Ruth Skillman Reed
Ruth Skillman Reed will be 100 years old on April 14, 2007. She opened her home to Carol Utter
and me last week for a visit and it was a wonderful experience. Not only did she talk, she fed us
besides in her dining room. She had set the table with her lovely china on a crocheted tablecloth
that she had made. The story of her life encompasses Chenango County, particularly the towns of
Smithville and Greene, some years in Broome County and now she lives in Marathon where she
taught high-school English for forty years. We held on to her every word. Her words were history.
Her father’s family, the Skillmans came to this area before the Civil War. Her grandfather and
relatives were from England and wanted to come to America. They landed in New York Harbor,
walked through the Catskills to Chenango County and bought a farm in Smithville on the Ridge
Road. There were Skillman cousins who lumbered at Cincinnatus Lake ( or Lake View, as Ruth
called it). Her grandfather and brothers decided to enlist for the Civil War, so they came to Greene
and canoed to Norwich. From there they went to Elmira, then Washington, DC, where their
regiment was shipped down around Florida and up the Mississippi to Missouri. While they were
gone, a sister who lived in a cabin on Cincinnatus Lake, made a quilt for the brother who was to be
married when he came home. He never came back. The quilt was kept in the family and Ruth’s
daughter has it in Endicott.
Her mother’s family, the Mitchells, came to Chenango County from Ireland, County Armagh, in
1865, on a sailing packet boat, one of a fleet of boats owned by her grandmother’s uncles who lived
in New York City. They owned land in the Battery and on 42nd Street. After visiting the Harrison relatives in New York, William and Agnes Harrison Mitchell came to Smithville and bought a farm on Hollow Road. (This farm is now part of the Buddhists’ property). Their daughter, Mary Mitchell, married Elwyn Skillman and Elwyn took over the farm on Hollow Road.
Elwyn and Mary Skillman had four children: LaRue, Elsie, Myra and Ruth. Elsie was 20 years
older than Ruth who was born in 1907. Ruth went to the District #4 one-room schoolhouse just
down from her home for six years. Then it was on to the school in Smithville Flats for two years. She remembers what fun it was to dance with the Cumber brothers who were marvelous dancers.
She rode the milk wagon that took the milk to the creamery that was across the bridge on the right
next to the Genegantslet Creek. Sometimes Fannie Nelson would pick her up. For high school, she
went to Norwich and lived with her Aunt Ida who ran the telephone office. She graduated in 1923
at 16. Ruth remembers those years fondly and has a lamp in her living room that was given to her
aunt for managing all those telephone girls. It was kerosene at first, then changed to gas. They had to put a quarter in a box for the gas to come on.
Teachers’ Training Class was next in Greene. Mrs. Burdic was in charge and they had a special
room at the high school. She lived with Horace and Fernie Rhodes, Bill Rhodes’s grandparents, two houses down from the Cunningham Block. When asked what was the best thing about Greene, she exclaimed, “Winter’s store! It had everything!” You youngsters will know it as the Greene Department Store.
Two years at Cortland Normal School after Greene didn’t seem long enough for the gentleman in
charge of the students. He told Ruth that he was not giving her credit for one of her courses because
she was too young to teach. Little did he know that she already had an offer to teach in Endicott the
following year. So that summer she went to Cornell, took two courses, and got her teaching degree,
went to Endicott and taught English there for four years.
With her forty years of teaching English in Marathon, she taught a total of forty-four years plus she
and her husband had a farm on Irish Hill. She’s very proud to say that the farm is now the Maple
Hill Golf Course, one of the best in the area. In earlier years, after her day was done at the high school, she would go to the golf club and cook.
In 1993, a gentleman came to her door and asked if she remembered him. He was an old boy friend who looked her up. She and Marshall Seymour had a great time reminiscing about their good times in the past.
Before leaving, I told her I had just learned about another Harrison in Smithville who was the great
grandmother of Frances Davis. This young woman, Sarah Jane Lucinda Harrison, had come from
Ireland, and made lace in New York City before coming to Chenango County to visit Harrison
relatives, married a neighbor of the Harrisons, William Lucas, and had stayed here. Ruth said,
“Well, she’s a relative because my Harrisons made lace also in New York City and they made it in
Ireland, too.” She went in the other room, brought out a petticoat with rows of lace and said,
“Here’s a Harrison lace petticoat. I want you to put it in your museum.” Hence, the photo.
So many connections with friends and relatives. And Ruth just made another one with me. No man is an island.