Stone House Day: Area History
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A Brief History of Hurley

The first inhabitants of Hurley were the Esopus Indians, members of the Algonquin Nation’s Delaware tribe. In 1661, a few Dutch farmers moved in, and the next year the settlement was surveyed, lands were officially granted to twelve Dutch and Huguenot families, and the village became Nieuw Dorp, meaning “New Village.” Peter Stuyvesant later owned about 200 acres of land here.

Irate with the sale of young braves into slavery, Indians burned the tiny hamlet and the nearby larger settlement of “Esopus” (renamed Kingston in 1669). In Hurley, 34 women and children were taken prisoner and three men were killed (the rest were out working in the fields).

It was September before most of the hostages were rescued by local militia and troops from Manhattan. A few were not released for several more months. In 1664, a peace treaty was signed with a belt of wampum, which is still kept in the Ulster County Clerk’s office. Wampum was also used by the Dutch in their trading with each other at that time.

Most settlers returned to rebuild their village, but in 1664 the British had taken over the entire “New Netherlands” colony and in 1669, named the village “Horley,” after the ancestral estate of English Governor Lovelace on the Thames, not far from London. Hurley at one time included portions of what are now the Towns of Marbletown, Rosendale, Woodstock, and New Paltz. But the Dutch language persisted for 150 years more among the stubborn anti-British residents.

Today, 25 of the original stone houses still exist—230–330 years later. All are privately-owned homes except for the Hurley Museum. Descendants of the first settlers still reside in some of the homes.

Old records show many colonial industries: a grist mill, woolen mill, brickyard, distillery, brewery, tannery, and, of course, blacksmith shops. In the 1800’s, Hurley dairy farms produced so much pot cheese that people in the Hudson valley said Hurley had “pot cheese mines,” and Hurley residents were frequently called “pot cheesers.” After the Civil War until the early 1900’s, the largest industry was bluestone quarrying, and about 200 tons a year were hauled to Kingston by wagon and shipped by barge up and down the river— much of it going to New York City for sidewalks.

At first, settlers worshiped at the Dutch Reformed Church in Kingston, but in 1801 they were allowed to build their own church, a stone building on Main Street. In 1853, a dangerous crack developed and it was torn down, but some of the stones were used in the foundations of a new church down the street.

The original Burying Ground, located 100 yards off Main Street, is still preserved, with the earliest decipherable stones dating from 1715. A new cemetery replaced it during the Civil War.

During the Revolution, Hurley figured prominently. After the British burned nearby Kingston in 1777, the hamlet served as a refuge for Kingston residents and became the temporary capital of the State for a few weeks when the State Senate met in the 1740 Van Deusen house. In another home, taken over as a guard house by the Continental Army, a British spy was held until he was hanged across the street on an apple tree. In 1783, General Washington rode through town and was greeted by a reception in the Houghtaling Tavern. Hurley flour had helped to hold his army together at Valley Forge.

Records show that in the then-Town of Hurley—not the village—Sojourner Truth, the famous civil rights leader, evangelist, and abolitionist, was born and raised before being freed when New York freed all slaves in the State in the early 1800’s. Hurley’s first post office was established few years later, in 1837.

The first limestone schoolhouse was near the first church on the main street, as was the town whipping post. In 1836 a new, two-story school house was built farther up the street near the Houghtaling Tavern. This continued to be known as the “new school” until the pupils were transferred from it to the present school in 1939.

Hurley, like many towns at the time, had its own militia, the Hurley Greens, so named for their green jackets worn with white duck pants and plumed tricorner hats. The group reluctantly took part in the County’s little Rent War near Wittenberg. Then in 1849, the village was swept with a frightful outbreak of cholera, a disease that baffled doctors as to treatment. During the 1850’s, two Hurley homes were reported to be stops on the underground railroad for slaves escaping from the south to Canada. During the Civil War, over 150 volunteers from Hurley served in the Army of the Potomac. Later, one of America’s greatest artists, Winslow Homer, spent several summers here finding much inspiration for his talent. One of his best-known works, “Snapping the Whip” depicts a Hurley scene.

In the early 1900’s, eight villages were razed and their sites taken over for the Ashokan Reservoir, New York City’s largest reservoir. Half the picturesque lake flooded part of the Town of Hurley, and its villages were rebuilt nearby. Today, Hurley has become a National Historic Landmark, the highest historic designation awarded by the Federal government. Hurley sweet corn is grown on the miles of fertile flats that the Indians and Dutch cultivated centuries before, and is shipped as far as Florida, Canada, and west to the Mississippi.

Once a year, on the second Saturday in July, the Hurley Reformed Church organizes Stone House Day, when homeowners open their live-in antiques to admiring sightseers.

Bluestone Quarrying in West Hurley

Bluestone—the smooth, long-wearing stone of which the sidewalks of New York and many other cities were made—was quarried in West Hurley during the nineteenth century. The West Hurley quarries were the largest in the State and also the most valuable because of the desirable dark blue color of the stone. Beds of Bluestone more than 500 feet were found here. Today the largest and best of the quarries lie under the waters of the Ashokan Reservoir.

Bluestone brought wealth to some operators, ruin to others and hard work, broken bones and diseased lungs to the quarry hands. A quarry was a lottery. No quarry man, however skilled, was able to tell what quality of stone would be found in a ledge. It was necessary to remove the top soil and actually quarry out the rock before the owner would know whether he was to make a profit or to lose everything in digging out rubbish. Abandoned workings all through the mountains tell a tragic story.

In the successful quarries such as the great Lawson and the Fitch Brothers, millions were made, but, though it was like gold mining in that respect, the quarry towns of West Hurley and Stoney Hollow, while lively and prosperous, never took on the sensational and romantic atmosphere of a gold-mining camp.

Bluestone was carried by wagon down the plank road, through Wilbur to the docks on the Rondout Creek. The striking bluestone “castle” at the foot of Wilbur Avenue was the Fitch Brothers office building. The planks of the old road soon wore out and were replaced by heavy slabs of bluestone. Some of these deeply rutted bluestone slabs may be seen at Key Bank on Main Street in Hurley.

The Irish potato famine of 1840 provided a ready labor market for the quarries. Often a man would arrive in the United State one day and be quarrying the next. Many an Irish policeman in New York today traces his family’s beginnings in this country to the quarries of West Hurley. One of the Fitch brothers, too, went to New York when quarrying was no longer profitable and formed a partnership with a Mr. Abercrombie to open an establishment on Madison Avenue which is as well known today as West Hurley bluestone.

The Introduction of portland cement for curbings and sidewalks spelled the end of the bluestone industry. The population figures of Hurley tell the story: over 3,000 persons in 1875, but in 1905 only 1,677. Stoney Hollow, a thriving village of 1,500 people and some 300 houses is reduced today to one house. The old quarry town of West Hurley along with the largest of the bluestone quarries, was swallowed up in the Ashokan Reservoir in 1907, the year the present village was begun. Thus came to an end a colorful period in Ulster County history.

Additional Information:

See the Hurley area history from Wikipedia.

Here is Hurley history from the Hurley Heritage Society.