On a recent Saturday in August, a large group of citizens gathered at the Akin Library and Natural History Museum on Quaker Hill. Some of them were in Victorian costume, and all of them were preparing to dine on an authentic Victorian dinner, followed by a concert of Victorian era music at the church across the street, where the Mizzentop Hotel once stood. But before dinner and the concert, the real excitement would begin, when the items inside a time capsule that was placed inside the cornerstone of the library in 1898 would be revealed.
The 2013 event, presented by The Historical Society of Quaker Hill and Pawling, echoed in many ways the great day in August 1898 when the cornerstone was placed. Many local dignitaries attended the ceremony, which was not only a dedication of this beautiful public building, but also a celebration of Albert J. Akin’s life. Albert Akin was in his 90’s by this time, and attended the event in a wheelchair with his wife by his side. The August date was chosen to coincide with Akin’s birthday, and he died five years later.
The Historical Society presented their own August event in coordination with a fascinating exhibit about the history of the Akin Family, currently on display at the Akin Library. If you’ve driven past the library recently, you might have noticed Albert Akin’s buggy and farm cart on the front lawn. Inside the library, there is an amazingly thorough exhibit created by the society, that traces the Akins from their voyage from Scotland to the New World; to the religious persecution they faced as Quakers and pacifists during the Revolutionary War to Albro Akin, Albert’s father, who broke the mold by leaving his life as a simple farmer to become a prominent man of the world in finance and politics. The exhibit includes memorabilia and memories of the Mizzentop Hotel, and also traces the descendants of the Akins, many of whom attended the event.
On a crisp day in early September, I had the pleasure of being treated to a private tour of the “Akins of Quaker Hill” exhibit by Roger Smith, who is a member of the historical society. Mr. Smith has a wealth of knowledge about the history of Pawling and Quaker Hill, and described with pride the depth of the historical research that the society was able to do in creating the Akin exhibit. I recorded our tour live for radio broadcast, as he shared story after amazing story about the people who built our beautiful little village. (To listen to the whole interview, go to our broadcast on-line at www.pawlingpublicradio.org.)
I was surprised to learn from the exhibit that many houses on Quaker Hill were built by previous generations of the Akin family. One display showed 18 beautiful historic homes. Mr. Smith said his own house was once the home of several Akin spinster sisters, and was therefore referred to at the time as “the aunt’s nest.” The original Akin home from the 1700’s no longer stands, but there is one well cover that remains as a reminder of where it stood.
Albert J. Akin, who built our beloved library and museum, led a distinguished life that was by no means predictable or dull. Akin, one of 10 children of a powerful father, Albro Akin, suffered from health issues from a young age, and had failed at two businesses by the age of 30. With some help from his father, he not only got back on his feet, but became so successful that he ultimately became arguably more prominent than his father ever had been. Mr. Smith told a story about how Albert Akin had signed a contract with the railroad promising to have a station with a rest stop for passengers built by the time the first train came through Pawling. The deadline in 1849 was fast approaching, so Mr. Akin bought a house near where the John Kane house is and had a team of oxen drag it down what is now East Main Street to a spot near the tracks. “From a crippled guy who thought his life was over at the age of 30, who thought he wasn’t going to live past the age of 50…he just went on and on and on and built all these buildings for the public and still left a fortune for a lot of people, including not just his relatives and friends, but for the Akin Hall Association to perpetuate this building. It’s all in the will. He was a man of great integrity,” said Mr. Smith.
Are you wondering what was revealed in the Victorian time capsule last month? I was too. Describing the ceremony in 1898, Mr. Smith said, “ With great fanfare, they put all of these documents, including the program and photographs from the event, in the box, and they carefully recorded what they were…and then the box was laid in the hollowed-out cornerstone, and one of the ladies, Margaret Moynahan, shoved this cornerstone in, probably with a lot of help, and then they sealed it up. What they didn’t know, and what we discovered 115 years later when we opened it, was that, when they shoved it in, the top of the box caught on the stone above it, and broke the seal. So moisture got into the box very quickly, ruining everything in it, turning it back to wood pulp basically. We got the coins and things, but everything else was a big wet oozy mess. It was very disappointing.” Luckily, the historical society has copies of a lot of the documents that were ruined. The box and the contents that survived are in a display case along with photos and documents from the 1898 cornerstone ceremony.
Mr Smith continued, “Now what we’re going to do is have another event in the Spring and we’re going to get a new box, a bigger box– and make a bigger cavity in the stone, attempt to put in what they did (we have copies of it), and add things from our event that we just had. Then a hundred years from now, people will open it and then hopefully they will find those original things plus things that we’ve added that are appropriate.” It’s comforting to know that future Pawlingites will continue to hear these echoes in history, the echoes of our founders and of our citizens who’ve preserved their legacy so carefully.
Don’t miss your opportunity to view this remarkable exhibit at the Akin Library and Natural History Museum up on Quaker Hill! “The Akins of Quaker Hill” will be on display for the next two weeks, and then again during the holidays. To hear all of Roger Smith’s fascinating stories about our founders, tune in to Pawling Public Radio and listen to our on-location recording of my tour of the exhibit.