The History of Haverstraw
Haverstraw Town Historian Stephen Cobb
In 1609 Henry Hudson, an Englishman employed by the Dutch East India Company, sailed his ship, the Half Moon, up the river that would bear his name in a vain search for the legendary Northwest passage. He sailed as far as what is now Albany and on the return trip the Half Moon anchored in what is now Haverstraw Bay, the widest point in the river. The ship had scarcely anchored when "the people of the mountains" flocked aboard. Most were friendly but one was shot and killed by a sailor for stealing some items from the ship. This incident created difficulties for future settlers but Hudson's journey claimed the whole Hudson Valley for the Dutch.
The name of Haverstraw is one of the oldest in the geography of North America. The word is Dutch and it first appeared on a map in 1616. It was originally written, Haverstroo, and means "Oat Straw", descriptive of the waving straw of the river meadows.
In 1666, the local native Americans, who were part of the Delaware's, who in turn were a component of the Lenni Lenape confederation of the Algonquins, sold a large tract of land along the river to Balthazar de Harte, a New York merchant. In 1671, he received a patent or land grant from the English government, which had taken over the territory from the Dutch in 1666.
The precinct of Haverstraw was created in 1719 when it was separated from Orangetown. Haverstraw then included the present day Towns of Clarkstown, Ramapo and Stony Point. Haverstraw became a town in 1788. Clarkstown and Ramapo became separate towns in 1791 and Stony Point became a town in 1865.
The location of Haverstraw was important to the defense of the colonies in the Revolutionary War because of its place on the banks of the Hudson, the main artery of trade between New York City and Albany and the dividing line between New England and other colonies.
The Shore Guard was organized in Haverstraw to repel British or Tory landings along the Hudson. The Shore Guard lit signal fires on top of High Tor to warn neighboring communities of danger.
In 1780 Haverstraw played a major role in a plot, which if it had succeeded could have changed the course of the Revolutionary War. American General Benedict Arnold, a hero of the battle of Saratoga, had persuaded George Washington to give him command of the fort at West Point. Washington was unaware that Arnold was involved in treasonable negotiations with the British.
During the night of September 19th and 20th, the English Emissary, Major John Andre, was rowed from the sloop-of-war, Vulture, to a beach below the Long Cove in the Town of Haverstraw. The negotiations to sell the plans to West Point were not completed by dawn and Arnold and Andre traveled to the home of Joshua Het Smith on the grounds of what is now Helen Hayes Hospital. The house became known as Treason House and was unfortunately torn down in the late 1920's.
The plot was foiled by Andre's capture in Tarrytown on his way back to British lines. Arnold fled to the British. The captured Andre traveled through Haverstraw once more on his way to his trial and subsequent execution in Tappan.
Between 1771 and 1941, Haverstraw was the greatest center of brick production in the nation if not the world. Immense clay beds along the Hudson's shores and beneath its surface formed the raw material for this huge industry.
In 1771, Jacob Van Dyke began the industry by making bricks by hand. James Wood started the first brickyard in Haverstraw in 1815. In 1852, a fresh impetus was added to the industry by Richard Ver Valen's invention of the automatic brick machine. In 1883, there were 42 brickyards in the area, which manufactured 148 brands of brick. In a single year over 300 million bricks were shipped out of Haverstraw Bay for the New York City area. At one time over two thirds of the buildings in New York City were constructed of Haverstraw brick.
Haverstraw's greatest catastrophe was caused by the excavation of clay used in the manufacturing of bricks. On January 8th, 1906 a landslide occurred when clay beneath a 100 foot embankment slipped away destroying the Rockland Street business section in Haverstraw. Nineteen lives were lost and only a fortunate snowstorm averted the spread of a fire that would have destroyed a large portion of the village.
A combination of the Depression, competition and new building materials brought Haverstraw's brick making industry to a close when the last yard closed in 1941.
In 1828, John Glass founded the textile industry in the town when he bought 45 acres of land along the Minisceongo Creek and built a calico plant. He was tragically killed in an accident and the plant was purchased by Thomas and James Garner and Charles Wells. The Garner name was given to the hamlet surrounding the factory.
In 1853, the Rockland Print Works was incorporated to print and dye woolen, cotton and linen goods. The company built houses for its workers and at one time over 800 workers were employed there.
