The History of New York State
Book III, Chapter II

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam

 

CHAPTER II

ROCKLAND COUNTY #1

Twenty years after the Dutch has founded the colony of New Amsterdam, 1640, the first settlement was made in the present county of Rockland by a Captain De Vries. At Tappan, on the meadows south of Piermont on the Hudson, where an entering creek gave promise of being useful for mill sites, De Vries purchased an acreage from the Indians and established Vriesland. De Vries had already been the recipient, with others, of a land grant in Delaware, 1629; in 1739 had purchased property on Staten island, and colonized it. He was a man of prominence among the Dutch, and venerate by the Indians. But even his influence with the Indians was not enough to prevent the destruction of the first of the Rockland settlements by the tribes, when once they were aroused to vengeance by the injustice of the whites of New Amsterdam. The Indians remained in control of Rockland area until after 1700. Practically all of the patents secured by various persons, including the De Harte, Jenson, Orangetown, Quaspeck, Kakait and Wawayanda tracts, dating from 1666 to 1703, were all purchased from the various tribes who held the lands.

Probably the greater part of the lands secured by the whites in the Rockland District were acquired for speculation by men who never saw their propriety, or did anything to secure the development of it. Proximity to the thriving village of New Amsterdam, which by 1680 had given every assurance of permanency, freedom from the fear of Indian depredations, the ease with which the Indians parted with great areas fro the equivalent of a few dollars, all tended to place the region in the hands of those who bought only to sell at a profit. This resulted in the late and meager settlement of the section. Orange County, from which Rockland was formed later, was a wilderness with hardly a person residing within its bound at its erection in 1683. Even ten years later, there were only twenty families in this territory of 823 square miles; in 1702, there were 268.

It is likely that the physical conditions of the region had even more to do with the retarded development of the section so near to the future New York. Rockland County, as formed February 23, 1798, is a triangle with sides of about twenty miles each, the one to the south resting on the north line of New Jersey; the westerly one joining Orange county; the longer and irregular base bordering the Tappen Zee, or Haverstraw Bay of the Hudson. The south line of the county is only a mile or so above, and opposite the north line of the City of New York. The Ramapo mountains extend along the northwest border, the palisades come in from the south in ever-increasing dignity, until they come to their abrupt end at Piermont. Rockland Lake, a beautiful sheet of water a half mile back from the Hudson, at an elevation of more the 150 feet above that river, is the most notable natural lake, and is the source of one of the largest branches of the Hackensack River.

From the Hudson the county appears to have been well named, and it is not surprising that it was not looked on with favor as an agricultural region. It is not until the mild slopes of the country extending to the west are seen that one realizes that this is after all a farm section, and that the greater part of its surface is not only arable, but is already under farm fence. From the present day standpoint, the county is rich in the beauty of its natural features. River, lake, hills and valleys, and splendid roads everywhere, making it all accessible, all within forty miles of the heart of the densest populated section on the continent, it is not only one of the most popular of the summer resorts, but the favored site of thousand of the finest of country estates.

Although more and more the county is becoming a suburb of New York, it is still mainly a farming section. Away from the river the lands are fertile, with the hilly districts furnishing the best of pasture and feed to produce the milk for which the metropolis has a unending need. Gardening, the growing of vegetables, and the production of fruits for the nearby markets, engages the attention of the larger part of the inhabitants. Stone quarries employ many; road material rather than the fine red sandstone, at one time so much used in the cities, is the sort now exported. There are no large villages within Rockland, and with one or two exceptions, there are no large manufacturing plants. But the industrial side of the country is neither small in the total nor unimportant. Rockland ice was one of the former best supplies of that article sent to New York, and Haverstraw brick are nationally known.

The county had a notable part in the Revolution, accounts of which may be found in another section of this work. There is one name coming down from that great event which remains always alive in Rockland, that of Major John Andre', who entered the American lines on a secret mission to Benedict Arnold, and paid for it with his life, October 2, 1780. The end of the war found the county district in a most discouraging state. Devastated by the occupations of both colonial and British troops, without buildings or tools or animals, many returned to their former homes and began the resettlement of the region. There were few roads, and only the sections along the river could, with their sloops make a quick trip to market. Even so needed a road as the Orange turnpike to Nyack was not improved until after 1830. Steamboat navigation on the Hudson did not begin, as far as the county was concerned with Fulton's "Clermont," but the with the "Orange," a local steam vessel, which was started on a regular schedule between Nyack and New York, in 1827. Near as were the ports to each other, it was not until twenty years later that a boat was used that could be depended on to make a round trip in one day. the "Orange," was called by some the "Pot-Cheese" in reference to her beauty, while others name her the "Flying Dutchman," no doubt because of her speed.

In 1833, a charter was given to the New York and Erie Railroad, which had trains running in the county by 1840, the construction of this road was an invaluable aid in the development of the county. It caused the building of Piermont with its lone pier, made possible the founding of a half dozen villages, and opened the way to the utilization of the mineral and agricultural resources of Rockland. Other railroads followed, highways were built, until now there are few parts of the region not readily accessible. Plans for bridging the Hudson were being made in 1926.

