Dirt Guy

 

Town supervisors often get pelted with requests.

“Pave my road,” “Do something about my neighbor,” “Lower my taxes;” not often are the requests so unusual or so simple.

Granville Town Supervisor Matt Hicks said he got his most unusual request so far in April from a man he never met and who doesn’t live within his jurisdiction.

In April, Bob Farrell of Raleigh, North Carolina sent a letter to Hicks which read in part: “My purpose in writing this letter is to make a request which for someone in your position certainly is not uncommon. Hopefully, mine is simpler than most. I am asking that you forward to me one ounce of soil from your town …”

Farrell as it turns out, is not nuts.

“I’m ballsy,” he said by phone from his home last week with a laugh answering in response to being asked why he asked for dirt?

The real reason for the request goes back just a bit.

Farrell was born in Whitehall, but moved early in his life and lived until retirement near Watervliet.

He had two relatives, both from Whitehall, a great, great uncle Robert Taggert who served in the 169th, a Washington County company part of the Troy Regiment and another great, great uncleRichard W. Farrell who served in one of two Washington County Regiments in the 123rd.

The 123rd Regiment New York State Volunteers known as the Washington County Regiment took part in the Battle of Bentonville in March of 1865. In what would become the largest battle ever fought in North Carolina, 543 were killed and more than 2,800 wounded.  

A fellow member of the Civil War Round Table (CWRT), an organization of Civil War enthusiasts, Lawrence Laboda, had a granite monument built on his property which is a part of the 6,000 acres of the field of battle from Bentonville.

Although he was from Long Island, Laboda spent years researching the unit and felt a special affinity for the organization.

So much so that when he had the opportunity to buy land which had been a part of a battle field associated with the unit, he did so.

Later Laboda decided to put a monument on the site.

The nine-foot granite obelisk is the only monument in North Carolina outside of a federal cemetery saluting Union regiments. The monument is placed directly on the path where the 123rd walked, he said. 

“I got the idea from here in Raleigh,” Farrell said.

The city is the site of a huge Confederate cemetery with over 1,400 Civil War veteran soldiers buried.

Doing research, a historical group discovered one Union solider buried as a Confederate soldier.

The man was from Minnesota and had lain for many decades in an improperly marked grave.

Farrell said the man’s grave was rededicated and at that ceremony a man came with some Minnesota soil.

“He spread at the grave site – it seemed like a nice gesture to join the soil and the monument,” Farrell said.

Farrell thought why not join the 123rd monument in a similar way?

“The reason I wrote the letter was to take and ultimately place all of the (soil samples) around the base of the statue in remembrance of all of the soldiers who passed by this place as a tribute to them part of their native soil is there at the base of the monument in North Carolina,” Farrell said. 

Seeing the intermingling of the dirt at that monument got Farrell to thinking. And writing letters; 17 of them to be exact, one to each of the 17 supervisors in Washington County.

“I figured what could happen? They could respond or not, it’s working out quite like I expected,” Farrell said.

Response has been so-so at roughly 33 percent, but the retiree said he’s happy to get anything at all in response to the mailed equivalent of a cold call.

“I have six, which is perfectly fine for me, it’s a nice effort,” Farrell said.

“Volunteer politicians, they do what they can; something like this might get put on the back burner which isn’t the end of the world for them or me,” he said. 

Hicks said he had responded to the request shortly after it arrived in the spring.

The supervisor said he had the chance to pick up some dirt shortly after receiving the letter so without a bunch of thought he packed up some dirt from the Mettowee River Park where he was helping install a garden.

“I just sent it off and that was it,” he said. “I haven’t heard a thing since.”

Farrell said of the 17 letters that went out, six returns came back with Hebron’s Brian Campbell; Greenwich’s Sara Idleman; Fort Edward’s Mitch Suprenaut, Whitehall’s Richard ‘Geezer’ Gordon and Cambridge’s William ‘Beaver’ Watkins joining Hicks in responding thus far.

Board of Supervisors chair John Rypmh said he recalled the letter, but was not certain he had responded.

Other supervisors contacted including Gayle Hall from Fort Ann, Dana Haff from Hartford, James Lindsey from Kingsbury and Bob Shay from White Creek said they received the letter but had not responded, but planned to.

Farrell said he lives more than an hour from the site so he plans to wait for a convenient time to make the trip to spread the dirt; he does not plan to wait for more samples and will spread the dirt as it arrives.

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