Monday, March 11, 2013

More About the Hundred-Year-Old Lawsuit

Last week, Gossips published an article about a court case heard in November 1916. The plaintiffs were the owners of what had been the Peter Van Deusen homestead in Greenport, and the defendant was the New York & New England Cement and Lime Company. A reader asked where the property in question was located. According to Gossips sources, the Peter Van Deusen homestead, which still exists, was on the south side of Route 9, just beyond Ten Broeck Lane.

Further investigation discovered an account of the testimony in the trial. The following are excerpts from that account, which appeared in the Hudson Evening Register on November 21, 1916.

Mrs. Hoffman Tells of Home Conditions.
Frank Shults is Cross-Examined at Length.

Mrs. Harold W. Hoffman, of Greenport, one of the plaintiffs in the joint action against the New York & New England Cement and Lime company, trial of which was commenced yesterday before Justice Alden Chester in Supreme count here, to-day gave interesting testimony regarding alleged conditions in and near her house claimed to be a result an alleged commission of a nuisance. Her direct testimony was so vivid in description that one who has been a close follower of the great European conflict, might be led to imagine he was hearing a narrative pertaining to the circumstances soldiers at the fronts over there are said to be enduring.

Asked by John C. Dardess, attorney of record for the plaintiffs, what conditions exist in her home when the wind blows from a southerly direction, Mrs. Hoffman declared: "We can see dust coming from the cement plant in a fog. It comes inside of the house. We can feel it; everything is grit." The witness asserted that the bedrooms are made in a filthy condition by the dust emitting from the cement plant: bed clothing, wearing apparel, etc., she said, is literally covered by dust. The windows must be kept closed while occupants of the house are sleeping, and certain grinding noises are exceedingly annoying.

In describing how the dust affects her, the witness said in substance: "The dust fills me up:  it chokes me and it irritates my throat. I have had medical attention frequently in the last two years and some times I've been so ill that I have had to take to my bed. But I simply could not stay there--the dirt stifled me." For weeks at a time, according to Mrs. Hoffman's testimony, she could get very little sleep. The terrible roar at the cement plant and the gases seemed to make her sway, she asserted substantially.

Even the food served, she testified, isn't fit to eat because there is dust in it.

Mrs. Hoffman stated her mother died in April 1915. Before the cement plant began running, she said, her house was perfectly clean; now it is filthy. It can't be kept sanitary. After her mother's demise, the witness declared, the former's room was cleaned under her (the witness') supervision. At this point Mr. Dardess showed Mrs. Hoffman a pasteboard box and asked her what it contained. She said it was dirt found in her mother's room. Other rooms in the house were about the same, she told Mr. Dardess. . . .

Before she had completed her testimony, Mrs. Hoffman was withdrawn from the stand so that Prof. Anderson, a widely known expert on the tree culture might testify.

Prof. Paul J. Anderson, of Amherst college, was called by the plaintiff this afternoon, and he testified as to making an inspection of trees, shrubbery, etc. on the Shults place. Many white pine trees, he said, were dying, and he told the cause of the conditions he found, and gave information of interest. He said he examined trees in the vicinity in 1910 and 1911.

Frank Shults, brother of Mrs. Hoffman, and who is also a plaintiff in the case, preceded her on the stand. J. Rider Cady's cross-examination of Mr. Shults was rigid and lengthy.  

In his direct testimony Mr. Shults told of crops on the place he acquired from his mother, Mary Shults, prior to 1910. He said since his mother's demise, which occurred in 1915, the house he lives in has been also occupied by his sister and brother-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Harold W. Hoffman. He testified as to conditions existing in the house and on the exterior since the cement plant began operating, and compared them with conditions prevailing prior to the time the plant was constructed. 

Judge Cady, attorney of record for the defendant, in cross-examining the witness touched at length upon the quantity of vegetables, etc., produced on the place during a few years previous to the construction of the cement plant. Mr. Shults admitted he forgot where all the produce of the property was sold.

"Wasn't the greater part of the produce raised from your garden consumed in your own family?" Judge Cady asked in substance. The witness replied that he didn't know "exactly" but didn't think so.

Mr. Shults, on cross-examination, was asked about what work he did after and before the erection of the cement plant. He had been in the teaming contracting business, but practically discontinued that work in 1913. About three years ago he operated a quarry a few days at a time.

The witness asserted that his health isn't very good and said he had received medical aid.

Judge Cady questioned Mr. Shults regarding the duration of his illness, and certain things said, which grew out of these interrogations, brought out laughter.

"Do you know," asked Judge Cady of Mr. Shults, "that the defendant raises grass on the premises immediately adjoining your property on the south?" The witness said he didn't think there was much grass grown there as he felt it was hindered to a certain extent by dust. . . . 

In closing his opening address to the jury late yesterday afternoon, Samuel B. Coffin. of Hudson, one of the counsel for the defense, spoke of the importance of the action and what the cement company meant to the city of Hudson and the county, and said that when it is considered the devices and methods employed by the defendant, the dust would be of such a negligible quantity that there seemed no cause for complaint.

Mr. Coffin stated the company had done everything possible to remedy any faults that had been complained of which would do good to them only. He said that complaints had been received about flashes of lights and that windows in the buildings on the plant where the light might be visible were painted; that blasting had been stopped at night and to a large extent on Sundays; that complaint of dust blowing about from the roadway had been remedied by them procuring a watering cart and having road sprinkled to lay the dust. He stated that the Knickerbocker Cement Co. was situated but a short distance from the New York and New England Cement and Lime Co.'s plant and that he believed when the wind was blowing in the right direction dust could come to the plaintiff's place from that plant. He said that the plaintiffs ask for $75,000 in their complaint and declared that for several years the property in question had been assessed in the town of Greenport for $1,500. . . . 

Tomorrow Gossips will report on the outcome of the trial. 

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