The History of New York State
Book X, Chapter III

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam




The mention of Sullivan county to the average person being visions of hill, brooks, lakes with summer visitors completing the landscape. It is all that the mind can picture and more. The hills are relations of the Catskills, geologically, even if a visible connection is not apparent. The mean altitude of the county is about 1,500 feet, and several ranges of hills with wide intervals make up its surface. Some of the separate elevations approach 2,000 feet. the Delaware River separates the county from Pennsylvania, while the Shawangunk river marks the southeastern boundary. The Neversink, rising in Ulster County, passes through a large part of Sullivan before it enters Orange County, and there are a half dozen smaller streams, affluents of the Delaware. The lakes are too numerous to even list, although many will be described in the stories of the towns.

Geologically the county is interesting, but the minerals of its hills are of little commercial value. Few attempts have been made at mining, and these with little success. The clays, blue stone, and shales have proven of more value than the metals found. From an agricultural standpoint, the county is peculiarly located, for the soils are either of the red sandstone, which disintegrating, leaves little more than a colored sand, neither deep nor fertile. Or the soil in certain valleys, like the Mamakating, is glacial drift, giving a very uneven content, usually easily worked and reasonably rich. The sand soils, and sometimes the drift lands are under laid with an impervious stratum which makes the surface cold, easily waterlogged and sterile. These remarks are not made with the intent to disparaging the soils of Sullivan, but rather to draw attention to the difficulties which have ha to be faced and overcome, by those who followed the pioneers who had profited by the cutting of the timber, but did not stay to cultivate the land. it also, in a measure, explains why there is such a vacation spot so near the Metropolis with so much of the county still in a primitive state.

In the early days the Lenni Lenape, or Delaware Indians over-ran the region and the Wolf tribe or Esopus Indians were the original owners of the land. In 1684 Governor Dungan bought of certain chiefs a tract of land extending from Palz on the Hudson to Murderer's Kill, and the next year purchased from another chief the land from that stream to Stoney Point. Ten years later, 1694, under Governor Fletcher, a patent was granted to one Captain Evans which covered the west bank of the Hudson for the 18 miles from Palz to Stony Point, extending westward for 30 miles. This grant was later annulled and renewed, and Evans tried to reap some benefit from these grants, but when an old man of he secured was another and less valuable tract. Later there were other purchases from the Indians, but of the grants the Minisink and Hardenbergh are the most important and greatly influenced the type of colonization, and caused many of the difficulties which arose later in the development of Sullivan.

The Minisink patent issued to Matthew Ling and twenty others on August 28, 1807, covered originally 250,000 acres, but was illegally added to by the owners by 50,000 acres east of the true boundaries. For many years the State of New Jersey claimed and held a large part of the Minisink grant. In 1769 a commission was appointed to settle the boundary between the two States, which decided the matter in favor of New York, and established the present line from the Hudson to the Delaware. On March 15-22, of the year 1716, Major Johannes Hardenbergh bought of the Esopus Indians, through their sachem Nanisinos, the immense tract of land since known as the Hardenbergh patent, which covered the greatest part of Sullivan County, not located in the Minisink patent. For this vast domain the sum of £60 was paid, less than one mill an acre. On April 20, 1708, this purchase was legally confirmed and the "Major Hardenbergh patent" was granted to Hardenbergh and six others. Shares in this patent quickly changed hands, but the terms under which the land was sold or leased were so varied and onerous that it not only greatly retarded the settlement of the district but tangled the title to many a tract for a century.

There seems to have been little attempt to settle this regions until after the Revolution. Previous to 1790 there were few people in the area except the Mamakating, Lumberland, Cochecton, and Neversink districts. But shortly after this date Robert Livingston, who had purchased five-sixteenths of the Hardenbergh patent with others, pushed the location of men on this lands by either sale or lease, and by 1800 there were more than 3,000 inhabitants of the county.

For the better handling of the legal affairs of the region, a movement was started for the setting off of this territory as a separate county, which led to the organization of Sullivan by the Legislature on March 27, 1809. The name was chosen to honor the hero of the march through the Indian county of 1779, General John Sullivan, who passed, on his way on this punitive expedition, through part of the county. A three-cornered contest for the county seat was precipitated by the desire to be chosen for this honor, by Liberty, Thompsonville, and Monticello. But the latter had a great advantage in being on the Newburgh and Cochecton turnpike, the great thoroughfare between the Hudson and the Delaware. Or it may have been the skill of its champions. But whatever the cause Monticello, "Heavenly Mountain," was chosen as the shiretown and a site for a Courthouse soon after selected. But such was the opposition, and disappointment over the result that, although only a simple frame building was under construction, it took from 1881 to 18124 before there was a place for the courts to meet. On the 13th of January, 1844, a great fire swept the county seat destroying, with other structures, the county's buildings. Before the ashes were cold a fight was on for a change of shiretowns. But after a long and animated controversy Monticello was empowered to rebuild the courts, and since then the question of change has not recurred.

