Historic Putnam Valley

March 14, 1839 – Town of Quincy was established.

February 13, 1840 – The name was changed from Quincy to Putnam Valley.

Mid 1850s – Oscawana Lake House opened – the first summer resort in town.

November 23, 1897 – Putnam Valley Grange No. 841 was organized: building was erected 1900.

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April 28, 1931 – Ground was broken for the Taconic Parkway to cut through Putnam Valley. The ceremony took place where Bryant Pond Rd. crosses the Taconic.

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January 11, 1933 – Lake Peekskill Post Office was established.

June 9, 1934 – Putnam Valley Central School district was created.

About 1935 – A CCC camp was established in what is now Fahenstock Park; the men from the camp constructed Stillwater Pond, Canopus Lake, their dams and other projects in the area.

December 14, 1935 – Putnam Valley Central School was dedicated.

March 28, 1936 -Putnam Valley acquired its own town hall building.

July 30, 1937 – Putnam Valley Free Library obtained a provisional charter; it actually started in 1929 in the summer home of Rhea K. Johnson.

1942 – 1945 – The CCC camp was converted to a rest station for British sailors who saw active duty and whose ships were being repaired at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

August, 1946 – Putnam Valley Volunteer Fire Department was established.

June 2, 1947 – Putnam Valley Post Office was established at Oregon Corners.

April 2, 1950 – Ground was broken for St. Lukes church. The original building was dismantled at its site in the Bronx, brought here in 3 foot sections and reassembled.

May 31, 1957 – The first Civil Service Chief of Police was appointed.

1961 – Putnam Valley Volunteer Ambulance Corps established.568A.jpg

Bill Whitehill, Olinda Wolters, Albert Fiorentino with a new ambulance in 1963

April 26, 1968 – Putnam Valley Historical Society was created.

March 31, 1983 – Tompkins Corners Methodist Church was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

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The History of the Town of Putnam Valley, New York

A Brief Overview

Compiled by Robert R. Crimmins, Town Historian

April 1986

Prehistory

The physical characteristics of the Town are the results of glacial activity which created the valleys that follow Peekskill Hollow Brook (which in prehistoric times was a much more substantial river), Canopus Creek and Oscawana Brook. The resulting terrain of rugged hills rising from these valley bottoms, together with the inherently rocky soil condition, made the land of the Town less desirable from the standpoint of settlement than many of the surrounding Hudson River Valley areas.

Native Americans

The earliest inhabitants of the Town were members of the Canopus group of the Nochpeem band (chieftaincy) of the Wappinger confederacy (tribe) of the Mohican (Mohegan) nation, who spoke the Algonkian (Algonquin) language. The Wappinger confederacy extended along the shore of the Hudson River from Poughkeepsie to Manhattan and eastward into Connecticut; it has been estimated that in 1600 there were some 4,750 members of this confederacy.

The Native Americans typically followed the natural stream valleys and travelled primarily along the paths which are now Peekskill Hollow, Canopus Hill, Canopus Hollow, and Oscawana Lake Roads. Their villages were usually located on the south side of a hill, near water; with their principal settlement in Putnam Valley (and one of the larger settlements in the entire region) believed to have been in the hollow at Canopus Hill, near Indian Lake. Other campsites are reported to have been located at Roaring Brook, Tompkins Corners, and – according to some – Adams Corners.

Two of our local Native American names are said to have originated:

  • Oscawana – from a Native American personal name (in the history of Cortlandt a Native American named “Askawanes” was one of the first signers of a 1682 deed to William Teller at Croton, while an “Oskewana” sold a tract of land to the Van Cortlandts in 1863).
  • Wiccopee – the name of another group of the Nochpeem band, also said to mean “house by the water”.

