Town History

The Hudson, the Beautiful Hudson!

Henry Hudson discovered the river named for him in 1609. This gave access to the lands to be purchased from the Indians by patentees. A patent is a grant given by a government for exclusive right to own a determined amount of land. Before 1695 Henry Pawling applied for a grant to purchase property from the Indians in what is today Dutchess County, but died before it was granted. Therefore the patent for the 4,000 acres was given in 1696 to his widow and children. 

Later in 1703, Peter Fauconnier and a group of New York men applied to the Governor for a patent of 10,000 acres, which have been discovered outside the Pawling Patent. This was the time of Queen Anne in Great Britain, and the Governor of the Province of New York, Lord Cornbury, was her cousin. Thus the Fauconnier Patent was granted. The land grants were named for the people who obtained them. Pawling's covered most of Staatsburg and Fauconnier's covered the land north of the Crum Elbow Creek. Dr. Samuel Staats bought so much land from the Pawling Patent that the area was called Staatsburgh. Staatsburg is still a hamlet within the Town of Hyde Park. The lands south of the Crum Elbow Creek belonged to the Stoutenburghs, who were the first settlers of the area in about 1742.

The First Settlers

Jacobus Stoutenburgh, of Dutch descent, had been purchasing property in Dutchess County for some time so he moved his wife and eight children up the Hudson to this area. He soon convinced his friend, Dr. John Bard, an eminent New York City doctor, to settle here too. Dr. Bard located on the land side of the King's Highway near where Saint James Church is now located. Dr. Bard had married Suzanne Valleau, granddaughter of Peter Fauconnier. When Fauconnier died, Dr. Bard purchased his mother-in-law's share of the patent and continued to buy land until he owned all the Fauconnier Patent, also known as the Hyde Park Patent. While the Revolutionary War was going on, Dr. Bard kept a low profile as a Loyalist, had no problems and returned to New York to practice after the war. Dr. Samuel Bard, the son of Dr. John Bard, was also an outstanding New York City doctor of the time. The younger Dr. Bard bought property on the west side of the highway, across from his father's, and developed the estate where he lived until his death in 1821. 

After George Washington was inaugurated President, he asked Dr. Samuel Bard to operate on a growth on his leg, which he did assisted by his father, Dr. John Bard. George Washington lived for ten years after this and gave Dr. Samuel Bard credit for saving his life. Dr. David Hosack bought the Dr. Samuel Bard country seat in 1828, having been a partner with him in New York and famous in his own right as a doctor. He employed Andre Parmentier, a landscape gardener, to design and develop the estate. Dr. Hosack was active in the Saint James Church and gave property for the cemetery. A large fire in New York City in 1835 destroyed many of his financial interests and he died of a stroke at the age of 66. Although he had nine children, no males survived to carry on the Hosack name.

Quakers, who came mostly from Connecticut, settled the eastern part of the area. Their 1780 building on North Quaker Lane is still standing and the cemetery has been enlarged and is still in use. In 1780, Luke Stoutenburgh, a son of Jacobus, donated a piece of land to be used for worship by any denominational Christian group, with the understanding that whoever could support a congregation first would receive the land. In the meanwhile, the Stoutenburgh Religious Association, comprised of all faiths met together. In 1789 the Reformed Dutch group was stronger and received the land and built a church in 1793. The Episcopalians formed their own group in 1811, and Dr. Samuel Bard donated land for the church. Each denomination has since replaced the original building. The Methodist Church was established in 1829 and the Baptist in 1844. The Regina Coeli Roman Catholic Church was built in 1862 and Saint Margaret Episcopal in Staatsburg in 1858. All these denominations still exist and many new groups have been added.

A map of 1791 shows two schools existing and later there were ten districts supporting one-room schoolhouses. There were several private schools of high quality. In 1804 Morgan Lewis, 3rd Governor of New York State, established public schools and New York University. A brick union school was build in the center of the area in 1829 and enlarged in 1869. Here students were taught through two year of high school and went to Poughkeepsie for the last two years. This arrangement lasted until 1931 when a four-year high school was built in Staatsburg. Centralization took place in 1938, and with the population increase, there are now five elementary schools, a middle school, a high school, a parochial grade school and a private school.

Agriculture & Industry

Originally the area was definitely a farming community. Grain was the main crop, which brought the need for mills. There were several kinds of mills on the Crum Elbow Creek: grist, saw, plaster, edge tools, nails and fulling. Oxen and horses did the pulling. Sloops docked daily to carry grain and supplies to New York City, including hay for the New York police horses. 

There were other industries in the early days. A productive ship building and repair dock was near the mouth of the Crum Elbow Creek. From the mighty Hudson sturgeon provided food and employment. The roe was sold for caviar; the flesh filets, called "Albany Beef," was sold for ten cents; boiling the monsters provided oil to sell in drugstores as a "cure" for man or beast. For some unknown reason about 1914 the sturgeon disappeared. 

Staatsburg became well know for the ice cutting industry on the river. Huge icehouses were built on the river's edge and men were employed to cut and store the ice, which was transported by barges to New York and Albany in the spring. Thus developed the Bodenstein Ice Tool Co. in Staatsburg. During all these developments the blacksmith was a busy person keeping the animals shod and making iron tools, some of which are collector's items today. The Hyde Park blacksmith invented a liniment "good for man or beast." This was made in Hyde Park and sold in the leading drugstore in Poughkeepsie.

