West Nyack Local History : Timeline
West Nyack Timeline
From Paulas Hook, through the English neighborhood (now Englewood area) of New Jersey, this was a winding tortuous trail, avoiding every natural obstacle. It entered the county near Tappan, passed through Orangeburg, and skirted between the Nyack Mountains and the great Greenbush Swamp as it entered the Clarkstown section. Passing through West Nyack, where it is now known as Greenbush Road, it rose up Casper Hill and joined a trail from Nyack (described below, continuing North to Haverstraw, past the later forts at Clinton and Montgomery, and on to Albany.
This became a very important military route during the Revolution, and was used constantly by the armed forces. Along this route passed the great names of the period; the continental army under General Washington, Lafayette, Wayne, and Greene; and this was the route used on the last ride of Major Andre from Stony Point to Tappan.
The other ancient trail from Nyack into the interior ran up the Old Mountain Road in Upper Nyack, past Christian Herald Hill to meet the Kings Highway at Storms Road, and then continued down Crusher Road to a bridge over the Hackensack, on to Pye’s Corners and Clarksville. This was the most direct route into the interior at the time, by passing the great swamp, and the oldest road in the county.
EARLY LAND PATENTS
Orange County south of the mountains (now Rockland County) was divided into land grant patents, with most of the area of West Nyack part of the Kakiat Patent. Agreements were made with the local Indians controlling the area before the final patent arrangements were made. Some of this area was controlled by absentee landlords and speculators, many of whom never set foot on the land they owned. Parts of West Nyack were also included in Orangetown and Quaspeck Patents.
There were two main Indian trails from the Tappan Zee Nyack region into the wilderness of the Hackensack and West Nyack area. These were first used as foot and horseback trails by the hunters and adventurers, and later widened to accommodate wagons.
In 1664 the British took over the New York Colony for the last time, without a struggle, and half a century of Dutch Rule ended. Still, a century later, Dutch leaders and institutions prevailed, and Dutch was the language of the area.
In 1693 there were approximately 20 families in the region now known as Rockland County, clustered in the Tappan area. North of that all was wilderness, connected by a few trails. Only the most daring adventurers and hunters ventured into the forests. Bears, wolves, panthers and poisonous snakes abounded and there was always the chance of meeting savage, marauding, unfriendly Indians from another area. By 1698 the population increased to 119, and as the settlers pushed into the wilderness, succeeding census figures increased as follows:
1727—more than 1200
In 1693, the British divided the Province of New York into Counties, but for more than 100 years the area now known as Rockland County continued to be known as Orange County South of the mountains (the Ramapos).
EARLY 18TH CENTURY
At the beginning of the 18th century almost all the land in the territory of what is now known as Rockland County was appropriated, and a system of Government was being perfected. By this time the pioneers had become well settled in their way of life. The children they had brought into the wilderness were grown and had founded families of their own. Dutch customs still prevailed. The Indians had retired to the interior and gave the colonists little trouble. The rough edges of the wilderness had been smoothed off. The trails had been widened in many places to wagon roads. There was plenty to eat and wear and they had peace of mind.
PEACE AND PROSPERITY
The first half of the 18th century was an era of peace and prosperity in the Clarkstown area. Mills were built on the swift running streams, permanent homes, some of which are still standing, were being constructed from the native red sandstone and wood. Farms and pasture lands were supplanting the forests and trade was flourishing.
As the second half of the century began, there was a general air of restlessness among the colonists. The successive acts of oppression by the mother country (Britain), the rigid military conscription system for the militia, and taxation without representation, all were met with growing discontent, especially among the predominantly Dutch population.
On July 4th, 1774 the Orange settlers (now Rockland) protested to the home governor in the form of the now famous Orangetown Resolutions. With due respect they declared their loyalty to the crown, but strongly protested British actions. The form of these Resolutions contained the germ of the great principle embodied in the Declaration of Independence.
News of these resolutions had a profound effect on all the colonies, and the tenacity with which these local people pursued their rights and defended their freedom led Sir Henry Clinton to later utter his famous words that they could neither “buy nor conquer these Dutchmen.”
In 1775 two representatives from the District were sent to the Provincial Convention in New York.
THE REVOLUTIONARY WAR
Broke out in 1776 and the violence at Lexington and Concord soon spread to the New York Colonies and this region. The Patriots formed their own minute men into a battalion and a company of 280 men became the militia for this precinct. Daniel Coe, precinct Committeeman, estimated that one-third of these men “were disaffected to the cause”. (Sympathetic to the crown)
The area was divided into antagonistic factions. Many people were attached to and revered Great Britain. They enlisted with or gave aid to the British cause. Others were non-partisan, hoping to ride out the conflict without choosing sides, and there were the usual deserters, and scoundrels who enriched themselves on the spoils of war.
With Victory in view in 1781 a peace treaty was being negotiated and the war was officially ended in 1783. The victors then took revenge on the loyalist Tory persecutors. Many of the old families had already fled to Britain and Canada, abandoning their homes and possessions, properties were confiscated and sold, and their actions were avenged.
