The Bovina of 1995 was formed from parts of Delhi, Stamford, and Middleton by an act of the state legislature on February 25, 1820. The name, Bovina, comes from the Latin word bovinus, meaning cattle. It was suggested by Gen. Erastus Root because it was a pioneer town in the dairy industry. Pre-1820 History A vast area between the east and west branches of the Delaware River had been claimed by the Dutch, English, and French. By a treaty in 1701 England became the owner. In 1708 Queen Anne granted the land to a group of eight men in what was known as the Hardenburgh Patent. After many years the land was surveyed into 41 lots. The land now known as Bovina came into possession of the Livingston family, ancestors of the Gerry family. The Gerrys own a large estate around Lake Delaware in the southern part of the township. The area known as Bovina lay first in Albany County. Later, it was Ulster County, and finally, in 1797 became part of Delaware County.
In 1790 four young men from Westchester County made a prospecting trip through the area. One of them, Elisha Maynard, whose father emigrated from Northern England, stayed to clear a piece of land and build a small cabin. He sowed a plot of winter rye and left for home. The next spring he returned with his family and possessions piled on a sled pulled by four oxen from the Hudson River. He was Bovina's first settler. In 1793, his son, Elisha, was born, the first birth of a white settler in Bovina. The Maynard's had eleven more children. The first marriage to take place in Bovina was James Russell and Nancy Richie in 1794. The first recorded death was Hezekiah Davis in 1798 Four years after Elisha Maynard settled in what is now Bovina.
On the first Tuesday in March 1820, the first town election was held at the home of John Hastings. Those elected included: Supervisor, Thomas Landon; Town Clerk, Charles Leet; Assessors, Peter Drummond, John Hastings and Robert Hamilton; collector, John Seacord. Also elected were three commissioners of highways, two overseers of the poor, four constables, seven fence viewers and damage appraisers, four pound-masters, three commissioners of common schools, three inspectors of schools, and thirty overseers of highways.
Thirty-six farms and forty-two original families were in Bovina after it became a separate town. Most of the early settlers were of Scottish descent. It is likely that the hills and valleys reminded them of Scotland. The population in 1820 was 1267 hitting a high of 1436 in 1845, then gradually decreasing to 550 in the 1990 census. Bovina's small size and relative remoteness would seem to preclude it from participation in any significant historical events.
This assumption is not always true. For instance, it played its part in the Anti-Rent war of the 1840s. Anti-Renters gathered to protest the injustice of the land lease system in effect in New York State. Land in Delaware County, as in much of New York, was given by grant or purchase. Owners then induced settlers to lease parts of this land. This method allowed a few families in New York State to control the destiny of thousands of people. Settlers had a difficult task making rent payments and feeding their families. The John Secord Hotel was the site in the hamlet in 1844 of the areas first meeting of Anti Renters. As in other areas of the county and state, they formed an organization to resist evictions. They used tin dinner horns to signal an eviction and work warpaint and Calico for a disguise. The most infamous moment in the War took place in nearby Andes with the killing of Under-Sheriff Osman Steele during an eviction. Eighty-four persons were convicted for their role in this incident. Two men were sentenced to hang for the murder, one of them a Bovina resident named Edward O'Conor. The governor later commuted the sentences to life imprisonment. The new governor pardoned all the anti-renters. The result of the anti-rent agitation was that new laws were enacted, which cured some of the evils of the lease-hold system. The tenants were able to buy, at easy prices, the land they had tilled and occupied.
Bovina currently is a 'dry' town, meaning that the sale of alcoholic beverages is not allowed. This has not always been the case. Bovina had several distilleries in the 19th century, including one built by Cornelius Davis in what was then Brushland and another at the Butt End built by William Doolitle. Bovina officially went dry in 1947. An effort to relax the restrictions was attempted in the 1980s but the voters decided to stay 'dry.'
In the 1970s, Bovina had a 'border dispute' with the Town of Andes. This all started when New York State mandated uniform tax maps be created. When these were completed around 1977, they revealed a different border between Bovina and Andes. There were three possible lines: 1) the tax map line; 2) the generally accepted line from the original survey; or 3) the line from the actual description. The original survey contained some errors. The issue was settled by a compromise between the towns and approved by the county and state.
Early settlers came here, mainly, to carry on agriculture. They turned their attention to sheep raising and later to dairy farming. Bovina farmers earned a reputation for breeding very fine strains of cattle. Their cows were shipped to various distant points. Once, Bovina butter was said to be the best in the United States, and even was served on the table in the Presidential mansion in Washington.
Bovina had industries other than agriculture. Using natural water power, woolen mills, cider mills, grist mills, and sawmills sprang up here and there. The first grist mill was erected in 1796. Early mills sometimes were several miles from farms, requiring a long, backbreaking, and sometimes dangerous journey by foot to grind a farmer's grist into flour. The manufacturing of woolen cloth was first carried out by Thomas H. Johnson and his brother. This involved a carding mill for preparing the wool, a fulling mill for its weaving, and a woolen mill for making the garments. Several shops for blacksmiths, coopers, joiners, tinsmiths and carpenters provided work for people in those particular trades. There were three blacksmith shops in the hamlet. There was also a large tannery. This processed the bark used in tanning hides. Bovina at one time had four cooperages in the hamlet. There were many other small businesses. In the house now owned by Amy Burns was located the town's first telegraph office. There have been stores on the sites of Russells store and the now closed Hilson Brothers for over 100 years. There were hotels on the site of Lillian Hilson's and Burt and Anne Tator's homes and on the site of Mary Jardine's house. The small house that once existed between Therese Aitkens' house and Amy Burn's home was once a tailor's establishment.
The Bovina Center Cooperative Creamery was established in 1902, milk that time coming from 67 dairies and totaling 22,000 pounds. The creamery closed in the mid-1970's and is now the McIntosh Auction Barn. Today, there are fewer than ten working dairy farms in Bovina. Russell's General Store has been operated by the Russell family since January 1, 1919, when Cecil Russell bought the store. He operated it until his passing in 1982. His daughter Marjorie continues to operate Bovina's only general store. Until recently, Alex and Jack Hilson operated a general store and feed store.