Stone House Day: Area History

A Brief History of Hurley

Prepared in 2005 by David Baker
(Former Town of Hurley Historian)

Esopus Indians, the northern group of the Delaware Indians, were the first inhabitants of the hamlet of Hurley. The first European settlement was in June of 1662 when five business men in Albany, NY petitioned Governor General Peter Stuyvesant, head of the Dutch New Netherland Colony, to establish a second village to the south west of Kingston, allowing more of the Esopus Valley to be cultivated. It was given a temporary Dutch name, Nieu Dorp (new village), until a better name could be chosen.

Discontented with their general treatment by the Dutch authorities, the Delaware Indians attacked the villages of Hurley and Kingston in June 1663; called the Second Esopus War. The village of eight houses was destroyed and several women and children were taken as captives. It was a year before all the captives were returned to their families.

In September of 1664 the entire New Netherland Colony, extending from Albany, NY to Dover, Delaware, was surrendered by Governor General Stuyvesant to an English Fleet under the command of Colonel Richard Nicolls. He renamed the colony New York, after the Duke of York. Although Col. Nicolls was a reasonably benevolent ruler, he did place the former Dutch colony under military control. In 1668, the second Governor, Richard Lovelace took over the management of the New York Colony and placed more control in the civilian government, which was appointed by him from a group of names submitted from the local populace. One of his acts was to rename some of the Dutch settlements with English names, done in 1669. Thus Nieu Dorp became Horley, (pronounce hurley) after the Lovelace ancestral home in Horley, England. The new hamlet was also given specific boundaries, making it a township. He also relocated, the same year, the troublesome English garrison into its own township, Marbletown, greatly easing tensions in the area.

The earliest houses, before and just after the Second Esopus War, were one-story wooden cottages. Unfortunately, none have survived from that period. In 1708, under the rule of Queen Ann, the roads of the colony of New York were straightened, and the present road system in the hamlet was established. Main Street was resurveyed and stone houses were constructed next to the road, replacing the old wooden ones. In 1966 Main Street was declared a National Landmark, its eight stone houses being the oldest, best preserved examples of local architecture for that period.

Shortly after its formation, the hamlet was a self-sustaining community. Wheat, rye and barley were grown on the river valley using an old, German method of growing two crops a year. Each homestead had its barn, kitchen garden and orchard, growing apples and pears, for the family use. Cattle were grazed on the upland pastures, and one enterprising individual, Roelof Swartwout, raised hops in such quantity that his market extended from Albany to New York City. By 1680 the commercial part of the hamlet contained a grain mill, brewery, distillery, blacksmith, and a resident carpenter. By 1720 the tradesmen had increased with a shoemaker, commercial weaver, tannery and a quarry for building stone. The public burial ground, back of Main Street, was established prior to 1708 and has been in use since.

The first school building was established in1786; prior to that school was held in various private homes. This building remained in use until 1836 when a new, larger stone school was built. The new building had a second floor added to it, in wood, and continued in use until the present Hurley School was started in 1939.

Ulster County has had a militia force since 1669 and it participated in local Indian defenses, the French and Indian War as well as the Revolution. Hurley supplies its share of Privates and Officers to defend the colony, Col. Rutson, Col. Wynkoop, Col. Dewitt and Major Wynkoop to name a few. During the months of November and December of 1777, when the British advanced up the Hudson River, Hurley served as a military outpost and the temporary Capital of the State of New York. In October 1783, General Washington visited the hamlet, on one of his tours, to thank the inhabitants for their support during the War.

Just after the Revolution the Western area of the Town, called the Hurley Patentee Woods, was subdivided and settlement rapidly occurred, generated in a large part by the discovery of easily worked sand stone called “Blue Stone”. This industry continued until the late 1890s. In the Southern part of Town, now the Town of Rosendale, new settlements appeared with the building of the Delaware and Hudson Canal and the development of the cement industry. During that same period, the old section of town, depended upon its production of grains, fell into a depression as the price of grain sharply declined with the building of the Erie Canal. The local agricultural products quickly changed to raising sheep and cattle, with the emphasis on milk and milk products. Cottage cheese was produced in such quantity that it was rumored that there were cheese mines in the hills.

In keeping with its volunteer militia past, over 175 men from the Town volunteered for duty during the Civil War, participating in all parts of the conflict. One resident, Charles Dumond, survived the horrors of Andersonville, while August Kauss is the only known resident to receive the Purple Heart.

