Since first posting the story of Delina Filkins, one of Herkimer County's best-known residents, Larry Filkins sent me an article about her written by well-known historian A. Ross Eckler. With Mr. Eckler's kind permission we are posting his original 1980 article, which starts 2/3 of the way down this page.
This story was originally published in "The Old Mohawk-Turnpike Book" written in 1924 by Nelson Greene, issued for The Mohawk Valley Historical Association, Inc. The book, a wonderful little volume full of history and photograph, was reprinted later that year by the Charles B. Knox Gelatine Co., Inc. This article excerpted from the book is reproduced here for educational purposes. Robert A. Lorick, Contributing Editor, Herkimer/Montgomery Counties NYGenWeb.
"MRS. DELINA FILKINS OF JORDANVILLE, South of Mohawk (on the Leatherstocking Trail), celebrated her 109th birthday (at the home of her 69 year old son) and entered her 110th year on May 4, 1924 (the year of this book's publication) at which time she was strong and well and the oldest person in New York State.
She was born Delina Ecker in a house built by her grandfather, John Ecker, a Mohawk Valley pioneer, in the town of Stark 200 years prior to 1924.
Delina Ecker Filkins entered her 110th year without ever having ridden in a railroad train or trolley car. She celebrated her 100th birthday in 1915 by her first automobile ride. Mrs. Filkins was born in the days of the stagecoach and the Mohawk River freight and passenger boats. She was ten years old before the Erie Canal was finished and twenty-one when the Dewitt Clinton train made the first trip over the Utica and Schenectady Railroad, August 1, 1836. "
Editor's Note: Subsequent research did not manage to locate an obituary for Delina Filkins. The New York Times Obituary Index also failed to have a report of the death of one of the oldest women in United States and New York History. Perhaps one of her descendants would like to fill us in on her final years.
First response in, same day of posting!
From: Larry Filkins, who's researching the Clayton and Filkins families
Date: Sun 14 June 1998
My parents had a newspaper clipping in their address book about Delina Filkins.
"Richfield Springs NY, Dec 4
AP Mrs. Delina Filkins, 113 years old, died at the home of her son here today. She was born in the town of Stark, Herkimer county, New York May 4, 1815."
The newspaper name or date is unknown. It is unknown whether she is related to my family, probably not.
Richfield Springs is in the Town of Richfield, Otsego County, just over the border from the Town of Warren, Herkimer County.
Mr. A. Ross Eckler's article from "The Leatherstocking Journal", Spring 1980, page 18:
In the matter of prolonging human life, science has played no part whatever. Take the history of one Bessie Singletree. On her twenty-seventh birthday Miss Singletree became twenty-four years of age and was married. At forty, she was thirty-nine until she was close to fifty. At fifty Bessie was forty; at sixty, fifty-five. At sixty-five she was sixty-eight and on her seventieth birthday everyone said Grandmother Singletree was pretty chipper for an octogenarian. At seventy-five she had her picture in the paper as the oldest woman in the county, aged ninety-three. Ten years later she passed away at the ripe old age of one hundred nine.
Norman Ingersoll, The Saturday Evening Post, April 18, 1936.
Many people have heard claims of extreme age made by yogurt-fueled Georgians of the USSR and the Vilcabambans of Ecuador, and by people like Charlie Smith of Bartow, Florida, who died this year after celebrating his alleged 137th birthday on the Fourth of July. It's not unknown for centenarians to stretch the truth a little - pride, perhaps; ignorance, once in a while; and sometimes, they've just forgotten the facts.
A historian, hearing such a claim, must therefore play genealogical detective, learning about the claimant's family history many decades earlier (Where did he live? What was his wife's name? His children's names?) and checking these against contemporary documents such as Federal census reports, which during 1850 through 1880 and the year 1900 listed the name and age of each person in the family. In light of such research the centenarian is likely to age fifteen to twenty years in the decade between censuses. Birth and marriage records, if available, must be examined carefully to be sure that the centenarian and the person in the record are the same, since (for example) father and son may bear identical names.
The Guinness Books of World Records for 1976 through 1979 state that Delina Ecker Filkins is the oldest authenticated centenarian. She was born in Stark township, Herkimer County, New York, on May 4, 1815, and died in Richfield Springs, New York, on December 4, 1928, at the age of 113 years and 7 months. Her age at death seems beyond dispute, for it is correctly given in eleven different State and Federal censuses in Herkimer County Courthouse from 1850 through 1925.
The daughter of William and Susanna (Harwick) Ecker, Delina married John Filkins in 1834 and they settled on a farm in the township of Stark (on the south side of Bush road, a short distance east of the Aney Road intersection) for the next 89 years. There she raised a family of six - Joseph, Cornelia, William, Alonzo, Barney and Frank. After her husband's death in 1890, she continued to live on the farm with her youngest son Frank and his family. In 1923 they moved to the township of Warren, and two months before her death she came to Richfield Springs.
Today, five great-granddaughters and one great-grandson survive: Mabel Harter, Hilda Royce, Hazel King and Gordon Filkins of Jordanville; Mildred Kitts of Richfield Springs; and Evelyn Smith of East Winfield. They remember well how "Old Grandma" used to fall asleep in her rocking chair next to the wood stove, ending up leaning against its hot surface. She wore a long dark dress topped with a long white apron; to press the apron she would fold it carefully and place it under the chushion of her chair. At Christmas, the old lady loved to receive candy but wouldn't share it with the others; instead, she hoarded it in her dresser.
Although slightly deaf she was in good health until shortly before her death, getting around with a cane and even making her own bed. She remembered clearly the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825 when she was a 10-year-old girl. She remembered how the smoky glare from a twisted rag in a grease-filled saucer gave way to candles, to kerosene lamps and to Mr. Edison's electric light. She remembered the Indians who still lived in the neighborhood when she was a young housewife, and how she baked pies for them when they "came up from the swamps" so they would leave her boys alone.
As she grew older birthdays became community events. She received greetings from Presidents Harding and Coolidge and from Governor Smith of New York, and visitors from miles around. One photograph from the 1920's shows car after car lined up outside her house. When she reached 113, Owen D. Young commissioned artist Leona Bell Jacobs to do her portrait; one painting is in the Canajoharie Library and Art Gallery (though not always on display) and the other is in the Owen D. Young Central School.
When asked the inevitable question, she replied, "Well, I don't know exactly. I always worked hard and I think that had a lot to do with it. I have not been sick much, and the only medicine I ever took was steeped herbs." She might have added heredity; her father lived to be 97.
Delina Ecker Filkins is buried near the center of the Van Hornesville cemetery on a hill above the village green.
Coordinator's Note: Some of you may wonder why we occasionally post small specialized historical articles about individuals on our site. Mainly to provide pieces for reflection on the personal aspects of history, and to try to capture the experiences of our ancestors. This particular little article captivated me. I've often thought about my own grandmothers' experiences, both born at the turn of the century and seeing so many wondrous things come along - the airplane, radio, television, cable t.v., computers. As a young girl I was by one grandmother's side listening to her marvel as we watched the first step made by a man on the moon. That day she told me about other firsts, esp. her first car that she had to crank from the front! Which led to her telling me about her mother, who was afraid to learn to drive that new-fangled contraption but not afraid to set out on foot across the Ukraine for a port to leave for America. We hope you find the human interest articles posted on our site to be thought-provoking, and conversation openers for you and your families.
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