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Town of Wappinger History

Discover Wappinger

Wappinger, before its incorporation 1875, has a long history steeped in heroism, innovation, and prosperity; which has allowed our town to grow. A central location, just 70 miles north of New York City, and boasting a Hudson River coast, contributed to the town’s significant agricultural and industrial past. Wappinger takes its name from the Wappinger or Wappani Native Americans who lived along the east side of the Hudson. The Town is home to 28.5 square miles of quiet neighborhoods, five star dining, premier shopping amenities, breathtaking natural sites, fascinating history, exceptional schools, and so much more. Made up of the non-incorporated hamlets of Chelsea, Hughsonville, New Hackensack, Swartwoutville, Myers Corners, Middlebush, Diddell, and Fowler House; and ¾ of the incorporated Village of Wappingers Falls; the Town of Wappinger has a distinct character based off of its rich and unique past.

In 1659, Wappinger became the first settled geographical area in Dutchess County, when Christian settlers from the Massachusetts Bay Colony came here in hopes to seek religious freedom. The locality of the first projected settlement in the county was at the mouth of the Wappinger creek in the year 1659, and, had it been successful, would doubtless have changed the preponderant character of the pioneers. In that year Massachusetts, claiming, under her charter the country north of the 42d° of latitude from the Atlantic to the Pacific, granted “a plantation in the neighborhood of Fort Orange, to several persons of respectability residing within her jurisdiction.” With a view to locating this grant, an exploring party . They established a small illegal settlement at the mouth of the Wappinger Creek and several months later were removed by the Dutch Authorities. It wasn’t until 1685, when Francis Rombout and Gulian Verplanck were the first to legally purchase 85,000 acres from the Wappinger This would later be known as the “Rombout Patent”. The patent covered the towns of Fishkill, East Fishkill, Wappinger, the City of Beacon, and parts of LaGrange and Poughkeepsie, these municipalities were once all a part of the Town of Fishkill.

Following the Rombout Patent, the first legal land purchase within the Town of Wappinger was in 1714 when Elias Van Benschoten purchased land and settled the hamlet of New Hackensack. An early land transfer in the northeast part of the town bears date of August 15, 1728, wherein Gulian, Mary and Anne Verplanck, in right of their deceased father, conveyed a tract of three hundred acres to John Montross, the consideration being £83, his home still stands today on Brown Road along the Sprout Creek.  Johannes Schurrie was another early settler in New Hackensack when he and his family arrived in about 1740. Following these early families were other families from Hackensack, New Jersey. Centered around the intersection of All Angels Hill Road, New Hackensack Road, and Route 376 (named New Hackensack Square). The early settlements at New Hackensack were the first civic developments in the Town with the first church and school being established there in the mid 18th century. As the hamlet entered into the 19th century, the commercial activities of this hamlet included some stores along Route 376, its Main Street, most notably the Woronock House, a Victorian era tavern and inn that operated there for almost two centuries. With the expansion of the Hudson Valley Regional Airport, which was founded during World War II, many of the hamlet’s main street structures and farm homes dating to the original setters of Wappinger were demolished.

Nicholas and his father Adolphus Brewer, Dutch millers, purchased over 700 acres of land near the 75 foot cascade in the Great Wappinger Creek (later the Wappinger’s Falls) in 1738. Nicholas built his small stone frame house in 1741, which was later used by his son during the early years of the Revolutionary War as a “spy headquarters” for the Committee for Detecting Conspiracies (a predecessor to the CIA ). The Wappinger Creek during this time was also a major port for ships and barges established by George Washington for the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. Nicholas sold his home in 1776 to Peter Mesier, a New York City loyalist, who conducted a store from his home and charged a high price of tea. So high, that the neighbors became furious, and in May of 1777 broke in to the Mesier’s store beat and tied up, him, his wife, and his slaves then locked them in the basement, drank their wine, and then took all of the tea. This became known as the Wappinger Tea Party. After this the Mesier’s change their political views and end up becoming well respected members of this community. This structure has been known for centuries as the Mesier Homestead, the ancestral home of the Mesier family from 1776 to 1891 when it sold with five of the original 700+ acre estate to the Village of Wappingers Falls.