Colonization

The earliest European colonial attempt to take control of the land of what is now Putnam Valley occurred in 1687, when two Dutch “burghers” from Staten Island, Lambert Dorlandt and Jan Sybrant, obtained a license from the governor to purchase a tract of land which included the western part of Putnam County; and in 1691 they received a deed from the local Native Americans. These men did not obtain the required patent for the land, but sold their rights to Adolph Philipse (Flypsen/Flipse) in 1697. Adolph was the second son of Frederick Philipse, of Westchester’s Philipsburg Manor fame. Later that year, Adolph Philipse was granted a patent (known as the Philipse or Highland Patient) for this land, plus the balance of the land lying eastward to the Connecticut border, an area encompassing substantially the boundaries of Putnam County today. Since he never married, upon Adolph’s death in 1749 title to the land passed to his nephew, Frederick Philipse. Frederick, however, died soon after, in 1751, whereupon the land was divided into “lots” and willed to his four children. It is essentially the southern eighty percent of lot number 4, which was left to Susannah Philipse Robinson, wife of Colonel Beverly Robinson, that now comprises the Town of Putnam Valley. During the American Revolution, Beverly and Susannah Robinson were Loyalists in support of the British cause and, as a result, in 1779 their lands were confiscated by the State of New York.

Under the Philipse Patent, the earliest European settlers in the area were the tenant farmers who leased tracts of land from the Philipse family during the first half of the eighteenth century and set about the business of clearing the rugged land for farming. It was largely to these tenant farmers that the lands were ultimately sold by the State’s Commissioners of Forfeiture after the confiscation from the Robinsons. In what is now Putnam Valley, there were just over a hundred of these tenant farms that were sold to individuals during the early 1780s. Many of the names which were represented – families such as Barger (Barager), Christian, Denny, Dusenbury, Horton, Likely, Odell (Odle), Post, Sherwood, Smith, Tompkins and Travis – became prominent fixtures in the Town over the following two hundred years.

People

The earliest written record of actual European settlement in what was to become Putnam Valley appears in 1747 with the name of Abraham Smith, an English emigrant who resided at Wood Street and Secor (Bryant Pond) Road (his house – believed to be the oldest in the Town – is still there) and is believed to have relocated here from Long Island about 1740. His grandson, Saxton Smith, who was born at the Wood Street homestead in 1802 was on the Putnam Valley’s most prominent citizens, serving as Town Supervisor, State Assemblyman and Senator, as well as serving as executor of many estates.

Thomas Bryant was another early settler, arriving soon after Abraham Smith and lending his name to Bryant Hill and Bryant Pond, near his residence.

John and Peter Barager (later shortened to Barger), two of the ten children of German immigrants Andrew and Phoebe Barger (who arrived in New York in the 1740’s) were also among the prodigious early Barger family settlers of the Town, from whom we get Barger Street and Barger Pond.

Nathaniel, Joshua, Reuben, and Cornelius Tompkins, four brothers from the Town of Eastchester, settled along Peekskill Hollow and Wiccopee Roads during the third quarter of the eighteenth century, thereby establishing Tompkins Corners and providing the Town with a sizeable number of their descendants.

Richard Denny had also settled in the northwest part of Town before the Revolution and, owing to the number of his descendants in the area, begot the name Dennytown and Dennytown Road.

Christian Corners owes its name to the family of Richard Christian, another eighteenth century settler.

Horton Hollow takes its name from the number of descendants of Joshua Horton, who settled there about 1798, and whose five sons each took part of the farm after his death.

Political Divisions

The lands of the Philipse Patent, together with the adjacent Rumbout and Beekman Patents to the north, constituted Dutchess County, which was one of the original twelve counties of New York established by the English colonial legislature in 1683. It was in 1812 that Putnam County (named in honor of Major General Israel Putnam, commander of the American forces in the Hudson Highlands during the Revolution) was successfully detached from Dutchess. Originally what is now Putnam Valley was part of the Town of Philipstown (which was formally established in 1780); however, on March 14, 1839 it was independently incorporated as the Town of Quincy (reportedly named after Quincy, Massachusetts). Owing to the Democratic sympathies of the townsfolk, however, the name was changed to Putnam Valley in February 1840 so as to avoid any implication of ties to the political views of John Quincy Adams.

Industry

From the days of the first colonial settlement up until the first half of the twentieth century, farming would be considered the Town’s principal industry, though a surprising variety of other commercial activities played an important role in the economy of the area.

