MEMORIES



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Memories of Lawrence P. Belmont, A Battery — Part I

LAWRENCE BELMONT PORTRAIT
Lawrence P. Belmont was born on November 18, 1923, in Walton, NY (click the previous link to view a gallery of vintage Walton postcards), a small community in the Catskill Mountains of Delaware County. The town was bisected by the West Branch of the Delaware River, boasted a small armory (see the photograph below showing the armory as it looked in 1998), two railway stations, and a toy and a piano factory. To the southeast was Bear Spring Mountain. To the northwest, Northfield Mountain, with its fabled railway tunnel bored through 4,000 feet of solid rock.

Lawrence's father, Samuel, was an Italian immigrant (arriving at Ellis Island in 1911 from the village of Chiaramonte in the province of Potenza) who worked in various capacities for the New York Ontario & Western Railroad; his mother, Angelina (born 27 October 1895 in New York City), was a housewife who had raised Lawrence, his sister Virginia, and his brothers John and Sam, Jr. through the Great Depression (click on the photograph at right to view a larger version). (Visit the Samuel and Angelina Tribute.) THE BELMONT KIDS (7 K)The Belmont family (the original name, Belmonte, was changed on Samuel's immigration papers) lived on St. John Street on the west side of Walton, the proverbial "wrong side of the tracks." Their two-story house was built on a triangular wedge of land bordered by a Mobil gas storage facility, the O&W right-of-way, and a railroad cut spanned by a small wooden road bridge. The bridge was known as "Dry Bridge," and had gotten its name from Prohibition days.

Why'd they call the bridge "Dry Bridge?

"When you crossed Dry Bridge, you were in the Italian section of Walton, and that's where all the booze was made. Go north, and you could get wet so to speak; south, you couldn't buy a drink. This section was also called 'Wop Hill.' (Webmaster's Note: "wop," a common epithet for Italian-Americans, was derived from an immigration acronym, WOP, meaning "without papers.") Nearly all of the Italian families up there were bootleggers. After the end of prohibition in 1933, Walton went dry again in 1936, so the Italians continued to make their own liquor. My father used to make 500 gallons of cider and 200 gallons of wine every year. Most families had a barrel of both."


LOWER WALTON (9 K)
(Click on the image of lower Walton above to enlarge it.)

WALTON MILL RACE (11 K)
(Click on the image above of the old Walton Mill Race, circa 1911, to enlarge it.)

BASSETT PARK (10 K)
(Click on the image of Bassett Park above to enlarge it.)

WALTON HIGH SCHOOL

Walton High School, where Lawrence graduated in 1942. A star football and basketball player,
Lawrence was offered several college football scholarships after the war.
[ Read "An Ode to the Class of '42" ]


Walton, in addition to its trio of creameries (including the famous Breakstone's, which produced a great deal of southern New York's cheese and other dairy goods) and small wood product and toy factories, was one of the smallest places in the state to have a National Guard Armory. The red brick armory, still standing guard on the south bank of the river opposite the Bridge Street bridge, resembles a castle, and even features turrets and parapets.

What units were stationed at the armory?

WALTON ARMORY (10 K) Before the war, it was home to Company F of the 106th Infantry Regiment of the 27th Division, which was federalized in October 1940. After leaving Walton, this unit went on to Fort McClellan , Alabama, and then Hawaii in March 1942. The company saw action on Eniweitok, Saipan, and Okinawa. After Company F left Walton, New York formed a State Guard, which I joined just prior to going into Federal service."

What was it like living in Walton?

"Well, the O&W and its three creameries were what put Walton on the map in those days. Our house butted right up against the railroad tracks. You could go out the backdoor and catch a train if you wanted. They were all steamers back then, in the early 40s. I can still remember the numbers of the old engines being called out as the trains pulled out, either heading north to Oswego, or south to Weehawken, New Jersey. My father had an outhouse right alongside the tracks. When the train pulled in for a stop, he didn't even have to come in to go to the bathroom."

What was Delaware County like back in those days?

"Very rural. Walton, of course, had the railroad, a creamery, and a few small factories. But once you were a mile out of town, it was either woods or farms. It wasn't unusual for a bear to come down off the mountain and take a walk around town."

DELAWARE COUNTY New York State in the 1930s and 40s was one of the Nation's leading producers of dairy products. In this 1942 view (a Farm Administration photo), we see typical upstate Delaware County pastureland. The West Branch of the Delaware River cuts a lazy zigzag across the photo, from left to right. In the distance, the Catskills. It would not take the war long to get to this part of the state, however. A few miles from Walton, in Sidney, the Scintilla Magneto Company, a Swiss firm headquartered in New York City and a Delaware County fixture since 1925, was gearing up for war production. Bought by the Bendix Corporation in 1929, the factory was beginning to add extra shifts to increase the production of magnetos for American fighter planes.

What kind of jobs were there for young men your age?

SMALLEY MOVIE THEATRE (WALTON HALL)"I used to do all kinds of things. Sometimes, you didn't get paid, but you got something in return. I used to work at the Smalley Movie Theater. The building is still there today and they still use it to show movies. On the second floor on the oustide they hung a billboard about three feet tall and I had to hang up letters to spell out what movie was playing. They kept a ladder on the second floor and I use to put it over the railing all the way down to the sidewalk. I had to change the letters at 11 o'clock at night after the first movie was out, because there usually would be a different movie the following day ... they showed three or four pictures a week those days. In the winter time it was terribly cold changing the letters. My pay was that I got into all the movies for free. It was an all-purpose building. They held the high school graduation there. Also upstairs were two courtrooms. They also had a big stage with a curtain and behind the screen upstairs they had dressing room. In the back they had the Village Clerk's office and a garage for two firetrucks. It had a balcony also where people could watch the movies — that's where all the high school kids sat."


COLCHESTER COVERED BRIDGE

The Colchester covered bridge, near Walton, where Lawrence used to dive into the Delaware during the last summer before joining the Army. "The bridge was about three miles from Walton on Route 10 on the way to Delhi. Before they had Route 206 going over Bear Spring Mountain, any one wanting to go to Downsville had to go across this bridge. The NYO&W Railroad went right by it. After you went over the bridge, Downsville was about seven miles over a dirt road that went up a steep mountain. On the other side of the bridge was another dirt road — if you went right you would go back to Walton on what was called River Road; if you went left you would go to Hamden over another covered bridge to get to Route 10."


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