When the first settlers came and who they were will be brought out in the accounts of the several towns, but there are two events which had much to do with the early development of the county, and the types and nationalities of its people. The first was the construction of the Newburgh and Cochecton Turnpike. The company which built the highway was chartered March 20, 1801, and the road in question connected the Hudson with the Delaware. It not only solved the transportation problem of the two districts, but was the means and the way by which the district was settled, and its completion antedates but little the formation of the county.

The other important event was the building of the Delaware and Hudson Canal. Pennsylvania coal had come into use in the early eighteen hundreds, but the inability to get it to market from mines except by the most extraordinary effort and primitive methods, greatly retarded the use of this new material. William Wurts and his brother Maurice had the vision to look for a cheap way of sending coal into New York in immense tonnage, and, after exploring many land an water routes, saw the feasibility of a canal through the valley whose outlet should be at Kingston. A company was formed, with a capitalization of $1,500,000; work was begun in 1826 and completed 2 years later.

The history of this remarkable piece of engineering is out of place here, but the fact that many of the residents of Sullivan are descendants of the men who worked on this canal is worthy of note. The Irish famine of '47 send some from that country to the States, and some of them wandered into the county, but the Irish names, which has so intimately connected with Sullivan history, are names of those who came in canal period and made here their home.

The Erie Canal had a depleting effect on Sullivan as it did on most of the southern counties. Accessibility to so great a market as New York was becoming, had encouraged its agriculture, enlarged its population given it prosperity. When that water way was opened in 1829, there was a great movement to lands along its lines, especially to the west. Farm lands in Western New York during the next twenty years jumped from prices lower than those of Sullivan, to $60, while those of the county dropped from four to two. The interior of the county had but one outlet, and that over two nigh mountains, and the soils could not be said to be rich or easily worked.

The coming of the Erie Railroad changed many of the causes of dragging population figures and unprofitable agriculture. Proposed in the same year that saw the first boats go from Albany to Buffalo by canal, the road was not completed until after many fights and the overcoming of great difficulties. The New York and Oswego Midland Railroad in 1873, and the lines laid through the county in more recent years have all had their part in the expansion of Sullivan. But the great good done by the first railroad was to renew the prosperity of the region as a farming section, and what was of even greater import, it brought the tanning industry to the fore until it became the great business of the county. Hemlock was on its hills since the beginning; tanbark was a valuable export of the first farmers, but the railroad induced the establishment of tanneries in the county, and their numbers multiplied for years, or until the demand was for oak rather than the plentiful hemlock. In 1865 there were 40 tanneries in Sullivan County producing yearly 8,567,872 pounds of sole leather, with a valuation of $2,609,289. Probably the most marked effect has been brought about in the last quarter century when it became the summer playground and vacation quarters of thousands from the crowded cities. There has been a notable buying of great acreages by the wealthy, and the forming of them into great estates.


Bethel, erected from Lumberland March 27, 1809, originally included the towns of Cochecton and Delaware. It is on the water shed between the Delaware and the Mongaup and is noted for the beauty of its lakes, White and Black, as well as others. Formerly important as a lumber and tannery section, it is now an agricultural and resort town, with a population in 1920, of 1,849. Adam Pintler was probably the first to seek out this section for the purpose of settling, about 1798. The Sackett road, cut through in 1800, opened the way to other settlers, quite a number coming mainly from Orange county, but some from New Jersey and Connecticut. At the organization of the town there were nearly 700 residents. The village of White lake, by the side of the beautiful sheet of water of that name, is now on the of the popular summer resorts of the Sullivan section. Its early attraction, however, was the water power at its outlet. Here came William Peck in 1804 and built saw and grist mills and other structures. While a house was opened in 1811 by a Dr. Lindsey at which an occasional visitor came to fish and rest, the first summer hotel was established in 1843.