Despite such physical conditions as rocky soil and steep slopes which made farming a difficult occupation in Putnam Valley, its settlers were an industrious lot who cleared much of the land which has now been reforested. They raised corn, buckwheat, rye, oats, potatoes and turnips, along with a number of lesser crops. According to the 1845 census approximately 3,600 acres of the Town had been planted in crops, with a resultant harvest of almost 68,600 bushels. At the same time, there were more than 2,300 “neat cattle” (of which 1,100 were milk cows producing over 92,000 pounds of butter), 1,900 sheep (producing 3,600 pounds of wool), 1,700 hogs and 290 horses. Oxen were the primary work animals.

Mills were prevalent during the nineteenth century (Mill Street takes its name from the large mill complex which stood near the entrance to the present Mill Ponds development), with five grist mills reported in 1845, along with ten saw mills. A fair number of cider mills were also found.

Ice harvesting from the Town’s many lakes also proved a winter income for many farmers in the days before refrigeration; while the Mountain Rock Spring Water bottling business was conducted at the Pierce farm on Church Road.

A significant number of industries took advantage of the timber resources in the area: the saw mills which provided commercial lumber (including sizeable quantities of railroad ties for the rail lines which were being established nearby after 1850); the itinerant charcoal burners (who for days at a time would continually stoke large earth-covered mounds of smoldering timbers until they produced the charcoal needed for iron forging); the local “hoop-pole makers” (who fashioned ash saplings into barrel rims for the cooperage trade); the paper manufacturers (during the nineteenth century, the Andrews Paper Mill, located on the present property of the Putnam Valley Library, made fine quality tissue paper, while there was also the Hoffman Paper Mill on Peekskill Hollow Road east of the Hollowbrook complex and Mowyat’s Paper Mill on Canopus Creek); and the manufacture of toothpicks and floral sticks (at the Lewis Brothers factory on Peekskill Hollow Road).

Iron was mined extensively in the northwest part of Town from the second half of the eighteenth century into the late 1800’s. The West Point and Outcrop Hamilton Mines (off Sunken Mine Road in Fahnestock State Park) supplied the high-grade iron ore to the West Point Foundry in Cold Spring – great quantities of which were used in the manufacture of arms for the Union troops during the Civil War; the Denny Iron Mine (on the east side of Dennytown Road near Sunken Mine Road) was another major produced, and the Croft Iron Mine (on the west side of what is now Sprout Brook Road just above the Philipstown line) supplied iron for the Peekskill Iron Works. A major iron forging operation was run by the Bunnell family during the first half of the nineteenth century on the east side of Bell Hollow Road at its intersections with Canopus Hollow Road. Individual blacksmiths operated at a number of locations throughout the Town, while a wire factory was reported to have been in operation on Peekskill Hollow Creek as of 1849. During the second half of the eighteenth century, there were reports of silver having been mined in the Sunk Mine area of Town, however, no proof of such claims was ever fully confirmed.

The resort industry in Putnam Valley began to develop in the mid-1800s, with the establishment of summer boarding houses on Lake Oscawana (which was formerly known at varying times as Long Pond, Horton’s Pond, and Canopus Lake). By 1867 there were at least five such operations at the south end of the lake. The number of boarding houses (including quite a few which were not on the lake) and hotels in Town continued to multiply throughout the remainder of the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth, while the first wave of individual summer cottage development began when a subdivision was laid out on the east side of Lake Oscawana by Rev. J. S. Ladd in 1905. These lots were auctioned off with great fanfare after a major New York advertising campaign with a clam bake, fireworks, and a band. The Wildwood Knolls and Hilltop Estates subdivisions at Lake Oscawana were next developed by F.K. James. Later, in 1929, a New York developer named J.E. McGolrick expanded Owens Pond into Lake Peekskill and created the extensive subdivision of lots which has remained to this day. McGolrick also advertised heavily in the New York press and offered bus trips and free lunches to prospective buyers, who could purchase a lot and have a three-bedroom summer cottage erected on it for as little as $995.00. The first quarter of the twentieth century also saw the creating of the vast estates of Dr. Clarence Fahnestock (now Fahnestock State Park) and William O. Field (now the Boy Scout Reservation). The owners of these estates left this formerly cleared farmland and mining area to reforest and created private hunting preserves.

