William H. D. Blake Family Papers (1794-1982)

Finding Aid Completed by Eric Roth, February 2, 1998
Last revised June 8, 2005
Volume: 7 cu. ft., fourteen boxes
Acquisition: Portions of the collection were donated by Constance Winchell in 1983 and Matilda Blake in 1984. The rest of the collection was probably found in the Blake House on Libertyville Road, New Paltz during the late 1980s.
Access: Unrestricted.
Copyright: Request for permission to publish materials from these records should be discussed with the Archivist and Director of the Huguenot Historical Society.

Biographical Note

This collection was created by William Henry Dill (W.H.D.) Blake (1843-1926), farmer and Civil War officer, and family members after they moved to New Paltz in 1881. In addition to W.H.D. Blake, other family members represented in the collection include his wife, Matilda Booth (d. 1904), two sons Alfred Booth Blake (d. 1950) and William Culbert Booth, a daughter, Matilda Booth (d. 1970), and two cousins Amy L. Hepburn (d. 1966) and Dollie B. Hepburn (1891-1976), both of whom came to live at the house in their retirement beginning in the 1950s.

William Henry Blake was born in the town of Montgomery in Orange County on January 17, 1843[1]. After graduating from the Montgomery Academy, he enlisted on December 31, 1863 with Company C of the 56th New York Veteran Volunteer Infantry, of which he was later promoted to corporal, regimental commissary sergeant and second lieutenant. After the Civil War, he returned home and took employment with the Homer Ramsdell and Company in 1867 and later with the Newburgh and Albany Steamboat Line. In 1875 Blake married Matilda Reeve Booth (d. 1904), daughter of Alfred B. Booth and Dolly Reeve of Campbell Hall in Orange County, NY, and had three children: Alfred Booth, William Culbert, and Matilda. The family relocated to New Paltz in 1881 where they purchased the home and farm of Josiah DuBois on Libertyville Road. W.H.D. Blake died at his home in New Paltz on July 10, 1926. After the Civil War, Blake became actively involved in veteran’s affairs, serving as commander of Elting Post, No. 212 of the Grand Army of the Republic, secretary of the Tenth Legion and published a history of the 56th Regiment of the New York Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War[2].

W.H.D. Blake’s first son, Alfred Booth Blake was born at Newburgh in 1875. He graduated from the New Paltz State Normal School in 1898 and later worked for fifteen years at the R. F. Stevens Milk Co. and the Borden Co. in New York City before spending the remainder of his life at New Paltz. He died on December 12, 1950 and is buried in the New Paltz Rural Cemetery. Alfred’s brother, William Culbert Blake, mechanical and civil engineer and farmer, was born at New Paltz in 1882. He graduated from the New Paltz Normal School and the Stevens Institute at Hoboken, New Jersey. He died at Kingston on July 11, 1936. Their sister Matilda Blake was born on April 22, 1884. She lived her entire life on the family farm, attending the Libertyville District School and graduating from the New Paltz Normal School. She was a member of the Huguenot Historical Society, the Elting Memorial Library and the New Paltz Reformed Church. Matilda Blake died in October 1970. None of these three siblings married or had children.

Throughout her life, Matilda Blake maintained a close relationship with her two cousins, Amy L. Hepburn and Dollie Booth Hepburn. Amy L. Hepburn was born to Samuel Boyd and Sarah Booth Hepburn. She was educated at the Trenton Normal School and taught in East Orange, New Jersey. She worked as Librarian at Columbia University Natural Science Library, specializing in the areas of Geology and Maps, Psychology, and Biological Sciences. She retired in 1953 and relocated to New Paltz, where she served on the Board of Trustees of the Elting Memorial Library in New Paltz. She was also a member of the New Paltz Reformed Church, the Ladies’ Aid and Study Club, and the Literary Board. Amy Hepburn died on December 24, 1966. Amy Hepburn’s sister, Dollie Booth Hepburn was born in New York City on January 13, 1891 to Samuel and Sarah Booth.  She graduated in 1913 from Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts from the New York Public Library School in 1915. She later worked as Supervisor of the Acquisitions Department at the Columbia University Libraries in New York City from 1918-1950 and as Personnel Director from 1950-1956. She retired in 1956 and moved to New Paltz, where she was a member of the New Paltz Reformed Church and the Ladies’ Aid and Study Club. Dollie Booth Hepburn died at New Paltz on March 19, 1976.