Callicoon, one of the interior towns, is in the red shale section, and in spite of the broken character of its surface has a great deal of arable land. Farming is the main occupation of the residents. It is said of the town that it is composed of "table-land with the leaves turned down," and that its "Flats stand on their edges." Until 1798 Callicoon was a part of Mamakating; until 1807 of Lumberland; until 1842 of Liberty, when it was erected as a separate town. Fremont was taken from it in 1851. It was one of the last sections to be settled, because it suffered the disadvantage of an absent ownership which would not open roads or encourage settlers. There were not more then three families in the area as late as 1830. In 1845 the population was 605, and in 1920, 1739. There was a great influx of Germans into this as well as the other adjoining district in the years following 1840, led by Solomon Royce who printed circulars in German enlarging on the advantages of settling in this section of the county.

Cochecton, organized in 1828 from Bethel, has an average altitude of nearly 1,300 feet, and is one of the towns well fitted for dairying, its main industry. The valley lands are light and fertile and many vegetables are raised. Sole leather was the main production of the area after the building of the railroad. The German elements which early occupied the town have proved their abilities as thrifty farmers. With its picturesque uplands it attracts many summer visitors. The population at one time reached nearly 3,000, and is now (1920) 1,112. The third permanent settlement in Sullivan County was made in this town, and even as early as 1687 the region had been explored, and military points recognized and recorded. On the banks of the Delaware, near the present village of Cochecton was an Indian town, where lived the noted Lanape sage and New York saint, Tammany. He seems now to mean more to the Metropolis than to Cochecton. The main village of this section made little growth until the Erie first broke ground for its road near the present Cochecton station, and with the coming of the tanneries attained the peak of its growth.

Fallsburgh, erected March 9, 1826, from Thompson and Neversink, is a wide rolling area where the dairy and vegetable farm is found at its best. The timber that supplied the main industry of the early days is almost exhausted, and the tanneries have moved on. it is probable that the Dutch supplied the first settlers of the town, but who they were is not known. In 1790 the valley is said to have had the appearance of a locality long occupied by whites, but the first authentic record gives John Hiis as the pioneer and date as 1789. The flats were in a virgin state of fertility, and their crops known far and wide. Hurleyville, named after an old hunter, William Hurley, is one of the business centers of the township and Woodburne, Fallsburgh, and Loch Sheldrake are the other hamlets.

Forestburgh, formed from Thompson and Mamakating, May 2, 1837, lies principally among the ridges of the Neversink and Mongaup rivers and averages 1,400 feet above sea level. Mongaup Falls, three miles above Forestburgh village is noteworthy; the river fall in into a chasm seventy feet deep with banks rising higher. Lumbering is still an industry but no longer of major importance. Dairying and catering to the summer visitors are the main occupations of the district. Settlement began in 1795, with Zephaniah and Luther Drake as the pioneers. among the hamlets are Oaklandville, Hartwood, and Forestburgh.

Fremont, erected from Callicoon, November 1, 1851, lies in the extreme west part of the county on the banks of the Delaware. Its surface is broken and hilly with summits rising to 1,800 feet. Much of the town is not suited to farming, even the dairy industry not being prominent here. The first settlers were Joseph Green at Long eddy, John Hankins at Hankin's Depot, and Benjamin Misner at Long Pond. Hamlets: Fremont Center, Obernburgh, Long Eddy and Hankins.

Highland, formed from Lumberland, December 17, 1853. It is an interior town in the southern part of the county and named from the character of its surface, which consists of high ridges between the Delaware and Mongaup rivers. There are many small lakes, some of which are feeders of the canal. Lumbering and farming are the main industries.

The first settler was John Barnes, who located at Narrow's Falls. the battle of the Neversink, in the revolution, took place within the boundaries of the town. hamlets: Barryville and Lumberland.

Liberty, formed from Lumberland, March 13, 1807, is one of the more rugged owns just north of the center of the county. The soil is good though stony, much of the area being under farm fence. Stephen Russel from Connecticut settled near Liberty village in 1793.

There are a number of hamlets such as Parksville and Liberty Falls. The village, Liberty, on the Shawangunks at a height of 2,000 feet, has grown in a century from a place of six houses to one of the noted health and summer resorts of the State with a population of nearly 3,000. The Liberty Sanatorium for those with pulmonary affections is one of several large institutions of the village.

