Walden celebrates a piece of its history

Posted 2/22/22

John R. Hays was a Civil War hero and a prominent Walden resident in the 19th century. While his Maple Street home was added to the National Register of Historic Places some time ago, it would take …

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Walden celebrates a piece of its history

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John R. Hays was a Civil War hero and a prominent Walden resident in the 19th century. While his Maple Street home was added to the National Register of Historic Places some time ago, it would take another two decade for a marker to cement that designation and ensure its builder’s place in history.

On a chilly Friday afternoon, friends, neighbors and Walden officials gathered on the sloping lawn of 45 Maple Street in the village for the dedication of a historic marker. The two-story clapboard house has been the home of Nancy and Dave Ohlmer for the past 31 years, but looks much as it did for more than a century prior to their arrival in Walden.

Hays was born in Walden in 1840 and served with then-Captain Thomas W. Bradley, another Walden native, in the 124th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment, better known as the famed “Orange Blossoms”, during the Civil War. He saw action in many important battles of the conflict, including Chancellorsville, Fredericksburg and Gettysburg. After being wounded, he was honorably discharged as a lieutenant and returned home.

Upon his return to Walden after the war, he served as the agent for the Wallkill Valley Railroad. He built the house in 1874 on a rubble stone foundation, according to Wikipedia. Clapboard siding gives way to a decorated frieze and bracketed cornice at the roofline, it notes. The mansard roof is shingled in modern asphalt that resembles the slate that was originally used. A small barn in the rear of the property has since been converted into its garage, but retains most of its original finishings. In 1900 the rear wing was added to the house, the only substantial revision to its original design.

Hays would later serve as postmaster, fire chief and owner of a clothing store. He was active in veterans’ affairs, including raising money for the Civil War monument in the center of the village. When he died in 1912, the village mourned the loss of “one of its foundational stones,” a phrase repeated Friday by Mayor John Ramos.

The Ohlmers have spent much of the past 31 years researching his life and Walden’s history.

“I think (it was) his commitment to the community,” Nancy Ohlmer said when asked what, besides his Civil War record was the most impressive quality of John R. Hays.

Dave Ohlmer noted that Walden’s history is very rich and transcends many era, from its early days when mills harnessed the Wallkill River, through its role in the Civil War, to the industrial revolution and beyond.

The blue and yellow marker, installed by the Walden Department of Public Works, is courtesy of a grant from the William G. Pomeroy Foundation, which offers grants in support of historic marker programs across America. Since 2006, it has funded more than 1,600 signs across the United States.

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