The Town, was visited by such notables as Governor Clinton, General Washington, Washington Irving, Senator Van Buren and Winslow Homer, who used the area as a background for some of his paintings.

In 1906 the valley of the Beaverkill, in the Patentee Woods, area of the Town, was purchased by the New York City Water Department and the Ashokan Reservoir was created. Eight hamlets, four of them in Hurley, were razed in its creation. William Saxe, a local landowner, purchased two large parcels of land for the resettlement of the refugees. The first settlement became the core of the present hamlet of West Hurley, and the second was along the Esopus Creek and is now called Riverside. Glenford was relocated by T. Sherman Lennox when he opened a general store at the foot of Lennox Lane and the old Boulevard (old Rte. 28) in 1913.

Today the Town of Hurley is a rural/suburban community, principally noted for its quiet neighborhoods, large sweet corn farms and the Historic District with its ties to a very vibrant past. Twenty-six some houses, from one-room cottages to two story buildings, dot the landscape of the Town. The majority of the stone houses are privately owned, but some are opened to the public once each year on Stone House Day.


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.


Hurley Through the Civil War

In 1661, a new village was settled to relieve the overcrowding in Wiltwyck (Kingston). Some 15 families ventured 2½ miles into the wilderness, and built their cabins on the high ground above the rich Esopus valley. Peter Stuyvesant himself owned about 200 acres in the New Dorp, as it was called. These industrious Dutchmen and Huguenots had harvested their first fine crop, and were cultivating the second, when the Indians left the New Dorp in ashes, having killed three men and carried off 34 women and children. Within three months, however, the captives were recovered and the village rebuilt. In 1664 the Indians signed a peace treaty with a belt of wampum still kept in the Ulster County Clerk’s office.

1664 also saw the English take possession of New York, and in 1669, the little New Dorp was honored by the English Governor Lovelace with the name of his ancestral home, Hurley.

For all that, Hurley was strongly anti-British, and played an important role in the Revolutionary War. Many Hurley men gave their lives in the conflict. Flour from Hurley mills helped hold Washington’s army together during the winter at Valley Forge. Hurley sheltered the citizens of Kingston in the fall of 1777 when that city was burned by the British on October 16, and housed the State government for a month after that disaster. General Washington visited the village in 1782, and nearly every citizen of Hurley declared himself a supporter of the Continental Congress to which Hurley sent a distinguished representative in 1784, Col. Charles DeWitt.

A grist mill, a carding factory and a distillery, as well as two brickyards were located near the present bridge till the 1830’s.

Hurley’s first church, an ambitious building of limestone, with a steeple which threatened all on the main street during wind storms, was erected in 1801 across from the Van Deusen house. It was taken down in 1853 because of a dangerous crack in the wall, and the present church was constructed at the cost of $2800, that same year. Dr. Peter Crispell, one of Hurley’s liveliest and most beloved citizens, was choirmaster for a number of years.

Seven Hurley men were in the War of 1812. National prosperity following that war took the form of canal and turnpike fever. During the 1820’s the Delaware and Hudson Canal bordering the Hurley farm of Cornelius (King) Cole, and the Lucas Turnpike, named for Judge Lucas Elmendorf, through the northeastern part of the town, gave employment to many Hurley men and boys.

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.

The first U. S. Post office was established in 1837.

During the early 1800’s, Hurley, like many cities and towns of that day, had a private militia known as The Hurley Greens, for the green jackets of their uniforms which they wore with white duck knee pants, and plumed tricorns. This group took part, albeit reluctantly, in Ulster County’s little Rent War in 1845 on the Livingston Patent near present Wittenburg.

In 1849, Hurley with Kingston, was swept by an outbreak of cholera, frightful because the doctors of that day knew so little about how to deal with the disease.

During the 1850’s, at least two Hurley homes were stops on the underground railroad for slaves escaping from the south to Canada. Hurley’s own numerous slaves had been freed in 1817 with the passage of statewide emancipation. Approximately 155 men from Hurley served in the Civil War and many citizens were represented by paid substitutes as was the custom. Hurley was the birthplace about 1797, of Sojourner Truth, the great negro Abolitionist, who was born a slave in the Col. Gerardus Hardenbergh house, but who in later life carried her powerful, almost six foot frame with the air of a princess, and impressed many great men of our country with what Harriet Beecher Stowe describes as that “subtle power we call personal presence”. She died at a ripe old age in 1883, in Battle Creek, Michigan, having seen her mission accomplished.


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.