Superintendent of Highways Joanne Graham and the Town of Dover

Mary Yamin-Garone

A lot of people say that someday they’d like to give back to their community, if given the chance. Joanne Graham is one of those few who actually has.

Joanne was born and raised in Wingdale, N.Y., in the town of Dover.

“My family owned and operated Mostachetti Brothers, a local grocery and liquor store. I worked there when I was a kid stacking shelves and carrying groceries for a quarter tip,” she remembered. After graduating from Dover High School, she attended Krissler Business Institute and Dutchess Community College where she studied business.

It was in the late 1970s that Joanne began in the construction industry.

“I started flagging traffic for a local construction company and was introduced to the world of machinery,” she said. “The operators encouraged me to join Local 137 of the International Union of Operating Engineers. In the winter of 1980 I enrolled in the Local’s Apprenticeship School in Buchanan, New York. I was among just a few women who entered this trade. We were a rare breed then. Now about 10 of the 1,088 members are women in my local.”

During her apprenticeship, Joanne worked on New York State Department of Transportation (DOT) jobs as a trainee for private contractors. She became a full operator in 1984.

“I worked out of the union hall and was usually dispatched to run a backhoe loader or to roll blacktop. A lot of my time was spent in Westchester, Putnam and Dutchess counties working blacktop. That’s where I received most of my training.

“I worked heavy highway and bridge construction, such as on the Tappan Zee bridge, Hutchinson River and Taconic State Parkways, Routes 287, 684 and 84, and the Croton Reservoir, to name a few,” she said. “The apprenticeship program and the on-the-job training were instrumental in me gaining the experience necessary to one day be superintendent of highways in Dover. I might not have been involved in every phase of the jobs I did, but I was always exposed to a certain part of them, whether it was preparing the grades, loading the trucks or putting down the blacktop.

“When I first broke into the construction industry, my husband told me to find the smartest operator and pick his brain. I did. Some of those guys are retired now and are among my best friends.”

With all of the experience Joanne had gained through the years in construction, she believed she could use it to give back to her community by improving the town of Dover’s roads and bridges.

“I always had an interest in it,” she recalled. “I thought about running for superintendent when I retired from the union. I thought it would be a great way to make a difference in the community. Then in 2007, I was asked if I’d consider running for the position. I was definitely interested because I felt with the experience I had acquired through the years I could help improve the town’s infrastructure.”

Joanne was elected highway superintendent in 2007 and she started her four-year term on New Year’s Day in 2008. She is currently running for a second term.

Her full-time job keeps her very busy, but not so busy to keep her away from her family and other interests.

Joanne and David, her husband of 40 years, along with their son Mark, somehow find time to run Berkshire Wine and Spirits.

“We opened the store right here in town in 2006 after Dave retired from the IBEW. He takes care of everything and I work there on my days off.”

In what little spare time she has Joanne enjoys camping, kayaking and riding Harleys with her husband. “I’d also like to travel again. My husband and I spent a lot of time moving across the country working construction. I would like to go back to Europe and maybe check out South America some day.”

Joanne also is busy in her role as vice president of the Dutchess County Association of Town Superintendents of Highways.

All in a Day’s Work

The highway department’s garage was built in 1980 and houses Joanne’s office (referred to as a “work in progress”). It is 7,000 square feet and has five bays in the main building and can tightly fit all snow fighting equipment and a loader in the winter.

The wooden salt shed, constructed in 1992, can hold about 1,280 yards of material. Joanne readily admits she would love to have a new one. “We’ve been trying since I got here. Money is the key.”

In her role as highway superintendent, Joanne is responsible for maintaining the town’s 64.68 center lane miles of road, 25.5 of which are gravel and 39.18 of which are paved. That translates into nine plowing routes that take anywhere from 3.5 to 4 hours to clear.

Joanne is the first to admit that gender doesn’t matter when it comes to being highway superintendent.

“I came here with the knowledge of how to do things, but it didn’t make the job any easier. I just had more experience. You have to be organized, keep good records and have a good crew.”

