Gathering recently in the Warrensburg Museum of Local History around Joe DeMatties’ barber chair are his offspring (seated): Allison Drake of Warrensburg, (standing, left to right): Joe Dematties of Queensbury, Ernie DeMatties of Poultney, Vt., Irving DeMatties of Queensbury. (Not pictured): Darlynn Bates and Murray DeMatties.
The art of barbering has a long and colorful history In northern Warren County, and
Joseph F. DeMatties exemplifies that heritage well.
Some have said DeMatties, when he retired in 2000 at the age of 90, was perhaps the oldest continuously practicing barber in the U.S.
Known affectionately as “Joe the Barber,” DeMatties pursued the trade for nearly 80 years, most of that time practicing his art in Warrensburg, Chestertown and Lake George.
DeMatties, son of Italian immigrants, was born in 1911 in Rome, N.Y.
By the age of 15, he started work in a local barber shop — back in the era when barbers had to have a knowledge of anatomy and bodily systems, as well as perform bloodletting as needed.
He learned the barbering trade and other para-medical knowledge while he was assisting barbers at a local shop, where he was awarded his first barber's license.
When DeMatties was only 16, he acquired his own barber shop in Binghamton, but returned soon after to his hometown.
When he was 18, DeMatties joined the Navy and served as a barber on the USS Detroit. Discharged in 1931, Joe returned to Rome.
Not long afterwards, DeMatties — seeking adventure in his life — moved to the Adirondacks. He landed in Keene and pursued his trade, and when his boss wanted to open a shop in Chestertown, he moved there.
It was in Andy Campanaro’s barber shop in Chestertown that DeMatties met his wife Eulah G Harvey, who frequented the shop for a “wash and cut.” They were married in 1933, and had seven children.
During World War II, DeMatties served again in the Navy — from 1943-1944.
From 1944 through 1955, DeMatties continued his barbering career at various locations in Warrensburg, including at the Oddfellows Hall — now housing the Warrensburgh Museum — and 1 River St. across from the former Herrick’s Store, and in the Levine Block, once located in the parking lot between New Way Lunch and the Museum.
In 1955, DeMatties bought the home at 107 Main St., where Adirondack Regional Insurance Agency is now located, and that’s where he practiced his trade for nearly another half-century.
“Joe the Barber” was known to give haircuts virtually any time of day.
At the time, men received hot towel “face packs” and a shave with a straight razor accompanying their haircut, and women received a wash and cut.
Also, he made house calls as well as visiting the local summer camps, cutting hair for up to 100 boys on a Saturday, reportedly for 10 cents each. Additionally, DeMatties cut hair at local nursing homes, Countryside Adult Home, and other locations.
If necessary, DeMatties would take virtually anything of value, even a little box of odds and ends, in exchange for a haircut.
Children and adults loved his gregarious nature — children coveted the Tootsie Roll Pops and other goodies he handed out after a haircut, Joe’s sons have recalled. No one was ever turned away from his shop for lack of money.
Joe was known to enjoy horse races and wagering, and occasionally, he’d close the shop and head for the Saratoga track — sometimes with his friend, another local barber “Juicy” Bennett. DeMatties enjoyed socializing with the other barbers in Warrensburg during his long career — they included John Pitkin, Chauncy Tarantelli, Michabood, Bob Lloyd and others.
DeMatties and his friends also enjoyed gathering in one of the barber shops to play some poker — if it wasn’t interrupted by the local sheriff Howard Hewitt, who would stop the game if anyone was losing too much.
In 1989, the community paid tribute to DeMatties’ generosity and outgoing friendly attitude, when more than 120 friends and family members celebrated his 80th birthday. The event was commemorated as “Joe DeMatties Day” by Lake George Village.
In 2000, Joe DeMatties retired and moved in with his daughter Allison Drake, at her home in Warrensburg off Library Ave. He passed on Nov. 3, 2004, just days short of his 95th birthday.