Collection Description

This collection provides extensive documentation of two generations of a prospering farming family in New Paltz, New York from the 1880s to the 1980s. Importantly, the records, which include letters, journals, photographs, scrapbooks, estate and financial papers, and memorabilia and ephemera, document both the business of managing the home and farm as well as the family’s intellectual and leisure pursuits. The farm journals of W.H.D. and his son Alfred Blake, for example, along with estate and financial records and some photographs, provide detailed information about the daily activities and decision-making involved in running the family farm. In contrast, the scrapbooks, correspondence, photographs, travel diaries, and school and professional papers show, for example, W.H.D. Blake’s lifelong interest in the U.S. military history and politics and his deep involvement in Civil War veteran activities. Likewise, papers and other items kept by Alfred document his experiences as a student at the New Paltz Normal School and his interest in World War I, economics, and philosophy. The scattered papers of the two Hepburn sisters show them to be devoted to scholarship and the library profession. Hints of genealogy also appear throughout the correspondence and in the clippings, photographs, and a few documents of ancestors from the late eighteenth century to the mid nineteenth.

The physical condition of the collection varies, but is generally poor to fair. Both the bound volumes and loose papers, particularly those from the nineteenth century, are often worn, stained, discolored, and very dirty. Records from the twentieth century tend to be in much better shape. The handwriting also varies, but is generally quite legible. One exception is the series of diaries of Sara B. Hepburn (probably a sister of Dollie and Amy Hepburn) that date from 1933-1944. The handwriting throughout these twelve diaries is difficult to read and require much effort.

Several other manuscript collections held by the Huguenot Historical Society bear a close relationship to the W.H.D. Blake Family Papers. These include the Jesse Booth Family Papers, the Walter and Jonathan C. Lowrie Family Papers, the New Paltz Chapter of the Grand Army of the Republic (Elting Post) Records, and the Josiah DuBois Family Papers. In addition, stereoscopic equipment and cards kept by Amy Hepburn for her lectures on European maps and history form part of the Society’s Object and Study Collection, maintained jointly by the Curatorial and Educational departments.

Series Descriptions

Series 1: Correspondence (1868, 1896-1968) – one box, .33 cu. ft.

Letters arranged chronologically, with corresponding envelopes filed separately. This series includes bound and loose letters written both to and from Alfred Blake, Matilda Blake, W.H.D. Blake, Dollie Hepburn, and Amy Hepburn primarily relating to daily farm management, news about family and friends the New Paltz Chapter of the G. A. R., and genealogy of the Eagan, Blake, Booth, and Watkins families of Orange County, NY. The number and variety of correspondents is considerable, with family and friends writing from places such as Brooklyn, Los Angeles, California, and Phoenix, Arizona. Particularly prolific correspondents include Helen and Leah (Blake?) of Phoenix and Leman Wood Hastings of Los Angeles, California who write about daily life there (1902-1939), Rev. John Haynes Holmes of the Community Church of New York who writes to Alfred Blake about sermons, the economy, etc. (1924-1934), and various letters between the various family members while outside New Paltz. Other items of interest include an 1868 letter addressed to “cousin Till” from cousin John of Chicago, Illinois discussing his various romantic relationships and his opinions about theology students, growing older, and of the City of Chicago, a series of professional letters from P. von Boeckman to Matilda Blake concerning a tonic and exercises designed to improve “vitality” (1902), a letter from Isadore G. Mudge to either Amy or Dollie Hepburn concerning a management conflict at the Columbia University Library (1937), letters from Julien J. Champerois concerning the fall of France and live under German occupation (1940-1941), and a 1967 letter addressed to Dollie Hepburn from Yokohama (name illegible) concerning Hepburn’s Hall and statue located there. The one bound volume in this series is comprised of carbon copies of letters written by W. H. D. Blake from 1878-1905 primarily relating to the management of the farm and property, and G. A. R. business. The ink in this volume is very faded and difficult to read. Some pages are illegible.

Series 2: Diaries and Journals (1882-1950) – two boxes, 1.5 cu. ft.

This series is organized into three subseries: Journals of W.H.D. and Alfred Blake (1882-1950), Diaries of Amy Hepburn (1923) and Sara B. Hepburn (1933-1944), and a journal written by William C. Blake in 1907 entitled “My Mountain Trip.” This last journal documents a several-day hiking expedition into the Shawangunk Mountains along with his brother Alfred and two friends, in which they encounter wild animals, Huckleberry pickers and other mountain dwellers, and well-known natural features such as Lake Awosting, Mud Pond, and Verkeerder Kill. The journal is very detailed and descriptive, often humorous and occasionally almost literary in its tone. It also includes occasional photographs taken during the trip [3].

