Return to Headlines

Brewster High School Students Make History with First Black History Markers in Putnam County

BHS students pose with new history markers

Since 2020, members of Brewster High School’s Model U.N., Habitat for Humanity and Semper Fi clubs have raised funds to commemorate important stories in Putnam County’s history by sponsoring two new historic markers. These markers, one for Tonetta Lake in the Town of Southeast and another for Snowdale Farm, just over the town line in Patterson, are the first Black history markers to be installed in Putnam County.

Prompted by Andrew DiFabbio, a 2020 graduate of Brewster High School and then-summer intern at the Putnam County Historian’s Office, teachers and students in the district were inspired to partner and be part of creating the first-ever historic markers dedicated to Black history.

“As a multi-year project many of the students who started it have headed off to college and the torch was picked up by new recruits, but all were equally excited about giving something lasting to the community that celebrates Brewster's shared history,” said Model U.N. advisor Tom Mullane. “We are proud to be a part of this and proud to help to maintain these monuments moving forward."

About the markers:

Tonetta Lake, once known as Tone’s Pond, is located in the Town of Southeast. It was said to once be the site of a simple fisherman’s resort run by a former enslaved man, Tone, who was manumitted after his service in the American Revolutionary War. The story continues that after gaining his freedom from John Waring, a prominent resident of Southeast, Tone settled on what would come to be known as Tone’s Pond and started a small business catering to fishermen with food, drink, and whatever else they required. William Blake first recorded the story in his 1849 book, “The History of Putnam County, N.Y.” It is said that the lake’s current name comes from combining Tone’s name with his wife’s name, Etta. Many descendants of Tone’s family remained in the Brewster area for years. Jennie Seeley, Tone’s daughter, and Orrin Hutchinson, Tone’s grandson, both worked for local philanthropist and businessman, Daniel Drew. Eventually, Orrin purchased his own farm near Turk Hill and his children worked locally including his son Clark, who was a beloved barber in the village. It takes a simple visit to the Old Methodist Cemetery just outside the Village of Brewster to see Orrin and Clark’s headstones and the graves of many of Tone’s descendants.

Aside from Tone’s Pond, a drive north on Farm to Market Road through the Big Elm district between Southeast and Patterson brings one through what was once Snowdale Farm, a farm-to-table bed-and-breakfast for African Americans, run by the Moran family in the 1920-30s. Augustus and Mary Moran, a Black couple, purchased the land that would become Snowdale Farm in 1919 from Elbridge G. Snow for just five dollars (Snow was an insurance business magnate and it is likely that Augustus had been in his employ). The Morans ran advertisements in The New York Age and other metropolitan newspapers, inviting African Americans from as near as Westchester and Harlem, to as far as Houston, Texas, to experience their resort. They drew high-profile visitors with a swimming pool, tennis courts, horseback riding, hiking, fishing, and countless other activities. With easy highway and train access, Snowdale Farm became part of a flourishing recreational tourism industry for African Americans. The farm continued business with the Berkshire Rod and Gun Club and ultimately returned to the family’s private residence and farm in the 1940s.

The new markers will soon be installed with Tone’s Pond prominently displayed in the Town Park at Tonetta Lake and the Snowdale Farm marker will reside near the intersection of Farm to Market Road (CR62) and Big Elm Road in the town of Patterson. 

Photo courtesy of the Putnam County Historian's Office