In 1760, Jacobus Swartwout, who was the highest ranking American general in Dutchess County, purchased 3,000 acres of land in the southeast corner of town. In 1775, at Jacob Griffin’s Tavern in Swartwoutville, there was a serious of “Rendezvous” there in reference to the Tories and creating a spy network by the Committee of Safety and there during a meeting they named Swartwout’s farm a village, Swartwoutville. The meetings defined the role this county played during the American Revolution. George Washington, Marquis de Lafayette, Baron von Stueben, and Israel Putnam all visited the hamlet during the Revolution. The commercial center of the hamlet was centered around a short strip on Route 82 between Lomala in the Town of Fishkill and the bridge at the Sprout Creek. Here the hamlet boasted some store, light brick manufacturing due to the swampy mud nearby, and a district school.

In 1782, the Middlebush Methodist Church was established. The property was owned by Abraham Van Wyck. A year later, in 1783, the Middlebush Cemetery was established, which is now owned by the Town of Wappinger. There are three veterans in this cemetery, two Civil War, and one American Revolution. In 1824, the Middlebush Post Office was established, when the hamlet was a strong center of commercial importance during the mid18th century to the early 19th century, with early maps describing much of the southern portion of the Town of Wappinger as ” MIDDLE BUSH”. During the Victorian age, records show that Middlebush’s name was changed to Fowler House. This name comes from Dr. Orson Fowler who in the 1860s, constructed a stately five story octagon mansion on Albany Post Road, today’s site of Adams Fareacre Farms on Old Post Road. Prominent authors such as Edgar Allen Poe and Arthur Conan Doyle visited “Fowler’s Folly” because it was said to be filled with spirits. It was demolished using dynamite by Dutchess County Health officials after Fowler’s death, since the structure fell into a deplorable state of disrepair due to the fact that the residents of Wappinger were scared of the spirits within its walls.

According to legend, in 1696 Captain Kidd set sail from New York Harbor up the river to Hughsonville, since the area was not settled, Kidd buried his stolen treasure somewhere within the hamlet, will you be the one to find it? Hughsonville became a commercial center of the Town throughout the 19th century. Settled initially by William Hughson and his three brothers circa 1740, the hamlet grew to one of a church and many commercial enterprises. The Hasbrook family went on to develop much of the commercial structures that are centered around the hamlet’s main intersection. Most notably, the bright pink Nesting Doll shop, is a remnant of the Hasbrook’s development. The Hughsonville Presbyterian Church was constructed in 1840 and became the center of the hamlet’s activities. In 1847, the Hughsonville Post Office was established. By 1912, the Hughsonville Fire Company, first fire company within the Town of Wappinger, was created. Located along the Hudson River corridor sits the elegant manors and estates of some of New York’s most wealthy families. The Wheeler Hill Historic District centered around Wheeler Hill Road and Old Troy Road, is home to many Victorian mansions that sit high above the majestic river. The Stone House at Farmer’s Landing and the former Lent and Waldron’s Store both on Old Troy Road are the only remaining structures of the area’s first shipping port established by the Verplanck family in 1750. These early landmarks served as early commercial and trading posts for local farmers to bring their goods for shipment to New York City and elsewhere.

The deep waters of the Hudson River near Chelsea was a great source of food for the Wappinger Native Americans and the early settlers of Wappinger. The hamlet of Chelsea, originally Low Point, and then Carthage Landing, was a hamlet of industry. The town’s first railroad station was located there. At the time the station’s name was Carthage Landing, and the name of the post office was Low Point. The post office in the hamlet was opened in 1840 and just ten years later the name of the Post Office also became Carthage Landing. In the 1860’s, the Carthage Landing Mill was constructed then by 1870 it was turned in to the Carthage Cement Factory. By 1908, the hamlet got the name Chelsea-on the-Hudson. Once a busting port center, Chelsea was also a stop along the Hudson River Dayliner. The Chelsea Yacht Club, was started in 1881 as the Carthage Ice Yacht Club. Like many of the yacht clubs along the river today, their beginnings started with the sport of ice yachting. Due to the fact that the Hudson River once froze solid, many would use ice yachts as a method of transportation, but also for racing. Top speeds of 90 mph were recorded as clubs would race against each other from village to village along the Hudson. The ice yacht movement in Carthage Landing was started by Moses Collyer, a sailor from Tivoli who moved to the hamlet in 1868. Further north in the hamlet, along River Road North, stands an imposing brick structure which serves as an entrance shaft to the Delaware Aqueduct, the longest tunnel in the world. Starting in the Catskill Mountains and running under the Hudson River for 85 miles to New York City, the tunnel supplies most of the City of New York’s drinking water.