Of the early industries, aside from farming, or the use of the forests, the first was the iron mine of Peter Hassenclever, on Lot 3 of the Chesecock Patent, opened up by an English company in 1768. In 1771 a nickle mine gave ore in this same region until 1775. Grey and red sandstones wee quarried in great quantities, one of the largest of these quarries being within one mile and a quarter from New York City, and in which work was begun before 1788. Free-stone, flagging and building rocks were quarried even earlier than the sandstones. The most of these industries died out when concrete came into fashion a building material. Mills, both saw and grist, were among the first industries of the county. As early as 1792, tanneries were in existence, the Sloatsburgh works being an example. Cotton mills were built in 1815; woolen mills even later, but the greatest of the industries was, and is, the making of brick. the first bricks, made for public market, were baked in 1810 on the banks of the Minisceongo, but not until James Wood, of England, set up a brick kiln at Haverstraw, in 1817, was the first successful plant erected. The process of that time was no great improvement on the methods of the ancient Egyptians, but Wood developed the modern way of mixing coal dust with the clay, in 1828, which revolutionized the manufacture of brick. At its height, the brick industry had fifty years in the county; there are now probably thirty.

Orange County, because of its size and the mountain range that divided it had a double county seat system. When the new county, Rockland, was formed in 1798, one of these county seats, Tappantown, was a part of it. The old courthouse, built in 1739, was burned, however, before the Revolution. The site of the shire town of the new county was at New City, in the town of Clarkston, and a set of building was in use the year after the formation of the county. The original civil divisions of Rockland were: Clarkston, Haverstraw, Orangetown and Ramapo. Stoney Point was set off from Haverstraw March 20, 1865, the first and last township made after the erection of the county.

TOWNS.

Clarkston, the second largest of the towns, with an area of 24,091 acres, and the largest amount of arable land, was separated from Haverstraw March 18, 1791. It is the central town on the Hudson, is a fine rolling region, with Lake Rockland and a branch of the forming the base of its drainage systems. The rich red soil of most of the section is under cultivation, berries, fruits and vegetables being specialties. The growth of the town has been very steady, there being only on census showing a decline. The population in 1920 was 7,317. Of the many hamlets and villages of this district, the most central and important from the county standpoint, is new City, in which are located the country buildings. The title was given it in 1774, but it was named Clarkstown by the postal authorities in 1815, when the first postoffice was established. Clarksville (Nyack Turnpike, or Mont Moor), was known as Clarkston until 1764, and has borne the various titles since. it has the doubtful honor of being the place of the last trial for witchcraft in New York. Rockland Lake, and its river shipping point, Slaughter's Landing, came from the growth of the ice business from the clear water lake, although a few other industries grew up around both lake and landing. Nanuet was founded coincident with the building of the Erie Railroad, in 1841, the hamlet that developed around the first cotton factory in the town (1812), the majority of whose stockholders were from Holland. Cedar Corners, or Walberg; Snedecker's Land, or Walberg Landing, a shipyard hamlet; Strawtown and Bardonia are others of the hamlets of Clarkston.

Haverstraw, formed March 7, 1788, had an area of 85,720 acres, and included the towns of Clarkstown, Ramapo and Stony Point, the first two being taken off in 1791 and the latter in 1865. The present town reaches from the Hudson River west to the Orange county line, and has a surface raging from river flats tot he Ramapoes. Population (1920), 9,027. The name is said to have been attached to the region since before 1616, when it was known as "Haverstroo." The great beds of clay which border the Hudson have been the main mineral resource of the town, although limestone is found in usable quantities, and agriculture has always been to the fore. The earliest grant in the county was made at this place, in 1666, to Balthazar De Harte, under the title of Haverstraw.

Haverstraw village, with a population in 1920 of 5,226, is the largest place in the county, probably one of the oldest in point of permanent settlement, and the seat of the greatest single industry in Rockland. It was not even a hamlet until well after the Revolution, and had no store until 1815. In 1837 speculation in real estate gripped the section, and the name of Warren, for a time, was given to a new part of the town. The brick industry, which made Haverstraw, has already been mentioned, and, although the village has thirty-five manufacturing concerns, practically all of these of any size are engaged in the making of brick. The village was incorporated February 14, 1854. Among the other settlements of the township are: Theill's Corners, named after the Dane who came to the locality previous to the Revolution and erected a forge. He also used the water power of the Minisceongo for grinding grist in 1793; Mount Ivy, a few miles our from Haverstraw; Garnerville, which had a mill in 1760, and was the home of the John Suffern Paper Mill in 1850, and print cotton textile factories at various times, the only remaining industry; West Haverstraw, once Samsondale, where a large rolling mill was started in 1830; Johnsontown was the seat of the first boat building in Haverstraw.

