Benjamin Van Buren's Bay
Charles G. Gosselink
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|Tower Point 1927|
Though they sold most of their land around Van Buren Bay, Silas and Mary Paine kept the whole of Tower Point for themselves. As noted earlier, they had built two guesthouses and a large boathouse on that property when they first arrived, but by 1922 these had all been removed. The boat Oneita had been sold to the Silver Bay Association some years earlier. After the deaths of her son in 1918 and her husband in 1921, Mary Paine continued spend summers at Paine Hall, usually inviting relatives and close friends, often the Wishard family, to join her. She had no interest in developing the rest of the land herself and had no inclination to sell it.
However, in 1922 the Executive Secretary of the Silver Bay Association, Charles R. Towson, persuaded Mary Paine to sell him a large piece of the property, including the point and some of the land along the northern shore. That may have been a mistake. Though Towson built an attractive Adirondack cottage, appropriate to the site out on the point, he soon experienced financial difficulties and was unable to keep up his payments to Mary Paine, who held the mortgage. At one point she reclaimed a portion of the property, the lakeshore to the north, in payment of the mortgage. Later she was forced to take back additional land, though the Towsons were able to retain the cottage itself and land around it. In spite of these difficulties, the site was known as Towson Point for many years, even after he was gone.
One of Mrs. Paine's closest friends in her later years was Edna Hollister, whose husband had died back in 1914 while the family was staying in one of the Paine guesthouses. Edna had known the Paines before her marriage and, as a trained librarian, had helped to catalog Silas Paine's extensive library in Morse Hall. The friendship established at that time had deepened when Mrs. Hollister had stayed with Mrs. Paine in Virginia during the last weeks of her son Spear Paine's life, as he was dying from cancer. After Silas Paine's death in 1921, Edna Hollister became a frequent companion, joining Mrs. Paine on her travels and visiting her at Silver Bay. Edna's two sisters and her niece Peggy often joined them at the lake.
When Mary Paine reclaimed the first portion of her property from Mr. Towson, she gave it to Edna Hollister with the provision that she would not build on it as long as she, Mary Paine, lived, ensuring that Mr. Towson could not get the property back and that Edna would always stay at Paine Hall. Mrs. Paine died in 1937. Edna had no interest in building a cottage at that time and offered the property to her niece Peggy and her husband Edwin Hinck. The Hincks built their first cottage there in 1949.
Silas and Mary Paine had been strong supporters of the Silver Bay Association and its mission right from the beginning, offering the hotel property at less than half its assessed value, serving on the Board of Trustees, helping to furnish the auditorium and the chapel, contributing to the establishment of the Silver Bay School (in the name of their son Spear), and entertaining the school boys and the staff at their home. In later years, however, Mrs. Paine's relationship with Silver Bay seemed to cool, perhaps because of changes in its management and mission, possibly out of disappointment over the closing of the school, or because of her experience with Mr. Towson, we do not know. In any case, when she died, she made no further provision for the Silver Bay Association but left instructions in her will that the property be sold and the proceeds be given to Princeton University in memory of her son Harrington Spear Paine. At that time, the Silver Bay Association was unable to buy the land, and it was purchased, in 1939, by Mortimer Bowen for his Sunrise Mountain Bible Conference.
Though by some accounts, Mort Bowen was a personable and friendly man, mention of his name usually raises eyebrow, if not hackles, among those who remember. For some it was the robust brand of faith and worship practiced at the bible camp. For others it was the desecration of Mary Paine's beautiful estate. Mort and Eudora Bowen were able to buy the cottage on the point from Charles Towson and made that their own home. To accommodate the bible conference guests, Bowen made alterations to Paine Hall, turning some rooms into dormitories and adding a large rotunda dining area, in the process destroying the formal garden behind the house. The chicken coop was converted into guest rooms, and additional space was provided at the old farmhouse across the way and the former Braisted hotel down the road. A large hall, the Tabernacle, was constructed on the site of the present archery range.
Jerry Crammond Collection
|Paine Hall and Tabernacle 1945|
Neighbors recall the joyful singing at the camp meetings and the baptismal services in the nearby shallow water of the bay. Whatever the saints of the earlier generation might have thought of it, Van Buren Bay residents of the 1940's were not kind and did not welcome this new and different expression of religious enthusiasm. Two juvenile delinquents are even known to have vandalized the property, changing the birch twig-work sign at the top of the hill from Sunrise Mountain Bible Conference to Sin Mounts in Bible Conference.