Diddell hamlet was named after the Diddell family which were the descendants of the Griffin family of Swartwoutville. The area was on several traders routes for caravans in the 18th and 19th centuries. In 1892 the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad opened the Maybrook line and established the Diddell Train Station there. This is now the William R. Steinhaus Dutchess Rail Trail. The Montfort, Diddell, Sleight, and Robinson families inhabited much of the north west sections of the Town.

Most of the Town’s early industry was located within the Village of Wappingers Falls. At one time there were close to 30 factories operating at one time. The two halves of the Village are connected by an 1884 stone arch bridge that replaced earlier bridges that date to prerevolutionary times. The first bridge was a covered structure with windows on each side. It was replaced in 1852 by a stone bridge thirty feet wide, which in 1884 was widened to sixty feet to its current design that we see today. The Wappinger Creek just below the falls was home to the Brewer’s shipyard. Established by Nicholas Brewer and eventually utilized by George Washington and the Continental Army during the American Revolution, vessels drawing sixteen feet of water could come up to this shipyard. Mathew Mesier had a sloop built there for the shipment of flour, and a number of gunboats were built at this yard in 1812 for the United States Government. February 28, 1819, a freshet of extraordinary force destroyed many mills on the banks of the Wappinger, and carried away every bridge from Salt Point to the Hudson. The Main street bridge at Wappingers Falls was immediately rebuilt. Another serious freshet occurred January 3, 1841. It swept away Given’s cotton mill, the print works dam, and a house below the foundry. The bridges, however, remained intact. In 1839, Presidential candidate and Speaker of the House of Representatives Henry Clay spoke at the brownstone water trough that stood at the corner of East Main and Mill streets. Mr. Clay was campaigning for the 1840 Presidential election. In 1832, Mr. James Ingham, a native of Manchester, England, established at “the Falls,” a plant for calico printing, which eventually became the Dutchess Print Works, then Dutchess Bleachery. In 1835 the business was sold to the “Dutchess Company,” in which Thomas Gamer, who had been Mr. Ingham’s agent, was the principal owner. Mr. Garner’s associates were D. R. Mangam and L. M. Thorn. In 1840, the company started the construction of employee housing throughout the Village. These duplex residences make up a large percent of the southern neighborhoods within the Village.  In 1866 Mangam & Thorn withdrew and were succeeded by S. W. Johnson. Shortly afterwards Mr. Garner died, and his real estate and business interests were transferred by will to his son, William T. Gamer, who was drowned by the capsizing of his yacht in June, 1876. The same year William Bogle assumed the management of the plant, and later became superintendent of all of Garner & Company’s interests in Wappinger. The industry has become one of the most important and extensive in Dutchess County. The business received a great impetus with the invention of machines for printing from copper rollers. Originally occupying but a single building of small dimensions, the plant continued to grow and by 1910 many of the buildings were replaced with the current structures that are present today.  many acres of ground, and new buildings have been repeatedly erected in response to the increased demands for the productions of this concern. The Franklindale Cotton Company, whose plant was destroyed by fire in 1885, was also the property of Messrs. Gamer & Co., by whom it was purchased in 1844. The site and water power was first utilized by Benjamin Clapp, who bought the site from the Mesiers and erected a building, the lower floor of which he occupied in the manufacture of mahogany veneering. The second floor was rented to Cook & Low, who were engaged in the manufacture of combs, while the upper story was used as a drying room for the Bleachery. The cotton mill operated 10,000 spindles, and produced 250,000 yards of cloth per week. It gave employment to about 126 persons. Peter McKinley was the first agent after the mill came into the hands of the Franklindale Company, and his brother, Daniel, was superintendent. Peter died in 1869, and was succeeded by Matthew Cottam. The plant was under the management of William Bogle at the time of its destruction. The Clinton Company was organized in 1846 with a capital of $100,000, for the purpose of manufacturing cotton goods. Thomas Garner was the principal stockholder. A three-story stone building, 50 by 210 feet, was erected on the site of the “Yellow” flour mill. The capacity of the plant was about the same as that of the Franklindale Company. It was burned June 19, 1855, and never rebuilt. The name, however, exists in the supervision of all the tenement property of Gamer & Co., numbering several hundred buildings, which are rented mainly to the operators in the print works. The Independent Comb Company, composed of Levi Cook and Emery Low, was formed in 1828. The business was later conducted by James Shields, Israel T. Nichols, and E. D. Sweet. They employed at one time about three hundred hands, and the industry became quite lucrative. In 1854 the partnership was dissolved, and the members of the firm retired. The business finally passed into the hands of Elias Brown, who erected a new building for it on the corner of Fulton and Prospect streets. It was burned in 1868, and immediately re- built. Brown was succeeded by his sons, James and Samuel. Upon the repeal of the tariff during Cleveland’s second administration they found that they could not compete with the German-made combs, and the business was discontinued. Sweet, Orr & Company. This firm was founded by James Orr, who was the pioneer of the overall business. He commenced making overalls in California in 1849, and in 1871, came east and started a small factory at Wappinger’s Falls in company with his nephews, Clayton E. and Clinton W. Sweet. The original factory was located at the corner of West Main Street and the stone bridge and later moved to an enlarged factory on Mill Street (current municipal lot) in 1876. There were then 250 employees, and a weekly product of 1,000 dozen pairs. The company produced the first pair of blue jeans in the world!