Peace found much of the County a wasteland, almost in bankruptcy. Resuming their peacetime vocations these vigorous people set work to rebuilding, and in a short time the homes and farms were restored, the mills were humming and the economy again prospered as the new nation and government organized itself. As we entered the 19th century fruit growing and furnishing milk for the New York market became leading pursuits.
In a deed dated July 16, 1764 “Teunis DeClarke of Clarkstown in the county of Orange and province of New York” sold to James Palden of New York City “certain lands bounded by the Hackensack Creek etc.” This is the first recorded reference to Clarke’s Town and the Hackensack Creek which was formerly called DeMaries or Demerest Creek.
Between 1730 and 1793 the Sickles family from which Sickletown takes its name, acquired a 1000 acre patent called the “Expanse Lot” in the southern portion of what is known as Clarkstown.
Clarkstown, originally a southern part of the precinct of Haverstraw, was formed into the District of Clarkstown in 1775, and the Town of Clarkstown established in 1791.
In 1798 Rockland County was formed into the 25th County of the State from what was orgionally the southern part of Orange County.
In 1732 Hendrick Oblenis purchased 800 acres, part of the south moiety of the Kakiat Patent. This included a large part of what is now West Nyack, and for more than a cemturn this area is called Oblenis.
With the completion of the Nyack Turnpike in1828 the crossroads formed at Clarksville became known as Oblenis’ Corners, and became at one time the most important thoroughfare of travel in the County.
The first business enterprise in the community was a country store begun by William Oblenis at the southeast corner of the intersection in the space now occupied by the West Nyack Village Square.
In 1835 the first post office was established in this store and Mr. Oblenis became the first postmaster of The Nyack Turnpike Post Office. In the summer mail came by boat from the Hudson up the slote to Tappan then overland. When the river froze it came overland via Kings Highway. In 1835 the only distillery in Rockland County was in operation at “the corners” and was displaced in 1840 by the Clarksville Inn which stands today. After the store and tavern in 1840 came a blacksmith shop and then came a wheelwright, a harness shop and a cooper shop.
In 1847 the name of the Village changed to Clarksville.
In 1847 the name of the post office was changed to Montmoor.
The Jersey & Albany Railroad (now the New York Central) was completed through Clarksville in 1883. The station was called Nyack Turnpike but was soon changed to Montmoor and in 1891 to West Nyack. The original railroad track entered Clarkstown west of Green Road through the swamp, paralleled Sickletown Road, and crossed the Nyack Turnpike about 200 yards east of the Clarksville Corners. It continued north just 200 or 300 yards east of Strawtown Road. Old-Timers remember that an engine and two cars plunged off the tracks just north of the Turnpike and are still buried in the mud there.
The Clarkstown Reformed Church was organized as The First Dutch Reformed Church of New Hempstead in 1750. This name was used in deference to the many settlers who had come from the Hempstead area of Long Island. The original church stood in back of the site of an historical marker at the burying grounds of Germonds Road. Religious services had been conducted in a temporary log cabin for many years prior to that time. The language used was Dutch, and a slate as 1830 church services in Tappan and Clarkstown were conducted in Dutch and English on alternate Sundays.
This church became the most important one in the county at that time, having the largest congregation and serving a wide area as far north as Haverstraw and west to Monsey.
The Clarkstown Reformed Church was built on its present site in 1871. A fire destroyed the old building on Germonds Road in 1904.
The old burying ground on Germonds Road, now sadly neglected, contains many pre-Revolutionary stones with the names of the earliest settlers—DeBaub, Blauvelt, Onderdonk, Oblenis, Polhemus, and the famous Hill family. Some stones are inscribed in Dutch. Germonds Road was one of the early roads into the interior. It was an Indian trail that followed along the banks of a swift running brook. This brook fed three active mill ponds on thye way to the Hackensack River.
Two old burying grounds face each other across the great Greenbush Swamp and were known as the Montmoor Cemetery and the Nyack Rural Cemetery. These too are neglected with old stones toppled, broken and wearing thin. Many times these stones are the only records of early families.
The Montmoor cemetery is on a hill facing east that rises out of the lowlands just off the Nyack Turnpike behind Scotty’s Restaurant. There are stones dating back to the early 19th century with names of Sarvent, Sayre, Smith and other early inhabitants.
The Old Nyack Cemetery is high on a hillside with a beautiful view of the Hackensack valley to the west. It is set back from the intersection of Nyack Turnpike and Kings Highway (Greenbush Road). These stones date back into the mid-19th century with names of Polhemus, Debaun, Conklin, Swarthout, Blauvelt, Blakeney and other families who made history in the region.
Some secular schooling was taken care of by the First Dutch Refomed Church in the early days.
The first public school was a two room frame building that stood near the road in front of the premises at 183 Strawtown Road, 3/10ths of a mile north of Pye’s Corners. This was on land donated by Mr.Pye and was called School District #7. The site is supposed to have been used for school purposes for at least one hundred years when it was gave way to a new school built in 1889 across from the old railroad station on the Nyack Turnpike near Clarksville Corners. This building was later moved to the north side of the tracks and became the West Shore Railroad Station.
