A Society For Heart and Hand
Just north of the intersection of Route 9W and Fostertown Road is a sad little building of curious design. It is nestled beside the deteriorating Old Balmville School and its roofline hints at its decorative 19th century cottage style. The little brick building capped by a shingled cupola is the old Heart and Hand Hall. Built In the era when the route north from the City of Newburgh was the Old Albany Post Road, the hall was a community center used for socials, musicals and bible study classes.
The Heart and Hand Society got its start before the turn of the last century and was intended to bring Balmville people together, especially their children. Frederick
Betts donated the land on what was then a quiet country road, not today’s busy Route 9W. The Society’s 1885 constitution states a mission of “promoting social feeling” at “meetings of a religious and benevolent nature.” Its early attendance roster lists a mix of the rich and the working class. Names like Bloomer, Schoonmaker, Baird, Wenz, Lozier, Weaver, Koch, Merritt, Roosa, Maharay, Terry, Leathem and Dalley fill the first years’ minutes. The area then was still peppered with small farms and with wealthier homes on which tenant farmers and managers lived in cottages. Along the dirt roads that spidered out from the Balmville Tree, local youth got together under those expansive branches and around the bend at their new social hall. Families raised the funds to built the hall and estate owners who were only in residence seasonally also contributed.
Two separate organizations supported the hall for most of its life: The Balmville Union Sunday School and the Balmville Free Circulating Library. The Sunday School was organized in 1848 and teachers and musicians came out from the city of Newburgh to help with programming. Sunday School had met in the first Balmville School, a frame structure on the rise of Old Post Road beside the old cemetery. That first school, although small in size, with no auditorium, was used for all the community activities of the Balmville hamlet in the mid-nineteenth century. Even when the second brick Balmville School was erected in 1887, it still had no auditorium and the community needed another gathering place. So the “new” school started to use the Heart and Hand Hall for student assemblies and did so for five decades. One former student from that era recalled long rods and turnbuckles overhead that were designed there to keep the roof and walls in the tall open space tightly aligned.
The Free Circulating Library was also a local initiative. Books were contributed by wealthier residents from their private libraries or purchased through fundraising.
At the turn of the last century, tension seems to have developed between the two groups centered on the issue of an uneven fiscal relationship regarding building overhead, mortgage obligations and program operation hours. To the rescue came the family who had contributed some of the money for the Heart and Hand Society: the Delanos. Philanthropist, Mrs. Annie Delano Hitch, called the parties together, instructed her attorney to draft agreements clarifying usage, ownership and management. All was well.
The twentieth century and its social preferences and land development slowly and then quickly unraveled the old social feeling and benevolent nature of small village life in Balmville. Suburbia had not been a word in the vocabulary of residents like the Bloomers, Loziers and Bairds who were there at the beginning of the old social hall and the early neighborhood school.
A third Balmville School with an auditorium was built in the late 1950’s and the old school across the street devolved from extra educational functions, to storage, to an overgrown, neglected shell. Beside it, the old Heart and Hand Society was remodeled into a series of private businesses until it, too, closed up and grew over with weeds. Now the keystone and cut stone arch that once framed the hall’s big decorative windows has fallen to the ground. Lanes of automobiles whiz through the crossroads that once saw skipping Sunday school youth and happy readers walking home with new books.
By Mary McTamaney, City f Newburgh Historian, 2019