The fifteen journals of W.H.D. Blake and his son Alfred relate primarily to work done on the farm and around the house. Handwritten into bound volumes on a daily basis, the journal entries briefly describe the type of work being done and the names of those involved. Typical entries discuss work such as building and repairing fences and barns, haying, mowing, planting, seeding, road work, painting, harrowing, trimming, taking care of livestock, etc. Blake also details trips made to New Paltz, Libertyville, Poughkeepsie, Newburgh, Campbell Hall and other local municipalities on various errands. There are also passing references to working on G. A. R. business, attending church, purchasing clothes, seeking medical attendance, hunting and fishing, and family and local news. The entries tend to grow somewhat longer and more detailed beginning in 1905, although the general content shows little change. The final journal of W. H. D. Blake breaks off in mid-entry on July 3, 1926 and is completed by Alfred Blake, who continues the series until his death in 1950. Alfred’s entries follow in the same style of his father’s, although the entries tend to be somewhat longer and more detailed. The final volume, kept from 1939-1950, is typewritten.

The twelve journals of Sara B. Hepburn contain brief daily entries primarily relating to family visits and news, in which Amy and Dollie Hepburn figure prominently. The handwriting in these diaries are extremely difficult to read, but can be managed with effort. Occasional clippings, envelopes, pressed flowers, etc. are found inserted between the pages. Also in this series is a diary kept by Amy Hepburn while traveling to Scandinavia aboard the S. S. United States in 1923, in which can be found simple pencil drawings of sights aboard ship and in various cities in Scandinavia (Stalheim, Kristiana, Fretheim, etc.) and several brief entries discussing daily schedules, menus, entertainments, people met, and opinions on views and accommodations.  

Series 3: Estate and Financial Papers (1866-1982) – one box, one cu. ft.

Account books, receipts, deeds, wills, financial correspondence, court papers, stock certificates, insurance papers, and other records documenting the estate management and financial activities of the Blake and Hepburn families. The account books and bound receipts of W.H.D. Blake generally detail payments made for household and farm supplies such as foodstuffs, heating supplies, livestock, clothing, and farm equipment and machinery. One book contains clippings relating to the boundaries of the family’s estate. Other bound volumes and papers detail the investments and the periodic estate settlements deceased family members.

Series 4: Miscellaneous Papers and Ephemera (1794-1970) – one box, .5 cu. ft.

Military commission of Charles Blake, 1794, letters and receipts of John and William Blake, regarding school tuition and payments for cloth and a looking glass, 1804-1816, 1818 document relating to Revolutionary War service of soldiers in Capt. Joh. Blake’s (Black’s) company at Fort Montgomery from 1779-1780, 1842 letter from J. H. Clinton to Wm. Blake discussing a political nomination of Clinton, enlistment and discharge papers of W.H.D. Blake, 1863-1864, and an 1872 pension document relating to William Blake’s service during the War of 1812. Other papers include travel tickets, passports, memorandum books, business, calling and greeting cards, historical and genealogical research notes, gun and automobile licenses, pamphlets, programs, primarily of Alfred Blake, William C. Blake, Matilda Blake, and Amy and Dollie Hepburn. Also found in this series are school papers (1889-1929) of Alfred Blake, both while as a student and teacher, including book lists, report cards and classroom notes, correspondence, programs, etc.; and professional papers Amy Hepburn dating from 1924-1970 such as lecture notes, a undated draft paper entitled “Changes in the Library World,” financial papers concerning Hepburn’s retirement, and letters and poems from her co-workers upon her retirement.

Series 5: Photographs and Postcards (1850s – 1960s) – three boxes, 1.66 cu. ft.

This series includes mid-nineteenth century daguerreotypes of the Hepburn and related families, paper prints of the Blake family and home from the 1860s to the 1960s, photographic postcards, greeting cards, and slides owned by Matilda Blake during the 20th century. The majority of the photographs relate to the Blake family home and farm in New Paltz, showing scenes of farm work, mountain trips, and family gatherings and portraits. The photographs are organized into three boxes by type. Paper prints are further arranged into folders and envelopes according to several broad subject categories. 

Series 6: Scrapbooks and Clippings (1880-1960s) – four boxes, 2 cu. ft.

Scrapbooks and clippings primarily kept by W. H. D. Blake and Alfred B. Blake concerning the Civil War, GAR veteran activities, national politics, and World War I. Other subjects covered include economics, gardening, cooking, household maintenance, local and family history, and philosophical quotations. The file of loose clippings contains the obituaries of several family members. There is also a scrapbook of clippings and photographs kept by Dollie Hepburn from the 1920s to the 1960s. The thirteen scrapbooks and one folder are housed into four boxes according to size.