Orangetown, supposed to have been settled as early as 1680 by the Dutch, was formed March 7, 1788, the first new town in the county after which it was named. When the dispute over the New Jersey line was settled, Orangetown, being the section in that territory, was much reduced in size and left with an area of 16,023 acres. Proximity to New York City has had the greatest influence on the history of the town. with a deep fertile soil in many parts, the earliest of its industries was the growing of foodstuffs for the great city. Later came the use made of its sandstones. Fruit growing became a part of the more recent agriculture, and in place of the quarries and the industries that started in the region a various times, the present day sees the multiplication of large estates and increasing tendency of the city worker to make here his place of residence. The population in 1920 was 14,284, the climax of a growth which suffered no marked losses during its long history. Grand View, Nyack, Piermont and South Nyack are the principal villages of the township. Grand View is well named from its location on the Palisades, with a wonderful stretch of the widening Hudson to the north, and an unique vision of the Metropolis to the south. In the early days it had the less euphonius title of Snedens. Nyack had a population of 4,444 in 1920. It derived its name from a tribe of Indians which lived on the shores of Long Island. The patentees of the village site were Claes Janson, in 1671, and Harmanus Dows (Tallman) a few years later. It is located in a fertile valley, but had little connection with the outside world except by the undependable sloops, and amounted to little until long after the Revolution. Boat building and agriculture were the early industries until after the Civil War, but there began a period, shortly after the cessation of that conflict, when many notable additions were made to its industrial life, which not only brought about a large growth in population, but placed it at the head of the township in variety of manufactures, a place which it still holds, having some twenty-five plants. It is as a residential section that it has in recent years come to noted. Incorporation of the village took place on September 28, 1872.

Piermont,or to give it the ancient name, Tappan landing, or a later one, Taulman's landing, was the first entry port of the county. Starting with a mill erected long before the Revolution, the mill came into the possession of Major Taulman, who kept a store in the building, about 1785. In 1839, the Erie Railroad changed the name and the character of the place, when it erected the long dock and combined the name of the lengthy pier with a hint at the mountainous nature of the region nearby. The prosperity of the village was so dependent on the railroad that, when the Erie gave it over as the terminus of the road, and removed the shops which had collected around its locomotive and car works, the population of the place faded; in 1860 the number of the residents was nearly 2,500, the present population, 1920, being 1,600. The village was incorporated in 1850.

Ramapo,formed from Haverstraw March 18, 1791, as new Hampstead, change to Hampstead March 3, 1797, and to the present title in 1828. It is the western town of the county and derives it name and character from the Ramapo, or Blue Mountains, which form so large a part of it. Formerly the valleys and western slopes were covered with commercial gardens. But, while agriculture still plays a large part in the occupations of the town, the region has become a section of the estate of the wealthy, and the suburban home of hundreds. The population of the town, in 1920, is 11,709. The villages have lost their rural flavor, and in one or two cases have become decidedly industrial in character. Suffern, or New Antrium, is the principal village, with a population in 1920 of 3,154, and growing rapidly the first owner of the site was Jacobus Van Buskirk, who, in 1762, erected a mill on the Mahwah River. The next year, John Suffern, who was born near Antrim, Ireland, moved to the locality and purchased, among other places, the Van Buskirk mill. By Suffern were most of the village known until the Erie put through its road (18410 and gave the name now used. The first post office in Rockland County was established at New Antrim October 4, 1797. Among the villages and hamlets of Ramapo are; Sloatsburg, Spring Valley, Ramapo Works, Mechanicsville, the name that certain ones voted to be given to the town, Tallmans and many others.

Stony Point, the last of the division to be made of Rockland County, was taken from Haverstraw, March 20, 1865. It is the northernmost of the towns, edging in on the Highlands of the Hudson, and containing some of the peaks which go to make up that wonderland. It derives its name from the rocky promontory made famous by "Mad Anthony Wayne," in 1779. The town has but little arable land, but it is the vacation home of thousands of the city dwellers. Population in 1920, 3,211. Several of the villages have names, suggestive of their past character rather then the present, for example, Grassy Point. This evidently was a place of beauty until man stripped the surface and exposed the clay in his desire to make brick. Because of the deep water off this point, it was for years the stopping place for the river steamers. North Haverstraw, Stony point, or Florus Falls, all names of the same village, is another brick manufacturing site. Tomkins Cove has for years been quarrying and exporting lime rock. Although a small kiln has been established in the place by John Crum, in 1789, there was no real development of this valuable resource until the re-discovery of the stone, in 1838. From the point at the base of Thunder Mountain (Donerberg), Joseph Colvil ran a ferry, beginning in the spring of 1700, across the Hudson. Through some twist of his name, the present title of the hamlet that has grown up here is know known as Caldwell. On the north side of Thunder Mountain is Doodletown. Iona Island was famous some years ago. It started as Weyant's Island, being bought by John Beveridge, and set out with the noted Iona grape as well as hundred of fruit trees and vines.

 

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

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

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