Transportation

The first settlers utilized the Native American trails as their primary means of travel through the area, with the first “highways” (official roads with a 66-foot-wide right of way) being laid out in the Putnam Valley portion of the Philipse Patent in 1747. The first “turnpike” (a road which was improved and maintained through private funding and for which a toll was charged for passage) in what was then the Putnam Valley portion of Philipstown was begun in 1810 by the Westchester and Dutchess Turnpike Company and, after leaving Cortlandt, followed Peekskill Hollow from what is now Oregon Road up to Kent Cliffs. This turnpike was of great value in providing the Town and other interior parts of the County with access to the Hudson River port at Peekskill, as well as intersecting with the stagecoach line which ran along the Post Road (at the present intersection of Oregon and Gallows Hill Road in Cortlandt) from Manhattan to Albany. Until the development of the Taconic State Parkway (originally the Eastern Parkway) in the 1930s, Putnam Valley and its neighboring interior towns continued to rely primarily on Peekskill – as a river port, railroad terminal and later vehicular access point to the Post Road (Route 9) – as the main contact point for access to the outside world.

A narrow gauge railroad was constructed in the northern part of Town in the early 1800s which ran north from the West Point Mine and carried the iron ore to the Cold Spring Turnpike (Route 301) for shipment to foundry in Cold Spring.

A passenger stage line, and later car service, ran up Oscawana Lake Road carrying the Lake Oscawana tourists arriving from the stations in Peekskill and, during the period from 1910 until 1926, also picked up those that came by the trolley line which ended at Trolley Road just below Oregon Corners (the “triangular shaped” house on the east side of the road was built for the specific purpose of providing a waiting room for the trolley passengers.

Schools

The first school districts were established in Putnam Valley during the 1830s, with each district having its own one-room schoolhouse serving the pupils living within walking distance, which could have been as far as five miles, from the school. As of 1867 there were eleven such districts, including three that were shared by portions of Yorktown and Cortlandt. Each district had its own trustees who were responsible for hiring the teacher and providing for the erection and maintenance of the school building. The individual districts and their one-room schoolhouses (though some were relocated and modified over the years) remained the only source of primary education in Town until the establishment of the Central School District in 1934 and the opening of the newly constructed Putnam Valley Central School (now the elementary school) in 1935.

Religion

The predominant religion of the early nineteenth century settlers in the Town was Methodist, and accordingly the first church erected, in 1834, was the Canopus Methodist Church which stood on Church Road just east of Oscawana Lake Road (and had been purchased by the Reform Temple of Putnam Valley in 1969) until its loss by fire in 1984. A second Methodist church was constructed on Peekskill Hollow Road at Tompkins Corners in 1835 (the present church – Putnam Valley’s first National Landmark – was built on the same site after the original building was dismantled). The third Methodist church was build on Peekskill Hollow Road at Oregon around 1860 and is currently a private residence. The congregations of the Canopus and Oregon churches have been merged into Grace Methodist Church which was constructed on Peekskill Hollow Road in the 1960s. In addition, the Mountain Chapel was erected in 1844 off Bell Hollow Road in order to serve the population of this otherwise isolated area. Traveling circuit preachers attended to the needs of all these congregations.

A Baptist church was erected on the east side of Oscawana Lake Road at Crofts Corners around 1835, and is shown as still in use as of 1867. It is now a private residence.

The Roman Catholic Church of the North American Martyrs (often called the “Indian Church”) was built on Oscawana Lake Road at the entrance to Lake Peekskill in 1937. The architectural design of this unique building is intended to recall an Iroquois long house, while its decorative elements, interior furnishings and even its use of colors are all intended to be evocative of Native American heritage. The choice of these designs commemorates the martyrdom of the Jesuit missionaries to the Iroquois in New York. The church is a part of the Cortlandt parish of St. Columbanus.

The Temple Israel congregation at Lake Peekskill was formed in 1944, with the Temple building on Lake Drive being dedicated in 1946. Originally utilized only for summer services, the Temple is now in year-round use.

The Reform Temple of Putnam Valley was formed in 1966 and has announced plans to build a new Temple on Church Road to replace the structure destroyed by fire.

The first Lutheran services in Putnam Valley were held in 1942, with the first permanent pastor appointed in 1946. The building on Oscawana Lake Road housing St. Luke’s Lutheran Church was dedicated in 1951.

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