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. 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 in the hamlet of New Hackensack. Following him 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 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 about a century. 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, 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. 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 south of Acura near FowlerHouse Road on Route 9. 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 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.
Much of the Town’s industry was located in the Village of Wappingers Falls. At one time there were close to 20 factories operating at one time. The largest factory being the Dutchess Bleachery, where fabrics were produced and dyed for sale. The local waterfall (Wappinger’s Falls) was important for early industrial development. In 1819 a small cotton mill was built in the hollow created by the creek as it descends down into the gorge. The two halves of the Village are connected by an 1884 stone arch bridge that replaced earlier wooden covered bridges that date to pre-revolutionary times. The Village of Wappingers Falls was incorporated in 1871 and included the adjacent community on the west side of the Wappinger Creek, by then called Channingville. The east side was known as Franklindale. 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. 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.
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
Joseph D. Cavaccini, Wappinger Town Historian
20 Middlebush Road
Wappingers Falls NY, 12590
(845) 297-4158 Ext. 107
Fax: (845) 297-8451
Monday – Friday 8:30 am - 4:00 pm