While the rest of the country banks or spends its extra wages or dividends — the first real money it has seen in seven years — the villagers of Old Chatham, just across the State line in Columbia County, N.Y., look on with a mere shrug of the shoulders.

Old Chathamites don’t have to say, “Wasn’t the depression awful!” They never had any.

When the smoke cleared from the rest of the county in 1929 — cleared because the smoke making factories had shut down — Old Chatham was found to be in the midst of a renaissance: Social and financial. Both stemmed from one source, the Hunt Club, which drew horse-lovers from everywhere to the town.

As Walt Wheeler, Old Chatham’s only building contractor and a man of substance, says, “If you can pay up to $5000 for a horse, and build a stable for him and pay for his feed and his groom, and then support a pack of hounds — well, you’re not poor.”

The huntsmen and their lady folk who came to Old Chatham not only do all these things. They bought the once fine, run-down old farms of the countryside for a song, and spent thousands, anywhere from 20 to 30 thousands in most cases, turning them into spacious modern country seats. Old Chatham’s carpenters, plumbers, and electricians haven’t had an idle day since they can remember.

“There’s only one idle man in Old Chatham, the natives say, “and he just won’t work.” If you mention WPA, they look at you wonderingly. They still think it’s only lazy folks who don’t work, and relief and charity are, for them, synonyms.

The club founded as a paper chase in 1927 by Sidney R. Smith of New York and W. Gordon Cox, then of New Lebanon, N.Y., has grown in fame and fortune. In 1928 it became a drag hunt, with a pack of 12 hounds. In 1929, as the Lebanon Valley Hunt, with stables and kennels in New Lebanon, it was received into the Master of Fox Hounds’ Association.

Now with its own club house, stables housing 35 horses and 105 hounds in its modern kennels, it has a membership of 50 families. A goodly number of these have bought houses in the neighborhood, coming from New York, Long Island, Boston, Detroit, Albany and Troy, Lakeville, Conn., Salisbury, Conn., as well as Great Barrington, Richmond, Lenox, Stockbridge, Philmont, and other towns for the hunting season. A number spend much or all of their time at Old Chatham.

This Story in History is selected from the archives by Jeannie Maschino, The Berkshire Eagle.

Community News Editor / Librarian

Jeannie Maschino is community news editor and librarian for The Berkshire Eagle. She has worked for the newspaper in various capacities since 1982 and joined the newsroom in 1989. She can be reached at jmaschino@berkshireeagle.com.