoonmaker, who
had a summer house just downstream. Schoonmaker owned the Island Dock Shipyard in
Kingston, N.Y., which employed about 900 people making submarines during World War I. He
was also well connected politically and once was asked by his judge and senator friends to
run for governor.
Erts kept up all of Schoonmaker's buildings and managed his fishing, which
included about 2 1/2 miles of the stream. Schoonmaker owned from the Denning bridge al
the way down to Ladleton. Erts recalled his trips to the Old Napanoch hatchery to bring
back the trout and the raw liver which they were fed. "I can still smell that
liver," he said. "We used to grind it up like sausage meat an keep it in pails
to spoon out into the stream.
Mrs. Erts, who, had been listening, said, "To this day you would not dare serve
liver on our table. Why, William wouldn't even eat the fish!"
Under Erts' care, which included chasing poachers off the stream,
Schoonmaker's fishing was probably the best in the upper valley. He often brought
angling friends up to enjoy it, and sometimes he would call ahead: "William, I'm
having company this weekend, I want a dozen trout of about 10 inches for dinner tonight at
seven." Erts figured that Schoonmaker thought he had the trout all penned up like
cattle and only had to go let them out. But Erts never let him down. His neighbors used
to boast that he could catch fish out of a mud puddle in the road.
When Erts went fishing for himself, he preferred a Brown Hackle or a Coachman, Of
the many trout he pulled out of the stream, the largest measured 23 1/2 inches and there
were two of those; the first he simply hooked and landed, but the second one caused a huge
commotion which involved his entire family and a Schoonmaker guest.
The guest was a gentleman angler of light experience. He, Erts, Mrs. Erts and their
two children had driven down to the river to go fishing. Mrs. Erts entertained the
children on the bank while the two men went on downstream. It was only a short while
until she heard a yell from around the bend, "Bessie, get the kids in the front seat
an start the car!"
They were careering up the road to the big house, the guest leaped out of the car
carrying this enormous trout and raced up proudly to his hose saying, "John, he died
in my arms!" Everyone was crowded around staring at the fish. Schoonmaker looked at
it, then slowly at each of the adults, and finally he said, "Mrs. Erts, I don't
believe Bob, I'm skeptical of William. Who caught that trout?"
"I'm sorry, Mr Schoonmaker," she said, "I was up in the car with
the kids. I don't know." There was a long silence, then a rosy glow spread over
the gathering as everyone started praising the trout and congratulating the happy angler.
William Erts was not what you would call a colorful character about whom legends
typically spring up, although he deserves that kind of remembrance. It was his constancy
of dedicated service, his steadfast love of the valley and its people, and the high
standards he upheld for more than 70 years that made him such a special contributor to the
golden era of the Catskill tradition.
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