Joanne’s eight-man crew helps serve the town’s 8,900 residents. Full-time staff includes foreman Joel Pelkey; mechanic Bruce Treat and heavy motor equipment operators Tom Vincent, Keith Russell, Richard Beebe, Bill Lowe, Howard Craft and David Sartori; part-time drivers Tony Chamberlain, James Yeno and Steven Yeno; and assistant to the superintendent George Heck, whom Joanne says runs the office.

“All of our full-time crew are 456 teamsters and most have been with the department for 20 years. Everybody has a skill and I try and put each one where his strengths are. I must say when we are under fire and have to get it done, they rise to the occasion. They’re a great group. I’ve always been in the rank and file so it’s different being in front of the pack. I have an appreciation for what they do and what they go through.”

The town of Dover’s highway department runs on a total operating budget of $1,438,867 that includes employee salaries and benefits and an annual CHIPS allocation of $99,069.

Equipment, of course, is the lifeblood of any highway department and Dover is no exception. Joanne pays great attention to keeping her fleet as up to date as possible.

“We don’t have an equipment fund, but we purchase through municipal leases. I have gone to the town board and said, ‘Look, this truck is broken or the frame on this one is rotted,’ and though things are tough, they have come through for me when they can. My dream, though, would be to update everything.”

Joanne depends on nearby municipalities to share their equipment.

“Dutchess County has shared services. I don’t know what we’d do if it didn’t,” she confessed. “There are five or six towns that are geographically connected and share trucking, which is a huge savings. Any time I’m doing blacktop, motopave, chip seal or fiber mat I can call up and get 10 to 12 trucks and save roughly $1,000 per day, per truck.”

These days Joanne’s crew is busy sweeping, grading and patching the roads, repairing catch basins and putting up guardrails. Once that’s done, time will be spent on the second phase of a three phase Community Development Block Grant (CDBG).

“We are currently working on the Cart Road project, phases I and II. This project started last year and both phases are funded through a CDBG — phase I is $125,000 and phase II is $94,800. Cart Road is a dirt road and very narrow in places, with large rock outcropping and a steep switch back. We have almost competed the road improvements and are currently blacktopping the road. Then, we’ll top with fiber mat. This project is three-quarters of a mile long..”

Joanne is working with the town’s engineer, Berger Engineering, on this very important project.

The town of Dover highway department also completed another CDBG-funded project on Holsapple Road. It received $150,000 to widen and rebuild the roadbed. Future plans include repairing the Nellie Hill Bridge and changing an entrance to Ridge Road.

“The preliminary work has begun for Ridge Road. The area has been cut and now we’re working on the drainage. The end result will improve what is now a dangerous situation. It’s a narrow road with not much sight distance. Over the years, there have been several vehicle accidents. We’re trying to make this road much safer by widening it and improving the sight distance.”

During her first term, Joanne and crew have not only been busy with these projects but several others, including completing a host of FEMA projects caused by the 2007 flood. Also, since 2008 her crew has resurfaced three miles of road per year. “We’ve also resurfaced about two miles of dirt road, which in the long run will be a great savings for the town of Dover,” she added.

Joanne is proud of what her department has accomplished in her first term and looks forward to many more years helping the town of Dover improve its infrastructure.

“Along with snow removal (77 inches this year) and all the callout emergencies our highway department receives, we get a lot of work done,” she said. “Most residents of our communities do not realize the time it takes to sweep roads, clean and repair catch basins, cut trees/brush, replace pipes and handle general road maintenance. Since I have been in office, we have accomplished some respectable projects for a department of our size with our equipment. I can only say that Dover has a great resource of talent and experience in our highway department that makes these projects happen.”

About the Town of Dover

History first recorded that the hills and valleys of early Dover were areas of open forests, thick swamps and sparkling waters inhabited by several groups of Indians. Those Native Americans were the Schaghticoke and remnants of the Pequots who lived in the rugged hills surrounding the narrow valley of the Ten Mile River.

Richard Sackett, “of Dover,” was granted a patent for land in 1704. He became the earliest settler in eastern Dutchess County but his claim fell to the Patents of Henry Beekman (1697 and 1703). Settlement was sparse until 1731, when the Equivalent Lands agreement with nearby Connecticut added almost two miles along the New York State border. The patent became known as the Oblong; its meandering river, the Ten Mile, became known as Oblong River. Shortly thereafter, while Quakers purchased and farmed the Oblong Lots, squatters and brigands settled in the hills while legend claimed Martin Preston became the first white man to settle on East Mountain.