A small two room school was built in 1899 on the site of the present West Nyack Library. Those first two rooms were enlarged to become the frame structure to which the brick addition built in 1922 was attached. In 1958 the school was closed and the frame part of the structure was condemned and demolished in 1959. In 1960 the West Nyack Free Library was formed and occupies the brick building remaining. The land for this school (now library) site was purchased by a warrantee deed to District #7 from Abram Demerast and his wife, Anne, for the sum of $700.00. In 1895 the school tax rate was 62 cents per 100. In 1940 it was $1.14 per 100 and in 1963 it was $7.15 per 100.
In 1776 the assembly authorized the inhabitants of each area to organize what were probably the first fire departments. The firemen could command every able bodied man to aid and assist in putting out a fire. If anyone refused he was to be fined 3 schillings, half of which went to the firemen.
There was no other organized fire department in this area until late in the 19th century. Prior to that time firemen from Nyack came over the mountain via the turnpike to take care of any emergencies.
North of Pye’s Corners on Strawtown Road the region called Strawtown was named long before any written record of the area was kept. A number of sawmills were built along the Hackensack and its feeder streams (now Lake Deforest) and this led to a reduction in the price of wooden shingles which previously were hand made. The farmers of the County took advantage of this and replaced their straw thatched barn roofs with the more durable material. All, that is, except in Strawtown. They adhered to the old custom of thatched roofs and earned their name “Strawtowners”.
THE HILL FAMILY
In 1837 John Hill, a world famous artist and engraver, bought about twelve acres of land on the Old Nyack Turnpike, and erected the homestead still standing at 628 West Nyack Road on the rise west of Clarksville Corner.
Hill was the master of the then popular aquatint process, a new method of getting subtle tones into engravings. His greatest work, the Hudson River Portfolios, was done at the peak of his career.
His son, John William Hill, was also a fine artist, specialized in watercolors, as did the grandson, John Henry Hill. They left a large body of beautiful engravings and paintings, many of local rural scenes in the mid and late 19th century. The Hills were considered to be the forerunners of the well-known Hudson River School that also had roots in this County, in the famous artist Arthur B. Davies of Congers.
John William Hill moved his family into the area to be near his father in 1846 and built a white frame farm house at 597 West Nyack Road (then Old Nyack Turnpike).
This house was later occupied by George William Hill, grandson of John Hill. A bronze plaque on the front of the house testifies to his prominent position in the field of science and astronomy. He was considered to be one of the greatest living scientists of his time.
In 1829 Rockland County had 31 gristmills and 27 cider mills. More than 137 gristmills once operated in this county, a good number of them harnessed to the numerous streams feeding into the Hackensack watershed in the West Nyack area. In 1835 James Newsen erected a horse blanket and wool factory using the water power on the site later occupied by Abram Demarest’s mill.
There is no record of any doctor in the whole area of what is now Rockland until about 1730 when Dr. James Osborn settled near Stony Point, serving the west side of the Hudson, south of Newburgh.
In the early 1800’s Dr. Abram Cornelison lived and practiced medicine in Clarksville. In 1829 he became the first president of the small Rockland County Medical Society. A huge man, weighing nearly 300 pounds, he lived to be about 80 years old when he died and was interred in Clarksville.
Women tended to most of the medical needs of the day, assisted by friends and neighbors. The doctor was summoned in emergencies which often meant long rides through the forests in mud or snow as these conditions prevailed. Often by the time he arrived the emergency had passed, but once on the scene he stayed, for days if necessary, until the mission was accomplished.
Dr. Jacob Outwater Polhemus was born in Clarkstown in 1834, practiced medicine here for 5 years and then moved to Nyack.
The last witch trial in New York State was held in 1816 on the Polhemus farm at the site of the old mill on the corner of Germonds and Strawtown Road. A large residence was built by the Richards family on the foundations of this old mill.
Naut Kanniff of Germonds Road treated ailing neighbors with herbs and methods she had learned from her late husband, a Scottish physician. This coupled with her eccentric habits and odd mode of dress made her a suspect of witchery in this era of superstition.
She was brought to trial by a prevalent method then of placing a suspect on a scale weighted at the other end by a large Dutch Bible. Fortunately the scales tipped in her favor and she was released, and lived in her own odd ways to a ripe old age.
North of Kings Highway (South Greenbush Road) and the old Nyack Turnpike above the old toll gate heading east toward Central Nyack, the first road on the right has been known for many years as Gypsy Camp Hill Road. The large field on the right of this intersection was a favorite gathering place and camping ground for itinerant bands of gypsies in the 19th and 20th centuries. These colorful people, ever on the wander, would come in the night, stay a while to make money on odd jobs and various crafts they excelled in, and when they got restless again they packed their wagons, hitched up their ponies and wandered off to return another year. The last encampment was sometime in the 1920’s.