Veterans Organizations in Our Community
by Bryan Thompson
The first official veterans organization formed in the town of De Kalb was the George A. Rich Post of the G.A.R. #568. The Post was named in honor of George A. Rich, who lost his life in the Civil War. He was born in the Town of De Kalb, December 12, 1842, the son of John C. and Sophia Rich. He enlisted in the Union Army Co. D 106 NYS Vol. at De Kalb in August 1862. He died of disease on September 18, 1863 at Martinsburg, Virginia.
Benjamin F. Stevenson MD organized the first G.A.R. post in the United States in 1866 in Decatur, Illinois. Originally the organization was organized along the lines of military rank and status. In the 1870’s it was reorganized as a social organization and spread quickly across the country. In its day, the organization wielded great political strength. They were largely responsible for the adoption of Decoration Day (Memorial Day) as a national holiday. Between 1868 and 1908, no Republican candidate was nominated to the presidency without a GAR endorsement.
Receipt for GAR Dues, 1902
The George A. Rich Post was chartered on March 21, 1884. The charter members were officially mustered in on May 5,1884 at a meeting held in the Lynde House in Richville. On May 22, 1884 the group’s corresponding secretary, Calvin Mitchell, posted a notice in local newspapers calling for a mass meeting of all pensioned and unpensioned soldiers of St. Lawrence County at De Kalb Junction on June 5, 1884 at 1 PM. The group gained many new members from this encampment.
In September 1884, the group held a campfire in E. A. Rich’s grove near C.A. Gardner’s (on the Cole Road.) The event began on Thursday evening and ended on Saturday afternoon.
Various speeches by Republican dignitaries were heard on Friday afternoon when nearly 300 citizens visited the encampment. The post glee club sang, “Marching Through Georgia”, “John Brown’s Body” and other songs. All guest were treated to a meal of hardtack and coffee.
Newspaper accounts do not list the first officers but those elected in December 1885 were: Commander, Evan E. Griffis, Senior V.C. Orville Shipman, Junior V.C. James Johnson, Adjutant S.C. Downing, Quartermaster E.P. Griffith, Officer of the Day Chas. H. Clark, Officer of the Guard Albert Bosworth, Chaplin Calvin Mitchell, Surgeon J.G. Havens, Q.M. Sergeant L.L. Haskins, Guard M.B. Collins, Color Bearer Moses Murphy.
The group never owned a lodge hall. They met at: the Lynde House and the Forester’s Hall in Richville, the Congregational Church in Old De Kalb and after 1900 in the Odd Fellows Hall in De Kalb Junction.
The last officers for the Geo. A. Rich Post, elected in 1913 were: James Storie Commander, A.J. Lobdell S.V.C., S. Clearwater J.V.C., E. Holland Adj., E.P. Griffith Chaplin, W. N. Hills Quartermaster, Alvin Barber O.D., M.J. Saunders Patriotic Instructor, John Havens A.G., John Hyland S.M., W.E. Gore Q.M.S.. Due to an aging membership, after 1914 they no longer could muster a quorum for their meetings. By 1917, more than half of the above listed officers were dead and their post was officially closed.
In 1884, the National Women’s Relief Corps was organized as an official wing of the GAR. The Geo. A. Rich Women’s Relief Corp #119 was organized in 1895. The Women’s Relief Corp carried on the work of relief, charity and memorial. Among the members mentioned in various newspaper accounts were: Miss M. Puffer, Mrs. George Miles, Mrs. L. Stacy, Mrs. Richard Lobdell, Mrs. Seymour Lobdell, Mrs. Geo. A Matteson, Mrs. Lizzie Hills, and Mrs. A.C. Farr.
The Women’s Relief Corp existed until at least 1937, as they received $75 that year from the Town Board to decorate the graves of veterans in the Town of De Kalb. As the number of Civil War Veterans dwindled, the group functioned as the auxiliary for the local American Legion Post. The National Women’s Relief Corp is still in existence today, dedicated to memorializing our Civil war ancestors.
Congress chartered the American Legion in 1919 as a patriotic, mutual aid society for wartime veterans. In 1922, the Proctor Gilson Post #949 of the American Legion was chartered.
The Post was named in honor of Lieutenant Proctor C. Gilson who was born on Maple Ridge Road in the Town of De Kalb, February 8, 1891, the son of Jared (Judd) Gilson and Etta Williams Gilson. He attended local schools in De Kalb and graduated from Gouverneur High School in 1911 and St. Lawrence University in 1915. He was admitted to Harvard Law School and attended until 1917, when he left to enlist in the US Army. He married Marjorie Phillips of Carthage in August 1917.
Lieutenant Gilson was chosen to represent his unit in a special July 4th, 1918 parade in Paris. He was killed at the battle of Marne, in France, on July 18, 1918. His body was never recovered but a memorial stone in his honor was erected in the Old De Kalb Cemetery with a full honor guard provided by the J.C. Malloy Post Am. Legion. Ironically, he appeared in a movie newsreel of the July 4th parade in September 1918. Many local citizens traveled to Watertown to view the film. Gilson was the first SLU graduate to die in World War One.
he Proctor Gilson Post #949 held it’s meeting at the Odd Fellows Hall over the old Post Office in De Kalb Junction. The American Legion Post’s annual rent of $50 was paid by the De Kalb Town Board through January 1934. One of their first tasks was to raise funds to endow a bed in a Veteran’s Hospital. In April 1926, they hosted a meeting of the St. Lawrence County American Legion Committee. A banquet was served at the meeting by the Geo. A. Rich Women’s Relief Corp.
Lieutenant Proctor C. Gilson
Each year the American Legion cooperated with the Relief Corp to decorate the soldier’s graves in the town. They sponsored dances at the Grange Hall and plays at Cole’s Hall. Commander of the Post was Ernest Snyder and Adj. Was Clarence Perrin. The Post appears to have folded in 1934 at the height of the Great Depression.
The current Veteran’s organization in the Town of De Kalb is Am Vets Post 11. The post was officially chartered on November 2, 2000. The founding members were: Michael Forbes, Keith Neuroth, Ken Stowell, Jason Ferrick, John Burke, Larry Cooke, Robert Forbes, Francis Hewlett jr., Ricky Enslow and Benj. Murcray. The Post opened its doors in the former De Kalb Hotel at De Kalb Junction in February 2001.
The Am Vets Post 11 Women’s Auxiliary was charted March 12, 2001. The Post 11 Son’s of Am vet’s were chartered July 3, 2001 and the Junior Am Vets Post 11 was chartered January 27, 2003. The current Commander is Stephen Luther.
The Am Vet’s Post 11’s 68 members have been very active in the community since their founding. They have donated a flag and pole to the community gazebo and sponsored numerous other activities and fund raisers. They continue the task of previous veteran’s organizations in the town, advocating for veterans in the community, and keeping the memory of those who served and sacrificed alive for future generations.
De Kalb Town Clerk - Meeting Book 3 1867-1905, De Kalb Junction, NY.
De Kalb Town Cler - Meeting Book 4 1906-1917, De Kalb Junction, NY.
De Kalb Town Clerk - Meeting Book 5 1917-1939, De Kalb Junction, NY
Foster, W. H. (1938) History of the James Malloy Post #65 American Legion,Gouverneur, NY.
Gouverneur Free Press, Various dates.
Luther, Stephen - Interview September 13, 2007 De Kalb Junction, NY.
Ogdensburg Advance, Various dates.