Brief History of the Town of
Kingston, New York
Town of Kingston is a small municipality
nestled in the Hudson Valley between the City of Kingston and Woodstock.
The First Settlers
During the 1600’s Holland discovered
the Hudson and claimed
land on both sides of the river. They
established trading posts to trade goods with the Indians.
In 1614 a trading post was built at the
mouth of the present Rondout Creek.
In 1652 a group of settlers were given
permission to buy
land from the Indians on the lands of the Esopus – also known as Sepe
Sopus. Thus the Whiteman came to live on
rich farm land along the banks of the
Esopus near the present City of
the Dutch surrendered to the British
and the name was changed to
the land was retaken by the British
once again and the name was permanently
a stockade. By 1687 the population in the stockade greatly increased.
Governor Dongan granted to the people
in common, then
residing about Kingston, a piece of land extending from the Hudson
Little Esopus Creek, to and along the bounds of
Hurley to the mountains, thence
along the mountains to the County of Albany, now Green County, along
line of the Hudson and south along the Hudson to the place of the
land granted became known
as the “Kingston Commons”. The grant was
approved May 17, 1688. This is the date
the Town of
were elected and given the power to sell land or plots to the Freeholders and Commoners.
Establishment of the Town of
In 1788 the State legislature passed a
law establishing more
than 100 towns and villages. Earlier, the legislature decided towns,
not counties, would
be polling places. The Town of
established that March 7, 1788.
of the first purchases in the present Town
of Kingston was made on January 1, 1695. William
Legg bought 100 acres of land lying on both sides of the Sawkill
Creek from the Trustees for 50 schipples of wheat.
The deed permitted the building of a sawmill and required the payment of “a half bushel of good winter wheat yearly to ye Trustees and their successors forever”. This mill was located near the
The house and mill were destroyed by fire in the 1880’s. The Legg family lived there for 88 years. Their mill was reported to have ground wheat for the Continental Army.
After the Legg family, the property
belonged to William
DuBois, next to the Brink Family; and the 1875 census shows the mill
by James Gaddis. Three men were employed
and the products were
shingles and barrel heads.
Though Bluestone in the bed of the Creek was
wanted by the quarrymen, the owners of the property wished to continue
the mill so refused permission to quarry the stone.
This continued until Mr. Gaddis, in need of money to rebuild after a fire destroyed the stone house, gave permission for quarrying on the creek ledge. This went on until 1902 and moved the falls some 300 feet
to its present location near Sweet Meadows.
Another mill complex was
situated across from
twice a month. The
Kingston Journal dated December 19, 1849
stated “Howe’s Mill blows up again”. On
February 15, 1850 it reported, “On Saturday night last, between 10-11
Howe Powder Mill on
the Sawkill was blown up.
There was only 600 pounds of powder burned, and though the
were scattered to the winds, the machinery was not destroyed. Loss $400. Mr.
Howe will be at work again in 10 days.
This is the
seventh blow up there within 15
months.” William Bonesteel told his
family that when the mill blew up in 1857 the trees about the place
filled with pieces of iron blown into them; they couldn’t
be used as saw logs for lumber. The Howe Mill continued to blow up throughout the 1860’s …. until it was finally hit so badly by lighting that it was damaged beyond repair.
In addition to the mills, farming was
an important means of
support. Most people had gardens, cows and
chickens to provide for their family. Throughout the 17th, 18th
and 19th centuries, the Town was primarily a
self-sufficient community that was engaged in some commercial trade on the Hudson River.
This changed dramatically with the
discovery of Bluestone
and the influx of immigrants who came to live in the Town and work the
quarries. Extensive quarrying of
Bluestone began with the opening of the
and their families, thereby creating small communities with distinct
independent characters such as Stony Hollow, Jockey Hill and Dutch Hill. Many of these houses are still in existence
but have been modified.
You’ll know they’re quarrymen’s houses by the small windows on the second floor.
Schools in the Town of Kingston
The children wrote a poem and egged Myron Gaddis to recite it to the school trustee. It went:
Lord of love, look down
Upon us poor scholars.
They hired a fool,
To teach the Jockey Hill School,
And paid him fifty dollars.
a teacher in Sawkill in 1897 was $143.26 a year.
Between 1921 and 1922 a new school was
built because the
classes were merged into the Kingston Consolidated School System. The building was deeded to the Town for use as a Town Hall until its demolition in 2010. Other schools that operated in the Sawkill District
were Stony Hollow,
In 1869, intense competition and cut-throat operations, coupled with the slowing of the Canal economy due to the challenge of the railroads, began to have an impact on the Bluestone workers. Unified by their common
backgrounds, trade, low social status and poverty, the Irish quarrymen banded together and became a strong political machine on Jockey Hill. This boisterous group overwhelmed the older, more traditional government
of property owners.
The Irish leaders
(sometimes called the Molly Maguires or Red Shirts because they wore
underwear) used strong-armed tactics to support corrupt officials of
Democratic Party. In return,
the loyalty of the Irish was rewarded by politicians, but not out of their own pockets. Tax money was used to finance an extensive “Pauper List” providing merchandise or cash to each who was owed a favor.
By 1879, the Town of
a long and thorough investigation into the corrupt activities of the “Undesirable Town of Kingston”. The “Election House” which was one of the four polling places in Town, still stands on Hallihan Hill.
