Log in Subscribe

To move or not to move

John Conway
Posted 1/5/24

The great division of eastern and western Sullivan County has reared its head politically several times over the years, perhaps no more so than in the heated controversy over moving the …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

To move or not to move


The great division of eastern and western Sullivan County has reared its head politically several times over the years, perhaps no more so than in the heated controversy over moving the county’s Highway Department offices from Barryville to Monticello, an issue that took ten years to resolve and more or less reached a zenith in January of 1948.

And while the attempt by the Board of Supervisors to make this move began as-- and to some extent remained-- a question of east versus west, it also morphed into an attempt to diminish the power of longtime County Highway Superintendent Arthur C. Toaspern of Barryville.

Toaspern had run the county’s Highway Department for 19 years, and he did so rather autocratically. Some in the county questioned whether the unchecked power he wielded was always used for the public good, while others staunchly defended him, pointing to the fine work his department did in a timely fashion, often cutting through the bureaucratic red tape as only Toaspern could, but ultimately, they said, saving the county thousands of dollars.

The issue reached a crescendo beginning with the Board‘s organizational meeting in January of 1948. Thompson Supervisor Lawrence H. Cooke retained his position as Chairman, and the Board was almost evenly split, not so much between Democrats and Republicans, but between those labeled as pro-Toaspern and anti-Toaspern. This split among the 15 Supervisors was complicated by the fact that Francis “Stretch” Hanofee, who had been elected Liberty Supervisor the previous November, could not be immediately seated because it was learned that he was not a taxpayer in the town. 

Republican Mervin Grant, the man Hanofee had defeated by 34 votes, was therefore designated to retain his seat until a special election could be held. Grant was strongly anti-Toaspern, while Hanofee’s position on the matter was not yet clear. Grant’s presence at the organizational meeting caused seven of the Supervisors, led by Toaspern supporters Malcolm Dexter of Tusten and Peter Callahan of Highland, to walk out, resulting in an 8-0 vote approving Cooke as Chairman. It could have been an omen for what was to come.

When the Supervisors passed a resolution the following month approving the relocation of the Highway Department, the pro-Toaspern faction rallied their constituents and the March meeting not only produced petitions with hundreds of signatures demanding that the resolution be rescinded, but also saw so many angry taxpayers attend that the proceedings had to be moved from the Supervisors’ chambers in the Courthouse to the main courtroom to accommodate them.

The protesters felt that the resolution to relocate the facility to Monticello was passed with “indecent haste” and would end up costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, since new buildings would have to be constructed.  This was not the time to incur that kind of expense, they argued.  Besides, they pointed out, current highway workers, many of them returning war veterans, would be forced to relocate their residence if the move was made, and that was unfair to them.

They also protested the resolution on the grounds that the balance of power on the Board was swayed by just one vote, and that vote, Grant’s, was not legitimate since he had been rejected as Supervisor by his own constituents, who had elected Hanofee.

Grant, for his part, muddied the waters even further by insisting that the new highway facility be constructed in his town, which he claimed was more centrally located in the county than Monticello. Liberty attorneys Harold Sussman and Isadore Benjamin as well as officials of the local Chamber of Commerce spoke in support of Grant’s contention. This secondary battle between Monticello and Liberty harkened back to the early days of the county when a similar battle had been waged over the designation of the County Seat, ironically a tussle which also eventually included Barryville.   

Fallsburg Supervisor Mortimer Michaels, who was among the most vocal anti-Toaspern legislators, lectured that the issue of moving the highway facilities had first come before the Board in 1938, “and had been approved from a practical, economical, and operating point of view.” Michaels pointed out that “three towns, Liberty, Thompson and Fallsburg, have about 32 percent of the population and all other county departments are located in Monticello.”   

Michaels also called for an investigation into Toaspern’s activities and expenditures over the years, but he received no support for that motion other than from Supervisor Karl Reinshagen of Bethel. Some Supervisors pointed out that State auditors had just completed an investigation of Toaspern’s accounts and found everything to be in good order, and they noted that the longtime powerbroker was currently in poor health and an additional inquiry might seem like a witch hunt.

In the end, the resolution to relocate the highway department to Monticello remained in force, and the move was ultimately carried out. Moreover, citing health concerns, Toaspern tendered his resignation the following week, and his reign as the unquestioned head of public works came to an end.  

John Conway is the Sullivan County Historian and a founder and president of The Delaware Company. Email him at jconway52@hotmail.com.  


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here