Box and Folder List

Box 1
Series 1: Correspondence (1868, 1896-1967)
Correspondence (1868, 1896-1967) – four folders
Correspondence Book (1878-1905)
Envelopes (1900-1930) – three folders

Box 2
Series 2: Diaries and Journals (1882-1950)
Journals, W.H.D. Blake (1882-1926) – 11 bound volumes

Box 3
Series 2: Diaries and Journals (1882-1950)
Journals, W.H.D and Alfred B. Blake (1926-1950) - 5 bound volumes
Journal, William C. Blake, "My Mountain Trip" (1907) - two bound volumes

Box 4
Series 2: Diaries and Journals (1882-1950)
Diary, Amy Hepburn (1923)
Diaries, Sara B. Hepburn (1933-1944) – twelve bound volumes

Box 5
Series 3: Estate and Financial Papers (1866-1982)
Account Books, W. H. D. Blake:
     (1870-1915) – Property Surveys
     (1875-1879) – with journal entries (1881) [4]
     (1895-1919) – Fragments
     (1907-1921) – Livestock Record
Account Book, Hepburn family
     (1886-1949) Extracts from account book
Bound Receipts (1880-1884, 1910) – two folders
Estate Papers (1866-1982) – six folders

Box 6
Series 4: Miscellaneous Papers and Ephemera (1794-1970)
Miscellaneous Papers:
     (1794-1872) – military papers, receipts, letters
     (1897-1970 and undated) – memorandum books, train tickets, passports, business, calling and greeting cards, historical, genealogical, and economic research notes, funeral register,                permits and licenses, etc.
Pamphlets and Programs 1859 – ca. 1960) – two folders
Professional and Retirement Papers, Amy Hepburn (1924-1970)
School Papers, Alfred B. Blake (1889-1929)

Box 7
Series 5: Photographs and Postcards (1850s – 1960s)
     Albums (1860s-1900s)
     Blake House (late 19th century)
     Hepburn family, etc. (ca .1850 – 1960s)
     House and farm scenes (early-mid 20th century)
     Miscellaneous (early 20th century) – travel, Mohonk Gatehouse, World War I, etc.
     Mountain and outdoor scenes (early 20th century)
     People and social scenes (early-mid 20th century
     Portraits (1890s)

Box 8
Series 5: Photographs and Postcards (1850s – 1960s)
Sixteen daguerreotypes of members of the Hepburn, Lowrie, and Boyd families, 20 published miniature photographs of the Keystone Naval Training School in Bedford, Pennsylvania, thirteen slides of local natural views, and two rolled panoramic photographs on linen showing the Shawangunk Mountain Range.

Box 9
Series 5: Photographs and Postcards (1850s – 1960s)
App. 250 postcards addressed to Matilda Blake from the early to mid-20th century showing images of local scenes and historic sites, and tourist sites from around the world.

Box 10
Series 6: Scrapbooks and Clippings (1880-1960s)
     (1880-1912) – one volume of clippings, cartoons, and handwritten notes probably kept by W.H.D. Blake and his wife concerning the Civil War, gardening, cooking, and local and family        news
     (1893-1897) – two volumes of clippings kept by W.H.D. Blake concerning the Civil War and veteran activities
     (1895-1896) – one volume of clippings kept by W.H.D. Blake concerning local and family history

Box 11
Series 6: Scrapbooks and Clippings (1880-1960s)
     (1917-1919) - two volumes of clippings kept by W.H.D. Blake concerning World War I

Box 12
Series 6: Scrapbooks and Clippings (1880-1960s)
     (1886-1890) – one volume of clippings kept by W.H.D. Blake
     (1913-1917) – one volume of clippings kept by W.H.D. Blake concerning national politics and World War I
     (1940) – one volume of clippings kept by Alfred B. Blake concerning World War I

Box 13
Series 6: Scrapbooks and Clippings (1880-1960s)
     (1896-1904) – one volume of clippings kept by W.H.D. Blake concerning Civil War veterans, the U.S. military, and national politics
     (1938-1950) – two volumes of clippings kept by Alfred Blake primarily concerning health, politics, economics, household maintenance, and literary quotations
     (1920s-1960s) – one volume of clippings and photographs kept by Dollie Hepburn, primarily concerning friends, family history, and cats
Clippings (1872-1976)

Box 14
Letters Testamentary of Louisa R. Bodine (1887)
List of stock holdings of Clara S. Hepburn estate (undated, early 20th century)
Insurance certificates of W.H.D. Blake (1892-1898)
Property survey map, “Ring & Colucci”, Gardiner, NY (1974)
Military Appointments, 
     John Blake (1798)
     W.H.D. Blake (1865) - two folders



[1] The source of all family biographical information comes from obituaries found in the collection and from those indexed at the Haviland-Heidgerd Historical Collection at the Elting Memorial Library in New Paltz.
[2] Information about W.H.D. Blake’s role in veteran activities can be found in the New Paltz Chapter of the Grand Army of the Republic (Elting Post) Records, also stored in the archives of the Huguenot Historical Society.
[3] Other photographs of this trip can be found in Series # -- : Photographs.
[4] These journal entries are similar to those found in Series #2: Diaries and Journals (1882-1950).