Today many of the houses still stand and the Garnerville Holding Company rents space to businesses, artists and craftsmen. The buildings are one of the few examples of 19th century factory architecture still in use in the United States.
From the time of the first settlement in Haverstraw, the Hudson River has been an important route of commerce and transportation.
The first steamboat to run from Haverstraw was the Rockland in 1836 followed by the Warren in 1840.
The three best known steamboats were Captain Woosley's, Emeline, which made daily trips to Newburgh, the Chrystenah, which stopped at Haverstraw to pick up passengers and freight headed for New York, and the Raleigh, to which fruit growers from Clarkstown and Ramapo brought produce nightly for shipment to New York.
Railroads were also important to the history of Haverstraw. In 1873, the New York and New Jersey Railroad ran from Jersey City through Mt. Ivy, Thiells and into West Haverstraw. In 1887, the line was extended to the Village of Haverstraw.
The West Shore Railroad was opened to travel in 1883, and in West Haverstraw a large depot and restaurant was built.
The first mention of a school in the Town of Haverstraw was in the highway commissioner's report of 1796. It was believed to be located in the vicinity of Gurnee Avenue.
Small schools prevailed through most of the 19th
century until a large school was constructed at the corner of Hudson and
Fairmount Avenue in 1884. This school burnt down in 1935 and was
replaced by the building that presently houses Haverstraw Elementary School. All of the small districts in both the
Towns of Haverstraw and Stony Point were centralized in 1957 and a new high school opened on
Hammond Road in 1969.
Houses of worship have also been an integral part of Haverstraw.
The first Mass was celebrated in St. Peter's Catholic Church in 1847. Central Presbyterian Church was founded in 1846 and moved to its present church on Hudson Avenue in 1909 where its Tiffany windows continue to amaze. The Congregation of the Sons of Jacob, begun in 1877, is the oldest Jewish congregation in Rockland County.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Haverstraw gained two important institutions.
In 1900, Governor Theodore Roosevelt signed into law a bill incorporating the New York State Hospital for the Care of Crippled and Deformed Children. In 1903 the hospital purchased 48 acres of land in West Haverstraw, known as the Lilburn Estate. The hospital opened in 1905 and became world famous for its rehabilitation and research programs. In 1974, its name was changed to the Helen Hayes Hospital, to recognize the service of the great actress to the institution.
Letchworth Village opened in 1911 and within a few years became one of the largest and most progressive facilities for the mentally challenged in the United States. Situated on 2000 acres of farmland within the towns of Haverstraw and Stony Point, it was comprised of 130 field stone buildings and was designed as a self-supporting community. Severe overcrowding and a new philosophy of de-institutionalization and main-streaming closed its doors in 1996. Today, the two towns and the North Rockland School District are developing the land for the benefit of local residents.
The Haverstraw King's Daughters Public Library was chartered in 1895 and opened its present building on Main Street in 1903. An additional 36,000 square foot
library building, to serve the needs of the residents in the western
portion of the town, opened in 2003.
Although the earliest European settlers were Dutch, it was not long before the population trends demonstrated the diversity that has become a hallmark in Haverstraw. English and Scotch Irish followed the Dutch. French Huguenots came at the beginning of the 19th century. Irish and German immigration dominated the middle of the century while the late 19th and early 20th century saw the addition of newcomers from Canada, Austria, Hungry and Italy. Afro-Americans from the south came to work seasonally in the brickyards and many eventually became permanent residents. The 1950's and 60's saw the arrival of people from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
Today, Haverstraw is a diverse community with new residents from Latin America, Russia, India, Pakistan and other countries.
Haverstraw is also proud of having three Medal of Honor recipients:
Richard Smith, 95th New York regiment, Civil War
Nick Erickson, Navy, Spanish-American War
Michael A. Donaldson, 69th New York, World War I
Within the Town of Haverstraw are two complete villages and a portion of another.
The Village of Haverstraw was incorporated in 1854 under the name Warren which was changed to Haverstraw in 1874.
The Village of West Haverstraw was incorporated in 1883.
The Village of Pomona, formed from unincorporated portions of the town of Ramapo and Haverstraw, was incorporated in 1967.
Without a doubt, Haverstraw has had an impressive and important history and this new century will undoubtedly continue that tradition.