Though the story of Town Line is chiefly known in the area, several popular sites have released stories about the secession in recent years. The title of this project “The Mystery of the Town Line Secession” is inspired by the language present in many of the online pieces about the town that indicate that “no one is sure why the random New York village” seceded from the Union in 1861. (1) In 2011, the NPR podcast All Things Considered ran a short segment about Town Line surrounding the town’s 150th anniversary of the secession. (2) Similarly, a 2017 article released by Conde Nast’s Maphead publication sought to explain the town’s “bizarre rebel past” for geography trivia fanatics. (1) Echoing the sentiments of the previous two pieces, there was an article published by the History Channel website in October 2018 during the creation of this project that details the towns “quirky bit of history”. (3) These pieces all led us to seek out the research that is detailed in the pages of this site, in which we attempt to untangle the Town Line’s complex history by engaging with its material and oral histories.
The way that the story has been shared becomes a factor in the historical memory of the secession. For instance, the sentiments expressed in the interview with Lisa Blair of Blair’s Hardware reflect a greater pattern of interpretation of Civil War history by modern Confederate groups. It is important to note here that groups like the Sons of the Confederate Veterans often portray a history of the Civil War that is based on states rights, not the issue of slavery. (4) Thus, the proliferation of an individual rights based secession movement in Town Line may be influenced by the group’s involvement in the town.
The perspective from Karen Muchow of the Alden Historical Society similarly brings a unique, perhaps often forgotten message. In sharing that the original papers from the secession have not yet been brought to light, Muchow highlights that how we perceive the reasoning behind the events of 1861 today is not much more than speculation.
In all likelihood, the “truth” of what happened in Town Line will remain unknown for years to come and may not ever be certain. Given the lack of documentation of the initial 1861 secession, we cannot confirm that Town Line indeed joined the Confederacy. The only truth that is widely agreed upon is the event of the secession itself; the rest of Town Line’s history is a product of a variety of assumptions and interpretations.
The following sub-pages will delve deeper into specific evidence of historical memory in Town Line regarding two plaques dedicated to the secession and the removal of the Confederate flag from the fire department logo in 2011.
(1) Ken Jennings, “This New York Town Seceded from the U.S. and Forgot to Rejoin,” Conde Nast Traveler, July 3, 2017. https://www.cntraveler.com/story/this-new-york-town-seceded-from-the-us-and-forgot-to-rejoin
(2) “N.Y. Town Still Uncertain Why It Left The Union,” NPR All Things Considered. Oct. 14, 2011. https://www.npr.org/2011/10/14/141362876/n-y-town-still-uncertain-why-it-left-the-union
(3) Christopher Klein, “This New York Village Seceded from the Union…for 85 Years,” History Channel, Oct. 18, 2018. https://www.history.com/news/civil-war-secession-new-york-town
(4) Kevin Sieff, ‘Virginia 4th-grade textbook criticized over claims on black Confederate soldiers,” Washington Post, Oct. 20, 2010. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/10/19/AR2010101907974.html?sid=ST2011010803960&fbclid=IwAR3O6-tK98S16GhKew8dg9qWtCshvGJ392hjvrkQGkhw2qYTEVt0q_7eAFI