The Village of Wappingers Falls was incorporated on September 22, 1871 and included the adjacent community on the west side of the Wappinger Creek, by then called Channingville (formerly Edam). The east side was known as Franklindale. The first board of trustees was composed of Samuel Brown, Joseph D. Harcourt and R. W. Nelson. Matthew Cottam was chosen the first village president. The Village of Wappingers Falls once housed at its peak, over 20 factories and over 40 saloons. One factory within the village was the Sweet Orr Overall Factory, which produced the first pair of denim jeans in the world!

Once the Town of Wappinger was officially created from the Town of Fishkill on May 20th 1875, it took another year to elect officials on March 7, 1876. The following named officers were elected: James A. Seward, Supervisor; Denis W. VanWyck, Town Clerk; Andrew Jackson, Collector; Isaac Hall, Cornelius W. Hignell, Charles P. Adriance and Benjamin Vail, Justices of the Peace; Wm. H. Pulling, John DuBois and Wm. H. H. Stoutenburgh, Assessors; Richard B. Horton, Wm. Seward and Willis Dean, Commissioners of Highways; John B. Jones, Anthony Underhill and John N. Hayte, Town Auditors; Thomas Crosier, George H. Abbott, Jacob S. Ackerman and Alson Scofield, Constables; Thomas Crosier, Game Constable ; Daniel Hayes and Gilbert B. Wood, Overseers of the Poor; Nicholas Disbrow, Edward M. Pier and Leonard DeGroat, Inspectors of Election ; Wm. Halliwell, John H. Alley and Isaac C. Secore, Commissioners of Excise. The first meeting was held at the Brower Brother’s Wagon Shop on Mill Street. The meetings of Town officials took place in the homes of the elected officials, whose jobs were mostly to maintain roadways and bridges, provide the health of its residents, administer schools, and collect taxes. The act from the New York State Legislature thus defines its boundaries:— “All that part of the town of Fishkill, in the County of Dutchess, situated, lying and being north of a line beginning at a point on the easterly shore of the Hudson River, distant two hundred feet northerly from the residence of Thomas Al- dridge, and running from thence easterly in a straight line to a point in the center of the public highway leading from Fishkill to Hopewell two hundred feet northerly from the homestead of Lebbeus Chorlock, and running from thence in a straight line due east to the westerly bank of Sprout Creek, is hereby erected into a separate and new town, to be hereafter known and distinguished by the name of “Wappinger.” It lies upon the west border of the County, south of the center, and is bounded on the north by LaGrange, on the south by Fishkill, on the east by Sprout Creek, and on the west by Wappingers Creek and the Hudson River. The surface is a high rolling ridge, separating the valleys of Wappingers and Sprout creeks, with a general inclination toward the northwest. Possible names for the town were “Irving” and “Hampton”, but ultimately the name “Wappinger” was chosen in honor of the Wappinger or Wappani Native American tribe who inhabited the eastern side of the Hudson River from Manhattan to Albany. The word “Wappani” means opossum in the Lenape language.

