Stuyvesant: A Simple Town With a Grand History
By Mindy Potts Sep 2001
Webpage by Cliff Lamere 10 May 2003
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This historical article about Stuyvesant, NY is part of series written by Mindy Potts for publication in the monthly newspaper "OK Times & The Hudson River Sampler", Northern Columbia County Edition. Published in Stuyvesant, Columbia Co., NY, the newspaper also distributes a Southern Columbia County and Northern Dutchess County edition. The text and title of the original article may have been slightly revised for this webpage so that they would be more meaningful to a geographically diverse audience.
Original publication: September 2001, pg 1
(Introduction by Cliff Lamere)
Stuyvesant: A Simple Town With a Grand History
In 1609, when Henry Hudson explored the river now named for him, he traveled as far as what we know as Stuyvesant. He later made excursions that went farther up the river, but the initial trip stopped at a place the settlers called Kinderhook Landing. The Indians of this area called the river Muhheakunnuk, "great waters or sea - constantly ebbing and flowing." The township of Stuyvesant was established in 1823, but that was many years after its long history had begun.
The Hudson River borders the western edge of the Town of Stuyvesant. The waterway was important to the people who lived along it. The Indians traveled along the river long before Hudson, then the Dutch sailed on the river, and later, once cities were established, sloop owners traveled a trip fortnightly (14 days) to New York City and back. The river was the link to other settlements and cities along the shores and to Europe. It was important for trading. In the 1700s, beaver pelts were the most popular traded items. As the years passed, the goods changed. By the 1800s, Stuyvesant had become a major shipping dock and farmers from as far as Albany, NY and Pittsfield, MA traveled to Stuyvesant to ship their crops. The area had grown and the waterway was busy enough shipping freight that in 1836, the Kinderhook Stuyvesant Steamboat Association was formed. There was also a ferry started in 1820 that extended across the Hudson River from the Newton Hook area of the town of Stuyvesant to Coxsackie. This ferry continued for over a hundred years until 1938.
Kinderhook Creek runs through the town of Stuyvesant. The creek's natural waterfalls, still beautiful today, were then also a source of power to run paper and textile mills. One mill is still standing today. Later, Stuyvesant Falls generated the power for the 3rd rail - the trolley - for the Albany & Southern Railway Company around the turn of the 20th century. As people today watch the falls from the iron truss bridge that spans Kinderhook Creek, they can see, hear, and feel history.
The land of Stuyvesant was very fertile, spawning a mainly agricultural community. In fact, often farms were passed down through families for many generations. Sunnyside Farm in the hamlet of Sunnyside is the oldest farm in the area. Bought by Jans Martense Van Aelsteyn for beaver skins and handed down through 8 generations, the farm was named a tricentennial farm in 1976.
Stuyvesant was not without its manufacturing businesses. In the early 18th century, the Poolsburg area had ice houses and brick yards, and sand for molding was mined from this area. In Newton Hook, traditionally spelled Nutten Hook or Nutten Hooke, stand the most intact remains of a powerhouse which ran the conveyor belts carrying blocks of ice to the adjacent ice storage building, the ice house.
Some memorable historical figures came from Stuyvesant. Benjamin Butler (1795-1858) was most proud of his revising of the statutes of New York State, but he was also a law partner of President Martin Van Buren, Attorney General and Acting Secretary of War, and he founded the Law School at New York University.
Edwin W. Mitchell, a pioneer in radio, was from Stuyvesant Falls. A farm advisor on WGY for 25 years, starting in 1928, he was known as the "voice of the farmer." His program, Daily Chanticleer, which, for a time, was broadcast from his home, included information invaluable to farmers including weather and market reports.
One story, both heroic and a little humorous, tells of a Civil War hero who saved lives of soldiers without even leaving Stuyvesant. In 1862, Patrick Sweeney wouldn't open the switch to let an unscheduled troop train go through. The commanding officer gave a direct order, but the soldier did not obey. If he had done as ordered, the train would have collided with the scheduled train. When the President of the Hudson River Railroad heard what had been narrowly avoided, he rewarded the man with $1000 and had the switch key gold-plated.
Today, Stuyvesant is a quiet town without the hustle and bustle of shipping docks or ice houses. The residents are working to preserve the history and beauty of the town. The Nutten Hook Reserve protects land along the Hudson River and in 1993 Stuyvesant became a Model Greenway Community. In these ways the community has been working to protect its historic features and promote tourism in part by teaching about the history of the town. Another way Stuyvesant does this is through its Historical Stuyvesant Day held annually to celebrate different aspects of the community's history. The most recent Historical Stuyvesant Day, held on August 4, 2001, celebrated the hotels of Stuyvesant. The bridge at Stuyvesant Falls, agriculture, schools, and trains have been some of the past topics. The day is a chance for the community to get together, share food, enjoy an historic walk or other activity, and be proud of the notable community.
Whether you walk along its river front, visit near the falls, or enjoy any of the other beautiful or historic places in the town, Stuyvesant is a tranquil place, rich in history, and worth a visit.
(The civil war hero story was written by Milton Sweeney Colwell, a descendant of
Patrick Sweeney, and appeared in the June 1969 issue of American Heritage)
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