Mortimer Bowen faced more serious problems when the Braisted hotel burned in 1945, in spite of efforts by neighbors to form a bucket brigade and save it. No one was injured, though Bowen had expected the arrival of a full complement of guests the following day. There may have been other difficulties or the endeavor simply ran its course, but in time the bible camp closed. While Mort and Eudora Bowen kept their cottage on the point, they began to sell off other pieces of their estate. In 1961 they sold the farmhouse to Silver Bay director Doc McConaughy and in 1965 they sold the Braisted property to Thornton Penfield, Jr.
In 1958, the Silver Bay Association acquired Paine Hall and most of the property on the point, with the exception of the Hincks' land and that portion which the Bowens reserved for themselves in the vicinity of their cottage. Over the years since then, Silver Bay has used Paine Hall and the other nearby cabins to accommodate staff and guests, but the buildings have been allowed to deteriorate. It is hoped that Silver Bay will be able to renew and restore Paine Hall soon, before all is lost. For a time, the Association tried to use the Tabernacle as space for its conference programs. In honor of early pioneer and long time board member Thornton Penfield, it raised money, made some renovations, and named the facility Penfield Memorial, much to the confusion of new guests and conferees who kept showing up at Penfield Cottage for lectures by day or movies at night. The effort to use this space was not a success; eventually the building was razed and the archery range moved to that area.
With its new property, Silver Bay also saw a way to address the growing demand of its members for rental cottage space. In 1959, the Board decided to erect some small cottages on the shore of Van Buren Bay, on Silas and Mary Paine's pasture. The Hartford YMCA took the lead in this project. Francis Gray, the Hartford Y Secretary raised the necessary funds to construct the first cottages, Hartford, in 1960, and then Charter Oak in 1962. Hartford Y members Jim and Lois Nassau and Ted and Midge Boltz contributed funds in a joint venture with Silver Bay for the construction of Nassau and Bolts in 1966, and Silver Bay also built Willow that same year.
Edwin and Peggy Hinck built their first cottage in 1949 but then added three more small cabins around what is perhaps the most charming little cove on the bay. In 1982 they sold one of their cabins to Bill and Mary Ellen Weber, who now have a newer house on the site. The Hinck family sold the remaining property to Frank and Candice Burkle in 1996.
In 1968, Mort Bowen sold Lewis and Dorothea Hitzrot a slice of waterfront land just to the west of his own home. The Hitzrots were friends of Torno and Ruth Penfield and had visited them at Birch Glen once or twice previously. When they arrived that year, Torno made a special point of introducing them to Louis Spelman. Louis informed them that he just happened to know that Mort Bowen was about to sell some land and asked whether they would like to see it. Before the afternoon was over they had settled on the purchase. The cottage that the Hitzrots built there has a spectacular view to the north toward Rogers' Rock. Their son Jim and his wife Bobby own the property now. They completed a second cottage there in 2000 for their growing family.
In 1969, Bowen sold a piece of land on the other side of the point to Stuart and MaryAnn Harmon. Stu's father Francis S. Harmon had served on the Board of the Silver Bay Association and Stu had spent summers there as a kid and later was an emp. Stu and MaryAnn rented a cottage on Terrace Road before buying land on Tower Point. Their house, built in 1972 and renovated in 1999, commands a beautiful view to the south toward Black Mountain. In 2001 David and Carolyn Heoschele started the construction of their house, next door to the Harmons, on a lot purchased from the Silver Bay Association.
Mortimer Bowen died in 1974. Eudora's loss was compounded when her beautiful cottage burned in 1975. She quickly had a new house constructed the following year, though it did not match the charm of the original. In 1981 she sold the house to Phil and Natalie Duffy, who kept it until 1995, when they sold it to Noelle Nielsen. Noelle has plans to replace the present house with a new cottage more in harmony with that very special site.
There remained one last parcel of Bowen property, not on Tower Point but high on Sunrise Mountain, above Terrace Road. It was, in fact, the last undeveloped piece of Benjamin Van Buren's original farm, passed down through Gillette to Paine, then to Princeton, and then to Bowen. Several people, starting with Mort Bowen himself, tried to subdivide and sell that property but without success. Problems of access, water, permits, and price have discouraged most buyers. Only one of the four lots has been developed. Owen Roberts, of Albany, owns and has built his house in the northwest corner of Lot 97 of the Ellis Patent. Through the generosity of neighbors, two of the remaining lots have now been purchased and turned over to the Nature Conservancy. In a sense, we can think of that land as a memorial to Benjamin Van Buren.
 Most of this account is from Peggy Hinck, unpublished recollections, 1987, SBA Archives.
 Thornton B. Penfield III, unpublicized personal confessions, 2002.
 Thanks to Jim Nassau for this summary.