Farming was the primary occupation. Dover was located on a direct route to New York City. Rest stops like the Old Drover’s Inn prospered as the roads swarmed with cattle and sheep herded by drovers on their way to market. In addition, iron ore was mined as early as the 1750s. Area growth continued at a rapid pace up to the American Revolution, when local ore was used to manufacture weapons and munitions for the revolutionary arsenal.

During the Revolution, Washington’s army marched the Upper Road from Hartford to Fishkill, which ran beside the Ten Mile River. They camped west of present day Wingdale. Near Church Hill, the Morehouse Tavern hosted General George Washington and other leaders and dignitaries of the American Revolution, such as Generals Gates, Putnam, Arnold, Heath, Parsons and Lafayette. After the Revolution new civil divisions in 1788 created Pawling Township from the Beekman Patent. Dover was then a part of Pawling.

The area continued to grow and local leaders gathered to discuss separating Dover from Pawling. On February 20, 1807, the New York Legislature separated 26,669 acres from Pawling, creating the Town of Dover. The first designated town meeting took place in the home of John Preston, today’s Old Drovers Inn.

Farming and iron continued to play major roles in the economy. As the town grew, small clusters of homes appeared near the mills and on the mountain slopes. Around 1850 the Harlem Railroad Division came to town and led to a decline in the drover’s business.

During the Civil War local men and materials made their impact. The Dutchess County 150th Regiment was organized and commanded by General John Henry Ketcham, who went on to become a 17-term U.S. Congressman. The radical revolving turret for the ironclad warship Monitor was actually the brainchild of Theodore Timby, to whom Ericsson paid royalty fees. Iron ore from a mine in Deuel Hollow was used on the Monitor class warships while Benson J. Lossing documented the War of Rebellion. Lossing, a prolific writer and engraver, lived on Chestnut Ridge where his home can still be seen today. The end of the war saw growth in the marble industry as gravestones were hewn from Ketcham’s quarries for monuments in cemeteries such as Arlington National Cemetery. By 1875 50 Dover farms spread across the valley and clung to the hillsides. Their milk and produce were quickly shipped to the New York markets by rail.

In the early 20th century the area became a haven for painters who captured the scenic beauty of the town’s rivers, fields, farms and country life on canvas. Tourists flocked to enjoy the Dover Stone Church and the charm of Dover’s corner of the world, staying in small local inns for tourists like the Bend in the Road Inn. Quarrying, lime production, agriculture and milk processing were the primary industries in the bustling community. Dover’s pristine white marble was used extensively for government buildings in New York, Washington, D.C. and notable monuments, such as the Washington Arch in New York City’s Greenwich Village, which boasts both kinds of Dover marble.

After WWI the Great Depression was an era of growth in Dover as New York State built two mental health facilities in the area. Farming declined but the local work force stayed to staff the growing population in the hospitals. New employees also were drawn from the South and upstate New York.

During WWII the federal government built a defense plant that produced magnesium from the local limestone. An overhead tramway carried the ore four miles to the plant. After the war farming continued to decline and the state hospitals became the major employer in the valley.

In the 1960s a new era of mental health care minimized the need for mental health facilities. The Harlem Valley Psychiatric Hospital population shrunk until it eventually closed in the 1980s. As the local economy slowed New York State located a detention facility run by the Division for Youth on the hospital grounds. It was phased out in 2004. The main facility remained vacant for years.

Rapid developments in the transportation and railroad industries allowed people to travel longer distances in a shorter time. A population shift began as new residents arrived from Westchester County, lured by beautiful scenery, small town appeal, inexpensive land and low cost residential development. Today, the town of Dover is contemplating ideas to keep its unique environment with its scenic views, open spaces and rural character while encouraging growth and working to rehabilitate the crumbling state hospital property into a vital economic force.

(History courtesy of http://townofdoverny.us/Town_History.cfm.) P

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