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The Old Stone House

September 1999 Newsletter

Donna B. Ryan, Editor

Our story in May's newsletter about Al Palmer has brought forth more comments and correspondence than anything we have written about so far. Thank you for your enthusiastic response.

One of the many calls I received was from Ben Reynolds in Tallahassee, Florida, who lived here as a child leaving Almond after graduating from AACS in 1958.

Ben's dad was the late John Reynolds, local historian who was instrumental in the formation of the Almond Historical Society in the 60's. Ben tells about his excitement in receiving a box of his father's things after his mother, Blanche, died a few years ago and the Reynolds' house was sold. In it was an envelope containing some black and white negatives, subject of which was unknown. Ben's wife, Donna, knowing how much his dad's things meant to him, had the negatives developed into prints for him as a Father's Day gift. Among those prints were two photos of the "Old Stone House," located about four miles up Karr Valley.

Apparently, John had taken the photos for the frontispiece of his book, The Almond Story, which he published in 1962. "My father was devastated when that house burned," Ben recalled. His sister, Norma Clark, agrees: "Dad thought it was a wonderful house, and he was heartbroken when it burned," she said. John tells it himself this way in a chapter of his book entitled "Stephen Major and the Old Stone House in Karr Valley:" "On March 11, 1951, the fire siren sounded in Almond Village. The fire trucks screamed up over Sand Hill and down into Karr Valley. The old stone house was on fire. The fireman laid their lines and poured water into the burning building but it was to no avail. The fire had gained too much headway. In a short time it was all over. The old structure, a well-known landmark that had defied the winds and storms for a century and a quarter, was no more. Today, four massive, vine-covered walls are still standing upright as if defying the elements to the last.

The old house, with its eight rooms, fireplaces, halls, stairways and immense attic, was built in 1822 by Stephen Major. Its thick walls, firm and true to the last, were constructed of stones gathered from nearby fields. The heavy rafters that supported the roof and the huge 12 x 12 inch plates that lay on top of the walls were hewn from the stately pines in Stephen Major's forest. The floors were of pine boards, 18 to 34 inches or wider, without a knot showing in their entire length. Stephen Major had built well with the best materials his lands afforded," the narration continues.

John goes on to tell about Stephen coming to Almond from the Wyoming Valley in Pennsylvania in June, 1797, with is wife Margaret, and her three brothers, Walter, Joseph, and Samuel Karr. He describes Stephen as "a small man, not the rugged pioneer type," who worked as a tailor and was also a skillful trapper. Apparently in those days a high bounty was offered for every wolf killed, which brought Stephen considerable profit, enabling him to pay for two farms. He purchased the farm of Andrew Gray in 1805 and started construction of the stone house shortly afterwards. He served in various offices, including overseer of the poor for the Town of Almond and then for Allegany County as superintendent of the poor.

Although the ruins of the old stone house are now totally vine covered, a walk through the field behind the house brings one to a little family cemetery. "This plot in which other members of the Major family are buried was originally surrounded by a stone wall about four feet high. The rear wall only now stands, the other three sides have long since crumbled," John writes.

"At what was apparently the center of the little cemetery, at one time stood a stone, now toppled to the ground, upon which the following epitaph is carved. Here in capsule form is the life story of Stephen Major:

'From Ireland, his native land he immigrated here to dwell

When this was but a wilderness resounding by the savage yell

Here he rose to imminence believed by all both far and near

And while possessing competence bequeathed to his children dear

This sacred spot he called his own but only one reserve he made

Here he requested to be laid encompassed by a wall of stone

Here let his sleeping dust remain until the last long trumpet sound

Shall bid it rise to life and reign where everlasting joys abound."

John's book, The Almond Story, is now out of print, and the remaining copies are guarded carefully, and treasured by their owners. When it was first published, an Evening Tribune full page story dated October 6, 1962, describes the publication as the "realization of a man's dream."