The Mystery of Aunt Carrie’s Boardinghouse

Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson here, today sharing another of my family history mysteries. Warning: this is a long post!

Recently, the land that went out of my mother’s family back in 1958 and was thereafter abandoned until it became completely overgrown, was sold to a gentleman who contacted me after seeing the page I have about that site on my webpage. It turned out that he not only bought what was the original Hornbeck farm on Whittaker Road in Hurleyville, New York, but also the property next door, the one that was a bungalow colony back in the 1950s. Among other questions, he asked if I could solve a mystery for him: why doesn’t the large pond on the Hornbeck lot show up on old maps of the area?

the farm pond in its heyday

That was easy to answer. My great-uncles, M.H. and Howard Hornbeck, dug the pond, probably sometime in the very early twentieth century, tapping into a spring to create a recreational feature for guests at the family’s summer boardinghouse. This was no small undertaking, but it proved quite successful. Swimming, boating, and fishing were a real draw in those early days of tourism in the foothills of the Catskills, and in the winter the uncles operated an ice harvesting business.

the same pond in 2023

As things turned out, the new owner ended up solving a mystery for me, too. A while back I came across a probate notice in the Sullivan County Record for May 20, 1897:

This puzzled me for a couple of reasons. For one thing, it was obvious that Lawrence made his will much earlier than 1897. At the time of his death, earlier that May at the age of 86, his son was married and had six children, his daughter was married and had two children, and his wife, the executrix, had been dead since 1890. None of their surviving descendants, at least the ones I’m in touch with, could ever remember hearing about the property being split in two and I wasn’t having any luck digging up any more information on or in old newspapers. I did know, however, that Lawrence Hornbeck’s father had brought his family to Hurleyville from Rochester (now Accord) in Ulster County by 1850, and that Lawrence had married Catherine E. Gardner in 1856.

In 1860, in the non-population census taken of farms, Lawrence had 38 improved acres and 45 unimproved, valued at $1000. He had one horse, four cows, two oxen, three other cattle, six sheep, and one swine, valued at $200. In the previous year the farm had produced fifty bushels of rye and fifty bushels of oats. In the 1870 census his real estate was valued at $1600 and his personal estate at $1000. The 1870 non-population schedule listed his holdings as fifty improved acres and twenty-five of woodland. His farm implements and machinery were valued at $50. He owned two horses, six milch cows, two working oxen, eight other cattle, four sheep, and two swine. The value of all his livestock was $800. He produced 100 bushels of Indian corn and the same of oats and ninety bushels of buckwheat. The 1880 non-population census gave Lawrence 28 tilled acres, 27 untilled acres, and 20 acres that were woodland. The value of the land, including buildings and fences, was $2000. The value of farm implements and machinery was $200 and the value of all livestock was $480. In 1879, he spent $20 on building and repairs and $20 in wages, including the value of board. The estimated value of all farm produce sold, consumed, or on hand was $650. Twenty acres were mown and twenty acres were not mown. Twenty-two acres were planted in hay. He owned two horses, eight cows, three other cattle, two swine, and fifteen barnyard poultry. In 1879, the farm produced 700 pounds of butter and sixty dozen eggs. For the time, Lawrence would have been considered prosperous.

The photograph below shows Lawrence with his wife and two grown children outside the original farmhouse. It probably dates from the early 1880s.


Since I knew that Lawrence owned 75 acres at the time of his death, it finally dawned on me to ask my new correspondent the obvious question: how big was the lot he had just purchased? The answer was 37½ acres. So, yes, the property was divided, but I still didn’t have details. In the 1950s, the period I and my slightly older cousins remember first hand, the houses on the west side of the farm belonged to the Lounsburys, cousins on Myron’s wife’s side of the family, and to my Great Aunt Ida, Myron’s daughter and M.H. and Howard’s sister.

And here is where (finally!) Aunt Carrie’s boarding house comes into the story.

My mother, Theresa Marie Coburg Gorton (daughter of Myron’s daughter Tressa), was raised by her grandparents after her mother died in childbirth in 1910. In 1987, she recalled that when she was a girl in the 1920s, all the farms along what was then called the South Fallsburgh road were summer boarding houses, including those belonging to the Hornbecks and to her great aunt, Carrie Lounsbury.

Aunt Carrie must have been quite a character. In addition to running a summer boarding house, she had twelve children, was the first woman in Hurleyville to bob her hair, and was the first woman in town to drive a car. Those of us born after 1930, however, had no personal recollection of  “Aunt Carrie.” All we did know was that there had never been a boardinghouse where the Lounsburys were living in the 1950s.

It turned out I had part of the answer all along, in the form of a map in the 1875 Sullivan County Atlas that shows where the Applebees, Hornbecks, and Lounsburys lived in that year.


This section shows the land owned by Lawrence Hornbeck (wrongly spelled Hurdbeck) with “Mrs. Lounsbury” next to him to the east. According to the Sullivan County Directory for 1872/3, Mrs. Deborah Lounsbury farmed 74 acres. A bit more research told me that Deborah was the widow of David T. Lounsbury. I already knew that her son, Daniel, married Carrie Applebee in 1875.

Carrie was the eldest daughter of Isaac Applebee, who had moved his family from Parksville to Hurleyville in about 1861. Although Isaac listed himself as a farmer for the census, the family also ran a hotel (variously called the Applebee House, Fairlawn Farm, and Fairlawn Acres) and a store. A younger daughter, Ella Applebee, married Lawrence Hornbeck’s son, Myron, in 1883.

Census records supplied more of the story about the other plot of land my correspondent had bought. David Lounsbury owned it by the time the state census of 1855 was taken. In the federal census of 1860, his land was valued at $2000 and his personal property at $300. The value had gone up to $3600 in 1870, by which time Deborah was a widow. Daniel and Carrie Lounsbury inherited that property from her. What caused the confusion for present day descendants was that two of their children later bought some or all of the land that had been left to Constantia Hornbeck in 1897. By 1930, there were Lounsburys on both sides of the Hornbeck farm, but soon after that, following Carrie’s death, but still years before I was born, the land with the boardinghouse was sold.

And so, our mysteries all seem to be solved. The new owner now knows everything I do about his two parcels of land, the confusion over where the Lounsbury cousins lived has been cleared up, and I finally know for certain that Lawrence’s original farm was divided after his death. As both a genealogy buff and a mystery fan, I am a happy camper.

Two-part question for readers: Have you ever solved a minor mystery in real life, and did you get a kick out of the process, even if you were the only one who cared about having a solution? I’d love to have you share in the comments.

Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett has had sixty-four books traditionally published and has self published others. She won the Agatha Award and was an Anthony and Macavity finalist for best mystery nonfiction of 2008 for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and was an Agatha Award finalist in 2015 in the best mystery short story category. In 2023 she won the Lea Wait Award for “excellence and achievement” from the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance. She was the Malice Domestic Guest of Honor in 2014. She is currently working on creating new omnibus e-book editions of her backlist titles. Her website is


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1 Response to The Mystery of Aunt Carrie’s Boardinghouse

  1. John Clark says:

    Fascinating tale. I still wonder about the other John Rogers Clark that we can’t find. it’s the difference between me being the fourth and maybe being the fifth.

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