In 1939, Dutchess County resident and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt launched his New Deal and created commissions to get the nation out of the Great Depression. He used Dutchess County as his “guinea pig” for many of his Works Progress Administration projects some of which are located here in Wappinger. The Village of Wappingers Falls police station was originally built in 1940 as a post office personally designed and approved by FDR himself. The Wappingers Falls Junior High originally housed kids in grades K-12 from the towns of Wappinger, Fishkill, East Fishkill, Lagrange, Poughkeepsie, Philipstown, and Kent. Today, this is the Wappingers Central School District. The school building was retrofitted for war time needs including a bomb shelter, and its stately clock tower once had guns mounted atop to defend the president in case of an attack on his Hyde Park home. The Hudson Valley Regional Airport formerly the Dutchess County Airport was established during WWII as the New Hackensack air field. This is where Winston Churchill would land when he came to visit FDR.

With the population boom of the 1950’s and 1960’s here in Dutchess County, Wappinger was forced to accept a new wave of settlers, most of which were employed with the International Business Machine Company, or IBM, located in Poughkeepsie and in East Fishkill. Much of Wappinger’s farm lands were developed into suburban neighborhoods, changing the landscape of Wappinger forever. On August 16 1960, then candidate John F. Kennedy landed at Hudson Valley Regional Airport, greeted by a throng of 5,000 people.  He also visited with 200 people at the Dutchess Co. Police Officers Assoc. Clambake that day, which was being held at the Woronock House, adjacent to the airport. Around 1970, the Albany Post Road (Route 9) became the main commercial hub of the Town and Village, where many businesses had choose to open up shop. During the 1980 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid NY, the Olympic Torch passed through Wappinger traveling up Route 9.

In 2000, the Town of Wappinger made history by preserving history with the purchase of Carnwath Farms Historic Site & Park. A 99.7 acre estate turned town park that sits high above the Hudson River with beautiful views of the surrounding valley. This site is home to the 1850 pre-restoration Carnwath Manor, and several other buildings spanning the centuries. This site is forever preserved as a town park for passive recreation. On May 23, 2005, then Senator Hillary Clinton, attended the Dedication Ceremony for the Reese Cultural Center and Sports Museum of Dutchess County at Carnwath.
We have great historical places of interest here in Wappinger, The Mesier Homestead Historic Site, the Grinnell Library, CoSM the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors, Obercreek, Carnwath Farms Historic Site & Park, and the Sports Museum of Dutchess County, take some time to explore our town and learn more about our hidden treasures.

I hope you have learned about this great town we call home, if you ever have any questions, please do not hesitate contact the Town Historian’s office at 845-297-4158 ext.107.

-Joey Cavaccini, Wappinger Town Historian

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Joseph D. Cavaccini, Wappinger Town Historian

Contact Us

Town Hall
20 Middlebush Road
Wappingers Falls NY, 12590

(845) 297-4158 Ext. 107
Fax: (845) 297-8451

jcavaccini@townofwappinger.us

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Monday – Friday 8:30 am - 4:00 pm