Zadock Pratt Museum - "Millennium History Feature of the Month" 

Throughout the year 2000, we highlight interesting items from Prattsville history.  
This is Number 6 in our feature series.


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One of Basil Becker's violins

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Basil Becker's house on Main Street, Prattsville

June/July 2000 - Basil Becker 
... the Becker Family's Tourist Home, Basil's aeroplanes, his musical instruments ...

The fact that Prattsville was a popular summertime tourist town once, I have already discussed in an earlier story about Perry Chatfield, and the fact that many the houses in the town offered bed and breakfast in the summer is now familiar to you too. But the way that some people started doing that is not as ordinary as it sounds. 

The Becker family, the owners of two pretty houses on the main street of Prattsville, would have never thought about that way of earning money, if the young teenager of the house, Basil Becker�s most favorite hobby wasn�t woodworking. 

I know that sounds kind of strange but it has an explanation.

Basil Becker in 1933, around the time his family went into the "tourist home" business

Basil Becker at 13

Basil always liked working with wood, and the way of that was very original � he and his friend Perry Chatfield worked with wood, using Perry�s old sewing machine to drive the woodcarving tool by foot action!  Like sewing, but this was wood carving.  
I bet it�s very hard, and how would an idea like that come to somebody?

Basil Becker's family

Basil Backer's family

Click here to enlarge - Basil Becker in 1920   

Basil Becker - 9 months old, on the left

Once Basil made a carved wood sign that said Tourists�, and hung it in on a tree in front of their house.  Of course soon some people knocked their door asking for a room. First, Basil�s mother was horrified, but afterwards that became a good source of earning money for them.

They even built special cottages for tourists, right next to their houses. 
I would certainly enjoy staying there, especially for the price of those times � a buck for a night � sounds great to me!

There must have been really many summer residents - "tourists" - staying in Prattsville each season.  I heard the �tourist� sign story from Perry Chatfield, while interviewing him, so I thought that it would a nice topic for a new story, and headed to meet Basil. As a result I met a wonderful person, who was patient enough to answer all my questions.

Basil was born in Prattsville, on the second floor the house that he is living in right now. 

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Becker's cottages, next to the main house, were full of summer tourists until the 1950's 

Click to enlarge the photo of Basil Becker

His mother�s family was originally from Prattsville. And they are to whom the houses belonged to � the Peckhams family. They had lots of farms where all five of Basil�s uncles were working. Later on Basil, too, worked on the farms. But farming was not the only thing that the members of Peckham family did, one of his uncles � Charlie Peckham, also known as Necktie Charlie, was a very famous and successful horse racer in Prattsville. Even at the age of 91, he continued horseracing, and he also was a horse trainer. Charlie Peckham was also known as a photographer.

Basil lived all his life in Prattsville, went to school in the town hall (below, photo lent to me by Perry Chatfield), then to Gilboa High School.  

Click to see the full size picture of the Prattsville School, now the Town Hall on Main Street.

As all of his peers, Basil worked in the farms, went to movies, of course they were still silent back then, but that was something to do. One of his passions is country music. He plays it on several instruments that he has. The most amazing one is the more than hundred years old beautiful violin, that he got from his grandfather.

Basil used to play in a band.  He had his fiddle and many other instruments, some that he still uses in his house.  He had one of the first electric guitars in the 1940's (he says it was a novelty, but did not, in retrospect, play as well as the newer models).  

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Prattsville airfield

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Basil Becker's plane

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Prattsville flying club

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Crashed New York News plane

Basil Becker had another hobby - flying.  He was a member of a busy flying club, which operated an airfield on the Prattsville flats, near today's Conine baseball field.  He and his friends owned, traded, and flew aeroplanes in and out of Prattsville.  Basil told me the story of the airfield being used, one winter, for an unusual arrival.  An accused murderer was on the run from from the New York City police, tracked down in the neighborhood, and holed up under police siege.   New York Daily News reporters who had covered the story so far, had to get here to continue their coverage.  They rented a plane and flew to Kingston.  There they asked for directions to the Prattsville airfield and continued on, despite being told the wintry weather was bad for flying.  When they landed at Prattsville, they crash-landed their plane off the end of the  runway.  They rushed off in a car in pursuit of their story.  A truck came a few days later to take the crashed plane away, Basil remembers.

I was lucky enough to enjoy his play on the violin. And it wasn�t just 
the music that I was enjoying, but much more seeing 
the 80-year-old man get younger and younger in front of my eyes�

Basil Becker and our correspondent, Sona Grigoryan.

Our teenage website correspondent, Sona Grigoryan,
a 1999-2000 exchange student from Yerevan, Armenia,
lives in New York City and Prattsville with the Cernikovsky family.
Here she is interviewing Basil Becker in his house on Main Street.

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Updated on:
21 February, 2019

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