Lumberland, formed from Mamakating, march 16, 1798, embraces all the county west of the Mongaup river south of Liberty and Callicoon. The many streams and heavy forests of the town attracted the first settlers, and the industry that developed gave to the district the name it now bears. Metaque Pond is the most notable of its waters, the outlet of which is a cascade of a hundred feet. the Delaware and Hudson Canal follows the course of the river through the town and it is along this that the settlements are situated, Pond Eddy being the largest. Who first located in this rugged area is not known, although a sawmill is mentioned as "Reeve's saw mill" in a survey of the Minisink patent made in 1762 by Charles Webb. Quinlan gives a John Showers as the pioneer, living on the Mongaup and keeping a tavern as early as 1790.

Mamakating originally included not only the whole of Sullivan county but par of orange as well, being erected as a precinct December 17, 1743, and not organized as a town until March 7, 1788. It lies in the highlands between the Neversink and Shawangunk creeks and consists principally of two ridges on either side of the wide valley of the Basherkill. The two ridges are known as Shawangunk Mountain and Panther Hill; the canal is built through the valley. Lead was mined in a small way in the pioneer days, but agriculture is the main modern industry and the town ranks high in this respect in the county. Mamakating was undoubtedly the first settled section of the county, but by whom and when is untold as far as the records go. It may have been the Ditch, who was supposed to have had a trading post in the area in 1614; or the Swedes who established a Delaware River colony in 1638. It is known that Don Manuel Gonzales, a Spaniard, married a Dutch girl and came to settle in the Mamakating Valley in 1700 where he erected a house, farmed, and traded with the Indians. He is said to have built the first sawmill at what is now the chief village of the area, Wurtsboro. Before 1800 the town had a population of 300.

The village, Wurtsboro, received its name as a compliment to the man who originated the idea of a canal (D. & H.) through the valley, which canal was to make the hamlet the most important place between the Delaware and the Hudson. While it did not fulfill the first hopes, the beautiful location of the village has brought to it the summer visitor from many States who make it their temporary home. Population about 500. "the beautiful village of Bloomburgh," so called by Washington Irving, is another of the wonderfully situated villages of Mamakating, and has about the same population as the older Wurtsboro.

Neversink, formed from Rochester (Ulster County) March 16, 1798, is one of the highest towns in the county, Denman Hill, 3.300 feet , and Thunder Hill, more the 2,500, being the principal elevations. The Lacawack, or west branch of Rondout Creek is one of the main drains of the country and the seat of the first settlement in 1743. The first comers were driven off during the Revolution, to be replaced by Larabe on Thunder Hill, and others on a thousand acre plot. Once a great tannery section, it is now mostly occupied by those engaged in dairying and caring for summer boarding houses.

Rockland, organized from Neversink, March 29, 1809, lies at the head of the east branch of the Delaware (Pepacton) in the extreme northern part of the county. A chain of small lakes extends across the county, making it one of the most attractive of the resort sections. The first settlements were by families named Stewart and West in 1789 on Beaver Kill Flat. The lumber and tanning trades were of the first rank before the Civil War, and have given way to general farming.

Thompson, formed from Mamakating, March 10, 1803, was named in honor of William A. Thompson, the first judge of the county, who had a large share in the history and growth of the area. It is one of the less rugged of the towns, a great resort and health section, and one with soil far above the average for the county. Lake Kiamesha and a number of other bodies of water, many of which are used for drinking purposes, add tot he attractiveness of this region. William Thompson, John Knapp and Timothy Childs were among the first of those who located in this region. Monticello, the principal village and county seat, is situated on one of the higher ridges surrounded by still loftier hills. The broad shaded streets, fine residences and grounds, together with its proven healthfulness, and pleasant summers have helped to make it one of the most popular resorts of the State. The village as incorporated April 20, 1820, and has a population of 1,500.

Tusten, formed from Lumberland, December 17, 1853, was named for Benjamin Tusten, who was killed in the battle of Minisink, 1789. It is located along the bank of the Delaware River, contains much arable land, although the most of it is used for the production of hay or pasturage. Narrowsburgh, formerly Homan's Eddy, is the principal village and the seat of the first settlement of the section. Willis is the name of the first to come, but had his cabin on the Pennsylvania side. Benjamin Homans was the original settler on the New York side. The place might have been as important as many other rail junction towns had it not been for the speculation in village lots, when it was proposed to use Narrowsburgh as the connecting point of the eastern and Delaware sections of the Erie. This so raised the price of available land that the company gave up its idea.


The History of New York State, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc., 1927

This book is owned by Pam Rietsch and is a part of the Mardos Memorial Library

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