Division of the Town of Kingston
This led to the demise of the
Democratic Party and the merciless
division of the Town. The towns of
feeble in population and mountainous in
rocky with thin sterile soil, poorly watered and with scarcely an acre
tillable or grazing land. The quarries,
which for many years had been the main source of revenue,
exhausted. The population diminished
year to year; the young people, as such, who could get away, moved to
places where they could make a living. The
taxes were now so great and heavy, being
nearly 107 on a fair valuation, as to
bankrupt them, their homes being
confiscated. The Town struggled and survived and became a
quieter force intended by State officials. Bluestone
quarrying continued on
a lesser scale, typically by local residents who also farmed and did “piecework” as a means of support.
During the early part of the century
boarders became a popular pastime with the town’s people as well as a
the economy. Some of the former boarding
houses that operated in the Town were:
shantys and is still standing at the
There is a story former Historian,
Harry Siemsen, told of
“The Face in the Falls.” Mr. Siemsen
explained that a Mrs. Meyer of
she discovered the appearance of a face in the falls that strongly resembled her dead father. They had no photo of her father so they had the section with the face retaken and enlarged. Family and friends all agreed
it was a very good likeness of the man.
St. Ann’s Church
For the Irish families and other
Catholics who remained in
Sawkill, St. Ann’s Church continued to be an integral part of the
community. The original
until 1878. It was built along the lines
of a quarryman’s shanty and was called the “long shanty”.
In 1868 property was acquired for a cemetery
and a second
It was also at one time a polling place. In 1913 the second
this is the home of the
“Lady in Black”, seen many a night wandering around
Feast of St. Ann particularly during,
the novena held every year in
August. Mass was celebrated outside on the stone altar and chairs set
up on the
grounds for the many people who attended. It
is said that a disabled
girl was cured at the shrine during one
the services when she stood up from her wheelchair and walked to the
altar. The church closed in 1961 and
became the mission
In 1971 the
Fire Destroys Town Records
William Charlton was the Town Clerk in
1876. When his house was destroyed by
Town lost most of its records which were stored there.
Legends and Folktales
There are many legends and folktales which have been recorded by Harry Siemsen. One of Sawkill’s favorites is “Hallihan’s Hill Headless Barber”. It seems there was a headless body of a man, fully clothed, walking
about with a bloody stump protruding from the collar of his coat. Held securely upright underneath his left arm was his head. In that hand he carried a lantern. In his right hand he held a large open-bladed razor. Some
lantern was burning and the razor was bloody. Most
said they never got close enough to find out. There
were, of course, individuals who
doubted this. One of the McGuire boys
said that if he ever met this
headless fellow, “He’d have all the
else!” His chance came a short time
later and to his word he stood his ground til the apparition was but a
away from him. As Mr. McGuire later
stated, “I could
stand the glare of his eyes, but when I see’d his lip move and heard the head say, “McGuire, ye be needing a shave”, I got out of there!!”
Bridges of Sawkill
Sawkill has two bridges which are quite
important to the
Town. The first one is by the Town
Hall. It was once a covered bridge. It became quite old and dangerous until it
was finally replaced by an iron bridge.
Between the time the
iron bridge and new bridge were built the creek had
to be crossed by walking over a wooden footbridge.
The new bridge was built and dedicated in
1958. Since then, Sawkill has acquired a
new modern span bridge that you see today.
with an iron bridge. In 1970 a new modern bridge was built.
The Sawkill Fire Company
In the late 1940’s serious consideration was given to the creation of a fire department for the Town. After two failed attempts, the fire district was formed in 1950, due to the donation of a Maxim 1919 cabless pumper to
the Holy Name Society of St. Ann’s Church. Unfortunately, during a test of its capabilities, the crankshaft broke. Undaunted by this misfortune, the fire company was incorporated on January 8, 1951. They borrowed
$6,000 and began construction of a firehouse. It took more than a year and was built entirely by the volunteer labor of the members. The new firehouse was dedicated July 4, 1952. It was expanded in 1972 and again
in 1986. Around 1960 The Ladies Auxiliary was formed. Its purpose was to support the work of the firemen and to promote entertainment and social activities for its members and the community.
Businesses in the Town
There have been many changes over the years. Local industry turned from the mills and quarries since most had closed, to services…..summer retreats, camps, stores and small businesses. Some of the small
businesses that once operated in
Sawkill were: Camp Woodcliff, the Armscraft Gun
shop, The Village Store,
The Sawkill Snack Bar, Avalon Nightclub, the Dasie Bus Line (circa
Central Cabinet Shop, and the Dress Factory.
Along came another era. Sawkill saw growth of suburban life. Flooding which had always been a problem became a bigger issue with the development of Sweet Meadows, along the Sawkill Creek. In 1981, the residents
of Sweet Meadows banded together to
have a rock-picking party. This action
drew some county-wide attention to the flooding problem and
led to a clean out of the creek. However,
this did not solve the problem and
some flooding still persists during heavy rains. As Sawkill continues to address this problem and the continued growth in other areas of the Town, environmental challenges will have to be met.
Time Changes Everything
As the past merges with the present changes must be made. The Town Hall, which was once the one-room schoolhouse, was remodeled to become a Town Hall in 1960. In 2010 the old schoolhouse was demolished due
to structural problems and a new Town
Hall built. Though, for many, it was sad
to see it go we
continue to cherish the memories of the many children who once walked
its doors. Pictures remain and the old
school bell is still a reminder of our special little Town and the history it entails.
The Town of Kingston founded in 1688 and established by the State in 1788 has gone through many changes over the years but the Town still retains its essential rural character and close knit community spirit.