As the roads improved so did traveling. There were two large hotels in Hyde Park that served as stagecoach stops halfway between New York and Albany, for eating, sleeping and changing horses. There were also smaller hotels in Hyde Park and Staatsburg. As the wealthy people built their large estates, men and women were employed for inside and outside positions, since these owners entertained lavishly. Many had families, big houses, yachts, iceboats and cars. The advancement of the railroad from Poughkeepsie to Albany in the mid-eighteen hundreds created quite a stir. Many objected to losing land for the tracks, the location of the tracks and the noise and smoke. However, once installed, new stations were built and travel advanced at the convenience of the passengers. Freight trains replaced river sloops and boats, thus the river becoming used mostly for pleasure.

The Town's Name & Institutions

Dr. John Bard had called his estate "Hyde Park" in honor of Edward Hyde, who was Lord Cornbury and Governor of New York. In 1804 a tavern keeper whose business was slow named the tavern "Hyde Park Inn," much to the annoyance of Dr. Bard. Miller, the tavern keeper, applied for a post office to be located at his Inn, which was nothing unusual. The request was granted as the "Hyde Park Post office." This changed the settlement's name from Stoutenburgh to Hyde Park officially in 1812. Hyde Park was included in the Town of Clinton until 1821. The first Hyde Park Town Board met in 1821 and elected a supervisor, town clerk, assessors, tax collector, overseers of the poor, commissioner of the highway, commissioners of common schools, inspector of common schools, constables, fence viewers, pound masters and overseers of the 33 highways. The Town Board met annually in private homes.

Hyde Park has always had good fire protection. The Eagle Engine Co. used a former schoolhouse for its first station, but a "fire bug" made sure the building and equipment were destroyed. Large cisterns were installed in the old part of town to insure an adequate supply of water. Mobility of the equipment has progressed from hand drawn to horse drawn to gas powered trucks. A new firehouse was built in 1905 with a stall for Eagle Engine and another for Rescue Hook and Ladder truck. There were rooms upstairs for the men to spend their leisure time. In 1961 both companies joined and built a new building to house modern equipment, including a new ambulance. Roosevelt Co. takes care of the eastern section of town. Staatsburg has its own very active department with two stations and an ambulance service.

The police department has advanced from two constables in the old times to a chief, 15 police officers including 3 sergeants, a canine member and a DARE program. Of course, the county and state police also respond when help is needed.

Recreation has not been forgotten. There are 6 small parks, Pine Woods and Hackett Hill and a State Park in Staatsburg. The Norrie Park Environmental Center conducts programs for children and young adults. There are trails from Roosevelt's to Vanderbilt's. For the river and boat lovers there are three marinas. Ice boating is still a winter sport.

The Legacy of the Wealthy

Hyde Park has seemed to be a haven for the wealthy, many of whom have been important. The river and its beauty were great invitations to locate here: Stoutenburg, Bards, Hosack, Langdon, Dinsmore, Mills, Morgan, Roosevelts, Rogers and Vanderbilt. There is more than just a coincidence in this roster of local celebrities. They were living a tradition of greatness and a common purpose: the beautification and increment of what they have received so generously. Notable among them were the Roosevelts, both the President and Mrs. Roosevelt, each one a colossus in their own right. Both had universal projections before the word globalism had been invented and abused, and both were model local citizens, participating and giving generously to the community. The noble stone buildings of the Schools, Libraries and Post Office, the preservation and reforestation of the Town wooded areas, the President's Historical Publications and Collections while he was Town Historian, are testimonies of their dedication to better the world; not to destroy it.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, former New York state governor and 32nd President of the United States, let the world know about Hyde Park, which he loved. The Roosevelt estate, operated by the National Park Service, contains the President's home and gravesite as well as the first Presidential Library, which holds much valuable information for researchers as well as the Museum for the public. Mrs. Roosevelt, "First Lady of the World," was the author of the United Nations "Declaration of Human Rights." When the United Nations was seeking a permanent location, Hyde Park was considered for quite some time as one of the leading contenders. Her retirement place, Val-kill, where she entertained world famous people, can be visited. The President's Hilltop Cottage is open to the public having recently been acquired by the National Park Service.

At Vanderbilt, besides the beautiful river view known by classical engravers as "The view from Hyde Park," is the Gilded Age Mansion, with its elaborate Italian Gardens, restored and maintained by local volunteers.

The Staatsburgh State Historic Site (formerly known as Mills Mansion) is built on property acquired by Morgan Lewis, the third Governor of New York State. Descendants donated this Beaux-Arts mansion and grounds to the state in 1938. The lawn goes down to the river's edge.

The Culinary Institute of America came to locate in the former Jesuit Novitiate of Saint Andrew in 1972. Besides training chefs to cook, they have several restaurants where you can enjoy their food and visit their classroom in operation. On the Jesuit graveyard is buried the great Jesuit theologian and scientist, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a shrine to many around the World, particularly to European theological dissenters.

Although there have been many changes in the area some things remain the same. The milestones suggested by Benjamin Franklin and erected to inform the horse riding postal carriers of mileage can still be seen along the highway. The large sycamore trees along Route 9 have been growing for 250 years and are still majestic and healthy. The original churches still exist. What amazing grace is our history.